Meera in India

Meera is a first-year computer science major in the Lyle School of Engineering who is a Dean’s Scholar and Engineering Fellows Scholar, among other awards. During summer 2011, she was named a Maguire & Irby Family Foundation Public Service Summer Intern by the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility at SMU. She will be interning at Swasraya, a school for the mentally disabled in India, where she will design a curriculum and help students in order to promote inclusive education. She also plans to help raise awareness by updating the school’s website and creating brochures and fliers.

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Striking a deal for learning

Today I spent time in the eighth grade-level class. This is the highest level of academics reached by students at Swasraya, and when I walked in, they were learning about democracy. I was surprised to hear Lincoln’s quote – “government of the people, by the people, for the people” – being used in their class lecture.

As the students started copying the quote, I noticed one girl staring out the window, oblivious to the lesson being taught. When I asked about her, the teacher told me she has severe autism and can be difficult because she does not do anything she doesn’t feel like doing; today that included participating in the class lecture. She also has a tendency to get up and walk out of class when she gets bored. It takes three teachers to get her back into the room.

I tried sitting next to her to see whether I could convince her to copy the quote. As I approached her, her eyes were instantly drawn to the shiny silver bracelet and earrings I had on. She reached toward me to grab them, and reflexively I backed away. This upset her and caused her to use more force in an attempt to get my jewelry.

We both wanted something from each other, so I decided to strike a deal with the determined girl. I told her that if she copied the quote completely, I would let her play with my bracelet. She immediately grabbed her pencil and starting writing in immaculate handwriting. Five minutes later she was done, and there were no mistakes (besides her writing “4” instead of “for”). I realized that she had kept her end of the deal, and so I gingerly handed over my (expensive) bracelet.

To my relief, she was equally careful in handling it and slid it onto her own wrist. She then showed her friends and gave it back to me with a big smile. Although bribery may not work with all children, I think that a reward system might be beneficial for autistic classes. Punishing them just agitates them more. They take instruction well if it is something they want to do, and if there is something in it for them, it gives them incentive to learn.

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    2 Responses to Striking a deal for learning

    1. Josh says:

      As an alumni and a partner in a company providing services to the developmentally disabled, I am very proud of you, Mustang. Reading your blog with great interest, love to learn more about how services are delivered to the disabled globally.

      • Meera says:

        Josh,

        Thank you, that means so much! I would love to learn more about your company and I will definitely keep the blog updated with any new information I get. Pony up :)

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