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.