When working with children on the autism spectrum, some children excel in what we call the overt curriculum: math, science, music, reading and memory tasks. However, they struggle with the covert curriculum or curriculum that one is expected to understand yet it is not taught. These are the skills that cause people to stand out as different or quirky. This curriculum is usually unknown, rarely talked about and is very much underestimated. Social skills fall in this category.
When reviewing the need to change behaviors we consider beliefs, attitudes, expectations, motivations and previous learning environments. What do people believe in and how does this affect the way they feel and what they decide to do? To start with, the definition of belief is the feeling that something is definitely true or definitely exists. So our ideas are the result of our own experiences and this information is stored in our own minds. Sensory input for children with autism can be very different and therefore the perceptions they have are different as well. So the same event can be viewed in entirely different terms by different people holding different sets of perceptions and beliefs.
Teaching others on the autism spectrum requires us to change our own beliefs and process. First we start by asking questions or observing. Teachers, parents, and children are not always aware of the decisions they make. We tend to make decisions as part of a routine. So we have to bring the decision making to the forefront. We need to review the learner’s awareness, learning strategies, beliefs & attitudes and steps for change.
Considerations for teaching students hidden curriculum
• What are our top priorities to teach and what are our motivators?
• Do we break down the item into smaller components?
• Do we just use discussion or do we need practice of skills?
• How much time do we devote to the skill and can we place it in a routine?
• Do we teach the skill in a role play setting or in the natural environment?
• Who do we practice the skill with? Family or peers?
The more aware you are of the foundation of behavior the better you will be able to manage any change process in the behavior.
Here is a quote that helps me when planning for teaching children new skills in everyday experiences:
“We have not discovered new lands, we have not travelled to unfamiliar territories, but maybe we can now come back to our daily routine and see it in a different light” - Palermo