Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Students with Asperger's in a Language Classroom

What would you do if you strongly suspected that a student in your language classroom had Asperger's? The oral component in language courses is obviously extremely important. There are no lectures in such courses. If a language course is structured the way it should be, the bulk of each class session should be dedicated to students talking and doing activities in pairs and in groups. There are also presentations where you enact scenes or dialogues in front of the classroom. There are oral exams where you are supposed to talk with your classmate(s) while the professor observes and asks questions.

No matter how well you write in the target language, there is simply no way to pass a language course without participating in these activities that are based on talking to people.

So what should one do if one suspects that a student might have Asperger's? What if such a student refuses to participate in any of the group activities and remains silent during the oral exam?

I really understand how hard it is for an Aspie to be in a classroom where you can't just sit quietly in the corner taking notes and where you are constantly thrust into situations that you hate. But I have no idea what I can do for such students if they never came to talk to me about the issues they are having. (Which is also understandable because approaching strangers and starting discussions with them, let alone mentioning your autism, is also extremely painful for Aspies.)

Does anybody have any insights? I feel horrible failing a person for having Asperger's but if a student has no oral exam, no participation, no presentations I simply have no other way to go. Unless I start falsifying grades and giving out points for activities that were not performed, which is something I can't do.

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Pagan Topologist said...

I think sending an email early in the term to any student who is not participating and asking for an appointment to see her/him is a good idea.

Clarissa said...

I sent a general email and posted a Blackboard announcement explaining why participation is necessary. But I can't schedule personal meetings with everybody who doesn't participate. There are just too many of them. Of course, if classes were capped at a lower number, that would help.

Izgad said...

Is there a way he could just give a speech instead of having to go back and forth with someone?

Leah Jane said...

Talk to the university's disability services, and see if student has any advocates/coordinators that they are familiar and comfortable with, and then ask said coordinator/advocate to sit with them during the oral exam? I find that talking with my advocates is much more comfortable than talking with strangers, especially of my age group, and that could be the key to getting them to speak in Spanish, is if they do it with someone they're not intimidated/frightened by.

Clarissa said...

No, it can't just be one single speech. Speeches lack spontaneity, there is no listening comprehension, there is no part where you handle unexpected situations in the target language (this, for example, accounts for 10% of the oral exam grade.)

Of course, if the student informed me about it, I could have gotten in touch with the corresponding services and it would all be handled in some way.

But as it is, this is all just guesswork on my part. It's possible the student isn't an Aspie, it's possible that the student has no idea that they might be. And it feels kind of horrible approaching somebody who has no idea (or doesn't even have it) and telling them, "Look, I think you are autistic, go talk to Disability Services."