As a pro­po­nent of learn­ing nat­u­ral­ly at home, at least for lit­tle ones, and for my own chil­dren find­ing that they learned bet­ter when ‘unschool­ing’ (a very nat­ur­al form of learn­ing), I was aston­ished to read recent­ly that researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Haifa in Israel 
have ‘discovered’ that chil­dren with autism learn bet­ter in nat­ur­al settings!

Any ‘real’ moth­er can tell you that!

As I under­stood the arti­cle, the issue had come up as to how to teach chil­dren with autism, between the ages of 7 and 12 years, to cross the road to get them to be more independent. 

Do you mean we now actu­al­ly need experts and researchers to tell us how to teach our chil­dren to cross the road?

I start teach­ing how to cross a road safe­ly before a child can even walk. While they are in a pushchair you can say “We have to wait to let the car go by before we cross”. Chil­dren absorb and under­stand all those words way before they can say them. Cer­tain­ly once they’re walk­ing such behav­iour can be taught on dai­ly walks – but there’s the rub. 

Chil­dren aren’t tak­en on dai­ly walks any more; there is no walk­ing around the neigh­bor­hood or to the park or the shops. As the work­ing moth­er of two chil­dren I cared for said to me “How do you walk two chil­dren to the park?” Such par­ents just put their chil­dren in their car seats, going every­where by car and most often the chil­dren are con­signed to the arti­fi­cial envi­ron­ment of a pre-school or day­care as soon as possible. 

An edu­cat­ed ‘at home’ moth­er of two chil­dren who were already show­ing signs of anx­i­ety and speech and oth­er devel­op­men­tal delays told me she spent ‘qual­i­ty time’ with her old­est when they went out in the car together!!!!!!!

Which also gets me going on ‘assistive dogs’ for chil­dren with autism. What­ev­er hap­pened to ‘assistive par­ents’ for chil­dren with autism?!

I well remem­ber one of the chil­dren I cared for years ago leav­ing my house with her moth­er. I said good­bye assum­ing that the child was ‘in the care of’ her moth­er. Quite sud­den­ly the child just ran straight across the road! I was shocked! The moth­er (because she was a ‘busy, qual­i­fied, work­ing pro­fes­sion­al’? – and by the way, she worked in social ser­vices with run­away teens!!) didn’t hold her child’s hand and sim­ply hadn’t got a clue as to her respon­si­bil­i­ties towards her child. For­tu­nate­ly no car was com­ing down the road. 

I recent­ly saw a won­der­ful sto­ry on the evening news about a Head Start teacher who was very dynam­ic. She taught about exer­cis­ing, she and the chil­dren sang songs as they moved around the class­room, she taught them about food (with plas­tic food!) – she was real­ly doing a remark­ably fine job.

But all that infor­ma­tion and activ­i­ty can come from a good home envi­ron­ment (and per­haps putting some chil­dren in Head Start IS bet­ter than their homes). 

How­ev­er, I am observ­ing afflu­ent, high­ly qual­i­fied, ‘stay at home’ moth­ers, who aren’t teach­ing their chil­dren any­thing! Some chil­dren of teach­ers have a ter­ri­ble com­mand of lan­guage even at 3 years old! 

We can teach about food or our nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment by shar­ing it with our chil­dren, we sim­ply but nat­u­ral­ly ver­bal­ly label every­thing we eat or see so that they know the names, then they are encour­aged to say those names – it’s not com­pli­cat­ed but it does take time, effort and prob­a­bly true aware­ness of what it takes to get a child talk­ing and under­stand­ing well, and that it’s OUR RESPONSIBILITY AS PARENTS not to send them to school ill-equipped to behave well, learn eager­ly or speak clearly.

Every­one learns bet­ter ‘naturally’ but a ‘natural’ envi­ron­ment has dis­ap­peared from most children’s lives. They are real­ly no bet­ter off than Roman­ian orphans and we are see­ing the same results – social­ly, emo­tion­al­ly and devel­op­men­tal­ly delayed chil­dren from all socio-eco­nom­ic groups.

Let’s go back to learn­ing naturally.