GCSE English for Children with Autism

I am currently home schooling my son due to the Coronavirus pandemic. This has given me the unexpected opportunity to explore the English GCSE curriculum in detail and share my findings. In this post I will introduce my son and myself, and explain the issues which have led me to record this blog. I welcome feedback on all posts!

I’ve been for looking for help on this subject for the last four years. I have found that online there are many questions from parents about how to help their autistic children with GCSE English, but not many answers. I really hope that recording my experience with my son helps other parents and teachers and goes a short way to filling this gap.

I recognise that every case is different, and that your child may have completely different issues to mine. However, there are two areas which we all have in common, trying to work out why our children find English GCSE so difficult, and what to do about it.

A bit about my son

My son has a diagnosis of mild autism which is almost entirely on the communication side of things. For avoidance of doubt I am very proud of him, and everything that he has achieved. He is great at some things, in particular he is top of his class in maths, and a very good musician. However, he has fallen behind in English and in year 10 at the age of 14 he is only at about Level 1.

Coronavirus has given me the opportunity to work with my son at home, at his level, and at his speed, without any classroom distractions and pressures. I am hoping beyond hope that this gives him a better chance of picking up speed and passing GCSE English first time next year.

The issues which my son faces seem to boil down to the following:

  • He has difficulties in sustaining thought – the actual process of thinking is easily interrupted and distracted. This makes complex multi-layered processes and analysis extremely difficult.
  • He has difficulties with talking or writing about feelings, whether that’s the feelings which the author is trying to evoke, or the feelings he himself is experiencing. As our home schooling progresses I hope to work out which emotions my son feels, so that I can play to his strengths rather than forcing him to write about something he does not experience or cannot express. I am aware that I will have to teach my son to process feelings intellectually (I tend to do this myself, to an extent).
  • He has difficulty putting pen to paper, even when there are clear prompts, examples and instructions. He allows himself to be distracted, lethargic or catatonic, rather than getting down to writing (using a computer helps this a little).
  • His maturity levels, including emotional maturity, are low. He cannot easily relate to adult themes and concepts, adult emotions, or adult humour.
  • He does not read for pleasure. I’m not sure why this is, as he is perfectly capable of reading, but I think it might be because he does not have any emotional response to what he is reading, so he is not inspired to read. The last time he sustained any reading for pleasure was the Tom Gates series, about four years ago.
  • His vocabulary is good but immature for his age, perhaps because he does not read much.
  • Producing English work tires him quickly, and uses up his mental resources rapidly.
  • When challenged to produce work that he finds difficult or impossible, he easily melts down, and progress ceases completely.

A bit about me

Before I continue I should mention that although I do not have a diagnosis of autism, I believe that I am somewhere on the spectrum. I was high functioning as a young child, with an IQ which put me two years ahead of my age group at school. My mother enrolled me in a group for high IQ children called Explorer’s Unlimited.

My performance fell back significantly during secondary school, but I still managed to get three A levels and nine O Levels, including A grades in English Language and Englsh Literature. I went on to university, where I attained an Honours degree in Social Psychology. In recent years I have achieved a PgDip in Local and Family History.

I admit that I have always been emotionally immature, and I definitely have a faulty filter, so I can come over as intense or tactless. I have always found it difficult to deal with peer groups, educational settings, and team work. I struggle with social situations, and worry all the time about what people think of me. However, two of my ‘faults’, over-thinking and obsessiveness, have their advantages. I love research, I love learning, and I love sharing my findings with others.

Is any of this familiar to you?

Please do use the comments section below to contribute your thoughts and feedback.

Coming soon

I have lots of ideas for future posts, including: resources, books and other materials, alternatives to GCSEs, lesson plans, and options for online learning. I would be delighted to include guest posts from educators, whether professional or amateur, parents, and indeed GCSE students.

You can follow me on Twitter to find out when I update this blog.

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