I attended the Geneva Centre for Autism conference last week and saw many interesting presentations and one that I found inspiring was a talk by Brenda Smith Myles. She is the author of a book called The Hidden Curriculum: Practical Solutions for Understanding Rules in Social Situations. There are a great deal of good books on autism and several with pracial information for intervention. Few of these books, and few interventions, focus on what is not obvious but what might be extremely important.
“The hidden curriculum refers to the set of rules or guidelines that are often not directly taught but are assumed to be known (Garnett, 1984; Hemmings, 2000; Jackson, 1968; Kanpol, 1989)” (from Brenda’s book on page 5). This curriculum includes things like unspoken rules, slang, metaphors, body language, etc. Most of us pick up on these things instinctively but it is often difficult for those with autism and other special needs to do this.
In her talk, Brenda spoke of obscure social situations such as using a public restroom or shower, using an elevator, and everyday conversations. To many of us, these are situations that we have become accustomed to and we accept the social rules, even though we may not always think about them or discuss them. She gives practical tips for teaching these hidden social rules to children and to adults and stresses the importance of making these a part of everyday life.
Another good resource for learning about the hidden rules in social situations is a book that I have finally started reading by Dr. Temple Grandin and Sean Barron (click here for a very interesting podcast with Sean) called Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships: Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspectives of Autism. This insightful and intelligent book helps you see into the minds of people with Autism Spectrum Disorders and how they perceive these strange social situations and rules, and how they cope with these situations. This book is helpful for professional, families, and those with a diagnosis themselves - fascinating book that I will probably recommend to many of my friends that are not in the field, it really demonstrates how different brains process information from various perspectives and that we can not take any knowledge for granted.
The only thing that is missing from this perspective is how to measure success, how to take data and assess what the child or adult has learned and what they have left to learn. If anyone knows of a good hidden curriculum type of assessment or measurement, please post here, I would be very excited to take a look at something like that!
From looking at these 2 books and listenting to Brenda talk (and Temple on several occassions), I am reminded how important it is for us to look beyond the obvious in education. This awareness of hidden information in our world can only advance the science of interventions and assist us with developing programs that result in real-world success.