Autism Interview #5: Dr. Stephen Shore on Autism and Education Part 2

Stephen NYU Citibikes PhotoThis week’s post is a continuation of Part One on autism and education based on the advice from autistic professor, author and international speaker Dr. Stephen Shore. In this week’s post, Dr. Shore emphasizes the importance of identifying and developing a student’s strengths in order to achieve academic and personal success and how best to go about accomplishing this.

Beyond academic instruction, how can teachers improve/encourage the emotional and social development of children on the spectrum?

There’s a lot. I think people with autism not wanting to socialize is a myth. What happens is that there’s been so many disasters in attempting to socialize that it’s created so many negative experiences that they just give up. I think that if people who aren’t on the spectrum had as many negative experiences attempting to socially interact, they could give up to.

So what we need to do is teach people on the spectrum how to interact, and there’s a number of tools in which to do that. Social stories, five point scales for emotional regulation, role-playing, video modeling, and visual schedules are a few examples. Some schools have a really good background on using these approaches, and there are others that could improve. Parent support groups and local chapters of autism organizations can also be other resources for learning about these approaches.

What is the most important thing parents who are trying to help their autistic children succeed in school should remember?

Access strengths, see what the interests are, work with those strengths and interests, but at the same time keep in mind that autism does present significant challenges. We do have to remediate for those challenges and we need to work on them.

However, at the same time we need to find ways of working with strengths and also knowing when it’s time to flip over from remediation to finding a way that the person can be successful in their activities. There are a number of people on the autism spectrum who will not have wonderful penmanship or who will never be very fast at writing, and there comes a time when we need to flip over from occupational therapy and teaching how to write with a pen or a pencil to finding another way that that person is better able to communicate, maybe vocally, perhaps through a computer, picture exchange communication system, whatever it is, and for each person it’s going to be different.

I would think that you’re getting pretty close to the line when the difficulty is having a negative impact on that person’s performance. For example, for the person who is failing at writing assignments not because they don’t know how to write but because the physical act of writing just isn’t working and we can see over a period of time that it’s a real challenge to get this going, it’s time to find another way.

I think the most important thing to remember is that your child with autism has unlimited potential just like everyone else. And our job is to find a way to maximize that potential.


More information about Dr. Shore’s books and media appearances can be found at:


How Do I Find the Right Extracurricular Activity to Help My Child Develop Strengths?

As a parent trying to follow Dr. Shore’s advice, helping your child maximize his or her potential by offering opportunities for success with different extracurricular activities, consider the following tips:

Be Persistent

It may be apparent early on that a particular activity is not an appropriate match for your child. If this is the case, try something else. A child who has difficulties working in groups may not fail at every group activity. If a child works well with adults, private tutoring or mentoring may be a good option, but so might an extracurricular activity through the school where an aide can be provided. Although it is sometimes difficult for parents to identify their autistic child’s talents or interests, there are definitely opportunities available. Local disability centers can be great starting points because they may have recreational opportunities your child can explore for free or a relatively inexpensive fee.

Be Creative

You may have to think outside of the box a bit in order to find some opportunities for your child to show his or her strengths and interests. Talk to your child’s teachers or therapists to see if they have noticed any preferences for specific topics, games, or activities. Get your child out of the house and expose him or her to plenty of different settings and events, if possible. If you think your child will have difficulty in organized group activities, consider private lessons or tutoring. Perhaps older children could job shadow in a particular area of interest as a way of learning more about practical applications for their interests and discover new areas to explore or focus their energy on mastering.

Anticipate Resistance

Your child may not initially appreciate the change in schedule that exploratory activities would require. Expect some resistance and plan for appropriate ways to help your child cope, just like you would for other situations. In some cases, repeated resistance will result in failure for that activity (at least for a period of time). Keep trying different activities and experiences until you find one that seems to capture your child’s interest.


Strengths Come From Interests, But How Do We Identify Interests?

Dr. Stephen Shore’s Keeping it Strong Project offers teachers and parents specific resources for identifying interests. He suggests that autistic students (or their parents) begin by thinking about topics, subjects, social activities, and leisure activities that they like or are easy for them. Then they can reflect on whether or not they are good at any of those things. The Keeping it Strong Project is part of the Keeping it Real Project, an initiative to nurture self-esteem and teach self-advocacy skills for autistic students. The Project website includes several graphic organizers and other visual resources for helping implement a program for autistics that identifies autistic strengths and encourages self-advocacy.


Additional Resources

A computer-based assessment tool based on a series of games aimed at identifying the particular strengths and interests of autistic children.


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