Thursday, July 18, 2013

Passions Vs. Perseverations: Reading and Writing with Autism

I've sat in multiple workshops and read multiple text, this summer, which encourage teachers to get students to know their writing territories or reading passions.  This just makes sense to me - if the students have a choice about that which they are reading and writing, their reading and writing will become more authentic and meaningful.  In response to this, I've participated in multiple discussions full of suggestion on how to encourage students to find their passions.  There are some amazing ideas out there!!  However, if you change the word passion to perseveration, the conversation seems to shift.  How can we get students, typically those on the autitic spectrum, to branch out from their perseveration and read more diverse literature or write about different topics?  Okay, now I'm really confused....we want students to find their passions, but don't be too passionate because it might turn into a perseveration?!?   I will be the first one to admit, I am guilty of using the word perseveration, when referring to a student's passion, if they are on the autistic spectrum. I think as educators, we need to change this mindset that neurotypical students are passionate, but autistic students perseverate. 

I believe that students on the autistic spectrum, whom are passionate about a particular topic, are this way because it feels safe and they understand the hidden rules of that passion.  Please note, just because a person has autism doesn't mean they have a particular passion. If you know one person with autism, all that means is that you know one person with autism. As educators, we need to tap into these passions and encourage students to explore within them.  If you are doing a unit study on writing non-fiction, have the student write a non-fiction piece about their passion.  If you are studying a particular genre, help the student find books within that genre pertaining to the passion.  These suggestions may not work every time, or with every students.  However, I think they are a place to start, in terms of thinking about creative ideas to empower students within their passions.

 I think a great analogy for only wanting to read or write about the same passion is a roundabout.  Some drivers instantly know what to do without any directions, they are not scared of the unknown and willingly embrace it. Some drivers panic because the traffic won't slow down and they end up going around the circle multiple times, but with some quick observations they figure it out. Then there are people like Chevy Chase in National Lampoons European vacation, no matter how hard they might try to get off the roundabout, it's almost easier just to stay on and observe the sites (Look kids! Big Ben, Parliament!).  Students with intense passions are those people like Chevy Chase (see clip below).  As educators we need to support them, within their passions, and remember never to force them outside of their passion.  Imagine if Chevy Chase's wife would have taken the wheel and forced him to turn left.  That would have been dangerous for everyone involved. 


As a whole, I think educator do a great job of autism awareness.  However, we need to move from just being aware to being accepting.  These students aren't purposely trying to break rules (whether it be a school rule or expectations around an academic assignment).  If anything, they are trying to navigate their life in a way that fits the hidden social rules of everyone around them.  One way we can empower them, within their learning, is to differentiate assignments within their passions.  I encourage you to give it a try.  Does it make a difference to that student?  If so, than I believe it is worth it!

A great resource, for more ideas on positive ways to support student's passion is Just Give Him the Whale by Paula Kluth. 


  1. Hi Stephanie. I really enjoy reading your blog and I have nominated you for a Liebster Award! Please visit my blog for more info.

    You post makes me think of a post I did about picture books with an autism theme. Here is is if you'd care to take a look.

    1. Not sure why it looks funny. Wierd.

    2. Thank you!! I will be answering the questions this weekend. I love this idea!