Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Autism and Asperger's: A Great Video and Article

Midway through this video, Amanda Baggs, the woman shown here, begins to speak using a voice synthesizer for her typing. Wait for her "translation". For those of you working with children with autism or asperger's, this is a must-see!

In "The Truth About Autism: Scientists Reconsider What They Think They Know" in Wired online by David Wolman on 02.25.08, there is a great quote:

Mike Merzenich, a professor of neuroscience at UC San Francisco, says the notion that 75 percent of autistic people are mentally retarded is "incredibly wrong and destructive." He has worked with a number of autistic children, many of whom are nonverbal and would have been plunked into the low-functioning category. "We label them as retarded because they can't express what they know," and then, as they grow older, we accept that they "can't do much beyond sit in the back of a warehouse somewhere and stuff letters in envelopes."

Does Montessori work for children with autism and Asperger's? I have never seen it work well in a classroom setting, but that may be because the constant movement and noise of children with autism and Asperger's leaves traditionally-trained Montessori teachers at a loss for what to do. For parents who are considering Montessori, this is definitely something to consider because traditional Montessori teacher training focuses on achieving a certain type of classroom environment, one with quiet and self-discipline that shows itself through lack of noise and absence of physical distractions. Obviously, if you watch the video, it would be a horrible disservice to children with autism and Asperger's, if you did try to enforce a standard Montessori classroom environment on them!

Montessori equipment and presentation methodology is, however, successful when presented differently with an open mind. (If anyone is looking for specifics, please post a comment and we'll respond.) For Sensorial material such as the Pink Tower or Colored Tablets, be ready for things to be handled and tasted. Expect the Pink Tower to be possibly destroyed after or before it is built. Did you know Maria Montessori intended the tower to be knocked over when it was finished being built? Montessori classrooms present a careful deconstruction of the tower these days...probably due to the price of equipment. What an unfortunate change!

You will need to take care that small pieces of equipment, such as the Golden Beads, do not get choked upon, but generally good quality material can take a bit of a beating.

I think this video is wonderful because it reminds us not to judge what we do not know.



Blogger leeann1963 said...

Is montessori an appropriate learning enviroment for students with aspergers? Is there any documentation to support positive or negative responses to this question?

March 17, 2008 1:06 PM  
Blogger Montessori House said...

Actually, I wrote this blog post with some notes for parents of children with Asperger's and Autism because I have seen Montessori not work well in these cases. The emphasis on a quiet work environment is really at odds with what seems to be the necessary and usual behavior of these children.

I have not found any formal studies or documentation on Montessori for children with Asperger's or Autism. My comments on the blog are from our own observations of children in the Montessori classroom. I have seen it not work well and have become concerned.

However, equipment such as the Sandpaper Letters, Pink Tower, or Colored Tablets does seem to work well, if the parents or teachers are not overly concerned about what happens with the equipment. I think it's wrong to put enticing material in front of children with Autism or Asperger's and then expect them not to touch it or put it in their mouths and many Montessori teachers have trouble with this. It's also a hard fit in a traditional Montessori classroom.

But, as I said, this is from our personal observation. If anyone out there finds a study or conducts a formal one with a large group of children, please send it along!

March 17, 2008 8:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a parent of a child with ASD. While I believe that you bring up some valid points about how a Montessori classroom may not work for an ASD child- you are honestly wrong in generalizing ALL children who have ASD because no two are exactly alike. My child is quiet, calm, fairly social (more so with adults than children), nondestructive, loving, willing and able to learn. To put all of these children in the same category would be silly. I also work with children with ASD's and I'm here to tell you- yes, some of them would fail miserably in the Montessori classroom, but some would succeed well. A practical alternative to the destructive ASD kids would be to suggest a homeschooling Montessori program because the philosophy is so practical, and teaches the skills these kids really need to be taught vs what our government thinks they should know. In short, Montessori can be successful- my child goes to a Montessori school and is excelling beyond belief in the program. You cannot generalize these kids- plus some teachers are accustomed to working with ASD children and CAN handle them very well without disrupting the class.

March 21, 2008 5:32 PM  
Blogger Montessori House said...

Thanks for your insightful comments. I am glad to hear your child has had a good experience in a Montessori classroom!

Do you have any particular suggestions for parents? Pointers or things to look for in a school or teachers?

You're absolutely right in pointing out that each child responds differently. My observations over the last 20 years have not been so positive, mostly due to the response of the teachers to noise and disturbance, even when it was not unduly disruptive. I guess my concerns were more about how most Montessori teachers are trained and how this training can conflict with good classroom care for children with Autism or Asperger's.

The equipment is definitely useful, though I wanted to make sure that parents and teachers realized that the equipment might be handled more roughly or intensely than usual (see the comment response above yours).

March 21, 2008 6:40 PM  
Blogger Montessori House said...

A note on comments: Sometimes extra copies of an identical comment will arrive in our inbox, so if we've rejected a comment from you, that means we published the first one and the rest of the ones we received were identical.

March 21, 2008 6:42 PM  
Anonymous Miri said...

I would be interested in learning the specifics of presenting Montessori methodology with an open mind. I was surprised but to happy to learn from your post that Maria Montessori didn't intend the Pink Tower to be careful deconstructed. Thanks. Miri (

April 15, 2008 9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a great topic of conversation. I would argue that while a Montessori setting might not be best suited to a child with severe Autism, it can be beautifully suited to a child with Asperger Syndrome.

Having taught in both primary and elementary levels, and having had an AS child in my class at each level, I can say first hand that it can work. I would argue that your classromm is a success when you have that lovely hum of activity - not lots of useless noise, but that wonderful sense of buzzing bees around a hive, each with a different job, working together. I don't know where your information on restricting the environment to being quiet is coming from - with so many children working on so many different activities, by necessity, the environment will not be quiet (The Silence Game notwithstanding).

It can be a wonderful experience too for a child who does not have much internal calm to be in a place that inherently understands the need to get up, move around, change your pace. And what a gift to have activities at the ready to get caught up in a moment of peace? Care of Plants, Flower Arranging, and Washing Hands and Nails are all activities in Casa that give each child the opportunity to focus on the method, while working with their hands in a methodic, soothing way.

July 21, 2008 10:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Indianapolis, the public schools have a 3 Montessori Magnet-Option schools for grades K-8. Parents in the Indianapolis Public School district with children that have Asperger's or ASD are encouraged to apply for the lottery for these schools. They have shown incredible success with both the children that are profoundly Autistic (they are in a separate program within the school) and those with high-functioning ASD are mainstreamed in the classrooms, with pull-out assistance for special areas. While some Montessori schools (I'm thinking private without Special Needs staff on board) may not be able to meet these students needs, a public Magnet-option certainly does.

August 8, 2008 7:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My son, nearly 9, has just been diagnosed with Asperger's and has been in a Montessori school since the age of 3. It has been the perfect learning and social environment for him, as he is quite gifted in certain subjects (e.g., math), and is able to focus intensely on those subjects. He has always been quite slow socially, but being with a mixed age group and having the same teachers/classmates for 3 year cycles has allowed him to make friends who share his intense interests (math, zoology & Pokemon cards!) and gain confidence in a more predictable, individualized and accepting environment. I would highly recommend Montessori education for high-functioning autistic or Asperger's kids, understanding that every ASD child is different there are sometimes related behavioural issues (e.g., ADHD, OCD) that need to be considered.

September 16, 2008 4:53 PM  
Anonymous bethan said...

I'm just beginning my experience as a head 3-6 Montessori teacher. In my month old class I have 2 PDD children, another with sensory integration issues and another child just beginning the evaluation process. This is out of a total of 16 children in the classroom. I find that the classroom is quite loud but it seems to be a loudness which is coming from shared conversations. I observe that children are working in twos and threes. I observe that the PDD children tend to walk the environment in a particular pattern, with certain points they always come back to. I hear a lot of repeated language. Thus far, my focus has been to introduce the space - meaning layout of the classroom through movement. Establish a classroom routine - which I don't vary from, which is not exactly Montessori but I feel it is what a large group of these children need. And I am repeatedly showing rug rolling, carrying, etc. I have also been reading as much as I can. I do believe from what I read that the Montessori environment can be a wonderful match for these children. Afterall, the materials were all originally designed for learning disabled children. But, I think these children learn in a different way. One which means presentations will have to be reanalyzed and broken into segments. And repeated. Even more eye contact will be needed be make sure the child is following and attending. And I am finding the Silence Game to be of immeasurable assistance in quieting bodily movements and sounds. BUT - this is all new to me. I would overwhelmingly welcome suggestions, comments, links to resources to aid me in making my classroom work and attempt to serve these children -- as I try to serve the more normalized children in my environment.


September 16, 2008 5:15 PM  
OpenID beclever said...

I wanted to add that as a parent of a little boy with Asperger's who is in a Montessori program it is important to remember that above all kids are kids, whether they are on or far away from the autism spectrum. I don't think that one method works for all kids, and that applies to kids with ASD as well... There are some traits - such as sensory integration issues that many kids have, but it seems to be more common in kids with ASD, that can become part of the learning process - for all involved...

There are many resources online and at local libraries about sensory integration disorder that may give you a good jumping off place for understanding the perspective of a child with the sensory issues that can make any environment challenging... I mention this as sensory issues can be a hurdle for many kids with ASD... The out-of-sync child (by kranowitz, I believe) is a good one- doesn't deal with ASD specifically, mostly sensory stuff but really helps one understand and see the world through their eyes a little better....

Here's a website I found when researching programs for my son (most of his doctors only prescribe our public school system and look down at Montessori as "loud and disorganized" which isn't necessarily true)....The authors make some good points on what in Montessori helped their daughter...

Hope this helps! (I realize the blog entry is almost a year old...just found it through google)

I can't wait to read more!

March 5, 2009 12:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have had a very different experience.

In the Montessori in which our daughters are enrolled there is one child with severe autism and three with aspergers. It is working well.

The emphasis in a traditional Montessori on developing at a child's own speed.

It is a perfect setting for integrating therapists...and the kindness that is the soul of Montessori works very well in the socialization of the children. It has also been our experience that the many tactile learning experiences in the curriculum work very well with these children.

June 25, 2009 9:22 PM  
OpenID montessorimoments said...

I have a 5.5 yr old ASD child in my classroom, and he has hugely benefited from the Montessori environment. I have seen his self-control increase exponentially, and while he is loud at times and rambles unintelligibly when he wants to communicate, I feel that the social interactions have helped him become more aware of his actions. While he struggles with abstracting certain concepts (for example, he cannot grasp the decimal system work, no matter how many different ways it is presented), he has incredible powers of memorization, reads, writes beautifully, and has benefited from the visual Sensorial materials. The beauty of the Montessori material allows me to tailor the presentations to fit the way his mind receives concepts. I can't imagine how different his experience would have been in a regular Kindergarten, where things ARE loud and unorganized, and it would have been sad to see him kept apart from the social network he has come to feel comfortable around. An added benefit has been the increased awareness of "differences" that the other children in the classroom have been exposed to. They are all more compassionate and understanding human beings for having this wonderful little boy in their lives.

August 9, 2009 11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wanted to pop in and say thank you for sharing this! And thank you to the ppl who have left comments. I have a 6yr old daughter with ASD/ADHD and have been trying to find the most suitable learning environment for her schooling.. have considered Steiners, Montessori and Reggio.. and another one..Waldorf. Luckily, I have discovered a government schol who has started a Montessori stream alongside the "norm", so if it doesn't work, the child can easily be transitioned across. They also have access to the Special Development Unit where they have support for speech therapist, occupational therapist etc.. so hopefully the Montessori will be a success.. she is facinated with puzzles and math.. very left brain... and very nurturing.. she also needs role modelling by the older children.. so mixed-age would be excellent!
Again thank you!

October 10, 2009 3:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A woman in the San Francisco-Bay Area works with mildly impaired ASD children in their homes. She is an experienced Montessorian who brings her Montessori materials to the child. I've heard that Montessori under the proper circumstances can greatly help students with Aspergers. She can be reached at 650 763-8764.

December 14, 2009 9:26 AM  
Blogger Montessori House said...

If you are a teacher or work at a school that does a good job with children in this group, please don't be shy about sending us a note with your contact info to post.

December 18, 2009 11:46 AM  
Anonymous Jess said...

I am the lady in the San Francisco-Bay area who works with children on the autism spectrum. However, the earlier blogger is somewhat incorrect. I only go to the children's homes to assist parents with constructing a properly prepared home environment for their children. I actually run a Montessori school for children with ASD's. My school's website address is:

My program has been working extremely well for children on the spectrum. I have neuro-typical students as well. The blending of teaching methodologies (Montessori and ABA) and abilities (ASD and neuro-typical) have created a wonderful program that the children and I greatly enjoy.

February 1, 2010 11:06 AM  
Blogger Janet said...

I teach a small, for the most part, self-contained class of six children ages 6-10, and am having tremendous success using the Montessori method. My students have become quite independent in using the materials. One of my 3rd graders is doing the long division work. My students are featured on my class webpage, Find Bath Elementary, then Janet Courson, multimedia blog. A TEACCH therapist visits my classroom and is impressed with how well Montessori works. One of my colleagues says Montessori is TEACCH without the velcro! I thought that was pretty clever! I keep natural light, no clutter, a peaceful, quiet, ordered, structured environment. I also use Michelle Lane's curriculum guide.

March 2, 2010 6:18 PM  

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