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Collaboration (chapter 52 from 55 Essential Skills for Students)
Collaboration or working in groups can be difficult for many ASD students for a number of reasons, including emotional and/or sensory overload, confusing social dynamics, lack or order or leadership in the group, and miscommunication.
Because it incorporates so many essential skills, successful collaboration is a somewhat advanced skill.
It is essential for achieving success in groups and requires healthy self-esteem, empathy, rapport, and good communication skills.
Collaboration may or may not take place in a group setting.
As discussed in the chapter on class participation, some ASD students can struggle with sensory overload in group situations. Others may struggle with social cues and group dynamics.
It is our experience that by applying the stress reduction and sensory processing exercises before and after group events ASD students can become more comfortable with group dynamics.
For some ASD students, collaboration may be more effective via telephone, Skype, or Zoom.
For others, email or texting may be the preferred venue for the exchanging of ideas.
Whatever the venue for discussion, the essential skills required for successful collaboration typically include:
- Respectful Listening
- Critical Thinking
- Problem Solving (Synergy)
For effective collaboration, everyone in the group must be free to express their perspectives and concerns.
As ASD students gain confidence in themselves and their speaking ability, they are free to express themselves without masking or fear.
And as they gain a basic understanding of communication styles, they can more effectively communicate their ideas to others.
Respectful listening goes beyond the mechanics of focus and attention.
It requires the ability to listen without judgment or fear of different perspectives.
As ASD students become more confident in themselves, they can support others in expressing their ideas.
The speaking and listening strategies from chapter 46. COMMUNICATION will be invaluable to many ASD students in a collaborative environment.
Given their natural tendency toward creative thinking and deductive reasoning, ASD students may be some of the most qualified persons to engage in and support collaborative endeavors.
The important thing is to understand and utilize the different types of critical thinking. See chapters 33. CRITICAL THINKING and 34. PROBLEM SOLVING for information on these important skills.
Effective problem solving, what Steven Covey called “Synergy” is simply the result of free self-expression, respectful listening, and critical thinking.
Synergy goes beyond simply choosing one idea over another. Synergy is taking existing ideas and creating a new possibility that previously did not exist.
By practicing 360-degree thinking as detailed in our chapter on problem solving, the deductive, non-linear thinking that comes naturally to so many ASD persons can be the perfect environment for synergy.
In previous chapters we’ve detailed strategies for note-taking, organization, and project management.
By utilizing these strategies, the results of the collaboration as well as the path to those results can be accurately recorded.
A word on ABA and other behavioral therapies that would support forcing ASD students into collaborative or group assignments. DON’T.
To simply force the student to endure the sensory and emotional onslaught based on the terrible misassumption that they will simply get used to it is absolutely false and will likely result in failure, as well as chronic anxiety, and loss of self-esteem.
A second approach is to offer accommodations for the student’s 'disability' under ADA, section 504 or an IEP plan to provide "equal access to the full curriculum".
A third approach is to address the underlying sensory needs of the student and to provide him with the necessary strategies with the intention that they can participate in the group assignment WITHOUT violating their emotional/sensory boundaries
In our experience, the best long-term results come from a combination of approaches two and three.
Make use of the student’s 504 or IEP plan to provide ‘reasonable accommodations’ while also addressing their sensory needs and helping them develop new essential skills.