Learning and Teaching by ACEing Autism Program Director Harvey Rubin

We are all introduced to the learning/teaching process exclusively as learners. We learn to walk, we learn to speak, and we learn to read to master the world around us. These experiences hone our learning skills and shape our concepts of how we learn. It’s only when we attempt to  teach that we realize others may learn differently than we do. As a tennis teacher I have observed that students digest information in one of three basic ways;

1) Hearing the words that describe the desired action (AURAL)

2) Seeing the action performed correctly (VISUAL)

3) Performing the motion to “feel” the stroke (KINETIC)

For me, the kinetic method produces the most positive results of the three as it is a firsthand experience and seems to penetrate the deepest.

In every ACEing Autism class something good always happens but on occasion something GREAT happens! This was the case a few weeks ago at UCLA when a 9 year old boy who is on the spectrum and has been in the program for more than a year was having difficulty performing the proper volley technique.

He kept swinging his racquet rather than “punching” the ball while holding his racquet vertically.

After many unsuccessful attempts to “explain” the technique and many unsuccessful attempts to demonstrate the technique, I came around to his side of the net with the intention of gently guiding his arm and racquet through the correct movement. As I was approaching him the thought came to me that possibly I could enhance the kinetic experience for him by taking the visual factor out of the equation.

My reasoning was that when a person loses one of their 5 senses, the other 4 senses heighten to compensate for the loss. This is usually a long term process evident in blind individuals whose sense of hearing and touch is greatly enhanced, but I thought it still might be worth a try.

I asked him if it was all right to cover his eyes during the drill as if we were playing hide and seek from the ball.

He agreed. I asked him to remember how the racquet feels in his hand during the 10 ball drill. A volunteer fed him 10 balls which, with his eyes covered, performed  the proper  racquet technique for the volley correctly with the aid of my hand guiding his arm and racquet. When the drill was finished I went to the other side of the net and started feeding him balls and, to everyone’s amazement, he hit every single volley correctly thereafter.

This was a fantastic breakthrough as he has never been able to master the volley technique before.

Concentration is a key issue for this boy as is the case with many autistic children. Possibly by eliminating 20% of his stimuli, he was able to concentrate more fully on the “feel” of the shot and thereby reproduce the stroke through recreating the sensation rather than trying to obey a verbal cue.

I can’t wait for the opportunity to try this method out again.