RE: [xmca] FW: Dialogic pedagogy for an autistic child

From: Peter Smagorinsky (
Date: Mon Feb 12 2007 - 12:21:44 PST

oy, such an interesting question.....I respond as someone from a family with
an autistic gene in the pool.

First, I'd question the use of the term "mentally handicapped students" in
this discussion, or at least advise great caution in how and when it's
applied, and to whom. Just this morning, while looking for something else, I
came across this website: which is a parody of
"disabilites" information sites. In it, the nonautistic population is the
one with problems. It's quite hilarious, I think, and I speak as someone who
probably has a strain of Asperger's syndrome (undiagnosed formally, but
meeting many criteria). The term "neurotypical," incidentally, (thanks to
Wikipedia), is used with varying degrees of seriousness. This ranges from a
straightforward factual way to refer to non-autistic spectrum people to a
more playfully tongue-in-cheek use in contexts which often strongly imply
that the "merely typical" are wasting brain capacity keeping track of
uninteresting and irrelevant information such as illogical 'social rules'.

On a dialogic pedagogy for autistics: I'm sure that it depends on how
autistic the person is. My best friend's son is an 18-year-old severely
autistic young man who has never spoken, and only recently stopped wearing
diapers. I wonder how dialogic a curriculum can get in such cases. My
nephew, a less severe autistic/Asperger's case, went through a program based
on behavior modification. My sister (his mom) actually couldn't watch much
of his education because she found it severe, but it did teach him about
avoiding certain behaviors and pursuing others. Not dialogic at all, but
effective according to his parents, even though it might appear
counterintuitive to a progressive educator--but oops, my sister is a
progressive educator (middle school math).

At the same time, like most people on this list I'm an environmentalist at
heart, and so look to the setting of activity to help explain human thinking
and action. I'll sign off with something I coauthored in The Discourse of
Character Education (Erlbaum, 2005) on how young people with non-normative
makeups are often punished in school for being behavior problems.

Cook (2004) [reports] that students with mental health problems are often
put in special education programs or disciplined when they act out, either
as a consequence of their makeup (e.g., a child with Tourette's syndrome's
involuntary profanity) or in response to the taunting they face from their
        Yet a mental health professional would surely argue that the problem
is not a lack of character and the solution is not to punish students with
mental health problems. Rather, a broader understanding of mental health
among students and faculty-the sort of attention to climate we found in the
states from the Upper Midwest-would contribute to a more sympathetic and
less punitive environment for such students in school. Indeed, Damasio
(1994) argues in his somatic-marker theory against the classic Cartesian
mind/body binary, instead positing that brain and body are integrally
related not just to one another but to the environment. A change in the
environment, he finds, may contribute to changes in how a person processes
new information (cf. Luria, 1979; Pert, 1997); that is, in response to
developments in the surroundings, the brain will encode perceptions in new
kinds of ways.
        Conceivably, then, changes in school climate can contribute to the
emotional well-being of students whose mental makeup falls outside the
normal range. The therapy for such students is still widely debated. While
medication and counseling have benefited many with nonnormative makeups in
their relationships with others, the medical model has been criticized
because it assumes that a normative mental state is best for all. This
criticism frequently comes up in debates about whether medications for
Attention Deficit Disorder are prescribed too often for any students who
have difficulty focusing in school. Some argue that prescribing such
medications is designed more to increase the comfort levels of those around
such students than to help those students themselves.
The jury is still out concerning the question of whether people with such
diagnoses are sick and in need of medicine. Cook (2004) argues that relying
simply on medication and counseling is inadequate; that a broader
environmental change that enables an understanding and tolerance of
difference, and gives young people tools for managing their difference, is
essential to helping young people construct positive lives for themselves
and in turn contribute to a more humane society. Taking a punitive approach
to difference, she argues, is regressive and only makes life more fragile
for those characterized as different and more emotionally and cognitively
unhealthy for those who surround them.

Cook, L.S. (2004). Authoring self: Framing identities of young women
diagnosed with mood disorders. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University
of Georgia, Athens.
Peter Smagorinsky
The University of Georgia
Department of Language and Literacy Education
125 Aderhold Hall
Athens, GA 30602-7123 /fax:706-542-4509/phone:706-542-4507/

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Eugene Matusov
Sent: Monday, February 12, 2007 2:42 PM
To: 'Olga Dysthe';;;
Deborah Hicks; Bob Fecho; 'Myriam Torres'; 'Igor Solomadin'
Cc:; 'Bakhtin Centre'; 'Kathy von Duyke'; 'Laura
Subject: [xmca] FW: Dialogic pedagogy for an autistic child

Dear colleagues-


I'm looking for literature on dialogic pedagogy for autistic children. Has
anybody come across such literature? Did somebody discuss limitations of
dialogic pedagogy of working with mentally handicapped students? Any help
and guidance are welcomed.




Eugene Matusov



Eugene Matusov, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Education

School of Education

University of Delaware

Newark, DE 19716, USA



fax: 1-(302)-831-4110







From: Kathy von Duyke []
Sent: Monday, February 12, 2007 2:31 PM
To: 'Eugene Matusov'
Subject: RE: Handicap kids and dialogic pedagogy


Hi Eugene,

  I have a high functioning autistic seven year old boy joining our parent
co-op. He is really a mixed bag more than one syndrome. He is
exceptionally bright, willful and can become violent and angry if disturbed.
I am thinking that developing a dialogic approach to his work, coupled with
our Montessori constructivist, and "follow the child" environment may help
him be able to protect his need to concentrate, and then help him
"normalize" as M. Montessori called it. I am trying to construct the
boundaries so that we will make less issues have to be addressed around his
will, and then be firm when we must cross him. If he makes makes funny
noises or movements during class time, we don't try to stop him, and the
kids don't laugh. If he does act out, I am attempting to give him a safe
place and the freedom to do that. Currently, if he needs to yell or punch,
as long as it is just me or his mom, I am not stopping him. On the other
hand when it is time to leave, I am pushing in his pressure points in his
armpits if he lays down because his mom is petite and he is large. So far,
this seems successful without him snapping out too much. We had a good day
today. His mom, who is naturally dialogic with him, worked with him for
about 1/2 hour in the room with the rest of the older children, then they
had a 20 minute recess outside. He was fine. He left easily today, and I
told him I looked forward to him coming tomorrow.


If anyone knows of some literature on dialogic pedagogy and this kind of
child I would appreciate it, or any other words of wisdom for me.


Thank you,


Katherine S. von Duyke


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