Learning Spaces

Filed Under (Inclusion) by Estee on 28-02-2011

When we have that right space, that corner, whatever it is that we can claim for ourselves, we can loosen up, be creative and explore. It’s the same for children. The world is different. Therefore, learning should be different, and it is certain that all children learn in a variety of ways.

As I did a little google search in looking into how I might design an art studio in my home for Adam I began to think about how we design our schools to assist with learning differences. How can space foster creativity? When I watched this video of Odrup School in Denmark, it struck me how cluttered our current school environments are, and how limited they are in terms of letting our kids physically move throughtout the day. We still expect that learning can only happen while sitting compliantly at a desk.

Uncluttered environments, and ones that allow for sensory exploration, better enable our autistic kids to thrive and contribute as autistic people — not only would they get the sensory input they need in order to be settled, but project-based learning can be more expansive. “Coping” with autistic children and learning go far beyond the autistic person him/herself, and we might look at how we set our children up for failure as the culprit rather than for success. We don’t usually consider these options because it is sometimes easier not to change our ways.This is a systemic issue that speaks to how we believe learning ought to happen based on what we used to do.

What if you could make art out of a math project? In art history, (a course in Piero Della Francesca to be precise), I had to make geometric models of his paintings. Math is a challenge for me, but the project taught me more about math and persepctive than I ever learned while sitting in high school. Do we also not value collaboration? What if we enabled autistic people to work in more collaborative environments? Right, we say they don’t have the “social skills” to be able to do so. But wait. When Adam hears his peers answering questions, he is more apt to answer. He works harder when he sits with his peers in a circle. Sure, everyone needs to also learn to work alone, but it’s a piece of the process. Adam takes a lot of pride with his peers and teachers when he does well.

If we value these things and understand their importance on one level, then why do we seem to think that sitting at a table for forty hours a week is the ultimate way to teach an autistic person? Why do we consider that necessary or even fair? We talk often about how autistic people learn, and in so doing we have to talk about the environments that people best thrive in. Our space is yet another important tool for learning and it reflects what we believe about it, about people, and most of all, if we truly value and want to foster an inclusive society.


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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (www.taaproject.com), and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.