Does Montessori education fit children who have autism? Well, it depends on a lot of factors.
1.) The child.
Different children have different levels of autism. That is why it is a full spectrum. Some children will be drawn to the materials, and the specific processes will appeal to their obsessive sides. Others are going to struggle with the independence piece.
But remember, Maria told us to follow the child. Maybe that child who is on the spectrum doesn't quite fit into current "Montessori ideals." When working with a child who is on the spectrum, figure out what makes him tick. What are his interests? How can you fit learning into those interests? Remember, repetition is the key to learning. Autistic children are often inclined to repeat behaviors time and time again. You have to get creative and take the time to nudge that child into something new, based on favorite activities and comfort levels.
I remember going to see Temple Grandin a few years ago. She stressed the importance of finding out where a child's strengths are, and basing your instruction from there. The sky is the limit.
2.) The teacher.
That being said, it is going to take a special teacher to handle Asperger's or autism in the classroom. Not every teacher is going to understand what is going on, nor how to handle such children. It doesn't mean she is a bad person. Perhaps she doesn't have any experience. Perhaps she just doesn't understand autism. Perhaps she just isn't as intuitive into the needs of all children.
I don't want to make it sound like I am the "Autism Whisperer" or anything, but we have had great success with children on the spectrum in my classroom. I was exposed to Asperger's when I was doing my internship. My good friend, and fellow intern, had just found out that her son had it. Only back then, few people had heard of it. She had to drive almost two hours one direction, once a week, to find a psychologist familiar with it, who could help her and her family. Somehow, I just naturally got along with her son.
Some years ago, I had two boys in my kindergarten program who would later be diagnosed with Asperger's and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD). My assistant and I recognized the signs almost immediately with the two boys, and we tailored our methods of handling them accordingly. I guess we pretty much did what we always do, and that is make adjustments to fit the individual needs of our students. But our methods were successful for those two boys. I am still in contact with them and their families, and still spend time with them, even though they are well into elementary school.
Since then, we have suspected other children as possibly being on the spectrum. Unfortunately, we have lost touch with them, and have no idea. Or, some of those parents just never went forward with the evaluations, so we cannot be sure.
Another advantage in my classroom is that my assistant was formerly a one-on-one to an autistic child who had been in a different classroom in our program. That was how she was introduced to our school. Between her hands-on knowledge, and my never-ending desire to research and learn more, we have implemented many techniques that accommodate children who learn differently.
3.) The school.
Not every school is going to be equipped to handle children with special needs on the autism spectrum. Often these children need special services, such as speech therapy, social skills counseling, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and more. School districts are tightening their belts and seem to be getting less money from the states. They are finding all kinds of loopholes to get them out of providing services to private schools. If children can get into a public Montessori school, perhaps they can easily get more of those necessary services. But for those who don't, it feels like an unending battle.
Some schools are fortunate enough to have professionals on their staff who can accommodate some of these needs. Some parents are fortunate enough to be able to pay out-of-pocket for these services. But not all can.
I would love to find a Montessori program that works with children who have autism. I have heard that there are a few schools, and I think I came across one in Canada once. I have seen how some Montessori ideals can work with a child on the spectrum. I love the social skills aspect, and have successfully taught a child with Asperger's to use the peace table when he is frustrated. I have worked on some practical life skills with a boy who at the more severe end of the spectrum. And I love harnessing the children's interests, and tailoring lessons accordingly.
I also realize that I am unique in my desires, and that I will not always reach every single child, spectrum or not. But that doesn't mean I am not going to try!
The following are some books that I have found quite useful over the last few years. Please feel free to check some out and recommend some of your own favorites!