All students are now well into their service learning placements and they are very excited about their experiences. After each visit, students submit “reflective” journals in which they share their observations and raise questions about what they have experienced. At least once a week, we have a “check in” discussion during class, where students talk with each other about what they are seeing in their placements. This is an opportunity for students to share significant observations and help each other make sense of those observations. One of the things I believe is most valuable about these discussions is that they provide a chance for students to question some of their initial assumptions and reactions to what they experienced. For instance, students who go to the same placement on different days may come to very different conclusions about a given child or his/her behavior. When this happens, we are able to explore and dismantle some simplistic assumptions about why the child behaved that way (e.g., maybe he isn’t just an oppositional child by nature).
We recently finished discussion of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Specifically, we examined core characteristics of Autism and what used to be called “Asperger’s syndrome.” Students discussed some recent eye-tracking research on the nature of social information processing in autism. This research may provide insight into the difficulties children with autism often having in reading social cues. They also examined the recent changes in the DSM classification of ASDs.
After our spring break, we will be learning about child maltreatment, ADHD and disruptive behavior disorders. We will examine changes in the diagnostic criteria for ADHD and will critically examine pubic perceptions of “overdiagnosis”. We will also approaches to the treatment of ADHD.
**Finally, over the course of the next 2 or 3 visits, students should approach you with ideas for a service project. This is a major component of their service learning experience and requires that the students consult with their site supervisors.