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Student Success Story: Tailoring Tutoring Sessions to a Student's Love of Tractors

My 14 year old student had disengaged from mainstream education. He has autism and struggles with the range of challenges that autism presents for him. He came to Tutor Doctor for academic support and we work together online because of pandemic concerns.

At first, he didn’t respond to me at all, so I changed my approach and started to use his interests to connect with him and help him feel engaged in our sessions. He has an intense interest in tractors, so I taught him science, maths and English by incorporating tractors into all aspects of his learning. Gradually he trusted me more, engaged more in sessions, and I was able to slowly include content in our sessions that wasn’t related to tractors. This allowed him to work outside his comfort zone and expand what he felt comfortable with while still feeling secure. Sometimes we still needed to spend extra time talking about tractors to help him feel connected and comfortable, but we were slowly able to shorten the frequency and the time spent on tractor talk. He’s taught me a lot about tractors!

There were days when I thought he would give up, but he never did. We set up a reward system that let him earn points for detailed thinking, asking thoughtful questions, and engaging well with problems. He chose a reward that’s valuable to him and he’ll earn his reward when he reaches 100 points. He is currently restoring a heritage tractor and it’s almost ready to run. He decided his reward will be driving his restored tractor down a lane by his farm (safely and legally) and that he would like me there to watch. This will be happening before Christmas 2021.

My student and I have developed a good working relationship based on good humour and trust. He tries his best in our sessions, even if he’s not feeling so well. He knows I understand when he shares how he is feeling or when he tells me “things are flooding his brain” or he doesn’t “get” something because he interprets it in a literal sense. I respect those feelings and try to change what we do to help him through.

He may not have won any prizes and he doesn’t score top grades, but he has grown so much and has faced every challenge with determination and humour. He has kept going and I am so proud of him!

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