This paper explores teaching strategies that can be used effectively with adult schizophrenics. Cognitive and behavioral elements of the disorder are discussed, as well as theories on the etiology of schizophrenia. Communication and teaching methods are suggested that may help the schizophrenic to discern the context and interrelationships of new ideas and situations, thus allowing learning to occur.
In the realm of special populations, schizophrenics are classified as "emotionally disturbed" (Sarkees & Scott, 1986, p.33). There is little discussion of the schizophrenic's perceptions and behaviors or of specific methods that instructors can use to facilitate learning. Schizophrenia typically does not manifest until the late teens or early 20's in males and late 20's in females. It is rarely seen in the K - 12 grades. This may account for it being largely overlooked in the literature on special populations. Nevertheless, schizophrenia is not an "emotional disturbance." It is one of the most debilitating and tragic of all mental disorders, and its symptoms cannot be controlled through counseling or psychotherapy alone.
In the Adult Basic Education (ABE) program at Eastern Idaho Technical College (EITC), we provide services to a variety of special populations. Counselors or caseworkers from Vocational Rehabilitation or other agencies typically refer students in need of basic skills upgrade to the ABE program. Some of these students have been physically disabled on the job and need to retrain in another profession. Others have decided to pursue a GED or High School Equivalency Certificate. Some have suffered traumatic brain injuries, or worse, debilitating mental disorders. Of the latter, the worst disorder by far is that of schizophrenia, and most ABE instructors, even those trained in special education, are ill-prepared to handle the unique challenges these students present.
It is not uncommon for schizophrenics to lead relatively normal lives for several years at a time, particularly if medications are effective and well-monitored. However, this is not the only relevant issue. Good nutrition, a therapeutic team that works together in the patient's best interests, and a supportive family are all equally important. Unfortunately, in most cases one or more of these factors are missing. Relapse is a constant threat, and most schizophrenics periodically spend time in state mental hospitals or other facilities. Although many schizophrenics are highly intelligent and have led healthy, normal lives up to the age of onset, many others come from dysfunctional families where relationships and cognitive/emotional development is negatively affected through drug and alcohol abuse. This is the typical schizophrenic student that enters an ABE program.
Background of Disorder
"Schizophrenia is a term used to describe a complex, extremely puzzling condition - the most chronic and disabling of the major mental illnesses" (Shore, 1986, p.2). Schizophrenia is not, as many have been led to believe, split personalities, but is characterized by the sudden onset of psychosis, a degeneration of normal intellectual and social functioning and a complete or partial split from the reality most of us experience. Psychosis may include visual or auditory hallucinations (hearing voices); incoherent speech; extreme fixations on ideas, images, or people; delusions; suicidal ideation; and any variety of bizarre behaviors.
In the past, schizophrenia has been to mental illness what today Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) may be to learning disorders a handy catch-all diagnosis. Fortunately, this is no longer the case. Psychiatrists recognize that a psychotic episode can be triggered by a variety of factors, including drug use or sleep deprivation. Schizophrenia is also associated with the onset of other types of mental illnesses, such as Bi-polar Disorder (manic-depression) or borderline personality disorders. …