The Particular Challenge of Group Work
Often when students select the course of study that they want to undertake they are not able to clearly imagine what working in the profession will be like. A student might choose Medicine because they are excellent academically and especially good at science. The need for high level interpersonal skills and active collaboration might not be immediately apparent. Another student might choose Veterinary Science again because they are academically excellent, good at science and like animals. The thought of working closely with distressed animal owners and managing other people’s emotions might not spring to mind. Similar scenarios can be proposed for working in a large number of professions including Law, Engineering, Business, IT, Science, Accounting etc.
With its myriad of social interactions and 'rules' of behaviour, group work is undoubtedly a challenge for many university students - be they on the spectrum or not. For tertiary educators and tutors managing these groups, complaints about who's doing more work, who should be doing more work, who's too bossy and who's just not interested often results in a group work being a challenge for educators as well!
So why not simply eliminate the group or team work that causes so much distress to students – and especially to those on the autism spectrum? With intra- and inter-disciplinary teamwork being an integral part of everyday work life for most professions it is essential that students learn that group work will be part of their work environment - and for educators to prepare them accordingly.
For educators, learning how to engage students who find team work challenging is key to improving their skills and capacity to tolerate team work, and to extending their ability to contribute effectively in the 'challenging' group environment.