Welcome to The Autism Site

What You’ll Find Here

Books

Often parents are hanging on by their nails, whether their child has a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder, or when they’re wondering if there is something different about the way their child is developing. After a long day of work and child rearing and household chores, who has time to pour through internet sites or study a heavy textbook?

Teachers feel the same way. They’re with kids all day, then in evenings there is marking and lesson plans to prepare and maybe even hope for a personal life. Reading a weighty tome is the last thing on their minds.

But learning need not be tedious. What if you could read a novel, get lost in the story and learn strategies at the same time? Strategies that can be used at home and at school. What if you read about real families living with the challenges of autism and working together with their schools?

At The Autism Site you can learn about three such books, each depicting a different child with autism, different challenges and different strengths. The first book became an award-winning Amazon bestseller.

Help

At The Autism Site, we understand. We get it when you’re unsure, frustrated and frightened. Been there, done that. Check out the About Us page to learn more. Then, browse through our pages of questions and strategies. Drop us a note and Dr. Mitchell will get back to you.

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Reading and Computers

Question:

I’m looking for a computer program to help my student read better.

Suggestions:

Before we get into talking about computerized reading programs, may I ask why you want one?  Please don’t get me wrong; I’m not at all opposed to using computers as a tool. But good teaching cannot be replaced by a computer.

And sound reading approach needs to focus on phonological processing, not just phonic. A useful book for parents and educators is Reading Reflex : The Foolproof Phono-Graphix Method for Teaching Your Child to Read  by Carmen and Geoffrey McGuiness.You can find out more about phonemic awareness and phonological processing at sites such as:

LD Online

Ed by Design 

FCRR.org

Reading – First

Dibels

SAEE Publications 

A good reading resource is Orchestrating Success in Reading by Dawn Reithaug.

Excellent FREE information is available here.

While not all children with autism read, many do. Some children are hyperlexic and learn to read as very young children. Here’s a link to help you learn more about hyperlexia.

As with much of their learning, a child with an autism spectrum disorder may not follow a typical learning path. It’s wise to approach reading through many avenues; hence the concern over a search for one computerized program that will teach children with autism to read. It’s hard to imagine any one-size-fits-all strategy since each individual has his own pattern of strengths and weaknesses.

That said many people with autism have strengths in the visual area, while auditory processing is a more difficult method of taking in information. Academic approaches should keep this in mind and provide opportunity for the child to learn in visual (seeing), tactile (touch) and auditory (hearing) ways. Below is the link to one method of teaching reading visually:  http://www.readingreallyrocks.com/pages/1/index.htm

Among others that support a multimodal approach are:


Some children appear to read well. But they may be proficient at “word calling” while remaining weak at comprehension. A program that is often useful is Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking by Nanci Bell. (Click on the book’s picture for more information.)

If your child would benefit from having words read to him from the computer, here are a couple free programs:

Here is an assortment of computerized reading programs. This list is not exhaustive and comes with no particular endorsement:

Wynn Literacy Software

Laureate Learning Systems

Kurzweil 3000 (free trial available)

Reading Upgrade

 

http://teacher.scholastic.com/products/instructor/everykidca n.htm

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Failing Everything at School

Question:

Failing all subjects

Jim is in grade 9. While he seems bright and verbally skilled, he’s failing all subjects. He rarely hands in assignments. He constantly loses things. He denies that he’s disorganized and refuses all suggestions and assistance. He insists on doing things the same way, even when what he’s doing obviously is not working. Half the time he’s furious with the adults in his life and resenting that they’re always trying to make him do things.

Suggestions:

Just how blunt are you when you talk to him? If you’re subtle or indirect, he might not take in your meaning. And how much talking do people do to him? In general, when a student is messing up, we as educators talk to him. And the less the kid responds or seems to get it, the more we talk to clarify and make our point. This does not work well at all with kids with autism because of their auditory processing weakness. In fact, the more we talk, the less sinks in and the more agitated/frozen/dug-in they usually become.

The best description of this I know of is in Donna William’s book, Somebody, Somewhere.  It’s a fascinating read, almost like reading a novel. Donna wrote when she was in in her 30’s, she has autism, a B.Ed. degree and is extremely articulate in describing things from her point of view.

When a kid seems bright enough and speaks well, we often forget about the auditory processing problem and use oral language as the way to communicate. While it is one way, it’s not the most effective especially in emotionally charged situations when the student’s ability to understand what he hears will go way, way down. Read Donna William’s descriptions. You’ll enjoy it.

The one thing I’d do with Jim is use visuals. Tons of visuals. Always. He’ll get information from something he can see so much easier than if he’s expected to learn by listening.

Author and presenter Linda Hodgins has created a workshop on using visuals for behaviour problems. Click on the title to take a look. It’s available in DVD or VCR format and called Visual Strategies Workshop.

Linda also has two excellent, easy-to-use books: Solving Behavior Problems in Autism and Visual Strategies for Improving Communication.

Another video you might find helpful is Visual Supports in the Classroom for Students with Autism and Related Pervasive Developmental Disorders.

I’ve found this reference useful:  Higher Functioning Adolescents and Young Adults With Autism: A Teacher’s Guide.

A helpful book is Autism in Adolescents and Adults.  You might not need to read it all right away, just browse at first. It’s a simple book where one page describes a problem or behavior and the next gives a suggestion (mainly visual suggestions).

A fair proportion of all kids with autism suffer from depression in the teen years. In adolescents depression most frequently comes out as anger rather than acting morose. That might be part of what you’re seeing.

And, it can look a lot like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or co-exist with OCD. People with autism tend to be rigid in their thinking and behavior. Because of their neurological differences, it can be hard for them to gather information from their environment, process, store and retrieve it when they need those facts. This makes it difficult for them to derive meaning from what’s going on, relate it to past experiences and come up with good strategies. When it’s hard to make sense of your world, you cling to what you think you know – hence the rigidity.

Another reason for depression in such kids is that around this age they notice just how different they are from their peers. And for kids with average intelligence, it’s frustrating to think inside that you’re smart but not to be able to get things that the kids around you seem to grasp with ease.

For teens with autism, medication is not at all unusual and can have a positive effect. It might help his mom and the doctor if the school provided checklists of the behaviour that you’re seeing in Jim. If his physician believes that medications may be helpful, there’s a very good chance that he may not get the meds right first try. He’ll need behavioral feedback to assess the dose, timing and if that’s the correct medication as there are a number of possibilities that could help

When you have a spare five minutes with Jim, go to the Do2Learn website and try these short games on emotions and facial expressions with him. I’m betting that he will be unable to correctly identify the facial expressions on these people. If so, that’ll give you a clue about one of the reasons his behaviour escalates.

We derive a lot of information from the facial expressions and body language of others. For the most part, no on teaches us these things – we just pick them up automatically. Not so with most people with autism, PDD and Asperger’s. Rather they need to be taught how to read non-verbal language. There’s a step-by-step short program designed by Dr. Tony Attwood specifically for autism/Asperger’s called, Exploring Feelings: Cognitive Behavior Therapy to Manage Anger  . (I’m assuming that anger is a problem, or that he does not stop to consider his choices before responding).

Another helpful program is Michelle Garcia Winner’s Thinking About You, Thinking About Me.

Despite the fact that your student has autism, Asperger’s of PDD, he’s still a teenager. At his age adolescents are finding their own way, wanting to be independent and make their own decisions. Rebelling to some degree against authority is normal. So in summary, how can you help?

  • Use visuals rather than relying on verbal information
  • Allow him choices within the parameters you set out
  • Enhance his skills at picking up on nonverbal cues
  • Social skills training in managing feelings
  • Teach and model appropriate ways to handle frustration, protest and anger
  • Find ways to get him to “buy in” to what you want him to do by showing him what the long-term result will be
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Wears the Same Clothes

Question:

I am a Special Education Tutor for children with ASD.  A six year old boy I work with has recently begun to insist upon wearing the same shirt every day. I do not think it is a sensory issue because he several of the same shirts only in different colors.  He often begins tantruming if he is not allowed to wear this shirt. I have written a social story about this stating that kids wear different clothes on different days. Also, we are starting off slow, only 2 days without the favorite blue shirt(there is a calendar to help him with this) Is there anything else I should/could do?

Suggestions:

Is this insistence a recent thing? Did it begin in November or December? This may be a reaction to the altered routines we see at school as the holidays approach.

Many people with autism become uncomfortable when life is less predictable. Often they react to this uncertainty by clinging to rituals or obsessions. When life seems out of control, we all gravitate toward things that are in our power and things that give us comfort. This is amplified for a child with autism who finds it difficult to deal with change and to make sense out of the world around him.

When he comes back from the holidays, he’ll likely have difficulty dropping his holiday routine and adjusting back into his school schedule. He may still cling to the same shirt or pick up a new ritual to help calm himself.

I understand how you’d reason that this is not a sensory issue when he has the same shirts in other colors that he could wear. But, this may be more than just the way the shirt feels. It may be how it looks or a combination

of color and feel. Some people with ASD are very sensitive visually and colors have a large effect on them. Perhaps that’s the case with your student. Donna Williams, a woman with autism talks about her visual sensitivies in her book called Somebody, Somewhere.

Social stories are a good way to handle this but from what you say, they may not have been that effective so far. You are making progress though if he’s only wearing the shirt three days out of five.

Limiting his obsession as you are doing is also another good thing to try. And, using a visual like a calendar is a positive step.

Is he actually wearing the same shirt each day or does he own several identical shirts?

What does his family say about this struggle? Is getting is off him and into the laundry a problem?

I know a boy with autism who insisted on wearing the same garments. He also drooled. When many days worth of saliva pooled and dried onto his sweatshirt and coat, he’d repeatedly bring the cloth to his nose and

inhale deeply. He enjoyed strong olfactory stimulation (although those around him did not share in his enjoyment).

We tried many behavioral methods to get him to accept clean clothing but had little success. What worked best was substituting other strong smells. Scented markers and stickers held little interest for him. What did work was giving him frequent sensory body breaks and allowing him frequent access to play dough we cooked using cherry flavored kool aid.

Is the shirt clean? Perhaps approaching your social story from a cleanliness angle might have more of an effect than emphasizing his appearance. Could he be convinced to wear an alternative shirt while his is being laundered at home or at school?

As with all kids, we need to pick our battles. Is this a battle that should be fought at this time? With teenagers, clothing tends to be a major social issue. But at six, is it as crucial? Do his peers notice and comment? Is wearing the same shirt limiting your student’s social opportunities? If the shirt is clean and the sameness is not bothering the other students, perhaps the issue will resolve itself as you concentrate on other social skills.

 

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Should We Move to Find Better Services?

Question:

Should we move to find better services for our son who has recently been diagnosed with autism?

Where we live probably isn’t ideal for our son with high functioning autism. Where in the United States or Canada would we find the best services? We’re worried about him now and in the future. We’re willing to do anything to help. Should we move for his sake?

Suggestions:

How lucky your son is that the whole family is willing to give up everything and move for his sake. As to which locale would be ideal for your son, well that’s a tough question.

I live in Canada and am more familiar with Canadian educational systems than those in the US. When I spent five days at the Autism Leadership Academy in Fort Lauderdale, I discovered that there are more similarities than differences in how we actually work with kids with autism spectrum disorders.

I would assume that at least in principle, the educational services available for your son should be the same no matter where in the US you live due to the federally legislated IDEA, etc. While on paper, the services should be the same, I realize that the reality may differ.

In Canada, there is no centralized special education system as in the States; each province is responsible for its own. Inclusion is the norm rather than the exception. Below are links to some provinces’ publications regarding students and autism. As I wrote this, all the links were clickable. Please contact me if some do not work for you.

British Columbia – Teaching Students with Autism

Alberta – Teaching Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Saskatchewan – Teaching Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Guide for Educators

Manitoba – Implementing Programming for Students with Autism

Ontario – Teaching Community Skills and Behaviors to Students With Autism

Quebec – I was unable to find any English language materials on Quebec’s curriculum as it pertains to students with autism

If anyone knows of a link to this information, I’d appreciate hearing from you.

New Brunswick  and Nova Scotia– Teaching Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Newfoundland –Model for the Coordination of Services to Children and Youth with Special Needs

Prince Edward Island – Effectiveness of the Programming and Services for Children with Autism in Prince Edward Island

For information on services throughout the United States, I’d suggest you contact some national organizations such as:

Autism Research Institute

Autism Society of America

PediaLink.org

Apart from all this research, why exactly to you want to move? If you are seeking the most ideal place in which to raise your son, I’d worry that it may not exist. I’ve talked with families who believe that if only they were in the right place, if only they had the correct teacher aide or special ed teacher, or program, then their child would be “fixed” or “normal”.

Unfortunately, (or not!) while strategies can be learned and kids grow and mature, as Temple Grandin says, “Once autistic, always autistic.” In fact, many articulate adults with autism take great exception to the idea of anyone trying to fix or change them. While they realize they may differ from the general population, they like who they are. You can read some of these views at:

Institute for the Study of Neurologically Typical

Ask an Aspie

Auties.org

It goes without saying, that your son’s well-being is extremely important. But he’s just one person in your family. What if you found what you felt were the ideal set of services for your boy but adequate employment was an issue for the wage earners in your family? Or you were torn between your duty to your child and your responsibility to ill, aging parents residing in another part of the country?

Young adults tend to have minds of their own. Even if you feel you’ve located your family in the perfect location for high school, post-secondary and work opportunities, your son may have different ideas. He may want to go to college elsewhere. He may seek job or school opportunities several States away. He may respect your opinions but still choose to move do make his own decision. (While worried, you’ll be proud that you’ve raised a child who can think for himself and has the confidence and skills to strike out on his own.)

It’s hard to judge a place by the services that are available, because even amid that array of services, many may be things your son does not need. It’s hard to believe that there is that one correct way of working with every person with autism, just as there is no one correct way to teach reading. Each of us is unique. Even though he has autism, there aren’t uniform traits across the spectrum, just tendencies that he may experience to varying degrees. And what your son experiences as a weakness at age eleven may differ from things that may cause him trouble when he’s twenty.

Since the incidence of autism is so prevalent now, most schools have at least some experience with students with autism spectrum disorders. By contacting the State or Provincial Departments of Education, you will gain some idea of their policies regarding children with autism.

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Post-Secondary School

Question:

I’m a guidance counselor working with very bright student who is finishing high school. He wants to go to college. We think he could but it’s scary, especially for his parents.

Suggestions:

First, as background for you, the parents and the students themselves, I’d recommend that you read what bright, articulate adults with autism spectrum disorder have to say about this topic. Some I’d recommend are:

Grandin, Temple & Duffy, Kate. Developing Talents. Careers for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism.

Grandin, Temple. A video called Dr. Temple Grandin speaks on Careers – Opportunity for Growth. (This info is also available on her DVD titled, Dr. Temple Grandin on Visual Thinking, Sensory, Careers and Medications.

Newport, Jerry.  Your Life is Not a Label: A Guide to Living Fully with Autism and Asperger’s.

Prince-Hughes, Dawn (editor).  Aquamarine Blue 5. Personal Stories of College Students with Autism.

Jed Baker. Preparing for Life. A Complete Guide to Transitioning to Adulthood for those on the Autism and Asperger’s Spectrums.

Halliday, Liane. Pretending to Be Normal.

While we’re often anxious to be as helpful as we can to such young people, in the end when they enter the world of work or post-secondary institutions, they are more or less on their own and we can offer little more than support from the sidelines.  This makes it essential that these young people have a solid understanding of their own pattern of strengths and weaknesses.

Without an understanding of how an autism spectrum disorder impacts their lives and how this may contribute to views/experiences not shared or understood by other people, these young people can become readily frustrated out in “the world”.

Outside of the school and home environment they’re used to, they’ll encounter adults who are not patient with their differences and are either unwilling to make accommodations or unaware of the need to. Then the person must become an advocate for himself and learn which strategies are most effective in helping him accomplish what needs to be done.

If the students you’re working with do not yet have much insight into ASD, a simple little introductory book is called, Asperger’s Huh? By Rosina Schnurr.

Another good training-type book is Inside Out:  What Makes a Person with Social Cognitive Deficits Tick?(Asperger Syndrome, High-Functioning Autism, Non-Verbal Learning Disability, Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified.  The author is Michelle Garcia Winner.

Luke Jackson’s book, Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome is excellent.

In gaining insight into themselves, a few points are key:

1.Theory of Mind – how other people do not necessarily share the thoughts and feelings they’re having – they need to use words to let others know what they’re thinking and ask them their thoughts rather than basing their actions on assumptions

  1. Time – whether or not time is a big deal to them, it is to other people and even when they don’t understand or agree with it’s importance, they need to conform to others’ expectations of how they manage time – use alarms, vibrating watches, pop-up reminders on the computer, electronic or paper/pencil agendas, etc. – make up and use schedules

3.Special interests & talents – life is not only about the things that capture their attention – they have to accomplish all the other stuff as well, even when it makes little sense to them and there are more interesting things to do – what point is there to having a real talent if they can’t figure out how to use that talent?

4.Hygiene – again, even when they don’t feel like it or do not see the need, being clean and appropriately dressed matters

5.Sensory – most people with ASD are affected in some way by sensory sensitivities – each individual needs to be aware of their own sensory profile and how sensory input affects them – then they need to learn what things calm them, how and when to get themselves into a place where they can get calm enough to function. The book, Zones of Regulation will help, as might How Does Your Engine Run.  The Alert Program for Self-Regulation by Mary Sue Williams & Sherry Shellenberger is an excellent training vehicle for this.

6.The Rule Is… – many people with ASD are rule-governed and this can be a helpful thing to remember, especially when in situations they don’t easily understand but where compliance is essential.  The rule is you show up for work at 8:30 each day. The rule is you use deodorant. The rule is you keep to the schedule.

7.Social stories – you may have done social stories with your students when they were younger. While the same format may no longer be necessarily, some kind of social scripting is still helpful. It might take the form of a notebook listing “What if’s…” What if the bus is late – here’s what you can do.  What if your alarm doesn’t go off in the morning?  What if you disagree with your boss?  What if you’re ill?  What if a group of people is going out for lunch and asks you to come along? What should you wear to an office party? A lecture?

8.Auditory processing – many people with ASD are stronger visually but have weaker auditory processing skills, particularly in times of stress.  At such times, written reminders will be key. The student would need to be aware of this weak area and seek clarification that they have understood the directions. Microcassettes are good for recording lectures and meetings where weak auditory skills could lead to errors or missed information. They are also good for people who have difficulty listening and taking notes at the same time.

9. Smart Pens are wonderful gadgets for those who have difficulty listening while taking notes at the same time. Or for people who prefer to study by listening rather than reading. One example is the Live Scribe Pens.

10.Body language – While eye contact may be uncomfortable for some people with ASD, it’s important to neurotypicals. Understanding why and practicing eye contact can help before interview situations.  Learning to recognize non-verbal language can help an autistic student pick up on the cues people send when they’ve monopolized the conversation or made others uncomfortable. Here’s a couple sites that might help:  ,

If your student is interested in computer-type games, look into some of the older  Sims family of games as a way of practicing social and other real-life situations (including preparing to get a job).

11.Rehearse – practice the verbal parts of an interview, but practice these in a number of different settings, ideally where the interview will take place or a mock-up of the place. Practice getting to the office, school or classroom.  If the student plans to discuss ASD with the employer, might it be possible to get a list of the interview questions ahead of time? Donna Williams (Autism Today’s Panel of Experts) has made this request when she was to be interviewed on the radio. It might be easier to read responses to the questions rather than engage in a normal interview situation.

12.Appropriateness of the situation – if your student is not a real “people person” perhaps a job dealing with the public for eight hours a day is not what he should be seeking

13.Disclosure – should the student disclose to the future employer or post-secondary institution that he has an ASD?  Many schools will provide accommodations to students who self-identify.  Some employers will be understanding; some may shy away.  Stephen Shore (Autism Today’s Panel of Experts) has some good thoughts on the subject of disclosure.

When will it happen and how will it look? While your high functioning students certainly have the potential to successfully join mainstream life, the how and when may look different than for their age peers. Perhaps they will need to get there along a different path.  Maybe completing a college degree is their future but it might take longer than the normal four years.  Taking only 60% of a normal load may be all that can be successfully handled at least in the first year.  Here’s a website that deals with university and autism Asperger’s syndrome.

Moving away from home on top of starting post-secondary training or a new job may be too much to do all at once so just one of these factors should be changed within a year. Part-time rather than full-time work may lead to more initial success. If a four-year degree seems a far-reaching goal, especially when subjects need to be taken in diverse areas. A one-year, focused technical certificate may be more manageable initially and its successful completion would do much in bolstering self-confidence. Perhaps the transition to life after high school needs to be done in increments. No matter when and how, it requires the understanding and cooperation on the part of the student since this is his life.

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Team Sports

Question:

My son tried soccer last week. It worked and it didn’t work. He had fun some of the time but it really bothered him when a child missed the ball or did not play correctly. Then, things weren’t so pretty and he got very upset.

Suggestions:

Being rule-governed has pluses and negatives. When it’s hard to make sense of your world, having clearly defined rules is comforting because then you know what to do. But when others don’t follow those rules…

A way around this is by doing social stories with your son about kids not following rules. He probably has not idea why another child would not follow the rule. The “Theory of Mind” or as Temple Grandin calls it, “universal mind” aspects of autism spectrum disorders means that whatever the person has in his mind, he assumes everyone else also has that same thought/feeling/intent. Your son may honestly not understand that not every child knows all the rules or that sometimes kids forget. Social stories are good for getting those sorts of points across.

A social story would also help your son know what to do when another child breaks a rule – what he should say, how he should act, who will take care of the infraction, etc.

A couple other aspects of autism/Asperger’s make organized sports difficult but still worth experiencing.

Many people with ASD have poorer fine and gross motor coordination; they may appear awkward, have an awkward gait when running, have trouble with fine motor skills such as handwriting. Then there’s the motor planning issues inherent in sports.

When you think about it, there’s a lot involved in accurately kicking a soccer ball. Just try

to explain step by step every small action you’d take when you try to capture a ball, line it up and kick it into the goal.

It can help to think of autism as a processing disorder. Most ASD people have trouble processing more than one element at at time. Your child may be able to look at you or listen to you but not effectively do both at the same time. Team sports involve a lot of simultaneous processing.

Not only do you need to be aware of where your own body is, control your arms, legs, feet and head but you have to be aware of where other people are at the same time. This is further confused because some people on the field work with you and some against you. Then you need to keep a sense of direction in your mind so that you don’t score on your own team.

Compounding this might be the sun flashing in your eyes, temperature and wind, the icky feel of mud on your hands and knees when you fall on a rainy day. And, it’s not silent out on the field. The kids yell. The coaches yell. The parents yell.

Auditory processing is a weak area for most people with

Asperger’s/autism and the ability to process when you hear decreases in noisy situations or when there are background distractions.

If your child has a lot of sensory issues, he might feel calmer if he wears a weighted vest, small wrist weights, a snug neoprene vest, neoprene biker shorts under his soccer uniform or similar apparel to help calm his overstimulated senses.

Prep work such as practicing the rules of the game alone with your son, taking him to the soccer field when no one else is around so that he can accustom himself to being there, practicing the coach’s soccer drills before practice time can all help ease the way and make your son feel more relaxed during team practices and games.

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Hands in His Pants – Chewing, Sucking, Hands in Pants…

Question:

I am a special education teacher who is currently working with a bright nine year old boy. His current diagnosis is multiple handicap, he does have some autistic tendencies. Two behaviors which are quite concerning are placing his hands inside his pants and sucking/chewing on his hands when he is excited. His team is trying to develop a behavior plan, but we’re not in agreement. Any suggestions?

Suggestions:

Children with disorders other than autism may share some of the sensory sensitivities commonly found in people with autism spectrum disorders. That may be what your student is experiencing.

Do his parents notice the same behaviors at home?  What strategies have they found that work? Are they some that you could emulate at school?

He sucks or chews his hands when he’s excited. Perhaps he has a need for extra sensory feedback in his hands and/or his mouth.  When he’s excited he has less ability to inhibit the need to suck or chew. You may not be able to get him to stop chewing his hands but you might be able to substitute this behavior for one other people will find more acceptable.

Is he a child who always has something in his mouth? Does he chew on pencils, erasers, etc.? If he’s craving oral-motor stimulation, possibly if he has a regular dose of oral-motor input throughout the day, he’ll not feel quite the need to chew on his hands when he’s excited.

You could try offering him other things to chew or suck. For some children, crunchy foods like pretzel, crisp cereals, carrots, and celery help fill the need for something in their mouth. Others do well with gum but you might have to experiment with flavors until you find the one that has the most settling effect.  Sour candies work well for some children. (If they’re stale or frozen, they stand a lot of sucking and each candy then lasts for a long time.

Drinking through a straw gives good oral-motor sensory feedback. He could have water in a sipping bottle on his desk and sip through his straw whenever he wanted throughout the day.  Thera-tubing is another chewing alternative.  I know a couple older students who chew on plastic coffee stir sticks or toothpicks throughout the day.

If it’s feedback through his hands he’s craving, some type of fidget toy might work. You could try koosh balls, stress balls, fabric swatches (try bits of silk, satin, corduroy, fake fur, etc. to see which he likes), a pencil grip, small plastic toys, or a smooth stone. Ask him what things he likes to handle – he may come up with suggestions that would not occur to you. One child I know likes to rub a piece of plastic pot scrubber between his palms.  Another presses his palms hard against his desk or on his thighs.

If he does the chewing/sucking when he’s excited you might be able to decrease the behavior by preparing him ahead of time. While most of your students would have already internalized that the favorite subject comes after Science.  The child with autism may have a poor sense of time and find it a surprise when he hears that the anticipated event is happening now.

He may be over stimulated by the sights and sounds other children find enjoyable.  A visual schedule on his desk may help prepare him for what is coming next and make it easier to sit through Math, knowing that the treat is coming once Math is finished.

When you introduce substitute suggestions to your student, you’ll have to give him an explanation as to why you want him to try these things.  Although it’s perfectly obvious to you, he may be unaware that other people find it unpleasant when he sucks on his hands. He may not have noticed or interpreted that look of horror on the face of the girl sitting next to him.  And, it he might be doing this because it makes him feel good or calms him.

He’ll need to understand why you want him to stop doing it and that he can get similar feelings through different means.  A social story is a good way of explaining what you do and don’t want him to do.

The hands-in-the pants could also be a sensory issue.  Again, it could be something for his hands to do and any of the fidget toys mentioned above could work as a substitute.  A piece of fabric or small fidget toy could be kept discretely in his pants pocket or in his desk.

Is he bored or overwhelmed when he does this?  Is it a cue to you that he needs a short break to get a drink of water or sharpen his pencil? Is he on overload and using this as a method of tuning out what’s going on around him?

This could be the start of early adolescence and he may like the sensations produced when he handles his genitals.  If so, that may be acceptable in certain circumstances but not in a classroom.  He can be given clear directions that he may do such things only at home in his bedroom or bathroom but no where else (or whatever parameters you and his family work out).

This is another instance where using a social story is very helpful. Carol Gray gives examples on this and similar topics on her web site.  Another resource you might find helpful is the book Sexuality: Your Sons and Daughters With Intellectual Disabilities by Karin Melberg Schwier and Dave Hingsburger.

As with any new skill, it will take guided demonstrations and practice before he learns to substitute any of these other devices for his hands.  Rather than constant verbal reminders, a visual picture of what he should be doing would be helpful as a cue card. One cue card could be taped to his desk and the teacher could have another one she could hold up when a reminder is needed.

When a child shows an obsessive behavior, it is very difficult to eradicate that behavior.  Rather than fight that battle, you may be better off replacing that behavior with a similar but more socially acceptable one or limiting that behavior to certain times and places.

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Teacher Does Not Want to Work With a Child

Question:

I, as well as my son’s teacher, am finding the resource teachers of his school very unwilling to work with the autistic children in the school because they claim to not know how to work with them. My question is are there any workshops available in the Huntington/Charleston or surrounding areas that I could suggest to the school board that these teachers attend. All I am looking for is the inclusion the freedom of education act entitles not only my son but the other children facing this problem. Any feedback would be welcome.

Suggestions:

What exactly are you looking for in a workshop?  Since autism has become so prevalent, there are many workshops and conferences throughout North America, but with different slants.  There are workshops geared towards parents, some attended by medical researchers, some for educators and others that stress one particular type of therapy. Organizations such as Autism Today and Future Horizons generally list samplings of each.

As an example, the workshops I give are attended primarily by people in the education field. I cover such things as:

  • Explanation of autism spectrum disorders including etiology, incidence and neurology
    • Language difficulties and auditory processing
    • Sensory sensitivities
    • Triad of social impairments
    • Behavior
    • Learning styles
    • Teaching strategies
    • The importance of using visuals and routines
    • What to do if it’s not working
    • Hands-on practical work

In my experience, these are the things teachers, resource teachers, teacher aides and administrators want to know. You might want to find out which specific questions your school staff has and gear your workshop search to what they’ll find most relevant.

Sometimes, just by living with a person with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), we become used to some behaviors and learn how to help the child manage.  What becomes second nature for parents can seem strange and confusing or even frightening for other people, educators included.  And, the way your child may act at home may differ from what his teachers see since the demands in the two environments are very different.

Is your son showing some behaviors the school does not know how to handle? I find that once people understand what may be behind the behaviors they see, they look at such displays in a different way then can come up ways to help the child cope.

Although Resource Room teachers and special educators are trained in working with exceptional children, few will have received specific training in autism.  A child with autism may present very differently than a child with a typical learning disability for instance.

Cognitive behavior strategies effective with many students may be ineffective on the behaviors a child with autism shows in a classroom unless you understand the sensory issues, the language weaknesses, the theory of mind deficits, etc. that may cause the child with autism to react in an atypical manner.

As parents, it’s easy to become frustrated with other people when they don’t understand autism or they may even shy away from your child. You’ve lived with your son for eleven years and gained a wealth of experience.

When you’re dealing with teachers, try to keep in mind those baffling first few years you probably went through.  Encountering a child with autism who does not react in ways you’d expect of students can be hard on a teacher’s confidence.  None of the typical strategies or methods may be working.  The teacher has a child who is not progressing as he should be and he may also be disrupting the learning of his classmates.

With only so much time during a day, this can be a difficult situation for an educator. And, sometimes a teacher can feel defensive, believing that a parent demands they do more for that one child than they feel they are able, given all the demands of the classroom.

Part of this fear can stem from the belief that so many things must be done differently and specially for a child with autism.  When the task seems overwhelming, it’s human to retreat or give up. Those of us in the autism or any other disability field may be partly to blame for this when we look upon our particular area is being the most important or special.

Educators hear that they must do certain things for a child with autism, certain things for a child with FAS, certain things for a child with ADHD, etc. and the task can seem too much.  Rather than inundating educators with strategies effective for one specific disorder it can be more helpful to point out commonalities between disorders.

For instance, it’s a safe assumption that children with ASD, FAS, ADHD and learning disabilities will find structure and routines helpful.  They’ll benefit from having material presented in a visual fashion. Social stories will be effective, as will scheduled body breaks. In fact, many of the things helpful for students with autism are just good teaching practices and not difficult to incorporate into a regular classroom day.

You may be able to learn about more workshops through some of the local resources:

 

Division TEACH at Chapel Hill, North Carolina (http://www.teacch.com/) states that their mission is to enable individuals with autism to function as meaningfully and independently as possible. Part of their web site is devoted to structured teaching methods and geared to specific questions.

The West Virginia Autism Training Center, a part of Marshall University College offers training and support to families and educators.

Southern Carolina has an Autism Division in their Department of Disabilities and Special Needs. It’s part of their mission to help individuals with autism reach their potential. They have a Parent-School Partnership program that may interest you, as well as annual conferences for professionals and families.

My province of Saskatchewan, Canada has a document for educators and parents titled, Teaching Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders that is practical-based. Alberta, Canada has similar document that incorporates the Saskatchewan one and adds to it: .  Sevier County (US) has developed a technical manual for working with autistic children in schools.

If there are specific school-related concerns, would your son’s teacher or Resource Room, or Special Education teacher like to contact me?

 

 

 

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Reading Comprehension Difficulties

Question:

I have a student who is in first grade and reads at a high grade 3.5 level . While his level might 3.5 in decoding, his comprehension is next to nothing. Is there some way to still push his reading forward yet address his comprehension issue. My coworkers believe that I should not push him on in his reading level. They said the focus should be on comp. I believe it should be both. I would like to have him continue reading at the level he is challenged at, while addressing his comprehension with books he is familiar with, like Dr. Suess, and ask questions at that level. What do you think?

Suggestions:

You and your coworkers both make good points.  A student who can decode well but has little understanding of what he reads may become a good “word caller” but not a proficient reader. At the same time, you need to build on current strengths and what is for this child a success.

I think you’re on the right track, for several reasons.  Everyone needs to feel that they are progressing and students often pay close attention to which level they are reading. So, he could continue to practice his good decoding skills at a challenging level.  A key component of good comprehension is fluency; those children who struggle and stumble over decoding words often lose the meaning of what they are reading because it’s taken them so long to decipher the passage. If your student can decode with ease, that will help his fluency.

When he reads orally to you, does he pay attention to punctuation marks? Pointing out to him the purpose of commas, periods and question marks can help guide him towards getting more meaning out of what he reads.

Since people with Asperger’s and autism tend to be literal and concrete, many such children prefer nonfiction to fiction reading material.  Nonfiction is more straight forward and doesn’t require understanding characters’ emotions or motivations. You might want to work on first building comprehension for nonfiction readings.

At what level of comprehension is he in other areas, such as when you are having class discussions?  Is he at the lower end of Bloom’s Taxonomy, able to answer rote questions about who did what or is able to point out patterns, analyse, synthesize, predict and play with the information? It may be easier for this child to tackle such higher order thinking on subjects that keenly interest him rather on topics foreign or those with which he has little personal connection. You might want to increase his skills at responding to such material orally before you ask him to work independently in writing.

Does he like Dr. Suess?  Although entertaining for most children, not all may be able to get past the playing with words and unusual language constructions the rhyming forces. He may not relate easily because people don’t speak the way many of Suess’ characters talk. If he enjoys Suess, then that would be a good place to begin building his comprehension skills, especially with the easier books.  If the nonsense appeals to him, he might also enjoy Dennis Lee’s Alligator Pie  or the Amelia Bedelia series

Most good readers make movies or pictures in their minds as they read.  I wonder if your student does.  Since most people with autism spectrum disorders are stronger visually, no matter how verbal they appear he may be better able to make connections to what he reads using visual strategies. A program that guides you in teaching this skill is Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking® by Nanci Bell.

Some kids with Asperger’s appear highly verbal, especially in their areas of interest, yet can have weak language skills.  Perhaps he’d be able to demonstrate his understanding to you if he didn’t have to use solely his oral or written language skills. Does he like to draw?  Could he make a picture depicting what happened on that page of the story? Rather than printing answers to questions, could he fill out a concept map? The University of Kansas has a series of Strategic Instruction Modules that use visual methods for a teacher to present information and for students to record what they are learning.

Learning strategies that work is key for capable students with autism spectrum disorders. If your child could understand that all stories follow a pattern, he may find fiction less incomprehensible. He could with a story grammar approach, dividing his page into four boxes.  One box would have the heading Setting and he’s print there where and when the story took place. A second box could be labeled Characters and there he’d identify the main character and one or a couple helper characters. The third box might be labeled Problem and here he’d either describe the problem of that story or chapter or draw a picture showing the problem. The fourth box could be titled, What Will Happen Next?  Again, he could respond in words or with a picture.  This could be a whole class or small group, rather than an independent exercise to begin with while he’s developing the skills.

If he enjoys using a computer, there are many sites with either free software downloads or 30 day trial downloads of programs that help you state and organize your ideas visually.  Here are just a few:

Mind Mapping

Inspiration

Smart Ideas

Visual Mind

Metacognition is a crucial part of successful reading. We often take it for granted that students are intuitively picking up these skills since they are so much apart of us as adult, good readers.  Social skills and language pragmatics are things many kids with autism and Asperger’s do not learn automatically or with ease. (They share this weakness with many children with learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome and other such neurological disorders). Metacognition involves thinking about how we think.  If you don’t stop to reflect while you’re reading, little of what you read sticks in your mind. If you’re not processing the material as you read, you tend to carry right on when you misread because the glaring discord of nonsensical words doesn’t penetrate. It’s harder to maintain interest and to store the material in your mind if you don’t make connections to what you’re reading.  Click here and here for a metacognitive guidelines that can help guide children in the reading process. And no, you do not need to work in education to help your child increase his metacognition skills.

Metacognitive skills need to be modeled and practiced.  It’s OK while reading aloud to a class to stop yourself and say, “That didn’t make sense. I’d better read that sentence again.”  After rereading the passage, continue with, “Oh, yes.  Now I get it. That’s talking about…. I remember when… That makes me think about…”  It’s useful for kids to hear the kinds of self-talk we use inside our heads to help us make meaning of what we’re reading.

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