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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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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