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.

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

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.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

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.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

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.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Autism and Homework

My child has problems completing school work

Question:

My 12 year old son is mainstreamed at middle school (which he started this year). However, he is having significant problems in completing and turning in his work. We have separate folders for each class with two pockets (one side for completed assignments to be turned in and one side for works in progress), but this system is not working – he just throws everything in the front of the binder. He does not want a check list on his binder as he doesn’t want to be different from the other kids. As with most Aspies = he already gets picked on for being “different.” Any suggestions for getting him better organized? Thanks!

Suggestions:

Things change in middle school, don’t they?

The organizational strategies (separate folders, checklists) you created make perfect sense and in theory should work.  But…

A couple things might be coming into play here:

  • Not wanting to be different
  • Not wanting to be told what to do
  • Not seeing the need to use organizational strategies
  • Not feeling that the methods suggested suit him
  • Complications due to “Theory of Mind”

Let’s look at why you’re worried about organizing him in the first place. This isn’t something we do as intensively for all 12 year olds.  Part of how we recognize a child has Asperger’s is because despite obvious cognitive ability, he is not picking up skills that other children intuitively learn and demonstrate without being explicitly taught.

Sometimes in our eagerness to help we offer props and useful ways of doing things without giving sufficient background information. Does your son know why you want him to organize his work in this way? Has the reasoning behind it been explained to him?  Or better yet, demonstrated to him?  Can he tell you why you’re making these suggestions?

It’s possible that he has not noticed how other students organize themselves.  A class demonstration of such strategies might help and your son is likely not the only student in the room who is having similar difficulties.  Perhaps once he sees that he is not the only person using the two pockets, he would be more cooperative.  In some Middle Years classrooms, every student is required to have an agenda book, taught systematically how to use the book and its use is compulsory.

Your son may have to see concrete examples of what happens when he does and doesn’t use such organizational methods. For two weeks, he organizes himself in whatever manner he chooses. His teacher will keep concise written records of the amount of work handed in, when it’s on time or late and his marks.  Then for the next two weeks he must agree to cooperate with an organizational system suggested by you or his teacher.  If he can see that using a system improves his marks and gets the adults off his back, he may be more willing to continue with the strategies.

Sometimes students don’t care about marks. If this is the case, you may get him to buy in to your system by showing that it’s the path of least resistance. You and the teachers will leave him alone once he’s completing the work and handing it in.

If he does not want a checklist on his binder, would he agree to an inconspicuous one taped to the inside of his binder? Taped to the back of his ruler? Laminated and stored inside his pencil case?

Is there a teacher or teacher associate with whom he feels comfortable? Could he meet with this person first thing in the morning to go over what he needs to hand it, what materials he must gather for his first classes, what his day’s schedule looks like, and before leaving school in the afternoon to review what he has for homework, which materials he needs to take home, etc.

Does he like gadgets?  Rather than a written checklist, would he prefer to receive the same information in electronic form? If he uses a computer, many software programs come with calendars where you can list your deadlines, plan out your work and have the program beep at you to remind you when to begin that scheduled bout of work, as well as when to allow yourself a break.

Smart phones have wonderful features for organizing our lives. The basic Calendar or Reminder functions  can work remarkably well if used regularly. For some kids, using a smart phone for organization is cooler than an agenda book or day timer.

Do rewards work for your son?  If his teacher communicates to you that he’s turned all his work in on time that day or week, would he appreciate receiving the reward he’s earned that weekend?  Or earning a privilege at school?

Is he able to explain to you why he did not hand in his work?  Does he actually do the work then not hand it in? This is where “Theory of Mind” or (Universal Mind as Temple Grandin calls it) may come into play. Perhaps in his mind, if he’s done the work, he has complied.  He was assigned homework and he did it.

Most people with autism spectrum disorders assume that whatever is in their minds is shared by others. If your son completed his work, he might think that everyone else would know that he did.  Showing it to someone can then seem like a redundant step. It may take many repetitions and clear explanations before he understands that doing the work is but the first step – next he needs to hand it in for his teacher to see.

Even if he has Asperger’s, he’s still an adolescent and most adolescents want to blend in with the crowd and value independence.

If both he and his teacher have access to computers, could he do his work on computer then email his assignment to his teacher? Before email was common, my son would work on our home computer then use the computer’s fax program to send his work to his teacher as he finished it, eliminating the need to print it off, stick the pages in a binder, place the binder in a book bag, take it to school, dig through the bag and binder for the work, then hand it in.  Think of all the places where this process could break down, especially if you are distracted, anxious, easily overwhelmed and loaded down with the demands of the next day.

Many students with Asperger’s and autism have weak fine motor coordination, making writing with a pencil difficult.  If your son has poor penmanship, his hand may actually tire more quickly than would be expected for his age. For him to write a paragraph may require as much effort as it would for someone else to write a page. Perhaps the volume of work discourages him and he could benefit from having the volume adapted.

Pencil grips help some students; you may need to experiment with several types before finding one comfortable for him.  Writing on a horizontal surface is tiring for some people.  He may do better with a slant board, writing on an inclined surface. Or lying on his stomach on the floor while doing his homework. An Occupational Therapist may be able to offer some suggestions if fine motor difficulties are hindering your son’s production of work.

Again, this is where computers can be a help.  If doing general school work at a computer is not convenient, a laptop computer is more portable, although expensive. A less costly alternative is a dedicated word processor or “smart keyboard” such as a Neo or Dana.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather