The Education (K-12) Blogs and Special Ed Q & A are written and maintained weekly by Lisa Rogers with Educating Diverse Learners. Lisa received her M.A. in Special Education with an endorsement in the area of individuals with severe disabilities. Mrs. Rogers has also created products that have been used throughout the state of Texas for training purposes. Through the Association for Texas Professional Educators [ATPE], Ms. Rogers has produced an online course that targets the importance of visual strategies for student with autism spectrum disorders and just released her highly anticipated book titled: Visual Supports for Visual Thinkers.
Although sensory differences are very real and must be recognized as such, narratives can help to deal with these differences. For instance, there was a high school student that was having significant difficulty with the hallway transition from class to class. Not only was there the loud bell that signals the transition, but then it was followed by a crowded hallway and noisy teenagers talking in groups.
One way to address this might be to allow an early release from class to avoid much of this hallway chaos. Another option is to provide a narrative that helps deal with this difficult transition.
The following is an example of such a narrative:
Passing Period at High School
My name is ___________. I am a student at _________ High School.
In High School, there are different periods. A bell rings at the end of each period.
When the bell rings, the students walk in the hall to go to their next class.
Sometimes, the students make a lot of noise as they walk down the hallway. This might hurt my ears.
That is O.K. The passing period lasts only for a few minutes. Soon, the halls will be quiet again.
I remember that I can just wear my headphones & listen to music during the passing period.
Then, I will get to walk to my next class where it is nice and quiet.
I can do this!
Staff noticed that the student would repeat the story to himself while walking down the hall. A narrative can validate feelings, provide a solution and even offer comfort during a stressful time.
The following is another example of a narrative addressing sensory issues. This time, the narrative was written for a student that wanted to hug her classmates frequently and deeply to get that deep pressure feeling.
In a previous post, we reviewed strategies for solving math word problems. One of the comprehensive strategies noted was priming. This week, we will take a closer look at this strategies in order to apply it across subject areas and grade levels.
Priming is a method of preparing a student with ASD for an activity that he or she will be expected to complete by allowing the student to preview the activity before it is presented for completion.
My son has High functioning Autism and is in general education classes in public school. He will be going to Middle School next year and I was wondering how should I prepare the teachers for him, and him for the teachers? This will be different as he no longer has just one teacher but will have many. We have had our ARD and I know the school does so much but I’m nervous and wanted to know what I can do as his parent.
-Sharon Kaiser/Plano, TX
A: Dear Sharon,
I’m so glad to have this question. Too often, April or May rolls around and then we begin to have a conversation about transitioning to a new school in the following Fall Semester. By planning ahead, parents and teachers can alleviate the anxiety associated with such a big change and increase success from Day 1 of school. Of course, each person on the spectrum responds to and deals with change in their own way. By including your son in the process, you can make decisions that are tailored to his needs.
Possible activities to consider include the following:
Determine the point of contact[s] at the new school
Plan a visit to the new campus; coordinate with a small group of friends if possible
Q: “I’ve heard that if my son (who is on the autism spectrum) is having a problem staying on task while in school that he should use the “keychain rules”. Would you please explain this term to me?” – Curious in Nashville, Tenn
A: Keychain rules are short statements or phrases of desired expectations that capitalize on the tendency toward rules and structure.
They serve as reminders in a quick and easy format that prevent much discussion about them. Rather than say, “stay in your seat” over and over without much impact, the teacher can now say, “Please check keychain rule number 4”. Again, if the rules are attached to a heightened interest, their effectiveness is enhanced.
This student’s interest in Greek mythology was incorporated to his keychain rules as much as possible through the addition of pictures.
Keychain Rule #1: Use appropriate words and voice
Say nice things to others
Speak in a respectful tone [level 1, 2, or 3]
Keychain Rule #2: Follow directions from teachers
Teachers and Mom are trying to help me, so be sure to say “O.K. I’ll try”
Work avoidance seems to be an ongoing issue across different settings and grade levels. In a previous blog, we discussed the use of a checklist with a strategic “sandwiching” of a less preferred activity in between two highly preferred activities. This strategy is often very effective in building success on academic activities that the student would prefer to avoid. However, not one thing works for every student, as you have probably discovered for yourself.
So this week, we will explore a similar strategy that is in a different format: a BINGO card!
This strategy was created in a staff meeting with a general education teacher and campus administrators trying to help a student complete work well within his grasp. By analyzing the data and student strengths, it was determined that he was capable of completing the work. In spite of the cognitive strengths, the student would cover his head up and not complete the academic tasks. So, with no work completed, the team was ready to try almost anything to get something.
The student liked dinosaurs and everything having to do with them. The student also liked games and so the team decided to create a 3 X 3 BINGO card decorated with dinosaurs as a starting point.
Then, the specific activities selected to go in each grid were selected based on student interest.
Although we have addressed the topic of meltdowns previously, it is a topic that needs to be revisited often, given the intense nature of the meltdown. “People with autism, new research suggests, may have an unusually large and overactive amygdala. This may be one reason why people with autism are easily overstimulated and have a hard time understanding and managing emotions.” – University of Washington
This is one of many neurological findings that helps to explain how meltdowns are very different from tantrums. They originate from a neurological place of sensory differences: an over-abundance of neuronal pathways. The brain, whether through too much sensory input, cascading thoughts, chemical overload or some cumulative effect of all of these, gets overwhelmed!
I know individuals with autism can help understand the horror of the meltdown better than any observer. So I would like to refer to Carly Fleischmann for her unique perspective. The following is an excerpt from her website:
In a previous blog we discussed the need to support students in identifying and expressing their feelings through the use of a feelings chart. The feelings chart may be on a scale of “one to three” or “one to five” with level one indicating that the student is most calm. If possible, you can increase the effectiveness of this strategy by decorating the different levels with pictures/clip art that reflect a student’s interest. I have created feelings charts with different expressive pictures of Mario Bros, dinosaurs and even The Dukes of Hazzard characters!
Once the student understands what each level means, then it is most critical to identify calming activities for each level. Each of us responds differently to different experiences and this should be highly personalized in order to actually help the student calm down when needed.
As an example:
I find shopping to be very enjoyable and calming. However, my best friend finds the very same experience to be frustrating and adds to her stress level. Most people respond positively to either gross motor [large muscle] activities or simple, repetitive tasks as a calming mechanism. The key is to find what specific activities within these two broad categories might work for an individual.
Some examples of gross motor [large muscle] activities include, but are not limited to:
Continuing with instructional supports, this week’s blog will focus on a simple, yet powerful strategy: graphic organizers.
“Graphic organizers are tools that help your brain think.”
– Kylene Beers
Most teachers use graphic organizers but might not be fully aware of the comprehensive benefits of this visual support. Graphic organizers can accomplish the following key elements toward instructional success:
understand important data with very little reading involved
identify main concepts
assign specific labels to concepts
sort relevant and non-relevant details
identify cause and effect
identify and understand consequences
organize and sequence data
understand time lines
visualize and understand abstract content
Researchers found that when content is illustrated with diagrams, the information can be maintained by students over a longer period of time.
Graphic organizers portray knowledge in a meaningful way which helps bring clarity to ideas as connections are made.
As with the senses of sight and hearing, sometimes one or more of the senses are either over- or under-reactive to stimulation. This is also true for the sense of touch. For some persons with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, certain textures feel uncomfortable or even painful. For these individuals, the idea of a hug or even accidentally brushing up against something may be highly stressful. In order to prevent this negative tactile experience, much energy and focus is spent avoiding situations that increase the likelihood of such events.
Imagine lining up where there are others in front of you and behind you. The chances of being accidentally touched by either person may cause the simple act of lining up to be highly stressful and anxiety provoking. For individuals that do not like the feel of certain textures or things, parents and teachers may consider the following types of supports:
Halloween can be both a fun and nerve-wracking time for parents. Especially for children with ASD, there are many unknowns and events that could trigger a meltdown or even put your child in danger. But halloween can easily be safe and exciting experience if you plan in advance to prepare your child and help guide them. One great technique to use for ASD children and visual learners is a visual social story. Take a look at the visual social story below and print it out or show it to your child to plan and prepare for a fun and safe halloween!
For more resources and suggestions on planning for Halloween see the links below:
This is a great video of tips about planning in advance for Halloween, with his #1 tip being to not forget those ear muffs or ear defenders at home! The Aspie World Video
For an easy to reference list of suggestions, including practice role playing for receiving and giving treats, go here: Seattle Children’s Autism Blog
Attitude Magazine has a list of tips including more about sensory issues that might arise, relating to those with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder as well: Attitude Magazine Halloween Tips
Are you concerned about candy consumption and possible allergies? This blog addresses how you might be able to navigate that issue: Spirit of Autism