Transitioning to Middle School

Q&A with Lisa Rogers

 

Q: Dear Lisa,

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

Middle School

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
  • Set up a Circle of Friends or buddy/social coach
  • Provide a map of the new campus
  • Build a schedule that includes student interests
  • Build a schedule that will meet sensory needs
  • Write a social story about the new campus and new staff. You can find a sample social story in video format at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qk0Nag4zvJk
  • Consider beginning to switch several classrooms at the elementary campus to practice this new aspect of Middle School life in a safe environment
  • Ensure the new staff have training in autism to build common understanding
  • Ensure that visual supports are in place to prevent stress. Signs on the first week of school can help navigate a new environment [e.g. schedule, scripts, narratives, etc.]
  • Discuss whether or not the student will benefit from a “Home Base”. A “Home Base” is a predetermined location for the student to regain composure or work through a problem.
  • Develop a plan for communication between home and school

In addition, I strongly recommend creating a portfolio of your child’s strengths, needs and interests.

Making and Using Keychain Rules to Help Behavior for Children with Autism

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

Rules listA: 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”
  • Give my teachers and Mom a smile or a “thumbs up”

Keychain Rule #3: I will be in control of my body

  • Stay in my assigned seat
  • Keep hands and feet to myself

Challenged with Social Skills? Preparing Youth for Employment.

by Raeme Bosquez-Greer

In my 20 plus years of experience I have found that every student is different and every employer is different. This question cannot be answered in one broad answer, we are all very different. In this blog entry, I will give an example of what has worked in my position as an Autism Specialist, Job Developer and Advocate.

Billy is 16 years old and has been in a secluded classroom for 12 years. In this self-contained classroom, he is very quiet and does not feel he is like anyone else.  In the cafeteria or during breaks he is made fun of and bullied due to his awkward gait, thick glasses and because he tends to keep his head down. He has very little self-esteem or self – confidence. He does not share this with anyone because he does not want to bring any undue attention to himself. Both of his parents work 40 hours a week and allow their son to come home and play video games in his room every evening. He is also allowed to eat his meals in his room each night.

Now Billy is 18. His parents would like for him to move out, get his own apartment and get a JOB.

Parents must understand that no matter how intelligent your son or daughter is if he or she does not get exposure and experience at an early age the barriers to the real world of work will take longer to overcome.

Now that Billy is 18 they are searching for resources, making phone calls and calling everyone in the Special Education department for assistance in meeting these goals.

The parents never really attended Billy’s ARD meetings together and only listened on the phone due to their work schedules.  Billy was assigned a placement specialist to assist with and solve with what we call barriers to employment. The student is lost, confused and scared. He has been enabled in the contained classroom for many years and was able to isolate in his room and play video games with no chores or expectations.

Placement Specialist must first:

  1. Establish a trusting rapport with student.
  2. Engage with the student and go out in the community to see what volunteer or work sites are near his home.
  3. Obtain transferrable skills that would assist with accountability and self-confidence.  Learn what is socially appropriate and inappropriate.

Note that the time frame to overcome all barriers is different for each of your children.

Your ideal timeline and the reality of how long this process will take depends on the severity of barriers we must overcome to obtain gainful employment.  It is our job as parents to not enable our child and to be involved in this process. To be successful in the real world of work these skills must be taught and reiterated at home before they become barriers. Parents must understand that no matter how intelligent your son or daughter is if he or she does not get exposure and experience at an early age the barriers to the real world of work will take longer to overcome.

by Raeme Bosquez-Greer/Job Adventures

——–

Glossary:

Transferable Skills:  Skills developed in one situation which can be transferred to another situation. They are sometimes called generic, soft or key skills

Accountability: The fact or condition of being accountable; responsibility.

Are You an Aspie and Depressed? That’s Not Unusual

Asperger’s Syndrome and Depression: Part 1

As most teens and adults with Asperger syndrome know, people with Asperger syndrome can be significantly depressed. The rates of diagnoses of depression vary among studies, from 18% to 22%. The most commonly quoted rate of a depression in the general population of the US  is 6.7%. Most of the research shows both genders have these high rates of depression.

Studies focused on males and females and not those who are transgender. There are more people who identify as transgender in the AS population than in the general population and transgender people have a higher rate of depression. One would guess that someone who is both AS and transgender might have a high tendency towards depression.

Interestingly, non-autistic full siblings and half-siblings of individuals with ASD (not just Asperger syndrome) also had higher rates of depression than the general population, although at half the rate of those with ASD. Studies of suicide attempts are also very troubling. In studies of suicide, the rate of suicidal thoughts and attempts are prevalent, especially in adolescence and young adulthood.

It’s critical to identify depression, since it can be treated.

It’s obviously important to understand why rates of depression and suicidal thoughts are so high. One factor, given the findings in siblings, is that there is an increased genetic vulnerability to depression, although large studies haven’t supported a common genetic overlap. We have to look to other factors to account for these high rates of depression.

It’s important to diagnose clinical depression for anyone for a simple reason – depression is treatable with a variety of modalities:

School Bullying and Aspergers in Middle School: Know Your Legal Rights

It’s understood that bullying will happen to those who have Aspergers Syndrome, especially during the challenging middle school years. Where can you turn? One school counselor discusses your options in this edition of Top of the Spectrum News.

School Bullying: Your Legal Rights

Guest(s): Richard Behrens

A Technique to Counteract School Work Avoidance for Students with ASD: Academic Bingo Card

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!

Academic 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.

Using Mini-Maps at Home to Help with Difficult Tasks

Parenting Aspergers

Remember that a mini-map is a visual strategy that takes a chunk of time and breaks it down even further. This seemingly simple strategy can be highly effective to address “rough spots” in different environments. We have seen how this can prevent work avoidance behaviors at school and now we will shift the focus to an overlapping struggle that is common at home: homework!

mini maps at home

Many students with Asperger’s struggle to navigate the waters of school life only to come home and face more academic work.

It is probably safe to say that most students, with and without Asperger’s, would rather not deal with homework in the evenings. However, the difference is that the student with Asperger’s has worked harder all day long to deal with not only academic stress, but also the added challenges of social interaction and sensory overload, creating a cumulative effect with different possible results.

It is difficult for neuro-typical persons to truly understand this internal struggle that persons with Asperger’s deal with on a daily basis. I found myself in a situation recently and thought it might be a glimpse into what going through a stressful day as a person with Asperger’s might feel like:

Offering ASD Students Choice to Increase Academic Success

Research indicates that incorporating specific motivations such as offering choices increases the rate of performance on academic tasks and decreases disruptive behaviors. Choice can take on many forms as related to academic tasks.

Child in school, making choice, education

As one example, students can be given several topics to choose from to complete an assignment. Students may also be given a list of several activities, of which they are to complete two. By giving them a choice, students are more likely to begin the assignment and even more likely to complete it.

Making a connection to general education strategies, differentiated instruction promotes the use of choice in a variety of ways.  At a center or station, students can choose from a list of 5 to 6 activities.

How to Implement Choice in the Classroom

A math station list of choices might include a variety of activities that would be engaging and motivating:

Aspergers101 Training for Parents

Download Your Free Guide About Asperger Syndrome

When suspecting Autism or Asperger Syndrome, a parent experiences a range of emotions. Often the shock of the diagnosis quickly gives way to a thiristing curiosity of your child’s unique brain function. Your communication depends upon that knowledge. Aspergers101 Training for Parents just published a brochure specifically for that time when a basic understanding of Asperger Syndrome is essential not only for the understanding of the caregiver, but for relatives, neighbors and educators as well. We are pleased to offer you the tri-fold brochure as a downloadable (at the end of this blog) or to request multiples for your school or organization as a gift from Aspergers101 and H-E-B!


Key Characteristics of High Functioning Autism/Asperger Syndrome are:

  • Difficulty with Communication
  • Special Interests 
  • Love of Routine 
  • Poor Concentration/Easily Distracted 
  • Difficulty with Social Relationships

What is Asperger Syndrome?

Asperger Syndrome is a neurological condition resulting in a group of social and behavioral symptoms. It is part of a category of conditions called Autism Spectrum Disorders, though the revised DSM-V leaves Asperger Syndrome out of it’s manuel and places the symptoms under Autism Spectrum Disorder(s) or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified,” or PDD-NOS.

The name, Asperger Syndrome is still used among the community as there has not otherwise been a name to specifically fit the diagnosis. Children with Asperger Syndrome usually have normal to above normal intelligence and do not have the language problems typical of autism. It can lead to difficulty interacting socially, repeat behaviors, and clumsiness.

What are the Challenges?

It is oftentimes stated that it isn’t the Autism or Asperger Syndrome that poses the greatest challenge. It is the comorbidities that often accompany ASD that is the biggest hurdle and must be treated.
A person diagnosed with Aspergers might inherit one, two or possibly more of these challenges as they age. Below lists many (but not all) of common comorbidities.

• Gastrointestinal disorders

• Sensory problems

• Seizures and epilepsy

• Intellectual disability

• Fragile X syndrome

• ADHD

• Bipolar disorder

• Obsessive compulsive disorder

• Tourette syndrome

• General anxiety

• Tuberous sclerosis

• Clinical depression

• Visual problems

Treatment(s)

Treatment of comorbid medical conditions may result in a substantial improvement of quality of life both of the child and their parents. It is imperative to first diagnose the comorbidity then get a customized treatment plan. Talk with a health professional like your child’s GP, nurse or pediatrician.


Know that your child diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome/ASD is wired differently. The brain is anatomically different in the frontal lobe making the challenges medically based. In other words, this is not a behavioral problem. Once you let that fact sink in you may begin implementing a plan to navigate through everyday hurdles.

-Jennifer Allen/Founder Aspergers101

Suggested Action Plan

Think ahead – Discuss what is coming up, remember that a ‘no surprises’ action plan is best for your Asperger child. Let them trust that you will prepare them for potential loud environments, visitors, school field trips or meals that may not fit their challenged palette. Mental preparedness often defuses potential melt-downs.

Remove obstacles – It might take awhile to discover the culprit(s), but if your child is struggling at school, chances are sensory issues come into play. Polyester in clothing, loud students, cafeteria odors, fire alarm, free time may all be culprits. Work with your child and the school to remove or ease the barriers. It will make a big difference.

Discover if medication helps –This is trial by error. Antidepressants & anti anxiety meds may greatly help patients with Asperger’s deal with the depression and anxiety that commonly accompanies the disorder. Physicians and psychiatrists may also prescribe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) stimulant medications to help patients with their impulsivity or disorganization (though sometimes the side effects are not worth the result), or antipsychotic medications for patients who act out or who are irritable and aggressive.


FAQ


How is Asperger Syndrome Diagnosed?


Diagnosis is typically between the ages of four and eleven. A comprehensive assessment involves a multidisciplinary team that observes across multiple settings, and includes neurological and genetic assessment as well as tests for cognition, psychomotor function, verbal and nonverbal strengths and weaknesses, style of learning, and skills for independent living.


 How is Asperger Syndrome treated?


·Parent Education & Training
·Social Skills Training & Speech-Language Therapy
·Cognitive Behavior Therapy
.Medication
·Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)
·Sensory Integration/Occupational Therapy


What medicines typically help curb anxiety and depression?


*Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
*Antipsychotic drugs
*Stimulant medicines


Alongside deficiencies, what are some positive traits?


*Ability to focus intensely for long periods
*Enhanced learning ability
*Deep knowledge of an obscure or difficult subject resulting in success scholastically and professionally when channeled.
*Honest & hard workers who make for excellent employees when painstaking & methodical analysis are required.

Free Downloadable Brochure

Please feel free to download the Aspergers101 Training for Parents Tri-Fold brochure here. If you are a school or a Autism-related non-profit, you may request these full color brochures for hand-out(s). This generous opportunity has been provided by the H-E-B Helping Here Community Involvement Department! Request form is just below the brochure.

To Request Brochures:

Brochures are provided in groups of 50, 100, 150, 200 or 250 to schools or non-profit organizations who would like to provide parents with basic information on High-Functioning Autism and Asperger Syndrome. Please fill out the requested information below and we will be in touch soon!

Brochures & Shipping provided by Aspergers101 & H-E-B
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Two other excellent resources for basic training on Asperger Syndrome are:



How to Use Visual Supports for Social Skills Training

Many school students carrying the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome exhibit challenges in the area of social interactions and social skills. These social difficulties are worrisome for parents and family members who look for supports to address these challenges. Struggles in the school setting often center on their child’s inability to “fit in” with other students or an inability to grasp social expectations from their teachers and peers. Additionally, their child’s feelings of high anxiety and stress can make the learning environment challenging for them and the people around.

Depositphotos_44865227_s-2015

Over time, I’ve listened to concerns from parents and teachers regarding a student’s lack of understanding when it comes to social situations in the classroom environment. This often leads to isolation and the need for behavior support.

There is information in the literature that suggests both adult and peer mediated techniques to teach and build social skills in children with autism.

Strategies that are directed by an adult include reinforcement of shaped social skills. This is a technique where the child is reinforced when they demonstrate closer and closer approximations of a desired behavior. Peer mediated strategies incorporate the use of proximity, prompts with reinforcement, and teaching peer initiation. The literature also supports using social scripts to capitalize on visual learning methods (Krantz and McClannahan 1993).

In my experience, I’ve observed how visual supports can be very beneficial in producing non-transient messages for the student to follow and use during social situations. When paired with direct instruction using ABA techniques like shaping and reinforcement, social skills training can be accomplished.

When you set out to develop visual supports, first perform an internet search to get some ideas.