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.

What Are School Accommodations and Modifications for Students with Asperger’s?

Some students with disabilities require accommodations or modifications to their educational program in order to participate in the general curriculum and be successful in school. Each child with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome is different and has their own unique needs. Parents will meet with school personnel in an ARD/IEP meeting to determine what accommodations and modifications should be implemented to best assist their child. It is imperative that parents and educators understand the difference between the two.

Portrait of schoolboy looking at camera at workplace with anothe

For many students with Asperger’s Syndrome, accommodations will be needed to access the curriculum and remain in the least restrictive environment. Accommodations (the HOW) can be made for any student. Students do not need to have a 504 plan or an IEP.

Accommodations do not alter what the student is expected to learn but rather make learning accessible to the student.

They allow the student to demonstrate what they know without being impeded by their disability. Students are required to complete the same assignment or test as other students, but with a change in the timing, formatting, setting, scheduling, response and/or presentation. They do not alter in any way what the assignment or test measures.

(http://www.texasprojectfirst.org/ModificationAccommodation.html)

Accommodations can be referred to as good teaching practices. Here are some common accommodations made for students with Asperger’s, high functioning autism, and other related disabilities.

Fidgeting: Using Games and Exercise for Children with Excess Energy

Fidgeting is a common result of excess energy in children and can interfere with positive behaviors. Excess energy and fidgeting can be distracting and disrupt learning. According to an article on Autism Speaks, by Geraldine Dawson and Michael Rosanoff, “Increased aerobic exercise can significantly decrease the frequency of negative, self-stimulating behaviors that are common among individuals with autism, while not decreasing other positive behaviors.” Exercise is a positive outlet for children exhibiting these behaviors.

Physical activity will release some of this energy and in turn, promote positive behavior. Lack of time is a common barrier to fitness with therapy sessions, school, and doctor visits. To help facilitate this we have come up with some ideas for fun exercising regardless of a busy schedule. We have provided different options based on various children’s interests, in order to keep them fully engaged, as well as different variations depending on the level of comprehension in each child.

For those children interested in sports, you can set up “routes” or “bases” with cones for the children to run around.

At the end of each course, you can leave a football, baseball, or soccer ball for them to throw or kick to you. If your child comprehends and reads numbers well, you can label each cone and call out which number for them to run to.

Otherwise, you can use flashcards to label each cone, and you can hold up the matching card that you want them to run to. This will add some cognitive thinking to the exercise. Have them run these routes for about 30 minutes or until you feel they have released all their excess energy.

Especially in the summertime, some children might enjoy water sports or games. Water gun tag is an easy way to get the children involved in playtime outside to shed some energy. You can utilize a similar labeling system as the sport ideas mentioned above, but feel free to switch it up a bit and use some pool noodles or other water toys for them to run to.

You can incorporate colors to help the children engage in their visual senses. Motivate the kids to run to the next cone or noodle so they can get a nice and refreshing spray of water or spray you and any siblings with water. Again, play for around 30 minutes or until fatigued.

For children who enjoy a challenge, you can set up a fun obstacle course for them to run through.

Asperger Syndrome From Diagnosis to Independence Part 1: Diagnosis

San Antonio Public Library Informational Summer Series

The summer of 2017 Aspergers101 hosted a free informational series on Aspergers at the San Antonio Public Library. We have recorded each of these valuable sessions in video and powerpoint format so that you can have access to them at any time. Below, watch the first workshop from our Informational Summer Series on Aspergers focusing on diagnosis in childhood. First, Jennifer and Sam Allen discuss the initial steps of recognizing signs of Autism in a child and seeking a diagnosis. Next, Berenice de la Cruz, Ph.D., BCBA-D and COO of Autism Community Network, gives details on the diagnosis process and the medical terminology behind Autism and Aspergers.

The following checklist for Autism and Asperger behavioral signs comes from Jennifer and Sam’s powerpoint. This checklist is not meant to be used as a professional or standalone diagnosis, but rather as a helpful guide that can support you in your journey of diagnosis for your child.

Informal Childhood Developmental Checklist

Social Interactions

 The child prefers to play alone

 The child is rarely invited by others to play in the neighborhood or to participate in activities outside of school

 The child’s social interactions and responses are immature, not keeping with his/her age or his/her cognitive abilities in other areas

 The child has difficulty interacting in group settings

 The child does not play with other children as expected: he/she may not appear interested in their games, or may not know how to join in

 The child appears to be vulnerable to teasing, bullying and being taken advantage of by others

Behavioral Observations

Moving Beyond Black and White Thinking and Learning to Live in the Gray Area:

Using Floortime as ABA Tactic

Once a child is becomes more competent in his or her ability to think multi-causally, the next focus of higher level social-emotional thinking is the capacity to understand the gray areas of life. Adolescents and young adults with Aspergers or HFA are especially prone to hitting an emotional rut when speaking in terms of “never” and “always”—hallmark terms associated with “black and white” thinking.

IMG_0365

“He never calls on me during class” or “She always gets to play the game first” are common phrases that parents or peers hear when the speaker’s ability to think and feel in more varied degrees is constricted. Not only is this harder to negotiate socially for the partner, but it’s not a very fun state for the black and white thinker either. Such polarized patterns of thinking can lead to social isolation brought on by the extremity of the speaker’s emotional response.

Getting unstuck can be supported through Floortime, where the parent or the therapist can spotlight the child or adolescent’s black and white ideation.

For example, Jason is a young teen with Aspergers who states that he never gets to play his media after school. Jason becomes agitated when discussing this with his mother and his therapist, flooded by feelings of anger and sadness that he has difficulty modulating.

The role of Floortime therapist or supported parent in this dynamic might be to:

Aspergers, Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD), and Families: A List of Resources for You

Parents of any child with differences struggle with feeling isolated. One of the challenges for families with Aspergers Syndrome (AS) and nonverbal learning disabilities (NLD or NVLD) children is that these children don’t look different. They’re bright and verbal; their quirkiness, sensitivities and apparent oppositionalism aren’t easy to understand.

Kid having a tantrum

As a result, parents often feel blamed for their children’s special challenges. I know one mother who was told bluntly by her brother, “You must be doing something wrong. Give me two weeks with that kid in my house and I’d straighten him out.”

Parents are well aware that rigidity meeting rigidity doesn’t work and only leads to meltdowns.

Aspergers and NLD children require unique parenting skills based on understanding, acceptance, and appropriate interventions. Blaming and punishment don’t make family life any better and don’t encourage positive growth in children.

Understanding Crisis Behavior in People with Aspergers

Some individuals with Aspergers or HFA may engage in crisis behavior that interferes with their learning, puts themselves or others at risk, prevents them from participating in various activities, or impedes the development of relationships. Crisis behavior can range in severity from low productivity to meltdowns that involve aggression, self-injury, or property destruction. Many individuals unfamiliar with Aspergers may believe these types of behaviors are intentional and malicious. However, it has become well known that problem behaviors often serve a function for the individual engaging in the behaviors. Additionally, deficits in the areas characterized by Aspergers may impact behavior.

Stressed teen girl screaming, shouting

Characteristics associated with Aspergers and how it may lead to crisis behavior:

Cognition

Asperger’s Syndrome is a neurological disorder that impacts the way that individuals think, feel, and react. Individuals with Aspergers are believed to react “emotionally” rather than “logically” during stressful situations and are unable to maintain self-control.

Generalization

Some individuals with Aspergers or HFA may have difficulty applying information and skills across settings, individuals, materials, and situations. Even though socially appropriate alternative strategies have been learned, the individual may be unable to “recall” the strategies while stressed.

How to Deal with Sensory Processing Difficulties in School

Many children with sensory processing disorder or related issues can have difficulties in the school setting. Problems can arise anywhere: in the classroom, cafeteria, gymnasium, hallway, playground, and even the bus. Some of these issues can be as subtle as not eating lunch, or as difficult as destroying a classroom.

Knowing what causes these problems and how to prevent them is important for both the school and the child. This is where parents can be the best advocate for their child with Aspergers or HFA and sensory issues.

Preparing a child for school is important, but it is equally important to prepare the school for the child.

Sharing their sensory concerns with the teachers, para-professionals, principals, and others is imperative to limiting sensory difficulties in the classroom.

A typical plan should include setting up a sensory-friendly classroom with a place for the student to “get away” if necessary, providing sensory activities throughout the day to help prevent problems that may arise, catering to sensory diets, and preparing the student for changes or surprises that may come up.

A school occupational therapist can help make all of this easier, if they get involved. The occupational therapist can help teachers discover problem areas and learning differences, while providing suggestions to improve success.  Some ideas they may implement include setting up lunch bunches to relieve lunchtime stresses, providing sensory activities to use throughout the day that support the student’s ongoing needs, or modifying instruction for classroom success.

Together, the parents, teachers, and occupational therapists can develop a program that is individualized for the student with sensory issues and make this year both successful and rewarding.

For more information on sensory friendly classrooms and teacher resources, go to Future Horizons Inc. There are multiple books and other resources to help the teacher prepare for these students.

by Dr. Gayla A. Aguilar, OTR, OTD

3 Steps to get Your Child on an Exercise Routine

Autism, Sleep, and Exercise

Did you know that children ages 6 to 13 years need a recommended 9-11 hours of sleep? Did you know that children ages 6 to 17 years need a recommended 60 minutes of exercise every day? Lastly, did you know that research shows a correlation between individuals with autism, exercise, and sleep? David Wachob and David Lorenzi from Indiana University recently conducted a study in which 10 individuals with ASD between the ages of 9-17 years were measured for two things: time spent participating in physical activity and amount of time in restful sleep. Their 7 day study resulted in their participants having more restful sleep as they increased their physical activity during the day. In other words, an increase in exercise like outdoor play meant an increase in sleep. This, in turn, could potentially lead to more positive results like increased attention span, weight loss, behavior changes, and social interactions.

Little boy doing gymnastic exercises

But how do we get our kiddos to move? How do we get them away from the TV and computer? In this blog I will discuss 3 easy steps that will hopefully help get your family moving.

1. Our first step, and probably the most important, is to set the mood in regards to exercise.

Most kids see exercise as a chore when in reality it should be fun. Find something that your child can relate to. This can be stickers, coloring books, games, or tv time (tv time as an incentive) of their favorite show or characters, for example “Big Hero 6”.

ACBighero6

Decorate your workout area in pictures or printouts of their favorite character and make it more inviting. You can even use a “Big Hero 6” t-shirt as their official workout uniform. This will hopefully shed some positive/fun perspective on exercise.

2. Our second step is finding an activity to do.

Asperger Fact Sheet

by AANE Staff

We thought this a great basic overview (reference sheet) of Asperger Syndrome compiled by the staff at the Asperger/Autism Network. Nice to share if you or someone you know suspects autism.

About Asperger Syndrome:

  • It is a neurological condition that affects the way information is processed in the brain.
  • AS is a hidden disability. Many people appear very competent, but they have difficulties in the areas of communication and social interaction.
  • AS has a genetic and hereditary component and may have additional interactive environmental causes, as yet unknown.
  • AS is a developmental disability. All individuals have social/emotional delays, but continued growth seems to be life-long.
  • The incidence of AS is thought to be 1 in 250. As many as 50% of people with AS may be undiagnosed.
  • There are currently four males diagnosed with AS for every one female, but the true ratio may be as high as one female for every two males.

AS affects each person differently, although there is a core set of features that most people with AS have, to different extents, including:

  • Having a very high intelligence and good verbal skills.
  • Having challenges with the use and understanding of language in social contexts.
  • Having trouble understanding what others are thinking and feeling (called Theory of Mind or perspective taking).
  • Needing to be taught social behavior that is “picked up on” intuitively by others.
  • Having difficulty understanding non-verbal cues such as hand movements, facial expressions, and tones of voice.
  • Facing challenges with organization, initiation, prioritizing – considered executive functioning tasks.
  • Focusing on small details rather than on the bigger picture
  • Demonstrating intense interest areas such as movies, geography, history, math, physics, cars, horses, dogs or reptiles. These interest areas change every 3 months to several years
  • Building friendships through mutual interest areas or activities.
  • Viewing the world in black and white, with difficulty compromising or seeing gray areas.
  • Feeling different, like aliens in our world.
  • Sometimes experiencing anxiety and/or depression.
  • Sometimes experiencing extreme and debilitating hyper- or hypo-sensitivity to light, noise, touch, taste, or smell. The environment can have a profound impact on their abilities to function.

 

Other elements and traits some individuals with AS have:

  • Eye contact can be difficult, sometimes painful,  and usually distracting (or if taught poorly, some individuals may stare).
  • Some people with AS are clumsy, most have poor fine motor skills; although some excel in individual sports.
  • Some individuals with AS have additional diagnoses, such as ADD, bi-polar, OCD.
  • Some have superior skill in a particular areas such as painting, writing, math, music, history, electronics, or composing.
  • People with AS may have difficulties working in groups.