A Feelings Chart and Calming Activities for Children with ASD

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.

Happy group of kids

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!

Preventing Meltdowns

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

meltdown

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:

Using Graphic Organizers to Improve Your Child’s Academic Success

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

Child, Graphic Organizer

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:

Using Scripts to Develop Conversational Skills for Students with ASD

Actors use scripts to help them memorize dialogue as part of their performance. Once they have memorized the script, then they can recite the words from memory adding meaning through inflection, tone and pauses. One of the common strengths of students with an autism spectrum disorder is that of rote memorization.

script, social skills, asd

Therefore, a script may be an excellent tool to build conversational skills. Scripts are written sentences or paragraphs that individuals can memorize and use as supports in social situations. From greetings to asking for help to engaging in a conversation, a script can be a simple and discrete visual support.

Q&A With Lisa: How do I get my child qualified for special ed?

24

Q:

Dear Lisa,

“I suspect my child has autism or some related disability. He is in the early elementary years. How do I get my child qualified for Special Education services in public school and what do they offer?”

-Confused and Concerned in Texas

A:

Dear Confused and Concerned in Texas,

Thank you for asking this question that many others surely have as well. I will do my best to clarify the referral process from a parent’s perspective and possible services. However, you are always welcome to contact the campus Principal and/or the special education department of your current campus/district and present your question to them directly. Their response will give you an overview of the process which I will outline in this article through multiple resources and a flowchart.

Since you have mentioned that you suspect autism or some related disability, I have also included a resource that might help you to clarify your concerns in those terms if/when you do make the phone call to the local special education office.

Resources for Parents About Bullying and Autism in School

Individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) remain highly vulnerable to bullying behavior. Parents, teachers, other students, and the community must be sensitive to the particular needs of these students and vigilant in bullying prevention and intervention.

This week’s blog will point families in the direction of multiple resources available.

Sensory Processing Issues: Smell with ASD

Remember in our previous blog on taste differences that smell makes up a large part of our sense of taste. Therefore, an individual with an Autism Spectrum Disorder might have an extremely fine sense of smell, which can be enough to make them avoid certain foods or even lose their appetite. So, there might be overlap in this very complicated topic of sensory differences as they co-exist in each person.

“Our sense of smell is so deeply ingrained in our psychology that many times we don’t even realize how scents are affecting what we do and how we think. Smell, more so than any other sense, is also intimately linked to the parts of the brain that process emotion and associative learning. Meaning that our sense of smell influences our feelings and perceptions neurologically. Our brains are hardwired to perceive certain smells and have an emotional reaction to those smells.”

Excerpt from: http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/human-biology/smell.htm

Supports for Sensory Processing Disorder and Issues with Touch

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.

Painted hands for a border

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:

Using Mini-Maps to Plan for Challenging Behavior in the Community

Mini-maps can be highly effective in dealing with work avoidance behaviors at school and at home. Let’s now take this same strategy and apply it in community settings. Remember, a mini-map takes an event or task and breaks it down into smaller, more doable steps.shopping mini-mapsFor a family that has difficulty with seemingly simple shopping trips, a mini-map might be a good tool for the Aspergers family member. Mini-maps help to stay focused on the task at hand while preventing intense preoccupation with specific aspects.

How to Help ASD Students Express Their Feelings and De-Escalate a Meltdown

Feelings Chart

If a student can express their inner feelings, then adults could help them prevent further escalation. This can be done by engaging the student in conversation about the problem, or beginning a calming activity. Often however, the student has difficulty expressing those feelings until it is too late. A feelings chart may be an effective visual support to help students express how they are feeling with or without using any words.

Feelings Chart in Class

In order for the feelings chart to be an effective strategy, students must understand the meaning of different feelings represented at each level. What does it mean to feel great versus having a problem?  Connecting meaning for each feeling may require direct instruction. Lessons to build this understanding can be done in a variety of ways, including the use of props or pictures of self or others.