Getting the chance to watch Dr. Temple Grandin talk has been a career long dream of mine!
When I started working with children with autism back in 1997, her book “Thinking in Pictures” was one of my first introductions to autism.
Dr. Grandin was one of the first individuals with autism who could articulate what life is like for people on the autism spectrum. Parents and professionals both clamored for her knowledge, expertise and valuable insight.
I just had the amazing opportunity to hear her speak at the US Autism Association!
Here are the major takeaways I had from her keynote speech:
Limit screen time for children with autism to less than 1 hour per day. She noted that many of the children who could succeed in computer science are sucked in to video games and no longer can access their full potential due to their addiction
Parents need to “start letting go”-foster independence from a young age. She likened this to the adult cow who still wants to nurse from the mama cow. She said we need to “wean our children” so they are not dependent on us
“don’t over-protect”the child with autism
Allow children a multitude of hands on experiences because true learning takes place with hands on experiences not through screens
Teach young children how to “wait” and how to “take turns” and use board games as a way to teach these skills
Having real jobs are important for young adults with autism starting at age 13 (or so).
Don’t get hung up on the label of autism
Focus on the strengths of the child not the deficits-build upon a child’s special interest which could end up leading to a valuable career one day. As an example, a child who is interested in pipes can become a plumber.
Don’t make kids with autism do “baby math” if they excel in math. Allow the child to excel in the area they are gifted in
Encourage friendships through shared experiences such as cub scouts, school clubs etc. A shared interest will help build the friendship
There is NO need to disclose autism diagnosis for milder cases due to some prejudice surrounding autism. Instead, tell what you need “those lights give me a headache”
Stretch students to grow and don’t overprotect them!
Allow for choices
If you were at the conference or have learned from Dr. Grandin yourself, please share what your biggest takeaways are in the comments!
Social Stories are another great visual support and intervention for students who experience Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Visual supports are valuable in helping students structure and understand communication and social interactions.
Social Stories were developed by Carol Gray in 1995 as a way to teach children with ASD how to read the intricacies of the social environment and to teach new skills.
These techniques use a brief narrative that describes a situation, relevant social cues, and responses.
They can teach multi-step situations. Similar to “Task Analysis” a skill is broken down into smaller steps for a student to learn and understand.
There are a variety of social skills training programs available, but Social Stories can be created by anyone including teachers, parents, speech language pathologists, and they can be used with all ages of students.
Read and review the social story when the student is calm to teach the behavior or social skill. Review the social story often and reinforce positive student behavior related to skills in the social story
Social Stories are simple narratives, written in positive language that support a student’s communication in a way that makes the new skill or social environment more personal and concrete
Picture schedules provide supports for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) which are part of the environmental supports many students with ASD respond well to. Some students with autism may need a schedule that is paired down a bit and a first/then schedule is ideal for them.
Picture schedules help students with ASD understand what is happening during the school day and is a tool to help them navigate successfully through their day.
Some things to think about when using a first/then schedule:
this low tech first/then board can be created with a file folder. Laminate the file folder so it can be wiped clean if it gets dirty. Set velcro strips on the outside and long strips inside to store the images
create images that reflect all parts of their daily school schedule
create images to reflect referred activities and reinforcers
real photo icons may be needed first for younger students or students with ASD who are level 3. Ideally all icons should contain a picture and a word so students will get exposure to written language. Pairing a picture with a word will help a student eventually transition to only using words for their schedules.
focus on a work task or non-prefered task for the first item on the schedule and a preferred task or reinforcer for the “then” item on the schedule
complete “reinforcer assessments” often to insure students with autism are motivated to complete the work task or assignment
first/then boards are portable and you can keep all picture items you need inside the schedule
this schedule is portable and should be taken with the student as he or she navigates around the school
higher tech options are available through apps if a student uses a tablet
if you put the first/then on the white board or smart board for all students, then it can become a universal support and many students can benefit from it
this visual support may be part of a student’s IEP What is an IEP? but it is OK to try this strategy to provide more structure doing any student’s day
communicate and collaborate with the student’s IEP or 504 team to let them know you have started this visual support
encourage and support parents to use a first/then picture schedule at home if they are needing more structure in the home environment
Have first/then picture schedules been helpful to your students in the past?
Independent work systems are evidence-based practice for students with autism, but they are very helpful for any child who needs some structure to be able to work on his or her own.
My son who started Kindergarten, now has homework so I set up a structured work system so he has somewhere in the house dedicated to completing his homework.
Special education classrooms use a variation of these work systems and supports to help teach independence and provide structure.
♥ I want to share this technique and show how easy this independent work system is to create and use at home. Even if you don’t work with an autism specialist or have in-home Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist, this is something you can create with a quick trip to the dollar store and moving around some furniture.
What is the DSM-V? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (fifth edition) which was just revised in 2013 and written by the American Psychiatric Association. The diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been modified based on the research literature and clinical experience in the 19 years since the DSM-IV was published in 1994. It is important for teachers to know this because the DSM-5 is used in part, to determine ASD diagnosis and eligibility.
Here is a quote from the DSM-5 to further describe what the DSM-5 is:
“The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is a classification of mental disorders with associated criteria designed to facilitate more reliable diagnoses of these disorders….
DSM is intended to serve as a practical, functional, and flexible guide for organizing information that can aid in the accurate diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. It is a tool for clinicians, an essential educational resource for students and practitioners, and a reference for researchers in the field.”
Here are the major changes from DSM 4 to DSM 5 in the area of autism:
The APA has gotten rid of the sub-categories Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), Rett’s Syndrome and Childhood disintegrative disorder and replaced it with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Another huge difference is that Asperger’s Syndrome has been removed from the DSM-5. It has been replaced with the term ASD level 1 without language or intellectual impairment. Most professionals are still referring to Asperger’s Syndrome in describing the disability because the term is widely used and understood in the general public.
The new diagnostic criteria for ASD have been rearranged into two areas: 1) social communication/interaction, and 2) restricted and repetitive behaviors. The diagnosis will be based on symptoms, currently or by history, in these two areas.
DSM-5 has also added a category under restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interest or activities called hyper or hypo-reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment.
Symptoms must be present in early childhood but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed capacities. Symptoms need to be functionally impairing and not better described by another DSM-5 diagnosis.
Symptom severity for each of the two areas of diagnostic criteria is now defined. It is based on the level of support required for those symptoms and reflects the impact of co-occurring specifier such as intellectual disabilities, language impairment, medical diagnoses and other behavioral health diagnoses.
The DSM-5 includes a new diagnostic category of Social Communication Disorder that describes children with social difficulty and pragmatic language differences that impact comprehension, production and awareness in conversation that is not caused by delayed cognition or other language delays. This diagnosis looks a lot like Asperger’s Syndrome to most professionals.
Hopefully this brief overview of the changes was helpful for teachers and parents who are on the diagnois journey.
Transitions are when a student moves from one activity to another in the classroom. Going from small group work time to large group work, lining up for lunch, going home and going to P.E. are all examples of transitions.
Transitions are commonly a time when children who experience autism struggle. Wait time, uncertainty, and needing to go from preferred to non-preferred activities all contribute to this breakdown. Staying one step ahead of the curve and supporting the student with autism will help the school day go smoothly. Here are some tips for creating success with transitions during the school day.
Minimize wait time during transitions Hurry up and wait should not be the motto for your transitions. Waiting in line for example can exacerbate anxiety, frustration and uncertainty for students with autism. Continue reading →
All students who experience autism are unique and have their own strengths and needs. Here are 5 common supports for students with autism in the mainstream classroom:
1. Read, understand and implement the student’s accommodations page of their IEP.
As a classroom teacher you will be given a copy of the accommodations page of the IEP. To review what an IEP is please read What is an IEP?. You are responsible for knowing and implementing any and all accommodations on this page in your classroom. Written directions, an outline of the schedule, and short breaks are examples of accommodations. If for some reason you were not given the accommodations page, make sure to reach out to the student’s case manager (special education teacher) to get a copy of this before school starts.
2. Work closely with specialists to provide support for the student
Something I love about working in special education is that you always have a team of people working to support the student. You are never alone! Reach out to any and all of the specialists who are on your student’s team. The student’s IEP will outline which specialist he or she has on their IEP team. Examples of specialist include Speech Language Pathologists (SLP), Occupational Therapists (OT) and Physical Therapists (PT).