Improves self-confidence:student becomes “expert” in this area
Helps reduce anxiety: more relaxed and fewer meltdowns
Intrinsic engagement: instrisic motivation and engagement
Increased social engagement: when SIA is included into treatment plans
Executive functioning:improved focus on SIA
My Special Interest Social Social Story
Although there are many benefits to SIAs, sometimes kids need to take a break from them to focus on something else. The social story teaches how to re-focus then go back to the SIA when done learning something new.
I created a social story to help kids with autism understand their special interest area.
Here is a sneak peak at the story:
The first part of the story defines and shares the benefits of a SIA:
The book asks the reader what they like. The story then goes on to discuss the need to sometimes “pause” the SIA to learn something new.
A free first-then schedule is included in this social story! You can laminate or use a plastic page protector and use a wet erase marker to write on it.
My Foundations of autism class created another FREE resource for our teacher colleagues…
With the collaboration of my Fall 2019 SPED 561 Foundations of Autism class, we created this FREE resource for teachers. We want to promote inclusion and provide 20 current and helpful tips for including students in the mainstream class. These tips are support suggestions that have worked for us for students with autism spectrum disorder.
Attending an IEP meeting as a parent can be overwhelming and intimidating. At every meeting, parents have a chance to give input. As a teacher, I have seen parents who on the spot, are not able to express their child’s strengths and challenges.
The graphic organizer I created helps parents plan ahead of time what they want to share. The document includes a section to write in strengths, concerns and remedies.
Teachers can give this form to parents to fill out before the IEP meeting to help them organize their thoughts.
What are some ways you have shared your concerns with the child’s IEP team meeting?
How does a calming sequence help students in school?
All people live with some level of stress and anxiety but when anxiety gets in the way of daily functioning in school, then it becomes a problem.
“More than any other issue for children with anxiety, loss of emotional control can lead to removal from the general education classroom to a more restrictive educational environment equipped to deal with behavior challenges.”
-When My Worries Get Too Big- Carrie Dunn Buron
Tips about calming sequences for teachers
Students with autism and other exceptionalities may experience stress during the school day
The stress may manifest in different ways but could get in the way of their learning
Teach the calming sequence when the student is calm and organized
Ask the student what things make them feel calm and happy
Follow their lead on choosing a calming sequence that makes them feel the most relaxed
Use a combination of words and pictures to represent the sequence
Keep the calming sequence somewhere the student can access it during times of stress
Model the calming sequence and support the student through the sequence as they experience stress and anxiety
Here is a link to Carrie Dunn Buron’s book that I reference in the YouTube video:
Well thought out routines and procedures help create a calm, organized classroom. Students know what to do and how to do it. Without positive, routines and procedures, a classroom can easily fall into total chaos. Examples include: how we manage materials, enter the classroom, transition, and turn in work.
How do we teach routines and procedures?
Teaching routines and procedures starts at the beginning of the school year with explicit instruction. Just like academics, routines and procedures need to be taught, and reinforced. Establishing routines and procedures is one of the High Leverage Practices for special education and will be the bedrock for your classroom environment. I have linked more information about High Leverage Practices here. https://ceedar.education.ufl.edu/portfolio/ccsc-2017-high-leverage-practices/
Things to think about when setting up routines and procedures
Consider the age of the students. What is age appropriate for them? For example if you teach Kindergarten, the routine for entering and leaving the classroom will look different from a fifth grade classroom. Can your students handle materials being on the desks in tubs or do they need to be stored out of reach? There are many considerations but speak to your team, observe other classrooms and know it is ok to change a routine if it is not working for your class.
Support for students with special needs
Students with autism or other special needs respond well to classrooms with well established routines and procedures. Students with autism feel safe when they know what to expect. Focus on the transition routines for students with autism. Transitions are when we often see behavioral challenges from our students with autism. One great way to teach routines to students with autism is by using a social story. Here is a link to my YouTube video sharing what a social story is. https://youtu.be/lKl6cafmdVY
Consistent routines provide structure for students with autism which makes them feel safe secure and helps them understand what is going on during the school day.
Support for all students
Positive behavior support strategies such as this are helpful for all students. Students will be productive, calm and organized with these routines in place. Watch your mentor teachers around you and see how well run their classroom are. What would you do the same? Also think about what you would change or do differently? All of this reflection is important in developing safe and well run classroom routines and procedures.
“Masking” and Autism- Sometimes this is called “camouflaging”
On social media (twitter) I have seen multiple people who experience Autism describe the concept of “masking” and autism. At an autism conference I recently went to, a young man with autism described how he was able to “mask” his Autism and at the age of 22 has recently received a diagnosis.
What is “masking”?
•Masking is when a person who has Autism tries to blend in or go unnoticed among their neurotypical peers.
•They will fly under the radar, try to go unnoticed and copy or mirror as best as possible the social scripts of their peers.
•They work hard to be the “good student” and not bring extra attention to themselves.
•Research shows that those who have Autism level one (aka. Asperger’s) often camouflage.
•Masking happens when a person with autism is more aware of their social differences to the neurotypical world.
•Girls with autism tend to “mask” more than boys on the spectrum.
Why is masking an issue?
•Masking suppresses the natural state of the person with Autism.
•Students who mask are often misdiagnosed because they have camouflaged their symptoms. A misdiagnosis of mental health difficulties may happen.
•A feeling of social isolation may happen because they are not able to be their true selves.
•Masking can lead to loneliness, depression, self-harm, self-medication, anxiety anger and is most notably it is exhausting.
If you suspect a student is masking, talk to your educational team, a special education teacher, school counselor or other professional. Getting others involved will help support you as an educator to determine the next steps to take in helping the student.
Behavioral issues may be caused by a student’s unique sensory needs.
85% of students with autism have sensory processing disorders.
Did you know that there are actually 8 sensory systems in your body, not just 4?
Our bodies take information in through the following sensory systems:
The The functional four:
and then we have the foundational four: “body based”:
proprioception (input from muscles and joints)
interoception-A lesser known sense: (internal sensors indicating physiological conditions)
Sensory Processing: A person’s way of noticing and responding to sensory events that occur during life. These patters of responding affect how people respond in situations. (Dunn, 1997)
Occupational Therapist (OT): An OT is the experts on sensory processing. They will work with the family and the IEP team to conduct screenings and assessments to determine the needs of the student within the context of the school environment. The goal of looking at sensory processing is to improve participation, NOT to change the sensory processing patters. To learn what an IEP is please read What is an IEP?
The DSM-5 includes langauge about sensory processing and autism as part of the diagnosis for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)…
Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g., apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).
Neurological Thresholds: Describe the level at which the brain will respond to sensory stimulation. When a student has a low threshold they respond to everything around them and often have sensory profiles that are “sensitive” or “avoiding.” Students who have a high threshold can appear be passive and don’t respond often to sensory stimulation. They may have sensory profiles that are “low registration” or “seeking”
Unique Sensory Profiles:
Low Registration: Indicate a high threshold and a student is slow to respond to stimuli in the environment.
Seeking: indicate high thresholds and this student will often add movement, touch, sound and visual stimuli to the school day.
Sensitivity: Indicate low thresholds and children detect more details than others and may be more hyperactive, distracted and easily upset because they notice more things in the environment than their peers.
Avoiding: Indicate low thresholds and children may avoid work to reduce input. They may seem resistant and unwilling to participate in activities, particularly in unfamiliar ones.
Check out this “model of sensory processing” chart and watch the linked Youtube video for more detail on how to interpret this chart…
Learners on the Autism Spectrum 2nd edition by Kari Buron and Pamela Wolfberg
Dunn, W. (1991a). The impact of sensory processing abilities on the daily lives of young children and their families: A conceptual model. Infants and Young Children, 9(4), 23-25.