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.
The Law: A 504 plan is governed by a civil rights law
Students with 504 plans: Qualify under the section 504 Rehabilitation Act 1973 (PL 93-112)
“No otherwise qualified handicapped individual…shall, solely by reason of his/her handicap, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance”
To be protected under Section 504, a student must be determined to:
(1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or (2) have a record of such an impairment; or (3) be regarded as having such an impairment.
A 504 plan is a plan to ensure accessibility but does not include specialized instruction and services such as occupational therapy, speech therapy etc.
the child’s disability must be negatively impacting his learning in the general education classroom
If your child has a disability and it is impacting their educational experience, and accommodations are all that are needed, a 504 plan is ideal.
An example is a quiet place to take a test.
A 504 plan can stay with a person for a lifetime
A written plan is created
Periodic “evaluation” is required but no annual review is required
There are no goals or progress monitoring
The student’s 504 team will determine what these accommodations will be and it is the responsibility of the classroom teacher (and other members of the team) to follow through on the plan in class.
IEP-Individual Education Plan
The Law: The IEP is governed by special education law
Students with IEPs qualify under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Public Law No. 94-142 (last amended 2004)
A student must have one of 13 “disabling” conditions to qualify for an IEP.
The disability must negatively impact the students access to the curriculum
The IEP includes specialized instruction
An IEP is used in public schools for students between the ages of 3-21
A written plan is created
Initial assessment is based on standardized assessment tools and a student must be re-evaluated every 3 years. Every year the team must meet for the “annual” IEP meeting.
Goals are written and reviewed at least every year
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.
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. Continue reading →
Students with autism or other special needs, who have an Individual Education Plan (I.E.P) or 504 plan, will have a section in the plan detailing accommodations and/or modifications. The student’s IEP or 504 team will determine what these accommodation or modifications will be and it is the responsibility of the classroom teacher (and other members of the team) to follow through on the plan in class. To learn more about an IEP check out my link What is an IEP?
Students with IEPs qualify under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Public Law No. 94-142
Laws require that students who have special needs have equal access to educational opportunities.
Equal access to general education curriculum
Schools are required to make reasonable accommodations for students identified as having a disability
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.