Calling all individuals with autism and parents of children with autism!
Did you ever feel misunderstood? Constantly battling with your teachers? Wondering why they just didn’t understand you? Do you ever wish you could teach them something?
Well, you can! And it’s your time to be HEARD!
In honor of April being Autism Awareness Month, I am opening my blog to you! I want to hear your stories and share them with the world!
And I need your help!
You are the experts about autism!
Are you an autistic adult?
What do you wish your teachers understood about you and your behaviors? Do you have something that you couldn’t share then, but want to share now? It’s time!
Are you an adolescent with autism?
Do you wish that you could tell your teachers something about yourself, but can’t? What is it?
Are you a parent of a child with autism?
What do you want your child’s teacher to know about your child and their needs? What do you wish they knew?
Here’s the chance to be HEARD! I want to hear from you, the experts, what you wish your teachers knew about you (or your child) and autism?
I’m looking to feature a new story from an individual with autism each day in the month of April. And that could be you! Help me spread autism awareness and share ideas, tips and tricks that you wish your teacher knew about autism.
If you (or your child with autism) would like to participate, please send the following to me at firstname.lastname@example.org:
a description of you (or your child),
how autism affected your life at school,
and what you wish your teachers knew about autism.
Make your stories as long or as short as you want! It’s your time to be heard, so no holds barred!
Please send your stories along with a picture (optional) to me at email@example.com and I will post it on my website. I want to feature YOU!
I need your help in this project, and as the experts, I am hoping you will participate!
This guest post is by Trisha Katkin, a special education teacher in NH. She has her Master’s in Education and currently holds certificates in General Special Education, Learning Disabilities and Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities. She has been a guest speaker several times at the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability at their Behavioral Workshops and at the Summer Behavioral Summit. She has been featured on KerryMagro.com, The American Autism Association and GeekClubBooks. She is a crusader for students with autism and fights to spread awareness for teachers, parents, and advocates who need help. She writes a blog at TRISHAKATKIN.COM where her posts consist of actionable step-by-step advice and tips that can be implemented immediately.
So we are delighted to announce that AutismTalk is going to run an interview with her at the end of this month. But the interview is a bit different from most that you have come across before.
How so you might ask?
Well we want you, our readers and followers, to decide which questions we should ask. So what questions do you have for somebody how has spent years in the special education field? She is now considered the go to expert for special education teaching professionals? We feel this is a great opportunity to ask those questions which you want to get answered.
So what next?
Simple. Just write the questions that you have in the comments section below or if you would prefer you can send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those of you who don’t know her Trisha Katkin is a special education teacher in New Hampshire in America. She has her Master’s in Education and currently holds certificates in General Special Education, Learning Disabilities and Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities. She has been a guest speaker at the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability and has been featured on Autism Talk (http://patienttalk.org), The American Autism Association (http://myautism.org), as well as on Kerry Magro’s site at http://KerryMagro.com. She is a crusader for students with autism and fights to spread awareness for teachers, parents, and advocates who need help. She writes a blog at http://TRISHAKATKIN.COM where her posts consist of actionable advice and tips that can be implemented immediately.
Thanks very much in advance for your help. We will confirm the date of the interview in the next week. So please watch this space!
As I’m sure you know autism and education is one of the big themes of this blog. And for many in the autism community the new school year is about to begin. To with our commitment to crowd sourcing ideas from our readers we decided to ask our readers on FaceBook what they thought were good ideas by asking the question “What tips would you give for children on the autism spectrum just about to start the new school year?”.
The results were ( as always from the autism community) both abundant and useful. So here is a selection for you.
“Leading up to going back to school, I show him pictures of his new teachers, talk about school and generally just prepare him for it. Also put him into the holiday Club 1 day a week through summer hols, which is basically on the school campus x x” came from Julie.
While Kirsty said “The school should have provided the child with a social story that can be shared. This should include any teachers they will be working with together with a picture. If they are changing rooms they should have pictures of that room. Give them an idea of what the day will be like but make sure they know that things can change. Practice the school run/route before term starts including getting uniform on. There are normally admin staff in school a week or so before term so call them or the head and ask them if you can visit before term starts.”
Michelle told us “When my son started preschool, I brought him to the school for orientation so he could see the classroom, meet the teachers and therapists. I took pictures of them and the classroom and building. I got a copy of the daily schedule and used Powerpoint to create a social story for him on how his days would go. I do something similar whenever he does anything unfamiliar from getting a haircut to going to birthday parties. I can’t anticipate every challenge, but I hope it helps him. I always hyper-prepare for myself, because I get very anxious, too, in new situations and it helps me.”
“We make a special orientation just for my daughter where I can take her to her classrooms and introduce her to her new teacher. We go they’ll the whole schedule. What I do at home is start school work more rigorously 1 month ahead of time. I take her out and get new stuff and always try to get her excited for school. We have 1 month before school starts, but she is excited to go. I’ll be more nervous later, because she is in a whole new wing this year and now instead of being 1 year behind she is now 2. I think I need to prepare myself more than her really.” was Katie’s similar approach.
Another Michelle’s idea got a lot of support “I would tell parents to set up a meeting with all teachers that will be involved with your child so you can make your expectations of them to help your child”.
“Colour code your subjects on your timetable and colour code your books/folders to match the subject. Arrange a social story about the new year. Where the toilets will be, which teacher they will have, what the classroom may look like etc” is Rachel’s very organised idea.
As Brenda says there are a number of ways to crack the nut “Before the schools in our area instituted Back to School Night before school started, I made an appointment with his new teacher to bring him in and meet him/her and see where he would be sitting, get familiar with the classroom, find the bathroom nearest the classroom, etc. All of his teachers were cooperative and eager to help him transition well to a new classroom (mainstreamed always). Took him school shopping and let him pick his backpack, notebooks, etc.”
So is there anything else you would add to this? If so please feel free to add your suggestions to the comments boxes below.
One thing I should mention is that I asked a similar question of another Facebook page. this time one run by a autism teaching expert called Trisha Katkin. Miss has shared some of her great posts with us in the past so please check them out here. Anyhow one of her readers named Tracy Sherriff has written a guide to this exact problem. The great news is that you can download it for free here.
Life skills are vital for everyone. These are the important life lessons that teach a child how to be independent. For students with autism, these skills are invaluable. Autistic students may not acquire basic life skills passively. They need a more direct route to be taught life skills. For many students, learning life skills will be more important than the dreaded common core.
Safety skills include rudimentary understandings of impending danger. Some children with autism do not understand that they shouldn’t run into a street or go off with a stranger. These are VERY important things for a student to learn. Safety skills include understanding of safety signs such as stop signs and street lights, but also what to do in an emergency.
In order for a student to be independent in the long term, they must know how to keep themselves safe. Staying indoors during a thunderstorm, calling 911 in an emergency, and how to properly shut off the oven or stove are just a few of the safety skills that a student would need to know before true independence.
Where to start? Take it slow. Start where the student is at. Teach safety awareness in a variety of settings.
-Teach the student how to stay safe maneuvering around the playground equipment or how to swing without falling off.
In the classroom?
-Teach how to sit properly in a chair, not to rock back, and not to climb on desks or tables.
In the hall?
-Practice walking calmly, with hands by the side, and a quiet mouth.
Taking a walk?
-Practice learning the safety signs such as stop or turn it into a game by playing “Red Light, Green Light.”
For me, I cannot imagine not being able to communicate. The frustration, the anger, and the yearn to be understood would otherwise consume me. Providing your students with a means of communication is critical. Find a communication tool that works for your student and is on their level. This can be gesturing to a desired object, a vocalization, use of PECs, or a AAC device. Start slow and work with the most important things to your student. If it is motivating to them, it is more likely to be communicated to you. Be open and discerning. Be observant.
That student that you think is not communicating, may just not be communicating in the way you know. < TWEET THIS!
Self-regulation is tough. It is the idea that a student check in with themselves and see where they are at. It’s the idea that a student can think about one’s thoughts and understand how to cope with overwhelming situations and emotions. It’s sometimes called meta-cognition and is something that many neurotypical adults have a hard time with. Believe me, if you sat me in front of a plate of nachos and told me I had to wait to eat them, I wouldn’t last but 30 seconds. Teach the art of self-control. Help your students by teaching emotions and coping mechanisms directly. Discrete trial sessions are a good time to introduce new materials that you can then generalize to the rest of the day. Social stories are a perfect way to teach self-regulation skills throughout the day or as a group during morning meeting. If you need help getting started with social stories, check out my FREE Course HERE!
Health life skills include learning how to brush one’s teeth and hair and know how to follow through and complete a bathroom routine. This includes helping your student create healthy habits such as teaching them nutrition and healthy eating. The importance of exercise also falls into this category. Facilitate this by working in regular exercise into your day. Find time for stretching in the morning, yoga in the afternoon, or extra walks throughout the day. Exercise is fantastic for reinvigorating the body and mind. It’s also a nice way to take a break after a hard task. Make exercise fun by finding games and movement activities that your students like. Other health habits include bathing, clipping nails, and remembering to use soap.
Learning how to keep one’s body healthy is important, but also teaching what to do when one’s body is not healthy is another thing. You must teach both sides of this coin. Teaching self-advocacy will do just that. A student needs to know how to express what they need and when. The ability to ask someone for assistance is a necessary life skill. Help your students learn how to ask for help when they need it. Learning how to ask a teacher for help will be invaluable to them in the future when they are presented in situations that they be unaccustomed to.
Becoming independent is the hope and dream for many parents and individuals with autism. Becoming independent includes activities of daily living. This means one’s ability to prepare, cook and feed one’s self, but also aspects such as washing, drying and folding laundry. Simple tasks such as sweeping or vacuuming the floor or folding small towels is a great place to start.
Adding jobs to your classroom is a great place to start. Practicing running the lunch choices down to the office or wiping down the desks at the end of the day are perfect options for integrating these skills.
Self-esteem is the way your student views him or herself. It is important to foster self-esteem with your students in order to prevent shut down. Show respect for your students and in return, they will for you. Build self-esteem by using a student’s natural interests to motivate them, encourage along the way, and build trust. If you need help building self-esteem in your students, read my post, 10 Ways to Increase Self-Esteem in Your Students with Autism.
Executive functioning skills are typically hard for students with autism. Time management is one of these skills. The idea of breaking down a task, learning priorities and estimating how long a task may take is a hard one. Practice time-management skills by breaking down tasks for your student. As your students learn routines, their time-management skills will increase. As they become better at following certain routines you can teach them how to estimate how long a task will take them and practice breaking down easy tasks.
You could even double-dip a bit here. Tackle time-management and some independence skills by practicing making simple dishes. You could have your student practice breaking down the task of making a sandwich, trail mix, or some other small snack or meal.
Understanding the basics of money management is important in everyday life skills. This includes paying bills, balancing checkbooks, and clipping coupons. Need ideas on where to start? Turn your math activities into life skills activities. Practice having a budget, paying for pretend bills or using coupons. In the long-term, a student will need to have these skills to buy their own groceries or pay their own rent.
Becoming independent includes the ability to make decisions. We make hundreds of decisions a day. From simple to complex, decision making is something everyone does. Some students with autism have a hard time with decision making as it requires a multi-step process.
Teach your student how to make good decisions in three steps:
Think about the future. (Will this decision help further your student to their future goals?)
Stick to the facts. (What are the facts surrounding this decision?)
Weigh the pros and cons. (Do the pros outweigh the cons? Choose that one.)
Now you know the skills that need to be taught. But you may be wondering how exactly do I teach them?
Okay, I know I’ll get some feedback for this post, but I still think it is an important one. Occasionally you will run in behavior that is merely attention seeking in nature. I think we have all had the student that does something just to get you going. The behavior that your student displays just to get you to react, so that they can revel in their accomplishment.
Here’s a quick story.
I once had a student that bite the table, looked at me and smiled. Anytime I asked him to do work he would look up at me with his baby blue eyes and grin while holding the table between his teeth. This behavior seemed to happen anytime I needed him to do his work. He wouldn’t bite hard enough to hurt himself and he would stop as soon as I looked away. This behavior was clearly for my attention. I didn’t need a Functional Behavior Assessment to determine this one. The function was clear. He wanted to avoid work and he wanted me to react to his outrageous behavior of biting the table.
So what did I do?
I just ignored him. Anytime I asked him to do his work and he decided to bite the table, I ignored him.
And guess what?
The behavior stopped. Amazing right?
Now, you are probably thinking, ignoring is easy. Sure, I can do that. Or I’ve ignored behavior in the past, but nothing worked and the behavior never stopped.
Well, before I delve into the 5 steps of ignoring, I want to preface all of this by saying that if your student is engaging in behavior that is dangerous or destructive, you must intervene. You simply cannot ignore behavior of that magnitude.
I also want to mention that not all behavior is that easy to determine. You may have behavior in your classroom that is not so cut and dry. Not so black and white. Here I would definitely suggest determining if the behavior is attention-seeking through a variety of methods including observation, using baseline data or a Functional Behavior Assessment. Also, check out my FREE email course, The 7-Step Social Story, which teach you the tricks for managing student behavior. Get it HERE!
As there are many reasons for student behavior I do not recommend ignoring as a behavior tactic unless all other functions of behavior (besides attention-seeking) have been ruled out. So make sure you observe your student closely, understand what a norm is for them, and conduct an FBA. You may even want to bring in another educator just to check and see if the behavior is directed just at you or every adult. You may even have students that conduct attention-seeking behavior as a method to get peers’ attention. In which case, ignoring may be the best option, followed by removal of either student to decrease the chance of inadvertent attention.
Now, before we talk about the steps we should talk about the types of behavior that we can ignore that MAY be attention-seeking in nature.
Demanding that you do something they want
Throwing temper tantrums
Any other methods of inappropriately demanding attention
These are just to name a few. And as stated before, you cannot ignore behavior that is destructive or dangerous to the student or others. And these behaviors must clearly be correlated with attention seeking.
Please, please, please, err on the side of caution.
Do not assume that your student is engaging in attention-seeking behavior when something underlying could be going on. In the case of students that cannot tell you what is wrong, do not start with assuming that they are just trying to get your attention. They could be sick, hurt, or something else could be going on.
Okay, now let’s talk about the three types of ignoring:
No Physical Contact
If possible, do not touch your student or let them touch you. Remember that student I talked about earlier? Well, if I didn’t respond to his behavior he would sometimes try and grab my hands to try and get me to physically remove his face from the table. If you have a student like this, calmly remove your hands from a position where your student can get them. Take a few steps back from the table, desk or area, if you can without your student conducting in other, more amped up, behavior. If you are in close proximity to your student and moving away is not an option, just remove their hands from your body in a calm even keeled manner. Try not to give the student any feedback that could be misconstrued as attention.
No Verbal Contact
Do not talk to your student. Now I don’t mean, don’t EVER talk to your student, just don’t repeatedly talk to your student when they are engaging in the attention-seeking behavior. Give your student one (maybe two) verbal directions and that’s it. After that you can show your student any non-verbal cue that they know well. This could be a PEC or sign language.
Do not speak or say another word. Simply point to the PEC or sign until your student complies.
This is where many, many, many teachers fail. It may be tempting to think that your student didn’t hear you, or that they don’t know what they are supposed to be doing. So you repeatedly talk to them.
If a student is engaging in a behavior and it is truly attention-seeking in nature, and you have given them 2 verbal directions, showed them a non-verbal direction and they still continue to conduct that behavior, they understand. They probably know what you want them to do and they are just refusing. Continue to show the non-verbal cue until they stop the attention-seeking behavior and continue to complete the task at hand.
No Eye Contact
Lastly, no eye contact. This can be a tricky one. I don’t necessarily mean, don’t look. I just mean, don’t get caught looking. And as always, you need to keep an eye on your student to ensure safety. Please don’t think I am saying walk out of the room and go get a cup of coffee. You still need to be aware of what your student is doing, just don’t let them know you are still watching.
So know that you know the 3 types of ignoring and depending on your situation, you may need to employ 1 or all 3 in conjunction with these next steps. Here are the 5 steps in the art of ignoring:
Pick a Target Behavior
First start by deciding on the behavior that you want to decrease. Determine the function of the behavior and make sure that the behavior is merely attention-seeking in nature and not due a medical need, a pain, or injury. Use observation, baseline norm data, and an FBA as necessary.
Remove any and all Attention when the Behavior Occurs
If and when the behavior occurs, remove any and all attention. This means employing any combination of the above 3 steps to effectively ignore the student.
If You Are Going to Ignore, Be Consistent!
This one is probably the hardest. If you are going to ignore, you better follow through. If you decide that you are going to fight a battle and tell a student that their attention-seeking behavior is not okay, you need to follow through. EVERYTIME. This is tough. And tiring. And it will drain you. If your student is strong-willed, you’ll probably want to give up. But believe me, give it a shot. Finish what you started and you are bound to see the results you wanted.
Expect the Extinction Burst
An extinction burst. That’s a fancy word that behavior experts throw around to mean, expect the behavior to occur more often before it occurs less.
Here’s a fun example of an extinction burst.
Say, every day you went to the vending machine to buy a soda. And every day you bought the same soda to go with your lunch. One day you go to the machine to buy your daily soda only to find out that it is sold out. What do you do? You pressed the button and it said, “sold out.” The first thing many would do is hit the button 3 or 4 more times before we realize that that soda is not coming out.
That, my dear, is an extinction burst.
If your student has consistently gotten away with whatever behavior it is that you are trying to decrease, expect them to amp it up before it tones down. It’s a natural response. We all do it. Don’t get discouraged. Just expect it, account for it, work through it, and you can do it!
Reward and Attend to the Appropriate Behavior as Soon as it Occurs
Now, eventually, hopefully, your student will realize that their attention-seeking behavior is not assuming to anyone else, and the reward of getting your attention (or anyone else’s) is not going to take place. You have employed a variety of techniques to create an environment of effective ignoring. You have been consistent, waited it out and now your student is displaying appropriate behavior.
Great! That’s what we want right? So the next thing you need to do is praise, praise, praise! Give all the attention in the world for appropriate behavior, and your student is bound to make the connection and continue to make the right choice.
Ignoring should not be used in a vacuum. It is important to note that ignoring on its own without use of positive behavior strategies and interventions is not best practice. It is one part in many strategies that help obtain desired behavior. Please see my post on PBIS Strategies in Students with Autism for more information regarding techniques for increasing desirable behavior.
Take time, be observant, and use ignoring sparingly, as needed and only when the behavior is attention-seeking, but not dangerous or destructive. Use base line data to check in and see if maybe your student is in pain, hurt, injured or in need of some sensory stimulation. Use help from colleagues or conduct a formal FBA if it is a consistent behavior that you think maybe be a bit more complicated. When in doubt, seek help and ask questions.