Autism: C'hele's Story

August 28, 2007

Autism: Helping Children With Perspective Taking/Social Cognitive Deficits ~ The Workshop I Attended Presented by Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP

Filed under: Autism, Special Needs — C'hele @ 20:26
If anyone ever has the chance to attend a workshop by Michelle Garcia Winner, I cannot recommend it highly enough. In the world of higher functioning autism and Asperger Syndrome, she is on the verge of revolutionizing older approaches, strategies and treatments to assist these individuals. To all parents, professionals, aides and parapro’s out there, please take the opportunity to go and listen to her if she comes out near your area. I walked out of that conference so incredibly excited with the information and knowledge that she “gifted” me with and I cannot wait to utilize it towards my daughter and the students I work for. There is so much knowledge that she imparted that I literally do not know where to start here. Nor would I want to attempt to do so, for fear of completely messing up her philosophy and work. So, I recommend to all of you to check out and read her work. Her website is: http://www.socialthinking.com. Michelle was witty, funny and incredibly brilliant. It was worth the $275.00 to attend and listen to her. Her work on the ILAUGH model of Social Cognition, Perspective Taking, Theory of Mind and Language/Communication is going to help change the world of these kids. I have to add that Michelle’s work is not limited to high functioning autistic and Asperger’s individuals. It also includes people who have been labelled as: ADD/ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome, NVLD, PDD/NOS, and kids/people labelled as Emotionally Disturbed.

Reflecting upon everything I learned, Michelle’s work is all about blending inquisitiveness and humour to discover and learn about the minds and needs of our autistic children and students. To not rely completely on labels alone when we teach them and to take the time to get to know our kids and figure them out. Treat the symptoms, not the label. Most importantly, to teach our kids to “think with their eyes” because eyes have thoughts behind them. There is an intent behind eye contact and as most of us know, autistic children do not make eye contact with others. If they can look at you or an object with their eyes, they are listening and communicating. Michelle believes that language and perspective taking must come together in order to be a good communicator. The biggest thing that impacted me was Michelle’s comment of “are we looking at things too behaviourally?”

Working at the autism centre I cannot help but confess, that yes we do. Our centre does look at things this way. In all fairness, our kids range from high functioning to lower functioning kids who have the tendencies to become violent. Michelle’s work is more effective with higher functioning and often incredibly intelligent/gifted, verbal autistic kids. Some of our kids are somewhere in middle. Bright, willing to learn and hard workers who need constant redirection from their own rich, inner worlds. Many of them are non-verbal. In my opinion, our centre needs a variety of teaching methods. Michelle’s would definitely become an asset for some of our higher functioning kids. The autism centre must have been feeling the same way. At the end of the school year the staff held a couple of meetings to review our kids with the programs Behavioural Consultant. Many times the consultant brought up Michelle Garcia Winners name. Now I see why. I hope that the centre is successful in adapting as much as they can, Michelle’s work.

Some recommended books written from Michelle Garcia Winner:

1. Think Social, A Social Thinking Curriculum for School-Age Student

2. Thinking About YOU, Thinking about ME: Philosophy and Strategies to Further Develop Perspective Taking and Communicative Abilities for Persons with Social Cognitive Deficits.

3. Worksheets! For Teaching Social Thinking and Related Skills

4. Sticker Strategies: Practical Strategies to Encourage Social Thinking and Organization.

5. Strategies for Organization: Preparing for Homework and the Real World

Other great books I found at the workshop:

1. The Hidden Curriculum: Practical Solutions for Understanding Unstated Rules in Social Situations by Brenda Smith Myles, Melissa L. Trautman, & Ronda L. Schelvan.

2. A “5” Could Make Me Loose Control!, An activity-based method for evaluating and supporting highly anxious students by Kari Dunn Buron.

I didn’t find this book at the workshop but purchased it elsewhere. It was also mentioned at the workshop:

1. Exploring Feelings: Cognitive Behaviour Therapy To Manage ANXIETY by Dr. Tony Attwood.

To those who have or work with kids with autism and related disorders, I highly recommend that you add some of Michelle’s work in your repertoire of autism resources. Her approach is personally, right down my alley. She approaches all of her students humanely, authentically, fairly, utilizes lots of humour and works from a team approach. Her work is a breath of fresh air!

 

August 20, 2007

In 50 Words

Filed under: short stories — C'hele @ 02:49
The massive, stark-white form, stood out like chalk on a blackboard against the clear, cerulean blue sky. Gracefully soaring amongst the firmament, its wings bore the beast with confidence and power, just as a dragon would. Arching upwards and soaring to the right, it plunged down towards the earth.
 
 

 

August 2, 2007

Autism: Behaviour and Communication in an Autistic Child

Filed under: Aspberger Syndrome, Autism, Special Needs — C'hele @ 11:02
Behaviour and Communication in an Autistic Child ~

“All Behaviour is Communication“

As a Paraprofessional, this concept is drilled into our heads. As parents, we should heed the same advice with our autistic children. When an autistic child uses behaviour, they are attempting to tell us something. For example, if an autistic child who is non-verbal or who may express minimal verbal communication skills, is angry and suddenly slaps you across the face, “never take it personally.” Any person who works with autistic children can testify to this. This is a very difficult thing to do especially when a higher functioning ASD child is more verbally competent. When this happens, it is the child’s way to communicate to that person that there is a problem. It is up to the adults and or teachers to replace the negative behaviour and teach the child how to cope and teach what is socially acceptable.

Here are some things that should be considered when negative behaviour occurs (negative behaviour by the way ranges from verbal non-compliance to mischief, hitting or actual violence depending on the child’s communication level).

Communication always develops first before language develops.

Comprehension comes first before meaningful expression. Do not assume that a child with ASD will automatically understand a directive.

Don’t assume that just because a child is able to communicate, that he or she is competent with it. Problems with communication almost always leads to behaviour. Don’t be so quick to judge that the child only has “problem behaviour.”

Don’t become blind to the child’s strengths if they have higher functioning ASD. They may be able to communicate effectively however, this does not mean that difficulties with communication, receptive and expressive processing do not exist! Remember: some kids with autism may look like a typical kid and the disability may be invisible.

All ASD children will have some level of difficulty with communication (for example, requesting what they want), a lack of social skills and, and display awkwardness with conversational skills.

Observe the child’s behaviour carefully and do not assume that the child is able to handle things automatically. Each autistic child is unique regarding capabilities. Do your very best to avoid setting up your child for failure! What one autistic child can handle may not be the same for another autistic child.

It is incredibly challenging for a parent to determine in an ASD child, is “what” is oppositional behaviour and what is behaviour caused by a neurological disorder (I.e.: anxiety and frustration)? In many situations I have found this to be my number one challenge with my daughter and the kids I work with. Higher functioning autistic children are aware of their social/communication deficiencies and can become adept at hiding it soooo well from the public. As a parent, I still find it challenging when others observe my daughter’s negative behaviour and immediately assume that it is oppositional/defiant behaviour and “I am” neglectful in managing it appropriately (spanking or other). What I need to tell you, is that higher functioning autistic children have the wonderful capability to appear like a typical, normal kid and make the parent looks like a dumb ass. When a higher functioning child is out in public, believe me, he/she knows it and will take total advantage of the fact if they can get away with it. If you know your student/child well enough, pick and choose your battles when out in public.

One incident comes to my mind and its an extreme case of what some behaviour may look like: There was once a moderately functioning female autistic teenager in my class who was required to have a two to one ratio at all times due to her unpredictable and often violent behaviour. This was caused mostly due to her heightened sensitivity and thus had extreme sensory issues because of it. One day while walking out in the community, this girl decided that she did not like the shirt she was wearing as it irritated her greatly. It was so much so, that she without letting staff know of this problem, ripped it right off her body. In her heightened, over stimulated state, she then decided to rip off the rest of her clothes as well. So, in a matter to seconds she was butt-naked, standing on the side walk, and shrieking horribly loud. It was a matter of time when a concerned civilian would call the police. Knowing our student and the likely of something like this occurring, we always carried business cards to hand out so the public would they would know who we were, the nature of the students disability, the schools address, phone number and the teachers name. The police did arrive and once they found out who we were, all was fine. The community I work in, is well known for its high special needs population, and the police knew our school very well. Now and again they are needed to help retrieve and escort run-away students back to their care facility or to our school. We call these students “bolters.”

What Helps an Autistic Child to Communicate Better:

1. A speech/language pathologist and a child psychologist who specializes in autism.

2. Give autistic children time to process information. Allow a few seconds when you need an answer from them or if you need them to do something.

3. Give ample reminders to the child when transitions or changes will occur. This will help keep the child’s anxiety and frustration level down so he/she is better able to cope and will be more successful in using their words.

4. Use medication if you have observed (or know), your child is prone to physical/neurological, sensory overload and or, has an additional label of ADHD or another accompanying disorder (such as Tourette‘s Syndrome). A paediatrician, or child psychologist will know where to go regarding medication and can help you with this. I have personally seen huge benefits for my autistic students when they have been placed on med’s. It’s like night and day, literally.

5. Know your child’s sensory impairments, triggers and frustration threshold. How does he/she express his or hers frustration? Does the child engage in self-inflicting behaviours such as banging his head on the floor or wall? Biting himself? Does he hit or pinch others or throw things? Does he attack the animals in the house out of the blue?

6. Know what motivates your child to communicate. Does he/she like to swing?

Ask the child: Go? Stop? More? And encourage the child to answer verbally. Give verbal prompts such as, “tell me more, stop, go” and so on.

7. Kids may back off or melt down if the demand or directive is too great or if the environment is too complex.

8. Encourage the child often “to use his/her words” when they want or need to express something. If the child is non-verbal, encourage signing, using the picture exchange program, or picture symbols. They are a great way to assist the child to express what it is he/she wants without hitting or violence.

9. If a child has reached the melt-down stage, allow the child time to calm down in a designated safe spot the child feels secure with. Let him/her know, “ when you are calm and ready to (?), you let me know.” With lower functioning children the phrase may sound more like: “ when you are calm/ready and can show me nice hands and feet, we will (?).”

10. When you want to replace a challenging behaviour, choose a replacement behaviour that the child will be able to handle.

11. The most powerful reinforcer for an autistic child is him or her “getting what they asked for.”

12. Make sure you use clear, positive language with the child. Avoid using too many words. For example, “Where do you get an apple?” Instead of saying, “farmers grow apples apple’s in orchards and there are many colours and varieties.” If you say this, you will for sure, surely mess the kid up (depending on the child’s level). Instead say, “apples come from apple trees.” Period. Remember, more is not better with an autistic child. Depending on the child’s level on the spectrum, start with something simple and work towards adding more information for the child as he/she learns. Please read below:

13. Familiarize yourself with Lev Vygotsky work. Vygotsky was considered to be an sociocultural or sociohistoric theorist specializing in developmental psychology and his work is socially based. He believed that language is what makes thinking and learning possible. Guidance, support, and structure (all major learning tools when teaching autistic children), is provided by the surrounding society (of each individual) or child that increases their knowledge. He is known for his work in special education, regular education and early childhood education. He believed that the area of impact is that guided learning is attained through working around a child’s “Zone of Proximal Development.” Skills a child accomplishes on his own with the assistance of adults, psychological or environmental “tools” such as utilizing language, writing, T.V., computers, and other learning aids. All these things assist children to think, learn and express thoughts.

One of the biggest learning aids in my opinion when working with autistic children, has been utilizing the scaffolding method next to guided learning. What is scaffolding?

Vygotsky has defined it as: “the role of teachers and others in supporting the learner’s development and providing support structures to get to that next stage or level” (Raymond, 2000, p. 176).

An important aspect of scaffolding instruction is that the scaffolds are temporary. As the learner’s abilities increase the scaffolding provided by the more knowledgeable other is progressively withdrawn. Finally the learner is able to complete the task or master the concepts independently (Chang, Sung, & Chen, 2002, p. 7).

Therefore the goal of the educator when using the scaffolding teaching strategy is for the student to become an independent and self-regulating learner and problem solver (Hartman, 2002).

As the learner’s knowledge and learning competency increases, the educator gradually reduces the supports provided (Ellis, Larkin, Worthington, n.d.).

And, well, there you have it.

14. Everyone wants to know what is going to occur each day. Utilizing visual schedules immediately informs your child what is going on, and what is expected. Utilizing visual schedules reduces the daily anxiety that occurs with your autistic child and minimizes misbehaviours as a result.

15. And last but not least, displaying plenty of patience, understanding and compassion will go a long way in aiding your child towards some level of independence and your own personal sanity!

Next: Why visual symbols are beneficial to your child and how to use them.

 

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