Posts Tagged ‘Autism’
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My son came home with his weekend reading books from his first grade teacher. Yet, every time I asked him to get his reading books, he avoided it. Nothing is unusual about that. So I sat him down and started looking at the books, and he surprised me.
“No, not that one! Keep that one covered!”
“The one with the ginormous ant!”
Overlooking the current portmanteau (a faux compound word), ginormous, I had bigger fish to fry. Larger-than-life sized ants on every page made me wonder if the Good Lord made ants very small on purpose. It is from that perspective only that they could ever be called cute little creatures. Hesitating to pick up the book myself, I suggested that we could cover the pictures, something that we do often. No dice, he already saw the book pictures during school and will remember them as he reads the book. So we read the other books, none of them dealing with bugs.
The next night, we received a red folder with a book and follow-up activity from his Special Education teacher, Ms. Christine. We sat at the kitchen table, I opened the folder, and Erik began screaming “Biters!” It was a spider book. No photos, just very detailed drawings depicting even hair on the spider’s legs. That was a no-go. At home, we are working on Erik’s fear of bugs with a therapist. “Biders” are enemy number #1. All of the rest come in a close second. He used to have a keen interest in bugs, but I think maybe he learned too much.
Now I feel pretty guilty about this development. I do not like bugs. There are some bug names that I will not speak or nor type out. I stay out of their way as long as they stay out of my way. And if they come my way, like my grandmother inadvertently taught me: jump, run, squeal. Well, we live in the country, the birthplace of Lyme-disease, and my super power against all bugs big and small is the vacuum. Unless it is too big and won’t get suctioned up. And then I’ll let it crawl away, and I will turn my eyes away. I don’t like them, dead or alive.
As a mom of two boys, I didn’t want to pass on this heredity trait, so when my boys took an interest in bugs I would calmly tell them, “Oh, show your father.” When Erik took out library book-after-book on bugs, I didn’t read those to him. I nonchalantly said, “Oh Matthew would LOVE to read that one to you.”
I don’t know when this changed…Maybe when the wasps kept coming in from the hive in the attic…Or when I had to call a neighbor to remove a wasp that had chased us onto the enclosed three-season porch. Oh wait, that was me. Last fall, our babysitter rang the doorbell, Erik opened the front door and began screaming blood-curdling yells, staccato, at the only girl he has ever loved. The poor girl jumped back, “What’s wrong?”
There was a spider web, reaching from all corners of the front door frame. And a big, black spider looked him in the eye.
Our babysitter-superhero grabbed a stick and flung the web and the spider into the bushes. And we haven’t thought about spiders since then, except in therapy sessions.
I told my son we didn’t have to read the spider book. He asked me to get permission from his teachers and I promised. And then – thinking that I solved the reading problem of the day, he began bawling. I reassured him to no avail, and in-between sobs, he admitted, “I can’t read chapter books. Everyone in my class can read chapter books, why can’t I?” A bad opportunity to explain autism, dyspraxia, or another complicated label, I told him that he will learn.
So we have a bigger problem than arachnophobia. We have to build up his confidence while waiting for his reading skills to improve. Not ready for chapter books, his teacher will help him practice books that resemble chapter books. A good compromise. And I need to figure out how and when to explain what learning disabilities are – without limiting his potential.
In the meantime, no more bug books will be coming home.
In the aftermath of the Newtown, Connecticut massacre, these words: “Hug your child today” have taken on a new meaning. We send our young children to what we think is the safest place on earth, and find it can be the source of unfathomable tragedy. And I put on the tough veneer that what happened can be explained in words that my children can process, like “sick brain” and “shooter,” without explaining details that would shake their worlds and psyches as it has done to us adults.
I stand at the bus stop with my special needs son, who argues with me each morning on the words that I have used or if I have mispronounced something in haste. His penchant for preciseness is also mine, so this is payback times two. You can hear me trying to get out of circular, repetitive questions and answers that can border on the absurd, with his own brand of highly entertaining non-words. So our neighborhood jogger often witnesses me at my wits-end, as we near the end of our two-hour or more language and “self-help skills” morning routine struggles, that include difficulties with dressing, brushing teeth and hygiene.
So there I was, a victorious mom of child who just received a spit bath on a cold winter day, receiving the wrath from a child who suffered from looking presentable for school. And my jogging neighbor stopped in her tracks – and in tears, told me to “hug my child today.”
I am trying to live by the words, “be kind instead of right.” A whole community, a whole nation, is mourning for the sweet souls of Newtown. I listened as she shared her heartache and desire to hold her 20-something boys. I wish that I could hug my child. I tried that Friday, when so many Newtown parents lost the second chance to do so. My son bounded off the bus in high spirits, and I asked, “How was your day?” and he avoided me with the skills of football player dodging a tackle.
I often do try to sneak in some unsuspecting kisses or hugs. My son is adorable and melts my heart every single day. But he won’t let me touch him. He responds to a light kiss on his head as if blocking a punch. A soft touch means his body will reflexively jump out of harm’s way. A hug can bring on struggle that only “tickle torture” brings on for typical kids. We do get our cuddles in somehow – watching tv, he will practically sit on top of any of us family members, hard elbows and knees and feet jabbing you when you least expect it. So we use lots of blankets and pillows on the couch. He falls asleep, and my husband and I will often use that moment to kiss his forehead, get a good snuggle and hug in, and let him sleep in – not peace – but chaotic movement.
So the bus nears, the jogger jogs, and my son stands 10 feet away from me, just in case I happen to see more breakfast on his cheeks. “Have a good day” – and he climbs the bus steps. I wave to him as he sits on the bus. He doesn’t look at me and doesn’t wave. Yes, I want to hug my child today.
Do you have a “reluctant reader” at home? One who will only pick up a book because you threatened to take video-game time away? Some of us have a child who will do anything to avoid reading: from forgetting books at school, to just plain “goofing off” during reading, to counting down to when the 20 minute reading timer is going to go off. The nightly struggle with children who refuse to read gets old fast. For my seven-year-old son, who is “high functioning” on the autism spectrum, his reading reluctance is due to a lack of interest and difficulty.
When my son repeated Kindergarten, he struggled with decoding and recognizing basic sight words, and his reluctance to read increased. When he went to the library with his class at school, he didn’t bring any books home. Realizing this, his teachers identified his lack of interest in fiction books, allowing him to take out non-fiction books, reserved for first graders. Suddenly, he came home from school with books: military, science, and even how-to books. My son became excited for library day, making sure to find his library books to return, so he could take new ones out – without me even reminding him.
As my son has a team of teachers trained to address his reading difficulties, I found that my role at home is encouraging reading. I am now selective in what I read to my children at night. I don’t bother with poorly written children’s books (there are many out there, and I won’t name names!) or books that I myself find boring (and I have found myself editing down extraneous details and conversations to move things along). I read chapter books – like The Magic Tree House and Harry Potter – to them because I need to be genuinely interested in reading too.
I also added reading from Big Universe to our homework routine. Having a virtual library of high-interest books at our fingertips is an investment in my children’s future. I ask them, “Pick out an electronic book to read,” and both boys run to the computer, choosing a picture book, a graphic novel (aka comic book) or a book from the “high interest” category. One will turn the electronic pages while the other reads (or listens to a read-aloud version).
And the best part: I don’t hear, “how much time is left?”
1. Use Plastic Flower Pots in Your Classroom and only throwable plants
2. Buy Unbreakable Lamps – Are there such things?
3. Always wear pull-away earrings-for those extra “special” hugs
4. Increase your supply of blue jeans – for that child who gives you extra “foot contact”
5. Patience is a Virtue
6. Sick Leave is there for a purpose —- Mental Health at risk can be considered
7. Find a really good substitute teacher
8. Use that little button in your room when necessary – administrators get the big bucks
9. Even the little ones can be really strong
10. Smile, Laugh, Eat Lunch with Others, Smile and Laugh, Remember –you LOVE YOUR JOB…Really!
Bullying in schools is rampant. As much as we would like to think our children are completely safe when we send them to school, we are sending them into a land mine of social fields that we have never thought to teach them about until recently. As a teacher I see bullying occur almost every day and I am constantly trying to find ways to stop the negative behavior and teach children why bullying behavior is harmful.
One of the big problems with bullying is its definition or how we perceive its definition. There are so many forms. The one definition everyone thinks of – the big mean bully who scares children – is one we have a lot of strategies to work with. It is the other kinds of bullying that are hard to teach both the bully and the child being bullied how to deal with. This type of bullying is emotional bullying. It’s very insidious. It can occur in the classroom right in front of the teacher. It occurs during a play group right in front of a mom. It occurs on the computer, during a messaging session. Emotional bullying is the worse kind because it gets inside the child’s head and that’s not as easy to heal as a bruise.
Taunting, teasing, and laughing inappropriately at a child are all bullying. Name calling, spreading rumors, forming groups and purposefully leaving one child out are all bullying. Even the negative connotations that eye contact and a nasty smirk with a child that is being taunted and teased gets across the room from the bully can be considered an act of bullying if it goes with previous behaviors of abuse. We need to give children some pictures or examples in their brain so that the next time they are on the playground, on the bus, in the hallway, or in the classroom, they can remember some of the appropriate ways to respond to a bullying situation.
Girls are great at emotional bullying. For years, maybe centuries, they’ve formed cliques. They have spread rumors, sent nasty glances, and slipped nasty notes into backpacks or purses. Boys can be just as good but in my experience they tend to bully only the ones considered lowest in the social scale. Girls don’t have a problem forming a social group against the beautiful blonde but boys don’t get together to bully the football quarter back.
The children I see bullied most often by boys are those least able to defend themselves. These children may be receiving special education services, or they may be socially naïve and immature. Boys do not want a challenge they can’t win fairly easily. They need the ego boost. How do we solve this problem?
The important thing to note with all of these acts of bullying is they begin early – in elementary school. Current surveys show that fourth grade can be one of the worst years for bullying in the elementary years. Don’t get me wrong. The other years are bad, but fourth grade stands out.
I have found books and videos help me to show my students ways to deal with bullying in a positive non threatening way. For young children the written word becomes proof and seeing it in a video confirms to them that a behavior is wrong. There are also many websites now that have books that show beautifully on a Smart Board. After reading the books and showing the videos it’s important to have a discussion with the children. Many of the books come with quizzes as do the videos. These can help you to assess their understanding.
Big Universe has several wonderful books that address bullying with gorgeous illustrations. Chester Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully written by Audrey Penn, and published by Charlesbridge is one of theses books. For more selections go to Big Universe and type bullying in the search engine. A great site for videos on bullying and other character education topics is Discovery Education. If you are a teacher and your school subscribes to United Streaming, you’re in luck!
We can’t ignore bullying. Just saying we had to deal with it as children and we turned out okay, is not the way to approach the topic. Pick up a book and let your student see how to handle negative behaviors positively. Let’s not send any more bullies into our world.
Children with emotional and social difficulties often have problems understanding and expressing their needs. They may not understand why they feel the way they do. Even more complex than this is that they don’t understand the correct way to respond to the way they are feeling.
Children on the Autism spectrum need to be taught how to respond to facial expressions and how to make those expressions themselves. Many of these children show a flat affect unless they are shown how to smile, show surprise, all the things most of us take for granted. The average child reacts to anger over a bad grade by squeezing their fists, crying, putting the paper away and vowing to study harder next time. The child on the Autism spectrum doesn’t filter this way. They tear the paper up, call the teacher names, stomp around the classroom and make it known to everyone that they are unhappy. These children need to be taught how to respond appropriately to a bad grade or other disappointing situations.
Childhood disabilities in the school room are becoming more complex. There are many more children entering the classroom with multiple disabilities that can’t be clearly labeled and as educators we have to be able to respond to the child rather than the label. Just because we don’t see Autism or emotional disability on the label doesn’t mean there can’t be inappropriate emotional reactions, and not all inappropriate emotional reactions are related to Autism or emotional disabilities. Any child with any type of brain trauma may show the same type of inability to interpret cues. Teachers need to become researchers.
How do we teach children who are unable to respond to emotional cues? They need direct instruction. One great way is through Social Stories. These are stories that an adult writes using a situation the child faces on a regular basis and coming up with a solution. The story is then read with the child regularly. The child can be put in the story as a character. This is where the Big Universe create a book resource is invaluable. The child’s picture can be inserted into the book, as can pictures of the classroom, cafeteria, playground, wherever the trouble spots are. There are hundreds of ways to write great social stories using Big Universe.
After writing a social story on Big Universe the story can be published to the website! In the next several weeks you’ll even be able to order hard bound copies if you wish but my favorite feature is the publishing to the web because then it becomes official. Kids with emotional disabilities of any type respond well to knowing something is a rule and will be more likely to do something if they know it is a rule that has to be followed. What’s more solid than seeing their stories on the web?
Imagine a classroom of five very active boys mesmerized by a book. This isn’t a book about dinosaurs or Star Wars or cars. These aren’t gifted children who you can leave in a library all day and come back and find them quietly doing their homework. These are very active fourth grade boys with a variety of learning differences some of which include such difficulties as hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention and memory problems to name a few.
The book I’m referring to is “Wild Swans,” a Hans Christian Andersen classic, retold by Mathew Price, published by Mathew Price. To tell you the truth I was leery about reading this book to them. It’s basically a love story with princes and a princess but it’s got a wonderful moral. The reason I decided to use this book is because it is available on Big Universe, it shows beautifully on the Smart Board, and the graphics are absolutely gorgeous. The combination of the graphics and the engaging language really pulled the boys into the story.
The questions the children asked after the story were incredible and they were able to answer some fairly high level questions. There will soon be assessments available on Big Universe so I’ll be able to let my students take an assessment right after I read them any book or they read a book on their own!
Children need language. Children need a lot of language. I have my computer set up at all times to be used with my Smart Board. Whenever we’ve been working for a length of time and I see the kids are getting fidgety I pull up a Big Universe book and read. It’s a great way to use language in the classroom and the children love it!
Posted on September 4, 2009 by Big Universe in Uncategorized.
Tags: Asperger, assessment, Autism, Big Universe, learning disabilities, Online Children's Books, special education, Special Needs, Standards of Learning, VGLA
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The school year has begun and so have the thoughts of teaching in order to pass tests and meet standards. Did your school meet AYP? That’s Annual Yearly Progress. It’s determined by the tests given at the end of the year. In Virginia they’re called the SOL – Standards of Learning. AYP is determined by looking at many things including the progress of many sub groups of students such as those with learning disabilities, minority students, economically disadvantaged and English Speakers of Other Language students, etc. Each year America’s teachers are held to stricter and stricter standards and each year the tests change and new tests are added.
There’s also NCLB. No Child Left Behind. That means that all children will be held to the same standards regardless of disability, economic status, language spoken, etc. As a special education teacher I can tell you that there are numerous flaws to this but I’m not going to go into that now.Each state has been allowed to come up with an alternative assessment(s) for those children with disabilities who cannot show progress by taking the standard assessment. In Virginia this alternative for students with learning disabilities and other disabilities that are not considered profoundly disabling is called the VGLA or Virginia Grade Level Assessment.
The VGLA is a portfolio assessment that can be used in place of the SOL for each subject area being tested. One of the questions that must be answered as part of the qualification criterion is, “does the student demonstrate his/her individual achievement of the Standards of Learning content by means other than multiple-choice test format?” Typically this has been interpreted as, “the student can’t take multiple choice tests.”
Here’s the problem. That’s not the major difficulty with these children and the SOL. The major difficulty in judging these children via the SOL is in expecting them to remember an entire year’s worth of learning and then regurgitate it on one day in one test through 50 or so questions! Multiple choice questions aren’t necessarily the problem! Many of these kids can take short multiple choice tests after learning material, just not 6 months after learning the material – many have memory issues! However, because of the interpretation on the multiple choice question issue, the portfolio assessment only allows minimal multiple choice type questions, and as a teacher I can tell you that finding material that is not in multiple choice format is extremely difficult!
The VGLA or Virginia Grade Level Assessment is basically a notebook binder for each subject area that a student is going to be assessed on in place of a standardized test. Then within that subject area there needs to be at least one piece of “evidence” to support the fact that the student has properly demonstrated their knowledge of this standard. The job for the teacher is to try to make it as interesting as possible for the child. In my next blog I’ll give you a few worksheets and book links that will get you started with your students. If you haven’t decided whether or not a VGLA is right for your student(s), keep reading I’ll give you more insight next week.
Choosing a book to read can be a pleasant experience. First there’s the cover of the book that draws the eye, then there may be illustrations, which draw the reader into the book. Print size, print spacing, is it a chapter book, is it the right topic, can the reader decipher the words and meaning of at least the first paragraph and does it keep their interest? All of this takes place in the matter of less than a minute for the experienced reader. But, what about the young novice reader and the reader who has difficulty with reading in general?
For a child who finds reading difficult, choosing the right book can be very hard. Where to start? Big Universe has over 1,000 picture books and you can now search the publisher books by Fountas and Pinnell levels as well as Interest Levels. The Fountas and Pinnell levels are the actual reading level where the student is performing. There are fourth grade students who are reading at a second grade level. It’s now possible to find appropriate reading material for these children on Big Universe!
For a child reading below grade level there are many books available that he or she can read comfortably and still be working within a book that is grade level material. For a fourth or fifth grade student reading at a second grade level, one of these books is Outer Space, written by Kenneth Walsh and published by Teacher Created Materials. It is written at a Fountas and Pinnell Level L, about middle second grade, but the interest level is through the age of 13.
There are many, many books like this on Big Universe. The key is to find the book that fits the child, NOT the book that fits the grade level.
We know about writer’s block in authors. We even know that when we sit down to write a letter or a memo we often have a hard time getting started. Yet, as teachers we expect our students to write with little notice on a topic we’ve decided on. We then place time constraints on their writing. Is it a wonder that so many of our children leave high school with such bad writing skills?
Of course, there are children who can’t begin writing even with the most detailed of prompts, days notice and given their own choice of topics. These are children with the ability to write but a disability that keeps them from even beginning the process. Many of these children have such an obsessive need to be perfect that they can’t begin writing because they need to see the complete picture, beginning to end, in their head first. Children who fall into this category are children with Asperger’s Syndrome, Autism, Emotional Disabilities, Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, and other highly creative kids who just need time. Often the best way to get these children to discover their own ability to write is to let them write – give them freedom.
A website that gives children the freedom to discover their inner author is Big Universe. This site has a book authoring tool where anyone can write, add pictures, print and even publish their own book. My fourth grade students with learning disabilities authored some incredibly creative books on Big Universe, often making them into sequels. bookChrisL and bookMahtabA were just two of these authors.
The confidence this site gave my kids is incredible. Many of them began the year not able to write good sentences. When they saw they could create books, writing sentences was no longer a problem. They are all now able to write good detailed sentences and were even able to write to a prompt for the end of the year assessment. Thanks to Big Universe my students went on to fifth grade with the ability and confidence they need to be successful as writers.