Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fatherly Devotion in the News

Today's Philadelphia Inquirer features a front page story about a very special father who lives with and cares for his son, who is quadriplegic, on campus at Temple University. The story is a true testament to the best in parental love and support of a child with special needs. Read it here:

The Effects of Animals on Autism?

Check out this touching video of the positive effects a pet dog, Henry, has on a boy with autism, Dale:

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Checklists for Teachers to Get, Focus, and Maintain a Child's Attention

Although these lists are intended to help school teachers work with children diagnosed with ADHD, I think they can be helpful for any "teacher" and child. 

Checklists for Teachers

By: Sandra F. Rief (1997)

Getting students' attention

  • Ask an interesting, speculative question, show a picture, tell a little story, or read a related poem to generate discussion and interest in the upcoming lesson.
  • Try "'playfulness," silliness, a bit of theatrics (props and storytelling) to get attention and peak interest.
  • Use storytelling. Students of all ages love to hear stories, especially personal stories. It is very effective in getting attention.
  • Add a bit of mystery. Bring in an object relevant to the upcoming lesson in a box, bag, or pillowcase. This is a wonderful way to generate predictions and can lead to excellent discussions or writing activities.
  • Signal students auditorily: ring a bell, use a beeper or timer, play a bar of music on the piano or guitar, etc.
  • Vary your tone of voice: loud, soft, whispering. Try making a louder command "Listen! Freeze! Ready!" followed by a few seconds of silence before proceeding in a normal voice to give directions.
  • Use visual signals: flash the lights or raise your hand which signals the students to raise their hands and close their mouths until everyone is silent.
  • Frame the visual material you want students to be focused on with your hands or with a colored box around it.
  • If using an overhead, place an object (e.g., little toy car or plastic figure) to be projected on the screen to get attention.
  • Clearly signal: "Everybody…Ready…"
  • Color is very effective in getting attention. Make use of colored dry-erase pens on white boards, colored overhead pens for transparencies and overhead projectors, and colored paper to highlight key words, phrases, steps to computation problems, spelling patterns, etc.
  • Model excitement and enthusiasm about the upcoming lesson.
  • Use eye contact. Students should be facing you when you are speaking, especially while instructions are being given. If students are seated in clusters, have those students not directly facing you turn their chairs and bodies around to face you when signaled to do so.

Focusing students' attention

  • Employ multisensory strategies when directions are given and a lesson is presented.
  • Maintain your visibility.
  • Project your voice and make sure you can be heard clearly by all students.
  • Be aware of competing sounds in your room environment (such as noisy heaters or air conditioning unit.)
  • Call students up front and close to you for direct instruction (e.g., seated on the carpet by the board).
  • Position all students so that they can see the board and/or overhead screen. Always allow students to readjust their seating and signal you if their visibility is blocked.
  • Explain the purpose and relevance to hook students in to your lesson.
  • Incorporate demonstrations and hands-on presentations into your teaching whenever possible.
  • Use a flashlight or laser pointer. Turn off the lights and get students to focus by illuminating objects or individuals with the light.
  • Use study guides/sheets that are partial outlines. While you are presenting a lesson or giving a lecture, students fill in the missing words based on what you are saying and/or writing on the board or overhead.
  • Use visuals. Write key words or pictures on the board or overhead projector while presenting. Use pictures, diagrams, gestures, manipulatives, and high-interest material.
  • Illustrate, illustrate, illustrate: It doesn't matter if you don't draw well to illustrate throughout your presentation. Give yourself and students permission and encouragement to draw even if you lack the skill or talent. Drawings don't have to be sophisticated or accurate. In fact, often the sillier, the better. Have fun with it. These silly illustrations get and maintain attention and help students understand and remember the material (sequence of events, key points, abstract information, etc.).
  • Point with a dowel, a stick/pointer, or laser pointer to written material you want students to focus on. If you can find a pointer /dowel with a little hand/ finger on it, even better.

    * Note: Overhead projectors are the best tools for focusing students' attention in the classroom. You are able to write down information in color without having to turn your back on the students, thus improving classroom management and reducing behavioral problems. On the overhead, you can model easily and frame important information. Transparencies can be made in advance, saving you time. Then it can be partially covered up, blocking out any distracting, visual stimuli.

  • Block out material by covering or removing from the visual field that which you visually don't want students to focus on. Remove the distracting clutter from the board or screen.
  • Have students write down brief notes or illustrate key points during instruction.

Maintaining students' attention

  • Move around in the classroom to maintain your visibility.
  • Teach thematically whenever possible, allowing for integration of ideas/concepts and connections to be made.
  • Present at a lively, brisk pace.
  • Be prepared and avoid lag time in instruction.
  • Use pictures, diagrams, gestures, manipulatives, and high interest materials.
  • Use higher-level questioning techniques. Ask questions that are open-ended, require reasoning, and stimulate critical thinking and discussion.
  • Decrease the amount of time you are doing the talking. Make all efforts to greatly increase student responses (saying and doing something with the information being taught).
  • Use direct instruction techniques and other methods of questioning that allow for high response opportunities (i.e., unison responses, partner/buddy responses).
  • Structure the lesson so that it can be done in pairs or small groups for maximum student involvement and attention.
  • Alter the way students are called on to avoid calling on students one at a time. Instead, have students respond by "telling their partner," writing down or drawing their response, or other alternative way.
  • Make frequent use of group or unison responses when there is one correct and short answer. While presenting, stop frequently and have students repeat back a word or two.
  • Use the proper structure of cooperative learning groups (i.e., assignment of roles, accountability). It is not just group work. ADHD students do not typically function well in groups without clearly defined structure and expectations.
  • Allowing students to use individual chalkboards or dry-erase boards throughout the lesson is motivating to students and helps maintain attention. If used properly it is also effective in checking for students' understanding and determining who needs extra help and practice.
  • Use motivating computer programs for specific skill building and practice (programs that provide for frequent feedback and self correction.

Keeping students on-task during seat work

  • Check for clarity. Make sure directions are clear and understood before sending students back to their seats to work independently.
  • Make sure necessary supplies are available.
  • Give a manageable amount of work that the student is capable of doing independently.
  • Give other "failproof " work that student can do in the meantime if he or she is stumped on an assignment and needs to wait for teacher attention or assistance.
  • Study buddies or partners may be assigned for any clarification purposes during seat work, especially when you are instructing another group of students while part of the class is doing seat work.
  • Have students use signals to the teacher/aide for "I need help!" Some teachers use a sign or a colored signal that students may place on their desk that alerts any adult scanning the room that the student needs assistance.
  • Scan classroom frequently. All students need positive reinforcement. Give positive comments with high frequency, praising students specifically whom you observe to be on-task. This serves as a reminder to students who tend to have difficulty.
  • Consider using a timer for some students who work well with a "beat the clock" system for work completion.
  • Use contracts, charts, and behavior-modification systems for on-task behavior.
  • Reward for the certain number of completed items that are done with accuracy.
  • Provide desk examples for reference.
  • Use response costs and natural consequences for off-task behavior. Students might "owe you time" at the end of the day, before school, or for part of recess time. If they are on a point system, they may be fined points if a reasonable amount of work isn't accomplished.
  • Make use of study carrels or quiet office areas for seat work.
  • Teach students to self-monitor their own on-task behavior. Some teachers use an auditory signal (e.g., audio tape with intermittent beeps) and students reward themselves with points if they are on-task when the beeps go off.

THE ADD/ADHD CHECKLIST, copyright 1997 Prentice Hall Direct

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Playing Hard to Get with Your Kids?

Illustration by Rob Donnelly. Click image to expand. features an interesting article on the discovery by the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic that sometimes the best way to elicit desired behaviors from children is to ignore them and offer no encouragement or praise:

The Yale research team recommends this hands-off approach when the traditional model of modeling and rewarding desired behaviors (like eating veggies and picking up toys) has failed. The idea is that when parents seek those desired behaviors and the kids refuse to comply, parents become desperate, which pushes kids to resist further. The child feels pressure and so she reacts and rebels and becomes defiant. It is human nature to reject what we feel is forced upon us, even (or maybe especially) for kids. So, by failing to encourage or praise the child, the parent removes the sense of pressure against which the child is rebelling.

What do you think? Have any of you tried this approach, and what was the result?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cultivating Patience

Patience. noun
1.the quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like. ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay: to have patience with a slow learner.
3.quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence:to work with patience.

Tonight I find myself thinking about patience. In our busy lives, we may easily overlook the value of patience in our quest for accomplishment, efficiency and fulfillment. Patience under insult means not succumbing to anger, aggression or despair when threatened. Instead, it means being mindful of our reactions and emotional responses, and perhaps finding wiser ways to respond. Pausing, even for a moment, before reacting to a difficult situation is a powerful form of patience. Sometimes people find patience by changing their point of reference for understanding a challenging situation. (adapted from a talk by Gil Fronsdal, July 1st, 2003) How do you cultivate patience? 

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Autistic Mind: To Celebrate or Cure? (by Kate Altman)

(Note: the client described in this post gave permission; his name has been changed to protect his identity)

The other day, I was walking with a 14 year-old client, Bruce, who has Asperger’s syndrome (we take walks during sessions to get a little exercise). Mid-conversation, he suddenly stopped, pointed towards a passing car, and exclaimed, “I hate those bumper stickers!” Surprised by his outburst, I looked to where he was pointing and saw that the car featured a “cure autism” bumper sticker to the left of its license plate. I looked at Bruce quizzically, and he continued, “I’m so sick of hearing people talk about ‘curing’ and ‘fixing’ people with autism and Asperger’s. Don’t they know about neurodiversity? There is nothing wrong with us, nothing to be fixed. It makes me so angry!”

When I met Bruce a few years ago, he was a child who knew about his AS diagnosis, but never spoke of it and quickly changed the subject whenever I brought it up. When he learned that his idol, Albert Einstein, is often speculated to have had AS, Bruce’s interest was piqued and a sense of pride began to develop. Now, he boasts about his AS—he is thrilled to share cognitive features with Einstein and Bill Gates. Recently, I have noticed him making casual references to the neurodiversity movement and autism self-advocacy. Before my eyes, Bruce is blossoming into a self-aware young man who is proud of his differences and even pities us “neurotypicals” who don’t possess virtues like an intense ability to concentrate and the “black and white thinking” that helps him make sense of the world. Bruce once described his mind as being segmented into many rooms which are not connected, but in which everything is stored and accessible to him. He said it is because of these thousands of rooms that he never feels bored.

Learning about neurodiversity and viewing his AS as a neurological difference rather than a defect has helped Bruce to develop confidence, independence and the sense that he is special, even during the height of puberty and the mania that is middle school. I support neurodiversity, especially when I look at what the movement has done for Bruce. However, I can also appreciate that supporting a cure for autism is much more important to many parents than celebrating neurodiversity. After all, Bruce can speak for himself; he is also a straight-A student in his honors classes, performs in school plays and has friendships. Parents of kids with autism who don’t have language, avoid being touched, and will never live independently, face a much different and more desperate-feeling situation.

Some parents of children with autism oppose the neurodiversity movement, just as Bruce and other neurodiversity advocates oppose the “cure autism” movement. I would argue that there is room for both. We can support researchers as they look for better therapies to help individuals with autism live comfortably in this neurotypical world, while celebrating the beautiful minds that autism creates.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Birth Order and Personality: The NY Times Investigates (by Kate Altman)

The topic of birth order and its impact on personality development has fascinated people for decades (Alfred Adler, a Freudian-era psychologist gets credit for the original theory), probably because it is something to which all can relate. The New York Times featured an interesting article this week by Dr. Perri Klass on the topic of birth order and its relevance. Check out the article here:

As the article points out, using birth order to classify personality can become something like predicting relationship patterns using astrology. However, the article elucidates two important factors in personality development: family dynamics, and temperament. Being the firstborn child does not "make" you strong-willed and a natural leader (or "bossy" as my little brother would put it), but parents are often more likely to treat a firstborn child in such a way that influences him to develop into a leader. Likewise, parents may be more likely to coddle the baby of the family, which could influence her to become more dependent. However, as the article points out, temperament can sometimes trump all. If a firstborn has a reserved, shy temperament, then she may never develop into a strong-willed leader, no matter how her parents treat her. Thus, the nature versus nurture debate that pervades psychology arises once again. Are temperament and early family dynamics equal players in personality development, or do they impact different people in varying proportions? As a firstborn child with an extraverted, outgoing temperament who developed into a strong-willed, independent woman prone to taking on leadership positions, in my case, I'd say its fifty-fifty. What do you think?

Ellen: An American Idol

Yesterday, Ellen DeGeneres announced on her talk show that she will replace Paula Abdul as a judge on American Idol:
Newscasters discussing the news on the Today Show this morning speculated that most of the American public would be thrilled with the decision. After all, as an Entertainment Weekly reporter on the show put it, with a chuckle, "Ellen is...America's...lesbian sweetheart."

That a woman who is openly gay will now make her home on two of the most popular and family-friendly television shows is pretty remarkable. Perhaps we are becoming a more accepting society, more understanding of individual differences. Or perhaps it's just that no one can resist Ellen's smooth dance moves.

Back to School Reading List

Are you interested in learning more about a specific mental health disorder, but are turned off by the idea of reading a dry textbook in your spare time? Reading autobiographies or even well-researched fictional accounts of an individual’s experience with a mental health disorder can be a relatable and interesting way to learn more about that disorder. Take yourself back to school this September by diving into our recommended reading list below:

A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe (a novel about a father’s experience with a physically disabled son)

Alone Together: Making an Asperger Marriage Work by Karin Bentley

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison

Beyond the Wall: Personal Experiences with Autism and Asperger Syndrome by Stephen Shore

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron (about his experience with severe depression)

Dry: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs (about his battle with alcoholism)

Freaks, Geeks & Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence by Luke Jackson (Jackson is a 13 year-old with AS who also has a brother with autism and a brother with AD/HD)

Get Me Out of Here: My Recovery From Borderline Personality Disorder

Just Checking: Scenes from the Life of an Obsessive-Compulsive by Emily Colas

Look Me In the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robinson

Nobody Nowhere: The Extraordinary Autobiography of an Autistic by Donna Williams

Pretending to be Normal: Living with Asperger’s Syndrome by Liane Holliday Willey

Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin

Welcome to My Country: A Therapist’s Memoir of Madness by Lauren Slater (a memoir about a therapist’s work with mental and emotional illness)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Bullying: A Big Problem for Kids with Special Needs or Just Small Potatoes? (by Kate Altman)

Check out this article on bullying and schools:

What do you think? Is bullying of kids with special needs still a big problem in schools? Are kids with “invisible” disorders like Asperger’s Syndrome more likely to be bullied than those with apparent disorders like Down syndrome or Cerebral Palsy? What is the role of schools and the legal system in preventing and punishing bullying and how can they most effectively do so?

I have worked in wraparound for several years and have spent a lot of time in schools as a result. As a TSS (therapeutic staff support), I spent anywhere from 10 to 25 hours per week with one student in a single school district. Maybe it was the school districts I happened to be placed in or maybe the kids I worked with were just lucky, but I observed very little bullying. Perhaps that is merely due to the fact that I am an adult and whenever I was around, kids refrained from bullying. Yet, as a TSS (and quite young-looking at the time), I often felt that I became invisible to the kids and that they acted pretty naturally around me. I worked in classrooms ranging from a typical pre-K in a Catholic school to Life Skills classes in middle and high schools, and cannot say I ever witnessed an incident of bullying firsthand (I did have a student report bullying on his bus ride home, but I didn’t see it and the school managed the problem very quickly and effectively). I also remember speaking with a teacher who had been in her district for over 30 years. She described today’s children (this was in a middle school) as “much kinder” to her Life Skills students than past generations, but said the tradeoff was this generation appears lazier and more coddled by her parents (her observation, not mine!). In reading Coulter’s article, I’m wondering if my experience and this teacher’s was atypical or at least just typical for the county in which we work, as compared to the majority of schools in this country.

Has your child experienced bullying, or do you work in a school and have firsthand experience with bullying (or lack of bullying)? Please share your insights in the comments section below.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Chances of Having More Than One Child with Autism (by Cindy N. Ariel, Ph.D.)

Last month, there was a great article in O Magazine called "An Inconvenient Youth: Raising Children with Autism". I really liked the article and not just because I was a part of it, quoted in there even. I thought that the article was touching and very well written by a wonderful writer named Cintra Wilson.

However, when I previewed the article I did not pay enough attention to what seemed like a simple parenthetical statement: "Parents of a child with an ASD have a 2-8% chance of a 2nd child also being affected". This statistic, not simple at all, is the source of concern to a number of people I have since spoken with.

Truth is there is no way of estimating this accurately without knowing the causes of autism. I would be very happy if someone could lead us to some good research that can tell us otherwise. There have been studies, most notably twin studies and there definitely seems to be a genetic component in many, but not all, families.

Since there may be so many genes involved, 2 people with autism could be affected in different ways and by 2 very different sets of genes and other factors. Also the studies and/or the plethora of anecdotal stories that float around about this issue often overlook what may be called the 'broader autism phenotype' which accounts for various areas of behavior and development that are related to autism but not necessarily in conjunction with enough other difficulties to warrant the full diagnosis - such as more isolated sensory issues, social difficulties, or increased rigidity to name a few.

Chances are, if you are worried about having a second child with autism, there could be good reason for it. The decision to have another child is personal and has to take many factors into account including the possibility of another child with some form of an autism spectrum disorder.