Think and Teach Visually
A picture is worth a thousand words! Most individuals with ASD are visual learners and respond better to visual supports rather than just the spoken word. If someone does not understand or respond to what you are saying, write it, draw it or "picture it" out! To learn more about visual supports, visit the "Visual Supports" Autism Internet Module at www.autisminternetmodules.org or explore the OCALI lending library for resources, such as Visual Supports for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Materials for Visual Learners by Bernard-Opitz and Hausler and Visual Supports for People with Autism: A Guide for Parents and Professionals by Cohen and Sloan.
Embrace Special Interests!
Whether it is air conditioner parts, carnivorous plants, hood ornaments or clocks, many individuals with ASD have a very intense focus on a special interest. These interests typically are very specific to the individual and generally not of great interest to others of the same age group. Use special interests as you build learning opportunities in the home, school and community so that individuals are motivated to learn and demonstrate their strengths and skills to others. Visit the OCALI lending library for resources, such as Just Give Him the Whale!: 20 Ways to Use Fascinations, Areas of Expertise, and Strengths to Support Students with Autism by Kluth and Schwarz or Developing Talents: Careers for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism by Grandin and Duffy.
Reinforcement is a Very Powerful Tool!
What do edibles (food), tangibles (stickers, bubbles, money), activities (computer, games) and special interests (airplane engines, frogs) have in common? They are all types of reinforcers. Reinforcement is essential for ALL individuals, including those with ASD, to learn new skills and increase positive behaviors. Take time to observe the individual, interview family members and ask the individual with ASD what she likes. Reinforcers may be very unique to each individual! Be prepared with a variety to choose from as preferences often change. To learn more about reinforcement, visit the reinforcement Autism Internet Module at www.autisminternetmodules.org.
Prime for Holiday Events!
December is a month filled with parties, holiday concerts and other special events. Such activities can be overwhelming for anyone, especially for an individual with ASD. Introduce the activity or event to the individual before it actually occurs. This is called priming. Priming lets him know about the specifics of the activity or event before it happens and what to expect. This intervention helps to make the activity or event more predictable and less stressful for everyone. To learn more about priming, visit the OCALI lending library for resources, such as Asperger Syndrome and the Elementary School Experience: Practical Solutions for Academic and Social Difficulties by Susan Thompson Moore.
Recognize the Signs of Anxiety and Stress!
Children with ASD experience many of the same worries and concerns as other children but may not be able to communicate them effectively. Possible signs of anxiety and stress may include (a) increased need for routine and sameness; (b) meltdowns; (c) avoidance or withdrawal; or (d) increased self-stimulating behaviors such as rocking, flapping, pacing; or (e) self-injurious behavior. Develop a toolbox of strategies to help the child or adolescent on the spectrum cope with various stressors. To learn about strategies that may assist with anxiety and stress, visit the OCALI lending library for resources, such as When My Worries Get Too Big by Kari Dunn Buron and the Autism Internet Module, "The Incredible 5-Point Scale".
Support Social Skills Development
In the cafeteria, at recess, at a football game, in the checkout at the grocery store or in a work setting, individuals with ASD may struggle with understanding the thoughts of others or knowing how to respond in certain situations. That is, they do not naturally learn the nuances of social interactions. Practice social responses by using role-playing, video modeling, and self-monitoring skills. Visit the OCALI lending library for resources, such as The Hidden Curriculum for Understanding Unstated Rules in Social Situations for Adolescents and Adults by Myles, Trautman, and Schelvan and Social Thinking at Work: Why Should I Care? by Winner and Crooke. More ideas are available from OCALI's "Social Competence" webinar series at http://www.ocali.org/project/social_competence.
Preparing for a New School Environment
Changing schools, teachers and classrooms can be very stressful to all students and even more so for students with autism spectrum disorder. Ways to support the transition to a new environment may include:
- visiting the new school/classroom several times before the actual move so the student can meet the staff and see the environment;
- taking pictures of new staff members and the new school environment to share with the student and his family;
- creating a video of the new environment, staff and students who will be in his class; or
- writing a social narrative about the new environment.
Check out My New School: A Workbook to Help Students Transition to a New School by Trautman from the OCALI lending library. Also, listen as two parents share transition information in the video, "Introducing Your Child to Others".
Participating in End of the School Year Activities
The end of the school year brings many exciting events, such as field day, field trips, award ceremonies, and graduation. Although most students generally embrace such activities, students on the autism spectrum can become very overwhelmed and may not consider them enjoyable. With these activities come many expectations. Prepare students as much as possible for what may occur during each activity by utilizing strategies, such as visual supports, priming, role-play and social narratives. For ideas on the aforementioned strategies, visit OCALI's Autism Internet Modules. Visit OCALI’s lending library resources, such as Strategies at Hand: Quick and Handy Strategies for Working with Students by Tracy Mueller.
Traveling over the Summer
Summer brings family vacations, day trips and exploring new sites. Preparation is key! When possible, use photographs, brochures, pamphlets, etc. to help prepare your child for the new adventure. Depending on where and how you are traveling, build a "travel bag" of items for the trip, such as sensory items, visual supports, DVD's/iPod, books, food, etc. If traveling by plane, contact the airline ahead of time and ask if you and your child can do a dry-run visit to the airport and board an airplane. Plan ahead! For great ideas on how to prepare for travel, check out Top Ten Tips: A Survival Guide for Families with Children on the Autism Spectrum by Cardon from the OCALI lending library.