Category Archives: Communication

Autism and Changing Classroom Strategies

The field of autism is very new – not even 100 years old yet! This means we are constantly learning new things. It also means that those of us in the field of autism will likely need to change the way we deliver help to those who seek it and change the way we teach our students. It has happened to me and to most of my colleagues in the field.

We now know that what works for most children to learn does not always work for autistic children. In fact, it can be detrimental to their learning. Here are two examples:

  • Requiring children to look at you when you are speaking to them
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    For most children this will allow them to better attend to what you are saying because the act of looking while listening often gives you their undivided attention.

    For many autistic children looking at people speaking to them is problematic. Many autistic people will tell you eye contact is painful. Even when it is not downright painful, eye contact can be a problem for many autistics in that the information picked up is too intense, which can then trigger shut down.

    Whether painful or too intense, eye contact with an adult speaking to an autistic child will not insure that child’s undivided attention. In fact, demanding eye contact of an autistic will most likely be counter-productive to your goal of having them take in the information you are saying to them.

  • Requiring children to stop moving about when you are speaking to them or when you want them to do seat work at school
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    Most children are able to better concentrate on the task at hand if they have still bodies.

    For autistic children the opposite can be true for a variety of reasons. For some, processing information – this includes thinking – can only happen when physical movement of the body occurs. Thinking is neurological movement of ideas and facts in the brain. Autistic wiring means that sometimes it takes physical body movement to spur on the neurological thinking movement necessary to allow academic completion of tasks.

    Many autistic children employ a repetitive movement such as flapping of the hands. We now know that hand-flapping can be a tool to keep the sensory system of autistics better regulated. Many report the calming effects actually allow them to be part of the world around them. Others report that hand-flapping allows excess emotion to be drained out of the body which avoids shut down from overwhelming physical sensations that intense emotions can bring to an autistic body.

    Whether regulating, calming or avoiding shutdown, hand-flapping or another repetitive movement (sometimes called stims) for many autistic students, is their ticket to be able to concentrate on the task at hand. Having a quiet body or quiet hands, while helpful for typical students, is often counterproductive for autistics when it comes to hearing instruction or concentrating on academic tasks during the school day.

Maya Angelou said that when we know better we do better. I think this is an important concept to apply to the changing field of autism. As we become better informed by the children who grew into adults and are now well able to communicate their perspectives from living in a body headed up by autistic neurology, we can throw out some of those ideas and practices we once thought were helpful.

Often times I see people in the field of autism hang onto the way they always thought or the way they always did things. Change is difficult. Sometimes people get into dichotomous right/wrong arguments over things such as eye contact and hand-flapping.

I get this. For me, if I learn something new that changes what I do to make things better for children today I also think, “What might have happened for Tellis or Maddie or Carlos or Jack if only I had known?” It is hard to entertain having been wrong, especially when you know it may have negatively affected the lives of children. I think this is why some people fight so hard to prove their old thinking and old ways are right and the new ideas or new information is wrong. And yet, it often isn’t a matter of right or wrong, but instead, a matter of becoming better informed over time.

I would like to encourage all of us who feel badly or are embarrassed about what we believed about autism or about the strategies we may have tried in the past to remember to be kind to ourselves. Most of us have done the best we could with the autism information we knew at the time. Remember, relatively speaking, the field of autism is new, being less than 100 years old. Thus, we can expect to shift our thinking and change our practice strategies based on new information.

As long as we continue to update our information along with seeking out and learning from the experts – those who live the autistic life – we can know that as we learn, discover and grow we can update our teaching strategies, improve our service delivery and make better progress on behalf of those we serve who live with autism. As teachers and practitioners we will become better and better interfacing with, helping and teaching our autistic students. Together, with autistics informing us as we go, the world can become a better place for us all.

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BOOKS  BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Originally written for and published by Ollibean on August 8, 2015
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Meaningful Employment Project Needs Your Vote to Win a $25,000 State Farm Grant

Common Threads Family Resource Center in McFarland, Wisconsin, USA is a wonderful organization meeting the complex needs of individuals on the autism spectrum and other significant challenges. I  work for and have been connected with Common Threads for many years and am so happy to let you know we have been selected as one of the 200 finalists in the State Farm Neighborhood Assist® program! Our submission, along with the other finalists, are live on Facebook and anyone who gets the State Farm Neighborhood Assist Facebook application can log on and vote for our cause. I am asking you to please vote for our MEANINGFUL EMPLOYMENT project, but first, let me tell you a bit about this venture.

Common Threads has developed the beginnings of a transition program for the teens we currently serve. The next step in our dream is to get a licensed commercial kitchen installed so the students in the cooking/catering class might go on to the next level. Karl, one of our employees, runs a small catering business in his after work hours. He is also part of our cooking class team. Karl submitted the paper work to State Farm Neighborhood Assist contest. We were just notified that our project is one of the 200 finalist projects! From this pool of 200, just 40 causes will ultimately be funded with $25,000.

This is where you all come in. The 40 causes to be funded will be determined by popular vote. MEANINGFUL EMPLOYMENT, our project, will use the grant money, should we win, to set up our licensed commercial kitchen. Since opening it’s doors in 2006 Common Threads Family Resource Center has always been part of the solution, filling the gaps in our community when it comes to services and programming for children, teens and adults with autism and other significant mental health issues. Please join with Common Threads to be part of the solution for youth needing MEANINGFUL EMPLOYMENT.  Not only can we rally together around this effort, but we can also encouraging others to join us in support by voting. Feel free to forward this on to friends, family, and neighbors! All voting is through Face Book. Thank you!

To support Common Threads and vote,

  1. Visit the State Farm Neighborhood Assist Facebook app by clicking here https://www.state-assist.com/cause/1501729/meaningful-employment
  1. Then click on the “Vote” button to show your support for our project MEANINGFUL EMPLOYMENT. Please click the box to indicate you want to use all 10 of your daily votes.
  1. Please vote EVERY DAY. The voting phase is open from May 14 – June 3 and any Remember to check the use all 10 VOTES button each day 

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REFERENCES

Common Threads Family Resources Center, located minutes from Madison, WI, offers school and mental health programs geared toward individuals affected by autism, behavioral disorders, and mental health challenges. Our experienced and talented team of professionals creates a daily environment of acceptance and growth where students and clients flourish. http://www.commonthreadsmadison.org

State Farm Neighborhood Assist is a crowd-sourced philanthropic initiative that lets communities determine where grant funding is awarded, exclusively through Facebook. The initiative utilizes the State Farm Youth Advisory Board to vet submissions for causes and allows Facebook users who download the free State Farm Neighborhood Assist application to vote for the final 40 grant winners. The program has been inspired by the incredible number of neighborhoods that are coming together to solve a problem or improve their community. https://apps.facebook.com/sf_neighbor_assist/