Category Archives: Social Considerations

Autistic Burnout and Aging

Last September I returned from a vacation that I had been dreaming of taking for several years. I had booked my vacation quite a long time ago. After booking it, my personal resources declined. Many autistics know this phenomenon as autistic burnout. I am beginning to understand that there is likely some interplay between autistic burnout and the aging process.

In autistic burnout we come to the end of our resources that enable us to act as if we are not autistic in order to meet the demands of the world around us. For me these demands have included things like being able to raise my children and maintain employment. I have gone through a few distinct periods of burnout and have successfully managed them by withdrawing from the world as best I could while carrying on daily commitments to children and to employment. Twice during my adult life I had to severely limit my gainful employment because the burnout was too great to enable me to continue. I always have been good at planning and saving so each of these times I had a saving account to draw from for several months.

Finally, I had accumulated enough savings to feel confident to book one of my dream vacation! For many years I have found good deals on Alaskan cruises to see Glacier Bay and at long last I felt in a place to be able to actually book the cruise. I have a particular love of water in natural settings. It was very exciting to plan and dream of this upcoming vacation.

Then, autistic burnout began to rear up again. I thought I knew just how to navigate the burnout. At least I knew to slow down, pull back from social engagements and increase sensory regulation time and modalities. In the past these things had been helpful and allowed me to get back in sync after a few months, thus being able to venture back out into the life I wanted. Not this time.

I am thinking the combination of autistic burnout along with aging has made this episode quite different than the other times burnout has been problematic. For almost a year now, I have been experiencing somewhat of a burnout, but the difference is that I am not able to get past it like I have previously.

Over the months I’ve ramped up my sensory regulation. I am now spending about four hours per day devoted to keeping myself regulated. Some of the things I do include swimming, walking, bike riding, massage, and absolute quiet. In the past all of these things worked well. Now all of these things just sort of work. It means that no matter how much I do I never feel completely regulated.

Then, my vacation time arrived and regulated or not it was time! And, I was excited – very excited. So, off I went – first to San Francisco for some days and then on the cruise. I was by myself most of the days in San Francisco. I did some sight seeing, but all in a way that worked well for me. I was not rushed and did not have anyone else with me. Most of my friends could not understand why I was looking forward to being completely alone on vacation in San Francisco, but it worked very well for me. I could come and go as I was able and stop whenever I felt the need.

I did have friends who met up to have a day in San Francisco before boarding the cruise. While on the cruise we went our separate ways during the day, sharing a dinner table for our evening meal. It was fun to compare notes on who did what during the day and it was just enough social demands for me to enjoy the company, but not be overwhelmed. I could go the entire day without speaking to anyone and walking around the deck viewing the waterways or watching different activities on the cruise ship.

Now that I am back home I have realized that this burnout is different. Even after a lovely undemanding time away my body regulation has pretty much stayed the same – it has not improved as I had anticipated. Now I am thinking this present autistic burnout is combined with effects of getting older. It is like my body has hit a new normal of sorts, meaning that it has slowed down. It seems that no matter how much sensory regulation I do in a day that my body will never get back to what I consider ground zero. Perhaps this part is some of the aging of my body – it just doesn’t spring back to where I can be all chipper and ready to roll full steam ahead.

While at sea I thought a lot about this. In fact, I left my ideas and expectations of my younger self somewhere between Juneau and Skagway. By the time I arrived in Victoria I was trying on my newly found freedom of being okay with the slowed down self of me. The walking tour along the seaside was going too fast for me to be able to take the photos I wished to take. When the tour veered away from the seaside trail I excused myself so that I could be alone. I took my jolly good time walking back to the ship and taking over 300 photos during a leisurely stroll, I enjoyed it immensely!

Now that I am home I am continuing to practice being kind to myself by adjusting my own expectations of how much I do in one day. As an autistic I have for several years been doing the same quantity of employment, housework, art production, regulation, reading, writing, etc. both daily and weekly. Following a schedule is important to me as is getting things accomplished. I didn’t realize my self imposed expectations needed to be adjusted.

Spending ten days on a ship surrounded by natural waterways helped me to understand that autistic burnout may be impacted by the natural aging process, meaning that I will not come out of an episode of burnout at my younger starting point. Because so little is known about autistic people and aging, those of us who are getting older can at least start a discussion about it. I personally am wondering just now if the years of acting – passing as a neuro-majority person – impacts the natural aging process. Do autistics age faster because so much personal physical resources are impinged upon in order to year after year appear to be as typical as possible so that we might fit in enough to pass as somewhat human to the rest of society? And if so, is this a fair price to pay? And fair for whom?

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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 in October 2016. Click here to comment.

Christmas, Autism and Teaching Kindness

During the holiday season people are sometimes rushed and frazzled due to the extra activities and expectations of the season. Thus, it is a particularly good time to talk about kindness. Many individuals with autism are literal and concrete thinkers, which can make teaching an abstract concept such as kindness a little tricky. Here are some ways to work with an autistic neurology when teaching the concept of kindness:

Identify Acts of Kindness

Even though kindness is an abstract concept we can start teaching kindness by noticing aloud whenever we see an act of kindness by another. This can include anything from holding a door to returning a stray cart in a store parking lot. We can comment on the behavior and identify it as kind.

Model Acts of Kindness

One way to model kind behavior is to treat others with respect. We can be polite to those waiting on us in stores and restaurants. We can say thank you whenever we appreciate the thoughtfulness of others. Be sure to identify these acts as being kind.

We can even model what to do when we recognize our behavior is less than kind by calling a “do over.” Whenever I find myself acting unkind I call a do over. I then simply go back and do it over, pulling up the kinder behavior I wished I would have exhibited in the first place.

Example: I one time said, “don’t be such a slow poke” when my child was having a hard time choosing between breakfast cereals in the grocery store. I immediately called a do over, apologizing and saying my words were unkind. I thought for a moment and then said he could carry both boxes of cereal, take his time choosing and after deciding, return the rejected box to the shelf.

I like modeling do overs because it is a quick way to repair a less than kind situation – something we all find ourselves in from time to time. This normalizes the fact that we are not always as kind as we would like to be along with giving the remedy of what to do when we find ourselves in the aftermath of being unkind.

Use a Visual To Report Observed Kind Acts

Once the individual has an understanding of kind acts I like to make a visual to support us in looking for and identifying kind acts we see others doing. I have used a variety of visual systems, depending on the interests and abilities of the individual. Here are some things i have implemented:

  • Capture a Kindness a Day: Ben loved taking photos with his phone so his assignment was to snap photos of observed kindnesses. At the following appointment we looked at the photos together while Ben told me the kindness depicted in each one.
  • Count up the Kindnesses: Mari put a handful of pennies into her left pocket each morning. Each time she saw an act of kindness she moved one penny from her left pocket to her right pocket. At the end of the day she recorded the number of pennies in her right pocket.
  • Recall a Kindness: Jose and his mom talked about kindness at dinner each night. They each told the other about one kind act they had observed during the day. While mom cleared the table Jose recorded the kind acts of the day on the Recalling Kindness log.

Use a System To Record Kind Acts Engaged In

Once kindness has been identified and able to be seen in others it is time to encourage individuals to engage in their own kind acts. Remember, with autistic neurology, in addition to supporting a concrete, visual and literal style of thinking the neurology often looks for the system. This means we can support this strength by developing a system to highlight kind behavior. Some systematic successes include:

  • The Christmas Kindness Can: A coffee can was covered in bright Christmas paper and labeled the Kindness Can. Slips of paper with prompts of kind acts were placed inside the can. Each morning one slip of paper was pulled out and an opportunity to engage in that kindness was watched for and implemented during the day. This idea can be used for one person, a family, a group or a classroom. One alternative is to create a story about a person engaged in the act of kindness described on the slip of paper drawn. Another alternative is to tell about a time you employed the kindness described on your slip of paper.
  • The Kindness Calendar: Using a monthly calendar, write a specific kind act on each square. The idea is to engage in the act of kindness written on the day’s calendar square.
  • The Kindness Cup: An unpopped popcorn kernel was taken from the jar and put into the candy cane decorated coffee cup after each kind act. This was a classroom project with students and staff contributing. When the coffee mug was full of popcorn kernels the class had a popcorn and candy cane treat.

Reminder

Remember, we are highlighting kindness. It is important that the kind act or deed we engage in, when directed toward another person, is perceived as kind by that person. If in doubt you can ask the person first. This is because a helpful act of kindness is only helpful and kind if wanted or welcome by the other person.

Conclusion
The abstract concept of kindness can be taught to anyone. Start by identifying and modeling acts of kindness. When it comes to a person with autism neurology, it is often helpful to use visuals and to employ a system for engaging in or in observing acts of kindness.

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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 Dec. 9, 2016
Click here to comment.

Autism, Direct Instruction and Having Friends

Social understanding and communication are two areas impacted by autism neurology. The way this plays out is different from one autistic individual to the next. Typically, for autistics I have worked with, this means that they do not always pick up social information from the world around them through observation only as most people do. Instead, they sometimes need direct instruction concerning information their autistic neurology doesn’t allow them to automatically pick up and learn.

I think it is important that those around autistics understand that not having typical social understanding of same age peers is part of what autism means. Many times I have seen well meaning adults blame autistics for behavior that is a result of their brain not picking up and synthesizing social aspects of many things in the way people with typical brains do. It is common for adults to think that since the autistic is smart he should know better and that he is choosing to behave rudely. This misattribution has so many negative and far reaching consequences for everyone involved.

In general, it seems that people looking at an autistic really cannot see the autism. This means it is difficult for most people to know what behaviors are reflective of the underlying autism. If a person has a broken arm we can see the cast and understand the person will not be able to use his arm as typically expected. If an autistic person does not have the social understanding of how to act when losing a game we may see him act as a sore loser. We do not see the differently connected neurological pathways that feed information from a variety of brain areas in a split second that are not connected in the usual manner and therefore cannot be used to pull up good loser behavior. That is, we cannot see the autism at play – we can only see the sore loser behavior.

To help in seeing the autism when it comes to areas of unexpected behavior due to atypical social understanding that is part of the basis of an autism diagnosis, here is an example of direct teaching that took place over several months for a 12-year-old boy to learn the skills involved in being a good loser. Learning these skills allowed him to play games with others his age – something he very much wanted to do.

Example of Direct Teaching on How to Be a Good Loser:

Rodney could only play games if he could be assured ahead of time he would win. He would actually say, “I will only play if you let me win.” Rodney very much wanted to play video games and board games with others and even though he had above average intelligence, couldn’t grasp why other 12 year olds didn’t want to play with him.

Social Story: I wrote a social story as a way to give Rodney the social information around winning and losing when playing a game.

Cartooning: Additionally, each time Rodney had played a game he would relay the information and I would draw it out in cartooning style with the talk bubbles. Once the sequence of events were drawn out we would go back over it and fill in thought bubbles. Rodney was often miffed as to the thoughts and feelings of others. He would sometimes take the cartoon home so he could ask his parents if I had the thought bubbles “right.”

Modeling: Additionally, each time I saw Rodney we played UNO and he won. I was very demonstrative in portraying good loser behavior along with identifying it as good loser behavior.

Visual Support: We even started a chart called How to Be a Good Loser and took turns writing down my good loser behavior.

Video Technology: Then, we would watch a You Tube clip that showed kids playing games, particularly watching for good loser behavior. Eventually we watched both good and bad loser behavior of kids playing games and Rodney became quite good at sorting out which behavior was good and which was not good.

Visual Response Prediction Rating Scale: Because Rodney was fond of science and experiments; we made a loser behavior rating scale where we decided, based on the loser behavior whether he would be invited to play another game with his opponent. Here is a snippet from that scale.

Likelihood of Being Invited to Play Again 

Loser Behavior

Invited to Play Again

Maybe Invited to Play Again

Not Invited to Play Again

“Good game”

X

 

 

“I hate you” and throws game pieces

 

 

X

“I hope I win next time” and kicking the board game

 

X

 

Quitting when it looks like you may lose

 

 

X

“Let’s have a rematch!” said with a voice expecting it to be a fun gam

X

 

 

Play Acting Desired Behavior: Next, Rodney practiced the good loser behaviors as if he were an actor in a play. I wrote a script where the characters, Jack and Jane played UNO with Jack winning the first game and Jane winning the second game. Each character exhibited good loser behavior when they lost. Rodney could do this play-acting, but he would always inform me, “This isn’t a real game. It is reading script.”

Video Technology: Then, we made our own video clips on Rodney’s iPad with him playing the character Jack being a good loser. We watched these video clips many times. It allowed Rodney to solidify the picture of himself using good loser behavior.

Predictability: Finally, I told Rodney that I would let him win game 1, 3 and 5 of UNO, but game 2 and 4 I would play my best and this meant that sometimes he might win and sometimes I might win.

Video Technology/Vicarious Behavior Rehearsing/Priming: Right before game 2 and 4 we would take a break to look at our Jack video clips.

Predictability: Whenever it looked like I was close to winning I would announce it so as to prepare Rodney, though he was keeping track pretty accurately.

Non-Verbal Prompting: The first time I was near winning Rodney announced he no longer wanted to play UNO. I pointed to our chart so he could be reminded of where that reaction was likely to lead. I started watching one of his video clips. He didn’t want to watch it, but because I was watching it he heard himself portraying his good loser behavior.

Allowing Extra Time for Processing During Difficult Moment: I told him to let me know when he was ready to finish the game. He took the iPad and watched the video clip and then said he was ready. It was really hard for him that first time he lost, but he was able to pull up the desired behavior.

Repetition and Practice: Eventually, with more practice, Rodney was able to pull up the good loser behaviors. In the beginning he needed to know before starting the game whether I was going to let him win or not. Eventually, we both played our best, neither one knowing who would win until we came to the end of the game.

Desired Outcome Achieved: Ultimately, Rodney was able to play games with others, which is what he so much wanted to do. One day he greeted me with an impish smile on his face and shyly said Darius had invited him to a sleepover on the weekend so they could play video games. He said, “I hope I win, but if I don’t I’ll be a good loser. I have to because mom says if it goes well I can invite Darius for a sleepover at my house next time.”

In retrospect, I could have added in a reinforcement system when Rodney started losing for real. We often reward ourselves when we do hard things well. Setting this up for Rodney likely would have helped him master the skill sooner. It would have also opened the way for us to talk about how he might chose to reward himself in the future when he does something well that was difficult for him to do in the moment. For example, if he loses graciously while playing a game with a friend, he might get 15 minutes extra of screen time (negotiated ahead of time with his parents). This would be similar to me deciding that on work mornings where I start with several hours of email to answer I will have a bagel with my coffee! We all set up self-reinforcement. Some of us do this without thinking much about it and others need to be directly taught to do this. It is simply another one of those  life long skill that can be directly taught!

It is also noteworthy that many autistics need some sensory modifications to the environment, breaks to regulate their sensory system, instruction on how to play the game and other supports particular to the way autism presents in them. I have used Rodney’s example because it required many different support strategies over a long period of time for him to experience his desired outcome of having friends play games with him. Others I have worked with required both less and more in the areas of support strategies and time to learn new skills. While we can all learn from Rodney’s example and find many useful strategies, how support is given to another person needing to learn a similar skill will work best when it is individualized to the needs of that person.

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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.

Autism, Social Greetings and Rhetorical Questions

Autistic people may not automatically know how to respond to rhetorical social questions such as “How are you?” or automatically reciprocate in social pleasantries such as “good morning.” This is not because they are rude, obnoxious, don’t care, or any of the other assumed reasons people attribute to this behavior. Instead, it is because all social information is not automatically picked up and used by a person with an autistic brain. The autistic brain simply works differently. Even so, autistic people can learn those things their particular brain hasn’t allowed them to automatically pick up.

Example: I supported a 6th grader for an hour a day as he entered, checked in at the office, went to his locker, and did a one-on-one “check in” time with him before he left to go to his first classroom. Each morning when Loren arrived I would say, “Good morning, Loren.” Loren would either remain silent or say “Shut up” or “I know that.”

As we walked down the hall to his locker I would tell him it was nice to see him and ask, “How are you?” Loren either would remain silent or give me a detailed run down of all his scrapes and bruises, both current and from years passed!

Once I realized his autistic brain had not picked up the hidden curriculum information in regards to social greetings and rhetorical questions I set about directly teaching this to Loren.

1.  I drew a chart on a piece of paper with columns labeled Social Greeting/Question, Expected Responses and Unexpected Responses.

2.  I wrote in the Greeting/Question such as “Good morning” and “How are you?”

3.  Next, blue index cards were used to write possible expected responses such as “Good morning” and “I am fine. How are you?”

4.  Yellow index cards were used to record each unexpected response such as “Shut up” and “Go away.” A blank card was used to indicate no words spoken.

Loren watched as I made the cards and put them under the columns of Expected Responses and Unexpected Responses. He studied this over, then removed the cards, mixed them up and announced, “I’m doing it myself this time.”

During his first few tries Loren wasn’t sure where to put the cards so I placed a blue card above the Expected Responses column and a yellow card above the Unexpected Responses column. This gave him the visual hint – blue cards in the blue card column, yellow cards in the yellow card column. (It is important to insure success when teaching unknown social information, thus the built in color coding is something I often use. Loren was familiar with my color-coded systems, understanding that if he simply matched the colors he would have the correct answers.) As soon as the color clue was supplied he could line up the blue and yellow cards according to color.

Each day Loren got another chance to line up the blue and yellow cards on the chart, studying over the information. Soon he told me he was ready for white cards. This meant he had mastered the lesson and no longer needed the color-coded hint. The words on all the blue and yellow cards were put onto white cards. Loren mixed up the white cards and sorted them onto the chart correctly! He knew the social information.

Now we needed to bring this information into everyday circumstances because even though Loren knew the information, he was not accessing it in real life situations such as when the school secretary said, “Good morning, Loren.”

First we talked about how others feel and react when we give unexpected responses. Loren saw the benefit in giving expected responses, but this discussion alone did not allow him to access the expected responses in real time.

Next, practice situations with the secretary were set up for the purpose of Loren using a new skill. We practiced five times in a row each morning. I carried the cards with me. When the secretary said, “Good morning, Loren” I gave him the blue cards, each with an expected response to this greeting. Loren could look through the few cards, knowing that any of the responses were okay – he couldn’t go wrong.

This system worked well and within a few days Loren said he didn’t need the cards anymore. What happened next surprised us both! Without the cards, Loren was not able to access the information. We discovered the cards needed to be physically present, even though Loren did not use them. I held the cards in my hand for a few days. Then, we left the cards in Loren’s locker. Sometimes, with a literal and concrete brain, this visual pairing with social information needs to be implemented with a gradual step down to successfully remove the visual.

In successive weeks we added more social greetings and rhetorical questions to our chart. Loren sometimes arrived at school telling me, “I’ve got another one for the chart!” He continued to use this visual system for the remainder of the school year to learn and sort out the information around social greetings and rhetorical questions. In addition, once mastered at school, Loren brought the visuals home where his family helped him bridge the new skills in expanded environments.

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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 July 29, 2016. To comment click here.

Teaching Autistic People

Just like people of all ages can learn, so is it that autistic people of all ages can learn. It is an utterly sad state of affairs that this even needs to be said, but unfortunately, it needs to be said. Too often I see autistic children being babysat rather than being taught at school. When I ask about academic curriculum being used, I am told, “Oh, he has autism” as if this is an answer to my question.

In my work as an autism consultant I am called on to go to public schools to see autistic students who are thought to be failing what the system has to offer. Most of the time students I see have behaviors that don’t work well in a school setting. For all students I am called in on, I use the stabilization techniques below, which are also the first steps I use when teaching autistic students if the student is not stabilized. This is why I can say that even when your student has autism, including when behaviors are present, he can learn just like any other student can learn. Autistic people are just as deserving of an education as other human beings. That being said, specific supports must be in place to insure access to that education. After all, nobody can do math (or any subject) when they are literally bouncing off the wall (a sign of extreme sensory disregulation).

Stabilization

  1. Internal Regulation (sensory diet)
    Autistics have a neurology that means many systems (sensory, emotions, movement) in their body do not automatically regulate. This means conscious attention and effort must be brought to regulate whatever systems need regulation. For most autistics I work with, the sensory system is so disregulated that it masks emotional and movement disregulation.

  2. External Regulation (interactive visual schedule)
    It really helps to know what is going to happen when – the schedule of events.

    Most students have a neurology that can pick up this sort of information without being instructed. They can sort out the spoken words of the teacher. Students with autism typically have weak auditory processing abilities. Their neurology may not allow them to take in verbal words, sort out which words are relevant and process those words to understand what will happen next. This means every transition from one activity to another can hit them as a huge surprise, causing further disregulation.

    When typical students are distracted and miss the teacher’s verbal instruction of “get out your math books now” they usually become aware that the other students are getting math books out of their desk so they know they are meant to get out their math books too. Autistic students do not pick up these external cues as readily.

    Even when they see other students getting out math books, autistic students do not necessarily take that to mean they should also get out their math book. This has nothing to do with cognitive ability. It has to do with weak connections between areas of the brain – several areas of the brain working together to synthesize environmental, social, emotional and other kinds of information to inform them “I need to get out my math book.”

    Visual schedules support this issue for most autistic students. It is often helpful for the schedule to be interactive – meaning the student needs to do something with the schedule before each transition.

  3. Relationship
    Most students I have been called on to consult for have experienced much angst along the way. They know they are not like other kids. They may or may not know they have autism. One thing I find is that students who are able to communicate are very aware they are different from other kids and they have made up a narrative to explain their differences to themselves. I have been honored by a number of students sharing these stories about why they are different. I have yet to hear a positive story. They are typically stories about major character flaws, sometimes character traits they have heard others ascribe to them such as lazy, stubborn, willful, violent, refuses to share, refuses to co-operate, etc.

    As I begin working with new students I typically use a simple interactive schedule to show them “work” and “sensory break.” I ensure they are successful at following this schedule even if it means we work for a few seconds and engage in sensory regulating activities for a much longer time. I am visually instructing how schedules work while getting the student’s sensory system regulated and doing that in the context of forming a positive relationship.Most students I see have not experienced a lot of positive relationships. They have learned not to trust others around them. I am giving them an exact visual way our time works. They can count on it, become part of it and will always succeed. Over time strong relationships develop. Once a relationship is solid, we know what sensory activities are needed (along with how long and how often) and the student has mastered his interactive visual schedule I know he is now stabilized. Once stabilized we are ready for more formalized instruction.

Instruction

  1. Identify and Teach Needed Skills
    Besides academic instruction, students with autism often have particular skills for which they need to receive direct instruction. This can be anything from how to open a milk carton to waiting for the teacher to call on you when your hand is raised before contributing. It is helpful to identify a few of the skills that are deal breakers to your student getting along in the classroom. Learning and using these skills can be intertwined with academic content and other parts of the day.

  2. Ensure Success by Decreasing Task Demands
    Differentiated Instruction is one way to reduce educational task demands to match the needs of an individual student while ensuring them opportunity to learn along with their peers even though he may not have the same personal resources to bring to the task. My favorite person when it comes to differentiating instruction is Paula Kluth. Every student can do something. If you need ideas on how to use general education curriculum for students with autism who you think cannot do general education curriculum please look up Paula’s work. (paulakluth.com)

    My favorite people when it comes to a discussion about decreasing task demands are Ruth Aspy and Barry Grossman. (www.texasautism.com) An example of decreasing task demands for a student who struggles with handwriting is to take handwriting off the table in all subjects except Handwriting Instruction. Perhaps a scribe is used to do the actual handwriting task or an app such as Dictation Dragon, which means he can now do creative writing through dictation. If the student is an efficient typist perhaps that is the way to go, which means the student can now do social studies assignment that involves answering questions with a paragraph.

  3. Reinforcement
    There is significant brain research that shows students with autism do not benefit from the same kind of social reinforcement that typical students do. For typical students, in general, the more social opportunities you can add into instruction and use for reinforcement, the more learning that takes place.

    For students with autism, social reinforcement and adding social aspects to learning detract rather than enhance learning. Tangible reinforcement tied to learning has been shown to work better than social reinforcement. In fact, it has been the ticket to learning for many autistic students.

    NOTE: I realize ABA therapy has had a history of using reinforcement in a punitive manner tied to repetitious drilling, often quite disrespectfully. This makes punishment, demeaning drilling and disrespect wrong. It does not make reinforcement wrong. All human beings benefit from positive reinforcement.

2016-06-18 20.07.12

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 in June 2016. Add a comment here.