10 tips from Sue Larkey’s seminar.

I recently attended Sue Larkey’s seminar on Teaching Strategies and Behaviour Support. Here are 10 tips that she covered in the seminar:

1. Not all strategies work for every child, and not all strategies work all of the time. If it’s not working, move on and try something else

2. No=never. The word “no” can trigger a meltdown. If you say no, and you mean not now, don’t say no. You say no, they hear “never”. A day after the seminar my son illustrated this very point. He was writing his grandad’s birthday card. He couldn’t fit the whole of a word on one line so I told him that he could use a hyphen and finish the word on the next line. He got very upset and wanted to scribble the word out and start again. When I asked him why he told me his teacher said that he wasn’t allowed to split the word up. So he applied that rule to all situations.

3. You cannot stop a behaviour. Each behaviour serves a function, so replace the behaviour with another behaviour. For instance if a child constantly chews their clothes, replace this with a sensory toy designed for chewing. This will help the child stay calm and concentrate. To just stop them without replacing the behaviour with an alternative will cause the child anxiety and make matters worse.

4. A sensory meltdown is different to a behaviour meltdown. There is no warning and it strongly triggers the fight or flight mechanism in the brain. It is a catastrophic reaction to social or sensory experiences. If they run and don’t look back it is sensory and no amount of rewards or bribery will work with them. They need comforting or solitude until they calm down. Don’t tell them to calm down as the meltdown may escalate, or ask them what’s wrong as they can’t tell you. A behaviour meltdown is different as it is a response to frustration, and will often end with emotional blackmail (!). The child is assertive and calm during this time. If you are unsure of difference, Sue says, look in their eyes.

5. Children on the spectrum are often multisensory or kinaesthetic learners (also called tactile learners) and respond to multisensory and hands on learning. They often concentrate better while playing with a fidget toy or moving around. They also respond better to rote and repetitive learning, and not problem solving learning, which schools have been moving towards.

6. Their intellect is their vanity. They may have the ideas and have done the work in their head, but may be slow to put onto paper. Do not humiliate them by telling them they have done no work. Get someone else to be their scribe or use Dragon software

7. Some children with ASD have a “veneer of coping” during school or social events. They are exhausted trying to be good, social and jovial, but when they get home they just want to relax and unwind. If any demands are put on them during this time, they may go into meltdown. This can be a problem when homework is expected.

8. During school, their should be a ratio of 25 minutes schoolwork, 5 minutes of special interest. This will serve as a reward, but also allows them to relax and refresh before moving on to further school work. At home, home is for relaxation so the ratio should be 25 minutes relaxation to 5 minutes work or chores. But for those children who have a veneer of coping, homework may be a step too far, so maybe an arrangement can be made where they do homework at school.

9. When children know the routine and are relaxed, you don’t always need to continue using all strategies all the time. Use common sense when to use and when not to.

10. Consequences do not work for children on the spectrum.

Synaesthesia

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It seems my extreme empathy may be down to a condition called Synaesthesia, and more specifically something called Mirror Touch Synaesthesia. Before I go into this in more detail I would like to talk a little more about Synaesthesia in general. Synaesthesia is a cross processing of the senses. Although it can affect neurotypicals, a great many people on the autism spectrum have it. Many great composers and artists, wine tasters and memory champions often have it and it gives them a unique talent not shared by everyone. It seems, as with autism, that there are a few different genes that could be responsible and it will often run in families. See link

In addition to the extreme empathy, my own Synaesthesia manifests itself in a couple of ways, I hear colours (which I also associate with words) and when I feel textures it has a strong emotional influence on me, see Tactile Emotion Synaesthesia.

I hear colours in music which does a lot to dictate my musical tastes. I love orchestral heavy metal as it has lots of warm vibrant colours, whereas Rn’B leaves me cold as it is full of insipid blues and greys. Words and letters bring up colours in my head, which helps my memory, especially for spelling. For instance, A is yellow, B is blue, C is red, D is orange, E is green etc. Words containing those letters may have associated colours, but do not always take the colour of the first letter. “Everybody” and “Everyday” are green, probably because of the dominance of the letter E, whereas “Day” is yellow because of the A and “Dog” is yellow and white, mainly because of the O and G sound. Monday is white, Tuesday is yellow, Wednesday is orange, Thursday is navy blue, Friday is black etc. I remember the day of a meeting or appointment by recalling the colour associated with it.

The Tactile Emotion Synaesthesia influences the clothes that I prefer to wear and means that I am very uncomfortable in certain clothes. This makes clothes shopping difficult and time-consuming and I can only do it when I am relaxed.

Mirror Touch Synaesthesia can be a blessing and a curse. In some respects I can imagine what a particular thing must feel like so it keeps me away from dangerous situations. It allows me to imagine what someone must feel like, allowing me to put myself in their shoes. This could be the basis of the Intense World Theory. This would be a fantastic advantage for an actor and it is possible that some of the most charismatic actors may indeed have this ability. But it also means that when someone hurts themselves I flinch, rather than speeding into action to help them. It paralyses me for a few seconds and I have to force the feeling out of my mind.

There are many kinds of Synaesthesia and researchers believe that many of us have it to a certain extent, but to some it governs their lives, in both positive and negative ways. I love having Synaesthesia, but it means that I can be very  inflexible, and also respond differently in traumatic or emotionally charged situations . One of the leading researchers in Synaesthesia is Simon Baron Cohen from the Autism Research Centre, Oxford, UK, the man behind the AQ test.

See also link

Post Script: since I wrote this I have also noticed that certain colours make me feel cold.

Tips for School

I went to seminar given by Tony Attwood and Michelle Garnett, presented by Sue Larkey. They had some great tips to help children at school, so I thought I’d share them for any teachers or aides, or even parents whose children may be finding school a challenge. This may also help them with homework as well as in the classroom.

It is often difficult for children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and Aspergers to start a task and they often can’t finish it in time. To assist them in this, allow them to mark the questions that they can do in green, the ones they need help with in orange, and the ones to leave for later in red. This way they can start the task with the questions that they find easiest and gain momentum. Often they will feel compelled to finish the whole task. In fact, they may get distressed if they haven’t finished the task they are on before it is time to move on. In this case Sue Larkey advised to put in a marked box for completion later if they run out of time. Designate another 10 minutes later for them to finish.

Tony and Michelle talked about errorless learning. Children with ASD and Aspergers are perfectionists – they want to not make errors and will often get upset or have a meltdown if they make a mistake. Understanding this can help them. Set a realistic task they are likely to complete. Help them finish. Maybe do half each e.g. you read one page, get the child to read the next.

Some days are worse than others. On a bad day give revision rather than new material, Make it achievable. Tony and Michelle said that Aspergers behaviour is often cyclical. i.e. bad days may be predictable to a certain extent. For this they suggested keeping a diary to see if a pattern emerges.

Praise success, focus on when the child is correct. If they struggle, move on to next question or task and try again. Work on gaining a momentum of learning and success. They thrive on success. Always be positive.

Their primary motivator is not pleasing the teacher or their parents, although they will often get upset after the fact if they have let them down. Encourage their intellectual vanity. They take pride in their intelligence!

Use their special interest in the classroom to teach a range of things. For instance, if a child’s special interest is trains, this can be used to teach geography, history, science, maths etc. Children with ASD like to collect facts, so this is a useful resource to tap into. Solitude and special interests are the “cure for Asperger’s”. These children will often engage more, have better social skills and more frequent eye contact when exploring their special interest.

Focus on relaxation and pleasure. These can lead to an economy in teaching, extending their special interest. If special interest goes dark however (eg an interest in weapons), this may be sign of depression.

Create a “workstation” – a distraction free zone, that anybody can use so the child with ASD isn’t singled out, but they have somewhere to go if it all gets too much and they can’t concentrate.

Teach them how to use lists.

Use visual timetables and schedules to help with their organisation skills (see do2learn)

Picture Cards

One way to assist a child who has auditory processing difficulties is with visual aids such as picture cards. This is a great way to explain rules or a procedure, write a list, and even make a schedule that your child can refer to. Many children with Aspergers learn visually, and visual aids may help them remember instructions or plans.

You can make your own picture cards or boards, using photos or clip art. Website Do 2 Learn has a very good selection of pictures that you can use, under categories such as home & school, safety, activities, emotions etc. You can download the line drawings for free and your child can colour them in themselves, or you can purchase the colour versions. The images are available as small pictures, a few per page, to print and use on a picture board or reminder strips or as large pictures, one per page, with or without text. They even have a “Make your own Schedule” program.

Below is a Road Safety Picture Board that I created for my son, using pictures from Do2Learn. I created a table in MS Word, copied and pasted the pictures in – one per table cell, resized them to fit, and then added my own text.

 

 

Do 2 Learn  gives tips for making your own picture cards, and also gives some advice for making your own photo cards “When taking photographs to use for communication, it is helpful to make the photograph as simple as possible. Include only one object in the picture or make the background blank. Some individuals have difficulty generalizing, so it may also be helpful to avoid including details such as the title of the book or video, or the labels on a food or drink item”.

 

What is Aspergers?

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What is Aspergers? Well, I’ll start by saying what Aspergers isn’t. It isn’t a mental illness, it isn’t a disability. The symptoms of Aspergers are many, complex and varied. Aspergers is a different way of thinking and a different way of seeing the world. An Aspergers child has many unique abilities, acute powers of observation and intense ability to focus. Unfortunately Aspergers is often peppered with social and learning disorders that may make school life difficult or even unbearable for the child. But there is no reason, with the right guidance and interventions, that the Aspie child can’t grow up to be a fully functioning and thriving member of society, having successful social and intimate relationships along the way. Read more of this post

Thinking Styles

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According to Dr. Temple Grandin, people with Autistic brains have one of three thinking styles: visual, pattern  or verbal logic. Read more of this post