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.

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)

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Fragile X link?

Neurorocker at en.wikipedia

 

When I started to really dig into the genes behind Aspergers and Autism, it seemed that it isn’t as clear cut as I initially thought. After researching the brain science of Fragile X syndrome (and the FMR1 gene) to establish how it could cause Autism and Aspergers, I discovered that that there isn’t just one gene that causes ASD. It seems there may be a range of genes, all of which seem to have similar effects on the developing brain.

In this post I shall discuss the FMR1 gene that causes Fragile X syndrome and its link to Autism.  Fragile X Syndrome is so called because a small section of the genetic code is “repeated on a fragile area of the X chromosome” (source PubMed Health)

According to the National Fragile X Foundation:

“FXS is the most common known cause of autism or “autistic-like” behaviors [sic]”

“Fragile X syndrome can cause a child to have autism or an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) though not all children with fragile X syndrome have autism or an ASD.

  • FACT: For between 2% and 6% of all children diagnosed with autism, the cause is the Fragile X gene mutation.
  • FACT: Approximately one-third of all children diagnosed with fragile X syndrome also have some degree of autism.
  • FACT: Fragile X syndrome is the most common known single gene cause of autism.”

The A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia notes that the symptoms of Fragile X are very similar to those with Autism:

  • “Delay in crawling, walking, or twisting
  • Hand clapping or hand biting
  • Hyperactive or impulsive behavior
  • Mental retardation
  • Speech and language delay
  • Tendency to avoid eye contact”

The reason Fragile X caught my eye is that one of the most common symptoms or signs of Fragile X is the hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli, as outlined by an article in Science Daily:

“New research provides insight into why fragile X syndrome, the most common known cause of autism and mental retardation, is associated with an extreme hypersensitivity to sounds, touch, smells, and visual stimuli that causes sensory overload and results in social withdrawal, hyperarousal, and anxiety. The study, published by Cell Press in the February 11 issue of the journal Neuron, uncovers a previously unknown developmental delay in a critical brain circuit that processes sensory information in a mouse model of fragile X syndrome.”

This is consistent with my view that the majority of symptoms associated with Autism and Aspergers are caused by sensory overload. In response to this article the Shared Attention website notes that: “This seems to support so-called experimental therapies (e.g. sensory integration) that theorize that plasticity in sensory processing can afford lasting positive changes in neurological function and behavioral outcomes. In other words, by using natural interests of the child to harness their attention and engagement, it may be possible to use purposefully engineered activities to modify and naturalize those pathways”.

And it seems that treatment for a child with Fragile X is similar to those with Autism and Aspergers. Source: Medicine.net:

  • Know the learning style of the individual.
  • Develop a consistent daily schedule or routine.
  • Use visual signs (pictures, sign language, logos, words) and concrete examples or materials to present ideas, concepts, steps, etc.
  • Prepare the individual for any changes in routine by explaining them ahead of time, possibly using visual signs.
  • Include functional goals with academic goals; for instance, teaching the individual the names of different pieces of clothing as well as how to dress him/herself.
  • Provide opportunities for the child to be active and move around.
  • Use computers and interactive educational software.
  • Provide a quiet place where the child can retreat and regroup.

So how does the Fragile X gene lead to symptoms similar to Autism?

This from the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

“Normally, the FMR1 gene makes a protein needed for your brain to grow properly. A defect in this gene makes your body produce too little of the protein, or none at all.” The link between the FMR1 gene and the hypersensitivity displayed in Aspergers and Autism has been established (see academic paper)  . The nerve cells in the brain initially grow extra branches, which could explain the hypersensitivity to various sensory stimuli. This could lead to the premature turning off of the “critical period” as discovered by Merzenich. The nerve cells eventually “prune” the branches so that the nerve cells appear normal, but at this stage it could already be too late, as the brain is left with the “undifferentiated brain maps” discovered by Merzenich.

According to the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia:

“Boys and girls can both be affected, but because boys have only one X chromosome, a single fragile X is likely to affect them more severely. You can have Fragile X syndrome even if your parents do not have it.

Fragile X syndrome can be a cause of autism or related disorders, although not all children with fragile X syndrome have these conditions.”

The symptoms are more likely to be pronounced in boys, girls may only exhibit behaviours such as shyness.

But the FMR1 gene cannot be the only cause of ASD. The main issue with this as an umbrella answer to ASD is that males with Fragile X cannot pass it onto their sons, due to the fact that they only transmit the Y chromosome, and not the X. (source: Autism Help)  But it seems that many boys with Aspergers and Autism have a father who also has it. In addition the IQ of a person with Fragile X Syndrome is highly likely to be below average, although this is not always true for girls. Although the research in this area may be slightly inaccurate, as medicine.net points out:

“Attention disorders, hyperactivity, anxiety, and language processing problems can interfere with test-taking skills and learning. Because many people with Fragile X have these problems, a person with Fragile X may have more capabilities than his or her IQ score suggests”

So the search for the common cause continues…

Academic Papers on Fragile X:

http://www.fragilex.org/pdf/kaufmann-et-al_autismandfragileX.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19441123

Strategies for helping with Auditory Processing Disorder

Reposted from http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/ears/central_auditory.html#

“Strategies applied at home and school can ease some of the problem behaviors associated with APD. Because it’s common for kids with CAPD to have difficulty following directions, for example, these tactics might help:

  • Since most kids with APD have difficulty hearing amid noise, it’s very important to reduce the background noise at home and at school.
  • Have your child look at you when you’re speaking.
  • Use simple, expressive sentences.
  • Speak at a slightly slower rate and at a mildly increased volume.
  • Ask your child to repeat the directions back to you and to keep repeating them aloud (to you or to himself or herself) until the directions are completed.
  • For directions that are to be completed at a later time, writing notes, wearing a watch, and maintaining a household routine also help. General organization and scheduling also can be beneficial.

It’s especially important to teach your child to notice noisy environments, for example, and move to quieter places when listening is necessary.

Other strategies that might help:

  • Provide your child with a quiet study place (not the kitchen table).
  • Maintain a peaceful, organized lifestyle.
  • Encourage good eating and sleeping habits.
  • Assign regular and realistic chores, including keeping a neat room and desk.
  • Build your child’s self-esteem.

Be sure to keep in regular contact with school officials about your child’s progress. Kids with APD aren’t typically put in special education programs. Instead, teachers can make it easier by:

  • altering seating plans so the child can sit in the front of the room or with his or her back to the window
  • providing additional aids for study, like an assignment pad or a tape recorder

One of the most important things that both parents and teachers can do is to acknowledge that CAPD is real. Symptoms and behaviors are not within the child’s control. What is within the child’s control is recognizing the problems associated with APD and applying the strategies recommended both at home and school.

A positive, realistic attitude and healthy self-esteem in a child with APD can work wonders. And kids with APD can go on to be just as successful as other classmates. Although some children do grow up to be adults with APD, by using coping strategies as well as techniques learned in speech therapy, they can be very successful adults.”

Auditory Processing Disorder

CUTE TODDLER © Beatricekillam | Dreamstime.com

Many people with Aspergers have difficulty with auditory processing, including myself. A child may appear not to hear parts of a conversation or remember instructions, or they may seem to be ignoring someone talking, even if they are close by. They may appear deaf – but this is nothing to do with hearing, and the child may indeed have normal, or even more sensitive than normal, hearing. Difficulties with auditory processing stem from a malfunction in the transfer of audio signals from the ear to the brain. The Listen and Learn Centre in Melbourne define APD as “a problem in the decoding of language”.

www.auditoryprocessing.com.au  defines APD as follows:

“People who have normal hearing actually hear far more than they perceive. Where hearing is a function of the ear, auditory processing – listening – is a function of the brain. Auditory processing describes the way the brain assigns significance and meaning to the sounds in the environment. Effective auditory processing involves a relatively high speed of information transfer. It also requires a good attention span, a well-functioning memory, and sensitivity to the many subtleties of sound. When parts of this complex system break down or don’t operate efficiently, listening is compromised. All the ensuing problems are collectively known as Auditory Processing Disorders (APD).”

It can mean the child doesn’t always register speech, or that they sometimes misunderstand or misremember something that is being said. It can adversely affect their memory of oral information, which can cause frustration as the child is convinced they have remembered something right when it is wrong, or they may have no glimmer of recollection of something they have been told.

APD affects around 5% of school-aged children, and is often worse in loud environments, for instance at school, as the child has difficulty differentiating what is being said from the background noise. This can lead to difficulties with their schoolwork, and their grades may suffer as a result.

The Listen and Learn Centre also note that APD can lead to the “deterioration of behaviour as a result of poor expressive and receptive communication. As children experience the discouragement of being misunderstood and the frustration of misunderstanding others, they become more disconnected from their environment and the people around them”. The child may learn coping strategies such as lip-reading, but this doesn’t always help them in all cases. It could also be the reason why some people with Aspergers may not be able to detect humour. The Neurosensory Unit has this to say:

“It [the central auditory system] helps us to identify the non-linguistic elements of speech and communication, such as rhythm, timing and pitch that assist in interpreting humour and sarcasm, as well as intent of communication.”

APD can be another reason, in addition to sensory overload, that can cause a child to withdraw from social situations. In fact, it seems that sensory overload can also occur with APD, according to the Listen and Learn Centre:

“The term ‘auditory overload’ is often used to describe what happens to people who have APD. Auditory overload is a sense of being overwhelmed and relates to features of the information being received. If information is highly specific, spoken quickly, lacking in contextual cues, described in unfamiliar language or presented in a noisy environment, it will be very difficult for someone with APD to comprehend the message or follow through with instructions.”

Some children with APD may be seem to have very sensitive hearing, and could hear a pin drop in a quiet room. The team at the Listen and Learn Centre have a theory about this:

“Some children are more attentive to bone conducted sounds. They primarily listen with their body instead of with their ears. These individuals have difficulties in dampening the sound intensity and to filter out irrelevant sounds. This may be one of the reasons why individuals are hyper sensitive to sound as they may have lost the ability to focus and tune out extraneous background noise. In this situation, every noise has the same amount of importance. Capturing a word may be difficult as ambient noise distracts from focusing. As a result, the child misses part of the conversation or instruction being given.”

There is no relationship between intelligence and APD; a very bright child may be having difficulty at school and poor marks, which could puzzle parents or teachers.

In this case changes to the teaching style could help, with more emphasis on visual learning strategies.

There is no cure for APD, but it can be treated with speech therapy, reading recovery or through an Auditory Integration Listening Program

kidshealth.org have some tips and strategies for teaching a child with APD: Strategies

On Empathy

THE COMFORT © Marshhawk | Dreamstime.com

 

I was just about to write a post about my views on empathy, and I came across an article that totally supports my view. Before I share it, I would like to talk about my own experiences, having Aspergers myself. I was thinking about whether my ability to feel empathy was due to a coping mechanism I had developed, but I doubted that this was the case and so I thought back upon my early life… Read more of this post

Sensory Overload

GRADUATION? © Socrates | Dreamstime.com

 

Many children with Aspergers may be over- or under-sensitive to certain sensory simuli, for instance sound, cold, touch or light. Over-sensitivity can lead to sensory overload and the Aspie child will do all they can to block out the sensations. This can lead them to be more wary of particular environments or want to avoid social gatherings. This may also cause them to become anxious or angry. Read more of this post