May 20, 2013

End of Year Transition Issues for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

We are all counting down the days until summer break begins. Even though time off sounds exciting to both students and teachers, it can be a minefield of challenges for our kids on the Autism Spectrum. All too often those "fun" activities can create extra stress and anxiety in our students with ASD. I have a simple suggestion that makes a world of difference!

Start NOW while things are relatively sane and help your student create their own calendar for the last 3-4 weeks of school. Note all the days where there will be unusual events such as assemblies, track & field day, class parties, field trips, etc. You can also make note of all the days that are "regular" schedule days. Consider color coding the regular days. Your student will then be able to preview and plan ahead for the changes that will occur.

I usually use this calendar because it is simple and non-distracting:
 Click here to download

The week before school gets out, I send the following calendar home with students and ask their parents to help them fill it out. I know that the kids seem really excited to get out of school, but going from structured to unstructured days can create significant anxiety. I explain to parents that it is helpful to help their child structure their first week of summer and that they will likely experience a more peaceful start to their vacation.

Click here to download
I hope you find these tools quick and easy to use with your students with ASD.  ~Kelley

May 13, 2013

Fun Ways To Develop Keyboarding Skills This Summer!

I have several families who have asked about increasing their child's familiarity with letter location on a computer keyboard. Typically before having a child do more of their writing on the classroom computer or considering assistive technology options for fine motor/handwriting difficulties, it is important for students to be familiar with the keyboard and be able to quickly locate keys. Hunting and pecking is fine, but needs to be able to be done pretty quickly in order for it to be a help and not a hindrance for students.

I've encouraged the families for whom I would like to consider assistive technology for their child next year to have their child practice keyboarding using fun, free online games this summer and to practice keyboarding by emailing a friend or relative this summer.

If you have students who need keyboarding practice, here is a list of great (free!) online resources for keyboarding games:

 This site has excellent instruction as well as games. The section under "courses" is unfortunately dull, but good to do if you can get your child to work on it for 5 minutes or so. The section under "games" is fun and good practice. 

I hope this will save you some research time if you have students who need keyboarding practice. Here's to counting down the days 'til summer! ~ Kelley

May 3, 2013

Hands-on Lesson on Using Your Filter by Kelley

Here's a quick hands-on lesson to illustrate the concept of using your verbal filter to keep the group feeling calm.

We define what a thought is...

We use thought bubbles and various pictures to identify main topics group members like to think about.

We then discuss the idea of "smooth" vs "prickly" thoughts and comments. Smooth thoughts and comments are those that keep the group feeling calm and keep the interaction moving forward. Prickly thoughts and comments are those that make others feel uncomfortable and stop the interaction. Here's the visual that we use for prickly and smooth interactions. You can download it here.

We pass around a smooth ball and a prickly ball to further reinforce the concept of which was more comfortable.

After reviewing the smooth vs prickly concept, we define what a filter is and why we use filters in our communities (coffee, cleaning water, etc). We then introduce the idea of a brain filter that keeps prickly thoughts in our heads and allows smooth thoughts to be verbalized.

You'll need a container, a pitcher of water, a strainer, food coloring, a bag of small sticks/rocks/mulch, and small strips of laminated paper with a sharpie marker.

We ask the group to decide on a color that will represent smooth thoughts. This was a minefield of negotiation and group decision making in itself! Finally, they came to the decision that they would use blue food coloring to represent smooth thoughts.

We mix up the blue water in the pitcher and then identify various prickly comments that could disrupt an interaction and cause prickly thoughts in others. We write them down with a sharpie on laminated strips of paper and added them along with the sticks (which represented other prickly comments or behaviors such as turning away when a peer is talking or interrupting) to the water pitcher.

We then pour the contents through the strainer (representing our brain filter) to model keeping the prickly comments in our heads and letting the smooth comments be expressed.

I hope that you'll find this activity to be helpful in your social and speech groups!