* Electronics as contact sports

There’s a time and place for electronics.  At our house, it’s every Saturday.  We call it movie night, but it’s currently morphed into digital dynamite.  Somehow, the kids manage to transform every  activity into a contact sport.  As the social event coordinator, my usual comment is “That’s horseplay.  Outside only, please.”  I can (privately) encourage Christopher to stop repeatedly saying, “You’re my best friend, right?”  Human nature being what it is, kids don’t value desperate friends.  Christopher hasn’t said that once tonight, BTW!

I managed to catch the kiddos looking like angels…

but I watch them like a hawk, alert them to decibel levels over 90, and scan for those furtive glances that mean someone has stepped over a boundary.  These Saturday nights have been a terrific learning experience for me.  I refine my behavior strategies, watch multiple game plays of Mario Bros., learn how to use nunchucks, and record videos for a nephew’s YouTube channel.  Mostly, I love spending time with a motley crew of adorable kiddos.  And their guardians breathe a sigh of relief!

* The Lightning Club

This is a post on one of the most delightful social skills groups I have ever taught.  There were seven kids in the group.  I was desperate for an eighth student for partner activities, but we managed.  The kids were in fourth grade but all of them had been retained, so they were fifth grade age.  Three were labeled with behavior/ emotional disorders and four were high functioning autistic students.  It was one of those wonderful groups where we actually had a non-lunch time slot and it was at the end of the day.  That meant we weren’t rushing to cram down our food and I could squeeze every possible second out the session.

The kids were a joy to teach.  They were wildly enthusiastic about everything, including bossing each other, winning every game at any cost, and being in charge of everyone else’s business.  I much prefer a group with spunk, and these guys had it in spades.  They arrived like firecrackers.  I’d selected the bossiest student to remind the others,going class-to-class, that it was time for our group,  They assured me, panting and out of breath, that they had all walked down the hall.  Of course, they immediately tattled on each other for running   So we started off in fine spirits, with additional bickering about who got to sit on the edge of the table closest to me.  I smiled at the thought of all the skills they were going to learn.  (Eventually they learned to walk to my room 76% of the time.)

Because everyone in the group was so strong-willed, it took us weeks to decide on a name and theme for our “club.”  We ended up being The Lightning Club.  They thought it was a cool name; I thought it was prophetic.  What made this group so appealing?  I loved their honesty most of all.  Everything was out in the open, including their disputes and struggles in class and at home.  They would tell me that our role-playing had no effect at all on their classroom behavior.  In their respective classrooms, and with each other, they were social outcasts.  They had been at the same school since kindergarten and had grown to dislike one another as much as other kids disliked them.  When we started The Lightning Club, none of them would pick anyone else to be a partner, citing numerous old grudges and the “disgusting” behavior of their fellow Clubbers.lightning-bolt

I started us off with games.  I could only manage two games or groups at a time, because there were so many conflicts.  Everyone memorized “Play fair, Take turns, and Say nice things” pretty quickly.  The kids used checklists to monitor themselves, although they much preferred to monitor everyone else.  “Winning and Losing” was another challenge.  I would ask, “Do you want to win or do you want friends?”  The answer was “I want to win at all costs,” but I could identify with them, easily being the most competitive of all.  They rather enjoyed smearing me in games.

We worked our way through basic skills, spitting out “nice” words to each on command.  I videotaped everything and we watched edited versions, which they enjoyed a great deal.  We role-played a skill (which was nicely done in practice), then I set them loose and refereed the semi-chaos.  We laughed a lot, because I did let them demonstrate how NOT to make friends.  They were experts at NOT making friends, so we had plenty of fun with those skits.

We’d been together about a month when I initiated our altruistic phase.  I wanted them to experience the satisfaction of helping others.  Their suggestions?  All variations of me buying them stuff.  Ultimately, they decided to record a series of self-created puppet shows on social skills for younger kids.  I had dramatically described the difficulties these younger kids were having, so my wild group was quite eager to set the little ones on the right course.  The puppet shows were challenging.  Lightning Clubbers had to agree on a theme, fight over the more desirable puppets, and take turns being the bossy director.  I kept reminding them of our purpose, to help these poor little kids who had no friends.  It was a worthwhile project for a couple of reasons.  Their practice was more authentic than it had been when rehearsing for themselves and the videos were actually engaging to younger kids.

By winter break, The Lightning Club coalesced into a real community.  We settled into a natural rhythm of activities, often suggested by the kids, with opportunities to role-play, critique videotapes, and work through conflicts between group members.  Kids no longer had to be forced to think of positive comments for others.  Yes, there were days when keeping everyone separated was my best strategy.  Like a large family, we laughed and struggled together.  We had parties to celebrate almost everything.  When the kids decided to make gifts for one another, I felt like a contented mother hen with a brood of spunky chicks.

I wish I could say that the rest of their school year was as successful.  On the last day of school (a half day, at that), most of my group had been transported to me for an impromptu “session,” booted out of their rooms for disruptive behavior.  Their presence was bittersweet under the circumstances, but I was thrilled they could spend their last few hours at school under my wings.

* Another rubric for recess

In a previous post, I shared a recess rubric for students on the autism spectrum.  Here is one that may be helpful for students with a learning disability, especially twice exceptional (2e) kiddos.  These kids are often desperate to get out of the classroom, away from tremendous stress (and boredom, in the case of 2e kids).  Why would LD kids benefit from a recess rubric?   Again, stress.  They often feel stupid and invalidated in a classroom, no matter how smart they may be, no matter how supportive their teachers are.  When they hit the playground, these students are often over-eager to show off athletic skills.  They may vent their frustration on peers or withdraw from the group altogether.  Social skills intervention is helpful when LD students find themselves in constant conflict at recess.  Remember that you cannot toss a rubric at a student and expect it to “work.”  Kids need to rehearse needed skills and rubrics should be modified to match individual needs.  A rubric can be used to measure progress over time, which is very important for kids who face an uphill battle with academics.

rubric-for-enjoying-recess

* Christopher and me: tools for replacement behaviors

If you’re new to this series, Christopher is my nephew with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder, aka A Sweet Dude).  We work on academic and social skills, along with shaping his behavior towards more mature responses to frustration.

Here’s the big idea:  You cannot “modify” all maladaptive behavior out of existence.   And not all “maladaptive” behavior is actually maladaptive.  One example is finger sucking.

Finger sucking:  Christopher has been sucking his fingers since he was an infant.  It provides him a sense of comfort, and as he approaches his 11th birthday, is quite an ingrained habit.  His teeth protrude somewhat as a result of this habit and his saliva now covers most surfaces in our house.

Replacement behavior:  No matter what we do right now, Christopher is going to put something in his mouth.  A more age-appropriate replacement is sucking on the end of his pencil.  After purchasing pencil toppers from Therapy Shoppe and watching him chew them vigorously at times, it’s obvious that finger sucking provides needed sensory feedback.  His guardian adapted one of them to fit on a necklace since Christopher would run around with a pencil sticking out of his mouth.  The necklace is not quite as subtle, but significantly safer and readily accessible.

chew.JPG

The next challenge is supporting Christopher in his regular classroom.  He’s a sweetheart in a one-to-one setting but can drive teachers nuts in a large group.  Does he deliberately sabotage classroom environments?  Not at all.  He’s a rule-follower who does his best to please, while working towards his idea of school goals (primarily, survival).  His “disobedience” is a signal that he needs some modifications to his schedule and workload.  More to come!

* 3 Keys for Avoiding Drama!

blah blah blah.jpgRead on for some great tips for students, parents, and teachers. This is a good time of year to start these conversations with kiddos.

iepsurvival for parents and teachers who work with special education students

Is your student surrounded with school drama: gossip,and bullying? Middle school and high school students often find themselves in the middle of drama as they spend their time learning about who they are and asserting their independence. There are three keys that teens should be reminded of for making healthy decisions and avoiding drama.
First, teach your student to always be true to him or herself. When things don’t go well, let your teen know that it is okay. I always encourage self-forgiveness over peer pressure with both my students and my children.  Empower your student to say, “No, that is not right for me.” Empower your student to find new interests and new friends.
Second, teach your student to respect him or herself by making decisions that reflect his/her morals and values as well as your families. Always share that before your student makes a decision to ask, “If what I am about to do is filmed for the nightly news, will…

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* Christopher & me & Bowser makes three

If you’ve kept up with my blog, you know I’ve been tutoring my 9-year-old nephew, Christopher, this summer.  He’s on the autism spectrum (ASD, aka A Sweet Dude).  Christopher has many strengths, narrow range of interests, and has floundered in school.  Lacking appropriate early intervention, combined with a tumultuous family life, academics and social relationships have been challenging.

This is where Bowser comes in.   You can’t teach social skills in isolation.  And we need a fall guy, someone who cannot keep up with Christopher’s newly emerging language and reasoning skills.

bowser 2.JPG

As a powerful rascal and consequently a source of delight to powerless Christopher, Bowser provides me ample opportunity to develop a closer relationship to my nephew while exploring my nephew’s world of crime and punishment, idiosyncrasies, and failures.  Since he excels at video games, it would be natural for Christopher to gravitate to a Boss.  Bowser is the winner that Christopher wants to be, the embodiment of success and power in a predictable digital world.  Yeah, like lots of us, Christopher is a rule-bound judicial expert entangled with anxieties, competitiveness, and despair.

While Christopher is learning to replace finger sucking with pencil toppers (more in next post), Bowser engages in silly taunting, risk-taking, and surprisingly, academic support from his “protege.”   Christopher is learning skills that Bowser can use.  Bowser remains powerfully wild and ridiculous, but allows us to explore winning and losing, taking turns, answering complex questions, and exploring those gray areas of real life.

I imagine Christopher’s brain as one filled with a LOT of carefully filed information on video games, for instance, but little connection to real world problem solving.  He hasn’t grasped how the physical world operates and has a limited vocabulary outside his digital life.  He can identify social problems but gets stuck at sequencing and cause and effect levels.  My goal has been to broaden his connections, taking the jumbled information he already has and helping him to place it in “folders” for easier access.  Christopher’s idiosyncratic responses are diminishing as I prompt him to use categories for analyzing problems.  And Bowser?  He makes Christopher laugh with wildly improbable comments and behavior.  Bowser continues to rock and roll as Christopher makes sense of the world.

* Show me the money

Or show me the ice cream?  Working with a twice exceptional student who loves ice cream has its advantages.  That’s especially true since that 2e student is headed for an entrepreneurial lifestyle, aided by his organizational skills.  For some kids, I need to plan and rehash and continually tweak the reward system.  This kiddo had it all worked out.  Due to travel issues and my ridiculous health problems, he is behind in getting “paid,” but he’s ready to score some major desserts!  I wouldn’t support this kind of plan if he had eating or weight issues.  In fact, he’s a stringbean and eats really healthy stuff that I only learned to enjoy as an adult.

We are sharing this Google doc (a great feature, by the way).  He developed and I “decorated.”  That means I corrected spelling errors so he might notice that “whipped” has an h, “chocolate” doesn’t have a k,  and the plural of “cherry” requires changing the y to i.  I do plan to ask him to spot the differences.  Practice makes permanent.  Oh, I also added the color.

reward system.JPG

I think I might drop by his house some evening in the near future.  I hear they are due for some ice cream parties!

* Blossoming in the new school year

It won’t be long before school is back in session.  For those on a year-round calendar, the new year has already begun.  How do we help our special needs kids flourish this year?  I’ve been inspired to write this by Cee’s photography, of all things.  Here are two images to consider.  (The crepe myrtle on the left belongs to a neighbor; the one on the right is ours.  Bummer.)  Which image best represents our hopes and dreams for kids this school year?

 

Since I am far more adept at teaching than growing plants, here are some tips as you prepare for the new year:

  • Make sure you start adjusting bedtime schedules.
  • Start building stamina for longer periods of sitting and listening.  The local library is a good option for this.
  • Let your child help select lunchboxes and backpacks, where possible.
  • Get your child the school’s tee shirt (often available from thrift shops).  I have seen these add social credit by creating a sense of belonging.
  • Start preparing a daily/weekly routine for school days, most likely with some kind of break when kids get home.  The light at the end of the tunnel is important.
  • Assuming your child has issues with behavior and/or attention, plan or resurrect a reward system for extra motivation.
  • If your child’s IEP does not already include an individual orientation with the classroom teacher, ask for one.
  • Start spending time around the school with your kids.  You could probably find a garden bed to weed and trash to collect.  You might ask the secretary for some other ways to help.  Perhaps there are boxes to recycle or catalogs to file in teacher mailboxes. I’ll bet the office staff would enjoy a homemade treat.  Bribery works.
  • If homework was an unresolved nightmare issue last year, face it head on.  If your child is too worn out after school to effectively complete homework, strategize how you might approach this problem more successfully.  Talk to other parents and/or sympathetic teachers for advice.
  • Watch some “back to school” movies as a family.  Care has a list of 10 good ones, including a favorite of mine, “Akeelah and the Bee.”
  • Parent’s Choice also has a great list of back to school books.  “Thank you, Mr. Falker” by Patricia Polacco is terrific.

Do you have any other tips to share?

 

* Why Manners Cannot Be Forced (And What To Do Instead) | Happiness is here

http://happinessishereblog.com/2016/07/manners-cannot-be-forced/

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Sorry I could not upload a great photo from the Happiness is Here blog. This will have to do, since silliness is also something I encourage in kids. The post shares some real wisdom about guiding children into positive, enduring paths of caring for others.

P.S. Ah, the dangers of posting from my phone in the doctor’s office!

* Using FAB Strategies® — FAB Strategies®

This approach uses some effective strategies for kids with sensory and behavior challenges.  I haven’t used their program but recognize many of their effective ideas.

“Functionally Alert Behavior” FAB Strategies® is an evidence-based curriculum of environmental adaptation, sensory modulation, positive behavioral support, and physical self-regulation strategies for improving the functional behavior of children, adolescents and young adults with complex behavioral challenges http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED555615.pdf Complex behavioral challenges involve a combination of inter-related mental health, developmental, sensory and environmental challenges. The FAB Strategies® curriculum is individualized […]

via Using FAB Strategies® — FAB Strategies®