* Christopher and me: brain breaks

I’ve been asked how to keep a young’un attentive during summer tutoring, especially one with special needs.  My nephew, Christopher, is such a joy to teach, but he does get tired, off track, antsy, and frustrated at times.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, he’s an ASD (A Sweet Dude) kiddo .  Here’s what I do:

  • Keep a visual schedule so he knows when we will take brain breaks.
  • Take a variety of brain breaks, including going outside for a few minutes to toss a minion (below) or to attempt hula hooping.
  • Encourage him to stand up as we work, if he looks fatigued.
  • Give him something to fidget with.
  • Keep the activities focused on his special interests.
  • Tally every off-task remark and praise him for the improvements he’s made as we work.  Many times, simply tallying or graphing is sufficient with kids.  No need for a reward, but…
  • Establish a small reward of his choice for each of our 3 major activities (thinking/language, writing, reading).  For example, he loves a sour small candy, so he’s gotten 3 miniature pieces after each session of working hard.  He DOES work hard all the time anyway, which I find very typical of kids on the autism spectrum.
  • Provide a larger reward for longer and more difficult assignments which may take a week to earn.  These are typically the “thinking” activities related to problem solving.
  • Stay playful.  We DO get off track and although I sneak in some language work as we banter, he needs to enjoy himself with those wild and crazy thoughts of blowing noses, beating Super Mario Bros, or endless discussions of “comic mischief.”

(Hover mouse to read captions.)

* Quirky: Understanding the “different” learner

quirky 2Over time, I have seen an increase in the number of kids who don’t quite fit into any special education category, who don’t quite fit in socially, and who don’t more-than-quite achieve their academic potential.  This “increase” in number is probably due to three factors. First, there’s an improved level of appropriate identification of kids with special needs.  Early intervention is occurring.  Parents and teachers have access to better resources and legal support.  Second, as a society, we examine ourselves and one another in ways that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago, mostly due to changes in technology.  We have new, often-used labels like “geeks” and “nerds,” along with a wide assortment of labels related to interests in music, pop culture, etc.  Third, there are some actual increases in the number of kids who are now labeled autistic.  Along with that increase, I now see more “quirky” kids.

“Quirky” kids come very close to looking like twice exceptional students.  They are bright but not dyslexic.  They are bright but not autistic.  But they come mighty close to having a disability.  Their reading or math difficulties are typically camouflaged by their high IQ.  Their social difficulties are viewed as annoying but not disabling.  Their parents and teachers wonder why they don’t get along so well with others.  They wonder why these kids don’t score as high on standardized tests as expected.  These students are proficient but there’s a nagging sense that something isn’t quite right.  Another feature of these quirky kids is their own nagging sense that they don’t measure up.  School is boring but not always easy.  Last but NOT least, they are a joy to teach!  They respond extremely well to individualized support and tackle tough issues with perseverance.  With the right level of support, these underachievers gain confidence and begin to enjoy their school experiences.

In my next post, I’ll examine the social skills weaknesses of these kids and some practical ways to address them.  (I’m trying to keep my posts a bit shorter!)  Look under Quirky Learners for the follow up.