Saturday, November 23, 2013

Connecting with Kids with Autism Through Writing

Hey Everyone! Did you miss me?! It's been a record 3 weeks since I've posted something new for you! Super sorry, but I was just plain busy! So much has happened in the last few weeks but I'll do my best to fill you in on the good stuff in the next few days.

I don't know if I've mentioned this, but my teaching partner and I have split up our caseload of kids in our class based on who connects the best with them. I have multiple kids on the autism spectrum (or the related less severe disabilities) who are "mine." I'll be honest...I love them! It was the saddest part of changing schools when I was under the impression I wouldn't have any more autism kiddos. It turns out we have a few but they are more high functioning than the kids I worked with at my old school. One of my biggest successes in the last month has been my ability to make a connection with these kids!
Communication! This may seem obvious, but what can be hard to understand is that kids with autism don't communicate like we do. Yes, this seems obvious for kids with severe autism, but what about those kids who are on the high functioning end of the spectrum? What about those kids who can speak in full and clear sentences? What about those kids who LOOK like they know what's going on, but really DON'T get those social cues and verbal expressions of emotions?

I found a way to connect with some of these kids. It all started on accident! On Back to School Night I told all the kids to clean out their desks and that anything in their journals their parents might read, so make sure to write something for mom and dad to read that night. One of my kiddos wrote something that was both informative and surprising. He told his dad he didn't like getting big hugs. This was HUGE! Dad and I had a chat about it, and he said it's something he never knew. After writing about it, my student was able to tell us that he likes gentle hugs, but not the big strong ones dad gives sometimes. This type of communication was a BIG WIN that has lead to so many things!

Now my little guy likes to this all the time when he's feeling emotional and wants to tell us. He writes little notes to both his parents and myself. I've noticed a huge drop in his number of outbursts! Now he just writes on a piece of paper and drops it on my desk. Then I'll talk to him about what he's written, and he'll give me a written response back. He'll also write to me later in the day to let me know when he's feeling happy again. It's adorable!
I talked to him between these two notes above. He was mad at me for underlining a word on his paper. In his mind this was the equivalent of me scribbling all over his paper. I explained to him why I had written on his paper so he could see the word he wanted was right on his paper so he could copy it. He told me he was happy I was trying to help, but not so happy that I wrote on his paper. I apologized to him for upsetting him and explained that I was just trying to help and that's when he put a "that's ok" note on my desk.

A cute little happy message to the right was written on my whiteboard "The best day is today" is what he meant to spell.

How do you emotionally connect with your students/kids?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sorry, I Forgot to Ask!

So as any of my loyal readers know, I'm OBSESSED with Julia Cook books! Laura Candler is hosting a lovely little blog hop so you can learn all about the various Julia Cook books that I've been obsessing over and find new ways to use them in your classroom.

I discovered Julia Cook and her books last year thanks to a mom of my most difficult student at the time. I was telling her about his latest struggle with putting hands on other people (not necessarily in a mean way, just always touching which drove my kids with autism bonkers!). The mom heard about a book and handed it to me to see the best way to use it. That book was Personal Space Camp and I've been hooked on Julia Cook books ever since then!

I knew I loved her books and that they teach a wonderful amount of social skills, so this is how I chose to start my school year. We have a social skills curriculum called PATHS, but it takes awhile for it to cover all of the skills my kids need. At the beginning of the year, I want my kids knowing behavioral and social expectations PRONTO! What better way than to use Julia Cook books?! Then we started our Step Up to Writing curriculum and the whole beginning of the year focused on responding to text.

What does this mean??? INSTANT SOCIAL SKILLS IMMERSION! I found a way to use the ideas and curriculum I already need teach, plus cram in all of the important stuff I wanted my kids to know right away! The kids were seeing, hearing, writing, and discussing social skills! My kids would hear a different Julia Cook book every day or two, then practice written response.

Take a glimpse into how my class ran during our social skills cram sessions with Julia Cook books by seeing how we used her adorable book Sorry, I Forgot to Ask!

First I would pull out the book and the kids would all cheer, "YAY!! It's another RJ book!!" because they know the books so well. The boy on the cover is named RJ and many of Julia's books feature him as the main character. I have a class of 11 boys this year (and zero girls!) so he is a very easy character for my class t connect with. In every book he does some sort of social mistake, then learns how to do better next time so he doesn't get in trouble any more.

In this story, RJ gets into trouble when  he does a whole series of things without asking permission first. It has a bunch of real life situations that kids might do such as playing games on the internet and choosing to walk home with a friend instead of take the bus like he should. Most of my class agreed that skipping rocks in the frog pond was the best part! Others preferred the part where he ate the chocolate cake!

In the end, RJ learns how to ask permission,  accept "no" as an answer, and apologize when he makes mistakes. All of these are ESSENTIAL features of my classroom and things my kids were struggling with when we started the year. Now, I pull out this book any time my kids need a refresher on these concepts. The bonus is that they love to books so much that they cheer instead of grumble when I read a story a 2nd or 3rd time!

Responding to the Story
I read the story, now what?
  1. First I read the story using the "stop and think" strategy with the kids along the way to increase comprehension. Then we talking about the book and how RJ could have done things differently in the beginning of the book so he wouldn't get in trouble.
  2. The kids shared with their partner a time when they made a mistake by not asking permission and got in trouble (these are super funny to listen to while they chat!)
  3. Next, I had the kids write about the story and draw what happened in the beginning and the end of the story. 
  4. Another option I've done with other Julia Cook books is to draw the sequence of events. Take a peek at the adorable pictures below when the kids responded to Thanks for the Feedback, I Think (another fabulous Cook book).

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