Wednesday, November 19, 2014

TEACCHing Fine Motor

Students with ASD benefit from exposure to activities that support the development of fine motor skills in the hands and fingers. Developing motor strength and dexterity can lead to the improvement of other cognitive, communication and life skills necessary to achieve independence in their daily lives.

I incorporate Fine Motor skills into my TEACCH Independent Activity Schedules on a daily basis. Here are my 3 favourite aspects of teaching Fine Motor skills.

1. Make it Meaningful
Fine Motor activities make the most sense when they apply to a student's everyday life. Attaching and ripping off velcro pieces will pave the way for communication via Picture Exchange (PECS). Activities like "Nuts n' Bolts" teach students to twist open jars & containers as a Life Skill. Picking up and dropping creates a target for cleaning up own toys or putting items in a garbage can. Using play-doh as both sensory stimulation and to practise for cutting food might gear to some of your students' interests.

2. Pre-Vocational

Students with ASD learn best through repetitive, assembly-type tasks that are predictable and close-ended (i.e. the students know when they are finished). These skills can be expanded upon to include real-world vocational employment opportunities in the future.

3. Point!

With technology moving towards touch-screen everything, pointing is an important skill used to move students from a give & take PEC system, to a Touch to Talk, to an augmented communication device (i.e. GoTalk, ProLoQuo) using just their fingers!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Life Skills Education: Teaching Independence

Developing independence in basic routines and life skills is important for any student in order to decrease the need for adult prompting and increase dignity and self-sufficiency. When planning life skills tasks, I look YEARS into my students' futures to envision where they may be as adults. From there, I decide on tasks they can learn now to demonstrate responsibility. Life skills are cross-curricular, and are linked with other skills my students are learning; such as matching, sorting, patterning and Social Skills. 
Life Skills Area
Our Life Skills Program is...

1. Consistent
We practise Life Skills on a daily basis for 20 minutes. I find that repetitive practise allows the students to learn tasks quicker and allows for expanding and generalizing concepts sooner. Pick a time of day and make life skills part of your everyday routine.

Level 1: Transferring objects from container to basket.
Level 2: Sorting by attribute
Level 3: Advanced sorting by attribute
2. Realistic
Speak with parents about what their biggest life skills priorities are - perhaps it would make their lives easier if their child could dress or feed themselves, or simple learn to clean up their toys. If students are approaching the end of high school, start thinking about what skills they will need to be successful in a post-secondary education, vocational program or group home.

Table Setting is a great way to practise Patterning
Fine Motor Practise: Zippers, Buttons & Folding
Task Analysis strip for putting on velcro shoes
1 bin for easy cleaning up - I don't expect my students
to put toys back "where they belong" - that's for later!
3. Purposeful
Life Skills tasks are a great way to provide meaningful work for students and to include them in the school community. Think of tasks they can do that require them to move around the school, such as: delivery, attendance, photocopying, social rounds, etc.

Use simple visuals to show "to do & done"
Paper and Plastic Sorting on Recycling Day
Delivery  helps students practise social skills while
performing tasks in the school community
3. Measurable
Track life skills successes by breaking down a task into steps (this is called TASK ANALYSIS). This makes it very easy to track and steps can be taught in isolation first and then added into the routine later, such as hand washing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Physical Education: DisABLE the LABEL!

"Inclusion is not bringing people into what already exists; it is making a new space, a better space for everyone." - George Dei
This year for the first time, I am responsible for teaching Physical Education to my ASD class and it has quickly become a meaningful integration/inclusion opportunity for my students. My colleague ad P.E. guru @andreahaefele and I observed a gap in the knowledge and education of Phys.Ed teachers required to properly teach special needs students. To combat this, we have been working on DISABLE the LABEL: An awareness campaign designed to equip teachers with the skills necessary to create and implement a Phys. Ed program that promotes inclusivity and community for ALL.

Why Integrate for P.E.?
Autism is a cognitive disability that is characterized by deficiency in social skills, memory, processing, expressive and receptive skills. Therefore, my students lack a lot of the basic self-regulation, attention and cognitive skills necessary to integrate into age-appropriate classrooms for Literacy, Math and Social Studies. Their bodies, however, are a tool that allows them to perform movement and actions that are actually at grade-level. Movement is a strength for my students, so why not integrate them into a subject where they have a potential to keep up with their peers?
My Physical Education program is a combination and balance of 3 parts:

1. Reverse Integration
Who: ASD Students + 1-2 peers from Integration class
What: ASD students work on their IPP (Individualized PhysEd Plan) 1:1 with a teacher while buddies engage in parallel and partner activities with the other ASD students.
PurposeTo improve gross motor skills individually and directly teach skills that will help the students to be successful with a larger integration group (i.e. run, jump, play tag, sit when the whistle blows)

2. Integration
Who: ASD Students + Integration Class
What: Students participate in the daily routines of a mainstream PhysEd class, using the skills they learn through the IPP.
Purpose: To allow ASD students to improve their social skills through gross motor activities that require working with a buddy or group of classmates (i.e. playing tag).

3. Inclusion (the BIG picture!)
Who: Integration Class (and the rest of the school community!)
What: Direct teaching of inclusive strategies for students to act as a successful buddy to a special needs peer.
Purpose: To create a safe, welcoming environment for ALL students to learn.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

My Turn! Social Skills in the ASD Class

"If you got rid of all the autism genetics, you wouldn't have science or art. All you would have is a bunch of social 'yak yaks" - Temple Grandin

Students with Autism can lack the Social Skills necessary to function successfully in environments with their peers, often resulting in exclusion from groups. Social and play skills must be directly taught, meaning, most students will not simply pick up these skills on the playground like their peers. They need to be taught like any other skill and practised in structured and natural environments. Check out the Social Skills Checklist to determine gaps in your student's Social Skills behaviours.

Here are 5 types of Play we would typically observe in a school setting:

1. Solitary/Independent Play
    Self-centered child plays alone

2. Onlooker Play
    Child observes other children playing but does not join in (i.e. recess time)

3. Parallel Play
    Children play the same game side by side (i.e. painting at 2 easels side-by-side)

4. Associative Play
    Children play separately from each other but problem solve together (i.e. block structures)

5. Cooperative Play
    Children begin to play together, setting up for future interactions (i.e. dramatic play)

Here are the 3 ways I teach Social Skills:

1. Direct Teaching
I directly teach the concepts of waiting, turn-taking and positive praise by guiding students using appropriate prompts and modelling by playing games with them and their peers. 

2. Visual/Audio Cues
A Big Mack Communicator is a great way for non-verbal students to indicate "My Turn", and turn taking cards provide students with a visual cue of when to play and when to wait.

3. Reverse IntegrationSelected students from general education classrooms spend time in a special education classroom setting to provide the students with special needs with an appropriate role model in a setting where he or she is comfortable.
Our Favourite Games!

Keep in mind student's interests
Pegboard Set
Pop the Pig
Smartboard Memory
Adapted Bingo

Monday, October 06, 2014

Morning Meeting: Combining Social & Academic Learning

The word 'individual' is used in abundance in Special Education to describe the nature of the student's school day. Their programs are individualized, their schedules are individualized, and worktime is often completed one-on-one with an adult to ensure that 'individualized' goals are met. 
"The underlying goal of any Special Education program is to provide students with the skills to be independent and successful in the real world. The real world is NOT individualized, and requires students to share their environment with others (whether they like it or not)."

The Purpose: To provide students with a 'real world' education experience that would be expected in any other classroom. While the level of activities are differentiated to accommodate their needs, there are a few things that we practise during this daily ritual that will prepare them for a mainstream classroom:

During Morning Meeting...
  • I am a teacher and only a teacher - I continue to teach through any behaviours that arise and allow my Educational Assistants to prompt, redirect and manage distractions
  • Educational Assistants backprompt from behind students - meant to fade as independence increases. My goal is for EA's to be sitting at a table behind the students with only myself conducting the lesson by the end of the year!
What Does Morning Meeting Teach?

ATTENDING: It doesn't matter if you have a student that doesn't know the concepts of date, weather, etc. I start almost all of my new students off with a goal of attending to Morning Meeting activities for a duration of 15 minutes with X prompts or less. This means simply sitting in their chair and attending to the teacher (like they would be expected to do in any classroom).

SOCIAL SKILLS: Students sit in their seats and are called up one at a time to complete each activity. This allows for practise with turn-taking skills (in the IEP!) and also transitioning between their seat and the board, which would be a school expectation in a regular classroom. Students practise greeting each other either with their voices or AAC, and there's more! Students learning to respond to their name when called also get lots of practise here.

LIFE SKILLS: What do we wear to go outside in the fall? What do we put on our head when it's sunny? Talking about weather helps students to identify clothing by attribute or function, learn parts of the body (i.e. where does the hat go?) and can touch upon data management concepts when graphing (i.e. How many days were sunny this week?) Students can also practise colours (i.e. Find the yellow hat) and matching (i.e. making the shoes match) to practise Life Skills concepts.

SELF-REGULATION: Teaching feelings as a strategy to self-regulate is an important life skill. Countless adults in my school will ask my students "how are you?" to which I am teaching them to say "I feel _____" as a response. During Morning Meeting we practise this using a visual chart to record our feelings. I encourage them to point to and/or read the sentence they have made as an appropriate response to "How do you feel today?"

MATH: Time as a form of measurement is practised through days of the week and months of the year. I teach the days of the week by connecting them with school activities (i.e. on Mondays we have Art, on Tuesdays we have P.E.). Determining the date practises counting, ones and tens place value and more/less.

LITERACY: For students who can read (and those learning to), incorporate sight words into a Morning Message (I use Boardmaker to create word symbols) and use as a social story to prepare for the day ahead.

Now What?

In order to best serve my highest functioning student, I developed a binder activity that encompassed all aspects of the Morning Meeting and MORE. This activity is designed to target Attendance, Math (Addition), Date, Season, Weather, Clothing & Colours.