Does anyone know the logistics of theme decorating if you teach kids with autism?

Discussion in 'Special Education' started by ZoomZoomZOOM, Jun 8, 2008.

  1. ZoomZoomZOOM

    ZoomZoomZOOM Devotee

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    Jun 8, 2008

    I've heard that your room shouldn't be too busy because it's sensory overload and I wondered what your thoughts were. I'd like to decorate and hang stuff everywhere but I'm wondering if it would bother the students. :(
     
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  3. Proud2BATeacher

    Proud2BATeacher Phenom

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    I would suggest decorating how you like and then to be prepared to move things as necessary. When I taught my mild autism self-contained class, I had no problems with how I decorated it. When I got a student with severe autism (for 4 very long days), I had an issue with everything. He pretty well took down everything on my walls and went through every cupboard... It got to the point that when I had to do something and he was not engrossed in what he was doing, I had to take him with me while holding both of his hands because he grabbed or pushed anything within his reach. This year, I got a little guy with autism late in the year (he has ADHD but is unmedicated, so he is very unfocussed) and he reads "everything" on my walls when he is suppose to be listening, working...
     
  4. positiveautism

    positiveautism Comrade

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    I think that it's okay for some areas of your room to be highly decorated, but the areas where you want them to be able to focus on their work should be less so.

    I have a lot of artwork and paintings on my walls, and my students really like to look at it. Which is great, but not when we're trying to work. I face desks in our work areas away from the distracting areas.

    I think it's really a matter of getting to know your students and what works best for them. Good luck!
     
  5. INteacher

    INteacher Aficionado

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    I am not a sped teacher but wanted to add my :2cents:

    Our self-contained resource room had a major incident at the beginning of last school year with an austitic (sp) student and the classroom decorations. We had a new sped teacher and she had really done a great job decorating her room. However, this student had a violent reaction to most of the decorations and they all had to be removed. It took the teachers about two weeks to get him back into the room. I think he was really upset by the way the animals were cartoonish looking :confused:
     
  6. Proud2BATeacher

    Proud2BATeacher Phenom

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    These are the things that should be written in IEPs but some it is easily overlooked. My friend taught a student that used to attack her everyday and noone else and they figured out it was because she wore the same perfume as his mom:confused:. Once she stopped wearing the perfume, the attacks stopped.
     
  7. ZoomZoomZOOM

    ZoomZoomZOOM Devotee

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    Thanks for the input, everyone. I think I'll hold off on any major decorating and see what my kiddos are like first.
     
  8. TeacherNY

    TeacherNY Maven

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    I think you should play it by ear. Put some things up on the walls and if an individual student has a problem with it then take it down. My students are all autistic and they really don't care what is on the walls. They don't pay attention to anything unless i point it out to them (I have some instructional material on the walls, but also some artwork they have done or fun things). In my experience, it really depends on the group of students you have. I have heard that students will be overstimulated or distracted. Some teachers I work with have blank walls and some of the rooms are covered floor to ceiling with stuff. See how they react to a few things and then go from there.
     
  9. Emily Bronte

    Emily Bronte Groupie

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    Jun 9, 2008

    My students all have autism, and I have never had a problem with decorations on the walls. I do tend to have a lot up too. But I do sometimes wonder if it will be a problem. But it hasn't been one yet. You can always make changes as needed.
     
  10. WaterfallLady

    WaterfallLady Enthusiast

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    Jun 12, 2008

    One concern also is the student's level of motor skills. Both my autistic students (moderate) had very poor motor skills so the room had to be set up as you would set up the room for someone with physical disabilities, like wide paths, etc.
     
  11. sarypotter

    sarypotter Comrade

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    Jun 13, 2008

    I'm lucky enough to get to paint my new room this summer. It's going to be a soft shade of beige, not too stimulating but not depressing, either. The current teacher has it decorated beautifully, but it's overstimulating even for me (although I suspect I'm on the spectrum, so that might make sense). I'm going to tone it down some just to minimize distractions.

    You won't be able to predict all the decorating needs, though, so just play it by ear. Kiddos with autism come out with some interesting likes and dislikes. I once had the pleasure of working with a little guy who loved hot dogs, but was petrified of the Stewart's Hot Dogs logo. That was a popular local chain and the most convenient place for us to get a hot dog, especially on our weekly community outings to the mall, but he literally could not bring himself to walk into the store, or even to peek inside. He would sit in the hallway with his back to the store while I ordered (only a couple of feet away). If his father brought home a Stewart's cup, he would shout "Noooo!" and throw it in the trash.

    Interestingly, when he finally conquered his fear, he subsequently became intensely interested in the logo and began collecting Stewart's cups to line up and photograph. After that, we always had to sit right under, and facing, the logo. *shrug* Our kids are so interesting.

    The point is, I don't think there's any way to predict how your kiddos will react to decorations, so just be prepared to be flexible.
     
  12. bjfergiegrl

    bjfergiegrl Rookie

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    Jun 14, 2008

    I agree with what everyone else mentioned. You will have to remain flexible. I teach a preschool/kindergarten special day class with students that have various mild/moderate disabilities. I have a few autistic students in my class. I have always decorated my class the way that I like it, and I would suggest the same. You have to spend a lot of time there! However, you may need to make changes depending upon your students.
     
  13. Ghost

    Ghost Habitué

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    Jun 15, 2008

    I taught kiddos with autism for the past two years in a self-contained room. I had one corner of the room where I hung black bulletin board paper on the wall and draped dark blue fabric from the ceiling with glow in the dark star stickers everywhere. I found that after I added that area, it didn't matter what I did in the rest of the room because the kids would seek out that "safe space" (yes, pun intended) if they became sensory overloaded.
     
  14. Ghost

    Ghost Habitué

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    Jun 15, 2008

    same sort of experience

    I also had a student who would attack me for no apparant reason some days, all day long. I finally figured out it was when I had purple on--my favorite color. I quit wearing purple and the attacks stopped. Funny how certain things set kids off. :)
     
  15. ZoomZoomZOOM

    ZoomZoomZOOM Devotee

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    Jun 16, 2008

    I actually got to meet the majority of my students today when I went to observe at summer school. There's one little guy with severe autism that likes to rip up anything he can get his hands on. Eek.
     
  16. Ghost

    Ghost Habitué

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    Okay, that means he is either tactile (likes the feel of it tearing) or auditory (likes the sound). I would get a variety of fidgets for him...sounds like a long strip of Velcro might work for both. Just get the type that you need to sew on. You can also get him a tub of different types of paper (construction, newspaper, wrapping paper, sandpaper, magazines, etc.) and work in a sensory break into his schedule where he can shred the paper all he wants. Ooooo, sorry to sound so bossy. I'm the autism network specialist at my school so I go into analyze mode whenever I hear about issues. Sorry! :blush:
     
  17. ZoomZoomZOOM

    ZoomZoomZOOM Devotee

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    Jun 18, 2008

    No Trinda, I appreciate the advice. :) I had thought about the supply of paper specifically for ripping but then I wondered if he would think that it was okay to rip up just any paper if encouraged that much in the classroom. What are your thoughts? The sew-on velcro is a great idea. He also really likes to flap things, like mouse pads for example. He lets them dangle and then flaps them back and forth. I thought I would just keep a bucket of sensory items for him at his desk. I'll be sure to use them as rewards though.
     
  18. positiveautism

    positiveautism Comrade

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    Jun 18, 2008

    Trinda, great ideas! I'm also a school Autism Specialist.

    Zoom, do you have a paper shreading machine? Maybe the student would enjoy this and learn some work skills at the same time! It might be loud though. I sometimes have my students help me make copies, and they love it! :D

    Nicole
     
  19. Ghost

    Ghost Habitué

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    I think that as long as you make it clear that the only paper he was to rip was the paper in the tub, basket, etc. that it would be fine.

    I wouldn't keep his sensory stuff at his desk because then all he would do is self-stim. and it shouldn't really be a reward. You and I have normal sensory input receptors, but his is missing or defective. It would be like rewarding grandma by letting her use her hearing aid (not the same, but you get the picture) He needs to have it worked into his schedule...put your backpack up, then you can rip paper; first we have morning meeting, then you can play with the mouse pad; after ten minutes of working on math, you may rock in the rocker, then finish your math...etc. And I would make sure that he has a visual schedule so he knows when it will happen instead of freaking out that it will never happen.

    In general, kids who flap have difficulty telling where their arms are and they flap so they know where they are. You might want to consider wrist weights or some sort of compression band (like they have for sprained wrists or for nausea) to provide that input for him.

    The shredding machine is a good idea, but remember if you have others with autism, they might be noise sensitive and it might set them off.

    As you can see, I'm happy to give you feedback & ideas. Let me know if there is anything else you need help with.
     
  20. ZoomZoomZOOM

    ZoomZoomZOOM Devotee

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    Now see, that sounds like rewarding to me. Now I'm confused. :unsure: I see what you mean about the need for a visual schedule of "first this, then THIS." But unless they were physically using a body part or pressure for self-stim (take hand-biting for example), the item could be taken away and rewarded upon project completion. Maybe I just shouldn't use the term "reward" for this. Is that what you're saying?
     
  21. Ghost

    Ghost Habitué

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    Not really...it's not a reward for him, but a need. He needs to flap, so you teach him when it's okay to do it. If he's biting himself (again, can't tell where his hand is usually), then he needs to be taught how to get the appropriate stimulation.

    Let me see if I can explain it better. Take the biting. If he bites himself, he either has an oral stimulation need or proprioceptive need (can't tell where his body parts are). It's sort of like when you sit on your leg and it goes to sleep, then you go to get up and walk around, but you can't tell where your leg is because it's totally numb and unfeeling (at first). Your little guy may have that feeling all over his body. He seeks out stimulation to help him find himself. Going back to the numb leg, the first thing I do is rub it--I can feel my leg in my hand and if I rub hard enough, I start to feel it on my leg. Can you imagine feeling numb like that all over? No wonder they stare at their hands.

    A sensory diet is sort of a behavior intervention plan for a student with autism. You plot out your schedule and then work in sensory objects and/or activities to help him during that time. For example, if he is having problems feeling his body, then he may sit on his feet, rock, flap, etc. during circle. So an appropriate sensory diet activity might be for him to have a lap buddy (a weighted toy, heavy lap pad, etc.) He will have that item helping him "find" his lap and will be able to better attend to the lesson. Yes, you can use some sensory activities as rewards or leisure activities--I always had the rainstick and the Bop-It during that time because their noises bother me.

    Is that clearer? You are right on target with the first then chart. You could put it in a binder with several pages and have him turn the page after he does his "then" activity. Please let me know if that is better.
     
  22. ZoomZoomZOOM

    ZoomZoomZOOM Devotee

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    Yep I understand what you're saying and I totally agree. I like how you explained it as a "sensory diet." That helped put it into perspective a little more. Yep, this guy needs constant sensory. So figuring out his particular "diet" is going to be a challenge. ;)
     
  23. Ghost

    Ghost Habitué

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    Jun 21, 2008

    Yup, but you can check with the parents. They will know what sets him off and what calms him down. They will be your best resource. Observations and talking to folks who have had him will give you some ideas. Good luck!
     
  24. AspieTeacher

    AspieTeacher Comrade

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    Jun 21, 2008

    Students with autism become overwhelmed with too many visual images

    Hello everyone,

    I am a former autism support teacher who also is autistic. I can tell you that when you have way too much visual images or pictures, posters, ect on the wall it can cause confusion for those who have autistic spectrum disorders. It causes our brains to go into haywire mode and either we'll "perseverate" or try to get rid of what we see. :eek: Even I had to take my own teacher's desk out because it was too overwhelming for me. I made a mistake of putting open "shelves" in the room too. I had a student with severe adhd who would not focus and he used to throw the boxes on the floor for "attention-seeking" behaviors. I have learned working with autistic students, not all of them are truly autistic. I would limit the amount of "visual clutter" as much as possible. Try to make little areas where these posters can be "functional" for your students. I applaud those teachers and support staff who are willing to work with students like us.

    Aspieteacher
     
  25. Ghost

    Ghost Habitué

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    oOOOOO Aspieteacher, I love to get perspectives from those with autism. May I pick your brain for ideas?
     
  26. JustJim

    JustJim Companion

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    If anything, I think Aspieteacher may be understating the problems that can be caused by decorations. (Before going any further: I'm still working on my teaching degree, and my diagnosis is autism rather than Asperger's Syndrome.)

    For many of us, color combinations can be a problem. (I can still remember a bulletin board from 1st grade; the colors and the flickering of the florescent lights made it impossible to look away.) There doesn't seem to be any consistency in which color combinations (if any) will attract the attention of individual students, and it can change depending on lighting levels or even the shadows of someone passing.

    Lighting can be another problem. Unless they are replaced at the first sign of failure, florescent lights flicker, and it is a distraction. The color rendition of florescent lights is different from both natural sunlight and from incandescent bulbs, and that is often a problem.

    Merging of topical decoration themes (such as impending holidays) with subject material can also be problematic. The combinations can be a puzzle that we can get pretty fixed on.

    Another thing to watch for may be the colors used to paint the walls. I saw this while working as a para; one student panicked in a newly-painted classroom. It turned out the "calming colors" were exactly the same as the childrens' wing at the local hospital, and he was frightened. Sometimes kids just have a bad reaction to the colors of a room.

    Some things there's just no way to avoid. Some of us have bad reactions to things and we often can't explain what or why. Things like that are something you just have to watch for, and adjust as you go.
     
  27. Ghost

    Ghost Habitué

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    Jun 25, 2008

    Ok Jim, may I pick your brain? Like what does it feel like with the flourescent lights? And do you do better with colored paper?
     
  28. Proud2BATeacher

    Proud2BATeacher Phenom

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    I bought solid pieces of fabric to cover the shelves that were direct view of the students (toy shelf, supply self...). One year I had 2 shelving units on wheels. I put toys on these shelves and I turned them around, so that the openning was facing the wall and the students only saw the toys when it was free play time.

    I also had a student who was affected by the flourescent lights. We let him wear a baseball cap and had sunglasses available when needed.
     
  29. JustJim

    JustJim Companion

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    I tend to look at it that if I disclose my diagnosis, I have to expect questions; that's part of why I'm careful about doing so. Generally speaking I feel "safe" doing so in this forum, so questions are fine. Just please remember that I can only present my view, or my understanding of what I've observed; I really don't speak for everyone like me.

    Although somewhat dependent on color temperature and rate of flicker, to me bad/failing florescent lights seem most often like a really fast strobe light. A student I once worked with described the same lights as having "ghosts" because he was perceiving the flicker as movement just on the edge of his visual field.

    The flicker seems to affect perception of visual material. Students with auditory processing disorders may also have trouble in that the light may affect perception of sound. The problem seems to be that the flicker of light seldom matches morphemes/graphemes/units of visual information.

    On a good day, I'm often a few seconds behind in understanding words spoken to me. Florescent lighting makes this more difficult because I have to assemble phonemes into morphemes before I can get to the point where I can process the spoken words for meaning.

    Visually, the effect seems similar. Trying to read under bad florescent lights can often be a matter of trying to keep track of where I am on the page, and instead of words being whole words, I'm back to the stage of assembling words from individually-read letters.

    As for what it feels like, it's hard to describe. For me at least, it often seems like trying to process the information creates an increased cognitive load and I can't pull myself away from trying to "solve the puzzle." For me at least, I've gotten better at not "falling into the puzzle" as I've gotten older. When I was young, certain color combinations would seem to "hold" me and I had trouble pulling away.

    For me, colored paper doesn't seem to positively affect visual perception under florescent lights. I have heard other people w/ASD say that they do find it useful if contrast is adequate. Some people also report increased comprehension when using colored overlays; this might be worth trying if your students will use the overlays. Personally, in many cases I consider colored paper to be a barrier to comprehension due to the reduced contrast of text and background.
     
  30. Ghost

    Ghost Habitué

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    Jun 26, 2008

    Jim,
    Thank you for your insight. I know you can't speak for everyone, I just want to see what it's like on the inside. If I could be autistic for a day, I would. I appreciate your willingness to share with me. I will take your observations into consideration when I plan for my kids. Thanks again! :)
     
  31. TeacherNY

    TeacherNY Maven

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    The biggest problem I have had with my autistic students is when there is a bookshelf full of books in plain sight in the room. Some students can not even sit near the shelf because they always want to look at books. They will gravitate towards it all day. For a year I had to take all the books off the shelf because one student would not do anything but try to look at books. Now that the student has transferred I can keep a fully stocked bookshelf and the kids will only go to it when they have free choice time. The kids I have now do not seem to be bothered by what is on the walls at all. I even have stuff hanging from the ceiling and they really don't notice it. It really just depends on the kids you have in your room since every student is different. I have 6 students and they are all different. After you get to know them you will have better sense of what you can do. One student LOVES to create arwork and after he is done he will give it to me so I can put it on the wall. He loves seeing his work displayed and since it doesn't bother the other students I let him do it. Some students love seeing their work displayed. I would take it down only if it caused problems for other students.
     
  32. ZoomZoomZOOM

    ZoomZoomZOOM Devotee

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    Jun 27, 2008

    Wow, a lot of good advice here. Thankfully I have a closed off section for my library and my play area. Books and toys won't be visible from the desks and tables, although my library will have a rainforest theme with a Kapok tree extending upward onto the ceiling. If there are any students that are bothered by the tree, I'll make the necessary modifications. As for the rest of the room, I'll keep BB's on the down-low (no lights!), and I'll try to bring some natural light in the room to even out the overheads.
     
  33. pontiac8411

    pontiac8411 Rookie

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    Jun 27, 2008

    i know this is a bit off topic, but since this post is centered around autism, i know i will get the answer i need. I have an interview for an autism position on monday and i was just wondering what types of questions they ask. Thanks.
     
  34. Ghost

    Ghost Habitué

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    Jun 28, 2008

    I got a lot of the same questions that any teacher gets. Communication with parents, how do you handle transitions, what will your class look like, and several situations "what if...."
    They might ask you about inclusion, sensory needs, and maybe collaboration.
     

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