Getting a K student on the autism spectrum. Advice?

Discussion in 'General Education' started by minnie, May 14, 2020.

  1. minnie

    minnie Cohort

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    May 14, 2020

    Hello! I’ve been invited to an IEP zoom meeting concerning a TK student I will get next year. I’ve never had a student on the spectrum before. If they ask for my input, what questions should I ask about this student? He will be in K next year.
     
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  3. otterpop

    otterpop Aficionado

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    May 14, 2020

    If it were me, I’d be there mainly to listen. It may help to ask if there are specific strategies that have been helpful, or unhelpful, that you should know about.
     
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  4. TeacherNY

    TeacherNY Phenom

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    May 14, 2020

    "on the spectrum" can mean a lot of different things. No two kids are alike. I would ask what he will need the most help in (communication, socialization, etc). Will you have an aide?
     
  5. otterpop

    otterpop Aficionado

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    Those are good suggestions too.
     
  6. minnie

    minnie Cohort

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    Thank you!

    Oh, I will definitely only be there to listen! I’m gonna keep myself on mute and turn my video camera off unless they ask me a question. But, just in case they ask me if I have any questions, I want to ask the right ones.
     
  7. minnie

    minnie Cohort

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    As of right now, I don’t have an aide. I hear (we live in a small town, so this is only here say) that he is high on the spectrum.
     
  8. RainStorm

    RainStorm Phenom

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    Saying he is on the "high end" of the spectrum, in and of itself, has so many meanings. It generally means his intelligence is average to above average (and maybe very advanced in areas that interest him.) It doesn't always mean that his behaviors and responses are "on the high end." There are lots of things you'll need to know -- does he self-soothe? Does he arm flap? Does he make repetitive noises? What kinds of stims does he have?How does he respond to frustration? How does he relate to other children? Does he use parallel play? Or does he isolate? Or does he want to be in the middle of it? Or does he insist on doing everything his own way without regard for others? Does he share? Is he compliant to requests? Can he be trusted to use the restroom alone or will he need direct supervision (and who is going to provide this direct supervision, if needed?) Is he a runner? Does he self-abuse? Is he a screamer? Does he understand personal space, or will a special educator be working with him on that? How much difficulty does he have changing tasks? How does he react to the fire alarm? Will he need protective ear gear and advanced notice for fire alarms? If so, how is that going to be accomplished at your school? Who specifically is going to be in charge of him during a fire drill if he "freaks out" (runs off screaming, tramples other children, or hides under a desk and won't come out) from the fire alarm -- because you can't run after him and still supervise the rest of the class getting out safely. Can he tolerate the noise of the lunchroom? If not, will he wear headgear or be isolated to another part of the building? If he is just expected to wear headgear in the cafeteria, how will he be able to communicate with his classmates? If an alternative area is provided, who will be supervising him there, and how will other students be selected to join him daily, so it doesn't seem like isolation? What kind of pull-out does he need for various subjects (like reading -- will he be using a specialized reading program like Wilson or will he be in regular instruction, which isn't as effective) and who will provide those services, and will it be in your classroom (push in) or out of your classroom (pull out.)? Will he have a place he can retreat (like a resource room) if things become overwhelming for him? And what level of interaction do the parents expect? Some parents want daily contact with the teacher -- and how will your teaching and planning time be affected by this? (Trust me, if you are having to document and make daily reports, and respond daily to his parents email request, etc, you won't get the level of planning and prep time that you need to serve your other students. You need to be the squeaky wheel with your admin about this, or you may end up working so many extra hours just for this one child.)

    I worked in the Autism Inclusion Program for years in elementary, and I have to be point-blank honest here. School districts are notorious for putting "high functioning" children with autism in general ed classrooms, without the needed supports, and even when it isn't the child's "least restrictive environment." Why? One reason -- because it is cheaper. And easier. But the more common reason, especially when a child is this young, is that they honestly don't know what this child "can do" and what environment is really his "least restrictive environment." Parents tend to have a very skewed vision of what is required (not because they are trying to deceive you, but because sometimes their expectation of what you can do in the classroom, while supervising and teaching 23 other 5-year olds, is not always realistic. They may have time at home to calmly explain to their son, 20 times, why he must do something. A classroom teacher does not have that luxury of time, for example.)

    My advice to you, as his new teacher is this -- remember that his placement with you is based on his parents' and your district's "hopes and dreams" that he really can function and thrive in the general ed classroom. It does not mean this is the reality. Always hope for the best, but document, document, document -- in case it doesn't work out the way everyone hopes. You owe it to this child to help him get the best placement possible. It may be your classroom, it may be your classroom with him having a full-time aide, it will most assuredly involve a special education teacher with specialized training in working with students with autism, it may be being in a specialized program and being a part of your class for a limited time each day, or it could be any mixture of these things.

    Here is the thing to brace yourself for. If things start going "not so great" -- you as a teacher will bear the brunt of it -- not just from the child's parents, but from the parents of other children in your class who feel their child is being impacted by the situation, by some special ed instructors whose focus is totally on helping this one child succeed, and not on your class as a whole succeeding, and by your administration, who may become frustrated by the situation and lash out at you for failing to "handle" the un-handleable. It can be really hard to maintain classroom management and control as you document and work-through how to best accommodate this student.

    Be prepared because you can't legally tell other parents that this child has a disability, so when the child with autism does something that is very "typical" of a child with, let's say, issues with impulse control or empathy, you won't be allowed to react the same way as you could if it were a child without this disabling condition. Legally, you can't discipline a child with a disability for an action that is caused by his disability. Children with autism, by definition, often lack impulse control or empathy towards others. You can educate this child, and help him learn needed behaviors and processes, but you can't punish him for it. We as educators understand this, but other student's parents just see the behavior as being inappropriate, and you can't legally explain to them why this child is being discipline differently than others, so some other parents do begin to doubt your classroom management abilities, and yes, they do talk among themselves. Even if you are doing a fabulous job with this child, your reputation can be damaged very quickly, and it is mostly out of your control.

    I hate to say it, but this is all a part of the process in being an inclusion teacher (and nowadays, we are basically all inclusion teachers.) Also be ready to deal with your own feelings about this -- from being nervous, not knowing what to do, trying so hard and then seeing it fail completely, the frustration of working with other adults who will most definitely view the issues differently, and even the scorn of other teachers, who will feel that whatever you are doing is not the best way to do it. All of these things are a normal part of this. You have to learn to separate yourself from the criticism. You have to remind yourself that others are just mad at the situation, and they are incorrectly aiming their dissatisfaction towards you.

    You want to document everything, the day it happens (don't ever put it off.) Learn to document "without feeling" -- meaning, write the facts without any interpretation of those facts. "Just the facts, Ma'am." You have to learn to be a bit detached when you documents things.

    I know this might sound scary, but I have to tell you -- working in the Autism Inclusion Program was one of my favorite times in teaching. I met some wonderful students with autism, and I know in my heart that my actions made a difference in their lives. That is an incredible feeling. I've kept in contact with most of those families over the years. I've watched these students, who were considered "moderate" in their autism, grow up and find happiness and success. That is the ultimate reward, to me.

    Between now and next fall, learn as much as you can about working with children with autism, and how to provide useful accommodations. You will need to know that some of the "tried and true" things you've always used won't necessarily work. Here are some examples of things I learned over the years.
    • Children with autism are often overwhelmed by an overly decorate room. Choose one color for EVERY bulletin board in your room. Don't make one bright pink, and one red, and one green -- it is too overstimulating for many auspies. I always picked a calming color -- a sky blue or a sunny yellow, and made every single bulletin board the same color in my classroom. . I also would choose border that was the same color as the bulletin board paper, or not too bright. It really makes a difference.
    • Declutter your classroom as much as possible. Same reason. It is time to become a minimalist. "Too much" is overstimulating, and an overstimulated auspie will not be in an ideal position to learn.
    • Remember that auspies don't generally like to make direct eye contact -- so don't place them directly across from another child or an adult. Leave that seat empty, if possible. Never demand that they "look at you." If you absolutely need them to see something you are doing (like how your mouth makes the oh-shape when you say a certain vowel sound) then ask them to "peek" quickly and then let them look away. I also found, with consonant and vowel sounds, it helped to let them touch my mouth while I made the sounds -- I don't know that I'd do that right now with the virus and all, but it does help.
    • When you have an assembly, always seat this child near you. Never let them be out of your grasp. It makes it so much easier if you need to remind them of something in terms of behavior, or if you need to remove them. If you can't "reach out and touch them" -- they are too far away from you. (This is true in line in the halls too.)
    • I know the one thing I had the hardest time with -- when working with high-functioning auspies, is that when I do a read aloud, they felt the need to comment on every single thing I said or read. They do not understand this social convention, and you have to overtly teach them not to comment on every single thing you say with whatever is on their mind at the time. As a teacher, I found it so frustrating, because even as you teach those skills, it takes so much repetition to get them to respond -- and often, it won't happen in just one school year -- it generally takes much longer than that, and working directly with a behavior management specialist, to help them succeed in this area. (Also, when they do it, the entire rest of the class feels entitled to do it, and it really snow-balls fast.)
    • Auspies frequently don't look at the teacher, and don't seem like they are paying any attention. Don't be fooled -- they just aren't comfortable with the direct eye contact -- they heard every word you said.
    • Auspies take things very literally. If you say "her hair is flowing like a river" they are actually looking for a girl with a river coming out of her head. Also, there is no such thing as a rhetorical question with an auspie. If you don't want an "outloud" answer, don't ask the question.
    And the last thing I'll say, is that if you've met one child with autism, then you've met one child with autism.

    Best wishes.
     
  9. RainStorm

    RainStorm Phenom

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    Oh, I should have mentioned -- if you are looking to learn more about teaching young children with autism, you can't go wrong with Sue Larkey or Tony Attwood. They are considered "the top" of their profession. Sue Larkey's website has links to both of them, and she and Tony Attwood offer several "free" online courses, as well as several low cost online courses (and if you want to take those, your district should pay for them.) You can also subscribe to her newsletter for free.

    https://suelarkey.com.au/
     
  10. TeacherNY

    TeacherNY Phenom

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    May 18, 2020

    I work in an autism school and there are just so many variables you will need to consider as the above poster mentioned. I would find out as much as possible and maybe try to contact his former teachers if you are not used to having a student on the spectrum.
    My friend's son ended up being diagnosed as having Asperger's syndrome but was academically 3 years or so ahead of his classmates. He had lots of tantrums in class and was too much for the teacher to handle alone so they eventually kicked him out of parochial school and when he went to public school they got an aide for him. He is just so smart that he gets bored easily and can't handle his emotions at all. I think they would consider him "high end" but the teachers just weren't equipped for that type of student.
     
  11. minnie

    minnie Cohort

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    May 18, 2020

    Rainstorm, I am going to copy and paste exactly what you said and keep it! I’m sure I will refer to it quite a bit next year! Thank you so much!

    Thank you to everyone else who gave me wonderful advice!

    Update: I got to sit in on his IEP. It was pretty positive. Before the school closure, he was in full time TK 90% of the time. He did not have an aide. The school psychologist said that she only sees a few characteristics of autism. They did say that he is stubborn (their wording, not mine) and has great difficulty with fine motor skills. I did have a chance to talk to his teacher off the record a few months ago and she said that he is a handful, but is able to function in a general classroom. I know that I will have some challenges with him, but I am hopeful I can make a good connection with him!
     

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