Older kids with autism often have difficulty comprehending text that they can easily read. This has become a dilemma for many a parent who doesn't want to "insult" their child by having them read easier books, but realizes that books on their level are too difficult for them to comprehend. For these parents, I often reassure them that there is great worth in revisiting the picture book. Many kids missed this stage early on because they were focused on learning spoken language and didn't get a chance to experience picture books for meaning. Picture books have a high word to meaning ratio. This means that the author is challenged to pack in more meaning into fewer words. They do this by putting ample meaning into illustrations and by requiring that the reader to use inference skills grasp what the author did not overtly say. This is a great starting point to learn higher level thinking, sequencing, cause and effect, and main idea. Oh, and many kids actually enjoy the experience!
I had such overwhelming interest when I last posted about this topic, I thought I would expand on it with this article. See below.
The scenario had been set for our adventurer, a long-time client with Asperger's. He had been playing a wizard, a magical healer. He had just learned that in a nearby village was a woman who needed healing. When he arrived at the woman's cottage, however, the woman refused to let him in. So, our young adventurer, our wizard, heroically broke down the woman's door, tackled her to the ground and healed her. Consequently, instead of being treated like a hero, he was chased out of own with pitchforks. The post-game discussion then revolved around why the villagers had reacted so angrily and a great lesson was learned!
In the 1970's really the only tabletop RPG out there was Dungeons and Dragons, and because of its fantasy setting, garnered a poor reputation by some. In the 1980's there were a handful of other RPG systems that were also mostly fantasy based. Now there are published RPG's of every imaginable setting, or you can use any number systems to create your own RPG setting and scenario.
Because of their flexibility, and their scenario driven format, tabletop RPG's can be a powerful tool to teach theory of mind concepts, cause and effect, and even actual historical and political settings. It does take some gaming literacy and a few key ingredients in order to create a successful role playing experience. Below are some general recommendations and guidelines, followed by three recommended role-playing systems for people starting out.
Here are three recommended gaming systems that will be helpful starting points for role playing with kids with Asperger's or high-functioning autism. You must READ the instructions well!
Chronica Fudalis- This is a reasonably priced RPG system that is downloadable and printable. The setting it supports is realistic Medieval Europe so allows for the interweaving of historic events into the story. The example scenario laid out in the instructions is also very strong and helpful for a new game master.
Primetime Adventures- Rather than using dice, this system uses card dealing as its core mechanic. It is intentionally formatted like a television show, with each game playing session being an "episode" for the season. This system can work for even kids around 10 years old in that television and episodes are not a new concept at that point. It also allows for many different settings in that television shows come in a variety of genres, subject matters, and settings.
GURPS- With GURPS, or Generic Universal Role Play System, the sky is the limit when it comes to creating different worlds for your players to explore. Many for-purchase RPG's use GURPS as its foundation.
Remember, role playing is best used as a naturalistic teaching experience in which active learning occurs throughout the game playing experience, rather than being set up from the beginning. Just like things happen in life that are unexpected that we have to deal with, this is the way with well-run RPG. Let the learning and fun happen naturally!
Is your child having trouble "getting" traditional phonics? Are they not remembering the sounds that go with specific letters? Zoo-phonics takes a multi-sensory approach that helps kids associate the sounds and printed upper and lower case letter with an "animal" caricature and name. For instance, "Bubba Bear" makes the /b/ sound when he eats his honey. Children act out the eating of honey and making the /b/ sound. This program moves the letters and sounds from the abstract to the concrete and is great for kids that have trouble with sound-symbol association. It is also a great way to get your pre-schoolers reading early!
Misty is a nine year old girl. Her teachers say she is smart, but she can't seem to "get it together". It takes her an hour to come down the stairs ready for school and this is only after her mom has called her 10 times and even with this, she usually has to run back up to put on her shoes. Several times a month one of her parents drops off her homework at school that somehow didn't make it into her bag. Her locker is disorganized and cluttered. At home she sometimes has trouble following through on things her parents ask her to do. She may not "completely" get her room clean, getting distracted half way through. She sometimes gets excited and impulsively interrupts conversations, not even aware that she does it. Other times, she is shy an anxious in new situations. Her parents are at a loss. She is a good reader, is solid with math, and loves science and history. With all of this, why does she keep making C's? Why is school, why is LIFE such a struggle?
The answer lies in Executive Function skills. Execute function can be either simply or very complexly defined. Researchers have been studying these skills for decades. Below is my own definition.
Imagine yourself, or your child, as a company. Like a company, we are multifaceted, complex creatures with many "functions". With all of this complexity, someone needs to be in charge. This "someone" resides in the front part of your brain, just behind the forehead. This part of your brain is responsible for management of you-incorporated. It is your "executive" or your "manager". It's responsibility is to keep you, or your child functional. Keep in mind that this is the last part of the brain to fully mature (around the age of 25 for most people). It is, however, possible to identify when someone has delayed executive functioning for their age level. So with that, below is a brief job description of our frontal lobe.
Without a frontal lobe, we would all be a ship without a captain.
So what do you do if you suspect your child has a problem with executive function? It first helps to define the problem. You can make a list of the particular challenges you see. For example, your child may have challenges with time management,organization, and impulse control. Once you have defined the challenge, find ways to help your child practice these skills in a non-threatening, non-judgmental environment. For example, impulse control can be practiced when playing a basic game of "Simon Says", or "Mother May I", followed by coaching of the skill in a more naturalistic environment. Every child is different, and you know your child best. Setting up practice situations that fit your child's needs and personality can do wonders!
Feel free to contact me if you would like to talk further!
It is my mission to help families find educational solutions for their children!
Huge political debates and millions of dollars in research studies have gone toward settling the question, "What should a child learn?". There really is no clear answer to this question because a child selling oranges on the streets of Guatemala needs to know something different from a child growing up in Silicon Valley. What is clear, though, is that we all build new understanding on a foundation of what we have already learned. Imagine trying to understand the purpose of a heart without first knowing the purpose of blood. Also, imagine trying to understand the concepts of ancient, modern, and future, without first having a general understanding of the passage of time.
Helping a child to have a rich knowledge foundation can significantly impact long term academic success and even what they comprehend about the world at large. The Core Knowledge Foundation has been around for decades and they have one solution to this dilemma. They created the "What your _____ Grader Needs to Know" series. These books, while often needing to be supplemented by other material, addresses 70-80% of the academic needs of kids at each grade level, while also providing enrichment content not addressed by other programs. As an example, with Core Knowledge, a Kindergarten is given a solid foundation of global geography and American History, while a Fifth Grader is given in-depth teaching of the human respiratory system. This curriculum is rich in history, science, mathematics, and language arts concepts. It also gives classic literature, music, and the visual arts an equal footing to other core subjects. This book series and curriculum is a fantastic way to help a home-school parent keep their child on-track and even advanced academically.
Tabletop Role Playing Games, which for decades have been seen mostly as an adult hobby, a way to make imaginative play acceptable for adults. Over the years though, I have personally watched it greatly benefit teenagers with Asperger s and high functioning autism. It requires them to practice social skills in a safe and controlled environment while still experiencing consequences to their choices within the game. During these games, the player, who designs a character that they pretend to be, has to make decisions for that character. The player has to interact with others players and make predictions about outcomes. Because "theory of mind" can be a challenge for these young adults, they have to exercise these skills as they work with the other team members to accomplish a task. There are many role playing systems out there and settings can vary from science fiction, to fantasy, to post apocalyptic. The sky is the limit when it comes to role playing and it can open up doors for so many kids.
Over the years I have clocked thousands of hours working one-on-one with kids on the autism spectrum, addressing academic and cognitive challenges. During this time, I have learned many things. While the foremost thing I have learned is that every individual with an autism spectrum disorder, is just that, an individual, I have also learned a few "tools of the trade" that I have found to work with a good percentage of my clients with autism.
1) Have an Agenda or Schedule- Kids on the autism spectrum often have trouble tracking time passively, a minute may feel like an hour, especially when doing something challenging. Making a list of tasks to complete and checking them off is a simple way to do this for a higher functioning individual, while a younger, or lower functioning kid would benefit from a consistent visual schedule that can be adorned with smiley faces or stars. It is amazing how effective this is in helping a kid to complete tasks.
One sideline tip...some kids that need more control, let them pick the order of completion, but you pick the tasks.
3) Allow kids Time to Process- Kids on the spectrum often have challenges processing spoken language, and may, in general, have slow processing speed. It is not uncommon for a kid to respond to a question up to two minutes after the question was asked. Continuing to prompt for the question during the wait time, for some kids, actually makes the processing more difficult. It is important, however, to be sure that distraction hasn't taken hold. One way to help this is, if your child can read, by writing the question down.
2) Use a Visual Timer- A timer can be helpful if a kid needs to focus for a specific amount of time with a specific intensity. Individuals often respond to timers in two ways, with anxiety, or by buckling down. A visual timer has little or no ring tone and instead shows the time completed using a visual cue, such as a ring around the timer filing in with a red stripe. The ipad clock app has a very mild ring and a visual element. Timers are also helpful to bring a kid back to work after breaks.
7) When it Comes to Handwritten Work, Less is More- Busy worksheets with multiple math problems can be overwhelming, even if your child has mastered the skill. Write out the same problems on a marker board, cut the worksheet into strips, or cover up some of the problems so only some are visible. Also, find different ways for them to express their knowledge, such as matching games with note cards or fun iPad apps.
4) Integrate The Student's Interests- You may be completely sick of hearing about the Transformers or microwaves, or weather patterns, whatever the intense interest is for your child on the spectrum. That said, the best way for any of us to be productive is for us to be productive in an area that is interesting. Use The Transformers to teach word problems or vocabulary words like "metamorphosis", or use a microwave to teach prepositions...put the popcorn in, on, under, and by the microwave.
6) Plan Breaks- Some kids on the spectrum can work for extended periods of time if they have a couple of 5 minute breaks to stretch their legs and play. Be sure that these breaks have finite time limits and that it is clear that once they are done, it is time to return. Putting the breaks on a visual schedule can be very helpful.
5) Teach In Short Snippets- More is not always best. It is better to schedule an hour with 12 different short tasks than one long task. This will keep your student from shutting down. More can be taught in 5 minutes about compound sentences than in 30 minutes of doing a long worksheet on the skill.
8) Don't Assume- Especially when working on reading comprehension, don't assume that just because something is an "old hat" concept to you, that it is to your child. It is amazing how often the concepts we take for granted, such as the idea that it snows in winter, not in summer, is lost. Many times, the best thing that you can do to help a child understand what they read is to help them understand the world. It is difficult to comprehend something you read if you don't have a certain amount of background knowledge on the subject.
9) Use Visual Media- Show pictures of what you are reading before you read about it, watch videos that mirror the concept you are teaching. Some people think that it is cheating to teach a concept before someone reads about it, but in this case, you are priming the your child for comprehension and success.
10) Be Sensory-Friendly- If a kid needs a sensory seat cushion, a weighted blanket, or to stand up in order to complete the tasks, allow for these things. They will help with focus and let you get more out of study time.
I would love to talk with you further about the work that I do with kids on the autism spectrum. I love to find creative educational solutions for families! Feel free to contact me!
If you are looking for a way to teach problem solving, planning, and strategy, check out resource management games. This is a very boring term for a fun type of strategy board game which requires you to manage various resources including currency, materials, and manpower in order to accomplish goals. These games often skip out on dice and instead use card decks, various types of markers and pawns, and tokens. There are several kids edition resource management games. Two popular ones are Kids of Carcassone and Catan Junior. These are great for kids ages six and seven, with the more adult versions ready for kids around the age of nine. They really require strategy and thought, so be ready to be challenged along side your kids!
VersaTiles, are a wonderful puzzle-based series of activity books that uses numbered, colored tiles as a way to help a student check the accuracy of their own answers, no pencil required!. The VersaTiles system addresses all the core subjects including math, language arts, social studies, and science, from grades K-8th. For a one-on-one situation, they have "starter sets" which are surprisingly comprehensive. If you have a kid who struggles with handwriting or simply needs a way to check their own work, this is a wonderful tool!
Today I took my ten month old son to Sense-Able Gym. It is one of a few sensory gyms in the Dallas area. These "gyms" don't have traditional exercise equipment like ellipticals or weight sets, but rather, they are stocked with hammock-like swings, rock climbing walls, roller slides, tunnels, and "crash pads". These gyms are all about letting a kid improve sensory, motor, and social development by letting them explore sensory experiences like climbing, tugging, swinging, crashing, and falling. Many sensory gyms, besides letting families bring their kids in for free-play or sensory circuits, also have pre-school programs and other fun weekly activities. For children with sensory integration dysfunction or challenges with fine or gross motor skills, sensory gyms can both be a respite from a disorganized world and a place to improve motor skills and sensory processing. For my son, today was all about practicing of his new army crawling skill, enjoying the swings, and about experiencing a new place. When we got home he had a two hour nap. We will definitely be back!
Below, is another mother's experience with Sense-Able Gym in her own words.
"My boys (ages 7 and 2&1/2) have loved Sense-Able Gym ever since we discovered it two years ago. They have plenty of diverse equipment and activities that appeal to kids across varying age levels, from infants and toddlers through preschool and school age. As a busy mom, I love that we don't have to schedule sessions and/or be limited to certain time slots for when we drop in to play. Through ECI being allowed to come have sessions using their equipment and our frequent play visits there, Sense-Able was one of the first places our younger son tried crawling and pulling up to cruise and walk. Our older son has gotten plenty of sensory integration, started becoming braver with swings, climbing, and has been in a karate class there for over a year. Also, we held a joint birthday party there and had enough variety to keep both kids' friends (ages 6 and 1 at the time) happy and busy at the same time. Whether you need therapy equipment to work on, social interaction with other kids and parents, or just an air conditioned indoor gym where your children can play for hours, they are a great affordable option. The ladies who are the owners and their staff are incredibly friendly and helpful."
To provide useful information to families regarding educational strategies, interventions, and tools.