An Autism Connection

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Five for Sunday

As usual, I am a day late and a dollar short. Make that 2 days late. Plus it's been forever since I blogged, although I have thought about the blog often. The beginning of the school year caught up with me. I have been pulling in 50-60 hour weeks and being totally exhausted by the time I cross the sound on the ferry and get home. The last thought on my mind is to blog. I was eating and then going to bed. I finally said enough, and started leaving work earlier, but am still doing long hours. This is because I still have not received funding for the classroom, so I have to make up everything as I go. I don't know how many times I have been told the items have been ordered, only to discover it isn't true. I was told again last week that it has been ordered and that stuff should start trickling in next week. I am not holding my breath. It makes for an unsettled feeling for me and for no flow with my lesson plans as I keep expecting my curriculum to come through, so I do temporary kinds of lessons. It has been not only  exhausting, but stressful and frustrating too. Oh well, that is the life of a teacher these days.

Enough complaining, I thought I would join up with  doodlebugs teaching Five for Friday link up. This isn't for the past week, though, but my 5 for the past month!!

1. We have been going on our twice a week community outings. We are lucky enough to have a shopping center with a 15 minute walk from our school. This center has all kinds of shops, including a Target, a grocery store and  drug store, a Barnes and Nobles, and lots of smaller stores for us to visit.

 We go in with a sheet a paper and basically do a scavenger hunt for products. With the lower kids, we just find the shelf and have the students match the object. With the higher kids, we look at aisle headings, we ask an employee, or we go from aisle to aisle. We are not yet at the point of buying anything, since not one parent sent in any money when I requested some at the beginning off the school year. I will try again in January, but otherwise, I will have to take money out of my pocket and I am not quite ready to do that yet. Here is an example of one of our scavenger hunts to  the Rite Aid.

2. Here are pictures of a couple  of my centers. The first is the Language Arts center. I purchased the writing journals from The Autism Helper, thank you very much. We alternate between writing and reading journals, and on Fridays we have quiet reading. I added this last one because I discovered my students couldn't do it. We had to model it for them before they finally started thumbing through the books. Because I have a wide range of reading levels, each bin has an assortment of books at different levels and interests, from fiction and seasonal books, to non-fiction titles. My student interests currently are tornadoes, tsunamis, lightning, sharks, and anything Disney.

A couple of my students are non verbal and non writers so they have their own reading and writing hands on tasks on the top shelf. Their writing binders include cutting and tracing activities.

Next is our life skills center. It is attached to my classroom and we work on a variety of skills from cooking to laundry, washing dishes, and an assortment of work boxes, which are located in a big cabinet in the hallway between the bathroom and this kitchen. The bottom picture are my hygiene baskets. We do hygiene right after PE/Lunch and boy do these stinky middle schoolers need it.

3. Next is Halloween. We had a lot of fun with this. I, and one of my Paras, brought in an assortment of hats and glasses for the kids to try on throughout the month. We took pictures for their scrapbooks, an idea that I borrowed from the Autism Tank. We do scrapbook pages at the end of each month and will compile them at the end of the school year to send home. Here are some of the fun costumes and an art activity we did:

4. On one of our walks, one of my students walked by a bush and stripped a branch of it's berries. I caught him trying to bring them to his mouth and made him throw it away. The next day, he picked up a Chines Lantern flowere from the field at lunchtime and brought it in to the classroom. I saw him squeeze something that looked like a tomato right next to his mouth, and saw the pulp. He made a face and threw it on the table. When I saw it was one of the flowers from that plant, I had the Para take him to the restroom to rinse his mouth and face and then sent him to the school nurse. When I looked it up online, it's super poisonous, along the same lines as Deadly Nightshade, AAAGGGHHH. That was my scream of panic. Poison control and parents were both called. In the end, he didn't have any bad effects because most of it ended up on his face and not in his mouth. I whipped up a Poison unit on the spot and did the unit for the next week. The motto was, " Ask before you taste, touch or smell". And everywhere we went, we pointed out plants and objects and asked whether they were poison, or not. I hope we got the message across!! We'll be revisiting it often.

5. Finally, yesterday my son got engaged to his beautiful girlfriend and he made the ring himself!
 I am thrilled for them both and am eagerly awaiting their wedding next fall!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Good manners = Expected behavior

I still have not gotten any funding for the classroom, although I was told on Thursday it will be coming in 2-4 weeks. This has made my life difficult and I have had to work 60 hour weeks to plan for everything. Sometimes it's been fun, and other times not so much. I am exhausted at the end of the week, but despite all of that, I am loving my new job. The kids are great and super funny and the new IA's are fantastic.

 I have had to make many changes to the class schedule as I get to know my students. And my centers are still a work in progress. I thank  The Autism Helper, Autism Tank, Autism Classroom News, and The Autism Adventures of Room 83 for providing a framework for me to build on. Their links should be to the right. Since I haven't received the funding YET (crossing my fingers that they mean it), their blogs and products have literally been a real time and life saver for me. So THANK YOU!

For Science/Social Studies, I plan to use Unique Learning System.

But, since I am not currently signed up yet, I decided to start the Family Life and Sexual Health (FLASH) curriculum that our district uses. It was actually created by our county's health Department and is free to anyone. I am using the Special Education version. Here is a link to the site.

 In our school, this curriculum is taught by the science teachers. According to ARC, up to 80% of people with intellectual disabilities are sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. I want to do everything I can to help my students protect themselves. Plus, although my students are delayed in many ways, their bodies develop typically, just like their peers. Middle school is where it starts and I want them to develop appropriate ways of handling their sexual desires and feelings right off the bat. I was a nurse before I became a teacher so this is not a subject I shy away from or find embarrassing at all. So to start with, we are working on Public versus Private places, leading  eventually to Public vs Private behavior. I also plan to use aspects of the Circles curriculum, which teaches students about how to talk, touch and trust different people in a broadening circle of relationships, from people close to them, to total strangers. I had planned to do these units during the shorter months where ULS does not have a planned curriculum, such as December and June, but I have needed to start them now as I wait for the funding to come through. I have had the students cutting inside and outside places out of a magazine and I have been laminating them for future use. We will be sorting them this week.

The FLASH unit also ties in loosely to our social skills unit, which is unexpected and expected behavior in many different places. We have been able to generalize this language to other times throughout the day and the kids get it! When they are engaging in poor choices we just tell them this is unexpected behavior and they STOP, can you believe it??! This is from Michelle Garcia Winner and really is a WINNER, lol. This week we will be talking about good manners as expected behavior. My students really need to work on this as I am getting tired of students picking their noses (it is CONSTANT and totally grosses me out) and touching and adjusting their privates, among other behavior. We will get to this in due time. However, we are starting small with with saying Please, Thank you, I'm sorry, and Excuse me. I have created a sort of 10 different behaviors for each category that I have observed or I know is important to them. I am including a link to this activity through my Google Docs for you to download if you want to.

That is all I have for now. Basically it's all I have the energy for. Have a great week!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Emergencies Book

Two posts in a weekend, who would have thought. I should be cleaning the house as we are expecting people to stay overnight sometime this week and next. My boyfriend works with the road crews fixing our main highway here on the island. Many of them live far away and when you add in a ferry commute, it can take a couple of hours to get here each way. So he has generously offered our place to stay for those that want to. So I should be getting the house ready... but it's more fun to play on the computer.

As part of my huge order for my new classroom, I ordered lots of curriculum, but since I don't have any of it yet, I have had to improvise for everything. One of the units I have been working on is emergencies. I originally wanted to just start with several social stories regarding our emergency procedures, such as fire drills and lockdown drills, but decided to make it a whole safety and emergency unit. I purchased ALL About Emergencies from The Autism Helper, and you can find her unit here. But I found that it was a little too high for some of my lower kids. So I made a book that will be adapted once I get on boardmaker this week. I will upload those icons when I am done. But here are snapshots of the book and if I can figure it out, I will stick it on my google drive so you can get a copy of it. I also have made a few file folders to sort and match different emergencies and emergency vehicles and personnel. And I plan to add more to it. But I will post those later.

Here is the link to the book on google documents.

This is the cover page


I am covering just 4 kinds of emergencies: medical, police, fire, and natural disasters

Brief description of medical emergencies

Police emergencies

fire emergencies

Natural disaster. Since we live in Seattle, I included possible natural disaster we can have here, but I also included tornadoes and hurricanes which we don't have in our neck of the woods.

We will role play this.

Covering why it's important to call 911 only in emergencies.

We don't actually have tornado drills here, but I will tell them other places do. We do have the others, so we will practice those.

And then a series of social stories for the various drills.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

First full week

I made it through the first full week and boy were we all exhausted at the end. I focused on the schedule and stuck specifically to my Monday schedule, which is the simplest one. Next week I was going to add in all the other days, including going out to the community on Tuesday and Thursday, but I am not quite ready yet. I think we'll keep to our Monday schedule for the first three days and we'll start our community outings on Thursday and have our Arts rotation on Friday. Our service providers also start this next week and I have Open House Thursday evening, so I think those are enough changes for one week. We can start fresh the following week with the full schedule.

Speaking of schedules, I am going to have to tweak mine. I have one student that is light years ahead of everyone else. I had this student last year, and he was a very nervous and anxious student, constantly worried about everything. We started to see some improvements in the spring, and this fall, he is like a brand new person. The family put him on anti-anxiety meds and it has changed him dramatically. Without all the anxiousness and stress, he can focus on learning. He grew leaps and bounds in Math last spring and I am seeing the effects of that again this year. As an example, we were doing calendar concepts and working on our number of the day, which was 11. The students had to come up with a number sentence that equaled 11. It was a struggle for everyone except him. His number sentence was 600 + -589=11. So I put him in a resource room for Math. The teacher will work on grade level concepts, but it is slower paced and is a small class of 6 students. I send him with an Instructional Assistant.

On a different day, also at calendar time, we were talking about the weather, which was foggy. Some of them struggle with looking outside and telling us what they see, so it's obvious that we need to keep working on this concept. But my previously anxious student told me it was foggy, and then went into great detail about the water cycle, naming and describing all of the parts. So I decided to put him in a General Ed science class, where he will start on October 1st. And their first topic? The water cycle,where he will shine. And while I was add it, I put him in Social Studies, which is taught by a brilliant teacher who will work with him as much as she is able. I send an IA with him to both classes.

 The only reason I am able to do this is because even though I am an 8:1:2 teacher, and self-contained, I only have 6 students. On paper I have 8, but one student went to a different school, and one student moved to Alaska. Plus, one of my students has a 1:1 aide because he is a wanderer, but he is fairly stable in class, so I am able to utilize the IA's help. Without it, I couldn't do inclusion at all. To accommodate his needs, I am revamping our entire schedule to make sure he gets what he needs from me: reading, social skills, and community trips, and making sure I have adequate coverage in my room for the students I have left when he and the IA are gone.

Chappel Hill Snippets did a wonderful blogpost today on inclusion, which I am a big believer in. Her point was that students shouldn't have to earn the right to be in a regular education class, that all students should be able to be included. Another point she made was that there are many regular education students that have problems and behaviors but that it is not questioned that they have a right to be in those classes. To prove her point, she had a wonderful picture showing a group of students sitting on the floor and she asked if we could tell which was a Special Education student. There is one girl in the photo who is doing a yoga pose, but she is not the one. She said with the inclusion of her students, she has seen more growth since school started than she had seen the entire previous year. Of course, she is elementary and I am in middle school, which is an entirely different story. But if a student is capable, even if he isn't up to grade level in all of his skills, I am going to include them, and make sure they have the support they need to have a successful experience. He has a ton of accommodations, and I will modify his grading scale. He can also have modified work, but I want to see how he does first.

It was a successful week as far as students go. I am still spending many hours after work trying to come up with work that doesn't need velcro, lamination, a book binder,or any of the other materials I still don't have, which can be difficult for my lower students. But I am still glad I am in this program and enjoyed my week.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Rehash of the first 3 days of school

The start was a little stressful.

1. I was given the go ahead to order furniture, equipment, curriculum, and therapy items from a suggested list for a new autism classroom by my school district in June. I was so excited looking at all the catalogs and websites. For curriculum, I ordered tons of items from one of my favorite teacher materials store: manipulatives, many items to support literacy and math, and so forth.

I also got the Edmark Reading Program CDs. I have some of the print materials. Even though I am doing Guided Reading for my literacy component, I also have a rotation where they do computer work followed by free time on the computer. I have had some success with this program in the past and having extra literacy instruction doesn't hurt.

For social skills, I want to use curriculum from Michelle Garcia Winner. She has a ton of material on her website

For Science and Social Studies,  I ordered the Unique Learning System. When I looked over the curriculum for middle school, I was pleased to see that the units they offered overlapped with the middle school topics in these classes in my district. I like how there are new units every month. I plan to use News-2-You as part of our Morning meeting, and Symbol stix offers another picture based writing and icon option for my students.

In addition to these items I ordered storage bins, tons of velcro, laminator and equipment, a book binder, more ink for my color printer, a kidney table and some more bookshelves, carts to store student work, etc. I worked with the OT and PT to get therapy items for my room such as therapy balls, sensory items, a rocking chair, spinners, etc. All told, I spent over $10,000. I was basking in the glow of knowing I would have materials ready to set up a stellar program for my students.

Guess how many of those materials I had when school started this past week??????? Give the person who said zero a kewpie doll. That's right folks, nothing, nada, zippo, zilch. I was told it was a "performance issue". Basically, someone forgot to order it. Now mind you, my district is in trouble with the govt. over how they handle Special Education issue in our district, and this same issue was in the paper a year ago about how they start new programs and then don't provide materials for set up, leaving classrooms with NOTHING to start the school year with.  So you would think this would be a priority for them, sigh.

 I am a veteran special education teacher and am basically a hoarder of materials because I have learned that if you wait for the admins to help you, it might be a long wait. So I have some materials to get by until I get my stuff. But folks, I am irritated beyond belief because I started to ask for materials when I knew I was moving into this program last January. JANUARY!!!!. However, I am trying to relax and not let it get to me (although I vent a little here and there), and just go with the flow. I spent over $1000 of my own money to get some basics like velcro to at least get schedules up and have work tasks for the students to do, so we have been ok. But I decided on Friday that I was putting a stop to the Jannike money drain.
Talk about stressful. And I have told them they are reimbursing me which has been agreed to. I am putting the receipts together this weekend and submitting them on Monday.

So all is not totally lost. I have religiously been following the guidance of The Autism Tank, The Autism Helper, Autism Classroom News, and The Autism Adventures of Room  83. I believe the links are to the right. These blogs have been a godsend, and thanks to their advice, tips, and practical knowledge specific to this disability, I did not flounder. We stuck to building a routine schedule, which went well, and I had materials at every center to keep them busy. I will continue this next week, as most of my students have never used a schedule before (a topic for another post), and not worry about curriculum. 

And that is my first week. Despite the stressful nature of no materials, new Paraprofessionals, and new middle school students, it went relatively well.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Paraprofessional handbook

We are almost at the beginning of the school year. My room is in total chaos right now but I hope to be mostly ready to start on Wednesday when the new 6th graders start. All of the students will be here on Thursday. Because we are a new program, I also get new IA's. One of them I worked with last year, but we hired a brand new person a couple of weeks ago. I also have a 1:1 starting with one of my new students. One has no experience with working with students with disabilities, one has some experience, but has limited experience in working with students with autism, and  the last one has experience in working with students with autism, but not at the middle level.  So we are all at varying degrees of comfort with this new program. This is the perfect opportunity for me to train them to my procedures and processes, educate them about autism in general, and just inform them about what to expect. So, I put together a handbook, with liberal borrowing from Miss Allison's class blog. I also included our schedule and a brief description of each of the centers. I will be training them on it on Tuesday.

Here's an example of my general building procedures. It's pretty encompassing, and I am glad I spent the time to put it together.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Back To School Pin Party

I am joining  the Autism Tank, one of my favorite blogs, for her pinning linky party.

 I have been spending way too much time on Pinterest lately, into the wee hours of the night to the point of addiction, so this one was easy. Basically, since I am starting a brand new Autism program, I am starting from scratch so I need everything, for every subject.

Here are my pins:

1. This one is my most favorite pin. I am not technologically inclined, as I have mentioned over and over again, but I want to improve my skills this year. I want this to be one of my first projects, and part of an "All About Me" unit that I want to do the first week or so of school. I hope to complete this photo part of it the quickly so I can have them on display for Open House. This is from Matt Gomez' blog and he has some wonderful technology hints and advice. I love how it is visual and think my students and their parents will love it . His post says you can also just add words, so I might try them both. His blog, and Matt Sutton's Digital Divide and Conquer are my go- tos for all things technology.

2. I wrote a mini-grant to my schools PTSA for an iPod touch and an IPad, and it was granted to me, yay. They want Data to prove it was a good investment, so I am looking for tons of Apps to use for my students and found this one for social skills. It has 100's of apps, with an approximation of the cost, since it was compiled in 2012. It was put together by Jessica Chase, who is an SLP. Now I just need to figure out how to prove it to them with data.

3. I know this is supposed to be back to school, but I found these cute painted pumpkins that I thought I would try with my class at the beginning of October. Then we could have them as decorations before I send them home. Next to Christmas, this is my favorite Holiday.

4. I have limited storage space in my room. It's a brand new building, just 2 years old, but whoever designed it was not a teacher. There is no built in storage whatsoever, so I have some  stand alone cupboards and some book shelves and that is it. I need something to store classroom supplies by my whiteboard, where we will be having 3 groups throughout the day: Morning group, ULS (Unique Learning System for science/social studies) group, and our reading groups.I need something sturdy since the supplies will be used a lot. I found this great organizer on Kindergarten Kel's blog that you can get at IKEA. I hope they'll let me drill holes in the wall.

5.  Finally, here is another list of iPad apps, but in a wheel form, that I could put on my bulletin board by my desk. It is a little more comprehensive.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

We have 2 1/2 weeks left of summer break here in Seattle and my brain is slowly returning to that razor sharp edge I normally have during the rest of the year...NOT, lol. I can barely remember my student's names and that gets worse each year. It will help having only 8 students.

Last week my boyfriend and I attended a small party-get together for a friend of his. I met this woman there and it turns out she is a neighbor of ours here on the island. During the course of our conversation, I told her I would be a teacher in the autism program at my school and she told me that her young son running around the party was on the spectrum. She was very disappointed with the school that her son was attending because they were not willing to use, or just didn't understand, cognitive behavioral therapy, which is what the parents were using at home to deal with their son's issues. First, the teacher didn't know what it was, and then was not willing to use the concepts in class because they were an ABA program.

There is a motto I have heard used over the years that is perfect for this and that is, "If you have met one student with Autism, you have met exactly one student with Autism". As with anyone else, people with autism are unique individuals and I have yet to  meet a person with the same presentation of "symptoms', for lack of a better word. You can't generalize anything and have to be open to using all the strategies and therapies out there, as long as it is safe (there are some crazy therapies out there, but that is a topic for another day). And another thing I have discovered is that parents know their child the best. Are they perfect?? Nope, but if they have tried something at home and it works, why not get more information on it and try the strategies at school, that way you can be on the same page with the family which only benefits the student.

So exactly what is CBT? First let me tell you it is not ABA. ABA, or Applied Behavioral Analysis, looks at the function of behavior, and then comes up with solutions on how to deal with it. It can work wonders with students on the spectrum. CBT, however, looks at how students are thinking, and then teaches them to change this thinking.

 It has worked wonders with students with Aspergers and higher functioning students with Autism who have anxiety.  The focus is basically two pronged: skills training and skills practice.

In skills training, students understand anxiety and their body's cues. They also work on emotion education and thought monitoring using visual stimuli, as well as friendship and self-help  skills. They teach positive self-talk and coaching oneself through situations that arise. Using positive social stories that praise correct behavior is another great tool to use, as it highlights what the individual is doing well, instead of focusing only on what needs correction.

In skills practice, the students  slowly attempt the challenging or feared situation to develop confidence and mastery.

A good resource for CBT in school aged kids is Michelle Garcia Winner's website, which goes into more depth on social thinking. She also has a bunch of resources and books to help students from preschool all the way through high school. I have ordered a ton of stuff for the beginning of the school year and will let you know how it goes once I start using it.

The big take away is to not lock yourself into one way of doing things; BE FLEXIBLE. I plan to use both CBT and ABA strategies in my classroom with all of my students. If I hear of anything better, I will give that a try too.