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.