An Autism Connection

Monday, April 28, 2014

Changes for next year

 I have been thinking about next year and what our schedule is going to look like. I will still have the same 6 kids I have had this year, but I will get 2-3 new students, all with lower skills than my current group. So grateful that I know this now and can plan for it.

 I need to revamp a few things I've been doing. I have been doing ULS for science and social studies. I have to say I am a little disappointed. I had read a couple of blogs from people who were using ULS and they had said it was a little boring. Now that I have used it for most of this school year, I would have to agree. There are books and worksheets, and some recipes. The books are a little dull. I didn't get a chance to make them interactive, so that might help in the future. Their life skills pages that follow the lessons are also pretty good, as are the recipes. So I am not giving up on ULS, but I want to do something different, and then incorporate ULS into that.

 I decided to do thematic units for both social studies and for science. ULS alternates months of science and social studies but I will be doing both each month. I looked at what my school teaches in their science and social studies departments and decided to use these topics if I could make them concrete and fun. We are also an international school, so for social studies, I decided we would study 3 continents each year, and then each year pick a different country to study within each continent, to make it more interesting. Each unit will incorporate a field trip, an art project, and either cooking or drama, or both.These are the social studies units I chose for next year.

September- Emergencies- we will review our drills
October- Geography/map skills-
November- South America-
December-Holidays around the world
January- Australia
February- Africa
March- Washington state history
May-Community helpers

For science, I chose the following topics.

October- 5 senses
November- Rocks/fossils
January- force/motion, sink/float, magnets, liquids/solids
February-Weather/Natural Disasters
March-Planets/solar system
April-Human body; puberty
June- Insects

I will start developing them over the summer. If I can find units on TPT, that will make life easier. I will create the rest and will share as I go.

More on other changes later.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

life skills

I am a middle school teacher, but I have also taught high school and transition. I know how hard it is and how long it takes for students to learn skills they will need to be as independent as possible as adults.  Ideally, teachers would introduce these skills in elementary. In middle school, I believe there should be a mix of both academics and life skills. As they transition to high school,  the shift ideally would be more life skills and the academic skills they need for after school. This of course, should be decided for each individual child. In my program there is currently a mix. Mornings are strictly academics, and after lunch, there is a focus on life, social, pre-vocational, and leisure skills.

 In our classroom, we have a separate kitchen area where we do the bulk of our life skills. We have an assortment of tasks we focus on, including workbox tasks. But in addition, we also wash dishes by hand and dishwasher, wipe counters, sort light and dark clothing, wash and dry clothes, fold clothes, hang clothes on hangers, and put an assortment of clothes on to practice various buttons and zippers. In addition, I also have cupboards and our refrigerator filled with empty packaging of different grocery items that students can practice putting away. This last one is still a work in progress, as there are so many tasks that can be done. I will share more when it is completed. I asked our school staff to donate clean empty packaging and  used clothing, we got some from our school clothing banks, and then our OT brought in a box of clothing items we still needed.  We go through a life skills rotation 3 days a week, and they rotate through the various tasks.
Here are some photos of my students practicing buttons and zippers and hanging clothes. I had asked for extra large items so that they can put the clothes on on top of the clothes they are already wearing.

What do you do for life skills?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

United Opt Out

The focus of this blog was not to be political, even though I am personally very political and have become an education activist of sorts. I am a part of my school district's union, and am an active member. I participate in demonstrations and marches, and am planning to attend 2 marches in support of education in June here in Seattle, and in Washington DC in July. I belong to the Badass Teachers Association (BATS)

 and numerous other organizations fighting so called education reform. I follow many blogs, evenly split between blogs that are similar to mine, and then blogs that are very activist in nature, like Diane Ravitche's blog, or Jersey Jazzman in New Jersey, to name a couple. All are enlightening and help me do my job. I am against the common core. I am against Teach for America. I am against charters and vouchers. In short, I am against anything that threatens public education and the lives of children, as well as my livelihood and chosen profession. No, this blog was not to be any of that at all, although sometimes it will creep in, like today, and I have seen it creep into other blogs as well, as teachers become overwhelmed with the new mandates and what it is doing to the children they care for each day. This creeps into their blogs as they share their frustrations. All are well received, as everyone one of us is impacted by reforms to one degree or another. We try to keep it all separate but sometimes you can't help it, it seeps out and we vent. This is my version.

I was outraged when I read the story of Ethan Rediske in Florida (read a newspaper story about this HERE).
 He was a student who was blind and had severe brain damage and was in hospice. Yet his parents had to sign letters asking for a waiver from the tests even as he lay dying. It was finally granted, and then the next day he died.

Then, I am sitting in an IEP meeting with our full team last month (March) . I have been very pleased with the progress of this particular student and the meeting has gone well so far. I have been slowly mainstreaming this student because he has done so well. However, I had some concerns because his anxiety levels seemed to have increased. Maybe I was pushing too hard. Parents, too, had been pleased with his progress, but had also noticed an increase in anxiety at home, leading to negative behaviors. Although most of my students do alternative testing, this student was going to be taking the regular state testing the rest of the students in the building were taking. In preparation, teachers in the building  had started test prep, and it turns out that this was what was causing the added stress.

Mom starts to get upset and almost cries. The tests don't begin until the end of April, and will last for 2 weeks. Each day his anxiety would increase, and she feared that the days leading up to the actual testing would undo all the progress her child had made. I sat and listened to her and wrestled with myself and made a decision. My job is this child, and what is best for him educationally. So I went against our school district policy and told her about opting out. She had no idea that she could do it. I told her about UNITED OPT OUT, where she could get more information, and that she could write a letter. I left the decision to her and told her she didn't have to make the decision there, that she could think about it and let me know. After a couple of days, she called me back and said, yes, she wanted to opt him out, so I put it in the IEP and she wrote letters. Her child's anxiety disappeared and he is back to making excellent progress.

School and tests should not increase stress and I refuse to participate if it is going to harm a child. These children are the reason I keep teaching and I won't stand back and watch if I see something that will hurt them. Every teacher has to draw the line somewhere, and that was mine.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Social story/freebie

I have one student that eats from the trashcan, that will pick stuff up off the ground and eat it, and that finds gum under tables and pops it into his mouth. This is definitely behavior we want to change!! It came to a head one day when we were at the park and someone had left a soda can partially filled next to a bench. He was far enough away that I couldn't see what kind of drink it was at first, and I was freaked out that it was alcohol, but it turned out to be Diet Dr. Pepper. Anyway, he drank the remainder in the can before I got there. This is the same student that I needed to create the poison lesson/unit for as he ate poisonous berries and plants while he was out in the community with us.  Definitely a problem. So then I created this social story to deal with the trash situation. He's done ok with it. He slips up occasionally, but isn't being sneaky about it like before, he just forgot. When we see this behavior and say something, he spits it out. I wish he would stop altogether, but baby steps work, too.

If you want a copy of the social story, you can find it HERE.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

How big is the problem? Social skills lesson/Freebie

One of the issues my students have is their reactions to problems that come their way. A pencil lead could break and there might be a total meltdown, or a student tells us he has to go to the bathroom, and we tell him to wait a minute as someone is in there, and there is a full blown tantrum. So we spent a few days and talked about problems. We put the problems on post it notes and put them on a big poster that had a line scale at the bottom and numbers 0-5. Number zero is a glitch or no problem at all. We put the pencil lead  breaking here. Number 1 is a little problem, such as waiting for the restroom. Number 3 is a medium problem, such as falling down and breaking your arm. Number 5 is a catastrophe, such as an earthquake or someone dying. We had the students list as many as they could, and then the staff listed problems that we had seen them have. We had a great list going on. Anytime we saw them have a problem after this, we asked where it was on the scale. I have pictures but all of them have  student in them and I don't know how to delete them or hide their faces yet.

Then in power point, I made a colorful chart to show our 5 levels and how they might feel at each of those levels.

Next, I created a problem arrow with the same color scheme and labels, along with another arrow that shows the reactions/ feelings  for each level, and an arrow between them asking if the reaction matches the problem. 

We then role played and reviewed. This has actually been a very helpful lesson. When we see meltdowns starting, we ask if the meltdown matches the problem, and it has stopped a few of them in their tracks. I have to love that! I am including a link to this if you want them in your classroom, just click HERE.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Five for Saturday

This week I am linking up with  DOODLEBUG TEACHING FOR HER FIVE FOR FRIDAY LINKY PARTY. This will be photos from this week and last month since I am such a slacker at blogging.

1.This past week was fairly mellow but  by the time Friday rolled in the door, my brain was crispy fried. It's Spring Break this coming week, so students were a little wild (in our building, that is). I am a strict follower of our routine, which really helps my students stay on an even keel, even when all around chaos reigns. We ended the week with a Jelly Bean taste testing event (thank you Autism Helper).
I am using her image because ours was very similar and because I didn't take a picture. Did I mention my brain was fried? We  used generic jelly beans, fruit flavored ones, sour ones, and hot tamales. The Autism Helper also had a wonderful freebie for the students to fill out. The kids loved it. I loved it because I have several students with food issues (one only eats blue food, another doesn't chew, another is incredibly picky), but I am very happy to say that ALL of them tried at least one from each category. I wish I had a camera because the faces they made were so funny, but at least they tried. I told them I was very proud of them. I think in order to broaden their horizons, I am going to have a vegetable and fruit tasting event before the end of the school year.

2.We also did this Easter Egg art project idea that I got from Pinterest:
All you need is sidewalk chalk, water, and painter's tape. Alas, I didn't get any photos of ours, but they looked very similar to these. Here is the original blog post the idea came from:

3. As I didn't post for St. Patrick's day, I wanted to share a couple of photos from that event. This was an idea I got from Pinterest, with original link here. It was called rainbow water and here is what hers looked like:
Here is what ours looked like. Major Pinterest FAIL, lol. Shoot, no one wants to drink black murky water, so I threw it away.
And here is a cute photo of one of my students. He was making a joke and did this and then he laughed. It was really cute!

4. Believe it or not, I actually am into this blog, but there's always one thing or another that pulls me away from it. This past month it was my Golden Retriever Thumbelina. She was diagnosed with cancer on her paw. Her options were to amputate it, leave it alone, or do radiation and chemo. As for the amputation, she's 12 and otherwise healthy, but has arthritis in here rear legs. It just wasn't going to work. If we left it alone, she would only have 2-4 months. If we did radiation and chemo, both with minimal side effects, we could have her for a year or two longer, so this was a no brainer. The problem is, the only place to do radiation was a 6 hour drive away, so that is what I did each week. I got up at 3AM, drove 6 hours over a mountain pass for her 1/2 hour appt, and then drove 6 hours back, all in one day mid week for 4 weeks. It exhausted me and it hasn't worked as well as we hoped, but she's still with us and relatively happy for now.

5. And finally, this is a picture off the ferry  I take to and from work each day. This is sunset and it was just beautiful. It's such a peaceful transition to and from my job each day.