Thursday, August 27, 2015

I am Working For...[Reinforcement in the Sped Classroom]

In a Special Education setting, behaviours must be taught, practiced and reinforced in order to maintain and generalize skills for different environments outside of your classroom. Keep it simple and expand when necessary, starting with these tips.

Circle Time Rule Poster Visual

1. Establish a set of rules.

Provide a visual of the rule you want your student to follow. Simple picture communication symbols are great for lower learners, but real photographs of the students actually following the rule helps to demonstrate exactly what the good behaviour "looks like." If your student requires direct teaching of certain behaviours, add these as a goal on the Behaviour page in their IEP. Try to think of behaviours that will benefit the student when they integrate to other classrooms. i.e. staying in their seat and listening quietly. Think about the future and where you see the student progressing towards. If they are displaying behaviours at a young age that wouldn't be appropriate as they got older, try to conduct a change early.

"I will keep water in the water table"

2. Keep it simple and realistic.

In a mainstream classroom, you might see a list of 5-10 classroom rules that are expected to be followed simultaneously at all times throughout the school year. In a Special Education setting, focusing on 1-3 rules at a time will allow for thorough teaching of the expectations, adult modelling and proper reinforcement to maintain positive behaviour for longer. Make sure that behaviour goals are realistic. It is NOT realistic for a child with severe ADHD to sit quietly and listen to a teacher for 30 minutes at a time.

3. Reinforce in a variety of ways.

Allow students the opportunity to gain reinforcement in multiple settings in a number of ways. This will give a positive response for behaviour even when the student isn't expecting it - resulting in an increase in acceptable behaviour all around. If you only reinforce "good sitting" behaviour in the student's homeroom, the memory required to demonstrate the same skill in a different setting (i.e. science class) might not transfer for many of your students.

Here are some great ways to reinforce behaviour in different ways:

  • A token board for students to work up towards a reinforcement of their choosing.
  • A tally chart for specific successes throughout the day (i.e. toileting tally - the reinforcement here would be pre-determined and something extra special that the student doesn't normally receive).

  • A classroom behaviour chart where students work collaboratively towards a pre-determined weekly reinforcement (i.e. party time on Friday).
4. Teach through rapid reinforcement and prompting.

Just because a student sees a token board doesn't mean they know how to use it or what it is for. Demonstrate good behaviour through adult modelling and use ANY and ALL good behaviour to reinforce quickly (like, every 15-30 seconds at first). This will teach the student that if they display certain behaviours they will get what they want. You can adjust later.

Here is an example: Jane doesn't want to colour, and instead only wants to play with play-doh. Colouring is the task and play-doh is the reinforcer.

1. Have Jane sit down at the desk in front of the colouring page and a marker.
2. Use a first/then visual to show and verbalize "first colour, then play-doh."
3. If Jane does not pick up the marker, repeat the instruction.
4. If Jane still doesn't move, you may have to place the marker in her hand.
5. Hand-over-hand prompt Jane to colour on the page (for a few seconds).
6. Immediately provide verbal praise and the reinforcement (play-doh).
7. After 30 seconds or so, take the reinforcer away and repeat steps 1-6.

After the student has developed an understanding of this system (you'll know when they begin performing the task independently), you can...
  • Create larger spaces of time between reinforcement intervals
  • Lengthen and expand on the demands of the task
  • Begin to generalize the first/then behaviour into other tasks 
  • Add a token board to increase the amount of a task completed (i.e. 1 minute of colouring = 1 star...5 stars for a reinforcement)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

AODA: A Decade in the Making

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was created to develop, implement and enforce accessibility standards for goods and services across the province. Read more about the ins and outs here, but in short the Act ensures that businesses and public spaces allow appropriate accommodations for people with disabilities to participate fully in society like everyone else. 

Imagine yourself in a wheelchair going about your day. That 10 cm lip going into the elevator and heightened doorknobs and buttons would prevent you from fully accessing support, resulting in an AODA violation to your condo building or workplace.

In July, my good friend Andrea Haefele was shocked when her family was not welcomed into a popular Toronto restaurant because of her daughter's Autism service dog. They were told by employees that animals were not allowed in the restaurant, even after the family presented documentation on the service dog's eligibility in public spaces. The Lion's Foundation of Canada are no strangers to educating the public on the acceptance of service animals as an accommodation, no, necessity for those with special needs, and helped Andrea to spread awareness about the importance of AODA guidelines in her community.
"If a person with a disability is accompanied by a guide dog or other service animal, the provider of goods or services shall ensure that the person is permitted to enter the premises with the animal and to keep the animal with him or her unless the animal is otherwise excluded by law from the premises. O. Reg. 429/07, s. 4."

In August, another Toronto family was outraged when their wheelchair-bound son was denied access to an amusement park ride because he couldn't stand next to the height measurement. His parents were appalled when an employee suggested they lift him from his wheelchair and hold him up to the measurement instead of using a measuring tape. Both of the above stories demonstrate AODA violations that unfortunately target our most vulnerable population.

A picture of the Centreville Amusement Park bumper car height restrictions sign located inside the bumper car area.
"The policies must deal with the use of assistive devices by persons with disabilities to obtain, use or benefit from the provider’s goods or services or the availability, if any, of other measures which enable them to do so. O. Reg. 429/07, s. 3 (3)."
Toronto's ParaPanam Games brought thousands of tourists to our city, and its council was sure to create a thorough accessibility guide that was put into place. However, the games did not appear to practice the strategy as seamlessly as participants and audience members complained about the barriers for blind persons to access a lot of the games' material. Having said that, however, the Toronto 2015 Panam and Parapanam games are said to be the "most accessible games yet." Meaning, we are improving but aren't there yet.

Why aren't we there yet?

The first two stories came from companies and businesses who swear by their AODA standards, and yet it was obvious that their employees were uneducated and untrained to properly maintain them. Even with incentives for those who do comply and penalties who those who don't, the proper training of employees is critical. The AODA states that training must include...
1. How to interact and communicate with persons with various types of disability. 
2. How to interact with persons with disabilities who use an assistive device or require the assistance of a guide dog or other service animal or the assistance of a support person. 
3. How to use equipment or devices available on the provider’s premises or otherwise provided by the provider that may help with the provision of goods or services to a person with a disability. 
4. What to do if a person with a particular type of disability is having difficulty accessing the provider’s goods or services. O. Reg. 429/07, s. 6 (2).
When will we get there? 

The AODA's goal is long term, and they hope to make Ontario fully accessible by January 1, 2025, meaning we are over 9 years away from everyone being able to access public spaces equally in our province.

What can you do?

1. Share the AODA with your fellow Ontarians, especially those with disabilities so they are aware of the rights they are entitled to.

2. Take a look at the public spaces in your neighbourhood - parks, playgrounds, shopping centers, business etc. to see if they are meeting accessibility standards.

3. Provide both positive and critical feedback to businesses and providers on things they are doing and can do to make their space more accessible. 

4. Share this post with a business owner you know to ensure the proper training of employees and that all businesses are striving towards the goal of the AODA.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Picture Books for Teaching About ASD

With Social Skills and Inclusion at the forefront of my teaching practice, I am always looking for new ways to introduce ASD concepts to the neurotypical peers of my students. In my experience, young children are the best receivers of this sensitive information, and I usually begin sharing knowledge with students in Kindergarten. These learners typically take information about Autism at face value, and simply accept differences as they come. They are not afraid to ask difficult questions and don't fear the social consequences that might come with "putting Autism on the table."

1. My Brother Charlie by Denene Millner, Holly Robinson Peete & Ryan Elizabeth Pete

"Charlie has autism. His brain works in a special way. It's harder for him to make friends. Or show his true feelings. Or stay safe."

Actress Holly Robinson Peete and her daughter Ryan collaborate on a picture book for young children from the perspective of a twin sibling. Ryan explains her brother's likes and interests, which include swimming, running fast and "sometimes being quiet." She points out the things he is good at, like naming all of the American presidents and knowing everything about airplanes.

Holly founded the HOLLYROD foundation which provides compassionate care for families living with Autism.

2. Since We're Friends: An Autism Picture Book 
by Celeste Shally

From the perspective of a best friend, "Since We're Friends" is a picture book for young children that explores the social obstacles of those with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Matt isn't sure how to navigate the social norms in the public pool and sometimes presents behaviours that are unpleasant to others. However, his friend sticks by his side and helps him to make better choices while accepting his needs as things that make their friendship stronger.

3. In My Mind: The World Through the Eyes of Autism
by Adonya Wong

"In my mind, I see many colours, bright like a rainbow, shooting about like comets in a night sky." 

"In My Mind" explores specific characteristics of ASD such as self-talk and stimming and allows you to get inside the mind of a boy with Autism. While what you see is a "child staring into nothing," this book teaches children that there are many things going on in the mind of someone else, and gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "don't judge a book by it's cover."

4. Autism Is...?

by Ymkje Wideman-van der Laan

This book is great for the young learners, and I love reading to Kindergarten aged students. It does not go into a lot of detail about ASD, but it explains Autism as the brain working differently and describes some very general characteristics such as spinning and differences in communication. The illustrations in this book are bright and colourful, making it an engaging read for kids. I like the fact that it uses broad descriptions that lead the way for questions and conversation after reading.

5. Can I Tell You about Asperger's Syndrome? 
by Jude Welton

"...having AS means I have difficulties with some things that most people don't have trouble with. My main difficulties are with what some people call 'social sense' - understanding and getting along with other people easily."

For middle school-aged children, "Can I Tell You About Asperger's Syndrome" is a great resource for teaching children to understand the differences between themselves and their peers. For students who are diagnosed with Asperger's, the book can be used as a communication tool for their families and friends. 

What are your favourite books to teach about Autism?

Monday, June 01, 2015

Stop Pretending & #MakeSchoolDifferent

The #makeschooldifferent challenge calls upon educators to look critically at our current education system and how it affects our students. As I read some great posts by other educators, I find that some of the issues that arise around public education and 'mainstream' teaching produce commonalities that are also found in Special Education. I hope you take this time to think about how you can #makeschooldifferent in your classroom. Here we go!

Let's Stop Pretending That...

1. "Age Appropriate" is a bottom line.

This is a really hot issue that I have witnessed in many schools, and seems to arise when teaching students with special needs. Is it "appropriate" for a 17-yr-old student to watch Barney, or to sleep with a teddy bear? Once a student moves to high school should we replace Dora with Hannah Montana as a next step in teaching kids to grow up as we would like them to? Growing up with a DD brother who had the Disney obsession that a lot of children (not just those with ASD) shared, he was naturally encouraged to move away from the cartoons to real-life sitcoms and Harry Potter. As a sister, I wouldn't have wanted to go to school and see my 14-yr-old brother carrying around his favourite Pinocchio doll, and I knew in foresight that it would be even more socially unacceptable to see a 25-yr-old man doing the same.

As a teacher of students with ASD of whom I try to teach the rest of the world to accept with, not despite their quirks, I tend to be more lenient on this issue. Some will argue that imposing "age appropriate" activities will save students from social stigma that will set them apart from their peers and cause further exclusion.

Firstly, any Autism parent knows that specialized interests (a characteristic of ASD) tend to be highly motivating reinforcers for their kids. They also may have very limited interests and it can seem nearly impossible to broaden their repertoire, including objects or food. My students don't work for the same kind of social praise as their peers, and they need a tangible reward that they can hold in their hands for completing tasks on a daily basis. Therefore, if a senior student gets water play for 5 minutes at the end of the day in exchange for completing a day's worth of tasks and demands, I am happy to provide him with that activity.

Secondly, who are we to deem what us appropriate for our students!? A grade 8 with Asperger's Syndrome may feel more comfortable playing in the kindergarten pen at recess. While teaching the student the social skills necessary to interact with his own peers, there is no harm in creating a system where he can be a kindergarten helper twice a week with students who are more at his cognitive level. As 21st century teachers we are constantly hearing about the importance of tapping into our student's interests and the rates of success that come with it. Instead of worrying about the social consequences of a Disney fixation, why don't we use the topic of animation to create activities that are meaningful and engaging to our students? Special Education is all about picking battles, and as long as an item isn't causing behaviours or danger to anyone, I say let's let the kids be happy. Or, as the mother of an extremely picky ASD eater once said, "let him put ketchup...on everything."

2. Integration only works when the content is doable.

Integrating students into mainstream classrooms is a way to increase social engagement and improve upon typical classroom behaviour that you might not be able to replicate in a contained classroom of 6 or so students. Integration for my students is 95% about social skills and 5% academics. It's about sitting at a desk surrounded by 20 other students, sharing physical space, listening to others speak and raising a hand.

Curriculum, let's face it, requires modification for many students and not just those who visit the large classroom once or twice a day. For my students, academic gains happen one-on-one in the contained setting where they learn best through very meaningful tasks. Integration periods teach flexibility and social improv that need to be taught in the moment. Therefore, even if my integration class was studying quantum physics one day I would still have my students attend, sit with their peers and practise watching the teacher at the front of the room.

3. Inclusion is the "Be All, End All."

Gasp!! Seriously?? My colleagues and I have worked tirelessly to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for the ASD students at my school. We have trained their typical peers in small and large group settings, invited students and staff into our classroom to see what we do and even organized a yearly school-wide event we call "Comm-UNITY Day" to bring attention towards our differences and promote and encourage inclusive actions and environments. So let me explain my point. I have taught in partially integrated classrooms where I have seen the benefits of joining mainstream peers in academic and recreational settings. I have also taught in self-contained environments where inclusion was not realistic or helpful for my students, due to their behaviours and high anxiety.

Last year I read Tim Villagas' article titled "5 Reasons I am still a Self-Contained Teacher" which highlights the idea that while inclusion should be available to all, it may not always be the best option for all. I digress to "picking your battles." As a general statement, people with ASD tend to want to be alone - whether or not they are properly equipped with the necessary social skills to survive in a classroom of 30 children. The sensory stimulation alone of a classroom that size could be enough to cause significant stress to (some of) our students. Therefore, while social integration is a natural part of life that students will need to be accustomed to in order to survive the 'real world', we need to let go of the notion that it is a positive experience for all exceptional students.

4. Young children can't/shouldn't learn about disabilities.

I remember two "special needs" kids from my classes in elementary school. They were the ones who would be taken out of the class for most of the day or who would have an extra teacher helping them in Language and Math. It was only years later that I realized that they were actually non-verbal and required one-on-one support to get through most of their school day. To me, they were just like any other kids in my class, however I had very little interaction with them and was never told that they were different, I just knew it. This situation was considered a success in what I call the "old model of inclusion", whose goal was to have exceptional students integrated as much as possible, and to blend in with the rest of their mainstream peers. The old model didn't teach students about differences and didn't utilize integration as a tool for teaching students with special needs. Instead, it was an accomplishment to have the students fade into the background.
Opening a new ASD classroom in a school with no other contained classrooms was an overwhelming task. As someone who is passionate about inclusion, I worried about the reception of information from students and staff. However, I quickly realized that young students were the BEST candidates for successful inclusion, perhaps even better than older and seemingly more mature students. Why? The younger a child is, the more apt they are to take information for it's face value. When you explain to them why a student doesn't speak using words, they accept the information without the social background knowledge of feeling sympathetic or "sorry for" the student. They aren't scared. They will ask questions without worrying about being offensive or feeling the repercussions from adults for being rude. As educators, it is our job to encourage and accept questioning as part of the learning process. When we are honest and up front with our students, the possibilities for inclusive education are endless. 

Check out these other posts about #makingschooldifferent:

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Benefits of Sports for ASD Kids

"It was through the world of sports and legendary Lakers announcer Chick Hearn that I was able to find my voice and thus communicate with the world."
Ethan Hanson was diagnosed with high functioning Asperger's syndrome when he was 4 years old. Asperger's is an Autism Spectrum Disorder which is characterized through difficulties with social interactions, restricted interests and repetitive behaviours. Ethan's mother was told by doctors that he would never live a normal life. Ethan had aggressive behaviours that were a result of frustrations stemming from a lack of appropriate communication strategies and peer interactions. He was bullied for being "different" and struggled to find a place where he fit in, until he discovered sports. So what is the benefit of recreational sports for children with ASD?
1. There are rules.

Children with ASD and Asperger's are rule seekers. They are most successful in environments that are consistent and predictable, much like that of a basketball court or a soccer field. While we can't always predict the call of a referee, sport teaches children about flexibility and subjectivity while maintaining much needed structure.  Ethan was a speed reader and would memorize sports stats using his strong mathematical memory. He took comfort in the predictability of numbers and math and would apply them to his life both on and off the field. 

"I’d turn off the volume so I could talk, then I’d close my eyes and imagine I was there then open my eyes to watch the game and call the game as if I were Chick Hearn or Marv Albert. I never missed a game and I would stay up past my bedtime to continue to announce." 

2. Improved Social Skills.

Finding a safe, non-threatening environment to hone physical activity skills will also provide a number of social skills development opportunities, including: leadership, empathy, turn taking and healthy competition. Ethan was bullied at school which led to fighting and a lack of social relationships with his peers. A a competitive child, he would throw tantrums when he lost and had difficulty coping with his own high expectations. When his Mom put him into Martial Arts, he learned valuable lessons about respect and self-reflection. The sport expected a strict discipline that demanded a harnessing of his anger towards something positive. 
"It wasn't just getting to throw people around, it was about learning to respect your opponents and teachers."
3. Combats Weight Gain.

The risk of adolescent weight gain in children with Autism can be partly attributed to a lack of physical activity and inconsistent dietary patterns, and partly to the side effects of widely used anti-psychotic prescription drugs. Children with Autism can have sensory sensitivities that make them picky eaters and they may have aversions to certain textures and temperatures

4. Decreases Behaviours.

One characteristic of ASD is "stimming", which are repetitive behaviours such as rocking back and forth, head nodding and hand flapping. The highly structured routines of individual sports such as running or swimming are similar to and can distract from the repetitive behaviours associated with ASD. Ethan's behaviours manifested in attention-seeking aggression towards family and peers. He would headbutt his younger brother and clench his fists in rage when he didn't get his way. Football allowed Ethan to release a lot of aggression he felt towards his family, peers and himself.

 "It was all about contact, intensity, toughness and discipline." 

6. Sensory input.

Movement and activity can help those ASD children with Sensory Processing Disorders. Coordination is often difficult for children who have poor Proprioception, which is the ability to locate the body in space. Therapy can include pushing heavy objects and lifting weights.

7. Builds Confidence.

Self-esteem is built when an individual succeeds and is praised. Similar to the effects of Applied Behavioural Analysis, the positive reinforcement one receives from recreational sports builds a sense of physical and emotional self-worth for kids with Autism. Organized sport allowed Ethan to express himself in a positive way. He attributes his success to those who recognized his talent and pushed and motivated him to excel in what he succeeded in. 
"Just because the world sees you as different doesn't make you bad, it means that you are powerful beyond what they can imagine. At the end of the day, people like us are born with the potential to do wonderful things for the world." 

Ethan Hanson is a play-by-play sports announcer with Asperger's Syndrome. After high school he attended Pierce College and became the school sports broadcaster for football, basketball, soccer, volleyball, baseball and soccer. He has been broadcasting high school and junior college sports for 5 years, and is currently a contributor for the Last Word on Sports and hosts his own webshow "Deuces Wild." 

READ MORE about Ethan's journey.
Follow @EthanAHanson

Find out more about Asperger's Syndrome.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Letter to Kadence...

In honour of Mother's Day, I am happy to share a post written by my good friend and co-worker Andrea Haefele. Andrea's daughter Bella is a student of mine and from the outside presents as a non-verbal learner with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome. Andrea's advocacy for her daughter's exceptional needs knows no bounds, and recently has included the training and guidance of the newest member of their family - Kadence. Read her story below...
Dear Kadence,
We’ve waited almost three years for you to come into our lives.  I can’t begin to tell you how thankful I am that you are finally a member of our family.

I know that you’ve already been through a lot and have worked very hard to get to where you are today. From birth, you were exposed to different noises and obstacles to help encourage confidence and curiosity. You were then raised by a foster family who gave you basic training and socialized you to as many sights, sounds and smells to prepare you for your future career. When you were only one-year-old, you left your foster family to endure many assessments, and you were carefully selected to become an Autism Assistance Dog Guide. Since February, you were matched with our daughter Bella and have officially joined our family. Our household is now filled with high-pitched screams of excitement every morning when Bella sees you. You’ve brought such a sense of joy and hope into our lives.

Since becoming a mother, I’ve carried a lot of weight on my shoulders. I wake up every morning and go to bed every night worrying. When Bella was a baby, I would worry about why she wasn’t hitting her milestones like the other babies. I worried that she would never be able to walk. I worried that the doctors would never be able to provide us with a diagnosis that would explain why she was different. Now that Bella is 6 and in kindergarten, I worry if she has friends to play with at recess. I worry about her hurting herself because she does not walk steadily. I worry about her wandering away and getting lost because she has no sense of personal safety. I worry about her getting sick and enduring another seizure. I worry that I’m not doing enough to help her reach her potential. Most of all, I worry about her future.
One of the hardest challenges that I have faced as a parent to a child with special needs is having to rely on others to help my child because I can’t. Although as a teacher I help students on a daily basis to reach their goals and soar beyond their potential, there’s only so much that I can do for my little girl. I’ve had to learn to trust doctors, specialists, therapists, educational assistants, and her teachers to provide the tools that I don’t have to help Bella. Over the past years, granting these experts our trust has paid off because their training has helped Bella to learn how to walk and communicate with us with the help of visual aids and picture cards.

We’ve worked very hard to get Bella to where she is today. However, I never expected to, one day, welcome the expertise of a four-legged furry creature who wags her bum, drools and passes gas unapologetically.
We are now on the journey of, not only embracing you as part of our lives, but entrusting you with our happy little girl. The trainers have told us that it may take up to a year until you meaningfully bond with Bella. Because she is non-verbal, I know it is challenging for you to read her and understand her needs. However, in just the few months that you have been with us, you have already learned Bella’s pace as she tiptoes while she plays, and stomps while she walks. You quietly lie beside Bella when she is in her IBI, speech and language, and physiotherapy sessions and provide her with the self- assurance and confidence that she needs. You tolerate her pulling and whacking on your tail because you see that it makes her giggle. You lick her hand because you know she likes the feeling of your teeth and your tongue. When Bella wakes up crying in the middle of the night, you’re beginning to check on her and turn Bella’s terrified cries into reassured smiles.

Kadence, I admire your work ethic, patience, and manners. As I load the kids into the car, you sit by my side until you are given the command to jump in. You always wait patiently for your food as Bella is learning how to place it into your bowl, and refuse your dog treats before we give you the command to go ahead. When other dogs bark at you for your attention, or when a squirrel runs across the road, you continue walking straight ahead because you know you have a job to do.

I wonder if you’ll ever truly grasp the importance of your role, not only for Bella, but for all of us. We will never be able to provide Bella with the companionship and emotional support that you can. Nothing makes Bella’s smile larger than seeing you. I look forward to witnessing your growing bond and seeing Bella thrive with you by her side.
Now that Bella is getting older and taller, she is beginning to stand out when we’re out in public. I can see it in people's eyes. They stare and wonder why she wants to lick everything, why she makes funny noises, why she spins around and around, and why she still wears a bib. Before you came into our lives, Kadence, I would sometimes feel self-conscious and carry an arsenal of tools to calm Bella down and to help her cope. We sometimes have to put her in a wheelchair for family outings to keep her safe. Now, with you walking by our side, I feel a sense of pride and comfort. The red harness that you wear is a poster creating awareness for autism and advocating for Bella.  

People are now more open to approaching us with questions. Meaningful questions such as: How does Kadence help her? What do you need Kadence for? What kind of training did she have to go through? Does your daughter enjoy Kadence? I love how people have the courage to ask.

We are working towards having Kadence go to school with Bella in September so that Bella can continue growing, learning and moving forward as you provide her with confidence, competence, and independence. Thank you, Kadence, for providing my daughter with laughter, companionship, strength, and courage. But most of all, thank you for being a friend to our Bella.


Although a dog guide is valued at $25,000, they are provided free of charge to families who apply for a dog guide (whether it be for the vision and hearing impaired, seizure response, autism assistance, diabetic alert, and other service dogs). The Lions Foundation of Canada is the founder and primary funder of Dog Guides Canada. Lions clubs across Canada contribute 25% of the revenue for the organization, so they depend highly on donations, sponsorship, and fundraisers.

Every year our family has done an annual run to raise awareness for people and families who live with special needs. With the addition of Kadence into our family this year, we decided to do the Purina Walk for Dog Guides on May 24th at Harbourfront Ontario. Please consider making a donation to help provide dog guides to other families HERE.

Click HERE for more information on Autism Assistance Dog Guides.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Ontario's New Inclusive H&PE Curriculum

Ontario's new Health and Physical Education (HPE) curriculum has had it's share of controversy since it's release in February. The pushback from parents and educators is mainly due to the fact that the new curriculum is "keeping up with the ages", and is teaching students more explicit lessons at younger ages in an effort to keep up with the decreasing age of puberty.

As a Special Educator, I'd like to point out the less discussed aspect of the new 21st century curriculum - it's inclusion of guidelines for teaching Physical Literacy to students with special education needs. Last year at OPHEA's Healthy Schools Conference, @andreahaefele & I went on a mission to DisABLE the LABEL and hold physical educators accountable for inclusive P.E. Finally, with the introduction of the 2015 HPE curriculum, teachers have a resource to attach to this task. Below are some of the guidelines for teaching students with special needs that the new document focuses on:

1. Focus on what the student CAN do.
Your exceptional student may only access a quarter of the curriculum. Teach the rest of the class what they need to know, but provide options for those students to shine. Ex. Your student with ADHD can't seem to sit still. Why not have them demonstrate gross motor skills to the rest of the class during your lesson?
2. Ask your students about their needs & strategies.
Take advantage of students who can advocate for themselves. Try having a visual cue or a discreet signal to check their understanding. Using visuals in the gym can help students with processing needs to navigate the large space and follow directions with their peers.

3. Use your school support systems.
Support staff and Special Education teachers know their students best. Use them as valuable resources to tap into how their students learn. Support staff are best utilized when paired with a special needs learner and similar age peers for integration and social skills practice.
4. Consult the IEP.
Does your student have a diagnosis? If so, you are accountable for following the teaching strategies in their IEP, and if needed, creating modified goals on their HPE page. Exceptional learners may not access all of the curriculum, but you need to decide whether you will teach them completely modified curriculum expectations, or simply accommodate the regular expectations that you think they will succeed at.
5. Accommodate and Modify.
Accommodations are things you do to help students access the regular curriculum expectations. Modifications are changes to curriculum expectations in order for students to be successful. Ask the student's homeroom teacher and check the IEP for what ACC and MOD are already being used in their classroom.

6. Break down new skills.
"Chunking" new skills into manageable steps will help ALL students, not just those with special needs. Using a To Do/Done board to break down tasks or to use as a visual reminder of centres or stations to be completed.
7. Modify Equipment.
Specialized equipment doesn't have to cost you. Incorporate items of different sizes and weights to accommodate motor difficulties and easy-grip items to build coordination.

8. Adjust rules and expectations.
Decrease the number and/or complexity of curriculum expectations (my ASD students focused on 3 each term) to ensure success. Adjust the rules of a game to ensure that all learners are being included. Explaining the modified rules to integration peers will help to build understanding and empathy.

9. Prompt.
When teaching new skills, begin with hand-over-hand prompting and move up the hierarchy towards visual, gestural and natural cues (i.e. pointing) to increase the student's independence as they become accustomed to new skills.
10. Use a buddy system.

Creating a buddy system for integration will boost the confidence of special needs learners through naturalistic opportunities, develop skills quicker through peer modelling and imitation and improve social skills for ALL students!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Early Math for Autism

Math is one subject where the predictability and routine-like characteristics of Autism are nurtured. Rules are consistent and there is only ONE answer.

When choosing Mathematics goals for my students, I try to envision where I see them twenty years from now. Will they be able to use money to do their own shopping? Will they need to tell time to self-regulate their own schedule to avoid anxiety? Will they be able to hold a job where they are required to sort stock on a grocery shelf? While mainstream students are taught many concepts which (let's face it) they may not use in 'real life', there is little point in teaching a student with Autism anything which will not enhance their quality of life and independent skills for the future.

1. Matching & Sorting

What: Sorting by Size, Shape, Colour, Attributes and Function
Life Skills: Putting items away where they belong, cleaning up, laundry, following directions, sorting money.

2. Number Recognition

What: Teaches students to recognize written numbers expressively and/or receptively
Life Skills: Reading a clock, reading a bus schedule, following a recipe, following written directions, completing math problems, finding a room number, reading quantities, reading a calendar, rolling a dice.

3. 1:1 Correspondence

What: Teaches students to recognize numbers of objects in groups with/without counting.
Life Skills: Setting a table for an appropriate number of people, serving people at a table, handing out flyers, delivering items, dressing.

4. Patterning

What: Recognizing, creating and extending patterns.
Life Skills: Setting a table (fork, plate, knife, cup, fork, plate, etc...), learning songs and rhythms, literacy activities using repetitive texts, remembering routines.

5. Quantity

What: How many, how much, more and less.
Life Skills: Taking attendance, comparing amounts of money, calculating change.