Working with children with autism spectrum disorder while at home
Thanks a lot, COVID-19!
Apparently the way to get our blog back up and running is to lock everyone in their homes! Just kidding! Take care of yourselves: wash your hands, practice social distancing, and stay connected with those you love to help take care of each other.
We at Autism Immersed have been up to some exciting changes in our products and services, but this COVID-19 health emergency has revealed some interesting and encouraging truths about our teachers and our students. In the challenges we are all facing and the separations we are enduring, we also are learning just how powerful the Academic and Social Immersion Model is, not only in educating children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their neurotypical peers, but also in building a community of teachers, therapists, children, and families. With that in mind, this blog series (Helpful HInts for Home) will address a few different aspects of schooling from home as well as offer some tips to those of you working as well. Today, we would like to offer some general tips for schooling from home for our students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Please don’t think you need to do everything on this list at once–that would be overwhelming. Pick an area that you think would enhance Distance Learning for your and for your child and start there. As always, your Oakstone Academy teachers are ready to support you if you need help or more ideas. Don’t be afriad to reach out!
Parents are by far the experts on their children, and this holds true for parents of children with autism spectrum disorder. That being said, those of us who teach children with autism spectrum disorders have a collection of best practices based on our experience successfully educating our students. While home will never be school (and should not be expected to be), using some of these tried and true strategies at home could make this interruption to our school routine less disruptive to your child’s education and keep things happier at home.
One tried and true practice in teaching students on the autism spectrum is to have a consistent structure available. Many behaviors that interfere with learning are a sign of anxiety or confusion with what is going on. In the classroom, structure is offered with schedules and routines. This same idea of structure can carry over to the home, though in a more manageable way for families. Some tips on adding structure and routine to your home environment include
- Designate a spot at home for learning. This might be a desk or a dining room table. It should be a spot that has fewer distractions (television, toys). The mom who set up the work stations above knew her kids would need some space between them to accomplish their work. You can also have a schedule or daily rotation for use of preferred work areas/equipment.
- Use a list to help track what tasks need to be done. This list can be written on paper or a dry erase board, drawn on notecards, or created online. Many of our Intervention Specialists are helping parents customize a to-do list, like the ones pictured here. Visuals are much more powerful than verbal instructions for children with ASD, as they are easier for them to process and takes away ambiguity.
- A weekly calendar could also help your child. They are used to certain tasks on certain days, with some “home days”. Marking off a calendar to show when they have school work and when they don’t can help children with ASD cope with the many changes this pandemic has brought into our lives.
- Using a Social Immersion Plan (SIP) about COVID-19 and the changes it has brought can help explain changes and reassure students, making a big difference in attitudes and anxiety.
- Set times to work on tasks. If work is done early, great! If work is not done, STOP ANYWAY. You can always have 1 item on your to-do list as “catch up time” to provide a time for your child to finish anything that was dragging too long.
- Don’t end your structure with just the tasks that are coming home from school to complete. Extend this to things like screen time, outdoor time, physical activity, and creative time. If you have 1 hour of structure and then 12 hours of a free for all, the structure will feel more difficult for your child.
- Give kids some choices about activities they would like to tackle first, giving them some degree of control over tasks and making them feel part of the structure of the day.
High expectations are key to the success of children with autism spectrum disorder in the immersion classroom. Children rise to our belief in them. If you as the parent expect that this school at home is going to be a disaster, it probably will be. If you expect that it will be hard, but your child CAN do it, it probably will be as well. Ask your child to share some of the rules he or she follows at school and then use those as a basis to make some expectations for school time at home.
- Choose 3-5 general expectations to include. These could relate to physical behaviors, work completion, or attitudes.
- Phrase them in both the positive and negative forms for clarity. For example, “Use kind hands and words. NO fighting” could be one. “Try your best: don’t give up!” could be another.
- Add a visual representation for each, whether it is a sketch, a piece of clip art, or even a drawing made by your child.
- Keep expectations realistic for the age of your child. Reach out to teachers or online resources to get some ideas for the amount of time or work your child should be able to complete.
- Make school an expectation of the day. While younger children may not have the same level of school work as the first grader or middle schooler, be sure the environment at home is consistent with learning. Having a younger sibling work on crafts, workbooks, or learning-oriented computer games will keep everyone in the family focused on learning.
Accountability goes hand in hand with high expectations for all children, but especially for children with ASD. When most people hear the word “consequence,” they assume negative consequences. However, a consequence is simply something that results from an action. Consequences can be positive or negative. Consequences are what hold us accountable for our actions. If we provide structure and high expectations for our learners, we also have to follow through on those expectations. A few tips on accountability:
- Don’t make threats or promises that you are unwilling or unable to follow through on. You aren’t going to throw away your television or cancel summer, so don’t threaten that.
- Set up small manageable positive consequences for finishing work. One parent is currently giving one point each for a wide variety of tasks, from schoolwork to household help to physical activity. These points can be cashed in for small treats (like dessert or extra TV) or saved over the week for a larger reward ($10-15 to spend on art supplies or a game on Amazon after a larger amount of points over the course of the week). Another family is building in time to video chat with friends as tasks get completed.
- Clear and consistent consequences take the personal out of finishing tasks. If a student complies, they get the positive consequences. If they don’t, they miss out on something they like. It’s not personal. It’s just the plan.
- Can we hear it for VISUALS again?? You don’t have to be an artist or graphic designer to create a quick chart with 3 boxes to represent tasks to be done and a 4th box to represent the item your child is working for.
Our students with ASD thrive in classrooms that offer varied and authentic learning experiences, balanced with social skills integration and social-emotional learning. “School from home” is not expected to be school. It is not even home school. It is its own thing that we are all learning how to do together. Your child is not going to be able to fill an 8 hour school day with learning tasks at home. That doesn’t mean it is wise or helpful to spend the balance of their time playing video games or watching Youtube videos. Many teachers plan their class time in thirds: a lesson for a third of the time, guided practice for a third, then independent practice for the final third. Consider adding a similar balance to home tasks: one third each of school work, relaxation time, and activities in the middle like physical fitness, art, and stories. Students have a wide range of types of assignments and activities at school that helps add variety. Some ways to add balance to your days ahead include
- Make a list with your child of things they want to do. Right now the internet is full of fun ideas for those of us sheltering in place. This list could be checked off as children do different types of activities that they enjoy and try new things as well.
- Balance YouTube videos your kids enjoy with some that have educational merit. Museums, zoos, parks, and other educational resource centers have been sharing many virtual field trips online.
- Understand your child’s tolerance for boredom. Some students with ASD need their time fully scheduled to help them refrain from self-stimulatory behaviors (“stimming”), while others can fill time with toys, books, or games.
- Save technology time for the times it is helpful to you as a parent. Need to make a conference call for work? Ipad time! Need to bathe another child or work on dinner? Netflix.
- Using color coding or a visual schedule on a day can help your child see how much screen time is enough or too much. One easy way to do this is to divide a paper plate in 12 sections for the hours 8am-8pm. Have your child color sections according to a code (red for screen time, green for school work, yellow for playtime, etc.) so they can see how they are spending their time. They can do this with you before they start their day as a plan or as they do things throughout the day as a tracker.
We teachers love spending our time with your students. For us, this is a hard time becuase we miss your children and the joy that comes with seeing them understand something new or show off a developing skill. We also understand that this new normal is stressful for you and for them. Find ways to add joy and fun. Try to acknowledge and normalize the stress of this time. Find ways to be joyful and make memories.
- Encourage your child to help you make a “school at home”. What aspects of their school day and environment do they enjoy and want to replicate? How can work also mimic play?
- Praise your child frequently. Remind them that this is new and hard and that you really just want their best effort. When praising, be concrete and specific. For example, “I love how you concentrated and finished your math worksheet.” is much more powerful than “Good job on math!” It pairs the praise with the action, which hopefully leads them to want to do well again.
- Have each family member name a good thing from your day. You could write this on a long list or add them to a jar as a record of the special moments this change brings.
- Enjoy this time of transition. Though this time is different and often stressful, it does allow us to pause and spend time with our families.
- Create memories such as making a dessert or afternoon snack that the family can enjoy.
- Remember that this too shall pass and your kids will be back with their teachers soon! We can’t wait!
REMEMBER, don’t try to tackle everything here at once. Choose an idea or two to add to your time at home and see if it helps you. We are here to help you tackle whatever you need!