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Benefits of Immersion Part 2: Don’t take our word for it!

In Academic and Social Immersion, students with disabilities are full members of the community. Imagine the difference that makes in their lives. We don’t have to imagine at Oakstone Academy because we see it everyday. We see lives being changed through immersion. Listen to a few of our students with autism spectrum disorder share the things that stand out to them about their school.

“The teachers are great. They are kind and respectful. They’re good at helping you with work. They just make school fun in general.” -10th grade student 

Teachers in Academic and Social Immersion are trained to work with all types of students. Differentiation is the norm–the expectation. Students with IEPs participate in the general education curriculum with supports added where needed and removed when the student is ready. Teachers are more positive and accepting of all types of students because this is literally what the teachers signed up for. The experience and knowledge these teachers have raises the bar of expectations for students with and without disabilities. The focus of instruction really becomes student understanding and engagement for all learners. Teachers celebrate success and progress, but never stop pursuing improved outcomes.

 

“I like learning now. I just want more leaning. That’s something that happened when I came to Oakstone.”  -6th grade student

Because teachers are trained and create a learning environment that works for many different types of learners, many students become passionate about learning. They feel smart–some for the first time. They feel capable and ready to take on challenges. They read more than they thought they could, write more than they ever have, and master content that surprises even their parents and teachers because they discover the inner motivation and passion for learning that comes from the feeling of success in school.

 

“I like that everybody’s kind here. They actually enforce the No Bullying policy. It (bullying) just doesn’t happen non-stop with no consequence.” -6th grade student

Immersion works when everyone is a member of the community. Students know when posters are hung and lip service is given to inclusion and anti-bullying, but the message is not ingrained in the culture. True inclusion can be messy and uncomfortable when students are held accountable for their words and their behaviors. Sometimes difficult conversations are needed, but they pay off in the positive and welcoming culture built in the school.

 

“We don’t have stereotypes or bullies or gossip or rumors. I don’t understand when my friends from other schools talk about those things. They just aren’t part of my life.” -7th grade student

Gossip and backstabbing, rumors and cliques….media and culture would tell us that those are all just part of middle school and high school.  But they don’t have to be. For many students these aspects of school take over their life and distract from learning and from building relationships. In an Academic and Social Immersion school, everyone has value because everyone is a fully-participating member of the group. Social and emotional learning, character education, and social skills training are incorporated in classes as well as extracurriculars. Everyone represents the school, and their individual and team success is celebrated, whether success for them is a basketball team victory or a great ACT score or a successful service project. All of these activities build the school’s identity and culture, so all are valued.

 

“I make a lot of friends here. The kids are cool.” -6th grade student

The power of a friend cannot be overstated. In the Academic and Social Immersion Model, we see students have friends. Students are invited to parties, hang out outside of school, or socialize online for the students who live further apart. We watch students help each other and look out for one another. We see true lasting friendships between students of all abilities and backgrounds.

 

“The atmosphere of the school? Thumbs up! I’m me here, and people like me for me. That’s a new one.” -8th grade student

Middle school and high school are challenging times for everyone as adolescents figure out who they are. Some kids like gaming; other prefer sports. Some want to dress like a Abercrombie model, while others prefer worn jeans and concert tees. In Academic and Social Immersion, everyone has a place and is respected, regardless of interests. While we actively teach students with social impairments how to behave appropriately in social settings, we also support individual interests. It feels good to be accepted.  

 

“I love Oakstone with all my heart and the school literally changed my life, socially, mentally, and physically. You don’t see our level of inclusion in any other schools. They are a second family to me. Without Oakstone, I wouldn’t have the social skills I have today.” -12th grade student

Academic and Social Immersion does not stop at the classroom door. Students feel safe and accepted in extracurriculars and social events as well. Students step outside the box of their own interests and join clubs or teams that may be a stretch for them because they know the group will catch them if they fall. The success they feel during the school day extends to many different events.

 

While we adults who facilitate Academic and Social Immersion believe strongly in what we do, it’s the students who see the results and carry the model forward. Academic and Social Immersion is not a fad or an add-in. It is a powerful tool for building a school climate of acceptance, success, and confidence.

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Benefits of Immersion, Part 1

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Maybe you have read some previous posts on this blog and think that Academic and Social Immersion sounds too good to be true.

Maybe you are thinking that this model would work “if only” you had different administration, different parents, different students…different everything.

Maybe you are wondering why a parent of a typically developing child would choose to have them included in this type of model.

Maybe you have seen great results from another type of program and are afraid to rock the boat of stability and familiarity.

Don’t take our word for it. Here are some things that a few of our parents have to say about Academic and Social Immersion and their experiences:

  • “When we first got here, we couldn’t go to a restaurant as a family because we were concerned about our child’s behaviors, but as we’ve had the benefit of the school, those things have really normalized for us. We can go anywhere.”
  • “I have to say that you made my son feel on top of the world! He beamed over his (citizenship) certificate as soon as he got in the car. We went to show my parents and his big sister. I am so proud of him. This is a boy that begged me to homeschool last year because he didn’t want to go. The social struggle was a huge part of it. As a mom, I just want to send a big hug and thank you!”
  • “(My son’s) been so excited to go to school this week.  I think he was really used to being different and feeling unconnected from the other kids. I don’t think they really interested him all that much because the interactions were so unfulfilling. He is having the exact opposite response at Oakstone.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve wanted this for him.”
  • “My son is the living proof of the miracles and commitment provided by Oakstone Academy…At Oakstone, everyone (admin and teachers) are committed to the individual growth and success in the social setting where all the students support one another. No one has a disability at Oakstone. All are abled and the talents of the children there shine.”

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We ask that you check out the research. (We have some on our PUBLICATIONS tab above.) Check out the Oakstone Academy social media sites to see happy students of all abilities immersed in the natural school environment from preschool circle time all the way to high school dances. Come to one of our professional development institutes. Contact us for more information. We passionately believe in the success of academic and social immersion because we see that success happening every day.

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The Power of Immersion

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My first year teaching in an Academic and Social Immersion classroom, I was teaching kindergarten, and I taught a student who I’ll call John. John was on the autism spectrum, and he had pretty limited verbal skills. He watched the other children, but was hesitant to join the group. He sometimes had maladaptive behaviors and needed adult prompting to participate in class activities. One girl in the class, I’ll call her Taylor, particularly liked John. She would give him reminders at transition times, help him find his materials, play with him at center time, sit with him at lunch, and work to include him at recess. Taylor didn’t mind that John didn’t have much to say. To be perfectly honest, she had plenty to say for the both of them.

What really struck me was when I found out that Taylor called John every weekend to talk on the phone. She didn’t want to go two days without talking to her friend. John couldn’t say much back, but his mom reported that he held the phone and listened to his friend, smiling all the while.  Back at school, John looked to Taylor to imitate behaviors. He deferred to her when she gave him directions. He never gave her the kind of pushback he often gave us teachers when we asked him to do something he didn’t like. John was working hard to keep up with his friend.

Through his friendship with Taylor, John accessed not only the classroom curriculum, but more classmates. Through their friendship, Taylor viewed John as a true friend, who she thought about outside of school. She also developed patience, kindness, and leadership skills, building confidence that she had something valuable to share. Theirs was a mutually beneficial relationship.

The difference between inclusion and immersion goes back to the language many use to describe the students who join their class: Inclusion students. Students who float between spaces are by definition not full members of a classroom community. Students who just show up here and there struggle to make friends. In immersion, there is not a distinction between students because everyone is a member of the  group. The group is the group. Everyone is a part of the group and learns to function together. Each member of the group is enriched by being a part of the group.

Academic and Social Immersion hinges on the fact that students with social deficits need to be in age-typical environments to have those deficits remediated. They need exposure in the natural setting to the types of behaviors that are acceptable and unacceptable. They need membership and acceptance in a community of learners and teachers. They need modelling and reinforcement about hand raising or discussion skills or staying on topic in conversation. They benefit from age typical expectations related to dealing with difficulty or handling school supplies. The list of social behaviors to imitate is endless, but not insurmountable, because students see others successfully navigating the school environment.

Peers don’t just model social behaviors, though. Peers model academic behaviors. Typically developing peers show students what is expected and that those expectations are possible. While all students may work at different levels, how they act while working should be the same. Walking through classroom that practice Academic and Social Immersion, an observer might hear the refrain “Look at your friends!”  This prompt helps train students who struggle with social and behavioral expectations that the world is full of prompts–full of help when you aren’t sure what to do or how to act.

Being around typically developing peers means that grade level skills are constantly being modeled as well. Dr. Rebecca Morrison, the developer of the Academic and Social Immersion model, found in her research that skill sets can be expanded, just by being beside a peer modelling how to do a skill. The power of positive peer pressure can be seen from preschool toilet training through high school science fair, from elementary wax museum to middle school writing prompts.  

Some students may still have behavioral, fine motor, or other specific needs that require remediation. However, in the Academic and Social Immersion Model,  the accommodations and remediation of those areas are added to the age typical environment through thoughtful scaffolding and differentiation. Teachers and paraprofessionals collaborate to create the best possible learning environment that supports everyone.

Most importantly, the culture of immersion, of belonging, of acceptance, is contagious. The feeling throughout the building when we all follow the Academic and Social Immersion Model is that this school belongs to everyone in it. Friendships are expected. Respect is the norm.  Students who come to our school later in their educational careers find a niche for the first time. They are welcomed, embraced, and encouraged to join the group. They have friends, some for the first time in their lives at age 10 or 13 or 16. This is the power of Academic and Social Immersion.

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Immersion > Inclusion

Immersion

Have you seen stories on social media about a child with autism spectrum disorder who doesn’t have anyone show up to his birthday party, so a bunch of celebrities do? What about the one where a student with ASD who had been the basketball team manager is put in in the last 10 seconds of the last game of the season and makes a basket? Heart-warming stories like these help to raise awareness of ASD and are meant to highlight the inclusion of students with ASD. But is this kind of inclusion enough? Should we want more for our children on the spectrum?

Most educators and parents are familiar with the term of inclusion. Inclusion has been heavily researched, and the research is clear: inclusion done well can be  a powerful tool for students with disabilities. Many districts and schools claim to offer an inclusive experience, but those experiences can look very different. We often think we know what inclusion means, but in reality inclusion looks different across the country, school districts, and even individual classrooms.

In many places, “inclusion” means one student with a disability, along with an aide, placed in a classroom of peers who may interact only briefly, or not at all, with that student. This student essentially is in a “classroom of one” that is physically located in a general education setting, but the aide ends up being teacher, gatekeeper, and even friend for that student. This student is not being included.

In other settings, inclusion means a student is placed in a general education setting, often without any kind of support, for a set number of periods or activities per day. The classroom teacher may be unable to help the child participate meaningfully. In these types of scenarios, students with disabilities are included, but often in superficial ways. Sometimes they end up being a sort of mascot for a class, as opposed to a member of the class. This student is not being included either.

While inclusion indicates an add-on, immersion represents complete membership. Full membership in schools and communities is best accomplished by immersing children with ASD, as early as possible, in age-typical environments with their peers. For students who struggle socially, the best place for them to learn these skills is in a diverse environment with experiences to socialize with typically developing peer students to model what age-appropriate social behavior looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Intervention delivered in natural settings provides countless opportunities for children with ASD to participate in normalized experiences as they grow and develop language and social skills.

What if that child from the first paragraph who doesn’t have friends show up to his party, not only has classmates at of a range of abilities show up, but has experience being invited to other parties? What if he has regularly attended parties, both at school and in the community, for a group of friends and classmates, therefore learning how to act and behave in a party setting? This is immersion.

What if that team manager from the first paragraph instead had the opportunity to try out for, practice with, and regularly participate with the team? If his excitement came not from 10 seconds of playing time, but from improving his skills or setting a new personal record of points scored? This is immersion.

What if every extracurricular club, every class, every party had students with ASD fully engaged and participating alongside of their typically developing peers? What if all students in a school respected each other, regardless of diagnosis, and all teachers in a school were able to effectively support those students? This is immersion.

Oakstone Academy is the birthplace of the Academic and Social Immersion Model, thanks to the research and practice of our founder, Dr. Rebecca Morrison. Our talented team of teachers, speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, and classroom support staff have been practicing and perfecting this model for almost 20 years with students from preschool through high school.

We watch our students with and without ASD thrive in a setting built to respect and support all learners. We watch our students learn together, attend social events together, play sports together, and develop true friendships together. We watch preschoolers with ASD get invited to playdates at their friends’ homes. We watch elementary students play recess games with everyone in class participating, often without adult intervention. We watch high school students help each other study, persevere in sports, and travel the country together. We watch our graduates move to the world of college or work with skills to respect and care for all kinds of people. This is why we say immersion is greater than inclusion.

 

 

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Welcome to Autism Immersed

We are looking forward to sharing our passion for the Academic and Social Immersion Model with you!