By now, many students are enjoying summer vacation. This time of year is often synonymous with no alarm clocks, a relaxed schedule, hanging out at the pool, and no school work. However, for kids on the spectrum, summer vacation can come with anxiety, spikes in problematic behaviors, and academic and social regression. Here we will give some ideas to help with what some call “The Summer Slide”.
Students on the autism spectrum thrive on routine. For nine months out of the year, these students follow a predictable schedule. They are told when to get up, when to get dressed, when to get in the car or on the bus. Once at school, students have a fairly set schedule, without many questions as to what their days will look like. Sure, Tuesdays may be different from Monday due to a different Special class, or maybe there is an assembly, but besides those small changes, their days are fairly the same. Summertime often comes with a more relaxed schedule, which lends itself to less predictability. Summer is a time when parents often see behaviors that had all but disappeared rear their heads again. Here are a few ways to help an anxious student through the summertime uncertainty:
Make a schedule–This does not mean that your day has to be (or should be!) planned out to the minute. Giving your child a general overview of the day will be extremely helpful for most. More often than not, our students on the spectrum rely, at least to some extent, on visuals and visual cues. Depending on age and ability, this can be pictures of what will be happening during the day, a written list of the day’s activities, or simply talking through the day’s events in the morning and then reminding your child throughout the day. This is especially important if you know you are going somewhere or doing something that causes a higher level of anxiety for your child. Using language that their teachers use, such as First, Then statements can help, too!
Give some warning time before a transition- Just as important as having a schedule is letting your child know how much time they have left of something, especially when they are engaged in a highly preferred activity. Letting your child know they have five minutes left of a preferred activity may help with transitioning away from something they are engaged in. Setting a timer and then following through with the direction may be hard fought against at first, but remaining consistent will help your child know that when you say it is time to move on, that’s what they need to do.
Give your child choices- This might not mean what you think it means! Oftentimes, students on the autism spectrum are anxious because they do not have control of the situation. For instance, if your child is off schedule or is just grumpy and is having a hard time getting dressed in the morning, laying out two parent-approved outfits and letting them choose might get you farther than insisting they wear the blue shirt with red shorts. If you have two places to go and the order doesn’t matter, letting your child choose where to go first can lead to a smoother transition from home. Your child isn’t happy with the food on their plate? Giving the option of which to take a bite of first may get some of that food you just spent an hour making into their belly.
Now that we have looked at some ways that your child’s behavioral progress can remain steady over the summer, let’s think about all that academic progress they made over the year. Although we know that ASD is a social disorder, we also understand that it can impact learning. Many students with autism have to work significantly harder than their typically developing peers to retain the same information. Three months off from learning can lead to several months of academic regression (loss of skill). Here are some things you can do to help your student stay on track for the following school year:
Read, read, read!- Have your student read, read to them, and let them see you read. Most libraries offer a summer reading program, free of charge, for students and adults. Who doesn’t like to get prizes for reading? You could also start an in house book club where you read the same book your child is reading and discuss the book together. Asking your child wh- questions about what they have read or what you have read to them helps build on their comprehension skills. Don’t worry too much if your child wants to read books that seem too easy or only wants to read graphic novels. Any reading is good reading!
Check your student’s backpack- Anyone here guilty of hanging up the backpack on the last day of school and then forgetting about it (and the contents- including that last day of school lunch!) until the week before the next school year starts? If you are, you are not alone! A lot of teachers are now sending home packets of optional work that can be done throughout the summer to stay on top of skills learned over the course of the past year. Our teachers at Oakstone Academy are adept at sending home work that matches the academic ability of each student, rather than printing an “INSERT GRADE LEVEL HERE” packet and sending it home with everyone. As students get older, there may even be assigned work to complete for the next year. Checking for that now will save everyone a headache the night before school starts!
Practice writing over the summer- Have a preschool student who is just learning that what comes from the pencil has more meaning than just scribbles? Play tic-tac-toe to practice the pre-writing skills of straight and curved lines. Have a young learner who just recently learned to sound out words? Have them help write the grocery list. It may take longer, but they will have a sense of ownership and get some practice writing- and may not grumble as much when having to leave their video game to go with you to the grocery store. Older writers can write letters or emails to grandma and grandpa, keep a summer journal, or write a response about the book they are reading. If writing by hand is stressful, working on typing skills can really help. Typing.com is a great free resource to teach typing.
Without a doubt, one of the biggest deficits our students on the spectrum encounter is the social aspect of the disorder. When students are immersed in a social environment, like at Oakstone Academy, we see them make eye contact, take turns, communicate (either verbally or through a communication device), and make friends. With summer comes fewer opportunities for students to be immersed in a structured social setting, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for them to continue to practice and hone those social skills they’ve worked so hard on throughout the school year. Here are some ideas to keep your child practice important social skills over the summer:
Go to the local park or playground- While we know this can be overwhelming for some parents of children on the spectrum, especially if their student is prone to negative behaviors when in unfamiliar settings, the playground is a great place to practice a plethora of social skills. At the playground, students can practice turn-taking, waiting, sharing, having conversations, making requests, the list goes on! If you are worried that your child will have a meltdown, go when there are less people or make it a playdate with a classmate.
Go to story time at the library- Remember the library that offers a free summer reading program? It’s likely that they also offer different story times, free for families to come to. This is a great place to meet new friends and the story times are often structured so that they have the same schedule each time. They often start with a little movement activity, move on to the stories, and then some time to play at the end.
Join your school’s online parent group- Several school parent groups have social media pages where playdates are arranged. Parents of students on the spectrum and those with other special needs often report feeling isolated from other parents who don’t understand the struggles their students face. Who better to get together with than parents who get your child’s struggles? The kids can play and the parents can talk, without fear of judgement if a meltdown occurs.
Look into summer programming at your school- Many schools offer summer social activities. These programs are often more laid back than the regular school day, but still offer the structure your student thrives off of, while keeping your student engaged in social situations.
We hope these tips help you to avoid “The Summer Slide” and lead to a great summer with your student!
The Covid crisis has asked us all to grow comfortable with changes and interruptions in our lives. We as parents are undoubtedly educators everyday with our children, but we are not usually the ones in charge of academics. Yet overnight we have become the primary educators for our children. Classroom teachers may have given you a packet of work for your student. Your student may have on-line classes to attend or a schedule with mandatory attendance. Whatever manner of home education is taking place, one thing is clear- You are now a teacher.
Right now, students are at home, their parents are their teachers and that is different for them. They have school work that needs completed, or on-line classrooms to attend, or even tele-therapy, all of which requires their attention. What about all the things that help them at school? Or the various teachers that help, or give advice and support to help that student move? You don’t have that at home. It is you and your student. And their work. And their behavior. And your work. And maybe their siblings. Combine all these pulls on your time and attention and it’s no wonder parents are stressed out. Frustrated. Worn out. Ready to give up.
Maybe this new role started out fun. You were excited to become the perfect PInterest mom during Remote Learning. Maybe you were terrified. You had no idea that Google even had classrooms. Maybe you were nervous, wondering if you had what it took to be playing so many different roles in your child’s life. You may have been scared that you didn’t have what it takes to do this for weeks on end without breaks. No doubt the emotional roller coaster you and your children have been on this past month is taking its toll. You are not alone in this. All of these feelings are normal. The fact that you are feeling worn down or frustrated just shows what a good parent you are–whatever you are feeling, you care.
When we teach your children at school, we are in a bubble focused on teaching and learning,. We have supportive colleagues, materials, classmates, and so many things you just don’t have. But guess what? We sometimes feel excited, nervous, scared, worn down, frustrated, and ready to give up too. Let us share a few tips to help you feel more successful.
3 easy ways to foster success with at-home learning for all children
1) Start with a positive! Encouragement and praise are great motivators. The more specific, the better! Instead of “good job”, try “nice work staying focused on your teacher during zoom” or “good looking at your work!” Give praise and give it often. It will also make you feel good to be using positive language.
2) Build your child’s stamina. At school, we have many minor changes, transitions, and disruptions that allow students to focus on something else and then return to the task at hand. We don’t expect them to sit for hours, staring at papers or computers without some social times or movement breaks. Begin home learning tasks by asking them to do a portion of an assignment and increase expectations as stamina increases.
3) Take time to encourage engagement– Remote Learning will be a lot of long hours if all the attention is dependent on you doing work for your student. Take time to get them into the activity. Help them see a purpose or an application. If everyone treats Remote Learning as a chore that just has to get done, it will feel more challenging and less fun. Also, remind them that all of their friends are doing the same thing right now. Even if you are annoyed by a way something is being taught, don’t pass that to your child. Ask them to show you an example of this new way. Be excited to learn something new alongside your child.
3 more ideas for working with our students with autism spectrum disorder
1) Define what success will be for you– It might be sitting with attention for 10 minutes. We changed our Hour and a half expectation to an hour, and then a half hour, and then 15 minutes. Why? We realized 15 minutes of working with the student to sit and attend is going to set up much more success than powering through larger amounts of time with primarily parent-directed (or parent doing) learning. Both the student and parent won’t get much from learning this way- with a parent essentially doing the work and the student not really into the activity. Make the activity fit your students level of compliance/attention/engagement and build from there. This is a new approach for them. We never just jump right in without trying to set the student up for success when we are in the classroom. The same thing needs to be done at home.
2) Work harder on engagement/reinforcement- Job number one is to get your student looking at a screen or packet. We have taken to showing a student a favorite video to begin. Some students have liked to see their teachers or peers, but some have needed to simply look at a favorite thing. One teacher has used a model of one teaching slide followed by a slide of a favorite cartoon/book character (Pete the cat), so there is just enough time to work followed by a quick reinforcement. Give that positive reinforcement more often and be more clear with what you are praising.
3) Visuals are your friends– Use pictures to help model rules and behaviors. Make sure they are easy to reference. We have used a 3-panel sheet for what they should do when seated at the computer. When the student is squirming or trying to get up, this sheet can be shown to them. It interrupts the immediate behavior and gives them something salient to focus on as they hear your words.
- Be gentle with yourself. You are doing great. Your child’s teachers appreciate your partnership. They are rooting for you to succeed. Even if your child doesn’t show it now, they will be grateful for what you are doing and how you are helping them. They will look back at this time as one in which their parents were there for them.
- Find the joy connecting with your child. You will connect on new levels and in new ways. You will learn little things you didn’t know about your child and get new insight into how their minds work. You will get that incredible joy of seeing a lightbulb go on as they cement a new concept.
- Seek out support and coaching. Don’t isolate yourself. You may need a peer to vent to or brainstorm with. A fellow parent of a child with ASD may understand your frustrations and joys. You may want a teacher, therapist, or behavior specialist to work with YOU on how to increase your positive reinforcement or to help you create an effective visual for a specific problem. Know that the tools and strategies your child’s educators share with you are like tips that a coach gives players to execute a common goal.
Autism Immersed has coaches available for families who feel alone during Remote Learning. Whether you need help with engagement, behavior, or academic content, we have someone to help you. You are not alone.
Contact us at email@example.com for more information about coaching.
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!
Autism Immersed Podcast, Season 2, Episode 1
On today’s podcast, Behavioral Specialist Sean Hanrahan stops by to talk to us about managing students and children in the home with behavioral issues, the importance of expectation and consistency, and how these methods are vital to the practice of Social Immersion.
Sean is a certified teacher of TCI, therapeutic crisis intervention, and teaches and certifies teachers. He is also one of founders of Oakstone Academy, the school that developed and practices successful Social Immersion.
Sean will be speaking at the Oakstone Institute this fall which you can find out more about at oakstoneacademy.org