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New PODCAST

Season 2, Episode 4: SIPs (Social Immersion Plan)

Social Immersion Plans are an important tool in the Academic and Social Immersion Model. Learn more about them and how they were developed in this podcast!

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Teacher Appreciation in the time of Remote Learning

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week during Remote Learning due to COVID-19, and many families have a new appreciation for their children’s teachers. We are seeing them rise to an unimagined challenge. Here at Autism Immersed, we want to share a tribute to our amazing immersion teachers of all grades. 

Teaching in Academic and Social Immersion classrooms is not for everyone, but for the people who thrive in this setting, they truly can’t imagine being anywhere else. Julie, a 16 year veteran of the model, comments that “My favorite part of teaching immersion is bearing witness to the very natural interactions that occur between our ASD students and their neurotypical peers.  I have seen students helping each other in so many ways, not just academically, but on an interpersonal level as well.” Many teachers echo this sentiment. As Monica, an elementary teacher, added “there is something special about seeing both the peers and kids on the spectrum benefit socially and academically from being in the same classroom.” Teachers who thrive in this model, like Courtney, enjoy a challenge: “one of my favorite parts is working through difficult behaviors so that my students with ASD can be fully immersed. I love to brainstorm different strategies that I can employ to help my students to self-monitor, control their behavior, and remain with the group.” 

From preschool through high school, the same refrain is heard. Teachers love the interactions, the opportunities, and the connection with students and their families, as well as opportunities to build and foster relationships between all types of students. As high school teacher Sara says, a special pleasure that comes from “teaching immersion is the conversations between all the students and seeing the friendships and enjoyment these students have with being around each other and getting to interact with each other and their teachers.” Preschool teacher Michelle adds, “Another one of my favorite parts of teaching immersion is working with young children and their whole family.  I enjoy being a supportive resource for not only my students but for their families as well.

Teachers are trying hard to provide high quality instruction during Remote Learning for all of their students. For immersion teachers, this includes keeping core components of their programming the same to provide consistency and predictability for all students, but especially those with ASD. Vince teaches high school finance and he emphasizes, “The key in distance learning is laying out the requirements and establishing the rules of the road so to speak.” Once routines are established and students feel comfortable, teachers turn to ways to make the curriculum engaging as they teach. Julie added, “I try to keep the content alive right now by having Google Meet sessions so we can ‘see’ each other. I am also trying to provide interesting and fun material for the students to learn from- i.e. who doesn’t like to take a camera ride through the digestive system?! Thank you Youtube!” Lizeth has found that it is crucial with Remote Learning to  “keep positive encouragement during live lessons and praise their work.” Even our youngest learners are staying engaged in school, thanks to committed and caring teachers. Michelle, who teaches toddlers in immersion commented, “I’m hosting a weekly Preschool 1 Meet and Greet on Google Meet so children have the opportunity to see each other while we all learn from home together.  Our young learners become so excited when they see their friends and teachers on the screen and those smiles are contagious!” No matter what the content, Immersion teachers seem united in one thing: we teach CHILDREN. 

These trying times are not without challenges for our immersion teachers. That being said, even their challenges reflect the love and commitment they have for students and families. “The immersion model is based on students with and without disabilities interacting. Since we can’t interact in person it has definitely been challenging to get the social interaction between the students. We are so lucky to have technology, Google classroom, and the internet during this time.” Monica shows how academics and social development are mutually included by our teachers as core components of the curriculum. One does not come without the other. Long time immersion teacher Kristen adds, “Though Google classroom is a tool to visually stay connected to the kids, I feel there is an element of excitement that is missing. I feel this element comes from the natural conversations and connections that are made in the classroom setting that are difficult to replicate in a virtual way.” Our teachers miss the in-person time spent with each child they teach. 

Our teachers also keep in mind how challenging this type of learning is for all students, but they also look at those challenges as temporary obstacles that need to be dealt with, not permanent barriers. Courtney sums things up for many of our teachers by saying, “As hard as this is, I keep reminding myself that our students with ASD have had to overcome challenges for their entire lives. This is just one more. If my students who thrive on predictability and routine can get through this unpredictable and non-routine time, then so can I. I am so incredibly proud of how my students are handling this situation.”  Similarly, we are incredibly proud of how our teachers have handled this as well. 

Jan Moore, a veteran speech therapist who has worked in immersion settings for 12 years, may have said it best: “the most gratifying part I heard from students themselves. They want to go back. The virtual community has worked, but they want it all now. They miss the classes, activities, and friendships. They miss lunch and recess and field trips. They might not have realized they loved their school before, but they know it now. Many students with ASD say they don’t really want friends…not so here. Virtual learning has worked in this time of staying at home, but it’s a temporary solution. Oakstone has done virtual learning well…but it does real life learning even better. To a speech therapist that loves to address social competency, this is beautiful. Congratulations Oakstone. This is a testimony of who you are. We are all grateful.”

We are all grateful for our teacher, therapists, classroom assistants and staff who are keeping the spirit of Academic and Social Immersion alive, even in the most trying times. We appreciate you every day.

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Remote Education: Parents, how are you doing?

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.

For Parents

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3.  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 consulting@ccde.org for more information about coaching. 

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Remote Education: Immersion is Thriving!

Covid-19 can’t stop immersion!

Academic and Social Immersion is a successful model for teaching children with autism spectrum disorder and their neurotypical peers. We have the hard data that shows academic growth, behavioral improvements, and increased social engagement. But what happens when you remove the structure of a supportive school environment and the immediate support of teachers? What does a school disruption (like we have never seen before) mean for our students in an immersion model? Does the whole thing fall apart?

No. 

It absolutely does not fall apart. Immersion is thriving. 

How do I know? I listen to the parents, teachers, and students themselves. I can hear in the stories coming out of this remote learning environment that Academic and Social Immersion has worked its way into the hearts and minds of our community: teachers, parents, and most importantly children. Let me share a few of these stories with you. 

Many of our teachers have been hosting class via the ZOOM teleconferecing website. What thrills and amazes them is how many times the class “hijacks” the session to chat and be social. They miss each other and want to be together. If this was simply a case of a friend missing a friend, they could Facetime or something more private at home. What we are seeing time and again is the WHOLE class wanting to stay in touch and connected. THIS IS IMMERSION. 

Teachers have been trying to reach out and meet the needs of all students. Another student with ASD asked if the group could meet for lunch on ZOOM to just hang out. Their needs are less about help with a math problem or editing a paper and more about being connected with their group. THIS IS IMMERSION. 

A mother of a second grade peer commented that most of the second grade is hanging out virtually on the Messenger app. One student needs his mom to be his voice to help him interact. Her daughter and the rest of the class are “not bothered by this because they want him included. They are already oriented to the different ways people communicate.” The mother added, “they include everyone because the important thing is that they can see and hear one another–perhaps not in person, but in a familiar way. Everyone is important to the group.” THIS IS IMMERSION

Amy, the mom of one of our kindergarten students with ASD, shared the following: “Calin usually only acknowledges friends if they play his games on his terms, which is always physical play (chasing/running/wrestling). Otherwise he has no interest in what friends are doing.  He doesn’t seem to mind this, resulting in ‘no real friends’ at all, but it breaks my heart. Will there be a day he is sad that he has no friends? Will he ever ask for a play date or sleepover? Will he have a best friend like I did growing up? Is he liked? Do kids want to play him or are they annoyed by him? All these questions truly break my heart when I consider the possible answers.”  These feelings are very common among the parents of children with autism spectrum disorders. In wanting the best for our children, we want them to have the kinds of friendships and social experiences that we had and cherish. 

Recently, one of Calin’s classmates reached out to Calin via Facebook Messenger Kids, which many students are using to stay connected.  Amy continues, “Eleanor has called Calin several times prior and I would ask him if he would like to talk to her and he would say “no thanks, I’m fine” and run away.  But she kept calling, so I finally told him he HAD to talk to her. He begrudgingly sat down. They both said hello to each other with me prompting Calin to use her name.   Eleanor didn’t skip a beat and immediately started playing with filters on the messenger app that turn your face into something else like a cat/tiger/hamburger/etc.  He just laughed hysterically each time she changed her face and Eleanor would say “isn’t that funny, Calin?!” He would just laugh and laugh and ask her verbally for more. 

Then she asked him to play a game with her and proceeded to start the game. I was a nervous wreck, thinking “He’s never done this before. Will he understand and be able to participate? Will she get frustrated if he doesn’t want to play and hang up? Will he be mean and run away? Will she say to me, “why won’t he talk to me?” Will this end like similar situations with the kids we see at playgrounds?”  They went back and forth doing this with almost no prompting from me to wait his turn. (At the end of the game)… she finally selected the snake and lost. At first he teased her with that ‘nana nana boo boo’ that we all know. Nervously, I asked him to be nice and tell her good game, so he quickly shouted “good game!!” With a smile on her face, Eleanor immediately began another game with him. This time they both had faces like fish and had to use their mouths to catch as many fish as they could.  Again he interacted successfully the entire time. There were moments throughout that he would say “all done, no more talk” and push the phone in my direction. I would start to say something about politely saying goodbye to his friend, but Eleanor would just switch it up and catch his eye with a new game or funny face, and he would be sucked right back in laughing and playing with her again. Eventually he said he was done and actually got up and walked away, so I had him say goodbye and I thanked Eleanor and we hung up. I was almost in tears. ”  

Eleanor showed me that Calin IS liked and his friends DO want to play with him and they will gladly play the way that they know Calin can be successful in order to spend some time with him. Truly made heart so happy and grateful for our school community. 

 Calin is not the only one to benefit from this interaction. The love, patience, and understanding shown by Eleanor is a gift to Calin, but also a gift to herself. She has learned to accept and love people and to meet people where they are. Most importantly, she is being a good friend. THIS IS IMMERSION. 

These trying times may be filled with separations. They may be affecting how we learn and how we work and even how we spend time together. However, the power of being part of a social group and the drive to include everyone in your community because everyone is important is going strong in our children. THIS IS IMMERSION. 

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Remote Education: Autism Immersed podcast

Season 2, Episode 4

Ideas for continuing education during the COVID-19 virus quaratine with a particular eye to educating children with autism spectrum disorder when they are away from their peers and teachers.