“When I was out of control, I was angry, and, like, when I was angry, I was out of control…. One thing that made me angry was not having friends…. Learning to be in control helped me learn to have friends.” -10th grade student in immersion school
Autism Spectrum Disorder can be socially isolating, as many children with ASD have a hard time interpreting social cues. Others struggle with disruptive behaviors that make them look different or seem less approachable to other children. Unfortunately, many students with ASD struggle to establish friendships because they just aren’t immersed in a setting that readies them for friendship or supports them as they learn to make and keep friends. Finding people who not only understand you, but accept you, like you, and seek you out can be a powerful experience in a student’s school development. Also, making friends adds an authentic, natural purpose to behavioral expectations.
Here are a few ways that immersion helps students develop the skills that lead to socially acceptable behavior and, therefore, friendships.
- Immersion classrooms support and teach skills that lead to friendships. In an immersion class, social skills are explicitly addressed. In some rooms, this may be a lesson about friendship.In others, it could be a book, activity, or discussion. Immersion teachers understand the importance of making the hidden lessons of friendship more visible for students.
- Students have clear expectations for socially appropriate behavior and receive support in deficit areas. In immersion, the expectations for behavior and how we treat others are not a mystery to be solved. They are instead laid out in plain language for everyone to understand and learn to apply. Students who continue to have trouble receive targeted remediation, just as they would if they struggled in math or spelling.
- Students who disrupt class or classmates have consistent consequences for their behavior. It is not excused or ignored. Regardless of disability status, students who are bullies or who violate rules must have intentional consequences that clearly link to the behavior. Consequences are a natural part of life, so they are embedded into school life as well.
- In immersion, students learn that anyone can have a bad day, but it doesn’t make them a bad person. In a classroom that has a wide range of abilities, one student doesn’t always stand out as the problem kid in class. Also, because teachers expect that some students will struggle, they are ready to teach them the correct behavior and ready to offer a fresh start the next day. This attitude of acceptance is set by teachers and is adopted by students. This helps prevent kids from becoming targets or from being excluded.
- Immersion opens a student up to a larger group of students. Instead of the 8-10 students that are typical in many self-contained classrooms, immersion students are in a class of 20 or more. Additionally, they are at lunch and recess with an even larger group of students. By casting a wide net, students have more opportunities to find others who share their interests.
- Peer models in an immersion setting understand that people with special needs are people first. Because classroom are set up equitably and everyone has a voice and a responsibility to the class, no group of students is prioritized over another. This helps teach students to look at each other as classmates first. No one is a guest or a visitor in the classroom. Everyone belongs.
A student who has never experienced friendship and acceptance may not be as motivated to act in a socially appropriate way. In this aspect, building friendships and learning to manage behavior go hand in hand. They feed each other for a positive outcome for students!
“When I am with my friends, I don’t worry about my autism. It just doesn’t matter.”- 8th grade student in immersion school
Behavior management within the Academic and Social Immersion Model begins with setting the tone of “the community”, where teachers and staff demonstrate acceptance for all students, and define the expectations (or rules) for appropriate behavior within the classroom and throughout the school (which all students are expected to follow, both neurotypical and ASD). Behavior is deeply embedded within our character education program. Students are taught connections between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors and the six pillars of character defined by the Josephson Institute of Ethics.
Frequent review of expectations or rules with the student along with visual expectations provides supports to increase the likelihood of improving target behaviors. Visuals may include visual schedules, rule reminders, and social stories. These are used alongside a self-monitoring system to help the student connect the rules to his/her behavior, and is a way to make the behavior concrete for the student. These systems are paired with positive reinforcements, which may include teacher praise, tangibles, and natural access to social opportunities. The systems are also adapted to students’ cognitive abilities and classroom placement.
Teachers and staff use “clues” in the natural environment to aid in connecting behavior with the natural environment and to encourage appropriate social behavior. Pointing out the actions of others compared to the action of the student with ASD (“Look at your friends. They are standing in line without touching their neighbors.”) would be an example of “clues in the natural environment”.
One example of this at work may look something like this. A student who becomes angry, screams, and kicks his desk because he doesn’t get his way:
- Is referred to his self-monitoring system to review the expectation and take accountability for his actions, and to remind him of the “reward” or positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior
- Is instructed to “Look at your classmates. They are not screaming and kicking” to redirect the student to an appropriate behavior model,
- Is reminded that screaming and kicking is disrespectful to others in his class in order to connect the behavior to the character pillars. Teacher then talks with student about RESPECTFUL ways to voice his frustration the next time.
These strategies used in combination can increase the likelihood of success, both social and academic, in the typical classroom environment. Consistent and appropriate behavior management is crucial to a student with ASD being truly immersed in a classroom. A student left to his or her own devices may alienate peers, making inclusion in classroom activities more challenging. With this in mind, consistent and firm behavior expectations are the most appropriate, effective, and loving strategy to help children with ASD become fully participating members of the classroom and community.
The overall approach in Academic and Social Immersion emphasizes the teaching and learning nature of behavior management. Make a plan for success!
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.”
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.