Bumpy Start to MS


Since we moved when Kieran was in first grade, things for Kieran, socially, had drastically changed.

He never found a new best friend and felt that the “popular,” aka sporty boys in his grade, especially in fourth and fifth grade, didn’t like him because he liked math and music, and didn’t play football.

He was ready for a new group of friends and was looking forward to starting middle school.

Yet, middle school didn’t start quite the way he had hoped.

The sixth graders kept asking him if that tall WEB leader was his brother.

Teachers would occasionally (which to hear him tell it, constantly) called him Little Hower or Liam’s brother.

While Liam was having a great final year of middle school, Kieran was struggling.

Within the first few weeks of school Kieran “lost” his lunch table because the group of girls he was sitting with were making fun of one of their peers who had been asking for their left-overs. Kieran told the girls to stop and was uninvited from the table.

We encouraged Kieran to find activities that Liam had not done: student council, for example, with the potential for new friends.

Yet, as he tried to help at the first StuCo dance, he actually had a meltdown. He was overwhelmed and confused.

I am happy to report that things settled down and he started to find his way, even having a kid that seemed especially intent on giving him a hard time at the start of the year, back off right before the holidays.

He found a new best friend and a table to sit at during lunch.

He found more activities, like Minecraft Club, to get involved with and started to develop his own identity within the building.

This year, his teachers who knew him last year shared that they thought Liam being at the HS has improved Kieran’s experience at the middle school.

While I will talk about Kieran in seventh grade soon, sixth grade was a long, but eventually positive year with new friends and experiences that encouraged Kieran to be himself once again.


Stretched by WEB


At the end of seventh grade, Liam found out that he would be a WEB leader throughout his 8th grade year.

Of all of Liam’s math and TSA awards, his accomplishments as a musician, and his perseverance as a runner, I was especially proud of his being chosen for WEB.

WEB leaders are 8th graders who mentor 6th graders.

While Liam chose “academic” mentoring, he was still required to do a lot of “social” interaction.

He had to make phone calls to students who were not able to attend the first day of 6th grade (before school started).

We planned out what he would say, in Sheldon-like fashion:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0xgjUhEG3U

At other times, he would ask his guidance counselor for advice about when to “follow” up to see how his students were doing, what he could talk with them about, or how to offer advice.

We all had to admit that he took his responsibility seriously and had a great time being a part of a “popular” group of his peers while helping guide the youngest members of the building in the best way he knew how.

Creative Vocabulary Activity in Geometry


I recently spoke at the SAS Institute in Hershey, PA about technology tools that can support exceptional learners.

It helped me remember one more of Liam’s experiences from 7th grade: one from the beginning of the year in Geometry.

His teacher tasked them to find examples of various geometry terms throughout the school.

Liam created this video using Animoto to show his understandings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmTVVffRG7w

It started the year of exceptionally well, knowing that his teacher was creative and open to various ways to complete “common” assignments.

More Visualization

For some students, they may not create a visual image while reading. This might be something they need to be taught how to do. Like teaching a student how to read, which according to Marianne Wolf (2007), is not something the brain would do naturally (like talking or walking); we have to give the student some external scaffold and processes to internalize, practice, to become a good reading habit.

First, it is important to tune students into their five senses. Have them practice calling to mind a sight, a smell, a touch, a taste, and even a sound from common words or phrases: ice cream (taste/smell/feel), laughter (hear/see/feel), bunny (feel/see/smell), summer (all), nighttime (all).


After we practiced with a memory, we moved to reading a book. There are so many children’s books that can help with this activity, such as Owl Moon (1987) by Jane Yolen. The book should be about a topic that is in the student’s background knowledge. For instance, I worked with students in Pittsburgh once and brought a book about the ocean. Only two of the 20 students had even been to the ocean. It was not possible for them to bring up the “smells” of the ocean, even if they had seen a video that could help with the sights and sounds. I brought shells, but that was no match for the real ocean.

For older students, or for students who are ready to move to the next level in visualizing, the following activity uses specific words and phrases from a non-picture book, for them to record what they are seeing (among the other senses):


It supports a student specifically connecting words with visualizing. Then, students can work to understand that their picture might not always be the same as a peer’s.


Finally, teachers can show students that they can adjust the picture in their mind’s eye, to better match the information being provided by the text.


Our goal in this stage is to have the students know that the picture is there and what it can be used for. I once heard that a good indicator of comprehension being lost, and needing to reread, is when the picture in one’s mind disappears or becomes too fuzzy to hold meaning. This is the work that we are doing above – making sure students know why it is important to have a picture of what they are reading.

When wanting a student to inference more specifically through visualization, we can have them act on what they see to make predictions, discuss characters’ feelings and motives, identify the author’s purpose, and explain the theme(s) of the text. In nonfiction, a clever activity that I saw Steph King, a third grade teacher, use was to cover up the caption of a photograph and ask the students, based on what they saw (external visualizing), write a caption for the picture and explain why the author needed it in the text to create or further meaning.


Harvey and Goudvis’ Strategies That Work (2007), list visualizing and inferring in the same chapter. These authors share that visualizing strengthens one’s inferential thinking. This is a strategy to note with students with ASD because, according to Harvey and Goudvis, when we visualize, we are inferring with images instead of words.

Unfortunately, I have found through my work with many students that students with ASD are not always aware that there is supposed to be a picture in their head or if there is one, why it is there. Below, I will outline some strategies to support the teacher explicitly introducing their students to the need for and use of a picture in their mind’s eye of what they are reading.

An initial routine that students can learn is to stop and jot method, with the jot being to draw a quick sketch. This can be done through the I Do, We Do, You Do method, especially if students initially do not know what to jot at first. It can then be extended to include writing, once the teacher formatively assesses that the students understand how to engage with that picture in their mind of what they are reading.


Stopping and jotting, or stopping, thinking, and jotting, allows students to realize that they do not always have to write what they are thinking. If it works for them to share that information visually, they can do so. This helps them understand how to act and interact with the visual that is already in their mind when they read.

Summer: Sand and Science


The summer of 2016 found the kids having new (and old) experiences.

We went to North Carolina for our summer vacation.

We had tried a beach vacation on three other occasions.

This one was the best.

I think it had to do with the weather and temperature of the water.

The kids had a great time.

We didn’t have any major meltdowns.

We all tolerated the sand.

Mea played more softball.

Kieran attended a technology camp that he enjoyed, but which took him out of his comfort zone (being in a new place with new people).

Liam attended his first of two years in a Summer Science Training Program.

The program hosts different college professors teaching half or full day lessons on a topic on which they are an expert, for a total of eight days.

He was one of the youngest students in the program.

One afternoon, he came home and said, “Mom, today I extracted DNA from a cow’s spleen.”

One whole day was devoted to computer programming.

The rest of the time was devoted to topics that were new to Liam.

While he’s still not a biology-science guy, he learned about different sciences and how they were related to math, expanding his horizons beyond just math.

He stretched himself by making new acquaintances and being in a new environment.

He looked forward to going back for part 2 the next summer.

SAS 2017

I would love to visit your school to talk with teachers &/or parents about exceptional learners and/or using digital tools.

Here is a link to the handout: SAS2017

Here is the link to the presentation: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1keslg7uw8-N7OzrHAQA0ipe3kJ4nSi5ESSueU25kf4Q/edit?usp=sharing

Here is the link to the Padlet where we shared ideas: https://padlet.com/aileen_hower5/chjylrve3juz