#SOL17 – Day 25 – Strategies for Young Writers with ASD

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Writing has always been hard for Liam, especially when he starting school. He does not think creatively, and most writing (thankfully) in Kindergarten and 1st is creative.

When a teacher tells a child on the autism spectrum to write about anything they want, the student takes that literally. Thinking about all of those choices will often cause them to “shut down” or have complete writer’s block. Write about anything? Too many choices to pick from. I don’t know what to do.

There are also students with ASD who struggle with physically writing. They have had, or currently have occupational therapy to learn how to use scissors and write legibly. Remember low muscle tone? Because of it, for some students, writing is exhausting. (This was not the case with Liam who has exquisite handwriting and even practiced writing cursive letters for “fun”). Any accommodations, or therapy that can support strengthening the muscles in the hand will help, but coupled with not knowing what to write, some students avoid writing as much as possible. We know how hard it is to close the gaps for writers who do not practice.

Starting out, teachers can work to make writing a “concrete” experience. When students experience success and create those writing territories (I will talk more about writing as I address each of Liam’s school years, to add to the bank of strategies), they will be more inclined to participate.

So, in Kindergarten, Kid Writing-like techniques can be extremely helpful. The student can verbally share their story with the teacher who records it and reminds the student what he/she said as he/she works to write the story down. Or, the student spends time drawing, then writes to describe the drawing. This type of writing (describing) can establish a strong foundation for how to add details to sentences later on.

In first grade, I found that using mentor texts (please see Rose Cappelli and Lynne Dorfman’s three books: Mentor Texts, Nonfiction Mentor Texts, and Poetry Mentor Texts by Stenhouse), is an incredible way to provide writing support. Mentor texts offer both a model for what is expected (explicit instruction), as well as ideas to imitate (scaffolding), if needed.

Is it wrong, at first, if a student will imitate the subject or structure of the mentor text? It depends upon the student. If I don’t write at all, but I will imitate the text and infuse a few of my own ideas, to get me writing? Go for it. Am I ready to branch out on my own a bit? Then, the teacher can gradually release the student from depending upon the text as much.

I know that whenever I go to write anything for the first time (like my first letter to parents as the Title I coordinator), I looked at the letter that went out the previous year. I probably didn’t change much beyond the date and the name, at first. Now I can write these letters, because I understand the requirements and the law better than I did in my first few months on the job.

Mentor texts afford writers the opportunity to see what a teachers means when he or she says, write a story about… or write a poem about…, and help them successfully navigate a world of endless possibilities that, while helping some thrive (on choice), make others feel overwhelmed with how to begin. Mentors texts offer the beginning of understanding how writing looks, what writers do, and how to become a writer.

 

#SOL17 – Day 24 – When Life Hands You Lemons

One District, One Book

An opportunity for families to read together.

Kids reading “classic” children’s books with a mom,

Or a dad, or an older sibling.

It brings the whole school together,

everyone reading the same text.

Reading a chapter a night – what will happen next?

Then, an author visit. How exciting!

This year, The Lemonade War.

Learning about where the idea for the story came.

Paying attention to life – filled with great stories.

The character needs motivation

And someone standing in the way of what they want.

A problem to solve keeps the reader’s interest.

Learning about the story from the author herself?

Priceless!

#SOL17 – Day 23 – “Don’t!”

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I have shared (a few times) that I love to sleep. Napping is amazing.

I’ve shared that Mea does not like naps; she is an amazing sleeper at night, however.

I have also shared that Mea stopped talking for a few months to “listen” to and learn her new language.

It comes as no surprise that I was completely floored when, one day, after all of that silence, when I was putting Mea into her crib for a nap (I was persistent, probably too much so), that she stood up, looked at me, pointed, and said, “Don’t.”

We laugh now and claim that “don’t” was her first American word.

It matches some of her personality to a T.

#SOL17 – Day 22 – Research Study

One of our friends who had adopted internationally shared an opportunity with us: the University of Delaware was looking for families to participate in a research study involving families who had participated in international adoption. We signed up to participate because we would add to the research they were conducting (help other families), possibly learn some things about Mea, and be compensated (which sounded great since I was still not working).

Mea with balls

We had to answer a ton of questions, be observed and videotaped interacting with one another, and take saliva samples to measure stress levels. We are actually still involved with the research, but only once a year.

I’m not sure if I was supposed to find out, but of the two strands of their study: speech and attachment, we wound up on the attachment side. This was such a blessing.

At some point, one of the researchers gave us a little feedback: Mea was so happy-go-lucky and content to be with anyone. For instance, at church, if someone put out their hand out to her, she would take it and go with them. The researcher explained that she was attaching equally with everyone. This was probably due to all of the caretakers she interacted with in Ethiopia.

The researcher told us to not let her go off with others, for a few months and to teacher her “stranger danger.” When someone approached our family, I was to pick her up immediately, so that she sensed my protection of her and a bit of “fear” of this “not in our family” person.

We didn’t realize we had been doing things wrong. We were excited (and proud) that she was so easy-going and friendly. Everyone complimented her: “She’s such a sweet little girl. How friendly!” We learned that we were encouraging her to not see us as her people.

The strategy worked! Within a few short weeks, she started to look to us for approval when anyone outside of our family circle approached and started to interact with her. Once I saw her do that, I realized that this behavior was what I had seen in my own children. Mea was learning that not everyone was in her family. We were special people to her – we were hers and she was ours, and ours alone.

#SOL17 – Day 21 – Just Yesterday…

Just yesterday, I had two encounters with the world of autism that I would like to share.

First was hearing that Sesame Street has officially introduced a character with autism to the show. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/20/arts/television/sesame-street-introduces-julia-a-muppet-with-autism.html?_r=0

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I cannot imagine how much help young kids learning about autism through Sesame Street’s choice will be – boundless, I imagine.

Then, I was working in a classroom and met a student who I think could have had an ASD diagnosis. He had a coughing tick and when his group came to work at the table with me, he was humming. Through my instructions, he continued to hum. I carefully asked him to try to internalize the sounds, if he could. I shared with him why – I was distracted. One of the kids offered the excuse of, he always does that. Why? Why not give him feedback and allow him to make a choice? He laughed when I shared that I felt like I had ADHD. I took the issue with the humming on myself, where it belonged – it was my issue with the noise, and he did not hum for the remained of our session – about 20 minutes. I thanked him and told him how I appreciated his helping me to focus on what I was teaching.

Toward the end of our time group work, I asked students to share what they found interesting, confusing, or surprising about the story. They could also share a question they had or a connection they made. I was not surprised that this young man had no connections, and found nothing interesting about the story. It was Sandra Cisneros’ “Eleven,” so an easy story to relate to.

I modeled for the group something I found interesting. I specifically asked him to choose which category he would record that information in. Working more closely together, I modeled another aspect of the story that caught my attention. I asked him where he might record it. Then we moved to his telling me anything about the story that he noticed. He told me one thing. I excitedly encouraged him to record it and shared that that kind of thought was exactly what it meant to connect with the story. When I asked him to tackle recording a fourth (out of six) thoughts, he did so without needing me at all. I told him that I noticed how hard he had worked and that he didn’t give up with thinking there was nothing interesting about the story.

In this moment, this is what this student needed, in order to engage with the text and not be left alone with nothing to write. The other students were able to record their thoughts from our conversations and annotations throughout the reading of the story and the one example that I modeled. This young man needed additional modeling and encouragement, which I was able to provide.

It would have been a shame, even as a guest in the room, to not provide him feedback and to allow him to not engage in the thinking he needed to do. He exhibited no signs of shutting down and while he was initially not compliant, he was capable. “This is the way he always does things” is expecting less of him than he was able – which holds him back in growing socially and academically.

I was very grateful to meet and work with this young man today.

#SOL17 – Day 20 – Kiddie Leash (sigh)

I am embarrassed to admit that when Kieran became mobile, we lost him a few times. One time in particular was quite scary – we lost him in Cabela’s.

We were looking at the fish. Then, we were finished looking at the fish. We moved on to looking for whatever we had come to purchase. However, Kieran was not finished visiting with the fish, so he returned to that area of the store without us.

How could I lose track of him? Well, Liam was always so happy and willing to hold my hand. He would never walk off. In fact, when he would not want to leave, and I employed that trick of saying, “We are leaving, bye!” Liam would scream and run toward us.

I tried that once with Kieran. He turned the other way and ran back in the direction of whatever it was he had been doing.

In Cabela’s, I stopped “fighting” him for his hand for a few seconds and then he was gone. We ran all over the store crying out for him. Then I ran to the entrance, worried that he had been taken, hoping I would catch up with whomever had grabbed him before they left the store. Or before he left the store on his own.

My husband found him back at the fish. He literally replied to, Where were you? We were scared: “I wasn’t finished watching the fish.”

So, we became the owners of this:

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But before you judge, it allowed us to keep “track” of him, while allowing him space to explore.

There were some parents that we walked past, at say, Dutch Wonderland, that would shake their heads in disapproval at our choice. There were also those that gave a silent nod of understanding.

#SOL17 – Day 19 – We All Have Gifts

On the radio on the way to church today, the speaker shared that we each have a gift that we have been given to share with others – to be a blessing to them. 

My husband’s gift is in every thing handy. He helped a colleague this week who’s car battery died. He doesn’t realize how his gifts for carpentry, painting, and automotives have helped out so many, even at church. He thinks they are just mundane skills. They are definitely not when you don’t have the ability to do them. Also, he is gifted in making crafts. Here was my Valentine’s Day gift:

While everyone will say that Liam’s gift is math and music, he uses these gifts to help others feel more comfortable with their understanding of math; he uses music to make friends and to give back to his school. 

Kieran is extremely insightful and sensitive. He is a gift to me – while others in my family struggle with “social skills,” Kieran is completely tuned into me and is my fierce defender. 

Mea has the gift to start each day anew. She holds no grudges, clings to no past wrongs, and makes everyone around her laugh with how full of life she is. 

Each of you is a gift to me – you have guided me to be the writer that I am growing to be. 

What is your gift that you share with the world?