Issuu on Google+

Special Education Understanding Autism at School

Dr. Thalia Chadjigiannoglou, School Advisor for EFL Teachers

UnderstandingAAutism U School at

Getting to know our

wesome

nique

Tense Primary and Secondary School Practices Idiosyncratic

ISBN 978-960-93-6102-6

Foteini Veneti, EFL Teacher, 4th Primary School of Struggling Ymittos, Athens Teachable & Stavriana Soubassi, EFL Teacher, 3rdInspiring Senior High School of Nea Philadelphia, Athens Creative students

2014 Getting to know our Awesome Unique Tense Idiosyncratic Struggling Teachable Inspiring Creative students 1ST

T

S C H O O Lense DISTRICT OF ATHENS

Idiosyncratic

0


Understanding Autism at School

To our ASD pupils, Billy (6 yrs old) and D.K (16 yrs old)

“The only disability in life is having a wrong attitude to it�

Acknowledgements Special thanks to Dr. Thalia Chadjigiannoglou, School Advisor for EFL teachers at the 1st School District of Athens, who gave us the long sought opportunity to gain some insight in learning disabilities, ADHD and the autism spectrum disorder. Her motivation and guidance has been invaluable throughout the course of our in-service training in special education. ISBN 978-960-93-6102-6

1


Understanding Autism at School

Foreword This paper aims at sharing some of the knowledge we have acquired in our attempt to understand our students with autism in the framework of the nine-month seminar on special education offered to us by our School Advisor, Dr. Thalia Chadjigiannoglou. Our material has been drawn from various sources ranging from books, articles in websites, leaflets, journals and other publications to conference presentations, films and videos on YouTube. We have also tried to relate the newly acquired theoretical knowledge to our everyday experience with our pupils with autism at school. However, we have not attempted to apply any of the good practices to our work in the form of an organised intervention mainly due to lack of time and training. The main difficulty we encountered working on this paper lay in understanding the nature of our issue of concern because we had no background of theoretical knowledge or any sort of familiarisation with individuals within the spectrum of autism. Not only is it difficult to define and diagnose but it also seems to be evolving in many challenging ways. The frequency of the occurrence of autism among schoolchildren is alarmingly rising. The variability of symptoms and the co morbidity of the autism spectrum with other disorders and conditions have been puzzling scientists and special educators who complain about the lack of organization in the way the State authorities cater for ASD children and their families. General education teachers are completely unprepared to face such pupils and we feel we ought to do our best in order to avoid crucial mistakes in dealing with our special pupils. Due to the fact that autism is a life-long developmental disability which prevents people from understanding what they see, hear, and otherwise sense and, as a result, it drives them to severe problems with social relationships, communication, and behavior we had - on an daily basis- to cope with all this unusual behaviour during our classes. Bearing in mind that those students with autism experience language and communication difficulties, we had to spot all those considerable differences in language and behaviour. Some were non-verbal while others may have had extensive language with deficits in the area of pragmatics (the social use of language). In this context, us, as language teachers, apart from the lack of teaching experience as well as academic background regarding autistic students, had to cope with all those communication difficulties these students might have, such as inappropriate facial expressions, unusual use of gestures, lack of eye contact, strange body postures, short attention span, delay in expressive language skills, odd pitches or intonation, unusual rhythm, repetitive speech patterns, stress, echolalic speech, limitations in social functions, restricted vocabulary, inabilities in conversation, difficulties in changing topics, inappropriate interruptions, inflexibility, significant delays or disabilities in second language development or significant delays in cognitive development, denial in participating or following group pace, to name but a few‌.

2


Understanding Autism at School

3


Understanding Autism at School

Table of Contents Introduction

5

History What has changed?

6 7

What it is

9

Commonly accepted view up until 2013 The most recent ‘expanded’ view Is there Autism? An illuminating example

9 10 11 12

What it looks like

13

ASD individuals at school What primary school teachers should be aware of What primary school teachers should be aware of

14 15 18

What it looks like in our classes: Our ASD pupils

19

What can be done?

22

What can be done in primary schools What can be done in secondary schools Technology assisted learning for children with ASD Approaching each type of ASD learner individually The Professional Training of Practitioners working with ADS St. Christopher’s School

22 30 35 37 39 40

Conclusion

41

Sources

43

4


Understanding Autism at School

Introduction Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or autism is a “developmental disability considered the result of a neurological condition affecting normal brain function, development and social interactions. Children and adults with autism find it difficult or impossible to relate to other people in a meaningful way and may show restrictive and/or repetitive patterns of behavior or body movements. While great strides are being made, there is no known cause or a known singular effective treatment for autism”. (Easter Seals and the Autism Society of America).

This definition of the autism spectrum disorder makes it clear that there is great variability as to the challenges faced by individuals diagnosed with autism. In fact, the spectrum is quite broad and up until recently it was thought to accommodate at least five developmental disorders: 

the Autistic Disorder, which occurs in males four times more than females and involves moderate to severe impairments in communication, socialization and behaviour.

Asperger's Syndrome, which is sometimes considered a milder form of autism and is typically diagnosed later in life than other disorders on the spectrum. People with Asperger's syndrome usually function in the average to above average intelligence range and have no delays in language skills, but often struggle with social skills and restrictive and repetitive behavior.

Rett Syndrome, which is diagnosed primarily in females who exhibit typical development until approximately five to 30 months when children with Rett syndrome begin to regress, especially in terms of motor skills and loss of abilities in other areas. A key indicator of Rett syndrome is the appearance of repetitive, meaningless movements or gestures.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, which involves a significant regression in skills that have previously been acquired, and deficits in communication, socialization and/or restrictive and repetitive behavior.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), which includes children that do not fully meet the criteria for the other specific disorders or those that do not have the degree of impairment associated with those disorders.

5


Understanding Autism at School History The developmental autism spectrum disorder was first described in 1943 by Leo Kanner as an inability to ‘connect’ and interact affectively with other people. Nowadays it is defined as a developmental disorder with deficits in verbal and sociopragmatic development as well as in the ability for and interest in symbolic play. It appears in about 5 out of 10.000 births and is more common in boys than it is in girls. It is found throughout the world in families of all ethnic, racial and social background. Up until the 1970s researchers believed that autism is environmentally and psychologically based and that it was caused by parenting style; especially mother-child interactions. In other words, the condition was actually blamed on the “refrigerator mother” – a term that suspected the child’s disability was a result of his/her parent’s emotional coldness. This long held belief brought blame and humiliation to parents of autistic children. What’s worse, it affected the diagnosis of autism as well as the development of intervention strategies for educating and caring for autistic individuals. Among the leading investigators of autism was Dr. Margaret L. Bauman, founding Director of the Autism Research Foundation in Boston, U.S.A. and her colleague, Dr. Thomas Kemper. Their team has been studying brain tissue at autopsy hoping to find clues to the neurological basis of the disorder. They compared tissue from people who suffered from autism with tissue from normal individuals in an attempt to discover where the abnormalities might be located in the brain. Although at first they didn’t know exactly what they were looking for, they managed to develop a very sophisticated technique to establish that autism is actually a neuropathological condition. (http://www. ladders.org/pages/What-We-Do.htm) More specifically, in 1984 they were able to identify two circuits within the brain of autistic individuals that did not function in the same manner as those of non autistic people. The first circuit is connected to the limbic system which is responsible for learning, memory, behaviour and emotion and the other one is the cerebellum. The cerebellum is the area of the hindbrain that controls motor movement coordination, balance, equilibrium and muscle tone. The cerebellum contains hundreds of millions of neurons for processing data. It relays information between body muscles and areas of the cerebral cortex that are involved in motor control. (http://www.biology.about.com/library/organs/brain) When it comes to the autistic brain, the limbic system appears to be more immature than that of the normal brain. The cells there were found to be too many but too small and there are more neurons than expected. Hence, the limbic system of an autistic individual resembles that of a much younger person not only in terms of the autistic person’s chronological age but also in terms of the rest of the brain itself. Another abnormality was revealed in the cerebellum system where there are a number of cell populations that are missing. Whether they had previously been there and later disappeared or they had never actually existed in the autistic brain has not been established so far.

6


Understanding Autism at School What has changed? It seems that much has been discovered about autism in the last three decades. From being considered a symptom of schizophrenia and psychosis, autism is now considered a treatable condition and many children can have and deserve a much brighter future than has been believed in the past. Their ultimate outcomes, however, depend heavily on providing early intensive interventions through therapists with a depth of expertise in their field. The evolution of thought on autism from being a psychosis to being a special way of functioning has come a long way and it has taken many different perspectives and approaches. In trying to demystify autism, different schools of researchers have come up with different theories. Brain scientists interpret autism as a peculiarity in neuron connectivity and go on to claim that the future of autism lies on the possibility of investigating the neurochemical basis of the autistic brain peculiarities and developing more effective medical treatment. Advocates of the emotional / affective approach to ASD believe that it is an inability to form meaningful relationships as a result of regression to former stages of emotional development and maturity. They are in favour of ‘affective’ therapy, most commonly in the form of art therapy. (Dennis,1979 in Henley, 1989). According to the behavioural theory of autism, certain inappropriate behaviours need to be eliminated while appropriate ones need reinforcement so that the ASD individual has more chances of adapting to the world and surviving. Behavioural modification techniques may or may not include aversive or punitive strategies which aim at suppressing self-stimulatory and other repetitive-obsessive behaviours that interfere with learning. On the other hand, opponents of this approach claim that “what is considered as progress by the cognitive and behavioural oriented clinicians may lead savants to artistic regression” (Henley, D. 1989); suppressing idiosyncratic talents of ASD individuals for the sake of verbal training, for instance. There are also the cognitive theories explaining autism; the most dominant one is the Theory of Mind, according to which ASD people lack empathy, intersubjectivity and synchronicity to other people. Hence, autism is an interpersonal disorder and is caused by an affective deficit which leads to irresponsiveness. (Trewarten & Hobson).This strand of research is based on evidence drawn from responses of ASD teenagers who complained that “95% of people don’t understand me” or “adults just don’t stop bullying me” and “adults don’t leave me alone” or even “friends just exhaust me”. The validity of this theory is being challenged now on the grounds that responses such as the above could just as well come from typical teenagers. In fact, many researchers now wonder whether autism is a disability. According to the new paradigm in understanding autism, i.e. the sociocultural or environmental approach, autism is neither a disability nor a neurological pathological disorder. It is nothing but a ‘social construct’. Society projects its norms on individuals and those who resist conforming, standardization, normalization, invasion are labeled as ‘disabled’ and have to be altered in order to fit in the ‘normal’ world.

7


Understanding Autism at School The statistics also reveal major changes. To begin with, the tremendous rise in the numbers of individuals being now diagnosed with autism is indicating to an epidemic. However, experts do not see it as an actual rise in occurrences but as an increase in awareness and alertness on part of parents and educators as well as of diagnosability. Besides, the sex ratio of one girl for each four boys diagnosed with autism is now seen not as a genetic difference between the two sexes but as an indication of the fact that girls have been so far under diagnosed because their behavioural symptoms were milder. It is no coincidence that the ratio of girls with ASD is now on the increase. In addition, the average IQ of individuals diagnosed with autism seems to be much higher now than a few decades ago; which, in combination with the fact that the Asperger’s syndrome has now been dissociated from the spectrum of autism, is very puzzling. Last, there is a shift of emphasis from the genetic to the environmental factors underlying autism; which is probably the outcome of the prevalence of the environmentalist theory for autism. Indeed, judging from the DSM V (the fifth version of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Society) of 2013, there is a new focus on the functioning within the autism spectrum and away from the disorder or the disability indicators. The same shift of emphasis is evident in the International Classification and Diagnosis tool of the World Health Organization (WHO). The major criterion for being diagnosed with ASD is no longer the deficits but their effects on the psychosocial and affective/emotional development of the individual. This is clearly an expanded view of autism given the huge increase in both its variability and frequency. (based on notes taken from Dr. Karantanos’ presentation at the two-day conference at Laskaridi Foundation)

8


Understanding Autism at School

What it is Commonly accepted view up until 2013

Autism was considered a lifelong developmental disorder that affects an individual’s ability to communicate, form relationships and respond appropriately to the environment. It results from a neurological condition that impedes normal brain development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Much like hearing or visually impaired people who do not process auditory or visual stimuli in the same way as ‘typical’ people, individuals with autism simply do not process the environment in the same way. Autism is called a spectrum disorder because it impacts many areas of a young person’s development. Its symptoms appear in a variety of combinations and in varying degrees, from mild to quite severe. As a result, no two individuals with autism are alike although they may exhibit some of the core characteristics. These are: Impaired communication and social interactions Repetitive behaviours Unusually strong attachments to objects or special interests Resistance to change Extreme sensory sensitivities Anxiety Children on the autism spectrum range from those with extreme developmental disabilities to those with surprising intellectual abilities. This means that IQs can vary from an IQ of 20 to an IQ of a 120 and higher. However, autistic children are so immature that it has been estimated that they are from one to two thirds their chronological age. In addition, there are children with autism who are non verbal and others who might know more words than a university professor. Most of them, however, are easily distracted by everyday sounds, e.g. the turning of a page or the sound of pencil on paper and chalk on the blackboard, and especially sensitive to light and noise. As a result, they have great difficulty paying attention to the lesson in class. Therefore, at the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum there are those autistic individuals who are exceptionally adept to using language quite convincingly. Academically, these students tend to be very capable and are often included in the general education classroom. This does not mean, however, that they are capable of carrying out complex social interaction tasks. They still exhibit many of the characteristics associated with autism. They have problems navigating in the social environment and they experience extreme anxiety because there is nothing more stressful for a teenager than the feeling of not fitting in the peer group. Whereas some autistic children would choose to be by themselves, others crave for friends but don’t know how to make them. Even high functioning autistic teenagers have the social skills of a five –to eight-year-old child. (adapted from OAR www.researchautism.org) 9


Understanding Autism at School The most recent ‘expanded’ view In the new view of ASD, which adopts the latest sociopragmatic perspective, autism is one of the ‘neurodevelopmental disorders’ along with mental retardedness, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), specific Learning Disabilities (dyslexia, etc), Motor Disorders and the Compulsive Behaviour Disorder. The approach adopted is a socio-pragmatic one, seeing autism as a communication and interaction issue. There are three levels of functioning identified by this new diagnostic tool for ASD, distinguished by the varying degree of support needed at each level of functioning. The main symptoms of ASD fall within the three following areas:  Sensory peculiarities  Social deficit  Repetitive and obsessive behaviour The most important aspect of ASD is its co morbidity with other conditions, which has made its diagnosis so problematic in the past. The most recent classifications of the autism spectrum distinguish, for instance, between ASD with and ASD without intellectual and/ or language impairment. This makes it easier to understand the specific profile of a person with ASD who may happen to be diagnosed with impairment independently from autism. In addition, ASD may or may not be associated with medical conditions (most commonly epilepsy), genetic conditions (sometimes the Down syndrome) or environmental factors (perhaps poor nurturing). What’s more, it can be coinciding with other developmental disorders (mental or behavioural) as mentioned above and with autistic catatonia. These distinctions between autism and other co morbid conditions are crucial to our understanding of it. (based on notes taken from Dr. Karantanos’ presentation at the two-day conference at Laskaridi Foundation)

10


Understanding Autism at School Is there Autism? According to Damien Milton, advocate of the environmental approach to autism, consultant for the National Autistic Society and researcher at the Autism Centre for Education and Research (ACER) of the University of Birmingham, diagnosed with Asperger’s himself, autism is not a disorder but a ‘disruption of reciprocity between two people; a breach in natural attitude, dispositions and understanding of the world’. If so, autism is nothing more than a transactional problem encountered in many instances of human interactions. Everyone has somehow experienced the feeling that there is a gap in how interlocutors perceive reality. Besides, there is a problem of unwillingness among ASD individuals to comply with the social standards of behaviour and social communication. This defiant attitude is not uncommon among many a non-autistic individual, as well. Hence, the moral dilemma of what society should be training ASD individuals for; compliance or survival? Of course, the advocates of cognitive theories of autism argue that compliance to the social norm is a basic skill for survival. However, those who support the environmental or social model for disability (including ASD) claim that it is the social environment that fails to fulfill the expectations of the ASD individual and not vice versa. Thus, any kind of intervention should be aiming at changing the social environment rather than the affected individuals. In other words, the survival skill we all need to master is mutual understanding rather than adapting ourselves or others to the social ‘norm’. (Sinclair, John 1993 and Hacking 2009) Ever since autism has been identified, teaching conformity has led to the stigmatization of ASD individuals, who, in turn, have reacted with hostility, increased defiance and there has been a serious aggravation of their communication deficit since all communication theories are based on the principle of mutual respect and acceptance. In addition to withdrawing, people with autism have internalized the pressure for conformity and the feeling of rejection and developed a low self-esteem. The self-fulfilling prophecy of self-complacent professionals and practitioners has followed a vicious circle beginning at the negativity of ‘typical’ people towards ADS people, leading to the overloading of ADS people and their internalization of a negative self- image which leads them to behaviours that foster the negativity of ‘typical’ people towards them. The end-product of this vicious circle process is the disablement of people with autism who are so much different from all of us as each of us is from one another. (based on notes taken from Milton’s presentation at the two-day conference at Laskaridi Foundation)

11


Understanding Autism at School An illuminating example While there is no cause or cure, nor a known singular effective treatment, people with autism at any age can make significant progress and can lead meaningful and productive lives. However, experts agree that early diagnosis and early intervention are critical because the earlier people with autism get help, the better their outcomes will be in the future. Therefore, growing up with autism does not necessarily mean that the person cannot achieve a high level of fulfillment and confidence.

In fact, for some individuals autism has turned into an advantage, as in the case of Dr. Temple Grandin, Professor of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University. Her professional achievements could never have been predicted on the basis of her development as a child. She was non verbal until the age of four and emotionally withdrawn. Back in the early 1960s physicians recommended that she be institutionalized in a facility for the mentally disabled. However, special attention from her parents and teachers enabled her to succeed in school. Unlike many autistic patients Dr Grandin has been able to overcome the barriers to social interaction as well to social exclusion. Her progression from social isolation to prominence in her field has been remarkable. She is also very deeply committed in raising awareness about autism and gives first-hand information at conferences across the U.S.A. She attributes her success partly to her autism and the special way in which she views the world because of this condition. She describes her condition as visual thinking. She claims to have absolutely no language based thoughts but rather to be thinking only in pictures. She has also offered us her valuable insight about the anxiety that autistic people suffer from due to their hypersensitivity to sensory input and has actually become a spokesperson for autistic people. What she personally emphasizes is that there must be an early intervention special education programme for autistic the latest at age two and a half. She had 20 to 25 hours special instruction a week and a nanny who played games with her. As she points out: “It’s very important to keep autistic children engaged with the work … not to let them vegetate”. In the words of Dr. Temple Grandin, “The world would be much different had the autism gene been eliminated; People would still live in caves, philosophizing about life...” (based on YouTube videos with Dr Grandin and the film ”Temple Grandin”)

12


Understanding Autism at School

What it looks like Areas of behaviour indicative of ASD

People with autism have challenges in the areas of sensory stimulation, communication, socialization and restricted/repetitive behaviour. A few examples of signs and symptoms in each area are: Sensory peculiarities Most ASD individuals suffer from extreme sensitivity to sensory stimuli, e.g. sound and light whereas they exhibit extraordinary tolerance to extreme temperatures Communication 

Development of language is significantly delayed

Some do not develop spoken language

Experience difficulty with both expressive and receptive language

Difficulty initiating or sustaining conversations

Robotic, formal speech

Repetitive use of language

Difficulty with the pragmatic use of language Socialization

Difficulty developing peer relationships

Difficulty with give and take of social interactions

Lack of spontaneous sharing of enjoyment

Impairments in use and understanding of body language to regulate social interaction

May not be motivated by social reciprocity or shared give-and-take Restricted/Repetitive Behaviour

Preoccupations atypical in intensity or focus

Inflexibility related to routines and rituals

Stereotyped movements

Preoccupations with parts of objects

Impairments in symbolic play

Apparently, there is no single behaviour that is always typical of autism or any of the autistic spectrum disorders. Therefore, autism is a baffling, life-long disorder.

13


Understanding Autism at School

ASD individuals at school All learning difficulties and special educational needs are on a spectrum and learners with the autism spectrum disorder (or ASD) may function quite effectively - particularly children described as having Asperger’s syndrome- in a learning context or may have what is understood as ‘classical autism’ where they are unable to function independently with little or no verbal or communication skills and are likely to need to be looked after all their lives. It is not clear why a child may be autistic but what is clear is that there is no ‘template’ on how to work with learners on the autistic spectrum. Like all learners, they are all individuals and require individual approaches in developing their skills.

        

Teachers’ reactions to ASD pupils are often as stereotypical as the following: “He is just manipulative” “She acts like she cannot hear” “He is inconsistent” “She is very distractible” “He is off in another world” “She does just what she wants to” “He doesn’t pay attention” “I know she understands – she just doesn’t want to do it” “He seems to have obsessive behaviour which I can’t deal with”

These feelings and reactions may be immediate reactions to difficult and inappropriate behaviour by learners with ASD but it would be helpful for us to begin to understand what the causes of such behaviour are and then how we can effectively manage such behaviour in both ourselves and our learners.

        

Learners on with ASD are likely to have difficulties with the following; Processing and retaining verbal information Following instructions Organising and planning Seeing the bigger picture Focus or motivation Coping with change / unpredictability Working co-operatively Processing sensory information Difficulty understanding and expressing feelings The main challenge for learners with ASD is meeting their social and interaction needs because in fact they think and function differently in social situations. Because of this, they need to learn in different ways and to develop appropriate social skills and behaviour in order to function appropriately in ‘our world’. (Dexter, P., British Council)

14


Understanding Autism at School What primary school teachers should be aware of In Primary Education terms, children with autism are not able to understand the perspective of others, or even to understand that other people have a perspective that could be different from their own. They may also have difficulty in understanding their own—and particularly other people’s beliefs, desires, intentions, knowledge, and perceptions. Especially Primary students with autism often have problems in understanding the connection between mental states and actions. For example, children with autism may not be able to understand that another child is sad—even if that child is crying—because they are not themselves sad. Primaries with autism demonstrate difficulties in a variety of observable ways. They have a tendency to play with toys and objects in unusual and stereotypical ways. Some may engage in excessive or inappropriate laughing or giggling and that play often lacks the imaginative qualities of social play. Some children with autism may play near others, but do not share and take turns, while others may withdraw entirely from social situations. Primaries with autism often demonstrate unusual and distinctive behaviours, including: • restricted range of interests, and a preoccupation with one specific interest or object • inflexible adherence to a non-functional routine • stereotypic and repetitive motor mannerisms, such as hand flapping, finger flicking, rocking, spinning, walking on tiptoes, spinning objects • preoccupation with parts of objects • fascination with movement, such as the spinning of a fan, or turning wheels on toys • insistence on sameness and resistance to change • unusual responses to sensory stimuli Regarding learning, Primaries with autism have a psycho-educational profile that is different from normally developing individuals. Studies show that there may be deficits in many cognitive functions, yet not all are affected. In addition, there may be deficits in complex abilities, yet the simpler abilities in the same area may be intact. Current research identifies the following cognitive features associated with autism: • deficits in paying attention to relevant cues and information and in attending to multiple cues • receptive and expressive language impairments, particularly the use of language to express abstract concepts • deficits in concept formation and abstract reasoning • impairment in social cognition, including deficits in the capacity to share attention and emotion with others and to understand the feelings of others • inability to plan, organize, and solve problems Some students with autism have stronger abilities in the areas of rote memory and visualspatial tasks than they have in other areas. They may actually excel at visual-spatial tasks, such as putting puzzles together, and perform well at spatial, perceptual, and matching tasks. Some may be able to recall simple information, but have difficulty recalling more complex information. Strength in visual-spatial skills has been described in personal accounts of very young learners with autism. Some students with autism can more easily learn and remember information that is presented in a visual format and that they may have problems learning about things that cannot be thought about in pictures. In other words they “think in pictures.” Others may have difficulty in comprehending oral and written information—for example, following directions or understanding what they read. Yet some

15


Understanding Autism at School higher-functioning ones may be relatively capable of identifying words, applying phonetic skills and knowing word meanings. Additionally, Primaries with autism often demonstrate unusual patterns of attention. These have major implications for effective communication, social development, and attainment of academic skills. They often have difficulty in paying attention to relevant cues or information in their environment and may focus their attention only on a restricted part of the environment, to the exclusion of what is relevant. For example, a student may look at the ball but not at the person to whom the ball is to be thrown. Or a child may notice the insignificant details such as the staple in the corner of a paper, but not the information on the paper. This is referred to as stimulus over-selectivity. Another feature of autism is impairment in the capacity to share attention between two things or people, which is referred to as joint attention. Very Young Learners may also have difficulty in disengaging and shifting attention from one stimulus to the next, which may contribute to the characteristic rigidity and resistance to change. They may also demonstrate a short attention span. All in all, difficulties with attending may significantly influence the student’s ability to develop effective social behaviour and language. For example, students with autism may respond to irrelevant social cues that have caught their attention, or they may attend to limited portions of a conversation and not understand the intent of what is being communicated. They may not attend to multiple cues in speech and language and so miss the importance of the message. Primaries with autism usually differ from others in their sensory experiences. Responses to sensory stimulation may range from hyposensitivity to hypersensitivity. In some cases, one or more of the person’s senses is either under-reactive (hypo-reactive) or over-reactive (hyper-reactive). Environmental stimuli may be disturbing or even painful to a child with autism. Other Autistic children may overreact to the texture of objects, clothing, or food. The inappropriate response is the result of the person’s tactile misperception, which can lead to behavioural problems, irritability, or withdrawal and isolation. Moreover, students with autism may be hyposensitive or hypersensitive to sounds. This can be particularly problematic in a school setting, which normally includes so many different sounds. The scraping of a chair, bells between classes, speakers’ announcements and sounds of machinery fill a normal school day. Students with autism report that such sounds seem excruciatingly intense to them. Students with autism may have differences in this orienting system so that they are fearful of movement and have trouble orienting themselves on stairs or ramps. They may seem strangely fearful or clumsy. Most researchers identify anxiety as a characteristic associated with autism. This anxiety may be related to a variety of sources, including: • inability to express oneself • difficulties with processing sensory information • fearing some sources of sensory stimulation • high need for predictability, and having difficulty with change • difficulty in understanding social expectations At this point, it would be advisable to commemorate teachers with special training in working with students who have complex special needs as great supporters of classroom or other special teachers. These teachers have expertise in behaviour management and in the

16


Understanding Autism at School development of social skills. When referring to very young learners, the specialist teacher may be a resource teacher with special training in behaviour or communication. For some students with autism, the resource teacher may provide direct instruction, while in other cases, specialist teachers provide consultative support for classroom teachers who have a student with autism in the regular class. It should be highlighted that this educational employee group (teachers’ assistants, paraprofessional workers, learner assistants, student assistants, or special education assistant) plays a significant role not only for the autistic student’s overall development but it also facilitates teaching procedures for the rest of the class. These teachers play a key role in many programs for students with autism, performing a variety of functions from personal care to assisting with the instructional program, shaping appropriate behaviours, developing independent living skills, facilitating interactions with others, or stimulating communication. Another characteristic of autistic young learners has to do with the qualitative differences in social interaction as they often have difficulty establishing relationships. They may have limited social interactions or a rigid way of interacting with others. The difficulties they have with social communication should not be seen as a lack of interest or unwillingness to interact with others; this lack of effective communication may result from an inability to distill social information from the social interaction and use appropriate communication skills to respond. Understanding social situations typically requires language processing and non-verbal communication, which are often areas of deficit for learners with autism. They may not notice important social cues, and may miss necessary information. Young students with autism typically have impairment in the use of non-verbal behaviours and gestures to regulate social interaction, and they may have difficulty reading the non-verbal behaviour of others. Generally, young students with autism have significant difficulty with any interaction that requires knowledge of other people and what they think or know. It has been theorized that people with autism have a social cognitive deficit. {“Theory of Mind” (Baron-Cohen)}

“People with autism desire emotional contact with other people but they are stymied by complex social interaction.” Temple Grandin, ‘Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports’ From ‘My Life With Autism’, 1995, p. 44 17


Understanding Autism at School What secondary education teachers should be aware of In pre-school and very early elementary grades students may not seem to develop crucially differently from their peers. By the time they enter secondary school, however, their differences become more pronounced and visible and challenges provoked by the new social environment can seem overwhelming. They have to do with many different teachers, they have to understand and learn new rules of behaviours that are acceptable during lessons and peer-to-peer interactions. Secondary school teachers should be specially attuned to their students’ language and communication skills. Some children with autism have strong verbal abilities which suggest a high level of social and emotional maturity but this does not mean that they do not have a disability. Their speech is a monologue and hardly a conversation. In addition, although these children may be able to talk and their talk can make sense, their language comprehension skills can often be very troublesome and they also have problems understanding subtle language, figurative speech, sarcasm or jokes. They do not understand humour and they may need more direct instruction and clear feedback by teachers. In a secondary classroom teachers will often see autistic students struggle with basic skills such as organizing their materials or the sequence of tasks assigned. It is the teacher’s responsibility, thus, to get such students on track, remind them of what they have to do and how to do it and help them establish and follow a routine to stick to. Autistic students do not simply suffer from adolescent fears and anxiety. Their anxiety levels can often reach so high that they feel threatened when they are confronted with a load of information and a long series of steps to follow in order to carry out a task. Teachers should break down the tasks into as many small units as possible and keep the load of new information within the autistic student’s grasp and control. Otherwise, when autistic students become aware that they have fallen behind, their anxiety will lead them to even worse disorganization and to behavioural problems, as well. When it comes to content teaching, teachers of autistic students should bear in mind that a vast majority of autistic individuals are visual learners. As a result, they must be given rich visual stimuli that relate to the content of teaching; plenty opportunities to see what is taught and interpret it themselves. Language accompanying teaching should be as concise and clear as possible while non -literally expressed ideas should be spelt out for the autistic children and – ideally- also written down for them. Besides, the rules of interaction and casual conversation which most typically developing children understand are often lost on autistic teenagers. They do not know, for instance, how to take turns in conversation, how to interpret facial expressions as well as how to show interest in the interlocutor by asking them questions. Autistic children need explicit teaching in this direction, as well. Everything typical individuals just know because they infer it from the environment, in other words the so-called ‘hidden curriculum’ which comprises all the hidden rules of conduct in a specific cultural environment, is a major challenge for autistic children.

18


Understanding Autism at School What it looks like in our classes: Our ASD pupils Billy is a 6 year old boy, blond, blue-eyed only child, quite good looking and belonging to the Autistic Spectrum. His IQ and comprehensive skills are normal. However, Billy shows poor attention, concentration and eye-contact. He usually laughs without reason and most of the times he develops his own monologue. Billy is obsessed with numbers and whatever is connected with mathematical figures draws his attention. Additionally, he can do all sums without using any paper or pen. That is why a separate mini-syllabus with numbers was developed for him e.g. constructing numbers, reading all numbers in class, making sums, reading aloud the CD player tracks, counting the other students every day, a game with number cubes showing words in English, so that he can combine words with numbers in his own short –term memory. Generally, Billy can follow simple commands or instructions usually given to him by his parallel support teacher, to whom I am personally obliged. Any visual or audio material can make him show interest to a certain extent. Billy hates drawing and he rarely does it - always with the help of his support teacher. When asked, Billy always gives short answers, like “yes” or “No” and he seldom expresses his feelings, needs or desires. Moreover, he has difficulty in understanding abstract concepts or complex ideas. When singing or dancing in our English class, he faces a real difficulty in balancing his feet or following the rhythm…However, he does participate always bearing a big- big smile. In the English class, he prefers sitting at the same place, any change seems to disrupt him and create an unsafe environment. As regards his social interactions, Bill’s performance does not sway away from the rule. As already mentioned, one of the defining characteristics of autism is impairment in social interactions and social skills. Students with autism have not automatically learned the rules of interaction with others, and they are unable to follow these unwritten rules of social behaviour. This is more or less the case with Bill. Teaching Billy a foreign language is a hard-thing - to- do as he can mostly repeat words without really understanding not only its meaning but also the mere existence of other communicative codes. But what we have worked on is Billy to fulfill some of the goals having been set by his support teacher. His socialisation is our first priority, thus Billy works hard on social language (this sometimes occurs in L2 as well) training, conversation skills, social interaction, the enhancement of his self-esteem and the reduction of his anxiety. Lots of work is done with the rest of his classmates as they had also to be trained in order to accept diversity, to adopt a friendly attitude towards him and to support and praise every step forward on his behalf. Certainly Billy needs a separate tuition and before that he should obtain typical structures for everyday use either at home or in class. All in all, Billy is a talented little boy struggling for his life, a handsome young man who needs help in order to cope with disruptive students, to balance between teachers’ loud voices and environmental sounds, to feel safe in his school context. But for him, my teaching young learners would not have been so different and so challenging, so helpful in making me a better human… 19


Understanding Autism at School D. K. is a 10th year student with ASD who came to Senior High School in the academic year 2013-2014. She has been diagnosed with ‘high functioning autism spectrum disorder’ and left Junior High School with an average of 14 out of 20 marks. She has a younger brother who has also been diagnosed with Asperger’s and is in the 7th year. Our school was totally unprepared to face a case of ASD since we have never had a precedent and had not been informed about D.K.’s condition until the second week of the school year when her documents arrived. Before that we had noticed that the girl was ‘different’, but none of the staff or the headmaster could tell what was wrong. She would avoid eye contact with teachers in the classroom and fix her eyes on her notebook. She seemed to be absent-minded and not listening, let alone answering any of the teachers’ questions. During the breaks she would walk slowly along the corridor looking down and always carrying her schoolbag on her back. Some of us tried to approach her but she was reluctant to interact and ran away. We inquired her classmates who have been in the same class since the 1st year and found out that she is ‘autistic’ and has been aggressive to both students and teachers. Some girls even warned us to stay away from her because ‘we were in danger’. Very soon her mother arrived to inform us that D. is a brilliant and very diligent student who never fails to do her homework and should be encouraged to participate in the lessons to show her potential. We did insist in involving her in the lessons in our typical ways, of course, but still kept looking down and gave us the feeling she was overstressed, so we stop pressing her to respond. Most alarmingly, she would suddenly start weeping in class for no apparent reason. This is when we started wondering what to do to help her. She was absolutely lonely, withdrawn, at times obviously agitated. Not only did she seem unable to comprehend the subjects taught but she was helpless at interacting. We all agreed that her mother’s pressure on her for academic achievement could be a huge mistake. The headmaster applied for special education teachers for language and science who actually arrived a few weeks later because we were lucky to benefit from a European-funded programme for the inclusion of students with disabilities in general schools. At the same time we had the fortune to have a social worker on a daily basis at school and I, the English as a Foreign Language teacher, had just joined an in-service-training programme in special education. Of course, apart from getting familiarized with learning difficulties I opted for a project on learners within the autism spectrum. In our attempt to understand her, we have had several hours of discussions with each other and with her special education teachers. We set a priority over her academic performance; to reduce her anxiety by showing her non-verbally that we care about her. Her response was more than rewarding! Most of us have succeeded in establishing rapport with her and we often engage in casual conversation with her during the breaks. She has also shown interest in socializing with other pupils but does not know how. We had the chance to talk to her class when she was absent one day and explained to them that it is important for her not to feel rejected. Most of the girls’ peer groups now invite her to hang around with them and she happily does so although her interaction skills are not developed enough to make her an equal interactant. When she realises her weakness in participating fully in teenage talk, she gets upset and turns to the nearest teacher looking for a hug. She was the 20


Understanding Autism at School first to hug a couple of us – female teachers – and we encouraged her to do so in order to relieve her stress. However, after a few seconds of hugging, she worries about what her schoolmates might think and runs away to join them. She is clearly experiencing a painful and stressful inner conflict. As regards her academic skills, we are now convinced that her mother’s expectations are too high and too much of a load for her. She seems unable to grasp simple notions, let alone cope with the curriculum demands for the general high school. The special educators believe that her IQ is too low for her to attend high school and that it would be better for her mother to look for an institute for vocational training specializing in ASD individuals. However hard we have tried to discover her academic strengths, we are still at a loss. She loves dancing but our school does not offer modern dance lessons and she is too shy to join in physical education activities or even the kinesthetic activities for foreign language learning I have tried to involve her in during our lessons. She seems to be a visual thinker because she is always writing things in her notebook and she is often willing to show me. I made her ‘secretary’ of our English class and asked her to copy my blackboard notes in her notebook and then on posters. Sadly, her notes make no sense. Perhaps, specialists can help her hidden strengths come out so that we can help her develop them. Let’s only hope that her mother realises that pressing her to be a good High School student only makes matters worse…

painted by G. Bouzianis, Greek painter

21


Understanding Autism at School

What can be done? What can be done in primary schools Having to do with young learners is a demanding teaching procedure. Dealing with autistic children in class is much more complicated. Some possible suggestions useful for language teachers might be the following: 

Provide precise, positive praise while the student is learning. Give students precise information about what they do right or well. Generalized praise may result in unintended learning that is hard to reverse. Students with autism may learn on one trial, so directing the praise to the very specific behaviour is important: “Billy, you are doing very well at multiplying these numbers.”

Use meaningful reinforcements. Reinforcement can be anything from praise to tangible objects that increase the behaviour the student is to learn. Students with autism may not be motivated by common reinforcers that work with other students. They might prefer some time spent alone, time to talk to a preferred staff member, time to play with a desired object, music, playing in water, getting to perform a favourite routine, items that provide specific sensory stimulation, or sitting at the window. It is important to know what works as reinforcement for each child.

Plan tasks at an appropriate level of difficulty. Students with autism may be particularly vulnerable to anxiety and intolerant of feelings of frustration if they cannot perform the tasks assigned. Increasing the level of difficulty gradually and scaffolding or supporting learning (particularly with visual information rather than solely oral explanations) will assist in minimizing the student’s frustration.

Use age-appropriate materials. It is important to honour the dignity of students with autism through the choice of instructional materials. Even if the instruction must be modified significantly, the learning materials should be appropriate to the age of the student.

Provide opportunities for choice. Students with autism may be frequently frustrated by their inability to make themselves understood, they need instruction and practice in making good choices for themselves. Acceptable methods of providing choice for students who have limited ability to communicate need to be developed on an individual basis. Direct teaching of making choices may be helpful. Choice should be limited to one or two preferred activities. Family members can provide valuable information for teachers about what students know and do at home. These interests and skills can be built upon both for instruction and for reinforcing successful learning and behaviour

Develop talent and interest areas. If the student demonstrates a particular interest and strength in a specific area (e.g., music, drama, art, Math, computer), provide opportunities to develop further expertise in that area. This may not only provide enjoyment and success, but may also lead to the development of skills. The education programme planned for the student should therefore be based on the unique combination of strengths and needs of that individual. 22


Understanding Autism at School 

Use audio-visual materials. Individuals with autism are more visually oriented. Visual material should be incorporated when teaching individuals with autism. Being aware of different experiences of sensory stimulation and integration is an important part of understanding behaviours of Primary students with autism and planning programs for them. Teachers and families can work together to assess sensory responses while collaboration among parents, school, teachers, specialists can lead to a practical and safe environment for all autistic children. Separate plan and teaching strategies should be followed always respecting each autistic child’s profile and needs.

Plan adaptations to instruction, classroom environment, and classroom management. Programs for students with autism often need to address anxiety, and what seems to contribute to it. Changes and adaptations can be made within the environment to reduce anxiety-arousing situations, and a variety of strategies can be used to help the individual to manage anxiety and cope with difficult situations. Communication and social skills are key areas of development for students with autism and must be addressed in the plan. The student’s needs for support may go beyond the mandate of the school system.

Follow Visual approaches.The most strongly recommended approach for teaching students with autism is to use visual aids. Students often demonstrate relative strengths in concrete thinking, rote memory, and understanding of visual-spatial relationships, and difficulties in abstract thinking, social cognition, communication, and attention. Pictographic and written cues can often help the student to learn, communicate, and develop self-control. One of the advantages of using visual aids is that students can use them for as long as they need to process the information. Using visual supports enables the individual to focus on the message as long as they range in complexity from simple and concrete to abstract. Visual supports can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom. Visual supports are very useful and can be employed to: organize the student’s activity—daily schedules, mini-schedules, activity checklists, calendars, choice boards provide directions or instructions for the student—visual display of classroom assignments, file cards with directions for specific tasks and activities, pictographs and written instructions for learning new information assist the student in understanding the organization of the environment—labeling of objects, containers, signs, lists, charts and messages support appropriate behaviour—posted rules and representations to signal steps of routines teach social skills—pictorial representations of social stories depicting a social situation with the social cues and appropriate responses, developed for a specific situation for the individual student teach self-control—pictographs, which provide a cue for behaviour expectations Break down oral instructions into small steps. When providing instruction for students with autism, teachers should avoid long strings of verbal information. Supporting oral instruction with visual cues and representations will help students to understand.

Pay attention to processing and pacing issues. Students with autism may need longer to respond than other students. This may be linked to cognitive and/or motor difficulties. Students with autism may need to process each discrete piece of the 23


Understanding Autism at School message or request, and therefore need extra time to respond. Providing extra time generally, and allowing for ample time between giving instructions and student responses are both important tactics for supporting students with autism. 

Use concrete examples and hand-on activities. Teach abstract ideas and conceptual thinking using specific examples and vary the examples so that the concept is not accidentally learned as applying in only one way.

Use task analysis. Teachers and parents may need to break complex tasks down into sub-tasks and reinforce in small, teachable steps. For each step of a complex task, the student needs to have the requisite skills.

Teach Life skills. Social skills, and academic skills can all be analysed and approached as tasks and sub-tasks, with each step taught and then linked to the next in a chain sub-tasks.

Use discrete trial methods. Using prompts to help students learn is an important element of instruction for some students with autism. Prompts may be physical, gestural, or verbal.

Organize teaching materials and situation to highlight what is important.

Use organization aids and visual supports to help the student attend to pertinent information and teach new tasks.

Encourage independent effort. Separate Portfolios or stickers’ albums can be used as rewarding materials. Moreover, Autistic children like being awarded with biscuits or sweets but each reward should be specified from the very beginning to avoid asking for more…

Use photographs and realia for stimuli.

Provide relaxation opportunities and areas. It may be necessary to have a calm, quiet, designated area where the student can go to relax. Relaxing for some students with autism may mean engaging in repetitive behaviours that have a calming effect on them. In some cases, students who crave certain repetitive movement, such as rocking or other self-stimulating movements, can be provided with a time and space where this movement is permitted.

Provide opportunities for meaningful contact with peers who have appropriate social behavior. It will be necessary to teach appropriate social behaviour and to provide the student with situation-specific expectations for behaviour. More opportunities for contact with peers may include: pairing the student with buddies for walking down the hall, on the playground, and during other unstructured times varying peer buddies across time and activities, to prevent dependence on one child involving peers in providing individualized instruction arranging cross-age peer supports by assigning an older/ more able student to assist the student with autism 24


Understanding Autism at School pairing students while attending special school events such as assemblies and clubs facilitating involvement in after-school or extracurricular activities 

Use social stories with illustrations. Social stories with illustrations can also be used to prepare the student for new situations.

Focus on developing interaction and communication in the environments in which the child participates (e.g. classroom, playground, gym).

Use sentences to talk to the student. Keep in mind that you are modelling speech as well as trying to communicate with the student.

Use vocabulary appropriate to the student’s comprehension capability. For students with more severe communication disability, choose familiar, specific, and concrete words, and repeat as necessary.

Use language that is clear, simple, and concise. Figures of speech and irony or sarcasm will only confuse students with communication difficulties.

Allow time for the student to process the information. It may be necessary to talk more slowly or to pause between words. The pace of speech depends on the ability of the individual student.

Break listening down into components for the student and reinforce each component. For example, teach the student to face the speaker, look at one spot (which does not mean they must make eye contact), and place hands in a planned position, and praise or otherwise reward each step.

Use visual input to aid comprehension of oral speech. Visual aids may help obtain and maintain the student’s attention. Accompanying spoken language with relevant objects, pictures, and other visual supports can help with comprehension.

Adjust your expectations for communication accordingly. For students with limited oral expression, teachers and families should accept limited verbal attempts and non-verbal behaviour as communicative.

Use a customized communication dictionary. It is a very useful tool in which staff and parents can document what the student says and what is meant, along with planned adult responses to language attempts. Students need to be taught that everything in our world has a name, that there are different ways of saying the same thing, which words can be meaningful in a variety of contexts, and that learning to use words will help them communicate their needs and desires.

Facilitate social communication and structure interactions. Modelling, physical prompts, visual cues and reinforcement can be used to facilitate attention, imitation, communication and interaction.

Encourage informal and formal communicative social exchanges during the day. Simple drawings are an effective strategy for teaching conversation skills. These drawings illustrate what people say and do and emphasize what they may be 25


Understanding Autism at School thinking. A set of symbolic drawings can be used to represent basic conversational concepts, such as listening, interrupting, loud and quiet words, talk and thoughts. Colours may be incorporated to represent the emotional context. Pictures with scripts can also be used to develop conversation skills and communication appropriate to specific social contexts and situations. 

Present Autistic students with concrete rules in a visual format. People with autism have difficulty in understanding subtle social messages and rules and also have problems interpreting the non-verbal communication of others. It may be helpful to provide the student with a concrete rule when one does exist and to present it in a visual format, by writing it down or incorporating it into a social story or comic strip conversation.

Use social stories One of the most helpful methods for teaching social skills is the use of social stories, a strategy developed by Carol Gray. A social story is a description of a social situation that includes the social cues and appropriate responses, and that is written for a specific situation for the individual student. The story can be used for a variety of purposes, including: facilitating the inclusion of students in regular education classes introducing changes and new routines explaining reasons for the behaviour of others teaching situation-specific social skills assisting in teaching new academic skills.

Use Cognitive Picture Rehearsal. An instructional strategy for teaching social skills that presents information in a visual format is Cognitive Picture Rehearsal. This method involves presenting a sequence of behaviours in the form of pictures or pictographs with an accompanying script. The student is guided through repeated practice of the sequence of behaviours.

Use peer support. Peers can assist students with autism in developing social skills. It may be helpful to educate the peers first, so that they better understand the behaviour of the autistic student. For example, the teacher may need to interpret the non-verbal communication, or explain that a specific activity is difficult for the student, and identify what peers can do to help. This can be done informally or in a more structured manner. Young children can be shown how to use specific prompts to initiate and maintain interaction with a classmate with autism. They may also need help communicating with the student. Peers should be reinforced for their role, just as the student with autism is reinforced for social interactions. Peers can be helped to develop strategies to enhance the social competence of the child with autism.

Support the development of friendships. Optimally, the aim of developing specific social skills is to enable the student to interact with others in a variety of settings, and to facilitate the development of social opportunities and relationships. Students who demonstrate basic social skills may still have difficulty establishing connections with other children and maintaining interactions with peers. Teachers and parents may facilitate further social interaction through: encouraging a friend to play with the child at home helping the student join school clubs with support as needed to participate teaching the child to observe other children to follow what to do 26


Understanding Autism at School encouraging co-operative games modeling how to relate to the child, and educating other students in the class encouraging prospective friendships providing enjoyment at break times doing projects and activities that illustrate the qualities of a good friend helping the student to understand emotions through direct teaching of how to read people’s faces and body language and respond to cues that indicate different emotions 

Teach functional skills. One of the fundamental goals of schooling is that students acquire the skills they need to function as independently as possible in the world. This may be even more important for students with such disabilities as autism, because they have significant difficulties in acquiring independent functioning skills.

Create a safe school environment. The classroom and school environments provide a wealth of opportunities for developing functional communication within social contexts, and promoting generalization.

Collaborate with specialized professionals. They should collaborate to identify communication goals and objectives for the student with autism. The planned interventions should be based on the abilities and needs of the student. All professionals can assist in the assessment of communication skills and provide suggestions and strategies tailored to the unique needs and characteristics of the student.

Use visual input to aid comprehension of oral speech. Visual aids may help obtain and maintain the student’s attention. Accompanying spoken language with relevant objects, pictures, and other visual supports can help with comprehension.

Insert Colours in your teaching to represent emotional context. Pictures with scripts can also be used to develop conversation skills and communication appropriate to specific social contexts and situations.

Collaborate with parents. Parents are key players, as the communication system should be used both at school and at home to be effective.

Use ICT. Ongoing research is showing promising results using computer technology as a means for communication and computer-assisted learning as a strategy for teaching communication skills.

Delineate the teaching space. Autistic children often have trouble coping with different environments or chaotic spaces. Construct your teaching area with separate and defined stations such as toys, crafts and dress up. Place physical indications of defined areas on the floor, such as mats for each child to play upon, a taped square outline for a reading area, etc.

Create a predictable schedule. Many autistic children thrive on a predictable schedule, so giving them the security to know what to expect each day is beneficial. Place a clearly-visible analog clock on the wall and tape images that represent the

27


Understanding Autism at School day's activities and the times they occur. Refer to this clock while mentioning the time that activities are to take place. 

Use closed captions on a television to promote reading. The closed captions on a television allow the child to simultaneously associate printed words with spoken words. If a child has a favorite television show, record the show with the closed captions and incorporate the show as part of the reading lesson. Allow the children to their lesson plans. Autistic children are just as capable of learning as non-autistic children. They simply need to find a strategy for proper information absorption. Observe what objects the children gravitate toward. Do they need to walk to list the alphabet? Does holding a blanket help them to feel safe? Many autistic children have difficulties being attuned to emotion, motivations and other social cues that are instinctive among non-autistic children. Read stories to show proper behaviour in different situations. For example, read a story about a child who is sad and point out a frown or tears as examples of sadness to help an autistic child learn how to pick up on emotions. The child can learn by memorization. Allow the children to learn within their own framework. Use fixations to facilitate the learning process. Many autistic children fixate on certain items and this can be used as an advantage when teaching. For example, if a child is fixated on cars, use the cars to teach geography on a map by "driving" the car to different states. If a child is fixated on numbers, use numbers to teach Maths in English. Avoid long verbal commands. This can be confusing, as autistic children often have trouble understanding sequences. If the child can read, write down the instructions. Give instructions in small steps. Create a classroom routine. Students with autism appreciate routine. Non-autistic students appreciate routine, too, so this is helpful to the class at large. If you are setting up classroom systems geared toward students with autism, chances are all students will benefit. Establish a pattern which includes a classroom greeting, a special starter activity, then similar transition cues and wrap-ups. Close the activity or day the same way, setting up structure, clear expectations, and routine. If you change the routine, be sure to use plenty of advance-notice verbal cues. Use preparatory commands and commands of execution to cue transitions. Students with autism often struggle with transitions. Using preparatory commands– commands that cue in on the forthcoming action words–help these transitions. Give fewer choices. Students with autism can get overwhelmed when given list-style selections. Try using just two choices. This helps declutter the landscape and yet still allows students to make a decision. Find “their thing”. Students with autism often have specific aversions–these can range from environmental, to touch, to texture–it’s important to be aware if these exist. Use appropriate technology. There is so much helpful technology for students with autism. One study showed that off-the-shelf video games can actually have therapeutic value for children with autism. Treat them like any other kid as much as possible. Make sure students with autism get the “kid” experience, not the “autistic kid” experience, or the “special needs” treatment. This makes a difference.

28


Understanding Autism at School 

 

Estimate the impact you can have on your students with autism. When you take the time to learn some autism-specific strategies and dispel the myths, it makes a critical difference. When you notice students with autism opening up, it’s a gift. Adopt Environmental Considerations. Visual and auditory stimulation in the classroom must be taken into consideration. Many students with autism are sensitive to auditory input and have a more difficult time processing auditory stimulation. Their work stations should be placed away from excessive auditory stimulation and away from unnecessary movement. Adopt visual schedules. Students with autism perform best when their daily routine is predictable, with clear expectations. Establishing and following a visual schedule eliminates the unexpected and assists students in anticipating and preparing for transitions. Schedules must be visual and kept in the same location at all times. Always Follow a Visual Structure. The environment needs to be structured visually to help the student clearly see and understand what is expected of him. Work stations must be clearly defined. Taped outlines on the floor, chairs labeled with the student’s name or using furniture to reduce visual and auditory stimulation are examples of environmental considerations. Work stations also need to be structured. Activities should be designed with strong visual cues so less auditory directions are needed. Use Alternatives to Verbal Communication. Many students with autism have impairments in communication, particularly expressive communication. For those who are non-verbal, an augmentative communication system must be in place. Voice output communication devices may be very appropriate. Use Direct Instruction of Social Skills. The majority of students with autism need direct instruction in social skills. Most do not learn interaction skills by simply being placed in social environments. Using strong visual structure, activities can be designed to teach about identifying emotions in self and others, situations that can cause certain emotions, and how to respond in certain social situations. Follow Literacy Instruction. Literacy instruction should begin at a very early age and continue throughout all school years. Be consistent. All students do best when the daily program remains consistent with clear expectations. All staff working with students with autism need to be welltrained and must implement the daily program as consistently as possible. Give autistic students Sensory Opportunities. Most students with autism have some sensory needs. Many find deep pressure very relaxing. Others need frequent opportunities for movement. Create a Functional Curriculum. Children with autism have a great deal of potential to live and work independently as adults. The curriculum should place a strong emphasis on following a functional curriculum. Skills that emphasize daily living skills, community skills, recreation and leisure and employment need to be incorporated into the curriculum. Take advantage of student strengths and interests. Many students with autism have particular strengths and interests and these should be taken advantage of in the classroom. For example, if a student demonstrates an interest in trains, the student should have opportunities to read about trains, write about trains, do math problems about trains, etc.

29


Understanding Autism at School

What can be done in secondary schools Autistic friendly schools offer interpersonal skills courses and life skills courses in order to teach the hidden curriculum explicitly. They discuss, for instance, appropriate verbal and non verbal responses such as facial expressions and eye contact, depending on the communication context in order to teach autistic children non verbal language. In other words, these schools teach directly what most children learn intuitively. What they cannot teach an autistic child is how to recognize it when they are being bullied because it is just impossible to anticipate all possible ways that normal children may come up with to exert psychological violence on an autistic victim who is an all too easy target of school bullying. Regarding autistic students’ repetitive behaviour, as teachers we should be aware of the fact that this could range from the most severe cases in which there is the typical rocking and flapping to the more common fixation on a specific topic or the compulsive need some autistic children exhibit for routine; things done in a specific predictable order. In general, students with autism are more likely to thrive in a school environment where there is consistency and predictability in the classroom. They need to find their own seat free and have clear and commonly accepted rules to follow. They find it very helpful when the teacher has written down on the board all the activities that are going to take place in the order in which they are planned to take place, as well as the homework assignments. Only

30


Understanding Autism at School when they are given structure and routine do autistic children feel comfortable in the classroom. As for course content, teachers can explicitly teach students with autism the basic reading strategies, and train them in identifying the key ideas in a reading text. A lot of individuals with autism, when they read something, have great difficulty understanding what the most important part of a paragraph is. We can assist them with texts in which the main points are highlighted and with gapped texts in which the main points are missing and they will have to identify them in the highlighted text and fill them in the gapped text. In fact, students with autism can thrive when there is support available to match their individual needs. For instance, some support strategies include:  Priming Priming students means exposing them to course material individually before the lesson takes place. It gives autistic students the opportunities to become familiar with the key concepts of the course content and increases the likelihood that they learn key concepts and details, as well. Priming can also take the form of advance organizers, i.e. explaining the students what they are going to learn in advance and telling them which activities they will be doing. This strategy is most effective when it is built in their daily routine and in cooperation with parents it can be reinforced at home, too. Parents of students with autism may have to prime them in advance for assignments or tests they have to take at school.

 Academic modification This entails adapting the content and activities of the lesson to meet the students’ specific needs. Academic modifications can range from reading aloud directions for a test, extended time for tests and assignments to presenting them with multiple choice questions instead of open ones because most students with autism have problems with word retrieval. Teachers may also choose to give alternatives to reading assignments to such students, unless they are competent at it.

 Home base This strategy is intended to provide students with autism with a special ‘safe’ place at school where they can spend some time alone when they need to regain control at times of stress. This helps them remain calm and return to the classroom environment when they feel better, instead of having to leave school when they are feeling overwhelmed. It is a home base at school. Teachers use this strategy when they sense that the child is experiencing increased stress in the classroom. They can do this discreetly by giving the child a note to deliver to another teacher who then leads the child to the home base. This does not stigmatize the child and does not disrupt the rest of the class. 31


Understanding Autism at School  Visual supports Another major strategy is maximizing visual supports which come in many forms. For instance, labels can be used to help students with autism easily identify their materials. Moreover, it is very useful to provide the learners with self-managing tools, i.e. a card reminding them of the steps needed to complete a task on which students can check out themselves the steps that have been completed. There are also ideas for time-management tools, such as setting a timer for each activity. Because students with autism tend to be more visual learners, they may benefit from having a copy of their daily schedule so they can stay organized. Some prefer a printed schedule while others find it useful to look at their schedule on the blackboard. To actually help them with the course content, we can use graphic organizers such as web diagrams, mind maps and flow charts in order to present the material and the relationships between the main concepts of the lesson in a visual way. Another type of visual support is the so-called ‘social script’. Because autistic students need guidance with social interaction, social scripts help them understand the differences among social situations and what the behaviour that it expected in each of them. They are cards illustrating the physical proximity and the verbal and body language between interlocutors in different social contexts. Verbal interaction patterns range from conversation initiation examples to asking questions and making requests or appropriate responses. In some cases it might be a good idea to help them realise what it is in their verbal or non verbal behaviour that they need to change by making a short video with them interacting with a teacher and then showing them explicitly in the video what they did well or not so well. This helps them to self-monitor their behaviour, for instance maintaining eye contact or listening to the interlocutor.

 Reinforcement Based on behavioural psychology, reinforcement means rewarding the behaviour of the student when it is productive and positive for their continual personal development. It can take the form of verbal praise or more concrete forms of reinforcement such as extended time at the computer or less homework. Particularly students with autism may need reinforcement for behaviour that is taken for granted by other students such as paying attention, answering the teacher’s question or not engaging in repetitive speech. By providing for predictability and structure in the daily school life, teachers and schools can foster the integration of students with autism in the mainstream school. However, the life of a teenager is full of transitions and these are particularly challenging for autistic students. They often struggle with transitions from one activity to another within the same lesson. Teachers can alleviate some of the anxiety that transitions cause by having a clear agenda and making it accessible to students all the time. Last minute changes are often inevitable, however, as much in class as in real life and it is these unpredictable transitions that are most stressful to autistic students. Even the unexpected visit of some other student’s parent to school is likely to upset the student with autism. Only the teacher who is aware of these peculiarities and knows the autistic student well as well as how to help them feel safe in the secondary school environment can really help the students with autism stay at school and 32


Understanding Autism at School benefit from it. This is all very demanding for the teacher but highly rewarding, too and it requires the support of the school district, the school headmaster and the parents. However challenging school might be for autistic children, most of them prove that they are capable of flourishing in it provided that their peculiarities are respected. For instance, many an autistic student will exhibit a special strong interest and will accumulate a wealth of specialized knowledge which they might want to talk about. Because autistic children cannot read non verbal messages, they will continue to talk about their object of interest without noticing the interlocutors’ eventual disinterest. If they are ridiculed or humiliated at that point, they will be discouraged from opening their minds up again. If encouraged, on the other hand, their specialized knowledge and unique abilities can actually expand the learning experiences of both teachers and students. In the first place, having a student with autism in a class can teach typically developing students that there are differences to be respected and embraced. Apart from differences, there are unimaginable similarities between autistic and non autistic children because there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ or ‘average’ individual. When non autistic students realise that the gap between them and their autistic schoolmates can be bridged, they will have made a major step towards self-awareness, too. Besides, the way in which autistic students process information may expand the other students’ and the teachers’ way of thinking provided that they listen and that they ask the right questions in a comprehensible way. With time, students with autism come to feel comfortable enough to accept their teachers and schoolmates who accept them and eventually they even answer their questions. Many such teachers find that “the quality and richness of what they teach is enhanced by the ideas that autistic students bring to the table”. With students on the autism spectrum in their classroom, teachers have the opportunity to reinforce a broader lesson to all their students. When it comes to the behavioural challenges that students with autism may present in the classroom it is vital to act proactively and be able to identify the signs of such behaviour initiating so that the autistic student under stress can be alleviated before agitation escalates. A goof way of preventing behavioural challenges is by using the home base support strategy mentioned above. As regards secondary school teachers who have students with autism in their classes, there are three types of supports to aid them integrate their special students in the class. First, there is the Individualized Education Programme. This is tailor-made for each child with autism and not for the ‘average’ autistic child because there is no such child. It is supposed to function as a contract between the parents and the school outlining what is expected to be achieved by the specific child with the help of the school based on the child’s present performance level and needs regular updating as the child progresses through instruction. Of course, this education programme refers to a range of skills from academic to non academic or ‘soft’ skills. Developing this programme is a collaborative process involving parents, general education teachers, special educators and other specialists. Each year it is revised following the evaluation of the child’s progress and the school environment’s suitability for this specific child’s needs.

33


Understanding Autism at School The end-product of the development of the Individualized Education Programme for each academic year is a comprehensive document which outlines clear and measurable goals for the child’s academic and social progress. It also details the specific strengths and needs of the autistic student in each class and subject. Additionally, it refers to the types of reinforcement that are especially motivating for the specific child. Besides, it prescribes all the classroom supports, including sensory, social and communication supports that are going to be used in the academic year in question, as well as academic modifications that will help the student with autism learn best. Needless to say that there is special provision for supports and modifications in each different class depending on the requirements of the course content of each subject. Hence, the Individualized Education Programme supports general education teachers help students with autism achieve their potential. It is the “list of teaching and classroom management strategies the teacher needs to help the autistic student navigate through secondary education with the maximum success possible”. The other important resource for general education teachers of students with autism is the support provided by special education teachers. The latter are the guide of the general teacher to understanding the special needs of the autistic student. One way in which special education teachers can assist the general education teacher is through teaching the student with autism directly how to behave in the classroom. Another way is by working together to make creative modifications to the curriculum; providing special supports and instructing the general education teacher how to break down the content and the instructions appropriately. Furthermore, special education teachers can help through advising and developing the Individualized Education Programme mentioned above, as well as monitoring the progress of the child in terms of it and conducting a kind of formative evaluation. Last, in some school systems there are also paraprofessionals or ‘instructional aides’ available to the general education teachers of students with autism. They help the child keep focused on the general education teacher at times when the child within the spectrum of autism gets obsessed with an idea that interferes with the lesson. They can make sure that the student is at task, that they have all the supports necessary at each moment of the lesson and that they are prompted to ask questions when necessary. Although paraprofessionals are not responsible for developing the curriculum content, they are facilitators who help students with autism adapt to the classroom environment. (adapted from “Understanding Autism: A Guide for Secondary School Teachers “ YouTube)

34


Understanding Autism at School

Technology assisted learning for children with ASD There are a number of projects that the team of the University of Birmingham is carrying out in order to assist pupils within the spectrum of autism to learn how to behave in a way that will facilitate their adaptation and development. These projects involve the use of ICTs and even Robotics and their basic advantage over face-to-face interaction with human tutors lies in the fact that they seem to increase the motivation of ASD pupils to interact with them rather than with humans. Hence, they have proven to be autistic-friendly in a number of ways. Most importantly, unlike human interaction, interaction with a computer provides a high degree of predictability and consistency which is vital to individuals with autism. In addition, besides making no social demands, they are simple, easy and uncomplicated; having thus a high potential of reducing anxiety, which is a core characteristic of the spectrum of autism and a major barrier to communication and learning. Moreover, computer programmes do not involve any facial expressions that pupils with autism find so hard to decode. Some of their benefits are the following:      

They assist attention focusing and prolong attention span They model out expected behaviour (both verbal and motor) without unleashing the undesired resistance that individuals with ASD usually exhibit towards other people They help increase body awareness and help teach cause and effect explicitly They help train people with ASD in recognizing emotion and in mirror responses They can teach school skills and non academic skills in a multisensory way They help train children with ASD in symbolic play

35


Understanding Autism at School 

They also help train in socio-pragmatic communicative skills such as engaging in social talk (initiating conversation, turn-taking, topic switching, contributing to conversation, exiting a conversation) They help teach co-spatial communication and cooperation

One of these projects is called ‘SHAPE’ and its tools are ‘Echoes’, an interactive game based on gaze tracking that helps focus attention and practice turn-taking, ‘Co-Spatial’ that aims at teaching social skills, ‘Reacticles’ that enhance self-regulation and chilling out and ‘Somantics’ that helps develop body awareness. Two very useful applications of ‘SHAPE’ are the digital stories, which give teachers the opportunity to exchange experience of using the tools of ‘SHAPE’ as well as the web platform for sharing views and experiences among the special and general school communities of the same school district. ‘SHAPE’ with all its tools and applications are free to download from the website of the Autism Centre of Education Research at http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/education/acer/index.aspx . Interestingly, the game ‘Echoes’ has been expanded for home use on laptops. Other computer projects that can be of great help at teaching students with ASD are to be found on the internet. Specifically, the University of Valencia in Spain and its ‘Fundacion Orange” has created the ‘Pictogram’, a project for technology assisted reading and body language training. Besides, there is the Ask NAO Initiative with its project ‘ALDEBARAN’, an application of Robotics in the education of people with autism. In addition, there is ‘AZAHAR’, a project for helping adult ASD individuals with managing time, introducing themselves, setting reminders as well as uploading music and other digital skills. And, of course, there are many useful tools and applications in the website of the ‘AUTISMSPEAKS’ organization. (based on notes taken from the presentation of Guldberg, K., Kossyvaki, L. at the two-day conference at Laskaridi Foundation)

36


Understanding Autism at School Approaching each type of ASD learner individually Being an ASD individual and a visual thinker herself, Dr. Temple Grandin emphasizes the need to identify the thinking (hence, learning) style of each ASD pupil at school. She explains that most commonly the brain of a person with autism presents a degree of overgrowth in the back part at the expense of the frontal lobe activity. Thus, there is a serious deficit in information processing and analysis of sensory stimuli. The implications of this are crucial for learning and interacting as well as for the general well-being of people with autism. Schoolteachers should be aware of them in order to modify their lessons and behaviour to address the special needs of each autistic child and integrate ASD children in the mainstream school. Increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli and frustration at being unable to process them effectively leads ASD pupils to agitation, fatigue, aggression and/or ‘spacing out’, i.e. withdrawal. Many of them are intolerant of noise and light and some get easily upset because their amygdale, which is the fear centre of the brain, is larger than usual. This implies that both the physical and the social environment of the school should be altered so that there is minimum sensory stimulation which leads to anxiety and they can feel safe. It is important to note that although ASD individuals hardly ever seek physical contact, they report experiencing alleviation of anxiety when pressed, squeezed or hugged. Dr. Grandin invented and constructed the ‘squeeze machine’ when she was at college which helped her to calm down whenever agitated. Teachers also need to be focus on and build the strengths of each type of thinker each of their ASD pupils falls into. There are visual, abstract and verbal thinkers. Specifically, there are visual thinkers who lack generalized images of objects and cannot think in abstract ways. They may excel in geometry but fail in algebra. Instruction must be organized in such a way that the focus is on the partial rather than the global. They need to be explicitly taught how to generalize from specifics to generals and how to form concepts. They should be offered hands-on experience classes and projects in Art and Science. Moreover, their visual track is huge but they have poor interdepartmental connections between the different parts of the brain so their working memory is also poor and they can’t remember long sequences of information. They need visual supports to remind them of routines. They also have problems with word meanings and language because they cannot process language but visually. Their categorizing of the world is sensory based so they cannot grasp figurative language and are bound to understand speech only literally and miss out on humour, sarcasm and irony. This makes them inflexible thinkers and poor interlocutors. As a result, they have to be taught social and pragmatic rules explicitly and be guided into understanding moral values concretely with numerous examples until they have internalized and generalized them. Last, visual thinkers usually have impaired speech development because of the poor interconnectedness of their brain. They cannot activate the areas responsible for hearing, seeing, speaking and generating words simultaneously. This is why they seem to have hearing problems or tend to look away when spoken to. They just can’t look at and listen to their interlocutor at the same time because of the sensory overload. In order to help them, we should address their senses one by one. 37


Understanding Autism at School Abstract thinkers are the ones who are good at algebra because they think in patterns and actually exhibit a repetitive, obsessive and fixative interest in patterns. This must be used by teachers to motivate school work. They have no problems with concept formation and they are very good at learning rules. However, they have problems with interaction, too. Word thinkers are perhaps the most privileged of all because academic success relies heavily on memorizing language. They good impress their interlocutors with their linguistic capacities. In fact, they are as poor at natural interaction as the other two types because they lack sociopragmatic competence. All types of ASD learners should be taught life and work skills such as being on time and carrying out assignments much more explicitly than typical learners of the same age. However, once they have internalized a rule, they tend to get obsessed with it and never fail observing it. In addition, regardless their thinking style, it is very helpful to get them out doing things and exercise or bring them into contact with nature and animals because kinesthetic and tactile stimuli help them stay focused and calm. Last, given their limitations of self control, they need – perhaps more than the average learners - to be given more advanced material in their area of strength in order to prevent boredom and anxiety and derive a sense of accomplishment. (adapted from “Dr. Temple Grandin: Thinking in Pictures� on YouTube)

38


Understanding Autism at School The Professional Training of Practitioners working with ADS pupils The Autism Centre for Education and Research (ACER) at the University of Birmingham has developed the Inclusion Development Programme (IDP) aiming at supporting pupils on the autism spectrum. Their approach is environmental in the sense that the stress falls upon the role of the environment of the people with autism rather than on behavioural problems or biological factors. In fact, their motto is ‘let’s change ourselves to help pupils with autism develop”. This particular ethos entails that autism is seen as a difference rather than a disorder and that the only legitimate approach to it is by building on the ASD pupils’ capacities and strengths rather than on their deficits. Schools that have embraced this ethos and joined the ACER’s programme also participate in a self- evaluation programme in order to improve their practices. This assessment of their practices is based on the National Criteria for Schools with Good Autism Practice, which can be found at www.autism.eduation.trust.org. These quality indicators are actually the evaluation standards that constitute the Framework of Competences of schools and institutions working with ASD and comprise four main areas of school life:  

 

The school climate and the competence of teachers and other professionals to enable pupils with autism to make relationships The sensory stimuli of the physical and social school environment and the degree to which the school has made attempts at making them minimally threatening to pupils with autism Curriculum and teaching and how far it address the specific learning needs of each individual with autism The individualized approach to each pupil with autism and how this is reflected in the development of the Individualized Education Programme through keeping special records ‘Pupil’s Passports’ for each pupil with ASD

The evidence for the self evaluation processes is drawn from school documents, observations, interviews and questionnaires given to parents and pupils. Most importantly, steps have been taken in the direction of training practitioners working with pupils with autism. The ACER team has developed a three level training programme with three modules: 1. a 1,5 - hour awareness raising programme for anyone interacting with pupils with autism from school bus drivers to cleaners 2. a two-day preliminary training programme for beginners in autism 3. a three-day programme for those who wish to get involved in supporting pupils with autism In order to take module 3 it is a prerequisite to have attended the first two modules. (based on notes taken from the presentation of Dr. Guldberg at the two-day seminar at Laskaridi Foundation)

39


Understanding Autism at School St. Christopher’s School Sadly, most school curricula are not ‘autism friendly’. Learning difficulties may arise from:  

An excessive high sensitivity to sensory stimuli; Inability to understanding abstract concepts such as, goodness, fairness, metaphor or humour;  An inability to understand appropriate behaviour in social contexts;  How to make to friends. Children on the autism spectrum are ripe for bullying at school and, unfortunately, usually are. Learners on the autism spectrum are, however, usually expert in a favourite subject often with strong interest in technology or the creative arts. They also, especially if more able, have a very clear self-awareness of their personal strengths, challenges and gifts. Given the real challenges with both verbal and written language – usually essential as part of any communication – a visual approach to presenting information is often essential. At St. Christopher’s School, efforts are made to support learners with ASD. Examples of good classroom practices for integrating and promoting the development of pupils in the autism spectrum include:  Ensuring learners had a clear understanding of the timetable of the day through a visual timetable of what would be covered and when  Planning lessons where subjects such as numeracy and literacy would be earlier in the day and more creative subjects such as arts in the afternoon  Offering individual education plans to ensure that while the focus is on access to the curriculum for everyone and interventions are targeted to specific individual learning needs  Integrating ‘whole brain’ activities through using drawing, music, songs and games into all lessons  Demonstrating practical application of subjects with hands on experience so learners can discover for themselves  Delivering subject knowledge in meaningful ways but also ensuring an approach to consistent behaviour in the classroom – knowing when to listen to the teacher, when and how to be on task and structures such as putting up hands before answering questions or asking before moving about the class  Ensuring different types of assessment – including self-assessment.  Explaining behaviour and the consequences of behaviour through social stories as one of the main challenges with learners with ASD is in not understanding appropriate behaviour. This is a really powerful technique  Providing a safe room where a learner can go at any time for a calming environment or for release of stress/ anger away from others

(Dexter, P., British Council)

40


Understanding Autism at School

Conclusion Instead of a guided conclusion full of suggestions for teaching languages within Autistic spectrum, we decided to conclude with a poem dedicated not only to our students but also to all children, all young people with Autistic Spectrum with the hope us to see them “dance” to the rhythm of life… following their paces, their dreams… Foteini & Stavriana, English teachers

You don’t see it, but some days I drag moonlit danger behind me like a veil of milky dust casting itself off of my crown. I balance armies of fire on the backs of my arms and use them for wings. I hear the stars rubbing their legs together for the want of music and hanging gold fiddled notes on Venus’ earlobes. They chime, making love in the solar wind. I strap bass lines onto my back; wrap chain mail angels around my chest; strap thunderclouds to the soles of my feet; and I dance. You wouldn’t know it, but I have a thousand Heavens and just as many Hells burning inside. You see the computer mind, but not the glass shatter heart. I sometimes wonder if I am transparent in your line of sight, if you can already see how much I burn; but you always prove me wrong. You try to unzip me, and see my eyes fleeing away from you like startled ponies. Do you really know me? If you did, you would know that if I look at you too long, I might burst. But you don’t know. And how can I tell you? I consult the dictionary of human behavior every day. I had to load it into my brain and make it learn that you open doors with hello and that you close them with goodbye. 41


Understanding Autism at School I had to learn the mechanics of when to smile, when to laugh. If I like you, I tear encyclopedia pages and pictures from off my walls to give to you as gifts. And if I were to love you, I might serenade you with music channeled from the stereo installed into my brain that I first noticed when I was six. But small talk still feels like grease on my fingertips. And some days, I hear my own voice rendered in Greek and wonder when I will speak my own tongue again. So I will speak my own dialect of encyclopedia notes, photographs, trivia bank entries, badly sung covers of the originals, words shaped like arrows. There may be no smiles, no dance of our eyes, nothing between us to make things easier. That’s not how I work, and I am not ashamed of this. And maybe some day, you will see me dance. (written by an autistic teenager)

42


Understanding Autism at School

Sources Bάρβογλη, Λ. (2007). Η διάγνωση του Αυτισμού. Πρακτικός Οδηγός, Αθήνα: Ελληνικά Γράμματα Γενά, Α., (2002). Αυτισμός και διάχυτες αναπτυξιακές διαταραχές. Αξιολόγηση- ΔιάγνωσηΑντιμετώπιση. Αθήνα: Aυτοέκδοση Γκονέλα, Ε. (2008). Αυτισμός: Αίνιγμα και πραγματικότητα, Αθήνα: Οδυσσέας Baron Kari Dunn & Mitzi Curtis, “The Incredible 5-Point Scale”, 2004

Gray, C., “Comic Strip Conversations”, 1994. Grandin Temple, Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports From My Life With Autism , 1995, p.20 Harrington, K., Autism: For parents and professionals, 1998. Henley, David (1989) “Nadia Revisited: A Study into the Nature of Regression in the Autistic Savant Syndrome” in Art Therapy, July 1989 Hogdon, L. A., Visual Strategies for Improving Communication, Volume 1: Practical Supports for School and Home , 1995. Howlin, P., et al., Teaching Children with Autism to Mind Read: A Practical Guide , 1999. Janzen, J. E., “Understanding the Nature of Autism: A Practical Guide” , 1996. Jordan, R., & Powell, S.(1995). Understanding and Teaching children with Autism, John Wiley & Sons Koegel, R. L., et al.,“Emerging interventions for children with autism,” in Teaching Children With Autism: Strategies for Initiating Positive Interactions and Improving Learning Opportunities, 1995. Lindblad, T., “Language and communication programming and intervention for children with autism and other related pervasive developmental disorders,” 1996. Mannix Darlene, “Social Skill Activities for Special Children”, 2009 Michelle Carcia Winner & Pamela Crooke, “You are a social detective”, 2007 Minshew, N. J., Autism as a Selective Disorder of Complex Information Processing , 1998. Quill, K. A., “Visually cued instruction for children with autism and pervasive developmental disorders,” Focus on Autistic Behaviour, 110(3), 1995.

43


Understanding Autism at School Quill, K. A., Teaching Children with Autism: Strategies to Enhance Communication and Socialisation , 1995. Rosenblatt, J., et al., “Overselective responding: Description, implications, and intervention,” in Teaching Children With Autism: Strategies for Initiating Positive Interactions and Improving Learning Opportunities , 1995. Schreibman, L., “Using Peer Trainers to Promote Social Behaviour in Autism,” Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 12(4), 1997. Sigman, M., et al., “Cognition and emotion in children and adolescents with autism,” in Handbook of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders (2nd ed), 1997. Wetherby, A. M., and Prizant, B.M., (Eds.), Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Developmental Transactional Perspective (in press, 2000). Wing, L. and Gould, J., “Severe impairments of social interaction and associated abnormalities in children: Epidemiology and classification,” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders , 9, 1979. OAR www.researchautism.org Understanding Autism: A Guide for Secondary School Teachers (YouTube) Quill, K., (2005). Διδάσκοντας Αυτιστικά Παιδιά, Λ.Μεσσήνης (Επιμ.), Αθήνα: Ελλην Παιδαγωγικό Ινστιτούτο, (2004). Αναλυτικά προγράμματα Σπουδών για μαθητές με αυτισμό, www.pi-schools.gr ΕΠΕΑΕΚ ΙΙ-ΥΠΕΠΘ YouTube: The Brain of an Autistic child + Temple Grandin http://biology.about.com/od/anatomy About.com Biology Anatomy of the Brain http://www.ladders.org/pages/What-We-Do.htm What we do – Margaret L. Bauman, MD http://www.easterseals.com/explore-resources/living-with-autism/state-autismprofiles.html http://www.autism.org.uk

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/publications/creating-inclusive-learning-experienceenglish-language-learners-specific-needs (Dexter, Phil, The British Council ) http://www.teacch.com Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication related handicapped children http://www.autismlearningfelt.com/2010/06/free-social-stories-for-autistic-children.html http://www.autismgreece.gr

44


Understanding Autism at School Presentations at the two-day conference on Autism:”Discussing, Learning and Understanding Autism” April 4-5, 2014 at the Laskaridi Foundation Laskaridi, K. “Let’s talk about autism” Karantanos, G. “Autism and the new system of taxonomy DSM V” Milton, D.”The double-empathy problem” Guldberg, K.”Evaluation criteria for staff and intervention programmes” Guldberg, K., Kossyvaki, L. “Technology assisted learning for children with ASD”

May, 2014

ISBN 978-960-93-6102-6

45


Understanding autism at school foteini veneti & stavriana soubassi