The Education (K-12) Blogs and Special Ed Q & A are written and maintained weekly by Lisa Rogers with Educating Diverse Learners. Lisa received her M.A. in Special Education with an endorsement in the area of individuals with severe disabilities. Mrs. Rogers has also created products that have been used throughout the state of Texas for training purposes. Through the Association for Texas Professional Educators [ATPE], Ms. Rogers has produced an online course that targets the importance of visual strategies for student with autism spectrum disorders and just released her highly anticipated book titled: Visual Supports for Visual Thinkers.
Q: “I’ve heard that if my son (who is on the autism spectrum) is having a problem staying on task while in school that he should use the “keychain rules”. Would you please explain this term to me?” – Curious in Nashville, Tenn
A: Keychain rules are short statements or phrases of desired expectations that capitalize on the tendency toward rules and structure.
They serve as reminders in a quick and easy format that prevent much discussion about them. Rather than say, “stay in your seat” over and over without much impact, the teacher can now say, “Please check keychain rule number 4”. Again, if the rules are attached to a heightened interest, their effectiveness is enhanced.
This student’s interest in Greek mythology was incorporated to his keychain rules as much as possible through the addition of pictures.
Keychain Rule #1: Use appropriate words and voice
Say nice things to others
Speak in a respectful tone [level 1, 2, or 3]
Keychain Rule #2: Follow directions from teachers
Teachers and Mom are trying to help me, so be sure to say “O.K. I’ll try”
In a previous blog we discussed the need to support students in identifying and expressing their feelings through the use of a feelings chart. The feelings chart may be on a scale of “one to three” or “one to five” with level one indicating that the student is most calm. If possible, you can increase the effectiveness of this strategy by decorating the different levels with pictures/clip art that reflect a student’s interest. I have created feelings charts with different expressive pictures of Mario Bros, dinosaurs and even The Dukes of Hazzard characters!
Once the student understands what each level means, then it is most critical to identify calming activities for each level. Each of us responds differently to different experiences and this should be highly personalized in order to actually help the student calm down when needed.
As an example:
I find shopping to be very enjoyable and calming. However, my best friend finds the very same experience to be frustrating and adds to her stress level. Most people respond positively to either gross motor [large muscle] activities or simple, repetitive tasks as a calming mechanism. The key is to find what specific activities within these two broad categories might work for an individual.
Some examples of gross motor [large muscle] activities include, but are not limited to:
Continuing with instructional supports, this week’s blog will focus on a simple, yet powerful strategy: graphic organizers.
“Graphic organizers are tools that help your brain think.”
– Kylene Beers
Most teachers use graphic organizers but might not be fully aware of the comprehensive benefits of this visual support. Graphic organizers can accomplish the following key elements toward instructional success:
understand important data with very little reading involved
identify main concepts
assign specific labels to concepts
sort relevant and non-relevant details
identify cause and effect
identify and understand consequences
organize and sequence data
understand time lines
visualize and understand abstract content
Researchers found that when content is illustrated with diagrams, the information can be maintained by students over a longer period of time.
Graphic organizers portray knowledge in a meaningful way which helps bring clarity to ideas as connections are made.
As with the senses of sight and hearing, sometimes one or more of the senses are either over- or under-reactive to stimulation. This is also true for the sense of touch. For some persons with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, certain textures feel uncomfortable or even painful. For these individuals, the idea of a hug or even accidentally brushing up against something may be highly stressful. In order to prevent this negative tactile experience, much energy and focus is spent avoiding situations that increase the likelihood of such events.
Imagine lining up where there are others in front of you and behind you. The chances of being accidentally touched by either person may cause the simple act of lining up to be highly stressful and anxiety provoking. For individuals that do not like the feel of certain textures or things, parents and teachers may consider the following types of supports:
Halloween can be both a fun and nerve-wracking time for parents. Especially for children with ASD, there are many unknowns and events that could trigger a meltdown or even put your child in danger. But halloween can easily be safe and exciting experience if you plan in advance to prepare your child and help guide them. One great technique to use for ASD children and visual learners is a visual social story. Take a look at the visual social story below and print it out or show it to your child to plan and prepare for a fun and safe halloween!
For more resources and suggestions on planning for Halloween see the links below:
This is a great video of tips about planning in advance for Halloween, with his #1 tip being to not forget those ear muffs or ear defenders at home! The Aspie World Video
For an easy to reference list of suggestions, including practice role playing for receiving and giving treats, go here: Seattle Children’s Autism Blog
Attitude Magazine has a list of tips including more about sensory issues that might arise, relating to those with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder as well: Attitude Magazine Halloween Tips
Are you concerned about candy consumption and possible allergies? This blog addresses how you might be able to navigate that issue: Spirit of Autism
Remember in our previous blog on taste differences that smell makes up a large part of our sense of taste. Therefore, an individual with an Autism Spectrum Disorder might have an extremely fine sense of smell, which can be enough to make them avoid certain foods or even lose their appetite. So, there might be overlap in this very complicated topic of sensory differences as they co-exist in each person.
“Our sense of smell is so deeply ingrained in our psychology that many times we don’t even realize how scents are affecting what we do and how we think. Smell, more so than any other sense, is also intimately linked to the parts of the brain that process emotion and associative learning. Meaning that our sense of smell influences our feelings and perceptions neurologically. Our brains are hardwired to perceive certain smells and have an emotional reaction to those smells.”
Smell might be a hidden source of discomfort and even anxiety for some persons with ASD. “Hidden” in that a neuro-typical individual might not perceive a particular smell that registers heavily for the person with ASD.
I am reminded of a few instances where smell was a critical factor in the daily happenings of certain individuals with an ASD.
One young man with limited verbal capabilities would protest behaviorally when it was time to go to the restroom. Mind you, this was a boy’s restroom at a high school. After some careful analysis and problem solving, the staff decided to try changing the restroom from the boy’s restroom to the teacher’s restroom.
In a previous blog we discussed how to increase motivation and focus through the use of a Bingo card. The use of choice and positive reinforcement make for a powerful teaming of strategies. This blog will continue to break things down into smaller, more doable pieces of information. For instance, on the checklist or bingo card, it is time to complete 5 math problems, but another layer of support to add to this is a list of the steps necessary to complete those problems. From early grades through secondary, activities can be enhanced with a list of how to complete that activity, a task analysis.
As with most strategies, the benefit extends beyond students with an autism spectrum disorder.
Nicole Romero, a 2nd grade teacher, has embraced the idea of visual supports to aid instructional success for ALL students. She has decorated her centers with specific steps for completing specific tasks from using a number line to adding two digit numbers. These visuals that are posted for the class may also be provided as individual cards or pages for students with an autism spectrum disorder or other special need.
In a previous blog we discussed how to create keychain rules. This week, let’s look at a few more intricacies of this quick and easy strategy. Keychain rules can be cut up separately and placed on a binder ring or keychain for quick and easy access. A back-up version can be placed in a notebook or binder.
Leave at least one of the keychain rules blank for the student to create their own. If they have written one of the rules themselves, then they are more likely to consider these to be important and relevant. One student wrote “Have a great day!” on keychain rule #4.
During times of stress, this rule proved to be very soothing and helpful.
This same student travels from class to class, so she keeps her keychain rules in the back of her schedule notebook. Each of her teachers also have their own set available, just in case they get “lost”.
Keychain rules can be written in a different format for students that are motivated by video games, and other type of competitive activities, such as sports.
Do you have a place in your life that you retreat to when you are feeling the stressors of the world come down on you? For some, it might be as simple as your home. For others, it might be in a specific location such as sitting on a bench by the garden, or soaking in the bath tub with some soothing bubbles and lit lavender candles.
Wherever your “chill zone” is, you are rejuvenated when you emerge and are better equipped to deal with the next stressful challenges that are sure to come. After all, life and stress go hand in hand. It is how one deals with that stress that contributes to their success each day.
Understanding that individuals with Asperger’s experience ongoing stress as a result of neurological differences, the “chill zone” can serve as an effective coping mechanism.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes has clearly identified that the brain is truly wired differently in ways that are extremely complex. “Using advanced brain imaging techniques, scientists have revealed structural and functional differences in specific regions of the brains of children who have Asperger syndrome versus those who do not have the disorder.”
While most neuro-typical individuals can retreat to their “chill zone” on an as-needed basis, individuals with Asperger’s may need more overt planning to identify an effective “chill zone” and an effective strategy on how to access that location and when.
“I suspect my child has autism or some related disability. He is in the early elementary years. How do I get my child qualified for Special Education services in public school and what do they offer?”
-Confused and Concerned in Texas
Dear Confused and Concerned in Texas,
Thank you for asking this question that many others surely have as well. I will do my best to clarify the referral process from a parent’s perspective and possible services. However, you are always welcome to contact the campus Principal and/or the special education department of your current campus/district and present your question to them directly. Their response will give you an overview of the process which I will outline in this article through multiple resources and a flowchart.
Since you have mentioned that you suspect autism or some related disability, I have also included a resource that might help you to clarify your concerns in those terms if/when you do make the phone call to the local special education office.