Monthly Archives: March 2016

7 Ways to Bring Out the Best in Special-Needs Students

Recently, a former music teacher told me about a 1st grade student with Asperger’s syndrome who, on their first encounter, announced in no uncertain terms: “I hate music!” Over the next two years, the student used abusive language, had meltdowns, and was physically aggressive toward his peers. Finally, the teacher scheduled some individual time with him and discovered that he believed he was terrible at music and couldn’t sing. She let him play some of the instruments in her room and then showed him the music composition software program GarageBand on her Mac. It turned out that he was fascinated with computers and quickly figured out how to compose a song.
The next week, the teacher shared his song with the class and from that time on things began to change. He still struggled with his behavior, but over the next two years, she explained, “he played instruments in our concerts, joined the choir, had several solos, was in the musical. … [He] gave his heart and soul to music and continued to compose and mix music at home. He told his mother that whenever he was having a bad day, he would ‘go into his music’ and there he would find peace and calm.” This story illustrates how important it is to find out as much as possible about the strengths and abilities of students with special needs.
As a former special education teacher, I can’t count the number of times my students would come up to me and say, “Mr. A., when can I get out of this retarded class?” I began to understand that kids with special needs have two strikes against them. First, they have the disorder itself, and all the challenges it poses. But second, they have to spend a good deal of their time in school dealing with things they’re bad at. What we need to do is change this situation around so that right from the start, students with special needs are told about all the things they’re good at, and are engaged in activities that are based on those strengths.
Here are seven ways that you can activate the strengths of your students with special needs, whether you run a full-inclusion classroom, a self-contained special ed classroom, or anything in between:
Discover your students’ strengths. Before they even come into your classroom, find out about your students’ strengths and abilities by talking with previous teachers and looking at cumulative files (focusing on the highest grades and test scores and any positive comments from teachers). Then, fill out a strength-based inventory for each student—and have parents fill one out as well. I have a 165-item strengths inventory in my book Neurodiversity in the Classroom, and there are others out there, too. Also, ask your special-needs students what they’re interested in, what they feel like they’re good at, and what they’d most like to study. If time is an issue, focus on the students who are the squeaky wheels and have the greatest needs.
Provide positive role models with disabilities. Students with special needs need to learn about individuals with disabilities who have become successful in life. This way, they can hopefully come to the conclusion that “If they can do it, so can I!” Some examples of such individuals include: Noble Prize winning geneticist Carol Greider (learning disabilities), film director Steven Spielberg (ADHD), and animal scientist Temple Grandin (autistic spectrum disorder). Create a curriculum unit entitled, “People with Disabilities Who Changed the World,” and make sure that typically developing students also take part in the lessons.
Develop strength-based learning strategies. Once you know your students’ special strengths, design strategies that utilize those abilities. If a student is great at drawing but has trouble reading, let her illustrate her vocabulary words. If a student shows gifts in knitting but doesn’t understand place value, have him design a fabric art piece by knitting rows of 10. There are thousands of ideas and projects that can be created by combining a student’s strengths with a learning deficit.
Use assistive technologies and Universal Design for Learning tools. Learn about apps that capitalize on the gifts of your students with special needs. Provide a student who is a great orator but can’t write very well with a speech-to-text program such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, so that he can speak into the computer and produce writing that way. For a student with autism who loves to use an iPad but has difficulty communicating, teach her how to use an alternative augmentative communication app like Proloquo2Go, so that with the touch of a few buttons she can have a synthesized voice speak for her.
Maximize the Power of your students’ social networks. So much of learning involves being in relationships with others, and many students with special needs have particular difficulty establishing positive social connections. Create a graphic representation of a student’s peer network, identifying both strong and weak relationships. Then, pair the student with classmates that he has the most positive relationships with using peer-teaching, cross-age tutoring, Best Buddies, or other social-learning approaches.
Help students envision positive future careers. Most students with special needs have either no images of themselves as working adults in the future, or have primarily negative ones. Encourage these students by helping them make links between their strengths and the requirements of specific jobs or careers. So, for example, a student with ADHD who loves adrenaline-producing experiences might thrive in a high-stimulation job like firefighting. A student with learning disabilities who has a penchant for art might do very well working as a graphic artist.
Create positive modifications in the learning environment. Think about how you can create changes in your classroom that dovetail with the particular strengths of your students with special needs. Provide a student with ADHD who learns best by moving, for example, with a stability ball that he can jiggle on while doing his classwork. For a student with Down Syndrome who loves to humorously mimic others, build a simple puppet theater where he can act out math word problems in front of the class and get positive feedback.
A movement is emerging in education called “neurodiversity,” which suggests that we view our students with special needs in terms of “diversity” rather than “disability.” By embracing this more positive perspective, and coupling it with differentiation strategies that build on students’ strengths, we can help ensure that our students with special needs achieve success both in the classroom and out in the real world.
Thomas Armstrong was a special education teacher in Canada and the United States for several years. He currently writes and speaks to educators around the world, and is the author of 15 books, including his most recent, Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Achieve Success in School and Life, upon which this article is based.

Ideas to Reduce Anxiety in the Classroom

Teachers often have students with ASD in their classrooms who appear anxious throughout their school day. These students can have such intense anxiety that it can disrupt the entire classroom , or even the cafeteria or an all school assembly. No teacher, parent or student for that matter wants to experience those anxious moments. Teachers would always rather see their students having successful, meaningful and fun experiences at school and want to provide their students with ASD the proper supports. There is much that can be done pro-actively to enable students to feel more in control and safe in their learning environments. Simple steps can be taken to increase positive learning.

The Children’s Center on OCD and Anxiety (2009) believes that students with ASD do their best work in a classroom that is calm, supportive, and organized. Some sample classroom accommodations for students who are anxious can include:

Seating Within the Classroom: where the student most engaged in the class activities and least engaged with rowdy classmates?
Following Directions: have written directions on the board or elsewhere so they are clear and visible to all. Give a signal before giving important instructions.
Class Participation: know the student’s strengths with responding; do they do better with yes/no questions or with opinion questions? Create a signal to let the student know his or her turn is coming and provide opportunity for the student so share knowledge on areas where there student is confident.
Class Presentations: can the student present to the teacher only or audio tape the presentation?
Answering Questions at the Board: can the student be exempt from this activity or is there another way for them to be involved. Simply writing the information on the board and then sitting down before the material is analyzed?
Testing Conditions: having extended time or taking the test in another quiet, distraction free room is helpful. The use of word banks or equations sheets can also cue the student who may ‘blank out’ due to anxiety when tested.
Lunchroom/Recess/Unstructured Activities: using peers as lunchroom buddies or recess pals for younger students and peer mentors for older students can ease the fear of rejection. Avoid child choice in a classroom when groups are being formed, teachers can appoint or use ‘counting off’ or some other technique to eliminate the ‘last person chosen’ situation.
Safe Person: this can be anyone in the school who can provide an understanding and calming presence for the student, someone who understands the student’s worries and anxieties is best.
Cool Down Pass: for those students who become overly anxious and may not ask for a break in front of classmates, a pre-determined card can be placed on the student’s desk by the observant teacher, or the student can place it on the teacher’s desk when in need of a break. The break may also be pre-determined; perhaps they get a drink, talk to their safe person, or take a short walk in the halls.
Assemblies/Large Group Activities: thoughtful seating selection for the anxious student is imperative to decrease anxiety. Seating at the back of an auditorium or on the end of a row to allow for time away are both helpful.
Return After Illness: anxiety can increase with the amount of work missed during an absence. Having notes copied from the lessons missed can help as well as having the option to use time in class to complete make up work during the day.
Field Trips: prepare the students for the trip by giving all the details necessary in visual form as well as verbal. Place the student in a group with the teacher or other familiar adult at the destination.
Change in Routine/Substitute Teachers: let the child and child’s family know of any major change in routine in order to process the change. It is also useful for the student to know the teacher will be returning to the classroom.
Fire/Safety Drills: social stories about fire drills, sometimes accompanied by an audio tape of the sound played quietly can help the student understand what will happen when a drill occurs. Some students who are highly anxious may need to have a signal from the teacher that the alarm will sound to eliminate the surprise factor.
Homework expectations: give the class an estimate of how much time each homework assignment will take, assign every other math problem, reduce reading and writing assignments, allow books on tape, and allow alternative methods for answering in lieu of written responses.

 

This article was originally posted on http://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/Classroom-Ideas-to-Reduce-Anxiety

Making Paper Bag Puppets for Reading and Comprehension

Reading can be a dull and really tiresome task for some children, especially for those who find it difficult to understand what they are reading.

A fun way to make reading more interesting for children is to make puppets of the characters in the story, and get the child to reenact the story. This would help the child to have a better understanding of the story.

Paper bag puppets are simple and easy to make. All you need is a paper bag, and then you can add the other features of the character, such as the eyes, nose, tail, and so on.

You can also make your own paper bag, here’s a video on how to make your own paper bag.

 

The Impact of Technology on the Developing Child

Reminiscing about the good old days when we were growing up is a memory trip well worth taking when trying to understand the issues facing the children of today. A mere 20 years ago, children used to play outside all day, riding bikes, playing sports and building forts. Masters of imaginary games, children of the past created their own form of play that didn’t require costly equipment or parental supervision. Children of the past moved… a lot, and their sensory world was nature based and simple. In the past, family time was often spent doing chores, and children had expectations to meet on a daily basis. The dining room table was a central place where families came together to eat and talk about their day, and after dinner became the center for baking, crafts and homework.

Today’s families are different. Technology’s impact on the 21st century family is fracturing its very foundation, and causing a disintegration of core values that long ago were the fabric that held families together. Juggling school, work, home, and community lives, parents now rely heavily on communication, information, and transportation technology to make their lives faster and more efficient. Entertainment technology (TV, Internet, video games, iPads, cell phones) has advanced so rapidly, that families have scarcely noticed the significant impact and changes to their family structure and lifestyles. A 2010 Kaiser Foundation study showed that elementary aged children use on average 7.5 hours per day of entertainment technology, 75 percent of these children have TV’s in their bedrooms, and 50 percent of North American homes have the TV on all day. Gone is dining room table conversation, replaced by the “big screen” and take out.

Children now rely on technology for the majority of their play, grossly limiting challenges to their creativity and imaginations, as well as limiting necessary challenges to their bodies to achieve optimal sensory and motor development. Sedentary bodies bombarded with chaotic sensory stimulation are resulting in delays in attaining child developmental milestones, with subsequent negative impact on basic foundation skills for achieving literacy. Hard-wired for high speed, today’s young are entering school struggling with self regulation and attention skills necessary for learning, eventually becoming significant behavior management problems for teachers in the classroom.

So what is the impact of technology on the developing child? Children’s developing sensory, motor, and attachment systems have biologically not evolved to accommodate this sedentary, yet frenzied and chaotic nature of today’s technology. The impact of rapidly advancing technology on the developing child has seen an increase of physical, psychological and behavior disorders that the health and education systems are just beginning to detect, much less understand. Child obesity and diabetes are now national epidemics in both Canada and the U.S., causally related to technology overuse. Diagnoses of ADHD, autism, coordination disorder, developmental delays, unintelligible speech, learning difficulties, sensory processing disorder, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders are associated with technology overuse, and are increasing at an alarming rate. An urgent closer look at the critical factors for meeting developmental milestones, and the subsequent impact of technology on those factors, would assist parents, teachers and health professionals to better understand the complexities of this issue, and help create effective strategies to reduce technology use.

Four critical factors necessary to achieve healthy child development are movement, touch, human connection, and exposure to nature. These types of sensory inputs ensure normal development of posture, bilateral coordination, optimal arousal states and self-regulation necessary for achieving foundation skills for eventual school entry. Young children require 2-3 hours per day of active rough and tumble play to achieve adequate sensory stimulation to their vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile systems. Tactile stimulation received through touching, hugging and play is critical for the development of praxis, or planned movement patterns. Touch also activates the parasympathetic system lowering cortisol, adrenalin and anxiety. Nature and “green space” has not only a calming influence on children, but also is attention restorative and promotes learning.

2013-05-27-virtualFuturestransparent.jpg.jpg

Further analysis of the impact of technology on the developing child indicates that while the vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile and attachment systems are under stimulated, the visual and auditory sensory systems are in “overload.” This sensory imbalance creates huge problems in overall neurological development, as the brain’s anatomy, chemistry and pathways become permanently altered and impaired. Young children who are exposed to violence through TV and video games are in a high state of adrenalin and stress, as the body does not know that what they are watching is not real. Children who overuse technology report persistent body sensations of overall “shaking”, increased breathing and heart rate, and a general state of “unease.” This can best be described as a persistent hypervigalent sensory system, still “on alert” for the oncoming assault. While the long term effects of this chronic state of stress in the developing child are unknown, we do know that chronic stress in adults results in a weakened immune system and a variety of serious diseases and disorders.

2013-05-27-buildingFoundationstransparent.jpg.jpg

It’s important to come together as parents, teachers and therapists to help society “wake up” and see the devastating effects technology is having not only on our child’s physical, psychological and behavioral health, but also on their ability to learn and sustain personal and family relationships. While technology is a train that will continually move forward, knowledge regarding its detrimental effects, and action taken toward balancing the use of technology with critical factors for development, will work toward sustaining our children. While no one can argue the benefits of advanced technology in today’s world, connection to these devices may have resulted in a disconnection from what society should value most, children. Rather than hugging, playing, rough housing, and conversing with children, parents are increasingly resorting to providing their children with more TV, video games, and the latest iPads and cell phone devices, creating a deep and irreversible chasm between parent and child.

 

This article was originally posted on http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cris-rowan/technology-children-negative-impact_b_3343245.html