Thursday, March 29, 2012

Newest Autism Research

The CDC announced this week the new rates for children diagnosed with autism... 1 in 88 children and that is 1 in 54 for boys. Wow! Honestly I can't say that I am surprised but it is a scary stat.

I am insanely grateful for the opportunities I have to make a difference in the lives of children with this often confusing and always interesting disability. If it wasn't for meeting my first kiddos with autism I may not be where I'm at today and I couldn't imagine doing anything else!

Anyway, to learn more about the CDC study here is a link:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Easter Egg Hunt Fun

Easter is almost here which makes it a great time for one of my students' favorite activities... Easter egg hunts! I have to admit this is one of my favorite activities too. The kids are just so cute racing around the classroom trying to collect their eggs!

Another reason I love Easter egg hunts is that you can adapt them for almost any subject or skill level. Below is a picture of one of my kinders. Her goals include number identification, number sorting, fine motor skills, and color identification. Today's Easter egg was a perfect way to gather all of this IEP data in one session while best of all she was having a blast!

Beforehand, I put small #1-5 flashcards in the eggs and hid them around our work table. Then, I had her collect the eggs while identifying each color as she put them in her bucket. Then, she practiced her fine motor skills by opening each egg and practiced her numeracy skills by identifying each number. As she took the numbers out she sorted them. Then, when we were all finished she put the eggs back together.

I especially loved today's activity because this student is very shy and hard to understand because she whispers. She is also not very confident in her abilities because she is such a new learner. This causes the whispering to be even worse. However, she was SO excited about this activity that she wasn't even thinking about all the information she was giving me! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE when my kids have so much fun they don't even realize they are learning! It makes teaching so much more fun for me!

More great Easter egg hunt ideas:
Time- just cut up a worksheet and put the clocks in the eggs
Money- put single coins in for coin ID or a small group of coins for counting coins
Measurement- put in various lengths of string to be measured
Computation- cut up a computation worksheet to be solved or have students pick two eggs and add/subtract the numbers
Counting- put small counters or beans in each egg to be counted
Sight/CVC words-have students read small slips of paper in the egg
Story Elements- write story elements on slips of paper and have students ID
Letter/Sound ID- put small flashcards in each egg and have students identify the name and sound
Spelling- use pictures for students to label

Pretty much anything you can find or make small enough to fit in an egg can become a part of the game! Although this works perfectly for my small groups in the MD classroom, it may be more difficult in the general ed classroom with 20+ kids. I would suggest making the Easter egg hunt a part of a center. Numbering each egg and a corresponding worksheet for students to record answers would be a great way to monitor their progress.

Brown Bear Sequencing Tower

This week we are having a wonderful time reading one of my favorites, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See by Bill Martin, Jr. It is such a great, simple predictable text! My earlier learners get practice with identifying colors and animals, while my older learners get to practice their sequencing and reading skills. 

An activity that my students have enjoyed over the past few years is our Brown Bear Sequencing Tower. This is a super easy and cheap activity!

All you need is various sizes of plastic containers (margarine, playdoh, cookie dough, etc) and pictures of the story characters that are sized according to when they occur in the story (brown bear being the biggest and the children being the smallest). Tape the pictures to the containers and then pass them out. While reading the story, have students stack their containers. Until you get to what the children see and then use the tower as a model for recalling all of the colored characters.

The kids LOVE watching their friends try to steady the containers as the tower gets higher and higher! 

It is also a great literacy center activity for kids to independently practice their sequencing skills! 

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Interactive Lesson

Last week I shared that the regional Autism team was coming out to video tape a lesson last Friday. I was super nervous and after our mess of a "dress rehearsal" on Thursday I really didn't think we could pull it off. But I am very, very proud to announce that my kids were AWESOME! It was one of those rare, magical moments in the MD classroom where all of the kids are engaged, they are all "getting it", and everyone is having fun (even me!).

We did one of my favorite lessons ever using Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I used a recycled parmesean cheese container as the "caterpillar" and the kids took turns "feeding" the caterpillar as we read the story. I got this wonderful idea a few years ago from the amazing Making Learning Fun website which every early childhood teacher MUST bookmark.

Here is the link to the lesson materials: Parmesan Cheese Container Story Teller

During the lesson, I also use reading sentence boards which I use for every thematic story we read throughout the year. They are awesome for sentence building and helping students recalling vocabulary (especially for my visual learners).

**Reading Board Link Coming Soon**

Here is the example of our reading lesson and how AWESOME my kiddos are: The Very Hungry Caterpillar Interactive Lesson

Countdown Ruler

Many students with autism have difficulty with transitioning. This is another great idea from the Miami Valley ACT team for managing transitions. 

How it works: Provide word or picture at the bottom of the ruler to indicate what the next activity will be. Starting at 5, take off number cards to visually countdown to the next activity.

Pros: perfect for kids who have difficulty transitioning (especially from a preferred activity to a nonpreferred activity), teacher remains in control of the timetable (versus a visual timer which cannot be controlled).

Cons: difficult to remember to do each time there will be a transition

Visual Contract

Unfortunately I cannot take full credit for this system. This idea came to me from the amazing Miami Valley Regional Center ACT team (see Autism Team Moodle post under great books and websites). However, ever since implementing this idea it has made a world of difference with one student with autism.

How it works: Student chooses what reinforcer to work for and places picture/word in designated spot. As they complete the given task(s) they are able to remove a token from the Velcro strip. Once all of the tokens are finished, they earn the reinforcer.

Pros: great for kids who need to know when they will be done or have trouble staying on task

Cons: very structured approach

I have modified my visual contract to make it even more structured however due to this one kiddos specialized needs. The big concern we had with him was he HATED structured teacher time. He would have a meltdown every time he knew it was time to work one-on-one with myself or one of my paras. Knowing this student (he has been in my room for 5 long years!), I quickly figured out that it was because he needed to know when he was going to be finished. So this is what I did:

He has mastered using the structured teaching TEACCH work system and works very well and very independently. Therefore, I started to model teacher time after the TEACCH work system. I numbered each of the poker chips on his visual contract and numbered small bins (empty baby wipes containers). When I work with this student, I put a designated number of poker chips on the front of the contract and I fill the corresponding number of bins. If it is a less demanding task I will have several things in each bin (possibly a worksheet in one, a stack of flashcards in the other, and a book in the third), but if it is a harder task then I will portion it out between bins (each bin having a certain number of items to count). 

This has been AMAZING!! It also keeps me on task and I always have to make sure I have all my materials before sitting down to work with him. 

Cube Behavior System

This system is my favorite and my most popular one to use this year. It is so easy.

How it works: Student starts with designated number of cubes. Cubes aretaken when student engages in undesirable behavior. Colored cubes can be usedto designate “timeout” or other consequence. 

 Pros: materials are easily accessible, greattangible way to provide warnings

Cons: emphasis on negative behavior, timeout isnot feasible in all settings

Token Behavior System

How it works: Student selects a reinforcer to work for. Student earns “tokens” for demonstrating desired behaviors. Once all of the tokens are earned, student receives reinforcer and systems starts over again.

Pros: emphasis on positive behavior, teacher can control pace of earning tokens

Cons: once tokens are earned they should not be taken away, providing time for certain reinforcement can be hard to schedule

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Autism Team Moodle

For the past two years I have been working with the amazing ladies of the Miami Valley Autism and Low-Incidence Coaching Team (Miami Valley A.C.T.). I have learned a tremendous amount of information from them for meeting the needs of not only my students with autism but all of my students. 

Below is the link to their Moodle course. They are working hard to build the forums and provide all of the wonderful information they have to give for anyone to use. They are also looking for any ideas that others have to offer. It is an awesome resource! I highly recommend joining the site and taking and leaving some of your wonderful ideas. 

Since beginning my blog I have also been working on posts for their site. I am so excited to announce that they are coming out on Friday to tape some lessons in my room to post to their site as well. What an honor! But I have to admit I am SUPER nervous! I had a dream last night that EVERYTHING went totally wrong! Eeek! Wish me luck!

Goo Gloves

    Goo Gloves

  • vinyl examining gloves
  • several drops of food coloring or paint
  • 1 cup white glue (may need less depending on glove size)
    Place a few drops of food coloring in each finger of the glove (2 different colors in alternating fingers work best).  Roll down the cuff a few times to keep it from getting messy.  Fill the glove about 3/4 full with white  glue (a second person holding the glove open makes this much easier).  Unroll the cuff. Push out as much air as possible and tie a knot.  To prevent leaks, place a second glove over the first Kids will have fun squeezing  the glove to distribute the color and watch it blend together.  It's a great sensory experience!

    --use shampoo or hair gel instead of glue and paint
    --add small beads to be pushed around inside of glove; challenge kids to get all beads into one finger

Time Out Sort

In my classroom, we use a calm down corner or time out area for students who engage in frequent problem behaviors. This year I really wanted to make sure that this time away from the group provided a learning opportunity rather than just a way to avoid classroom tasks. To make time out more meaningful, I implemented the use of choice sorts in addition to filling out a Think It Over sheet (see previous post).

After teaching several lessons using social stories about appropriate and inappropriate classroom behavior (I focused specifically on work time, circle time, and being a good friend because these seemed to encompass most of the problem behaviors we were seeing), I introduced file folder sorts for each of the focus areas. Now when a student has to go to time out, they are expected to do a Think It Over and sort based on their "offense" before returning to the group.

I have found that providing a structured task during time out has cut down on students continuing to be disruptive while in time out in addition to providing a needed refresher on appropriate classroom behavior.

Using Choice Boards to Increase Independence

There are several times in the day that are especially difficult for my students on the autism spectrum and these are the times where they are expected to "play" independently or when at an independent center such as listening center or reading center. I ran into two main problems with these parts of the day. First, students had NO idea what to do when presented with an entire shelf full of toys. Second, sometimes students have zero desire to listen to a book on tape especially if they don't know when to turn the page and/or they cannot read.
To solve both of these problems I developed choice boards for these parts of the day. A choice board consists of several pictures symbolizing activities and student name cards. When asked to make a choice, a student finds their name card and places it next to the picture symbol of their choice. In my room, I don't have a limit on how many people can pick one particular activity but this could be an option as well. Right now we have a literacy center choice board, indoor recess choice board, and choice time choice board.

Literacy Center Choice Board: This has been wonderful! Instead of "assigning" listening center to a student, they have options that will keep them more engaged and therefore more independent. Some options include:
  • acting out stories with puppets/stuffed animals
  • playing with a leap pad
  • spelling sight words with magnetic letters
  • listening to music and/or taking a break with sensory fidgets
  • reading/looking through thematic books
  • using a felt board to reenact a previously read story 
Indoor Recess Choice Board: This board can really have any activity you want to offer during indoor recess. I typically offer more interactive choices during this time. It is great too because if there is something you don't want students to do during this time then you just dont put it on the board. Some choices I offer include:
  • puzzles
  • board game
  • kitchen set
  • blocks/legos
  • dolls
  • cars/trains
Choice Time Choice Board: In the past, I have tried using busy bags or busy bins for students to use when they have finished an assignment early. I didn't feel like the busy bins/bags were very motivating for students and it was sometimes hard to find a variety of personalized free time activities for each student. A colleague of mine introduced me to using a choice board which provides quick activities which are easy for students to initiate and clean up. Additionally, they are activities that can be done independently and are not disruptive because many times there are still students in the room working when another student earns "choice time" Some examples of choice time activities in my room include:
  • Theraputty (a class favorite!)
  • drawing/coloring
  • dry erase markers
  • reading
  • Mr. Potato Head
  • sensory table

Sensory Bottle

I have several students who love visual stimulation so this is great for them. Sensory bottles are SUPER easy to make and typically can be made using stuff you already have laying around your classroom or house.
  • water bottle
  • water
  • food coloring
  • glitter/sequins
  • beads
  • heavy duty tape
1. Fill an empty water bottle with water. (I typically use the small bottles but one of my colleagues uses 2-liter bottles which provide an added weight/heavy work component).
2. Add food coloring, glitter, sequins, beads, etc (anything you think your student would like to watch floating around).
3. Put the lid back on and use tape to secure lid (you will use a lot of tape on this!)