Utter Autism

July 9, 2008

Summer Camp

It’s finally time for camp!  I’m not sure who’s more excited about it. 

Adrian loves being outside, all the movement involved in the day, the swings, the swimming and the relaxed atmosphere.  He’s working the the same teacher and support staff so he is comfortable with the people he’s with all day and many of the same kids he knows from school attend camp also.

I love that it starts a half hour later and is 15 minutes closer than school.  I could go for this schedule year round.  The drive is far more pleasant and taking Adrian is so much easier cause he’s just so happy to go. 

Yup, Adrian and I agree… we wish the summer were longer! 🙂

May 9, 2008

Our First Steps to Writing

I started with a whiteboard.  Adrian didn’t have a lot of hand strength and quickly gave up on writing with a pencil or crayon because it took too much pressure to make it write.  He enjoyed markers because they wrote with even the lightest touch.  A whiteboard let us erase errors easily and made the whole thing portable.

I had planned to use our collection of wooden, magnetic letters to be an example he could follow in forming the letters.  Instead we stumbled upon a highly motivating activity!  Adrian LOVED to write the letter and then place the magnetic letter on top.  A matching game of sorts.

I could form a word with the magnetic letters and he would eagerly write each letter and place the magnetic on top.  He aimed to make his letters about the same size so the magnet would match.

With this set up Adrian wrote words all the time.  He wrote ‘chase’ over and over again to play his favorite game.  He wrote ‘dance’ so he could have his turn dancing with mom in the kitchen. He wrote ‘cookie’ so he could eat his favorite treat.  In this way we increased the words Adrian could sight read and worked on his handwriting skills at the same time.  And best of all, he enjoyed it! 🙂 


Where I’ve been

I haven’t been here cause I’ve been busy being HERE  🙂

November 19, 2007

Music Page


 This is Adrian’s new page for music class.  It took me a good week contemplating all the vocabulary that the music teacher wanted him to have available.  Each of the buttons here opens a box in the center where he can choose from attributes like small or big, red or orange, circle or square, on or under, fast or slow, two or four, loud or quiet.  I tried to include words like ‘a’, ‘the’, ‘I want’, and ‘play’ so he can form complete sentences like “I want to play the big, red drum” or “I want two blue shakers.”

When I’d finished the page, I realized that having these attributes all together might be helpful in other areas as well.  For instance, while playing with the blocks he could ask for “Three small, red blocks” While playing with the doll house he could direct a play partner to “Put the small doll on the bed in the house”   It would allow him to communicate during play in a way that he’s never been able to. 

I’m going to start on the page while I wait for the teacher to give me a list of toys and activities to include.  Back to programming!

November 18, 2007

Back to School… Again

I went to visit Adrian’s classroom last week.  I saw first hand why it’s been such a rough start to the school year.  I kept him home for about a week until we could schedule a meeting to develop a new behavior management plan.  That meeting was yesterday so he’s back to school … again.

I’ve hesitated to write much about our difficulties these past few months.  I hate to sound accusatory, even if I’m not naming names.  But yesterday at the meeting, the school admitted they’d not made this transition as smooth as it could have been.  Knowing they see things the same way, I feel a bit more free about discussing our experiences.

It’s not difficult to see why this new team has had such a rough time.   They were left without proper support for far too long.  The school year started without the classroom being fully staffed.  One of the team members missing was the speech therapist, a key person when you’re dealing with non-verbal kids.  The staff has clearly not been trained in basic sign language or assistive technology.  They did not receive proper instruction in the token reward system Adrian uses or the heavy work schedule that should have been implemented on day one.  A packet of information from Adrian’s old team never made it to the hands of the current teacher so she didn’t have the benefit of those two years of experience with Adrian.  The behavior management plan from last year was not implemented and the new one wasn’t drawn up as soon as they realized there were problems.

The result was a very frustrating couple of months for Adrian and the classroom staff as well.  Without the support a speech therapist in the classroom, they were missing vital opportunities to communicate with Adrian, increasing his frustration level and sparking his aggressive behaviors.  Without regular treadmill and heavy work schedule, he was simply not getting what his body needs to be able to function.   On top of all of this, they increased the amount of time they expected him to sit in a group.  It’s really no wonder that he ended up in the saferoom – yes, that padded room where they isolate the out of control child.

Yup.  It was bad.

But we had the meeting yesterday and hopefully Adrian returns to school with a better prepared team.  They’ve been trained on the treadmill use, the heavy work schedule and proper use of the token reward system.  The speech team is now involved, providing Adrian with his 1:1 speech therapy and giving the classroom support until someone is hired for the position. The behavior management team has, I feel, a better understanding of the issues (they escorted me on my visit so I was able to share my observations with them) and the new behavior management plan should be officially in place within a few days. 

I feel better knowing that the school finally recognizes the severity of the problem and have taken action.  They’ve switched our social worker (who’s also the official parent/school liaison) to someone who seems to understand us much better.  The speech therapist that will be working with Adrian is great too.  They’ve agreed to notify me anytime the saferoom is used, which if they follow the behavior management plan and use the proactive strategies we discussed, should be rare to never.

So things are under control for now.  I think everything will work out if they’re able to follow through with everything we talked about. Already Adrian seems happier and calmer about school.

October 26, 2007

Sign Books

Cat and FishAlthough sign language will never be an effective means of communication for Adrian due to his inability to sign consistently and precisely, we still use signs with Adrian to augment other means of communication.

In trying to get Adrian to sight read words, I made several simple books using sign vocabulary that he already knew.  The idea was that he would be able to ‘read’ the books by signing the words he read. 

One of the first books was titled “The Cat and The Fish”.  Much to my husband’s horror, the book ends like any cat/fish story – with a full kitty tummy and one less character.  No matter. Adrian thought it was just as funny as I did.

Adrian really enjoyed ‘reading’ these books so I made more.  Last year his speech therapist picked up the idea and created several more for him to work on at school.  I don’t know if these books will ever be the most effective way to work on reading skills, but it’s sure a lot of fun. 🙂

October 11, 2007

Home and School Journals

It started when Adrian’s speech therapist last year had the brilliant idea to program a button that would make a comment about something that happened during Adrian’s school day.  She felt he’d enjoy communicating with us at home about what took place at school.  We were only able to use it once, but I think she was on to something.

I knew I wanted to do something similar with Adrian’s classroom this year but having the staff simply type in a message for him seemed to be missing the point.  I realized that we could easily combine the ‘what happened at school today’ button with the goal of having him type words. 

I explained the idea to the classroom staff last week and they were all on board.  Early this week I began our ‘Home Journal’.   I created a notebook and placed removable PECS inside that would allow us to create sentences about things that were going on at home. 

This week we had lots of things to write about.  Grandma is here to visit and we just had a birthday party for Adrian’s twin sisters.  In the notebook I put icons and/or words for Grandma, sisters, I, me, we, cake, party, eat, ate, come, came, visit, dance, my, is, was, had, has, a and for.  I asked Adrian to look and see what he wanted to talk about.  He choose Grandma, sisters, cake, visit and dance.  Using these topics I helped him put together sentences.  We lined up the PECS/words to say:   “My sisters had a party. I ate cake.”

We read through the sentences on the table first and then I asked him to type them.  He did.  He seemed pretty pleased with his work as it was read back to him.  Encouraged by our success, I formed another sentence for him to type: “Grandma came for a visit.”

Again, we read through the sentence on the table and then he typed it and had his Dynavox say it.  Although he seemed to be happy about the result, I could tell he’d had enough for now so I decided to skip the ‘dance’ icon he’d picked out.  (Grandma had been dancing with him and I think that’s probably why he picked it.)

Fast forward to today.  I told the teacher about the messages we’d created.  I don’t know how Adrian reacted to being able to play them for his teachers.  But she did mention that Adrian was VERY resistant to typing out his message in the ‘School Journal’.  He was so upset about doing it that he spit on the aide who was working with him. 

I’m disappointed that he reacted this way at school when he’d participated willingly here at home.   I know the teachers wonder if he’s just trying to get out of work.  I can’t say their concern isn’t valid.  Adrian’s done things like that in the past.  Still, I wonder, can you force communication?  Is the point here coercion or connection?

I don’t want Adrian to think of writing, typing or communicating negatively.  I want him to see these things as useful, purposeful, desirable and even fun.  From where I sit now, forcing him to type under these circumstances is less than productive – it’s counterproductive. 

I think we may have to put the school journal on hold for a bit until Adrian and his team can figure out how to communicate and work together under mutually agreeable terms.

Taking A Step Back

I’ve been contemplating the meeting with Adrian’s team last week.  As I suspected, Adrian’s pinching habit is causing major problems.  I know a lot of it is caused by Adrian’s inability to communicate effectively.  After considering the problem for a bit, I’ve decided to take a step back.

I sometimes wish I could simply ‘download’ my knowledge of Adrian to his new teachers.  There’s so much in his history that I know would change how they look at him.  I did provide some of that history at the meeting.   But there’s no way to tell it all.

As frustrating as that is, it does have an upside.  There are two advantages I see in giving them some information and letting them figure out the rest.

  1. They might try something new.  Without a prescribed solution, they’ve already tried some new things to control his pinching behaviors.  You never know when they might find something through trial and error than works better than what we were already doing.
  2. The process of figuring him out builds their relationship with him.  If I could tell them everything there is to know about Adrian, they wouldn’t ever need to ‘get to know’ him.  It’s the nitty gritty stuff that helps build a unique relationship between Adrian and his teachers.

So having given the classroom team history and hints, I’m going to leave them to figure out how best to deal with Adrian’s aggressive behaviors at school.  Hopefully within a few weeks they will understand Adrian better, have developed relationships with him and will have found some strategies that help them.

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