Autism

What Happens Next? Raising a Son With Autism by Rick Schostek is part-memoir, part-resource, and part-inspiration. This book is written from the perspective of a dad whose son is now facing adult life with autism.

In it, Rick reflects on his son’s experiences to this point and shares all that the family and the rest of Greg’s support team have done to help him develop along the way, but with a focus toward the questions and decisions that arise for someone with a developmental disability as they approach adulthood. As he candidly puts it:

It’s one thing to conquer potty training, simple math or a social skill. Quite another to set up a support structure for your adult child that must endure after you’re gone.

While his son is at a different point on the spectrum than my son, I found much to relate to in Rick’s story. I love his description of people with autism as “a diverse group with common traits” and can see so many similarities in the challenges and triumphs we have witnessed. I can also attest to having many of the same questions and fears that Rick shares with regard to how my child will function as an adult in our society, especially after I am no longer around.

However, just as my son has surprised me when he learns something I wasn’t sure he would ever get, Greg has taught his parents and the other adults in his life never to underestimate his capacity for change and growth. Despite his limited communication skills, he successfully completed a year-long internship program during his final year of high school, taking on more difficult assignments as the year progressed and showing increasing independence and responsibility.

As the book concludes, Greg is 23 years old and combining part-time work with adult day services, along with some volunteer work at the hospital where he was previously an intern. His parents have obtained legal guardianship for him and have set up a special needs trust so that they can provide some extras for him while maintaining his eligibility for governmental assistance. They are still looking for the best answers for where he will live after they are gone.

Rick spends the last quarter of the book discussed the various issues they had to face as Greg went through the transition process. Although the information can vary from state to state – they live in Ohio – I found his explanations of the different programs, such as SSI and Medicaid waivers, very helpful. He also details the options they have looked into with regard to employment and housing.

I am so thankful for the time and effort Rick has put into documenting his journey and his efforts towards his son’s transition to adulthood. It is so hard for me to imagine that far into the future, especially without allowing fear to creep in. Rick’s goal for parents like me is to “be able to raise their heads and look further down the road. To see a vision of how their child can be included in the community as an adult.”

If you are the parent of a person with autism, of any age, you will appreciate What Happens Next?.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes. All comments and opinions are my own.

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I read a post today at Reports from a Resident Alien entitled Eye Contact and could relate to a lot of what the writer said about the topic.

If you can, take a couple of minutes to read it. Either way, I’m curious what your thoughts are on this subject. Do you (or your kids) have trouble with eye contact? If you don’t, how do you feel when someone you are speaking with does not make much eye contact? If you do, do you try to explain it to people or attempt to change it or have some other way of dealing with it?

Here’s what I wrote in response to the post:

I have been trying to pay attention to my eye contact that last few months to see how I do with it and have observed that I rarely make eye contact when I am speaking, especially if I am sharing a story or answering a question that requires me to think.

I actually do better with it when I am listening to someone, although if I start thinking about it, I can become distracted by their eyes or their face and miss part of what they are saying!

I haven’t yet decided if this is something I want to try to change or perhaps if I should just have a conversation about it with the people I talk to regularly so they will understand why I have a problem with it. I may try to work harder at it during short conversations or when first meeting someone so they don’t get the wrong idea, but I don’t know how feasible, or even necessary, it is to change long term.

I would love to hear what you think. Please be open – I am not offended by different opinions, only by people who are rude about it.

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Autism and Reading Comprehension
Ready-to-Use Lesson Plans for Teachers

by Joseph Porter, M.Ed.
Future Horizons, 2011
394 pages

About the Book

The predictable format, repetition, and routine of these lessons will create a relaxed learning environment, while the variations in the topics will hold students’ attention and help them generalize the reading skills they need to succeed!

Starting with Level 1 (The Cat) and ending with Level 9 (The Lizard), special-educator Joseph Porter has developed an amazing 90 hours of animal-themed, whole-group instruction. There are two student worksheets for each of nine animals, totaling eighteen worksheets. Each worksheet has four variations, and there is a ready-to-go lesson plan for each one!

There are also two sentence-building exercises for each animal theme, which will build students’ observation skills and help them transform those skills into conversation and written language. In addition to the step-by-step lesson plans, Joseph provides a detailed description of what the lessons will look and feel like in the classroom, complete with valuable, first-hand advice. In the back, you’ll find an appendix with numerous suggestions for complementary activities for each animal theme, so you can supplement on the “off” days with art projects, music, books, and videos.

There is even a section containing Data-Collection Sheets, assessment forms that will help you record students’ progress, per IEP standards. And the companion CD contains all of the worksheets, lesson plans, visual tools, and assessment forms for quick-and-easy print!

My Thoughts

This is an incredibly detailed curriculum, with explicit instructions for how to implement every aspect of the program. The worksheets combine both coloring and writing, mostly filling in the blank or copying a sentence, and they offer lots of practice on following directions as well. There are also several different graphic sentence-building tools that can be used as the students gain confidence and skill.

The book also includes an easy-to-use CD containing printable lesson plans, worksheets, visual tools, and assessment and data collection forms. This program would definitely be most appropriate for beginning readers at the elementary school level.

I like that Porter recognizes real-world limitations and presents lessons suitable for small group instruction rather than only one-on-one interactions. I also greatly appreciate his understanding that comprehension – whether in reading or in conversation – is about having an active relationship with the words that goes beyond simple recognition of basic meaning.

Discount Opportunity: If you order Autism & Reading Comprehension directly from Future Horizons, you can use the code INTERRUPTED to receive 15% off and free shipping in the continental US.

Note: I received a review copy of this book for free, but all opinions are my own. I am an affiliate of Future Horizons and receive a small amount of compensation for any sales made using the promotional code provided. You can use the code INTERRUPTED when ordering books or other materials – or even conference registrations – to receive 15% off plus free shipping in the continental US.

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Taken from the article “Autism: From Mind Blindness to Context Blindness” by Peter Vermeulen, Nov/Dec 2011 Autism Asperger’s Digest, www.autismdigest.com

Note: You can get a 15% discount on a subscription to the AADigest when you use this discount code: INTERRUPTED.

Remember the scene in the movie, Rainman, where Raymond is trying to cross a street? In Raymond’s mind when the sign displays “Don’t walk,” it means only one thing: “Don’t walk.” We laugh when the sign changes from “Walk” to “Don’t walk” and Raymond stops in the middle of the intersection. Raymond does not understand that “Don’t walk” means many different things, depending on the situation or context. When you’re halfway through the crossing, it means “hurry up” instead!

Here is another example of context blindness: When the doorbell rang, the mother of a seven-year-old boy with autism asked him to open the door. He opened the back door instead of the front. His reaction was logical, but his choice of door was out of context.

Emotion recognition training is immensely popular in the field of autism. Typical materials used in this training are photographs or pictures of facial expressions of emotions. Although these materials can help children with autism learn about different emotions in a rote manner, they do not reflect emotion recognition as it happens in real life.

First, we rarely see faces out of context in real life. When we try to figure out what a person feels, we look at context as much as we do facial expression: the situation, what that person says, body language, our past experiences with similar situations, etc. In fact we don’t even need a facial expression to recognize emotions…. Studies on how people process facial expressions have shown that when we look at faces, our brains always spontaneously encode the context and that in certain instances, context plays an even bigger role in emotion recognition than the facial expression.

The second problem with traditional emotion recognition training is the underlying assumption that there is a direct relationship between an emotion and its facial expression. This assumption goes back to Darwin’s idea of universal expression of emotions in which each emotion has its own distinct facial expression. Unfortunately for people with autism, facial expressions are not that straightforward and quite often are ambiguous.

Take tears for instance. What do people feel when they have tears on their cheeks? It could mean sadness. But it could also mean happiness or pride. Or it could be an allergic reaction or the result of dicing an onion. How can a brain tell the difference? It uses context.

In recognizing emotions—the same is true for all mental states—the human brain relies on context. When people with autism find it hard to empathize, it is because their brain lacks contextual sensitivity. They are affected by context blindness, rather than mind blindness.

We can teach people with ASD a lot of rules and scripts, but for social understanding and competence to flourish, scripts and rules are insufficient. To effectively teach emotion recognition and social understanding to people with ASD, we must add context to the materials we teach. Even using a term such as “socially appropriate behavior” becomes misleading unless context is specified; behavior that is socially appropriate in one situation might be inappropriate in another context!

Social competence is not about knowing whether a certain behavior is socially appropriate or not, it is the knowledge of when that behavior is appropriate and when it is not.

Research has shown that more able people with ASD know quite a lot of social rules, but they have difficulty adapting these rules to changing contexts or making exceptions to the rules. Most social skill training programs focus on teaching generic social skills (e.g., how to start a conversation). However, having a conversation while waiting in the dentist’s waiting room or visiting someone at the hospital is quite different from the conversation you have hanging out with a group of buddies because the contexts are very different.

Instead of putting our focus on teaching social skills, we should focus on teaching social contexts such as visiting someone at the hospital or hanging out with friends. And then teach all the necessary rules, conversation, and behavior attached to a certain context. When you visit someone who is ill and in the hospital, what kind of present do you take? How long do you stay? What do you talk about? What should you say/not say?

The same logic about context applies to Social Stories™, a powerful tool to help people with autism navigate the social world. Instead of creating stories about certain social skills, we should build them around contexts and introduce sentences that start with if and when. In this manner a story can be adapted to different contexts. For instance, a social story about welcoming guests to your birthday party could contain the following contextual sentences:

  • When the person who arrives is a close family member, you kiss them and say “hi.”
  • When the person who arrives is not a close family member, you shake hands and say “hi.”

Social competence requires more than social skills; it demands contextual sensitivity— something difficult for people with ASD. Training programs designed to help people with ASD navigate the social world should therefore emphasize social contexts, not just focus on teaching social skills.

Peter Vermeulen, PhD, is a senior lecturer and consultant at Autisme Centraal in Gent, Belgium. He has written 15 books on autism, some of which have been translated into several languages.

Excerpt was reprinted with permission. Added emphasis is mine.

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How Do I Teach This Kid to Read? Teaching Literacy Skills to Young Children with Autism
by Kimberly A. Henry, M.S.
Future Horizons, 2010
97 pages


About the Book

Reading is so much more than reciting words on a page!

Reading provides personal enjoyment, access to information, and opens doors to opportunities throughout life, both recreational and occupational. Reading helps us grow and vicariously experience things we are curious about, and dream about.

But for many young children with autism, reading is often a factual memorization of letters and words. The playful, imaginative qualities of reading may be missed in favor of the repetitive, predictable alphabet and visual appearance of words on a page.

This book presents simple instructional strategies that can be used to help develop early literacy skills in young children with autism. Award-winning author Kimberly Henry provides dozens of fine-tuned, easily adaptable activities that teachers and parents can implement separately or in infinite combinations. Included are units on phonemic awareness, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency. Kim also lists numerous other resources you can use to supplement the lessons.

Best of all, this book comes with a FREE CD of printable, visual tools, such as:

  • ABC Books
  • Text-Picture Matches
  • Songs, Chants, and Poems
  • Word Webs
  • Visual Organizers
  • Sentence Builders
  • Graphics for Games
  • And many more!

My Thoughts

I was extremely impressed by this book. Even having had a child who started reading on his own, I can see where the activities in this book would have helped me expand and direct his learning, especially in those areas where having autism impacted him more.

Kim makes an important comparison in the introduction when she says:

Because the ability to read and comprehend is closely linked to an individual’s language abilities and social understanding, children with autism often struggle with the process of reading.

For my son, the biggest issue thus far has been comprehension. I recall asking him what he thought would happen next as I reached the end of a page in a storybook, hoping to prompt some sort of prediction from him, and being told, “You’re going to turn the page.” It makes an adorable story, and he has progressed past that point, but there is still a gap between how he interprets what he reads and how his teachers expect him to see it.

As Kim points out, amongst other considerations related to comprehension:

Children with ASD characteristically are challenged by a lack of social understanding and “theory of mind”—the ability to take the perspective of another person and recognize their emotions, interests, and motivations. This area of deficit, then, affects their ability to understand and relate to characters in fictional text.

The book itself is laid out nicely, with helpful information regarding each area of literacy prefacing a number of activities directly related to that area. It also includes a CD with printable resources for many of the activities described, which is worth as much as the price of the book over again.

The subtitle reads, “Teaching Literacy Skills to Young Children with Autism, from Phonics to Fluency,” and I agree that it is probably best suited for those working with younger kiddos or early readers. But I would say that it could be very useful even with children who appear to be progressing independently with both phonics and fluency, especially with regard to the area of comprehension.

How Do I Teach This Kid to Read? is available directly from Future Horizons, where you can use the code INTERRUPTED to receive 15% off and free shipping in the continental US.

Note: This is Book #99 of my 2011 Reads (master list here). I received a review copy of this book for free, and the Future Horizons discount code is an affiliate link. All opinions are my own.

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