Friday, December 27, 2013

Education Friday - Diagnosing Success

Perhaps I should post this on Monday under the title 
Moody Monday Musings, 
because it is not really anything but a thoughts about 
education and the diagnosis of autism.
Lately I have met several parents whose child, for one reason or another, received the autism diagnosis later in life - in the teens, twenties, or even thirties. 
And these parents regret their ignorance bitterly.
There are many reasons why early diagnosis is helpful,
but there is perhaps less reason for regret than we might
initially think. And if the parents did their best to give their
child the best education and life possible, there is no 
reason for the self-blame that many parents feel.
Ten years ago I spent as much time fighting with our insurance
company (BC/BS) as I did playing with and educating my
child. That may be an overstatement, but I don't think so.
I cannot imagine what I would have done with an autism
diagnosis twenty years ago when there was even less support.
I physically and emotionally exhausted myself in a never ending
quest to find the best therapeutic and educational alternatives for my child and had school door after school door slammed in my face because my child had autism. Without the diagnosis, some of those same places might have been more accepting since my boy's
behavior differences were mild.
I worried constantly about his abilities when he had no academic
challenges (other than handwriting) till third grade. 
I am most grateful for the community of parents, therapists, and children and adults with autism that I would never have found 
without the diagnosis. But early diagnosis is a tool, it is not a
remedy for the challenges of autism. And many parents and 
children have done a wonderful job of handling those challenges
without ever using the word autism to describe them. 
I salute them.
-Spectrum Mom                 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Gifts

At Christmas Eve service tonight, the minister said - 
"Now that Christmas has come,
ready or not, there is nothing left to do but reflect and celebrate 
the birth of Christ."
Only a single person without young children 
(or someone who does not celebrate Christmas in the 
conventional capitalist way) 
(or at all)
could have nothing left to do on Christmas Eve.
Even the very best organized of us needs to put out the 
milk and cookies.  My son reminded me about the milk.
And what if Santa skipped or skimped on those stockings 
hung by the chimney with care?
Since I am far from the best organized of us, 
and we've all been ill, 
I am trying to wrap my mind around gift wrap. 
The unwrapped books for my child with autism include
A Child's Christmas in Wales
Run For the Hills, Geronimo
Almost Naked Animals Joke-A-Palooza
and one reading related game, a magnetic
version of Hangman.
I am writing this on Christmas Eve so I had better
get wrapping. 
If you celebrate Christmas, my Christmas wish for you
is that you may have a joyous and peaceful day filled with the 
spirit of love. If you don't celebrate Christmas, my wish for you
is that you may have a joyous and peaceful day filled with the
spirit of love.
And in case I don't get back to you before then,
Happy New Year!

-Spectrum Mom


Monday, December 23, 2013

Why Monkey? A free book to print.

Asking 
Why?
is an important developmental stage. 
Usually around the ages of three to five,
a young child becomes a fountain of whys?
Questions about everything from dinner to
the sky flow freely and unstoppably from their little lips.
For a child with autism, 
why may come later, or not at all. 
Family and therapists may want to prompt and explain
why. One mother found her own way to work with her
child on why, and discussed it here.
Here's the link to the book for you to print.
Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Education Friday - Part Three Martha Gabler


How I Taught My Nonverbal Child with Autism to Read

Hello. My name is Martha Gabler and I am the parent of a nonverbal teenage son with autism. 
When I reported to Spectrum Mom that my son can read, she asked me to describe how I taught him. 
Here is part three of my story:

Here are the three steps I used to teach my son to read: 
  1. Make sure foundation skills are in place
  2. Use Direct Instruction reading programs
  3. Provide lots of supports, lots of opportunities to practice, and high levels of positive reinforcement.

Step Three: Provide supports, lots of opportunities to practice, and lots of high-value reinforcement

It is also very important to build a trusting relationship between the learner and the instructor. The child must have experience and confidence that he will only be asked to do tasks that he is capable of doing, and that he will only be asked to do tasks for the length of time he is comfortable performing them. The learner must be confident that the instructor will monitor the child’s emotional reactions and provide supports and respite as soon as he needs them. 
Also, the child needs high levels of reinforcement throughout the instructional sessions. Basically, the child needs to know that he will experience only success and reinforcement throughout the process; he should never experience failure, fatigue or frustration. It takes time and practice for the instructor and the learner to know how much they can 
do and when to stop.

So Where Are We Now?

I started teaching my nonverbal son with severe autism to read when he was 7. Now, at age 17 he can read fourth grade text at a fluency rate of 110 words per minute with no more than 0-2 errors. He easily decodes words like impression, binoculars, stationed and boasted. He is an excellent speller. He is completely comfortable with text and can work with charts, tables, diagrams and maps. Direct Instruction reading passages provide both fictional stories and academic content knowledge. As a result, he has learned a great deal about natural science, botany and animal behavior. When we go
out to parks he studies the signs and information panels 
along the hiking trails.

What about reading comprehension? Well, it is difficult to assess comprehension when the learner does not have the speech capacity to produce the answer to a question. In written comprehension questions he has made a lot of progress, especially when I see his eyes flash back and forth from the worksheet to the book to find the answer to a question. He does it with cool competence and joy. He works very hard at his reading, and his determination is touching to see.

Does he love reading? Yes. 
Is he proud of himself? Yes. 
Was it worth it? Yes. 
Letters, words, sentences and paragraphs are now part of my son’s world. Reading is natural for him. He will go through life with the ability to read. What was the most important thing? Direct Instruction, Direct Instruction, Direct Instruction.

Please feel free to contact me through my website below if you have any questions.

For more information about Direct Instruction, see below.

National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI), www.nifdi.org
Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, by Dr. Siegfried Engelmann
Direct Instruction Reading, by Douglas W. Carnine, Jerry Silvert, Edward J. Kameenui.
Educating Children with Learning and Behavior Problems, by Dr. Martin Kozloff.

Martha Gabler is the mother of a 17 year old nonverbal boy with severe autism. From her experience in working with her son she founded Kids’ Learning Workshop LLC, a tutoring center specializing in the use of Direct Instruction for learners with special needs. She is also the author of Chaos to Calm: Discovering Solutions to the Everyday Problems of Living with Autism; this book describes how to use positive reinforcement along with an event marker signal to increase functional behaviors in a child with autism. See www.autismchaostocalm.com.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Christmas that Almost Wasn't

My boy wants a Hoberman sphere, a hexbug, 
and a Christmas book for Christmas. 
The Christmas book he's reading now over and over is 
The Christmas that Almost Wasn't by Ogden Nash.
This long verse by the famous author of nonsense verse 
tells the story of a fairytale kingdom of Lullapat with
its good king and his evil nephew. 
Linell Nash drew the black and white line drawings
that illustrate the story.
Neither the verse nor the story appeal to me, but
that's irrelevant. This is my son's book, not mine,
and it has the two essentials he wants from a book
in December
1) It rhymes.
2) It is about Christmas.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Education Friday - Gabler Part Two



How I Taught My Nonverbal Child with Autism to Read

Hello. My name is Martha Gabler and I am the parent of a nonverbal teenage son with autism. When I reported to Spectrum Mom that my son can read, she asked me to describe how I taught him. 
Here is part two of my story:

Here are the three steps I used to teach my son to read: 
  1. Make sure foundation skills are in place
  2. Use Direct Instruction reading programs
  3. Provide lots of supports, lots of opportunities to practice, and high levels of positive reinforcement.
Step Two: Use Direct Instruction Reading Programs
Many people are unfamiliar with the fact that there are scientific, research-validated methods for teaching academic skills. The most powerful and effective of these is a body of instructional programs known as “Direct Instruction.” 
These programs are based on both scientific principles of human learning and scientific principles of how to best teach specific academic skills. Direct Instruction (DI) curricula in reading, arithmetic, writing, spelling and language have a 40+ year record of delivering superior learning outcomes in all types of learners.

The specific program that I started with is a book by the founder of Direct Instruction, Dr. Siegfried Engelmann, entitled Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. This book is widely available at bookstores and on the internet and costs about $25. By the time we were on Lesson 17, my son was reading. We eventually moved on to the well-known Direct Instruction Reading Mastery series.

Keep in mind, however, that DI programs are designed for typically developing children who have speech. When you are working with a child with special needs, you have to approach things differently. It is very important to know your learner well and adapt the presentation so that your learner has success. Please note, I never made changes to the DI presentation itself. Primarily I provided extra supports, extra modeling, more repetition, or extra practice on certain parts of each lesson. Extra supports should be determined by the child’s level of performance.

Part Three of this essay will run next Friday, December 20.

Martha Gabler is the mother of a 17 year old nonverbal boy with severe autism. From her experience in working with her son she founded Kids’ Learning Workshop LLC, a tutoring center specializing in the use of Direct Instruction for learners with special needs. She is also the author of Chaos to Calm: Discovering Solutions to the Everyday Problems of Living with Autism; this book describes how to use positive reinforcement along with an event marker signal to increase functional behaviors in a child with autism. See www.autismchaostocalm.com.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gifts for Children with Autism - 2013

"Where did the name icicles come from 
and why are icicles called icicles?"
from Cecil Williams Photography http://www.cecilw.com/
My thirteen year old asks a lot of questions. Some of them
he has asked for years. He knows the answers. Some are new.
Lately he's been interested in word derivations - questions
such as the one above that I cannot answer while driving
a car. 
I think he needs a book on the subject. Any suggestions?
This time of year, many of us need gift suggestions for
our kids with autism. Some of them cannot tell us what
they want or write to Santa but that doesn't mean they cannot
have a magical Christmas. Here are two gifts to consider from
two of my favorite websites that offer many more books and
toys.

Marc Brown's Playtime Rhymes
For birth to age five
Chinaberry.com offers autographed copies of a book that offers rhymes and
fun movement games for your little ones with Marc Brown's inviting illustrations
of kids and animals enjoying their world.

Word Origin Calendar
For ages six to adult
MuseumTour.com offers some wonderful books and toys sure to appeal to the 
inquisitive child in your house. This calendar is for those of you with children
like my boy who are interested in calendars and words.





Friday, December 6, 2013

Education Friday Part One - Guest Expert Martha Gabler


How I Taught My Nonverbal Child with Autism to Read

Hello. My name is Martha Gabler and I am the parent of a nonverbal teenage son with autism. When I reported to Spectrum Mom that my son can read, she asked me to describe how I taught him. 
Here is my story:

It was very important to me that my son be able to read. I can accept that he has severe autism. I can accept that he is nonverbal. I could not accept that he would go through life not knowing how to read. It took me a long time and many hours of work. I made many mistakes. Eventually I succeeded. Here are the three steps I used to teach my son to read: 
  1. Make sure foundation skills are in place
  2. Use Direct Instruction reading programs
  3. Provide lots of supports, lots of opportunities to practice, and high levels of positive reinforcement.

 Step One: Make Sure Foundation Skills are in Place

The skills a child with autism will need to begin reading instruction include the ability to sit at a table for at least 15-20 minutes and the ability to respond to questions or complete tasks (this is generally achieved through an ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) or VB (Verbal Behavior) program. 
During the pre-reading instruction, I focused on increasing 
the range of sounds my son could produce, and mastering 
as many labels of objects and actions as possible -
such as cat, dog, house, running, sitting, sleeping and so forth.

A comment on increasing the range of sounds: I used Dr. Martin Kozloff's excellent book, Educating Children with Learning and Behavior Problems, which has exact descriptions of how to have a child place his tongue and shape his mouth to make sounds. Since my son was nonverbal, I also used sign language to "sign" the sounds. This approach is similar to what is done in Verbal Behavior Therapy (VB); non-verbal learners are taught to respond with sign language. I have since learned that there is an effective pre-program called Visual Phonics. I am not familiar with it, but interested persons may wish to look into it.

Parts two and three of Martha Gabler's essay will run the next two Fridays 
(December 13 and December 21).

Martha Gabler is the mother of a 17 year old nonverbal boy with severe autism. From her experience in working with her son she founded Kids’ Learning Workshop LLC, a tutoring center specializing in the use of Direct Instruction for learners with special needs. She is also the author of Chaos to Calm: Discovering Solutions to the Everyday Problems of Living with Autism; this book describes how to use positive reinforcement along with an event marker signal to increase functional behaviors in a child with autism. See www.autismchaostocalm.com.