Tag Archives: autism spectrum

Teaching Students about Their Learning Strengths and Weaknesses

by Michelle Garcia Winner, Social Thinking

Over the years, I have observed so many students get upset by the fact they had “autism” or “Asperger syndrome” or “ADHD.” While they could verbalize these terms aloud, they still didn’t seem to understand what their learning challenges actually were.

I have also observed many adults explaining to students that the reason they were having difficulty socializing, studying, and learning was because they had “autism” or “Asperger’s syndrome”, or “ADHD.” I thought this was a really abstract way of explaining to students with limited abstract thinking how best to understand their own learning challenges. I also have observed that many of our smart but socially not-in-step students were using their label as an excuse for not working at learning new ideas; they interpreted the fact that they had a diagnostic label as a reason to not continue to learn.

I have also been inspired by the writings of other professionals who describe learning abilities and challenges within a framework of “multiple intelligences” (see Howard Gardner). Essentially this means that each of us have different types of intelligences and we each have our strengths and weaknesses with regard to our own brain’s design.

Strengths and Weakness Lesson

The lesson I developed is about teaching our students and adults how to understand their social learning challenges in the context of their overall abilities and then how they can use their strengths to learn more strategies related to their weaknesses. I have done this lesson with students as young as eight years old and as old as they come.

The lesson is very simple. To save explaining it all with words, see the chart below.

Strength and Weakness Graph

Here are some basic things I do as I develop this type of chart with the student:

  1. Each chart is completely personalized for the person I am developing it with. It is not about recording test scores that purport to show competencies. The chart is about how the student perceives his or her own strengths and weaknesses. For this reason, you create the chart using any areas that are individualized to the student.
  2. To determine the ideas/areas to post on the chart, take time to talk to students and listen to what they enjoy doing and what they feel they do well.
  3. Always start by graphing out their strengths. It is good to show many perceived strengths. Again, strengths are not about listing academic tasks exclusively. If a student says she is really good at playing a specific computer game or Legos then we make that a category and talk about what number to give it on the chart.
  4. It is also important to find some areas where students perceive they are just OK – their skills are not good or bad. They perceive themselves to be similar to the average person in that area of functioning, or a “5” on the scale. With kids, you can use language such as:
    • “First tell me what you think you are really good at compared to other kids you know.” After you and the student have listed three to five areas on the chart then say,
    • “Now tell me something you are just OK at – you’re like most other kids during playing or learning.”
    • “Now tell me some things that your brain doesn’t make easy for you…things you have noticed most other people can learn easier than you.”
    • Who talks a lot in your class?
    • Who doesn’t tend to do their homework?
    • Who is really good in math?
    • Who is super friendly?
    • Who is mean?If students aren’t used to thinking about how they function compared to others, I will shift gears to explore the idea that we all think about what others around us are doing. At this point, I will ask the student to tell me things like:

    By having this discussion, you help them notice that they are aware of others’ strengths and weaknesses. This often helps them put their own abilities in perspective.

  5. If students can’t answer the questions, I go back and suggest ideas similar to my earlier conversation with them. Ultimately I am doing this to help them put their learning challenges in context. Our students with social emotional learning challenges are usually not good at spontaneously describing what they don’t do well; this is not something people usually talk about. Some ideas I ask them to consider include:
    • How do you do with keeping track of your homework assignments and doing the homework?
    • How do you do with writing paragraphs or reports (writing short responses on paper may have been a strength, while writing longer information is often a challenge)
    • How do you do making guesses about what you are reading?
    • How do you do with playing in a group?
    • How do you do with getting into a group?
    • How do you do talking to other kids?
    • Or I may just ask them about their “social skills”

    It’s important not to overwhelm students when discussing things that are harder for them to do. This is uncomfortable for most of us! Choose some main idea to explore based on what concerns exist with a particular student. At this point, students are usually willing to list these as weaknesses compared to the other areas on the chart.

  6. What to do if students rate a weakness as a perceived strength?I routinely make a chart of my brain’s strengths and weaknesses so they experience their teacher/leader admitting to weaknesses. Then, I’ll write the area they mentioned as a strength on the chart and pause there to discuss it more in the context of the others’ strengths. More often than not, students decide it should be listed as a lower number on the scale. However, I have worked with students who are genuinely afraid to list something as a weakness. In those cases I reassure them that everyone has weaknesses, including me. On rare occasions, I have said to a student, “Actually, this is an area that you are not as good at and this is why you are here today.” Then I lower the ranking on that social area on the scale compared to the other areas listed, while explaining that it is expected and OK that people have learning weaknesses.
  7. If you are familiar with the teachings of Social Thinking® you will also be able to explain how socially-based learning weaknesses (organizational skills, written expression, social relationships, reading comprehension, etc.) are all related. Making this connection with our students helps them see how they don’t have all that many weaknesses. Instead, there is a weak root system that leads to different areas of weakness. (For more information on this please read about the ILAUGH Model of Social Thinking in the book Inside Out: What Makes Persons with Social Cognitive Deficits TickThis concept is also the focus of the article, Social Thinking – Social Learning Tree.”)
  8. You will find your students are usually pretty honest about themselves. It is often amazing how they are willing to talk about the fact they have strengths and weaknesses when it’s presented this way. When they have strengths in language and learning facts, we can then explain how these abilities will help them learn more information in the areas where learning is not as easy or natural to them.
  9. Once the chart is completed, I then go on to talk about what it means to have a learning disability: that the student has relative learning weaknesses compared to their strengths or even the “OK” areas of learning. Remarkably, many of our students don’t understand what learning disabilities or differences are, so they react to their weaknesses with anger rather than understanding they can usually use some of their learning strengths to help them in their weaker areas. I have worked through anger about learning differences much more successfully using this scale.
  10. You will find that your students/adults are much more willing to discuss how they learn, what they are good at, and what they are not so astute at learning in this context, compared to simply talking to them about the fact they have ASD, AS, ADHD, etc.
  11. Once you’ve reached this point with students, the next step is to discuss specific things they can work at learning to boost their area of weakness to a higher number on the scale. I also explain that they likely will never get their weak area as high as their strong areas, because their strengths are what their brain is naturally good at learning. But they can improve how they do in their weaker areas as long as they work at learning!

Once you make the chart you can refer back to it session after session. It is also a helpful tool when explaining to parents/caregivers what our students’ labels really mean in terms of their learning abilities.

A note on language: The language-based explanation, “Your brain doesn’t make this easy for you,” helps many of our students put their challenges in context. Make sure you regularly point out when they are doing things their brains do make easy for them, and not only talk about their areas of weakness or areas that need improving.

Final, final note: The “art” of teaching is critical in this lesson. Stay in step with your students emotionally while you go through this lesson. Spend some significant time talking about what they are good at and pretty good at, rather than rush to their weaknesses and then spend all your time on this area. Remember, our students are often really talented when we are not demanding they participate in socially-based situations. Take time to celebrate the many things they do well to give them the strength to talk about what they don’t do as well.

Source: https://www.socialthinking.com/Articles?name=Teaching+Students+about+Their+Learning+Strengths+and+Weaknesses&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=article_teachingstudentsabout

[My note: Social Thinking is a terrific resource for families and professionals dealing with children who have socializing challenges.]

for Orton-Gillingham reading, writing and spelling help in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

The ILAUGH Model: Social Thinking

 by Michelle Garcia Winner

 The ILAUGH Model of Social Thinking is a core (and critical) framework created and developed by Michelle Garcia Winner to help professionals and parents understand and think about the struggles faced by those with social learning challenges. The Framework is based on an extensive literature base of both seminal and current research and represents the foundation of all Social Thinking concepts.  ILAUGH is an acronym for the research-based concepts that contribute to challenges in those with social learning issues across academic, community, vocational, and social contexts.  The sections of the ILAUGH are not only grounded in the literature, but also represent a rich clinical base. Although the ILAUGH Model is divided into six key areas, there is commonly an overlap between and within each of the sections.

I = Initiation of Communication

(Kranz & McClannahan, 1993; Rao, Beidel, & Murray, 2008; Whalen, Schreibman, & Ingersoll 2006)

Initiation of communication is the ability to use one’s language skills (verbal and nonverbal) to start (or initiate) something that is not routine.  This can be in the form of difficulty asking for help, seeking clarification, executing a new task, and entering and exiting a peer group.  An individual’s ability to talk about his or her own topics of interest can be in sharp contrast to how that person communicates when in need of support or clarification. Yet, these two skills – asking for help and understanding how to join a group for functional or personal interaction – are paramount for future success in the workplace, academic endeavors and relationships.

L= Listening With Eyes and Brain

(Jones & Carr, 2004; Klin, Jones, Schultz, & Volkmar, 2003; Kunce & Mesibov, 1998; MacDonald et al., 2006; Marshall & Fox, 2006; Mundy & Crowson, 1997; Saulnier & Klin, 2007

From a social perspective, listening is more than just receiving auditory information. It routinely requires the integration of visual information with auditory information within the context in order to understand the full meaning of the message being conveyed, or at least make an educated guess about what is being said when the message cannot be interpreted literally. This is also referred to as “active listening” or whole body listening (Truesdale, 1990). Classrooms depend heavily on having all students attend nonverbally to the expectations in the classroom.

Many individuals with ASD, as well as others with social learning challenges, have technical visual processing strengths, but may struggle to comprehend information presented via the dual challenges of social visual information (reading nonverbal cues) and auditory processing.

A = Abstract and Inferential Language/Communication

(Adams, Green, Gilchrist, & Cox, 2002; Happe’, 1995; Kerbel & Grunwell, 1998; Minshew, Goldstein, Muenz & Payton, 1992; Norbury & Bishop, 2002; Rapin & Dunn, 2003; Simmons-Mackie & Damico, 2003)

Most of the language we use is not intended for literal interpretation. Our communication is peppered with idioms, metaphors, sarcasm and inferences. Societies around the world bestow awards to writers, and even comedians, who are the most creative with language. Each generation of teenagers and young adults leave a trail of new slang for consumption – most of which is abstract.

Abstract language has also crept into the digital, mass and social media markets. Our commercials, web banners, print flyers and video clips are full of abstract information that require all of us to interpret and infer the meaning. Do people really mean what they say in advertising? How do we know a good deal from a sham? It’s incredibly complicated and yet most of us can easily understand the underlying meaning.  And, it is a mistake to assume that individuals with strengths in factual knowledge, but underlying social thinking challenges, understand the non-literal use of language so prevalent in our society. In fact, many don’t!

Active interpretation of the motives and intentions of others emerges in the first year of life and expands in complexity thereafter. Children learn that mom’s tone of voice speaks volumes and that attention to only her words can miss much of her message. As children grow developmentally, they understand that message interpretation depends heavily on one’s ability to “make a smart guess” based on past experiences, what they know (or don’t know) about the current person and situation, and the communication clues available. Language users assume their communicative partners are trying to figure out their messages. By third grade, neurotypical students understand that we are to infer meaning rather than expect it to be coded literally.

Individuals who struggle to interpret the abstract/inferential meaning of language also routinely struggle with academic tasks such as reading comprehension of literature (e.g., interpreting a character’s thoughts, actions and motives based on the context of the story) and written expression.

U = Understanding Perspective

(Baron-Cohen, 1995; Baron-Cohen, 2000; Baron-Cohen & Jolliffe, 1997; Flavell, 2004; Frith, & Frith, 2010; Hale & Tager-Flusberg, 2005; Kaland, Callesen, Moller-Nielsen, Mortensen, & Smith, 2007; Spek, Scholte, & Van Berckelaer-Omnes, 2010)

The ability to interpret others’ perspectives or beliefs, thoughts and feelings across contexts is critical to social learning. It is central to group participation in the social, academic or vocational world. Individuals with social learning challenges are often highly aware of their own perspective, but may struggle to see another’s point of view.   

To understand the differing perspectives of others requires that one’s Theory of Mind (perspective taking) work quickly and efficiently. Most neurotypically developing students acquire a solid foundation in ToM between the ages of 4 to 6 years old. Perspective taking is not one thing, it represents many things happening all at once meaning it is a synergistic and dynamic process. A definition of perspective taking can include the ability to consider your own and others:

  • Thoughts
  • Emotions
  • Physically coded intentions
  • Language based intentions
  • Prior knowledge and experiences
  • Belief systems
  • Personality
  • While considering all of this with regards to the specific situation being considered.

The ability to take perspective is key to participation in any type of group (social or academic). It is also a critical component when interpreting information that requires understanding of other’s minds, such as reading comprehension, history, social studies, etc. However, like all other concepts explored in the ILAUGH model, one’s ability to take perspective is not a black or white matter.

G = Gestalt Processing/Getting the Big Picture

(Fullerton, Stratton, Coyne & Gray, 1996; Happe’ & Frith, 2006; Hume, Loftin, & Lantz, 2009; Pelicano, 2010; Plaisted, 2001; Shah & Frith, 1993; van Lang, Bouma, Sytema, Kraijer, & Minderaa 2006)

Conceptual processing is a key component to successful social and academic functioning. It is critical to be able to be a part of and follow the group plan or share an imagination.  Due to the fact that information is conveyed through concepts and not just facts, it is important that one is able to tie individual pieces of information into the greater concept. For example, when engaged in a conversation, the participants should be able to intuitively determine the underlying concept(s) being discussed, as well as identify the specific details that are shared. Similarly, when reading, one has to follow the overall meaning rather than just collect a series of seemingly unrelated facts. As with many elements of social cognition, this ability relies heavily on strong executive function skills. As a result, difficulty with organizational strategies often stems from problems with conceptual processing. Weaknesses in the development of this skill can greatly impact one’s ability to formulate written expression, summarize reading passages, and manage one’s homework load, as well as derive the intended meaning from a social conversation.

H = Humor and Human Relatedness

Gutstein, 2001; Greenspan, & Wieder, 2003; Losh & Capps, 2006; Loukusa et al., 2007; Ozonoff, & Miller, 1996; Prizant, Wetherby, Rubin, & Laurent, 2003; Prizant, Wetherby, Rubin, Laurent & Rydell, 2006; Williams & Happe’, 2010)

Human relatedness is at the heart of social interaction. Most of us desire some form of social interaction and our students, clients and family members are no exception. The struggle is having the ability to relate to other’s minds, emotions and needs. Establishing the concept of human relatedness is essential before advancing in any lessons.  Most of the clients with whom we work with have a very good sense of humor, but they often feel anxious because they miss many of the subtle cues that help them to understand how to use their humor successfully with others. It is important for educators/parents to work compassionately with humor to help minimize the anxiety the individual may experience. It is also not uncommon for many to struggle with using humor inappropriately and direct lessons targeting this concept are necessary.

Source Social Thinking: https://www.socialthinking.com/Articles?name=Understanding+Core+Social+Thinking+Challenges+The+ILAUGH+Model&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=article_understandingcoresocial

Orton-Gillingham tutoring (reading and writing skills) in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Ohio OCALI Autism Conference November 18-18

Don’t miss the 2011 OCALI Conference, the nation’s premier event in autism, assistive technology and low-incidence disabilities.

Mark your calendar for

  •  November 16-18, 2011
  • Greater Columbus Ohio Convention Center

Highlights include:

  • Wednesday Keynotes Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher, stars of “Wretchers and Jabberers,” sponsored by VizZle
  • Thursday Keynote Dan Habib, director of Including Samuel
  • Tuesday Pre-conference  workshop facilitated by Michelle Garcia Winner (pre-conference workshop available for an additional fee)
  • NEW for 2011! National Autism Leadership Summit
  • New for 2011! UDL (Universal Design for Learning) Summit

Plus:

  • Free Tuesday evening community expos
  • University Summit sponsored by The University of Toledo and Kentucky Autism Training Center
  • Parents’ Corner hosted by The Autism Society
  • Over 200 sessions by national leaders and scholars
  • An exhibit hall of over 90 leading companies and organizations

Over 2,000 participants from across the nation are anticipated

Visit http://conference.ocali.org/view.php?nav_id=2&utm_source=OCALI+List&utm_campaign=6c1b20aa75-Early_Bird_Registration_102511&utm_medium=email

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021  or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Central Ohio: September Meeting of Parents Support Group

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Special Needs Connections” is a Central Ohio group for parents of special needs children.  It meets nearly every month.

This group hopes to allow parents to share information, support each other, and very often presents professional speakers able to address specific concerns.

  • Next meeting: Thursday September 23, 2010
  • Where: home of Molly King 130 Big Run Rd Delaware OH 43015
  • Time: 7:00 to 8:30 pm
  • Speaker: Lydia Jennings MA, case supervisor at the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Topic: Social skills
  • RSVP (so enough materials): Molly King 740-369-4047, mking@nexgenaccess.com

Molly King says let her know if you have specific questions for Lydia Jennings, so she can pass them on to her ahead of time.

tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021  or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Babies Disinterest in Faces Possible Risk for Autism

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Shari Roan’s blog at the L A Times notes research published in the Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology.

Researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore and the University of Delaware have observed 25  6-month-old infants who were siblings of children with autism.  (Siblings are at much higher risk of developing the disease.)

These infants were compared with 25 infants from families with no history of autism.

The infants were observed performing a task that measures their ability to learn, and their level of social engagement with a  caregiver.

Researchers found that infants in the low-risk group were more likely to have normal social gazing: they looked at their caregivers, pointed to toys and became excited as they played.

The high-risk siblings, though, spent less time looking at caregivers and more time focused on the toy.

The two groups did not differ in how well they learned the game being played with the caregiver.

Authors are A N Bhat, J C Galloway and R J Landa

Landa says the study provides more evidence for early diagnosis, and that the lack of interest in people’s faces is “a subtle difference that could be easily overlooked by both parents and some professionals.

for access to the complete journal article : http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2010.02262.x/abstract.  For Roan’s 9/2 LA Times blog post, find it at  http://www.latimes.com .

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Strategies & Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

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From Sue Hardesty, at Columbus Public Schools:

Attention, Organization: Executive Function

  • use proximity to & prompting from the teacher
  • structure work periods
  • use visuals
  • structure the environment
  • teach students to monitor their own attention
  • utilize technology
  • provide systematic supports for organizational help
  • support organization with rubrics, study guides & outlines
  • structure time during day for organizing assignments & materials

Improving Abstract Reasoning

  • break down lesson goal into parts; provide supports
  • provide explicit instruction for understanding of concept
  • move from specifics to generalizations
  • give alternative ways to show understanding, so students can utilize their strengths

Social Interactions

  • teach students how to read/react to nonverbal social cues
  • utilize strengths & interests in cooperative learning
  • protect students from bullying
  • teach students how to participate in conversations
  • teach students how to identify/understand emotion

Provide Predictability

  • provide clear physical structure in the classroom
  • provide clear rules & consequences
  • prepare for changes & transitions
  • provide structure for unstructured time
  • provide instruction about the hidden curriculum (unspoken expectations)

Problems with language

  • avoid/explain use of sarcasm & jokes with double meanings
  • avoid/carefully explain ambiguous language (idioms, metaphors, figures of speech)
  • teach how to find key words & concepts in directions and instructions

Anxiety, Depression & Emotional Regulation

  • identify signs of stress/overstimulation early — intervene immediately
  • proactively minimize situations that will cause emotional problems
  • allow & encourage student to use self-calming techniques to regain emotional control

Motor Issues Including Writing

  • provide tools that allow for improvement of writing
  • allow/encourage use of technology as an alternative to handwriting
  • provide alternatives to allow easier writing / to circumvent writing (oral responses, note-takers, recording devices, keyboard)

Very Focused Areas of Interest & Expertise?

  • help student develop this interest; relate it to future employment
  • use this area of interest as a bridge to other topics
  • use this area as a way to facilitate social interaction
  • provide a specific time of day for focus on this area of interest
  • use this area of interest to help regulate behavior

source: materials provided by Sue Hardesty, Director of  Special Education at Columbus OH Public Schools.  Her presentation happened at a Barnes & Noble bookstore; check your local bookstores for useful events — or request them!

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021  or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Challenges for Autism Spectrum Students

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From a helpful handout, some help with issues that challenge ASD students.

Executive Function — ASD students may lack the capacity to identify, plan, organize and carry out needed tasks, achieve independence as adults

How to help:  Help students organize themselves with minimal prompts, through rubrics, assignment directives, checklists, study guides.  Give clear due dates.  Create systems to check for missing assignments.

Hidden Curriculum —  ASD students lack the ability  to interpret the social world around them, as well as ways to communicate within it, without having to be told how to do it.  Hidden curriculum is closely tied to executive function in daily life. 

ASD students are vulnerable to their own literal thinking, passivity,  social naivete, emotional responses and often noncompliant behavior.  From others, they are vulnerable to ridicule, misinterpretation, exclusion and exploitation. 

How to help:  Give explicit instructions and explanations; be careful with ambiguities and assumptions.  Always give advance notice.  Use discretion, and never be sarcastic.  Be aware that  ASD kids are rule followers.  Remember that noncompliance has a logic: find out why.  Foster habits of mutual support, acceptance, courtesy in class.

Sensory Integration Challenges ASD kids may become distracted and overloaded by lots of noise, bright lights and crowds.  Eye contact is extremely powerful for them.  Symptoms are anxiety, unresponsiveness, placing hands over ears, humming, escapist activity.

How to help:  Ask your student what he or she needs to help them feel better.  Allow them to self-calm as needed.

Resistance to Speculation This is part of the hidden curriculum: the student struggles to take an imaginative leap when there is no basis in fact.  Symptoms are noncompliance, confusion, difficulty making inferences.

How to help:  Bear in mind that there’s a reason for an unusual behavior.  Be flexible.  Give advance notice, be consistent and avoid making absolute statements.

Processing Speed & Motor Skills —  Students may lack the ability to move, react and process quickly.  This affects social interactions, practical skills, and response times.  Multi-tasking may slow processing speed and generate confusion.

How to help:  Give verbal cues in class, advance notice, extra time.  Be patient.  Adults should practice social awareness, be observant, pay attention to classroom dynamics.  Foster mutual respect and acceptance, as well as a sense of community. 

Some Web Sites

 These suggestions came from a handout provided at an autism awareness gathering at my local Barnes & Noble.  Sue Hardesty, Special Education director at Columbus Public Schools led the discussion.   Check to see what educational meetings your local bookstore may offer.

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com