Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Teaching Children With Special Needs

What is it like when something bothers them

I have always noticed that any of my students behave differently whenever something bothers them in their own houses.

Today the 9 year old Autistic child I'm handling showed a high degree of hyperactivity.Not only that he only did one activity.The Math Activity with Teacher J.He participated and did well.Giving his group an additional two points.Other than that he was not able to accomplish anything no matter how hard i tried.Its P.E. day today and I did not join them.Teacher T told me he was also acting up in the car.And when its time to go home,and his yaya(nanny) came to pick him up,Teacher asked the yaya if something happened in the house or if the parents are out of the country.She was trying to find out the cause of E’s misbehavior and frustrations,she was told they are out of the country.And teacher informed me right away.

I told her this is most of the time the case with parents of children with Autism.Rarely do parents include their children with Autism in family talks and rarely do they talk to them to prepare them about whats happening or whats going to happen.
Children with Autism lives by routine and have difficulty expressing their emotions and communicating their feelings.

When somebody they are used to seeing everyday and interacting with everyday suddenly leaves without their knowledge their reaction would be varied but would definitely be negative,not being able to express the frustration.With E he didn't want to participate in the classroom activities.And he acted up a lot.He was lying down most of the time,playing with his hands and feet,facial gestures is also varied.I cant describe his behavior,but it certainly showed that he is bothered by something.

Adnan was the same when i came to work with him.He would throw tantrums and is more aggressive and has very low frustration tolerance when his dad goes on trips.I talked to the mom and told her to watch out how Adnan behaves when dad is gone.I told her dad should talk to Adnan before he leaves,tell him how many days he will be gone and when he is coming back,also what he is doing where he is going.They did what i told them to do.Slowly Adnan showed little and little frustration when his dad goes.Dad would talk to him..tell him "Baba(Dad in Arabic) will ride a plane and go to Riyadh to work.Baba will be back after 3 sleeps."

When he would mention his Baba while playing I would ask him if he misses his Baba.First few times he wouldn't answer me.Then one day he answered me with "Yes".I told him say "I miss Baba".He followed.Next time I asked him if he missed his Baba when he is on a trip he would look at me and smile..i would prompt him again to say "I miss Baba".He followed by saying "I miss Baba".

The following times that his dad leaves and he mentions his dad and I ask him if he misses his dad he would answer with "I miss Baba".Before i left him he is already able to verbalize his feelings when his dad leaves for a trip somewhere.At one point he even said "I want to go to the airport"..."I want to go to the plane".."I want to go to Baba".He says these smiling.He has that very cute smile when he does smile.Its easy to tell when they need to be taught about expressing how they feel.you just have to watch out for clues.And then help them say what they feel.When children with Autism suddenly shows a different behavior it usually means they are bothered by something.And it is usually something that is within the house and the family members.

There are ways and means to help these children not act up when there is a change that's going to happen.

A few suggestions would be if there will be visitors coming,tell them ahead of time about who's coming,if there are pictures available, show them the pictures and say the names.Tell them why there coming and if they will stay tell them how long they will stay.Tell them or coach them how they will behave and what they will say to the visitors.

Autistic children understand everything and preparing them for any event will lessen their frustrations and embarrassments are prevented from happen.

Language of Autistic Children

Adnan is the name of boy from Saudi.He has curly brown hair and deep brown eyes.When we first met he had with him a bag full of animal toys.

The mom and nanny later told me he would throw a tantrum if the animals were not brought with them when they go out.

Slowly i removed this by bringing lesser and lesser number of the animals until finally i told him the animals will stay in the house and he can only play with them in the house.It wasn't easy.He would cry when the animals are not in the car when he looks for them but eventually he got used to the idea and stopped looking for them in the car.Sometimes though he would put animals in his bag when he knows he is going somewhere...Children with Autism can be manipulative and stubborn just like any other kid.I would put away the animals when i see him putting them in his bag.Later on when i see him try bringing toys along with him i would ask him to put them back in the playroom.He would smile and put the toys where they belong.

Autistic children knows when they can get away with something and knows who they can get away things with and who they will follow.That's why with them there should be consistency with discipline.

When i tried talking to him he avoided my eyes and said hi as coached by the mom.He tried handing over to me a few of the animal toys he had with him in his hands.The mom went down to fetch her 5 year old daughter in the school and Adnan cried out loud.He wanted to go with his mom.But the mom said no.I saw bruises and cuts on Adnan face.When i asked the mom she could not say where the marks came from.she said when she came home one day it was already there...one after the other.

Autistic children do not know how to tell what happened to them or who hurt them or where they get hurt unless u teach them how.

I taught Adnan how to say how he got hurt.How?On one occasion he was running inside the house fast from one room to another without looking where he was going...he was looking on his side and looking back.He did not see the door going to another room and hit his cheek on the door.He cried.I went up to him and asked him what happened.He was crying and couldn't say what happened.

This is one problem of children with ASD(Autistic Spectrum Disorder) have...Communication.

I held his face with my two hands and made him look at me.I said u hit your face in the door because you're not looking where you're going.I showed him by pointing where he hit his face.(Be specific and clear..shorten sentence)Then i said next time look where you re going.And then i said...say"I hit my face on the door.".He did not follow me right away.I had to repeat it 3 times...(sometimes more on different occasions) until he follows and says what I'm saying.Then i said look where you're going okay?He answered with "okay".

(I observed that when any of my students says "OK"or "YES"..they mean it...they would not do the action or behavior again or the behavior will be minimized until its gone).I repeat asking 3 times and wait for him to answer then i stop.After a few minutes i asked him while pointing to his cheek ..What happened to your cheek?I kept asking until he answered me.Then i tell mom or dad to ask him what happened to his cheek.And coach them to keep asking until he answers back.

This is Expressive and Receptive Language.

Receptive language refers to the process of understanding what is said to us. Expressive language refers to the use of words and sentences to communicate what we think, need, and want.

I have noticed something with my 9 year old student. He doesn’t read fast orally but it seems he reads fast mentally. There was an activity in the school that required him to use a dictionary. He took a DK Dictionary on the bookshelf of the classroom and started looking for words. I noticed he was using fingers to look for the words...and he was reading with his eyes and fingers fast.

Another thing I noticed from him that I saw in one of my former students is he reads as if he is enclosing the words one by one while reading. He will read putting two fingers enclosing a word then move fingers to each word. It’s like he was measuring words he was reading. I will try to look into this and will write here what I will find out.

With every discovery I see in my students, I feel great because this shows that they are skilled or talented. And I let them know their efforts and work is appreciated by a tap, a word of praise, an incentive of any kind. This helps them boost their morale and in some ways inspire them to work more and do better.

This student knows he is different. He doesn’t want to be stared at. He gets annoyed when somebody looks at him and will ask "Why" when somebody looks at him. He feels the rejection. That I know. In some ways it’s a positive thing because he is in touch with his feelings.

I believe children as well as adults needs to be educated on what are Autism, Downs Syndrome, Mental Retardation and the other Conditions are. It is important that people are informed so they will know how to treat these kids. They have feelings like any other human being. They get hurt. But can’t say how they feel. They show frustrations and bad feelings by throwing tantrums. Some can verbalize their feelings but in very few words. And only a few people can understand what their saying.

Tarek student in Saudi will ask me "Why Dara?”He asked this after attempting to wear new shoes that his mom doesn’t want him to wear yet. She said it’s for Eid. What he was saying is why Dara has all the clothes and shoes, etc and he has a few. Hurts me to be asked by Tarek. But in a way I was happy, knowing he was at that time starting to be in touch with his feelings. I answered him with ask "Baba" or "Mommy”. He did not ask them. I told the parents what he said. The father bought him more clothes.

Visual Thinkers

CWA (Children with Autism) as written by Temple Grandin( http://www.templegrandin.com/) a very famous person with Autism mentioned in one of her articles that "I think in pictures”. She often refers to those who are not autistic as being "language based thinkers”. None Autistic thinkers live in a realm of words. In the mind of an Autistic child, words are linked to a mental image or memory.

One vivid example of this is while one of my students was reading a book, when he saw the word shout, he shouted. This is an example of how a child with autism associates a word with a visual image and then applies it.

Splinter Skills in an Autistic Savant

An autistic savant (historically described as idiot savant) is a person with both autism and Savant Syndrome . Savant Syndrome describes a person having both a severe developmental or mental handicap and extraordinary mental abilities not found in most people. The Savant Syndrome skills involve striking feats of memory and often include arithmetic calculation and sometimes unusual abilities in art or music.

Savant Syndrome is sometimes abbreviated as "savantism" and individuals with Savant Syndrome abbreviated to savants. This is a source of confusion - a savanter is a person of learning, especially one of great knowledge in a particular subject.

Savant Syndrome is usually recognized during childhood and is found in children with autism and other developmental difficulties. However it can also be acquired in an accident or illness, typically one that injures or impairs the left side of the brain. There is some research that suggests that it can be induced, which might support the view that savant abilities are latent within all people but are obscured by the normal functioning intellect. By the help of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation researchers are providing empirical evidence for the hypothesis that savant-like skills can be improved in a healthy individual by temporary disruption of the left front part of the brain - at least with some of the probates.

Most autistic savants have very extensive mental abilities, called splinter skills.

They can memorize facts, numbers, license plates, maps, and extensive lists of sports and weather statistics. Some savants can mentally note and then recall perfectly a very long sequence of music, numbers, or speech. Some, dubbed mental calculators, can do exceptionally fast arithmetic, including prime factorization. Other skills include precisely estimating distances and angles by sight, calculating the day of the week for any given date over the span of tens of thousands of years, and being able to accurately gauge the passing of time without a clock. Most autistic savants have a single special skill, while others have multiple skills. Usually these skills are concrete, non-symbolic, right hemisphere skills, rather than left hemisphere skills, which tend to be more sequential, logical, and symbolic.

Why autistic savants are capable of these astonishing feats is not quite clear.

Some savants have obvious neurological abnormalities (such as the lack of corpus callosum in Kim Peek's non-autistic brain), but the brains of most savants are anatomically and physiologically normal; at least, there is no abnormality that modern science can detect. Some neurologists (see e.g., Oliver Sacks) theorize that those with savantism utilize an "innate" modular arithmetic to compute such complex problems as what day of the week a distant date (for instance, July 11th, 88182) will fall on.

There are only about 50 - 100 recognized prodigious savants in the world.

Movies about Savant Autistics

Rain Man, the autistic main character of which was inspired by savant Kim Peek. Mercury Rising, a film about an autistic boy whose life is threatened because of his ability to decipher complex encryption.I will be writing on my personal encounters with children with splinter skills in the coming days.


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