We know at St. Anthony’s that early treatment of Spectrum Disorders is essential to maximize the potential of the child on the Autistic Spectrum. Numerous techniques have been written about and recommended for teaching students with Spectrum Disorders; because the spectrum ranges from severe impairments to odd social approaches, no single answer is effective for all students.
Approaches to Spectrum Disorders
Depending on the age and stage of the student, St. Anthony’s employs modified versions of the TEACH philosophy, Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS), Pivotal Response Treatment, Floor Time, and a sensitivity to sensory integration issues. Music, art, and animal therapy are used as complementary approaches.
There are scores of books about spectrum disorders and treatment, as well as a wealth of information on the internet. The best guideline that we know to treat this confusing, complicated, wide-range disorder is to keep it simple and to keep it effective. In 2005, Ellen Notbohm put into words the knowledge and techniques that have been the secret of our success with spectrum disorder children for over 10 years. In her book Ten Things Your Student with Autism Wishes You Knew, she gave the best advice to teachers that we have found. This has become our guidebook:
- Behavior is communication. All behavior occurs for a reason. It tells you, even when the child cannot, how he perceives the world around him.
- Never assume anything. Without factual backup, an assumption is only a guess. The student may not know or understand the rules, or may have not understood the directions given. He may have known them yesterday but is not able to retrieve them today.
- Look for sensory issues first. Many issues may come from sensory discomfort (like the hum of florescent lighting or the pulsing nature of the bulbs, distorting visual perception).
- Provide the child with a break to allow for self-regulation before he needs it. A quiet corner of the room with some pillows, books, and headphones provides a place to re-group when feeling overwhelmed.
- Tell the child what you want them to do in the positive rather than the imperative. Rather than “Your desk is a mess!” (which is just a statement of fact), tell them to throw away the papers in their desk and stack their books.
- Keep your expectations reasonable. Don’t insist that they attend an assembly with 300 other students. Give them a quiet, alternative activity.
- Help the child transition between activities. A five minute and a two minute warning can make all the difference in the world.
- Don’t make a bad situation worse. Don’t respond with inflammatory behavior in the heat of the moment. Mocking or sarcasm will not be understood. You cannot embarrass them out of the behavior.
- Criticize gently. Do not try to impose discipline or correction when the student is still angry, distraught, or over-stimulated. Speak in low tones and lower your body to the level of the student.
- Offer real choices and only real choices. Don’t offer a choice or as a “Do you want?” question unless you are willing to accept no for an answer. “No” might very well be the honest answer. Whenever possible, offer a choice within a “have to”. Rather than saying: “Write your name and the date on the top of the page.” Say: “Would you like to write your name first or the date first”. Giving choices helps the student learn appropriate behaviors. The student also needs to know that there are times when you cannot give a choice. They will not be as frustrated if they understand why. For example, “I can’t give you a choice in this situation because it is dangerous. You might get hurt”.
Spectrum Disorders and Your Child
Contact The Saint Anthony School or call 214.443.1205 to see how we can help guide your child through their learning adventure.