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3 Inclusive Classroom Ideas to Implement This Fall
It is safe to assume that no classroom is one-size-fits-all. Not all students will learn the same, and not all teachers will teach the same. Some students are advanced, and some are a little behind. In today’s blog, we are going to cover three ideas on how you can create an inclusive classroom this fall season. These ideas can be adapted according to your specific class, the abilities of your students, and your teaching style.
Idea 1 - Create a Flexible Learning Space
The first idea is to create a flexible learning space. You may find that your students are distracted by the things in their backpacks or on their desks. This, in turn, causes them to be less focused on you or your lesson. When you set up your classroom at the start of the school year (or change it part way through), keep these ideas in mind. Depending on the grade and the size of your classroom, you will need to adapt accordingly.
- If your students tend to be distracted by the things they bring to school, try switching from desks to shared tables.
- Create a designated space for backpacks in the back of the classroom. You can hang hooks on the wall or find a shelving unit with individual spaces.
- Move the students to the floor during lessons so they can focus on you. Arrange desks or tables in such a way to allow ample space.
- Keep paperwork and books organized. Clutter can be overwhelming and distracting for students trying to learn.
- Create a ‘safe space’ in the classroom. This can be a special chair in the room with books to read, coloring pages, etc. If you have a student who is overwhelmed and needs a few moments to themselves, they can visit the ‘safe space’ until they are ready to join the class again.
Idea 2 - Incorporate Small Group Learning
It won’t take you long to recognize which students are struggling and who are excelling. One strategy you can implement in your classroom is small group learning. If you are teaching a new math principle, it will be hard for some students to pick it up if they are still struggling to learn the last math principle. In this example, you can teach the lesson and then pair students up and allow them to help and teach each other.
Another way to use small groups is for you as the teacher to visit each group and teach a short lesson. While you are with one group, the others can be working on something you’ve previously arranged for them, such as educational games or homework. In this example, it will be up to you to decide how best to arrange the small groups based on needs and the lesson.
Idea 3 - Adapt Adapt Adapt
Creating a different and inclusive approach in your classroom will take time, dedication, and trial-and-error. You may find something that works for a month and then suddenly stops working. If you are doing something that you feel is no longer working, make a change. Change does not always have to be major. Small and subtle changes may work just as well as something big.
You are not alone in the effort to create an inclusive classroom. Collaborate with fellow teachers. Share ideas of what currently works, what did work but no longer does, and what your goals are. As you collaborate with other teachers, you can encourage and uplift each other to continue your efforts.
Talk to your student’s parents. If you are struggling to reach specific students, reach out to their parents. They may be able to give you new ideas or tell you what works for them. Parents want their children to succeed in school and can offer you support as you are getting to know their child. The insight you can receive from the parents will be invaluable to you as you work to include each child in your classroom.
This month on the blog, we are discussing how to make the fall season fun for children with autism. Fall is a season many people look forward to because of the changing leaves and the delicious food. In today’s blog, we will cover several activities you can easily put together to experience the joys of the fall season together. These activities are focused on simplicity and using things around your house.
Fall Themed Crafts
There are a lot of fall-themed crafts you can create together and use to decorate around the house. We will share two fun ideas
Our first craft idea is painting a tree with fall leaves. For this craft, you will need a piece of paper (thicker paper is best), a handful of cotton swabs, and fall paint colors. To start, it would be helpful to have an adult or older sibling paint the trunk of the tree with branches on the piece of paper. Then, your child can use their imagination to paint the leaves using the end of the cotton swab. They can dip the cotton swab in different paint colors and create their own fall tree!
Our next craft suggestion is making a pumpkin out of a paper plate. There are a few ways to decorate this pumpkin, so you can decide what to use based on what you have around your house. To make the pumpkin, you will need a round paper plate, a little bit of green or brown paper to make a stem, and some orange colored supplies. Some ideas for the orange supplies are: paint, orange buttons, cut up pieces of orange paper or tissue paper, or fabric scraps. Your child can paint or glue the orange supply of choice to the paper plate. Then an adult or older sibling can cut the stem and glue or staple it to the top of the plate. Your child can add a face or any other decorations to make the pumpkin exactly how they want it to look!
Baking Fall Treats
One of the most popular fall activities is baking delicious treats. We recommend choosing your child’s favorite fall flavor and deciding on a treat together. A few suggestions of fall-themed treats we found on Pinterest are apple muffins with a maple glaze, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon apple cake with a cinnamon vanilla glaze, pumpkin pancakes, and jack-o-lantern and bat-shaped sugar cookies with orange or black frosting. There are SO many ideas out there, so once you decide the flavor and the treat, a simple online search should yield several different recipe options. If your child is comfortable with the tasks, you can give them responsibilities such as adding the sugar, mixing the ingredients, or using the cookie cutter to make the cookie shapes.
Making a Sensory Bin
A sensory bin is a fun way for your child to experience the colors, textures, smells, and shapes of fall. It should be easy to put together using items found in and around your home, a nearby park, or a dollar store. To start, find an empty bin or a large kitchen bowl. Next, add the chosen items. You can add anything you want to the bin, but focus on the items that will be of interest to your child. Some suggestions of fall specific items are yellow, red, or orange leaves (find leaves that are still soft as crunchy ones will crumble easily), branches, small pumpkins, gourds, corn kernels, acorns, and mums. Corn kernels make for a good base item, so we recommend using several cups.
Another fun activity you can do with your child is a scavenger hunt. You can use a scavenger hunt as a fun way to locate fall-themed items for the sensory bin. If your child enjoys marking things off a list, you can create a simple checklist with the items listed in the paragraph above. Or, if your child likes to color, you can create a list using coloring page images of the items.
Fall is a great season for new beginnings and spending time with those we love. We hope these ideas will help inspire some fun family time and an opportunity to experience the joys of fall. If you would like to schedule a consultation with one of our therapists to discuss ways to incorporate any of these fall activities, please visit us at www.121learningworks.com. Our therapists are here to guide you and answer your questions.
Halloween can be a fun and exciting time for many children. For parents, Halloween often means a lot of work! You're busy finding the right costume, preparing snacks for the school Halloween party, and buying candy that is both healthy and delicious. For the parents of a child with autism, Halloween can be even more difficult.
Luckily, there are things you can do to help make the holiday less stressful and more fun. In today’s blog, we will cover helpful tips to prepare your child for Halloween, how to choose the right costume and alternative options to traditional trick-or-treating.
Ways to Prepare for Halloween
As Halloween approaches, you will start to notice things like crowds, loud noises, bright lights, and changes to routine. Some children may love activities such as dressing up and attending their classroom party. Others may struggle and fall back into negative behaviors. There are things parents and family members can do; however, to help their child be prepared.
The first thing is to decide if Halloween activities are the right choice for your child. You know them best and know how they will react to different situations. Will they enjoy the activity? Will they be able to cope with the noises and costumes? If you choose to go to the Halloween activities, be prepared with a plan to leave when necessary or with your child’s favorite sensory activity, such as their tablet or blanket.
You may find the anticipation leading up to Halloween to be more exciting to your child than the holiday itself. During the weeks leading up to Halloween, there are many fun things you can do to prepare and inform your child about what to expect. Here are just a few ideas:
- Create a paper chain countdown - You or your child can remove one link every day, allowing you to teach something related to Halloween. Repetition will be key.
- Decorate a pumpkin - Some children may be okay with carving the pumpkin and touching the seeds. But, for those who are not, there are still fun ways to decorate a pumpkin! You can glue on beads and felt to make a face. Or you can paint different designs or freehand and cover the whole pumpkin. There is no right or wrong way!
- Make the costume - Depending on your child’s interests and abilities. You may be able to create a costume or accessories together. You can easily make a superhero cape out of an old extra large t-shirt or create a custom mask using felt and fabric paint.
How to Choose the Right Costume
Before choosing the right costume, it would be important to find out if your child wants to dress up. If so, do they already have an idea of what they want to be? You may have an easier time getting your child to dress up as something they want to be. But, you’ll want to ask yourself a few questions about what you come up with. Is it too tight or restrictive? Will the fabric irritate their skin? Does it require face paint or makeup?
To prepare your child to wear the costume out of the house for several hours, you can start small by wearing the costume around the house. Your child can start by wearing the costume for a short period of time and work up to a few hours. This allows you as the parent to teach more about Halloween, and also discover if your child would be able to tolerate wearing face paint, a mask, or clothes that fit tighter than usual. It will give you time to make modifications if needed.
If your child wants to dress up, but they don’t want to wear a costume, there are fun ‘outside the box’ options using regular clothes. A few ideas are a superhero, athlete, cowboy or cowgirl, or a cat or dog.
Alternatives to Trick-or-Treating
Some neighborhoods stay very busy and can be overcrowded. If you feel like this may be the case, you may consider trick-or-treating at locations other than your own neighborhood. A few ideas to consider are your workplace, close family and friend’s houses, local businesses, a church trunk-or-treat event, or another community nearby that isn’t crowded. To prepare, you can practice trick-or-treating at your own home or even your neighbor’s house several times before Halloween.
Due to food allergies or other reactions to candy, gluten, or sugar, you may need to consider alternatives to candy. Some fun alternatives are glow-in-the-dark options like glow sticks or stickers or sensory activities that your child enjoys.
If your child doesn’t seem to understand the concept of Halloween or a costume, that is okay! Remember, you know your child better than anyone.
If you would like to schedule a consultation with one of our therapists to discuss the ideas mentioned in this blog post, you can call us today at (973) 500-6767 or visit www.121learningworks.com.
This month, we learned about the challenges of autism, how it affects families, and some healthy coping mechanisms. As we’ve learned, the initial days and weeks of an autism diagnosis can be overwhelming. A quick google search will lead you down an endless road of opinions, therapies, and diets. To help demystify the process of appropriate treatment, we have put together a beginner's guide to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). In it, we will discuss what behavior analysis is, how it can help your child, and where you can find local resources.
What is Applied Behavior Analysis?
ABA is therapy based on the science of learning and behavior. Developed in 1970 by Dr. Ivar Lovaas, ABA is the most studied and empirically proven treatment for children with autism. In fact, studies have shown that 47% of children may achieve normal intellectual functioning, compared to 2% with other therapies (Lovaas, 1987).
Typically, children begin a program between the ages of two and eight years old. As your child progresses and builds on acquired skills, their needs will vary. Although all skills therapy will be based on ABA, implementation will vary depending on your child’s needs, allowing for a highly individualized approach. Because it is a flexible treatment, it can be adapted to fit the needs of every child.
Most therapies are at least 30 hours per week, and often involve parental participation at home. Therapies can also take place at school or in the community. ABA specifically focuses on improving social and communication skills, attentiveness, focus, and memory. ABA also focuses on reducing challenging behaviors and rewarding positive behaviors. The ultimate goal is to transition your child into a more typical learning environment.
How ABA Can Help
There are many ways ABA can help both the child and the family. ABA therapists will conduct an initial assessment to learn more about how the child’s environment is affecting their behavior and a better understanding of how the child learns. Therapists will then present and discuss these factors and their therapy plans to family members. Understanding both of these important factors will help guide families as they care for and make important decisions for their children now and in the future.
ABA therapists will set goals personalized to the needs of each child based on their age, ability level, and goals of the family. During therapy, children will have opportunities to learn life skills such as grooming and communicating with family or friends. Each goal is taught step-by-step by using repetition. As the child improves and achieves their goals, new goals will be set.
Every child learns differently, but one common strategy used by ABA therapists is positive reinforcement. As they are teaching, a reward will be given to help the child identify what behaviors they should repeat. Repetition of rewarding the positive behavior by therapists and family is necessary and will result in positive behavior habits.
ABA therapy will allow each child the opportunity to improve both socially and academically. To continue the repetition outside of formal therapy appointments, family members and caregivers are encouraged to receive specialized training to support their child’s learning and new skills.
How to Find Your Local Resources
The first step in finding local ABA resources is to visit your child’s pediatrician. You can discuss if ABA therapy is the right fit for your child. The pediatrician can also provide a list of recommendations for local resources.
Another way to locate resources close to you is by asking your child’s teacher. Schools often have a list of local businesses providing different therapies they can recommend. They may also have a suggested website to visit with a list of all available resources in your area. You can also visit Autism Speaks for a directory of resources near you.
Our Expert Behavior Analysts at 121 Learning Works provide assessments and counseling for children under the age of 13. Our experts specialize in Applied Behavior Analysis and can help you address both the academic and non-academic behaviors that may be challenging your child.
Join us on the blog next month for tips to make Halloween fun and safe for children with autism.
Coping With Autism
In our last blog, we explored how autism affects the family. Raising a child with autism is hard. It requires a lot of time, money, and dedication to therapies, not to mention working through the emotional ups and downs that are associated with it. It will feel as though every area of your life will now be viewed through the lens of autism. This includes upheaval in emotions, marital and familial relationships, and financial stress.
From the moment that your child is born, you’re programmed to love and take care of them in all ways. An autism diagnosis does not change that. Once you accept the diagnosis, you can begin your path to happiness and fulfillment. Many parents report that raising a child with autism is a uniquely rewarding experience. So, how did they get there?
Do Not Neglect Your Emotional Needs
Taking care of yourself and putting your needs first does not make you a bad or selfish parent. You know that old saying, ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’? Well, that is true for all areas of your life- even in autism. When dealing with an autism diagnosis, it’s easy for parents to overlook their own emotional needs. You become so focused on your child that everything else takes a backseat. And, while you may have significant momentum to pull you through the first few weeks of diagnosis, you will eventually need to start implementing some strategies to help yourself. Running on empty is not only bad for yourself but your family. There is no secret recipe for coping. Each person and family are unique, but by trying some of these methods, you may find solutions that will work for you:
• Take time to process and feel your emotions. Cry if you need to. The sooner you allow yourself to feel, the sooner you can turn your sadness and grief into solutions and actions. Journaling may also help. Writing out your emotions enables you to release them healthily, and one day you can look back and see how far you have come.
• Ask for help. You don’t have to do everything alone. Often the people around you want to help you but are unsure how. Allow them to assist you in everyday things like bringing the kids to and from school, laundry, light housekeeping, or even prepping meals. Taking some of the load off your plate can open up more opportunities for you to learn more about autism and the available therapies.
• Talk to someone. There is no shame in needing therapy. Or consider joining a support group where you can relate to people who are going through similar situations. Getting involved in the community of autism can bring you a sense of empowerment and enlightenment. Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals can be a very therapeutic and rewarding experience.
• Take a break. Schedule time for yourself during the day or week. Take walks, go to a movie, grab coffee with a friend. You need to remind yourself that you, are still you, and are on a journey to an even better you. Make “me-time” a priority so that you can reset and refocus. Do not allow autism to take over every waking moment of your life.
Make Time For Your Spouse And Family Members
Maintaining your relationships is important, and autism should not be all-consuming. For parents, it will be a day-to-day reality, but it does not need to be a part of every moment in your family’s life.
• Spend quality time with your neurotypical children and spouse. Try not to allow autism to be involved in every conversation or activity. Everyone in your family will need support and happiness, regardless of circumstances.
• Commit to open communication within the family. Your children may have questions or may be dealing with their struggles. They must have the opportunity to talk about their concerns or feelings.
• Schedule special time or activities with your other children. Take them out for an activity that might help them get their minds off all the changes that are happening at home.
• Make one-on-one time with your spouse. Go to dinner, see a movie, or grab drinks. It’s essential to stay connected as not only parents but as a couple.
• Find an activity that everyone can enjoy. Creating memories together as a family will help strengthen bonds, understanding, and compassion.
The act of doing can make you feel empowered and productive.
• Advocate for your child. Start becoming familiar with available therapies. Talk to their school, counselors, teachers, and principal. Learn their process for special needs children. Communication is vital, especially among a team.
• Get your child in treatment. Having an evaluation will let you know exactly where you stand and what will be necessary for the days, weeks, and years to come. Once you know your commitment, you will be better to plan for them financially. Having your child enrolled in a program will also free up time that you can use to research and educate further.
• Research financial assistance that may be available to you. Many families incur varied expenses depending on their needs and often find themselves in need of financial aid. There are nonprofit organizations that offer relief and help. There are also financial planning tool kits available that will help you organize, track, and prepare for expenses. Sadly, developmental disorders are often not covered, and if they are, it will likely include a limited amount of “sessions.”
• Consider setting up donations through church or online to help offset costs. As mentioned before, many of the people around you want to help!
Through self-care, research, and action, you can overcome many of the challenges that families face with autism. As you work through your experiences, you will find the blessings of raising a child with autism. You may even be surprised or be in awe when you witness the inner workings of your child’s mind. Life as you knew it will change, but not all transformations make you worse for it. Often, our greatest strengths are found in adversity.
If you need more information about the available treatment options, please visit www.121learningworks.com for more information. Or, stay up to date by joining our email list.
Challenges For Families With Autism
An autism diagnosis affects family members in profoundly different ways. Life as you have known it will drastically change. Your dreams of the future for your family will dramatically shift. Priorities are rearranged. Schedules become more hectic. Focus shifts from your typical children to the one who is in most immediate need. Where you once had laser focus on your profession, or personal responsibilities, may now take a back seat. Finances, if they hadn’t been already, will become stretched or seemingly impossible.
All of these stressors and the emotions that come with it are very normal. And, you should take comfort in knowing that coping with stress, with proper support, can ultimately strengthen marriages and family relationships. The first step to empowerment is understanding how autism affects the family unit. From that understanding, you will be better able to recognize how to address issues as they come up in healthy, manageable, and active ways.
There are many emotional ups and downs in autism. Studies have shown that parents of ASD children have higher rates of anxiety, depression, and overall stress. In fact, studies have shown parents often report feelings of grief, confusion, loss, sadness, denial, isolation, guilt, and even clinical depression ( Altiere & von Kluge, 2009b; Kuhn & Carter, 2006). These feelings are closely tied to the realization that they have to abandon previous dreams and expectations for their child. Often it is described as the most stressful life event that they have had to endure. Compounding these feelings is the lack of knowledge or access to resources to help their child and their family. Additionally, parents may also experience:
• Feeling overwhelmed
• Embarrassed by their child’s behavior in social settings
• Frustration due to decreased opportunities for fun such as vacations, social gatherings, going out to dinner, or lack of appropriate childcare
• Resentment and then guilt for that resentment
• Anger towards doctors, spouse, and family
• Feelings of inadequacy due to increasing family needs that are often difficult to balance professionally
• Despair due to prognosis or best outcome
• Frustrations with a new parenting style than what they had imagined
• Feelings of social isolation and loneliness
• Anxiety about the future
• Emotional burnout
As stress and emotions continue to rise, marriages often become strained. However, unlike previous studies, there is no indication that divorce rates are higher. Strain and marital stress can often be linked to differences in response to an autism diagnosis, such as:
• Differences of opinion in how family funds should be delegated to treatment
• Differences in acceptance of an autism diagnosis
• Lack of ability to spend quality time together due to the demands of autism
• Differences in approach to autism (i.e., one parent becomes the expert while the other may avoid the subject)
• One parent carrying too much daily responsibility
Siblings are a considerable part of each other’s lives. They are built-in-playmates and best friends, and their relationship has a profound effect on their life experience, personality, and identity. It is no surprise that an autism diagnosis can significantly affect their neurotypical sibling. Siblings will undoubtedly feel many of the stressors that are experienced by other family members. Adding to that, they may often feel jealous, resentful, or ignored due to mom and dad’s extra attention being diverted elsewhere. They may also experience difficulty adjusting to their brother or sister’s behavior, especially in social settings that could lead to embarrassment.
Furthermore, they may feel stressed and overwhelmed with feelings of being the “protector,” even if they are the younger sibling. All of these emotions can understandably lead to shame or feelings of guilt. It’s important to encourage your child to talk about their feelings. Establishing clear and open communication with your children about ASD will help them to understand better the condition and how it affects the family structure.
Adding insult to injury is the question of finances. Autism is a huge financial burden for families. Money is never unimportant, and it’s quite understandable how finances are stressful without the added demands of autism. Unfortunately, treatment and therapies for autism are often not covered by insurance and are extremely expensive. Caring for a child with ASD can require substantial time and finances, and parents often make personal and professional sacrifices to pursue quality resources (Knapp et al., 2009). Astoundingly, according to Ganz, the lifetime societal cost of autism is 3.2 million (Ganz, 2007). If that number is adjusted for inflation, that number increases to 4.2 million. Families that are faced with financial uncertainty are often overwhelmed and feel the weight of financial barriers to treatment, resources, and support.
As you can see, the impact of autism is significant and unique to each family and family member. Autism is multifaceted with its own set of challenges that often push parents and their families to the point of exhaustion. However, there is hope. There are empirically proven treatments that not only improve the life of your child with autism but that of the family. Finding the proper resources, support, and treatment will unequivocally lead to success, happiness, and fulfillment for the ones you love.
If you or someone you love is struggling to navigate the world of autism, please visit www.121learningworks.com. We offer real solutions for real people- every day. Tune in next time when we discuss how to cope with autism.
5 Simple ASD Tips For Back To School Success
“The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
As summer draws to an end, a new experience is about to begin for your child. The back to school rush can be overwhelming to many children but can present its own set of unique challenges for those with ASD. For many children with autism, back to school transitions are often the most challenging part of their education.
Change in routines is challenging for those with autism, especially coming off the care-free days of summer. Children with autism generally thrive with routine, but habits are often interrupted or inconsistent due to school breaks, inclement weather, teacher conferences, and standardized testing. Interruptions are further compounded by leaving the classroom to receive extra help/therapies during the day to help them handle the very skills and experiences they are missing out on. Different teachers also add to their experience of change. Each teacher has their own personality and style within a classroom, and what may have been acceptable for Teacher A is not tolerated by Teacher B.
A typical school setting is ripe with bright lights, loud students, ringing bells, and other stimuli that are bound to cause sensory issues. Even children who have mild reactions will struggle at some point during the school year.
Social communication is also challenging, even with good language skills. Appropriate behavior fluctuates within the diverse settings during the school day. What may be appropriate in gym class is not suitable in the classroom, hallways, or in the library.
But don’t fret! By implementing these 5 autism transition strategies, you can help start the school year off right!
Talk about the upcoming school year frequently. This will help them understand that a new experience is on the horizon. Talk about how far they have come as a student and all the success that is to come. Consider a countdown calendar that they can interact with every day.
Arrange a tour of a new school or new classrooms. Expectations and familiarity are essential. By doing so, you allow your child to familiarize his or her self to a new environment. Even if it's not a new building for them, there is still value in introducing them to new classrooms, bathrooms, lunchrooms, etc.
Begin an earlier routine about 2-4 weeks before the school session. Set an earlier bedtime. Wake up at the time they need to for school. Get dressed. Eat breakfast and leave the house with a purpose. This will help your child become accustomed to waking up earlier and acclimate to a new schedule.
Meet with their teachers and principal. Establishing a good rapport is beneficial to not only your child but to you as well. Keep them apprised of their progression and challenges with ASD, including their most recent IEP. Discuss their process of handling special needs children. Communication and understanding are essential among a team, and that's what you are! It takes a tribe, and communication is the key to successful relationships.
Set up a safe place. Talk to your child’s teacher and discuss options for where your child can go if they feel overwhelmed. This would also be an excellent time to discuss seating arrangements, classroom set-up, and therapeutic sensory options.
“If they can’t learn the way we teach, we teach the way they learn.”
Surprises and changes can be stressful for them, but with prior planning, a lot of it can be managed. It’s important to keep in mind that typical learning environments are set up for typical learners. Children with autism and other behavioral issues will have some difficulty fitting into the “mold” from which most schools are based.
The good news is that schools are becoming better adept at identifying and handling children with special needs and are willing to work with parents and other professionals to create the best environment for your child. If you feel that more needs to be done, please know there are resources and help available to you and your child.
Organizations like 121 Learning Works, are instrumental and at the heart of change and progress. We work directly with you, your child and school to find strategies to ensure your child reaches their full potential. Whether your child needs one on one instruction, shadowing, or specialized training, we provide the tools to succeed. Contact us today!