Tuesday, December 15, 2009

START: Viewing Students with ASD Positively

The thing I love about the intensive START training (that I'm in the midst of right now) is that the program is designed to get participants to think positively about students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). I found it to be a good sign when I saw that Paula Kluth's book You're Going to Love this Kid was on their reading list. (START is run out of Grand Valley State University. The trainers pointed out that all their readings were carefully selected.)

I haven't read this particular book, but I love the title and hope to read it someday. I have, however, read another book by Kluth and really appreciated it. The trainers at START mentioned that one too. The title is Just Give Him the Whale, which I blogged about (see post here) previously. That book is about working with the student's special interest in order to encourage productivity in the classroom setting.

I was grateful for the attitude of the START trainers and the fact that they included these readings along with general information about autism and Asperger Syndrome. I'll admit that working with people (as a parent I'm thinking about my own child) on the spectrum can be baffling and overwhelming at times. There are often little and big problems that come up during the school years.

Part of the stress comes from the fact that even verbal students with ASD have a hard time communicating about what it is that is bothering them. This can make solving a behavior-related problem very difficult. Even though my own son with autism/PDDNOS is conversational, it sometimes takes awhile to get to the root of an issue.

Sometimes problems are really easy to solve once understood. In one case (that I learned about during training) a nonverbal girl refused to go out to recess because her visual field had been changed. Her mother figured out the problem immediately when she saw that the mats in front of the door leading to the playground had been thrown out of alignment. Once the mats were aligned (a visual field issue), the child went outside for recess without any difficulties.

Despite the difficulties, however, students with ASD are worth getting to know as people. Many of them do have the ability to make their educators and therapists smile by sharing their unique view of the world. Sometimes the students (and not just the children with Asperger Syndrome) have talents than can astound people. My own son is a navigational expert. I've been known to miss exits on long distance trips. Usually my guy figures out my mistake before I do as he notices immediately when I've messed up. (I try to reminder things like that when facing confounding situations with my son.)

So I think START is right on track when they tell educators and therapist to use those special interests and to take time to get know the student with ASD. A positive attitude when working with children with ASD is essential to being an effective educator, administrator, therapist or parent.

As a parent, I'll admit it's not always easy to work with a child when he or she engages in meltdowns or inappropriate behaviors. We (participants) were told not to take meltdowns/behaviors personally and to make sure we don't allow our own frustration to add to the difficulty of the situation. I realize it is sometimes difficult to do that, but once a child is understood (and appreciated), it makes the extra effort all the more worthwhile when a problem is solved.

Note: Posts about my own 'focus child', educational strategies, and problem solving are coming up soon.


Accidental Expert said...

Sounds like a wonderful program. I'd love to learn more about it. My son's school could definitely use something like this.

Cassavaugh Family said...

Ah so true Julie! I like the advice to "get into the autism" to really figure out the real issue which stretches our thinking greatly! I also have to remind myself that the autism will always win. ;)