Thursday, January 28, 2010

Educational Strategies: Accommodations vs Modifications

Socialization and Independence. Those are the two main goals that are emphasized by the trainers for START, the grant funded, training series on educating youth with ASD that I'm attending.

During a training session I learned about two concepts that can be used to help students assimilate into a classroom--especially a general education one rather than a self contained special education room.

The two concepts are Accommodations and Modifications. It might seem that the two terms are interchangeable, but they are not. They are two distinct approaches to educating students with special needs.

According to the manual I received, accommodations "are the supports and services that help students validly demonstrate student learning." Modifications "are individualized changes made to the content and performance expectations for students."

So accommodating a students means doing something like giving a student a P-touch or a y-shaped pen to help with handwriting (as discussed in this post). It might be giving a student more time to complete a test or giving a student sound blocking headphones for times when classrooms get noisy or when fire drill/tornado drills are expected.

There are quite a few different ways to accommodate a student with ASD. Here is a short list of possible accomodations:

Adapting the way instruction is delivered (by pre-teaching and re-teaching, for example),

Increasing the level of support for the student with ASD (via class tutors, peer to peer support or by placing the student in groups of students who can appropriately interpret the curriculum expectations,

Giving preferential seating,

Addressing sensory system needs,

Organizing the desk/are where the student words,

Providing visual strategies such as visual schedules.

Modification basically means making the work more doable for the student with special needs with the intent that she or he does not become overwhelmed. For example, if a student can complete a multiple choice test, but has difficulty with too many choices, the number of choices can be reduced by blacking out two or three answers on the test for the child with ASD. Or with general classroom work, it might mean having the student complete selected sections of an assignment as opposed to having them complete all the work.

Note: I hope that I explained everything clearly enough, but if you are confused, it is likely you are not alone. We trainees spent a great deal of time learning about these two concepts during our two-day training session. This included completing some exercises so that we could better differentiate between accommodations and modifications. Feel free to ask a question via the comment section and I'll do my best to answer it by consulting my manual or by asking someone else.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Educational Strategies: Addressing Handwriting Problems

I'm not sure how many people know this but some individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have difficulty with handwriting. Fine motor skills in general can be a problem. As you will see in this article, titled Kids with Autism Need Handwriting Help, Hans Asperger noticed that this was an issue with some of his patients back in the 1940s.

This is so true with my son. He's always had problems with handwriting and has had occupational therapy (through the school system) to address problems with both fine and gross motor skills for years now. I can only imagine the frustration he goes through as he has tried to do school work with pen and paper all day.

Only now, through the START program, have (and my team) figured out that his refusal to do school work might be associated with the difficulty he has with handwriting. The two pictures seen above show two possible ways to address handwriting difficulty (besides Occupational therapy--but speaking of that... here is a list of hand strengthening activities).

The first is the P-Touch, a label maker, and the second is a y-shaped pen (that my son hasn't tried yet) which supports the hand better. Both of these can be purchased at an office supply store such as Staples or Office Max for around $30 U.S. With the P-touch, one can type in answers in response to a question on a worksheet, hit print, peel off the back to uncover the adhesive and then apply the sticker to the sheet.

All the teams participating in START received a P-touch after turning in an Action Plan at the end of the two day Module on Educational Strategies. (An action plan is a document consisting of proactive strategies designed to help the student. We have to complete one for every module.)My son's teacher took the P-touch into school.

To be honest, the initial success with the device was modest. His teacher, the wonderful Mrs. S., reported that C1 loved the device and that did use it to complete some work. However, she also said he was still refusing to do work in small group settings and was using the P-touch to type in "no," as in he wasn't going to cooperate!

So the P-touch isn't going to be 100 percent of our solution, although it certainly does help, especially now that my son know understands what he should and should not do in terms of using the device. I'd highly recommend that any team who has a child with autism who struggles with handwriting or compliance to do work, to at least try this device or one similar to it.

Note: My son is doing better with compliance to do work. As of now, he is doing great in the special education room, but has suddenly decided he isn't going to work in his regular fourth grade classroom (which hasn't been a problem before). So compliance still remains to be a problem that must be addressed. This is an issue that cannot be solved over night, but with patience and the persist ant use of the correct educational struggles, I believe this issue can be overcome.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Review: I don't Want to Go to School

Yesterday was the last day of winter break. Our two boys had some gift certificates to spend at a local book store. When my husband and I saw I Don't Want to Go to School written and illustrated by Stephanie Blake, we had to get it.

I didn't read the book first and now regret buying it because it's really too young for us. The hero, Simon, seems to be a kindergartner who is afraid to go to school. The guy we were thinking of is eleven and in the fourth grade.

Also, unlike the hero, my guy has autism and his problems with school go way beyond anxiety. (He just doesn't like it, and we're still trying to figure out why.) Anyway, by the end of the story, Simon decides he likes school so much he doesn't want to leave. That is great, but it makes me wish that was the case with my child. He always wants to come home!!!

Don't get me wrong. The book is cute. My six year old liked it a lot when I read it to him, though it seemed a bit young even for him, let alone my eleven year old. I also noticed something a bit off about the book. It's a picky point, but Blake depicts Simon writing his name in cursive on one of the pages. This is something a second or third grader might do, but certainly not a kindergartner on his first day at school! Further, there are signs all over the kindergarten room on one page in the book. All the signs written in cursive. I've been in many a kindergarten room and usually all the signs are printed.

So, that is another thing my son does not have in common with Simon. He might not ever write in cursive. It's hard enough for him to print his name. C1's team at school and I think his problems with school might have to do with writing. My team and I learned about how to solve writing related problems at START. Hopefully, I'll blog about the topic of hand writing soon.

As far as this book goes, it seems most appropriate for young children who are just about to enter primary school (though I like Wemberly Worried, a similar book, by Kevin Henkes a bit better). Blake's pictures are bright and cheerful and the story depicts Simon having a lot of fun at school, but as a mom of older children I wish I had passed on this one for something more age appropriate.