Sunday, September 29, 2013

Special Alphabet & Number Line for Dyslexia

This year I changed schools from a school that focused strongly on the autism spectrum disorders to a school with a stronger focus on students with more academic learning differences. We have several students in our class this year who are showing the early signs of dyslexia. Our goal is to catch it when they're young so they can develop strong habits to make reading easier.

I have several students who struggle so strongly with reversals that they ALWAYS write in capitals for certain letters, just to avoid making a mistake by going the wrong way on the lowercase letter. 

I was inspired by one of my students a few weeks ago. He has an amazing level of intelligence and an incredibly high vocabulary. I created a system of "Left Letters" and "Right Letters" to help the kids understand which direction each letter should be written.

I made this set in both standard printing and D'Nealian so you can choose which version is best for your students depending on your school writing standards. CLICK HERE to get it from my TPT store.

In my classroom, I have the small version of the alphabet taped directly to the top of the desks of students who need it. For the number line, I have one laminated for each student and they tuck it inside their math workbooks for easy reference while they work.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

10 Tips for Dealing With a Student in Crisis

Hopefully, you've never had to deal with a student in crisis, but there might be a time when you do experience this in your classroom. 

What does it mean when a student is in crisis?  Basically, the student has reached a point where they are no longer in control of themselves and they might be throwing, hitting, kicking, biting, cursing, spitting, yelling, hair pulling, etc.  This is not a fun situation to deal with AT ALL!  I've had a difficult student this year that became physically aggressive.  Here's an example of one of the bites I received this year.

So here are some tips to help you deal with a student in crisis, but I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that you never need to use any of them!

1.  Safety is the most important concern when a student is in crisis. That means making sure all the other students, the student in crisis, and the staff members present are safe.  One of the easiest ways to keep the other students safe is to remove them from the room.  They need a designated place to go that will remove them from the student in crisis.  Maybe that place is another classroom across the hall, the library, the office, somewhere.  If you are dealing with a crisis situation frequently, I would designate a special phrase or motion that tells your students it's time to leave the room.  Practice with them when the student in crisis is not in the room.  Say the phrase or do the motion, have the students immediately stand up and line up at the door and leave the room.  Place a basket of books by the door and designate one person as the book basket person who grabs the books as they leave the room.  Then your students will have something to do that whenever they get to the designated spot.

2.  Call for help!  There should be a crisis intervention team that can help in this situation.  You do not want to deal with a student in crisis by yourself.  Maybe this person is your admin, guidance counselor, behavior interventionist, special education teacher, etc.   You don't want to have too many people intervening with the student but you do want others that you can call on for help.

3.  Decrease demands.  Now is not the time to get in a power struggle and demand work to be done.  A student in crisis is not going to complete the work.  The main focus is to deescalate the crisis.  Students can always finish missed work after the crisis is over (and they should do this).

4.  Strategically place yourself to block exits.  A lot of students in crisis will try to escape.  You don't want a student running around the school in crisis.

5.  If you are dealing with this type of behavior frequently, ask your district for some training.  Most school districts provide some type of crisis prevention training, and this is very important for your safety and the safety of the student.  

6.  Try not to overreact.  This can be soooo hard, especially if you're being spit on, bit, hit, cursed at, etc.  Try to emotionally distance yourself from the situation so that you can remain calm and professional.  It's ok to walk away and switch out with someone else.  These situations can be physically and emotionally exhausting for you.  

7.  Afterwards, debrief the situation with the people present.  Talk about what could have been done differently.  What worked and what didn't work?  Make sure all the team members are ok.  If someone has been injured, make sure they receive medical care.  You can get an infection from a bite even if skin is not broken.  Take injuries seriously!

8.  As part of debriefing, talk about what happened before, during, and after the crisis.  What behaviors does the students exhibit before the crisis begins.  Are there things you can identify as a warning signal to you?  There is typically a pattern to a crisis.  The student becomes agitated and frustrated.  If you can intervene during this stage, you may prevent the crisis from happening.

9.  Make sure to debrief with the student, also.  Talk about what happened and identify what the student could do differently when they become agitated and frustrated.  Do they need to ask for a break, take deep breaths, use a stress ball?  If the student has destroyed the room, they need to clean up their mess after they are calm and the crisis is over.

10.  Document, document, document.  Make sure you document the incident.  Try to do this as soon as you can after the crisis so that you don't forget what happened.  Think about what happened before, during, and after the crisis and document it all.  This paperwork can be very important if the student will be evaluated for special education services, a Behavior Intervention Plan is developed, or if placement needs to be evaluated.

Do you have any other tips for dealing with students in crisis?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Strategies for Managing Anxiety in Students

Hi, it's Chris again, back to talk about managing anxiety in kids.  In my last post I talked about how anxiety can affect our students.  It's important to remember that anxiety is silent too--you may not see it creep up until the child melts down and then it might seem out of the blue.  For some students, staying in a stressful situation too long an hour ago can make the mistake he or she made on his paper just now (a silly little problem) seem much bigger.  This is hard to remember as we push students to extend their boundaries and do new things.  Balance is always the most important thing to strive for. So, having begun to teach students how to identify when they feel stress, the next step is to help them figure out what to do about it.  Some of that is up to us and things we can put in place.  Some are skills we need to teach them to cope with stress.  I would say coping with stress is a huge life skill for all students; some individuals just need more help with it than others.

Disclosure: I have provided Amazon and Autism Asperger Publishing Company links below for your convenience.  I've also embedded pins from my Pinterest boards to share pictures of strategies so that if you click on them you will find the pin on my board and then it will take you to the source.

1.  Schedule

This might mean adjustments to the schedule so that he or she leaves the activity before becoming overwhelmed.  You want to be careful that you don't keep a student in an activity until he becomes anxious because the anxiety and / or the meltdown will be reinforced when he has to be removed.  So, figure out about how long he/she can manage in the activity successfully and have him scheduled to stay for slightly less than that amount of time.  Adapting the schedule might also mean starting his or her day off with a preferred activity or a calming activity to help start the day off calmly.

2.  Adapt the Work

A student may be able to participate in an activity for the full length of time if the work is adapted.  Clearly this is a balancing act of making sure that there is academic rigor balanced with the relief of anxiety.  However, this is a great proactive strategy to use while you are teaching him or her to manage the anxiety and reduce it in other ways.  Keep in mind that telling a student who is overwhelmed by the work that he only has to do part of it, may not lessen his anxiety if he still sees the whole thing.  It may be helpful to break down the task and only show part of it to the student to prevent him from becoming overwhelmed.  This post from my blog might give you some ideas for that.

3.  Acknowledge Feelings

Don't discount the feelings of anxiety.  They are very real.  Think about the times in your life when you have gotten really scared or worried about something--a big job interview, your wedding, meeting your future inlaws for the first time, or your first date with a new person.  Did people telling you not to be worried really ease your anxiety?  Most likely what helped reduce your anxiety was a friend or family member who sympathized and recognized your feelings while still staying positive about your ability to deal with them.  We live in a society where it's considered weak to show signs of anxiety so we tend to minimize it.  We also don't always know how to respond to it, so we tend to play it down to avoid it.  But anxiety is a real thing that people experience.  Some people experience it more than others and for some it becomes disabling.  Minimizing it doesn't reduce that problem.  So, acknowledge that the child is feeling anxious (e.g., "I know you are feeling overwhelmed right now.  What can I do to help you stay calm?").

This is a great book by Anne Chalfant in which she provides a lot of great information about ways to handle anxiety in individuals with autism, but it is relevant to everyone.  One of the things that she stresses that I really love is emphasizing bravery.  Talk about how a child is being brave when he or she is trying something new or doing something that increases anxiety.  Focus on the positive and choose your words in such a way that you are emphasizing confidence and presuming competence for the person.  Talk about bravery and what it means.  This is a terrific book that has been a great resource for how to adapt the environment and also how to teach skills like progressive relaxation and other stress management skills.

4.  Social Narratives (stories) or Workbooks

When My Worries Get Too Big!: A Relaxation Book for Children who Live with Anxiety Revised and Expanded Second Edition - Now With Teaching Activities! One tool that I've used very successfully in the past is a workbook designed for children called When My Worries Get Too Big!: A Relaxation Book for Children who Live with Anxiety Revised and Expanded Second Edition - Now With Teaching Activities! by Kari Dunn Buron.  This is an awesome book that takes students through a variety of ways that they can identify when their anxiety is getting too high and then helps them identify ways that they can reduce it.  The book just had a recent revision to the 2nd edition and it is expanded to include even more activities for the children to complete.  It works kind of like a Social Story in that it takes the child through a variety of ways to both identify stressful feelings and determining coping strategies.  It can be used with The Incredible 5-Point Scale I talked about in the last post.

5.  Teach Deep Breathing

Go ahead--take a deep breath.  Now take another one.  And one more.  There, doesn't that feel better? One of the most common methods for relaxing is to regulate our breathing and we often stop and do this by taking deep breaths.  This is a great skill for students to learn, but it is hard for some of them given the sensory issues and the difficulty with motor planning.  Ask some students to take deep breaths and they hyperventilate.  Here are some strategies to help them learn to be effective with deep breathing.

  • Use visuals.  This visual for Square Breathing is just a way to help children slow their breathing down and is really effective at getting them to understand better what deep breathing looks and feels like.
  • Have them stand and raise their hands when breathing in and lower hands when breathing out, much like you might do in exercise class.
  • Have them put their hand on their abdomen to feel its movement when the breath goes in and out.
  • Remember that first you have to teach the skill so the student becomes proficient at it when he or she is calm before it can be cued and used in stressful situations.

6.  Teach Progressive Muscle Relaxation or other relaxation routines.

Like deep breathing, relaxation strategies are something that have to be taught when the child is calm and then it can be cued when needed.  It is also something that can be programmed into the child's schedule to help try to maintain calm.  There are lots of great resources out there these days to teach relaxation to kids from Yoga to mindfulness to progressive relaxation.  Here are a few resources you might find interesting or useful.

This book is a great resource for teaching progressive muscle relaxation to students with ASD from the Groden Center.  It uses visual supports and walks you through the teaching process.

These are visuals for teaching progressive muscle relaxation from the Geneva Centre for Autism (click the picture to go to source).

This is a page with a set of routines for teaching relaxation through imagery including the steam engine, tea kettle, and Spiderman.

7.  Provide visual choices or reminders.

These visuals provide information and reminders to a student about what to do when he or she starts to get frustrated or stressed.  This is also from the Geneva Centre for Autism.  Both can be accessed by clicking on the picture and downloading from their site.

These are just some of the many ways that you can help students who struggle with anxiety.  What strategies have you used to address anxiety with students?  Please share in the comments.  You can also find more resources on my Pinterest boards at:

Until next time,
Autism Classroom News

Friday, September 20, 2013

Keeping Anxiety from Overflowing: Helping Children Identify Stressful Feelings

Hi it's Chris from Autism Classroom News trying to get back on a regular schedule of posting.  As the school year gets fully underway, and we all get a bit more stressed, I have written about how to manage stress for teachers.  Today I want to talk about how to handle stress of students.

Many students on the autism spectrum, and many other students with and without disabilities, often struggle with significant anxiety.  Sometimes the anxiety is specific, like being scared of the noise the fire alarm makes.  Sometimes the cause or specific fear isn't something the student can identify or name and it just feels like they are crawling out of their skin.  These feelings can show up for some kids looking like meltdowns and behavior problems.  Activities that may be fine with no problems on most days suddenly spark meltdowns and tears or aggression when the anxiety is high.  Anxiety acts as what we call a setting event for behavior problems.  It doesn't trigger the behavior, but it makes it more likely that some other event will trigger it that day.  It often explains why some students can be perfectly fine in the same situations one day and a mess the next--if their anxiety is high, they can't handle it that day. It is important to remember that anxiety builds up as well over time and little things can contribute to it until it becomes too much to handle.

If you think of anxiety like a glass of water, it might start out half-way full. As things happen (work demands, social demands, environmental / sensory demands), water (anxiety) gets added until it overflows.  When it overflows, you get a meltdown to something that often seems insignificant, kind of like when you find yourself crying over a broken dish in the kitchen at the end of a long day.

Individuals on the autism spectrum have a higher likelihood of struggling with anxiety (and depression) than the general population.  Because of their sensory issues and difficulty with communication, they also have a difficult time understanding it, interpreting it and communicating it to others.  Consequently we end up having to identify it, predict when it will happen and try to schedule their day in such a way to prevent the glass from overflowing.  This is a good start to managing the anxiety, but for the higher functioning students especially, they need to learn coping strategies for identifying and managing it on their own.  So today I wanted to talk about how you teach students to identify stressful feelings so that they can start to understand how to reduce them.  Then in my next post I'll talk about some tools and strategies you can teach them to help keep the anxiety under control.  Disclosure, I have added affiliate links from the Autism Asperger Publishing Company (APPC) for your convenience.

One of the best tools I've found for helping individuals identify their stressful feelings is The Incredible 5-Point Scale.  This is a scale developed by Kari Dunn Buron that helps individuals rate a number of things from feelings and anger to voice volume.  In the case of anxiety, a 1 would be calm and quiet and a 5 would be out of control.  I did a post on Autism Classroom News not long ago on the 5-Point Scale that provides more detailed information about it.  The picture on the left is an example of an anger scale.  One of the great things about the 5-point scale is that you can link the rating to specific strategies that the individual can do to help bring their number down.  This helps them learn to self-monitor over time and manage their own anxiety.  First though they have to be able to identify when they feel anxious, so that is where the scale begins.  Kari also uses the the Anxiety Curve to help children know when their anxiety is increased--the picture below is from her website.  I love the way the teacher's anxiety curve is depicted as rising along with the student's.

It's important to recognize that using the 5-point scale is something that has to be taught and students don't learn it just from constructing the scale and being reminded.  To help students recognize stressful feelings for what they are, you can use some of these strategies help them identify where they are on the scale or how they are feeling.

1.  Reflective Listening

Interpret stressful behavior for the student when you see that he is showing signs of becoming anxious. (e.g., "There are too many people talking and you feel tense.")  If you are using the 5-point scale, you could say, "I see your shoulders are bunching up by your ears, you look like you might be feeling like a 3."  This helps the student to identify the feelings he or she is feeling.

2.  Parallel Talking in Natural Situations

You can highlight the facial expressions and body language for the individual (their own and others).  For instance, "When Tommy tripped and fell, it hurt.  He is crying.  Sometimes people cry when they are hurt or scared."  Or for an older student, "I bet Jim is feeling pretty nervous about his presentation to the class.  Look at how he is sweating and fidgeting around!"  You could ask peers to do this as well about their feelings to model for the student.

3.  Model feelings and emotions

You can highlight how you feel by exaggerating your facial expressions and talking about your feelings, anxieties or frustrations.  I used to work with a student who would panic and meltdown if he made a mistake.  He would erase through the paper, end up tearing up his paper and if he made more mistakes or the paper tore, he would start throwing thing.  For him, we modeled when we made a mistake (e.g., "Oops! I messed up.  I am so frustrated; I forgot my lunch!" or "Oh no, I spelled this word wrong again on my paper! I will try to stay calm and erase it and try again.")  Peers could also do this to help a student see when they are stressed.

These are all strategies that are designed to help make recognizing stress more apparent to students who may not pick up on subtle cues.  We all have a tendency to minimize our feelings of stress in our society to look cool or strong to others.  However, if we want our kids to recognize and manage stress appropriately, they need to see that it's not just them who experience it.  You can find examples of the 5-point scale on my Pinterest Autism Behavior Support board where I add new examples I find over time.

And below are some books on the 5-Point Scale and how to use it for different ages with lots of examples.

Social Behavior and Self-Management: 5-Point Scales for Adolescents and Adults The Incredible 5-Point Scale: The Significantly Improved and Expanded Second Edition; Assisting students in understanding social interactions and controlling their emotional responses A 5 Could Make Me Lose Control! An activity-based method for evaluating and supporting highly anxious students A 5 Is Against the Law! Social Boundaries – Straight Up! An honest guide for teens and young adults Autism Society of America Outstanding Literary Year (2008)

In my next post, I'll talk about tools for helping students to reduce their anxiety.  How do you handle anxiety with your students?

Until next time,
Autism Classroom News

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

FREE Alternative to Boardmaker!

Hey Special Sparkle readers!! Oh how I've missed you guys in all the craziness of back to school time!

I'm at a new school this year, which means a whole set of fabulous coworkers with lots of tips and knowledge to share! Last week I was telling one of them about the apps the PECS company is ever so nicely letting me sample and share the details with you (that's coming soon). As we were chatting she talked about how much she wished we had Boardmaker at our school, but we don't. Then she gave me a FREE option instead!
Picto Selector is a European version of a similar program that you can download for free directly to your computer! Then you can use it even if you aren't connected to the internet. You can also choose to set it up to have it on a cloud so you can access it anywhere. It has so many wonderful images to use for making things for your children/students. I'm fairly certain it's copyrighted, so you most likely can't use it to sell teacher products, but it's great for classroom use! Since it's from Europe, some of the images don't match ours, such as money, but there are thousands of images you can use!

Here are some screen shots I took as I was testing it out for you guys.

This is just a tiny sample of the images available!
You can keyword sort like I did for "listening"

 Here are the images in use to make a storyboard. It has far more tools than this, but this is just a quick sample of how I got started.

Do you have Boardmaker at your school? If not, what do you use instead?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Using Balls and Balloons for Lessons and Practice

Using balls and balloons can be a wonderful way to teach your students new concepts or to help them review lessons.  What's more, kinesthetic and tactile learners will be accommodated and engaged, and it brings the fun factor into your classroom!  I often purchase bags of balloons, foam balls and beach balls at the dollar store, and with the use of colorful permanent markers I can transform them into hands on learning tools for decoding skills, writing, math, grammar and more.  As an assignment, you can even pass out balloons and permanent markers and ask your students to invent their own games to help them learn.

Here are a few ideas:
  • Place the parts of speech on a ball or balloon. When the student catches it, they have to give a word that illustrates that part of speech.  
  • Write difficult multiplication facts on the ball or balloon and pass it back and forth to practice the times tables.
  • Record numbers and the touch math symbols on a ball or balloon and practice adding, subtracting or skip counting.
  • Place letters, digraphs or diphthongs on a ball or balloon and practice the sounds or have your students think of a word that begins or ends with that sound.
  • Place main ideas on a ball or balloon and have your students come up with the details.
If you would like to purchase ready made balls on Amazon, click on the images below.  

If you use balls or balloons for other lessons, please share your ideas.

Monday, September 16, 2013

What Good Readers Do ~ Making Predictions {Freebie}

Before I was a reading specialist, I spent 14 years teaching third and fourth graders.  I love teaching that age because they are really ready to learn and seem to soak it all in!  But, I know that many students struggle with reading comprehension.  Many times it is not an easy fix, but I spend all year with at least one strategy to help my students.  And I still use it with my intervention groups.

Since I work with students in grades K-4 this year, I thought this would be great for my second and third grade students who really struggle with comprehension.  I used it with them with great success.  What is it?  Prediction!  I just teach the students to Stop, Think, Predict, which is a type of Directed Listening Thinking Activity (DLTA) or a Directed Reading Thinking Activity (DRTA)!  Here is how it works.

I chose a fun book to read that I hoped no one had read before.  The first book I read was a super easy and silly book Bark, George(Amazon affiliate link will take you to the books in this post.)
In the book, George does everything but bark for his mother until she takes them to the vet.  The book is perfect for predicting because the students have to think about what might happen next.  It is quick and easy, but the kids loved it!

After talking about the book and how we used predicting, I showed them another book Soccer Mom from Outer Space. In the book, Lena's father tells her about how his mother dressed like a pickle to cheer on his team, the Atomic Pickles.  He told her that he was embarrassed, so she went to a game without her costume.  What happened next, I will let you find out!
We spent some time just looking at the cover and predicting together, all along talking about how the kids feel when playing sports.  Then I handed out a chart with four boxes for the students to stop at certain points to make predictions while I read the book.  I asked them to stop and make a prediction about what might happen next, not at the end of the book.  Here is an example.  {Ignore the misspellings from my wonderful struggling reader and speller.}
I loved hearing some of the predictions they made.  Some of them were really close too!  So fun!

I thought this would also be great for a literacy center.  I made some bookmarks that can be placed throughout a book for students to read and then write their predictions on the predictions chart.  I actually handed the bookmarks out to my students to use while they read to help them remember to Stop, Think, Predict! Click {here} or on the picture below to grab it for free!

I love using various read-alouds and then releasing it to the students through guided reading and then into independent reading, especially with struggling readers.  This helps to scaffold their learning, leading to independence in reading and predicting.

So, what do you do to help students with predicting while they read?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Keeping Parents in the Loop

One of the things I love the most about my new school is the open line of communication! In our classroom we are constantly in contact with parents. I feel like this is especially important in special education classes where students have extreme highs and lows in the classroom! No two days are the same and the kids aren't the best at expressing why they are having an "off" day. Here are a few of the ways we keep in touch with parents in our co-teaching classroom. Keep in mind we have 11 main students with 2 teachers, along with a couple others we work with during small groups. We divide the work between the two of us.

Day to Day Updates
A couple of our kids have more than the usual highs and lows. We send those parents updates about what went well and what triggers/reactions we saw during the day. We find this especially important when students are in the process of changing medications. It takes some time as well as some experimenting to get the dosage just right. Our open line of communication with parents and doctors is crucial in these situations. We also have a few students with extreme anxiety and it really helps when the parents let us know what situations are causing them to become anxious in the classroom.

We also make a point of sending home an email if a student makes a bad choice and lands on "red" which is the worst color on our behavior chart. The students know it's a consequence and the parents are aware of behavioral challenges. This often results in a chat with parents about how to make things better. We never complain about a kid being bad, it is always in conjunction with a plan of how to improve the behavior! It's important that parents, especially in special education where they here how "bad" their child is doing! Always give them hope and encouragement that this is just a bump in the road!

Student Updates
Once a month we send an update to each family about how their child is doing. This information includes a friendly story about something that happened with their child in class, progress monitoring successes, information about their math & reading improvement, and social skills improvements if applicable. This takes time, but ensures parents we are focusing on their specific children. We send every parent the same general format to make sure we are remembering to include everything for each child.

Classroom Updates
The first week of the month we send out a mass email to all of the parents. We include the details of all the things we have been doing and what we will be starting. This month we told them all about our insect unit, the Magic Tree House book we will be starting, how we've kicked off our Step-Up to Writing routine, and what we are focusing on during social skills instruction. This is wonderful way for parents to stay informed with our classroom and also reduces the emails to us asking about what or why we are doing something.

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