Get Ready for Summer Camp!

autism resources, social skills autism

Like it or not summer is right around the corner… and the age old question is lurking in the back of your mind: “What are we going to do this summer?” Kids are off school, therapy schedules may have relaxed… allowing you some extra time to plan something special for your child. What about summer camp?

At the thought of summer camp, my heart rate picks up a tick and my blood pressure rises… How could my child possibly exist with our my expert parental care? Breathe… Once logical thought resumes… I realize this might a wonderful opportunity for my child, who is now 9 years to try out summer camp. I, personally, have fond memories of camp as a child…but what about kids with special needs – are there camps (near me & don’t cost a millions $$$) that successfully manage children with behavior and emotional challenges such as autism or Aspergers?

The American Camp Association (www.acacamps.org/) suggests you consider many things when choosing a summer camp for your child, including:

  1. Location
  2. Cost
  3. Accreditation – such as by ACA “American Camp Association”
  4. Activities
  5. Length of Time – Day Camp, Overnight
  6. Size
  7. Extra Accommodations – training of staff, etc.

Talking to other parents, and the internet are great places to start when looking for a camp for your child. Once you narrow down your options, plan a visit and talk to other experienced campers and their families. This will give some more good data to make and informed decision.

I found a camp that allowed first time campers do different versions of a week long typical camp. They offered a Mini Camp, for a shorter period of time, or a You and Me Camp, where parents could spend the weekend with their camper and then phase out their departure.

As to funding, Autism Speaks offers many autism resource where you can find grants to support your child’s time at camp: https://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/grants.

Once you have weighed all your options and finally make decision. You will then begin the process of preparing your child for camp. Along with a visit to camp this is opportunity to talk about what he/she will need to pack, what activities they will be doing, and how to best interact with counselor and other campers

Camp is a wonderful time to work on social skills because the campers are together for such concentrated time together. Hopefully with the right preparation and supports from camp staff you child will get some good practice and success to build their social confidence!

Watching some videos/movies about camp can help too:

Berestain Bears – Go To Camp

Camp Fred the Movie (silly take on camp for older kids)

Howcast (this one has some good info and other you might want to fast forward over)

http://www.howcast.com/videos/190581-How-to-Survive-Summer-Camp

How do I handle my emotions in school?

teaching children with autismWhether it is during transition times, a conflict with a teacher or peer or just general disappointments that come with each school day, students’ social and emotional education needs to be addressed to create a healthier school climate and greater academic achievement.

Many classrooms are affected by the following situation:

  • If a student cannot manage emotions properly, it is difficult for him or her to focus on learning.
  • If a student does not empathize with others, he or she may act out in unhealthy and potentially harmful ways.
  • If a student is unable to follow rules, he or she may detract from the healthy functioning of a classroom and/or school environment.
  • If a student is unable to solve problems cooperatively, he or she may create conflict in the classroom, playground, or anywhere students congregate.
  • If a student is unable to work well with others, this can create disharmony and undermine the collective learning environment.
  • If a student is unable to act responsibly or respectfully, he or she may not build the healthy relationships necessary for school — and life — success.

    Social skills, just like academic skills, often must be taught explicitly–especially to children who struggle with them. Here are some ideas.

    Problem Solving and Discussion

    You can use typical problem-solving steps to help children with become more socially competent. The following is one sequence, but the steps may be ordered differently depending on the circumstances.

    teaching children with autism1. Get to the root of the problem. Watch kids in a variety of social situations (classrooms, team practices, club meetings, free play, birthday parties, family events or interactions with adults and peers) using Social Skill Builder software series and other video supports.

    2. As you observe, be sure to notice their social strengths as well as weaknesses. Even if you notice something positive only once, remember to mention it to them.

3. Begin a conversation with them. A good way to start talking is to say, “Let’s see if we can figure out (why that happened, why he said that, why you got so angry).” As you talk to them, try hard not to respond judgmentally or angrily. Ask questions that show you value their perception of the problem. Listen to them and make sure you understand their side of things and acknowledge painful, angry or sad feelings.

4. Decide together on one alternative way to handle a similar situation in the future.

5. Invite them to practice the alternative behavior with you. If they’re receptive, try role- playing. While this can’t equal the emotional intensity of a real encounter, it does allow them to practice thoughtful responses to difficult real-life situations.

6. After they have a chance to discuss the alternative behavior in a real situation with peers, discuss what happened. Did the situation end better this time If not, what else could they try?

Teach With Signals

Once you’ve discussed what social situations are challenging for them, try designing a simple signal to use (in situations where you’re around) to let them know that a behavior should stop or change. For example, if you’re working on understanding when to stop talking about a subject because the listener is showing disinterest, quietly get their attention and touch your nose with your index finger or cross your arms. When they stop talking on their own, give them a thumbs-up.

Watching your student develop better social skills and relationships and the rewards that come with them can be one of the most gratifying experiences of a teacher. When kids have dysfunction in this area, it can make your job as a teacher and management of the classroom more challenging. But since social skills affect nearly every aspect of life, the time and effort you spend to help your student is a gift that will last a lifetime.

How does Executive Functioning Play a Role During Social Interaction?

Organization-for-SchoolExecutive functioning might be a new word to many of us focusing on social interaction with a child with special needs. However, the understanding of this word could mean the difference between successful social moments and the utter dread of interactions in the future for many students.

Executive functioning includes the abilities to focus attention,organize, plan, mediate emotion, use working memory, manage time, resist distraction, and monitor actions. Its name really says it all, it is what an “executive” of any successful business does. When a child has executive “dysfunction”, everyday tasks like sharing, taking turns, picking up on subtle social cues and staying attentive in class can be very difficult. And when children and teens falter in these basic social interactions, it can hurt them socially–isolating them from peers and making it difficult for them to make and keep friends.

To better understand how various executive functions play out in a child’s daily life, below are examples from Thomas Brown Ph.D., assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and associate director of the Yale Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders, of common childhood tasks and situations. The tables below list some of the executive functions required in specific situations* – and what difficulties result when the necessary executive functions are dysfunctional.

Executive function used Signs of executive dysfunction
Self-regulation She has a hard time waiting her turn and working cooperatively.
Managing frustration When frustrated with her peers, she may act out before trying to understand and manage the perceived conflict internally and/or through calm communication.
Playing a game with a group of her peers

 

Executive function used Signs of executive dysfunction
Organizing She can’t determine the steps for the project (or their sequence). She has trouble collecting resources and often misplaces what she does find. She struggles to put the pieces of the project together in an orderly or logical way.
Managing time She doesn’t set realistic task milestones to work through the project from start to finish.
Self-regulation She fails to monitor her progress.
Long-term projects

 

Executive function used Signs of executive dysfunction
Shifting attention She can’t “let go” of a task to attend to another project when instructed to. She gets “stuck” on a task or favorite pastime and can’t move her focus elsewhere when required.
Managing frustration She becomes angry or frustrated when she feels forced to switch gears.
Shifting between tasks

Other daily actions of children and teens whose executive skills are underdeveloped:

  • More likely than their peers to behave in socially unacceptable ways (like saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, running into things and people, talking rapidly and excessively or continuing to roughhouse after peers have stopped).
  • Less able to solve interpersonal problems.
  • Less likely to consider the consequences of their behavior.
  • Less likely to understand nonverbal communication, such as facial expression and tone of voice, or to interpret what others say.
  • Less adaptable to new social situations.
  • Less able to tolerate frustration and failure.

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If these examples look and sound familiar, consider Social Skill Builder’s video modeling software & apps. These learning tools were designed with these important skills in mind and incorporates them into every stage of learning. From Preschool to Middle/High mycommunitySchool, executive functions are targeted to help children and teens refine these critical skills and implement them in the real-life video situations they are presented.

Getting Organized! Social Skill Videos Always Accessible

clock

“Organization isn’t about perfection; it’s about efficiency, reducing stress and clutter, saving time and money and improving your overall quality of life.” –Christina Scalise

It seems every January I focus on getting organized. Whether it is cleaning out closets or managing my workspace I am always trying to simplify; which usually results in several trash bags being hauled out to the curb.

One area that I would like to organize is my videos. I use video modeling in my practice to target social skills but am hopeless about my video organization methods. I will download video in a million different places and I am always wasting time searching. This year I resolve to create one central video library. But where?

There are several choices

Folder on your computer: This is the most accessible way to reach your videos, but it can take up a lot of space. Also, when you computer dies (which it will) you are then stuck making sure that you preserve that video file… Especially difficult if your computer is on the fritz!

External Hard Drive: I used to think this was the best solution, that was until my hard drive crashed to the floor and started making a really weird noise. All the data was unrecoverable (or recoverable at a cost that I wasn’t willing to pay). Anything physical can break… and probably will! 🙁

Zip Drive: Same concept of as external hard drive. Great until they go through the washing machine been there – done that… no longer working!

External Internet Server:There are several places, iCloud, youtube.com, Vimeo, Dropbox, etc where you can store data and video files on an internet based server. Some of these have file size limitations, unless you pay some sort of fee. Which can get expensive. Of the ones I have tried, I like Vimeo the most, because although it has a daily limitation to how much you can upload…you can host a lot of videos on their site at no charge. You can also download your video from their site the quality can sometimes be compromised…but it allows you to access it whenever from wherever you like. Thy also have an app, where I can get my videos on my iPad. The downside is that these site could some day go away…for example FlipShare with Flip Cameras went out of business and they took their storage server with them… not a good day!? 🙁

server

One the best things about the Social Skill Builder software and apps is that all the videos live in the software. You don’t have worry about saving it or accessing it. It is incorporated within the program…so it is very easy to use.

cdfolder

I recently bought a new computer without an internal CD drive. Although I have since purchased one (can’t live without it), I could easily of taken my Social Skill Builder CD and put it on a zip drive or another method stated above to use on my computer directly. It really is very versatile.

So even though I know I won’t master all my organizational goals, I know at least with my Social Skill Builder software I am covered!

Summer Play Date Success!

Summer.. oh where does the time go? All year we look forward to all the time we are going to have off and before you know it – summer is ½ or ¾ over! Well it is not over yet.. so you still have time to work on your child’s social skills. Yes… that means planning a play date. Depending on your kid’s age this might now mean, “hanging out with a friend.”

Most kids on the Autism Spectrum are not begging their parents to have friends over like some of their nuero typical peers. Not because they don’t want to have friends, it is just that it is sometimes SO HARD! All that non-structured playtime can be really challenging for our kids. So this summer.. help your kids out.. by providing a little structure. Give clear options (pre determined by you and your child on acceptable choices) on what to do during the play date.

 

Depending on the age of your child and friend you can work on specific social scenarios by using the Social Skill Builder My Community or Preschool Playtime software. Have them go through all the questions on the “Going to the Movies” section of My Community – then actually take that friend to the movie. It will allow you child to not only prepare and practice skills before he goes into a certain environment, but also the take those skills learned into the natural environment with a peer who has had the same training.

For preschoolers, you may want them to view and answer questions about the park scenarios in the Preschool Playtime software. You can then go to the actual park and try out these skills in real life. It is a wonderful way to carry over and generalize skills learned!

 

Make it fun! Laugh at the silly situations that might happen during their preparation time. You can even act those out and discuss what went wrong. By doing this you are preparing your child to become more of an expert for each situation he may encounter!

Good Luck!!

Transition from Elementary to Middle School for Students on the Autism Spectrum-Use the Summer to Get Them Ready!

shutterstock_15812086-300x200Remember the saying the only thing that stays constant in life is change? Sometimes change can be new and exciting, however, when it comes to changing from elementary to middle school, parents with children on the autism spectrum feel anything but excited.

Being aware of the different domains where changes occur is the first step. Let’s look at some of these areas of concern.

Environment. The school environment is going to change. In most cases, the child will leave the safety, security, and familiarity of elementary school and experience a new building, perhaps in a new part of town, and everything new within it. Our students will face more movement from class to class, hallways that are less controlled, more sensory input, and in many cases, significantly more students.

Academics and Content. Academic expectations shift in middle school. More abstract concepts are being introduced; workloads mushroom and time pressures increase. Homework and class interaction become a serious part of the student’s grade. Accommodations and modifications will be necessary and yet, will be more difficult to put into place.

People. Adult contact expands. Unlike elementary school where a student had one teacher; instead there may be four or five teachers and other new adults making up the school day. For some of these teachers, your child may be their first experience with a student on the spectrum. Others may not be as accepting as we might wish. Add to this the pressures that teachers are under in today’s educational setting to get large groups of kids to perform up to standards while managing ever increasing amounts of paperwork, and we have some real-life challenges that can seriously interfere with teaching and learning.

Rules. In elementary school our student spent most of the day in one classroom and lived by that teacher’s set of rules. In middle school our student will have to learn to accommodate the rules of four to five educators. To make matters even more difficult, social rules become more nebulous and shift much more quickly in middle school. Teachers hold higher expectations that a student will exhibit sound social thinking, and situation-appropriate social skills. Middle school can be a daily minefield for many of our socially-challenged spectrum students.

Peers. Those supportive and understanding peers from elementary school may still be helpful, but they are experiencing major changes in their own development. Puberty has raised its confusing head. Social expectations of the unwritten kind change almost daily, keeping peers very busy and self-involved as they try to figure out their path through this stage of development. We may start to see some distancing from our student with ASD.

Schedules. Gone are the days of the predictable schedule that fits neatly on a visual chart. Our students will need to adjust to A weeks, B weeks, longer periods, different lunch schedules and an even busier and more socially demanding cafeteria. Specials will be on alternating weeks or even on alternating days. Shortened school days will run on yet another schedule with different lunch periods.

DSC_1146-1-e1403631968379-198x300The key to all these changes is plan ahead and practice. Summer is a great time to focus on this and allows the student the time to process the changes. Using technology, such as Social Skill Builder CD’s School Rules! & My Community this summer can boost confidence come the fall!

http://www.socialskillbuilder.com/software-cds/middle-high-school/

 

 

 

Environment. Learn what the environment is going to look like long before our student arrives at the new school, and then acclimate the student to it. This includes locations of classes, support and recreation areas. Identify and introduce staff, especially those who can provide support if needed. Take pictures and video to help the student play and re-play how to get to their classes and locker. Use a keen eye to discern parts of the environment that might be potential trouble spots, and plan extra supports. If middle school is in a new part of town or a separate building arrange one or more practice runs on the bus because that route and timetable will probably be different.

Academics and Content. Ramped-up academic demands mean students are expected to work harder and smarter. Some of our kids will get swallowed up quickly and fall seriously behind. This transition merits that educators and parents ask some serious questions. How large is the learning gap? If the content gap between the child with ASD and typical classmates is more than two to three years, any teacher is going to have a hard time modifying content effectively. Are all the academic classes beneficial for this student, or should more emphasis be given to teaching life skills that will be needed after high school? Can tests be adjusted so the student can be successful and get a legitimate grade? If the student requires para support, is the para properly trained in ASD? Does the para understand how to do simple and approved accommodations and modifications? If the student still requires 1:1 support for tests, homework, and discussion, what advance planning needs to happen for this to occur? How much and what type of contact is needed between the regular ed and spec ed teachers to accommodate the student’s learning needs? This can be difficult sometimes, but a communication network is the mark of a good team.

People. It’s a fact of life that our students will need to learn to effectively interface with many more people starting in middle school, and continuing into high school and beyond. Plan ahead to help the student be successful. Arrange for the student to meet the teachers before the first day of school. Ensure that teachers have been given information about the child’s strengths and challenges, learning style, and what strategies work well with the student. This is an administrative responsibility. Teachers cannot be expected to learn on the run. It is unfair to them and the student, and starts the year out on a bad note. In every school where we have had the opportunity to do this ahead of time we have seen better results for our students, higher interest from teachers, and better communication.

Make sure there are at least four to five adults willing to be “safe” stations for our students when problems occur.

Rules. This is an extremely challenging part of the middle school transition for many of our students. Ease them into it slowly. Use Social Skill Builder curriculum, especially School Rules! to talk about different teacher’s rules and expectations is very helpful. Some of these skills take months or years to learn, and a social skills session once a week is not going to be enough. Impress on those who work with the student that the entire day is a series of social learning opportunities. Passing in the hallway, using the locker room, waiting for class to start, hanging out between classes… these are all opportunities for teaching social thinking and social acting skills. Set weekly targets for learning social skills with the You Are a Social Detective CD. With our students, direct teaching is a must; these skills won’t happen by osmosis alone.

Peers. In middle school, it is a great time to join the band, chorus or drama. In addition to the studies that show that kids who participate in a music/drama program do better academically, children on the spectrum often get a chance to participate in a structured group activity, generalize social skills they may have learned and create friendships/acquaintances based on a shared interest.

Sometimes it is not just developing close friendships but, learning how to work well within a large or small group, valuable life skills.

Also, think outside of school. Chess Club? Science Club? Ski Club? FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes)? Video Game Club? Art club Why is this important ? At the end of the day, kids need a place where they can do something fun, that they enjoy. It also gives them an opportunity to create friendships and relationships based on a shared interest.

For example, if your student has trouble initiating a conversation, but put him in video club perhaps, and he can talk about video games, animae and YouTube videos until the sun comes down. The most important thing about after school activities, in my opinion, though, is that the student gets to do something fun at school, creating a positive experience at school where he has the opportunity to naturally interact with peers.

Schedules. Schedules build independence. If the student is not already used to carrying and using a schedule or planning book, start immediately! Set up a specific time each day to review the schedule and add items to it. Make sure the format is age appropriate as the student moves to middle school. For instance, if the student still requires full visuals and icons try moving them into a foldable binder that is more appropriate. Choose a binder that looks like a day planner instead of a “therapy” item. Capitalize on teen technology! Consider teaching the student to use an electronic device to hold a schedule, or use scheduling apps or reminders via an iPad or iPhone. Reduce “check your schedule” language. As long as you are willing to keep reminding her, there is no need for the student to take responsibility. A great trick is to play “dumb.” When the student shows confusion just point to the schedule or hand it to him without saying anything. Put a problem solving routine in place: First I look at my schedule. If I’m still confused I ask a peer. If that doesn’t work I can then ask an adult.

The idea of moving up to middle-school can be scary for some kids and parents. But it’s important that children understand that middle-school offers many benefits and opportunities. Be sure to check in regularly as this transition will be an ongoing process throughout the years ahead.

Summer Fun – Activities for Children with ASD

Summer is just around the corner and its time to start thinking about what activities you can plan to keep your child engaged and interested during the Summer months.

Taking advantage of the weather can provide an excellent opportunity to explore together. Go on a nature walk and collect the things that appeal to you and your surroundings. Talking about what you find, enjoying the quiet spaces, and a picnic lunch can have a great effect on your child. Reading outside, perhaps books about nature, in a quiet space can also be very calming.

Summer will bring time for free play and sports, and an opportunity for children to keep practicing their interactions with other kids in on the playground and in team games. Our Social Skill Builder My School Day App can help reinforce appropriate behaviors on the fields and in playground games. You can pause the video on teachable moments, capture it on you iPhone or iPad, and reinforce the lessons later.

For children on the autism spectrum, the opportunity to explore color, shape, and sensory experiences can stimulate attention and foster calm. Collecting and organizing materials for a craft project can make the entire experience a teachable moment. The Academic Skills portion of the My School Day App can also be used to help accomplish this task, reinforcing skills your child will need once the school year resumes.

Reading to your child is also an essential tool for broadening their vocabulary. During the quiet evening hours, visit the library and involve your child in story time, which teaches them the words they need to communicate effectively.

On days when the weather is not as cooperative, AMC Entertainment offers special movie screenings for families with autistic children. The lights remain on, the volume is child-friendly, and your child can get up, move around and talk without upsetting other movie goers.

This is also a great opportunity for families to meet and siblings of children with Autism to get to know other children as well. Our Social Skills software can help reinforce basic manners and peer interactions in these social situations.

Development of Social Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

By Jennifer Jacobs, M.S., CCC-SLP

For many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), succeeding academically at school is an achievement they work long and hard for. Sometimes, however, this intent focus on academic competence can lead parents and educators to overlook critical social skill development. This is most apparent on the playground and other places at school where large amounts of unstructured time leave children with ASD to sink or swim in a complex social environment.

Over the last twenty years, much research has indicated that social impairment is a common feature of ASD, and a common misperception is that these children lack interest in relating to others. Kids with ASD do not choose to alienate themselves – they are simply missing skills that are essential for developing meaningful peer relationships. You may have noticed some of these common social deficits:

  • Opening and closing a conversation
  • Initiating peer interaction and joining play
  • Decoding facial expressions and body language
  • Observing and mimicking appropriate social behavior in specific situations
  • Predicting and understanding the emotions and reactions of others

If you stop and think about it, these are not easy concepts, and in fact, most children succeed socially at recess or in the locker room because they’ve acquired these skills automatically through repeated exposure to real-life scenarios. Children with ASD, however, don’t have that ability. In fact, it is notoriously difficult for these children to acquire social skills that come to many of us naturally. In order to master social skills, children with ASD must be taught them explicitly, and have the opportunity to practice them again and again and again. This last point is a key one, because many children with ASD don’t master social skills simply because the adults in their lives arbitrarily decide that a certain number of trials should be sufficient and give up on the effort too soon.

It’s critical, however, that caregivers and educators make a concerted effort to teach social skills to children with ASD despite the challenges. Otherwise, they may find it impossible to interact with peers one-to-one, or in an informal group. Instead of eagerly anticipating unstructured play periods like other children, they might dread them. Over time, they might become anxious and depressed, and might purposefully avoid the very social situations in which they need to become competent. They’ll carry their deficits into adulthood and may spend their lives feeling lonely and rejected.

That desire to belong that propels most people to learn whatever it takes to fit in is not something that’s necessarily implicit in children with ASD. For some, this type of “social sense” may never be fully achieved. But in order for a child with ASD to grow into a well-adjusted adult, he must learn basic social functioning, even if he never gets to the point of emotional relatedness. Social skills are the entryway to all relationships that involve two or more people, from friend/friend and teacher/student to boss/employee and salesperson/customer.

For this reason, it’s unfortunate that social skills acquisition is not automatically included as part of most children’s school curriculum. However, with our guidance and persistence and the right training program, even the most emotionally challenged children can master effective peer interaction at every stage of the game, from the moments just before class starts and conversation in the lunchroom to locker room changing sessions and afternoon recess.

3 ways 3 says-A Fun and Easy Way to Target the Invisible Meaning Behind the Words

 

After being back from the American Speech and Hearing Association in Atlanta GA, I had heard from a great speaker Ashley Wiley, MA CCC-SLP,  from Speak LA.  She is a SLP who uses drama with her clients to develop social thinking and understanding with children with autism.

One of the ways her program works on prosody or intonation to inject meaning into what we say is called 3 Ways 3 Says a fun and important part of reading what people are really saying…

1.  This exercise should start out with the definition of what intonation or prosody is and why we use.

2.  After the child has a firm understanding of these terms start to introduce the recognition of what word is inflected for emphasis on its meaning using simple phrases such as:

“You think I did it” or “You think I stole the money

Using different prosody for the first word in the phrase YOU think I did it, then You think I DID it and finally You think I did IT and see if the student can identify the emphasized word.

After the student can identify the emphasized word, take it to the next level and see if the student can attach meaning to this emphasis…What does it imply when a person says the words like this YOU think I did it etc.

This practice makes students aware of a very invisible but crucial social cue that people give with their voice and allows them to then practice using this prosody or intonation in their speech as well.

Here is a great video that demonstrates ways to make this invisible cue more visual for students

If you have the Social Skill Builder products My Community or School Rules! CDs, these types of intonation are addressed and can be practiced with your students as well.  All of Level 4 in each of these educational software tools is dedicated to the understanding of what others are thinking feeling or saying.

 

As a therapist, I add another layer to this great level by asking my students to “say” or “act out” the speech bubbles that are presented with each picture.  This allows them to match intonation to the meaning behind the pictured people.  So, if the person in the picture is commenting on someones clothing and says “nice shirt” I ask the student to say it they way they person in the picture is meaning it.  This really gives me insight to how well the student is matching facial expression, environmental context, and meaning behind the words.  If they say it with no inflection I know that the student has not gotten the full picture and if it was a true compliment or a sarcastic remark.  “Nice shirt” with the inflection on Nice can indicate a compliment whereas inflection on the shirt could indicate more of a sarcastic remark about the shirt.

In middle school and high school and beyond it is critically important to read these invisible meanings behind words and our kids need the practice!

Till Next Post Keep Socially Building!  Laurie