A Week in K-2N -
Facilitating Learning for Autistic Children by Wendy...
I am a teacher with Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) and I teach autistic children in a 'satellite' class. Satellite classes are attached to mainstream, private or public schools. I teach in a Catholic primary school which has three Aspect classes. Students are taught in their satellite class as well as attending some mainstream classes.Teacher aides support the student's integration into the mainstream classes. Some of our students achieve a level of competency that enables them to progress to mainstream school following a period of teaching in a satellite class.
In my class I have six students (all boys), ranging from kindergarten to grade two. All students have difficulty with communication and social skills. Two students are non verbal, one student is beginning to use words, and three students have limited language skills. They have varying sensory needs and behavioural issues. Students require individualised education programs due to their variable skills and needs. In my class programming covers early stage one and stage one Board of studies outcomes. To support this specialised programming a full-time teacher aide assists in each class.
This is my ninth year teaching autistic students and I still gain a deep satisfactionand enjoyment from seeing kindergarten children with autism gain the necessary skills to communicate with those around them and get some of their needs met. I am constantly seeking to learn about creative and innovative ways to teach autistic students. This learning has been greatly assisted by the input from occupational therapists, psychologists and other teachers. Our students are supported by a multi-disciplinary team. Students are at times observed by therapists, who then assist with the development and implementation of teaching and behaviouralstrategies.
My work with the autistic students is based on the premise 'all behaviour is communication'. That means I always try to ascertain what students are trying to tell me even when they display very challenging behaviour. We work on a positive behaviour management model, and this helps us to be creative in designing positive strategies to shape behaviour. Throughout each day students are taught social skills such as turn-taking, resolving conflict and managing anxiety. This is achieved through the use of visual supports, such as social stories, turn-taking cards, calming scripts, and reward charts or tokens.
I use a very structured educational approach to teaching as my students benefit from a familiar and routine environment. The physical structure of the classroom is highly important, and my class is arranged to suit the different needs of the students. My room is set up with individual work stations. Some stations are placed against the wall, and stations for students needing less visual stimulus are divided by visual barriers. I have one group table, a play area, a 1:1 work desk, an independent work desk, as well as a computer station.
Students start their school day by unpacking their bag into containers labeled with a photo of lunch, hat and communication book. Students follow an 'unpack bag' visual sequence until they are independent in this skill. Each student then takes a photo of themselves into the classroom to post on a 'who's here' chart. For the first 20 minutes students have 'choice time' when they are encouraged to choose activities and toys from a visual choice board or their individual Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) folders. With PECS students are individually taught to exchange an object or a photo for the real item or activity in order to make a request. This includes requesting food and drink.
My students have individual daily timetables. Three students are on full-day, written timetables, and these are laminated pages in a small folder. These students are given a whiteboard marker and asked to check their timetables. They cross off completed activities on the timetable. My other three students have individual, one-part timetables with pictures from Boardmaker. They are cued to check their timetable by a 'Check timetable' card, which they post in an envelope next to their timetable. Reading and understanding their environment is a major challenge for my students. This is supported by visual cues to allow them to transition smoothlyfrom one activity to another, and to remain calm and happy.
In order to meet the sensory needs of my students, choice time is followed by a 20 minute sensory gross motor session at the start of each day. Activities such as crawling through a tunnel, rolling themselves up in material, and doing exercises on a large exercise ball help to settle my students and make them ready for the day's demands.
My class then separates into two groups. The older students take turns reading out their home/school diaries(a laminated A4 page with home activities on one side and school activities on the other side). Each student then takes turns typing their spelling words on the computer by taking a written word from a small box, placing it on Velcro on the computer, typing the word, and then placing it in a 'finish box'. This 'left to right work system' is used with most tasks in our room. It helps my students understand what to do, how much to do, and when they have finished. This system creates independence even for very young autistic students. It works and I love it.
My older students then start their 'desk work' by taking an icon, based on the child's interest, (eg, zoo animal, logos) off a task list and matching it with the same icon on a folder. Inside each folder are worksheets or concrete tasks relating to our current units of work. Students complete from three to six tasks depending on their level of ability. When they have finished a task it is placed in their work tray. By reading a visual 'pack away' instruction card, work is pasted into books and items on the desk are packed away.
My younger students are cued to do their work by taking an activity visual off their timetable and matching it to an identical one in the location/desk they are supposed to go to. Each student has a turn in working 1:1 with a teacher/teacher aide on concrete tasks covering Mathematics, English or other units of work. Each task is designed to allow the student to learn quickly what they are expected to do. It is a lot of fun designing these tasks, and if a student has difficulty understanding the task we simplify the task. Again we use a 'left to right work system' to complete desk work. The work is placed on the left of the student and they soon become familiar with taking the work, completing it, then putting it in a big 'finish box'. The young students also take turns using the independent desk, where they work by themselves on familiar tasks.
We then all have a snack break where 'requesting' is the focus. After the break the older students go outside to practice sport skills while the younger students practice requesting, and using their PECS (Picture exchange communication system). For this activity students choose high interest toys from a special box.
After lunch we alternate daily between 15 minutes of calm stretching exercises and exercises that promote sensory regulation. Students love to choose the individual exercise cards.
The next session covers either our integrated unit of work, which is currently, 'Celebrations', or visual art or drama. My students are enjoying making different cultural items for celebrating cultural events such as Easter, Halloween and Chinese New Year. I always try to give the students a model of the item to copy and a visual task sequence.
For drama my younger three students are practicing their 'play skills' by following visual play sequences, such as making play dough shapes or setting up a tea set.
After afternoon break students fill in their home/school diary and pack their bags. They then choose a sensory play activity such as goop, play dough or water play. The last activity of the day is music where students choose songs and dances from a visual choice board.
My students currently attend a mainstream music class once a week as well as using the school library and computer room.
Once a week we mix up all three Aspect classes into ability groups for a social skills lesson. I am currently taking a group called 'Imaginative play'.
We have a lot of fun in our classroom. Each small step that our students take toward understanding and communicating with the world around them is celebrated by all staff.
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