Helping Children On The Autism Spectrum Thrive

Happy Great Kindness Challenge, Day 4.
Did you catch the Kids for Peace Kindness Team 
on Good Morning America this morning?

Click the Kids For Peace Kindness Bus image for the schedule.
I'm so excited that the Kindness Bus is making its way from NYC down to our town in Texas over the next few days; they're set to arrive Monday evening and help us put the finishing touches around the playground that they've donated and beautify the area around our kindness rocks Peace Garden. Isn't it phenomenal?
Come play with us!

The Challenge Course sign went in this afternoon.

What kind things have warmed your world this week?
My friend Ann found this book and bought it for me;
isn't that so kind? I can't wait to dig in.

Click the image to find out more.

I found this freebie download for a Kindness Kit

the posters are so pretty and this Texas educator's gift so generous.

Then, Kelly Tatera, a therapy provider in Austin, reached out to me to kindly offer a guest post on ways to help children with autism. I'm feeling warmed from the inside out.

Six Learning Tools and Tips to Help Kids on the Autism Spectrum Thrive

For many school teachers and counselors, figuring out how to best accommodate children with special needs in school settings can be tricky. Each case of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is unique, accompanied by its own set of behaviors and personality traits. While there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach for autism inclusion, there are a number of tools and tips that teachers can implement in their classrooms.

1.     Visual teaching

In an Indiana University article, Temple Grandin, one of the most recognized voices in the autism community, outlined her experiences with learning in ways that worked for her, stressing the importance of visuals. 

Many individuals on the spectrum are visual learners, so it helps to have some kind of visual to go along with lessons. For example, teaching words like “fast” and slow” could be demonstrated with toy cars moving at a fast pace versus a slow pace.

2.     Highlight skills and talents

Many children with autism are extremely gifted in areas like art, music, mathematics and computer programming, to name a few. Encourage these talents and incorporate them in the child’s curriculum. These are the areas that can cheer them up on a challenging day and potentially even serve as future employment opportunities.   

3.     Teach lessons in multiple locations

Generalization is one of the obstacles in teaching children with autism. They might learn how to overcome a challenging behavior at school, but parents could still see this behavior at home. It’s important to teach in such a way that a skill or behavior is learned and can be applied in all settings.

One way to help with generalization is to work on a lesson in a few different areas around a classroom or throughout the school. Also, make sure to keep parents in the loop with different lesson plans that they can help work on at home.

4.     iPads and Autism Apps

Children on the autism spectrum often struggle with communication or are entirely nonverbal. iPads are a great tool to help with communication, as well as some of the other challenges faced by those with ASD. 

There are a variety of iPad apps engineered specifically to meet the needs of those on the spectrum. Apps can offer an alternate means of communication, help teach emotions and behaviors, and provide prompts and visual schedules to ease the anxiety associated with transitions.

5.     Use reinforcements

In order to reduce the amount of undesirable behaviors in those with special needs, it’s important to reinforce the desirable ones. Reinforcers could be a fun toy, a favorite snack, stickers on a chart to earn prizes – get creative with it.

6.     Use fixations to help teach

Children on the spectrum often become fixated on specific objects or topics, like cars or dinosaurs. Use these fixations to help teach other academic subjects, like math or reading. For instance, read books about dinosaurs or teach addition and subtraction using toy cars.

About the author: Kelly Tatera works for Action Behavior Centers, a therapy provider for children on the autism spectrum. Through online and community outreach, the ABC team strives to educate others on ASD and raise autism awareness.

Please join me in thanking Kelly for sharing her expertise.
Here are a few more resources to complement her post.
I've been reading this interesting manual.

Click image to go to the book's website.
Here's what the Smith Publicity Press Release had to say:
  • Applied Behavior Analysis: The best opportunities to lift the trajectory of the life of a child with autism is through this therapy seldom found in public special education
  • Access, Not Excellence: Special education in the United States is based on the concept of access, which is no longer sufficient
  • IDEA: The upcoming reauthorization will provide an opportunity for the law to catch up to scientific advances and social change
  • Unbundling: IDEA is likely to follow the societal trend of unbundling to offer more tailored services and protections
  • Social Media: The existence of social media greatly enhances parents’ ability to organize and advocate
  • Reading Disabilities: Why reading disabilities could be moved from special education to mainstream education
  • How Autism is Reshaping Special Education can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Do you know about Jetpulse Comics? Visit the link to meet Jake, a 7-year-old with Asperger's who wants to be the greatest superhero that the world has ever known. Prepare to be amazed; I think you'll agree he's well on his way.

Julia Cook's new book Uniquely Wired addresses autism;
I can't wait to get my hands on a copy.

Finally, click {here} for a Feelings Book template 
to help increase emotional literacy in your students.


Answering The Call

Today I'm excited because I made it to the other side of yesterday.
Yesterday was the kind of day that I needed some of those mindfulness practices I've been researching and sharing. I feel like I could have sat forever in a safe spot inhaling calm deeply as I rubbed this pillow to change the sequins from black to white, then exhaling chaos as I flipped them back from white to black. 

Click the picture for more info; I was lucky to find these treasures on holiday clearance, 
so I bought six of them and using the extras as prizes for my mindfulness learning session.

Let me explain. Last week, after an unsuccessful security update (which I typically choose not to do!), my iPhone started randomly restarting itself until it finally froze. Ugh. Pretty sure that it was a goner (and extremely frustrated with a company that would send updates that would freeze or slow down a phone on purpose), we headed to the T-Mobile store Thursday night and ended up buying a Samsung. Though not totally sold on changing from an iPhone to an Android, I figured that my kids, who all have one, could help me if I got stuck. Besides, it's not like I get that many calls; I mostly use the phone to text and email. Friday was okay because no calls came in, but my frustration spiked Saturday morning as I held the phone, unable to figure out how to answer it, as it rang. I could tell that John was calling and I was trying desperately to answer (Hello? Hello. Can you hear me now?), but pushing the green button rendered it unresponsive. It just rang and rang. I ended up texting him to let him know that I don't know how to answer my new phone.

That's when I decided to call Apple to see if my old phone was, in fact, a goner. Thankfully I had nothing to do that morning, because I spent forty five minutes on hold before Sara, a kind and patient Apple rep up in Montreal, answered and offered to help me. Over the next two hours, we tried two different things, with two different cords, on two different computers. She called me back three different times and three different times we got a code 9. Stuck, she offered an appointment at my local Apple store; the earliest thing they had, she told me, was next Thursday. I took it, thanked her profusely for helping me, then decided to head to the Apple store and take my chances on a walk-in appointment. I met a joyful young man named Roman at the Genius Bar and was given a spot in line. In two hours. Two hours, I figured, was lots of time to figure out the new Android on the chance that Apple couldn't revive my iPhone. I found a spot on a bench outside of the chaos inside the Apple store and began texting my questions to Kaitlyn. Twice she offered to call me to practice, and twice I couldn't figure out how to answer as it rang in my hands. Just as I was at the point of a frustration cry feeling so weak, John showed up, so I handed the ringing phone to him. 

Now neither one of us could figure out how to answer that new phone, so we texted Kaitlyn asking for the secret. She said that you have to swipe the green button. Slide it, she said, to the right. A bit counterintuitive, but she dialed us one more time and success, John was able to answer the phone. He handed the phone to me so Kaitlyn could give me a growth mindset pep talk about how it's just going to take time, about how it's still basically a smart phone, just in different skin, about how persistence will pay off. She offered whatever help I might need to navigate my new device. 

John and I walked around and did some shopping before two hours were finally up and it was our turn back at the Genius Bar. An hour later, the rep confirmed what Sara in Montreal already knew, that a code 9 pretty much meant the phone was a goner. They'd be happy to sell me a replacement at a discounted price, but now I'd have to decide: Keep the Samsung and climb that steep learning curve with Kaitlyn's help or buy a replacement for that frozen phone and hope that the next update didn't mean more of the same. At crunch time, I went with the latter.

That's right, I'm a Droid dropout.

I didn't feel good about abandoning it before I gave it more of a chance, 
but I wasn't really connecting with it.
It didn't feel right in my head or my heart or my hands.
And I wasn't sure it ever would.
So I gave myself permission to prefer an iPhone to an Android.
Pretty funny, really, all of that fuss over a phone, 
especially since nobody even really calls me and vice versa.
But today, everything feels right again, 
because I'm back to answering my calls on an Apple.

Sometimes life's like my day yesterday: The phone is ringing, but we can't quite figure out how to answer the call. And like with a phone that needs more memory, it can be overwhelming to self-regulate, solve problems, and work at maximum capacity when our mind is full. Know that it's not weak to get frustrated or cry. Stay in the moment, mindfully aware, focused on your breathing, with intention, careful not to let your challenges disconnect you from your therapeutic safe spot. Stay there as long as you need. Take your time; you deserve it.

What are your go-to resources for answering the call
when life threatens to disconnect you for a spell?       


Mirroring Kindness

This was such a short week; because of a weird ice storm we only had two days of school. I used some of that time to cut out letters for this kindness display.

Got it up in time to kick off next week's Great Kindness Challenge.
We're super excited; the kind acts check lists went home today.
On the way out the door, one of our fifth-grade boys enthusiastically shared that he'd already completed seven of the suggestions! Have you signed up yet?

Those of you who know our school's story know that this year has been a difficult one for our district and town. Hurricane Harvey hit just seven days into the school year; 63 of our Bales students and eleven of our faculty and staff were displaced by those fierce flood waters. Life has been a challenge course for all of us as we recover, rebuild and restore from this trauma. 
But there have been some sun showers, too, like when the Kindness Team from Kids For Peace came to Friendswood to bring donations. They then chose Jet Stream Jax as their national spokesperson for this year's Kind Coins campaign and filmed him on location right here in town and at our school, 
to kick off their annual Kind Coins charitable collection. 

Right before the holidays, we got an email from Jill, co-founder of Kids For Peace, asking if they could build a play space to help our school family heal. Such a humbling, beautiful surprise; that virtual challenge course that we've been on in real life is going to be built in real life just outside our gymnasium, a generous gift.
For us. 
A rainbow in our cloud. 
To help us heal.

Here's a sneak peek. 

Weather permitting, the ribbon cutting will be Wednesday, January 31st. I can't wait for the Kindness Team to come back to Texas and help us put the finishing touches on the Peace Garden that's adjacent to the challenge course. 

Good Morning America plans to feature Kids For Peace this coming Thursday to showcase the Great Kindness Challenge family edition, so be sure to tune in. Additionally, Hasbro Children's Fund will be matching all #KindCoins donations up to $100K, so if you haven't donated yet, now's a great time.

Incredible kindness of epic proportions, just because they can;

A brilliant Sketchnote from Julie Woodard.  
that's the kind of kindness that I promise to always intentionally mirror. 



Nurturing Mindfulness

Today I'm excited because my post on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) SMART goals went live at Free Spirit this morning. Click the image below to go there and check it out.  

This assignment really challenged me because I haven't actually thought too much about goal-setting for our SEL piece. In fact, I kind of wanted them to tell me what goal to use. They didn't have a specific goal in mind, so after cooking on it for a while and then finally writing my reflections, I decided to write some SEL goals, for real. You can see why I'm so grateful for this opportunity to write for them.

Click {here} for a template from teacher Paul Solarz, author of Learn Like A Pirate, and his students to help make those SMART goals even SMAARTER

Today we're home from school because of a wintry ice storm. Tomorrow school will be closed, too, so I'm taking advantage of the gift of time and doing some meditative coloring. We'll be completing this one on Friday when I meet with the Pearland ISD counselors to lead a Motivation & Mindfulness Learning Session.

This beauty comes from Barb over at Grade Onederful Designs.
It's part of a 12-page Valentine Mandalas coloring book that I know my students are going to love. I predict yours will, too. 

The Mandalas with the animals in the middle are especially adorable and will totally complement this precious new Mindfulness title:

Travel with these three friends as they learn the art of
sitting, listening, relaxing, breathing, and being.
Take a body scan, use some calming strategies, and
tap into the senses to breathe, listen, see, and feel.

Check it out on YouTube.


Couple it with some Mindful Breathing at Stop, Breathe, Think.
Then, grab some gel pens, markers, colored pencils or crayons and do some meditative coloring of your own. 

Meditate With Me addresses mindfulness and brings it to life in a simply powerful way for our younger learners, so I've added it to my recommended list of Mindfulness resources.

And did you know that mindfulness can lead to kindness?
There's no time like the present to give the gift of mindfulness.

Listen to Mindful's Top Ten Guided Practices of 2017 {here}.
What are your go-to strategies for nurturing mindfulness?


The Power Of Thoughts & Words

Happy birthday, MLK; today we celebrate the life and legacy
of a civil-rights activist, a strong orator, a passionate leader, a hero.
In his honor and memory, this book that spoke to my heart
on our date at Barnes & Noble last night.

Like Kate Jane Neal, the newbie author of this heartfelt powerhouse, Martin Luther King, Jr., had a dream, 
that we would use our words and actions 
to lift each other up, not tear one another down, 
to heal rather than to hurt,
to inspire and not to injure.
What they both know is that the choice is ours.
We have the power to choose the words we use.
Every. Day.
All day long.

And though this gem is geared toward children ages 2-6,
its message really applies to young and old alike.
I've chosen to read it to a class of fourth graders tomorrow
whose words haven't been very kind lately
and have, in fact, been used to hurt each other.
At ten years old, these superheroes are still young
and trying to figure out how to get their needs met.
They're learning that they can get attention
in positive ways as well as in negative ways,
so I plan to use this treasure as a tool to help them
rethink what they're doing to one another's hearts.
I can't wait.
Check out this book; it'll make your heart happy!

Couple it with this Heart Of Gold PSA from Girl Scout Troop 7611.

Know what else makes my heart happy?
Teaming up with my friend, author Maria Dismondy, and thirty other 
passionate edu-heroes to Empower, Ignite & Soar.
Here's the stellar line-up for Monday, January 22.

During my interview next Monday, we'll be talking about examining the mindset that precedes our thoughts, words and behaviors.

Mindset Matters; it's one of my favorite topics!

Don't miss out on these free, twenty-minute interviews by parenting experts that you can watch from the comfort of your own couch. This online Character Summit will send your parenting, educating and caregiving soaring to new heights. 
Sign up {here}; we'll use the hashtag #EISCS18 for this exciting event.

Here's to empowering with kindness and love wherever you go;
 it's the most important heart work you'll be blessed to do.

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