When this student showed signs of increasing stress to not being granted an extension (by sending angry, personal, and unprofessional messages to me while I was teaching their class), I asked them to submit what they had already completed and we could then discuss after class. They didn't want to. They didn't have any work to submit. They weren't quite ready yet for discussing it (reframing really helped me here!). The next week, I followed up with them. They still weren't ready to have a conversation with me. Ok. When the second assignment rolled around shortly after, they requested another extension well ahead of time and I not only granted the extension but offered extra support in completing the assignment. This offer was accepted. We were able to connect and joke around through this process (gradually, but consistently), and this student very successfully completed the assignment. Our relationship became one of support rather than conflict as they realized that I truly believed in them, wanted to support them, and most importantly, they realized that they were truly capable.
They submitted prior to the deadline (for this and all future assignments as well), and they were really appreciative, understanding that scaffolding with clear expectations and guidelines (but also available support) was part of what helped them in the long run. Most importantly, we formed a relationship. That's what helped this student develop their own ways of learning and moving forward without their limbic brakes halting their progress. It was not about teaching strategies, but about that relationship. It helped ME as an educator, and THEM as a student, and US as humans.
To my students: I can help you better at the beginning of the semester than at the end. Talk to me.
At the end of each semester, there is a buzz around post-secondary campuses – a palpable tension among students and faculty alike. Students are stressed out about grades, final papers and assignments. Faculty are stressed out about marking, fielding student excuses and complaints, and employment politics. What results is less compassion from both sides, and more whining, complaining, and actions which only serve to exacerbate the problem.
In my developmental psychology class, we discuss what makes one generation different from the one before - how generation-based variables affect our development. A generation ago, students wouldn’t dare challenge their professors over grades. You got what you got. Going into your professor’s office to complain just didn’t happen. Of course, now, it’s much easier to send an email – you don’t need to stand face to face with your professor and question his/her judgement and ability to grade. Technology as such is one thing that makes millennials, as a generation, different. It also forms the basis of many late assignment excuses – the assignment didn’t save, wouldn’t upload, wouldn’t print, etc. Finances are also different. The cost of rising tuition, and expectations of grad school versus work after graduation increase stress and necessitate many students still living (and being taken care of) in their parents’ homes.
There are certainly some upstream causes within the school system. The push for standardized testing and meeting minimum statistical standards causes teachers to focus on the importance of the difference between 69% and 70%. School culture centers around achievement, and a numerical end result rather than the PROCESS of learning and of ENJOYING the learning. It continues as grad schools post minimum averages for admission, where GPA counts - not the student’s ability to critically think, nor their inherent skills in research, independent thought, and educational maturity, but the number at the end of the year which supposedly sums up their worth. As a result, we see grade inflation, a challenge to quality educational assessment. James Côté, a Full Professor in the Department of Sociology at The University of Western Ontario and co-author of Ivory Tower Blues: A University System in Crisis, indicates here, that “The grades of Ontario high school graduates began to increase with the end of standardized exams in the late 60s. By the early 80s, 40% of those applying to universities had A averages. Currently, more than 60% do … Likewise, universities have given increasingly higher grades over the same time period. At what point will we need to adjust the scale in order to actually differentiate among all the A students? In this article, it is discussed that a C no longer represents “average”, as it used to. This cartoon has been suggested as one reason (Source: http://adjunctassistance.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/SeeTheProblem.jpg ), though I think the problem is not that parents are backing up their childrens’ failures to get an A…I think that in both cases, the focus is on someone yelling, complaining, and making someone else feel bad, rather than a discussion that acknowledges a problem and aims to collaboratively work towards a solution. It doesn’t help – it makes everyone on edge, and the problem grows. It shouldn’t be about blame – it should be about how to work together towards a greater good.
Moreso, such problems lead to blog posts like this, where millennials are called cry-babies, and this, sarcastically imploring students to shut their mouths, stop whining, and just do their work. Psychology Today, in a more informative than opinionated manner, includes a great article on declining student resilience and increased emotional fragility.
What are we to do? Give up educational standards to match the emotional health needs of students? It’s suggested here that we won’t “eliminate the grade-grubbing until we change our current educational system.” However, the same article insists that unless students can educate themselves on this system, they will deprive themselves of real skills and knowledge that prepare them for real success – that what goes on in the classroom will constitute achievement well beyond a grade at the end of it. So, we have a system where students are stressed, and it causes whining about final grades which contributes to the stress of faculty and causes a stress multiplier effect across campus. How can we fix the problem? Is changing the system even a possibility? I think that the lens we use here is critical, and that decreasing stress and building relationships is key to understanding and mutual respect, and in my experience, leads to deeper learning and increased responsibility.
Here’s what I want my students to know, and how I want to contribute to all this in my own classroom:
Impressing me is easier than you think. If you show up on time, regularly contribute to class discussion, ask thoughtful questions to guide your own learning and complete all your assignments on time showing your thinking, not just regurgitation of facts from the text and slides, I will be impressed. If you talk to me, face to face, in class or out, I will be impressed.
The grading system isn’t necessarily fair – there are high grades available for those who are test-wise and have good explicit memories. It doesn’t always represent hard work, application, and critical thinking. I develop assessments that are more akin to measuring some of these characteristics, and those of you who are used to getting top marks for being test-wise and having good memories will get upset when you get a lower grade than expected. That said, those of you who are great critical thinkers, able to apply theory to the real world will be pleasantly surprised that your skills are recognized. That said, down the road, employers will not be asking you what grade you got in my class. I want you to enjoy my class, become inspired by the content, and to learn for the sake of learning, not the sake of the final grade. I want you to be happy. Being stressed about numbers will impede your learning. I don’t want that.
I want you to come see me during office hours. I want you to talk to me in class. Talk to me about what is working for you and what isn’t. Tell me what you love about the class and what you just don’t get. Talking to your friends about that doesn’t help me to help you. Getting to know you helps me because then I can be on your side and help you throughout the course. Our relationship matters. And not just for the obvious external reasons, like asking for letters of reference, connections to the network of people I am connected to in your field, potential extensions in special circumstances, or discussions about grades. None of those works well for you if we don’t have a good teacher-student relationship, of course – it’s real-life networking. Even more important than this, though, is that if we have a good relationship, I will understand your stress and help you work through it. I will understand your learning and adjust my approach to maximize student learning. I will ensure that I give you the best education that is personalized to your learning needs as I can. If we don’t have a good relationship, your end of semester grade questions may be perceived as challenges or last minute scrambles as opposed to your responsible and proactive concern for your education. If we don’t have a good relationship, my comments may be misperceived by YOU from time to time, and that might upset you, which is the last thing I want to do. I do this job to make my students happy and to inspire them to become lifelong learners. It’s literally why I do what I do, so please, let me help you to succeed!
That is why all my course syllabi state directly that I want to hear from each of you throughout the semester, and I want to hear about your challenges well ahead of assignment due dates. If I don’t, I cannot help you. I have been told by colleagues that they are surprised by how much of my own time and effort I give to individual students. I do – the ones who come to see me. I will not hold your hand and chase you down. I don’t accept assignments that are late. Not even with a penalty. I just don’t accept them. If you can’t plan and get it done, respecting my classroom and your peers, then I will not adjust my own schedule to mark your paper at your convenience. There are firm deadlines in the real world with real consequences – this is just the beginning. I mark in such a way that you know where you can improve as you move through your academic and professional careers, including formative feedback, not just a grade. Don’t ever ask me where you lost marks. No one ever loses marks in my classes. You only earn them. You start my class with a zero, and you work your way up. If you started with 100, there would be no reason for you to keep coming to class. If you want to know how you can improve, come see me.
Those are the fair and practical boundaries. BUT, if you are having difficulty with something – anything – and come to talk to me BEFORE any due dates. I won’t help you because you failed to plan, but I will help you to plan, and I can and will adjust accordingly. I will work with you in exceptional ways to ensure a fair way for you to do well in my course. That might mean pre-arranged adjustments to your due dates, alternate assessment opportunities, individual academic support, or help managing difficult situations. If you need anything, talk to me, put an effort in, and you WILL be successful – I am always here for you. Each of you.
The take home message is this. You are stressed. I am stressed (especially when I worry about your stress). In each other’s presence, our stress can either multiply, or we can connect to reduce each other’s stress. I want to help you because I want you to be happy. When you are happy, I am less stressed. When I am happy, I can better help you to be less stressed. Please know that I am compassionately here for every single one of you. Talk to me.
I have spent a wonderful day today at Geneva Centre for Autism's Symposium 2016 (#autism2016). It was wonderful because I got to reconnect with so many previous colleagues who have each gone in interesting directions, and some still doing fantastic work for Geneva Centre. It was wonderful because I started the day off on a plane with a gorgeous sunrise and a brisk walk from the airport to the conference. It was wonderful because I was sharing some of my work, and chatting with those who are in the field is always so rewarding for me. It was wonderful because I see self-reg everywhere, and it has literally had me grinning ear to ear ALL DAY LONG. For me, this is the culmination of the "Year of Reframing". What have I reframed? Here are a few examples.
How do YOU reframe? Drop me a line - I'd love to share ideas with you.
I love the internet. I love that for a critical thinker, most of the answers in the world can be Googled. That said, there have been too many incidences lately of the internet being used from a negative motivation that it's prompted my to say my piece. Not on anyone's site, page, or discussion but my own. I have always been interested in comments sections. Why? Perhaps because the sociology of people posting passive aggressive (and sometimes simply aggressive) comments behind the guise of anonymity interests me. Even when using one's own name, people post things online that they would never say to your face, as this would be socially unacceptable and cause you to come across as grumpy, miserable, or mean. I suppose people are not always making the connection between their online personalities and their real-life ones. In larger cities, people are more anonymous - in a smaller town, everyone is connected by 2 degrees of separation at most (give or take). By tomorrow, most of the people I bump into will know where I walked my dog this morning. Add in online networks, and this phenomenon quickly magnifies.
People who have never spoken a word to you in person may pop out of the woodwork when they misunderstand something they read, or simply don't take the time to think critically about possible intent or consequence. It certainly makes you wonder where the motivation comes from. Perhaps it is simply, as the picture suggests, an attempt at thought leadership, but it's nice to think that people might generate their own opinions based on fact, not Facebook.
In any case, apply this to some of the online harrassment and bullying that we are all so aware of in this field on the parts of our clients. Individuals are made fun of, and are the recipients of a barrage of negative comments because they have been misinterpreted, rather than accepted, by their peers. In a field where it is our goal to be open-minded, positive, and accepting, such comments on local charity pages from individuals in the field have struck me as highly ironic.
When posting online, perhaps we should follow a few simple unwritten rules (going back to my clinical work). See the following link for more on how we sometimes need to teach these rules explicitly to people using the internet. (Source: http://isc.sagepub.com/content/36/5/279.short)
1. When someone posts something, it has the potential to go to millions of people. Chances are slim to none (according to simple statistics), that the post is about you. Posting as if it is might make you look self-centred.
2. When you reply negatively to an online post, you are starting an argument. If you are feeling angry when you type, you are probably replying negatively. There are some great tips here: http://www.studygs.net/listening.htm. Consider them if you wish to engage in discussion as opposed to argument.
3. If you disagree or don't fully understand a comment, use a personal message, not a public post. Posting inflammatory remarks in an online thread can make you look argumentative and negative and will shut down communication. Personal messages are much more like a human conversation. Even better - pick up the phone and speak directly.
4. Ask yourself before clicking 'post': Would I say this to this person if we were talking face to face? How might I word it differently in person? Try rewording the message as if you were speaking face to face.
5. Bear in mind that everything you post online is permanent. You can delete comments, pictures or videos, but once it is out there even for a moment, someone can take a screen shot, and it will never go away. Be prepared to stand behind every word you include in a post or do not post it at all.
In summary, think before you speak / post. Everything you say can and will be used against you when there is friction, real or perceived. Don't let it happen. Be human - speak directly, and have real conversations. If you feel good about having your voice heard, be more assertive in doing so in real life - politely, with respect, and in a way which will will have you coming across as professional and assertive, not unprofessional and aggressive. Can't we all just get along?
Application of the term troll is subjective. Some readers may characterize a post as trolling, while others may regard the same post as a legitimate contribution to the discussion, even if controversial. Like any pejorative term, it can be used as an ad hominem attack, suggesting a negative motivation.
As noted in an OS News article titled "Why People Troll and How to Stop Them" (January 25, 2012), "The traditional definition of trolling includes intent. That is, trolls purposely disrupt forums. This definition is too narrow. Whether someone intends to disrupt a thread or not, the results are the same if they do." Others have addressed the same issue, e.g., Claire Hardaker, in her Ph.D. thesis "Trolling in asynchronous computer-mediated communication: From user discussions to academic definitions", and Dr. Phil. Popular recognition of the existence (and prevalence) of non-deliberate, "accidental trolls", has been documented widely, in sources as diverse as the Urban Dictionary, Nicole Sullivan's keynote speech at the 2012 Fluent Conference, titled "Don't Feed the Trolls" Gizmodo, online opinions on the subject written by Silicon Valley executives and comics.
Regardless of the circumstances, controversial posts may attract a particularly strong response from those unfamiliar with the robust dialogue found in some online, rather than physical, communities. Experienced participants in online forums know that the most effective way to discourage a troll is usually to ignore it, because responding tends to encourage trolls to continue disruptive posts – hence the often-seen warning: "Please do not feed the trolls".
A popular early article defining and explaining the issue of Internet Trolls included the suggestion, "The only way to deal with trolls is to limit your reaction to reminding others not to respond to trolls."
The above video is assumedly created with a positive heart. Certainly, we all think bullying is a problem. We may have differing opinions on what constitutes bullying, but that's a whole other post. This video shows kids being bullied, all the while singing about how one day they will be the bosses of the bullies, and will not give them raises, promotions or nice treatment in general.
A few thoughts, however...
People should not be given the message that the reason we shouldn't bully is because one day, the victim might bully you back. That's not why we shouldn't bully. That's a self-centred, "what is in it for me" attitude, and if the reason a kid stops bullying another is because one day he might be his boss, then something is wrong there. He/she should stop bullying because of his/her own internal motivation to simply be a nice person, to build his self-concept and self-esteem, not so people will treat him/her better, but to increase his/her own feelings of self-worth.
We shouldn't be taught to seek revenge. It goes against the idea shared before that we should be creating an anti-bullying CULTURE, not CURRICULUM.
Bullying is defined as the use of force, threat or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or impose domination over another, which is repeated and habitual. Are we thus saying that this is ok if it is your boss treating you this way? Are we excusing it if your boss was bullied as a child, or if you were mean to someone when YOU were younger?
We should be teaching kids to reinforce each other for supporting each other, for standing up for each other, and for not laughing along or remaining silent when witnessing mean or disrespectful behaviour. We should be modelling HOW to stand up for each other by NOT being silent when witnessing a mean or disrespectful act. We should look within ourselves and determine our own sources of discontent when making defensive or retaliatory remarks about others in front of our children or peers, and stop to try to understand the other point of view. In doing so, we teach others to do the same. Make it cool to stop fighting because it's simply a better world when we get along, not because the person might one day retaliate or seek revenge.
On that note, the efforts of the video maker are very much applauded. It brings in humour to reach a wide audience who doesn't simply want to be preached to, and is trying wholeheartedly to get a message across to those who are bullying by imagining what might motivate them to STOP bullying. Hopefully, the message that gets out there is that there is no long term benefit to bullying (and the whole karmic what-goes-around-comes-around message), empathy for the underdog, and certainly the "it gets better" message, which is such a strong message.
I leave you with that message as well (below). There are some wonderful messages as part of this campaign (The It Gets Better Project), but this one is powerful. We can't always change the problem overnight, but we can provide support to those who are victims of bullying (and there are many individuals and populations that are at higher risk), and both the videos included here shed light on the big picture - that nothing lasts, and that wonderful things are yet to come.
There is an earlier post in this blog about where to download free visual supports and how to copy/paste/print them for your own use. However, there are many more freebies available online, with more added every day. This outlines some of them, and what they have to offer.
First, I will repeat some of the links previously discussed, as they are fantastic resources that should be shared and used regularly:
Individually created visuals that you can open and print and share to your heart's content. Content is growing regularly, and watch for an upcoming app, where even more will become available in a simpler format.
Geneva Centre for Autism's Visuals Bank is a great resource, full of excellent printable visuals from their well-known workshops, and a collection of videos of autism experts demonstrating / discussing how to use them.
Do2learn provides thousands of free pages with social skills and behavioral regulation activities and guidance, learning songs and games, communication cards, academic material, and transition guides for employment and life skills.
CurriculumSET is a collection of resources that facilitate the sharing of customized technology-based content among educators working with students who use assistive technology. This searchable database enables educators to find, download, and customize activities, templates and public domain accessible books based on the ten areas of the curriculum as set out by the BC Ministry of Education.
PictureSET is a collection of downloadable visual supports that can be used by students for both receptive and expressive communication in the classroom, at home, and in the community. This searchable database allows you to find a wide range of useful visual supports for different curriculum areas, activities, and events.
While there are lots of visuals out there, remember to individualize yours to meet the needs and learning style of your child.
Here are some other great gems from the internet...again, all free!
ABA Data Sheets
An effective education program must continually be evaluated. Keeping good records is a great way to make sure that everyone who spends time with a child is encouraging and reinforcing the same behaviours. Each Activity Data Sheet gives condensed instructions for performing the activity, provides space to record the child’s performance, and has an area for notes. The data sheets are reproducible.
Public Information Sheets and Kits
The centre for disease control offers a variety of information sheets from screening to prevalence to early signs in different languages.
Autism Ontario hosts a variety of online publications and reports, videos (ok, these aren't free but are fabulous resources), and articles, and tear-off pads for professionals (doctor's offices, public health units, ELKP teachers, and so on) to offer information about early signs of autism.
Autism Parent Resource Kit: A comprehensive resource for families to better understand autism and the range of services and supports available in Ontario. The ministry talked to families and caregivers of children and youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder across the province to develop the content in this kit, and invites ideas, information and feedback from you, too.
Free videos, a great book list, a free physician handbook, a link to Autism Canada's Service Junction (a very comprehensive and searchable listing of services across Canada), and a listing of educational programs for those pursuing careers in the field of autism).
Free Materials, Activities, and Ideas
Both these links, via Building Blox, offer great ideas and downloadable materials to create some fantastic teaching material
And finally, some detailed tax information, just one day too late (sorry - but use this information to start collecting the information you need for next year's taxes!)
Tax information on what types of therapies and tax deductible (shameless self-promotion: Full Spectrum Learning provides psychologist-supervised programs in Sault Ste Marie in partnership with Emerging Minds).
Hopefully, you get some good resources out of this. Please comment below if you are aware of quality, useful (and FREE) resources on the internet, including a link and brief description. Share, share, share!
Bullying; Buzzword or Big Concern?
No Bully Zone. Bullying is a hug problem. I was bullied in school today. So and so is a big bully. None of these statements are helping to solve a problem. Thay are simply making a growing problem into a buzzword that annoys people and pacifies some into thinking they have an effective anti-bully campaign in place.
After seeing the movie, Bully (http://www.thebullyproject.com/), I became so emotionally invested that I've felt the need to share my thoughts on this subject. I work with a population that because of their social challenges, are too often a victim of bullying, and this film spoke to that. It also spoke to the fact that there isn't enough information out there to prevent bullying, and that there are children that are dying because of the psychological effects of what some describe as "kids being kids". The following article outlines one local family's story and some of the responses from community partners to this evergrowing concern: http://www.saultstar.com/2013/04/03/everyone-needs-to-act-when-bullied-teens-are-in-trouble.
My concerns and comments are threefold:
1. We can NOT stop bullying simply by telling bullies to stop. Creating a way for children to make themselves seem cool by rebelling is ineffective.
2. Wearing a pink shirt does not stop bullying. I have seen children wearing anti-bullying shirts while calling each other names.
3. You can't simply eliminate one behaviour without teaching an appropriate replacement behaviour.
We need to teach children the social skills to avoid bullying and appropriately stand up for themselves, and we need to spread awareness about how to effectively create schools and communities where bullying is simply not cool.
Punishment Doesn't Work.
Look at peer-reviewed research on corrections systems. Look at peer-reviewed articles on behavioural strategies employed by the military. Look at peer-reviewed work on classroom behaviour management. Look up "punishment" on Google. You will find an incredible amount of literature all agreeing on one thing: punishment doesn't work. Why, then, is punishment still continued to be used as a go-to in so many schools? We have spent millions of dollars training school personnel in positive behaviour support. We have reams of research to show them that punishment isn't going to create a classroom of respect and positive behaviour. Yet still, even from a school having a wonderfully positive and inclusive culture, I received a letter from one of my daughter's teachers explaining a new behaviour policy as follows: every student starts with three checkmarks in a binder, that the teacher indicated, "I will keep for myself". For actions that go against classroom expectations, the teacher will remove one checkmark. If a student loses 2 or more checkmarks during class, they lose their recess time to stay in class and must complete a reflection essay. There is a reinforcement built in - only the students who have not lost more than 4 checkmarks across 4 weeks will get a pizza party. I pause here, having difficulty knowing where to begin.
Here are some points to ponder:
Starting at the top (three check marks) with the focus on failure to lose checkmarks is ineffective.
No one is perfect, but we all strive to improve. If you start at 3/3 checkmarks, there is nothing to improve.
Once you lose that first check mark, why would a student put in any further effort when it will not be reinforced? I wonder why the checkmark binder is kept for the teacher only. Shouldn't we be teaching students to self-monitor their own behaviour? (This is a fifth grade classroom.)
If the consequence of losing recess comes after 2 check marks, why are there 3 in the binder? What use does the third serve? Something to consider.
On the topic of losing recess, there is a wealth of research in this area. I will post some in the resources section which you can click on above. They discuss the importance of recess for physical exercise, for social development, and for self-regulation. Children who don't have a chance to get their energy out, relax for a short time, and reset
for the next portion of the day are less likely to be at the top of their game for the next class, not to mention the health and social benefits to this time of day. Too often we hear from teachers that children's behaviour and social skills are lacking, yet during this opportune time to teach them appropriate behavioural and social skills, teachers are inside having their own breaks. This is a reality, as everyone needs a break during the day, perhaps none so more as teachers. However, keeping students in from recess doesn't allow for this, and prevents the students from self-regulating, which may have been what caused the behaviour to occur in the first place. Further, having to write an essay on it may also increase frustration, exacerbating the problem, not helping to solve it.
Reinforcing those who failed to lose more than 4 checkmarks across a 4 week period...well, the idea of finding something to reinforce is good. Reinforcing failure to lose checkmarks is a little off the mark. Excluding those who didn't fail to lose more than 4 checkmarks is reinforcing those who weren't targets for behavioural change to begin with, and encourages competition, not working together to help each other stay on track. (did you notice all
the confusing double negatives that reinforcing failure to lose brought to that sentence!?).
Now, for something constructive...
I don't know this teacher, and am sure he is well-meaning. He certainly works within a school which has a wonderful educational philosophy as a whole,is very inclusive, and makes students feel a sense of belonging - I've often said that it's very much a family atmosphere, which I love.I would love to see the following happen, and plan to discuss these ideas with the principal / teacher. I just have thoughts on how this classroom could be more effective for both the teacher and the students.
Criteria should be individualized - those who typically have difficulty following expectations across one class should be rewarded for desired behaviour across 2 classes initially, then later for 3, then for a week, then 2 weeks, and so
on. Setting them up to go from disruptions in every class straight to perfect behaviour across a month is setting them up for failure, which doesn't help anyone.
A teacher's record of how many checkmarks have been lost is teacher-focused and based on losing privileges for NOT following expectations. That could be switched around, so it is student-focused and based on reinforcing successful following of expectations. This teacher could give each child a card/page with 5 boxes on it for each class time (one box for each of the specified classroom expectations). During, or at the end of each class, students could fill out their own chart indicating whether or not they met classroom expectations, and even have a space where they could indicate how their behaviour affected others if they did not meet expectations. This could be verified by the teacher, so the monitoring would be a collaborative effort between student and teacher, and specific examples could be jotted onto the chart for the student to monitor across a week. This would give students some control over their own behavioural choices, lets them keep track of their own behaviours and their effects on others, and gives students specific success criteria to strive for other than protecting what they already have.
THIS is where reinforcement could be built in - if a pizza party is chosen by the class as a good reward (that will be reinforcing for EVERYONE), then the pizza party can be earned once EVERY student achieves a certain number of check marks. Setting up this kind of situation is more likely to lead to students supporting and reminding each other so that collectively, they can earn a pizza party. Often, pairs or small groups of students will be a source of unwanted behaviour. One starts, the others laugh, and the students technically reinforce each other for making poor behavioural choices. We CAN flip this around, so that the reinforcement depends on student’s encouraging each other to make GOOD behavioural choices in order to meet a collective goal. Can you see how this philosophy applies to creating a positive, bully-free school? Well, that's a whole other post!) In any case, for this to effectively work, the party must be motivating enough for every student, and the criteria must be set so that students are reinforced often enough for it to matter.
For students who are unable to maintain classroom expectations for one day, trying to do so across a month will not be effective. A smaller reinforcer for a more approachable goal might make that student more likely to attend to his own behavioural choices. Further, perfect behaviour over an entire month is unrealistic; across a one-hour class makes more sense if perfection is the goal. Improvement across a week or month is easily achieved.
Start with where the students are successful. Are they on-task for the first 5 minutes? Reinforce them after 5 minutes with something meaningful to them (this doesn't need to be tangible - it might simply be that if they are on task for 5 minutes, the class earns a one-minute silly-time break). Are they most successful during a specific type of activity? Do more of that activity, and reinforce them throughout. You can then start building in increases to expectations. In doing so, you will always have success, in gradually increasing increments.
Differentiate behavioural strategies. Some students need more behavioural support. Some need more extrinsic reinforcement, where others are reinforced intrinsically (their own successes are reinforcing). Just as we adapt teaching style to meet the needs of each student, so should we with behavioural strategies. Success for one student may be increasing from 18 - 20 checkmarks earned across a month. Another student may increase from 3/5 checkmarks per day on average to 4/5 checkmarks per day on average across a week.
When there are behavioural concerns, SOMETHING is reinforcing that behaviour. If you don't look at the cause of the behaviour (it may be more stimulating to make jokes than attend to a boring lecture, or a peer's laughter may be reinforcing), then you won't find a good solution. Students should not be taught to behave according to expectations in order to earn recess. Why, then, should this be taken away if they don't behave according to expectations.
Find what is reinforcing them for this behaviour, and use THAT to reinforce what you want to see. If they are reinforced by their friends laughing during a boring time of class, make that time more interesting, and
give them time to make their friends laugh at an appropriate time. Build laughter into lessons so YOU are in control of when that reinforcement gets delivered, not the students.
That said, this is a wonderful school. I was, in fact, surprised to see a formal letter going home to all parents of students in this class explaining this behavioural strategy. It's my intention to offer some suggestions to the teacher if he is looking for some behavioural strategies that I've seen work wonderfully. It's not my intention to complain about this teacher at all - it's just something that I've seen in a few classrooms lately that's got me thinking. This is a teacher that my daughter quite likes, and one of her favourite subject areas. This teacher has
given her many new ideas and skills that are so valuable, and I've seen the successes he has had with her.
This is a wonderful school, which has given my daughter a place te be herself, to see successes and to problem solve with so much support around her. I look forward to connecting with them on this idea. In the meantime, I hope to get the message out there that as a society, I'd love to see us focus on success - starting where we are already successful, and gradually making improvements.
Albert Einstein once said that “If people are good only because they fear punishment... then we are a sorry lot indeed.”
The puzzle piece is often one used to
represent individuals with autism spectrum disorders.
I’m not sure where it originated, but it seems to be commonly known that
its existence is based on the thought that those with autism are puzzling, and
that we need to find the missing pieces to solve some sort of problem. I disagree with this mindset, and have spoken with many individuals on the spectrum who emphatically feel the same way.
Could it have come from the largest autism science and advocacy organization, founded by those who had the funding available to start up a $25,000,000 organization “dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism”? Personally, I think the medical view that if we put enough money into it, we can find the missing piece - a cure - is a negative view. Autism is a neurological disorder which I don’t see as a PROBLEM to be solved. It’s simply a means to describe a collection of attributes which relate to differences in processing, not to problems or missing pieces in society. Those with autism have contributed VASTLY to our world, from computer-based resources to livestock handling to some of the best art and engineering our world has to offer, among many other contributions in every area imaginable. For some, their contributions may well be a direct result of their autism - common strengths include exceptional visual processing abilities, ability to
focus on a task or subject area without distraction or boredom, and strong rote memory abilities, among many others, depending on the individual.
Focusing on a cure supports the viewpoint that we need to ‘fix’ those with autism, and gives individuals, caregivers, and those who support them false hope that autism is a medical problem to be solved. Autism is neurological, and autism is life-long. An individual on the autism spectrum may not always meet criteria for diagnosis their entire life, because fantastic services are available to help individuals on the spectrum use their strengths to support their
challenges. Is this a cure? No, it’s good teaching. Is there a cure for learning disabilities or other similar neurological disorders? No, but if we live in an inclusive world, we know that every child learns differently, and through good teaching, can learn to use their own strengths to support their own challenges, regardless of who they are and what diagnosis they do or don’t have.
Further, our current diagnostic process is behavioural. We diagnose autism based on the behaviours that we see.
If we are able to change behaviours, we are able to change a diagnosis, but autism is a neurological disorder, not a behavioural one. Have we changed neurology when we change behaviour? SHOULD we aim to change the neurology of those on the spectrum? These are certainly challenging and unanswered questions.
I see a problem when people use the phrases “suffer from” or “struggle with” autism. Having autism doesn’t have to mean suffering or struggling. I know individuals who have difficulty, and I know many who are simply living with autism, and enjoying who they are. Temple Grandin, a well-known figure in the autism world whose success surpasses that which most of us seek, indicates that if given the chance to go back and NOT have autism, she would not, as autism is a part of who she is.
Yet organizations continue to use the puzzle piece as a symbol of autism; as one large organization says it, the puzzle piece represents that they are “...bringing hope to all who deal with the hardships of this disorder. We are committed to raising the funds necessary to support these goals.” This organization “aims to bring the autism community together as one strong voice to urge the government and private sector to listen to our concerns
and take action to address this urgent global health crisis. It is our firm belief that, working together, we will find the missing pieces of the puzzle.”
I wish we could find another symbol. Unfortunately, I don’t have $25,000,000 behind me in order to make this a
reality. What I can do is urge those who consider a puzzle piece to be a symbol of autism to just think about
What about thinking about a puzzle piece representing each of us, and the whole puzzle is the whole world. We are each one piece, and when put together, form society. We are all interconnected, and the world is incomplete without any one piece.
When using the puzzle piece, consider that one sole piece isn’t really representative of anything –represent autism with several pieces in several colours, all connected, with no missing pieces. In terms of autism, I like the ribbon with the connected pieces. To me, it means that if we all link together, we can support each other and create a spectrum of possibilities, but without any one of us, the puzzle is incomplete. Together, we form a mosaic that is our
colourful and beautiful world.
(image courtesy of www.michellezelli.com)
Casey Burgess is the Director of Full Spectrum Learning, providing educational, behavioural, cognitive, and social support to individuals with ASD and learning differences in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. www.fullspectrumlearning.ca
The holiday season can be stressful for parents, with last minute shopping trips, hosting and attending parties and family gatherings, and travel preparations. Imagine the stress on children with autism spectrum disorders who thrive on routine and predictability! Imagine the sensory, processing, and executive functioning required as well as the high social demand. While children with these challenges thrive in structured environments, not only do they deal with changes, but those who best support them are in a midst of UNstructure.
Children with sensory challenges may be overwhelmed by the increased lights, sights, sounds and smells during the holidays, a stress which can impact everyone in the family. While we can't always gear an entire family to the needs of one child (nor should we), we can add in supports to help.
We can use visuals (lists or pictures in a photo album) to prepare children for upcoming events, so their environment is more predictable. Let them know about family visits and upcoming parties (at your house orr elsewhere) through a simple weekly calendar. For children that can tell time, include this information. For those who can't, you may be able to draw what the clock will look like, so when the clocks match, it's time to go. Plan extra time for each event as running over can cause problems for children with less flexibility.
Letting family members (including siblings) know how to help can be a great support. Reminders for siblings of their brother/sister's needs (sensory, communication, etc) can help. Explanations of both how to help proactively and what to avoid can be huge in preventing overload. Provide lots of attention and reinforcement for supportive siblings and family members.
Wherever you plan to be, see if you can arrange a relaxing area where your child can escape the enviromnent if needed and let your child use it - perhaps even bringing a bag of familiar toys and relaxation activities (and your relaxation visuals) can help bridge this transition.
Holiday shopping is stressful for most - tack on sensory processing difficulties and we are talking anxiety levels that may surprise you. Stores are noisy, people are brushing against each other, there are phenomenal amount of extraneous decorations and advertisements, and an unknown man in a red suit ringing a bell and talking to you, and this is against every rule you have been taught!
Go armed with organization. Tell your child where you will go and for what, and for how long - USE A VISUAL to share this. Make a list of what you will get, go directly there (ask your child for help finding the item), and don't browse. Save browsing for child-less times like lunch hour. Take less busy routes through malls, even if it means more walking from the car. Give lots and lots and LOTS of reinforcement right from the beginning for following along and for taking deep calming breaths every 5 or 10 minutes. Bring along a fidget toy to play with if there is waiting time in lineups. Allow your child to listen to headphones while you shop to drown out all the noises.
Create stories / scripts of what the expectations are for your child during the holidays. Consider the hidden curriculum, or the unwritten rules of the holidays. For example, write a story about the Christmas Eve preparations and why we do that, about how to appropriately greet guests or hosts, or about how to politely say thank-you for each gift opened even if you already have one or even if you don't like it so that the person giving the gift will be happy (it's ok to tell Mom or Dad after you have gone home). You get the picture - consider all those little social nuances that are part of the holidays.
Remember - Don't expect perfection. There is no such thing as a perfect holiday. Simply strive to be flexible and make the best of each situation. Remember to enjoy yourself, your family, and your children over the holidays. That's what matters!
Please visit http://www.fullspectrumlearning.ca/visuals-bank.html for some visuals you can print - adapt them to meet your needs. Use the drop down menu to select areas of focus.
What are some of the things you have found helpful as a parent or supporter during the holidays?
Casey Burgess has a B.Sc.in Psychology, an M.A. in Education (Curriculum and Instruction), and a Ph.D. in progress in Education (Cognition and Learning). She has 20 years experience with direct service, curriculum development, workshop facilitation, and supervisory experience supporting children who have Autism Spectrum Disorders, and their families. She currently frames her work using a developmental, relationship-based, self-regulation lens.