Inclusion: Attitude is Everything
"Supporting Students with Autism: 10 Ideas for Inclusive Classrooms"
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"You're Going to Love this Kid!": Teaching Students with Autism in the Inclusive Classroom
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Inclusion: Attitude is Everything
When we talk about inclusion there are many definitions and applications of the term. This issue will focus primarily on educational inclusion, that is, students with exceptionalities being educated in general education classrooms for all or a portion of the school day. There has been much educational research conducted on inclusion (see “References” below this article and “Inclusion Links” in this issue for more information) that gives ideas about strategies, teaching methods, and other factors that contribute to successful inclusion experiences. The beliefs and attitudes of the teachers, one of these factors, is, in my opinion, vital to any inclusion experience.
As a special education teacher, I have visited general education classrooms to support students with autism in this setting. In many cases, the teachers are very welcoming and accepting of their student with autism, and are willing to do what it takes to make all of the students successful. Unfortunately, I have also seen some classrooms where the teachers’ initial attitudes have not been as positive. An example that I always remember was when I walked into a classroom and approached the teacher standing next to the desk of the student with autism, monitoring his work. When she saw me, she said, loud enough for the student (as well as the rest of the class) to hear, “I’m so glad you’re here. Will you work with him? I can’t deal with him right now. He’s driving me crazy.” In this teacher’s defense, the student with autism did not typically react overtly to people talking around him, but as we know, students with autism often understand much more than they show expressively. I believe that this student was fully capable of understanding this statement, and I can’t imagine the impression that this gave to the rest of the students in the class. Again, in this teacher’s defense, she had not received much training or information about autism, so, of course, I made it a goal to support her and work together to find ways to help this student be successful in a positive, supportive learning environment. This teacher later became a great advocate for this student.
I believe that the best advice in a situation like this would be, in whatever role you play in a child with autism’s life, to collaborate and work closely with the child’s teachers. Parents, you can share your favorite books and websites about autism, and if you have a home program of some kind (ABA, OT, speech, etc.), you can share what your child is working on at home and what strategies have been successful there. The same goes for home program providers, with the parent’s permission, you can contact the child’s teacher to offer to set up a meeting to share ideas and implement consistent routines across home and school. Giving a teacher tools and support, and letting the teacher know that he/she is appreciated, can go a long way in improving a teacher’s attitude about inclusion.
According to research, a positive attitude by teachers is important to student success. In a study conducted in 2003 by Robertson, Chamberlain, and Kasari, when teachers had more positive perceptions of their teacher-student relationship with their included students with autism, the students’ behavior problems were reported to be lower, and the students were more socially included with their peers. Strategies for supporting positive behavior, as well as developing a positive teacher-student relationship, I believe, are important in this case.
In a series of steps to create an inclusive classroom environment, M.A. Prater (2003), lists elements relating to teacher attitude as the first two steps. The first step to a successful inclusive environment, according to Prater, is to set a positive tone for the classroom, and focus on the strengths and abilities of the students, not just their areas of weakness; the second step is to believe in the student, as well as yourself as a teacher.
In a case study of a student with autism’s inclusion experiences, the authors of the study shared that the student’s success was due, at least in part, to the attitude of his teachers: “The expectation for José to participate fully in the activities in the classroom was highly dependent on each new teacher's attitude about José's ability to learn and part of the intervention was to provide support to the teacher in recognizing Jose's particular set of strengths and needs” (Diehl, Ford, & Federico, 2005).
Positive outcomes have also been reported for children with autism who participate in inclusive programs. According to a review of research conducted by Levy, Kim, and Olive (2006), the presence of typically-developing children in educational programs for children with autism was reported to have positive effects on social skills and behavior for the children with autism. In a report on an inclusive preschool program by Jan S. Weiner (2002), it was reported that one-hundred percent (nine out of nine) of the preschool children who completed the inclusion program (three of whom have autism) went on to attend a general education Kindergarten classroom, versus a separate special education classroom. This is a very small number of participants, so we do need to keep in mind that these results may not be typical for the larger population, but I think that the results are encouraging. Additionally, three out of the four preschools that participated in the project elected to continue their inclusion programs, even after the research funding ended.
This is not to say that programs that focus on a one-to-one teaching arrangement, such as ABA/Discrete Trial Training or private occupational therapy or speech therapy, are not effective or appropriate. I believe that these two types of programs can be used to complement each other and support the student’s success across multiple environments. When all of the professionals (including the parents) involved in the education of a child with autism collaborate and work together, I believe that success will follow.
I’d like to conclude by referring back to the quote that began this article: “…central to the philosophy of inclusion are the beliefs that everyone belongs, diversity is valued, and we can all learn from each other.” I believe that when we focus on students’ strengths, abilities, and gifts, we will see that everyone does belong, everyone can contribute in their own way, and that everyone does learn important lessons from ALL students in a classroom. I hope you enjoy the inclusion issue of Positively Autism, and please feel free to e-mail me any time with your comments or suggestions. Happy New Year!
FYI: Here is the format for the Reference List: Author’s Last Name, Initial. (Year Published). Title of article. Journal/Magazine Title, Volume#(Issue#), page #s.
Diehl, S.F., Ford, C.S., & Federico, J. (2005). The communication journey of a fully include child with an autism spectrum disorder. Topics in Language Disorders, 25(4), 375-387.
Levy, S., Kim, A., & Olive, M.L. (2006). Interventions for young children with autism: A synthesis of the literature. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 21(1), 55-62.
Prater, M.A. (2003). She will succeed: Strategies for success in inclusive classrooms. Teaching Exceptional Children, 35(5), 58-64.
Renzaglia, A., Karvonen, M., Drasgow, E., & Stoxen, C.C. (2003). Promoting a lifetime of inclusion. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 18(3), 140-149.
Robertson, K., Chamberlain, B., & Kasari, C. (2003). General education teachers’ relationships with included students with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33(2), 123-130.
Weiner, J.S. (2002). Full inclusion preschool project: Year one research outcomes brief report. Downloaded December 28, 2006 from http://eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=ED493533
Supporting Students With Autism: 10 Ideas for Inclusive Classrooms
by Paula Kluth
© 2005 Paula Kluth. Adapted from: P. Kluth (2003). “You're going to love this kid”: Teaching students with autism in the inclusive classroom . Baltimore: Brookes Publishing.
As I speak with colleagues in primary and secondary schools, I have noticed that many teaching veterans understand how to include students with learning disabilities, cognitive disabilities, emotional disabilities, and physical disabilities in general education classrooms; but they remain puzzled at how to support and teach students with autism in these same environments and learning experiences.
These tips are designed for the teacher who is just beginning to work with a student with autism. These simple ideas may work for a myriad of students but they are particularly helpful for educating students with autism, Asperger's syndrome, and other spectrum labels. They can help a teacher of any grade level or subject area plan lessons and engineer a safe and comfortable classroom for students with autism and other unique learning characteristics.
1) Learn About the Learner From the Learner
Oftentimes, educators needing information about a student will study the individual's educational records. While these documents are certainly one source of information, they are seldom the most helpful source of information. Teachers wanting to know more about a student with autism should ask that student to provide information. Some students will be quite wiling and able to share information while others may need coaxing or support from family members. Teachers might ask for this information in a myriad of ways. For instance, they might ask the student to take a short survey or sit for an interview. One teacher asked his student with autism, to create a list of teaching tips that might help kids with learning differences. The teacher then published the guide and gave it out to all educators in the school.
If the student with autism is unable to communicate in a reliable way, teachers can go to families for help. Parents can share the teaching tips they have found most useful in the home or provide videotapes of the learner engaged in different family and community activities. These types of materials tend to give educators ideas that are more useful and concrete than do traditional educational reports and assessments.
Observing the student in another classroom setting can also be useful. In particular, these observations should focus on the student's successes: What can this student do well? Where is she strong? What has worked to create success for the student?
2) Support Transitions
Some students with autism struggle with transitions. Some are uncomfortable changing from environment to environment, while others have problems moving from activity to activity. Individuals with autism report that changes can be extremely difficult causing stress and feelings of disorientation. Teachers can minimize the discomfort students may feel when transitioning by:
3) Give Fidget Supports
Oftentimes, learners with autism struggle to stay seated or to remain in the classroom for extended periods of time. While allowing learners to move frequently is one way to approach this need, some students can be equally comforted if they have an object to manipulate during lessons. One student I know likes to pick apart the threads on patches of denim. Another folds and unfolds a drinking straw during long lecture periods.
Students having such a need might be offered Slinky toys, Koosh balls, straws, stir sticks, strings of beads, rubberbands or even keychains that have small toys attached to them.
Allowing students to draw can be another effective “staying put” strategy. Many learners with and without identified needs appear better able to concentrate on a lecture or activity when they are given the opportunity to doodle on a notepad, write on their folders, or sketch in a notebook.
4) Help with Organizing
While some students with autism are ultra-organized, others need support to find materials, keep their locker and desk areas neat, and remember to bring their assignments home at the end of the day. Consider implementing support strategies that all students might find useful. For example, students can attach a small “going home” checklist to the inside of their lockers or be reminded to keep a small set of school supplies in each classroom instead of having to carry these materials in their backpacks. Teachers can also:
5) Assign Class Jobs
Many students with autism are comforted by routines and predictability. Class routines and jobs can provide this type of structure while also serving as opportunities to provide instruction and skill practice. A student who likes to organize materials might be put in charge of collecting equipment in physical education. A student who is comforted by order might be asked to straighten the classroom library. In one elementary classroom, Maria, a student with autism, was sometimes given the chore of completing the lunch count. Counting the raised hands and having to record the right numbers in the right spaces helped to build Maria's literacy and numeracy skills.
6) Provide Breaks
Some students work best when they can pause between tasks and take a break of some kind (walk around, stretch, or simply stop working). Some learners will need walking breaks – these breaks can last anywhere from a few seconds to fifteen or twenty minutes. Some students will need to walk up and down a hallway once or twice, others will be fine if allowed to wander around in the classroom.
A teacher who realized the importance of these instructional pauses decided to offer them to all learners. He regularly gave students a prompt to discuss (e.g., What do you know about probability?) and then directed them to “talk and walk” with a partner. After ten minutes of movement, he brought the students back together and asked them to discuss their conversations.
7) Focus on Interests
Whenever possible, educators should use interests, strengths, skills, areas of expertise, and gifts as tools for teaching. For instance, student strength areas can be used to facilitate relationships. Some students who find conversation and “typical” ways of socializing a challenge, are amazingly adept at connecting with others when the interaction occurs in relation to an activity or favorite interest.
One of my former students, Patrick, had few friendships and seldom spoke to other students until a new student came into the classroom wearing a Star Wars tee-shirt. Patrick's face lit up upon seeing the shirt and he began bombarding the newcomer with questions and trivia about his favorite film. The new student, eager to make a friend, began bringing pieces of his science fiction memorabilia to class. Eventually, the two students struck up a friendship related to their common interest and even formed a lunch club where students gathered to play trivia board games related to science fiction films.
Any of the interests students bring to the classroom might also be used as part of the curriculum. A student who loves weather might be asked to write a story about tidal waves, investigate websites related to cloud formation, or do an independent research project on natural disasters. A student fascinated by Africa might be encouraged to write to pen pals living on that continent or asked to compare and contrast the governments of certain African nations with the government of the United States.
8) Rethink Writing
Writing can be a major source of tension and struggle for students with autism. Some students cannot write at all and others who can write, may have a difficult time doing so. Handwriting may be sloppy or even illegible. Students who struggle with writing may become frustrated with the process and become turned off to paper/pencil tasks.
In order to support a student struggling with writing, a teacher may try to give the child gentle encouragement as he or she attempts to do some writing- a word, a sentence, or a few lines. Teachers might also allow the student to use a computer, word processor, or even an old typewriter for some lessons. In addition, peers, classroom volunteers, teachers, and paraprofessionals can also serve as scribes for a student who struggles with movement and motor problems, dictating as the student with autism speaks ideas and thoughts.
9) Give Choices
Choice may not only give students a feeling of control in their lives, but an opportunity to learn about themselves as workers and learners. Students, especially those who are given opportunities to make decisions, know best when during the day they are most creative, productive, and energetic; what materials and supports they need; and in what ways they can best express what they have learned.
Choice can be built into almost any part of the school day. Students can choose which assessments to complete, which role to take in a cooperative group, which topics to study or which problems to solve, and how to receive personal assistance and supports. Examples of choices that can be offered in classrooms include:
If students are to learn appropriate behaviors, they will need to be in the inclusive environment to see and hear how their peers talk and act. If students are to learn to social skills, they will need to be in a space where they can listen to and learn from others who are socializing. If students will need specialized supports to succeed academically, then teachers need to see the learner functioning in the inclusive classroom to know what types of supports will be needed.
If it is true that we learn by doing, then the best way to learn about supporting students with autism in inclusive schools is to include them.
In the News
Children with Autism Participate in Ballet Class
A new program at a ballet studio provides a ballet class for young ladies with autism. Their dance instructor reports that the girls experience success and progress with dancing skills. She says, “the girls love to dance, and my goal is to eventually have the girls participate in a ballet class that is not limited to autistic children.” Read the Complete Story Here
15-Year-Old with Asperger's Syndrome Earns Karate Black Belt
Teenager Ethan Ward recently earned his black belt, as well as receiving the Outstanding Achievement Award from his Martial Arts club. His instructor reported that Ethan is a "pleasure to teach" and that "some people think you can not teach children with autism but if you give them something to aim at, Ethan has shown just what can be achieved. He should really be an inspiration to all parents of autistic children.” Read the Complete Story Here
Author with Autism Writes a "Memoir for Children"
Gary Kramish, 50, has written a children's book entitled "A Cat Named Trouble," a self-published work about his cat companion. Working in conjunction with an aspiring illustrator, he has sold over 500 copies of the book. Kramish has been described as "showing the world what he can do instead of what he can't." Read the Complete Story Here
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Busy Bee Book Review - Quick, Important Highlights of Books about Autism
"You're Going to Love this Kid!: Teaching Students with Autism in the Inclusive Classroom" by Paula Kluth
Author: Paula Kluth
Publisher (Date): Paul H. Brookes Publishing (2003)
Recommended for: primarily teachers in inclusion settings, but the information could be adapted and used by special education teachers, parents, and other service providers.
Summary: A "practical guide" to understanding and including students with autism in general education classrooms. Includes information on lesson planning and teaching methods, creating a comfortable classroom environment for students with sensory differences, and positive ways to support behavior, communication, and friendships.
Review: Dr. Paula Kluth is a dedicated advocate for students with autism, and that attitude shines through in her book and other written works. In "You're Going to Love this Kid," she looks at autism in a positive and respectful way, while providing useful and relevant information for teachers. Dr. Kluth also incorporates the insights and opinions of individuals with autism throughout the chapters. One thing I noticed regarding this book is that the reader may, after reading the chapter on behavior, come away with a negative impression of Behavior Analysis, which can be a wonderful teaching method. In the majority of cases, Behavior Analysis is based primarily on positive reinforcement and functional analysis of challenging behavior (determining the function of a behavior, and teaching another, positive behavior in its place), not punishment. The author is correct, however, that it is not always used appropriately. Overall, this book is a refreshingly positive resource, and is highly recommended!
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Thank you for visiting this issue of Positively Autism! If you have any comments or suggestions, or any topic ideas for future issues, please feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com.
Future issues will include items such as interviews, strategies/resources for parents and teachers, children’s literature, as well as inspirational stories, book reviews, and positive news! More detailed information about next month's issue coming soon!
"The inclusion of children with special gifts and needs in a compassionate environment that allows peer recognition of the unique character of each child or adult produces what can only be viewed as an island of humanity, caring, respect, and peace." - Peter Yarrow, founder of "Operation Respect"