Sometimes issues that all kids can have become extra frustrating when working with children on the autism spectrum. Here’s an example.
I was consulting with a Mom this week about Brian’s challenges in school. She is frustrated because he brings home fifth grade homework that is “just too hard” for him to do. We had to “unpack” a number of issues in this conversation so we could sort them out to begin to find solutions.
Here’s the situation
Brian has difficulty with his spelling words. For homework, he’s supposed to write each word several times to master them. Writing is hard for Brian. His fine motor skills are not that good and as a result, what he writes is not very legible.
In addition, since writing is difficult, Brian is apt to try to avoid the activity. As you can guess, one problem begets another problem. His protest for the spelling words rapidly turns into a bigger behavior issue. (That’s the autism part.)
Problem solving works
Mom and I talked about the fact that the goal for this activity is to learn to spell the words. There are other tools to practice spelling besides pencil and paper. We listed several: magnet letters, type on computer, iPad apps, dry erase board and chalk board were at the top of the list.
Mom left our meeting encouraged. She’s going to try some of the options. We discussed giving Brian an opportunity to choose which tool he wanted to use each day. Building choice making into an activity can really fuel motivation for students.
The choice is not – doing spelling VS not doing spelling. The choice is which tool do you want to use to do the spelling. We also discussed the importance of providing the opportunity to use different tools each day.
There’s a bit of psychology here
This is important to remember. It’s an “autism thing.” But it’s also a “kid thing.” It’s called patterns. Students develop patterns in how they respond to things.
So if a student has a bad experience with the neighbor’s dog and the dog scares him, the next time he sees the dog, guess what? He’ll respond with that emotion of fear.
Spelling words can work the same way. Perhaps practicing the spelling words with paper and pencil is perceived by the student as a negative experience. There can be a lot of reasons why. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that trying to work through that student response can be really challenging.
Go in “through the back door”
That’s what I call it. It’s a simple concept, really. Going in the back door means changing something to change the situation. For Brian, changing something can mean getting rid of the paper and pencil and using a different tool to learn the skill. Remember, the goal is to learn how to spell the targeted words. The skill of handwriting is a different objective.
Achieving autism success
I realize that this substitution might seem like a very simple no-brainer for some of you. It is for me, too. That back door is one of the strategies that I’ve used for years to maneuver out of challenging situations when working with children on the autism spectrum. Change something.
It’s easy but it’s hard
Brian’s mom needed a little help refocusing her task. What was easy for me might be something that she just didn’t think about. That’s why we need each other.
Athletes and businessmen need coaches. Parents and teachers do too. Sometimes having another viewpoint. . . a different perspective. . . is just the answer to get us unstuck from a problem situation. That’s what worked for Brian’s mom. Do you have someone who can coach you through those tough spots?
P.S. Dry erase boards can be a perfect “stocking stuffer.” Besides spelling words, you can use them for writing notes and reminders, practicing math facts, posting rules, listing choices and many more communication needs. Check this one out.