This is one post where I am going to ramble some (I promise to end with a free PowerPoint on autism, too!) If you ever start a conversation with me about autism, you will quickly see it is something I am passionate about. I could talk for hours about my experiences with these amazing students. Some stories would come with laughter while other stories I would share with tears in my eyes and a heavy heart. As I continue on this blogging adventure, I hope to be able to share some of the stories with you. Every experience (good and bad) has made me a better teacher. I wouldn’t trade any of the tears in for laughter because the laughter wouldn’t feel nearly as sweet.
Over my career as a special education teacher, I have worked with numerous students on the autism spectrum. I quickly learned that no child with autism is alike. The puzzle ribbon is a powerful representation of these children. Their minds are like puzzles and you have to figure out how to put the pieces together.
Some of my best memories as a teacher are my breakthrough moments with my students with autism. Those moments where something you are teaching clicks. There is nothing like something clicking with a child with autism. You can see the moment of clarity on the student’s face when they realize they got it. There is no better moment than bringing clarity to a child that is often confused by the world that surrounds them.
Unfortunately, as a special education teacher I have had some very frustrating moments involving other special education teachers. I wish that all teachers were positive and wanted to push their students as far as they could go. In my experience, this is not always the case. I have “inherited” a few students from other teachers where I was told the child did not have much potential. We were told one child would never be able to use the bathroom on their own, was physically aggressive, and had no chance at gaining academic skills. We also later found out he was previously restrained to a chair for most of his day, but that’s a tearful post for another day.
A Favorite “Click” Moment
One of my favorite “click” moments was with this student. He was learning how to add. He was great at rote counting, he could count for hours. But adding was too abstract for him. Even with manipulatives, he had trouble understanding how the visual of a number related to its worth. How could the number 1 represent 1 item? How could the number 9 represent 9 items? To him, numbers were a squiggly line. He had spent the past year at his other school trying to learn how to add, and we had spent weeks trying various methods ourselves.
After much research and thought, I introduced the Touch Math system. Each number 1-9 has strategically placed dots. The number 1 has 1 dot, the number 2, has 2 dots, etc. See the image below.
Working with his inclusion helper, we showed him how the Touch Math numbers worked. After one math class, he had every dot memorized. The next day we were able to nervously introduce the adding method. It took two examples and it clicked. I can remember the exact moment I saw it click. He smiled from ear to ear; he understood exactly what we had been trying to teach him the past few weeks. Something as simple as dots drawn on the numbers got him to understand the concept that numbers represented more than a squiggly line. I will never forget that moment standing there with his inclusion helper; tears filling our eyes as we stared at each other in disbelief.
All of the paperwork, planning, e-mails, and long hours were worth it for that one moment. It’s why I teach and it’s why I love working with children with autism. While it may seem like a small success to some, it felt like we hit the lottery.
Take a Chance
It’s important to take chances on your students. Don’t be afraid of how difficult and frustrating it may be at times to work with struggling students. You never know how far you can push a student academically. For all of you fearful of inclusion and working with students with disabilities, give it a chance. All it will take is one “click” moment and you will understand why people like me push inclusion so hard.
The Free Autism Presentation
As I promised, I have attached a free PowerPoint presentation on the Autism Spectrum. You could spend hours researching and reading about Autism. At each school I have worked at, I have shared a version of this presentation. It is something you can use at a staff meeting or send out to teachers to look at on their own. PTA’s can use it to share with parents so that they have a better understanding of some of the children that are part of their school community. Later, I will share some information on how to teach students about autism.
Tip for Presenting the PowerPoint
Under the fine motor section, I love to do a hands-on demonstration. All you need are winter gloves and pennies. Spread pennies out on a table. Have teachers/parents put on gloves and try to pick pennies up. This represents what it may be like for a student with fine motor difficulty.
Click the links below to download the files. After the file opens, go to File, Download (or CTRL + S).
File to Download