Understanding Autism: A Guide for Secondary School Teachers (Part 3)
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Understanding Autism: A Guide for Secondary School Teachers (Part 3)

students with autism often find changes in their environment or daily routine difficult to manage a change in class schedule in a teacher’s instructions or peer interactions recall stress to be what frequently results is a student who’s already anxious becoming even more issues he’ll start to fidget he’ll start to rock he’ll start to look around and then he’ll start to move he might even get up out of his chair he starts tensing up and stressing and having tics if unrecognized these escalating stressors can lead to sudden and challenging behaviors the most severe forms are commonly called meltdowns meltdowns can be unbelievable right they can be about as violent as you can imagine from an individual who is just not violent okay stop it stop it you’re not allowed to do that teacher he’s he’s using his phone it was a kid sitting at his desk doing his work and you walk over and you you straighten his pencil on his desk and that’s it he jumps he throws his desk he may start hitting himself it can range from that severe to screaming at school a meltdown could look like banging on a desk it could look like screaming at a teacher it can look like a really weird face he was yelling it took two adults to help him get out of the classroom and go to the vice principal’s office and try to get him to calm down for students with autism meltdowns occur when a situation a task or unforeseen stimuli overwhelms their ability to control their anxiety and for many it starts with being unaware of their feelings and emotions first of all they can’t tell that they’re a little bit upset or they’re overwhelmed or they’re anxious the next issue is is some of our students have a difficult time matching emotion to event for example if our student misses two words on a spelling test it’s the end of the world because he doesn’t understand that really in life to spelling words not a big deal and the way you react to it is to say oh well if I want to do better maybe I’ll study harder next time the next issue is once our children become upset or overwhelmed they have difficulty calming themselves down there’s nothing deliberate about a meltdown it’s not purposeful behavior directed at teachers or other students but it can bring about a dramatic change in the affected student whose behavior can be very disruptive to the class and an unsuspecting teacher when Nicholas gets upset his aunt ie peeks and then the defiance comes and it doesn’t look like he’s a child with autism it looks more like he’s a defiant teenager I have to go you guys when they occur meltdowns are the way a student with autism releases pent-up frustration but the reason behind them varies many things can cause meltdowns a lack of predictability is one participation in social situations where the child does not understand what he should do not being able to get assistance when needed having too much or too little sensory stimuli it tends to be triggered when a student can’t grasp a concept or they’re frustrated with something that we’re talking about in class that they just don’t seem to get if you’re asking a student to do something that they don’t want to do that can also trigger it I mean each student is going to be different and each meltdown situation is going to be created by different circumstances so you know when there’s a meltdown or if there’s a meltdown I would say that you need to maintain your calm because you getting agitated does not help the situation wall while students with autism may not sense them coming on meltdowns rarely happen without warning it’s up to the teacher to see the signs typically meltdowns occur in three stages of varying lengths the rumbling stage the rage or meltdown stage and the recovery stage in the rumbling stage a student begins to exhibit behaviors that are out of the ordinary these behaviors may appear minor but they’re often telltale signs you may begin to drum his fingers on his desk swing his legs clear his throat talk under his breath start pacing back and forth I used to know it I they might talk louder than young like you so what you’re looking for in the rumbling stage are these either these overt physiological changes where they’re sweating they’re flushed or these more behavioral changes that are different from what they normally are in addition a student’s behavior may become more overt in the rumbling stage like withdrawing from others or threatening classmates verbally or physically for teachers the keys are to know your student be alert and prepared that way you’ll be ready to respond when something isn’t right if I sense the students with autism are under stress I allows much latitude as they need I’ll give whatever they need to kind of get them to come back down to their to their comfort zones some kids need to just get up and walk they need to move and if that’s what they need to do just to kind of detox from the situations as it is so to speak then do it the most important thing that teachers need to know are what are the warning signs they’re there they really are once the teacher sees signs of a coming meltdown it’s vital that he or she promptly intervenes but in a way that doesn’t intensify the situation teachers can use distraction or calming techniques to help the student regain control before the onset of a full-fledged meltdown I think what’s hugely important is to have a process in place where here is a teacher know what this child needs you know the signs if there’s a problem and you know the resources that you then have to use to incorporate into your routine one intervention strategy teachers use effectively is called antiseptic bouncing which involves separating the student from a stressful environment in a seamless and inconspicuous way he is picking on his eyebrows that is the signal you go to him and say mr. Johnson needs a box of Kleenex please take it to him now mr. Johnson doesn’t need the box of Kleenex but he knows on occasion a box of Kleenex will arrive we want him to get a drink of water go to the bathroom say hello to the school secretary peek into a couple of classrooms he then delivers the Kleenex and then makes his way back to his classroom during that time away from the classroom he’s been distracted and he has called another proven intervention is sending a student to a home base sometimes called a cool zone a home base is simply a place where the student can go to decompress it is not escape from work it can be a speech-language pathologists room it can be a resource room can be a counselor’s office I’m going to give you five minutes on this timer and I’m just going to give you some space okay usually we have some type of calm down plan already set in place or somewhere for them to go where they don’t need to focus on whatever work that we’re doing at that moment to just regain their composure and calm down if a student’s anxiety is not relieved during the rumbling stage he or she will likely enter the rage or meltdown stage here the student may lose control acting impulsively emotionally and sometimes explosively at this point behaviors range from outwardly physical hitting kicking screaming destroying property to internal such as withdrawal what a meltdown really boils down to it’s when you’re hijacked by your own emotions you’re you’re basically out you have no control you are you have completely snapped and depending on on the individual it can range from I’m just going to scream and cry and run out of the room too I’m gonna throw table-cell crust rolls Lisa’s son Paul has meltdowns that vary in appearance meltdowns look like very different things depending on where you are four pull were depending on where Polly’s at school even though he’s he’s a really happy nice guy the meltdowns will not look the same and people who have never seen room will be surprised at how violent he can become when a meltdown occurs teachers need to know what to do what supports are in place and be ready to act together if we come up with a system there needs to be a plan the general ed teacher needs to know what that plan is and within that plan that teacher needs to know when do I send the child out of the classroom what are the other kids go who are they supervised by who is going to help me if the child has a meltdown and what should I do during that meltdown during a meltdown teachers should keep one fundamental rule in mind keep everybody safe I mean that’s really the issue oftentimes you have to remove everybody because it’s too difficult – especially when you’re talking about high school if you’re talking about a 15 year old 175 pound man you’re not removing him you have to remove everybody else for teachers having a plan and implementing it properly is critical to helping a student who’s suffering a meltdown regain control the last thing you want is for the individual with autism to have a meltdown or a tantrum or a behavior problem because those things are hard to recover from his classmates start to think he’s got a problem that is bigger than it really is and so there are things that the gen ed teacher should know to do that will help keep the participant with autism sort of on a level ground take it from a parent of a student with autism teachers can make all the difference when it comes to helping prevent meltdowns from occurring in the first place the teachers that work well with Paul know him they watch his face they watch his body language they don’t just wait for words to come out of his mouth because by then it’s done you’re already in in a frustrating episode following a meltdown comes the third stage recovery the recovery stage means simply that the behaviors exhibited during rage are no longer occurring but the child is not ready to learn new material he is still fragile and if predictability in routine does not occur he may meltdown again there’s no on/off switch with meltdowns once in the recovery stage students often need help easing back into their routine teachers can help by directing them to highly motivating tasks that they can accomplish such as an activity related to a special interest or that plays on a particular strength afterwards the teacher should investigate the cause of the meltdown in order to develop a strategy to avoid future episodes there will come a time after the child is recovered where you in essence go through this and say okay what did we learn from this how could we have avoided this did you feel this coming on we call it a social autopsy you want to go back and say where did we make the mistakes right what did we do wrong we not just you not the person with autism but me as well that could have prevented this one way to reduce the possibility of meltdowns is to maintain open lines of communication with parents the formula is really simple the teacher and I have to talk a lot they get to know Paul through me and I get to know what’s expected of him through the teacher because there are always different expectations in each classroom and the teacher sees Paul and calls me up and ask some questions it’s not Paul doing the other day in class what does that mean oh that’s not good that means that he’s really nervous about something try this this or this we go over how he’s role oriented how he strives with structure things different procedures that worked in the past develop a relationship with the parent develop a dialogue I mean the goal of any teacher is the success of a student period and the sentence doesn’t matter who the child is and that’s what the parents goal is they want what’s best for their child if you want that child to succeed if you build a partnership the child will be successful okay so that way if there’s a certain student that tends to have meltdowns and we know it either coming into the school year or we find out shortly on we do tend to have meetings with parents to talk about what strategies have worked for their children a lot of teachers don’t want you to feel bad because your child has behaviors in school tell me everything so that I know how to help you as a teacher and you know how not my son given the nature of autism students on the spectrum are not necessarily intuitive learners they need explicit instruction in order to learn how to understand their feelings manage their behaviors and ultimately prevent meltdowns they need direct instruction on all of those facets of recognizing behaviors and self and how to incorporate strategies and we typically do that by behavior and we will teach our kids that you know when you begin to swing your leg that means that you are overwhelmed and when you are overwhelmed here’s a strategy that you can use while some older students may have already developed healthy coping skills by the time they enter your classroom it’s important for you to continue building on those strengths as part of a proactive approach to managing behavior people on the spectrum by the time they get to high school both hopefully have been taught some self-awareness they also know their own warning signs so you know the two most important things are proactively implement the proactive plan and know the warning signs so that if the child the teenager needs to get out of the environment let them out for teachers an effective way to address challenging behaviors considers the individual student in the context of the classroom I think knowing student knowing his strengths knowing his areas where he’s got the most difficulties and then proactively addressing that will result in the best this segment presents what could go wrong in the classroom and how to productively deal with the students challenging behaviors the next segment effective use of teacher supports will bring it all together and describe how parents teachers and school administrators can create optimal learning environments for students with autism for additional information and resources please visit the Organization for autism research website at you

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