Reaching an Autistic Teenager

October 21, 2008

Did you see this latest article in the NYTimes?
Reaching an Autistic Teenager
The article describes D.I.R./Floortime (D.I.R. stands for developmental, individual differences, relationship-based approach.) Have any of you come across this technique?
The method seems to be involve relating to students on a direct emotional level, responding to students interests and concerns. The article contrasts D.I.R. with ABA and never really addresses how the two could work together.
I was left thinking that what they are recommending is what I see good teachers and interventionists do on a daily basis – that is – not relying solely on behavioral strategies but also responding to students in a personal, connecting way. I’m glad someone has articulated why this is important, it is pulling back the curtain on what effective teachers do instinctively.
One confounding part of the article is a connection to Autism and Attention Deficit Disorder which the author seems to assume and passes over much too quickly.
Can any of you help sort any of this out?

Autism on the High Seas

September 17, 2008

I read with interest this article in the NYTimes Sunday, September 14 about travel with autistic children.

Bypassing the Roadblocks of Autism

Is it encouraging that the travel industry is creating specific packages for autism families? Or is this another way that special needs families get shunted away from others so they can be ignored? Are these vacations the  solution for families in difficult situations? Or is this a gulag that keeps typical families sheltered form the realities of the differently-abled?

I think it is important to remember that vacations are supposed to be relaxing for everyone in the family and if that means going to a resort or cruise or campground that caters to families with special needs, well parents and children need to know that they can go somewhere for vacation where they feel totally at ease. There are plenty of opportunities in this world to feel different, I’m thrilled that this is a chance for autism families to feel typical.

The article also includes a video of an autism family talking about travel and their upper middle class privilege jumps off the screen. It’s great to see families marshalling resources to make a life for their autistic children, wouldn’t it be nice to see more diversity in economic class? Maybe that is asking too much of the NYTimes Travel section.

Tom Julius

Families and Schools Working Together to Support Children with Asperger’s Syndrome by Robin Lurie-Meyerkopf, Experienced Educators Program, Concord ’07

February 19, 2008

The role of the classroom teacher is of utmost importance in ensuring the success of the child with Asperger’s Syndrome. The classroom teacher sets the tone of the class and is responsible for making sure all the needs of the children are being met. Like an orchestra conductor, the teacher is the one person that keeps things together and “in tune.” (Cumin, Dunlop, & Stevenson 1998) The teacher creates an environment that values all learners, and helps children succeed in their own individual ways. With appropriate supports and accommodations, students with AS can excel and be very rewarding to teach. Here in a nutshell are some of the best educational practices culled from my twenty years in education. In order to help students with AS succeed—even flourish—in your classroom, try these strategies:

• Create a calm, orderly classroom with clear rules, routines, and expectations, reviewed regularly. Consistency and structure help our socially challenged children be successful.
• Watch and protect children with AS, to make sure they are not excluded, teased, or bullied. No child should have to live in fear—and fear makes it very hard to learn and grow.
• Create a class environment where all children feel comfortable. In all your words and actions, model respect and acceptance for all the children. You will make a lasting impression on your students.
• Be aware of the social structure of the classroom: Who are “popular” kids in the class? How much do others listen and follow their lead? How can you intervene to change attitudes, and prevent bullying and teasing of vulnerable students with AS?
• Foster positive interactions among peers in the classroom, and in less structured environments such as the playground, cafeteria, and hallways. You may wish to ask a speech therapist how to do “social coaching” for your student with AS.
• Encourage your school administration to institute school-wide or district-wide bullying-prevention curricula.
• Respect each child’s unique learning style. Modify assignments to fit learning styles. Use both whole class and individual instruction, as appropriate. Encourage children to develop an understanding about how they learn best.
• To help students with AS keep up with academic work:
– Set clear expectations, providing detailed written instructions as well as oral instructions.
– Check regularly to make sure students are doing assignments correctly.
• Build a positive relationship between home and school.
– Parents know their children better than anyone—but teachers also have important information to share.
– The child has the best chance of success in school when parents can share information about the child with the classroom teacher, in a non-confrontational manner, and teachers welcome parents’ input.
– Ideally, parents and teachers function as a mutually supportive team, working together to understand the child, solve problems, and help the child succeed.
– Monthly face to face team meetings, and weekly communication by phone, e-mail, or notebook, promote excellent, essential communication among key adults
in the child’s life.
• Work closely with others whose services are part of a child’s educational plan: classroom aide, speech therapist, guidance counselor, school social worker or psychologist.
– Gym, art, and music teachers may also play an important role. Any adult who will encounter the student needs to learn something about Asperger’s Syndrome.
– It’s fine to seek additional help. Since AS is such a new diagnosis, and children may be quite complex, many schools bring in an educational consultant with
expertise in AS to observe the student and meet with the team of educators and
• Children with AS are often extremely sensitive to sights, sounds, smells, or textures. An hour in a noisy, visually stimulating classroom can overwhelm their ability to cope, leading them to shut down or melt down.
– Check in regularly to make sure sensory issues are not overwhelming your student with AS. They may need regularly scheduled sensory breaks, or a quiet spot they can go to, in order to restore their equilibrium and prevent meltdowns.
– Many children with AS prefer not to be touched at all.
– Strategies that prevent meltdowns are best, but may occasionally fail. If a child is in meltdown, don’t try to talk about it; give the child a safe time and space in which to ride out their inner tempest and pull him or herself back together. Avoid physical contact or restraint unless absolutely essential, as it is likely to escalate into a meltdown.
• Behavior and discipline
– The behavior of children with AS is not usually motivated by the what motivates acting out by neurotypical children.
– Punishing the child is often inappropriate and counter-productive; therefore, school-wide discipline policies may need to be adapted for children with AS, not applied in a rigid manner.
– Be a detective! Figure out what causes a behavior, and how better to lessen its recurrence.
– Teach and coach preferred behaviors—not just compliance, but self-awareness, self-advocacy, and negotiation skills.
• Seek opportunities to learn about new issues affecting children. (AS is still a pretty new diagnosis, and children with AS may differ greatly from one another; there is always more to learn.)

Needless to say, meeting this goal is quite a challenge, especially in a traditional class of 15–25 children! Teachers need and deserve substantial support from their administrators and specialists. You should expect to invest substantial amounts of time and energy into learning about educational interventions that are effective for students with
AS, and making these new practices a part of your teaching repertoire. However, the rewards and satisfaction gained by accommodating all learners are also substantial—and parents will remember you with gratitude forever.

This kind of success cannot be measured in our traditional ways. The traditional equation for success is:
Success = assignments completed, high test scores, and good grades

I suggest we re-define success, and propose this new model:
Success = happy, well-adjusted, cooperative students

This new model requires an environment that better understands the needs of ALL students and, through the talents and skills of the teacher, provides an environment for
everyone to succeed.

Robin Lurie-Meyerkopf has worked for the past twenty years as a teacher,
environmental educator, consultant and now the Associate Director of the Asperger’s Association of New England (AANE). She holds an Antioch University Autism Spectrum Disorders Certificate, with specialized training in pragmatic group skills. Currently Robin is in the Antioch Experienced Educators M.Ed. Program. She also does teacher and parent trainings.
You can contact her at 603-520-4780 or or visit her website at