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Helping Children with Autism Self Regulate in the Classroom - July 10, 2009

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Helping Children with Autism Self-Regulate in the Classroom

Copyright © 2009 Autism is Not Boss

By: L. Mae Wilkinson
Autism is Not Boss

As a parent, I was outraged by recent reports that time-out rooms and restraints were still being used in schools across the U.S. However, as a friend of several therapists who have witnessed firsthand the violence and disruptive behaviors of the students involved, I could understand why teachers would want these kiddos out of the classroom. But, arm and leg restraints? Four hours in a seclusion room? How did children (and school administrators) get to this point?

Lack of Perspective: Because children with autism often don’t display physical symptoms, they can be mislabeled as lazy, uncooperative or non-compliant. And yet, when a child with autism is requested to make eye contact, or to sit still in his chair, or to read when he hasn’t the skills to do so, it is not substantially different from demanding a person in a wheelchair walk up three flights of stairs. When asked to complete impossible tasks day after day, semester after semester, a student will grow more and more frustrated, humiliated and angry until the behaviors become violent. Helping the general education community understand these issues can set the right tone for appropriate behavioral intervention.

Lack of Student Enablers: Because meltdowns are bound to occur, it is also critically important to help children learn to self-regulate in the classroom.

  1. Teach key phrases, such as ’I don’t understand’ or ‘I need help.’ Ask parents to reinforce these phrases at home.
  2. Teach facial cues so that the child understands when his behavior is inappropriate. Facial expressions provide visual cues that a person is getting impatient or angry.
  3. Supply self-calming tools, such as headphones and other devices to use in the classroom.
  4. Facilitate peer mentoring by encouraging classmates to step in with a kind word of encouragement. Kiddos can understand each other in ways that adults simply do not comprehend. Peer mentoring can be introduced via character education training.
  5. Continue to seek out answers for what was causing the behaviors. Studies on abuse in schools found that virtually all the students involved had learning disabilities, so vigilance in identifying these difficulties early will circumvent problems later.

Featured Publication/Website: Autism is not the Boss

L.Mae Wilkinson is a reluctant housewife, moderate mom, volunteer parent mentor and quiet advocate for people with disabilities. She has a son with a PDD-NOS diagnosis who is fully mainstreamed at his school and within his community. From Mae's website: "I am a huge fan of all families who have children with autism; I am pro inclusion and self-determination. I like just about any organization that brings understanding/resources/research about autism. I am neutral on vaccines/supplements/diets/gene debates. I started Autism is Not the Boss in order to gather and share practical parenting tips to prepare children with ASD for a life filled with good relationships, good options and great futures, and that means raising confident and happy kiddos"

Tags: Autism OT July 2009 Newsletter Article