Saturday, July 2, 2016

Building upon strengths when teaching a child on the spectrum...

I received a message from a reader on my blog. Please see the message below:

Hi, I have a highly functional, very verbal, polite 6yr old in my class of 8 Kinders & 7 1st graders. She is repeating Kinder because she was unable to grasp math beyond 1+ 1,2,3,4 - she was unable to process on her own to count out ....blocks then .....more blocks - then add them up to find the answer. She knows 1-10 & Can count up to 10 only. She can count out & understands how many but adding was beyond her ability. She knows all letter names but only the consonant sounds. Vowels sounds stump her. I need help for ideas on how to help her learn. Mom works with her DAILY, she received one on one at school daily AND 2 hours weekly with a special Ed tutor to no avail. Please help.

I have been thinking about doing a blog post about some of the educational challenges that I have seen my son face as well as some of the students that I have taught that are on the autism spectrum. When I got this message I figured that it was the perfect time to create this post. You see, my son has experienced quite a bit of difficulty in math. Many of the issues that the reader describes above are some of the same issues that my son has experienced. My son is a visual learner. He is able to quickly memorize things that make sense to him. He is a sight word reader. He just finished kindergarten and he is reading at a mid 1st grade level. My neuro typical son was able to memorize all of the rules when it comes to learning how to become a good reader. Bam Bam can tell you the rules of reading, but he struggles to apply those rules. He is extremely concrete and he has done much better by using rote memorization. Rote memory is often a strong point for children who are on the autism spectrum. My son was able to tell me his letters before he was ever able to speak actual words. It is important to try and use as many visuals as possible when teaching a child on the spectrum. Reading has always been easy for my son. Math, not so much.


My little guy was able to easily  memorize his numbers and count in order without having to count out actual items. He has really struggled with everything that extends beyond this. You see, with rote memory it is easy to simply memorize numbers, but it is entirely something different to have to understand the meaning behind those numbers and how two different numbers can work together. We really struggled when it came to even counting items out that were printed on a picture. He was able to count physical items such as counting blocks, but he would get distracted with having to count out items that were printed on a worksheet. What ended up working for my son was that I taught him to physically cross out each picture as he was counting up. This strategy allowed him to see if he had already counted an item. Single digit addition started to be taught at the end of kindergarten. For my son, it took a variety of strategies for him to finally be able to get this concept. Many kiddos learn addition by counting on their fingers. My son has some huge fine motor difficulties so this did not work for him. I needed to come up with a concrete process that he could memorize to teach him how to add. What finally worked is this. If he saw a problem such as 9+2= The first step was to circle the biggest number. He was able to quickly learn that he needed to circle nine because counting up was easy and he already knew that nine was bigger than two. After he mastered this step, I taught him to draw two lines to represent the two. After he learned this step, I taught him to put his pencil in the circle and say 9. After he learned this step, he would cross out each line that represented the two by counting up from 9, then he would cross out the first line and say 10, then he would cross out the second line and say 11. He had already learned to cross out items while counting up so he was able to complete this step of the process relatively easily. I tried a variety of strategies, but this is the only technique that I found that worked for my son.

When working with my son, I have learned to be as concrete as possible and to try my best to build upon skills that he already knows how to do. I also break down concepts into steps that he can memorize. I also try to be as visual as possible whenever I am teaching him. It has taken quite a few trials and many errors, but I have been able to keep him at grade level by working with him almost every day. I even make him do work in the summer. I do this, because I don't want him to struggle at school. When things are difficult, behaviors start to occur. This is why I want to do everything in my power to make sure that he is academically prepared.

I also want to add that communication is difficult for most children who are on the spectrum. When you are teaching, many times the child is busy trying to process the language first and they may be missing part of the instruction. This is why it is important to teach, re-teach, and re-teach again. It is important to be as visual as possible and to create a system that can be easily memorized. I hope that this post as been helpful. I will do my best to answer any questions that you may have.

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