Tag Archives: language

A Professional’s Guide to Talking About Autism

Talking about Autism in  professional contexts should be done with utmost sensitivity and respect towards the individuals with the condition and their families. Having sat through assessments, consultations, education and health care meetings, annual reviews and planning meetings with familes and professionals, I have learned lessons of what to do and what not to do when it comes to talking about the said subject. I am aiming, through this article, to share with you what I have learned over the years.

1. It’s not an epidemic and no one is ‘suffering’ from Autism

Despite what the figures suggest, I do not consider Autism as an epidemic – it has been around for longer than we all think and we just got better at identifying it.

I would try to avoid using any negative terms at all when talking about Autism. Someone HAS Autism, but he/ she is not suffering. I prefer to call Autism as a condition, not a disorder or a disease.

Please note that I do not want you all to turn a blind eye on the difficulties that the individuals and their families are having at any point. Absolutely not! I urge you to acknowledge that. What I want you all to understand is that whatever it is that is happening now can be changed. Focus on what can be done (realistically) to make their situations better.

2. Individuals with Autism; not Autistic individuals

The jury is still out with this one – some actually want to be identified as ‘autistic’, as it is a major part of their identities, while some would like to be referred to as (for example) ‘a girl with Autism’. I always use the latter one, unless corrected by the individual or the family. I feel that by referring to them as ‘individuals with Autism’, I am acknowledging that there is more to them than having a diagnosis – that Autism is only a part of who they are. By doing so, I believe that I am opening up the opportunity for others to truly discover who the person really is as a whole.

3. Avoid using ‘High/Low Functioning’ and ‘severely/mildly Autistic’

I myself am guilty of this until recently. First of all, I know that levels of functioning depends (in a large part) on the individual’s IQ score. However, I began to understand that IQ is only a part of who they truly are.

I understand that levels of functioning may give professionals and parents a common language/ reference point to which they can base an individual’s set of abilities. But I feel like this should be avoided as it is misleading. I have met many people with Autism who have overall IQs of less than 70 but are amazing in specific things. One may be ‘low functioning’ but it does not mean that they cannot (or are not) good at something.

What I find helpful is to look at the overall picture. Try to understand every context, every behaviour, every aspect of the individual’s life. Then, if you need to talk to the individuals with Autism and/ or his/ their families, you should pinpoint the areas in which they have strengths and the areas in which they need to improve. Not only will you be able to offer a much better informed solution (if that’s what’s needed), you may also make the families feel that they were listened to.

4. SHUT UP AND LISTEN!

As professionals, most of us are eager to offer advice. But having spoken to a lot of families over the years, what they appreciate is being listened to – genuinely and empathically. I advise you to take a step back and listen to what they are saying before speaking or making your mind. Clarify what you heard and don’t be afraid to ask questions to ensure that you truly understood what they meant.

5. No two individuals with Autism are the same

I know that you all may have read/ heard this before, but I want you to always keep this in mind. No matter how many people with Autism you have met, the next one would be completely different from the others. Never assume that you already know what to do. I suppose if you want to stay true to this advise, you would follow number 4.

Final comments

All of what I have said may not be a unique revelation to many of you. However, I feel like I owe it to the Autism community to remind you (and myself) of all of them. I know that we all want the best for the people we work with, which is why I am confident that the Autism community is in safe hands.

Please feel free to contact me and/ or leave comments if you wish to discuss anything further.

 

Voice Work: My Students

Today’s Prompt: Your blog is about to be recorded into an audiobook. If you could choose anyone — from your grandma to Samuel L. Jackson — to narrate your posts, who would it be?

My answer to this prompt is a no-brainer – I would chose my students (past ad present) to narrate my blog. After all, they are the inspiration for most of what I have done, let alone wrote, since the conception of this blog. I also have a feeling that they may add a little bit more to some of my posts, which would make listening to them more fun.

Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Beijing

Chinese Flag at Tiananmen Square

I recently travelled to Beijing, China to see the sights, explore its history and learn more about its culture by people-watching and interacting with the locals. It was a great experience that I would not trade for anything else. Here are what I’ve observed:

1. Very few people spoke English
This made any form of communication very challenging for me, as I could not speak any Chinese. It should have been a no-brainer, but I forgot to learn a few key phrases before I travelled to this gorgeous place.

English signs on malls, tourist spots and even museums are almost non-existent. It will be a struggle for any person with little or no knowledge of their written language to fully enjoy the historic sites if they do not rent (expensive) audio guides.

I advise you to take pictures of what you may need (toilets, cutleries, food, your hotel, etc.) beforehand to help you in times of need. Locals will try to help you as much as they can, despite not being able to speak English. Most of them will also try to find someone who can communicate in your language when they become stuck.

2. The Food is Amazing
Chinese food in the West is nothing like the real authentic food that you will find in China. The flavours are exquisite and the ingredients are fresh. Never be afraid to try their delicacies such as Bullfrogs and Pig Intestines!!

Also note that if you ordered rice and would like to have it with your mains, you need to tell your waiter to bring it straight away. I’ve been told by a local that they eat rice at the end of a meal as it is a cheap way to fill you up if your mains did not do the trick. The phrase ‘rice now’ did the trick for me.

3. Be careful of tap water
In all of my travels in Beijing, I have not found any safe drinking water on taps. I may be wrong, but I advise you just to buy bottled water to be sure.

4. Squat toilets
Using squat toilets is challenging, particularly if the muscles in your lower body is weak. I don’t think I need to explain why. You’re lucky if you find the very few ‘Western’-style toilets in Beijing, so try practising your squat!!

If you find it impossible to use these toilets, look for the Disabled ones and use them instead.

5. Locals may not appear friendly, but they really are
I found that the locals’ voice, tone of voice and body language may appear unfriendly if you are used to most Western cultures. They rarely smiled and seemed to be shouting when they were talking. You must remember though, that their culture- especially their language- is different from yours, so try to keep an open mind. They really are friendly.

6. It is difficult to take clear pictures
Smog and air pollution are big problems in this gorgeous country. As a result, amateur photographers find it very difficult to capture a clear photograph during the day. The smog covers most of the sky, making a lovely sunny day look gloomy.

I found that the best time to go sight-seeing and take pictures is the day after it rains. The rain clears up the sky, which allows you to see most of the sights and take clearer pictures.

7. It’s hard to breathe
Again, as a result of the horrible air pollution, i found it difficult to breathe. Wearing masks did not help me, either. The air felt heavy and my lungs weren’t prepared for it.

8. Their notion of ‘personal space’ is VERY, VERY DIFFERENT
Most people will stand about 2 inches away from you when you’re conversing- even if you are the only two people in the room.

9. Queues exist but are not followed
Locals do not seem to respect queues. People will barge in front of you if you are not careful. This happens in shopping malls, subway, ticket booths, security checks and even in public toilets. Shouting won’t help you, but a strong body (to hold and protect your place) will.

10. People spit. EVERYWHERE
This is probably the strangest thing that I have observed. People of all ages and genders seem to exercise their free will through spitting. They clear their throats as loud as they can, then spit wherever they are. Nobody seems to care, either. Again, it could just be one of those unique things that are part of their culture.

Top 10 Tips for Disciplining Children with Challenging Behaviour

When it comes to teaching and parenting, one of the most talked about topics is discipline and behaviour. Most of us expect children to behave in certain ways – with respect, listen and respond appropriately, have infrequent tantrums, etc. Getting children to behave in these ways is not always easy. Even though a lot of children respond to our unique ways of disciplining, a few of them may display more challenging behaviours that are persistent and could seem uncontrollable – from theirs and your point of view. Below is a list of strategies and tips that has worked for me in schools and different settings over the years.

(It may be usefult for you to read Understanding Children’s Behaviour as well)

10. Know what the triggers are – Every behaviour is triggered by something. Find out what it is.

Potential triggers:

  • Medical diagnosis  (Autism, ADHD, etc.)- Please note that I am not saying that having a diagnosis is an excuse or a ticket to behave badly. What I am saying is that a diagnosis provides a signpost on what interventions you could use.
  • Medication – some kids on Ritalin could become hyperactive as the medication wears off
  • Sensory Stimuli such as noise, certain smells, bright or dim lighting, temperature– Some children are very sensitive to sensory stimuli and tend to react in unconventional ways when they encounter an unbearable one. If they are not able to communicate this discomfort through words, they may act out.
  • Change in routine (substitute teacher/Teaching Assistant, cancelled or swapped classes)- This is not specific to children with Autism. I have encountered children with no diagnoses who were unsettled by changes in routine.
  • Home life- problems and/ or changes at home
  • Bullying– It is worth investigating whether your student in question is being bullied by others when you are not looking. Not all children will report bullying.
  • Relationship with classmates– Investigate their relationships with other children. Are they getting enough attention, and if so, what kind of attention are they getting? If they are not getting any attention, make sure that you find out why.

9. Find out what the student’s receptive and expressive language skills are.

A lot of our behaviours are forms of communication. If children are not able to verbally express what they are feeling (see above), there is an increased chance that they would ‘act it out’. This can also happen if they do not understand what the others are telling them. Some children struggle to read body language, understand people’s tone of voice and/ or metaphors. If this is the case, you can organise for them to have lessons wherein you or other professional(s) will explicitly teach them these things.

8. Give them chances to succeed.

Give small targets that are achievable by the students. Set them up to succeed. For example, instead of asking them to ‘be quiet inside the classroom at all times’, you could start by asking them to ‘try to be quiet during carpet times’ (Primary school) or ‘try to be quiet when the teacher is talking’.

7. Give praise that is specific, well-explained and well-earned.

Never give blanket praises such as ‘good job’, ‘excellent’, ‘well done’, unless they are followed by a brief explanation of why you said what you said. Let them know why and which part of their work is amazing. You could say for example: ‘well done for colouring within the lines’ instead of ‘good work’.

6. Approach them positively.

Try not to shout and try not to be negative. Humour definitely helps. If the children understand figures of speech and metaphors, sarcasm can be an excellent tool. I found that students of any age are more likely to listen and change their behaviour if I approach them positively.

5. Tell them what to do instead of what not to do.

There are a lot of research that suggests that if you tell someone to ‘not play on the stairs’, they would. This is because what registered in that person’s brain is ‘play on the stairs’. Even though some children will hear you loud and clear, chances are, they will not know what to do instead of the undesirable behaviour. Quite a lot of teachers always tell students ‘not to fight’, but a lot of these children may only know one way to behave. If this is the case, how can they behave appropriately if you are not telling them what tappropriate behaviour is?

4. Be consistent.

You should be firm and fair all the time. Punishments and rewards should be handed out consistently – not only when you feel like it.

3. Remember that behaviour can be changed.

The whole point of your efforts trying to make your students behave appropriately relies on your belief about behaviours and attitudes. If you believe that we were born with a set of attitudes that make us behave in a certain way which cannot be changed, you need to think again. Although genetics play a part in the development of our attitudes and behaviours, the people around us and our experiences also have big contributions. We should keep in mind that everyone is capable of changing, especially our students.

2. Communicate effectively with the children’s parents/ primary carers.

For any intervention to work, the children’s school and home should work in concert with each other. Although it may be a good start, it shouldn’t be enough that your students behave really well in school but throws tantrums and go wild at home (or vice versa). Having an effective professional relationship with your students’ parents/ carers is one of the most important factors in helping children behave appropriately. Regular communications through phone calls, emails, face-to-face meetings will help increase the likelihood that interventions will be carried out in both settings.

1. Set an example.

Kids will follow and copy your actions. If you practice what you preach, then you have won half the battle. Always remember that your students are far brighter than you think. They will start ignoring your advice and you will lose their respect if you do not walk your talk. Here are a few examples you can set:

  • Admit your mistakes publicly. You will make a mistake today- trust me. When you do, do not be ashamed to admit it.
  • Apologise to your students. When you make mistakes, say sorry. Explicitly let them know that even you can make mistakes, but your apology and subsequent actions are what matters most.
  • Respect your colleagues. Never say anything bad about your co-teachers, no matter what. Students notice how you treat other people and indirectly learn from your example.

Other bonus tips:

Get To Know Your Students Better

Positive Words and Phrases to Use in School

Weekly Photo Challenge: Letters

photo 5Haven’t we, as a species, come a long way when it comes to language and writing? The top two pictures are of ancient hieroglyphic letters written thousands of years ago. It fascinating to know that way back then, people have figured out a way to ‘outsource’ their thoughts, and thus improve their memories. Writing gave them (and us) another means of communication and a way to preserve our wisdom for the next generation.

The fact that these items are preserved in a museum and that no one uses hieroglyphics nowadays to communicate shows how much society has changed. Books are also slowly being replaced by electronic books (e-books), letters and fax by emails and text messages. I wonder how many more years we have to wait until we see books on museums?

 

Check out this page for more posts about LETTERS

 

Helpful Tips on How to Get to Know Your Students

happyclass

 

Getting to know your students is one of the most effective ways to create a harmonious classroom environment. Teachers and teaching assistants alike know how different each child is from his or her peers. Similar to adults, they all have their own set of attitudes, beliefs, biases, likes, dislikes and coping mechanisms. Knowing all of these can be the difference in developing a fun, yet respectful atmosphere in the classroom. For instance, if you know that a particular student dislikes being praised publicly, you can give praise subtly either through writing a note in his book or speaking to him/ her one to one.

Getting to know students in an individual level can be challenging especially if you have a huge class. But, however large your class is, there is always a way to get to know them. You just have to be willing. Here are some ways that I have found useful over the years:

  1. Ask pupils about their weekends every Monday morning: Find 5 to 10 minutes on a Monday morning to ask what your students did on the weekend. This is a relatively simple task that can reap such huge rewards. They may tell you that they have watched a sports game or a movie, and who they watched it with. From this conversation, you would know what sport they love and which player/ team they follow. Such wealth of information can be used as ice-breakers when they become unresponsive in lessons. For example, if a child who supports Chelsea and love Fernando Torres struggles with addition, you can give hypothetical examples such as ‘Torres scored 1 goal against Arsenal and 2 against Liverpool. How many goals has he scored altogether in those two games?” 
  2. Join in on their games in the playground: Being able to join in on the kids’ games in the playground can make them feel comfortable around you. By playing their games, you are showing that you are also capable of following their rules, as they follow yours in the class. It shows them that a person can both be respected and be fun to be with.
  3. Crack some jokes once in a while: Similar to the previous tip, this one shows that you can be fun. Most teachers fear that once they crack jokes, students will not take them seriously. But my experience suggest otherwise. Having shared a joke or two with my students (particularly when I worked with teenagers), I began to be accepted even more. One student commented that I became the person they approached the most because I can relate to them.
  4. Find out what music, TV programme, sports, etc. they like and familiarise yourself with them: As a person from a different generation, they may think we are out of touch with the current trend. Surprise your students by knowing more about their favourite artists, films, etc.
  5. Listen actively to your students: Use body language effectively. Allow your students to finish what they are saying and concentrate on their points of view. Make sure that you clarify anything that you do not understand.
  6. Use a ‘Free Expression Box’: There would be more than one student in any given class who prefer not to say anything due to anxiety. Make sure you have a box (call it whatever you like) in the classroom in which the students are allowed to put notes in. These notes may contain their thoughts about you, their peers, the school or their family. Be very clear about the rules for confidentiality and disclosure, though.
  7. Use these positive words and phrases:20130708-124901.jpg
  8. Ask them for feedback: Do not be afraid to ask them how they felt about your lesson or activity. Ask them what they enjoyed and what you could improve next time. One may fear that this gives complete control of your class to the students, but I disagree as this promotes harmonious and inclusive atmosphere in your classroom. It makes your students feel that you consider their thoughts and opinions.
  9. Use Golden Time and Free Play times to speak to your students: Spare 5 to 10 minutes of your marking/ planning time to speak to kids during relaxed/ unstructured times such as free play and golden time. Ask them about their day/week, how their pets are, or anything that they are interested in.
  10. Let your students know you: Communication and relationships are a two-way street. Let your students know a bit about you. Tell them what music/sports/TV programme, etc. you like. Just like you, they will find some similarities between you that would build a foundation to a stronger bond between you.

Recent research offers hope for parents of Non-Verbal Children With Autism

A research conducted by Ericka Wodka et al. (2013) challenged the previously held belief that inidividuals on the Autism Spectrum who have not developed spoken language by age 4 will not be able to do so at all in the future. The research included 535 children aged 8-17, with a diagnosis of ASD and have severe language delays at age 4. At age 4, the participants’ language delays ranged from not speaking at all to speaking a few phrases.

The results showed that most of the participants were able to acquire spoken language after the age of four. In fact, 70% of the participants were able to speak in meaningful phrases while 47% attained fluent speech. One should note that the study also found that the ability to aqcuire speech is positively correlated to non-verbal I.Q. and social skills. In other words, the higher one’s non-verbal I.Q. is, and the higher their social skills are, the more likely they will be to achieve fluent speech.

This indeed is a great finding since it shows individuals with ASD, their parents and practitioners that language development does not stop when they reach four years of age. Guided by the data from this study, professionals should focus their interventions on improving children with ASD’s social and non-verbal cognitive skills.

SEE ALSO:

AUTISTIC PEOPLE SHOULD… 

Useful Tips for Teachers Meeting STudents with Autism for the First Time

Being Proud of Having Autism

What Would You Do If You Witness An Autistic Person Being Insulted?

Never EVER say these things to people iwth Autism!

He flaps his hands and screams a lot but he doesn’t mean to annoy you

Optimum Outcomes for people with Autism

DSM 5 and its implications to ASD diagnosis

Diagnosing Autism: What you need to know

Vote for Miss Montana 2012, Alexis Wineman

What does Autism mean?

What is PDD-NOS?

Communication difficulties in Autism

Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper: Asperger’s Syndrome’s Poster Boy?

Still unsure if Sheldon has Asperger’s?

DSM-V and Autism

The Autistic Me: BBC Documentary

Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds of minds

Autism in the classroom:

Guide to parents of students with ASD on coping with the first day back to school

Common signs of Autism in the classroom

First day back to school: Top tips for parents of children with Autism

Practical tips to make your classroom Autism-Friendly

Inspiring People with Autism:

Dr. Temple Grandin

Jessica-Jane Applegate (British Paralympian)

Satoshi Tajiri (Pokemon creator)

Carly Fleischmann

More on Savants:

Simon Baron-Cohen on Daniel Tammet

The Psychology of Savants: Memory Masters

Artists with Autism

The Einstein Effect: Is there a link between having Autism and being a genius?