Saturday, February 12, 2011

Distinguished Lecturer Series- Rudy Simone

The Help Group is pleased to announce that Rudy Simone, Asperger’s Syndrome Author & Consultant, Novelist and Screenwriter will be the first speaker in its 2011 Distinguished Lecturer Series.  Her presentation, Young Adults with Asperger’s or High-functioning Autism: Must-have Advice for Transitioning Successfully to Work and Adult Life, will take place on Thursday, February 24 at 6:30 p.m. at The Help Group’s Autism Center in Sherman Oaks. 

With Asperger’s education & awareness as her personal calling, Rudy Simone is the author of three highly-acclaimed books on the subject: Asperger’s on the Job: Must-Have Advice for People with Asperger’s or High Functioning Autism, and their Employers, Educators and Advocates with a foreword by Temple Grandin; Aspergirls: Empowering Females with Asperger Syndrome with a foreword by Liane Holliday Willey; and 22 Things a Woman Must Know if She Loves a Man with Asperger’s Syndrome. Rudy also penned “My Life with Puddleglum,” an essay published in the book Voices of Autism. Her books are known for cutting to the real issues facing people on the spectrum through research and her experiences living with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Ms. Simone is an engaging, informative and entertaining speaker. She promotes a ‘cultural exchange’: the understanding and acceptance of differences between the autistic and non-autistic populations as a way of getting people with Asperger’s Syndrome into work and into the world. Her goal is to help those with Asperger’s tap into their talents and special interests and fully engage with life without letting the challenges of autism prevent this from happening.

 Tickets are $25 for professionals and $10 for all other guests.  Guests can register at

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Music for Autism

Originally posted in February 2011 on Living & Loving in California

On Sunday, January 30th I was able to volunteer for an amazing new organization called Music for AutismThe Help Group opened the doors to their new Autism Center Theater to welcome the program to the school for it's first West Coast concert.

Music for Autism is a family and child friendly 3-part interactive concert. For this concert, violinists Searmi Parks and Sarah Thornbird of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra performed. The first part of the show is the "Concert" in which the artists play a few selections. The audience is encouraged to get up and dance, sing, and interact with the music. Then it's time for the "Conducting" portion of the show where the audience helps lead the musicians by using their arms to conduct. And finally, the show ends with the "Percussion" portion in which everyone in the audience gets a percussion instrument and plays along with the performers.

This was an amazing  experience to be a part of and I look forward to volunteering again in April when Music for Autism returns to The Help Group!

Click here for more information on Music for Autism
Click here for more information on The Help Group or you can find more information and pictures from the event on Facebook, just search 'The Help Group'. 

Teachable Moments

Originally posted in December 2010 at Living & Loving in California

As a teacher I make detailed lesson plans each week.

There are some lessons that I don't anticipate having to teach and therefore I am unprepared.

These unplanned lessons are what we call Teachable Moments. Some are hard. Some are easy and quick. And then some are just plain old funny.

Here is one of those Teachable Moments.

We celebrated 2 student birthdays at school on Friday. I always buy a cake for each student so they each feel special and I also buy a "back up" cake just in case I drop one or in case a student sticks their hand/face in it.

Our birthday routine is: we sing, they blow out candles, we eat cake. That's not quite the way it worked in my room on Friday.

Here I am singing 'Happy Birthday' and presenting the cake. 

And here I am 10 minutes later laughing because my kiddo doesn't know how to blow out a candle and I don't know how to teach it. This was my Teachable Moment. 

I'm laughing hysterically because I am in the process of teaching this particular student how to blow his nose...

So when I say, "1, 2, 3 Blow" the student proceeds to blow his nose...

without a tissue...

onto the cake. 

Another reason why I buy a "back up" cake. 

Have you experienced a teachable moment with your kids/ husband/ wife/ dog?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My Classroom, Part 2

This was originally posted in September 2010 at Living and Loving in California.

I thought I would start Pat 2 with a few definitions to help you understand the rational behind my room design and some of the terms I will be using. WARNING: This post is very long, I won't be offended if you just browse.

My students have Autism. Autism is defined by IDEA as a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child's educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. Autism falls on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) along with Asperger's and Persuasive Developmental Disorder NOS. My students fall on the severe end of ASD. Most of my students are non-verbal. One of our biggest goals in their education is to teach them alternate methods of communication whether it is through gestures, signs, pictures, or facial expressions. I have designed my classroom to meet my students needs and foster communication.

PECS- stands for Picture Exchange Communication System. It is a method of teaching communication skills to non-verbal students and helps students develop skills to initiate communication.

IEP- stands for Individualized Education Plan. When a student is diagnosed with a disability a team that includes parents, student, teachers, and service providers will write this document and create goals for the student and includes any modifications and adaptations to the curriculum needed.

Sensory- any form of input that stimulates a student. My students have a variety of sensory needs such as: dim lights, bright lights, and pressure to name a few. Students with Autism sometimes demonstrate behaviors such as 'hand flapping' or clapping, squinting their eyes, wearing head phones, rocking- this is their way of meeting their sensory needs.

CBI- stands for Community Based Instruction. Each week we go outside the classroom to a variety of locations in the community to practice the skills we lean in the classroom. For example- we go to the grocery store every week to buy our snack supplies- the kids help make the list, find items, pay, and bag the groceries. 

First, the general layout...

It looks similar to the 'before' picture but there are some keys changes. I made new curtains for the window. The old curtains did not cover the entire window and my students were frequently distracted by what was going on outside. I made them out of bed sheets- they are cream with blue and green polka dots. I also added this large blue floor rug. We have a 'Sensory' time in which students utilize the open space to walk around, sit on bean bags, and use the "sit n' spin". We turn the lights off and put music on and the students are able to fulfill their sensory needs with out restrictions. It is a very calming time for them and the open space is very freeing for them. If you were to come into my room during our Sensory time it kind of looks like a free for all, but it is one of the most enjoyable times for the students.

A few changes on the other side of the room include: The bulletin board was moved closer to the door and now serves as a Classroom Information board. Our classroom behavior plan, transportation plan, supervision and break schedule are posted there. Although I requested 2 of the 1/2 walls, I was only able to get 1 so I am still using the book shelf as a divider. It helps prevent students from darting out the door.

Students will be storing their book bags in the top portion of this cabinet. I made matching curtains for this cabinet but I forgot them at home today. All of the sensory items I mentioned above (bean bags, spinners) are kept in the bottom of the cabinet along with our social skills activities like games and puzzles.

I added 1" binders to the cabinets with Velcro. Inside the binders are picture icons of what is in the cabinets. If a student wants something out of the cabinet  they have to request it by handing or touching the corresponding picture to staff. This is just one step in the process of teaching communication and initiation skills. You will also notice that there are giant locks on the cabinets-this is so the students are forced to communicate what they want. The word "forced" sounds harsh, but it is essential that students learn how to make requests when the items they want are unavailable. Often, students want things that are unavailable to them and they don't know how to communicate their wants- for instance, if a student eats at a restaurant and needs ketchup but can not verbally request it they may become frustrated. If they have been taught to use picture communication they can find the picture of ketchup in their portable binder and give it to a waitress.
Does that make sense? It's hard to explain.

Now, for the pride and joy of my classroom...

You may have noticed already, but all of the other walls are almost completely bare except this one. Why you may ask? My students are highly distractable. Since this is the only visually stimuli in the room, they are forced to focus on this rather than random wall decorations. Once they get the hang of using this system I will slowly add in distractors on the walls.

This is a brand new system for our classroom, and I am very excited about it. Let me show you all the components and how it works.

This is our visual schedule. It includes both written words and picture icons for each activity. In addition, you'll notice that some of the strips are colored and I'll show you why in a minute. There are 2 arrows, one is green and says "First" and the other is red and says "Then". These arrows move down the schedule as the day goes on and helps students visually understand, plan, and prepare for changes in activities. Students transition much smoother when they can see what is coming next and have a chance to prepare and participate in the change.
In addition to the visual cues for change and transition, some students need auditory cues. This timer is secured to the wall and is like a large egg timer- each time we transition to the next activity we set the timer for 30 minutes-when the timer goes off students know that it's time to transition.
I use this calender to write down major changes in schedule or events. For instance, next week we will be going on CBI to Ralphs. I will write it on the calender and put a corresponding picture icon so that students can prepare themselves for the trip and change in our typical schedule. It also gives the students something to work for...they love going out into the community but they also know they have to earn it.
Each student has a folder which contains my data collection sheets and notes. They are easy access so that if I need to grab a folder to call a parent, collect data,  go to an IEP meeting or if a student is being observed by a service provider they can get a glimpse at the students progress.
Each student has educational goals related to functional reading, functional math, vocation, and so on. Their goals are posted above the wok station as a quick reference guide for staff and service providers.

This is the newest addition to the room. It is our work station. The boxes contain a variety activities that correspond to the students IEP goals. For example- if a student has a goal of counting tangible items up to 10 then they could use Box # 3 which contains pegs OR Box # 13 which contain plastic lady bugs OR Box # 4 that contains plastic coins. There are multiple boxes for each goal so that students get to use a variety of materials and are able to generalize the skills.

This work station directly corresponds with each students Communication Binder.
I'll show you.
Each student has a communication notebook. "My Schedule" indicates which activity they are currently working on. Also inside each book is a page of reinforcers- things the students want to work for and earn. Reinforcers can be anything from a break, soda, hug, walk, sit on bean bag, coloring book, chips, etc. Before each work session, students choose what they want to work for and place that picture on the front of the notebook where it says, "I am working for"

If you go back and look at the schedule that was posted on the wall you'll notice that the "Functional Reading" schedule strip was green-like this one. The academic periods (Functional Reading, Functional Math, and Vocation) are all strips and each contain any where from 1-3 box numbers. Students must locate the correct strip and then find their box #'s at the work station. They get their box, complete or work on it and then put the box back. Once they complete a box they move that box # to the bottom under where it says "I am working for".

Once a student completes all their assigned boxes and the numbers are at the bottom, the student will receive their reinforcer. This process is repeated for each academic area. When working on a non-box activity such as Art, students still choose a reinforcer, but they earn star icons for good behavior like staying seated, sharing, and participating.

I am very excited to put this system into use. I experimented with something similar over the summer, so I think this will be successful. If it doesn't, I will re-evaluate and re-invent it again. The best part of the system is that it is adaptable to every ability level but it is still cohesive.

If you read this far...THANK YOU! I have truly enjoyed creating my classroom and sharing it with you. If you would like further information on Autism or strategies for teaching students with severe disabilities, please feel free to ask. I am not an expert by any means, but I am willing to help any way I can.
Teaching these students is my dream job and I am dedicated to their success...even if it means spends nights and weekends working on THEIR classroom.

My Classroom, Part 1

This was originally post in September 2010 at Living and Loving in  California

I have been very busy this week working on my classroom and getting ready for my kid's to come back. The process of transforming my classroom has taken months. I began working at this school in February of this year. When I "inherited" my classroom I noticed that it had been lacking some good old TLC. It was physically dirty and the "stuff" that was in the room was mostly broken, incomplete, or inappropriate for the students. So, the transformation began. I wish I had taken a photo of it on my first day so you could truly see the progress. I stayed at school until 7-8 PM each night for the first 2 weeks just working on the physical cleaning of the room. Then, I went in during Spring Break and began de-cluttering. By the end of the school year I had cleared the room of the broken/ incomplete/ inappropriate materials. Over the summer I completed the cleaning/ de-cluttering process and created a blank slate for me to work on this week.

These BEFORE photo's were taken on Wednesday, September 1st.

My students are highly distractable, so I created work stations around the edges of the classroom to reduce the number of distractions around them. When I originally came to this classroom, there was a group of desks in the middle and the kids on the edges were distracted by the middle group and the middle group was distracted by the groups on the edges. My desk was in that far corner so I moved it out to it's current location and moved the "middle group" into the corner. Also, the students in the middle were constantly getting out of their seats and I felt like I spent my day walking around in a circle re-directing them to sit down instead of working on their academics.

This wall originally had a HUGE bulletin board hanging on it, but I had it removed because it wasn't functional for our classroom needs. This unit with doors is actually "cubbies" where my kids keep their backpacks. However, my kids are pretty big, hence their back packs are pretty big as well. I tipped the cubbie unit on it's side and will be using it for another purpose. The box on the chair are NEW teaching materials! I was super excited when I received it. They are all complete and functional for my kids!

I made a request for 2 additional 1/2 wall dividers for this side of the room. I had to improvise and use book shelves for now. The book shelves are empty primarily because the books that we did have were not age appropriate and were more of a distraction than an educational aid.

My classroom is not lacking storage. Unfortunately, these cabinets were jam packed with stuff when I arrived and when the kids would open them the stuff would literally fall out of them. Also, the bulletin board that is hanging on the wall is too close to my kids and I had to re-paper it least once a week because they would rip it.

So, I worked on setting up my room on September 1st, 2nd, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th. Yes, September 6th was Labor Day and I went into work. I stayed until 5-8PM each night because during the day we had a lot of mandatory trainings and meetings this week. I am on my way back to school now to put a few last minutes touches together and to take the AFTER photo's.

I'm so excited! Even though I know I have prepared and put 100% into my room, I am also nervous. Teachers get first day jitters too. 
 Please stop by again later tonight to see my finished classroom.