AAM Guest Post: #Autism through Eyes of a Special Education Teacher

I am very pleased to have Liam's Preschool Intervention Teacher as a guest poster for my Autism Awareness Month - she has some great insights and resources to share for parents of preschoolers whether they have Autism or not:

Autism through Eyes of a Special Education Teacher
By:  Allison Stoll

When Heather asked me to write a few paragraphs on Autism spectrum disorders for her blog, I jumped at the chance.  I normally do not think of myself as a writer, but I will give it a go.  I have been teaching now for 2 years and boy have I learned a lot about children with special needs, more specifically, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. When, I started thinking about what to write,  I figured that the most important thing to provide were  links to helpful resources that I use daily in my classroom.
Before I get into the helpful resources I use in my classroom I would like to mention one thing first; when the district tells me that I will be getting a new student with Autism, I never quite know what to expect.  That being said, all children with spectrum disorders are different.  Some are verbal, some are not.  Some children display hyperactive behaviors, some are so lethargic it’s hard to get them engaged in any one activity. Some children are self-injurious, hit, bite, or spit while others can’t get enough hugs, kisses, or squeezes from you.   I graduated from the College of Charleston with a B.S in Special Education; however this does not mean a thing when teaching a child with Autism.  There are no handbooks that tell me what to do; I basically fly by the seat of my pants on a day to day basis.  As soon as I get one behavior under control, another behavior rears its head.   THIS IS AUTISM IN A NUTSHELL!!

As many of you know, children with Autism are naturally very visual.  Therefore, my classroom is a very visual environment.  For instance, in the bathroom there is a step by step sequence to using the toilet, the classroom rules are pictures instead of words, every center/play item is labeled with a picture, and there is a visual daily schedule so my student know what will happen at various times of the day.  This is a necessary step to having children with autism in a classroom.  You must provide them with a visual reminder of your expectations.  Verbally telling them what to do is not always enough.   I have found a wonderful website called http://www.boardmakershare.com/.  On Boardmaker Share, you can find many activities such as games, social stories, communication boards, picture symbols, and interactive computer activities. You must have a version of BOARDMAKER software to download activities, however I’m sure most of you children receive speech and language services in school or privately.  Look for some helpful materials that you could use at home and ask your speech and language pathologist to download them for you.  Most SLP’s have access to BOARDMAKER software.  It is awesome!!!!

Speaking of SLP’s, there is a wonderful website called “Speaking of Speech.” (http://www.speakingofspeech.com/)  I have found everything from social stories to games on this website.  Go to the site and check it out.  I especially like the materials exchange tab on the right side of the web page.  There are some very useful materials developed by Speech and Language Pathologist from all over the country.
As I said before, many children with Autism are very visual.  Therefore, teaching them to use technology such as a computer or iPad is a wonderful idea.  There are a few interactive websites that that my students love.  The first one is http://www.starfall.com/ .   It’s a wonderful website that teaches letter recognition, letter sounds, and beginning phonics.   The children enjoy choosing a letter and watching the animation that goes along with each letter.  The best thing is that it is absolutely FREE!!  You just have to have Flash downloaded on your computer.
Finally, I have found that other parents of children with Autism are the best resources for people like me.  They have been “around the block” so to speak and know what works for them.  Therefore, I love coming across sites that are developed by parents for their children.  Hiyah.net (http://www.hiyah.net/) is one that I love and I use it as an activity that children in my classroom can work on independently.  Hiyah.net is educational software made for children 18 months and up who struggle with developmental or language delays due to Autism or other disabilities.  It was developed by a mom of a child with autism.  There are social stories, song downloadables, and other educational games.  All the child has to be able to do is click the spacebar.  It’s really that easy.  My favorite is the “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” story.  It’s kind of weird, but the kids love it.
I could probably go on and on about a billion other techniques I use in my classroom, but Heather told me that I only had to write about 300 words.  Well, I have written almost a thousand.  I just have so much to say and so much respect for families of children with autism.  It truly is a fascinating but mysterious disorder.  I love my job and would not trade it for anything else (except for maybe a food critic, not the writing, just the eating.).  It’s amazing to see how much my students grow and progress in the time they spend with me.  The old saying “It takes a village to raise a child” holds true for children with autism.  I am only one aspect of early intervention; I could not do my job without Autism Itinerants, speech and language pathologists, occupational and physical therapist, and parents.  It truly does “take a village.”