By Kodey Toney
Sitting, Waiting, Wishing
My wife, Jennifer, is constantly looking for ways to help the children she works with and the other teachers cope with children with disabilities in their classrooms. She recently found a really good site recently about helping students in the classroom with disabilities, and I wanted to share a little of what the article talks about. One thing that I want to stress, and always try to share with teachers when I talk to them, is that this works well for ALL STUDENTS. Much of the advice is good for any child and may even work well for parents at home if you adapt it for your family time.
The article from healthcentral.com is titled “Suggestions for Classroom Accommodations and Modifications for Children with Autism”. You can find the full text at http://www.healthcentral.com/autism/c/1443/140596/accommodations/?ap=2007.
Let’s start with the question; What are accommodations? The author Eileen Bailey writes, “An accommodation changes a procedure in the classroom but does (not) result in a change in what is measured.”
This can included extended time on tests and classwork. Sometimes with children on the spectrum it takes a little longer to process the information. Extra time can help the child take their time to better understand the information rather than just write things down. In the past Konner has known the answers, but has just written down something, or clicked a button so that he could get done quickly because he knew he only had a certain amount of time. This makes sense when we talk about using visual timers with children on the spectrum because they know that when the time is up they have to move on to the next thing on the schedule. We need to let them know they can take their time and do their best.
Seating in the front of the classroom is a good accommodation. This is good for many children, but when you think about a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or any other issue that affects their ability to concentrate it’s a good idea to put most of the distractions behind them.
With any child it’s a great idea to have constant communication between the parent and the teacher. If they are not on the same page it will impede the child’s learning process. It’s good for the teacher to let the parent know what they are working on, what problems they have had in the classroom, and what discuss ways they may change those problems. Don’t forget that nobody knows the child better than the person that spends the most time with them; the parent. We have used a communication notebook with Konner. This is just a good way for the right hand to know what the left hand is doing. When the child gets home the parent can look at the communication notebook, see what they did at school, and it helps them start a conversation with the child.
So what are modifications? This is an actual change in school work or how the school work is completed, according to Bailey.
You can reduce the number of questions on a test or homework. You can still assess how much a student has learned despite overwhelming them with tons of problems. If it takes a student longer to process information, but they still have the same skills, you don’t need 40 questions to determine this. You can do the same with 10 questions.
Don’t forget that the child has been trying hard to conform to the classroom all day. They have been working against their body all day to sit in a chair and not have a meltdown. They have been battling with air conditioner noise, loud lunchrooms, different smells, and flickering lights. When they get home it’s time for them to let go a little. The homework load can be overwhelming and unnecessary as well. Don’t get me wrong, homework is necessary, but a little goes a long way, literally. We can sit at the kitchen table working on homework, arguing, and fighting for hours sometimes. This is not productive, and can make the child resent school, teachers, and parents. You can always break assignments into smaller parts.
Using a calculator during a math test is not the worst thing in the world. I agree that a child should learn how to do math on their own. I also agree that the more they do it without a calculator the better they’re going to be. However, if we know that they can do the work without a calculator then what would it hurt to let them use a calculator during the test? This is especially true when they are timed, or not given less work. I work the national ACT testing and they are allowed to use a calculator. When I add up things at my job I am allowed to use a calculator.
I’ve talked in the past about visual or written schedules. They are very good when you are trying to let a child know what’s coming up. Transitions are tough for a child on the spectrum, but if we can show them a picture of their next move and let them know a time limit it helps. For example, if you are moving to the gym next you can show the child a picture of the gymnasium and say, “Class, five more minutes and then it’s time for gym.” You will probably find that this warning with make a huge difference. This is good for all children.
You can give instruction orally and written. This is another that is good for all children. Everyone processes information differently. There are auditory learners and visual learners. If you give instructions both ways you are helping both sets of students. You can also refer back to the written if they are not doings something the way you told them. Classroom rules are a good example.
Allowing extra time for students to respond to directions is a great idea. This goes with the earlier statements, but if you ask a child on the spectrum to do something then count in your head for 10 seconds or so to give them time to process the command. If that doesn’t work you may think about rephrasing the question. The less words you use the better.
If you can, allow another student to do something first so that the child on the spectrum has an example. They are trying to learn by following their peers, so use a child close to them as a positive example. In that same vein, try to use role-playing situations to help with social skills.
Pairing up with other children when possible on assignments is a great idea. This helps with those social skills and helps the child that is typically developing to learn from and accept others with disabilities.
Whenever possible it’s a good idea to incorporate the child’s interest into the lesson. For example, if you have a child that loves dinosaurs then use dinosaurs to help with a lesson on adding. If they like trains then use the trains in an English lesson if possible. This again works for all children.
When possible, allow the student(s) to move around. If that child is still earning, but can’t sit still in a chair for long then what is it going to hurt to let them get up for a few minutes and move around? There needs to be limits on this, but if you find those limits it will work wonders for helping the child conform to the classroom.
These are only a few suggestions, but I think they will help your school year go a little smoother if you try. Don’t forget that nothing works 100 percent of the time, but if something isn’t working don’t give up on it. You can move on to the next thing and come back to it later.
Don’t forget that no matter how hard it may seem to change the way you are teaching for a child with a disability, it is harder for them to learn because of their disability. One of my favorite quotes, and one I’ve used before, is “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn” – Ignacio Estrada.