We were furious with the public schools for the fact that they did absolutely NOTHING for our kids with autism in the way of teaching about maps, geography, history or culture. They would occasionally hand out a printable sheet on George Washington or Martin Luther King (in keeping with the holidays) - but these were disjointed bits of fluff - and meant nothing to Tommy (or, frankly, to us).
We had asked specifically to have map skills included in Tom's IEP - but were told that it was not appropriate to include it because... it wasn't a measurable skill (we assured them that it is)... it's not a core skill (we insisted that it is)... and, basically, they didn't wanna. We did a little bit with Google Earth and globes - but he was still waaay behind in that area.
At the very beginning of the school year, on our first trip to Staples, I picked up a map of the US and a map of the Earth. I also downloaded a bunch of printable maps from Enchanted Learning, and looked for ways to incorporate maps, geography, history and culture into our curriculum.
Whales and whaling was a great topic for this: we looked at maps of Cape Cod and the islands... found Nantucket, the Stellwagon Banks (where whales congregate all summer), New Bedford, and maps of whale migrations. We charted the migratory path of the gray whale on a map of North America, identifying Canada, Mexico, and all the states along the west coast.
I also found a website for a book called "You Wouldn't Want to Work on the Whaling Ship Essex," which is an interactive version of a kids' book by the same name. We read it together, and learned about whaling, uses of whale oil and baleen, where whales were hunted, what whaling ships were like, and so forth. I got him to think about the ethics of whaling, and he wrote his very first opinion piece on the subject (no, the whalers were not "bad guys," but nowadays we watch whales instead of hunting them!).
I asked Tom to pick a whale to learn more about, and he picked the Orca (killer whale). So we watched Free Willy and wrote a little bit about that... read up on orcas... charted their range (they live virtually everywhere)... found out about their diets and lifestyles... found a bunch of photos... and created an Orca poster. We discovered (no surprise) that he had exactly zero skills in skimming a table of contents, using an index, or taking notes - so we began teaching some of those skills (there's a looong way to go!).
Tom enjoyed creating the poster, but the truth is that he doesn't yet have the executive skills to come up with headers, lay them out, and organize the information. So we found the info together; he typed it up, I did a lot of the layout. Then Tom glued everything down - and voila! His very first presentation poster.
At the end of the unit, we took a trip to the New Bedford Whaling Museum (less than an hour away). One of the great things about Tommy is that he has no idea that loving museums is uncool - and he is actually able and willing to spend hours poring over artifacts and art! He was especially interested in the huge skeleton of the baby blue whale, model whaling ships, and a few painting of whalers harpooning whales. He identified harpoons, and learned about different equipment used on the ships. They even had a 1/2 scale model of a whaling ship (under construction, so we could look but couldn't climb aboard) and an interior model of a whaler where kids could "sleep" in whalers' berths.
After the museum, we had lunch - then took a stroll down to the harbor, climbed aboard a schooner, checked out the scallop dredgers, and looked at the big fishing boats and barges... all in all, a good day.
We have a very long way to go, though, before Tom is able to put the unit into historic context - or really read a map properly. To that end, we do a few worksheets from time to time... I bought a US states puzzle... but I'm guessing the breakthrough will happen when he and his dad begin mapping out their plans for the Great Garden Railway!