Autism-Related Articles, Books, Services

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tech Tools for Teaching a Kid with Executive Functioning Problems

Tom doesn't really work well independently.  He'll do what I ask - at least the first portion - but if he gets stuck or finishes a part of the process, he just....  stops.  What that means is that I wind up at his elbow, saying things like "okay, what's next?" or "do you have a question?" 
The TimeTimer visual clock

Often I have to go farther to prompt him with directions such as "why don't you look at the next question on the page?" or "you've written the answer, but now you need to read it out loud to figure out where the commas, periods and capital letters go."  Even when we have a written list of "what to do," it can be hard for him.

The truth is, he's capable of continuing on his own.  And with only the merest nudge, he does a reasonable job of proofing and correcting his writing, finishing the project, etc.  In fact, Tom actually enjoys writing and doesn't dislike reading, math, or practicing his clarinet.  The problem is staying on task, and thinking ahead (AKA executive function).

To help him build some independence, I'm looking at software and hardware that might provide the prompts and direction he needs - so that neither I nor a future teacher will need to sit at his shoulder to prompt him.  So far, I've found some interesting software that actually prompts a writer through the brainstorming, drafting and editing process - but nothing I'm sold on yet.

A few things I'm looking at:
  • This article from Reading Rockets about assistive technology for learning disabilities
  • A database called TechMatrix, which lists and reviews assistive technology for learners
  • A site called ReadWriteThink which includes a whole mess of free, web-based interactives to support a range of projects including 5 para essays, persuasive essays, and more.
  • Inspiration Software (graphical organizing system - ordered a freebie demo to try out)
 I've also bought something called a TimeTimer - a visual clock that, I'm HOPING, will help Tom to think about and organize time - and even stay on task!  Tom's SLP (who's also a social skills coach) has used it with him effectively, so I'm thinking it may be a useful tool at home.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Planning for a New Homeschool Year

It's August, and time to plan for a new homeschooling year for Tom, our now-14-year-old with autism (actually PDD-NOS, or high functioning autism). This will be our fourth year of homeschooling, and chronologically Tom will be entering 8th grade. We're hoping that, after this year, he'll be ready to enter what we understand is a wonderful charter high school - and with that in mind, we plan to focus much more on basic academic and social skills than on content acquisition (even though he'll be immersed in all kinds of content whether he "aquires" it or not!).

Tom as Pharoah!
Being a slightly compulsive planner, I already have most of Tom's program laid out. Like last year, he'll be taking part in two days of small group classes taught by an ex-homeschooling mom who also happens to have a teaching degree and experience in special education. These aren't "special" classes or kids, but the small size of the group combined with the expertise of the teacher make it a good opportunity for Tom. Truth is, I personally wouldn't have chosen the topics for Tom (The American Presidency, for example) since he does poorly with abstractions; in general he does much better with topics that are more limited in scope (like Ancient Egypt or Greek Myths, for example).

Jessica, the homeschool teacher, has offered to work with us on helping Tom reach specific goals. Now "all" I have to do is figure out what the goals are, break them down into objectives, and select objectives that really make sense given the setting, the other kids, and Tom's real capabilities (which are always hard to grab hold of!).

In addition to these Tues/Thurs classes which run from 9-1, here are some of my plans for the year:

  • Continue with our genius of a math tutor who works with Tom on Sundays (we barter for his time, but have to travel over an hour each way!)
  • Continue with our genius of a clarinet teacher, who is a whole lot closer (he's a professor at a conservatory, and an absolute jewel of a person)
  • Continue with the after-school jazz band at the middle school (nervous since the wonderful and experienced band director has retired!)
  • Continue with our genius of a speech/social skills therapist, who is now helping Tom to interact socially with other kids at about his age and level
  • Restart tennis at a local tennis school (for reasons I can't understand, Tom seems to love and be reasonably good at tennis)
We're also working on ideas for building Tom's independence and academic skills.  With that in mind, we're thinking about -

  • buying a small laptop and teaching him to take notes using a keyboard (he's been learning to type on Mavis Beacon software, and he's a decent typist)
  • tapping into Universally Designed software programs intended to prompt learners with LDs and other issues (much more on that soon)
  • purchasing a "visual clock" that actually counts down so you can see how much time is available (Tom is still really unable to understand the concept of hours and minutes fully, though he's fine with days, weeks, months and years)
Whew!  Sound like I'm biting off an awful lot, but since the vast majority of what we're doing is NOT being done by us (mom and dad), the biggest challenges are organization and, of course, cash money to PAY for all this wonderful equipment and programming.  Of course some is free, and some we barter for...  but with all that, getting a child with autism out of the house and into typical settings with appropriate programs and support isn't the all-time cheapest or easiest road to take!

More coming very soon...  meanwhile, any thoughts or questions are welcome!