In K-12 education, there is no dispute that developing reading skills is fundamental. In fact, research suggests that early literacy instruction for students with and without disabilities is essential for future literacy development3. Teachers across the world are constantly utilizing various strategies to support students’ reading comprehension and decoding skills. For some, typical decoding and comprehension strategies may be fairly accessible. For others, reading comprehension or decoding may prove to be more difficult. Students with autism typically have challenges related to reading comprehension, such as answering questions or expressing ideas in traditional ways.
Picture books are a widely used resource in classrooms and homes around the world. Picture books support vocabulary development, story analysis skills, and sentence structure skills1. In addition to building language skills, picture books offer opportunities for children to understand what they are reading through illustrations while supporting engagement and encouraging imagination and creativity. For children with autism, picture books are especially helpful as many children with autism are very literal and visual learners.
For children with autism, communication can be a challenging skill to develop. Children with autism often have difficulties with expressive and receptive language, thus impacting their ability to effectively communicate within their environment, ask for what they want and need, argue their point of view, and engage in successful interactions1. Expressive language development is key for children with autism, as support in this area allows them to use words, gestures, sentences, and writing to express meaning and give messages to others1.
Beginning at a young age, many children with autism can find it difficult to relate to and communicate with other people, and thus may have significant difficulty in expressive and receptive language (Simpson, Keen, & Lamb, 2015). Difficulties in language development can impact later functional outcomes, such as maintaining successful relationships and communicating wants and needs effectively. For students with autism, receptive language development is extremely important, as support in this area allows them to understand other’s requests and the surrounding environment. Thus, early intervention to support language development in young children with autism is necessary.
Children with autism frequently have delayed language development. For children with autism who have developed language, understanding or using parts of speech correctly may be difficult. While many children develop language skills incidentally, parts of speech such as prepositions, opposites, pronouns or verb tenses may be more difficult and require explicit instruction. Understanding parts of speech are important because it shows how words relate to one another in a meaningful way and allows for clear communication.
For children with autism, language skills can be taught using 2-D and 3-D matching skills. Matching is the ability to see two things and recognize that they are the same. Matching skills improve concentration, train visual and short term memory, attention to detail, classification skills, and improve vocabulary. For children with autism, developing these matching skills helps them physically identify and describe relationships between objects which leads to the development of learning language skills. Matching games offer a clear end goal, which is comforting to learners and helpful for teachers and parents.
Autism Learning Line (A.L.L.) and the Benefits of Online Community
Stages Learning Materials is excited to announce the launch of Autism Learning Line (A.L.L.), an online community designed to support parents, teachers, therapists, homeschoolers, and anyone else touched by autism. Working with interns from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and after several years of planning, Stages is happy to have found a way to give back to our community. This new support group connects with our Autism Resources and Community blog that was launched 5 years ago and now has over 500 articles to support families, educators, and therapists. Our autism blog received the award for Top 25 Autism Blogs of 2020 by Action Behavior Center and is also the winner of the Feedspot Top 50 Blogs on Autism Award.
Celebrating Strengths and Shifting Away from Deficit-Based Thinking
Far too often, society’s bias towards students with autism focuses on the autism, rather than the whole child. Students with autism are more often perceived as “lacking” in some area, rather than celebrated for the many strengths they have. Recent research and new directions in education has pointed out the flaws in this deficit-based thinking, advocating for more strengths-based approaches to supporting students with autism.
Children’s books featuring children with autism are an easy and entertaining way to introduce the topic of autism to your children, family members, friends, and your child’s peers. Children’s books offer simple, accessible explanations and illustrations that can help children and others better understand autism and some of its symptoms in a lighthearted manner. These children’s books emphasize messages about friendship, community, and understanding.
Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and whole child development, often used synonymously, have huge implications for children of all ages. Described as the process of developing the knowledge, mindsets, and behaviors needed to manage and express emotions, interact positively with others, make responsible decisions, and set and achieve goals, SEL has become one of the primary topics of discussion in education. Policymakers and practitioners increasingly recognize SEL as an essential, though often lacking, component of formal schooling. As interest in SEL expands, new research clarifies our understanding of students’ social and emotional development and its connection to academic learning.
ARIS was created with access and implementation in mind: intended to make the principles of ABA easily accessible and easy to implement for educators working with children with autism who may not have formal ABA training.
Recent research has highlighted the lack of evidence-based strategies and adequate learning programs for students with autism (Stahmer, et al., 2015). Even when teachers have access to learning programs for their students with autism, many lack consistency and effectiveness in using it. Research indidates that many classrooms vary greatly in their implementation of evidence-based practices and various learning curricula, but teachers are more likely to use instructional tools that are highly structured and when they feel supported by ongoing training for those tools (Stahmer, et al., 2015).
Sensory struggles in a child with autism can hinder his or her ability to grasp a writing implement and to use it correctly. But some marvelous strategies exist that can help children learn to write: countering “floppy” muscle tone, varying implement thickness, trying different implement tips to reduce noise issues, and repetition with different implements are all strategies that can help children with autism and/or sensory integration issues.
Genius, Attention to Detail, Problem Solving, Memory, and Visual Skills
All children, whether or not they are neurotypical, have unique sets of strengths and weaknesses. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often also have some unique challenges to overcome in building routines and relationships that are functional and fulfilling. While much of current research and therapeutic intervention focuses on addressing those challenges, more and more research is showing that people living with ASD may also benefit from unique strengths previously unnoticed by the general population.
For over a decade, researchers have been relying on tools developed by Stages Learning to evaluate approaches that are most effective for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Wide-ranging research topics span from assistive technologies to socio-emotional learning, and language development. Researchers turn to Stages products because of the company’s commitment to creating quality tools that utilize the latest technologies and evidence-based approaches.
The Academic Readiness Intervention System (ARIS™) is a new comprehensive early autism education curriculum based on the Language Builder® Picture Cards created over twenty years ago by Stages Learning and widely used in classrooms and therapeutic settings.
Twitter is a valuable tool for professional development (PD) and community building, especially for members of the education community. The platform is a must-have for digitally literate teachers who use their timelines, followers, and hashtags to inform and improve their PD and pedagogy.
What is Social Thinking?
Social Thinking is a flexible teaching framework that is designed to help individuals ages four and up with autism spectrum disorder and other social and communication difficulties. The framework helps these individuals better understand the process by which we interpret the thoughts, beliefs, intentions, emotions, and actions of another person within the context of a situation. We use this information every day to better understand the experience of those around us. This understanding helps us respond in a way that will effect the other person’s thoughts about us in order to ultimately achieve our social goals.
Social Skills & Autism
Autism Spectrum Disorder is characterized by deficits in social communication and interaction. This can include challenges in social-emotional reciprocity and non-verbal communication used in social interactions. This can often lead to children with autism having a hard time developing and maintaining meaningful relationships with their peers.
|Stages Learning Emotion Cards|
It’s no surprise that colorful building blocks are a staple in early childhood centers, given the robust research that supports benefits gained from playing with blocks. Besides the simple joy in building and creating, playing with blocks improves literacy and storytelling skills, builds engineering and mathematical concepts, and teaches young children about communication and collaboration.
Sequencing is the ability to logically order events, images, thoughts, and actions. Why is sequencing important for children?
This lesson plan gives the classic card game Go Fish an emotional makeover! Students work on their expressive and receptive vocabulary and understanding of the five basic emotions, all while practicing social skills, taking turns, and following the rules of the game.
Students will use the “Picture Identification” activity within the Language Builder app to call out the bingo prompt.
So you’ve just downloaded the new Language Builder app. That means you can throw out all your paper flash cards right? NO!! As you may have already realized through our previous blogs, we are big proponents for blending hands-on and digital learning. There are so many ways that you can combine both digital and tangible resources to support deeper engagement.
Our intent with the app is to complement, rather than replace, the physical products. We will begin a new blog series demonstrating ways to use your physical language builder cards and other Stages products in conjunction with the app.
I am happy to report that Stages Learning Materials has finally taken the leap into the 21st century!
The Language Builder cards have become a staple in autism and speech therapy programs across the country, and even abroad. I regularly attend conferences where parents and therapists alike tell me that they use the cards every day at home or in their practice. The other thing I hear at every conference I attend ... "When will the Language Builder Cards be available in a software program I can use on the computer?" That day has finally come!
All over the news, we see stories about kids with autism and their iPads. Rookie reporters tout the devices as The Next Big Thing, even going so far as to refer to them as cures. I’m sure we would all agree that the touch screen tablets are amazing, for little and big kids alike. But where’s the research backing their use for educational purposes for our students? In one word, nonexistent. As a doctoral student at Montreal’s McGill University, I aim to change that.
The focus of my upcoming thesis is on developing a rigorous and research-based understanding of using iPads to teach children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). I have been extremely fortunate to meet with the Stages Learning Materials staff, and receive their support to use the Language Builder Picture Cards and the newly created Language Builder from Stages app to test which method results in better and faster learning of receptive and expressive language.
On March 10th of this year, Stages Learning Materials released the Language Builder from Stages App, and we have had an amazing response! Hundreds of parents, therapists, and teachers are now using the Language Builder App to teach 6 early ABA activities to children with autism. But we are far from finished adding features to the app!
Additional Activities to Develop Sentence Skills
Labeling and Requesting are the most basic of all full sentence activities, and provide a basis for your student to understand that communication requires more than single word utterances. The following list of activities offers just a few examples of the many lessons you can use to help build full sentences and a more complete system of communication with your child.
Building Expressive Vocabulary
This is the step where your child learns to actually say the words out loud. All of the tasks we just described in the previous Autism and Language article come into play when building your child’s expressive vocabulary. Picture cards are a useful tool again, because it just isn’t feasible to bring every object directly to your child. We certainly want them to learn the words bus and airplane, but it’s difficult to get those items into your living room!
Emerging Language and Building Vocabulary
Language development varies from child to child, and there are wide ranges of expected “normal” language development in young children. If you have specific concerns about the pace of your child’s language development, you should definitely discuss this with your health care professional. However, for reference sake, by the age of two a child is expected to be able to:
The most popular use of the Language Builder Picture Card Series is to build vocabulary. The realistic and current photos help students to learn the name of various nouns, occupations, and emotions. In the beginning, this task can be very repetitive and basic, focusing only on learning single-word responses. When a child with autism begins to gain expressive language skills, parents and educators are thrilled to watch how the child moves from basic vocabulary to building sentences.
A common challenge for children and adults with autism is their ability to communicate. Many a parent and therapist will tell you that Picture Cards are one of the best tools to aid in communication with individuals with autism, whether the individual is verbal or non verbal.
Language development varies from child to child, and there are wide ranges of expected “normal” language development in young children. If you are using Stages Learning Materials products with your own child, and you are concerned about language development, you should definitely discuss this with your health care professional. However, for reference sake, in general:
Stages Learning Materials is starting a new blog series around blending digital and hands-on learning. There are a lot of mixed messages surrounding the use of technology in early childhood. In a recent Edutopia article, Beth Holland advises teachers and parents to look beyond all the negative screen time publicity and to ask themselves three questions when choosing to use digital materials:
- Is it appropriate?
- Is it meaningful?
- Is it empowering?
Students will use Everyday Object Lang-O-Learn Cards in conjunction with Kid in a Story app to build vocabulary on common objects that can be found around the home and at school. The app enables sharing between parents, therapists, and teachers, which leads to consistency across all environments.
- Build expressive and receptive vocabulary surrounding common objects.
- Sharing activities across all learning environments (home, school, therapy).
- Build digital and print literacy.