Teaching children with autism even the most basic skills can feel daunting to a home schooling parent or even, at times, an autism professional. For instance, we may attempt to teach a child for the hundredth time to wipe her mouth with a napkin, but then…drum roll...She goes for the shirt again! The good news is practical measures exist that can renew our confidence and sense of composure while facing teaching challenges that are sure to arise. A new curriculum, ARIS, can also provide support by walking parents through using Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to teach children new skills, even parents with little or no ABA experience.
Consider the following five strategies for hanging in there even when you are feeling that you have lost your edge. You can do this!
- Remember Past Successes:
Thinking back to our earlier instructional successes can be a powerful tool to keep us encouraged and motivated while teaching the children in our lives who have autism. For example, once when our son, Jim, could not comprehend pressing his feet on tricycle pedals to make it go, I then took his ankles to assist him in that maneuver (much like the ABA approach of "hand over hand," only this was more like "hand over foot"). Simultaneously, I explained to Jim that he needed to use his feet to do the same, only without my help. After much ado, he eventually "got it!" Often teaching memories like these keep me fueled while engaging in new, similarly challenging teaching endeavors. (I have also borrowed approaches from Jim's past occupational and speech therapists).
- Have High Expectations:
If you start a teaching moment with, "This isn't working. I quit," you have already decided the outcome. But if you simply believe, "Hey, he's got this. It's just going to take some time," and you keep picturing the child demonstrating comprehension, this generally yields more of the results we long for. In fact, our program director for the now closed S.A.I.L. (School for Autistically Impaired Learners, Inc.) of Toledo, Ohio, the late Dr. Marion Boss, always used to tell us, "You get what you expect."
She was right! Not every child learned everything on their parents' "wish list" in the timeframe we had in mind, but they often made significant progress. And I know a lot of that stemmed from the fact that our expectations were high!
This reminds me of a quote by 17th century French playwright, actor and poet, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (stage name "Moliere") that was posted over our instructional work stations at the school. It definitely helped me to keep going whenever I read it:
"The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it."
- Trust that the Right Approach will "Pop:"
Lately, while teaching Jim independent teeth brushing, I noticed that learning the bottom and top rows came easily for him; but the front teeth have posed a far greater challenge (His habit has been to brush vigorously back and forth). But recently, I realized I could apply to teeth-brushing the same method I use to teach him dusting between the headboard tines of his bed: While swiping each "between space" with two fingers, I say, "Follow my fingers, Jim." Then he does so with the duster. So with the pretend set of teeth we borrowed from the dentist, I now place a finger horizontally against the front gums and make a repeated sliding motion while saying, "Flick down down down (or up up up!") He has begun to follow suit!
- "Try Try Again:"
Old school educational writer, W.E. Hickson, was right! Trying again--or dogged repetition--yields better results. Think of it as two "Thomases:" We could, like a doubting Thomas, try only one approach, and upon seeing nothing happen, decide success is impossible in that given area. Or on the other hand, we could be like Thomas Edison, who tried 1,000 filaments while inventing the light bulb--even while he was still "in the dark" about which might work (if any). But he kept going. Then one day he found the right one. Now dozens of these glowing bulbs light up our homes at night. And do not forget Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller. I wonder how many times Annie signed "water" under that faucet until Helen's own mental "light bulb" finally lit up!
The perseverance and patience that are required to achieve certain teaching goals are not easy, and for probably most of us, not fun. But one of S.A.I.L.'s Early Intervention Specialists, Terri Riches, once told us in a monthly meeting, "We need to invest to rest."
- Consider the Stages Learning Materials’ ARIS system:
The online staff here at Stages Learning Materials have created a comprehensive learning system called ARIS (The Academic Readiness Intervention System), that greatly simplifies your planning and execution of lessons and supports you in using ABA therapy, even if you have no training in ABA.
The Stages team is confident that you will find this particular system of teaching resources accommodating to your experience from the earliest lesson planning stage to that of your child's particular "finish lines." A host of manipulatives, picture cards and ideas that promote successful results in academic and social-emotional learning (SEL) are all included.
In addition, you can store the current lessons you are implementing in convenient lesson folders. These folders are slick! I would have loved to have owned a pre-made storage hub for teaching details back when I taught ABA. ARIS comes with easy to use data sheets so that you can track and see your child’s progress each day. Being able to see how your child advances in skills and behavior over time helps you realize how much your child is growing and developing.
Moreover, Stages Learning Materials provides you with topic objectives (in proper skill-building order!), suggested materials, and much more. You do not have to weary yourself through developing entire lesson series, since ARIS has so many tools with which to assist you. Therefore, the system should eliminate any anxiety you may be feeling about instructing the special children you encounter each day.
Dear fellow parent (or other autism professional), you can do this! If you feel you have lost your edge in teaching, then remember the good old teaching days, decide to expect great results, know that the right approach could surface at any time, keep trying different things and consider simplifying your teaching experience through investing in ARIS today.