Eric Jones is my fictitious, eight year old, student that has autism. I created a profile based on a compilation of characteristics that I have observed in children on the spectrum. I will be referring to his profile throughout this blog post. When Eric’s parents enrolled him at Gibson Academy, they informed the staff that Eric was diagnosed at age four, with autism. He had a vocabulary of only a few words. His time at his previous school was spent between a self contained classroom and inclusion. His kindergarten and first grade years were chaotic and challenging. According to his parents it caused a great deal of stress and agitation for their son. They are hoping for a different outcome this school year, and want only the best for their son.
Eric Jones was given the Autism Diagnostic Interview-R along with the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. (Lord, Rutter, DiLavore, & Risi, 2001) Conducting these interviews and observations allowed us to have an accurate understanding of Eric’s strengths and weaknesses in communication. They also allowed for a clearer picture of what Eric will be able to accomplish. Following this, we were able to create a comprehensive communication profile that will assist us in meeting Eric’s educational and vocational needs. The staff also completed informal observations of Eric, have spoken numerous times with his parents to better understand their perspective and what things they would like to see Eric achieve, his parents also allowed us to look at school records from their son’s previous school, as well as contacted Eric’s medical physician that has followed Eric since infancy.
Eric will require instructional strategies to foster his functional communication. We would like to see him be able to communicate in “real life” situations across all environments. That is the goal. The school staff, therapists and family will all need to work together to insure Eric’s success. We will help Eric to have a consistent routine each school day. He will be expected to use a schedule in each classroom and at home that will also help with his task organization. In the beginning a short schedule of two tasks at a time will be used. If Eric completes these two tasks he will be given a reinforcer. Since Eric enjoys numbers, we might consider a reinforcer that could somehow incorporate his love of numbers. We might consider time on the calculator, or math games on the computer. A visual timer will be used during the reinforcement time. Tasks will be increased in increments as Eric makes progress in using a schedule consistently. Consistent routines and schedules, predictability in his classes throughout the day, and consistent consequences will allow Eric the stability and structure that he needs. He will begin working on attending during class, learning cause and effect (might use an If-Then card to accomplish this), and relating to others (saying hello, I’m finished, or I need help). Eric’s teachers will be called on to make certain necessary modifications or adaptations in order for Eric to be successful in their classrooms. After a time, when Eric has mastered these objectives, he may not require as many adaptations. We will be calling on our speech and language pathologist to spend some of her sessions with Eric, working on his functional communication and pragmatics in his homeroom class. She will have Eric practicing his language and social skills with his general education peer group. This is very important, as peer interactions will be stressed in Eric’s plan. The occupational therapist will obtain fidgets for Eric to use throughout his day at school. We feel that these will help to relieve stress that Eric might feel in his classes. He will also be taught some self-awareness skills. When he starts to feel anxious, he can use some of the destressing techniques that he will be taught. (counting aloud, since this is a favorite thing to do, using a pack of number cards to flip etc.) It is expected that teachers will allow Eric to have sensory breaks or “time away” as needed. This preventative measure will allow Eric the opportunity to calm down, without having tantruming or out of control melt downs.
We might consider using a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) (Bondy & Frost, 2001, 2009) with Eric, considering he is a visual learner, and has a limited verbal vocabulary. The pictures would be images of real objects. A portable electronic communication board, such as Go Talk, or Picture Card may also be an option for Eric. All of his classrooms would use labels and pictorial directions as often as possible in order to aide in learning. A picture schedule/calendar will be posted in Eric’s homeroom class, where he starts his day. This will give him a visual of what to expect during his school day, such as different special area classes like music, art, library or physical education. A minature version of this schedule would be on his clipboard. This would also be used to make him more aware of assemblies, or upcoming field trips etc. Undoubtedly, there will be some challenges that we will face, as is normally the case any time something new is attempted. Teachers will have to be reminded to be consistent with the daily schedules, and Eric will need to be prompted to use his schedule, and to take his communication system with him throughout the day. He will also need to be assisted, at least in the beginning, with making choices. We can help Eric with this by giving him more “real life” choices throughout his school day. Using incentives to help him make choices is a possibility. Since Eric tends to fidget with his fingers, or eyelashes, we might help Eric use more socially appropriate figits like a stress ball or putty as an incentive, these objects could help relieve his stress and feelings of anxiousness. The end goal is for Eric to “own” his communication, so it is important that he buys into whichever system he ends up using. We will work together to get through each of the challenges. We want to see Eric successful in his second grade classroom.
After six weeks of school the team will meet together to evaluate how Eric is progressing at Gibson Academy. Classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, therapists, and the principal will attend the meeting. Eric’s parents will be asked to attend the meeting also, as they will be able to give valuable insight into whether or not Eric is carrying over the communication skills he is learning, into his home environment. The group will discuss the positives that are happening with Eric’s communication plan, as well as any challenges. All involved, will be asked to brainstorm solutions to known challenges, in order for things to run more smoothly. Everyone is encouraged to think outside of the box. Questions to consider: Is Eric using his communication system consistently? Is he using it in all of his classes? Are there some classes he is having a harder time with than others? Why? What can be done to help him be successful? How is he doing with transitions through out the day? Is he requiring the same amount of prompts/reinforcers as he did in the beginning? Is Eric any more verbal? Is he initiating communication more often? Is he actively participating in more interactions with his peers?
Our hope is that Eric, over time, will be more involved in his classes, instigate more conversations, have more interactions with his peers and the adults in his life, and ultimately have an overall sense of purpose in his communication.
Bondy, A.S., & Frost, L.A. (2001). A picture’s worth: PECS and other visual communication strategies in autism. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine.
Lord, C., Rutter, M.A., DiLavore, P.C., & Risi, S. (2001). The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. Los Angles, CA: Western Psychological Services.