Inappropriate Behavior May Be Masking a Learning Difference

2012.7.Class-ClownIf you’re a parent of a child struggling with inappropriate behavior at school, you might find yourself answering this question at an SST or IEP Meeting: Does your child’s behavior impede his/her ability to learn in the classroom?

If you answered yes, then know that you’re not alone. As a Wraparound Support Provider, I hear this all too familiar story from parents just like yourself:

It started with little things, like not paying attention to the teacher, failing to turn in homework, or talking when he’s not supposed to, but it soon escalated to an alternation with another student, maybe a former friend, on the playground or in the lunchroom and now the school is talking suspension. Phone calls from the school increased from once a week to twice and now it’s nearly every day. And every day it’s a struggle to understand why this is happening.

You know your child is smart, knows the rules of school and although may have had a little academic or behavior issue in the past, it has never been something to worry about. But now, you find yourself worrying about his future and wondering ‘why?’

The Behavior May Be Hiding the Learning Difference

When trying to uncover the reason behind a behavior difficulty at school, we must focus on the root cause. It is imperative that we refrain from putting too much stake on the surface behavior. Yes, the behavior is causing daily problems, but it is likely hiding something more serious. The only way to uncover the real issue is to take a thorough look at all areas of your child’s life: (1) Home Environment; (2) School Environment; (3) Individual Needs

What’s Going on at Home?

Family dynamic changes can be difficult transitions for kids of all ages. The first question to ask: What changes have occurred at home?

Was there a change to the structure of the family, parenting style, or the way the home is run? If so, we have to look closely at these changes, no matter how minute, because they are part of the bigger picture.

Let’s make sure not to play the blame game.

Parents cannot blame the school alone for their child’s behavior and the school cannot blame the parents only for their student’s difficulties. Really, no one should be blaming anybody but it often feels that way, doesn’t it.

We need to change that.

Looking at what changes have occurred in a child’s home environment is one part of the mystery. As parents, you must do your due diligence and answer that question honestly, keeping an open mind.

behavior is functional

What’s Going on at School?

The second question to ask: What’s happening during school that perpetuates the inappropriate behavior?

Maybe the new teacher is not your child’s favorite this year or maybe there’s another kid that’s picking on your kid.

School is just as much about social preservation as it is about academic prowess.

When delving deeply into the school day, we want to be mindful to look at social struggles as well as academic ones. If your child is facing a problem with one of his friends, that could be the precipice for the behavior. Even it is seems minor, it may be a major source of strain for your child.

It’s hard to remember that kids are just that — kids. We’re adults now and can handle more stressors and triggers, but our kids have yet to go through the ups and downs of life that we have. So when faced with what presents as a minor social hiccup, perhaps they aren’t as prepared as we’d like them to be because they haven’t yet had to deal with that particular situation.

A child who’s acting out in class may be masking a more serious learning difficulty.

We have to also look at the academic needs of the student. Oftentimes, the behavior is masking a more serious issue, like a learning difference.

This is a hard one because it’s not a quick fix and may very well be something the student must learn to navigate through not only in school but in life. And that’s okay.

We’ve come a long way in the way we think about learning disabilities, disorders and differences. We know that there is no one right way to learn and that standardized testing does not tell the whole story nor determine success in life. It’s still important, however, to acknowledge that there is a learning difference so that the school can put appropriate accommodations and modifications in place.

What’s Going on Internally?

Getting to the root cause of a behavior need, may uncover a learning difference, but we’ll only really have concrete evidence of that if your child is evaluated for one.

A Psychological Educational Evaluation (often called a Psycho-Ed Assessment/Eval) is conducted by the School Psychologist at the request of the parent. It is also the start of the I.E.P. process.

I recently had a parent tell me that requesting testing was initially a scary process because she didn’t know what the evaluation would reveal. By choosing to look at it as a general check-up, however, it lessened the worry and put things in perspective. If a learning difference is found and her child is able to get services through the school, then that is one more piece of the puzzle solved.

Collaboration is Key to Bridging the Gap Between Home & School

Teachers, Parents, Providers want the same thing: to solve the puzzle. We can’t do that, however, by piecemealing the process. We have to collaborate.  We must look beyond the outward behaviors to the core issues, working together to understand what’s happening at home in conjunction with what’s happening in the classroom.

To label a child a “Behavior Problem” is the equivalent of just looking at someone’s outward appearance and deciding their whole story. It’s unfair of us to do so. We won’t know the whole story until we uncover the root issue. It takes time, money, patience, and expertise. Once completed, however, we have a clearer picture of what’s really going on.

If your child is in need of behavior support or you want to find out more about services available for behavior needs, click on TerryTutors.com for more information.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them: “To be a part of a student’s ‘ah ha’ moment is the best feeling in the world because I know I’m helping that student build foundational confidence that will lead to a successful path, not just in school but throughout life!”

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If It Wasn’t Written, It Never Happened: Avoid This IEP Pitfall

emailThe #1 Advocacy Rule: If it wasn’t written down, it never happened.

Here are some pointers about why creating a written record of your verbal conversations with teachers, therapists, and administrators will help you avoid this major pitfall of the IEP system.

THE WHAT: Email

Email is the cleanest way to send timely communication to all parties involved in the IEP process.

  • Create a file folder in your email account dedicated to all communication concerning the IEP process.
  • Send weekly updates to providers and the school.
  • Cc all support team members on those emails so we can be on the same page. If your child was struggling with a concept during tutoring, then her teachers should know about that so he can be aware and provide additional help.
  • Remember to leave emotion out of it. When communicating with the school, you’re wearing your objective Advocate Hat right now, not your parent hat.

THE WHO: All Support Providers

Who is included on these emails? Every service provider that your child is working with, such as teachers, administrators, therapists, advocates or attorneys, tutors, behaviorists, any other support service providers who are familiar with your child’s needs and care.

THE WHY: Concise, Communicative and Congenial

The reason why we create a written record is not litigious but rather so that everyone can remain in the loop and be on the same page. Miscommunication is the downfall of so many good parent/school relationships. Your job is to build a working relationship with your child’s support team. That includes taking on the task of secretary. You are your child’s point person and in doing so you must be concise, communicative, and congenial.

E-MAIL EXAMPLE

Here’s a clear example of what your emails should look like:

To: IEP Coordinator/Point Person

Cc: Meeting Attendees (Advocate or Attorney, Teacher(s), Vice Principal, SLP/OT/PT Therapists, Resource Specialist) & Those who did not attend the meeting but are still important support providers (Private SLP/OT/PT Therapists, Psychologist or Counselor, Tutor, Behaviorist)

Subject: Meeting Recap 3/31/15 – Student A.J.

Dear Team Aiden*,

Thank you for meeting with me today to discuss my son, Aiden Johnson*, and his challenges and successes in school.  After reviewing my notes, I believe it is best to move forward with Speech Language Pathology (SLP) testing. I will be contacting the SLP on staff (she is also cc’d on this email) this week to set up a time to review Aiden’s speech challenges and my additional concerns. My goal is to help Aiden as best we can, and so I would also like to discuss how we can work with Aiden on his goals at home.

Thank you once again for your time. Looking forward to speaking with the SLP this week.

Jenny Johnson*, Aiden’s Mom

(c) 310.555.7126

(e) jennyj@email.com

*Not real name

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them: “To be a part of a student’s ‘ah ha’ moment is the best feeling in the world because I know I’m helping that student build foundational confidence that will lead to a successful path, not just in school but throughout life!”

10 Special Ed Blogs that Make You Wanna Go “Yeah!”

special_education_blogsMy Twitter feed is on fire with some awesome blogs lately. There are so many resources out there in internet-land that I had to share a few of my favorites.

If you’re looking for a little inspiration, need to find more education, or just want to talk about your frustrations then check out these gems in the blogosphere.

 

  1. Adventures in Aspergers
  2. Autism Father Blog
  3. Autism Hippie
  4. Firefly Friends
  5. Fusion Academy
  6. Innovative Speech & Language Pathology
  7. Love That Max
  8. National Center for Learning Disabilities
  9. The Center for Well-Being
  10. Wrightslaw

For more resources take a look at our LinksWeLove or Find Us on Facebook & Twitter

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

Prompting: Be a Drama Queen

promptIf you’ve spoken to a behaviorist or Special Ed Teacher or even just a person who happens to love B.F. Skinner, you might hear them talk about prompting and redirection: a behavior strategy used to decrease unwanted behaviors or increase desired behaviors. This is used in ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis), specifically with children who are diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum. However, it works for other behavior patterns too, and there are many ways to teach it effectively.

What’s a Prompt?

A prompt: “Cue or hint meant to induce a person to perform a desired behavior. A fancy way of saying this is: An antecedent that induces a person to perform a behavior that otherwise does not occur.” Types of prompts include verbal, full physical (hand over hand), partial physical, modeled behavior by the person performing the prompting, gestured, or just visual (just pointing without any other guidance). I have a lot of prompt, fading, reinforcement and redirection skills from my ABA Training and I’m continuing with the trend by learning PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) for non-verbal children. Simply put, first, you prompt the desired behavior; then, if the child is unsuccessful, you redirect the undesired behavior. And then you do it all over again. This is a type of behavior modification.

Prompting at Its Best: Be a Drama Queen

I decided to apply all of my knowledge on this subject to one of my middle school students who struggles with staying on topic and focused during our tutoring time. I mean, he can talk about everything under the sun except homework!

So here’s The Plan: Whenever he gets off topic, I am to just lay my head on the table in exasperation – like a drama queen. This will prompt him to think about why I’ve suddenly stopped listening and “fallen asleep” on the table. If he gets it, I am to reinforce the desired behavior (his realization that he’s off topic and needs self-redirection back to his homework). If he doesn’t, I am to redirect the undesired behavior (off topic conversations), and then try my self-described drama queen technique again.

I tried this technique out tonight during our session, and you know what- he got it! Of course, he thought it was super, duper funny (and it was meant to be.) But after the giggles wore off and I did it again for reinforcement when he started talking about super heroes instead of science, he got it!

Tutoring Should Embrace Techniques from Education & Psychology

See I think Tutoring is really more than just homework help. It’s having someone teach a student about the nuances of social skills, turn-taking, perspective understanding, organization, planning ahead and focus. Homework can be used as the basis for teaching these necessary life skills. For kids who struggle with these executive functions and perspective issues, there are lessons within lessons.

It’s our application of various strategies, techniques, and principles from across the educational and psychological landscape that really do lend itself to a true co-existing of crossover services. School work should prepare a student for life skills too.

I love thinking outside the classroom box, and I’m not afraid to be a Drama Queen to get my point across. I urge you to go against the tradition of coloring within the lines and, instead, branch out to incorporate various ideas from all sorts of models. You might just find the right combination that does the trick for your student.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

I am Thankful for My Sister: The Amazing Speech Pathologist

Elisabeth Zambia

Elisabeth Miller, Extraordinary Speech Pathologist, in Zambia, Africa providing Speech Services with CLASP International

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to give a well-deserved “Thanks!” to my talented and extraordinary little sister, Elisabeth Miller, M.S., CCC-SLP. She has many letters after her name but there’s not an ounce of pomp. Elisabeth works for RiverKids Pediatric Home Health, where she provides clinical Speech & Language Therapy services for Medicaid Patients ages Birth to 21.  Since she’s so kindly taken the Thanksgiving break to visit her L.A. based sister (myself), I thought I’d take this opportunity to interview her about her work in hopes that it will lend some clarity as to what exactly Speech & Language Pathologists (SLP) do.

In general, what does a Speech & Language Pathologist do?

We treat people with all types of communication disorders, which includes any disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate and understand the world around them. We also work on feeding and swallowing for kids and adults who have food aversions/swallowing disorders, and babies weaning from G-Tubes.

Why did you choose to pursue a degree in Speech Pathology?

My mother (our mother) picked it for me. I wanted to work with children, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a teacher in a school because I didn’t know if I wanted to work with large groups of kids. My mother told me to be an SLP because I could work with kids or adults in a 1:1 setting in a hospital or school, and I would always have a job .

Have you found that to be true?

Yes, jobs are plentiful. Totally recession proof. It’s emotionally rewarding and challenging.

What types of kids do you work with?

I see children who have complex medical histories, like prematurity, long hospital stays, weaning from g-buttons or ventilators. I encounter parents who are overwhelmed with the diagnosis and I’m  able to provide family support, education, training, and help their child see improvements.

Tell us a story. A good one about your experience as an SLP.

My favorite kids are those who are labeled as Intellectually Disabled (ID) formerly known as Mentally Retarded. My one little boy, age 9, was labeled as ID and never really able to speak. He had lots of therapy but what I discovered during testing was that he actually had complex motor deficits, including dysarthria (muscle weakness), and Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS), which prevented him from acquiring spoken language. His family had wanted him to speak but had given up hope that it was possible because it had been so many years and he just wasn’t progressing. What I found is that when we took the focus away from forcing him to communicate and teaching him instead how to control the muscles in his mouth to formulate sounds, syllables, and words that he was quite capable of being a verbal communicator; he just never had the opportunity or appropriate treatment. I have learned never to give up on kids based on a diagnosis of ID or Autism. Currently, he’s 10 now and he’s playing with his siblings appropriately and calls for them by name using short phrases. He’s making great strides.

What’s one thing you think that the schools do well at in terms of providing SLP Services to students?

I think the schools are doing well at trying to identify children earlier and getting them into special programs at a younger age, which means that they will hopefully have better outcomes as they get older.

What’s one thing you think the schools could improve upon?

Not removing services for children who are in Middle and High School, as this is a critical period for them to learn skills they may not have acquired during their younger years, such as reading, social-communication skills, and functional communication. We have to better prepare them to leave high school.

Have you found your passion within your career?

Definitely! I love working with pediatrics. I work in a Home Health setting and I get the best of both worlds: access to the family, home environment, and able to work with the child 1:1 or incorporate siblings or peers within the community.

So proud of my little sis. For more on Elisabeth and her work, check out CLASP International and RiverKids Pediatric Home Health

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

We Need a Learning Profile for Every Student

learning profile A recent Special Education Forum got me thinking: We need a Learning Profile for every student, not just those in special ed.

What’s a Learning Profile?

A learning profile is an overview of the recommended reasonable accommodations and modifications needed to set a student up for success. It’s traditionally used in Special Education but I believe we need one for every student, regardless of special or general education status.

Why Should a General Education Student Have a Learning Profile?

There is no one right way to learn, and therefore no one right way to teach. Just because a child doesn’t qualify or hasn’t been tested to receive services under the federally mandated Special Education programs doesn’t mean that child does not need some classroom accommodations or modifications. In fact, those are kids that may be slipping through the cracks. Those are the ones we need to pay extra close attention to because they may be struggling but no one can pinpoint why.

Learning Profile Considerations

I subscribe to Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory. Although learning styles and multiple intelligences are not the same,  a strength-based learning assessment will take into account the child’s multiple ways of learning and bring out those different styles of thinking by considering the following:

  • Student Classification
  • Supports Provided
  • Cognitive/Intellectual Style
  • Social/Emotional
  • Student Behaviors
  • Organization/Time Management
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Language
  • Math

We Think Differently, Therefore We Should Be Taught Differently

Lots of progressive and developmental based schools are on board with this idea: we all think differently, therefore we should all be taught differently. Traditional schools teach to the middle while progressive models teach to the individual. Yes, we all need to learn social tools to navigate societal conventions but should we all be learning just one way of doing something? Common Core is attempting to bring more project based learning into the classroom but the sheer numbers of students in a class (up to 40!) makes it a tall order for one teacher to implement. The ideal is not the same as the reality.

For my students struggling in traditional platforms, I recommend seeking out schools with a teach-to-the-individual-strength-based-learning model, like many of these I’ve visited. And if you need a little help finding the right school fit, search out a school placement service that incorporates a psychological component coupled with education advocacy, like mine here.

The way a student learns is hardwired long before they step foot into a classroom. As educators and parents, we must make sure to set them up for success by enhancing, not squashing, their natural abilities.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

10 Tips on How to Navigate the Special Education System

FAPESpecial Education can present sticky situations when it comes to services, funding, and finding the right school fit. Anyone who works in the schools or has been a part of the IEP circle in some respect knows that it’s no secret getting services for your child can be an uphill battle. Don’t worry– we’re here to help you navigate the system in a collaborative and compassionate manner.

Here’s what you need to know: (Download our Special Education Advocacy PowerPoint)

1. Know Your Acronyms & Case Law So You Can Speak the Special Ed Lingo: FAPE, IDEA, IFSP, IEP, IEE, LRE, SELPA; Board of Ed. v Rowley, 458 US 176 (1982) aka The Cadillac v Chevrolet argument

2. Regional Center to Public School Transition: Birth to 36 months = ECI Services; 36 months to 21 Years: Services through the Public School

3. Understand the IEP Process:

  • Qualifying Disability as defined by 20 U.S.C. sec. 1401 (3)(A)
  • Request for Referral for an Evaluation
  • Public School Approves or Denies the Request: If Approved then there is Psycho-Educational Testing v. If Denied: Appeal and IEE Option
  • School is looking at where your child falls on the Standard Deviation Bell Curve
  • Annual IEP Meeting but you can ask for more
  • Tri-Annual (every 3 years) Evaluation of new Psycho-Educational Testing
  • Know Your PLOP Goals: Measurable & Realistic

4.  Is ADD/ADHD Part of Special Ed? No.: Not considered part of Special Ed but can get 504 Plan, which governs accommodations. So how do you get services for children diagnosed with ADHD? Must pair the diagnosis with a qualifying disability as defined under 20 U.S.C. section 1401 (3)(A).

5. New DSM Info About Autism: New DSM does away with Asperger’s and PDD-NOS. Instead there is one umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder with various severity levels.

6. What Services Are You Asking For? OT, PT, SLP, Resource; usually Pull-Out services in Group with 3-4 students for 30 minutes 1-2 times per week; Push In Classroom Services v Pull Out Group or Individual Services

7. What’s Inclusion & Mainstreaming: It began in the 80’s and is the public education’s choice form of classroom methodology– mixed learning abilities in a general education classroom with a general education teacher

8. Parent Rights:

  • You do not have to test your child.
  • You do not have to sign the IEP at the Meeting
  • You can ask for more than one IEP per year
  • You can ask to observe your child and the therapy
  • You can ask for a copy of the report and testing
  • You can ask for additional hours and services

9. Alternatives to Traditional Public Education: (1) Paid by the State: Homeschooling, Charters; (2) Paid by the District: Non-Public Schools; (3) Private Pay: Private School, possible tuition reimbursement under Burlington School Committee v. Dept. of Ed, 471 US 379 (1985)

10. To Sum it up:

  • If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.
  • You don’t have to sign the IEP at the IEP Meeting.
  • You have more rights than you know.
  • Your job is to know the law and fight for your child’s rights in a collaborative manner.
  • You can be your child’s own advocate!

All in all, you must be your child’s own advocate but sometimes you need a little help along the way. That’s where we come in.

We focus on identifying your child’s areas of needed support, qualifying for assessments and evaluations through the school district or the state regional center, attending and reviewing Student Success Team (SST) & Individualized Education Program (IEP) Meetings at the school, Coordinating Care between all public and private service providers, teaching you how to navigate the education and state systems, and teaching your child self-advocacy.

Because when all is said and done, the end goal is for your child to be self-sufficient–they just need a little help along the way, and that’s okay.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Wraparound Support Service for The Struggling Student by combining Academic, Behavior, and Advocacy support. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

Standardized Testing Limits Potential

test The education world, like any other industry, goes through phases. The importance placed on standardized testing is just one of the phases but it’s been a tough one for educators, parents, and students alike. With the “No Child Left Behind Act” teaching to the test became the norm. “Common Core” is our public education’s response to too much testing and not enough learning.

We’ve Created a System that Requires Us to Measure a Person’s Potential In & Out of the Classroom

Common Core’s true underlying focus is a belief that we all learn differently and that we should promote those learning styles. In fact, the progressive and developmental education movements believe we should be teaching to a child’s strengths rather than their weaknesses. This makes sense because as adults we all learn to compensate for our weaknesses and choose careers that play to our strengths.

Standardized objective tests are not a true indicator of potential. They simply measure where a child stands in relation to his peers at that moment in time. However, the system we’ve created, both in and out of the classroom, requires us to measure a person’s abilities.

A Student’s Self-Worth Hinges on Where they Score on the Scale of Perceived Success

We use these tests to define if and where a student will go to college, what type of job they are most suited for, and how stnd deviationmany public services and how much funding a child will receive. By default, we are defining how much learning potential our students have by how well they take a test. When we continue to define a person by an objective standard we slowly chip away at their uniqueness, which leads to defining ourselves by how well we fit in with the crowd. Our self-worth now hinges on where we fall on that scale of perceived success.

The SCERTS Models Teaches the Foundational Skills to Get that Job & Keep that Job

The reality of life after school is that a person is not measured by how well they do on an exam but rather how well they (a) perform the task, and (b) connect with those around them. EQ is more important than IQ. Simply said, if people like you they want to work with you.

The SCERTS Model is based on the belief that Social Communication, Emotional Regulation, and putting in place a Support System to implement those tools maximizes a student’s learning potential. It’s not a test; it’s a way of life.

Traditionally designed for children on the Autism Spectrum, SCERTS can be used for any child because it teaches how to effectively communicate with one another, which should be the foundation of our learning model. Skills such as Functional Spontaneous Communication, Social Interaction in Various Settings, Teaching of Play Skills, Instruction Leading to Generalization and Maintenance of Cognitive Goals, Positive Approaches to Address Problem Behaviors, and Functional Academic Skills are important for every child at the crux of a developmental period.

Furthermore, these skills can be used in multidisciplinary, crossover home and school environments to provide our children with a foundational communication skill set that will not only allow them to get that job doing what they love but keep that job.

Less Emphasis on Testing = More Emphasis on Cultivating Great “Changers of the World”

I realize that our education system will probably never eliminate standardized testing, but my hope is that we place much less emphasis on its scores. Every child is different. Every child learns differently. We cannot expect to cultivate great thinkers, innovators and “Changers of the World” if we continue to define our children by a number. The more we come to accept this truism, the more chances we give each of our children to achieve real success.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student by combining Academic, Behavior, and Advocacy support. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

My Student is a Self-Described “Sheldon Cooper”

Big Bang TheorySheldon Cooper, Ph.D. is, of course, a fictionalized character from the comedy series The Big Bang Theory, which explores the friendships between four young scientists and their ability to navigate sticky social situations together. From dating to work related politics, it is very difficult for Sheldon, a genius who exhibits tendencies of Asperger’s Disorder, to know what to say and how to say it.

In contrast, his friends know the importance of social conformity and provide guidelines to help Sheldon sidestep social pitfalls. Leonard, Raj, Howard, Bernadette, and Penny often call him out when he’s engaging in behavior that is not up to social standards. His girlfriend,  Neurobiologist Amy, gives Sheldon social “due process” in a way as she is more apt to indulge him by listening to his point of view and trying to explain the way of the world in his language.

Teaching Social Skills for Those with Context Disorders

Underlying the comedic shenanigans that Sheldon often finds himself in each week is the real life issue of teaching social skills, especially when it comes to helping those who are diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum. The DSM-V has bundled Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, and PDD-NOS into one umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) separated by various severity levels. Due to this new way of diagnosing, we will see more kids labeled with ASD and there will be more of a need to teach social skills in the mainstream classroom. This means incorporating Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) into daily lesson plans, as Common Core recommends.

High-functioning Autism, formally known as Asperger’s, is really an overall context disorder, meaning that it is difficult to naturally decipher and pick up on social cues. Rather, the person must learn these relational tools just as someone would learn math or physics or any other structured subject.

The problem with teaching social skills, however, is that there is not one formula and not one correct answer. Every social situation presents a different nuance. So how then do kids really learn social skills?

My Student is a Self-Described “Sheldon” & Uses Social Thinking to Understand Patterns in Behavior

My student is diagnosed with Asperger’s and is a self-described “Sheldon Cooper”. She identifies with his character because reading social cues and exhibiting appropriate social expressions can be trying. It does not come naturally to her but she has learned to compensate by using social thinking– applying a set of social standards to various like social situations. She is very bright and independent. For example, when I was a young girl reading “Anne of Green Gables” she was a young girl reading “The Origin of Species”. But for all her intellect she can seem lost when it comes to relating to others on a social level.

Sheldon provides her some context. Although somewhat exaggerated, his character is ultimately relatable. Sheldon’s love for physics overcomes his love for people. Why? Physics makes sense. People don’t. My student would agree. Her favorite thing is Paleontology. Why? Paleontology makes sense. People don’t.

To navigate her way through real-life social situations, my student has developed social thinking skills, whereby she looks for patterns in social behavior and then correlates those behaviors to appropriate responses. For example, when I’m smiling, she mirrors that facial movement back to me by smiling too. When I’m telling a story, she knows that her response should be something related to my story to show empathy and understanding. Oftentimes though, the conversation quickly reverts back to paleontology because that is the thing that she can most relate to. We’re still working on that one.

The Best Way to Learn Social Skills is Through Your Peers

The fact of the matter is that there is not a one-size-fits-all social formula for every situation because every situation presents different variables. But through pattern recognition and good old-fashioned trial and error, a student can learn what to do and what not to do. With my younger students who are diagnosed with Non-Verbal Learning Disorder or ASD, we spend a lot time deciding what is appropriate and inappropriate in social situations. I cannot prepare my students for every social encounter but I can arm them with an arsenal of social tools that they can use to decipher an appropriate response in a new social situation.

The best way to learn social skills, however, is by way of a student’s peers. Mirroring and social cues will come more naturally if a student’s peer is teaching them through modeling. This is simply because students can relate more to someone their own age rather than an adult. The best social thinking groups are those who intentionally have designed the group for both typical and atypical developing children. (Here are some recommended Social Thinking Skills Groups in Los Angeles.)

Just like Sheldon, everybody can learn something from their peers and social thinking is no exception to this social rule.

A funny but true moment: Sheldon “Masters” the 3 Big Social Expressions

 

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student by combining Academic, Behavior, and Advocacy support. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

Are Labels Really So Bad?

labelOne of the most common concerns I hear from parents who are considering testing their child for learning differences is the fear of labeling. Will this label follow my child around for the rest of their education or even their life? Will my child be known by their label alone? Will it define who they are?

Our Society Labels Everything & Everyone

These concerns are real and should not be taken lightly, but the fact of the matter is that in our society we label everything, and that’s how we choose to collectively define and describe ideas, things, and, yes, even people. When a child is born they are labeled by their gender. When a child excels or is challenged by a task or developmental stage they are labeled by their parents as a “natural talent” or “late bloomer”. These labels follow us around forever and contribute to who we are as adults. For example, I will always be labeled as the child whose first bite of food was a chocolate chip cookie– forever labeled as the girl with a sweet tooth.

The Unmeasureables & The Unknowns

A parent’s fear of having their child tested is exacerbated by the unknown and the what-if’s of the process. But a test is not indicative of a child’s long-term potential. In fact, that’s why the IEP requires a Triannual Review, a new assessment every three years.  See, a test or assessment measures only where the child is in relation to his or her peers at that moment in time. It cannot measure how a child positively compensates for their challenges or their fighting spirit or how a warm, supportive household will shape a child’s meter of self-esteem, aiding them in their battle to win over any learning differences. These are the unmeasurables and the unknowns. These are the natural and environmental influences that cannot be tested.

To Test or Not to Test? That is the Question

When considering whether to have your child assessed for a learning difference, there are two factors to think about: (1) Do I want to know the root cause of my child’s challenge?, and (2) Do I want federal dollars to help my child if there is a problem?

I encourage parents to seek out testing because, like anything, if we don’t understand the root of the problem we can’t seek out the appropriate solution. Whether it be a Functional Behavior Assessment or Psycho-Educational Assessment, knowing the underlying cause of an issue can only serve to help figure out the right path to achieve individual success. Additionally, the fact of the matter is that if you are seeking state provided services through the public school system or the Regional Centers an assessment is mandatory to determine such needs. Federal dollars are apportioned via an objective standard of measurement–a test. Where your child scores in relation to his or her peers will determine what type of help and how much money the state offers to support your child’s needs.

Your Rights

As the parent or legal guardian, you ALWAYS have the right to refrain from having your child tested. No one, not even the state, can make you do this. Never feel that your only option is to sign that piece of paper and check the box that says “yes”.  Many parents supplement support (OT, SLP, PT, Behavior, Academic, Psychological) through private outside providers. Some choose to collaborate with the school without a formal IEP or 504 Plan in place by coming up with their own version of support. Others choose to home-school or enroll in private schools or charters with smaller class sizes. Whatever choice you make, know that it must be your choice because you are the ultimate decision-maker for your child’s needs.

If you’re refraining from having your child tested for fear of labeling, however, I ask that you think about which is more important: A label or getting the help your child needs?

We all come to the table with different viewpoints, different experiences, different family dynamics, different struggles and achievements– different labels. We label ourselves and we label each other. It’s not the label itself that will determine your child’s success though, but rather your ability as the parent to help your child shape their success by defining their own labels for themselves and the world around them.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student by combining Academic, Behavior, and Advocacy support. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.