Who Am I to Judge?

a-funny-kidsAcceptance, collaboration, putting yourself in another’s shoes, admitting someone else may have a better idea. These are not just difficult concepts for kids but boy oh boy, are they difficult for us grownups too.

No Need to be a Critic — a Struggling Student is their Own Judge & Jury

Working with kids who are struggling in school gives me a window into each child’s values, belief-system and self-esteem. I’ve taken note — when it comes down to it, each and every kid who is not making the grade truly feels left out.

At the root of all the anger, anxiety, blame, tears, skipping school and bullying is a genuine feeling of inadequacy. No matter the age or the problem, they feel judged by their peers, their teachers, their parents and themselves.

Mindfulness Abates Judgment

It’s not without work that I’ve learned to be intentional about stepping back for a minute and recognizing my own inability to judge anyone. Really, who am I to judge?

This ability to learn to love myself and others just as we are comes from the expected variables, including age, life experience, forgiveness for past wrongs and most recently yoga. I’ve been practicing yoga consistently for a good five years now and the thing that my Type A brain loves most about it is the fact that there is no judgment. I’m not supposed to judge others (especially that one guy in the front of the room whose hot tree is like perfect every time!) and I’m certainly not supposed to judge myself.

That’s what I teach my students. No matter the diagnosis or the grades, no one is allowed to judge you, not even the harshest critic – yourself.

This is not to say a student shouldn’t strive for that ‘A+’ or try out for the lead in the school play, only that we all have different abilities, learning styles and gifts. Some subjects will be harder. That’s a fact. Withholding judgment is not a free ride to eliminate trying your very best.

Be Free from Judgment & Help Your Child Learn to Love Learning

The goal is to be free from judging the aftermath: Judging yourself as a parent for working late again, judging your child for getting a C on his math test, judging your spouse for not doing his share of the housework, judging that mom at the playground who always has your kid’s favorite bunny graham snack.

Learning to accept what is, opens the door to what could be.

By refraining from judging yourself as a parent, teacher or provider, you are giving your child, your student, the freedom to explore.

Isn’t that really what’s at the crux of the matter. We feel stifled, so we judge. We need the freedom to say let’s try this, instead of I must do this.

By giving ourselves that freedom, we are teaching our kiddos how to love learning. And that’s the ultimate gift.

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 struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.

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Welcome to The Flipped Classroom

flipped classroom bart“The flipped classroom is a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed. Short video lectures are viewed by students at home before the class session, while in-class time is devoted to exercises, projects, or discussions.”

This is an interactive yet independent way to teach and learn for all ages and all levels. Here’s how it works:

Traditionally, a teacher will introduce a new concept in class. This is the first time students have heard this concept. Students take notes and have a mini-class discussion. Then the teacher will reinforce the concepts learned in class with outside-of-class homework.

In contrast, The Flipped Classroom places the onus on the student and puts emphasis on the student’s own preparation for the lesson before class. Once the student gets to class, the teacher and the students, together, reinforce the subject-matter through project-based learning.

Here’s Why The Flipped Classroom Should Be the Norm:

Traditional teaching means that the student’s first introduction to the subject-matterFlipped-Classroom-Comparison is through the eyes of the teacher.

For students who learn best thorough lecture, this is a fine way to learn a new concept. But for students who have multiple modalities of learning, like many of us, the lecture-first way of teaching can be confusing, taking a student down a learning pathway that is unnatural.

The Flipped Classroom model, however, first requires the student to introduce themselves to the material by engaging in a self-taught lesson through articles, videos and research before they come to class. That way, when they enter the classroom they are already prepared with foundational knowledgeable of the lesson and relevant questions to promote a class discussion followed by project-based learning in small groups.

This is how college classes work too.

I’m intrigued by the fact that there is such a push for all kids to make college a goal, yet our lecture-first learning model is not college centered. In undergraduate and law school, I received the syllabus and on the first day of classes in my very first year, I was ready for the lesson because I had prepared the assigned reading. This is how higher education is structured.

So if we want our children to be prepared for college, this is how we should be teaching our elementary, middle and high students.

One Example of how The Flip Model is Implemented

I recently toured the STEM3 Academy, an amazing Middle & High School designed specifically for students with an IEP and who have a propensity for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Their classrooms are not just desks but lab centered, project-based learning at its core. Their seats are in pods so students can work together as teams. Reading can be done first with follow-up questions and ideas that explore that concept further in class.

advantages of flipI am so excited to learn that schools and teachers are taking a genuine look at this new way of learning and helping their students navigate the lesson by placing the power in the students’ hands. By taking the initiative to prepare for class, doing their own research beforehand, the student is in control of their educational choices.

The Flipped Classroom promotes independent thinking and learning, places the onus of learning on the student and creates students who know how to self-advocate and are more aware of their own challenges at a younger age, which only serves them better in life.

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!”

Decoding Reading Fluency & The Tipping Point of Third Grade

booksChances are that at a recent Parent/Teacher Conference your child’s teacher mentioned the phrase Reading Fluency. You nod politely just waiting to hear those magic words: “[Your Child] is on track in his/her Reading Fluency.”

Education Lingo is Another Language

Let’s face it– speaking education lingo is like learning a new language. It’s hard enough to translate what a 1, 2, 3, or 4 means grade-wise let alone understand how kids are learning math these days! So here’s a little cheat sheet, if you will, as to what Reading Fluency means and how to make sure your kid is on track to meeting this goal.

Just Remember to Rap A RAP

ARAP: is a quick acronym for the four components that make up Oral Reading Fluency, as taken from Reading and Word Attack Strategies: Reading A-Z.

  • A: Accuracy – the ability to recognize (decode) words correctly
  • R: Rate – how (1) quickly and (2) accurately a reader reads connected text
  • A: Automaticity – the quick and effortless reading of words in or out of context
  • P: Prosody – the tonal and rhythmic aspects of spoken language. This builds meaning and comprehension

Help Your Child Get Better at Reading with These 7 Strategies

Everybody struggles in something and if your child is struggling in reading, that’s ok! There are strategies you can employ that will help them overcome this hurdle.

1. Use Picture Clues – gives the student visual context and helps begin the word-picture association process

2. Sound Out the Word – helping to develop Phonemic Awareness, which is the fancy way of saying that reading to your child helps them hear what a word or groups of words should sound like

3. Look for Chunks in the Word – Phonics aka The Blending of Letters/Sounds/Symbols/Prefixes/Suffixes/Endings/Whole Words/Base Words

4. Connect to a Word You Know – Ah, the good old Compare v Contrast. A method of testing comprehension that will be on every test/quiz all the way through law school 🙂

5. Reread the Sentence – A good rule of thumb when using this strategy is to remember I do/We Do/ You Do.

I DO: First, you read the sentence so your child can hear what is should sound like.

WE DO: Then, read the sentence with your child to boost confidence and reinforce the sounds.

YOU DO: Finally, have your child read the sentence himself.

Even if your child doesn’t get it right away, don’t worry! Build in wait time. For example, count 30 seconds in your head then go back to reading the sentence together. Encourage your child’s efforts. Refrain from tearing down their attempts.

6. Keep Reading – Go back through the story or passage and look for new vocabulary. Point out patterns and word play. Expose your child to the nuances of the English language.

7. Use Prior Knowledge – Identify repeated words and compare the second sentence to the first. What word makes sense in both sentences?

(Reading and Word Attack Strategies: Reading A-Z)

When Should My Child Know How To Read?

Just like learning to walk and talk, learning to read is also a developmental process. “All children do not begin to read at the same age. Children reach literacy milestones along the way.” (The National Institute for Professional Practice, see points below)

Typically, a child should be on track to learning the skills of Oral Reading Fluency during the K-3 grade levels:

  • Awareness and Exploration of Reading Stage (typically pre-K)
  • Emergent Reading Stage (typically pre-K to early Kindergarten)
  • Early Reading Stage (typically Kindergarten to early Grade 1)
  • Transitional Reading Stage (typically late Grade 1 to Grade 2)
  • Fluent Reading Stage (typically Grade 3 and higher)

The Tipping Point of Third Grade

Third Grade is when we start to look extra carefully at our young readers. There is a student split amongst their peers between the kids who are “getting it” and the kids who aren’t. Third Grade is also when the work starts to get harder and the testing more rigorous.

Coincidentally, it’s when I start to get a lot of calls from parents looking for a Tutor and we start talking about testing to begin the IEP process.

Reading is a skill that takes time to master. If your child isn’t “getting it” by the time he/she completes third grade, then parents and teachers should be asking “why?”. It may just be a slight developmental delay, or it may be something more. A good Teacher, Tutor, Advocate, and Parent, however, will strive to put into practice the strategies for successful reading fluency to help their student learn this new language and decode the mystery as to why reading is hard.

If you find that your child is struggling in school, contact us. We can help you answer that all-important question: Why?

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.

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.

Life Hack: A Shorter School Day

quotes“Life Hack: any shortcut, skill, or method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life.”

There’s a lot of talk about hacking things lately. Modern society coined the term “Life Hack” as a catch-all to describe making our everyday lives easier by utilizing little tricks, such as using nail polish to identify different keys on the same ring or using a muffin tin for condiments at a BBQ to save clean up time. The point being, there are little things here and there that we can use and reuse to make life just little bit easier.

But what about school? Does the act of going to a traditional school for 12+ years lead to a better job, better relationships, and a better life? I pose this question so that we can begin to think about the purpose behind our 6-8 hour school day and whether or not the act of physically going to a school really means a better life outcome.

The American School Day & The Industrialization Era

It’s no secret that the rise of public education and the Industrialization Era went hand-in-hand. “Before the industrial age, provision of formal schooling virtually everywhere was scarce — dependent on tuition and fees, voluntarist, and usually limited to males,” explains Jim Carl, who wrote Industrialization and Public Education: Social Cohesion and Social Stratification.

So when parents began working in the factories instead of on the farms, the school day got longer to accommodate the change in times. Of course, now our work days often exceed the standard 8 hours and our schools have had to accommodate again with school-sponsored or third-party-contracted Before School and After School programming. Our kids are often at school from 7am-6pm, five days a week.

Life takes place at school. But are our children learning more?

Homeschooling’s 3 Hour Day

We’ve got to remember that what we consider traditional schooling is only about 160 years old, with Massachusetts passing the first compulsory school law in 1852 and the rest of the U.S. following soon thereafter.  That’s really only about five or six generations.

Before children went off to school, parents and communities formed little schools within the home or neighborhood. Yes, homeschooling was once considered the traditional school format.

Homeschooling today is required by law to have children study for “at least three hours a day for 175 days each calendar year“. Compare this requirement to our public and private school students who get up at 6am and have to be at school for their first period by 7:25 (that’s when my high school began, and everyday it was a struggle to get up and get out the door. I’m still tired!).

So which is better?

Well, as I get older and another birthday rolls around next week, I realize that having more for the sake of more does not equate to better.

A shorter school day may just be the life hack your kid benefits from the most.

Check out this great, little nugget of wisdom from 13 year old Logan LaPlante who discusses his take on HackSchooling

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.

What You Should Expect from a Great Tutor

Christine Terry and Student- Thinking & Learning Outside the Classroom Box

Christine Terry and 4th Grade Student- Thinking & Learning Outside the Classroom Box

When you’re searching for someone to help your child with homework, you should also be searching for someone who has a passion for learning and wants to know what makes your kid tick.

Inborn traits such as personality type, temperament, emotional/relational style, learning style, gender differences, talent set and proclivities, inherent strengths and weaknesses, and resilience to trauma are part of each child’s natural makeup. Finding the right tutor means finding an educator who knows how to incorporate the right learning tools and strategies to accommodate your child accordingly.

As a tutor myself, I know that I am the first line of defense when it comes to sussing out struggles in school and at home. It’s really hard for the Parent to also wear the Tutor Hat, and so it’s important that your child has someone on their side who can be an objective advocate for the student and family’s needs.

We understand this, and that’s why the criteria for being a Terry Tutors Tutor is a tall order. We require our Tutors to come to the table with:

  1. A genuine passion for education coupled with the ability to break down information succinctly and provide structure while tailoring educational concepts to the student’s/family’s needs
  2. A personal investment in each student/family on your caseload — going the extra mile to ensure they understand and put in practice the concepts taught
  3. Ability to professionally communicate with all parties involved: Students, Parents, Teachers, Support Staff, Administrators, Therapists, and The Regional Center
  4. A college degree or higher + experience working with students with special education needs
  5. Commitment to working consistently with at least 1 student/1 family per semester

And then there’s that x factor.

We know that poor grades are often a symptom that something else is wrong: a learning difference, behavior challenge, social skills need, or family dynamic concern. We recommend that you look for tutors who understand this so you can get more than just a homework helper.

Here are a few defining characteristics of a Great Tutor:

You want a tutor who has a passion for understanding all the little nuances that help your child learn best. Everything from what type of chair your child is sitting in during class to what type of friends they are hanging out with should be of importance because when all of these little things are added together, it can reveal long-sought-after answers to struggles with homework, processing information, social-emotional behavior, learning style, self-confidence and self-worth.

You want a tutor who can communicate and collaborate with all parties involved. There are so many people helping your child throughout the day that it can be hard for everyone to get on the same page, even when it comes to a simple assignment. A great tutor knows that communication in a kind and collaborative way can ensure that you, as the parent, know what’s going on at all times.

You want a tutor who you can trust to get the job done but who understands creating a life-long learner is more important than getting an A. Grades are subjective. School is more of a lesson in psychology than we realize. When it comes to hiring someone to help your child improve, look for someone who understands that social skills are just as important as acing that history test. Being a tutor should be about forward thinking– peering into the next 10-15 years of the student’s life and asking, “What will help this child learn to love learning even more?”

Great Tutors are out there and ready to help. For more info about our Great Tutors check out TerryTutors.com

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student.  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.