Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Atypical Teaching Strategies - Subconscious Joining and Mental Prompts For Autistic Learners

This page is devoted to my personal opinions and strategies for developing communication skills with a subgroup of individuals - primarily with severe autism. Most are nonverbal, and demonstrate significant motor and sensory impairments. These strategies have also proven effective with those who have some verbal capability but who have difficulty accessing their words.(Mental prompts help with word access as do sentence closure techniques.)

When engaging a child with these obvious challenges, it is important to acknowledge his often overlooked incredible gifts. The gifts referred to are; the ability to join with others at a subconscious level, access the universal field of thought, and pick up on subtle mental prompts. Keep your energy, calm yet assertive. Make sure the child feels safe and protected.

If done correctly, a sympathetic resonance occurs and a sense of trust is established. The child does not react to things that might normally bother him; routines can be disrupted; he goes with the flow, seemingly relaxed and at one with you. Perhaps, a subconscious blending of energy is occurring. After initial entrainment occurs, attempt to block out external thoughts and stay present and focused on the material and expect the student to do the same.

One way to see if a subconscious connection has been made is to show the child two word cards to see if he will choose the one you request. Sit in front of the child, possibly even touching knees as you hold up two cards. (It helps to have some bodily contact. If necessary, you may have someone stand behind him to facilitate his movement of selecting the card similar to what PECS's (Picture Exchange System) protocol.) This may be needed for a child who had not shown any prior ability to select, and/or discriminate.) Visualize the word card and verbalize. If facing the student, picture the word in mirror image. (That way, the student will pick up the image using the correct left to right progression.) This may happen immediately or it may take months, but most every student will be able to do it if matched with a capable "agent" who is open to the possibility.

When your intent is to teach, set a dominant, calm, yet assertive, rhythm. Tell the student to stop self-stimulatory behaviors and encourage him to focus on you and the material. Begin by working from a field of choices using word or picture cards. Initially, give the student a limited choice of possible responses. When he is proficient, expand the field. Say the word aloud as you send the image. This technique gives the student a vehicle to stay on track and demonstrate his competence without becoming overwhelmed. Stimulus response-type instruction increases the attention and fluidity as opposed to inactive listening.

Once he appears to be able to read a word by selecting it from a field of choices, I would then have him select the word when the function was given. (I.e. what do you color with?) Next I might ask him "who/what/where/when/why" questions and again have them select the correct word card - not only to check comprehension but also to narrow his focus and hopefully help him form mental categories. Working with categories can help the student filter and organize information to help him develop his own mental filing cabinet. For example, if I ask a "who" question, hopefully he would begin to process that I am looking for a person. If I ask a "where" question, then I am looking for a place. "What" would signal an object? "What" are they doing would signal a verb. If the child has difficulty labeling, then I often start with actions, because there are less of them and their meaning is potent: i.e. eat, drink, play, jump. Mental prompts should be faded as reading and language skills improve.

Words are constant, as are many communication pictures used in the classroom. When teaching, the individual should be encouraged to demonstrate concrete correlation and awareness. Integration, correlation, transfers amongst people and settings, generalization, and comprehension of underlying skills needs to continually be addressed. Although the lights (abstract) are on in the attic, the foundation (concrete) is often very weak.

In direct contrast to teaching typical children or verbal, concrete-thinking autistic children, when working with this subtype, start with the abstract, moving to the representational and then to the concrete. Meet the child in areas of abstract thought (words). The word (abstract) needs to be linked with a picture and the picture (representational) with the object (concrete). Just because the person with autism is often able to pick out the word, does not mean that he can demonstrate understanding of the picture or the actual object or activity. (This is an aspect of the phenomena that is often ignored by proponents of FC and/or RPM.) Can this inability be explained by vibration frequency? (Thoughts of words travel faster than pictures, and three dimensional objects or situation the slowest.) Is it just image consistency of the written word? Is it possible that with a three-dimensional object can't be sent and received as easily? Or is it simply that actual objects vary so much in terms of attributes? These are just some of the many complex questions that need to to be investigated.

Be aware of the influence you can have over their communications, intentionally or not. Supplement this form of communication with PECS. PECS encourages spontaneity and is less dependent on an agent or facilitator. PECS also serves as a preliminary step to augmentative communication devices and programs. Adept students do not need their partner to be within certain proximity to use it. However, PECS restricts the student's higher-level communications and astounding demonstrations of intelligence or access to it. When applicable, have the child type the word on the (PECS) picture and hand me the communication device. Once the child demonstrates that he understands the relationship among words, pictures, and object or situations, let him type his requests on a voice output communication device. If he is not using a voice output device, I have them hand me the communicator. At this point, they may also switch to augmentative communication programs such as Speaking Dynamically Pro. (Speaking Dynamically Pro provides the visual impetus many of the kids need and material is often presented in categories.) Help the student become independent in as many settings as possible. Do not limit the student's independence to intellectual and academic skills. Help him feel comfortable in his body, modulate movements, and decrease sensory irritants. This in turn, allows for a more active, healthy and integrated life.

True independence in communication demands, no agent/facilitator in their proximity. Nonverbal students I have seen do this demonstrate similar language deficits as moderately functioning verbal individuals with autism- basic requesting, limited topics of interest, perseveration, excellent rote memory, semantic and pragmatic difficulties. When joined with an agent or facilitator, the level of their communications is dramatically enhanced.

Open minded scientists capable of exploring the currently unexplainable spiritual aspects of union at a soul level are drastically needed. Until then, our educational strategies will remain rudimentary. There is so much to learn. These students already demonstrate they have access to the universal mind and the memory banks others. It is just their inability to explain what they know in the context of their physical bodies that requires them to use a facilitator or agent. In truth, it is probably the facilitator/ agent that limits and influences their communications. Broaden your perceptual beliefs, you will appreciate the depth and breadth of their knowledge. It is a beginning, but we have so much to learn!
They have been eager and ready to teach us for years.


    * Open your heart and join. Keep your emotions and energy calm, open, and loving. Truly love them and feel blessed in their company.
    * Approach with respect. Assume competency. Acknowledge intelligence.
    * Make sure they are comfortable. Be aware of internal and external sensory irritant and attempt to alleviate them. (lights, sounds, smells, erratic interfering thoughts)
    * Provide positive sensory experiences. (deep pressure, joint compressions, massage, spinning, swinging)
    * Realize that many self-stimulatory behaviors and movements are used to get their bodies, sensory systems, and brains to function and help them establish an internal rhythm. Self stimulatory behavior may also help the students block out external stimuli including the thoughts of others.
    * An organized body leads to an organized mind. Learning appropriate and varied movement patterns enhances all areas of function.
    * Let those who chose to, use you as a tool. It is often a step along the way.
    * Understand some individuals with severe autism benefit from an agent with a strong rhythm to maintain their attention and override other interfering stimuli. Use this strong rhythm to deter interfering self -stimulatory behavior during direct instruction.
    * Accept the fact that a form of telepathy or joined or entangled energy is occurring.

Empower them! Promote independence with dignity! Accept the unexpected!


    * Meet each child at his level.
    * Provide visual strategies, motoring, and mental prompts as needed to insure errorless teaching. Remove, as needed using backward chaining techniques.
    * Teach through out the day. Include children in all conversations. Provide slow relaxed visual and auditory input throughout all activities.
    * Use sentence closure techniques for nonverbal or those with limited verbal capability.
    * Teach categories to help them develop an internal filing cabinet that limits choices.
    * Provide motivating activities specific to each child to increase initiations.
    * Make sure the child correlates the abstract (word, sign) representational (picture) concrete (object).
    * Remember; with severe students who have a propensity toward hyperlexia, the word may be learned first.
    * Teach simple understanding of parts of speech by having the children answer simple "who," "what," "where," and "when." questions about a sentence in hopes of internally limiting possible responses, thus promoting easier access.
    * Repetition is key, particularly if movement is involved. Yet, be willing to move on if the children indicate the need.

Speak out on the truth of your experience! It is my hope that someday these remarkable individuals will be respected authorities as they join consciousness with the brightest and best in respective fields.

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