Tag Archives: autism

Multiple Intelligences In the Classroom: Don’t judge a Book (Kid) By The Cover (IQ)

English: Multiple Intelligences

English: Multiple Intelligences (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Among my favorite experiences as a teacher, and there have been many, is highlighting a student’s shining ability. Regardless of documented IQ , each student is assuredly gifted in at least one area. Everyone has a gift, without exception. Students with Intellectual Disability, who struggle with academics and functional life skills, are identified for services in part with a lower “IQ” score. Read the psychologist’s report from the evaluation and match it up with your own experience with the child and you will see a gift in at least one area. Perhaps it is Verbal Ability (excellent communicator),  strength in spelling, or they are exceptionally bodily-kinesthetic (physically coordinated). Whatever it is, it is their special skill. Highlighting and celebrating it visibly in the classroom will improve that student’s peer relationships, sense of personal worth and future outcomes. Parents and teachers can advocate for and find those strengths.

English: Stephen Wiltshire receives his MBE aw...

English: Stephen Wiltshire receives his MBE award at Buckingham Palace (Copyright: The Stephen Wiltshire Gallery http://www.stephenwiltshire.co.uk) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I knew a boy who could draw without looking at the paper, while listening to classroom directions. His accuracy was amazing, much like that of  Stephen Wiltshire, an artist with autism, who could recall whole cities in his mind’s eye and recreate them in vast drawings. I knew another boy who knew the name of every single person in school and would address others with genuine interest, bringing joy to all he encountered. There is a meaningful place in the world for theses skills, even though language or basic skills may be challenged.

Learners with dyslexia in classrooms without differentiation struggling to read out loud or write on demand without technology may appear unintelligent to their peers. However, they can be masters of debate, comprehension, visual thinking and group work. If allowed to delve into deeper learning, dyslexia is a gift. The settings in which they excel more closely resemble today’s employment settings. I’ve also encountered young people who would barely speak out in a teacher-led class become leaders of their peers in outdoor challenges. The point is clear, everyone has an area in which they are gifted and if we are to teach for the “real world” we need to deliver and prepare for it in the classroom with varied opportunities. Parents can help too by valuing and encouraging their child’s unique talents and confidence. Teaching to Multiple Intelligences builds that confidence and allows each student to shine, with improved peer relationships and respect for each other. Students learn to lean on each other and build on their future work skills, seeking out experts when needed and having time managers and leaders, just to name a few roles that are valued in the work world.

English: Temple Grandin’s talk at TED 2010.

English: Temple Grandin’s talk at TED 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The cookie cutter approach will yield the usual results, some on top, some on the bottom, most in the middle. However, that won’t teach a community of learners that they have something special to offer, or give hope for future opportunities. The well-known autism speaker  Temple Grandin tells the world her accomplishments derive from teachers who brought them out in the right settings.

Ms. Grandin was fascinated by livestock corrals and that fascination led to solving problems in the livestock industry of production and humane treatment. In the wrong setting, Ms. Grandin’s special talents could have been laid to waste, illustrating the importance of recognizing and valuing different types of thinkers. Watch her Ted Talk for a fascinating and useful insider’s perspective on thinking in pictures: http://tinyurl.com/GrandinTedTalk. In her talk, she frequently references the importance of her art education and the science teacher teacher who encouraged her special skills.

General education teachers have opportunities to support students who think differently, such as students with autism who may think in pictures, by allowing for choice in the classroom. Special educators ensure students have the specific supports needed to progress alongside their peers. Ms. Grandin’s teaching tips highlight the need for differentiation and specialized supports, including visual tools for grasping mathematical concepts and the use of assistive technology to support writing.

In the differentiated classroom, all students may be asked the same inquiry question, but allowed to answer through a choice of mediums such as art, music or performance. All students have a better chance of achieving higher-order thinking  and showing off their reasoning when given this opportunity, rather than being held back, for example, by a specific learning disability in writing.  Writing of course needs to be worked on, but there can and should be times when it is not the only avenue of expression, and when assistive technology supports allow for the flow of ideas onto paper.

Parents may contribute a great deal to the success of the student by promoting their student’s confidence in themselves and their abilities, which may be neurotypically different. That’s something to remember when hearing the report on your child stating they have a disability and need for services. Listen for the areas of strength and high performance and build on them for the future. You never know, your child’s love for social interaction or telling long, incredible, stories may make them the next big thing.


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Eye Test of Empathy


This is just interesting. A person’s ability to “read” eye expressions may be correlated with their capacity for empathy, a theory which has interesting implications for education and knowledge of cognitive differences. University of Cambridge professor Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen suggests a person with autism cannot recognize a feeling on the face of another person if they have not experienced it themselves. I would suggest, strictly from personal observations, that a person with autism may not be aware of an emotion in themselves or others, which is distinctly different from having never experienced it themselves. I choose that wording carefully as it is a subtle difference with significant implications for understanding and accepting the research. In my observations, a person with autism may have experienced the emotion, however lack the ability to respond. One valuable result of Baron-Cohen’s work is the idea that training in recognizing and responding to facial expressions can lead to better outcomes for people with autism.

Try the 5-min test to determine how well you read eye expressions.  Baron-Cohen’s research findings appear in the Journal of Child Psychology, 2001.

The presence of empathy cannot be teased out with a 5-minute test. Empathy is a complex concept and correlating cognitive differences by gender or disability is potentially egregious. If you read the results of the larger sample, the research provides an interesting indicator of norms among men and women (women tend to do better on the test) and glimpse into the effects of cognitive differences on social responses in people with autism. So little is known, but with the increase of autism prevalence and research we hope to gain knowledge that will lead to understanding.

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To Medicate or Not to Medicate

Any decision to medicate your child should be made in consultation with your doctor. This is the statement educators are allowed to say, in meetings, with parents. Beyond that, suggesting the child needs medication, or which one he or she should be taking, is not the educator’s domain.

Teachers may share their observations of the student and strategies they have employed.

When a student experiences ongoing academic struggles, parents or teachers can recommend the student be referred for evaluation for special education services. Before that occurs, the team of teachers needs to meet as an Educational Support Team to consider and review the student’s strengths and challenges, and what strategies they have tried, which have been successful or not successful in helping the student. When this logical first step has occurred and the student is still experiencing adverse effect in school (poor grades, testing scores, etc), teachers or parents may recommend the student be evaluated for special education services.

An evaluation begins with an Evaluation Plan Meeting. Team members convene and discuss what they are seeing and which areas they would like the evaluator (school psychologist) to review. Two months later, after the school psychologist completes a lengthy process of testing the student, surveying parents and teachers and compiling the results based on their professional expertise, the team will reconvene to review the results at the Eligibility Meeting. Perhaps the parent had provided documentation of an existing diagnosis, and the evaluator and team’s purpose is to review the affect on the student’s progress in school. If the student is found to have a disability which has an adverse effect on their educational progress, an Individualized Education Plan will be created. The team will detail the strengths and challenges of the student, abilities and disability, learning goals, accommodations and special education services.

The parent may address medical needs in consultation with their physician, and this may occur before or after a comprehensive school evaluation is conducted. Depending on the age at the time of the diagnosis and progress in school, the  parent may already have a medical treatment plan. In the rare instance the school suggests the need for medication, they will be expected to provide and pay for it as a treatment.

You may encounter the teacher who says, “In my many years of experience working with children, I can see clearly this child needs medication and would benefit from it.” Or, “This is the most ADHD kid we’ve ever had here. His life would be so much better on medication.” Perhaps you agree, but a medication treatment plan is handled medically, as are its side-effects. If you’re having a conversation with a teacher about medication, it’s an opinion, and they’re really not supposed to share it as their expertise is around instruction, not medicine. Seek your doctor’s advice and become educated around ADHD medical treatments, as it’s a field with continuous research and developments.* The Children and Adults with Attention -Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder(CHADD) advocacy groups suggests pharmacology treatment may be successfully followed up with behavior therapy, offering a longitudinal look at medically treating ADHD through a person’s life.

If you’ve tried medication for ADHD, and the side-effects were so awful you’ve abandoned medicine completely, yet the teachers are clamoring for a solution and asking you to consult your child’s physician, you have two options. One, consider that advances have been made in treatment for disabilities and perhaps a medicine could be found to benefit your child with as minimal side effects as possible. Two, maintain your ground against medicinal treatments and prepare yourself by knowing what alternative strategies can help your child and use them. Ask the teachers what they have tried that has helped your child be successful. The American Academy of Pediatrics research findings indicate psychotherapy is a necessary first-line treatment for depression in children. The research details the potential benefits and drawbacks of FDA-approved prescription treatments.

This is a brief overview of the basics when determining whether or not to prescribe, especially when a diagnosis of a disability becomes a school discussion. There are many more specifics to consider based on the child, circumstances, diagnosis and so on. It is never an open-and-closed conversation, and you are a key player on the team in determining how to treat. Keep your mind open and learn of reputable organizations dedicated to education and research. We have a great deal to learn about medical treatment of autism and bipolar disorder.
(*Please note, the link to the CHADD article on ADHD medical treatments references Strattera, a non-stimulant medication for ADHD which has mixed reviews. As mentioned, please keep current on the research into benefits and side-effects of medication you consider including in your medical treatment plan, in consultation with the prescribing doctor.)


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Welcome to Education Matters for All

Welcome families and educators to Education Matters for All. In this series of publications, I hope to share my experience in education so you may feel you are informed and getting the most out of your educational opportunities. In the field of special education there is one constant, and that is everything changes. It’s a challenge for most service providers to remain current and true to their practice, and certainly families need a simple, effective source for information.

In this source you will find articles that support and inform families and educators around disability categories, special education procedures, strategies and expectations. I am a licensed special educator with a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction and Special Education. I have 15+years classroom experience involving intensive needs, alternative classroom instruction, adaptive skills, mental illness, autism and co-teaching in the general education setting. I understand the needs of today’s family and the school demands.

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