Heather's Thoughts

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Podcast reflection - May 30

I checked out the Audacity entry from February as I was intrigued by what I saw during the first day of class. I love the idea of seeing what you are saying! Especially for students who have a hard time making adjustments based on the verbal feedback I give them. Seeing is believing. I have some students who are strong visual learners and who like computers. This tool may fit right into these students' strengths.

I’m planning on using Audacity with a student on the spectrum and two students with Down Syndrome. Working on aspects of speech production at the middle and high school level is extremely challenging for myriad reasons. The idea of errorless modeling can be useful for students who have struggled for years to efficiently and effectively communicate their thoughts. What a confidence booster to hear yourself talking in a typical manner.

I also appreciate that I can access Audacity for free. It is very hard to watch teachers and other staff members lose their jobs and then ask for expensive software that will be used for a very few students and be practically obsolete by the time the software gets sent in the mail. That may seem a bit extreme but I work in a district that has no money. I’m not saying that the students with special needs don’t get what they need, that is certainly not the case.

It is good to have the Audacity information on-line for people to access. The step-by-step description of the process and the examples can help people understand how the tool can be used with students/clients. I will be interested to read research in the future concerning the efficacy of this treatment approach.

Monday, May 29, 2006

First Response to podcast on "Asperger's Conversations"

I recently checked out the NPR podcast about Joshua Littman, a boy with Asperger's Syndrome who interviewed his mother. I wrote a comment that he should interview George Bush. I think that Joshua has the potential to be a wonderful reporter because he doesn't seem afraid to ask very difficult questions. This comment got me thinking about the various jobs that people on the spectrum might find rewarding.

You hear stories about MIT being filled with students with Asperger's Syndrome. Computers may come easily for some people on the spectrum. Other people are excellent at giving people directions because they have vast maps stored in their memory. One young lady with high funtioning autism I know learns Spanish very easily and wants to be an intreprter. At first I thought it strange that she wanted to have a job communicating for a living. The more I thought about it, however, the more it seemed appropriate for her. The job of an intreprter is to repeat what the person says, and no more. My student wouldn't have to be excellent at reading nonverbal communication. The person that she would be translating for would be there to show his/her own facial expressions and body language.

I was wondering if their is a general list of jobs (or characteristics of a job) that might be suited for people on the spectrum. Has there ever been data collected and analyzed regarding the jobs that the people on the spectrum hold? I'm thinking about jobs that tap the full potential of a person. Maybe a large amount of information could be collected at an autism convention. It would be interesting to learn if there are any trends to the jobs that people on the spectrum seek. I understand that each individual has unique strengths and challenges. But if patterns are found in the types of jobs that people on the spectrum find meaningful and rewarding, the information could help young people on the spectrum as they contemplate their future. A list of potential jobs could be a starting point for teenagers to consider as they plan for life after high school. The information would not be to limit the job opportunities for people on the spectrum. There are a countless jobs out there. Finding one that you are well suited for can be an overwhelming task for anyone.

Thoughts from 4/2 class

I found myself thinking about the mentoring program for student's with Aspergers Syndrome offered at Keene State. It was heartlifting to discover that the mentors could develop real friendships with the mentees. I smiled at the thought of one of my students with Asperger's Syndrome going to her first party. I would love to be a fly on the wall as she navigated a scene where people were not following the rules or laws. Only a peer mentor or friend would be appropriate to help her with that scenerio. Not that I would want her to do anything illegel, simply tolerating the situation for 10 minutes would be a big deal for her.

I work in a middle and a high school and have found it very challenging to find mentors for students with special needs (not just students on the autism spectrum). The special education teacher and I have been trying to match typical peers with students with intensive special needs. Typical students who were wonderful peer supports in elementary school don't want to hang out with the special needs student upon entering the middle school. Middle school seems to be a very difficult place to be seen with people who are different than yourself. Most of the mentees look physically different from their peers and this can be a contriubuting factor to the diffiiculty finding peers. The seventh grade students are also coming to a new school with other students from surrending schools and are trying to figure where he/she fits in.

High school seems a bit different. I get a long list of potential mentors from teachers, guidance counselors,and other students. Mostly due to scheduling, I have had the best luck recruiting seniors to be mentors. The students who are the most willing to be mentors are female students, particularly those that want to work in special education. Alhough I get several names, male students have not be able and/or been willing to be mentors in the past few years.

I have thought of many reasons why students in middle school and high school can't/won't be mentors. There are mundane reasons (e.g. schedule conflicts) , but also more troubling reasons (e.g. don't want to be caught dead asssociating with someone who is different for fear of social reprecussions, unease/discomfort/fear of talking with and doing thigs with somene with special needs). Some students may want to be a mentor but have never been personaly invited to do so and don't know how to volunteer. The typical student might wonder what he/she could possibly learn/gain from being a mentor of a student with special needs.

Knowing that I am not a teenager anymore, I wanted to check in with "Lee" one of the student mentos who is currently helping some students. I wanted to get Lee's perspective and comments about my thoughts about why students don't become mentors. Lee is a senior who is very socially active and particaptes in school groups. Lee reported that she felt comfortable with who she is and doesn't care what others think of her. She said that by high school people usually have found their found there group of friends. With an established group of friends it is easier to venture out and meet new people. "If someone is your friend, they will be still by your friend if you meet someone new, even if the person has special needs", commented Lee. I asked Lee if she would be willing to do something outside of school, such as going to the movies, with one of the students she mentors. Would she be comfortable including the mentee in activites she is doing with her friends? Lee said yes. Lee doesn't have her license yet so transportation may be a problem. That's a problem for Lee whenever she wants to go out. From our conversation, it became clear that Lee appreciated how wonderful the students she mentors are. She confirmed that she was not the only student who felt that way. Not only did I get a list of students who may be good mentors for next year, I got a reality check about what it is like to be a teanager today.

On a wonderfully postive note, an eight grader on the spectrum had a birthday a few days ago. After a session, I walked into the special education classroom to see him having a little party. His mother had come with amazing brownines. When I looked around the room, I noticed two boys that I had not recognized were at the party. Mt student was connected with two typical peers last year. It has been hugely successful, highlighted by the fact that I didn't know all of my student's friends!

Thoughts on class on May 20

On the last day of classes I found myself reflecting on the first day of the intro to autism course. On the first day of class I asked John about vaccinations. A piece of me was wondering if my young child would be stricken with autism if she were vaccinated. The decision was made to trust our pediatrician and protect our beloved daughter from easily preventable illnesses. I held my breath and crossed my fingers when she did get vaccinated. I knew that my daughter had be developing normally but WHAT IF…. I had to check with John about when I could relax with the confidence that my daughter would be out of the “autism woods” and that I could expect her to maintain the gloriously typical development we had enjoyed. I am happy (& very relieved) to write that my daughter is developing quite normally. Not that am biased, or overly proud, but there are days when I think she is ahead of the curve in some areas of development!

That was the first day of the intro course. During our last day of the counseling course I was struck by Kathleen’s remark that her son was the same after the autism spectrum diagnosis as he was before the diagnosis. Her comment made be me think about the fear I had about my daughter developing autism after getting vaccinated. Kathleen’s words helped me realize that life would not have ended if my daughter had autism. I would not have loved her any less or be any less proud of her accomplishments. I then thought of the students I work with who have a diagnosis on the spectrum. They’re great! Each one of them has wonderful gifts that make him/her special. Each has challenges, but people with autism aren’t the only ones with challenges. Everyone has them. So there you are. Life would have been different if my daughter had autism. That doesn’t mean it would be bad.

On a similar note - One of my close friends has a son with significant special needs. He is the same age as my daughter. My friend’s house isn’t fully baby-proofed because her son doesn’t crawl yet. (I feel like my house has been baby-proofed forever!) When my daughter and I visit my friend’s house, I have to glance around the house to make sure there isn’t something dangerous within easy reach of my very curious daughter. My friend doesn’t know how I manage when I have to run around after my daughter all day. I don’t know how she manages with all the medical and therapy appointments she has with her son. Our lives are different, but our love for our child is the same.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

I'm a speech-language pathologist who works in a middle and high school. I'm currently taking the intro course on counseling as part of the ASD program at Antioch. I would like to learn how to better understand the students with whom I work who have an autism spectrum disorder. I would also like to educate staff at school, particularly the school adjustment counselor, who is interested in ASD. We have some of the same students in common and I think information from the class will be beneficial to us both.