Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Helping a Student with Mild Spectrum Disorder

blackandwhiteI recently received an email asking for advice and thought you might enjoy reading the exchange. The question is in bold and my answer is in italics below it.

“1. We have one student at our school is has been diagnosed as having mild Spectrum Disorder.  We do not have a special needs teacher at our school, so when we (the teachers) have a questions about "Is this a good assignment...." or "How can I adapt this assignment??" type question we do not have anyone that can help us know what to do. We asked him to write goals for this quarter of school.  It was enlightening to discuss his viewpoint of goals.  His thoughts are that setting goals are just asking to fail at something.  He said that everytime he has set goals he has been unable to complete them.  He then feels bad about himself for failing.  We were able to set some short term goals that were achieveable for him, and I have been checking on him regularly.  Is this a typical scenario with goal setting?  If not, do you have any tips for me on how to help him understand that it is not a set-up for failure.”

I think writing goals for a whole quarter may be too abstract for him right now. I also think it is great that he can verbalize why it is hard for him. I might try using a visual calendar and having him decide what he wants to accomplish by a certain date but 3 months ahead if really hard. Since he sees things in "black and white", planning that far ahead is too "gray." I think by letting him achieve short term goals will give him some confidence. Then maybe make those short term goals cover a little more time each time you set new ones. Another thing to suggest would be to show him that long term assignments with due dates could possibly be considered a long term goal. This would be a little more concrete for him to see when you put it on a calendar. His goal could be to: complete "assignment" by "due date." You might even put this on the calendar without calling it a "long term goal" which might add more stress on him. Once he achieves it, you can reflect back on it and show him how it was a long term goal and how he was successful with it.

“2.  Today one of his teachers came to me with an assignment that he refused to complete.  The main assignment was a "what if " type scenario that he was to write a paragraph about this topic.  His response was "I do not want / I can't think about these types of questions because I just don't know how it would have been .....Personally, I hate "what if" or "what would it have been like " questions.  I know this is 40 points of my grade, but I just can't do this. "   His teacher is not sure of what to do with this response.  Is there a modification that can be done in these type assignments.  The assignment is to assess the student's knowledge of a topic in a different way than just asked them to feed the information back to the teacher.”

Again, "what if" is too abstract for this student. Dealing in "black and white", "what if" is in the gray area. I wonder what the objective the teacher is trying to accomplish. Is the objective supposed to be writing a paragraph? If so, then would it be possible to write a paragraph on a topic that he is more comfortable with. Is the objective teaching some kind of social skill? If so, you will probably need to actually tell him what the desired response is and then practice it through social stories or role playing. Another thought, if the teacher is insistent that he write about that topic, may be look at the "what if" scenario and see if you can apply it to a situation that he has already experienced. Then he can write about it that way. 

You didn't ask this but I thought I would throw in another suggestion - if possible, giving him 2 choices would make him feel more in control of himself. Maybe if teachers gave 2 choices to write about, he would feel more comfortable with one and not be so resistant. But I would not give more than 2 choices or it might become overwhelming.

Also, writing abstract thoughts are much harder for these students. If at all possible, multiple choice, matching, fill in the blank are much easier on the student than writing short answer or essay. If checking for understanding (usually through short answer or essay), consider having the student give verbal answers either to the teacher or in a voice recorder to be turned in

Do you have any other suggestions for this teacher? If so, please share.

Posted on the Successful Teaching Blog by loonyhiker (successfulteaching at gmail dot com).


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