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education strategies for a child with autism
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education strategies for a child with autism

my son is 5 and has a developmental eval to determine if he has autism.  his doctor and i are both pretty convinced that he does we just do not know where he falls on the spectrum.  i have been homeschooling him and although he is very bright, he is not a visual person.  he has an incredible auditory memory but has not writing skills.  although he knows his phonics and numbers, letters, etc all the basics, i can not get him to write.  he gets so frustrated just when trying to write 1 letter that he has a tantrum and wont continue.  he has got to learn to write.  any suggestions from you parents on helping him overcome this frustration?
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It is like you are talking about my son at age 5!
I considered holding my son back a year because he didn't have any of the skills needed for school.  He was ambidextrous.  He had no interest in drawing or colouring (a little painting).  If I tried to get him to colour he would be in tears because he couldnt do it perfectly or if he went over the lines.  He would not attempt to draw a picture and he seemed not to know where to start on the page.  I too was getting very frustrated (and still am) because he has got to learn to read and write to get on and his difficulty is not a reflection of his intelligence.  
My son is not a visual learner either.  Using a visual timetable and visual pictures help support his understanding.  But he doesn't have 'pictures in his head' like Temple Grandin for example.
You say he knows his phonics and numbers.  The problem my son has is if he had the letters a,b,c,d,e,f,g, (for example) infront of him and I asked him which one was the letter 'a' he could point to it and if I then asked him to write it he could copy it.  If I show him a letter 'a' and ask him 'what is it' he cannot answer me.  So he knows what 'a' looks like but cannot connect the visual thing he is seeing and retrieve the letter it is called from memory.
It is the same with numbers.  He can put them in order.  If you ask him to point to the number '12' he can point to it out of a group of numbers.  So he does know what 12 looks like.  But if I ask him to write the number 12 from memory he cannot do that.  Does that sound similar?  He is getting a bit better, but progress is very slow.  At school he learns step 1, moves onto step 2 (but then forgets step 1) and so we have to go back to step one again.  It is very frustrating for him because I know he is a very intelligent boy.
I found the website by Donna Williams interesting because she too is not a visual learner.  She is kinesthetic and tactile, as is my son.  So you can teach them through doing things eg. jumping, bouncing, hopping, making, models etc.  You can also try typing (because learning to type comes from a different part of the brain from writing).  Tap into anything that he is good at or likes to do and use that as a way of teaching.  If likes having a bath get bath body paint and cover him in numbers or letters or shapes.  
My son does re-run TV programmes and DVDs in his head, but then it is as if he is a video recorder and he just puts it onto 'play' and runs it through his head again.  He repeats the diaglogue word for word and will act out some of the actions etc.  Donna Williams explained to me that my son is in 'recording mode'.  He is absorbing information and he can retrieve that which he has already seen eg. a film.  But ask him to picture a concept in his mind and there is nothing there.  She said it probably will develope but much later on as it did with her.  She gave the example that she can only recall specific cats she has seen belonging to specific people and she can only use those specific pictures relative to their context ie. she cannot use her mental picture of her friends cat to represent generic cats.  Does that make sense?  Which is why it is important to use real items in real time to that a real event can be laid down in memory.
So what are we doing about it ..... Well first is using visual things to help support learning.  
During learning activities words and numbers have to be on 'real' items and not just words or concepts that you hold in your head.  For example, if it is numeracy and they may be using real (not imaginary) bananas and he would use them to represent the number ie. 2 bananas are two actual bananas.
We are also using different senses to try and support learning.  Eg. writing in sand or rice (to use tactile sense to support visual and auditory sense).  We also write letters and numbers on his back at the same time that he sees or hears numbers and he also writes on our back in the same way. As mentioned above, they also use kinesthetic ways of learning through body movement, tapping, clapping, measuring, jumping etc.
I have been recommended a system called Numicon (used in special ed schools.  It is a physical tool that uses colours and shapes to reinforce learning) and Number Shark (a computer game).  It is also the reason that I am trying to get my son moved to a school that has experience and expertise in autism because I feel his mainstream school are struggling to understand and meet his needs regarding learning.
My son seems to have great difficulty learning the correspondence between the sound of the word 5, to how it looks visually, to what it represents physically.  I have been told that we just have to keep going over and over it in lots of different multi-sensory ways until it sticks.  It may be that he always has great difficulty with these concepts.
So if your son is auditory you can teach him through songs and rhymes.  Reinforce things through other senses.
Does your son ever connect things that are not related?
Is he very good at models and making things and always trying to figure out how things work?
My son loves Lego and can build models by himself that are for 14 year olds (he is 7).  He finds the Lego instruction booklets easy to follow and that in itself teaches numeracy, plus he is learning through a hobby and using tactile/visual/kinesthetic learning.  When ever you are out and about (eg. shopping) try to keep bringing things up and asking him to get you things.  If he needs help at the supermarket you could have pictures of what you are going to buy (eg. bananas) with the number 5 on it.  Then ask him to count out five bananas.  Giving him the cards to find the items also keeps him occupied in the shop.  Play lots of matching games (my son is brilliant at this).
Regarding drawing.  I found it helped him if I started the picture eg. if he wanted a picture of a robot I would draw the head shape.  That seemed to help him know where to draw the rest of the body.  If it is a lack of visual imagination you can get him to draw around shapes.  Eg. lets draw a picture of a lorry (using circles, rectangles, squares etc).  It is also an opportunity to teach about shapes.
I also used social stories about how everyone has to practice and practice to be good at drawing and that it is okay to go over the lines and if you do go over the lines the picture is not ruined.  I also found it helped if he drew in pencil and could rub out anything he wasn't happy with.
His hand writing was very big and spidery and he had no understanding that you start at the top left hand corner of the page and write across the page and then start on the next line down.  He would write all over the page and would write over words.  He is now able to copy letters/words much better.  But he has no visual memory of letters or words.  He can write his name and 'mum' from memory.  Another autistic adviser (who is also autistic) suggested it might be some kind of visual/verbal agnosia.  There are also aspects of Dyspraxia and motor planning issues with my son.
I have also found out today that my son does not have binocular vision (and he also has Irlen syndrome).  See my posting today 'Double Vision'.
Does your son have alot of sensory issues.
Is it possible your son is working through mainly one sense at a time as my son does.  This can have a huge impact on multi-tasking. If you want to ask me some more stuff, if anything sounds similar, please send me a message.
Regards,
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Does he like to draw?  Maybe you can trick him into drawing a letter?  It's worth a shot I guess. For me the frustration was because I had to write in a certain way and fit my letters in a nice neat row, with lower case letters under the median line, but allow assenders to touch the top line. Desenders had to go below and it seemed the teachers were pretty anal about making sure the feet of the letters touched exactly at the line...

Just trying to getmy hand to draw something remotly like a letter must had been a challenge when I started writing letters. If you can't get him to write perhaps allowing him to scribble on paper, and then work on basic shapes, etc, may help strengthen his coordination. Once he's confident, writing will probably come easier.
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You can contact your local school district and request an evaluation for special education services.  This should get the process rolling for your son to gain access to the services he needs.  A special education teacher can work on academic skills and an occupational therapist will be able to help with fine motor skills.
The method for teaching children with autism that has the most scientifically validated research behind it is Applied Behavior Analysis.  You can access ABA services through your school district.  If your child qualifies for services, an Individualized Education Plan can be created for him to determine strenghts, needs and goals and to track his progress on these goals.  Hope that helps.
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thank you so much for all your comments.  i am definately going to use some of the suggestions.  my son does like to draw pictures.  he did not used too.  he would get very frustrated because he would know what he wanted to draw but no idea how to accomplish that.  he can write his name from memory but it is usally all jumbled up and each letter on a different line, but at least he knows the letters that make his name.  even now when he draws, although he has become much more creative in his drawing (really he only draws scenes from books or shows that he has seen before) he still can not draw a complete person.  he always forgets the legs and 1 eye.  i want to send him to Kindergarten but we live in a poor rural town and i do not know if he will be taught appropriately there.  he is so smart, i am just afraid his teachers will miss it because it is hard to tap into, especially in the environment of academic conformism that the schools have now.  

sally, my son does have sensory issues and is just like your son in regards to TV and music.  he memorizes what he hears word for word and plays it back over and over, much to the annoyance of his brothers and sisters.  his also very good with models and leggos, well advanced in that respect.  he has been building with leggos since he was 3.  and come to think of it he does sound similar in that he can count and recogize all the numbers and letters but if i ask him to write a 5 he says "i dont know how" like he has no idea what a five is-he will just draw a line and than get mad.  

i am definatly going to look into a school eval, although i am not crazy about our schools, i do want him to get services if they are needed.  i know it is going to be a struggle but i am willing.  i definatly need to research some of these things and educate myself on some of these teaching styles.  

thanks again.
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Does sound a bit like twins separated at birth doesn't it!!  Just tap into whatever he likes to do.  Your son will progress as mine has.  And what they are really good at does show their level of ability, although it may not be to that degree across all areas of learning.  We really don't know what is going on with the connections between visual/verbal/motor planning senses.  Something is not connecting for him to be able to point to a number/letter I say, but if I show him a flashcard and ask him 'what is it' he cannot tell me.  Or like your son, he can copy words/letters in front of him.  But if you ask him to draw the number 5 he doesn't know where to start.  He is starting to make some progress with this, but it is very slow.  It may be that something else is going on such as dyslexia, or dyspraxia or motor planning or something completely different.
My son also writes alot of his letters/numbers mirror image.  Ie. if I hold them up to a mirror I can read them.
Your son will get better at drawing.  Just do lots of things to encourage him eg. let him draw round shapes, start drawings for him.  We used to think our son was a perfectionist because he would get so upset at his attempt to draw or write.  He would get me to draw or colour or write for him.
My son is showing an interest in making a scrap book.  So I am going to look at ways of using that to incorporate numbers/letters etc.  Also cutting and glueing is good 'fine motor' practice.  I think Lego instruction manuals are brilliant.  Infact if my sons daily schedule could be structured like that he would be fine.
We just did some writing practice.  I asked him to choose a word he wanted to write.  He chose the word 'Dog'.  He knew how to write the 'D', but didn't know what was the next letter.  So I wrote it on his back and he could then write it.  It may be that some time in the future he will need some kind of computer software to help with writing.
If your son has sensory issues it would be worth reading a book by Olga Bogdashina called Different Sensory Perspectives in Autism and Aspergers.  There is also a sensory questionnaire at the back of the book which you can complete to give you a profile for your son.  It is used by professionals in the UK so I know it is a reliable questionnaire.
We also had his vision tested recently and they have found he doesn't have close up binocular vision.  So at times he is either seeing double at close range, or his brain ignores the messages from one eye and depends on the other one.  This leads to loss of depth perception and can also cause eye strain and headaches.  I also know of another boy who has 2D vision.  Both these tests can be easily carried out by an optician, so it might be worth excluding them when your son next has an eye checkup.  But the optician needs to be aware of autism and communication difficulties.  For example it is better to ask the child 'can you see one or two', rather than ask 'what can you see'.  Sometimes you have to ask very specific questions that they can say 'yes' or 'no' to because they can't give you an explanation of what they are experiencing.
It is very hard for them to conform.  Infact my son doesn't and he isn't interested in trying to please his teacher etc.  But he does try his best so I can't ask for more.
I would try and find a support group, especially if they have some kind of playtime for the children.  You can't concentrate all your time and effort on just the educational side of things.  He needs lots of different experiences and needs a balance between work and play.
I found a really good group in the next city to me.  They meet on the 1st and 3rd Saturday in the month at a local community college.  They use the gym and put out ropes, balance beams, trampoline, balls, bouncy castle etc.  The club is for children on the spectrum and with ADHD and is also for their siblings.  They can also bring guest friends along too.  There are 3/4 adults to keep an eye on everyone and the parents meet in another room to have a coffee/chat etc.  If there is nothing suitable in your area you could see if there were other parents in a similar situation and set something up yourselves.  
Anyway best wishes.
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It is definitely worth looking into the school district.  If your son has a disability there are services he is ENTITLED to and will benefit from.  This will be AT NO COST TO YOU.  I do hope you research this.  Time is of the essence.
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