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KimD
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22 May 2013, 2:00 pm

Hello All,

I’m an assistant teacher (bachelor’s degree in early childhood education) in a public school teaching preschool children with autism and similar traits. I taught at-risk toddlers for 14 years, and have been teaching "my" preschoolers for seven. I love it!

However, a pervasive problem we have is trying to get the attention of severely-affected children who may be stimming in several different ways at once or in rapid sequence. One example: a child is gazing into space, flapping their hands, blinking and squeezing their eyes, and/or kicking their feet while also talking or mumbling to himself/herself as we try to engage the child in an activity, assessment, or work session. We might help the child calm their hands with a gentle hand on top of theirs, but they might start up with another stim or resume the finger-wiggling (or whatever) as soon as we remove our hands. We understand that stims can serve practical purposes and they can be triggered or made harder to stop by some outside influences, but there’s only so much we can do to modify our classroom, and we simply can’t let a child continue all day, especially when it completely prevents them from working on things like communication and self-help skills.

I’d be grateful for any advice or insight into how we might “reach” these little ones!



btbnnyr
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22 May 2013, 2:14 pm

What you are teaching them must be very unstimulating for them if they are stimming very much while you are trying to teach them it. LFA/severely autistic children can focus on an activity if the activity is stimulating to them. Activities that involve a lot of interaction with people are usually very unstimulating and require very much stimming to get over the overwhelming boredom and lack of stimulation that is felt as very negative emotions. Activities that involve a lot of interaction with objects are usually more stimulating, engaging, and useful for learning.


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LupaLuna
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22 May 2013, 10:03 pm

Do any of your students get wired up like this kid does?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oukupxRUA84[/youtube]



chris5000
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23 May 2013, 12:37 am

never knew the eye pressing thing was stim

I used to it all the time, its pretty cool like you are flying through a cave or something.



KimD
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03 Jun 2013, 6:36 am

btbunnyr: What we’re trying to teach are things like putting on a jacket, responding to their name being called, following really simple directions, etc. They’re not necessarily things that can be learned from an object. We understand that some of the more practical skills they have to learn aren’t exactly entertaining, but that’s life. We don’t expect them to love everything we have to do, but we try to make it more interesting if we can, and we make sure they have time to play as they wish throughout the day.

LupaLuna: Some of them do act like the child in that video occasionally, usually during “down time,” and that’s not a big deal because the kids who sometimes stim like that are usually the ones we’re able to interest in other things when the time comes. The stimming we have trouble with is more like extremely deep day-dreaming, during which the children apparently aren’t even aware of any other activities around them—sometimes, not even their favorite activities, toys, food, or favorite people. It’s as if the children get “stuck” in that state. (For the record, I hesitate to assume that someone is experiencing seizures if that person/child is non-verbal.)



Ettina
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03 Jun 2013, 9:14 am

How much background noise and activity is there?

I'm just thinking many of the autistic kids I've known stim more when overloaded. And if you've got a classroom with several kids, it would be easy for it to be an overloading environment.

Anyway, I'm kind of a proponent of stimming, but I don't say you should never interrupt stimming. I just don't see the point in trying to completely eliminate it. If it isn't interfering with what they need to be doing, let them stim. But if it is interfering, stop them from stimming just long enough to get the task done.

I read this one study looking at rate of stimming and success at a task, and whether the kid's performance improved when stimming was suppressed. They found two categories of kids who did not benefit from teachers suppressing stimming. One group spontaneously stimmed far less in a teaching setting than during free time, so there wasn't much stimming to suppress in the teaching setting. The other group stimmed a lot continuously, but would briefly suppress their own stimming at two time points - when being given a command, and when responding to the command.

Both groups of kids were demonstrating a valuable skill - the ability to manage their own stimming to engage in tasks effectively. There was another group of kids in this study who did benefit from suppressing stims within a teaching setting. These kids stimmed as frequently as the group who stimmed successfully while working, but they did not suppress stims while being given a command and responding to a command.

This suggests that eliminating stimming altogether, like many ABA proponents recommend, is not necessary. Instead, it may be more useful to suppress stimming just long enough for the kid to pay attention to your command. For example, maybe teach the kid that when you say 'listen to me', they need to stop stimming long enough for you to say something.



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03 Jun 2013, 5:15 pm

I can imagine a classful of autistic kids might be similar to the herding of cats by a sheep dog. Quite impossible.

I would say that your kids are likely to want to do things their way and in their own time and not much you can do will change that. If you push and prod, the stimming will escalate. If you are suggestive and lead by a more remote control approach such as merely placing stimuli before the children, they are likely to interact with it. Possibly ask a lot of 'why' questions and encourage investigation using whatever approach suits them.

As a previous post suggested, keep the classroom as quiet as possible, reduce glare, eliminate smells and put as much space between the kids as possible. I was thinking that some very serene music in the background might help but then again, some of the kids might find the music tortuous. Is really difficult to keep a whole group of autistics happy simultaneously.


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KimD
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12 Jul 2013, 4:59 pm

Hello again,

Please don’t consider my long absence from the forum as an insult or a sign that I’ve disregarded your helpful comments. The last month and a half has been very busy for me.

First of all, ettina, thanks for your feedback--that study sounds like a valuable one!

We simply can't avoid the overload in our classroom, but luckily, most of our kids are able to stop stimming long enough for us to catch their attention at least briefly and open them to other experiences and activities. The children we’re most concerned about are the few who can't seem to control their stimming no matter what we do. They stim everywhere and anywhere, to the point where it most definitely does interfere with their learning. These children are the few who may have more than one stim going at the same time, so while they may be able to stop one when physically prompted, they will go straight to another stim or two, and on and on.

I'm not militant about supressing stims (extreme demands of that sort are unkind and I agree that they can sometimes do more harm than good), but I am concerned when stims constantly get in the way of learning. I also worry about our kids being further stigmatized by obvious and/or excessive stimming, as well as about some becoming deeply-ingrained habits that are extremely hard to break. I think that, to some degree, most people do have stims, though some might just call it fidgeting, and we all have occasions when it's harder for us to change focus or drop a pleasant activity for something that might be less important or appealing to us...sometimes, VERY hard! I sympathize with folks who struggle to find a practical balance.

Jabberowky, I’m grateful for your understanding, but I have to say that there’s something about our controlled chaos that I like—some days are quite an adventure! I would be quite bored with my career if I taught “typical” kids.

Because our class is smaller than most, we can get to know each child as a true individual, with different strengths, needs, temperaments, and preferences. As with all kids (and adults) some need more leeway and a lighter touch while others need more structure and firmness. Naturally, we make adjustments for everyone when circumstances change.

We like to find out how each child learns best, how to catch their interest and nudge them along as they develop practical skills and a greater awareness of the world around them. However, “why” questions are beyond the developmental stage of almost all of our students—in fact, if they can respond to that, we move them into a non-categorical classroom ASAP!

We do realize that a child’s non-responsiveness might be a lack of interest and sometimes it might be straight-up refusal, but there are times when it appears quite certain that the few kids who super-stim are just simply out of reach at that moment/day/week. Perhaps the best we can do is keep on keepin’ on: continue to try new approaches, adjust, persevere and hope for the best.

Thanks to you all. I hope you're having a great summer!



KingdomOfRats
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12 Jul 2013, 5:42 pm

btbnnyr wrote:
What you are teaching them must be very unstimulating for them if they are stimming very much while you are trying to teach them it. LFA/severely autistic children can focus on an activity if the activity is stimulating to them. Activities that involve a lot of interaction with people are usually very unstimulating and require very much stimming to get over the overwhelming boredom and lack of stimulation that is felt as very negative emotions. Activities that involve a lot of interaction with objects are usually more stimulating, engaging, and useful for learning.

it depends on the mental capacity of the severe autist,as we are all assessed as having limited mental capacity [AKA LD in the UK,ID in america];but to different levels, this is why we can be so damn rigid in our thinking and not understand why others want us to change it.
some of us as kids feel absolutely information and sensory overloaded by school and thanks to a high arrousal system will quickly escalate to damaging things and hitting others,they may have little or no concept of work and refuse to do absolutely anything, they may stimulate themselves by head banging,rocking,pica and self attacking.
its a way many of us coped [or not,as is the case] in school,it is a form of disosociation; a sub concious controled state to try and make us disconnect with the circumstances/sitatuion/place we are in.
am using own view as well as paraphrasing everything the learning disability team pyschiatrist [a specialist in autism] of mine had said last week,because of the acute level of of arrousal systems we tend to have which is affected and triggered by every form of input we have,he is anti medication but believes we shoud have medication at this level,am prescribed respiridone for mine and it is helping to change life.


to kimD,
have a look into getting weighted equipment funded for the school,there are equipment that woud be very useful in a school environment; such as the weighted lap pads,or weighted leg and arm bands;which help us to feel where we are and have less issues to deal with.
those who get up a lot coud benefit from wearing a weighted waist coat.
there coud be a corner of the class dedicated to quiet chill out time if there isnt a chill out/padded room already and there coud be a weighted blanket the kids coud get under,these can be home made to.


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nikaTheJellyfish
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12 Jul 2013, 11:16 pm

I use a weighted blanket.