Home Education For Children With Autism
By Robin Batson Editor of Shepherd Boy Newsletter
On Thursday, November 8, 1990 my husband and I gave birth to and were handed a perfect, beautiful baby boy. He looked just like his father. We realized that we had been given a wonderful blessing and gift from the very Hand of God. He seemed to develop normally with the exception of speech. Occasionally he would come out with a word so I believed he could speak but had just chosen not to. At 13 months a Pediatrician sent me to have his hearing checked to ease my mind. They had trouble getting him to attend to the test but temporarily eased my concerns. When Joshua was a little over 2 years old we were viewing a home video of our daughter at that same age. I watched my now 4 year daughter singing a song on the video by Sandi Patti with me in church. She was 2 years and 4 months old on the video. She had learned every word of the song in one week. It was at that moment that Craig and I realized something was definitely wrong. We could no longer deny or sit by and believe that everything was all right. Once again we explored his hearing with conflicting reports. Just before his 3rd birthday he was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder with Autistic Features. We were told it wasn't anything to worry about. We did our own research and realized within 24 hours that PDD was under the umbrella of autism. Our whole world flipped upside down. We were in shock and disbelief. We've all heard the phrase of a "Vision" ... well for us this was "Death of a Child". We had to lay to rest the dreams, hopes and plans that we had for Joshua and to find peace in the plans God had for Joshua Craig Batson. The grieving process began.
"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not evil, to give you an expected end." Jeremiah 29:11 (KJV)
After a very tearful, prayerful, time, God began to give us peace and direction again. It took a complete year for me to realize that there was life for our family outside and/or in addition to autism.
In our search for practical, hands-on ways to help our son, we discovered very little if any resources. We wanted to make an impact on his life today. Thus came the seed thoughts of the SHEPHERD BOY publication. The first issue wasn't until April 1995. We wanted to create a way that parents and professionals could share ideas of things that did and did not work for them in dealing with our precious children. Our purpose for the SHEPHERD BOY
Publication is to :
1) Give parents and professionals the opportunity to share practical, hands-on ways for home educating autistic children.
2) Be a source of encouragement to those raising or working with autistic
Meet the Editors:
I am Robyne Batson. I accepted Christ as my personal LORD and Savior at the age of 7. I am a wife, mother and homemaker. I have a degree in elementary education and experience teaching in the classroom and at home. My husband, Craig is a Pastor of a southern Baptist church in South Florida. We have three beautiful children, Karyne is 7 years old, Joshua is our Shepherd Boy and is 5 years old and Jeremiah will be 2 in March.
The title of SHEPHERD BOY was chosen with the Bible story of David in mind. David was a little Shepherd Boy, and the youngest of 8 brothers. When the prophet, Samuel, came by God's command to choose the next king, all the brothers lined up. No one ever thought to call David in from the fields. But David was God's choice for the next king of Israel. So when others saw a shepherd boy, God saw a king.... When others see an autistic child, no one knows the possibilities God sees. "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." I Samuel 16:17
Early Behavioral Intervention:
Several months after a second opinion confirmed Joshua's diagnosis of autism we felt led toward a program out of the University of South Florida in Tampa. The Florida Mental Health Institute on Campus had a program called the Individualized Support Program, directed by Dr. Lise Fox. The program is early behavioral intervention, based on a communication approach.
I have come to believe that an early, positive, natural, intervention approach is vital to further development. I believe that a lot of this early training is providing parents with the tools they need to survive and give meaningful experiences and opportunities for our little ones. I believe it is important to teach parents, siblings, teachers, neighbors, friends and relatives to change our approach at working with these children. All those working with and around Joshua need to "get on the same page" so to speak. We needed to all use the same phrases and approaches in communicating with him. Early intervention taught us how to get into Joshua's world and bring him into ours. It helped us to lay the foundation of communication with him so that at a very early time we were all able to adjust our way of doing things to accommodate Joshua. Our positive, natural approach is now a natural way of doing things.
Survival in the home: ideas for putting words to feelings
Dr. Lise Fox came to our home, church, grocery store, ect... She showed us how to engage and communicate with Joshua. Joshua is very attached to Daddy and separation was always difficult so one day Lise suggested that we put words to Joshua's feelings. As Daddy was leaving for work the next morning Joshua ran to the front door very upset. I came up behind him and said, "Joshua is sad. Daddy went bye, bye. I know that makes Joshua sad." Joshua stopped abruptly, turned and to my joy looked me straight in the eye. His face revealed shock. I then said, "Daddy will be back. Daddy loves Joshua. Let's play with the blocks." Three things had taken place...
1) I put words to his emotions.
2) I let him know I understood what he was feeling.
3) I then re-directed him to a high interest activity. Daddy also began to always sing a little song just before leaving to signal to Joshua his soon departure. This simple process made an instant, dramatic difference in Joshua's reactions and our communication with him. His level of frustration seemed to decline when we would use this process.
As I've already stated we never told Joshua what was coming next in his life. I began to imagine how I would feel if every event in my life came as a total surprise. We began the process of making up songs or short sentences to cue Joshua as to what was coming up next.
For example: Joshua never wanted to get out of the bathtub. As the water began to empty from the tub we would say, "Joshua, in a few minutes the water will be gone. Bye-bye water. Our bath will be over. Bye-bye water. " When the water is gone we MUST follow through. After the tub is empty say, "let's get
dressed now". In just a few short days he learned the bathtub routine and the difficult transitions were easier.
Another tactic that has worked for us is to use a timer. The timer is turned on for the bath, game or activity. When the timer goes off or rings the activity is over and it MUST be over to avoid confusion. If you wish to extend the activity add time to the timer prior to the bell ringing.
We were also introduced to a Picture Schedule. Joshua seemed frustrated to never know what was coming next in his life. Once as I was dressing him and he was really "fighting" me. Finally, to my delight, he uttered, "Where go?" I stopped everything, told him we were getting dressed for church and showed
him a picture of his teachers. I apologized for not showing him the picture. He immediately calmed down. We are convinced that this too (using a Picture Schedule) has dramatically and instantly decreased his frustration.
To make a Picture Schedule:
Supplies: * A portable board (1 1/2 X 2 feet) or plastic frame or light weight piece of wood
* velcro (1 inch squares)
* clear contact paper
* file folder (optional)
The Pictures - We began taking pictures of people and events in Joshua's life. We covered each picture (front and back) with clear contact paper and attached a piece of velcro to the back of each photo.
The Schedule Board - Cut a board out of thin plywood.
Use a 1 ½ x 2 ½ foot piece of board. For a horizontal schedule put a rectangle whole in the center top of the longer side and for a vertical schedule put the rectangle whole at the top center of the short side. These holes will serve as handles for quick transporting from one room to another. To make the schedule board just attach the opposite side of the Velcro to the board. Place the Velcro squares spaced about 6 inches apart. This allows for several pictures to be hung on the board at one time. Several times a day the pictures are changed on the board to show him the events coming next. For example the morning pictures might be....
Mommy dressing Joshua
Joshua watching a video
Joshua's spot at the breakfast table
Joshua sitting in his car seat, (signals going somewhere in the car).
Several times a day we tell him what will be happening next. We point to the pictures as we go. We might say..."Mommy is getting Joshua dressed then Joshua will watch a video, have breakfast and go bye-bye in the car." Other pictures might include playing outside, favorite toys, sitting in the stroller or shopping cart, the bathtub, his bed and special people. We have photos of family members, relatives, teachers, doctors, and friends. When Joshua is going to Sunday school we have a picture of the car seat, church and his teachers. We say Joshua is going to church to see Mrs. So-in-So. All the way to church we sing a little song about church. Use a familiar song and change the words.
File Folder Schedule: (portable)
The File Folder is to be used as the "portable" picture schedule. The folder can be covered with clear contact paper and the velcro is to be placed on the folder the same way it was put on the board. The file folder can be carried conveniently in a purse or bag. Logos of restaurants or stores can be used to show your destination or use a picture of the person you will be picking up or going to see.
I have found that even those who don't care to have their picture taken cooperate when they hear of the use of this Communication Board. I found after carrying around my camera for one week I usually obtain photos of most of the events needed. Initially there is a lot of work involved in this project but it is worth the time invested. For our son this has signally been one of the greatest deterrents to some of the "challenging" behaviors or difficult transitions.
I have made permanent laminated (covered with clear contact paper) poster charts for activities that are the same. For example meal time, bath time and bed time. These routines are usually the same. The meal time poster has a picture of Joshua's chair, Joshua praying, his devotion book and his place mat. The bath time poster consists of the "big potty", the bathtub, the hair
brush and the tooth brush. The bed time poster has photos of Joshua getting dressed, the bible story book, a music note for "Jesus Loves Me", Joshua praying and his bed. Transitions have become much smoother. As we complete
each activity we point to the picture and tell him what is next.
The main task is for ME to remain consistent. This process does quickly
develop into a habit. When I can see such a dramatic change in his behavior it is worth the time invested. It also seems to be cruel not to help him order his world.
Communication Wallet or Ring Folder:
Purpose: We discovered that we made every selection or choice in our son's
life. We wanted to give him the opportunity to have some control in his life.
Supplies: *photographs or logos on index cards
*silver ring book binder or wallet with ONLY picture slots
*clear contact paper
Steps: Attach pictures or restaurant logos to mat board. Cut board to size,
laminate picture with clear contact paper.
RING: Punch a hole in the top left corner and place them on the silver ring.
WALLET: Place the cards in a picture wallet.
FOLDER: Cover file folder with clear contact paper and place Velcro squares on the inside of the folder. Then add the opposite side of the velcro to the picture.
Process: When choosing a drive thru for dinner offer your child an
opportunity to choose where to go. You might begin this new process by
holding up the card and saying,
"Today we are going to eat at ___________."
The next step may be to offer him 2 cards to choose from. In time you may be able to give him the whole ring, wallet or folder for his selection.
LORD, help me remember that nothing will happen to me today that you and I together cannot handle.
I have listed some ways to help survive in the home. Now I'll share some ideas to help during the actual instruction part of home schooling.
I believe very strongly in a very positive, natural approach to educating our children. Rather than having a child stack 3 blocks repetitively... I would rather lay in the floor and build towers, roads, and cities out of blocks with my child. I feel that this form of play is more natural and meaningful. This provides many opportunities for language and imaginary play. This also can lay the foundation for interactive play with other children.
Whether your schedule is a formal lesson plan on paper or a calendar with a different subject or focus for each day I believe the best method for
homeschooling any child is to have a plan and a schedule while always
allowing for the constant interruptions. In other words...be flexible! Time spent in preparation for a day of teaching will help us concentrate on a theme or subject and help us remain focused. This will also help us get back on task after the interruption.
Balancing Teaching Time With Joshua and Siblings:
While working with Joshua's siblings I teach and work with Karyne on a project or some sample problems. When she begins her practice work, I move to the floor or place in the room to join Joshua. I work with him on fine motor skills and language. We build with blocks or work with play dough. We work with puzzles or I roll play with dolls or animals figurines. I say words and make sounds. I then ask him to imitate the noise or word. I have many activities or items ready due to limited attention spans. One way I teach turn taking is to use a wipe-off board and marker. I say, "Mommy's turn." and take the marker and make one quick line. Then I say, "Joshua's turn" and give the marker back (before he has time to lose interest or get frustrated). Each time I take a turn I increase the time I use the marker. This really worked. When Joshua's sister, Karyne needs help I work with her or get her started again. Then I return to work with Joshua. This also helps to teach Karyne to stay on task when other distractions or activities are taking place around her. With younger siblings I use nap time to work with Joshua or I engage him in a high interest task. Expect interruptions. The younger child can be given a tub of water and Tupperware. Ask him to wash dishes. He will love it and when he's finished you can quickly mop up the much needed dirty kitchen floor and have a sparkling surface.
Making a Personal Education Home Video:
Several years ago we made a Home Video for Joshua. First we chose the theme. We collected every book, song or poster on the ABC's that we could find. Mom and Dad took turns reading the books on video. We selected Bible Verses that began with each letter of the alphabet. I wrote them on poster board. We would hold up the poster and sing a song we made up of each verse. Joshua has always been fascinated watching this video and he even mouths or sings parts of the movie. You can use a camcorder or rent one from your local video store.
Jill Bond, editor of PREACCH LETTERS, has also made home videos. She used a wipe and write off board as she walked around her son's world (their home). She would write the word lamp and place it in front of her son's lamp. She would say, "Trent, this is a lamp. Trent, can you say lamp." This sounds like a wonderful teaching tool and can be used while Mom needs to do some other things around the home.
Even with all of these suggestions, life can still be very hard, frustrating and painful. We are not alone...we have Jesus Christ and each other!
It is still early on our road with our son but I believe that the earlier we can begin a planned approach to our children's learning the better. I know that this early intervention has made our family work together more smoothly and has really made a difference in the quality of our relationships to each other. This phrase sums it up for us. I don't know what the future holds but I know who holds the future. Jesus Christ.
I don't always understand all the reasons for a child having a disability but God reveals Himself to us in His time. I have been placed into a group of people (parents and professionals) that I would have other wise not have met. Therefore I know that part of my purpose in life with Joshua is to share Jesus Christ with the people I meet. I know that God's ways are perfect.
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love the LORD to them who are called according to His purpose."
© Abundant Life Ministries, Memphis, TN