I'm still processing everything that I learned at NDSC, along with attempting to apply some new tricks to encourage Ellie's gross motor development. Along with things we learned in the sessions, I've been working with Ellie on See and Learn Speech, which is fun, and trying to stay on top of all the "around the house" projects I'll probably fail to finish before August 20. And train for a marathon.
Anyone else in education overly ambitious with summer plans?
However, despite my over ambitiousness, I'm attempting to at least write down my take-aways and action plan so down the road, I can look at these posts and remember all the great ideas I heard. One of the benefits of the convention was the publication of the "Compendium," with 411 pages of notes from 68 workshops. As Ellie gets older, I can read notes from presentations aimed at older kids.
What I Learned About Speech.
The speech presenter was Libby Kumin. She wrote the book with Ellie on the cover. She mentioned that children with Down syndrome struggle with verbal short term memory. As a teacher, I know that these skills are "school skills." ("Johnny, read page 17, think about the main idea, and complete the graphic organizer." All verbal short term memory.) She also stated that many people with Down syndrome struggle with word endings and grammar, with language skills below cognition. However, most tests of cognition are language based, so cognition scores may reflect a lower level of understanding than our kids possess due to language difficulties.
One of my take aways was to keep concept and vocabulary development multi sensory, experiential, and full of examples. While I've considered this for other learning for Ellie, I hadn't thought about it in terms of vocabulary. To apply some of these ideas, I started yesterday by looking up the ASL sign for squirrel. Ellie thinks they're dogs, and I don't think hearing "squirrel" is enough.
Libby also talked about tips for vertical development of speech, or learning more than new words, but new ideas (such as longer utterances). She suggested a pacing board with three dots to point at as the child/adult modeling says a three word phrase. For example, "my car go" or "the big fish."
My last big take-away is a save for later. Many children with Down syndrome benefit from "scripts," or having something they can practice saying in different situations. "Hi, I'm Ellie. I'm XX years old."
What I Learned About Person Centered Planning.
I went to Person Centered Planning not knowing what I was getting into. I'd heard the phrase "Person Centered Planning". The session was aimed at all ages. My friend Missy recommended I attend, so I did. Life lesson: Listen to Missy.
Long term, this workshop was one of my favorites. The presenters were excellent, and I'm giving a shout out to Mary Mikus, Diane Perry, and Geralyn Arango. Thank you.
To steal a phrase straight from their presentation, person centered planning is "a process that uses creative facilitation tools to assist a focus person in developing a plan for how they wish to live or be in the future."
There was so much in the presentation, but here's my application. We have a vision for Ellie, but we've never written in down, formalized it, or declared it in a set way. Our vision for Ellie as an adult is a vision of a young woman contributing to society, included in community, with meaningful relationships and a heart for others.
How do we get there? Ellie is 16 months old. At this point, the vision is ours, not hers. We want her to run with this vision, and it's fairly general so I believe she will.
The actual process of moving from a vision to a plan involves getting the key players together, including the focus person. In this case, the focus person is obviously the individual with Down syndrome, but I want to do this for myself! Using any number of formats, you write down hopes and dreams for the next couple years. High school graduate? Middle school? Friends? Dating? Driving? Working? Church leadership? Long term friendships? Saving own money? Special needs trust established? Married? Playing guitar? Running a marathon? Write it down.
Next, what does that really look like in two years. Be specific. Make it practical, possible, and positive. (Special Ed teachers, you know what I mean! Make it S.M.A.R.T.)
Look at now. What are the strengths right now? And then work backward. How do you get from the two year goal based on now? Write down 3 month goals, 6 month goals, one year goals. Assign tasks to people. Assign other people to make sure those with tasks get them done. Identify fears.
These parents brought their written out life goals to IEP meetings. I wanted to hug them. They did their research, they knew what was achievable but challenging. The parents also started planned "lunch bunch" when their boys were little. Not ever day, but occasionally, with help from someone at the school, the boys would meet for a lunch club with other students to work on social skills. Adult involvement helps get the right circle of kids, so all students benefit, not just the focus student. For example, in one group, two boys without Down syndrome had experienced a similar loss. Lunch bunch helped connect them. Activities are encouraged.
Everything from the presentation seemed so simple, but I know it will take work to implement. If we start young with Ellie (preschool age?) I imagine it will be easier for everyone to say "yes" to participating. As people move and her teachers change, the team will evolve.
Good stuff. Make sure I apply all this, okay?
Finally, What I Learned About Behavior.
If you have a child with autism, this is also helpful. Or any behavior issues in your life. Or in your class.
The behavior workshop was the last one I attended, and I admit, I walked in late. Whoops. Mary Pipan was a great presenter, and I'm glad she was engaging because everyone in the room was tired. I feel like all of my take aways from this session were bullet points, perhaps because I came in with a fairly good understanding of the concept, but seeking specific ideas. So here you have it, my favorite points and tips:
Sensory seeking behaviors can come from an inability to organize activities. If a child wants to/would be willing to draw, but cannot go get the supplies or think through the steps, he or she may just play with some string, their hands, etc.
A bad sensory experience (for example, a loud noise at a basketball game) can lead to the "I never want to go to XXX location EVER again!"
Behaviors that begin as sensory seeking (for example, eating the blue chalk... oh, that's just my kid?) can easily turn into attention seeking. (Blue chalk in mouth leads to Mommy rushing over! Yay, it's Mommy!)
Give warnings for transitions. Time your child and know how long they need for transitions. This is probably longer than most typically developing kids.
Say "when... then" not "if... then" because if implies it might not happen. ("When you pick up your toys, then we will go to the park.")
When you desperately need the child to understand, use the number of words the child usually uses in a sentence. Embedded words, such as "honey please don't flip the light switch on and off" may get lost compared to "Stop now."
Use visual supports, visual schedules, visual reminders, visual to do/done lists, visual, visual, visual. Lots of websites with information on autism have good visual supports to print.
Instead of saying "use your words" or "use your signs," name the child's emotion to help give them words. "You're frustrated because there's no more cookies."
If a child gets away with a behavior most of the time, and is only occasionally punished, the behavior will continue. (Think of an adult speeding while driving. But not me. Think of a different adult.)
Finally, don't punish impulsive behaviors. Instead, prevent them, because a punishment may just reinforce as an attention-getting mechanism. Punish clear, defined behaviors like hitting, but not when sensory driven or triggered by events like teasing.
There you have it. A fairly dry, information filled post full of information for me to access at a later time. I hope it's helpful to some of you, but I'll be honest, I wrote this one for me! To say thanks for making it through, here's a photo of Ellie.