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Instructor Tip Four: Autism Spectrum Disorders

 

Individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are just that, individual. Much like every other person, students on the spectrum have their own unique qualities and challenges. Students on the end of the spectrum that we have historically categorized as having Asperger’s Syndrome, many of whom we see on college campuses, typically have a desire to interact in social situations, but are faced with some unique difficulties.

Students on the spectrum tend to have a great deal more difficulty with social interactions, social exchanges, and social cues.

College courses, at least at the undergraduate level, tend to be larger with more students. This provides a great environment for most students to socially interact and make more friends, but it can be more challenging for the student who is on the spectrum. It’s often hard for these students to enter into conversations and to exit conversations.

This is also true for students who need to interact with their instructors; initiating a conversation or interaction may be difficult for a student on the spectrum. There may be issues with personal space as well, that is, the student enters another student’s or the instructor’s personal space coming too close when trying to have a conversation.

This space invasion can be quite uncomfortable. Some students on the spectrum have limited awareness of the space that he or she is entering, but conversely, know clearly when others are entering into their personal space. The thing about personal space is that it really is unique to each individual, but you, as an instructor may need to gently point out to the student that you need to have a bit more space. A general rule of thumb is to maintain at least an arm’s length of distance between individuals, and it’s okay to suggest that to the student.

As a side note, there are other students not on the spectrum who don’t have a good sense of personal space either, so this same conversation is just as useful.

For additional information please contact us at klass@utk.edu or 865-974-6395.

Homework…Getting it Done without Coming Undone

 

Problems with homework; it’s one of the most common complaints we hear about children and adolescents from parents with whom we work.

Some of these problems are, in fact, problems, but many of the problems are just normal issues that need a little re-examination or adjustment to get the students back on track. Let’s start with the basics:

1) Environment:  Location, location, location; it’s important in real estate, and it’s important for homework. Homework should be completed in a distraction-free environment that is comfortable for the student. This can be flexible, but examples include a kitchen table, the dining room table, a kitchen counter, or maybe a desk. This space should be uncluttered.

For most typical kids, their bedroom is likely not a good space to use. There are too many items, toys, and activities that are readily available to take their attention away from completing their homework.

2) Supplies:  Regardless of the location, all the needed supplies should be readily available for the student to easily access. Pencils, paper, crayons, markers, glue sticks, etc. should all be nearby.

3) Electronics: There shall be NO screens within the homework area – seriously, NO screens unless the homework is being completed on a device. IF the homework is being completed on a device, then there should be no other devices on the side creating distractions.

For example, a student using his or her laptop to complete an assignment should not have their phone beside the laptop with all it’s notifications buzzing, or other distracting media flowing through headphones. “But Mom, listening to my music helps me concentrate” your tween might say…highly unlikely; in fact, the majority of research related to studying seems to indicate that this can interfere with retention and production of information. It’s not a good idea. In fact, it’s preferable for cell phones to be placed in an entirely different room; phones can really be that distracting.

On the other hand, calm, lyric-free music is okay. It doesn’t need to be classical, but it shouldn’t be high energy. Think elevator music.

Now that we’ve looked at some basics regarding the setting, be sure to look for another post that considers some process components for helping with homework completion.

For more information contact us at klass@utk.edu or 865-974-6177.

Instructor Tip Three: Autism Spectrum Disorders

Students on the autism spectrum often have receptive language difficulties that include slower processing of verbal exchanges, they may misunderstand sarcasm, idioms and jokes, have very literal interpretation of words, and they may misunderstand gestures and body language.

The expressive language  difficulties of individuals on the spectrum may include problems starting communication. Some students on the autism spectrum may seem very articulate and/or very talkative; however, they may have trouble staying on topic, turn taking and following conversational “protocol”. Some may be slower to organize thoughts and speak, and/or their voice tone and volume may be unusual; sometimes more mechanical in nature. Idiosyncratic use of words and phrases may be present.

It may be helpful for instructors to allow for more lengthy verbal exchanges, or to have important communication be conducted in written form. Instructors should be clear, concrete, and logical when communicating with students on the autism spectrum. Be sure to ask for understanding; that is, perhaps have the student summarize the important information. It’s important that instructors have patience when engaging in a conversation with student on the autism spectrum, and gently guide the students when they stray off-topic back on-topic.

For more information, please contact us at klass@utk.edu or 865-974-6177.

Research for Teachers: Three-Mysteries Procedure Increases Classroom Math Performance

In an initial 2017 study published in School Psychology Review, University of Tennessee researchers Scott, Skinner, Moore, McCurdy, Ciancio, and Cihak demonstrated that math fact accuracy in a first-grade classroom could be improved through the use of a three-mysteries procedure.

What’s the mystery, you might ask?

Researchers gathered independent seatwork assignment accuracy data and found that during typical classroom procedures the class averaged about 64% correct. These scores are for basic math skills that first graders are learning.

Next, the researchers and classroom teachers developed, implemented, and evaluated a novel intervention. The researchers created a pool of daily percent correct goals and a pool of simple rewards that all students in the class would get if they met their average percent correct goals. The mysteries then come in three forms.

At the start of class, the teacher would reach into a bag containing sheets of paper with the minimum goals written on them, randomly select one and place it in a separate envelope, without informing the students of the goal. Thus, the daily goal was the first mystery. The teacher did the same things with rewards. A rewards slip was randomly selected and placed in the envelope. Thus, the reward, which either all or none of the students in the class could earn, was the second mystery. Students sat at separate tables. The teacher would also reach into a bag containing sheets of paper with the table numbers written on them and randomly select one. Thus, the table was the third mystery.

Each day all students would earn a reward if a table of four students had an average percent correct score on their math assignments that met or exceeded a goal or criteria. However, the table, the criteria, and the reward were all randomly selected and unknown to students – they were all a mystery.

After math assignments were completed and scored, the average score of the randomly selected table was compared to the randomly selected criteria. If that table met or exceeded the goal, the teacher announced the goal, the table that met the goal and the reward. As the students cheered the table members, the teacher distributed rewards. Note, if the table did not win, the teacher merely announced that the class did not win the game and encouraged the entire class to try harder next time.

What did they find?

Adding this three-mysteries intervention to typical classroom procedures increased the class average percent correct from about 64% to approximately 84% correct. Additionally, the average scores for the five students scoring below 60% (letter grade F) increased by over 40%. The students who were scoring above 90% also improved. Thus, the intervention enhanced the performance of the strongest students, while causing really large increases in performance of the low performing students, some who appeared to have given up trying to succeed in math. With this procedure, these same students were now helping the entire class earn rewards by doing their best on math assignments and being cheered for doing so.

What did the teacher and teacher assistant think about the intervention?

The teacher and teacher assistant liked this intervention and noted some pretty positive side effects. A few of those positive effects being: students were less likely to need prompting to do their work, students skipped fewer problems, incomplete assignments were decreased, and students made more use of math manipulatives.

Obviously, more research is needed, but the results of this easy to implement evidence-based intervention are promising.

For more information on the study, please contact Dr. Chris Skinner at cskinne1@utk.edu .

Autism Support Services

The KLASS Center offers supplemental support services for University of Tennessee degree-seeking students who fall on the Autism Spectrum (Including High Functioning Autism and/or Asperger’s Syndrome). Most UT students on the spectrum would not be considered disabled, and do not receive services through the Student Disability Services office, but they are faced with a unique set of challenges with communication and social interactions. Currently, we provide supplemental services individually and/or in a group format to improve these students’ communication and social skills, but if final approval is obtained, we will be consolidating the services into the Postsecondary Autism Support Services (PASS) Program. The program will be for enrolled degree-seeking students at the University of Tennessee and/or admitted students to include the individual and group services, but also case management, and possible course credit. For more information please follow the link on the menu to the left or email us at klass@utk.edu.

Instructor Tip Two: Autism Spectrum Disorders

Students on the autism spectrum face significant social challenges. Those challenges include understanding others perspectives, sharing space and making eye contact. Many high functioning individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (often characterized as Asperger’s) usually have extreme social anxiety and usually have difficulty negotiating with others. Interacting and working in pairs or groups is a significant challenge as well. The social challenges can become overwhelming for students on the autism spectrum.

Also, these students likely will not understand the classroom etiquette that is often unwritten or assumed. Students on the spectrum will often misinterpret facial expressions and other non-verbal cues.

It’s important for instructors to recognize some of these challenges so that he or she can work appropriately with students on the spectrum. For example, honoring the student’s chosen level of eye contact w/o judgment can be helpful. If there is group work assigned for class the instructor might assist in the formation and monitoring of pairs or groups of students to assure the proper inclusion of the student with an autism spectrum diagnosis. Sometimes it’s helpful to provide written rules for asking questions to give the student on the spectrum as concrete guidelines.

For more help, more information about the PASS Program, or more information about the FUTURE Program, contact us at klass@utk.edu or 865-974-6177.

Dyslexia Evaluation: Key Components

Parents who suspect their child may have dyslexia, or parents who receive a letter from their school saying that their child may have dyslexia often find themselves confused about dyslexia and what an evaluation for dyslexia looks like. If you “Google” the term dyslexia, the confusion can multiply exponentially. The KLASS Center on the campus of the University of Tennessee relies on peer-reviewed research and evidence-based practices as we think about, evaluate, and treat dyslexia.

In short, dyslexia is a language-based disorder that can impair different areas of academic functioning, but primarily reading and spelling are most impacted. For early elementary students there often are problems with sound/symbol correspondence, sounding out words is difficult, confusion of similar sounding letters is common, confusion of visually similar letters can occur (still related to language), a lot of substitution errors occur, and a lot of problems with spelling are evident. Reading and learning to read is very labored for children with these difficulties.

So, a solid evidence-based evaluation for dyslexia should assess for those areas, and that includes phonemic awareness, sight word vocabulary, basic reading skills, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, and listening comprehension (often stronger than reading skills). It’s also helpful to compare the child’s reading skills to his or her math and general writing skills to determine any crossover challenges. Dyslexia can also co-occur with other disorders, more commonly with other learning disorders and ADHD, so it’s important to evaluate the child comprehensively.

Our clinicians are trained to conduct these evaluations, and do so regularly. For more information or to schedule an evaluation, please visit our website at KLASS Center or contact us via email klass@utk.edu or phone 865-974-6177.

Instructor Tip: Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

By definition all students with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have problems which may interfere with receptive or expressive communication. Many of these students who enroll in college are not disabled; some are, but the challenges are real and can create significant difficulties in the classroom regardless.

Some of these unique differences are subtle and can lead to misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the students’ actions.

Tip:  Each student with ASD has very unique challenges so it’s important (when possible) for instructors to get to know the student to facilitate her or his understanding of the challenges for that student.

Use Praise More

Parents: remember to praise your child’s “good” behavior, that is, the behavior you want to see more of, rather than spending most of your time punishing the behaviors you don’t want. It’s so much more effective to increase behaviors you want to see, e.g., “great job playing nicely together” than it is spending a ton of time on punishing unwanted behavior. We tend to be quiet when our kids are “behaving”, but that’s exactly when we should be catching them being good, and praising that behavior to make it happen more often.

Managing Behavior – Consequences – Part 2

In our last post, we continued the discussion of the ABC’s of behavior management, focusing on the C’s, Consequences.

As a reminder, consequences simply put, are what happen following behaviors in our ABC model. We started with the consequence of reinforcement which occurs following a behavior that increases the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. We also discussed positive and negative reinforcement. You can review that post here to get more information and clarification on reinforcement. Now, we’re going to turn to another broad category of consequences: Punishment.

**One note, however: you’ll notice a mirroring in language between the previous post on reinforcement and this post dealing with punishment. It’s on purpose to illustrate and highlight the elements of positive and negative as related to consequences.**

-Punishment

Punishment is a consequence that decreases the likelihood that a behavior will occur again. It is also straightforward like reinforcement. It’s important to note that like reinforcement, punishment doesn’t guarantee that the behavior will decrease, but that there’s a good chance that the behavior will decrease following the use of a punisher. Also, it’s important to know that what is punishing is often different for different individuals…there are some general tendencies, but it still comes down to each individual.

There are two types of punishment, and the terminology used is often more confusing for parents and professionals than is reinforcement. There is positive punishment and negative punishment, and since this piece is being written with parents in mind, I’m going to use a little latitude and change these terms to be more descriptive.

Let’s consider positive punishment as additive, and negative punishment as subtractive. Notice that positive does not mean good and negative does not mean bad; these are very common misconceptions. So, what do I mean by those terms?

–Positive (Additive) Punishment

When we add something following the occurrence of a behavior (or misbehavior), it is called positive, so this is why I’m using the term additive. If my child leaves his or her dirty clothes on the floor, and I say “I’m disappointed that you left your dirty clothes on the floor”, I have added something following the occurrence of the behavior. In this instance, this is a very simple verbal reprimand, and, in general, reprimands decrease behavior; I’m decreasing the likelihood that the behavior of leaving the dirty clothes on the floor will occur again. Some folks may argue that the reprimand that I reference isn’t really a reprimand, but they would be incorrect; for some kids, this is a significant reprimand. However, many people think a five minute lecture would be considered more of a verbal reprimand, and I’d say maybe…it depends on the child, but it could also turn into white noise to the child much like Charlie Brown’s teacher from the Peanuts comic strip/cartoon and lose its punishing effectiveness. The punishment must also occur very soon after the unwanted behavior for it to be effective; immediately if possible.

Another form of positive (additive) punishment is spanking. At this point, I’m not going to go into the pros and cons of whether to use spanking, but spanking is often used, so we need to illustrate it in context. When a child is swatted on the bottom for a misbehavior, we obviously are adding something – the swat – with the intent of decreasing the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. Sometimes I talk with parents who have used spanking (positive punishment) in an attempt to increase a behavior. For example, the child didn’t feed the dog, so the parent spanked the child with the intent of increasing the chance that the child will feed the dog next time. Punishment, as we now know, by definition, decreases behavior, so the parent, in this case, has made the likelihood that the child will feed the dog next time lower. That is exactly opposite of what the parent hoped or hopes to accomplish. And this can lead to a negative cycle that parents fall into because they don’t quite understand how reinforcement and punishment work.

There are also a set of expectations that need to be in place before these consequences are used; more on this later.

As is the case with reinforcement, punishment is also a factor with adult behaviors…we’re still sticking with the kids though.

I’ll reiterate from earlier, the use of punishment, does not guarantee that the behavior will decrease, but there’s a better chance that the behavior will decrease.

–Negative (Subtractive) Punishment

When we remove or subtract something following a behavior, it is called negative, and this is why I’m using the term subtractive. Negative punishment therefore is subtracting something that is reinforcing to decrease the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. One of the most common and easily understood examples of negative punishment is the use of time-outs. A time-out is the removal of something that is otherwise reinforcing; something that the child wants. Now that screens are fairly common (cell phones, tablets, TVs, video games, etc.) and very much wanted by kids, they also become useful for parents in a discipline plan, especially in the use of negative (subtractive) punishment. When the child misbehaves, say talks back to a parent, or hits a sibling, the child can be put in time-out away from the reinforcer (the screen) or the screen can be put in time-out for a set amount of time. The misbehaviors of talking back or hitting, in this example, will likely decrease by taking away the reinforcer briefly. The child talks back, the screen is removed, and the talking back is likely to decrease in the future. Again, the negative punishment (time-out) must occur soon after the misbehavior for it to have an effect and they must be connected – “you hit your brother, your screen is in time-out”.

While we’re on time-outs, parents and teachers often use time-outs that are far too long and lose their effectiveness. As a general rule-of-thumb, time-outs should last about a minute per year of age, so an eight-year-old’s time-out should last about eight (8) minutes; that’s all. If the time-out lasts too long, the child will have forgotten why the whole thing got started in the first place – their attention spans aren’t that long to begin with, and they are already thinking about something else if you go much longer.

As promised, let’s now turn to a couple of terms I hear from parents that often cause some problems in day-to-day behavior management; expectations (what we, as parents, expect our kids to do, should do, or be able to do), and bribery. Those two topics require more explanation. Let’s look more in depth at those in the next post.

If you need more help with behavioral techniques, please contact us at 865-974-6395 or klass@utk.edu.

Managing Behavior – Consequences – Part I

 

 

Consequences

In our previous post, we discussed the ABC’s of behavior management, with more focus on the A’s, Antecedents, and B’s, Behaviors. Let’s now turn to the ever confusing C’s, Consequences.

First, what is a consequence? When we hear the word consequence, we almost always think of something bad – when we work with parents, we often find ourselves having to re-define the word. Consequences simply put, are what happen following behaviors in our ABC model. They can be good or bad or somewhere in between, but they must follow a behavior. The confusion becomes even more pronounced when we start adding in other complicating words like reinforcement and punishment. When we throw words, such as positive and negative into them mix, it becomes even more confusing. Let’s try to tease these apart a bit and begin with the consequence of reinforcement.

-Reinforcement

Reinforcement is a consequence that increases the likelihood that a behavior will occur again. Simple as that. It’s important to note that reinforcement doesn’t guarantee that the behavior will occur again, but that there’s a good chance that the behavior will occur again. Also, it’s important to know that what is reinforcing is often different for different individuals…there are some general tendencies, but it still comes down to each individual.

There are two types of reinforcement, and the terminology used is often very confusing for parents (it’s often very confusing for some professionals too). There is positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement, and since this piece is being written with parents in mind, I’m going to use a little latitude and change these terms to be more descriptive.

Let’s consider positive reinforcement as additive, and negative reinforcement as subtractive. Notice that positive does not mean good and negative does not mean bad; these are very common misconceptions. So, what do I mean by those terms?

–Positive (Additive) Reinforcement

When we add something following the occurrence of a behavior, it is called positive, so this is why I’m using the term additive. If my child picks up his or her dirty clothes, and I say “thank you for picking up your dirty clothes”, I have added something following the occurrence of the behavior. In this instance, this is verbal praise, and, in general, verbal praise is reinforcing for many kids (but not all). By adding the verbal praise following the behavior, I’m increasing the likelihood that the behavior of picking up the dirty clothes will occur again. The reinforcement must also occur very soon after the desired behavior for it to be effective; immediately if possible.

As another example, your child brushes her teeth, and when she finishes, you give her a sticker for her to put on a sticker chart. We know, ahead of time, that our child likes stickers. We’re adding something, in this case, stickers, following the brushing teeth behavior to increase the chance that she will brush her teeth again. Our ultimate goal here may be for her to brush her teeth twice a day without reminders, and we are using positive reinforcement to help her reach that goal.

Reinforcement is also a factor with adult behaviors, but for simplicity, we’ll just deal with parents and kids for now.

I’ll reiterate from earlier, the use of reinforcement, does not guarantee that the behavior will occur again, but there’s a better chance that it will.

–Negative (Subtractive) Reinforcement

When we remove or subtract something following a behavior, it is called negative, and this is why I’m using the term subtractive. Negative reinforcement therefore is subtracting something to increase the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. One of the most common and easily understood examples of negative reinforcement occurs with seatbelt use. When we buckle our seatbelt, that annoying ringing or tone that we hear in our cars stops. The behavior of buckling the seatbelt increases by taking away the annoying sound. We buckle, and the sound is removed.

Another very common example has to do with nagging. Our children will empty the dishwasher to remove the nagging that is occurring (nagging is also annoying just like the tone in the car). Nagging increases the likelihood that the behavior of emptying the dishwasher will occur. The child empties the dishwasher, the nagging is removed. This is negative (subtractive) reinforcement; removing something to increase the likelihood of a behavior occurring again. However, it should also be noted here that there are side effects with the use of nagging–it sets up a separate behavioral cycle in the parents that is not good for communication in general, and we encourage parents to avoid the use of nagging.

There are two other topics that often come up here that I’ll discuss in later posts; expectations (what we, as parents, expect our kids to do, should do, or be able to do), and then there’s bribery. Those two topics require more explanation. In reference to expectations, we are not talking about expectations as goals. These types of expectations can be problematic. On the other hand, bribery is just misunderstood as it relates to reinforcement…they are not the same thing.

Next up, however, is punishment…

Blackboard with ABC and a book

Managing Behavior – Where to Start

Do you know your ABCs?

Most kids learn their ABCs at a very early age, but those aren’t the same ABCs that we’re talking about here. For any parent who wants a better approach to managing their kids’ behavior, they have to learn the ABCs of behavior. The ABCs of behavior are the (A)ntecedents, (B)ehaviors, and (C)onsequences. These are basic building blocks for understanding and managing behaviors, be you a parent or a teacher.

Behaviors:

Let’s start with the easy piece. Behaviors are simply actions, and some of these actions parents wish to increase and some actions parents wish to decrease. That’s where the Antecedents and Consequences come in; those are the general mechanisms that parents can use or modify to try to change a child’s behavior. Many parents have a working knowledge of Consequences (most think of consequences as only negative, but we’ll see there’s a lot more to it than that), however, they often overlook the effect of or helpfulness of the Antecedents.

Antecedents:

So, first things first. Antecedents occur prior to a behavior, and most of the time we, as parents, don’t recognize the importance of that piece. Antecedents can be many things, but common ones that parents do recognize is asking your child to complete a task (pick up your dirty clothes), or maybe start an activity (time for bed), another antecedent could be entering the check-out lane (lots of cool stuff there) – there are many, many others though. Some are helpful while some guarantee a bad outcome; let’s take a look:

-Prepare for Transitions: It’s often very helpful to provide your child with a countdown of upcoming transitions. If, for example, you want your child to start her homework, it’s better to give a bit of time to get ready for the transition. It’s better to give her a 10-minute transition warning than to just tell her it’s time to do her homework.  You are more likely to get compliance and a smoother transition when you prepare the child to switch tasks. You can give her another warning of transition closer to time, and then transition on time. Be consistent in transitioning on time.

-Manage the Environment: If you are trying to have your child do something that requires focus and attention, it’s a good idea to remove distractions from the environment. Distractions vary child to child, but screens (TV, video games, phones, etc.) seem to be pretty consistently distracting, so if it’s time for homework, it’s a good idea to either remove the distractions or remove the child from the room that has the distractions. Kids diagnosed with ADHD, or those who have problems with attention and focus, almost always require parents to be in close proximity for a longer period of development. This is often quite frustrating for parents, but necessary to help the child maintain her or his task focus.

Consequences:

Consequences are what immediately follow behaviors and determine the likelihood that those behaviors will either be continued, repeated, increased, decreased, or whether they disappear all together. We get a little bit confusing when we start throwing phrases around like positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment (doesn’t mean it’s good), and negative punishment (doesn’t mean it’s bad).

In later posts, we’ll visit all these concepts in more detail. If you’re having significant problems and need help sooner, feel free to contact us though.

New Autism Support Services Program to Launch 2017!

The Postsecondary Autism Support Services (PASS) Program will be accepting new students starting for Fall 2017. This program is for currently enrolled degree-seeking students at the University of Tennessee and/or admitted students who will begin next fall. Applications will be available November 1, 2016 to start Fall 2017. For more information please follow the link on the menu to the left or email us at klass@utk.edu.

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KORN Center to Expand Services

The Korn Learning, Assessment, and Social Skills (KLASS) Center has expanded its services. Now available are consultation sessions for children with behavioral difficulties and psychoeducational evaluations for dyslexia.  Families who struggle with behavioral difficulties may now meet weekly with a clinician to develop effective strategies.

Read more about the KLASS Center and the services they are adding for individuals who have learning, behavioral, or social skill difficulties in this TN Today article.

You may also learn about the KLASS Center as featured in this WVLT Local 8 article.

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