by Mistie Hale, October 2011
On October 13th 2012 I attended the conference entitled “Evidence Based Strategies for Successful Programming for Individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.” A lot of people came together to Autism Society (national), Vanderbilt Kennedy Center in Nashville, and the University of Tennessee. There were many things discussed, some highlights include:
Dr. James Ball, CEO of JB Autism Consulting, Board Chair of Autism Society, and primary speaker talked a lot about “Social Skills Throughout the Educational Years”. He gave great examples of abnormal social behavior, such as scripting and perseverating on one subject, and how this can disrupt a classroom or alienate spectrum students from their peers. He gave us great tips on:
- How to challenge the child to refrain from the behavior, such as rewards, and ways to bring the behavior into a positive aspect.
- Ideas on how to get students on the spectrum involved with their peers, such as assigning buddies, and giving conversation goals such as: ask peers questions about themselves, or assign a word of the day for students to say.
- How modeling by spectrum kids can influence younger siblings and also how parents and teachers can be models of good behavior
of students on the spectrum.
- Offered suggestions for parents such as: not to allow abnormal behaviors, but try to challenge the child to have higher levels of social skills even if that means transitioning the student to a new situation where abnormal behaviors are not tolerated.
Dr. Ball also discussed the “Skill Streaming Social Skills Teaching Program.” This program focuses on teaching specific social skills, enhancing motivation, and generalization training. He gave great tips and ideas for teachers and parents who are homeschooling their children.
One of the breakout sessions I attended was called “I Can Do It Myself”, led by Dr. Alacia Stainsbrook, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. This session discussed scheduling and the importance of it in a child’s life, especially if they are on the spectrum. Helpful tips included:
- Post it notes, a bulletin board with pictures, or simply writing things down.
- Checklists, at first using pictures, then after reading is mastered, children should write their own lists to prepare them for adulthood.
- Schedules help with disruptive behaviors and lack of focus.
Dr. Ball also emphasized schedules; saying it was important once a child adjusted has adjusted to the current schedule it is important to change things up so that the child can learn and become more social. It is also important for children on the spectrum to be placed in situations where they are not over stimulated by scenery, decorations, or other disruptive children.
Another breakout session, led by Teresa Vaughn, CCC—SLP and UT Clinical Associate Professor, discussed “Enhancing Social Understanding by the Use of Social Stories”. Workshop covered the importance of using social stories for individuals with Autism and how these stories can help them understand the complexities of different social situations. Presenter included the components of a social story, how it could be used, and attendees got to practice writing a social story themselves to help someone on the Autism Spectrum to understand a specific social situation.
Dr. Ball facilitated a session called “7 Evidenced Based Strategies for an Effective Early Intervention Program” this presentation gave step by step instructions using real life examples and everyone in the audience came away with practical and useful tips.
Another conference highlight was the “Adult Aspie Panel Discussion”. The audience got to ask questions of 4 adults with Aspergers. The panel was made up of people ranging from college ages and up, some were in college, some had jobs, and one even had children who were on the spectrum. They discussed middle, high school, and college experiences; the individuals who attended schools with Asperger’s programs did well and flourished while the others struggled. Panel members discussed their hobbies, most of them saying that they enjoyed video games. Some were more talkative than others; some found their job situations to be difficult; and others stated that their peers at work did not even know that they had Aspergers. All panel members said that they had anti-social behavior and found it hard to know how to react in social situations. Most of them were visual learners who found that schedules and day planners help them a great deal. Some said that they preferred that others to know about their Aspergers while others did not.
Dr. James Ball has also written a very good book called “Early Intervention and Autism: Real Life Questions, Real Life Answers” and has 20 years experience in working with those on the Spectrum.
This was a great conference! Anyone affected by autism should attend the next one.