Few people in the world are more qualified to speak and write about autism than Temple Grandin, PhD. Ms. Grandin has confronted her autism since early childhood, has done so with accumulating wisdom, it the product of her own prodigious efforts and the knowledgeable, persistent help and encouragement fem her family and her first teachers.
The Hughes Brothers continue now with advice from this remarkable woman.
Dr. Grandin insists that parents and teachers use concrete visual methods to teach numerical concepts. She remembers the set of blocks around which she learned to add and subtract — blocks with different sizes and colors to represent the numbers one through ten. Similarly, she learned basic fractions from a wooden apple cut into pieces.
In some cases, it might be easier — and far better — to skip past the teaching of cursive, even printed, handwriting. The random motor controls that trouble so many little kids with autism can lead to major frustrations with a pen or pencil. Typing, however, comes much easier to these children, and so immediate, direct access to a computer keyboard might solve so many issues surrounding this critical phase of early learning.
Reading presents an altogether different set of problems and potential solutions. Some autistic children will learn to read, quickly and accurately, with the use of phonics. Some others will learn best by memorizing words in their entirety. Still other will respond better to flash cards and picture books, with all the words associated thereto, picture and the printed word on the same side of the card. Simultaneous voicing of the world by parent or teacher is a must.
Protect, as much as possible, the child from sudden, loud sounds. Ms. Grandin remembers a “school bell that hurt my ears like a dentist’s drill hitting a nerve.” All the other aural sensations of academia fit the same category of shock and pain: the public-address system, the buzzers of a basketball game, desks suddenly moved, a teacher’s chair scraping on floor. Who can say what sound might once cause terror in an autistic child, that sound then imprinted, now capable of producing bad behavior each time the child hears it again. If teachers or parents ever observe children covering their ears, an alert should sound in their own minds. Then, various ways of de-sensitizing the child to the noise can begin — everything from somehow muting the sound to recording the sound on a tape recorder, allowing the child to innate the sound, to control its gradual increase in volume, the child always in full control.
Similarly, visual distractions bother some kids with autism. Fluorescent lights, in particular, trouble many children, in their hypersensitivity these children fully, uncomfortably aware of the flickers of sixty-cycle electricity. A couple of possible solutions here: move the child’s work or study table toward natural light, the nearest window or one far away from the subtly blinking fluorescent; use a lamp with an incandescent bulb at the child’s work station; if fluorescent lighting cannot be avoided, use new bulbs through, since the newer the bulb the less the flicker.
The Hughes Brothers have written throughout these pages about the comforts weighted objects bring to children with autism. Hyperactive kids, their fidgeting non-stop, will often calm themselves once wearing a padded, appropriately weighted vest, its gentle pressure slowing the child’s central nervous system.
We Hughes Brothers are always happiest when the ideas we bring for helping children, parents, and teachers arrive in this easy, straightahead
solutions to common problems associated with ASD. Bulbs and vests and flash cards and tape recorders and blocks and keyboards and wooden fruit.
And, of course, we are so very grateful to such pathfinders as the venerable Temple Grandin.