Autism: Not Different Enough

When I read Gloria Doty’s book about her daughter with autism, I felt a great kinship with her. As you know, my twin adult sons also have a diagnosis of autism. As we venture into adulthood with them, I found this book an absolute comfort. It helped me realize that I’m not the only one experiencing all these new adventures in many of the same ways. If you know someone with a child with autism, I hope you’ll share this interview with them. It’s such an important one, and helps parents understand the importance of getting guardianship for their adult child with autism. This is a beautiful book, and I enjoyed reading it. It reads fast, and it feels like you’re sitting with Gloria and having a chat. I loved it so much I had to do an interview. What follows is the delightful time I had with Gloria discussing this gem of a book. Tweet this: Autism grows up: a cautionary tale of hope and...

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Teaching kids to touch type

If there’s one thing I am grateful for from my public school education in the 70s, it’s that I was able to take classes to learn how to touch type. I can still type about 93-102 words per minute (WPM), and believe me, it’s come in handy when writing books, blogging, and writing research papers! (Thanks, Mr. Geesik!) (I can still hear and see him wiggling his fingers and sing-song saying, “Type, type, type!”) Since I have special needs children, and taught many special needs kids in my cottage school, I was always on the lookout for unique ways to teach life skills. One of the coolest tools I discovered  were these ingenious typing gloves from a company called Touchtypers. From the website: “Touchtypers is a system that uses specially developed lettered gloves and simple exercises to make it easy for students to learn to touch-type on computer keyboards, using any typing system or word processing software.” The gloves come with an instruction booklet, but I also used old-fashioned typing books to help my students practice. These gloves worked great! I like anything that helps children self-direct and teach themselves. The only thing you have to do is supervise a bit to make sure they’re actually using the correct fingers and not “cheating.” I hope you like these gloves as much as I do/did. I don’t get any kind of kickback or anything from this company. But when I experience a great product, I want to tell everyone about it. Oh, and when you order the gloves, err on the smaller side because they stretch. Let me know how you like them! Please tweet: Teach your special needs kids to...

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Autism grows up: Their first jobs!

It’s been an exciting school year so far at the Akins ranch. The twins are in their senior year. They are 20 years old and will be 21 in February. They’ve waited quite anxiously for several years for this to happen and now it has. They have jobs! Their vocational school, Heartland Career Center, has a program that helps high school students with special needs gain job experience. The twins get school credit for working at their assigned jobs several afternoons a week. Isaac got a job at Pizza Hut. He had to go through the interview process and he was amazing. We’re so proud of him! Isaiah got a job at a local bakery boutique. He was so excited on Friday because he got promoted from making pie boxes to doing dishes. I got a text from him: “My boss let me do dishes!” When the boys were four years old, one of their psychologists asked me what my aspirations were for them. I told her that I hoped they’d learn to read and be independent someday. She leaned forward in her seat and said to me, “That’s just pie in the sky thinking and you might as well get that out of your head right now.” Really? Pie in the sky is pretty tasty if I do say so myself.   Here. Share a slice with me! Tweet this: Autism grows up and gets jobs!...

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Sometimes Mama Bear needs to back off

I’m subbing at the high school this week in a special education classroom. That means that my twin sons who take life skills classes are in my department. This is great fun for them. But today my Mama Grizzly showed a bit when a staff member (not a teacher, a support staff) rudely snapped at one of them, first thing in the morning. No hello. Nothing. Just a bark. The reason she snapped at my son was valid. It was how she handled it that wasn’t. He’d left his backpack in front of a locked classroom door, and while waiting for someone to unlock it, he slipped into my room to visit with me. When the staff member arrived, she flew into my classroom and barked, “Whose stuff is that in the hall in front of Mrs. —‘s door?” Isaiah, who is almost always cheerful and sweet, and wouldn’t do anything wrong on purpose to inconvenience someone, jumped up from his chair and headed toward the hall door, “Oh, that’s mine.” To which she responded with a great scowl and angry voice, “Well then move it, it’s in the way.” (Or some such phrase of which I don’t remember the exact words.) All I know, is that I never talk to students that way, and especially not special needs students. It’s all in how you say it. And I realize that teachers and staff have bad mornings. But bad mornings should be left at the schoolhouse door. Being a grouch doesn’t model appropriate behavior to students who need it more than anyone. I dare say that teens with autism need it more than elementary-aged children (although they all do desperately need it). I did complain to their teacher about her, but as I was doing so, I felt petty. It’s impossible for me to protect them from all the rude people on earth. Especially now that they are adults. (They are 19 but still in school until they are 21.) Still, as an educator myself, I feel that all students should be treated with respect. Tone of voice speaks volumes. As I shared in my post on my philosophy of education, school may be one of the only places some kids have that’s a safe place to fall. If they are to feel valued, school personnel must treat them with respect. It doesn’t matter what a child’s label is, they are still deserving of politeness. Maybe the snarky  staff member works with hard behavior cases. I don’t know. But I do know that children will act the way you expect them to most of the time. I know this because I’ve worked with some very, very difficult students. No...

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Strong Girls aren’t Mean Girls part III

A few weeks ago I wrote to you, dear Strong Girls, about standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. Today I want to share a great Strong Girl story with you. Last night, in front of thousands of people, Anahi Alvarez gave her Homecoming Queen crown to her friend, Lillian Skinner. Lillian, described as sweet and innocent, was targeted by mean girls and told she’d been nominated as Homecoming Queen, which wasn’t true. When her friends, Anahi Alvarez, and Naomi Martinez, who were nominated as Homecoming Queen, found out, they vowed that if they won the crown, they’d give it to Lillian. Watch the amazing report here:   Today, I’m happy to award the first Strong Girl Commendation Award to Strong Girls Anahi Alvarez, Namoi Martinez and Lillian Skinner. Do you know a Strong Girl who should receive this award? Let me know and I’ll honor her here. Tweet this: Alvarez, Martinez and Skinner show us what it means to be Strong...

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My philosophy of education

I’m at that point in my degree program where I have to submit a philosophy of education to my portfolio. I thought I’d share it with you here and I’m eager to hear your thoughts! Karla Akins Western Governors University Bachelor of Arts Special Education K-12 and Elementary K-6 Licensure Track I come from a long line of educators. My father was a high school teacher and my ancestors built one of the first school houses in Pennsylvania, where it still stands in Halifax. My formal experience in teaching began when I was a twelve-year-old teacher’s aide in a preschool classroom. “Busy Bees” had a loving, nurturing teacher named Mrs. Reed. By watching her I learned kindness, and what it felt like to see a child go from “not knowing” to “knowing.” I also formed my philosophy from the good and bad teachers I had as a child. My bad teachers taught me the importance of compassion. My good teachers taught me to look for the reasons behind a child’s behavior. I was fidgety in school, and until my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Strecker, discovered that boredom was the reason for my disruptiveness, I was often in trouble. Instead of punishing or embarrassing me, she kept me meaningfully engaged. Because I’m the parent of three children on the autism spectrum who struggled with academics, I’m a firm believer in searching for an open window into a child’s understanding. I enjoy the challenge of discovering the key that unlocks concepts for students. I’m also drawn to children with difficult behavior. I believe that behavior is communication, and I relish in decoding what challenging students are trying to say. I believe that lessons in the classroom should be meaningful and engaging for all students. If they aren’t, it’s a recipe for undesirable conduct. I have a tongue-in-cheek motto: “You can’t teach a moving target.” Most young people have a fascination with something that will keep them engaged. Using that fascination, I believe, is the key to keeping their attention and motivating them to participate with success. Regardless of ability, all students have gifts inside them that I, as a teacher, am responsible for unwrapping. A good teacher will focus on abilities and gifts of a student to enhance and strengthen weak areas. This goes hand in hand with using a child’s fascinations and obsessions to motivate them to learn. When children experience success, they gain the courage and esteem to try new things and practice skills they are weak in. My passion as a teacher is to be an enthusiastic encourager. By focusing on strengths, cheering students on through positive reinforcement, I’m able to build trusting relationships with my students, who...

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