Accessible for students with autism
By Cindy Savio
To recognize National Autism Awareness Month in the US, I wanted to share my experience teaching autistic students with SMART products. I teach a class with 23 Kindergartners, six of them with special needs. Three of them are diagnosed with autism. Kindergarten has changed so much over the years, it is now predominately academic. This means that all of my students are expected to leave my class reading and writing. Along with this I am expected to assess all of my students every week in Language Arts and Mathematics. All assessment scores are recorded and tracked. Teaching and assessing my three autistic students would have been extremely difficult if I had not used the SMART Board interactive whiteboard as a personal tablet for each of them!
My autistic children have sensory issues and disgraphia, which means they have difficulty thinking and writing at the same time, therefore they need assistance and a non-threatening way to do their work. I developed their lessons so that all of their work is broken down into simple steps and they have fewer choices from which to choose.
For example, the student draws a journal illustration on the SMART Board and then points and tells me what it is. We do what I call sharing the pen when we draw because the autistic children find it difficult to draw, and by taking turns, we keep them from getting frustrated. I then write on the board what the student says. If the student is non-verbal, I write and say the word, for the picture. My students love the text recognition feature in SMART Notebook collaborative learning software, because when I click on the word that I wrote on the SMART Board, it recognizes the word and changes it to text – my kids are amazed every time. Next, the student and I mix up the words and he or she pulls the words down in order to put them into a sequential thought. The journal page is then saved into the student’s folder on the SMART Board and labeled “ student’s name – April Journal.”
Each student may choose to write with the SMART Board pens, a junior-sized tennis ball, or with their fingers. This choice of methods is extremely important because these children have difficulties with the fine motor skills involved in writing. Because drawing is also a huge challenge for them, I ask them what they are going to draw and pull down the Shapes Tool on the SMART Board. The student then suggests the shapes to use for the drawing.
For example, there might be a dog in the story. I make the shapes and the children put them together and add the details to their choice to make a dog or a house or whatever they suggest. Because by this time in the school year my students are familiar and confident with the SMART Board, they are choosing and making their own shapes. It is fascinating to watch them become risk takers on the SMART Board compared to when they are given a piece of paper, which usually ends up crumpled on the floor!
For assessment, I use the SMART Response interactive response system and create all of their questions using SMART Response. I limit the responses to only three specific choices.
For example, when assessing to see if they can pick out beginning sounds for a specific picture, I ask “What letter does house begin with?” I put only three choices such as: 1. B, 2. H, or 3. T. I have found that with autistic children, choices work best when limited to two or three at most. After picking out the correct response, the student writes the letter on the SMART Board.
It is amazing to me how much progress each of my autistic students made once I took away the paper, pencils and crayons and used the SMART Board as their main tool along with the SMART Response clickers. Even their classmates compliment them when they share their SMART journal entries because they recognize the confidence these children display when using the SMART Board.
About the Author
Cindy Savio teaches kindergarten at Cameron Elementary School in Alexandria Virginia. She’s been a kindergarten teacher for 22 years and taught Language Delayed Kindergarten three years before that. Savio has also taught various special education classes from kindergarten through high school. A nine-year SMART Board veteran, Savio became a SMART Exemplary Educator seven years ago and attended the first SMART Exemplary Educator Summit at SMART’s Headquarters in Calgary Canada, in 2009.
Over the last seven years, Savio has given various SMART Presentations in several different school districts and has been presenting in Wilmington, Delaware for the past four years. She recently developed a web site, http://www.cindygarten.com, where she shares many of her SMART Content created Lessons. Savio was a candidate for the 1999 State Teacher of the Year for Fairfax County.
I have been a teacher for 33 years and I still love it because I get to use the SMART Board, create all my own lessons and share them with many teachers.
~ Cindy Savio