SMART inspires success for my son with autism
By Colette Retrosi
To give you a bit of background, in 2004, when I was pregnant with Luc, I had to be in a wheelchair because he was a high-risk pregnancy. At that time, I wrote a grant for a SMART Board interactive whiteboard and became an instant enthusiast. During Luc’s delivery, he experienced a stroke, and as a result, suffered some right-side deficits and epilepsy. I taught him sign language and he had intensive physical therapy. We were hypersensitive to his development and needs, and I started noticing atypical behaviors around the age of 14 months. These included obsessions with anything that spins, long-endured repetitive behaviors, speech delays, compulsions, and he was fixated on lining up everything from toys to food.
At the time, in 2005, I was teaching seventh-grade, including Special Education for students with learning disabilities, emotional disturbance, Asperger’s/autism, and mental retardation at Shenandoah County Public Schools. And then, a year later, Luc was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), at the age of 22 months, and the doctors recommended early intervention. Luc’s obsessions and compulsions became too much to handle after a while, and with the help of my school district, we wrote a grant for in-home services, which I was awarded. Luc began receiving assistance based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis. The Matthew’s Center for Visual Learning out of Harrisonburg, VA worked with my son every day in our home. I am grateful that we were able to take advantage of what they offer as I am learning that quality services for children with autism are rare.
I realized that I needed a career change so that I could focus on Luc’s needs. Through my networks, I pursued a job as a SMART Reseller Education Consultant and started working for Street & Co Audio Visual out of Richmond, Virginia, in 2009. By this time, Luc was found eligible through the school district for special education services. The Matthews Center assimilated into that role as he was not ready to be in a preschool classroom. His in-home therapists focused on “learning to learn” skills. This included visual performance skills, social play with peers, receptive language, reciprocal conversation, recognizing emotions, and tolerating non-preferred activities or content. I started to realize that many of the activities Matthew’s Center was providing could also be completed using SMART products. My company had a demo SMART Table interactive learning center, which was in need of tech support, so I volunteered to work on it and decided to write Activity Packs for Luc.
I met with Taryn Goodwin, Program Coordinator/Behavior Analyst for the Matthew’s Center Outreach Program (seen in the photo to the left, with Luc). We wrote content for SMART Notebook collaborative learning software and the SMART Table using Luc’s goals and the VB-MAPP by Mark L. Sundberg, Ph.D.
Some of our SMART activities included the following:
- Feature, function, class: Luc was very rigid with specific information. It was hard to generalize “things that fly” and “things that drive.” He cried when he had to sort monster trucks and race cars in the same group! We used the Table “Media” application and Notebook software to focus on this skill.
- Expressive Language – labeling (tacting): This builds communication skills for word recall. The SMART Table “Hot Spots” and “Hot Spaces” as well as SMART Notebook Lesson Activity Toolkit helped us create many activities using preferred content.
- Visual Performance – Matching to Sample: This extended Luc’s flexibility, willingness to try new things, tolerating errors, and accepting assistance. We used the SMART Document Camera to capture images of common objects which we imported to a SMART Gallery to create patterns that Luc had to replicate. He also had to imitate up to a five-component sequence that he could perform on the SMART Board interactive whiteboard or the SMART Table.
- Intraverbal – Fill-ins, What-Who-Where Questions: We used the SMART Table Application “Multiple Choice” to prompt Luc to complete fill-in-the-blank questions. Using the “Media” application, we modeled questioning and taught Luc to do the same. This evolved to some SMART Notebook activities as well.
- Social Behavior and Play: Luc does not innately possess appropriate social behaviors. We had to teach him how to compliment others, take turns, tolerate others’ interests and choices, and pretend play. This required direct instruction, role playing, and frequent practice. We recruited peers who were willing and able to reinforce behaviors for Luc so that he had valid examples. The SMART Table naturally lends itself to these goals since it requires consensus as users must cooperate to achieve all outcomes from starting/ending activities to answering multiple choice questions. We created activity packs based on topics of Luc’s interests.
Luc was dismissed from special education services early in his kindergarten year. I believe that the use of SMART products enhanced the curriculum he needed to be successful. At his school, he has earned the nickname “Junior SMART.” This year, his first grade teacher, Mrs. Terri Brandon (seen with Luc and me in the photo to the right), has a SMART Table, a SMART Board and SMART Response interactive response system in the classroom as well as a laptop station. She uses them for everything from attendance to formative assessments, taking polls, centers, small group practice, enrichment, and remediation. Students in her class are comfortable using the SMART Board and Table independently. Luc assists others in use of these products and a student teacher recently awarded Luc for being so helpful. I am grateful to his teacher for empowering him in his technology strengths and for her interactive teaching style. Luc has thrived in this environment.
Thanks to the Matthew’s Center, the use of SMART products in teaching him invaluable skills, and the efforts of his school, we are confident in Luc’s bright future. Today, Luc looks like any other “normal” first-grader. He plays soccer and full-tackle football, goes golfing with his dad, performs above grade level in all academics, and has a large circle of friends. He is a whiz with Legos and Erector sets, enjoys painting with acrylics, loves playing games, and is still quite obsessed with anything on wheels!
About the author:
Colette Retrosi holds her BS in English, M.Ed. in School Administration and a Virginia Teaching license for grades K-12 and English. She has taught all subjects in grades K-7 including Special Education for students with learning disabilities, emotional disturbance, traumatic brain injury, Asperger’s/autism, and mental retardation. Colette was recognized as a SMART Exemplary Edu cator in January of 2008 and is a SMART Certified Master Trainer. She is currently pursuing NETS*T certification. Retrosi is a member of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and has presented at the VSTE annual conference and NECC 2009 (now ISTE), in addition to multiple share fairs across the U.S. East Coast. She coordinates an annual SMART User conference, Virginia GOALS, where hundreds of teachers meet for SMART professional development. Retrosi’s presentation files and lesson content are available on the SMART Exchange website and on her own website, Getting Street SMART, where they have been downloaded and used by thousands. She fosters the belief that the use of SMART products delivers three dime nsional instruction, promoting multi-modality learning.
Retrosi recently left the classroom to accept a position as an Education Consultant for Street & Co. Audio Visual out of Richmond, VA. She enjoys working with school districts to discover interactive technology solutions, providing professional development to teachers across the state and sharing her enthusiasm for all things SMART!