Autism Seminar Notes Part 10

Three classifications

  • Socially Avoidant
  • Socially Indifferent
  • Socially Awkward 


Socially Avoidant:

  • Minimal interaction
  • Turning or walking away
  • Fear of unexpected touch
  • May be hypersensitive to another’s voice or smells 


Socially Indifferent: 

  • Doesn’t seek interaction with others
  • Interaction increases when “wants and needs” are necessary
  • Will initiate rather than respond 


Socially Awkward:

  • Most common category
  • Want to experience social engagement but lack the skills
  • History of being excluded or left out
  • Lack reciprocity in social interaction
  • Poor conversation skills


Social Emotional Issue #1:


  • Unsafe use of playground equipment
  • “Aggressive” with peers
  • Disrupts others’ games 


Why is this occurring? 

  • Sensory seeking
  • Difficulty controlling body movements
  • Poor modulation
  • Lack of social skills for play 



  • Practice safe use of equipment
  • Provide and review a written list of playground rules
  • Pair student with a peer model
  • Review playground performance and offer immediate feedback 
  • Alert the playground supervisor of the student with special needs
  • Be aware of signs and signals of over-arousal 
  • Student may need additional adult supervision 


Social-Emotional Issue #2

BEHAVIOR: Making rude or inappropriate comments

Why is this occurring? 

  • Decreased perspective taking
  • Deficits in verbal communication  (receptive and expressive) 
  • Difficulty with social pragmatics 
  • Challenges reading nonverbal signals from others 



  • Prepare other students for their reaction (ignore or model appropriate behavior) 
  • Identify pattern and be prepared to help the student 
  • Make your immediate feedback and be specific 
  • Practice the social interaction 


Social-Emotional Issue #3

BEHAVIOR: Difficulty accepting criticism or help

Why does this happen?

  • Concrete thinking interferes 
  • Perfectionism/control
  • Anxiety increases



  • Maintain a calm, quiet voice
  • Avoid “black and white” words such as “wrong” 
  • Use qualifiers (“very close” or “almost”)
  • Try writing your corrections or assistance rather than talking 
  • Prepare peers to expect such behavior and disregard or encourage if appropriate  

Autism Seminar Notes Part 9

Routine & Academics Issue #1

BEHAVIOR: Messy desk and losing homework 

Why is this occurring? Planning deficits, visual processing problems, & poor motor skills



  • Give entire class an organizational review
  • In the AM, take time to walk student through process of getting materials out of backpack, handing in homework, etc. then fade your prompts 
  • Have a peer buddy help father materials at the end of the day
  • Consider using accordion file folder rather than 3-ring 
  • Copy teacher’s transparencies
  • Takes teacher/parent communication 


Routine & Academics Issue #2

BEHAVIOR: Inattentive/off-task or not following directions in and out of class

Why is this occurring? 

  • Too much verbal information
  • Difficulty terminating and transitioning
  • Auditory and visual distractions 
  • Daydreaming or shut-down due to sensory overload or fatigue 



  • Visual supports
  • Hand fidgets
  • Oral strategies 
  • Seat near the teacher or away from distractions 
  • Alert student that directions are forthcoming
  • Check to ensure student is starting assignment, art, or PE activity correctly 
  • Keep language simple and concrete
  • Allow time for processing 


Routine & Academics Issue #3

BEHAVIOR: Problems Riding on the Bus or in the Car

  • Student leaves his or her seat
  • Can be disruptive
  • Refuses to get on/off the bus or in/out of the car




  • Allow plenty of time in the morning for student to engage in his/her routine
  • Provide something familiar to occupy the child (iPod, book, toy) for the ride to and from school
  • Give him or her a closed-ended task/game to play during the ride
  • Seat near the bus driver
  • Bring a friend to meet him or her or walk to the bus 
  • Bring a favorite item to carry back to the classroom upon arrival
  • Take something special home to “show and tell” to parents—don’t just put it in his or her backpack 






Autism Seminar Notes Part 8

Avoidance and Retreat

  • Over-responsive to sensation
  • May respond to touch with aggression or fear
  • May appear anxious and unwilling to take chances
  • Avoids crowded areas
  • Can be picky eaters
  • Decreased peer and social relations 


Avoidance and Retreat Issue #1

BEHAVIOR: Covering Ears

Why is this occurring?

  •  Noise in the environment is perceived as painful, irritating, or confusing
  • Student has difficulty screening out extraneous information and is overwhelmed 
  • Can be a “passive” resistive behavior to refuse work 



  • Give student a “heads-up” to alarms, bells, etc.
  • Allow the use of headphones in class, during assemblies, on the bus, or on playground  
  • Provide quiet space for “noise break”
  • Help student label his emotional reaction
  • Use a positive reinforcement strategy


Avoidance and Retreat #2

BEHAVIOR: Putting head down, “shutting down,” or running away in class, during PE, or at recess

Why is this occurring? 

  • Anticipating his or her over-reactivity to sensation, he becomes avoidant and doesn’t participate in academics and social opportunities  
  • Unaware of the rules of the games
  • Aware that motor skills are hard for him—becomes avoidant



  • Prepare the student for the activity (social story)
  • Positively reinforce participation in a stimulating activity 
  • Give student time to collect himself
  • “Front-load” the student–practice the games and activities for PE and recess  
  • Allow an “approach/avoid” pattern—it’s OK to take a break and return to the activity 


Difficulty with Routine and Academics

  • Internal Issues:
  1. Lacking adequate skills
  2. Not understanding
  3. Fear of being teased, left out, misunderstood 


  • External Issues:
  1. Change in the physical environment
  2. Change in routine
  3. Having to wait too long 


  • Environmental Confusion: crowds & excessive visual/auditory clutter 
  • Organizational Concerns: desk, backpack, & homework
  • Sensory Issues: may impact ability to focus on academic, PE, play






Autism Seminar Notes Part 7

What does sensory processing have to do with learning and behavior at school? Necessary for systems to work together in an organized manner or major traffic jam! 


Sensory Processing Dysfunction

  • Sensory Modulation Disorders (SMD)
  1. Sensory Over-Responsive (SOR)
  2. Sensory Under-Responsive (SUR)
  3. Sensory Seeking (SS) 


  • Sensory Discrimination Disorders
  • Sensory Based Movement Disorders: Dyspraxia and Postural 


Not all children with a sensory processing disorder has autism, but all children with autism have sensory issues. 


How Can We Best Categorize The Concerning Behaviors?

  1. Movement Issues
  2. Avoidance and Retreat Behaviors
  3. Difficulty with Routine and Academics
  4. Social-Emotional 


Where do we see these behaviors?

  • Inside the classroom
  • Outside the classroom—arriving, in line, leaving school
  • PE and Playground
  • Art, Music, Assemblies
  • Pull-Out Services
  • Lunchtime and Snack 


Movement Issues

  • Student appears to be under-aware of his body and environmental stimuli
  • Student may be defensive to touch
  • Student appears to be hyperactive, or a “sensory seeker” 
  • May be labeled as “aggressive” with peers 


Movement Issue #1: 


  • Out of seat
  • Wiggling
  • Fidgeting

Why is occuring? 

  • Student craves movement
  • May be attempt to maintain arousal state 



  • Movement breaks
  • Allow student to stand at the desk
  • Hand fidgets
  • Seat cushion device
  • Oral strategies
  • “Calm Down Breathing” 


Movement Issue #2


  • Breaking pencils or canyons
  • Extremely dark lettering
  • Messy dark
  • Can’t keep up with written work 


What is the cause?

  • Touch and force systems are under-aware
  • Attempt to self-regulate by drawing and writing darkly 
  • Poor fine motor skills lead to frustration



  • Use heavier writing utensils that won’t break
  • Use heavier stock paper
  • Use a mechanical pencil
  • Try keyboarding
  • Peer scribe
  • Supply handouts, use highlighter 


Movement Issue #3


  • Doesn’t line up in time
  • Wanders away from group
  • Pokes or pushes other students
  • “Aggressive” during PE and on playground 


Why is this occurring? 

  • Challenges with waiting
  • Lack of awareness of environmental cues
  • Student is sensory seeking 



  • Reduce waiting time/limit turn taking
  • Assign a consistent place in line
  • Have motor restless child act as door holder
  • Give the student something to hold in his hands while standing and walking in line
  • Practice walking to various locations on campus to build a visual memory map 
  • Review the play and line rules
  • Provide positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior 


Movement Breaks in Class

  • Theraband
  • Move ‘n Sit cushion
  • Semi-inflated beach ball
  • Classroom helper
  • Push-Pulls
  • Chair lifts
  • Wall push-ups 


Movement Breaks Out of Class

  • Messenger
  • Playground activities 
  • Custodial helper 


Some Ideas for Hand Fidgets

  • Squeeze balls
  • Koosh balls
  • Rubber bands
  • Tangles
  • Hair bands
  • Textured fabric
  • Stretchy bracelets 


Oral Regulators

  • Jolly Ranchers
  • Spicy, crunchy, chewy snacks
  • Ice
  • Straws
  • Stir sticks 
  • Water bottle with thin or long straw
  • Gum 

Autism Seminar Notes Part 6

At the seminar, Beth Aune, an occupational therapist, presented behavior solutions in and beyond the inclusive classroom. 


  • Growing emphasis on the inclusion of disabled students into the general education population. 
  • Over the past few decades, U.S. students enrolled in special education programs has risen (National Education Association) 
  • Three out of every four students with a disability spend part of all of their day in a general education classroom (National Education Association)  


Common Labels

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Asperger’s syndrome 
  • Sensory Processing Disorder
  • Tourette’s
  • Learning Disability 


Common Characteristics:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Distractibility and inattentiveness
  • Impulsivity
  • Difficulty with self-control
  • Emotional instability 
  • Poor peer relations and social interaction
  • Low self-image
  • Weak expressive and receptive language
  • Poor handwriting
  • Poor organizational skills 


What do Educators Need?

  • Please? No more boring theory!
  • Help me understand what I am seeing
  • Help me understand why it is happening
  • Give me tools to help my student 


Sensory Processing—A Review by Dr. Lucy Miller

Sensory processing refers to the way in which the CNS and the peripheral nervous system manage incoming sensory information. The reception, modulation, integration, and organization of sensory stimuli, including the behavioral responses to sensory input are all components of sensory processing. 


Sensory Systems

  • Sight (visual)
  • Hearing (auditory)
  • Taste (gustatory)
  • Smell (olfactory)
  • Touch (tactile)
  • Movement (vestibular) 
  • Muscle awareness (proprioceptive)


Visual System

  • Most relied upon sense for orientation in space
  • Receptors are in rods and cones in the retina
  • Mediates a number of protective and postural responses 
  • Perceptual—how the brain interprets visual information
  • Motor—how the extraocular muscles work, including binocular (two eyes), tracking, and scanning


Auditory System 

  • Receptors are in the cochlea, transmitted from hair cells through cranial nerve
  • Has own set of reflexes related to protective behavior
  • Connects to the reticular formation
  • Evokes responses in the autonomic nervous system  


Gustatory System

  • Receptors are located in the tongue, soft palate, and upper regions of the throat
  • Sweet, sour, salty, bitter 
  • Chemical and somatosensory experience for eating and protection 


Olfactory System

  • Receptors are in specialized epithelium in the roof of the nasal cavity
  • Stimuli go directly into the amygdala of the limbic system 
  • May elicit emotional responses or primal behavior associated with survival  


Vestibular System

  • Works as a team with the visual system
  • Receptors are in the semicircular canals
  • Sensitive to head movement 
  • Rotary acceleration or declaration 
  • Utricle and saccule sense the direction of gravitational pull 


Tactile System

  • Receptors in the skin
  • Works with proprioceptive system to influence development and awareness of body scheme
  • Two functions:
  1. Discriminative—touch, pressure, vibration. Tactile discrimination identifies spatial and temporal qualities of stimuli    
  2. Protective—produces sympathetic arousal and directs input to reticular formation. Pain, temperature, tickle, itch 


Proprioceptive System

  • Receptors are deep in muscle spindles, Golgi tendons, and joints
  • Understanding of where joints and muscles are in space 
  • Works with vestibular system to give sense of balance and position 
  • Works with tactile system to coordinate posture and movement of limbs 
  • Neck joints and proximal limb joints give most feedback to CNS
  • Powerful therapeutic tool! 



Autism Seminar Notes Part 5

At the autism seminar, I also saw Sean Barron speaking about unwritten rules of social relationships. He was also an amazing speaker. Here’s what I learned from him:


Unwritten Rule #1: Rules are not absolute. They are situation-based and people-based. People should handle situations properly. 

Unwritten Rule #2: Not everything is equally important in the grand scheme of things. Many people with autism have a hard time having a healthy perspective on things. Certain things have to be prioritize. 

Unwritten Rule #3: Everyone in the world makes mistakes. They don’t have to ruin your day. Don’t expect to be perfect. People with autism have a hard time accepting mistakes, but they have to learn from them. They need to let things go and move on. Life is not perfect. They need to be objective, not blow things out of proportion or stress over unimportant things.  

Unwritten Rule #4:  Honesty is different from diplomacy. Some people with autism can be very blunt and direct. They need to know their boundaries when it comes to honesty. 

Unwritten Rule #5: Being polite is appropriate in any situation. 

Unwritten Rule #6: Not everyone who is nice to me is my friend. Some people want instant results. Some people may take advantage of people with autism or be a bad influence on them. People with autism have to learn body language. 

Unwritten Rule #7: People act differently in public than they do in private. 

Unwritten Rule #8: Know when you’re turning people off.   

Unwritten Rule #9: “Fitting in” is often tied to looking and sounding like you fit in.

Unwritten Rule #10: People are responsible for their own behaviors.