| | Re: EFL and Autism
I am working in Italy at an international school and am the learning resources teacher. We are 3 weeks into school and there is a boy in the 1st grade who is undiagnosed but displaying signs of autism. This is his first year at the school (last year he was at a kindergarten in Slovenia) and at home they speak Dutch and Italian and our school is full-immersion English. As you can imagine, he is having a difficult time since he came here speaking absolutely no English. He is picking up English quickly in ESL with one-on-one instruction and is very bright, but he falls apart in a classroom, whole-group setting. The behaviors he presents are definitely not just those of an ELL child though. He has a lot of sensory defiicits (i.e. rocking, putting pressure on his head, looking at things upside down, craving humming and noise-making, putting inedible things such as sand and gravel in his mouth, lack of awareness of body, he "checks out" in both English and Italian often, doesn't make eye contact, talks randomly and often in his own little world in Italian, his native language, hits and touches peers inappropriately) and I am convinced he is on the spectrum although an Italian co-worker who is a psychologist (although not one for the school) believes it is clinical and comes from a lack of parental involvement. To me it goes further than just a lack of involvement though and any child who was developing normally would have picked up on social cues from peers which he is not doing.
Anyways, I meet with his mother today who says she doesn't notice anything abnormal about him at home (?!). Autism is not so accepted here and so I plan on not saying anything about that but rather on focusing on the behaviors and interventions.
So, some of the interventions that I have been doing with him are:
-visual schedules- I have made visual schedules for the entire day which I have "chunked" into parts from Morning Routine, to ESL, to Mid-Morning, to Snack and Morning Recess to Literacy Lesson, etc. Each of these chunks is broken down into tasks, no more than 6 tasks per chunk. So, for example, for Morning Routine he has to put away back pack, hang up coat, sign in and circle his "feeling", pick books and put them on his desk, and sit down on the carpet for morninsong.
-He also has checklists for appropriate behaviors. For example, his Carpet Time checklist with pictures to accompany each expectation: learning position, hands to self, stay in location, eyes on teacher. These expectations are on a visual and everything on it attached to velcro and as he does them he sticks on the velcro image.
-He also has a paper checklist for everyday which we (his teacher, the assistant and I) check off and he gets a sticker for completing tasks. This is also good for keeping a record of his behavior to report to parents and to keep track of improvement, etc.
-Visuals- he is low-level English and autistic, visuals are key. Have visuals for schedules and behavior checklists. Use appropriate visuals, so for example, if you want him to sit learning position on the carpet, use a picture of a child specifically sitting exactly the way you want on a carpet, not just a picture of someone sitting any old way (on a chair), be specific.
-positive reinforcement- in his case, stickers. He likes stickers and knows that he gets them for completing the tasks.
-motor skills- he needs fine and gross motor skill development. Fine motor- clay (develop hand muscles), sand (picking it up, tracing, feeling it), ball (squeeze it), practice holding a pencil
Gross motor- throwing, catching, walking in a straight line, picking up things
Sensory- he needs pressure and I am teaching him how to givve appropriate self-pressure (i.e. you cannot do a head-stand in the middle of carpet-time, you will kick people, but you can use your hands to give yourself pressure on your head, that way you don't kick people), etc.
Hope this is helpful. It is good to find someone else who is working with autistic students in a English/International School setting. It is not easy, I will say that, but it is a good challenge, a bit like figuring out a puzzle.