Friday, December 2, 2016

Celebrating new friends, new challenges and many holidays

Hello families!

I hope that the holiday season is going well for your family. Things in the SRC are forever changing and exciting! Below is some information about the new and exciting things your child has been exploring this month:

New friends
We've had some change within our classroom in the last few weeks. We've added three new friends to our class, and one friend moved away. This has meant learning names of new friends, and processing saying goodbye to someone we'd come to know. This has also meant that our schedule has changed a few times this fall. I am so proud of how well all 13 of our students handled these changes! Nice work friends!

New challenges
As I spoke to many of you about at conferences, kindergarten and first grade are years JAM-PACKED with exciting learning! In the beginning of the year, we spend a lot of time helping the kids learn their new school routines. This means we helped them do a lot of things hand-over-hand, or with some physical assistance. Now that we've been in school a few months though, we are increasing our expectations for independence. It has been so amazing to see the challenges our little ones are rising to! We are opening doors for one another, putting on coats, zipping coats, fastening pants, writing... the list is endless! There are so many skills that our kids are completing independently--what could you work on at home? How many ways can you continue to help your child grow?

Thanksgiving Shopping and Cooking
This year we tried something completely brand new for our Thanksgiving feast--we shopped for our needed items! This was a new challenge for our group, and some great instruction on the bigger picture of this exciting holiday. On Friday, the 18th, we walked to Walmart and purchased our assigned items. Each student had a shopping list that told them the ingredients they were responsible for--this was great practice for helping with grocery shopping at home!

On Tuesday, the 22nd, we had all our necessary ingredients, recipes and supplies, and we were ready to cook! All month long, we talked about the process of cooking, and the idea that even if we don't like the foods, we can be good helpers and cook them, and let them sit on our plates. All of the kids did a WONDERFUL job with this! Most of our friends tried new foods, and all of them safely tolerated the foods on their plates! Nice job guys!

Cooking is exciting!

Many holidays and celebrations
This season brings many diverse reasons to celebrate for the many families that make up our Sexton Mountain and SRC communities. As we discussed at conferences, we talk generally about lots of holidays that kids may participate in or be exposed to. While the holiday season is filled with joy and merriment for many people, it can also be a stressful time--particularly for children, and most especially for children impacted by disabilities. Sometimes it is easy to forget that while decoration or celebration is fun and exciting, it may also be overwhelming or just too different for some kids.

In no way do I suggest NOT celebrating or NOT exposing kids to the holidays. I just like to make sure kids are prepared! This season is fun, and even if your family celebrates in non-traditional ways, these mainstream traditions are something they are potentially going to be exposed to in their community for many years to come!

So in the SRC, we try to prepare our kids for what they may see. We have social stories and activities for:
            -Bright lights on houses
            -Trees INSIDE houses
            -Different decorations
            -Different songs on the radio
            -New foods
            -Eating at the dinner table
            -New smells
            -Visiting people we don’t see very often
            -New people in our house
            -Different people that we see, like Santa Claus
            -Getting and giving presents
            -Lots of “home days” and less time at school

With direct instruction on what to expect, and how we can calmly and safely participate (or politely decline), often times we see that the holiday season tends to go much smoother for families. Over the next month, your student will participate in activities designed to help them understand the changes in the community that they will be exposed to, and cope with those changes. In no way will we be providing any religious instruction, rather, social instruction on how to navigate the holiday season. If you have any questions or concerns about the holiday season, and how we intend to handle it, please let me know. Also, if you would like input on how to further prepare your child at home, feel free to ask.

One last note about holidays… this season tends to bring out the best and the worst in all of us. Even if things are happy and peaceful, we often will feel a little more anxiety about things that need to be done, or expectations we set for ourselves. This holiday season, keep in mind that your little ones notice your stress level (even when it is good stress). Allow yourself to enjoy those fun, exciting activities, but also remember to take time for those comforting routines.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Transforming Timid Eaters: Encouraging Healthy Habits

I'm thrilled to announce that we were awarded the Beaverton Education Foundation's Classroom Innovation Grant!

More about the grant:
Often students on the autism spectrum have an extremely limited diet. At school we are able to slowly introduce and increase exposure to new and healthier food options. If students can begin the process of healthier eating in elementary school, we can help set them up to live a more balanced lifestyle.

Research indicates that children impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) tend to be "picky" eaters. This is due to a variety of reasons, but it is thought to be in large part due to sensitivity to a variety of sensory stimuli--which is a defining characteristic of ASD. This project gives us funding to supply the foods and materials needed to help children work through sensory sensitivity and defensiveness to increase their exposure to foods, reduce anxiety about known and novel foods, and hopefully to encourage children to accept and eat new foods. With this project, not only can we reduce the fear and trepidation about mealtimes by explicitly teaching about food and its textures, but also to encourage more typical social behaviors about food as well as encourage a well rounded and healthy diet. We have worked on these skills in the past and parents have expressed their amazement at the progress their children make. 

We will increase children's tolerance to food by explicitly teaching a proximity to food model. The model moves from the least intrusive exposure to food (being in the same area as the food) along a scale to where students will chew the food (same area, touch with hand, smell, hold, kiss, lick, bite then chew). Each new skill is explicitly pre-taught in an area without the new food. Students are taught about the skill and the food in an area that is neutral and calm, so that when introduced during mealtime, the new skills are more practiced. We will then guide students through each level of exposure to help them grow with each new food. 

Throughout the year, we will chart each new food we try with each student, and include what level they reach on the proximity scale. This will give us an accurate representation of how many foods they gain, as well as how much their proximity increases.

We ate carrots!
We have started! Today was the first day of our "food of the week" program. Today our target food was carrots. We described carrots..."crunchy", "cold", "orange" and then got to look at carrots and where they come from. We picked up and felt carrots fresh from the garden with stems. We got to discover that carrots came in a variety of colors.

Then came the big moment! Touching, smelling and kissing a carrot! ALMOST EVERYONE was successful in kissing the carrot this first day! Many students took it a step further, using their proximity visuals to lick or bite the carrot! Wow! I am so proud of our little friends! They were so motivated to see that they were earning stickers for their bravery, and everyone loved the round of applause they received when they tried the new food! Hopefully this will help you introduce carrots at home! Happy weekend!

Feeling the carrots and getting ready for a kiss

Exploring new textures

Biting the carrot was scary, but we did it!

Kissing the carrot, using the visual to see the goal


We love earning for our bravery!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Plumper Pumpkin Patch

We had an incredible pumpkin patch field trip last week! The rain held off just long enough for us to enjoy a beautiful fall day at the farm! Our kids loved learning about different kinds of pumpkins and farm animals. We rode on the hay ride and even got to watch a pig race! Our kids loved rolling pumpkins like in our fall song, "5 little pumpkins"! We are painting the pumpkins we got and will send them home for you to enjoy this week!

Monday, October 10, 2016

When tragedy strikes...

Last week was an especially tough one for several members of our community and neighboring communities. The Greenway elementary family tragically lost a few members last week, and Hurricane Matthew brought forth quite a bit of destruction for long distance families on the east coast.

As I talked with parents and supporting family last week, I discovered that many of us had close connections to these and other tragedies that we were reeling from. While often our kids are less aware of these bigger picture situations, they are quite receptive to you and your feelings.

Please know that we are here to be a support to your children in any way that we can be. What that looks like may be different for each student, but we want to help our kids lead the happiest fullest lives possible. For some students, that may mean some extra quiet time at school, for others, that may mean some extra work for home to help support them with additional structure during rough times--whatever it may be, if you feel like you need some additional support for your student during a time of crisis, please be sure to let us know.

As we get further into the school year, our expectations for kids start to rise as we challenge them in lots of new ways, but our primary goal is to make sure they feel safe and comfortable in their school community.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Routines at school and routines at home

Daily Routines

As you know, routines are very important for children in the SRC. At school, we have a very structured day, and have many functional routines in place to help our students be as independent as possible. Part of our daily arrival routine includes unpacking his/her own backpack. Every morning, students will place their notebooks in a basket, their folders in a basket, and their journals in their desks. It will help their morning routine run smoothly if you can help them make sure that these items travel to and from school every day. However, these are great resources for you as well! The notebook is for communication between you and I, to fill in some of those missing pieces our students may need help communicating. The folder is for us to send home important information, and some great school work! The journal is where your child will tell you about his day! A great idea for families is to make reviewing these 3 items part of their evening routine--especially the journal! This is a great way to engage your child in conversation about his day!

This is your child's fall journal on his/her desk with a sample schedule. He/she will write in this journal every afternoon. Please return it to school each day. At winter break, you can keep this journal at home, we will have a new one in January.

This is where your child will place his/her notebook and folder. Please make sure to return these items to school each day.

Lost and Found

Are you missing something? We have a few sweatshirts and a water bottle here and we don't know who they belong to. We try our best to remember who was wearing which coat on each day, but since many of our kids are the same size and aren't always able to tell us which one is theirs, we sometimes loose track of which is which. If you recognize one of these items let me know so I can get it home to it's owner. This is a also a good time to remind everyone that writing a name or initials on the tag of a coat is a huge help! Especially on days when we have chilly mornings and warm afternoons--we want to make sure sweatshirts get packed in the right backpacks!