The ASD Nest Egg

strategies to support kids on the autism spectrum

Author: Julia Csillag

The Power of Wordlessness (Part 2 of 2)

The Power of Wordlessness (Part 2 of 2)

by Jules Csillag

 

Last week, you read about the reasons to use wordless texts. Today, learn about how to use these texts, and review a few examples.

 

How?

There are many ways to incorporate wordless “texts” into diverse content areas, including ELA, history, science, SDI, and foreign languages. Some sample activities are listed below:

 

  • Inferences: Any time you present a wordless “text,” you can have students make inferences about characters, setting, problem, etc. For specific inferential questions to ask during some of the movies listed below, read this article from Understood.org.
  • Pause & predict: With an image, book, or movie, you can also work on making predictions. With images, you can try guessing what you think would happen next (allowing for multiple responses); with books or movies you would need to pause, and then you could verify answers afterwards (while still acknowledging if other responses could have been logical and relevant).
  • Thought bubbles and/or speech bubbles: Adding thought bubbles and speech bubbles works on cognitive flexibility, nonverbal communication, and inferences. You can add these to images, put them on post-its into books (or scan books and create Powerpoints or Google Slides from them), or print still images from videos. If students are interested in this task, you can even add words to videos (i.e. dub their voices) using iMovie, Quicktime, or this list of free, online video editing tools.

drawing of a thought bubble

  • Be a co-author: for books, in particular, students can take on the role of author to essentially narrate a story, thereby addressing inferences and text structure. If different groups of students work on the same story, it also inherently addresses cognitive flexibility.
  • Connection building, building up themes: Autistic individuals sometimes have challenges in identifying connections between two things, given a difficulty in central coherence. You can compare two silent “texts” and see how they are similar or different (in how they are made, in topics, etc.), or use a silent text as a jumping off point for a new topic (e.g. begin a unit on immigration with The Arrival; use a “What’s Going on this Picture?” to introduce a new place in a Social Studies unit, etc.), and refer back to this as you delve deeper into the novel topic.
  • Citing evidence: With almost any of the above activities, if students are required to explain why they think that, they will be using (visual) evidence to support a position. As students get older, you can link this to the need to cite evidence across subject areas.

 

What?

a camera icon

 

a book icon

  • Wordless books (arranged by books appropriate from youngest -> oldest readers)
    • Mercer Mayer series: stories about a boy, a dog, and often a frog
    • Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola: the story of a woman who is trying to make pancakes for breakfast
    • Wave by Suzy Lee: the story of  girl at the beach
    • Float by Daniel Miyares: the story of a paper boat
    • Journey series (Journey, Quest, Return) by Aaron Becker: a series of stories about a magic marker & a pair of friends
    • Sector 7 by David Weisner: the story of a cloud factory (also enjoy his other wordless books, Tuesday and Flotsam)
    • The Red Book by Barbara Lehman: the story of a magic book & the two kids who found it
    • Zoom by Istvan Banyai: the book can be read backwards or forwards, and contains some interesting shifts in perspective (for upper elementary+)
    • Sidewalk Flowers by poet JonArno Lawson and illustrator Sydney Smith: the story of a city and its small details (for upper elementary+)
    • The Arrival by Shaun Tan: a long graphic novel about immigration (for middle school+)
    • If you’ll forgive the few words that appear in these books, I’ll also include the minimally verbal books: Blip! by Barnaby Richards and Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

a play button icon to symbolize movies

  • Wordless movies
    • Simon’s Cat series: a series of silent videos of Simon and his trouble-maker cat(s)
    • Oktapodi: an octopus escape/love story
    • Crumbs: a story of two mice trying to get a crumb
    • Snack Attack: a video of an old lady and her snack…with a twist (shout out to SDI Developer Susan Brennan for the recommendation)
    • The Present: a video of a mother, a son, and a present…with a twist (shout out to Jessica Price at PS 165 for the recommendation)
    • Wish Granter: the story of a fountain dweller who grants wishes (shout out to Jessica Arnone at PS 9)
    • Paper Man: a cute NY missed connections story (for older students)
    • Alma: a story of a scary toy store (for older students)
    • Looking for more? Look for Pixar shorts & Oscar-nominated animated films

The Power of Wordlessness (Part 1 of 2)

The Power of Wordlessness (Part 1 of 2)

by Jules Csillag

 

This is the first part of a two-part series on silent books and movies, and pictures. Today, we will look at why to use wordless activities, and next week, learn how to incorporate these into lessons, and read about specific, potential activities.

 

Aside from reducing your language in your classroom, and the importance of using visuals, there are benefits to using wordless texts (where “texts” can mean anything from images to books to movies) to autistic students.

 

Why?

Wordless texts can be used to address a variety of skills that autistic students typically struggle with, including diverse literacy skills, cognitive flexibility, and nonverbal communication. Removing words and auditory information also supports autistic students since integrating information from multiple senses can take longer in autistic individuals, particularly if this information is linguistic. Removing words can therefore positively influence processing (Boddaert et al, 2004, Stevenson, 2014)

 

Using wordless books or movies can build diverse literacy skills in terms of making inferences, understanding narrative structure, and using evidence to support a claim. All wordless “texts” support individuals’ ability to make inferences, which is helpful since research shows that “students with Asperger syndrome…had challenges in making inferences from the text” (Knight & Sartrini, 2014). Moreover, researchers have found that “similar processes contribute to comprehension of narratives across different media” (Kendeou, P. et al, 2009), meaning that addressing visual inferences can transfer to inferences made during reading. Images and silent books or movies necessarily require students to infer what is happening, who the characters are, etc.

a photograph of a wooden bridge over greenish water

An inference is like a bridge between two ideas.

Wordless books and movies are also an effective way of helping students’ reading and writing by helping them understand text structure, especially narrative text structure, which is the understanding that narratives all have similar structures (e.g. character, setting, problem, resolution). Wordless books and movies are an often fun way of teaching text structure, as well as theme, and these skills are worth teaching as they do not always come naturally to students on the spectrum (Zajic et al., 2014, Gately, 2008). Autistic students may also have difficulty citing evidence to support a position, as that requires perspective taking skills and organization of language, which can both be difficult for them. As with inferences, you can use an image to practice this skill (e.g. “I think it is summer because I see the characters sweating and the trees look really green”).

a purple triangle that demonstrates a plot mountain, with beginning/exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and end/resolution labeled left to right.

A plot mountain is one way to demonstrate story structure (Source: readwritethink)

Given that images and wordless books and movies are open to interpretation, they also build cognitive flexibility, since there can often be multiple, logical ways of “reading” visual narratives. This can be helpful since cognitive flexibility is typically an underlying challenge with students with autism (Van Eylen et al., 2011). Cognitive flexibility is important for social situations (since perspective taking relies on cognitive flexibility), for problem-solving (since sometimes you need to attempt more than one solution), and for understanding any “grey areas” or subjective interpretations of an event or text.

 

Removing words also allows individuals to focus on nonverbal communication more. This has two distinct benefits: for one, it targets an underlying challenge many individuals with autism have in processing nonverbal information, “compared with both typical and atypical groups well matched for cognitive development” (Rogers, 2006). Furthermore, when there is a discrepancy between words and facial expressions, individuals with autism tend to give more weight to the words, so removing words naturally emphasizes the nonverbal communication and can thus put it on students’ radar and teach them its various functions (Watanabe et al., 2012). Emotional thermometers (Wesbty, 2004) to expand emotional vocabulary, and link to context, facial expression, tone of voice (where relevant).

 

Stay tuned for next week’s post on how to use wordlessness, and what tools may work!

Hurry Up and Wait!

Hurry Up and Wait!

By Jules Csillag

 

Inspired by my colleague Allison Brown’s post about waiting, I decided to delve deeper into this subject since waiting can be one of the trickiest things to do (at least for me!). As a strategy, wait time can be powerful for autistic children.  Also dubbed “the 30-second rule” or “the 45-second rule,” wait time refers to the idea of providing children with sufficient time to process information, particularly language.

 

Why to wait:

Research on autistic individuals shows that many have difficulty integrating information from multiple senses (e.g. listening and looking simultaneously), particularly when the auditory information is linguistic. Wait time, therefore, aims to provide students with enough time to process information (particularly linguistic information), to produce linguistic information, and to process information in novel situations (which necessarily include many social situations).

 

Wait time also allows for autistic individuals to separate the “signal” (i.e. important information) from the “noise” (i.e. irrelevant information), as studies suggest that autistic brains are both hypo- and hyper-connected when it comes to processing visual or auditory information. While this can require time, it also can mean that some individuals with autism are skilled at seeing or hearing details, that can be beneficial in many ways (e.g. for artists, musicians, designers, engineers, etc.).

 

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Scientists highlight that “the brain of a typical learner quickly allocates information-processing resources to the most salient information with minimal awareness on the part of the learner,” whereas individuals with autism require additional time to determine what is most salient or relevant. Wait time provides this time, although there are ways of supporting salience through visuals and routines as well.

 

Judy Endow, an autistic self-advocate, author, and social worker writes about having to “translate” visual thoughts into words. She writes, “Most of the time these days, after decades of practice, my speaking appears quite fluid, though sometimes a delay is still apparent. It is often hard to translate because the world of English words is much more limited than my visual thought.”

 

yellow hour glass timer with clock on top of it

 

How to wait:

  • Some activities naturally allow for processing time: crafts, sports, and science experiments often include pauses that do not feel contrived.
  • You can also “buy yourself time” by thinking out loud. You can model how you are thinking of solutions or what you are thinking about. For example, if you ask a math question, you can narrate, “I see the word ‘each’ so I think this is a multiplication problem, and that means I’ll set up my work like this…”(while drawing on the board).
  • Use timers– this can help you wait “long enough,” and it signals to students when you are ready to take their responses/questions.
  • Writing: whiteboards, post-its, or other means of writing provide students with time to think and generate new ideas, allows for all students to think at once (total participation!), and can therefore lead to increased participation.
  • Pause while you are speaking or lecturing. While it is not ideal to bombard students with language, sometimes teachers need to speak for a few minutes here and there. While speaking, pause to allow students to think about what you have said, without requiring a question or thought, but just to allow students’ brains to reload.

Share other “waiting” tricks in the comments!

Using Roles and Building Self-Awareness

School is social and for autistic kids, this can be tricky to navigate. Social situations– essentially any situations where space is shared with others– can be difficult because the expectations are not consistently explicit and clear. Throughout the day, students are expected to take on a number of different roles: if a teacher is speaking to the whole class, maybe the student will act as a listener, but in the lunchroom the student may be expected to be a more active participant.

 

Roles help us know what to expect and what is expected of us. Imagine if you walked into a new school and you didn’t know who the principal was, who the custodian was, or who the other teachers were!

 

Group work

Group work can be challenging because people don’t always verbalize the roles that they take on. You can support this in the classroom by making explicit all the jobs that need to be taken on: Who will organize the timeline? Who will find pictures? Who will do the research?

 

Help students build their self-awareness by modeling your own strengths and interests. Label what you see as their strengths, too, but remember to include students in the process of role selection. Encourage students to try roles that they may not be drawn to since this can always lead to a new interest or strength.

 

Jobs

Classroom jobs can be a great way to have students take on explicitly defined roles. These jobs can be used strategically (e.g. students who like to move around can get a job of “delivery person” and students who like numbers can be “calendar helper”), but they are also a great way of modeling how to use strengths to influence roles.

 

In older grades, jobs can take students outside of the classroom; maybe they intern for a coach, or go out into the community to learn while helping others. Recognizing that we all play various roles depending on the context is a useful lesson for everyone, but can be particularly powerful for autistic students, for whom “context” sometimes needs to be highlighted externally.

outline of a person in front of 3 doors

Choices

Whenever possible, allow students to incorporate their interests into activities. Have a student who loves dinosaurs? Let them write dinosaur math problems in math class, and allow them to write a story about a dinosaur (perhaps from a dinosaur’s perspective) in a creative writing ELA unit. Sharing interests are the foundation for friendships, and the more students are encouraged to recognize their own strengths and interests, the more likely they may be to recognize connections between themselves and others. Choices are an excellent way of providing for Multiple Means of Engagement, a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guideline. The goal of UDL is to give “all individuals equal opportunities to learn,” and the engagement guidelines, in particularly, help provide students with a sense of belonging.

 

By middle and high school, students can use this insight to form clubs based on their interests and to inform the courses they choose. Eventually, this practice of self-reflection can help them transition into adulthood and a career that not only helps them apply their skills and strategies, but which they also find fulfilling.

 

Interested in learning more?

Read about ideas for classroom helpers & jobs

See examples of role cards here for elementary school and here for middle/high school, and here for a variety of grades

Multilingualism & Autism Spectrum Disorders

School, la escuela, l’école, 学校. These words all have the same meaning, but are written in different languages. Students who speak a language other than English at home make up 43.3% of students in the New York City Department of Education (2013-2014). When students come from homes that do not speak English, using their home language provides a number of social, cultural, and cognitive benefits, which may be especially advantageous for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

 

Individuals with ASD have many strengths, including creativity, attention to detail, vast knowledge about special interests, and an ability to see the world from a different perspective. Along with these strengths, students experience social difficulties and difficulties with executive functions (Eylen et. al., 2011). Executive functions include skills that relate to organization, planning, self-regulation, and flexibility. Therefore, it’s particularly promising not only that  “bilingual exposure does not delay acquisition” (Hambly and Fombonne, 2012, as cited in Fahim & Nedwick, 2014), but “the mastery of two languages provides bilingual speakers with cognitive benefits over monolinguals, particularly on cognitive flexibility and selective attention” (Crivello, 2016).

 

In the classroom & beyond

When working with multilingual students, there are several best practices to keep in mind, and these supports often overlap with best practices for students with ASD. Below are some guidelines for working with this ever-increasing population of multilingual students with ASD:

 

  • Speak with families about what languages are used at home, in what environments, and with which important people in the student’s life. This will help you gain a better understanding of the child’s linguistic and potentially cultural experiences, which will necessarily influence their social expectations and competencies (for example, in some cultures it is not polite to make eye contact, make contact with other genders, speak to the elderly, etc.). This can also help you learn more about your student’s special interests.
  • Learn a few words in your student’s home language(s) to use when communicating with the student and his/her family. This signals respect to the child’s identity and their culture. Use of these words may also support comprehension and support children’s background knowledge.
  • Work closely with translators or interpreters to ensure that families understand information you are sending home about the student’s progress and the Nest philosophy. Whenever possible, translate material that is being sent home.
  • Use visual supports to complement spoken directions and as labels. This supports all children with ASD, but particularly those that are still mastering English.
  • Support learning with relevant, hands-on materials in instruction. Once again, this engages all students in Nest classrooms, but will also help support students whose English language skills are still developing.

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