Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Helping Students With Autism: Tips for School Counselors

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The first time I ever experienced someone who had autism was in the early 1980's when I was a young teenager.  My first cousin, a beautiful little boy, began to show the inability to communicate, made peculiar sounds, and had some unusual gestures.  My family, not aware of his condition, always had advice for my aunt on how she could "make him normal"; however,  his condition never changed.  I can't imagine the difficulties my aunt has experienced with my cousin over the years.  Later, my family noticed some similar, but not as pervasive, patterns in my sister.  She had peculiar mannerisms (we now refer to as stimming), repetitive behaviors, and she often blurted out for no apparent reason. It was not until much later (after she graduated from high school) that she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  So, to  say the least, I have had some experience with autism in my family.  

Fast forward 20 years later...   

As a school counselor,  I experienced life with my first autistic student. This student had parents who were professionals (mom was an attorney and dad was a psychologist) and they let me know very early in his 9th grade year that their child had special needs, but he will go to college!!! Although I was familiar with my autistic family members, I was still very unfamiliar with the Autism Spectrum.  At this point in my career, I never had to try to come up with strategies for working with a student with Autism and I often felt unprepared in helping him to become college ready. For four years, I sat through contentious IEP meetings with the parents (these meetings often lasted three to four hours), met with special education advocates, and tried to work harmoniously with his often anxious parents on post secondary plans.  Although he graduated and went to a two year school (whew!), I think I could have done a much better job of working with the family to assist the student in his post secondary plans.

Since it's Autism Awareness month, I wanted to provide some information for school counselors who may not be confident when working with students who are diagnosed with Autism, like me!

What is Autism

Okay, let me preface this by saying I am not an expert and I am sure I have left out some important information.  So, please be gentle...

Now, let's define and understand the diagnosis (with my emerging knowledge).  If you have ever been in an IEP meeting, you may have heard the word Autism used to describe a student's behavior. Many educators, who are unaware of the diagnosis, often have preconceived notions which can negatively impact their perceptions about the student.  As a school counselor, it is important that we understand the definition of Autism and how it may impact the student's educational experience.  From our understanding of Autism, we then can educate our colleagues in layman's terms.

Okay, here is the definition...

According to Autism Speaks, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) "are characterized by social interaction difficulties, communication challenges and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors." In fact, one out of every 110 children are diagnosed with ASD (American Counseling Association Conference Paper, 2012).  Also, ASD now poses a "significant public health risk" as males are three to four times more likely to develop ASD than females (CDC, 2011).  With increasing numbers of students being diagnosed with ASD, school counselors must have an understanding of the disorder and develop best practices for helping students in their educational plans.

Want to know more about Autism?  Click the courses below. 

See also Autism 101 and Autism 101 

Before I get into suggested interventions, when working with students with ASD, here are some common symptoms that your students may experience (honestly, these outward signs often impact our perception that the student is difficult or peculiar). Understanding an ASD student's behavior is an important part of knowing the daily struggles that may impact his or her educational success.

Common Symptoms

Sleep deficits
Lack of attention

Autism Speaks

If you work with students who are diagnosed with ASD and don't feel prepared, you are in good company.  Many educators often feel they do not have the training or information to serve ASD students.  So, from my own struggles, I have provided some tips that may be helpful for you as a school counselor (one additional thought when reading these tips, these tips are aimed at higher functioning students on the Autism Spectrum).

Now, what you have been waiting for...

Tips for School Counselors to Help Students with ASD:

1.  Train peer mentors to serve as social role models who will interact positively with ASD student(s) on a regular basis.

2.  Sponsor a school club of students who want to assist and serve as social role models for students with ASD.  

3.  Create a peer buddy system to provide social and academic support to students with any disability.

4.  Teach a social skills class during lunch or once a week to students with ASD.  One program is called the FRIEND Program which is a social skills curriculum which include DVDs, activity guides, informational tips, and a lot more. 

5.  Increase peer advocacy to reduce incidents of bullying of students with disabilities.  

6.  Train ASD students in self advocacy skills which includes:

  • The student speaking  up for himself or herself.
  • The student address needs or wishes.
  • The student takes responsibility for his or her actions.
  • The student knows his or her rights.
  • The student knows how to get help.

7.  Educate classmates, bus drivers, teachers, lunch staff,  on autism and how to effectively communicate with the ASD student (see page 30-70 of the Autism Speaks Information for Classmates, Bus Drivers. Teachers, Custodians, Front Office Staff,  Coaches, Administrators, School Nurses, School Security for specific guidance).

Here is a great video explaining the needs of students on the spectrum from a college professor for other college professors.   However, I think it has a lot of great information that may be useful for high school teachers.

8.  Help students manage behavioral challenges particularly when they are stressed and lack the verbal skills to express their level of frustration.  (See Supporting Appropriate Behavior for Students with Asperger)

10. Teach your ASD students social skills.  See the Social Skills Teaching Curriculum from Autism Speaks.

11.  Attend a conference to learn more information and skills.  
Milwaukee, WI
July 12-15, 2017

12.  Check out the resources below for more information and awareness.

ASCA Position Student on Working with Students with Disabilities

Autism Month Resources

Building an Autism Sensory Room on the Cheap

Dr. Temple Grandin

Five Ways to Support Families of Students With Autism

Resources to Calm Teens

TED Talks on Autism

Teens with Autism: Apps, Ideas for Lessons, & Common Core Reading Connections for Teens and Young Adults with Autism and Developmental Delays

Web, Print, and Video Sources from Autism Speaks

As always, I would love your feedback and thoughts!!  

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

10 Ways to Attend a Conference When You Fell to Meet the Professional Development List!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Spring Break is here...hip hip hooray!  Finally, I have a little free time to write my first post for the month of April (yes, I have been slacking). However, I now have an opportunity to sit leisurely on my bed and write this post while listening to I-Heart Radio (Whitesnake channel, of course).  

Today it hit me that summer will be here and I have to think about my professional development plans.  Often, I believe that professional development for school counselors is an afterthought for the majority of school districts (if you ever have been forced to sit in a session on how to use the grading program for teachers, you know what I am talking about). Also, professional development costs money which many principals are not willing to fork out to their school counselors either (bummer).  So, what is a school counselor to do?  Well, it is imperative that we make professional development plans ahead of time as part of our yearly goals; list the needs we are wanting to meet professionally for the year; communicate our goals to our supervisors; and make maybe even make some financial sacrifices (ouch).

So, what are some options for professional development over the summer?  Well, there are many different types from which a school counselor can choose; however,  I want to focus on the mother of all professional development opportunities, the summer conference. I know, I know many of you lack the money to attend a conference and I totally get that (more than you know). So here is where my experience of working in six different districts under 11 different principals may be helpful.

10 Ways to Attend a Conference When You Lack Funds 

Here is a list of ideas that I have generated from my own experience when I lacked supportive leaders.

1.  It is imperative that you show a need to your school leader of why you must attend this conference...play the radio station for your principal...WFIM (what's in it for me!). Make sure you are targeting a need that is on your principal's radar.  This could include student discipline, test scores, at-risk students, etc. 
2.  Make friends or at least, connections, in the district office.  There may be monies available from grants or specific conferences that other departments may sponsor.  For instance, our Career Technical Agricultural Education department is sponsoring school counselors to attend our state's CTAE conference this year (sweet!).
3.  Write a grant.  Yes, I hear the moans from the readers out there; however, this is a great way to find funds to support your professional growth when it is based on fulfilling a specific need or objective.
4.  Fund raising may be an option.  Some districts may frown on this, but if your district is supportive you may have a source to sponsor you and your colleagues ability to attend a conference that you may have not considered.
5.  Get support from your PTA.  Sometimes your school's PTA may be on fire about a topic and you can volunteer to bring back information if you can get the funding to attend a conference.
6.  Look for local businesses to sponsor your professional development.  This can include insurance agencies,  law offices, local business partners, etc.
7.  Sacrifice....yikes.  Cut out the daily coffee trips to Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, reduce the number of nights you are eating out, cut out some extra amenities (i.e snacks) and save that money in a special account.  You will be surprised how much change you can actually save in a year (I have saved over $150.00 in change last year!).
8,  Look for evidence of why this conference is important to you professionally.  ASCA has created a justification letter that school counselors can download to share with their direct supervisors.
9.  Plan ahead for conferences you really want to attend and give your principal a road map of what you would like to accomplish by attending these conferences. This can be done effectively when you meet with your principal to sign your yearly agreement.  For those of you not there quite yet  (like me most of my career), put this as part of your professional development goal that  you would like to accomplish.
10. If you have a burning desire to attend the 2018 ASCA conference in Los Angeles (like me), consider applying for the School Counselor Community Scholarship hosted by Jeff Ream, the Counseling Geek.

Now, it is time to consider what conference(s) you would like to attend now or in the future.  Below I have posted a list of conferences that appeal to school counselors.  I hope you find one that you like or feel free to suggest one that I may have missed.

Conferences for School Counselors

Save the Date!

American Counseling Association Conference

April 26-29, 2018
Atlanta, GA

ASCA Conference
July 8-11
Denver, CO

*ASCA University Certification Program 
(Not a conference, but well worth mentioning as a at home option!)

Association for Conflict Resolution Conference
October 11-14
Dallas, TX

At-Risk & Struggling Students Conference
June 21-24
Atlanta, GA

Attendance Works

Counselor Fly-In College Tours

Summer and Fall, 2017

Counseling Strategies & Resources Conference

Evidence Based School Counselor Conference
See this year's conference highlights

Freshmen Success Conference
June 25-28
Orlando, FL

Girl Bullying Conference

June 27-30
Las Vegas, NV

International Conference on Conflict Resolution Education

International School Counseling Conference

NACAC National Conference
September 14-16
Boston, MA

National At-Risk Youth Education Network Conference
Baltimore, MD

National At-Risk Conference
March 4-7, 2018
Savannah, GA

National College Fairs
Listed by State

National Conference on School Discipline

June 21-24
Atlanta, GA
June 27-30
Las Vegas, NV

National Drop Out Prevention Network Conference
October 22-25
Palm Springs, CA

National Peer Helper Conference
Perdido Beach, AL

National School Safety and Prevention Conference

July 24-28
Las Vegas, NV

Next Gen School Safety Conference
June 21-24
Atlanta, GA

Peer Educator Training/Certification

June 13-15
Indianapolis, IN

Peer Resource Training
June 15-16
San Francisco, CA

Reaching the Wounded Student Conference
June 25-28
Orlando, FL

Safe and Civil Schools Conference
July 16-20
Portland, OR

School Climate and Culture Summit
June 27-30
Las Vegas, NV

Southeast Conference on PBIS
June 5-6
Savannah, GA

State Counseling Conferences 2017

Trending School Counseling Conference

Wired Differently Conference
June 21-24
Atlanta, GA

Monday, March 13, 2017

Guest Blog: How to Become a Pirate Hunter (A Novel)

Monday, March 13, 2017

From time to time, I like to feature a guest post on my blog.  What is different about this particular post is that I have decided to feature a book.  Now, here is my disclaimer...I typically do not promote or advertise products; however,  I think it is important to support other educators who are passionate about helping students.

How to Become a Pirate Hunter is a fictional novel written by Writing teacher, Marty Reeder. Reeder's goal is to help students imagine their future careers by using creative techniques like essay writing.  In my own career, I have found it important to partner with other educators so we can encourage students to think beyond their present situation and imagine possibilities for their future. What is most refreshing about Reeder's novel is that he emphasizes the importance of the school counselor in helping students in this exploration process!  For this reason, I would like to share Mr. Reeder's work with you in this post.

Please feel free to share your feedback with me and/or Mr. Reeder.

Who is Marty?

Marty Reeder lives in Smithfield, Utah with his wife and five children. He teaches creative writing and Spanish at Sky View High School. He received his both his undergraduate degrees (major in history and minors in English and Spanish) and master's degree (American Studies) at Utah State University. How to Become a Pirate Hunter is his second published novel and releases on March 14th. 

For more information about the book, you can visit his website: martyreeder.com.

As a high school English teacher, I’ve noticed more than my share of students who would  respond to that question as if they’ve just been asked to recite the geological features of the dark side of the moon. Those students are not lacking in capacity (though that may be unrefined), but many lack some imagination.

Often, as I’ve assigned essays to students, I found they retread the same political topics, narrative experiences, or social issues that they’ve written throughout their school writing history. They lacked imagination, and I lacked the insight to provide imaginative possibilities. So I tried something different and encouraged students to write according to their passions and personal interests, yet still within the bounds of the essay methods and styles we were learning in class. This led to far more interesting, far more imaginative writing on their part.

All of the sudden, instead of English being just one more class to check off on the road to graduation, I had a student--a wakeboarding fanatic--who came to report to me that the essay he wrote for my class had been published by a wakeboarding magazine and that he had received a check for the essay plus hundreds of dollars worth of free equipment. If you’ll forgive some poetic hyperbole: his eyes were lit up by the results of the application of his imagination to his situation, and the possibilities of the pairing of  his passion and the practical became his purpose.

Eric, the protagonist of How to Become a Pirate Hunter, is limited by his lack of confidence in himself and his imagination for his future. His answers to that age-old adolescent query come out as the same cookie-cutter jobs voiced by elementary school kids down the ages. For Eric, it takes the adventure of a lifetime and a good friend to open his mind to the possibilities of rising above mediocrity and realizing his full potential.

Not every student is going to be fortunate enough to have an eye-opening adventure to another world and a friend with special powers to provide it. In fact, I’m guessing this is rather rare. Luckily, most students are fortunate enough to have a caring high school counselor who can accomplish that same goal of expanding their practical imagination when it comes to future goals.

Perhaps one of the more fictional elements of my story is that Eric’s problems are not resolved through the careful guidance of an aware counselor after that opening line … but in my defense, a two-page story in an office is not as exciting as a novel with a bunch of pirate adventures!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

National Peer Helping Week Ideas

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Each year the National Association of Peer Program Professionals urges peer helping coordinators to acknowledge, appreciate, and celebrate their peer helpers during the month of March. During this special month,  I take the opportunity to recruit my peer helpers for the next school year, appreciate my current peer helpers, and promote peer helping in my school community.  

Here is an overview of my plan for this year's National Peer Helper Week (March 20-24, 2017).  

The Plan

First, I will have my current peer helpers put up posters about peer helping around the school.  Here is a sample poster I made featuring Disney characters.

Second, we are going to make announcements about National Peer Helper Week to students and staff member.

Some sample announcements will include:
  • Facts about peer helping
  • Roles of peer helpers
  • Accomplishments of your schools’ peer helping program

Third, we will share information about National Peer Helper Week 

to get the excitement going on social media using the hashtag 


Sample Tweets:
Use #NationalPeerHelpersWeek
Because of YOU National Peer Helpers Appreciation Day is a 
national day to raise awareness about the peer power as a way to 
help others and save lives.  #NationalPeerHelpersWeek
March 23 is National Peer Helpers Appreciation Day and our 
school is celebrating by [fill in the blank].

Celebrate Peer Helpers helping for others during the week of 
March 20-24.
Peer Helpers help others by being their friend, tutoring, 
Join Peer Helpers around the country on March 23 and 
celebrate peer power and making a positive difference in 
other's lives.
Celebrate with us!  Peer Helpers honors past peer helpers who
have made a difference in others' lives.  


Sample Chapter Facebook posts:
March 23 is National Peer Helpers Recognition Day.  We are
celebrating past Peer Helpers and all they did to help others, 
current Peer Helpers and future Peer Helpers.
Upload pictures on Facebook; be sure to add Congratulations
Peer Helpers!

Remember to upload a photo of your Peer Helper Group. 

Fourth, create information to give out to possible new recruits.
Information can include:  a video, brochure, flyers, classroom 

Fifth, have your peer helpers recruit at least one person.  A 
personal invitation is a great way to recruit for your program. 

Sixth, include your principal in your appreciation.  Why?  Frankly, 
it is our principals who allow us to run a program and it is 
important to include them in your celebration.

Here are some ideas that are low cost...

  • Photo made of crayons signed by your peer helpers.
  • Create a bulletin board.
  • Create a candy gram.
  • Create a word art photo.
  • Create a photo with the thumbprints of students in a heart and a special quote.
Seventh, consider holding a peer helper ceremony.  At the ceremony, present a proclamation to your principal signed by your superintendent and give out certificates to your peer helpers.  Invite parents, board members, community members, and other special staff members.

Need additional information to get started?  Download the National
Peer Helper Week kit at the National Peer Program Professional 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Wanted: Jobs for School Counselors

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Tis' the time of year for graduates and school counselors to test the waters for school counseling job opportunities.  Starting in January, I am always asked by interns and other school counselors if I know about any job opportunities (this year I do!).  So, I thought it would be helpful to provide some tips for landing that future school counseling job and to make a suggestion about applying for a counseling job outside of a public or private school.   

First, let's get you ready for that job.  To prepare adequately, consider these helpful tips from some school counseling
Practice your skills!!

10 Tips for Landing a School Counselor Job (The Helpful Counselor)

Finding a School Counseling Job (School Counseling By Heart)

How to Make School Counselor Interviews Not So Scary (The Counseling Geek)

Insight from Awesome School Counselors - Interview & Applicant Essentials (The Counseling Geek)

Job Hunting Tips & Resources (American Counseling Association)

Job Search Skills for Professional School Counselors (Ohio School Counselor Association)
This includes sample templates of cover letters, resumes, curriculum vita, etc.

Job Tips for the High School Counselor (For High School Counselors)

School Counselor Interview Tips (School Counselor Blog)

Second, consider working on a professional portfolio now. Here are some great examples of portfolios you can view from school counselors to create your own.

Elizabeth Cranford
Tracy L. Jackson, Ph.D 
Stephanie Long 
Richard D. Pavia
Jeffrey Ream

Now, here is the job tip I have for my readers.  Consider an out of the box idea about a job opportunity as a school counselor - the Department of Defense.  I had never really ever considered a Department of Defense school until I recently visited one, but I liked what I saw and heard.

So, why consider a DODEA job?  Well, here are some advantages of working for the Department of Defense:

1.  There are many opportunities to get a job.  In fact, there are 172 schools in 14 districts located in 11 foreign countries including Guam and Puerto Rico (source: DODEA). 

2.  According to one DODEA employee, relocation assistance is available for moving.

3.  Comparable salary and benefits.  See the job salary schedule here

4.  Additional benefits:

Health Insurance
Life Insurance
Living Quarter Allowance
Medical/Dental Facilities
Shipment of automobile, household goods, and pets!

5.  Short tours of duty which can include one to two years depending on the location.  

Interested?  Want more information?  Go to the Department of Defense for more information.  Also, go to USA Jobs and select positions for school counselors.

I hope this post has provided some additional ideas of how to snag a school counseling job and opens up other opportunities that you may have not thought about in the past.

Happy job hunting!!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

News Flash, Not All Counselors Celebrate National School Counselor's Week!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

A small confession...I had talked myself out of writing a post about National School Counselor Week this year.  With the recognition of school counselors by the White House, the amazing advocacy of ASCA, and great state leadership I felt confident in our new notoriety. Yes, I too thought we were making great strides in promoting NSCW among school counselor; however, I got schooled rather quickly.  Case in point...

Case #1

Several weeks ago, I was in a meeting with a group of  high school counselors in my district.  The meeting was jammed full of reviewing new regulations, district changes in curricula, advisement procedures, parent workshop planning...well, you get it.  After the meeting was over, I realized that no one had mentioned National School Counselor Week!  We were so busy discussing what we were doing for everyone else that we neglected to pay attention to ourselves (unfortunately, this is typical of many high school counselors).  

Case #2

This past week I had the pleasure of training some high school leaders and counselors on how to set up a peer mediation program in their school.  During a break, I asked one of the school counselors how their department will be celebrating National School Counseling Week.  The counselor looked at me as if I had two heads and stated, "we don't celebrate that at our school.

My conclusions...

So, from my experiences over the last couple of weeks, it is very evident we have many schools and school counselors who do not see the significance of celebrating National School Counselor Week.  Although I don't have the remedy, I think empowering our colleagues to give themselves a pat on the back once a year is a great start.  Although I think the we have made strides in celebrating our profession, we still have work to do!! 

In this post, I want to give some suggestions on how school counselors can celebrate themselves without a lot of effort.  So, here are eight small ways that school counselors can step out of their comfort zone and celebrate NSCW?

Don't Use the G Word!

As I was thinking about ways to make school counselors stand out during NSCW, I was reminded of a song called, "That's Not My Name" by the Ting Tings.  

Don't call me a guidance counselor cause THAT IS NOT MY NAME.  

When I hear the word "guidance", read it in an article, or see it on social media, I cringe.  The fact that school counselors still use the word guidance to refer to their department makes me want to cry (okay, I am being a little dramatic at this point).  So, how do we change this title that we have lived with since World War II?  One way is to educate others by promoting our profession during National School Counselor Week.  Anyone can provide guidance, but only we can truly impact students with our specialized skills.

Download the "I am not a Guidance Counselor" sign here.

Buy Yourself a School Counselor T-Shirt

Order and wear a t-shirt that makes a statement about who you truly are!  There are so many great t-shirts that you can order from other school counselors, but ASCA has a great one eliminates the word guidance.

For Once, Put Out a Sign About Yourself

ASCA has a free downloaded sign that you can put outside your office to show why you love being a school counselor!! 

Take a Counselor Buddy to Lunch

By recognizing a colleague who may not celebrate NSCW, you may start a new trend (this is what I did when I found out the school counselors at the school did not celebrate NSCW).  Okay, can't go out? Order out.  Can't order out?  Make a simple dish like chili (great for a cold February day).

Check out NSCW 2017 Activities?

This year's theme is School Counseling: Helping Students Realize Their Potential and will be celebrated during the week of February 6-10.  Not ready for this year...plan for 2018!!

NSCW Flyer
NSCW Poster

Need additional ideas to think about? Check out these links!!

California School Counselors

Wisconsin School Counselors
Network with School Counselors Online

Consider reaching out to other counselors across the US and Canada and get involved in online networking.

Some great sites include:


High School Counselor Connection

High School Counselor Network


National School Counselor Week Ideas





Promote Yourself

One simple way to promote your school counseling department is to create a brochure.  This is easy and very beneficial!

Check out the examples below.

Free Counseling Brochure
Although this is geared toward elementary school counselors, this template from The Helpful Counselor will assist you in creating your own counseling brochure to share with parents.

Here is an additional example of a high school brochure.

Share Resources 

Share information with others about who you are and your value!

Here is information to share with your administrator:

School Administer Guide to Supporting School Counselors
Edutopia article written in 2013 regarding seven ways administrators can support you as a school counselor. 

The Changing Role of the School Counselor 
Insightful article written by Nickey Pietila on the importance of the role of the school counselor and the use of data to support that role. 

Advocacy Infographic

Source: ACA

Here is information for school counselors:

Why You Should Celebrate NCSW?
A reminder why counselors should celebrate NSCW by Patrick O'Connor.

Past articles from your's truly...

I Will Not Be Ignored: School Counselors Doing It For Themselves!

A Recipe for a Great National School Counselor Week!

Make NSCW15 Memorable

The Counselor Bowl 2014

Oh, I love to hear what you are doing during NSCW!  Please share your ideas!!  Happy NSCW!!!