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