Communicating with Children on the Autism Spectrum

Create Date April 9, 2013 08:21 by author Kaplan Early Learning
How do children with Autism communicate differently than typically developing preschool children? Language disorders are often widely accepted as typical of children with autism. In fact, it may be the most noticed characteristic. A language disorder is defined as a deficit in using words or vocabulary. It can also involve how a child understands language and uses it in social settings. For children with autism, a pragmatic language delay is often seen. Pragmatic language involves using language in a social setting. For example, knowing what is appropriate to say, when to say it, and the general give-and-take nature of a friendly conversation. Because autism is a spectrum ranging from severe to very mild, children with autism will have communication abilities that range from not talking at all (nonverbal) to being able to communicate very well. Often, children with autism who talk will appear to use words and speech in a way that is not meaningful or non-functional. What do you mean by "communication that is not meaningful"? Non-functional communication is speech that is understood and spoken clearly, but has no relevance to the interaction that is taking place. For example, four-year-old Evan knows how to talk and does so frequently, but when you ask him to go outside, he simply says, "Bottom of the ninth and the bases are loaded." Evan is communicating. In fact, he is answering the question. Unfortunately, he is answering it in a non-functional manner. However, sometimes what sounds like non-functional communication can, with careful observation, be the child's way of answering in a way that makes sense to him. In other words, there are times when non-functional communication from a teacher's perspective is functional for the child. What Evan really means is, "Going outside is very stressful." How can non-functional communication be functional for the child? To answer this question, let's examine how Larry answers questions. He is five, knows about colors, and can name and describe each of them. However, when asked, "Larry, what is your favorite color?" he replies, "Lemon yellow." On the other hand, when asked, "Would you like to go to the block center?" he replies "Crimson red." It appears that he is answering the first question appropriately or functionally, while his answer to the second question is non-functional and not appropriate.  Larry's teacher has been observing his communication for some time, and has observed that every time Larry responds with "crimson red," it is his way of saying "No!" He has also observed that when Larry means "yes," he answers with "sunset orange." His teacher, through observation and experience, has learned to interpret the meaning behind Larry's non-functional communication. But it doesn't mean that Larry's teacher needs to stop encouraging him to answer "yes" or "no." It means that, while he is learning to answer "yes" and "no," his teacher at least knows how to interpret the way in which Larry is currently expressing his wishes. Why do children with Autism have so much trouble communicating? Effective communication is more than just sending and receiving messages. It requires that one person, either the sender or the receiver of the message, interact with the other person. Actually, for the interaction to be successful, the other person must reciprocate in some way. In initiating an exchange of a message or information, the sender must be willing to approach the person with which she will be communicating. Although the child with autism may be able to answer a direct question or make a statement about what she wants, starting a conversation is especially difficult. In fact, a child with autism will more likely initiate a communication when she wants or needs something. It is less likely that she will initiate communication simply for the sake of a social interaction. Contributed by Clarissa Willis, Ph.D. Dr. Willis has worked for the past 20 years on behalf of children with autism spectrum disorder and their families. She is the author of five books, including the award-winning titles Teaching Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Inclusive Literacy Lessons for Early Childhood. Her articles on child development and early childhood special education have been published both nationally and internationally. Formerly an Associate Professor of Special Education and the Associate Director of the Center of Excellence in Early Childhood Learning and Development at East Tennessee State University, she currently works as an early childhood consultant and frequent speaker at national and international conferences. Dr. Willis lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  

Five Fantastic Technology Tips for the Classroom!

Create Date March 4, 2013 10:04 by author Kaplan Early Learning
Do you have a tablet, camera, or laptop in your classroom and want more ideas on ways to integrate them into learning activities? Here's five ways to involve your children and have fun while doing it!   1. Online video sharing With the help of a video camera (or a regular point-and-shoot with video capabilities), you can take videos of your students on field trips or while they are playing indoors or outdoors. Upload them to video-sharing websites, such as YouTube or Vimeo, to give parents and caregivers a look inside your classroom or center during the day. 2. Image and photo editing Computer programs like Photoshop Elements, Paint, or Pixelmator can give children an opportunity to play around with images and pictures on the computer--or make new drawings themselves! These programs offer fun ways to edit photos that children will love. 3. Word processing Use programs like Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, OpenOffice, Pages, or even Google Documents to encourage children to create their own stories or recipes, and write them down as they do so. They can also create classroom books, signs, or newsletters to send home to their parents or caregivers. 4. Video chatting or conferencing Skype, Google Chat, FaceTime, and AIM provide good video chatting platforms for you to use in your classroom. Children can use these programs to communicate with classmates who have moved away, or family members who are deployed in the military; you can also use them to take virtual field trips when travel is not possible. 5. Presentations Expand on the children's experiences with word processing by helping them create presentations in programs like PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, or SlideRocket. They can make signs, slideshows of photos from their field trips, or step-by-step instructions to follow a recipe.   Leave a comment and let us know how you have used technology in your classrooms and centers! For more guidance in choosing and implementing the right technology tools in an early childhood classroom, check out Digital Decisions by Fran Simon and Karen Nemeth (available in paperback and e-book formats).

Brew Your Own "Sand Stew" at a Sand and Water Table

Create Date August 11, 2011 09:25 by author Kaplan Early Learning
  Just because it's back-to-school time, doesn't mean kids enjoy time with sand and water any less! With Kaplan's sand and water products and some fun activities from Sand and Water Play, your students will think it's still July and they're back at the beach! From creating a rainbow maker to making waterwheels, Sand and Water Play by Sherrie West and Amy Cox, is filled with fun and original ideas for incorporating a sand and water table into everyday, preschool activities. Here's one of our favorite activities from Sand and Water Play, called Sand Stew.  Sand Stew Objectives:  Intellectual: Children will identify objects in nature and respect the environment. Literacy: Children will write creatively with the teacher's help. Emotional: Children will have a tactile experience as they create their sand stew. Social: Children will share their ideas as they work together. Materials: Objects from nature, such as rocks, sticks, leaf bits, dandelions, grass, and so on. Sand Paint smocks Sand and water table Water cans and toys  Sticks Paper Pens Our suggestion: Add some Colorful Kidfetti to your stew to spice things up!  Setting Up the Activity: Go outside with the children and help them gather the "ingredients" (objects from nature) to make sand stew. Bring the sand and water table outside and pour sand into it. Make sure the children wear paint smocks for this activity. Encourage the children to add water and other ingredients to the sand. They can mix everything together using sticks. Ask the children to create a recipe for their concoction. Write it down for them and create a class recipe book. A Tip for this Activity: The children can learn to respect the environment at a very young age. Encourage the children to collect only the things they find on the ground that are not growing. Open-Ended Questions to Ask: What do you think will happen when you mix water with sand? Will the sand melt? How can you respect the world around you? Is wet sand heavier than dry sand? How does wet sand look different than dry sand? Words to Spotlight During this Activity: Life Mix Nature Respect For more activities from Sand and Water Play, purchase your own copy at For more sand and water play products from Kaplan, visit our sand and water products page! Enjoy your sand and water adventures!    
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