Walking the 8

As is true with many children in kindergarten, Michael has difficulty controlling his impulses and urges. He is also very clear about what he likes and does not like.

When presented with a preferred activity, such as Legos, letters or drawing, Michael is able to focus for 20 minutes or more at a time. However, when presented with a non-preferred activity, he will often communicate his refusal by screaming or knocking the activity off his work area. Since these behaviors are not socially acceptable, they are also not acceptable in our ASD classroom.

At first, taking Michael to the hallway just outside of the classroom was effective in helping him manage the powerful feelings he was having. We sat together and I coached him through a variety of ways to calm himself. We would breathe together deeply, he would rub his thighs while gently rocking his body, and I would count with him or sing the ABC song backwards. (Yes, that was soothing for him!)

After a time, I would ask him if he was ready to return to the classroom. When he said yes, I would remind him that it was time for a “teacher choice“ activity and then ask “what will we do at your work space?” When he could reply “teacher choice” we would reenter the classroom and attempt the non-preferred activity again.

This calming method worked for a while, but then something changed. One day, while going through the standard calming options, Michael suddenly became overwhelmed by the impulse to pull out of my handhold, run down the hall and scurry up the stairs to the second floor. After capturing him and slowly walking hand-in-hand back down the stairs, I attempted to return his focus to the calming choices that had previously been so successful. Doing so took much more effort than it had in the past.

Over the next few days, my co-teacher noticed that another of the children in the class was also wanting to run in the hallway. After discussing possible solutions, she used rubber tape to make a large figure 8 on the floor just outside of our classroom. Not only did “walking the 8” became another calming choice for our students, it became the most frequent choice. “How many times will we walk the 8?” is now a standard question in the hallway.

kirsten radivoyevitch

Kirsten Radivoyevitch

Another classmate has found the 8 helpful as well. Sometimes the two children walk the 8 together, silently, hand in hand. Michael is comforted by the

rhythmic walking, the repetitive, defined pathway, and the fact that an empathetic classmate or teacher remains by his side, holding little his hand the entire time.

Kirsten Radivoyevitch is a teacher in Hanna Perkins’ EPIC Classroom for children with autism spectrum disorders. Click here for more information about the EPIC program.


Collaborating with a student to change a behavior

Michael (not his real name) is a 5-year old boy who has autism. He loves playing outside. During school recess each day he smiles as he digs for worms in the dirt, shovels and sifts in the sandbox, and gleefully rides on the swings. Our school playground has areas that are both open to the elements and covered by a roof, allowing outdoor play regardless of weather.

As the temperatures began to get colder, Michael was quite willing to put on his coat, but he adamantly refused to keep his head covered with a hat or a hood. This was becoming a point of struggle at home, and his mother expressed concern about it. She also wasn’t sure what we might do to keep Michael’s head covered during recess.

I was intent on working with Michael’s mother to solve this problem because we both know how important outside time is for Michael’s his ability to focus during the day. Making a visual aid seemed to be the right first step.

Searching Google, I found the two photos I needed: one of a boy wearing his winter hat and hood, and one of the same boy without his head covered. I copied the images, side by side, into a Word document. Below the first photo, I wrote “YES playground” and below the second I wrote “NO playground.”

The next day, when the struggle first presented itself, I showed the page to Michael and we read it together, while noting the difference in the pictures. Then I pointed to Michael and asked, “Yes playground or no playground?” He replied, “Yes playground.”

I pointed to the photo of the boy wearing his hood and said “Hat on.” Michael took his hat out of his cubby and handed it to me. I put it on his head and we enjoyed a full recess period outdoors, playing in the snow.

kirsten radivoyevitch

Kirsten Radivoyevitch

Michael’s mother was happy to hear how well this had worked, and she took a photo of the page so that she could reference it as needed when not at school.

Kirsten Radivoyevitch is a teacher in Hanna Perkins’ EPIC Classroom for children with autism spectrum disorders. Click here for more information about the EPIC program.


Understanding upsetting behavior as communication

I had just brought Sammy (not his real name) in from the playground at the end of our school day. His mother was usually in the hallway by this time to greet him and take him home. On this day, since she wasn’t there yet, I suggested to Sammy that we could get his backpack from the cubby and wait for her together, sitting on chairs in the hallway.

The very moment we got his backpack, his mother arrived. They have a very loving relationship, so I was surprised when Sammy threw a fully physical and verbal tantrum.

Since teachers at Hanna Perkins view behavior as communication, I considered what Sammy might be telling us – and what might have happened in such a short time to bring on such a strong response.

As is true for many children, Sammy has difficulty with change. It occurred to me that he had been hit with several changes at once: outdoors to indoors, teacher care to mother care, mother waiting to us waiting, school work to leisure time, etc. Maybe this was just too much for him, so I considered which specific change to address first to help Sammy begin to get his tantrum under control.

The last change I had introduced was verbally preparing Sammy to wait for his mother on the chair in the hallway. She was visibly relieved when I explained this, and when I took Sammy to a hallway chair to enact that situation, he began to calm down.

I asked Sammy if he was ready to go, but I think I spoke too soon. He started screaming and thrashing on my lap. Since he takes comfort in the reliability of numbers, I told Sammy “We will count to 10 and then it is time to go home with Mommy.” I began. “One… two… three… four…” but Sammy shouted “It’s a rocket ship! It’s a rocket ship!” It was his way of saying he didn’t like this idea.

“OK,” I said, “we will count down from 10 to zero just like on a rocket ship.” Sammy listened quietly until I had gotten to number seven, at which point and he whimpered sweetly “100?”

“OK,” I tried again. “I will count from zero to 100 by tens, and then you will be ready to go home with Mommy until tomorrow.” With every multiple of 10 I named, I could feel Sammy relax a bit more. The numerical sequence was known to him, the ending value had been predetermined, and the expected action had been clearly stated.

During much of this time, Sammy’s mother had been listening, watching and waiting patiently a short distance away and down a short flight steps. Once I got to 100, I helped Sammy to his feet and his mother calmly approached. It was just as I had told Sammy it would be – us waiting for his mother on a chair in the hallway.

kirsten radivoyevitch

Kirsten Radivoyevitch

Sammy’s school day ended peacefully as he held his mother’s loving hand and calmly walked out of the school building like a big boy.

Being a teacher for young children with autism can be a challenge, both physically and mentally. But if we are willing to learn from them, they can show us a new way of thinking – one that challenges us to use our reasoning skills in a new way.

Kirsten Radivoyevitch is a teacher in Hanna Perkins’ EPIC Classroom for children with autism spectrum disorders. Click here for more information about the EPIC program.


Taking time to learn from a student with autism

My student Sammy (not his real name) began looking up briefly from his desk in the classroom. At first these movements appeared to serve the purpose of relieving neck strain or perhaps eye strain from looking down at his table work. But I soon realized that he was catching quick looks at the clock on the wall.

I pointed to the clock and asked him, “Clock?” which prompted a longer gaze at the classroom fixture. I asked again, “Do you see the clock?” He replied “Yes” and then went back to his work.

While he worked, I fetched our teaching clock from the classroom cupboard and brought it to Sammy’s desk. It was a large clock with visible gears, and hands that move in relation with each other. He began experimenting with the clock, then handing it to me and asking me to make it display certain times. “Nine o’clock?” “Twelve o’clock?” “Five o’clock?” He became more and more intrigued with the idea that I could make it show any time he wanted, so I handed the controls over to him.

After a short time, Sammy looked up, asking “Math? Math?” I assumed he was ready to move on to the addition work we had been doing, but I was wrong. He got up from his chair and sought out a specific set of 12 blocks, featuring animals of sequential heights. A tiny ladybug is shown on the block labeled as 1, a tall giraffe is on the block labeled as 12, and other animals are shown in their relative heights on each of the blocks in between. We have used these blocks in the past to work on sequencing numbers, heights and lengths, but that is not what Sammy had in mind.

He began placing the blocks on the table in a manner that looked like a clock face, but he got discouraged after the sixth block. “Circle? Circle?” He put paper and a marker on the table in front of me and asked again, “Circle?”

I understood where this was going; I drew a large circle and handed it to Sammy with the marker. He wrote each of the clock-face numbers around the circle and then positioned the twelve animal blocks accordingly.

As he did this, Sammy sang and hummed quietly to himself. So I took the activity in a different direction by singing 12 consecutive tones of a major scale while bouncing my finger up the gradated blocks. He followed my lead and we played this way for several minutes.

Sammy then jumped up from his seat, saying “Ruler? Ruler?” He found the ruler and bounced his finger up and down the 12 inches, singing tones of a major scale. Watching this, I challenged myself to come up with a related activity to introduce the next day. I decided to bring in a calendar so we could connect the 12 inches with the 12 months of the year. The experience made me realize that several things in our lives come in sets of 12, or dozens, such as eggs, roses, and doughnuts.

Kirsten Radivoyevitch

Other than the fact that Sammy was born in 2012, his mother and I are not certain what significance the number 12 has to Sammy. It remains a mystery, but by being patient, curious and genuinely fond of Sammy, I was able to experience an alternative perspective, and the two of us were able to enjoy learning together.

Kirsten Radivoyevitch is a teacher in Hanna Perkins’ EPIC Classroom for children with autism spectrum disorders. Click here for more information about the EPIC program.