Thursday, July 8, 2010

How Do We Teach Kids With Special Needs to Problem Solve and Think Critically?

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving.

21st Century Skills.

Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Buzz Words.

But when you are working with kids with moderate-intensive special needs, and your starting point is completing ANY task independently, how do you eventually move to critical thinking and problem solving?

I'll use Student A as an example.

Student A came to Kindergarten with autism.  Student A flapped his hands, jumped up and down, was relatively nonverbal with the exceptions of the approximations of the words 'yes' and 'mom' in the school setting.  Student A receptively knew all letters and letter sounds.  Student A did not complete any tasks independently with the exception of using the bathroom.

In first grade, Student A grew by leaps and bounds.  Starting with matching pictures and objects, pulling objects apart, putting objects together, putting together 2 piece puzzles, categorizing by color, pressing one object on the computer screen on a touch screen, pointing to the verbally named picture.  Contrastingly, Student A learned to read.  He receptively could show how he could read a text and choose the correct answer to a comprehension question.  He could use manipulative letters to spell words.  He could receptively choose numbers 1-100.  His expressive language grew by hundreds of words in the school setting.

In second grade, Student A grew even more.  He could read text on a second grade level and answer literal comprehension questions receptively.  He could complete up to 10 previously mastered tasks dealing with matching words and pictures, color and shape words, stringing beads, squeezing clothespins, tracing letters, completing puzzles, categorizing by color or shape, matching time to the hour with analog and digital clocks.  He could complete a 24 piece puzzle with minimal assistance.  He could play simple computer games on a touch screen on the computer.  He could communicate with words, gestures, and picture cues, and began to use an AAC device.

And now, as Student A enters third grade, while there are many skills that we will continue to focus on, I am becoming increasingly interested and focused on how to teach him critical thinking and problem solving skills.  He's proven that he can learn.  He's proven that he has many many skills.  He's proven that he can learn in many settings, that he can generalize skills, that he can communicate with "full communication..."

But how can a student with autism learn to problem solve and think critically?

We're going to start with the basics.  Here are my first ideas.  Please share more!

1. Take the chairs away from the table before working.  When we get to the "one to one teacher table," ask, "What do we need?"  If Student A does not get a chair, physically prompt him to go get a chair and bring to the table.  Continue until only gestural prompts are needed.  Continue until only verbal prompts are needed.  Continue until no prompts are needed.  Use visual schedule for prompting if needed.

2.  When completing work that requires scissors or pencils, move items farther away from Student A.  Repeat prompts from idea #1.

3.  Teach Student A how to turn on the computer.  Once he has mastered the process, begin to leave the computer off.  When it's computer time, say to Student A, "What should we do now?"  Fade prompts.

4.  Student A LOVES to play with cards.  Spread student's favorite cards on the table.  Leave one with a large rip in it.  Leave the tape dispenser next to the cards.  Wait for student to initiate problem solving.  If he does not, show Student A how to repair the card with tape.  Repeat process with faded prompts.

5.  In the Independent Work Station, items are always lined up correctly and appropriately to minimize frustration and increase motivation for success.  Move items around in the station.  Watch for frustration level.  Adjust as needed.

6. Continue work with feelings.  Look at a face.  Ask, "What is this girl feeling?"  "WHY could she be feeling this way?"  Make a list of reasons for a particular feeling OR a list of feelings or a particular "face."



howell said...

I like your list...I realize it is not a one size fits all, but it is helpful. Is there a number 7? Thanks and keep up the good work.

Morgan said...

I'm hoping that there will be a number 7... and 8... and 9... as more people read my blog and hopefully add ideas. :)