Friday, March 26, 2010

Conference Report, Part 1: Paula Kluth

I almost feel like I should say "Didja miss me?" yet again. It's been a very full week since returning from the Autism Society of Wisconsin (ASW) conference a week ago Friday. Many spinning plates, and per usual many are Joy-related, from conversations about inclusion at church to the fact that we've got her IEP meeting this afternoon to plan for kindergarten in the fall.

But I promised some conference-reportage!

One lovely piece of convergence at the conference was that Joy's itinerant special-educator, who leads Joy's school district team and has been coordinating the IEP prep, attended the first few days of the conference as well. I'm loving the fact that the person with whom we're writing Joy's first ever official behavior plan... also attended the conference day-long workshop with Paula Kluth, a session called The Problem with "Behavior Problems:" Supporting Students with Autism & Other Disabilities. [Note - I'll be calling her by her first name, as I did with Temple Grandin and Eric Courchesne, though in each case the more formal choice would be the title "Dr."]

Paula put "Behavior Problems" in quotes in her title on purpose. It seems that throughout her career around these issues, she's been wanting to write and speak about the "supporting" emphasis while publishers (and conference producers?) bring the pressure to use language that explicitly references "behavior." Which makes sense with the generally-used language -- Joy's going to have a "behavior" plan and all that -- but I love the move to change the conversation.

One way in which the workshop enabled that conversational change was to challenge the attendees to do some self-reflection. For example, one set of questions that we discussed in small groups was "When do you behave badly? What helps you "recover" from your own bad behavior? What is one effective and positive behavior strategy that you have used?" I bet that nobody had trouble coming up with personal examples; I know I didn't. Attendees reported behaving badly when they're hungry, tired, offended, stressed, overwhelmed, when people won't listen, when they're having a hot flash!

Then Paula asked these questions around effective strategies: Did anybody say, "I can't calm down until...
  • someone drags me away?
  • someone enforces an immediate negative consequence?
  • someone yells at me enough?
So why is this the kind of strategy that so often comes into play for students with disabilities? when what really helps the conference attendees in their own "behavior problems" is more along the lines of: have a snack; change of venue; exercise; walk away; etc?

Really, who among us wants someone to come along and try to "change our behavior" anyway??

But we can all use a little helpfulness and support along the way. The reframed question, as the presentation put it, becomes "How can we effectively and sensitively support individuals with disabilities?" or more broadly, "How can we be helpful to people?"

So, what does seem to help? In very broad strokes:
  • Being surrounded by people who care
  • having meaningful social relationships
  • being in a comfortable setting
  • having an engaging curriculum (driven by novelty and joy, as opposed to "death by sight-words")
Another nugget from the day that I found very thought-provoking was reflection on "shepherds," i.e. how very much adult-presence and "proximal support" students with autism often have. How much of the hovering and correction -- y'know, those things we do because it's good for them, right? -- is necessary and how much not? Do we expect students with disabilities to be "on task" for more of the time than students without disabilities?

Well. The workshop was chock-full of anecdotes and suggestions and excellent ideas for providing appropriate support through environment and materials and relationship-building. It was actually so much as to be an overload, and if I try to reflect much of that back in bloggy format, I'll just be transferring that overload. It struck me as the kind of thing where, once you've got the right framework in your consciousness, there were almost enough ideas to be presented in a "strategy of the day" daily calendar format!

For me, what was truly important about the workshop was the framing -- the commonalities -- the sense that it's really all about being human and how we all react.

Here's a quote that didn't come from the presentation, but rather from a favorite album of mine when I was a kid, Free to Be You and Me:
Some kind of help is the kind of help
That helping's all about
And some kind of help is the kind of help
We all can do without!

For more information:
including one particularly helpful page on being calm in crisis
The article is adapted from her book You're Going to Love This Kid: Teaching Students with Autism in Inclusive Classrooms.


Anonymous said...

I knew checking here multiple times a day would eventually bring results! *wink* You ARE one to keep your promises!

Paula Kluth has stim sense (and is the ABA-antidote).

Speaking of promises, did I see you commit to sharing one strategy per day? Almost?


Andrea said...

thanks joymama! i'm forwarding this to several on our team:) i love paula's titles and appreciate the synopsis