[blindkid] Blind/Autistic child school placement/services

Rene Harrell rjharrell at gmail.com
Mon Feb 16 23:57:45 UTC 2009

Hi Debi---

Barbara definitely has good advice. Sign Language or some sort of
augmentative communication device (and there are quite a few, many with
auditory feedback systems) can also be extremely helpful if he is showing
you any desire to communicate.

 We began small and worked our way up. In the beginning our key was to get
her to make sound that was communicating an intent, and we incorporated that
into our Floortime model of play (here is the link to the website overview
http://www.icdl.com/dirFloortime/overview/index.shtml I cannot rave enough
about the Floortime model when it comes to communicative and social skills
building in young children with autism. Dr. Greenspan's research is
impeccable and we have personally seen excellent progress using the
Floortime with Clare and with our sighted son with autism). The key was
finding ways that we could engage Clare, and then building verbal
opportunities and expectations into that time.

For example, Clare *loved* (and still does love) vestibular input. One of
her absolute favorite things when she was younger was to be tossed high up
in the air, over and over. So, she would come over and tug on my shirt,  and
I would say "Clare wants UP! Clare wants UP!" This was very dramatic with
the emphasis on the word UP. After I was certain that she could understand
and associate the word UP with the activity of being tossed in the air, then
I moved to the next phase. "Clare wants UP! Clare say UP!" When I didn't get
anything but her tugging on my shirt because she knew what she wanted I
would get down to her level. "Clare say UP!" and then I would prompt more
"UH-UH-UH". The instant she made so much as a grunt or an "Uh" sound I would
very dramatically exclaim "Oh, CLARE WANTS UP!" and then I'd toss her up.
Eventually we got the full word "UP!" when prompted. It was the very first
word she ever said to us. :-)

>From there we moved on to other *highly* motivating scenarios. I cannot
stress enough that it really needs to be things that are very motivating to
an individual child. *Every* child has something that is motivating, though
sometimes we need to dig deeper and really look hard to find out what that
is, and sometimes it is really obvious. An obvious one for Clare was food.
She is skinny as a rail but she loves to eat and one of her favorite foods
of all time is chips. I'd make sure she understood the association of the
word "chip" with the chips she was eating first. Clare's way of indicating
she was hungry and wanted food was always to just sit at the kitchen table.
So, I would narrate first, in very dramatic tones. "Clare wants to eat! I
have CHIPS for Clare." And then we moved onto prompting her to say
"CHIPS"....and again in the beginning if I got so much as a grunt that I
could associate with wanting the chips as an intentional desire, it was
"Clare asked for CHIPS! Here are some CHIPS Clare!". As she caught on I
started expecting more of an attempt at the actual word "CHIPS" and
eventually she figured out she got CHIPS and then she was sitting at my
kitchen table 500 times a day saying "CHIPS!"

It was a lot of work to get the first five words. After that she started
getting really echolalic and she was just repeating, repeating, repeating so
words weren't necessarily a problem but meaningful language was. I'd say 90%
of her language was simple repeating and the rest was actually meaningful
words. And as she started getting more meaningful words we were able to up
the bar of verbal expectations into 2 word and 3 word phrases and on to
sentences. She is always expected to use her words, always always. Her first
inclination is still to not use language as her primary communication tool
if the situation is not motivating to her. We finally habit trained her to
use the bathroom last Christmas, amd even a year later she has excellent
control but she will never tell you she has to go the bathroom, she relies
on me to recognize her cues and to prompt her. She will however walk right
up to the kitchen table 20 times a day and say "I'm hungry. I need something
to eat. I want a cookie." Silly girl. It's still constantly model, model,
model to lay the groundwork for true comprehension, and then prompt, prompt,
prompt, prompt to get her to use it. Progress is slow but she is definitely
making progress and her receptive and expressive skills continue to improve,
which is a real encouragement.

Does your grandson interact at all with adults around him? How does he
currently signal his needs and wants? What kind of activities does he like
to engage himself in the most? What is motivating to him? Sound? Tactile
input? Oral input?


On Mon, Feb 16, 2009 at 6:22 AM, Meng, Debi <Meng at sccompanies.com> wrote:

> Rene,
> I am the grandmother of a 3-1/2 year old child who is blind.   He is
> also nonverbal.   What types of things did you do to get her talking?
> Right now this is our biggest focus, and I am looking for answers.
> There is nothing physically wrong to prevent Jonathan from talking.
> Any help would be appreciated!
> Debi
> -----Original Message-----
> From: blindkid-bounces at nfbnet.org [mailto:blindkid-bounces at nfbnet.org]
> On Behalf Of Rene Harrell
> Sent: Sunday, February 15, 2009 10:56 PM
> To: NFBnet Blind Kid Mailing List,(for parents of blind children)
> Subject: Re: [blindkid] Blind/Autistic child school placement/services
> Dear Melissa,
> I am also the mother of a child who is blind and autistic. She is 7 1/2
> years old now :-) Clare was essentially nonverbal until she turned 5
> 1/2,
> then we finally getting some words out of her and now at 7 1/2 her
> verbal
> skills lie somewhere in the 20 month old range for pragmatic language
> zooming up to the three year old level in some language areas. Over all
> she
> is extremely mild-mannered, compliant, and sweet.
> Figuring out the best type of program is really as individual as the
> child.
> I would start with you, and your ideas of what goals you personally want
> to
> see him master, both short term and long term. What skills are most
> important to you right now? Having some goals in mind will really give
> you
> direction and focus as you decide what kind of programming is most
> appropriate for your son.
> I'll give you an example from our family. For me, my biggest focus when
> Clare was 4 and 5 was on language development. This was our absolute #1
> priority. We knew statistics show that children who talk before the age
> of 7
> usually continue to make progress in linguistic skills (the rate can
> vary),
> but that children who are *not* speaking by the age of 7 have a 90%
> chance
> of never developing verbal language at all. Our overall focus was on
> communication in general, with the spearhead of verbal language. This
> was
> the focus and all other goals either tied into this one, or were
> secondary
> in importance.  (I.e. Braille was important to us because it tied
> directly
> into communication). We wanted Clare in an environment where she would
> be
> consistently encouraged to communicate, to have language modeled for
> her,
> and to be encouraged to use verbal language when appropriate to the
> tasks at
> hand. In turn, this was a big focus of our work with her at home.
> There was a preschool class for children with autism in our district,
> but
> ultimately we did not feel that was suitable for helping Clare best meet
> the
> goals we had set for her, because all of the children were nonverbal,
> the
> set-up of the classroom was not conducive to Clare being able to have a
> clear understanding of what was going on, and they were very reliant on
> picture communication and I did not feel confident that the
> modifications to
> this PECS system would enable Clare to understand *what other children*
> were
> doing around her, because she was the only one they would modify it for.
> There was a much smaller "multi-disabled" preschool program that we felt
> was
> a much better fit for her. Ironically on first blush it didn't seem as
> if it
> would be all that much different: the children in this classroom were
> likewise nonverbal. However, the classroom was *much* smaller--- Clare
> was
> one of three students--- given that there was always a therapist in the
> room
> (PT, OT, ST), a paraeducator, and the teacher, the ratio was 1:1. More
> than
> that, this classroom was equipped for a much wider variety of
> augmentative
> communication and all the children used devices with auditory output. We
> felt far more confident in Clare's ability to be integrated into this
> classroom in a way that would be meaningful for Clare, and we really,
> really
> liked the speech and communication program that was embedded in their
> whole
> approach. Because Clare is so well-behaved, she gets very easily lost in
> larger crowds of children, especially children whose behavior requires a
> lot
> more attention. She'd happily sit in a corner pressing buttons on a toy,
> or
> pressing her eye, or hand flapping away for hours if no one was there
> encouraging her to engaged and directly interacting with her. We were
> really
> confident that in *this* classroom she'd be interacted with on a near
> constant basis, which in turn meant that they would be working on that
> all
> important communication goal far more often that they could have in the
> autism classroom with 12 children.
> Now, had our goals been *social* in nature for example, this classroom
> would
> *not* have worked at all because of the small class size and because of
> the
> population of children in this classroom. And if our goals had been
> primarily *academic* in nature this would not have been a good placement
> either. That is why it is so important to really know what you want a
> school
> program to do for your son. There are no "right" and "wrong" programs,
> only
> ones that are suitable and not suitable for your child's situation.
> Is there any way we can help you brainstorm on what you might like to
> see
> your son accomplish in the next year? How is ABA working for him in your
> home program? What skills is he working on in that program? What is
> working
> for him well in his current placement, and what is not working well?
> (And as a side note--- I always like to put in a plug for Stanley
> Greenspan's "Floortime" approach for working with autistic children. If
> you
> google Floortime/DIR you'll come up with a wealth of information. We've
> used
> ABA for a lot of specific skill sets but nothing has compared to
> Floortime
> in terms of her language and social development.)
> :-)
> Rene
> On Fri, Feb 13, 2009 at 12:02 PM, Melissa Bruggemann <
> melissabruggemann at hotmail.com> wrote:
> >
> >
> > Hi all,
> >
> > I have a 5 year old son who is blind and autistic. I am trying to
> figure
> > out what sort of services/school placement he needs for 1st grade. He
> has
> > been left behind in preschool for Kindergarten as the district could
> not
> > find a placement for him. He has no usable vision, is nonverbal, not
> much
> > receptive language and doesn't have that bad behaviors. He's currently
> >  receiving ABA at home every day but none in school. Any thoughts on
> what
> > type of program would be appropriate for him?
> >
> > Thanks,
> > Melissa
> >
> > _________________________________________________________________
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