Sunday, January 24, 2016

Memories by Pat: The Early Years Pt.2

Laurie, Kathy, and I owe much to TEACCH for what we learned about students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

From my early experiences came the knowledge that memory of routines was a strength for our students. From the experiences of TEACCH collaborators came the knowledge that the individual’s processing of visual information was another strong skill.

(You can find multitudes of examples of using visual cues in our Tasks Galore books.)

Our students were learning skills through the use of these visual supports that made tasks more meaningful, however, we needed to figure out how to help them
  • be more flexible and not so dependent on their same routines
  • deal with the abstract concept of time
  • manage to shift their attention from their strong interests to learning new skills
  • make transitions throughout their home or school day
  •  recognize how events fit together

Monday, January 11, 2016

Memories by Pat: The Early Years

 Pat Fennell, Laurie Eckenrode, and Kathy Hearsey 

The three of us have been working with children and adults with autism spectrum disorders and other special needs for decades. I started my career in the early 1970’s before there was even a law in the USA that guaranteed a free and appropriate public education to each child regardless of disability.

My first teaching job was in a residential school for children with emotional handicaps. Many of these children considered emotionally disturbed at that time would now be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Knowledge that autism was a developmental issue resulting from the way the brain developed rather than an emotional problem caused by “refrigerator mothers” was just emerging.

My second teaching job was in a mental health program for school-aged students who were not allowed in a public school because of extreme physical, cognitive, or behavioral issues. Most of the students with the challenging behaviors would have a diagnosis of ASD today.

There were no treatment models for these students with ASD. It was much trial-and-error problem solving to determine how we could help our students learn while also helping them manage their emotions more effectively than by being aggressive or self-injurious.

One of our students was 14 years old and had never been in a structured educational program. His face slapping was so severe when he began in our program that his arms had to be restrained constantly. Our kindness to him, our asking him to do something, our rewards for keeping his hands down, our restraining his arms were not effective in changing this difficult behavior.

Luckily, we figured out that he loved to work on manipulative tasks that were understandable and that he could complete independently. This meaningful work is what changed his behavior. Even though he did not begin his educational program until 14 years old, he still learned many visual, fine motor, language, and life skills. He also felt competent and successfully entered a supported employment program when older.

This student and others at the program who would probably be diagnosed with ASD today taught us that the typical rewards and punishers were ineffective in changing their behaviors. Telling them what to do did not work either.

Manipulative activities engaged them better than social or language-based ones. They often enjoyed repeating activities that they understood and could complete independently. When so engaged, their difficult behaviors were seldom seen. (You might want to check out some manipulative tasks for beginning or early learners in our first book, Tasks Galore.)

Sample of activities in our first Tasks Galore book. (Yellow)
We also discovered that they enjoyed routines. We focused on their completing 1-on-1 work and independent practice of learned tasks. We did find that, if group activities were conducted in similar ways each day; included turn-taking with manipulative activities; and initial group times were very short, the students were less anxious. Over time, they were more likely to participate.

Even though the students preferred sameness and repetition, we needed to make changes to their manipulative tasks or group activities so that they would continue to progress. We learned to make these changes slowly and within the context of established routines. For example, during group time, we would introduce new activities or songs gradually to teach a new concept or theme. To help the students accept the change without becoming anxious or inattentive, we first established a “What’s New?” time. Because “What’s New?” was familiar, something different could be introduced more effectively.

We saw much improvement in behaviors and skills; however, behaviors remained obvious during transitions, language-based activities, and free time.

We were privileged to have Gary Mesibov, a UNC postdoctoral fellow in psychology at the time, consult to our program. Dr. Mesibov eventually became co-director of the TEACCH program alongside Dr. Eric Schopler. In collaboration with Dr. Robert Reicher, Dr. Schopler was a pioneer in proving that children with ASD did not suffer from mental disorders. He also proved that parents of autistic children could be effective collaborators in the treatment and education of their children.

In 1981, I became a psychoeducational therapist at the TEACCH program. There I had the wonderful opportunity of working with a multitude of skilled clinicians, teachers, and parents. Among these were Laurie and Kathy.

Everyone at TEACCH continued the problem solving about how to help these students. We had the honor of watching the children grow into adolescents and then into adults. We also had the honor of learning from their parents what was most challenging, important, and effective at home. The insights gleaned from the students and parents taught us what worked and didn’t work.  Watching the children grow up taught us what they needed to learn in order to function in life. Based on these experiences, Dr. Mesibov was instrumental in conceptualizing how autism was like a different culture with its unique patterns of thinking and behavior. This idea taught us that in order to teach the students effectively, their culture needed to be respected and understood. Their strengths recognized.

To be continued

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Introducing the Tasks Galore Publishing Blog!

Welcome to the new Tasks Galore Publishing blog! A blog full of fun, educational and practical ideas to aid those with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their caregivers.

In this inaugural blog post we will review who we are and what we do here at Tasks Galore Publishing!  In future posts we will be sharing information for caregivers and therapists drawing on our years of experience as parents, teachers, and consultants.

Throughout the years we have worked with individuals who have Autism and other special needs in a variety of therapeutic and educational settings. It is our hope to work with you, our readers to cover topics that are relevant to your interests and needs. 

Tasks Galore Publishing was created to provide parents and professionals with practical tools that will aid their children and students to become more independent in school and society. These tools emphasize structured teaching methods and parent/professional collaboration.  Our books and products utilize colorful photos making it easy to replicate and adapt goals for your own student.  The collection covers a wide range of skills such as fine motor skills, math, science, social studies, literacy, daily living, cognitive, play and social skills.  How materials are presented and organized for our students with autism is extremely important.  We emphasize how to create and teach tasks and visual strategies in a manner that allows the students to complete their day more independently. The visual strategies used by Tasks Galore Publishing not only benefit those individuals with ASD, but they help all learners to be more self-confident and successful.  Partial proceeds from all product sales are donated to organizations that provide services for people with autism spectrum disorder and their families.

And finally, each month Tasks Galore Publishing has shared a very popular Task of the Month!  This posting highlights a new task and describes in depth how and why this task may be useful.  For all of our current email subscribers the blog post is where you will now be able to find the Task of the Month.  Please be sure to visit or and sign up for the blog. We are unable to automatically enroll our current email subscribers in the blog so please take a moment to sign up!

We look forward to sharing our journey with you all!

Best wishes -The Tasks Galore Team 

January Task of the Month

Click here to read more about Climbing Art Obstacles in Autism
Craft activities such as the one above, provide a wonderful opportunity for addressing skills, like fine motor, language, sequencing, etc. Before being ready to think of what to make with craft materials, however, most students with autism spectrum disorders and other special needs require instruction in how to use the materials and ideas about what to create. 

This page is from the book Climbing Art Obstacles in Autism by preschool teacher Karen Loden-Talmage, one of Tasks Galore Publishing’s guest authors. With input from occupational therapist Vickie Dobrofsky in how to address fine motor goals within creative endeavors, Karen developed scores of craft activities that incorporated written supply lists and pictures for each step. Forty-nine of these are included in her book. 

Because students learn more effectively when concepts are integrated across curriculum areas, we choose craft activities that go along with teaching themes. This craft activity would integrate nicely when the students are learning concepts about animals or cold weather.  Finding books to fit the theme aids literacy and vocabulary. Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What do You Hear? by Bill Martin, Jr./Eric Carle,  fits nicely with this craft and theme. 

After learning to use the types of visual instructions included in Karen’s craft activities, many students are able to complete the activity “all by themselves.” Doing tasks without assistance gives them a sense of pride along with furthering their intellectual growth. The routine of gathering listed materials and following step-by-step instructions can be generalized throughout their lives.