The title of this article is misleading because I have only read 2 out of 5 of Rebecca Moyes’ books. However, if all the books are as insightful, wise and packed with practical strategies as Building Sensory Friendly Classrooms and Visual Techniques for Developing Social Skills then I recommend reading them all.
Moyes’s ability to zero in on what the child on the autism spectrum needs-seems to stem from her extensive classroom experience as well as being a parent of two children, one of whom has Asperger’s syndrome. Her approach is eclectic as she examines the sensory accommodations children need in order to tolerate daily sensory challenges, use of a positive reinforcement behavioral programs and specific group training to learn about social expectations and build social skills (i.e. not touch other’s belongings).
Building Sensory Friendly Classrooms starts out with an explanation of the sensory systems and what happens when they are not working very well. Moyes next explains that the sheer number of students with sensory processing disorders (SPD) makes it impossible for an occupational therapist to treat each child. Therefore, it is critical that the classroom be “sensory friendly”. This may entail:
· Preferential seating
· A sensory diet packed with movement and heavy pressure input
· Compensatory strategies such as head phones or transitioning to the next class 5 minutes early to avoid a noisy crowded hallway.
I like how Moyes emphasizes the importance of data collection to share with the IEP team in order to design the best accommodations/ modifications integrated into a positive behavioral support plan. Data may indicate whether or not supports such as movement breaks, fidget tools or wearing a pressure vest decrease interfering behaviors such as outbursts or increase positive behaviors such as attention. Data may validate strategy carryover into other classrooms or indicate the need for modification. Other beneficial strategies include:
· Use of visual schedules
· Deep breathing relaxation techniques
· Guided imagery
· Replacing socially unacceptable self-stimulatory behaviors (i.e. rocking or spinning) with a stress reduction object such as Velcro to rub under the desk.
· Being a detective-for example, finding out that an offensive air freshener as the cause of aggressive behavior.
· Creating a sensory diet, including respite spaces
Some teachers need to be in-serviced and provided ongoing consultation in order to understand, create and successfully implement sensory strategies that level the playing field for students who would otherwise likely fail. Moyes’ continues with this theme in her newest book Visual Techniques for Developing Social Skills. This book is packed with specific group lessons designed to develop awareness of social expectations such as:
· Maintaining personal space
· Using or approximating eye contact (i.e. by looking between the eyes)
· Turn taking
· Controlling voice volume
· Understanding privacy
· Learning the difference between “helping words” and “hurting words”
Lessons are designed to include reinforcement (such as praise or earning tokens) and further illustrated by using social stories. Teachers use visual/physical props such as a speedometer that illustrates voice volume and hoola hoops that demonstrate personal space.
Visual techniques used to develop social skills builds on the visual strengths students with autism often have-helping to develop self esteem and a foundation for friendships. The important lesson readers walk away with is that meeting the sensory and social needs of these students should be part of the educational plan so that students can grow up to lead both satisfying and productive lives. I recommend Rebecca Moyes’ books to educators, therapists, psychologists and parents.
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