Aug 24, 2011


 The following is a form letter that I tweak at the beginning of every school year to give to our kid's new teachers.  This one is Hunter's.  It may help anyone who is looking to do the same.  :)

 Dear Teacher,

We have set up this form letter to give to every teacher to help them better understand our son, ______.  ______ has been diagnosed with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified). PDD-NOS is a neurobiological disorder on the Autism Spectrum.  The co-existing conditions that _____ has are Tourette’s syndrome, ADHD, Anxiety, and Seizure Disorder.  He takes medications and supplements that help with these syndromes, but he still struggles on a day to day basis. Don’t let all of these conditions worry you, we’ve decided it’s better to let the teacher know in writing and it’s easier than verbally trying to explain it all. 

While these issues may be complex, you probably won’t be able to tell anything is wrong, at least for awhile. 

_______ is a very curious child that pays attention to very small details and can get “lost” in the shuffle of daily activities.  It is impossible for us to define in detail AS (Autism Spectrum Disorders) in one letter, but we would like to give you all the support that we can.  Working together as a team with open and frequent communication is the key to helping _______ manage himself and find his place.

While there is no cure for AS, we should help _______ develop self help and coping techniques so that he can manage the over-stimulating and confusing world around him.  There is a range of severity of symptoms within the syndrome.  The very mildly affected child may appear odd or eccentric.  Here are some clinical features of AS:

-social interaction impairments
-speech and communication characteristics
-cognitive and academic characteristics
-sensory impairments
-restricted patterns of behavior, interests and activities

While research in this area of how children retain and process information is still being investigated, we know the following to be true of children who have AS:

-concrete and literal thinkers
-inability in discerning relevant from irrelevant information (i.e.: all info vs. highlights)
-inability to generalize information (i.e.: “if you know this, then you know that”)
-poor problem solving mechanics (i.e.:  using one strategy in all problems)

These characteristics can affect academic performance:

-Distraction/Inattention (i.e.: hum of lights, trying to focus on all details, noise)
-Tunnel vision (i.e.: adherence /monitoring class rules, personal interests
-Rote memory:  (VERY DANGEROUS, memorizing all the facts and then parroting the info in an “asked & answered format without bridging that info for use in other material or personal experience)
-Problem solving-  (+,plus, and addition =the same strategy)
-Motivation:  (strong lack of motivation, he sees no relevance to material and necessity to his scheme, personal experience, out come)
-General behaviors:  Preference to work alone, isolate oneself.
—Love praise, winning, being first and pleasing adults.
—Find losing, imperfection and criticism difficult to take. 
-Need to finish tasks they have started-Work well one to one rather than in a group.
Social Interaction:
–Poor use of nonverbal gestured and understanding of same—Insists on all classmates following rules
—More self-centered then selfish. 
–Prefer younger children or adults for conversation. 
–Blatantly honest to a fault, can be labeled “tattle-tale”
-No interest in competitive sports or team games , preferring solitary activities/sports.

-Communication/Speech: Monotone voice-Overly formal speech-Metaphors and similes need to be explained. 
--Appear to speak “at” you rather than with you.  –Pragmatic language difficulties. –Lack of eye contact. 
–Literal interpretation of directions “we will go tomorrow”—Vocalizations help to organize deluxe ideas of provide comfort. 
–Stress/anxiety will inhibit speech patterns and confuse ______.

Narrow interests/preoccupations:
--One of the hallmarks of AS is the preoccupation with certain topics.  These preoccupations usually in intellectual areas change over time or evolve, but do not lessen in intensity and may be pursued to the excursion of other activities.  It has been surmised that these special interests are scratch used t5o facilitate communication, indicate intelligence.  Provide order and consistency.

 -Children often impose rigid routine on themselves and those around them, from how they want things done, to what they will eat.  Routines will change from time to time.  This inflexibility shows itself and other ways to giving rise to difficulties with imaginative and creative thinking.  The child tends to like the same old thing done in the same old way over and over again.  There appears to be a developmental sequence in the nature of the interests, and the next phase is a fascination with the topic rather than an object.

Theory of Mind: 
--This final obstacle describes the way children with AS perceive other people’s thoughts.  They believe that their thoughts are the thoughts of everyone else. They do not appreciate that each person has their own independent thoughts.  This would explain why they easily frustrate when other people don’t know or understand just as they do, which justifies their “controlling” personality.

As we said, there is no easy way to describe this.  We have done our best to layout all the obstacle that we have come across.  The good news is from here on we will give you several strategies and tips for working with ______ in both behavioral and academic ways.  We have reviewed the material that addressed educational strategies to the best of our abilities, and taking into consideration the learning style that works best with ______ we can offer you the following suggestions:

Visual Cues:  Charts, Outlines, Graphics (Visual will always work better than auditory)

Structural Changes: 
As often as possible, give advanced warnings to the challenges taking place.  *Pair _____ with a classmate that has an easy going personality or who might be slightly younger.  Keep in mind that he has to earn social skills from role-playing and peer directed activities.

Assignment Notebooks are very useful.  _____ almost never relays information to me about his day and would never remember verbal instructions to be told later.  Additionally, he never remembers his belongings and then later would “melt-down” over forgetting something.  It would be best to keep a visual schedule for him before he leaves the classroom for the day.  *Timelines work very well for us.  Giving ______ a five minute warning to a change in the activity has been very useful in helping him transition.

Instructional Sequence: 
*A rationale is needed when teaching ______.  He very often sees no relevance in the learned material to his own life or to other class work down the road.  It is often necessary to explain WHY the material is necessary, how he can use it, and why it works with something that he has already learned.

-Verification of the material is helpful during the instruction to verify that ______ is on task and focused.  It also lets you confirm that _______ is coping with the external stimuli by filtering it out and staying on task.

*Notoriously known for not being motivated to complete tasks or to share in interests outside of their own interests are hallmark to the criteria of AS.  The only ways to combat these are to challenge _______ with relating the work to their personal interests (drawing, acting, geography, music) or letting ________ partake in an activity that he enjoys after the work is done.  Nothing like old fashioned bribery.

We’re sure this seems very overwhelming—especially if you are new to Autism Spectrum Disorders.  To allay your fears, _______ is a very mild mannered boy and won’t cause any trouble in class.  He is shy at first and then he becomes very entertaining the more he opens up to people.  School is very difficult for him and he does not enjoy it.

_______ is a very talented artist with works published online and sold. He plays the piano by ear and loves acting.  He displays his unique way of seeing the world around him through these means, and it helps define him. 

We appreciate your willingness to educate our son.  We hope you enjoy him as much as we do.  Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or problems that arise. 


Your name here

PS:  _______ needs to be redirected when he starts pulling, rubbing, or twisting his hair.  He does this when he is concentrating or anxious.  We finally got his bald spot to grow back in this summer. 

Hope this letter helps someone.  Let me know what other ideas you may have found! Thanks! 

Aug 3, 2011

GFCF Cooking Together: Learning Can be Fun!

Reprinted with permission from a 2011 column on “GFCF Cooking Together with Kids” offered by the Autism Asperger’s Digest magazine. This selection is featured in the July/August 2011 issue. Find previous GFCF Cooking Together articles at the Article Library page of the AADigest website,

The kitchen is a natural learning environment. From organizing ingredients, to creating lists, and teaching basic math concepts, it’s not hard to imagine turning time spent cooking together into an incredibly fun learning experience.

Lay the Foundation

While any time spent cooking together can become a learning opportunity, do not introduce your child to cooking for the sole purpose of teaching. The key word is “fun!” Your child needs to be comfortable being together in the kitchen with you first, so if you haven’t begun the process, take steps to gradually introduce him to food, cooking, and sharing time in the kitchen. (Check out our earlier GFCF Cooking Together articles for some great tips!)

Don’t Forget the Food

It sounds silly to say “don’t forget the food,” but the point is simply this: There is no greater motivation to learn in the kitchen than for the end product to be the reward. This means making sure you choose foods your child loves to eat.

Basic Skills

One of the best things about using cooking to teach skills to our children with autism, is that it’s so easy to tailor the information and level of difficulty to meet their needs.

· Organization and Sequencing. Write each step of the recipe on a separate card, or list them on a dry erase board in simple terms so you and your child have a visual sequence of steps to follow. Make a list of ingredients and utensils you will need, then collect them and organize everything on the counter in the order in which it will be used. The extent of your child’s participation depends entirely on her ability and comfort level in the kitchen. If necessary, begin by asking her to find just one utensil and make it her “assigned” utensil. For example, her utensil could be a spoon and when that step is reached in the recipe, she has responsibility for stirring. Put a star next to the steps that she will complete.

· Sharing Together. This is a great time to implement strategies like turn taking and synchronizing actions together. Examples might be: “I’ll pour this, then you’ll pour that,” “I’ll get the mixing bowl, you get the spoon,” or “I’ll add eggs while you stir.”

· Verbal Communication. Keep a happy, chatty conversation going, even if you’re delivering a monologue. Remember that the idea is for you to model the steps and teach while you’re in the cooking process, whether your child is watching or actively participating. Every now and then ask a simple question and give him sufficient time to respond.

· Descriptive Language. While you’re talking, use as much descriptive language as possible to define colors, textures, tastes, and smell. Pause to let her experience and absorb the similarities and differences in ingredients.

Math in the Kitchen

Could there be a better place to teach essential math than the kitchen? This is the perfect opportunity to give real-world substance to abstract concepts. Depending on your child’s academic level, you can work fractions, measurements, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and even weight (if you have a kitchen scale) into any simple recipe.

· Counting. Count the number of times you stir, every time you add an ingredient, the number of steps in the recipe, the number of ingredients, etc. Make it a game by taking turns counting or by pretending you can’t remember the next number so your child can pitch in and help.

· Double the Recipe. Create the opportunity to teach addition or multiplication by doubling the recipe. Your child can count out loud, and physically measure and pour each ingredient twice, which gives you multiples chances to reinforce the concept. Make it more complicated by increasing the recipe by 1 1/2.

· Reduce the Recipe. On the flip side, teach subtraction or division by cutting the recipe in half.

· Fractions. Measure one cup of flour (or other ingredient), then measure again using half cup, third cup, and quarter cup measures. Talk about how they’re different. Demonstrate that you can pour two half-cup measures into one cup to equal the same amount. Another great visual method is to choose a food item that your child likes, whether several carrots or slices of bread, then lay one item out whole, cut another one in half and place it under the whole one, cut another one in thirds and place it directly underneath, etc.

TIP: You’ll need more than one set of measuring cups to show the relationships. You’ll need two half cups, three third cups, and four quarter cups.

Shapes, Sorting and Fine Motor Skills had a great lesson plan for teaching shapes and sorting. Complete directions can be found by going to their web site and searching for “fruit-shape kebabs,” but here’s the idea:

· Cut different fruits into shapes. Use any type of fresh or canned fruit and cut each one into a variety of shapes. For optimum sorting, you’ll need enough of the fruit to cut each one into the same shapes. Ultimately, the fruit will be made into kebabs, so plan to have enough pieces cut to make several kebabs.

· Sort by type of fruit. Talk about their different colors, textures, tastes and uses in cooking.

· Sort by shape. This gives you the opportunity to teach different shapes. You can also compare the cut shapes to the original shape of the fruit.

· Separate the fruit into piles. Decide how many kebabs you’re making and create a pile of fruit for each one. Count as you divide the fruit into separate piles.

· Slide each pile of fruit onto a bamboo skewer to make kebabs. Be careful about safety issues if the skewers have sharp points, but if it’s appropriate for your child, placing fruit on the skewer helps fine motor skills.

· Enjoy the snack! Serve with a GFCF yogurt for dipping, sprinkled with some raw sugar on top. De-licious!

Spending time in the kitchen together offers all sorts of opportunities for learning, from academics like math, history (origins of food), or geography (when using ethnic foods), to working on sensory issues or social skills. The key here – and everywhere – is to make learning fun for the child!

Read More Online! Our companion e-article (available only to subscribers during July & August) focuses on converting recipes to GFCF. Plus, look for a delicious, nutritious warm-weather recipe to try out with your child.



Ernie and Oscar learn they like different things-great for kids on the Spectrum!