Last year, when Drake first started pre-K I tried to do something to help his teachers understand him. I used a picture of a little boy and labeled it to help them understand his needs. It is amazing how much I've learned in a year. Drake learns well through visuals and social stories. Sometimes the best way to teach others about autism and help them understand Drake is to teach others the exact same way he learns. Granted, this is very wordy (I'm a former teacher, sorry), but I think overall you get the idea. Since Drake is non-verbal I want to make sure all my bases are covered. Drake can't tell others what he likes and doesn't like, so I have to speak for him. I'm so thankful his therapists are able to go with him to school again this year, but I still want his teachers to be very knowledgeable about Drake before the big day. I wanted to share with you all so you too could get a glimpse into this beautiful little mind.
A Social Story
All About Drake
Hello! My name is Drake. I’m almost 5 years old and I am autistic.
Here is a little information on autism (my mama copied it shamelessly from the internet), but remember…each individual with autism is different. You may see similarities between me and another child with autism, but the differences far outweigh the similarities. The highlighted parts below describe my form of autism best.
What Is Autism?
Autism is a complex neurobehavioral condition that includes impairments in social interaction and developmental language and communication skills combined with rigid, repetitive behaviors. Because of the range of symptoms, this condition is now called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It covers a large spectrum of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment. ASD ranges in severity from a handicap that somewhat limits an otherwise normal life to a devastating disability that may require institutional care.
Children with autism have trouble communicating. They have trouble understanding what other people think and feel. This makes it very hard for them to express themselves either with words or through gestures, facial expressions, and touch.
A child with ASD who is very sensitive and may be greatly troubled -- sometimes even pained -- by sounds, touches, smells, or sights that seem normal to others.
Children who are autistic may have repetitive, stereotyped body movements such as rocking, pacing, or hand flapping. They may have unusual responses to people, attachments to objects, resistance to change in their routines, or aggressive or self-injurious behavior. At times they may seem not to notice people, objects, or activities in their surroundings. Some children with autism may also develop seizures or other co-morbid conditions. And in some cases, those seizures may not occur until adolescence.
Some people with autism are cognitively impaired to a degree. In contrast to more typical cognitive impairment, which is characterized by relatively even delays in all areas of development, people with autism show uneven skill development. They may have problems in certain areas, especially the ability to communicate and relate to others. But they may have unusually developed skills in other areas, such as drawing, creating music, solving math problems, or memorizing facts. For this reason, they may test higher -- perhaps even in the average or above-average range -- on nonverbal intelligence tests.
Symptoms of autism typically appears during the first three years of life. Some children show signs from birth. Others seem to develop normally at first, only to slip suddenly into symptoms when they are 18 to 36 months old. However, it is now recognized that some individuals may not show symptoms of a communication disorder until demands of the environment exceed their capabilities. Autism is four times more common in boys than in girls. It knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries. Family income, lifestyle, or educational levels do not affect a child's chance of being autistic.
So, how does autism affect me?
- I am non-verbal. This simply means I have not found my voice. I understand most of what is said to me, as long as you don’t use too many words. I communicate quite well by other means. Hand leading, sign language, persistence, and my new AAC communication device (it’s like my thoughts in an iPad. How cool is that?) I most likely have something called, Apraxia of speech. This means that my brain and mouth have not made the connection needed for spoken language.
- · I am a visual learner. I will be less frustrated with visual schedules and reminders. I’m very observant and curious of what is going on around me…even if I don’t appear to be.
- · I can be very manipulative and will try reverse psychology to get what I want. (I can’t believe my mother told my secret)
- · I sometimes struggle with making eye contact. This in no way means that I am not listening…quite the opposite in fact. I listen better when I can process without having to stare at someone’s eyeballs.
- · I sometimes have trouble processing language. This is particularly difficult for me if I am being asked to do something I am unfamiliar with. Please don’t use too many words. It is better to show me, rather than tell me.
- · I get frustrated easily if I cannot do something. I learn best by repetition. Don’t give up on me, if you continue to show me and encourage me, I will get it.
- · Transitions can be difficult for me because I do not love changes in routines. I’m learning to cope with this. Visual schedules and steady routines help. I also have my dog, Koda, who has helped ease my anxieties.
- · I stim when I get excited or I’m really happy (which is most of the time). Stimming can look strange to others, but it is something I need to do in order to regulate my senses. As I get older I will realize that some types of stims are best to do at home. Stimming is: Self-stimulatory behavior, also known as stimming and self-stimulation, is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities, but most prevalent in people with autistic spectrum disorders. My stims include: teeth grinding (my parents adore this one..not), squealing (we are working on this in ABA), and moving my fingers in front of my face when I’m really focused on something. Most of my stims are vocal or auditory.
- · I am not aggressive at all. I’m very affectionate and quite the ladies’ man.
- · I am not a runner (elopement is a common problem). I like to be with others and seldom want to do anything on my own.
- · I seldom get frustrated unless my routine changes or someone doesn’t understand what I am trying to communicate. If I do meltdown it is often mild.
- · Sensory processing disorder often accompanies autism. Autistics may avoid certain things in the environment…noise, etc. However, I’m what is known as a sensory “seeker.” I love movement, jumping, touch, affection, tickles, hugs, squeezes, loud noises (such as the vacuum cleaner and hair dryer, although I loathe hand dryers), water, climbing, and rough play.
- · At this time, I do not have any co-morbid conditions that often go along with autism other than Apraxia of speech. Some kids have seizures, severe fine or gross motor issues, major eating disorders, and severe SPD(Sensory processing disorder).
What I love:
· I love my service dog Koda. More about her later.
· I love swimming and water. In fact, I taught myself how to swim, hold my breath underwater, and I can swim the length of my pool this way.
· I love animals, particularly farm animals.
· Books, books, and more books. Picture books are my favorite.
· I do not like a wide variety of foods..but I can eat a truck load of what I do like. Pizza is my favorite.
· I love my iPad.
· I love Curious George.
· I love games like Break The Ice.
· I love to match and sort anything.
· I love music and nusery rhymes. Music makes me happy.
· I love my therapists.
· I love Tumbling and my coach, Brodie.
· I love other children, although I’m not always sure how to interact.
Things I do not love:
· Too many directions at once.
· Change in routine.
· People not understanding what I want.
· Being told to do something. I sometimes get frustrated with demands.
· Trying new foods.
· Trying something and failing.
· Being asked to participate when I don’t know what is expected of me.
· Being told “no.” I realize it is a part of life…but I’m a toddler.
These are a few things about me. I hope you know that I want to do well in your class. I want to make friends with other kids and I loved being at CPP last year. I know that this year things will be different and I will need to make new friends. Please help me as I adjust to your style of teaching and meeting new friends. More than anything in the world, I want to feel accepted and I prefer to be treated like everyone else. I also need you to help my friends understand what autism means. It is simply a different way of learning, but learn I will.
Koda is my service dog. My parents worked really hard and raised lots of money to get her for me. She is my best friend. I’ve had her with me for several months now. She has taught me how to play, how to use my imagination, and how to interact better. Our favorite game is hide and seek. Having a service dog is totally new to me, so I’m relying on others to help me learn how to best use Koda when I am feeling anxious or need a friend. When it’s possible, I would like for Koda to be near me, but she doesn’t always have to be right under my feet. Once Koda gets adjusted to being in the classroom with me please feel free to pet her and give her love on occasion. She loves attention even more than I do! It must have something to do with her being a girl….
My mom is going to attach her list of commands so you will know how to talk to her. She is like me in many ways, mostly because she doesn’t talk. But, like me…she listens very well. Thank you so much for allowing her to be part your classroom this year. I know you will love her just as much as I do before long.
If you ever have any questions about Koda please feel free to contact my mom. She will be glad to help in any way she can.
I’m so excited about being in your class this year. I hope you are excited to help me grow!