Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Autism Awareness Month - My focus this month is on Spatial Concepts, Prepositions, Positional Words...whatever you call them!


I work with many children who struggle with positional concepts. (aka spatial concepts or prepositions) Children with autism usually have a difficult time mastering these concepts, but I've noticed so many children in regular ed also struggle with them.  When a child is referred to speech for difficulty following auditory directions, I like to do a quick spatial concepts screening. I use my own product for baseline data, but I can't tell you how much I love the Wiig Assessment of Basic Concepts (WABC).  It is a really quick assessment, and it provides an expressive and receptive score. There are also two levels based on the age of the child, and it can be used for children 2.6 - 7.11 years old. I give it to many of my language children at annual review time since it only takes 10-15 minutes to complete. I love how it breaks down the concepts, and it allows me to write specific goals based on the area of deficit. Many of my students seem to have a pretty good grasp on the quantity/quality concepts, but they struggle with spatial and temporal concepts. I think I personally struggle with teaching temporal concepts the most!

 My main focus today is on spatial/positional concepts. The directions we give children are often embedded with this vocabulary, and some children just don't know what we are asking them to do. "FIRST, write your name at the TOP....NEXT cut OUT the boxes at the BOTTOM and glue them NEXT TO the correct picture." These words are everywhere! Common Core standard K.G.A.1 specifically mentions above, below, beside, in front of, behind, and next to. Since these concepts are fairly abstract, almost all of my children with autism struggle with positional words.

Through the TPT forums, I contacted a clip artist about the need for more images for basic concepts. Joel (TPT store name is Kindercade) really listened to what I needed, and he sent samples of his work in progress over a series of 25+ emails! I explained the need for a common "character" in the theme. I really wanted a main character depicted in a variety of positions. It's hard to explain, but so many of the commercial flashcard sets use different pictures for each concept. For example, the pictures for first/last are typically images of a train. In the same set, the pictures for in front/behind might be a ball in front of or behind a box. A typically developing child will probably make the correlation that another item can replace the train or the ball to mean the same thing. A child with autism will appear to know the concepts after a while, but they actually just know the train picture answer is either going to be first or last. The clip art from Kindercade allowed me to create a product that shows the same character with a few of his friends in all kinds of places! He was also nice enough to create the images with and without the text since some of my children with autism are hyperlexic. Here is a link to his work! It is amazing! He just created set one for conditional/quality concepts, and he's working on set two now!

With Joel's awesome clip art, I was able to create a positional concepts set that seems to work really well for me. I don't just use this product alone to teach positional concepts. I like to get up and move when we learn these words! Somewhere along the way, I learned there are three steps in teaching spatial concepts:
1. Have the child put their body in the position. (Get UNDER the table.)
2. Have the child put objects in the position. (Put a pen UNDER the paper.)
3. ID/Express concepts in a 2D/picture format. (Point to the picture that shows the boy BEHIND the tree...or a less wordy way "Show me BEHIND.)

To incorporate my product in a mixed group of children with language delays and children with autism, we ALL do steps one through three. I even like to combine my printed product with movement and technology. We are fortunate to have an OT/PT gym at our school, and they are so sweet to let me use their room. Each child selects a picture from my spatial concepts flash cards and demonstrates the concept while the other children try to guess the answer. They might go under the trampoline or behind the stack of bean bags. I get them to pose in these positions while I take pictures with my Ipad. When we get back to my room, they love to match the Ipad pictures with the flashcard pictures. Even if you don't have access to a special room, you can do this anywhere! When I worked at a middle school, my speech room was in a creepy old book closet. We went out in the hall and got between two water fountains. We got beside, behind, and in front of a giant cafeteria trash can on wheels. I'm sure the ladies in the lunchroom wondered "Why does that crazy speech lady crouch behind the trash can every day?" Fortunately, I found a banana box to get IN, so I didn't have to get IN the trash can!
The product I created is something that can be used with children of all levels. I even included some advanced concepts like left & right. I included a data sheet to screen and track mastery for the data nerds! Positional concepts are vital for all children, and this product can be differentiated easily in the regular ed classroom. My school district is really pushing student-led learning, and this is an easy way to allow the children to do just that during inclusion. I hope you enjoy it!