Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Communication-Enriched Classroom Environment

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I currently work in a Special Ed. Communications classroom at an elementary school in the city where I live.  A Communications class is a highly structured classroom for children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder or another type of diagnosis that requires high structure and intense coaching in communication.  Now that I have been working in the classroom for six months, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on things.  I have learned so much about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), specifically about ways to enhance communication and conversation.

Years ago, when I worked in Early Childhood Intervention, a speech therapist colleague of mine taught me about the concept of a language-enriched environment.  Essentially, children with speech/language delays need an environment that encourages and elicits language reception and production.  She used the example of providing food choices in such a way as to elicit a verbal response.  Parents and caregivers are encouraged to think about ways to help their child produce language.  In the Comm. class, we are challenged to think of ways to encourage our students to carry on conversations with others.  Children with ASD carry on a great deal of internal conversation that consists of scripts from movies and television shows.  While this seems like a neat party trick--remembering hundreds of lines from movies and shows seemed cool in the movie Rain Man--in real life, this type of behavior is isolating and counterproductive to forming relationships.  We work to encourage our students to 'script' less and to talk with others more. 

Goals for our classroom look different than traditional classroom goals.  We try to set up an environment in which other students engage our students in conversation.  I also encourage my students to greet their peers and ask them questions.  Socialization begins in small steps.  I play a game with the students in the afternoon in which I have them ask me or one of the other members of the class a simple question ("What is your favorite color?"  "What do you like to eat?") before they can have a small snack.  We do morning and afternoon snacks and try to make these times instructional.  Asking questions of each other is highly prized, particularly if those questions are not coached. 

I am learning so much.  I am enjoying my time in this class, even though it is challenging at times.  God has been good to me, and I know that He has placed me in this classroom for a reason.  I strongly believe that God is preparing me for my next classroom assignment--wherever that may be...

Many blessings,