Dr. Welkowitz addressed the idea that socially successful kids ask questions. Teaching them what these questions are and when to use them is not always so simple. As counselors, we are taught to be tender, so the direct, results oriented cognitive/behavioral approach that seems the most successful with ASD kids may look somewhat harsh or insensitive. In her book Asperger Syndrome and Adolescence, Teresa Bolick (2004) emphasizes how important it is to form a sincere partnership with the students we serve, as discouragement is a real threat to success. She speaks about the necessity to fashion tasks that are both meaningful and motivating to assure that adolescents understand what the reason and pay off of hard work is likely to be. As Dr. Welkowitz has pointed out, what we “think” propels what we “do,” so teaching the tiers of social questioning, identifying the key social people in a child’s environment, and helping them access an understanding of the importance of social nuances is not only necessary, it is crucial.
This course has whet my appetite for further exploring and understanding what kinds of interventions can be used successfully at the middle school level in developing what I am referring to as a “social safety net.” Adreon & Stella (2001) point out that social expectations increase and peer relationships get more complex as children get older. While many students look forward to the experience of middle school, ASD kids are often overwhelmed by things like having a variety of teachers, moving in the hallways, operating a locker, etc… Unstructured times such as the playground and cafeteria may be especially problematic. Increasing adult supports may alleviate some situations, but peer supports may have the greatest overarching effect. We should not underestimate the importance of learning how to both have and be a friend. The skills we pick up as children are carried into the workplace; intimacy, a sense of belonging and value is a basic human need.
Janney & Snell (2006) point out that adults in schools both set the tone and hold the keys to creating an environment that is both physically and emotionally safe for ASD kids. Modeling, role-playing and facilitating respectful, accepting behaviors teaches neuro-typical kids that being different is not only okay, it can be a reason to celebrate. Exposing and applauding all kids’ talents should be the goal of every classroom teacher. Direct and indirect involvement with exceptional students through instruction and the expression of both affection and healthy attitudes can change the lives of all of our students. Stay tuned next semester as I delve deeper into an attempt to develop such a social safety net among the students I serve.
The town of Bedford is building its first ever high school, set to open this fall. As part of the project, our middle school will also be moving to a new facility on the same campus. The prospect of being able to establish social relationships and/or programs at the middle school level that will, hopefully, expand to grades 7 through 12 has me very excited. Nancy Mizelle (2003) has offered some useful suggestions for how to transition kids from middle school to high school, stressing the importance of pre-planning and collaboration between the school staffs. I would venture that the same level of importance will need to be considered between grades 6 and 7, as well. Orientations, school tours, parent information nights, etc…can make or break a child’s experience by coloring their perceptions about the future. I have already begun discussion with my counseling colleagues, both above and below me, about the kinds of things we should be considering as we go forward.
The prospects are limitless; the future is filled with opening doors of opportunity. I want to thank Dr. Welkowitz for sharing his enthusiasm and expertise. I found this class to be both riveting and practical; I know I will use many of his ideas and practices in my own work and to me, that feels as though this was time well spent.
Adreon, D., & Stella, J. (2001). Transition to middle and high school: Increasing the success of students with Asperger Syndrome. Intervention in School & Clinic, 36(5), 266-272.
Bolick, T. (2004). Asperger Syndrome and Adolescence. Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds Press.
Janney, R. & Snell, M. (2006). Social Relationships and Peer Support. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Mizelle, N. (2003). Helping middle school students make the transition into high school. Taken from www.mentalhelpnet: child and adolescent development.