Experience is the Hardest Teacher…

Experience is the hardest Teacher, she gives the test first, followed by the lessons.”

Life takes us to unexpected places. Families with children having Autism and other challenges that affect their communication abilities are overwhelmed by the experience of coping with and caring for their child. Sometimes the lessons that help families cope and make sense of the world come after the hardest imaginable experiences. Stress and worries over “running away,” “acting out,” and other “challenging conditions, behaviors, and reactions,” to name just a few, occur daily. The normal cognitive function and the adaptive mechanisms of the person don’t develop in average or recognizable ways, and behaviors are frequently uncontrollable, persevering way beyond parent and love ones abilities to cope. Inclusion of people with Autism in the family circle creates real tensions and new dynamics in the family’s relationships, which there are few blueprints for working with.

Through loving, learning, the greatest patience imaginable, and by reaching out to experts and other coping families, caregivers can get the feedback and methods they need to begin communicating with and teaching the non-verbal person. Slowly each problem of development and growing up can be addressed. Fortunately, we now also have individualized technology solutions to help with many of these challenges. “ED TECH” is a term often used to refer to digital tools that can help and assist the person with disabilities (and others) meet and engage in a fulfilling life. Start by making a list of what you really want from educational technologies, because the number of devices, services, and applications (software) on the market is rapidly growing. Actually, the personal health care and the learning technologies innovations in the consumer electronics market is one of the fastest growing new business areas in the economy today.

Although scads of new and incredible products are now becoming available to us, many of these items are not yet well tested, tried, or rated by the consumers they are intended for. It’s not like we can just hand a new item to our non-verbal child and say, “Try this out and tell me what you think.” That leaves teachers, parents, and caregivers to choose edtech digital tools that they think will best help students meet their goals, while trying to address that person’s true functional levels, and hopefully getting some useful “bridges” that help address the gaps in knowledge and access to the world the person has. My blog will turn some attention to helping parents find more knowledge answers to What new EdTech is available and How can I integrate it consistently with current neuroscience research.

What kind of goals can edtech help individuals and families address?

  • Closing gaps in functional and academic areas (Reading, Writing, Math, CCSS)
  • Practicing skills to improve self-confidence and mastery (Reading, Writing, Social)
  • Enrichment (Art, Music, Video, Games, Interactive Programs, Communication skills)
  • Transitions and Independence (Orientation, Communication, Independence, Career and Post-Secondary Educational opportunities, Tracking/GPS)
  • Strengthening Nueropathways, Executive Function, Analytical Thinking, and Autonomous Learning skills
  • Ed Tech can help the child with disabilities, but also the adult and senior family member to maintain their independence and community connections.

What are the most important qualities and characteristics of edtech products?

  • Consistent and User-friend functioning for the stated purpose. When a product or app fails to perform as promised, or will not perform the same way multiple times, it becomes frustrating and breeds a negative CX (customer experience).
  • User Buy-In activates the brain’s inward motivation and competition systems. The user must enjoy the overall experience even as it is challenging them to improve.
  • Joy and enthusiasm are essential for learning.” Or Mary Poppin’s would say, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Personal motivation is key to why game-based learning is so successful with kids.Game-based learning appeals to tech savvy learners.
  • Individualized opportunity to participate. Digital learning can be engaging because it is offers personal control and choice. Students do not necessary succeed in mastery in a straight line of learning. Achieving challenges engaged in over time and through personal choices is highly motivating.
  • Intrinsic (internally originating) challenges, when overcoming personalized challenges leads the student to a highly energizing, and completely satisfying dose of brain chemicals (dopamine) which naturally lead students to better performance, more motivation, pleasure, perseverance, improved attention, memory, and cognitive ability!
  • Products that provide Feedback and plots Progress of the student in understandable ways. Feedback and progress mapping improves the students ability to focus and sustain practice to master challenges. Feedback teaches and enforces perseverance and mega-thinking (seeing patterns in problems).

One of the most worrisome problems for the family with a member with Autism is the frequent “run away” event (many times combined with losing clothes and possessions). In the next few blogs I will be posting my experiences using different personal tracking devices to find a lost person. The electronic devices we will review are meant to address the issue of a person getting lost; by accident or on purpose. We will look closely at products that are currently available on the market; their pros and cons. Stay tuned; like or subscribe to our blog site, and-

Remember to visit our website at www.enablethem.com

Ref: Willis, Judy (2016) “Matching edtech products with neurological learning goals,” Edutopia.org/blog

Inner Life of Behaviors

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My parents were not overly educated. Neither finished high school actually, but that did not prevent them from having a full measure and graduate level understanding of human behaviors. The code of the day, when I was a young child in the 1960’s was still “Spare the rod; spoil the child,” and “Children should be seen and not heard [from].”

It certainly never occurred to my parental unit that a day would ever come when children and their behaviors ruled a household, or determined the decisions (socially, emotionally, and financially) that had to be made by the heads of their household. At the same time, my father deeply understood children and adult inner motivations, and was my first teacher in the art of personal empowerment, choice making, and consequences. He effortlessly created a rich and rewarding real-life learning environment for his children which included hands-on involvement with the world, travel, questioning the facts and the opinions of others, research, and thinking for oneself. It is not what I learned that mattered to him, as long as I was keenly interested in something and trying to understand it from all sides and angles. I often had far reaching goals and dreams in my youth and my parents always let me know they believed in my ability to carve out any destiny I chose. They didn’t make me believe it would always be easy and they didn’t mask the possibility of failures along the way. But they believed in “getting back on the horse” when you’ve been thrown, and they frequently picked me up, dusted me off, and sent me back to the ring to try again, whatever the risk or possibility of failure might be. They did not protect me from making mistakes, even when they advised me fore or against any course of action.They accepted I had decisions to make, and that I must live with them.

From this early experience of “getting down and dirty” with life and my chosen paths, I have built a praxis in teaching, and in understanding the needs of the modern young person. I have practiced and participated in the learning and teaching experience over the past 4 decades and I now consider myself somewhat of an expert.:) But I also realize in each exhale how much more I have to learn. Currently I live with several disabilities of my own, including auditory and visual, but I do not consider them disabilities because living with these challenges has help prepare me to work with students with disabilities. I currently teach children  with severe learning disabilities, Autism, and non-verbal students in K-12 and adult learners. My students often represent the hardest group to serve. But because of many years and different situations of teaching practice I am prepared and pleased to be teaching my kids.

My last four years I have spent leading public school functional life skills classrooms in three states and I have learned from research and practice the key components of reasoning behind student misbehaviors and bad habits. Because I have really not found this information shared elsewhere, I am writing a blog that will focus on explaining my findings regarding instruction, classroom environmental design, UDL curriculum design, Common Core adaptations, and what is (wrongly) called “classroom management” skills to help other teachers and parents find meaning to their pressing questions in regards to special needs and unique learning students.

Many of my experiences- and research- driven practices will surprise some of you. Others will exclaim, “It’s about time someone used their common sense!” Whatever your reaction to my commitment to turning all education, especially Special Education, into an experience that is student-centered, -driven, -assessed, and which empowers students to choose and follow their own self-constructed paths to success, I hope that you will share it with me. Cheers! Remember to visit my site www.enablethem.com!