Managing Anger in Autism Spectrum

Managing Anger in Autism SpectrumSome teenagers on the autism spectrum, more often high-functioning ones like those with Aspergers, have trouble managing their anger.

Recently my son, who is diagnosed on the autism spectrum, went to take his first behind-the-wheel driver’s test.  He has had a permit for 18 months now and he has been doing really well driving.  Initially he was careless,  (one of the reasons he hasn’t taken the behind-the-wheel test yet.  Read the earlier post on learning to drive here) but for the past year he has taken it seriously and he’s doing really well. He even drove to the DMV site ahead of the test a couple times so he could get familiar with the area, and reviewed what to expect on the test.

We went to the DMV and I don’t know if the tester was having a bad day, or if they are advised to fail people the first time they take the driving test. The tester failed my son. To add insult to injury, the tester failed him upon exiting the parking lot due to my son pulling into the crosswalk when a pedestrian was about to enter the crosswalk and then the pedestrian had to walk around the front of the car. My son never even got to drive the course. Automatic fail! Pull over and park there!

(Now let me say I completely understand why the tester failed my son and I have NO PROBLEM with it. It was the right thing to do. But as the mother of a student on the autism spectrum, I know my son’s cognitive limitations, and I knew he was going to struggle with the outcome.)

We got in the car to go home and he lost it! He started yelling and cussing and at a decibel level that caused us to both suffer some hearing loss, I think. He was angry! He shouted so loud and waved his arms around with such force! I began to worry about how this behavior might be perceived in the community. If you have a student like this you may be wondering what ideas may work for helping him deal with angry feelings. Here are some thoughts on managing anger:

  • Anger is a secondary emotion – There was an emotion before your teen felt anger. Identify the primary emotion and you will connect better with your teen. For my son, he was embarrassed that he could not show the tester his skill. He was surprised that the tester told him to park, that the test was over. His extreme sense of justice kicked in and he felt cheated. He couldn’t even go out to drive the course, something he had prepared himself for.
  • Provide sympathy.  When your student feels you hear his concerns and knows what he is feeling, he often drops his defenses with you.
  • Boys and girls deal with stress differently.  Girls often remove themselves to another room and may cry. They also have better language skills and can process it better when you discuss it with them later on. Boys usually yell, cuss, hit or throw things. They communication skills are usually poorer and need to hear less from you. Keep your language short and simple with boys. The advantage is boys are usually able to move on from the incident quickly while girls may hold onto these feelings for a long time.
  • Manage stress with exercise, good nutrition and sensory support.  If your student is continually “on edge” like mine, be sure to provide supports. When you’ve done all you can to support and structure his environment and your student still has a meltdown, keep in mind that our special kids often learn the best when they experience things personally. Usually you have to wait till they calm down to talk about it with them, and help them process it. Since failing the test, my son learned an important lesson in life – You cannot control everything. With his perfectionistic tendencies, he needs to know there are some things that won’t turn out the way he wants. If no one was injured and no one saw the behavior (or very few saw it), it may be best to move on. The meltdown is over and life goes on. If your student contains his meltdown to when he is in “safe” company, then you may have to appreciate his current level of self-control. It may not be where you want his self-control to be, but it may be good enough for now. Appreciate that your student feels ‘safe’ with you – that’s the silver lining to that cloud!
  • My best advice is prevention! If you cannot prevent a meltdown, help your student to regain control as quickly as possible and wait until he has calmed down completely before trying to discuss it with him. When discussing it, keep you language short and simple, and reassure your student you do see the ways he is doing well, and keeping his emotions under control.



Linking with Same Sounds

My Chinese student, Pei Shan, was telling me her address. She is a beginning student who does not know much English yet.  She was making a common mistake with her pronunciation of number 6.  She said “sixsa”  and did not link her words together.  Her house number is 6672, and she pronounced it like this “sixsa sixsa seven two”.

Her previous teacher probably told her to pronounce each word clearly and so she is overemphasizing  the ending of this English word. It sounds like she is putting in an extra syllable on “6”.  But more importantly she is not linking the two S sounds together. Linking usually occurs with the S sound from the end of  the word (six/sounds like “sicks“) to the S sound of the beginning of the next word (“sicks” & “seven”). To help with this problem you need the LINK properly.  I wrote the number out and encouraged her to link it correctly:

6672 “6 6 7 2” really sounds like “SICKS SICKS SEVEN TU”

so I wrote the whole 4 numbers like it was one word and linked the S sounds together (those that are underlined here):

“S I C K S I C K S E V E N   T U”

She immediately pronounced it correctly!!

See an earlier post on linking with same sounds here.

BTW, when pronouncing the house numbers of your address, be sure to let your voice fall on the last number. That’s the correct melody.

Hope these tips help you in teaching or learning English pronunciation!

Thanksgiving Lesson

Thanksgiving LessonThanksgiving is celebrated in the U.S. on the last Thursday in November.   Here’s a lesson on Thanksgiving I prepared for my ESL students.  Take this free printable into your ESL class and students can read it and discuss the info, review the vocabulary words and answer the comprehension questions.  Lesson suitable for upper intermediate and advanced.



Pronunciation Games

Vowel DominosLearning English is hard work for your students! It is important to teach vocabulary and grammar, and if your students are lucky, you’re also teaching pronunciation (because not many ESL teachers teach about pronunciation).

My goal each time I teach English pronunciation, is for the students to have fun while practicing their pronunciation. I do that by playing pronunciation games.  I discovered a wonderful book that I use in class.  It’s Pronunciation Games, by Mark Hancock.  Some games in the book are better suited to a British English accent, but many are fine for teachers of American English.

Today we played Four-sided Dominos (pages 38-39 in the book). This game helps students focus on and learn 8 important vowel sounds in English. I started by slowly reviewing all the vowel sounds used in this particular game. Then I listed words from the game on the board and we practiced the sounds and words together. VowelDominosKey2When we came to a word with tricky spelling, like “said” which is pronounced like “bed”, I showed my students, we practiced the word, and put the word into a sentence.

Then we played the four-sided dominos game by passing the cards out to 4 players and playing a starter card in the middle of the table.  Each player took turns trying to match one of their cards to the card(s) on the table.  With each word, the students practiced their English pronunciation.  I also worked with them on listening skills when they made a mistake. I said the words slowly and encouraged them to decide if the words matched or not. VowelDominosESLStudentsFor a small class you may need only 1 set of cards. If you have a bigger class, make more sets, enough for 4 students to work together on one game.

The Pronunciation Games book has lots more games, but this one is good to get you started.  It can be used with late beginner, intermediate and advanced students.

Here’s a link to a free downloadable copy of the Pronunciation Games book that I use in class.  I link it here because the book is 112 pages long and you may wish to look at parts of it before downloading.

Communciation & Autism

Communication & AutismSweet little ‘Benjamin’, 4 years old, comes to our clinic for speech therapy.  He’s diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder – PDD, NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified). Benji, like many kids on the autism spectrum, is tuned out, kind of in his own world.  His brain does not work like other kids his age.  When adults talk to him he usually doesn’t “get” most of what they’re saying.  He can’t yet answer expanded questions, and still has difficulty with answering simple questions and following simple directions. Sometimes it’s just easier for him to repeat what the adult says (a form of echolalia). He’s guessing, not really sure of what the adult wants, often because they didn’t slow down or simplify or get his attention before they spoke to him.

Today I chatted with his mother.  She can’t understand why he can’t communicate like his older brother did at this age and is having a hard time communicating with him.  I offered her some thoughts on purposeful communication and how to do it well with her autistic son.

  1. Get your child’s attention before you speak to him.
  2. Simplify your request.
  3. Pause and allow your child extra time to respond.
  4. Check for understanding.
  5. If your child needs help responding, help him with the answer by modeling it for him.
  6. Additional ideas that may help:  Get down to your child’s level, face to face, touch him, and face his body toward you so he can focus his attention on you. Communication is going to take great effort!  You can’t just take it for granted that they will learn to communicate like neurotypical children do. Be persistent. If this kind of purposeful communication is new for you, put the effort into trying these ideas and observing how it helps your communication with your autistic child.


Habits for a Healthy Voice

habits for a healthy voice

Your vocal cords (located in the “adam’s apple” in your neck) need proper love and care to be able to do their job.  You can abuse your voice, or you can take good care of it.  Professionals who use their voice on a regular basis need to be aware and take care of their voice including teachers, actors, singers, lawyers, clergy and anyone who speaks in front of others, or speak on a regular basis.

What do you need to keep your voice healthy?

  1. Drink lots of water! keep the body hydrated for good vocal health (the water does not actually touch your vocal cords when you swallow, but good regular hydration keeps all your cells in good working order).
  2. If you get a cold or laryngitis, don’t whisper!  Whispering makes it worse by putting more pressure on the vocal cords. Instead take a “vocal rest”.  If you have to, write out a card to carry with you and show it to people who speak to you.” I’m on vocal rest and not allowed to use my voice right now.  Thanks for understanding.”
  3. Avoid habitual throat-clearing. Try sipping water instead, or doing a silent clear by saying  a soft “ha” and then swallowing.
  4. Avoid yelling, especially in loud places.
  5. Don’t smoke or be around smokers, if you can help it. Avoid other air pollutants.
  6. Teachers – manage your classroom with some non-verbal signs and actions. Read more about classroom management that could save your voice here.
  7. Take care of GERD.  If you’re diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease, be aware you maybe expericencing stomach acid reflux on your vocal cords.  See your doctor and keep GERD under control.
  8. Some medications like antihistamines, are drying to the voice.  Read more about meds that could affect your voice here.

See your doctor or a speech-language pathologist for a worsening problem with your voice.

Pronouncing -ed Words Correctly (no vibration + t)

more on pronouncing  -ed endingsAgain at ESL we discussed how to pronounce -ed words.  The focus of today’s post is on “words ending with a voiceless sound + /t/”

We spell all -ed words the same (Thank Goodness!)  But they can be pronounced 1 of 3 different ways.  See my earlier post on pronouncing -ed words here.  Put ‘-ed’ into the search box on the right and all the older ‘-ed’ posts will come up, including ones with audio.

Let’s focus today on “words ending with a voiceless sound + /t/”

Look at the root word (that’s the word before you put on the -ed.)  If it ends with a voiceless sound (no vibration of the vocal chords) then add the /t/ sound.  These sounds are usually spelled with P, F, K, S (or C), SH, CH and X.

♥the word          ♥the word with -ed             ♥sounds like:

  • help                          helped                          helpt
  • stopped                   stopped                        stopt
  • laugh                        laughed                       laft
  • golf                           golfed                           golft
  • cook                          cooked                        cookt
  • pick                           picked                         pikt
  • work                         worked                        werkt
  • walk                         walked                         wawkt     Remember to use the /aw/ sound and no L.  L is silent!
  • pass                          passed                         past
  • dance                       danced                         danst
  • kiss                            kissed                          kist
  • push                         pushed                         pusht
  • wash                         washed                        washt
  • reach                        reached                        reecht
  • watch                        watched                      wacht
  • mix                           mixed                           mixt


How I Teach Using Skype

How I Teach Using SkypeI teach pronunciation for an ESL program and I was approached by the daughter of one of my adult students, about teaching students in China using Skype (I live in the U.S.)  This lady organizes the student schedules, collects the fees and interprets as needed.  I prepare a weekly lesson for students (middle school-aged).  I send homework ahead of time (a reading assignment and questions or pictures for discussion.)   The lessons are 1 hour long.  I provide a written progress report every six months.

We had DSL but I found I needed to purchase a more substantial cable service.  Since getting additional service with my cable provider I have not had trouble with the internet connection. Basic Skype is a free service and I have never updated to the paid Skype service.  Sometimes the calls are dropped, but most of the time we can re-establish connection without difficulty.

In lessons, I cover grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and American culture.  Recently my 8th grade student got up in front of her “English” class at school and gave a speech in English that I reviewed, and practiced with her. She tells me she knows more English than her Chinese English teacher.

In our ESL classes, I also teach adults who are new immigrants to the U.S. and they frequently tell me that they wish they had not learned English in their home country, Iran, Korea etc.  They were telling me that they did not learn their English from a native English speaker.  Because of that they learned English WRONG.  When ESL or online students learn from me, they are learning correct English grammar as well as pronunciation, from a native speaker, for a reasonable tuition price.

If you are a student thinking of taking online lessons for English pronunciation, (which are always scheduled at your convenience) please contact me for my fee schedule and availability at avspeechtherapy(at)gmail(dot)com.

Please let me know if you have any questions about how we teach using Skype to students in China.

The Grandparent’s Best Gift

Grandmother and grandchild autismGrandparents can be in the unique position of acceptance and unconditional love when it comes to their special-needs grandchildren. This is how it was for my son and his grandmother, who was my mother-in-law.

Grandmother passed away in August 2013, but not too soon to have developed a warm, accepting relationship with her grandson.  Relating to her grandson was no easy feat because he lacked many social skills, despite his high intelligence.  But grandmother knew the secret to a loving relationship.  She accepted his quirky behavior.  When he wanted to tell her the 5,000 facts about gemstones, pokemon or legos (his early obsessions), she never tired of it, and after listening, encouraged him to tell her more.  If I stepped in to temper or explain, she often shushed me out of their conversations.  His meltdowns were overlooked and his idiosyncratic behavior was never a problem to grandmother. Their special world, where he could do no wrong, was the best gift a grandmother could give a grandchild.

She cooked us a special family dinner every Christmas with prime rib and sushi (living in Los Angeles for 40 years encouraged her sushi habit.)  It was my son’s favorite meal!   Then mountains of Christmas presents under the tree were waiting to be opened.  She always choose what he loved, probably because she was a good listener for so many years.

Grandmother's LoveAnd then there were the family vacation to the Miramar in Santa Barbara (a lovely hotel long closed, and fondly remembered).  We sat on the beach, played in the surf, flew grandmother’s kites and ate grandmother’s hot dogs. Whatever she was doing, she was never too busy to have her grandchildren near her and welcome them into her life.

Parents are always the ones who discipline (hopefully with love) but grandparents can LOVE first and foremost and create a relationship that, if done correctly, will be remembered for the grandchild’s whole life.

-Dedicated to Grandmother who loved her grandkids without reservation!

Picture Decription Lesson 6

UntitledToday’s post is more  picture description printable worksheets.

Describing photos is great for speaking (oral expression).  Students, from beginning to advanced, benefit from picture description activities.

Below are some worksheets with photos, I made up for oral expression with my Skype students.  The photos are not mine,  just photos I located on the internet. I send the worksheet to my students by email ahead of their lesson time, and they have a chance to think about what they see in the picture and how to talk about it.  Then during their lesson they describe what they see in the picture.  Often I ask questions about what’s in the pictures such as Who? What is happening? Where is this? etc.  I call these worksheets “Talk Abouts”   If you use them in class, please share how it goes.

Talk About Worksheet 13 clay-citywalk

Talk About Worksheet 14 horsesculpture-sewing

Talk About worksheet 15 swan-cardmaking

Talk About worksheet 16 farming-fishing