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Using Picture Books to Create Peer Awareness About Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Inclusive Classroom

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Using Picture Books to Create Peer Awareness About Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Inclusive Classroom
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    http://isc.sagepub.com/  Intervention in School and Clinic  http://isc.sagepub.com/content/47/4/206The online version of this article can be found at: DOI: 10.1177/1053451211424600 2012 47: 206 srcinally published online 24 October 2011 Intervention in School and Clinic  Kimberly Maich and E. Christina Belcher ClassroomUsing Picture Books to Create Peer Awareness About Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Inclusive  Published by:  Hammill Institute on Disabilities and  http://www.sagepublications.com  can be found at: Intervention in School and Clinic  Additional services and information for http://isc.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts Email Alerts:  http://isc.sagepub.com/subscriptions Subscriptions:  http://www.sagepub.com/journalsReprints.nav Reprints:  http://www.sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav Permissions:  What is This? - Oct 24, 2011OnlineFirst Version of Record - Feb 7, 2012Version of Record >> at BROCK UNIV on April 4, 2012isc.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Intervention in School and Clinic 47(4) 206  –213© Hammill Institute on Disabilities 2012Reprints and permission: http://www. sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.navDOI: 10.1177/1053451211424600http://isc.sagepub.com hosted at http://online.sagepub.com Feature Article Inclusive classrooms support and educate students with diverse learning styles and a range of strengths and needs. Within this diversity, students with a variety of excep-tionalities learn together as a community with their peers in neighborhood schools. For true empathy, acceptance, and  belonging to occur in an authentic way with peers who may have questions about special needs, including autism spec-trum disorders (ASD), a need for diversity education for all students has emerged (Bennett & Dworet, 2008; Iaquinta & Hipsky, 2006; Timmons, Breintenbach, & MacIsaac, n.d.). The influence of peer groups grows in importance as students mature; and consequently, children with disabilities may  become socially isolated over time even in inclusive classrooms. This warrants a proactive, educational approach I ./i n BelcerIntervention in Scool an Clinic Hammill Instituteon Disabilities2012eprintsand permission: http://www. sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav 1 Fanshawe College, London, Ontario, Canada 2 Monash University, Melbourne, Australia Corresponding Author: Kimberly Maich, Fanshawe College, 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., London, Ontario, Canada N5Y 5R6 (e-mail: kmaich@fanshawec.ca). Using Picture Books to Create Peer Awareness About Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Inclusive Classroom Kimberly Maich 1  and E. Christina Belcher 2 Abstract Students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may exhibit behaviors that can negatively affect peer relationships. A process for raising awareness about this exceptionality to their peers can build a foundation for authentic inclusion in the classroom environment. This article suggests that deliberately planned interventions using picture books to create peer awareness can be implemented through a step-by-step decision-making process. Criteria is provided regarding the process of book choice and related instructional considerations to assist educators in making essential decisions about the implementation of peer awareness for young students with ASD. Keywords awareness, inclusion, peer, autism, picture books  at BROCK UNIV on April 4, 2012isc.sagepub.comDownloaded from    Maich and Belcher 207 for explaining exceptionalities to peers with honesty, accu-racy, empathy, and acceptance. Boutot (2007) explained that this acceptance of children with disabilities is a precursor to the growth of friendships and that the collaboration of teach-ers is key in guiding such acceptance.Peer education for classmates of students with ASD can  be practically managed in the classroom on two comple-mentary levels: that of peer awareness, or teaching students about disabilities; and subsequent peer support by provid-ing opportunities for school-based inclusion. The first step, that of peer awareness, can be thought of as the foundation to inclusion in the classroom, paving the way for further direct interventions and opportunities. Peer awareness can  be nurtured using common instructional strategies and familiar classroom resources. Examples of resources and strategies involve experiential learning, audiovisual materi-als focused on ASD, and both nonfiction and fiction books (Carlson, 2001; Forgan, 2002; Maich & Kean, 2004).Utilizing fictional materials (i.e., children’s picture  books) to engage peer awareness of disabilities, including ASD, is supported within the general field of bibliotherapy and is appropriate for primary-aged children from preschool to the late primary years. More specifically, the use of books for social and/or emotional problem solving is outlined in the practice of developmental bibliotherapy, where every-day issues may be resolved through the indirect experiences of book characters (Carlson, 2001; Forgan, 2002; Peter, 1998; Sullivan & Strang, 2002/2003). The practice of bib-liotherapy stipulates that the best foundation for its imple-mentation consists of establishing (a) rapport; (b) a comfort level; and (c) a sufficient knowledge level about young learners’ reading, language, and literature (Carlson, 2001). For young children, such practice can include picture books that focus on the lives of characters with ASD. Boutot (2007) suggested that discussions can be initiated using story books with characters who are depicted as “atypical” in the way they move, act, or even learn. Such instructional strategy can help to begin conversations about the charac-teristics of ASD.Good quality children’s literature that both directly and indirectly addresses the characteristics of ASD has contin-ued to grow in its availability and importance. “Although stories focusing on ASD or its related characteristics are not  prolific, a growing body of research is emerging . . . narra-tives presented early in life, then, form an indelible imprint on the mind of the child” (Belcher & Maich, 2010, para. 4). When resources relating to ASD are used in the classroom, they become a tool for best practice in inclusive classrooms related to ASD, and enhance another best practice: provid-ing peers of students with ASD with information that is accurate (Timmons, Breintenbach, & MacIsaac, n.d.).Before embarking on a successful program of using  picture books for the specific purpose of encouraging  peer awareness, however, it is essential to carefully consider practical planning issues that relate to the choice and implementation of these resources. When the emphasis for peer awareness is on an individual student rather than diversity awareness in general, confidentiality must be addressed. Collaboration with parents is essential before implementing this series of steps. Parents must be informed and welcoming partners in this venture and provide informed parental consent for such a program to be put in  place. Educators should refer to their local school practices and policies, collaborate with school administrators, and carefully align their plans to meet with local privacy laws and any other related legislation, always keeping the child’s  best interests in mind. Story Selection Tools Before using a picture book to inform peers of students with ASD about this exceptionality, a suitable resource must be found. This task can feel overwhelming at first, but many convenient resources already exist that may help in the prioritization and selection of stories related to social, emotional, behavioral issues, or areas of disability, like ASD. For educators planning peer awareness, it is simply a matter of taking advantage of one or more of these tools.For example, such a process may be as simple as utilizing a publisher’s catalogue as a starting place. Alternatively, annotated bibliographies provide access to literature sugges-tions organized by themes or issues related to children’s development (Maich & Kean, 2004). One example of such a resource is  A to Zoo: Subject Access to Children’s Picture  Books  (Lima & Thomas, 2010). Another possibility is Sensitive Issues: An Annotated Guide to Children’s Literature  K-6   (Rasinski & Gillespie, 1992).Online searches are another practical alternative. Using a generalized online search engine such as Google combined with, for example, the appropriate keywords (e.g., aware-ness , inclusion ,  peer  , autism , and/or  picture books ) is one  possibility. Such a search, however, will locate all available resources found online, which will result in a vast range of  potential results (e.g., newsletter articles, government pub-lications, book titles). Even if the search is limited by using the books  choice in the search engine’s tabs, information as to the source and credibility of each suggested resource is only available through a resource-by-resource critique. As a superior accessible alternative, consider searching within an online bookstore or publisher’s website. Using well-known online bookstores such as Amazon.com will inher-ently limit search results to professionally produced resources, as well as provide easily available consumer reviews. Using these or similar tools to help narrow the range of topical literature will assist in a best-fit match  between a picture book about ASD and the specific learning situation at hand. Using such strategies will help make this correlation in an effective and efficient manner.  at BROCK UNIV on April 4, 2012isc.sagepub.comDownloaded from   208 Intervention in School and Clinic    47(4) Even with the use of book selection tools, a solid starting  place may be helpful in narrowing the task of story selection for peer awareness. Local advocacy groups may suggest  book lists available, and/or local publishers may recommend  popular titles. Belcher and Maich (2010), for example, posed recommendations from their initial pilot study of children’s  picture books focused on ASD from the past two decades. Children’s picture book selections were chosen through a careful examination, comparison and contrast of varied char-acteristics such as social content, issue focus, representation of the child, and literary features. A selection of their find-ings, shown in Table 1, includes a variety of works across date of publication, theme, and genre. Direct Labeling Once resources and strategies for developing peer aware-ness have been selected as possibilities, a forthcoming consideration is the presence or absence of labels and diagnostic-specific terminology. Various children’s picture  books address ASD quite directly and use diagnostic labels. Others avoid such direct teaching about ASD. One example of this is the use of diagnostic language labeling   regarding the subtype of ASD known as autistic disorder  , which is used deliberately throughout  Ian’s Walk: A Story About  Autism  (Lears, 1998). Another example can be found in the use of the label  Asperger’s disorder  , found in Understanding Sam and Asperger Syndrome  (Van Niekerk & Venters, 2006). In these stories, it is clear that such direct labels are accepted and communicated as part of knowing and under-standing ASD. Indirect Terminology In contrast, children’s books that address characteristics related to ASD but avoid using such direct terminology also exist, but are found less frequently. One example of this approach that only references ASD in comments beyond the story itself is  Looking After Louis  (Ely, 2004). Although this picture book does not use diagnostic terminology, the characteristics of ASD (e.g., echolalia) in the main charac-ter, are clearly represented.Overall, there is no correct or incorrect approach to the use of labels in peer awareness; rather, considering the com-fort and wishes of the parent and/or child, as appropriate, is  paramount (Hamilton Health Sciences, 2007). It is essential to preview the text and carefully attend to the labels and language used to consider how the terminology of a poten-tial book fits in with the view of ASD you are seeking to share. The Wider Context Within the process of previewing a book for peer aware-ness, be sure to also examine the surrounding context in the  book. Be aware of the presence of family, friends, siblings, support workers, or a specific strength or challenge in the story or illustrations. If the peer awareness selection is intended to educate peers about the needs of a specific stu-dent with ASD in the classroom, a closer alignment with one particular situation is more necessary than if the goal of  peer awareness is understanding disability, or diversity, in general.For more specific needs, seek out a story that mirrors questions other students may have thought about but may not have expressed. Examples would be questions about the nature of specific communication differences (e.g., the use of visuals to communicate), social challenges (e.g., diffi-culty making friends), behaviors (e.g., an intense interest in one subject), or sensory issues (e.g., oversensitivity envi-ronmental such as Why Does Izzy Cover Her Ears? Dealing With Sensory Overload   (Veenendall, 2009).Similarly, if the student of focus is supported by an edu-cator with a special role (e.g., special education teacher, educational assistant, or therapist), a parallel story depicting an adult in such a role can help explain and even initiate Table 1.  Children’s Picture Book Suggestions for Peer Awareness for Young Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)AuthorShort titleYearPublisherAltman, A. Waiting for Benjamin 2008Albert WhitmanElder, J. Different Like Me 2006Jessica KingsleyEly, L. Looking After Louis 2004Albert WhitmanLears, L. Ian’s Walk 1998Albert WhitmanLuchsinger, D. Playing by the Rules 2007WoodbineShapiro, O.  Autism and Me 2009Albert WhitmanThompson, M.  Andy and His Yellow Frisbee 1996WoodbineVan Nierkerk, C., & Venter, L. Understanding Sam and Asperger Syndrome 2006SkeezelVeenendall, J. Why Does Izzie Cover Her Ears?  2009Autism AspergerVeenendall, J.  Arnie and His School Tools 2008Autism Asperger  at BROCK UNIV on April 4, 2012isc.sagepub.comDownloaded from    Maich and Belcher 209 questions and new insights (e.g., Waiting for Benjamin: A Story About Autism  by Altman, 2008). If the siblings of a child with ASD are struggling with a lack of peer empathy, a positive story from the perspective of a sibling of a child with ASD may be a good choice, such as the portrayal of struggle, care, and love depicted in  Ian’s Walk: A Story  About Autism  (Lears, 1998). Finding Positive Perspective When previewing picture books to seek examples of diver-sity in the characteristics of ASD, do not forget to seek out the positives. Positive examples that have proactive culmi-nations to struggle do exist. These positives may be helpful in shaping attitudes of peers who may see the struggles in ASD, but who do not seem to understand or express the many positives found in children with ASD.  Different Like  Me: My Book of Autism Heroes  (Elder, 2006) is an example of focusing on the positive found in ASD. It blends a his-torical and biographical perspective with a focus on ASD  being a difference , but one that can create heroes who have special contributions to society. Larson’s  I Am Utterly Unique  (2006) similarly celebrates the uniqueness, differ-ences, and strengths of children with ASD through an alphabet book. When choosing a picture book, seek out a context that aligns with the awareness you are attempting to create, including the positive input of peers with ASD. Pictorial and Literary Value  No story is neutral. Each well-written story has potential to reflect the experiences of children and their concerns and also take a step further to “help readers gain a deeper understanding of themselves and others” (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 1999, p. 1). Each picture book considered for a peer-awareness lesson has a history, represents a literary artifact and ideally should also present a well written model of the intended message. It is important that the quality of the book  be appealing enough for educators to want to use it, and for students to want to attend to it. According to Iaquinta and Hipsky (2006), both the background of the author and the  perspective of the author can create either a more significant impact or trivialize the impact of a story. In a pilot study survey of 23 picture books for children on the topic of ASD written since 1996 (Belcher & Maich, 2010), 14 were written by par-ents, siblings, or grandparents as individual authors. The remaining 9 were written by professionals or with professional organizations, as a team. Although parents typically bring the home and school life into focus in their stories, other authors may be more prone to extend this across the community, thus  preparing the child for the larger fabric of social life. Thinking about the author’s perspective and what impact this may have on students is also important when previewing possible book choices.It is also important to consider that ASD is often described as a hidden disability  that is not easy to depict in illustrations. Although ASD itself may be more difficult to visually depict than other areas of exceptionality, illustra-tions in picture books are important and should be consid-ered as part of their overall quality. Consider if the illustrations add to or distract from the key message in the  book. For example, in  Andy and His Yellow Frisbee  (Thompson, 1996), water colors illustrate key points of the story while the print is on the left hand side of the page .  Both illustrations and text combine to promote greater understanding of the story. A mismatch between illustra-tion and text, on the other hand, can suggest attention to stereotyping or tokenism, which Iaquinta and Hipsky (2006) advocate circumventing. The presence of children who have disabilities in roles of either action and/or leader-ship should be sought. Curricular Considerations Pragmatically, plans to use picture books to develop peer awareness for a child with ASD do not have to be consid-ered as an addition to, or as external to, existent curricula. Such a focus on awareness, diversity, and/or disability is inherent to many academic goals and should be considered a natural part of classroom routines (Maich & Kean, 2004; Sullivan & Strang, 2002/2003). For example, developing awareness of, respect for, and understanding of diversity is a goal of education that continues from a preschool pro-gram (Best Start Expert Panel on Early Learning, 2006) to a senior high social studies and humanities curriculum (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2000). Good planning can support ongoing goals and expectations across a range of topic areas, always as a well-integrated extension of the curriculum (Sullivan & Strang, 2002/2003, p. 76). Another  perspective is considering social, emotional, and behavioral needs as part of a wider emphasis on educating the whole child as part of personal and developmental goals which supersede the curriculum; or at minimum, become a part of individualized programs (Maich, 2010). Participation Possibilities Once an appropriate resource has been selected and an appropriate fit with classroom routine has been delineated, it is important to initiate a planning meeting with parents to decide if the child with ASD should be an active part of reading ASD-related picture books, be in the classroom while sessions are ongoing, or not be present at all (Timmons, Breintenbach, & MacIsaac, n.d.). This may depend on a number of factors, including the student’s own knowledge of ASD, his or her functioning level and wishes, and perhaps what Ulrich and Bauer (2003) referred to as the  parent’s levels of awareness .  at BROCK UNIV on April 4, 2012isc.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
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