The program’s lead teacher, Sue Kimmel of New Ulm, with the assistance of others has a near one-on-one relationship with the six four- and five-year-olds that are currently going to school there. It isn’t easy work.
“I’m very busy. I find that when I’m planning my lessons at night that much of my plan is individual in nature. So, when I’m planning after school, I’m thinking about pictures, and thinking about making my classroom very structured because quite often children with autism are not able to understand directions,” she explained.
“They have difficulties with receptive communication or the understanding of communications so when I give a direction or give an instruction, there are many pictures involved. So, in thinking about that, I want my lessons to make a difference so I’m making them very visual. It’s a challenge working with them, but it’s also a great pleasure.”
“Sue’s program is based upon a curriculum that is highly structured and systematic. These children seem to learn better from that sort of an approach, and there was a high ratio of teachers to child That seems to help these children quite a bit, too,” said Cindy Schultz, Independent School District 88’s educational, speech and language pathologist.
The staff’s approach even has them dealing with the children’s bodies, as well as their minds.
“One thing you saw today, too, was children in the sensory corner where they were doing brushing and joint compressions, and they were swinging and jumping. Children with autism tend to have a different type of sensory system, and we do something called sensory motor integration [to access it],” Kimmel explained.
(Brushing refers to the use of brushes to stroke the children’s arms which tends to calm them, and staff will press their joints with their hands to give them physical relief, Kimmel said.)
“Sensory motor integration is based on the fact their sensory systems are a little bit different. Sometimes, their systems are running a little bit high. They might look like they have a lot of energy, but some might be running a little bit lower where they’re not necessarily falling asleep but they’re just moving around a bit more slowly. And, we want to kind of bring those high kids or low kids into a just-right area so that they can better learn,” explained Mary Olson, New Ulm, autism consultant for Region 9, who works through the River Bend Area Learning Center.
“There are different ways that we use to try to get them into that just-right place, and there are many different ways to get them to accept that spot so they can respond better. A lot of the autistic kids [also have problems with the] auditory system. it can be over-stimulating for them,” she continued.
“Some of these kids don’t tolerate a lot of noises or unexpected noises so it’s teaching them also how to cope with some of those unexpected things that we come across in our daily life. [It’s about] the different ways that they can help their bodies to be prepared for those things, and even recuperate after they’re exposed to those kinds of things.”
However, the “high” that autistic children sometimes exhibit isn’t the same as the “hyper” reaction that can be seen in those afflicted with attention deficient disorders, Olson said.
“There are some similarities, but some of them are of neurological make-up. Their bodies are running high, but there might be a different reason for it. They might be over-scaling it either through noise or maybe it’s the tag on the back of a shirt that is bothering them,” she said.
“So, it’s kind of an individual basis kind of thing in trying to figure out what their triggers are in problem-solving for them. They’re not always that way; it depends upon how over-stimulated or under-stimulated they are. There are many, many different variables that help children get into those different areas.”
“It’s a broad spectrum [in teaching autistic children]. So, in my planning, I’m thinking about how I can best teach them in ways that affect their overall development,” Kimmel said.
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