Tag Archives: autism

Workshops on Math IEP Objectives and Data Collection, and Instruction for LD, ADHD, ASD

Announcing 2 workshops for educators working with students with special needs on math. These are designed to be hands on, with immediately implementation and can be delivered to schoolwide or district wide audiences.

  • Identifying, writing, and monitoring progress for IEP math objectives that will support the entire year of math and that will allow all team members to track progress
  • Math instructional strategies that are designed to address challenges specific to ADHD, ASD (autism), and LD (learning disabilities)
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Information Processing Analogy – Big Picture

Effective instruction is effective because it addresses the key elements of how the brain processes information. I want to share an analogy to help adults (parents and educators) fully appreciate this.

Below is a model of information processing first introduced to me in a master’s course at UCONN.

Here is a summary of what is shown in the model.

  1. Our senses are bombarded by external stimuli: smells, images, sounds, textures and flavors.
  2. We have a filter that allows only some of these stimuli in. We focus on the ones that are most interesting or relevant to us.
  3. Our working memory works to make sense of the stimuli and to package it for storage. Our working memory is like a computer, if there is too much going on, working memory will buffer.
  4. The information will be stored in long term memory.
    • Some will be dropped off in some random location and our brain will forget the location (like losing our keys)
    • Some will be stored in a file cabinet in a drawer with other information just like it. This information is easier to find.

Here is the analogy. You are driving down the street, like the one shown below.

There is a lot of visual stimuli. The priority is for you to pay attention to the arrows for the lanes, the red light and the cars in front of you. You have to process your intended direction and choose the lane.

There is other stimuli that you filter out because it is not pertinent to your task: a car parked off to the right, the herbie curbies (trash bins), the little white arrows at the bottom of the photo. There is extraneous info you may allow to pass through your filter because it catches your eye: the ladder on the right or the cloud formation in the middle.

Maybe you are anxious because you are running late or had a bad experience that you are mulling over. This is using up band width in your working memory. Maybe you are a relatively new driver and simple driving tasks eat up the bandwidth as well.

For students with a disability that impacts processing or attention, the task demands described above are even more challenging. A student with ADHD has a filter that is less effective. A student with autism (a rule follower type) may not understand social settings such as a driver that will run a red light that just turned red. A student with visual processing issues may struggle with picking out the turn arrows.

Effective instruction would address these challenges proactively. Here is a video regarding learning disabilities (LD) that summarizes the need in general for teachers to be highly responsive to student needs. Here is a great video that helps makes sense of what autism in terms of how stimuli can be received by those with autism (look for the street scene). Here is a video of a researcher explaining how ADHD responds to sensory input (he gets to a scenario that effectively encapsulates ADHD).

To address these challenges:

Ironically, this is likely a lot of information for your brain to process…

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Cutting Up the Math Into Bite-sized Pieces

When I train new math and special education teachers I explain that teaching math should be like feeding a hot dog to a baby in a high chair. Cut up the hot dog into bite-sized pieces. The baby will still consumer the entire hot dog. Same with math. Our students can consume the entire math topic being presented but in smaller chunks.

bite sized pieces

My approach to doing this is through a task analysis. This is very similar to chunking. It is a method to cut up the math into bite-sized pieces just as we would break up a common task for students with special needs.

Image result for task analysis

While waiting for my coffee order at a Burger King I saw on the wall a different version of a task analysis. It was a step by step set of directions using photos on how to pour a soft cream ice-cream cone. I thought it was amazing that Burger King can do such a good job training its employees by breaking the task down yet in education we often fall short in terms of breaking a math topic down.

soft cream icecream cone task analysis
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Twice Exceptional and Neurodiversity

In his 1992 trip to Australia, President HW Bush gave the backwards V for victory sign. That happens to be the middle finger in Australia.

hw and v for victory

This story parallels what we encounter in special education. Several people may encounter the same idea, image, curriculum objective, lesson etc. but have a totally different perspective (see photo below).

blind men and elephant

This is certainly true for individuals with autism and is true for students who are twice exceptional.

To meet the needs of such students we must work from their perspective and not ours. We must meet their needs. We must first take inventory of our bias and our subjectivity in how we perceive students, learning, doing math work etc. Here is a site, Different Brains, that I have not fully investigated but that looks interesting and important.

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Autism Explained

Excellent production and effective explanation.


List of Performance Points



Painting the letters on the ground is a performance point for the person responsible for this task. The task was discussed at some other time and location. Performance points, as explained in another post, are the situations or locations or times that a person has to perform a task. For students with special needs this is where special education gets real. It is where the supports play out. For students with more severe disabilities, e.g. ADHD, Autism or Down Syndrome, most if not all performance points require some support so identifying these points is important and often overlooked.

Below are a list of performance points students encounter in k-12 education.

  • transition between classes
  • using a hall pass
  • arriving or leaving school
  • riding a school bus
  • transition to and from lunch
  • transition to and from specials
  • gym
  • playground/recess
  • entering and starting class
  • packing up and leaving class
  • transition between activities during class
  • choice or down time during class
  • following directions given in class
  • retrieving, using and returning class materials
  • sharpening pencil
  • asking permission to use a pass
  • identifying appropriate reasons to use a pass or to ask a question
  • responding to questions or participating in class discussion
  • paying attention to presentations
  • group work
  • individual work
  • homework
  • studying for an assessment
  • long-range projects
  • bringing materials to class
  • organizing notebook and book bag
  • using a notebook effectively, e.g. finding and following examples
  • interacting with classmates in a socially appropriate manner (during classwork, free time, down time, in the hallway, at lunch, at recess) – note: socially appropriate would need to be defined with observable behaviors
  • empathizing with others
  • reciprocating in a social conversation
  • curtailing behavior when presented with negative feedback
  • initiating conversation
  • greeting others appropriately – initiating and responding
  • identifying non-verbal cues and communication

Certainly there are more. Please comment below if you want me to add anything to the list.

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Documents for Task Analysis Presentation – DADD 2017 Conference



Here is a link to a Dropbox folder with the documents I will address in my presentation. (Note: documents will not be uploaded until Jan 19, 2017.)

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Address Skills at Performance Points


In the photo above you see a contrast between how children learn and how educators often teach necessary skills. Children learn to ride a bike by actually performing the target skills. This is a performance point – the setting in which the child actually performs. In school students are often taught necessary skills in isolation, away from the performance points. Imagine teaching a child to ride a bike by having him sit at a desk while the parent points out all the steps for riding a bike.

Often accommodations and supports are provided in isolation or out of context. Students with autism have lunch buddies in a contrived setting with an educator leading conversation. Students with ADHD have a weekly time to organize their notebooks. Students who have trouble functioning in a general ed classroom may be pulled out as a result.

Below are a couple of examples of how support can be provided at the points of performance. The photo below shows a checklist I used for a students with autism in my algebra class. They would follow the checklist and self-evaluate by checking off each step as it was completed. They were learning how to perform necessary skills at the point of performance.


Another overlooked point of performance is in organizing a notebook. Students should organize a notebook while IN CLASS and on a DAILY basis. I use the rubric below to help support students with this task.


Dr. Russell Barkley, an expert on ADHD, talks about performance points for students with ADHD in his book and in his ADHD Report. This focus at the “points of performance” can and should apply to any student with a disability (and students in general).

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Documents for Webinars on Supporting Students with Autism in Math


Link to Drop Box folder for webinar on Task Analysis

Link to Drop Box folder for webinar on Making Math Meaningful (note: the folder is not populated with handouts with excerpts shown on the video. These documents will be available in the folder by Oct 16.

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