Through our eyes: School

The “Through our eyes” series invites you to hear and learn from the perspectives of young adults in our community living with autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, learning disabilities or other social challenges.

Asperger’s (along with other autism spectrum disorders) sometimes come in a nice little package along with ADD/HD, depression and social anxiety. And, naturally, these did impact my school life. I always struggled with focusing and developing my social skills the most.

I went to a Montessori school until I was twelve, so kids had to do hands-on education where we would sometimes scatter across the classroom to work on one math assignment, one reading assignment, one writing assignment and one “other” or elective. We wrote all of our progress on a little worksheet of what we did. Because I was so easily distracted, whether it was because someone making noise or because I was spacing out too much, I didn’t always finish my work, so sometimes I would have to stay inside during recess to finish it.

I did have friends (or at least, acquaintances) that I got along with, but because I got nervous and didn’t know how to behave around my peers, I would try to spend time with people outside my age group. I guess it was because that they were more patient around me and understood some of what I was going through in life, so I could rely on them for advice.

I hopped around from service to service trying to “alleviate” the problem, but nothing ever really worked until my college years. I was in something called the Autism Spectrum Navigation Program (ASN for short) at Bellevue College. I’m not really sure how, but having a navigation assistant and taking classes on things like self-advocacy and job hunting for people on the spectrum really helped me be more responsible about school.

School life wasn’t horrible though. Since I have a fixation on creative writing, English class was always my best subject. I was always excited when my teachers in middle and high school announced an assignment involving creative writing or using a favorite movie or game as the subject of a compare and contrast essay. I also managed to avoid hanging out with kids my age that would have obviously been a bad influence on me.

Currently, I am on course to graduate in the fall of this year with an Associates Degree in Digital Media Arts (which is basically an umbrella term for video production, video games, animation, graphic design etc.). I am really glad that despite my challenges, I have been able to make it this far. I’m really looking forward to the future outside of school.

If your student is having trouble focusing in school or building lasting friendships, consider Aspiring Youth’s programs for children and teens such as our social skills groups or individual tutoring.


Sara Breidenbach is an intern helping with Aspiring Youth summer camps. She is also a student at Bellevue College where she will graduate with an Associates Degree in Digital Media Arts in the fall of 2016.

School year programs now enrolling

105-Aspiring-Candids-Web (1)Enrollment opens for social skills groups

UPDATED: Enroll now through our website in Aspiring Youth’s Social Skills Groups!

Beginning in early October, our master’s level facilitators help participants identify and practice new skills, establish friendships and boost self-esteem.

TIMES & LOCATIONS >>

New to Aspiring Youth social skills groups? Schedule your enrollment meeting.

  • AGE-BASED GROUPS: Topic-driven discussion ● Reinforcing games and activities ● Groups available for ages 8 to 19.

  • THEME-BASED GROUPS: Social skills curriculum through shared interest activities such as art, Dungeons & Dragons, rock climbing and more!


142-Aspiring-Candids-WebStart off strong this school year

In your home setting, individual coaching improves executive functioning, social skills, communication, conflict resolution, self-moderation of screen time and other similar areas.

Offered throughout the school year, we collaborate with therapists and psychologists to reinforce office sessions. 

Contact us to schedule a free initial assessment.

CONTACT US >>


Aspiring Youth provides innovative social skills groups, summer camps, tutoring and other services for students ages 8 and up in Seattle, Bellevue, Renton, Bainbridge Island, Kirkland and the surrounding areas.

Some of our students are shy, some are quirky and some are twice exceptional. Many have a diagnosis of Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD, learning disabilities or other similar traits.

Learning Environments and Living Environments

Transferring lessons for school to home and back again.

A talk with Ilene Schwartz, Ph.D., BCBA-D of University of Washington

8081866129_45189a1250_zLearning happens everywhere. For all people it is important to use the skills that we learn across environments — at school, home, work, and in the community. For people with disabilities, especially those with ASD, using skills learned in one environment in another may be challenging. The purpose of this talk is to review the concept of generalization and propose some strategies that teachers and families can use to help people with disabilities use their newly learned skills across environments.

  • Date: Thursday, March 31, 2016

  • Time: 7:00-8:30pm

  • Location: Ryther 2400 NE 95th Street Seattle, WA 98115

Light refreshments served. Click here to RSVP.

 

About Dr. Ilene Schwartz:

Dr. Ilene Schwartz is a professor in the Area of Special Education at the University of Washington and the Director of the Haring Center for Research and Training in Education at UW. She earned her Ph.D. in child and developmental psychology from the University of Kansas and is a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA-D). Dr. Schwartz has an active research and professional training agenda with primary interests in the area of autism, inclusive education, and the sustainability of educational interventions. She has had consistent research funding from the U.S. Department of Education since 1990 and serves on a number of editorial review boards including the Topics in Early Childhood Special Education and the Journal of Early Intervention. Dr. Schwartz is the director of Project DATA, a model preschool program for children with autism that has been in operation since 1997; and is currently involved in research projects examining the efficacy of the Project DATA model with toddlers and preschoolers with autism.

Can my teen attend college?

woman-690216_640Thinking about college can be an intimidating challenge for teens on the autism spectrum, but maybe even more so for their parents.

How will children manage without their special education case managers? How will they do without their social-emotional or behavioral supports in place? Might they flounder in the seas of large lecture classrooms? And of course those executive functioning skills: attention, organization, planning…

You may be thinking: “Is this even an option for my child?”

College is challenging for all, but more so for adolescents who have difficulty with changing environments, new social dynamics and handling responsibility. Thankfully, there are some programs in place to make the high school to college transition a little bit easier. Aspiring Youth offers adult transition programs and individual coaching that can help. Some colleges are now offering support or transition programs to young adults on the autism spectrum. Specifically, there are two options in Washington state:

  • Seattle Central College offers a program called SAILS (Supported Academics and Independent Life Skills). In College 101, students tour the campus, explore interests and develop organizational, time management and independent living skills. Building a relationship with staff helps throughout the year. Once school starts, students in the SAILS program benefit from small class sizes and continued individualized assistance. Your student could even get a job through the Mainstay program which offers employment for students of varying abilities.

  • Bellevue College offers a support program: Autism Spectrum Navigators (ASN) Program. The program focuses on supporting the development of executive functioning, social interaction, self-advocacy and self-regulation skills. ASN provides regular meetings with a trained peer mentor, quarterly career preparation classes, quarterly parent meetings, facilitated communication with instructors and campus awareness and training.

If your child is leaning toward an out-of-state college experience, there are also options for support programs. Post-secondary programs range from community colleges to universities, such as a Rutgers University, University of Alabama and Virginia TECH. For a list and brief overview of schools, visit this website.


Breea M. Rosas, B.A., Ed. S. Candidate

Breea graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed the coursework for an Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology in Spring 2015, with an anticipated graduation date of Spring 2016 upon the completion of an internship with the Franklin Pierce School District. Professionally, Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a lead facilitator for summer camp and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting. She is interested in social emotional learning, educational implications of social/emotional and behavioral disorders, supporting youth with behavioral disorders, and the trajectory of students with disabilities post-high school. In her spare time, she likes to read, particularly historical fiction and non-fiction, bake, and spend time with her family.

Changing behavior: The ABCs

Understanding behaviors can be… challenging. We often hear from parents and teachers:

“She won’t stop doing it, even though I’ve asked her to stop.”

wood-cube-473703_640“It doesn’t matter what punishment I give. He still does it.”

To truly understand the behavior and how to change it, we need to know exactly what the challenging behavior looks like, what “triggers it”, and what happens after.

The ABCs of Behavior

  • The antecedent (what happens right before)

  • The behavior (what the child is actually doing)

  • The consequence (what happens immediately after)

When we understand the consequence, we often understand the function, the “why.”

There are four main functions that maintain behavior:

  • Escape. The child is doing something to escape or avoid doing an activity. Picture this: Every day, after a teacher finishes the social studies lesson, she moves on to math. The child has a melt down and is sent to the principal. Can you guess what he’s trying to avoid?

  • Attention. Some kids do things so they can get attention from their peers or adults. A girl consistently makes inappropriate jokes and her classmates laugh, reinforcing her behavior. What can be less obvious is when the attention is negative. After one joke, the teacher asks her to step in the hall so they can talk. Despite being punished, she’s still getting attention for her behavior.

  • 2105532204_3eacd04af5_zTangible. Things obtained can also maintain behavior. This could be a physical object or a preferred activity. A 13-year-old boy argues with his mom and is sent to his room after dinner for the rest of the evening, where he plays video games. Normally after dinner is electronic-free family time. He is inadvertently being rewarded for his behavior.

  • Self-stimulatory. This can be the most difficult function to address. It’s when a child likes the sensory or stimulatory sensation the behavior provides. A boy with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is constantly getting out of his seat during teacher instruction. Regardless of the punishment, getting up and moving around provides a stimulatory reinforcer.

 So what can we do?

Once we understand why the child is doing the behavior, we can better understand what to do to change it. Recognize though that it’s not always straightforward. Sometimes multiple functions of the behavior make looking at the antecedent vital.

8081866129_45189a1250_zIf a child has a melt down before each math lesson and is sent to the principal, the antecedent might tell us that he is escaping math. But the child also likes the one-on-one attention he gets from the principal. Now there are two functions of the behavior.

The goal is to let the child have his or her needs met in a positive way. One possible option might be that the child does 8 out of 12 math problems and then gets to spend 10 minutes with the teacher, eventually increasing the math problems and having the attention switch from the principal to the teacher.

So next time you’re struggling to change the behavior of your kid, think about the ABCs and get creative about ways to have your children’s needs met when they’re doing the appropriate behaviors.


Breea M. Rosas, B.A., Ed. S. Candidate

Breea graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed the coursework for an Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology in Spring 2015, with an anticipated graduation date of Spring 2016 upon the completion of an internship with the Franklin Pierce School District. Professionally, Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a lead facilitator for summer camp and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting. She is interested in social emotional learning, educational implications of social/emotional and behavioral disorders, supporting youth with behavioral disorders, and the trajectory of students with disabilities post-high school. In her spare time, she likes to read, particularly historical fiction and non-fiction, bake, and spend time with her family.

Photo credits: Child screaming; Girl in class

Increase activity. Increase achievement.

hyperactivityMany of the kids we know and love show signs of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

We often see this interfering with their school performance. A study recently published in Clinical Neuropsychology supported the idea that children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have better cognitive performance when they’re allowed to engage in physical activity.

What the study found:

The researchers compared a small group of typically developing 10 to 17-year-olds with a group who had ADHD (both inattentive and combined symptoms). Participants were required to engage in a cognitive performance task, and the intensity and frequency of their movements were measured while they performed the task. Basically, they found that the kids with ADHD engaged in more intense movements when they got the answer to the cognitive task correct, compared to the typically developing group.

What does this mean?

I know what you’re thinking: “Hyperactive kids do better when they’re active? No way!” But what the researchers actually found was that children who have ADHD — not only combined-typed but also inattentive-type — engage in more intense movement when answering questions. The researchers believe kids with ADHD actually do better when they engage in movement to self-regulate their alertness. Allowing them to move can help improve cognitive performance.

How to advocate in school:

Kids with ADHD need to move! Even if there aren’t signs of hyperactivity, it’s apparent that even inattentive kids give their best performance when they’re allowed to engage in a physical activity. Present this idea next time you are in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 meeting. Advocate for some possible accommodations for your kid, such as:

  • Allowing the student an alternative to sitting in a chair:

    • Using a wiggle seat

    • Swapping out a chair for a Bosu ball9320845849_4ea7da5a4a_z

    • Standing and using an easel

  • Letting the student take breaks throughout the day:

    • Walk the track

    • Run a teacher errand

    • Help deliver papers in the office

Ensure these accommodations are in place during state testing, class work and assessment time. Remember: these accommodations could be available to your child, but that does not mean he or she HAS to use them. Maybe the team decides walking the track is an option, but he or she would rather deliver papers to classes.

Do what works for your child’s needs so that those cognitive juices are flowing!


Breea M. Rosas, B.A., Ed. S. Candidate

Breea graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed the coursework for an Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology in Spring 2015, with an anticipated graduation date of Spring 2016 upon the completion of an internship with the Franklin Pierce School District. Professionally, Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a lead facilitator for summer camp and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting. She is interested in social emotional learning, educational implications of social/emotional and behavioral disorders, supporting youth with behavioral disorders, and the trajectory of students with disabilities post-high school. In her spare time, she likes to read, particularly historical fiction and non-fiction, bake, and spend time with her family.

Learning Challenge: Escaping the “Feed”

A young adult science fiction novel, set in the not too distant future, mirrors the challenges that present day teenagers face.

Feed(novel)In my years of teaching high school language arts, one of the most popular novels among my students has been Feed by M.T. Anderson. It takes place in a dystopian future in which the majority of the population chooses to have a digital implant that allows them to mentally connect to an advanced form of the internet. The story follows a pair of teenagers who begin to explore the idea of being more in control of their minds since connection to the “feed” is as invasive as it is irreversible. I recommend it strongly both for its story and for the way it slyly makes the reader think about thinking.

It’s impossible to read the novel and not draw parallels between Feed and the very real struggle many teenagers have when it comes to disengaging with technology.

Without being heavy handed or eyeroll inducing, Feed addresses our recent cultural shift towards being connected 24/7. The author imagines the implant as an ever present source of information, consumerism, entertainment and socialization. In my classroom, I see kids getting lost in their devices. Without intervention they’d easily spend the entire 90 minutes staring into their phones. I see them miss opportunities to engage socially. Their parents struggle at home where technology is their biggest obstacle to both completing homework and sleeping. No wonder Feed resonates with the teenagers I work with!brain emoji

In response to our reading of Feed, we designed an experiment:

It was straightforward. For a week, students put their phone in an envelope and went about their life. Everything was the same: they carried it with them and used it whenever they wanted to, but each time they used it they added a tally mark to the envelope. The results were impressive:

  1. Students knew that they looked at their phone a lot. However, most were surprised to realize they looked at their phones that frequently.

  2. Students reported reaching for their phone for no real reason. Just the basic desire for stimulation caused them to get their phone out. The physical barrier of the envelope provided just enough of a delay for students to realize that they were making a choice.

  3. Students reported not being ashamed of using their phones. Which was great! The point of the experiment was to increase awareness, not use shame to try to force a behavior change.

  4. However, many students also felt that they were unhappy with their relationship with their phone because it reflected a way of being that they didn’t want, value, or even particularly remember choosing.

We can’t change what we aren’t aware of. The combo of Feed and this activity helped a lot of my students reflect on and ultimately work towards thinking the way they want to think.


8 bit TristanTristan graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. He holds a Master in Teaching degree from Seattle Pacific University and currently teaches high school language arts and social studies at an alternative school in Seattle. Tristan has worked with Aspiring Youth as a summer camp counselor and has facilitated rock climbing and board game sessions. In his free time he likes playing soccer, board games and reading about science and history.