Experts from Camelot Education Therapeutic Day Schools Present at Illinois Conference on Techniques for Helping Children with Autism and Behavioral Disorders
Two of Camelot Education’s Therapeutic Day School’s department heads shared best practices for at the Illinois Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders Winter Conference in Lisle, IL. Attendees included educators, parents, and future educators.
Lindsay Rossmiller, head of Camelot’s Expressive Therapies Department and Katie Schweizer, who directs the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Department delivered insights aimed at bettering the lives of students with disabilities. As their specialties indicate, Rossmiller focused on ways to think creatively about challenging situations that can arise with students and even with staff, while Schweizer honed in on ways to most effectively design a classroom and use visual aids to best educate students with disabilities.
Rossmiller presented specific tips related to students’ senses:
- Implementing individualized sensory-based rituals in the classroom such as structured movement to start the day, removing shoes at the door, or sharing a meal or hot chocolate together creates safety and rapport, facilitates sensory integration, and provides practice around pro-social behaviors, healthy boundaries, and communication.
- Integrating individualized sensory-based rituals in the classroom helps teach non-verbal techniques for staff to use for developing relationships and actions for de-escalation, engagement, and rapport-building.
- Respecting and considering the roots of the music and art students make or like promotes classroom communities built on cultural empathy, and allows for greater understanding of what students believe and how belief impacts behavior.
- The use of stories, characters, and role-playing can help students to practice and develop intrinsic relationships with academic concepts. Listening carefully to the stories students tell about themselves can also help teachers and staff to glean more nuanced information from student’s words, movement, and sound.
Rossmiller pointed to one difficult situation she and staff at Camelot worked to overcome.
“One of our students has really been struggling,” she said. “At the heart of the issue, he’s constantly ashamed and scared to mess up, and when he perceives he has messed up, he has a tremendous shame response and wants to hurt people emotionally and physically. We have been very creative in working with him to manage his emotions and take control of his reactions using principles of music therapy. We encourage him to move his body rhythmically and illicit more of a body-based exchange rather than a verbal one.”
Very rarely do students with disabilities say, ‘I feel this because of that.’ More often they move in a certain way or change their voice.
“Students have taught me that working with imagery and characters is a powerful way to connect for children who want to express themselves and work through something they don’t have language to express,” Rossmiller said.
Rossmiller said she strongly believes that in order to connect and demonstrate compassion to a student, educators must first show love, understanding, and compassion for themselves. She said professional development that provides staff-care content is very important.
For her session, Katie Schweizer provided pragmatic strategies that could be used within the classroom and the school setting. She reviewed several considerations for educators to keep in mind:
- Environmental factors – “I asked teachers to look at how they set up their classroom, keeping in mind the different considerations they would be able to work on in that environment; things like seating arrangement, making sure the classroom has quiet areas and listening spaces, also keeping in mind to have space for movement opportunities and sensory stations.”
- Routines – “Teachers can help children know what is expected of them. It’s important that if there is going to be a change in the routine to let students know as soon as possible so they can prepare for that change.”
- Visual schedules and supports – “It’s helpful to have a visual representation of what’s going to happen throughout the day. Teachers can help break down tasks with multiple steps that increase cooperation with those steps. It helps create that routine and predictability. It aids with transitioning from one task to the next.
- For students with autism spectrum disorder or similar disabilities, schedules may include pictures and possibly words associated with those pictures. These students may also have personalized, individual schedules rather than one large classroom schedule.”
- Positive reinforcement – “This almost always increases positive behavior. We add a certain stimulus to increase the response in the future such as earning a sticker for completing a worksheet. That increases the likelihood the student will repeat that work again. Reinforcement should be immediate so the student will realize the praise is associated with the behavior.”
Camelot Education’s behavioral health and therapeutic programs are designed to assist school districts by supporting students with specialized needs that cannot be met in the traditional school setting.
Camelot Deputy Superintendent Theresa Mortl Smith, who attended the conference, said her team relishes opportunities like this one to present successful ideas and techniques from Camelot classroom experience.
“As educators, we aren’t competing against each other,” Mortl Smith said. “We would like as many teachers as possible across Illinois to learn about and use proactive interventions and resources. For us, being able to go out and talk about this information can only help other teachers as well as other students. We all want the same outcome – student success. If Lindsay and Katie have information to share so that others can succeed, that’s fulfilling for them and for Camelot as an organization.”
Schweizer said coaching teachers have a lot in common with working with students.
“A lot of the things you’d typically be doing in the classroom can apply when working with professionals and teaching them about these different techniques. In conferences such as this, we share real-life scenarios that have taught us a valuable lesson or perspective and use it to help others who might experience something similar in the classroom.”
Rossmiller said it comes down to empathy.
“We all adapt behaviors in order to keep ourselves safe or to protect ourselves from perceived failure or being vulnerable, even as we work on correcting things. Our students are like that too. We always have to think about the entire narrative of the child.”