This episode is a group zoom call that I had a few weeks ago with Sasha Long. Sasha is a BCBA, M.A., and the founder and president of The Autism Helper, Inc. She is a board-certified behavior analyst and former special education teacher. Sasha works full time as a consultant, writer, and behavior analyst.
I lost a lot of faith in special education teachers because of past experiences. When I saw Sasha and started following her and researching her homeschooling curriculum, she restored my faith. She has the highest level of passion, love, commitment, and sacrifice for our kiddos; she is the person that you wish you had more of.
Sasha recently made an emergency homeschooling kit and gathered a lot of the materials that she makes for teachers, classrooms, and added a bunch of stuff related to COVID-19. So, in this episode, Sasha is talking about the curriculum, answering all of our questions, and breaking down the different ways that we can implement homeschooling for our kids. This conversation was such a help and a blessing, and I am so glad that I can share it with you too.
Schedules and Visuals
Schedules are really important to separate what days are the “week” and which ones are the “weekend.” For any child or adult, the unsettling part is how unexpected our lifestyle is, how big a change has happened, and it’s hard to know what tomorrow or the next day looks like. The more we can use visuals to support our verbal language, the more successful we will be.
With many kids on the spectrum, they have difficulty with receptive language processing. It is the inability to process all of the verbal language. When you give your kid a list of several things at once, some of our kids can’t keep up yet.
What is really key is some sort of visual schedule, even something simple, that you can show your child and talk about every day. A lot of our kids thrive on knowing what comes next.
Not every kid needs a visual schedule, but every kid needs some type of schedule, now more than ever. Talk about what’s going to happen because it gets people ready to approach their day.
Why Should We Be Creating Schedules?
If you think about the anxiety it gives us when we don’t know what our week or our month will look like, it could be so much more amplified for our kids. Not knowing what is happening could provoke anxiety for our kiddos, so we want to explain it so that they can understand the changes and prepare for what is coming next.
A lack of understanding or a lack of skills in knowing how to process things and communicate is often the cause of negative behaviors. All of these tools are to help our kids avoid feeling overwhelmed and be able to communicate what they want.
How to Motivate Our Kids at Home
When we are thinking about putting a new demand on our kids in a setting that they don’t normally have, which right now is doing schoolwork at home, ask yourself,
is there a reinforcer? With anything we do, all of our decisions are shaped by the skills we have to do it, and the question, do we want to do it? If someone asked you to run a mile, you’d probably say no. You don’t have motivation.
You want to think about with any new expectations you are placing, what are the reinforcers? What are your kids getting out of it? Things like praise, good grades, parent approval, and “because you should” is not enough of a motivation. The secret sauce is figuring out some good reinforcers.
Homeschool Curriculum Reinforcers
One thing in the emergency homeschool kit that Sasha created are visuals that show a simple, “I AM WORKING FOR…”
In the process of teaching this system, it’s okay if they get their reinforcement quickly. You are in the process of teaching them what it means. You are initially showing when the reinforcer is coming and how are you connecting their positive responses to that. When they are sitting and completing tasks, they can see the checkmarks and know that the reinforcement is coming.
You have to meet them where they are at. Give them an achievable expectation. If it is too high, it will make them want to give up.
The first step of running a mile is super easy. It doesn’t start with running the whole mile. It starts with just five minutes of walking. Then ten. And so on. So, you want to create a next step that makes your child believe that they can do it. You want their inner monologue to be, “this is so easy,” and build from there.
What Happens If They Don’t Want To Do School At Home?
We are not going to be able to go from never doing homework to having six hours of academic instruction. When you think of doing home-school, you should build up slowly and keep it structured and simple. Build the tasks, complexity, and how long you work and sit there. It should begin with just routine and reinforcement.
“Your goal is to be a chocolate chip cookie. If your kids love you as much as they love a cookie, they will want to sit and listen.”
Ask yourself how you can make it fun, more engaging, and maybe add more reinforcements. If it is miserable, no one is learning.
What Should I Use As Reinforcements?
Sasha walked around her house and wrote down a lot of toys that her kids had and what crafts they had to use as reinforcements. She took the list and put one thing for each day. It was stuff they already own, but because it was on a calendar, her kids felt like it was a special thing to do.
Pack up half of your toys, throw it in the back of the closet, and every week bring out three new things. Especially with our kids on the spectrum, sometimes it’s too much stuff, both us and them are overwhelmed. If you feel like there is too much crap everywhere, take a laundry basket, fill it with toys and bring it out again in a week.
How Do I Assess What Grade My Child Should Be In?
The biggest challenge in the homeschool kit is the academic work. Sasha did not assign grades to anything. Sometimes, it might be first-grade work that a third-grader does need to work on.
When you start, there are homework packets that are broken down for you to look at and decide what level your kid is at. There are five different levels of work included. Sasha gives the criteria for what skills your child would need to know to start that particular “grade.” You can scan it and roughly guess what your kid is at.
And finally, we open up the zoom call and Sasha answers questions from other parents who want to know how to manage homeschooling and parenting under the stress and confusion of being at home quarantined all of the time.
- A visual schedule is really key; even something simple that you can show your child and talk about every day. A lot of our kids thrive on knowing what comes next. It helps relieve anxiety about the changes in their typical routine.
- When you place a new demand for your child, like homeschooling, it’s important to make sure that they are given the proper motivation. What are the reinforcers and are they strong enough?
- You have to meet your child where they are at. Give them an achievable expectation. If it is too high, it will make them want to give up. You want to start them off small so that they do not feel like it is impossible to do.
- When you start homeschooling, build up slowly and keep it structured and simple. Build the tasks, complexity, and how long you work and sit there. It should begin with just routine and reinforcement. Make sure it stays fun and engaging. If they are miserable, they won’t learn.
- You can use reinforcers from toys and crafts that you already have. Put it away for a week and then bring it out again. Your child will get excited because they haven’t had it in awhile. A reinforcer is when you restrict access to something of value to them in order to obtain a goal, so it can be any toy that you choose to use.