Teaching Students on the Spectrum: Wisdom from the IEW Forum

Oct 07, 2016 | Posted by the IEW Blog Team

“I have a 16-year-old son who has autism and is behind in writing skills. We are currently working with 4th grade level material. He can read phonetically at an even higher level, but expressing what he understood into words and writing it down in his own words is a huge issue.”

Sound familiar? Many of us have children with special needs who struggle to complete even the most basic writing assignment. Over the years many parents have asked questions on the IEW Forum and have received help from Jill Pike, an experienced homeschooling mom of eight. Enjoy some of Jill’s wisdom and customer comments in the following posts, and join our forum for answers, encouragement, and inspiration to help teach your special needs children.

Why are IEW’s methods successful with students who are autistic and have difficulty with verbal expression? In answering a question on the forum, Jill summarized the reasons well:

Our incrementalization and mastery learning methods ensure that a student gets the support he needs for as long as he needs it. Because we begin with a source text and outline and include oral work as well, students are provided with the modeling and framework they need to succeed.

Incidentally, I tutored a young man (15 years old when we started) who had Asperger’s Syndrome (now called “High Functioning” Autism Spectrum Disorder). He was almost nonverbal, and his mom was sure he would never learn to write. He was a very strong reader. We started with Teaching Writing:  Structure and Style and the Student Writing Intensive, Level B. I had to help him every step of the way. I remember having to help him with the creative writing—exploring his mind with questions to find what was in there and helping him put his ideas into words. We continued into the Student Intensive Continuation Course, and a few weeks into that he finally caught it and was able to write wonderful essays. He had it all in him; he just needed help to get it all out. During this time, his mom was delighted that what I was doing with him in our tutoring sessions was spilling into other areas of his school work. He was beginning to express himself in writing for other classes in ways that he could never do before.

I hear these kinds of stories over and over, and it is such a blessing to these kids that IEW gives them what they need to succeed.

"He really wants to do it independently now but certain things still aren't clicking. He wants to do the key word outline himself, but feels defeated when he finds out he's off track. I've thought about switching to a different curriculum that might cover some of those more basic thinking skills in more detail, but I'm nervous because none of them have the track record for being good for special needs like IEW does."
- from the parent of an eighth grade student with Asperger’s Syndrome

IEW writing is the best way to build thinking skills. What is hard is when you have a student who is anxious to "do it himself," but he is still lacking the tools to do so. IEW requires mentoring, and students rarely succeed without the modeling of a teacher.

An online class or mentor might help because it seems no matter how well we parent our children, they hear things better from someone else rather than us! This week I just had to battle my daughters to let me help guide them in their writing. I suspect part of it is that they don't want to take the TIME that it takes to really wrestle through the writing to do it well.

For your son, help him make checklists of what makes a solid paragraph. In the dress-ups, add that the strong verbs and quality adjectives create a strong image or feeling. Take some time to talk about that. He may initially be resistant, but persist and be patient.

He can certainly do his own outline, but it will likely need adjusting. One thing that might help is to wrestle out the topics with him—that will guide the details better. One way to do this is include an "about" word in the topic. If the paragraph topic on a paper about Clara Barton is "Barton, Red Cross," add an about word: what about Barton and the Red Cross? She brought it to America, she made it succeed, etc. For the paragraph on Barton and the Civil War, what about it? She was passionate about the care of the soldiers. By having a direction to take for those topics, the outlining will go better.

It will still take a lot of modeling. Your son is only in 8th grade, so his analyzing skills are just starting. Keep working with him. Let him do bits on his own, but before he goes to the next stage of the game, go over what he did and help him make it better. That is mentoring and that is what is going to get him up to speed. ~ Jill

The following post from a co-op teacher who has students on the autism spectrum shares the excitement of seeing dramatic changes in her students’ abilities after using IEW.

I wanted to share the highlight of my day...

I teach high school English to a class of non-traditional students at our homeschool co-op. In my class I combine movies, books, research papers, poetry, etc., where each culminates in a written assignment, at least every other week. Most of the kids have IEP's, one has autism, two have Asperger's. I started this class because my son has an IEP and would drown in a traditional class. I teach using the IEW method, but pick my own sources for us to use.This is the second year I have taught this class. Today a student came to me after having done his testing (for his IEP) through the regional highschool. He has gone from the 16th percentile (2 years ago) to the 75th percentile now. He is no longer classified as learning disabled in English. He (and his mom) attribute this all to me...but I know better...I am just the facilitator of this great program. I also know they have worked VERY hard for the past two years to get to this point. All this to say....stay the course! This program works...for everyone!”

It’s always encouraging to hear from others who struggle with the same issues. The IEW forums are full of parents and teachers sharing their successes and ideas to help special needs students succeed. If you have found success teaching writing to your special needs student, consider sharing your experience on the forum, allowing others to glean from your ideas. And if you are still in the midst of the struggle, share your questions—you might just be surprised at the wisdom, encouragement, and inspiration you receive!

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