Children with Autism: Gummy Bears, Chewing Gum and More Classroom Tricks
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Children with Autism: Gummy Bears, Chewing Gum and More Classroom Tricks

My child just completed his seventh year of formal school (pre-school, kindergarten through fourth grade). Over the years, his teachers and aides have worked with us on finding various “tricks” to help get him through a typical school day in an inclusive (a classroom with mostly general education students) classroom.

What kind of tricks are you talking about?

For a long time my son had a container of dried out gummy bears he would eat. He was allowed to keep the gummy bear container on his desk and chew on the gummy bears when needed.

On a side note, I have always dried out the gummy bears. It makes them hard, which means it makes them harder to chew. This helps with oral issues by making the chewer work harder.

Around second grade, my son’s school handed out chewing gum for the state tests (called STAR tests in California). I found this fascinating because when I was a kid, I would get into trouble for chewing gum at school. I found out, however, that these days schools give out gum because studies have shown that kids are more relaxed when taking tests if they’re chewing gum.

This switch led my child to prefer chewing gum to gummy bears.

For the most part, the switch was successful except for a period of time when my child because insistent on chewing multiple pieces of gum per day. He’d chew a piece for about fifteen minutes then want another piece.

To solve this problem, (which became disruptive in the classroom), I credit my son’s aide for helping the situation. She obtained three lunch baggies. Inside the baggies she placed three Post Its and written on each Post It was a time period. She then instructed me to put one piece of gum in each baggie every night.

This allowed my son to accept a new “program” concerning the gum, which was only one piece of gum allowed during the given time period.

This was a slight adjustment that both aide and parent approved and the changed worked well.

What about assemblies?

For years, our son’s aide had used certain “stress relief” objects to help get our son through a school day. She often used them during assemblies.

Assemblies have always been difficult for our son. Our school splits assembly times between upper and lower grades. The lower grades have their assemblies first thing in the morning at 8:30 am. The upper grades have theirs at 10:00 am.

When our child was in the lower grades, it was easier for him to go to an assembly first thing in the morning. But, when he got to the upper grade, he had to wait until 10 am.

The problem with assemblies is that they have a lot of people within a confined space (about 8 classes attend each assembly). Besides that, all of the kids sit on the hard auditorium floor.

Our son has never been comfortable sitting on hard floors, which made it hard for him to sit still during an assembly.

Then, add in a large number of people, and assemblies were always a challenge.

What did we do?

First, we coordinated with our son’s OT (Occupational Therapist) who gave us some ideas. She suggested two things:

1. I brought to school a small piece (a remnant) of a rug that my son could sit on during an assembly.

2. The aide would also bring specific “stress relief” toys to the assembly.

Exactly what kind of toys are you talking about?

I am talking about small objects that can be held in a child’s hand and are flexible so they can be squeezed by the child. Also, if squeezed, these objects should NOT make any noise.

What is the purpose of the toys?

Purely for stress relief.

Autistic kids find it easier to remain in an assembly if they can release tension that they are feeling due to the uncomfortable situation and the large number of people.

Our OT explained that if our child had a small, quiet object in his hand that he could squeeze, then it might help to calm him.

What are examples of the toys?

Squeeze balls, a slinky, putty, gel-filled toys, rice-filled balloons, or a small bean bag.

What else can help for an assembly?

My child’s aide takes my child to the bathroom right before the assembly. She began this ritual after discovering that if this was not done, our child would use the “bathroom excuse” to take a break from the assembly – and it was not easy to sneak out of a full auditorium.

Also, our child sits next to the wall, right in front of his aide (who sits in a chair) so that if he does need to leave, he’d be less disruptive to the assembly.

I have just presented some tricks to help with oral issues and assemblies. In my next blog, I will discuss more classroom tricks for inclusion students.

To Find Kimberly Kaplan: or Amazon Kindle ebook “A Parents’ Guide to Early Autism Intervention”
Twitter: @tipsautismmom

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