At age 3 Bird (who has autism) was working with Les 30 hours a week and had speech 3 hours a week. At 4 he noticed that his brother and sister we not working! When Bird’s verbal skills started to come in slowly my first (stupid) though was we really needed to make sure he was ready to make friends and get ready to be in a classroom. Les just wanted the classroom as did Mere but as a parent you always want your kids to have friends.
When Bird was 4 we started a small summer school in my basement (my house is pretty small so no illusions about space please). The first few months in was Bird and Herd and Peep (his older brother and twin) sitting at a table doing both group work and independent work. By the end of the summer we added a neighbor or two.
The following year we exploded! Les and I (with Alexis a great high school student who worked 2 days a week) were running our summer school with 5 kids, then 6 and by the end of the summer we had 15 kids in the basement! Camp was Monday-Thursday either 10am-2pm on 2 days and 11am-1pm on 2 days. It was so hard, expensive, time consuming and fun and ALL the kids benefited from coming to the house and especially Bird!
I found kids from my older sons class, kids from the pool, neighborhood and friends of my daughters and friends of friends! We had a waiting list and so many were happy to give their children up for a couple hours over the summer that week after week they kept coming back. (side note) when my twins finally started Kindergarten a woman at school asked me how to sign up for my day care…hehehhe….I had to explain that friends were loaning kids to me for my school.
So, Les structured the school after a regular Kindergarten class with a few added benefits. Each child was given a sticker chart with the different things we would be doing that day (the shear prep on this was a good 2 hours a day) so it might list: Circle Time, Math, Games and Snack on the sheet. Each child was given a sticker if they were good in each area and would not get a sticker if they were not good which is a great way to prepare for life which typically rewards good behavior. Worksheets were pulled everyday to meet the academic level of each child in the school and a variety daily prizes were awarded each day with best behaved kids picking first and worst picking last. The first year we weeded out kids who were behaviorally not good role model and asked parents not to have them come back and the second year we made sure to have a couple beastly kids each day to work on re-directing and what not to do at school. A hot lunch was made for all the kids at least once a week to work on lunch room behavior and conversation.
The most important things we got out of camp (not Bird…who got A LOT out of camp..or his siblings and friends who also got a lot out of camp) was that one day while taking data on Bird (the only data I ever took on him) I noticed that he would do ANYTHING positive or negative to get Les’s or Alexis’s attention. He just hated sharing attention with the other kids and would act out badly to get his named called out, an annoyed look or response of any kind. Les and I worked out a system where by a picture of a reinforcer (something Bird wanted) that Bird pre-selected was taped in front of him like video games or swing outside and next to it were the numbers 1, 2 ,3 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 , 9 and 10. Each time Bird was inappropriate Les or Alexis would walk over and place an X on his number line starting with 1. If at the end of school he had 10 X’s on his number line he would lose that reinforcer! It worked perfectly the first time.
Bird has used that system all the way to 3rd grade in school with HUGE success and last year the numbers were 1, 2, 3. It worked so well that teachers were using it on other kids desks without autism. It is today my favorite strategy for good behavior in a classroom setting.