Even for most of us it is always a challenge to remember to write the correct year after January 1. Our brain and finger muscles have had 365 days to practice writing 2016. Now, all of a sudden, we need to remember to write 2017. That may take us a while…
Now imagine if you have a significant learning disability. It may have taken you 300 of those 365 days to finally be able to “write” or “say” 2016 on your own. Now, for no reason you can comprehend, you must forget that, and learn a new number to designate the year. Very frustrating.
Admittedly, for many of the students I taught, knowing what year it was currently, probably was not high on the list of important facts to learn or be able to recite. After all, many of my kids did not write or even speak. But, there were always 1 or 2 that were at the high end of that curve who would go out for some time in the regular education setting and would be expected to write the CORRECT date on their papers. In addition, there was always that one parent who felt their child should be able to parrot back the year when asked, just like their current age. (Full disclaimer, I was one of those parents eons ago. I so wanted my son to appear “normal” and be able to know what other kids his age knew. It took a long time for me to be okay with the fact that at almost 19 years old now, he still does not know the current year or even how old he is. But who really cares anyway? Not him that’s for sure.)
So, how to go about teaching our students with disabilities that 2016 is over and now it is 2017? Here are (what I think) some important things to consider.
Use ERRORLESS teaching
If they already know what year it is, we KNOW they will answer “2016” when asked “What year is it?” So, you need to provide full prompting right away. Stop letting them practice saying or writing the wrong year. If you are asking your student verbally, then immediately follow your question with the correct answer and then allow your student to repeat you. For some students you may need to give the full verbal prompt several times before fading. For example:
Step 1= Teacher: “What year is it?”
Step 2= Teacher: “2017”
Step 3= Teacher: “What year is it?”
Step 4= Student: “2017”
If your student is still saying 2016 after step 3, then repeat steps 1-2 several times before fading the full verbal prompt. **Remember, there is a lot of research that shows that fading to partial verbal prompt is NOT effective. Just go from full verbal prompt to no verbal prompt. If this is still not working and your student can read numbers, try using a cue card with the year written on it. Pair that card with your full verbal prompt at first, then as you fade the verbal prompt keep the card. Eventually fade the card.
If your students are writing the year on their papers, have then trace the correct year on their work for a while. This will take some extra prepping on your part. Beforehand, write the correct date in pencil and have them trace it. Also put the correct date on the board or on an index card on their desk. That way, you can fade the tracing to a visual prompt. The index card is nice because it can go with them to various classroom settings if needed.
2. Practice, Practice Practice
Set up lots of time and ways to practice writing or saying the new year. The more frequently it is practiced the quicker the muscle memory will build for either saying or writing the correct year. Take every authentic opportunity to have students tell you or write 2017.
3. Vary the stimuli
Remember, students with disabilities, especially Autism, have difficulty generalizing what they learn. So, they may be able to put the date on their paper in your classroom, but not in Ms. Smith’s inclusion setting. Taking visual prompts to new locations will help, as will practicing the skill in different environments with different people. One way to practice is to try a cut and paste activity which you can download for FREE by clicking on the pictures below. This is a great way for students to visualize the new year and manipulate the numbers. I would try printing it on different colored paper each day for a while (repetition with variation). In addition, don’t forget you can add color coding for your students who need more visual structure.
So if you are teaching your students it is now 2017, I wish you the best of luck!! I am hoping to simply remember that myself this year.
***If you are looking for a unit to go with this activity, grab this New Year Unit in my store, over 40 pages for only $3.00. Includes a story, circle maps, and cut and paste activities all designed for students with special needs, especially autism.