Book Review: Autism and Learning Differences an active learning teaching toolkit

By Debra Muzikar

2016 is starting out to be a very good year.

Last week I received  the most comprehensive and practical book for those working with young adults with autism or learning differences aged 16 – 26. The book is called “Autism and Learning Differences: An Active Learning Teaching Toolkit” written by Michael P. McManmon, Ed.D. with a foreword by Dr. Stephen M. Shore (published by Jessica Kingsley 2016).

Michael McManmon is the founder of the College Internship Program (CIP), which has six centers across the United States. He is diagnosed with Aspergers himself. The book is a compilation of his past 30+ years in teaching, training and preparing young adults with the skills necessary to achieve independence and lead a productive life.

The 500+ page book is content-rich and spiral bound for easy photocopy of worksheets and handouts. It is a practical book created for parents, educators, and students on the autism spectrum.  Icons and sidebars which provide an accessible at-a-glance reference for inspiration, encouragement, fast facts, or classroom management tips and techniques that relate to each chapter’s content are included in the book making it very easy to navigate.

The handbook uses a participatory model and “active learning” methodology. Active Learning is a process whereby students engage in activities that promote analysis, synthesis and evaluation of classroom content. With only 15 percent of United States college graduates diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) or LD (Learning Differences)  planning to live independently from their parents, this book is a necessary tool for helping students transition from dependence to independence.

Besides the focus on skills for life, school, work and independent living, the book is packed with information – including sections on executive functioning skills, peer-mentoring, mediation, and inclusion. It also contains student self-assessment materials and feedback forms.  Identifying the ethics and values that are important to a person are an essential part of self-assessment process.

Many autistic people have sensory issues. The book recommends completion of a Sensory Profile which can be administered by an OT or support staff. Adults with sensory processing information may be over or undersensitive to information which can effect how they learn.  Sensory profiles include proprioception (awareness of the position of one’s body); olfactory (sense of smell); and vestibular (information related to movement and head position).

Another focus of the book  is  creating a community of like-minded educators, which include focusing on the character strengths of both yourself as an educator and your students. Educators need to be creative in working with students who are naturally very creative and may have idiosyncratic ways of thinking.

Embedding skills for life, school, work, and independent living into the classroom is essential for education to be effective for students with ASD.  Practical ways to do this are discussed in a section devoted to creating a Dispersed Integration Model.

A sense of humor can get us through difficult times. I was happy to see part of the book was dedicated to developing that side of ourselves. “Humor can take the edge off a serious situation and set the stage for flexibility and open the door of willingness to try something new.”

Peer support and conflict resolution are important ideas incorporated within the chapters. The book gives step-by-step instructions on how to create a peer mediation group, including peer mediator contracts, learning to talk using “I” messages, and conflict mediation ground rules (all forms are in the book easily photocopied for handouts). I know from some recent heated interactions on social media, how speaking with “I” messages is an important skill  we all need to learn.

A chapter by Brenda Smith Myles, Jill Hudson, and Hyo Jung Lee focuses on the hidden curriculum. Not understanding the hidden curriculum can make a person a social outcast. This section of the book includes helpful hints for students in time management, materials management, and financial management, and other areas where not knowing the hidden curriculum can be problematic.

Michael McManmon has written a compelling chapter which deals with a common problem for many autistic individuals –  anxiety and depression. A lack of social interaction and isolation can create these feelings. Michael believes perfectionism is the root cause of anxiety and depression. “Those (especially young adults) on the ASD and LD Spectrum have unrealistic thought patterns about the way life is supposed to be and how others live in  the world. These young men and women can feel that everyone knows how to be with each other and that they are like an adroid floating in space, unconnected to the planet.”

Dr. McManmon recommends Social Thinking sessions and Social mentors (college or graduate students trained to work with young students with Learning Differences).  Engagement in community service activities to help others is also emphasized. Michael also suggests a gratitude journal in order for students to get the bigger picture and not just focus on what is wrong.  Nature, yoga, meditation, time with animals often can be a way of relieving anxiety.

I’m only scratching the surface of this book. If you are the parent of a 16 – 26 year old and completing transition plans, I highly recommend this book.  It will save you a ton of time in setting goals and focusing on what really matters.  If you are an educator who wants current, practical tools to work with your students, this is a must-have book. You will save time by not having to re-create the wheel. If the only reason you purchase it is for the handouts – it will save you a ton of time. Michael has done it for you. If you are an organization that works with autistic young adults creating peer groups or social facilitation, this book will tell you how to do it.

I plan to loan this book to Kevin’s transition teacher for the remainder of the year. Francine Britton, the content editor, told me the book was a labor of love.  Thank you Francine for including a chapter I wrote in this book about the importance of art for those on the spectrum.

My review ***** Highly recommend!



One reply on “Book Review: Autism and Learning Differences an active learning teaching toolkit”
  1. says: mike lutrell

    Thank you Debbie for this recommendation. It’s all in the details. Keep strong and generous with your expertise.

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