Seven Keys to Unlock Autism: Making Miracles in the Classroom


Seven Keys to Unlock Autism offers educators, parents, and other caregivers specific and actionable techniques to reach "seemingly unreachable" children on the autism spectrum and teach students of all abilities.

With the increased number of children diagnosed with autism, this essential resource is needed now more than ever. Seven Keys to Unlock Autism can help anyone develop a personal skill set to better understand and access these often hard-to-reach children. Step-by-step, ...

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Seven Keys to Unlock Autism: Making Miracles in the Classroom

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Seven Keys to Unlock Autism offers educators, parents, and other caregivers specific and actionable techniques to reach "seemingly unreachable" children on the autism spectrum and teach students of all abilities.

With the increased number of children diagnosed with autism, this essential resource is needed now more than ever. Seven Keys to Unlock Autism can help anyone develop a personal skill set to better understand and access these often hard-to-reach children. Step-by-step, this engaging book shows how to identify these skills and use them in your daily interactions with kids on the autism spectrum. Using the ideas outlined in the book, teachers and parents can create more meaningful relationships for optimal results in the classroom and at home.

The seven keys are based on the unique, world-acclaimed approach used by Elaine Hall and Diane Isaacs of The Miracle Project, a fully inclusive socialization and communication program for children with autism and their typically developing peers and siblings. Featured in the Emmy Award winning documentary, Autism: The Musical, this proven program seamlessly integrates traditional and creative therapies in an interactive, dynamic social environment.

The seven keys uncover and develop the diverse skills, wisdom, and talents of children on the spectrum. Each key includes a self-led exercise, examples of ways to navigate potential obstacles, "from the trenches" advice from real-world educators, and "Quick Keys" for ongoing daily support. Seven Keys to Unlock Autism is sure to be a trusted companion for rewarding classroom success.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This should be required reading for all teachers. Each of the seven keys are simple to add to not only the classroom but the home." (, April 2012)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780470644096
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 11/1/2011
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 981,778
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Elaine Hall

Elaine Hall ("Coach E") is the founder of The MiracleProject. When traditional therapies failed to help her autisticson, she sought out creative people—actors, writers, andteachers—to work with him. The methods Elainedeveloped toreach kids with autism resulted in The Miracle Project and wereprofiled in the HBO documentary, Autism: The Musical.

Diane Isaacs is the cofounder of The Miracle Project. Asuccessful film producer, she is the former president of Green MoonProductions, which she cofounded with Antonio Banderas and MelanieGriffith. Diane produced The Miracle Project's benefit album, FLY,with artists including Jack Black, Stephen Stills, and Chaka Khan.She is expanding The Miracle Project nationally andinternationally, from India to Ethiopia.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

About the Authors xi

About The Miracle Project xiii

Foreword by Stephen M. Shore xv

Introduction: It Starts with You xvii

The Seven Keys xviii

How to Use This Book xix

The Keys xx

Elaine’s Story xxiii

Part One: Autism 101 1

Primer: Autism Through a Different Lens 3

A Brief History 7

Inspirational Stories 11

Autism’s Alphabet Soup 13

Part Two: The Seven Keys 19

Key One Set an Intention 21

Key Two Develop Acceptance and Appreciation 37

Diane’s Story of Acceptance 51

Key Three Understand Sensory Profile 59

Key Four Follow the Leader 73

Key Five Include the Child 87

Key Six Practice and Preparation Make Progress 105

Key Seven Live Miracle Minded 121

Conclusion: Opening Doors 131

Part Three: Appendixes 135

Appendix A: The Resource Room: Tools for Using the Seven Keys137

Primer: Leading Schools of Thought 138

Autism Organizations 139

Films 141

IDEA and IEP 142

Key One Resources 142

Key Two Resources 143

Key Three Resources 144

Key Four Resources 144

Key Five Resources 145

Key Six Resources 145

Key Seven Resources 146

Appendix B: Additional Corners of the Resource Room 149

Environmental Factors 149

Classroom Set-Up 151

Proactive Tools 153

Accommodations 157

Creating Consistency Across All Environments 160

Creating a User-Friendly System 161

Seven Keys to a Smooth IEP 164

The Greatest Untapped Resource: The Parent 167

Index 175

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Interviews & Essays

I have 28 kids in fourth grade and recently a student with autism has been added to the class. He has low-verbal skills, often seems in his own world and stays off to himself. What can I do to better include this new student with the classroom as a whole?

The addition of a child with autism into a new classroom environment can be challenging for both the child and the other students, however, the good news is, it doesn’t have to be. It can actually be positioned as an opportunity for the students to learn and grow together. As the teacher, you create a call to action for all the fourth graders to practice their compassion and communication skills. Your expression of excitement to have this new student will interest and engage your students in wanting to interact with the new student. You set the intention of being curious and open-minded to the possibility of building a friendship with this new boy. You create the environment of acceptance and appreciation of differences. Look for the new student’s strengths and design assignments to utilize his unique skill set in group work to foster interaction in the classroom. Remember, just because a child doesn’t speak, doesn’t mean they do not think! See if your school will provide assistive technology like an ipad with a “Speak It” or Pro loquo2go apps or other communication devices. Your inclusion of the new student shifts the energy of the “us vs. him” to disappear the separation and create an enriched class because of this new addition. These principles of setting an intention and creating an environment of acceptance are the first two keys of SEVEN KEYS TO UNLOCK AUTISM. You may want to refer to the DVD in the back of the book which shows Master Teacher, “Mr. S” brilliantly including Neal, a nonverbal fourth grader into the classroom.

My daughter with autism is transitioning from a small pre-school to the public school’s kindergarten. While she will have a 1:1 aide, her new class has three times the students and is a busy, loud environment. I am concerned she will be instantly overwhelmed and not off to a positive start.

Transitions can be challenging for all children but especially for children with autism. If your daughter is properly prepared for the big change and enrolled in a new routine, her school experience will be off to a great start. Transitions for those with autism can be stressful due to sensory overload and the unpredictability of the environment.. Key 3 invites you, the teacher and the 1:1 aide to view the new classroom situation from your daughter’s perspective. Is she affected by the flourescent lights in the classroom? Dr. Stephen Shore, an adult with autism and professor at Adelphi University, wears a cap to even out the intensity. Is the classroom too loud? Strategies such as wearing ear-plugs, sitting away from most of the noise, entering the classroom first and getting settled in before others can all be helpful. Noting that the world is already a fast-changing, curve-ball place so imagine the anxiety of not knowing what to expect moving one room to the next. The more information we can acquire about what to expect, the more calm and competent we will be. In the Sixth Key of SEVEN KEYS TO UNLOCK AUTISM, we say “practice makes progress.” (We differentiate the idiom ‘practice makes perfect’, because we honor progress over perfection, which is an elusive ideal). The key to a smooth and effective transition is to practice experiencing it, over and over, to build a source of reliable information about that environment. Practice also develops a feeling of confident mastery. For the new kindergarten, take pictures of school, the classroom, the teacher, the cubby, the playground, the lunch area and make a story board with all of these locations. Put your child’s name on the board to give her ownership and placement in this environment. Even take a picture of the loud bell that rings at recess and play act how the bell rings loud so that all the kids know recess is over. It is beneficial to organize a visit or two to the school, even for just 5 minutes the first time without kids, and 10 minutes when the hallway is full of children. You can also visit a busy playground and pretend you are at school together and notice the many voices and noises. Practice strategies for her to play in the more quiet sandbox or in the tree-house if it gets too loud. Roleplay with your daughter as a new student and the teacher, reversing roles. The more you practice the experience of kindergarten before she actually arrives there, the more relaxed and confident she will be when she walks through that threshold to a new experience. She will have practiced that transition in many ways and minimize the surprise elements that create anxiety and cause behaviors.

A young teenage girl arrives to my biology class after lunch with no energy--her head is often down on the desk, pulling a hoodie over her ears. How can I spark her to engage and participate when she slumps into her own world ignoring all the other students?

As a teacher, you have to play detective with each student to truly know them and be able to ‘read’ their affect and behaviors. Walk in their moccasins and observe a few things from her perspective. Check to see if the student may have auditory figure ground issues - Can she distinguish between background and foreground conversations? Most often, we assume a student is trying to escape the schoolwork or connection to others by her body language, when in fact, she may be trying to manage the sensory input so that she can be present. Since class is after lunch, it may be of interest to see what she eats at lunch. Is she eating sugary or starchy foods that will make her energy crash, or not eating at all that will create glucose deficit and impair cognitive engagement. Her low energy and posture may be uplifted with some proprioceptive stimulation with simple body movements, especially those that cross the midline. Take breaks to do some standing exercises to increase her focus and overall energy. Also, check and see what she is doing with her head down. Is she reading something or doodling? Key 4 beckons you to figure out what her interests are and work from there. If she likes comic books, incorporate her comic book in a lesson. Really investigate the source of her posture and disconnect. In our book, Seven Keys to Unlock Autism, Master Teacher Lisa Johnson tells the story of a student who was locked in her own world, disinterested in anything but fashion magazines. Lisa began purchasing her own fashion magazines; soon sharing stories with each other about the “latest new trend.” Lisa Johnson used these connections to build a relationship with her student and teaching all subjects through the lens of fashion. In time, her student began participating more and more in class eventually getting straight A’s and becoming president of the class!

My son is extremely animated when he is talking about his favorite movie character or game avatar but when we being homework, he suddenly gets exhausted and disinterested. How can I engage his intense focus on his ‘boring’ schoolwork?

The first thing to acknowledge is the wondrous degree of imagination and curiosity within your child. Allow him to take the lead and bring you into his world of play. By fully joining his world, you are building a reciprocal play relationship that can transition into a work relationship. First, set the schedule- agree to some time boundaries upfront, i.e. fantasy play for 20 minutes, followed by 30 minutes on homework. This gives a sense of structure and develops personal energy management. The key is to play to his interests even as you transition to homework. If his interest is on a magical character, use magic when you are doing math problems. Pretend to be a magician as you cross the world history pages. Keep his imagination engines fired up as you blend in academics. Boredom usually is a defense mechanism for not wanting to feel like a failure, so with curious affect, liven up the homework with the same colors as his fantasy world. The more excitement you feel from his contribution, the more he will reciprocate his energy into the schoolwork.

My brother has wild tantrums and I don’t know how to calm him down. Even my parents seem to make his outbursts worse when they approach him. What can we do to help him?

Your instincts as an older sister, (parent and teacher, too) is to calm your little brother down and stop his behavior. We try to calm him by modeling calm, or using a calm voice. Oftentimes, this backfires as your brother may not feel heard. When communication is difficult for those with autism, outbursts can be a form to release frustration. His behavior is his inability to communicate something and if you brush over it and say ‘it’s alright, calm down’, you may further frustrate him. If he is not doing harm to himself, others or things, he may just need to express himself in what we label a tantrum. You may have to take a guess at what may be bothering him and articulate that in a level that nearly matches his intensity. “I know you are mad. I know you are frustrated that you can’t have that toy. It is so hard and you don’t like it!” If you act as his inner voice, he is receiving validation for his emotional charge, which usually allows him to release. If he feels no one understands what he is going through, his anxiety overrides all logic and reasoning. Key 4 in SEVEN KEYS TO UNLOCK AUTISM is to follow the child’s lead and need. Rather than wanting to calm him down when he is agitated, join him and let him know you totally get his emotion- do so with great affect so he has someone sharing his state of being. “You are so mad, too, it’s not fair!” Then, slowly work your escalated voice and expression down to a calmer place of control. Chances are your brother will slide down with you as a partner and feel heard in the process. He still won’t have his toy but he has learned and had the chance to practice managing his emotions.

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