Finally two autism experts, Paula Kluth, PhD and Patrick Schwarz, PhD, answer the questions for teachers and parents on how to handle children’s overwhelming fascinations. Many individuals with Asperger’s syndrome (AS) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) develop a deep interest or fascinations on one or a variety of topics. Their guide book, Just Give Him the Whale: 20 Ways to Use Fascinations, Areas of Expertise, and Strengths to Support Students with Autism, should surely convince readers that a person’s fixation, their passion about a certain ordinary topic like trains or vacuum cleaners or about a rare or specific interest like the number 24 or dead end streets, is a good thing! This area of interest, this autistic child’s obsession, his FACINATIONS are the key to reach and interact with this child. They are the teaching tools to use for this child to be learning and to be content doing it.
This highly practical resource book is a tremendous help to educators across grade levels. First, it clears their guilty conscience about allowing a child with autism to work on learning outcomes as required by the school board by using their fascinations as topics. Secondly, Kluth and Schwarz guide them through twenty skills students can learn and practice while using their interest area as topic. Teachers spend countless hours planning interesting lessons to motivate their students to read, to write, to talk and here you have students who can spend hours captivated by their area of expertise ready to do all this. Go with it! Why fight it?
The authors share the story of a school principal, Ms. Gomez, who inspired them to write the book. Both Kluth and Schwatz already believed in honouring every individual’s uniqueness. The principal’s story of Pedro, a little boy with autism, motivated them to write the children’s picture book, Pedro’s Whale, and this book. See a review of the children’s book here. In a nutshell the story goes like this: Pedro’s fascinations were whales. When his new teacher told him to put away his toy whale he was heartbroken. The principal saves the day and should I say the YEAR by suggesting incorporating Pedro’s special interest into the whole curriculum. Soon his peers and teachers were using whales is every day’s work making one little boy very pleased and able to function well in school; hence the other students too as well as the teacher.
About the Book
Just Give Him the Whale was awarded the 2009 Merit Award for excellence in book design, book production and book manufacturing. This award was presented to Brookes Publishing by the 23rd Annual New York Book Show, sponsored by the Bookbinders’ Guild in New York.
Most schools have inclusive classroom. Teachers can use the ideas in Just Give Him the Whale for students with autism or other children who have areas of interest as a way to motivate them to participate. The authors show when a child with a fixation is allowed the freedom of choosing his area of interest to accomplish school work they thrive academically. And not only that, you have a happy camper because for many autistic students their passions provide them with a sense of security and comfort.
Do some children have areas of interest that cannot be connected to class work? According to Kluth and Schwarz, no matter how obscure or unusual, most Areas of Interest can be used as part of a standards-based curriculum. Connections can be drawn between fixations and any academic content.
The ideas in this book will be helpful to parents, Sunday school teachers, summer camps, etc. One interesting point the authors make is how the adults in the autistic child’s life can develop a good relationship with the child via his fascinations. The same can be said for connecting with other students through a shared passion. Help the child use his area of skill as a catalyst for relationships. Show the child how to monitor his conversation so he does not sound rude, boring or self-centered. Have sessions for all students to formally learn and practice conversational skills.
Frame activities for success. Create occasions for the student to show his smarts. Empower the student with autism to experience success. The authors suggest explaining to students the theory of multiple intelligences. The whole class can benefit from discussing “how” different individuals are smart. All students should know that some individuals who have focused on their area of interest and made it their career have gone on to achieve great things for society. The story of Dr. Temple Grandin can be used to show how valuable the trait the authors call “stick-to-it-iveness” can be.
No matter what the particular passion a student has currently, the strategies and examples in this book will help you to accept, embrace, promote, and further develop the relationship it has to school activities and the curriculum. Opening the doors to the fascination and supporting the student in exploring new interests as they evolve is what effective teaching is all about.
Paula Kluth, Ph.D. and Patrick Schwarz, Ph.D.
Features of the Book
Each chapter begins with a true story or two supporting the topic. This helps the reader understand how he can use the same strategies for children he works with. These remarkable, real life accounts based on the author’s experiences prove the point they are trying to make: Work with and around the FACINATIONS do not try to squash them, exploit them!
There are numerous excerpts or quotes. They clearly indicate the source with the date within the passage and then you can find more details of the source in their comprehensive References at the end.
There are two very useful Sample Student Survey forms, one for early elementary and one for late elementary.
There is no need of an index because of the way the book is organized. The Contents page at the beginning lists the 20 chapters each with a different goal on how fascinations, areas of expertise, and strengths can be used. Here are some of the chapters:
- To Develop a Relationship with the Student
- To Help Minimize Anxiety
- To Boost Literacy Learning
- To Encourage Risk Taking
- To Boost Mathematics Skills and Competencies
- To Teach Manners, Cooperation, and the Expression of Empathy
The last page of each short chapter has Additional Ideas to use a child’s area of interest or strength to develop the skill being discussed. For example To Help Minimize Anxiety, one of the added strategies in times of transitions, is to create supports that can travel with the student, such as a comfort keychain or lucky charm that incorporates a favourite thing. See how simple and easy this is but how it can make all the difference for an anxious child. I was pleased to read this because our KidCompanions Chewelry is the perfect comforting chewy fidget that helps anxious children during transitions.
I appreciated the eight Frequently Asked Questions answered in detail on ten pages at the end of the book. Here are some or parts of some of the questions:
- Doesn’t “teaching to passions” really mean “giving in” to the students? Should we really let students perseverate on their obsessions?
- Is it ever okay to try and move the child away from his favorites?
- How does this idea of using passions as springboards or stepping stones apply to families?
Rarely have I seen such a complete description of Additional Resources. For each entry, they include the author, date, title, publisher, and a brief summary/review. Their resource list is divided in three parts,
- Autobiographies written by people with autism and Asperger syndrome
- Autobiographies written by families of people with autism and Asperger syndrome
- Other strengths-focused resources
I highly recommend Just Give Him the Whale: 20 Ways to Use Fascinations, Areas of Expertise, and Strengths to Support Students with Autism by Paula Kluth and Patrick Schwarz. I read the last page with regret. Regret that during my thirty years of teaching I did not have this book to help me make the lives of students with autism or Asperger’s syndrome easier when they were in my classroom.
To end my review, I leave you with these wise words from the authors,”No matter what the particular passion a student has currently, the strategies and examples in this book will help you to accept, embrace, promote, and further develop the relationship it has to school activities and the curriculum. Opening the doors to the fascination and supporting the student in exploring new interests as they evolve is what effective teaching is all about.”
About the Authors
Dr. Paula Kluth is a consultant, author, advocate, and independent scholar who works with teachers and families to provide inclusive opportunities for students with disabilities and to create more responsive and engaging schooling experiences for all learners. Her research and professional interests include differentiating instruction, and supporting students with autism and significant disabilities in inclusive classrooms.
Paula is a former special educator who has served as a classroom teacher, consulting teacher, and inclusion facilitator. She works with teachers in K-12 schools, pre-schools, and early intervention programs. She also regularly works with family organizations and disability-rights and advocacy groups.
She is the author or co-author of “You’re Going to Love This Kid”: Teaching Students with Autism in the Inclusive Classroom ; the lead editor of Access to Academics: Critical Approaches to Inclusive Curriculum, Instruction, and Policy, and the co-author of several other books including A Land We Can Share: The Literate Lives of Students with Autism; Joyful Learning: Active and Collaborative Structures for the Inclusive Classroom; You’re Welcome: 30 Innovative Ideas for Inclusive Schools, and A is for All Aboard.
Read more about Dr. Kluth on her web site.
Dr. Patrick Schwarz is a dynamic and engaging professor, author, motivational speaker and leader in Education (Inclusive Education, Special Education, General Education, Educational Leadership) and Human Services. He is a professor at National-Louis University, Chicago. Patrick’s company is Creative Culture Consulting LLC. He has co-authored some books with Paula Kluth. Here are some of his publications:
- You’re Welcome: 30 Innovative Ideas for the Inclusive Classroom
- Pedro’s Whale
- You’re Welcome: Promoting Peaceful Schools
- You’re Welcome: Differentiated Instruction
Learn more about Dr. Schwarz from his website.