Reaching and Teaching Children with Autism and Special Needs by Dr Heather Mackenzie

Reaching and Teaching Children with Autism and Special Needs by Dr Heather Mackenzie

The team at Special Needs Book Review is so pleased that Dr Heather Mackenzie took the time to introduce the many resources she has created for the special needs community especially for families raising autistic children. We congratulate this fellow Canadian on the many accolades she has received though-out her career. In the Fall of 2016, Dr. Mackenzie traveled to Dubai where she met with staff at the Dubai Autism Centre and other organizations. In Dubai, she held a workshop on integrating self-regulation into everyday school life.

Dr MacKenzie gives workshops on a number of different topics. Typically, they include:

  • Reaching Children with Autism
  • Introduction to spark* (for professionals)
  • Helping your child learn self-regulation
  • Enhancing Development with Storybooks

Guess Post by Dr Heather MacKenzie

A Brief Overview of My Life as an Author

Let’s start this overview with a look at my philosophy about children in general, children with special needs, and children with autism in particular. I believe that every child wants to learn and can learn; it’s up to us as the professionals around them to sustain that desire and make it possible for each child to learn optimally. I am averse to using labels with children as they tend to alter how people view them and lower their expectations. We must view each child as a learner with yet unknown potential.

This philosophy led me to write my first book, Reaching and Teaching the Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, published by Reaching and Teaching the Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder by Heather MacKenzie, PhDJessica Kingsley Publishers in London. In it, I present a model for looking at each child’s learning preferences and strengths and engaging and nurturing them to optimize his/her abilities.

I developed the model, based on Jung’s and Gardner’s theories, to get away from pathologizing autism as we typically do. That is, autism is usually viewed as a series of deficits, disorders, and limitations. In Reaching and Teaching, I outline how the features of autism can be viewed as learning preferences and strengths and what these mean for teaching them. I encourage readers to engage each child by using his learning preferences and strengths but also how to expand his learning beyond those specific sets of characteristics. I developed a preschool for children with autism based on the Learning Preferences and Strengths model and found that children flourished and grew beyond expectations.

My greatest hope for people with autism is that they will live and learn comfortably in everyday settings, have a sense of satisfaction and of belonging, and enjoy as much autonomy as possible. To ensure this occurs, we need to help them develop greater independence and self-determination. They need to learn how to make decisions, solve problems, become self-aware, The Autistic Child’s Guide – Presenting spark*: Self-Regulation Program for Awareness and Resilience in Kids by Heather MacKenzie, PhDand learn to self-regulate. These are presented in my next books and other endeavours.

I developed spark* (Self-regulation Program of Awareness & Resilience in Kids) to help others teach our children how to regulate and manage their behavior, thinking, and emotions. spark* focuses on teaching children how to consciously control their executive functions (planning The Autistic Child's Guide - ELementary version: spark*EL: Self-regulation Program of Awareness and Resilience in Kids in middle childhood to early adolescence Paperback – September 29, 2014 by Heather MacKenzie, PhDand organization, inhibitory control, working memory, self-monitoring, and cognitive flexibility) which are responsible for translating thoughts and intentions into action.

spark* is evidence-based, having been the focus of two research studies at the University of Manitoba. It is well-researched and carefully laid-out, incorporating current neurology and positive psychology.

spark* is intended for children from two to eight years of age and its upward extension, spark*EL (Elementary version) is intended for children from middle childhood through early adolescence.

Chris Barson of Positive About Autism™ interviews Dr Heather MacKenzie about spark*

Interview with Dr Heather MacKenzie from Chris on Vimeo.

Coach’s Playbook – How to Play with Others by Heather MacKenzie, PhDThe same principles and goals are incorporated in two videos I developed. They use video modeling to help children learn how to join other children in play (Coach’s Playbook – How to Play with Others) and how to deal with frustration (Coach’s Playbook – Dealing with Frustration).

How to Play with Others and Dealing with Frustration are high quality, professionally-produced video intended for children from 3 to 8 years of age who have autism and related conditions. At just a little over 8 minutes, the video moves along quickly enough to keep the attention of even younger children.

The How to Play with Others video focuses on the first steps to playing with other children: how Dealing with Frustration video: by Heather MacKenzie, PhDto enter a play situation with other children. The strategies depicted in the video will help children find positive ways to initiate contact with other children who are already playing.

The Dealing with Frustration video focuses on three main steps to coping with frustrating eventsin everyday life. The strategies depicted in the video will help children remain calmer and find more productive means of handling life when things do not go exactly as s/he had in mind.

These professionally-produced videos model strategies children can use to help themselves. The format uses the same technique coaches use to highlight key features of a good play – stop action, replay, and highlight. This helps the children know what to look for and how to proceed.

Self-regulation in Everyday Life: A How-to Guide for Parents, May, 2015

The advantages of improved self-regulation are enormous and far-reaching, encompassing academic achievement, social skills, employment, health, and social responsibility. Every child can benefit from improved behavioral, cognitive and emotional self-regulation. This prompted my next book, Self-regulation in Everyday Life: A How-to Guide for Parents.  I also wanted parents and others involved in the lives of children with autism to understand how they can incorporate self-regulation into everyday activities – it didn’t have to occur in specific lessons or activities. This book uses the spark* model and provides instructions and examples about how to improve your child’s self-regulation while riding in the car, walking down the street, or enjoying an ice cream.

Self-regulation in Everyday Life has illustrations by Amy Preveza. It is a step-by-step guide for every parent who wants to help their child be better prepared for school and for life.  It helps parents shift from teaching specific behaviors to working on foundation skills in body, cognitive and emotional self-regulation.  In everyday  situations, parents can help their child become more confident, strategic and resourceful.

Self-regulation in Everyday Life includes checklists to identify self-regulation needs and progress and helpful guidelines for determining expectations at each age level. After purchasing the book, you’ll have access to a rich resource of materials, illustrations and internet and other sources coordinated with target areas.

 About the Author: 

Heather MacKenzie, Ph.D., is a Canadian speech-language pathologist and educator who has spent a large part of her career developing and implementing approaches for enhancing learning in children with special needs. Heather MacKenzie, Ph.D., is a Canadian speech-language pathologist and educator who has spent a large part of her career developing and implementing approaches for enhancing learning in children with special needs.  She has a special interest in understanding autism spectrum disorders (ASD).  A major focus of her work with children has been on understanding them and how they approach learning and then using this knowledge to optimize their development.

Heather’s books and materials arise from several decades of clinical work as well as current neuroscience.

Heather has provided workshops and presentations all over North America, in the U.K., United Arab Emirates and Singapore.  She and her work have been very positively received.

All books can be purchased through Amazon.com – see the links at the end of this post.

The Coach’s Playbook videos can be purchased through Dr. Mackenzie’s website www.drheathermackenzie.com or through ParentBooks in Toronto.

 Buy Books by Heather MacKenzie, Ph.D.

  • Self-regulation in Everyday Life: A How-to Guide for Parents Paperback – May 6, 2015 Amazon.com  Amazon.ca 
  • The Autistic Child’s Guide – ELementary version: spark*EL: Self-regulation Program of Awareness and Resilience in Kids in middle childhood to early adolescence Paperback – September 29, 2014 Amazon.com Amazon.ca
  • The Autistic Child’s Guide: Presenting spark* (Self-regulation Program of Awareness & Resilience in Kids) Paperback – September 6, 2013 Amazon.com  Amazon.ca
  • Reaching and Teaching the Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Using Learning Preferences and Strengths Paperback – Apr 15 2008 Amazon.com  Amazon.ca 

This post was written by Lorna
Lorna d’Entremont: Co-owner of SentioLife Solutions, Ltd. the company behind KidCompanions Chewelry (2007) and SentioCHEWS (2013), mother of three, grandma of 5 and wife. She is a retired teacher and special needs advocate. Throughout she has taught all levels from grade 2 to grade 9. Lorna loved teaching and enjoyed seeing the students progress in the school system. During her 30 year career she took a few years off to raise her three children.
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