Kluth reading "Pedro's Whale"

“Just Give Him the Whale!” Workshop


Educators, parents, and professionals were inspired and energized by our Jan. 25th workshop with Paula Kluth. Using her book – “Just Give Him the Whale!” – as a jumping-off point, we discussed how fascinations are a powerful tool for engaging learners on the autism spectrum. Of particular focus was using these fascinations to build bridges instead of dangling carrots to lead into learning.

Often we (parents and educators) dangle a student’s special interest as a reward for compliance. For example, “after finishing your math homework, you can do this map puzzle.” Instead, we can use maps as a bridge to learning math with a few modifications and some creativity. Once we shift our mindset, a whole world of possibilities for engaged learning opens up. And Kluth guided us into shifting that mindset and how some of those possibilities manifest in real life. She also shared the deep impact it has on our kids across learning domains (see Impacts of Special Interest Areas slide below). Kluth encouraged using a strengths-based curriculum map (see “Examples…” slide below) for integrating special interests into learning.

Fascinations are also powerful tools for calming and establishing, maintaining, or deepening relationships. This is even more essential as learning continues in the virtual classroom. Kluth shared ways that deep interests become vehicles for all students to connect with their teachers and their classmates. One class encourages students to change their screen name to their favorite cellphone, which is a special interest of one child with autism. This engaged the student in their virtual classroom, fostered connections, and has inspired the class to highlight every student’s special interest in subsequent days. This snowballing effect increased social-emotional supports for all students.

And finally, we learned about purposeful fidgets. These are tangible items that students have at home to keep them anchored and engaged in the online classroom. Using fascinations makes these powerful focus tools while also guiding the student toward completion of an academic or IEP goal. Examples include 1) letting a student assemble a puzzle of the solar system while listening to a group meeting or lecture. Purchasing blank puzzles and drawing the content on (i.e. parts of a cell) is a cheap and easy approach 2) giving students of all ages coloring sheets related to the academic goals 3) giving a student fascinated with calendars a three-dimensional calendar to assemble or fidget with during a lesson.

Learn more about how fascinations and following them leads to social and academic success for students on the autism spectrum in Kluth’s book, “Just Give Him the Whale!” You can purchase one of our remaining copies here.

This workshop was made possible by a Disability Services Innovation Grant through the MN Department of Human Services.

Author: Shannon

Shannon parents a son on the spectrum, lives in MN and writes to stay sane. She is passionate about connecting families to the services that will transform their lives. Read her full bio here.

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