Day #363 – The Titanic

It’s one of my favorite descriptors.   Saint Samantha (one of Tucker’s Special Education teachers) taught me about the iceberg.  What is the iceberg?

It’s the idea that we (as neurotypicals) only see the tip of the iceberg of autistic behaviors  – roughly 10%.  Those behaviors are obvious – lack of eye contact, struggling to engage in a back and forth dialogue, sensory and motor difficulties, extreme focus on self-induced topics.

Those things are easy to notice.

What is more difficult to notice is the other 90%…what is below the surface.

She also used the iceberg analogy to describe Tucker’s version of autism.  In about 10% of autistic people (or people with autism) the autism is obvious…the other 90% of folks?  Not quite so obvious (See Day #361 – Severity), so Tucker fits the iceberg philosophy in two ways…

It’s not obvious.
The underlying triggers are MUCH more profound than the obvious behaviors.

Little did I know the analogy from Samantha was actually part of something much larger, the Ziggurat Model, developed by Ruth Aspy and Barry Grosman.  They developed this model to address concerns that typical IEP’s may not always consider.

The Ziggurat Model is based on the idea that we first must ask why.  Why is a person responding in the way they are?  What could be bothering them?  Those issues MUST be identified first. Once they are identified they can be dealt with in a variety of ways.  Maybe we teach coping skills to that child, maybe we work at changing the environment they are in, or maybe…just maybe we work at developing an understanding for those who surround the child.

Once the underlying issues are identified we can begin to teach what it is that we are trying to teach…like multiplication or world geography.

Duh.  That makes a lot of sense.  True learning cannot take place until the child feels cared for and their senses are in balance.

The Ziggurat model is largely about focussing on what CAN be done and utilizing the strengths of the individual to address any struggles that may exist.

In doing more research on this model I learned something new (yet again).  The Ziggurat model truly looks at what a student may struggle with that will stand in the way of them having success in a general education classroom.  They identified something called, “Executive Dysfunction.”

Read on (from…

In individuals with autism there may be abnormalities in the functioning of areas of the brain that are responsible for executive functioning activities.  These include; goal-oriented behavior, organizing assignments and personal belongings, planning the completion of a multi-step project, demonstrating flexibility, maintaining attention, regulating emotions, and controlling impulses.  Students with this trait may have difficult processing information for different sources simultaneously.  Some evidence of this deficit might be:

  • The failure to bring the necessary materials to class
  • The inability to plan for the completion of assignments
  • Difficulty focusing attention on instruction
  • Impulsive actions or comments
  • Inflexibility
  • Rigid responses or rituals
  • The failure to see how doing a task contributes to a larger goal

Wait. What?!?!?!  Do they know Tucker?  Did they write about Tucker?  This reminds me of Day #352 – Self Advocating and Veto Power.  The purpose of Tucker’s IEP is to help him with these characteristics…THIS is the very reason that I have started to refer to his SpEd teacher as his ‘academic coach.’   THIS is the very reason the IEP must stay.

So, Aspy and Grosman’s idea is to deal with underlying difficulties before teaching?  What a remarkable thought.

Once these underlying struggles are addressed the Ziggurat method trains educators to focus on the strengths that individuals with autism often have.  What are Tucker’s strengths?  Understanding and adherence to rules, focus on equality, persistence, honesty, logical thought process, and a love of routine.  The important thing to note here is that these behaviors are not choices, these behaviors are strongly ingrained in the individual.

The Ziggurat method is structured in stepping block form.  It reminds me of Maslow’s hierarchy and has the same idea…learning cannot happen until a child’s basic needs are met – shelter, clothing, food, love.


  1.  A reaction happens.
  2. Ask the question, “Why did that reaction happen?”
  3. Reinforce that the child is not ‘wrong’ – they were simply reacting to the sensory input.
  4. Fix the environment.
  5. Identify a child’s strengths.
  6. Use those strengths to teach content.

Having the knowledge of what is under the water is the only way to address what is above the water.  It’s the only way to get to real learning.

Don’t be like the Titanic.  It’s easy to see what exists above the water…but it’s more important to pay attention to what’s going on below.

Don’t let the underlying iceberg sink your or your child’s educational ship.

2 thoughts on “Day #363 – The Titanic

  1. Pingback: Day #327 – Indexing | 366 Days of Autism

  2. Pingback: Principal Snapple | 366 Days of Autism

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