1001 Great Ideas -- Interview & Giveaway with Ellen Notbohm

During the first week of school last year, Nick’s Kindergarten teacher walked up to me, and almost under her breath like we were about to share a secret she said, “Do you know of any good books on how to teach a child with Autism?”

And sheepishly I said, “No.” Quickly followed by, “Not off the top of my head, but let me look into it.”

I was disappointed that I didn’t have a go-to book to recommend. I should have immediately known what to suggest to her – something that would be succinct, easy to understand, quick to read, effortless to implement and even more important – well organized so that she could go back week after week and year after year to look up what she needed.

Well, it took me all school year, but I finally found my go-to book: 1001 Great Ideas for Teaching & Raising Children with Autism or Aspergers by Ellen Notbohm and Veronica Zysk – Not to mention a foreword by Temple Grandin, PhD who says the book is “Genuine, commonsense advice that all parents and educators can quickly and easily use!”

And who argues with Temple Grandin? Surely not me.

I asked Ellen Notbohm, who has also authored 10 Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew, 10 Things Your Student With Autism Wishes You Knew and The Autism Trail Guide: Postcards from the Road Less Traveled, if she was available for an interview, and I was thrilled to have her say yes. I mean, really, this is a woman who has 1800 great ideas on how to help my kids – this rates right up there with a new handbag and a kid-free vacation for me!

Now, normally I’d say you should take notes, but with 1800 ideas jam packed into this book, Ellen can’t possibly rattle them all off here (no, really, she can’t). But, good news:  Future Horizons has offered to give away a copy of her book! Look for details on how to win at the bottom of this post – or if you aren’t that patient (like me), hop on over to Future Horizons and buy your own copy now.

Either way, you are in for a treat!


Welcome to HLW3B Ellen! I am so pleased to have you here today! Aside from being an award winning author and successful journalist, you are also the mother of sons with Autism and ADHD. Will you tell us a little about you and your family?

And I am so pleased to have the opportunity to connect with HLW3B readers – thank you. My family lives in Oregon where my husband and I met while performing in an opera. My older son is a sports wiz who teaches and coaches children at a local community center, and my younger son is an aspiring filmmaker entering his senior year of high school. He’s interning this summer at the film school he’s attended in past years. Beyond my autism books, I’ve authored numerous family history articles for Ancestry magazine, am at work on a historical novel and have belonged to the same knitting circle for 22 years. I also enjoy baseball, chopping wood and griping about gardening.

I have to start by saying that I was immediately drawn into your book 1001 Great Ideas because it is so simple to read and easy to apply. As the mother to three boys, two with challenges (but all *challenging*), it is easy for me to see how many of the ideas can stem from your own parenting experience, so aside from those experiences as a mother, where else did you get your inspiration?

The book is set up to be the kind of reference a parent or teacher can go to for quick ideas on a specific issue, without having to read cover to cover. As my sons moved through school and through their developmental phases, I could see that that was the kind of help most frequently needed by both parents and teachers. Many of my sons’ teachers wanted to do everything within their power to help but didn’t have working knowledge or training in how the brain with autism learns – cognitively and socially. By accumulating the experiences of many teachers and parents in one book, everyone benefits from an aggregate body of knowledge.

My favorite chapter is the one on Sensory (no shock there, right?). And I’d like to state for the record, I think “Twelve Signs of Sensory Overload” should be printed on posters and hung on classroom walls everywhere. Really. But for those who haven’t read the book yet, what other fresh sensory ideas does the book offer?

Our overarching approach to sensory “therapy” is that we may be guided by an occupational therapist – and that is extremely important – but 99% of sensory activities are going to happen in the home, on an everyday, ongoing basis. So it’s important to realize that opportunities for sensory activities are all around us, all the time, and that sensory activities can and should be fun. Fun is the medium through which children learn best. Fun sensory activities don’t require expensive equipment or toy purchases (although the right ones can be good investments), but can be found in ordinary items such as boxes, balloons, bubbles, kitchen gadgets, straws, water, sand and sand alternatives, homemade clay, etc. The book offers hundreds of these kinds of ideas. Not only are they good for our kids but c’mon, admit it – it’s fun for us gr’ups to have an excuse to indulge our inner child. I loved playing with mud, shaving cream, rocks and other “stuff” with my kids.

I also like the chapter on behavior – because that is the primary challenge at my house – so the advice is greatly appreciated! I was intrigued by the section “Don’t ask why”, honestly because I always assume if I could figure out why, then I could stop the behavior from happening. But, that is never the case. For my readers who haven’t got their hands on a copy of your book yet, will you give us a brief explanation of why you don’t ask why?

Because your child may not be able to understand or articulate why. Asking a child to identify motivation for an act assumes a level of self-awareness and vocabulary that may be far beyond his or her current stage of development. Think about it – many adults are not capable of identifying reasons for their behavior, accepting responsibility for their behavior and taking steps to change behavior (hence the same old New Year’s resolutions, year after weary year). It’s far more constructive to first of all, ensure that the child understands what s/he did (don’t assume), involve him or her in a discussion (not lecture) about how to avoid the behavior in the future, and agree on consequences should it happen again.

Your chapter about the relationship between parents and teachers is terrific as well – I believe that being able to see our children through the eyes of a teacher – and they through our eyes – can benefit both sides and help maintain a healthy team relationship. Give my parent readers your best tip on how to start fresh with their child’s new teacher this fall – and my teacher readers how to best get to know their new students with autism this coming year.

The answer lies in your question – “start fresh.” Parent and teacher must give each other the courtesy of a clean slate. Parents, don’t overlay previous experiences, bad or good, on this new teacher. Teachers, you may have had previous experiences with children with autism, but this one is unique. Don’t overlay expectations for behavior problems , genius or social shortcomings on this child. A positive, team attitude and daily sharing of information between home and school is the foundation of setting the child up for success.

For new parents, who are just starting out on the IEP/Special Education path, what is your best advice for laying the foundation during that first meeting as a means to establish a positive ongoing relationship with their child’s school?

Approach your IEP/Special Ed team as just that – a partnership, not an adversarial face off. Keep in mind the definition of a team: all members working together toward a common goal. The goal in this team effort is the child’s success. It requires each member fulfilling their role, free sharing of information by all team members, leaving egos and personality differences at the door, respecting and working through the differences of opinion that will inevitably occur. In 1001 Great Ideas, we answer this question at length in a section called “Creating Positive Partnerships.” I also address it in Chapters 1 and 2 of Ten Things Your Student with Autism Wishes You Knew (“Learning is Circular” and “We are a Team).

There are obviously too many Great Ideas in your book to go through them all – but which one stands out the most to you? Why?

The hands-on, how-to tips and tactics in the book are action-oriented. But Veronica and I believe that attitude precedes and underlies action. My favorite Great Idea is the parable “A Word About ‘Normal’” at the end of Chapter 5 (“Thinking Social, Being Social”). In it, a middle school speech therapist advises a mom that, by looking around the school, she will see many kinds of “normal” – nerdy normal, artsy normal, techie normal, sporty normal, etc. The right social circle is the one in which a child can feel safe. Respecting a child’s individual social self as the right one for him liberates us from defining “normal” in any single way. [This is also available on Ellen's Facebook page]

Thank you Ellen for taking the time to talk with me here today! I am very excited to share your book with my sons’ teachers (yes, all of them!) this coming fall – especially the Kindergarten teacher who asked me for a book – she gets the first copy! Truly, you are providing parents like me a fantastic resource that will help our children be more successful at home and in the classroom, and I personally thank you for that.

It’s my honor to be part of the team – thank you!


Here is how you can win:

1. You will need to follow this blog publicly through Google located on the top of the right column or via RSS/email (please indicate in your comment which one you use) and

2. Post a comment for Ellen -- anything you choose!

3. Leave your email address so I can contact you.

OK, once you have joined and commented, you are officially entered.

The contest will run from Monday 7/19/10 to Monday 7/26/10 and will end at 7pm PST. The winner will be selected by random drawing, and emailed (don't forget to leave your email address!!). If you do not respond, a new winner will be drawn.

Please take the time to tweet and share this on Facebook to help spread the word, awareness and help to families who need it.

Good luck!


Just another Mom said...

Fantastic interview! I can't wait to get my hands on a couple of copies.

Tired Mom said...

I have both of these books and they really helped me so much! Great interview.

Lea Keating said...

I don't need to win a copy - (I've got more than one!) But wanted to say THANK YOU to Ellen for this wonderful book. I agree with everything Hartley has said, and I too will be giving copies to our teachers in September. =)

K D said...

This interview came just in time for me. Not only is my son's teacher new to him, he will be new to the school and he will have no prior knowledge of my son. Even the teachers that have known my son for 4 years could benefit greatly from this!

Angela Fish said...

I can hardly wait to read this book, and I would LOVE to win this contest! I run a special needs parent support group, and as part of that I manage a lending library. This would not be the first book you have authored to be in the collection, and I guarantee this new one holds great interest. I know the book would be a wonderful resource, benefiting not only my family (which includes 2 young boys with autism), but teachers, therapy team members, and of course, all of the families involved with my group.

~ Kristen said...

Ellen Thank you so much, we are just starting our journey with IEP/Special Education with my son turning 3 in October, we are starting the transition process and your advice is great and I am very excited to read this book, also going to make sure to request that our local library carries it. Thank you Again!

Did you know there is a way to request books to be bought for the library's!!! Check with your local library, I already have submitted for some great resources like and will be adding this to the list!


Steph said...

I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of your book! If I'm not lucky enough to win one I will most certainly be picking up a copy ASAP! My son is 3 and just beginning into the department of education and it sounds like your book covers a lot of great info about that and all of our other daily struggles :) I cannot say thank you enough to you and all the other moms who can write these great guides for us other moms!! Thank you!!


Lisa said...

This book sounds amazing. I have 3 children all seem to have some challenging behaviors. My oldest is officially diagnosed with PDD-NOS, but seems to be migrating more towards Asperger's everyday. He will be 8 soon and we have multiple obsessions and meltdowns over those obsessions. We could really use a book with some simple but great ways to help him improve his skills. Please help us, we are struggling so very much!!! hpickel@iupui.edu

Pie Maker said...

This year we are faced with a new teacher and a new school. This review is very timely! Thank you!

pdxagray at gmail dot com

Patty O. said...

Great interview! This looks like a book I definitely need to own, but I am ordering it today, so no need to put me in the drawing.

Still, I just wanted to thank you, Hartley, for giving us so many great resources and interviews. And thank you to Ellen for writing your books and for agreeing to be interviewed. These sources of information are invaluable to me and my family!