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“Hocus Focus” – Creative Learning Through the Arts

Hocus Focus (Magic to learn)

Hocus Pocus –‐> Hocus Focus

What is it? It’s creative learning through the arts. It’s a program for at-risk learners.  Yes, students with Autism too.

Magic tricks address challenges that face students with Autism. This includes behavior, linguistics, and social cognition.

Autism (ASD) is a serious developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact. It also impacts the nervous system. The range and severity can vary widely so Autism requires a medical diagnosis. Common symptoms include social interactions, obsessive interests, and repetitive behaviors.

Teens with Autism often have challenges. More than many. Poor non-verbal skills include eye contact, voice, and body movement. Language skills are typically developed through environment, interactions, or nurture. This is rarely the case for people with Autism. This results from development delays.

  • Narrow focus
  • Attention issues
  • Social skills defects
  • Sensory perception issues
  • Obsessive interests
  • Cognitive processing delays

Students with Autism present many challenges in classrooms. Placement is one of the first environments. These are mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The “Least Restrictive Environment” (LRE) is used to determine where “our kids” end up.

Self-contained classrooms have a special education teacher who is responsible for all academic subjects. Inclusive classrooms have students of varying skills. A co-teacher provides accommodations in a traditional classroom. Sometimes they are placed in a general education classroom (with no support).

Traveling on the WayBack Machine, Way Back…

Question: Why did I get offered to teach preschool kids with Autism? Montgomery County Public School must know. Human Resources wouldn’t tell me. I asked my department chair. She opened her mouth, saying the words I’d heard before. . .”You can control them.” A never-ending theme.

Sure enough, a pack of 6-year-olds came off the bus Screaming and running, the boys must have forgotten where they were. It took one second of the “grandma stare” to remind them.

Day after day, students walk from the bus. Quiet Circle Time. No splashing during pool time. Everyone learned to read. Sign language during snack time. 

I got an offer to stay. “No thank you. Edie Loves Math.”

It’s difficult to define meaningful and challenging activities. In the 21st century classrooms, engagement is the key to achieve desired outcomes.

  • Educators
  • Speech-language pathologist
  • Phychologists
  • Counselors
  • Occupational therapist

For a long time, the teachers in the arts programs had dedicated staff. Class was five times a week. After budget cuts, many programs were eliminated.

STEM was all the rage in the 1980s (science, technology, engineering, mathmatics). Fortunately, an “A” was added to STEM. STEAM = Science,Technology, Engineering, ARTS. Mathematics. 

Fortunately, Bob Schroeter and Hal Kaufman were ahead of the game. In 1981 they published Hocus Focus. The learning tool integrated comics, humor, and picture puzzles. Most of all, they included magic. It was specifically designed for students with disabilities. 

  • Autism (ASD)
  • Learning disability
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Emotional disturbance
  • Developmental delay

Hocus Focus is a favorite for teens on the Autistic Spectrum. It’s easy to incorporate magic tricks into academic and functional curriculum. The at-home programs promote creativity. It also supports varying degrees (educational challenges).

One of the biggest challenges for teens Autism is executive function disorder. Hocus Focus incorporates instruction: Planning, sequencing, organizing,and fine motor dexterity. There’s research to back it up.

“Magic tricks offer a creative means for stimulating the senses in special education students” (Frith & Walker, 1983).

“Magic tricks enhance the learning and encourage creative problem-solving skills, observation techniques, and critical thinking” (McCormack, 1985).

“Magic tricks provide a strategy for building teamwork and self-esteem in children with emotional behavior disorders” (Broome, 1989).

“Teaching magic tricks in an education can help students with learning differences attain higher self-esteem and self-confidence” (Exell & Exell, 2003).

Teaching students with Autism requires a variety of skills. This is especially true for older students. They learn through modeling, coaching, scaffolding, and imagination. To improve learning outcomes, teachers should set expectations, give very clear instructions, and reward progress.

Don’t forget to have fun.

Question: What was your favorite class in high school?


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