Real Autism Solutions is excited to have been featured in this post on rncentral.com last month titled “50 Blog Posts You Should Bookmark for Autism Awareness Month”. Although many of you may have already read the Real Autism Solutions post that is listed on the site, I would encourage you to take a look at the other wonderfully diverse posts that are on the list. http://www.rncentral.com/nursing-library/50-Blogs-You-Should-Bookmark-for-Autism-Awareness-Month
Although I am asked to observe and consult for students with autism for a variety of reasons, one of the most common reasons is the demonstration of challenging behaviors during instruction.
Generally speaking, challenging behaviors can be driven by several functions that include sensory, tangible, attention, or escape and may often need to be addressed through a functional behavior assessment and behavior intervention plan.
That being said, when challenging behavior is occurring during periods of instruction, I believe that there is an easy to implement, often overlooked “intervention” that can be used quite effectively: offer choices.
Often, as I observe students with autism in the educational environment, I am struck by how rarely they are given the opportunity to make choices or indicate personal preference.
Now, I know first hand that structure is the key to effective programing for students with autism; but often times, the result of this structure is that there are few, if any, opportunities for students to make choices during the school day. This systematic elimination of choice in a student’s day tends to lead to behaviors that are seen by staff as being “challenging” or “non-compliant”. I believe that the reality is, many of these students are simply indicating their preference regarding the only two choices they view to be available: work or not work.
Fortunately, I also know first hand that providing students with the ability to make choices, allows them to feel empowered and in control of their environment. Time and time again, I have found that offering students simple choices throughout the school day, can not only eliminate many challenging behaviors, but can also facilitate class participation and the completion of work tasks. Sometimes, it’s the choices that seem the simplest that hold the most power for students.
A few examples of the simple choices that every autism educator can offer include:
Choice of work location (table, desk, floor)
Choice of materials (colored pencil, scented marker, blue paper, dry erase board)
Choice of work order (number 10 first, number 1 first) (math first, reading first)
Choice to sit or stand while working
Choice of reinforcer/ reward (computer time or homework pass)
Have doubts? Try it. I think you’ll not only see some of the benefits mentioned above, but will be pleasantly surprised by how little preparation and planning is needed to implement this effective strategy!
Imagine being dropped into a foreign land with no understanding of what your supposed to be doing or what might happen next, and no ability to communicate with the people you encounter so that you can get the information you need. How would you feel if everything was a surprise and you couldn’t ask questions to gain additional information about what was happening? No doubt that this would be a source of anxiety for many of us. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many students with autism who do not have access to a schedule at school. It is our belief that most students with autism should not only have access to a daily schedule, but should be specifically taught to how to independently and effectively use this essential life skill.
Simply put, visual schedules (see examples below) are tools designed to help individuals with autism organize their day that can be used in special education classrooms, general education classrooms, and at home and in community settings. In an educational setting, visual schedules allow students to understand not only the structure of their day, but also what activities will and will not be occurring, where they should be and at what time, and what changes in their routine will occur.
Additional benefits of visual schedules include:
- Simplified/ smoother transitions
- Increased independence throughout the school day
- Reduction of prompt dependency
- Reduction in student anxiety
- Increased understanding of sequencing concepts
- Taps into visual processing strengths
- Avoids some auditory processing pitfalls
Another great feature of visual schedules, is that they are essentially a modified presentation of the schedules that most adults use everyday. We may not call them a visual schedule, instead preferring terms such as calendar, agenda, planner, etc., but many of us rely on them to help as manage our daily lives. So not only are visual schedules easy to create and effective, they are a widely socially accepted support mechanism.
Visual schedules can be created from a wide range of materials and cater to diverse levels of student understanding. Objects (whole, partial, or representational), digital pictures, symbols and text can all be incorporated into visual schedules, based on individual student need. Schedules utilizing pictures or symbols can be laminated for durability. Visual schedules can be presented using a variety of formats that can range from “check-in” systems in which the student physically moves a representational object, picture or symbol from a designated location (in a binder or on a velcro strip) to a corresponding “check-in” space, to simply having the student write out their schedule in a notebook (in list format) that they can check off as they complete each activity.
Visual schedules should include:
- Objects/ pictures/ symbols/ text at student’s level of understanding
- Daily activities listed in sequence
- System for delineating which activities are finished and which remain
- Special notation of changes in typical routines or to bring attention to special activities
One key point that we feel must be made during any discussion about visual schedules, is that it is of the utmost importance that the use of visual schedules should not be frivolously discontinued. It is not unusual for staff to disregard a student’s need for their visual schedule because they feel like the student “knows the routine” and no longer “needs” it, but it is critical for staff to remember, this is the student’s “daily planner” and it’s removal can have undesirable effects for students. Have doubts? Just think about how you feel when you can’t locate your agenda or your data disappeared from your smart phone.
Situation — As parents, you want to know what your child does at school all day (and not just about their behavior). Unfortunately, due to the number of students in many classrooms, school staff do not always have time to provide each parent with a detailed summary of their child’s school day. In turn, school staff would like to know what the child did while at home to use during activities in the classroom (i.e., writing, communication, answering questions, etc.), but don’t know the best/easiest way to get this information. Many times, the result is that both parties (parents and teachers) end up frustrated and feeling like the other should better understand their position and be a more effective communicator.
Solution — Create a “home and school” communication page (can be laminated, for reusability) that can be completed daily by the student prior to dismissal (assistance should be provided as necessary). This communication page can be created in a specific program, such as Boardmaker, or can just as easily be created using clip art or digital photos for students who benefit from use of pictures. For students who understand written words, the communication page can be created using written or typed words. The goal is to have the student fill in the appropriate pictures or words based on the activities they did during the school day. Once the student arrives home, they can use the visual cues to answer the question “What did you do today?”. On the other side of page, you can create a communication page geared towards Home to School communication (talk with the parents and help provide them with the words/pictures they can use initially) that can be completed by the student at night before they go to bed. This allows the student to answer the question, “What did you do last night/this weekend?”. Extra pictures/words for each page can be stored in Ziploc bag with the students name on it. In my experience, this format has been successful as it allows the student to review their day/night and gives them a way to tell their parents/teachers about their activities of the day/night
Ultimately, the creation of a “school to home” and “home to school” communication system has multiple benefits. It allows parents/caregivers to receive information about their child’s day that extends beyond a behavior report and provides school staff with additional information about what type of activities the student engages in when he/she is at home. In addition to the benefits for both the parent and teacher, this type of system also creates additional communication opportunities for the student in both the home and school settings.
Autism educators frequently ask us for advice regarding which books and resource materials they should purchase for their personal collections. Our 15 favorites have all been selected based on both the quality of the information they offer and for the “easy read” styling that makes it possible for educators to actually find time to read them! All offer practical and effective strategies for educating students with autism. Enjoy!
- “A Treasure Chest of Behavioral Strategies for Individuals with Autism” by Beth Fouse, Ph.D. and Maria Wheeler, M.Ed
- “The ABA Program Companion” by J. Tyler Fovel, M.A., BCBA
- “Keys to Success for Teaching Students with Autism” by Lori Ernsperger, Ph.D.
- “Visual Strategies for Improving Communication: Practical Supports for School and Home” by Linda Hodgdon, M.Ed, CCC-SLP
- “Ten Things Your Student with Autism Wishes You Knew” by Ellen Notbohm
- “You’re Going to Love this Kid! Teaching Students with Autism in the Inclusive Classroom” by Paula Kluth
- “Thinking About You, Thinking About Me” by Michelle Garcia Winner
- “The New Social Story Book” by Carol Gray
- “The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder” by Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A.
- “The Incredible 5-Point Scale” by Kari Dunn Buron and Mitzi Curtis
- “Tasks Galore- Book One” by Laure Eckenrode, Pat Fennell, Kathy Hearsey
- “Tasks Galore- For the Real World” by Laura Eckenrode, Pat Fennell, Kathy Hearsey
- “Meaningful Exchanges for Individuals with Autism” by Joanne M. Caferio, Ph.D.
- “More Than Words” by Fern Sussman
- “TalkAbility” by Fern Sussman
Insightful video about life with Asperger Syndrome.
Most of the requests I receive for individual student consultation are the result of a student’s demonstration of challenging behavior. Although there are many strategies for addressing challenging behaviors in schools, the use of visual behavior systems can be an effective and easy to implement tool in both the special education and inclusive education settings.
A key component to the successful development and implementation of a visual behavior system is the interest of the student in the system itself. The foundation for developing successful, student-engaged visual behavior systems is two-fold:
- Incorporate the student’s passion into the visual design of the system
- Allow the student to participate in the creation of the system
The below examples demonstrate how these strategies can be incorporated into the development of a visual behavior system. The first visual was created just last week for a young student who has a specific interest in the PBS Kids show “Super Why” and the second was created about a year ago for an older student who had a specific interest in archery. In the first example, the visual was designed by simply importing “Super Why” pictures into Mayer Johnson’s Boardmaker software program. In the second example, I suggested the bullseye design based on the student’s passion for archery and then the student designed and created the visual with the assistance of his classroom teacher.
In both designs, contextually appropriate behaviors are reinforced through a variety of activity-based reinforcers.
Check out this great video on Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome that was created by Alex Plank. You can learn more about Alex and view more of his videos at www.wrongplanet.net.
Video link: autism reality