Classroom strategies for teaching children with autism

Me and my team of wonderful teaching assistants decided on the following important strategies for all of the team to follow in the classroom. The strategies are also essential for new people entering the classroom to know and understand.

These strategies are therefore visible on the wall as you enter my classroom:

 

sand timerEnsure transactional supports are in place to support the pupils at all times
Show sand timers and count down from 5 when an activity is finishing, refer pupils to their visual timetables (using the prompt “what’s next?” if necessary), use first and then boards, visuals (pictures, photos, symbols, objects).

 

verbal languageReduce verbal language, ensuring key words are modelled verbally and with sign
This is in order to ensure language is understood and also learnt. Further support key words with Makaton signs and visuals. Encourage communication in class and throughout the school with speech, sign, symbols and visuals.

 

time to process

Give pupils time to process information
This should be up to 10 seconds before repeating the instruction if necessary.

 

behaviourRemain calm and completely reduce verbal language when challenging behaviour occurs. Follow Behaviour Support Plans
Ensure the triggers and behaviour are logged in the ABC charts in the Behaviour Support Plan folder.

 

model firstAlways model/ show a pupil how to do something first before asking them or expecting them to do it

 

nameAddress the pupils by their name first
This is to ensure the pupils have your attention.

 

breakPrompt the pupil to have a break if they show signs of disregulation (e.g. they seem over stimulated or are getting frustrated) in order to regulate their emotions before returning to class.

 

time keepingEnsure you have excellent time keeping
This will ensure the class runs smoothly and the pupils are not waiting.

 

Special iApps: exceptional apps for children with special needs including autism

special iapps

Special iApps is a variety of exceptional apps aimed to teach a range of concepts to learners with special needs, including autism.

The apps are clutter free and minimalistic, great for an easily distracted learner! There are no annoying in-app purchases or adverts that could be pressed at any time and take the learner away from the app. This enables the learner to use the app as independently as possible. Having a minimalistic design also ensures the learner is only focused on the task rather than any background images, menu bars of other distractions.

The Special iApps range was developed by the parents of a son with Down syndrome alongside parents, teachers, speech and language therapists, and other professionals.

 

The range of apps include:

Special Stories
Touch Apps
Special Words
Special Numbers
My 1st Signs
Match and Find

Special Stories

My favourite app in the range is ‘Special Stories’ which allows you to easily put together a customised story featuring photos or pictures and recordable sounds. I especially like using this app to make stories that feature the child and aims to teach something such as a step-by-step task or appropriate social behaviour, like a Social Story.

asd teacher special stories

 

The above photo is taken from a Social Story I put together for a child, although I’ve changed the child’s photo to my photo for the blog! It can be much more interesting for the learner if the story features photos of themselves or familiar people and objects.

The audio feature is great as well because it means you can record yourself reading the sentence, enabling the child to listen to the story independently. Or it may be that you record the child reading the story or saying a word. The choice is limitless!

This is a great and easy way to create motivating stories that aid the learning of reading skills, language skills and social skills.

Touch Apps

The Touch app range feature different early learning themes with each app focuses on one of the following themes:

  • colours
  • numbers
  • words
  • shapes
  • emotions
  • animals

special iapps wordsThe app shows a clear photo or picture. When the user touches the picture, the word is revealed and read aloud. When the screen is tapped again, the next picture appears. I like the pictures and the font used in the apps as they are very clear.

special iapps colours

For children who are at the early stages of learning language, whether they are verbal or non-verbal, these apps enable the user to hear the language and pair it with the image by just tapping. I love hearing one of my pupils repeat the words after tapping the picture!

 

Special Numbers

The Special Numbers app is a great maths teaching resource which covers themes including:

  • counting
  • matching numbers
  • ordering numbers
  • same or different?
  • how many?
  • matching numeral to quantity

The app allows you to edit the level for different abilities which has been really helpful in extending pupils learning and for also seeing progress! For example, on the ordering numbers activity, you can set the amount of numbers from 5 all the way up to 20.  This is definitely a brilliant app for teaching different early maths concepts with the ability to control the level of which the child is working on.

special numbers

Special Words

Special Words is a great app for teaching key vocabulary and early reading skills. The themes covered in the app include:

  • matching photo to photo
  • matching word to word
  • matching word to photo
  • matching photo to word

This is a motivating way for children to take part in activities involving these early reading skills. There is audio on all of the activities and therefore, the word is read aloud when the child successfully matches the photo or word. This enables the child to hear and learn the key words and also encourages the child to say the word aloud.

special words                                           special words 2

 

I highly recommend these apps for teaching children early reading and math skills, and not just for children with special needs, these apps are great for teaching all children with their clear images, audio and distraction free interface.

I am yet to try ‘My 1st Signs’ and ‘Match and Find’ but I look forward to using them!

Download the apps here:

app store            play store

Attention Autism stage 1: attention bucket video and comments from creator Gina Davies

After I completed the Attention Autism training last year, adopting the approach in my class has made a HUGE impact on the children’s attention and interaction levels, the staff teams skills in working as a group, and most importantly, it has been a whole lot of fun for everyone!

Attention Autism is a highly motivating and creative approach to building attention and early communication skills and I highly recommend any parent, carer, family member or anyone working with children with autism, to learn more about Attention Autism.

 Attention Autism

 

Attention Autism

‘Attention Autism’ was developed by specialist speech and language therapist, Gina Davies.

The approach is based on:

  • An understanding of the ‘typical’ attention levels and development of infants
    • This enables us to think about where the child is at with their attention and communication development and what to work on next.
  • The common strengths of people with autism
    • We know that people with autism are visual learners and have good visual skills, therefore, we should use visuals and pictures to share a message, reduce anxiety and add structure. We must also ensure we demonstrate an activity first, as well as modelling how to take part in an activity. This aids the children’s understanding of what they need to do.
  • The characteristics of autism
    • Including difficulty with social communication, interaction, rigidity of thought and sensory processing differences.
  • The knowledge that successful communication is dynamic, motivating and fun!
    • As Gina says, we must “offer an irresistible invitation to learn”.

 

The Attention Autism activity structure is divided into 4 parts:

  • Stage 1: Attention bucket (to focus attention)
  • Stage 2: Attention builder (to sustain attention)
  • Stage 3: Interactive game (to shift attention)
  • Stage 4: Individual activities (to focus and sustain attention in a group, then transition shifting attention to individual activity and then refocus on the group)

 Attention bucket

 

Stage 1: Attention bucket

 The aims of the bucket session are to:

  • Focus attention on the leading adult and their agenda
  • Engage attention with enthusiasm
  • Enjoy the session!

 

Items needed:

  • Highly engaging toys and items that the children will (hopefully!) enjoy watching
  • A bucket with lid, to put the toys and items in
  • A pen and whiteboard for you to draw pictorial information to show the children what the next activity is

 

 The bucket session:

Here is a video of me and a group of 3 children and 2 supporting adults enjoying a bucket session.

 

 

Notes from the video

The session is begun by drawing a picture of the next activity on the whiteboard and introducing this to the group. Drawing the activity as well as saying it can aid a clearer understanding of the next task. I often find the children are really focused when I’m drawing as they want to know what is coming next!

After the pictures have been introduced, a song about the bucket can follow as another familiar prompt to start the session. Gina’s ‘I’ve got something in my bucket’ features in the video!

The leading adult then takes 1 object at a time from the bucket and models or plays with it in an enthusiastic and engaging way.

The leading adult can then model key words related to the toy or object. These key words can be then reinforced by the supporting adults and then, hopefully the children!

The children can only watch and not touch! This is important in order for the children to develop their focus and attention on the leading adult.

The supporting adults role is to model engagement and enthusiasm, as well as key words and language, and to ensure the children observe and not touch. If a child comes to take the item, the item can be put back in the bucket and the lid on. The supporting adult can direct the child back to their seat.

Some of the most favourite bucket toys for my class this year have been a rolling and laughing dog, a dancing pumpkin, the blowing ball, the long wizzee balloons, any wind up toys and a woopie cushion!

 

Comments from Attention Autism creator, Gina Davies

Gina DaviesIt’s a great privilege to be asked to contribute to this blog. It is easy to run training such as the Attention Autism Programme and give advice but it is putting the new strategies into action that requires courage and resilience. Here is a fabulous example. I love the enthusiasm and engagement Steph is modelling. She is truly offering an irresistible invitation to learn and the students are learning how to focus their attention and tolerate the adult led agenda at the same time. Steph makes it look easy but she is working as a part of a team with her support staff and this takes practice for everyone including the students. It is not about bribing the children to take part with promises of first this then a reward or obliging compliance, it is about creating curiosity and joy in shared good times that are packed with learning opportunities. It is a pleasure to see the work in action.

Gina

 

Find more information about Attention Autism training and Gina Davies at:

http://ginadavies.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/ginadaviesautism

What to consider when setting up a classroom for children with autism

Imagine a typical classroom, what can you see and hear? It may be very noisy, have lots of furniture and equipment crammed into small spaces, perhaps a bit of clutter and bright and colourful displays on every available wall space!

This can often be very overwhelming and distracting for a child with autism. Here are some points to consider when thinking about setting up a classroom, to ensure it is the most effective learning space for all pupils:

 

Low arousal

An ASD friendly classroom must aim to be distraction free. Distraction can be anything that a child may want to look at, listen too or explore. Knowing the pupils I’ve taught, this can come in the form of a nail in a cupboard or a gap between a blind and the window so you have to be really creative in order to reduce these distractions!

asd classroom

Any inviting equipment would be best placed in a cupboard until its time to be used, otherwise, you cannot be surprised if a child wants to play with the art materials that are already on the table or the bright green umbrella someone has put on top of the cupboard! The children will just want to explore at all times.

For this reason, I try to ensure all equipment and resources are out of sight, either in a cupboard or in covered boxes that are out of reach, and only when needed are taken out and in sight.

Storage space is therefore essential! I am grateful to have a large lockable walk in cupboard next to my classroom and 2 large lockable cupboards inside the classroom, as well as tray storage units in the classroom. It would be unfair to the children for you to ask them to complete a lesson or task if there is something more interesting at the other side of the classroom, which they want to play with!

asd classroom 2

I try to keep displays and notices on walls to a minimum and only display necessary documents in the classroom to reduce distraction on the walls. Windows can be a huge distraction and therefore strategically placing tables and workstations away from windows is a must!

 

Space

It is essential to think about space in the classroom for the pupils, as well as for equipment and resources. For some pupils, having another child sit directly next to them is not an option and could lead to avoidable challenging behaviour. Think strategically about placing tables, chairs, workstations, computers and cupboards to enable personal space. Dividers can be useful for dividing areas, although ensure they are solid as flimsy dividers can be fun to push over!

 

Structured teaching

Structured teaching is an approach developed by the University of North Carolina, TEACCH program and is an approach to teaching based upon an understanding of the characteristics and learning styles associated with the nature of autism.

Structured teaching aims to teach a child how to learn in a familiar and methodical way. The environment is organised in such a way that the child is familiar with and understands what is expected of them.

Visual cues enable the child to understand what needs to be done and to focus on relevant information.

At the school I teach at, I am grateful to have purpose made workstations with solid backs which create a great distraction free workspace. Here are some examples of the visual cues and prompts associated with structured teaching:

workstation asd teacher

The child puts their own workbox on the left side and the ‘finished’ box is on the right side. When the child has completed a task, they will put it in the ‘finished box’. This reinforces working left to right.

workstation asd teacher 2

The different coloured numbers are used to show the child which task is 1st, 2nd and so on. When the child takes the activity out of the box (previously prepared and in the correct order!) they can take the number from the wallet and match it to the number board on their right. This gives a clear visual cue of how many activities need to be done and in which order.

 

Access to total communication

Access to communication is vital! Each pupil will communicate in a different way and possibly use many different types of communication (e.g., speech, sign, symbol, picture, photo, object, gesture, vocalisations etc.). We must provide environments that cater for these different communication needs and encourage communication.

Depending on your child’s needs, this may involve placing symbols, objects and photos around the classroom, ensuring independent access to PECS book/ AAC device at all times (not in the cupboard!!) and ensuring a sign vocabulary book is accessible for all staff.

visual timetables and pecs books

A useful place for keeping PECS books could be next to visual timetables. The pupils therefore have access to the PECS books at all times.

emotional regulation board

Here is an emotional regulation communication board, accessible at all times for a child to communicate what they want and also to reinforce the emotion of anger.

communication strip

Communication object/ photo/ symbol strips can be placed anywhere that is appropriate and makes sense to the child. The one above is placed on the child’s table and is therefore always in hand reach to the child when he is working at the table.

 

Break out spaces

A break out space is an area separate to the classroom where a pupil can go to have a ‘break’. This could be another room or outside in the playground, but most importantly, a place that is suitable for the child. In my class, I currently have 1 pupil who will independently ask for a break and others who need a visual prompt to show them they need a break. This is an important part of the child’s development, beginning to understand emotions and identifying and regulating how they feel.

For one pupil in my class, the area outside our classroom works well for him because he can bounce on the trampoline or lay on the beanbag. Another pupil finds this area too overwhelming and benefits more from going to the completely neutral ‘nurture room’ down the corridor. It depends on the child and what works for them, especially when thinking about the strategies for regulating their emotions.

break out space

 

Visual timetables

Children with autism can really benefit from having a visual timetable because the visual information can reduce anxiety by showing the child what is going to happen in their day. Visual timetables can also enable pupils to be as independent as possible, by visually showing them where they need to go or what they will be doing next. Visual timetables can vary depending o the needs of the pupils and can be in the form of objects of reference, photos, pictures, symbols, words or handwritten.

visual timetable asd teacher

Here is some more information about how to use visual timetables.

 

Creating independence

A well organised and clearly labeled environment will be conducive for learning independence skills. This includes equipment trays and work boxes that are well labeled in an appropriate way the pupils can understand (i.e with objects, photos, symbols or words).

Pupils will therefore be able to easily access the equipment they need and this will reduce dependency on others. When my pupils begin their literacy or numeracy session, they will go and get their workbox and take it to their workstation and will begin independently. This also applies with tidying up, if the pupils are able to identify where the objects belong, they will be able to put them back themselves.

clearly labelled draws

Good luck with setting up your classroom! Please leave any comments or questions.

Visual timetables for children with autism

What are visual timetables?

Children with autism can really benefit from having a visual timetable because the visual information can reduce anxiety by showing the child what is going to happen in their day. Visual timetables can also aid pupils to be as independent as possible, by visually showing them where they need to go or what they will be doing next.

Visual timetables can vary depending on the needs of the pupil and can be in the form of:

  • objects of reference
  • photos
  • pictures
  • symbols
  • words
  • hand written

Here are the symbol visual timetables that the pupils in my class use:

visual timetable asd teacher

How do visual timetables work?

The morning timetable is on one side and then if you flip the laminated card around (attached with the all mighty Velcro!), the afternoon timetable is on the back. The first thing most of my pupils do when they walk into the classroom, is look at both sides of their timetable!

The pupils in my current class are working around P levels 4 – 8. They all understand and recognise symbols and therefore are all using symbol timetables. To signal an ending to a lesson or activity, I will use a sand timer followed by a count down from 5 to 1, and then I will say “what’s next?”. This will prompt the pupil or pupils to go to their timetable and take the next symbol.

The pupils then go to the transition point where the same symbol of a larger size is placed and then match the symbol by attaching it to the transition point. A great way of doing this is by using a clipboard placed close to where the child needs to go. Examples of this would be by a door the pupils will be exiting, on the table the pupils will be going to sit at and on a wall next to where the pupils will be sitting.

 ASD visual timetable transition point

Transition points

The above photo shows the transition point for ‘register’ close to the board we use for the register and morning circle routine. The pupils match and attach their ‘register’ symbol and sit in the seats close to the board. As you can see, there are other symbols attached to the clipboard behind the ‘register’ symbol so that when ‘register’ has finished, this symbol can be moved and the next transition point is ready. This transition point will only be used for activities and sessions taking place in this area.

This system can be used for all forms of visual timetables by using objects of reference, photos and pictures in the same way.

First and then boards

First and then boards (as seen above in the first photo, by the first timetable) can be used as an additional visual prompt, so a pupil can immediately see what is going to happen next by having the board close to them at all times. The first and then board can also be used to motivate a pupil if the pupil is taking part in an activity that they are not particularly interested in, the board can be used to visually prompt that something motivating will happen after the current activity has finished.

Please write any comments or questions below!

Sensory needs, autism and our class ‘exercise’ activity!

gym ball asd teacher

Sensory sensitivities:

Children with autism can be either hypersensitive (over – sensitive) or hyposensitive (under – sensitive) to sensory input. Some examples of this are that you may see a child putting their fingers in their ears because they are hypersensitivie to sound.  You could see a child seeking sensory input around their body by pulling furniture or you very close to them because they are hyposensitive to touch.

There are many other observable behaviours that are associated with sensory needs. However, sometimes it is not so obvious to you or to the child. The best person to give advice on sensory needs would be an Occupational Therapist (OT). The OT can help build a sensory profile of a child and then put together appropriate sensory input activities to help your child;

  • tolerate sensations that they may find difficult
  • manage sensory seeking behaviours in an appropriate way
  • help to concentrate and improve focus

Individualised ‘sensory diet’

Most of the pupils in my class have an individual ‘sensory diet’ which consists of very individualised sensory input activities which take place throughout the day. The name ‘sensory diet’ came about because just like your child needs a diet of food throughout the day, they also need a ‘sensory diet’! The sensory diet activities have been put together by our school Occupational Therapist.

Our class ‘exercise’ session

As well as the pupils individualised sensory diet activities, my class also take part in ‘exercise’ where we all do short physical activities which also provide sensory input as well as some calming activities just before starting our morning and afternoon lessons. The activities have been tailored to the class with a couple of the activities being specifically for individual pupils but also benefit other pupils in the class. The activities are quite physical as well so they get the pupils moving before they start their work. More importantly, they all really enjoy it!

sensory needs exercise activity

We do the same activities every day and therefore the exercise activities are familiar to the pupils and overtime this has enabled the pupils to take part in the predictable activities independently.

Each activity is done for approximately 1 minute. When 1 activity has finished, I will count down from 5 to 1 and then say “…………… has finished” whilst moving the corresponding symbol to the red ‘finished’ side of the board. You can use symbols, photos, pictures or objects- any kind of visual that your pupils can relate to and understand. Have fun!

Free plan and resources for a 2 week science lesson for pupils with autism – The coloured ice and oil experiment!

Here is a fun science lesson I recently put together and taught during our term theme on colours. The pupils in my class are autistic and are working around P levels P4 – P8. This would also be great for an early years science lesson.

The coloured ice and oil experiment!

coloured ice and oil

Resources needed

  • coloured ice cubes (water with food colouring),
  • vegetable oil,
  • salt shaker,
  • water,
  • 1 tray or plate per pupil (clear or white to show the colours from the ice cubes)
  • pencils
  • scissors
  • glue sticks

making coloured ice

Extension activity/ second week progression lesson:
  • salt shaker
  • water
  • materials to explore ice with such as paint brushes and sponges
Resources downloadable on this page:

Plan

Starter:

PowerPoint lesson starter to show the pupils what they will be going to do.
Download PowerPoint lesson starter

Main:

Teacher demonstrate putting oil on the tray or plate and then taking 2-3 coloured ice cubes out of the ice tray and place onto the oil. Model observing and feeling changes in the ice whilst saying and signing key words such as the colours. Watch as the colours run into the oil. Ask questions if appropriate. Hand out 1 tray or plate per pupil and each pupil to take 2-3 ice cubes and observe and feel the changes in the ice.

Extension activity/ second week lesson:

Teacher to demonstrate pouring salt or water over the ice and using the materials provided such as sponges or paint brushes to explore the melting of the ice cubes. Pupils to use the materials themselves and experiment with the coloured ice, oil, salt and water. Discuss or identify key words/ signs as appropriate for the level of the pupils.

Plenary:

Teacher model completing a worksheet related to the experiment. They are all cutting and sticking activity sheets based on the experiment aimed to cement learning and provide a basis for naming and signing key words as well as to aid discussion if appropriate. The first page is the one to be cut and the second is to be stuck onto.

Download Low worksheet (P4 – P5): cut and match photo of experiment

Download Mid worksheet (P6): cut and match 4 colours to colours with photo of experiment

Download High worksheet (P7-P8): match colour symbols to coloured ice cubes or write the names of colours with a photo of the experiment

Learning Objectives

High:

  • Experiment with coloured ice cubes and predict what will happen to the ice cubes.
  • Name and/or sign 2 or more colours

Mid:

  • Experiment with coloured ice cubes on oil
  • Name and/or sign 1 colour

Low:

  • Observe and explore coloured ice cubes melting on oil.

Key Vocabulary:

colour, yellow, green, blue, red, ice, water, oil, melt, cold, wet,

Enjoy! I’d love to hear if you use the lesson ideas and resources or if you would be interested in further lesson plans and resources!

Intensive Interaction

I really love and appreciate the Intensive Interaction approach to learning early communication. I have had many positive and rewarding experiences with my pupils through the approach.

“Intensive Interaction is an approach to teaching the pre-speech fundamentals of communication to children and adults who have severe learning difficulties and/or autism and who are still at an early stage of communication development.” (Intensive Interaction)

Here is a video of what Intensive Interaction looks like, with commentary from Dave Hewett who is one of the founders of the approach.

 

 

Whilst taking part in Intensive Interaction, the child will lead and you will join in with the behaviour of the child. This could include copying movements and vocalisations whilst giving the child time to respond. These interactions could be close in proximity, or with a lot of space in between They could be active and noisy, or calm and quiet. It all really depends on the child. These interactions should always be fun and enjoyable!

I particularly enjoy using Intensive Interaction with my non-verbal students and have had a lot of positive feedback from them, by laughing and giggling and showing me they are enjoying it. It is also very noticeable that enabling a child to be the leader in an interaction can be so empowering to them and it’s always very interesting to see which direction they take the interaction. For some children with autism, interactions where they lead can be few and far between and so Intensive Interaction can be interaction that they can enjoy.

I had a really lovely interaction with a non-verbal pupil the other day in the park where I was mirroring his movements and vocalisations and he started jumping on to the floor and back up on to a bench and each time he did, he looked up to my face and smiled (this is quite rare!). We continued doing this for a few minutes before leaning over the back of the bench where again he looked at my face giggling and laughing. He was clearly enjoying the interaction and so was I!

If you are a parent or carer of a child with autism or you know or work with a child with autism, I would highly recommend learning more about the Intensive Interaction approach or watch some of Dave Hewetts videos on YouTube and find out more about this very empowering and rewarding approach to teaching the pre-speech fundamentals of communication.

3 great symbol resource websites that are totally free!

Many children with autism are visual learners. Showing a child a picture can be much more meaningful than telling a child what to do. Pictures can aid a child’s learning and support them to be independent.

An example of using pictures or symbols to aid learning and independence: dressing and undressing

Dressing and undressing can often be a challenge for a child with ASD as it can be unclear to them which item of clothing they need to put on first. A visual picture aid sequence can show the order of clothes the child needs to put on. Once a child understands the routine of using the picture aid, the child can follow it and get dressed without having someone telling them what to put on or by physically giving them the next piece of clothing. The child is therefore able to dress them self.

 

www.visualaidsforlearning.com

visualaidsforlearning.com

A brilliant website offering free, great quality, colourful visual picture resources is Visual Aids for Learning. There are many great picture sequences to download including morning routines, toilet training, getting a haircut and appropriate behaviour. I would highly recommend looking at their range of free visual pictures for use at home and school. I have used many, especially the toilet training ones! (See my post on toilet training)

 

www.do2learn.com

Do2Learn

 

Do2Learn is another great website offering free quality picture resources. These picture resources are clear black and white line drawings. As well as great picture resources, this website is very informative and details how to use picture cards for communication, schedules, behaviour and living skills. There is also a great teacher toolbox on the website with information about adapting a classroom for children with autism.

 

ARASAAC http://www.catedu.es/arasaac/index.php

asd teacher

ARASAAC is the Aragonese Portal of Augmentative and Alternative Communication. This website hosts a vast range of colour and black and white pictograms, photos and the site also includes a spanish sign language video catalogue and audio files of over 17 different languages. You can search the range of pictograms and pictures easily and download single files. I also really like that you can add a spoken phrase to a photo or pictogram and insert them into a symbol creator. This is a great resource for making symbols and pictures for using at home or for preparing a child for change.

 

Do you know any other great free picture or symbol resources? Let me know in the comments below!