Preparing to go on an aeroplane! An editable personalised photo story

New or unfamiliar experiences can be daunting for anyone.

This is especially true for a child with autism who has difficulty predicting what could happen and generalising knowledge and experiences. Going to a new place can therefore be scary and provoke a lot of anxiety. This is why preparing in advance as much as possible is extremely important and can really help a child to understand where they are going and what they will be going to do. Preparing for new experiences can take the form of:

  • Looking at photos (i.e. looking at photos of a park before visiting the park)
  • Looking at books with pictures of the place or experience (i.e. looking at or reading a picture book about the Zoo before going to the zoo)
  • Watching videos of the place or experience (i.e. watching a video of a supermarket before going to the supermarket)
  • Touching or using objects related to the experience or place (i.e. using a toy stethoscope before going to the doctor)

With access to the internet or a camera, it is can be easy to create a very personalised photo story to show pictures and give a timeline of events to aid a child’s understanding of a new event or experience. These can then be looked at on the computer (or other devise) or printed out to make a book.

Teachers: photo stories can be made specifically for an individual pupil or directed towards the whole class or group and viewed on the interactive whiteboard.

Parents: photo stories can be looked at anywhere! they can even be taken when going to the experience or place and referred to as the event is happening to show what will be coming next.

personalised photo story asdteacherPersonalised photo story asdteacher

Click here to download an editable story about going on an aeroplane. Photos and text should be changed to suit individual needs. Use specific photos to make the message clear. If you are going to Gatwick airport in London, then use a photo of Gatwick airport and not another airport!

Teaching Resource Tuesday

workstation asd teacher 2

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.

Strategies for toilet training a child with autism

I currently have an 8 year old child with autism in my class who has neither urinated or defecated in the toilet before. He is an energetic, non verbal child who has an understanding of when we is doing a wee or poo and so, this made me eager to help him get him out of nappies as soon as possible. To start with, I made him the following visual schedule, which I made using free symbols from the website Visual Aids for Learning (see my post on free symbol resource websites here).

toilet visual schedule

When we regularly take him to the toilet, we refer him to the visual schedule, so he must look at the symbol and then follow through that action. To begin with, this was with a physical prompt from the supporting adult. The physical prompts were then gradually reduced to verbal and gestural prompts as the child began doing more himself. We are 4 weeks in and he is doing these steps with mostly no physical prompts and just a simple verbal or gestural prompt for each step. We have been taking him to the toilet at very regular (every 45 minutes) intervals throughout the day (on his visual timetable) and he has access at all times to a toilet symbol to request to use the toilet. This same routine is happening at home and he has the exact same visual schedule which is being used at home. Good communication and consistency between home and school is very important for toilet training.

This is all very positive, however the child is yet to wee or a poo in the toilet. In fact, he is holding it in all day and over the last 4 weeks he has urinated in his pants only about 3 times. This is most likely because he has been so used to doing a wee and poo in his nappy and now that the nappy has gone, he is holding it in. My next plan of action is to show him some more visuals of using the toilet and hopefully catching a wee in the toilet soon. An update will shortly follow!!

1 month on update:

It has been 1 month since I wrote this post and 2 months since we started toilet training and I am happy to say that the child is now urinating in the toilet and also requesting to use the toilet through symbol or sign! Yay!

The consistency of undergoing the same process of using the visual symbols and waiting for the child to do each step as well as modelling key signs and language have been a great help. He has yet to poo in the toilet but we will keep working on this.

How has your experience of toilet training been? Please post a comment!

Days of the week board: learning the days of the week

A visual days of the week board can be great for children with autism to learn the days of the week, the differences that happen on each day and how many days left there are until the end of the week. Here is an example of a days of the week board I show the children at the beginning of every day and I ask the question “what day is it today?”.

days of the week

 

I then say a child’s name and they give me the day of the week that it is today. The day is then put at the top of our morning registration board. After each day is finished, I do not put that day back on the board so it shows the children a visual count down of how many days are left in the week such as on Thursday the only days showing on the board will be Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The subject symbols next to each day show the children an activity that is happening that day that does not happen on the other days such as dance on a Monday.

The days of the week board is also useful to prepare the children for a change in the routine. For example, last week we were not going to go swimming on Friday as we were going to a dance festival. At the beginning of the week I changed the symbol next to Friday to dance festival and also put a red cross over another swimming symbol to show no swimming on Friday. When I showed the morning board to the children on the Monday morning, it was clear that many of them understood that there was no swimming on Friday. Two children were able to say “no swimming”, 1 non verbal child spontaneously walked over to the board and pointed to ‘no swimming’ and 1 child screamed (his favourite activity is swimming!).

 

Visual timetables for children with autism

Visual timetables aid transitions by enabling children with autism to understand what they will be doing next or where they will be going. Visual timetables enable children to be independent and can motivate children by making it clear what will be happening in the day.

The child removes the next symbol from the timetable and travels with it to a board by the next transition point (i.e the classroom door, next too or on the classroom table or another room) and matches it to a corresponding bigger symbol. A finished box or pouch can also be used. The photo below shows a big symbol for dance and toilet which is on the door leading to the dance hall and the toilet. The big symbols are changed before prior to the children making the transition.

big symbol transition

The different coloured timetables making it clear to the child which timetable is theirs. The children using the timetables above are working at a symbol level. Timetables can be made up of objects of reference, photos, symbols or words for children who can read and have a good understanding of text. Travelling timetables can be made on clipboards for photos and symbols and wipe boards for written timetables.