Understanding level of sense making – The ComFor assessment tool

the garden school comfor assessment

From left to right: Myself – Stephanie Reed, Jarymke Malijaars (Ku Leuven), Pat Quigley (The Garden Head of School) and Beth Junor (Specialist ASD Speech and Language Therapist).

I was very grateful to attend the ComFor training held at The Garden School in January. The ComFor assessment is a tool used to determine what would be the most appropriate form of augmentative communication for an individual with autism and little or no verbal language.

The ComFor Assessment

The assessment is a very methodical range of sorting activities which aim to identify what forms of supports an individual can make sense of in order to put in place the most appropriate augmentative communication intervention. These supports include objects, pictures, line drawings, pictograms, photos and written language symbols. The assessment uses different levels of sense making to understand where an individual may be functioning. These levels of sense making are:

  • Sensation: How babies experience the world and learn to react to their environment (i.e cry for attention)
  • Presentation: The individual begins to learn the function of communication and can communicate actively in the present context (i.e looking at, pointing to and babbling towards a cup)
  • Representation: When speech is used and a word represents an object (i.e. the word “drink” is used to ask for a drink). If an individual does not speak, but they learn that a picture, symbol or object refers to an action (i.e. to drink) then they have reached the level of representation
  • Metarepresentation: When language is used and understood beyond the literal meaning (i.e. a joke or sarcasm)

The ComFor assessment aims to ascertain which level of sense making an individual is operating at and therefore, which type of augmentative communication approach would be most suitable.

Below are photo examples of different forms of augmentative communication implemented after the ComFor Assessment at the appropriate level based on the individuals level of sense making (with photos taken from Met Andere Woorden – ‘In Other Words’)

Objects of Reference
Objects related to the activity are used to communicate what is coming next (i.e. bib for lunch time)

object of reference asd teacher comfor assessment

Assembling objects
The child below is able to take the object and place it into the awaiting object (i.e. cup in cup holder) in order to have a drink

assembling objects asd teacher

assembling objects asd teacher

Assembling pictograms
The pictogram will slot into the correct place (i.e. headphones where the headphones are used)

assembling pictogram comfor assessment

Matching pictograms
The child below is able to recognise the pictogram and then transition to and take part in the activity that is displayed in the pictogram (i.e lunch time):

matching pictogram asd teacher comfor assessment

The ComFor assessment is an extremely invaluable tool to decide on the most appropriate form of augmentative communication in order to ensure the individual understands and is able to communicate to their full potential. Further information on the ComFor assessment tool can be found at the offical ComFor website here as well as in the journal article ‘Making Sense in a Fragmentary World’ (Neons & Van Berckelaer-Onnes, 2004, Sage Publications and the National Autistic Society).

 

asdteacherclassroomstrategies

Autism Friendly Classroom Strategies

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 the classroom:

Classroom Strategies

 

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 dysregulation (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 stage 1 preview video
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

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!

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!

Review: ChoiceBoard Creator, a free app I use regularly in the classroom

choiceboard creator

ChoiceBoard Creator is a great resource for creating your own customisable choice boards. This could be a choice board for giving a child a choice such as what they want to eat for lunch or to use as part of a comprehension activity such as answering “which is?” or “where is the?” questions (e.g. “where is the dog?”). The choice boards can be made of  photos or text, based on your child’s needs and ability. It is very easy to make the choice boards as the app brings up the iPad’s camera roll so you can instantly use photos. The app allows you to make a choice board of up to 6 choices with the ability to put a sound affect such as a reward of applause! You are also able to record your voice. This is how I am using the app in the classroom at the moment:

One of my pupil’s current IEP targets is to show understanding of “where?” questions. I made the following choice boards:

choiceboard creator

 

choiceboard creator

 

When doing this activity with the pupil, I will read the question to him and he then has to press the correct answer. I recorded my voice saying the object for when the correct object is pressed. If he presses on the wrong object, nothing happens. The pupil is highly motivated by the iPad and when doing this activity, I can see if he is understanding the question and the name of object. I will increase the number of choices as he gains more confidence in correctly answering from a choice of 2 with a few different objects.

This app also enables you to make great choice board for activities or food for your child to show you what they want to play with or what they want to eat.

For more information on choice boards, read my recent post on how to make a choice board here

Interactive song choice PowerPoint resource for children to choose

ASD Teacher Singing Choice Resource

Here is a helpful PowerPoint resource I have made which links directly to 4 brilliant interactive songs from Topmarks. The PowerPoint consists of one slide with picture links to all of the songs:

Once the picture is pressed, the interactive song opens up in a new browser tab. This is great to put on the interactive whiteboard to give children the choice of songs to sing or listen to. I do a short singing session at the end of each day with either interactive whiteboard resources, objects, laminates or all of these together! This is great for early years children to! Download and edit as you wish.

Download ASD Teacher Singing Choice Resource