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

Signing for children with autism

Steph ASD Teacher
Signing is not just used for and by children who have hearing difficulties or who are deaf. Signing is used in many schools teaching autistic children as a way of reinforcing speech along with symbol use. Sign can help children learn key language. For some non verbal children, single signs can be taught as a primary form of communication by repeatedly modeling the sign in the correct context in order for the children to learn to use the sign spontaneously to request an item or need.

As a teacher, I use sign in the classroom by:

  • Signing key words whenever I say them. Pairing spoken language with sign and symbol can help a child learn the key language.
  • Teaching children signs in the correct context in order for the child to learn the sign. For example when teaching the sign for ‘more’ (often the first sign taught) when in the correct context for a child wanting more, maybe the child is reaching for a biscuit or putting up their hands in order you to continue jumping with them; I would say “more” at the same time as modelling the sign for ‘more’ in order for the child to imitate. If the child will not imitate the sign then I would start by physically modelling the sign by taking the child’s hands and moving them into the ‘more’ sign at the same time as saying the word “more”. This paired action is repeated over different motivating contexts in order for the child to learn how to spontaneously sign ‘more’.

BSL and Makaton

British Sign Language is taught to and used by children who are deaf or who have hearing difficulties. BSL is an official language of the deaf community where every word has a sign. BSL has it’s own grammar as well as word order and there are different regional dialects. For children with ASD, not every word is signed, it is only the key words as well as spoken language. This is often referred to as Makaton. Makaton is a language programme using speech as well as key signs and symbols to reinforce key words. Makaton uses signs from the sign language of the particular country it’s being used in so therefore most of the signs used in Makaton in Great Britain are taken from British Sign Language. Find out more about Makaton here.

Last year I had a non verbal child in the class who went from imitating single signs to putting 2 and 3 signs together spontaneously! Both I and his family were very pleased with his progress but I was very aware that once this child went home, he was unable to use his knowledge of signs and communicate this way with his family as his family did not know the signs. I therefore created short video clips of the signs he was using so the family could learn the signs at home.

Find a motivator…

Food can often be a great motivator for children and is therefore a good starting point for teaching children some signs. The following videos feature signs that are commonly used in schools across Great Britain although some signs may differ depending on the school or child. In order to have consistency with school and home, I recommend checking with your child’s teacher whether in class they are using Makaton or different signs.

Banana

Carrot

 

Please let me know if you would like to learn any other signs or post a comment below.

Setting up a choice board at home to aid communication and implement structure

ASDTeacher choice board

The School Setting:

A school setting for an autistic child should be highly structured and have familiar routines that the child can anticipate. Communication is encouraged through speech as well as sign, symbols, photos and objects, depending on the ability of the child. A classroom set up specifically for autistic children would tend to be low arousing (plain walls so it is not too distracting) with objects and toys organised neatly and clearly labelled.

To encourage communication for children able to understand symbols or photos, the child would have to ask for an object of choice through speech, sign or through giving a picture or a symbol sentence to an adult of the desired object in exchange for the object. You will be aware if  your child uses pictures or symbols at school.

The Home Setting:

The home setting tends to be less structured and toys and objects tend to be freely available and open to the child. This can be great for some children and families as it promotes independence and enables children to do things for themselves. In some circumstances, having every object freely available to a child can lead to a child having free rein of the house and taking whatever they want as and when they want it, which for some families can cause many difficulties.

If a child is using pictures or symbols to enhance communication at school, there is no reason why you can not use them at home. Encouraging a child to ask for an object whether its is a favourite toy or a drink can promote good communication between the child and family members. Apart from aiding communication, having a picture choice board can also enable the child to use 1 object at a time and if managed consistently and encouraging a child to tidy a toy away if asking for a different one, could also help to reduce the amount of mess!

The Aims of the Picture Choice Board

– Encourage communication by giving the child a means to request a particular object.
– Promote a communication exchange with a family member- the child requests by giving a picture card to a family member who then responds by giving the desired object.
– If a child can talk, it gives a child a visual prompt to use the correct language.
– Narrow the selection of choice down- there could be a selection of as little as 2 choices or 8 plus!
– Implement structure, routine and familiarity which could help to reduce anxiety

 

Making a Picture Choice Board:

Minimum requirements:

Pencil and paper

Maximum requirements:

Computer picture editing programme (e.g Microsoft Word)
Access to the internet/ digital camera
Laminator
Scissors
Velcro

Here is one way of making a picture choice board. Say your child’s favourite objects to use at home are;
Tangle toy
Lego
Thomas the Tank Engine Puzzle
Gym ball
Computer
Spin top

You can find pictures of all of these easily by searching on Google Images. Here are the pictures I found:

 

gym ball                       tangle                      spin top

 

 

Windows-PC                         Thomas-the-Train-jigsaw-puzzle                       lego


The picture needs to look the same as the actual object in order for the child to make the connection between the picture and the object. Alternatively, if you have a digital camera or phone with a camera, you can take a photo of the exact object. You may also be able to find symbols that your child can understand and generalise to different types of one object (e.g puzzle for multiple types of puzzle). One good free symbol website is Do2Learn and there are many others (I will write a post on this at a later date!). Schools are lucky to have funding for symbol computer programmes to make numerous good quality symbols, but they can be very expensive.

communication photo choice board

Once you have found appropriate pictures, they can be printed on one page for the child to point at or they can be cut into individual pictures. I would recommend buying a laminator and laminating sheets to make durable individual pictures. Laminators start from around £10 for the cheapest  and go up in price for better quality. Believe me, I would not be able to run my classroom without a laminator!

If you do not have access to a computer then it may be worth trying a drawing of the object, it may make just as much sense to a child as a photo depending on the child’s ability. Here is 2 examples of drawings I have done!

 

asdteacher spin top picture card

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So it is easy enough to make individual drawing picture cards or below is 1 way I have created individual picture cards on the computer programme Microsoft Word (you can use any editing programme):

ASDTeacher choice board

I have created these pictures into individual picture cards ready to be cut and laminated. I positioned the pictures, wrote the corresponding text below (for the child to pair the text with the picture to develop their reading skills) and then I put a box around them to separate individual pictures.  I used Microsoft Word however, you can use any computer programme that edit’s pictures.

Download picture cards example PDF

Once you have made some picture cards, you may want to use velcro to attach them to a board (perhaps a laminated piece of A4 paper). Velcro is another essential for ASD Teacher’s!

Using the Picture Choice Board

Ensure all of the items on the choice board are definitely available to use. Place the choice board somewhere within the child’s reach and view such as on a table or on the side of a unit. Make sure that the child does not get the item they want until they give you the picture card (or point to it depending on what your child is used to doing). This will be very hard at first as your child may be used to taking the objects whenever they want by themselves. If necessary, place your hand over their hand and physically prompt them to give you the picture card and then give them their desired object straight away. After doing this enough times, a child can learn that when they give you a picture card, they get the corresponding item and will request by themselves. Make sure these physical prompts are gradually reduced as the child learns what they need to do. Be consistent with using the choice board and make sure whenever an item is requested, the child gets it.

Remember, not all children can recognise pictures, photos or symbols. Ensure you know your child can before trying to introduce a system like this.

Please ask any questions in the comments and I will reply as soon as I can!

Strategies for toilet training a child with autism

I currently have an 8 year old child with autism in my class who has not peed or poohed in the toilet before. He is a bright, non verbal child who definitely has an understanding of when we is doing a pee 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 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 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!

How to structure a lesson or activity for pupils with autism

Structuring a lesson or activity by breaking it down into small parts with visual prompts can make the lesson/ activity manageable for autistic children because it enables the pupils to know what they will be doing now, next and when the activity is coming to an end. Here is an example of visual symbols used in a physical education lesson.

visual symbols for p.e.

At the beginning of the lesson, I would say “what’s first?” and take the first symbol to show all the children individually so they can say, sign, read or point to the symbol. In this case it is ‘warm up’ so we would then do the warm up. When the warm up is finishing, I would count down from 5 and say “warm up has finished”. In a P.E. lesson I usually ask the children to “sit on the bench” before referring them to the visual symbols and removing the warm up symbol whilst again saying “warm up has finished”. I would then say “whats next?” and again individually show the children the next symbol. This process is repeated for each small activity of the lesson. This gives a clear structure and routine to the lesson which the children learn and can feel comfortable with. When it is time for ‘cool down’, the children can clearly see the lesson is coming to an end as there is only 1 symbol left.

Here is a similar example of how I’ve structured a music lesson using a similar routine. I have used the SCERTS model (green and red board- green for what is coming up and red for finished).

visual symbols for music lesson

 

There is a similar pattern with how I’ve structured this lesson. The lesson is broken down into smaller activities and each has a visual symbol to show the children what is next. When an activity has finished, I move it to the red finished area and say “what’s next?” before showing all of the children individually the next activity for them to say, sign, read or point to.

Don’t forget this structure can benefit all children and can make mainstream activities more inclusive by enabling the children that can understand symbols to know what is happening next and how many activities to go before the session is finishing. This type of structure could also be used with photos for children who understand photos but perhaps not symbols, objects of reference for children at that level and words for more able children who are confident at reading.

Also, do remember that a symbol programme like the one I have used to make symbols is also not necessary. Symbols like these can be replaced by pictures simply found on the internet, photos you have taken or by simply drawing a picture!

Lesson and activity visual instructions – teaching resources for children with autism

During my subject, class or group lessons I will give each child a visual step by step instruction resource that me and my teaching assistants will have made using a symbol computer program (My school uses ‘Communicate In Print’) I print the symbol resources I’ve made and then laminate them.

The instructions give the children a visual step by step guide to the activity. This gives the children a visual structure to the lesson where the beginning and ending is clear. Visual step by step guides promote independence as the children are able to see the steps first and are not completely relying on a verbal instruction from an adult. More able children who can read are able to follow visual instructions with increasing independence as they read each step before undertaking the task.

Here is an example of a booklet for children who understand symbols but are not yet reading and possibly have a short attention span (hence no more than 2 symbols per age).

large symbol visual instruction

large symbol visual instruction

large symbol visual instruction

large symbol visual instruction

large symbol visual instruction

large symbol visual instruction

The large symbols are easy to see and focus on for a child with a short attention span. Only 1 symbol per page allows the child to focus only on that symbol instruction rather than seeing multiple instructions on 1 page. Before beginning each step of the task we will look at the symbol, point to the symbol and then say and sign the symbol. When the step is complete, I will say “…….  has finished” and the children will then move a red square onto  the box next to the symbol to highlight that step has finished. (See photos above – when a child puts a red square next to the symbol, this means the step has finished). This routine can be taught using physical and verbal prompts initially before reducing them as the child becomes more familiar and confident with the routine.

For the children who are more able and perhaps recognise a few words, the following visual instructions would be more suitable for the same activity. As the child becomes more able to read and understand text, these instructions can simply be written bullet points.

Visual instructions

The next instructions follow the SCERTS model (http://www.scerts.com/) for visual in-task schedules. The steps to be undertaken are on the green side and when the step is finished, the child moves it to the red side. These instructions show a clear beginning and end to the activity. I make these instructions for the children in my class that recognise some words or can read. After completing a step I ask the children “whats next?” and they read the next step on the green side. I will then model the task for the children so they can see how to do it before they begin the task. As you can see I have differentiated the 2 boards below for children at different levels by using a maximum of 2 symbols per instruction on one and much more detailed text on the other.

SCERTS in task schedule

 

For parents and schools without a symbol program, resources like this can be made with photos and images found simply on the internet (searching a word on google images will bring up a large selection of related images!). You don’t even need to have access to a computer or the internet, just simply drawing a picture will be just as good. The instructions above could just be simple drawings of first a pizza, tomato sauce, cheese, the toppings and the oven down the side of a page!

Please post any questions below.

Days of the week board

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 register board for children with autism

This is the register board I use with my class of children with autism at the beginning and the end of every day. First thing in the morning, the class sit as a group in a semi circle and sing a ‘good morning’ song to each child (the same song every day to keep the routine familiar). After singing to each child, the child walks to the register board and moves their photo or name from the home section to the school section. Once we have sung to every child who is in school, I then choose a child to count “how many children?”. The child counts how many children (with or without support) and chooses the amount from a number board which I then show to each child and it is put below the school section as seen in the photo.

registration board

At the end of the day, we sing a ‘time to go home’ song and then each child takes it in turn to move their name or photo from the school section to the home section. This enables the children to know that it is now time to go home. This is a good familiar routine for the children which can be easily learnt and also a great visual for everyone to see who is in school that day.