Personalised learning: Using children’s interests to motivate them!

It can be challenging to engage any child if they are not interested.

It can be even harder to engage children with autism if they are not motivated.

A child must want to take part in a teaching activity otherwise it will be difficult to engage and keep their attention in order for learning to take place.

One way of grabbing a child’s attention is to use that things they are already interested in during learning activities. You will have to be really creative in finding different ways of using the child’s interest! Here are some examples:

  • A child who loves messy play:

    Messy play can be used for so many different learning activities! Different language, sign and core vocabulary can by modelled and learnt (i.e. “let’s pour water in the bowl”), number concepts can be taught (i.e. counting, adding e.t.c with the addition of different objects), colours, scientific concepts (i.e. mixing/ changing materials), life skills such as cleaning hands (and bodies if it’s really messy!) and lots more!

messy play asdteacher

  • A child who loves specific cartoon or film characters:

    Use the characters in any way to get the child’s attention. Here are some photos of some characters used in learning activities. The children were learning concepts such as identifying and matching pictures and photos and learning the concept of ‘big’ and ‘small’.

matching pictures autismsize autism asdteacher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

size autism asdteachersorting big and small

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would love to see some of the ways that you have used a child’s interests in learning to keep them engaged and motivated! Post comments and photos below!

Teaching Resource Tuesday

Visual emotional regulation/ communication table supports for children with autism

In order to be ready to learn, children must be regulated and have their physical, sensory and emotional needs met. Let’s face it, a child is not going to learn anything if they are, for example:

  • Over stimulated
  • Under stimulated
  • Very tired/ hungry/ thirsty
  • Needs the toilet

If a child is experiencing any of the above, and they do not have a functional way of communicating it, learning is very unlikely to take place and there is high potential for challenging behaviour to occur.

A child must be regulated in order for any learning to take place!

 

It is important that we provide supports in order to teach/ give the children the tools to communicate these needs. Every child is different and will require very individual supports.

I have found that if I put detachable visual supports that are tailored to meet individuals needs directly on the table where the child will be sitting, the supports will therefore be in eye view of the child both giving a visual prompt/ reminder as well as being close enough to use as a communication tool (by either pointing at/ within reach to give to an adult/ encourage a child to verbally ask).

autism table visual supports

 

Some examples of visual supports on the tables in my classroom

One pupil has the following visual supports on his table:

  • ‘toilet’
  • ‘break’ (outside with adult supervision and a 3 minute timer before returning to the lesson)
  • ‘sit’ (prompt to sit if necessary)
  • ‘help’ (prompt to teach the concept of ‘help’ at the time a child needs help by showing the symbol/signing ‘help’ as well as a visual prompt to request ‘help’)

Another pupil is currently learning to use symbols to request, as well as learning to use the toilet. Having one clear ‘toilet’ symbol on her table enables a supporting adult to prompt her to go the toilet by showing her the symbol. After a month or so of prompting, she began to request the toilet herself by taking this symbol. I must say here, that was after weeks and weeks of her throwing the symbol off the table!! But it was just placed back on the table (quietly and calmly) and after a while she became used to the symbol being there.

 

communication table support

 

Another pupil has the following visual supports in front of him that support his emotion regulation:

  • ‘massage fingers’ (a mutual regulation activity that has a very calming effect on him and his busy fingers)
  • ‘pencil’ (a self regulating activity where he will hold or ‘flick’ a pencil, again this has a very calming effect on him)
  • ‘calm room’ (to request a quiet break from the lesson in a separate room next door with adult supervision and a 3 minute timer) before rejoining the lesson.

These visual supports help this particular child to communicate and emotionally regulate during lessons and throughout the day.

 

communication strip

 

Other pupils in the class with increasing verbal language have ‘core vocabulary boards’ on their table to support the teaching of core vocabulary and also to encourage the child to form verbal sentences. For more information on core vocabulary boards, click here

As you can see the examples above are very individual as each child has their own requirements. Other important factors to consider are:

  • ensure there is not too much visual information in the child’s eye view. This can be distracting and therefore prevent the purpose.
  • ensure the symbol/ picture/ photo/ object is clear, specific and meaningful to the child. There is no point in using a photo of a drink with other objects/people in the photo if you just want it to mean ‘drink’.
  • our pupils abilities and needs are forever changing and therefore the supports we provide should reflect this. The supports should be carefully observed in order to see if they are benefiting and enabling the child.
  • The aim is to ensure the child is emotionally regulated and ready to learn. Remember- a child will not learn if they are not regulated so this area should be an important focus.

 

Teaching Resource Tuesday

Teaching Resource Tuesday!

Teaching Resource Tuesday

 

Starting tomorrow on Tuesday the 29th of August, I will be posting a teaching resource idea every Tuesday!

When teaching children with autism and severe learning difficulties, we need to make sure that our approach and the resources we use are:

  • highly visual: to enhance and ensure understanding
  • multi-sensory: children learn in different ways so we therefore must provide resources to stimulate different senses
  • ‘to-the-point’: resources must be obvious and clutter-free to be easily understood by literal thinkers
  • engaging: in order to capture and keep children’s attention, resources need to be highly motivating and engaging!

To receive the weekly teaching resource idea straight to your email, sign up below:

Subscribe to the ASD Teacher mailing list





Welcome to ASD Teacher!

Hello and welcome to ASD Teacher! My name is Steph and I am an Autism Specialist Teacher based in London, U.K.

You can find out more about me; the professional services I offer through ‘ASD Teacher Outreach and Training‘ and read my blog posts by clicking on the following links:

 

I hope that you will find something of interest to you and that you will not hesitate to get in touch with your comments, questions and enquiries.

 

asd teacher outreach and training

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

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.

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!