Writing an Effective Individual Education Plan

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Tip of the Month:
April, 2019

An individual education plan (IEP) is the foundation for a student’s instructional program. Both school and home (and sometimes students) should be closely involved in developing and revising the student’s IEP over the school year and across grades. Many teachers and parents believe that longer, more detailed IEPs translate into better learning for the student. However, “less is more” may be the ideal approach when determining what skills and behaviours to target.

First, identify the long-term goals for the student. What goals would be most meaningful and functional for the student? What goals can the team select to focus on both immediate and long-term success? Example goals include “big picture” skills like communication, self-regulation, or numeracy.

Next, determine short-term objectives that will help the student reach the goals. Objectives should be written in clear, concrete language. They should be observable and measurable; if there is no reliable way to measure the student’s progress, the objectives may remain stagnant throughout the school year. Objectives should also be achievable and realistic so that the student experiences ongoing successes at the appropriate level.

In addition to clearly specifying the target skill or behaviour, objectives should outline the context (e.g., where and when) and criterion for mastery (e.g., 80% accuracy). Although data collection can seem daunting to school teams, there are various tricks for making this kind of progress monitoring more feasible. Instead of collecting data all day long for every objective, consider taking probe data only once or twice a week during specific subjects. This may be all that is necessary to monitor progress.

Overall, clearly defining and measuring fewer skills should be more successful than attempting to teach a laundry list of objectives. In focusing on greater quality of instruction for fewer skills, teams may see greater student successes. Similarly, the team should also find this process rewarding and be encouraged to continue creating meaningful yet feasible goals for students.

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Unstructured Time

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Unstructured Time
Unstructured Time
Unstructured Time
Unstructured Time
Tip of the Month:
March, 2019

Unstructured time is when there is no specific instruction to follow or tasks to complete. Unstructured times can include, recess, lunchtime, being on the bus, moving from class to class or activity to activity, going to the locker, classroom parties, bathroom break and free time when work is completed. Many of us are unaware of the amount of time spent engaging in unstructured activities, which are primarily made up of transitions such as waiting in line and moving from on activity to another. Often unstructured time also comes with less supervision. Break time and lunch time are usually considered an enjoyable time for most students, however, due to the lack of structure, the unpredictable nature of the break and the increased social demands these can be some of the most challenging times for students with autism. They may be unsure of what to do and can feel overwhelmed in the social and sensory rich environment of the playground.

The Playground

The playground is a perfect example of lots of unstructured time with less supervision. The playground can be a really threatening environment for a student with autism. There is generally, no structure or routine to recess and lunch time. A child with autism often prefers routines. Many students use recess and breaks to release stress and unwind, however for students with autism the playground can cause more stress and anxiety leading to more stress and less ability to concentrate and participate in class.
Children with autism may lack imaginative and creative play skills, they may prefer solitary or repetitive play (such as computer games). This puts students with ASD at a disadvantage socially. The student may have little interest in his peers.

Why are unstructured times difficult?

  • Unsure what is expected
  • Unable to organise time independently
  • Sensory overload
  • Social Demands

How to supports students with ASD during unstructured times?

  • Provide structured activities during unstructured times. Most students with ASD do not need a “break from structure: and it is often detrimental to remove structure. Provide a visual schedule or a visual support to show the student the activities they will participate in during free times. Provide the student with a choice board. A choice board visually shows the student which activities are available during free time but still provides the opportunity to make an independent choice.
  • Use a visual timer. A timer ensures the student knows when free time is over. Ensure the student also knows what activity is next.
  • Provide a quiet area. Providing an alternative quiet area at free times can reduce feelings of sensory/social overload. It is important to accept that some students may need time to be on their own.
  • Provide access to favourite activities. Preferred activities can be allowed during free times as these are often the activities which the student finds most relaxing and enjoyable. Limit access to these activities/items to only during recess/break
  • Teach and encourage the student to practise playground games and ball handling skills. Create a video model of the game and have the student watch and then practice- thus allowing them to bemore successful when out on the playground and engaging in the activities

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Educating Peers about ASD

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Educating Peers about ASD
Tip of the Month:
February, 2019

Countless research studies have shown that peer interaction in the classroom can help facilitate appropriate social interactions in students with autism. The students with autism are provided with multiple opportunities for social interaction and receive feedback from adults. Additionally, peers benefit from interactions, as they learn empathy, acceptance, individual differences, and how to be a peer role model.

When thinking of teaching a lesson about autism to a class of students, it is important to ensure that parents of the student with autism are open to the idea. Perhaps the child is not aware of the diagnosis or does not want other students to know. The lesson should be modified and adapted based on the age and ability level of the students. The lesson should consist of:

Students should be aware of differences around the classroom, school, community, etc. When students grasp the idea that differences are everywhere, they are able to recognize that students are different regardless of a diagnosis. Respect of differences and how to be a kind person should be explicitly taught.

Autism Information
Students should be provided with accurate information about autism and the characteristics that accompany the disorder. Autism as a spectrum is critical to discuss and having a diagnosis does not mean that everyone is the same. It would benefit students to discuss well-known individuals with autism (e.g., Temple Grandin) and show videos to demonstrate that people are different. There are a number of different activities teachers can use with students to illustrate the characteristics of autism.

What autism looks like in the classroom
Showing and informing students of what autism looks like is an important component. When students are informed of different characteristics, they are more prepared for behaviours associated with autism. Therefore, it is less intimidating and familiar when it occurs in the classroom. Some students with autism do not like loud noises, touch, or bright lights and it would benefit the others to know the specific characteristics associated with their classmate. Describing situations that cause stress to the student with autism will prepare the students for the real-life situation. It is important to keep the tone positive and provide ideas about how they can help support the student with autism. Some things the students can do:

Provide encouragement to the student:

  • Say hello to the student
  • Ask the student to participate in group activities and make them feel included
  • Model appropriate responses in the classroom
  • Offer to help the student when they are struggling

Allow for discussion and questions
It is important to allow time for the students to process the information and ask questions. The teacher may provide time for questions a few days after, in addition to questions after the lesson. For some students, this may be the first child with autism they interacted with and have many questions for the teacher to answer.

Provide feedback
When students are observed helping the student with autism by using strategies discussed in the lesson, they should be encouraged and verbally reinforced for the effort. If a student attempts a strategy and it does not go as planned, talk with the student about his/her effort and gently encourage the student to try again using a different method. We want to encourage and support peers when interacting with the student.

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Teach Organizational Skills

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Teach Organizational Skills
Teach Organizational Skills
Teach Organizational Skills
Teach Organizational Skills
Teach Organizational Skills
Tip of the Month:
January, 2019

Many individuals on the autism spectrum encounter some aspect of difficulty with organization. Organization skills are a prerequisite for school success and should be explicitly taught to students with autism. Organization becomes increasingly more important as students progress through grades, as tasks are more complex, demands increase, and responsibility around self-monitoring is encouraged. The following are some steps and reminders when teaching students with autism organizational skills:

1. Clearly define what is required. Avoid assumptions that all students on the spectrum are aware and know how to complete organizational tasks. Help students approach the task from an organized perceptive and how to plan the timeline. Bigger assignments may require ‘chunking’ material. Adults can help students plan this and model how it should look.

2. Provide visual supports to students that help outline the task and/or activity. For example, how to schedule important dates within a calendar is a crucial skill to learn as children become adults. They lean to schedule their time, keep track of important dates, and places they need to go. How to use checklists and to-do lists are also important to teach students. This provides a visual support to keep individuals organized and visually represent the steps to complete a task or the list of items that require completion. Checklists can be created to help students complete assignments, papers, writing, reading, etc.

3. Teach students that papers are not crumbled in a ball at the bottom of a book bag or locker and should be placed in folders or binders. A standard of work expected from teachers is important to learn for school and further work experience.

4. Teach organizational skills in the environment in which it needs to take place. Many teachers attempt to set up different color binders or folders for different classes and set aside time each day to help the student go through papers, scheduling, and reminders. The student is provided with time they can focus on organization without the worry of other academic tasks. It also delivers explicit teaching in a small group or one-on-one environment.

5. Teach how to prioritize. This skill is not natural to all students and some are not aware of the more important tasks throughout the day. Help students develop priorities and understand the biggest value associated with each priority. Especially difficult for students on the spectrum is learning the more desirable choices sometimes come last. Teach them to take small, scheduled breaks during the less preferred task to obtain the preferred items.

6. These skills should be taught in small increments and may require additional reinforcement for the demonstration of skills. Students may receive or work towards a reward when homework is completed on time or when checklists are finalized.

7. Although not common, teaching organizational skills could be included in the student’s IEP.

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The Challenge of Holidays

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The Challenge of Holidays
Tip of the Month:
December, 2018

Holidays can be full of unexpected events, strange sounds and smells, unfamiliar food and disrupted routines… in short, a nightmare for many students with ASD. Here are a few tips parents and teachers have shared with us that may help:

Before the holiday: Prepare the child for the things you can.

  • Make a holiday calendar and post it where the child can check it frequently. Use pictures or words to indicate special activities or events or to note the arrival and departure of company.
  • A creative teacher had all the children in her class make a book about the special things that happen at home on holidays from school. Children took the books home to get their parents to add information before bringing them back to share with everyone.

During the holiday:

  • Try to create at least one event a day that is predictable and stable… one parent read the same, favorite story book to her son every night of the Christmas vacation. Another Mom reviewed the calendar with her daughter every night before bed, counting the days until it was time to go back to school.
  • Schedule some quiet time for the child each day. If you’re traveling, find a quiet space you can allow the child to use to “get away from it all” and engage in a calming activity. One parent we know created a “fort” underneath the desk at the hotel room they stayed in, placing her son’s favorite book and a snuggly blanket in the space.
  • Keep snacks on hand that your child will eat if the stress of eating unfamiliar food is overwhelming. Hunger can increase irritability. Holidays are not the best time to take a stand on “eating what’s put in front of you”!

Click here for December clipart.

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Christmas Dinner and other clipart465.35 KB

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Building Rapport

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Building Rapport
Tip of the Month:
November, 2018

Presession pairing refers to a procedure used to establish a relationship between the instructor and a student, where the instructor is viewed as a reinforcer by the student (Kelly et al, 2015). Developing a good rapport with a student can often be essential in decreasing problem behaviours and increasing engagement in learning.

How to pair with a student

1. Create a preference profile of the student. This includes selecting toys, books, foods, activities, games, videos, and other things that the student enjoys doing. NOTE: you want to collect enough items to continue the pairing session if the student is bored with one item.
2. Present one item/activity at a time to the student and allow the student to interact with it
3. As the student is interacting with the item, join in with the student to ‘enhance’ the experience. The idea is that things are more ‘fun’ with you, the instructor, around than without
4. Follow the student’s lead. As the student loses interest, introduce new activity/item for him/her to interact with.
5. Minimize demands/instructions during pairing activity until rapport has been firmly established.
6. Once a rapport has been established, began introducing small demands/instructions. Start with demands/instructions that the student is most likely to respond before moving to the more difficult instructions.

Notes about pairing

  • Pairing is a gradual process. It is unlikely to happen in just one day so be sure to run the session for a long enough period.
  • Pairing is an ongoing process. Instructors should continue to pair with the students throughout the year to make sure the rapport is vmaintained.


Kelly, A. N., Axe, J. B., Allen, R. F., & Maguire, R. W. (2015). Effects of presession pairing on the challenging behavior and academic responding of children with autism. Behavioral Interventions, 30, 135-156.

ABA Teaching Ideas. (2017, September 11). Manding, pairing, and fun activity ideas. Retrieved from https://abateachingideas.wixsite.com/aba-teaching-ideas/fun-activity-ideas

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Setting Up Visual Schedules

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Setting Up Visual Schedules
Setting Up Visual Schedules
Setting Up Visual Schedules
Setting Up Visual Schedules
Setting Up Visual Schedules
Tip of the Month:
October, 2018

As the school year is well under way, we want to make sure that all of our students are set up with visual schedules that will support their learning and facilitate independence.

What are visual schedules?
Visual schedules are any form of visual representation that portrays a sequence of tasks or events. For example, many of us might use calendars, day planners, and timetables. We use these tools to support our personal organization and memory and to help us remember and be better prepared for upcoming events.

How do they support our students with ASD?
Most students with ASD have strengths in visual processing relative to auditory processing. This means that they are better able to process and understand information that they can see (e.g., pictures, text, diagrams) than information that they hear (e.g., lectures, verbal instructions). Additionally, a common area of difficulty among students with ASD is executive functioning, which includes sequencing, organizing, and planning, and impacts activities such as transitions. With visual schedules, we support transitions and student preparation by showing them what is finished, what is coming up, and when a change is going to occur. By using visual schedules, we are supporting our students by taking a load of the brain and putting it on paper.

What should they look like?
When designing visual schedules it is important to use an appropriate level of symbolic representation for your particular student. Symbolic representation refers to your student’s level of understanding of visual symbols representing concepts. Listed below are different levels of symbolic representation from most basic to most complex.

Real objects → miniature objects → photographs → coloured drawings → black line drawings → written words
Some students will need real and personally relevant objects (e.g., their own glove to know that it is outside time). Others may be able to use related objects (e.g., a small wooden spoon for cooking time). Photographs might include pictures of the student, activity, or place where the activity occurs. Drawings may take the form of coloured drawings or more abstract line drawings and may be generated from the computer or hand drawn. Reliable readers will use written schedules, which is likely more similar to what is used by peers. However, some students may require more detailed written schedules than what is included on the classroom schedules; specific times, room numbers, and materials needed may be helpful to have on their schedule.
Remember, the level of symbolic representation that you choose will depend on what is meaningful to the student. It is important to choose the level that is most abstract but that your student can easily and reliably understand.

Tips for using visual schedules:
• The use of visual schedules must be directly taught to students. Initially students will need prompts to refer to the schedule and match activities to their representation on the schedule. However, visual schedules are intended to foster independence so prompts should be faded as the use of a schedule becomes more familiar.
• Be sure to involve you student in the set-up of the schedule. Once in place, be sure to review it at the beginning of the day. Sometimes, you may only present part of the schedule at a time – some students may find too many items on their schedule to be overwhelming.
• Be sure to include an activity completion symbol – cross out, take off, remove object, or turn over photograph/picture. This will help students remember where they are in their day and see what is coming up next.
• Always have a way to indicate a change. Be sure to build flexibility into visual schedules by teaching your student that change is ok and having a symbol to indicate when a change in their schedule is going to occur.
• Expect visual schedules to grow and change over time. As your students’ skills improve and environments change, so will their symbolic understanding and daily activities. Make sure their visual schedules utilize their most complex level of symbolic understanding and accurately reflect their school day.

Bottom line:
Setting up effective visual schedules requires an understanding of your students’ needs and symbolic understanding. Using visual schedules not only adds consistency and predictability to students’ days but teaches a functional life skill that students with ASD can use throughout their lives.

Cohen, M.J. & Sloan, D.L (2007). Visual Supports for People with Autism: A Guide for Parents and Professionals. Woodbine House Inc., Maryland, USA. ISBN: 978-1890627478

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Start off the New Year Organized

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Image courtesy of <a href="http://www.freedigitalphotos.net" target="_blank">FreeDigitalPhotos.net</a>
Tip of the Month:
September, 2018

The One Binder System

Several schools we work with have instituted “one binder systems” for all their students at the middle school or high school level. We frequently recommend organizational systems like this for students with ASD as poor organization is commonplace in this population. If your school does not have a common organizational system for everyone, you can customize one for your child or student. Common guidelines for developing and using an organizational system include the following:

first and foremost

Engage the student in the process of developing the system! Get his input and allow him some choice in the types of materials and strategies you use to support him.

identify needed materials (check with teachers)

For example:
• a 2 ½ inch to 3 inch binder (preferably one that zips closed)
• a portable 3 hole punch that can be stored in the binder
• a pencil case that can click into the rings of the binder
• materials for the pencil case that are needed for individual subjects (pens, pencils, erasers, pencil crayons, ruler, compass, protractor, calculator, highlighter, pencil sharpener)
• colored dividers to separate subject areas
• loose leaf lined paper

identify and create visual supports

These visual supports will be included in the binder to support compliance and independence.

For example:
• An agenda or table to document assignments (see attached assignment log sample)
• Check lists that identify steps (see attached process checklist sample)
• Self- monitoring systems (see attached self –monitoring supports sample)
• Incentives (see attached self monitoring supports sample)

include the objective of using the organizational system into the student’s IEP

• Who will help the student use the system at school and at home?
• What strategies (other than visuals) will be used to develop student’s independent use?
• How will we evaluate progress? Consider developing a rubric such as that used at a Middle School in South Central British Columbia: http://www.sms.sd83.bc.ca/onebinderfolder/onebinderrubric.pdf (copy attached)

For more information on teaching organization to students with ASD, check out the following resources:

One Binder Rubric.pdf188.08 KB
Process Checklist.docx36.26 KB
Self-monitoring supports.docx17.98 KB
Assignment Log.docx16.99 KB

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Errorless Learning

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Errorless Learning
Tip of the Month:
August, 2018

As the name indicates, errorless learning is a teaching procedure designed to build success and minimize errors during the learning process. The main idea behind the procedure is to provide the learner with as much help as necessary for them to respond correctly at the start of the learning process and gradually reducing the amount and/or intensity of the help over time. The end goal is still to promote the learner’s independent responding. Below is a diagram of the general progression of errorless learning procedure:

There are a number of important items that people should keep in mind when running an errorless learning procedure:

• Fading the prompt too soon. One common mistake that often happens when running an errorless learning procedure is fading the prompts (help) too soon. This can lead to students making error and not learning successfully.

• Fading the amount of prompt by too much. Another mistake often seen is making too big of a jump from one prompt level to another one. For example, going from providing hand-over-hand prompt to a visual prompt. Removing too much of the help can lead, again, to students making error and not learning successfully.

• Keeping the prompt for too long. The last common mistake that often occurs during an errorless learning procedure is not fading the prompt fast enough. This can lead to prompt dependency and hinder a student’s ability to respond independently.

In order to minimize these errors, we need to collect data on student’s performance and make decision based on what the data tell us.


Florida Institute of Technology – The Scott Center Autism Advisor (2018). Errorless learning [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.thescottcenter.org/advisor/resources/errorless-learning.

Relias. (2018). Errorless learning: An autism teaching strategy video [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.relias.com/resource/errorless-learning-autism-teaching-strat...

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Summer Entertainment

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Tip of the Month:
July, 2018

The absence of a school routine may create challenges in daily lives during the summer months. For parents, children are around all day and for children, there is a less structured environment to deal with. Changes can be positive, but challenges may emerge.

Resist the temptation to abandon basic family rules and routines. Although it’s appealing to give children a break, it is important to remember that too much deviance from established routines can lead to irritability and meltdowns. However, some flexibility during the summer months is encouraged. It is a time for children to have fun. Maintain basic bedtime habits, scheduled chores, and other established expectations (e.g., not playing video games all day).

Keep a scheduled calendar of events. Even during the summer months, it is important to keep structure so children are able to anticipate upcoming events. A simple visual calendar that displays activities throughout the summer months allow children to prepare.

Create a mixture of major summer activities (e.g., long weekend trips, family vacation) and casual activities (e.g., swimming, playground trips, hiking) to keep children interested in summer events. Also, it is important to schedule daily quiet time. Children can choose from various quiet activities; however, these activities should be unplugged (i.e., away from technological devices, such as tv, iPad, video games, etc.). This enables children to entertain themselves and avoid overstimulation.

Daily education does not have to decrease since school is out for the summer. Incorporate time into the schedule to research and experiment topics of interest. If available, take opportunities to visit museums, aquariums, etc. to further develop educational ideas. Spend time outdoors when possible to interact with nature and learn about different animals and plants.

Some families live in urban areas where day camps and other structured programs are accessible. If possible, it may benefit your child to participate in one of these programs. There are a variety of programs offered and will depend on the location of the family.
Finally, planning daily time to read is important, especially for those children who have difficulty with reading skills. It does not have to be a book, as long as it holds the child’s attention (e.g., comic books, magazines, posters, etc.).

During the summer, parents hope to avoid boredom and demands of constant parent attention. With the right balance of free time and planned time, children are less likely to become bored and display challenging behaviour.

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