Calming a Child

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Calming a Child
Tip of the Month:
August, 2019

There are many reasons as to why a child with autism can become emotional or dysregulated. Overstimulation, changes in routine, a demand that is beyond their ability, etc. Determining the cause is the most important factor; however, there are times when a child experiences a meltdown and the adults must react and guide the situation. The following steps can be taken when a child becomes dysregulated.

Keep directions short and simple. This is not the time to be reasoning with the child. If the child is overstimulated to start, talking will increase the stimulation. Instead, if the adult needs to talk to the child, use simple, short directions. Ensure the directions clearly state what is expected from the child (e.g., what behaviour is appropriate and what the child should do). A visual can also be used to decrease the verbal information relayed. If possible, create a quiet and relaxing environment.

Diversions can be used to take the focus away from the situation. Redirecting can often result in the child focusing on something else and calm down.

Modify expectations as necessary. If a particular demand is producing consistent dysregulation, adjust the expectations to meet the individuality of the child.

Notice nonverbal behaviour. Pay attention to the communication that occurs non-verbally. If the child typically rocks back and forth before they display meltdown behaviours, notice when this occurs.

Don’t expect an explanation until the child is regulated. For some children, this may be the next day before they can verbally discuss what happened. Focus on the calm down routine and discuss later. Some children may not have the verbal or communication abilities to talk about what happened.

Teach the child an effective calm down routine. This can consist of deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, imagery, etc. Teach the child a calm down routine that works for them. Do this a couple of times per day when the child is calm and regulated. Do not expect the child to immediately use the routine. They may require reminders when they become upset.

Stay calm yourself! Stay calm and remove the child from the environment and wait it out. Becoming escalated will only increase the child’s anxiety.

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Changing Things Up!

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Changing Things Up!
Changing Things Up!
Tip of the Month:
July, 2019

Research has shown that providing predictable environments and structured routines are critical to classrooms that support individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Children with autism may demonstrate rigidity and/or inflexibility when presented with change(s). Teachers, parents, and adults who work with students on the autism spectrum sometimes attempt to control the environment where little or no change is ever presented. However, it is extremely difficult to avoid change in everyday life. Situations and circumstances beyond our control can occur, storms close schools, teachers get sick, cancelled classes, etc. It is important to recognize the significance of exposing students with autism to change and teaching them how to effectively cope with the change.
A number of studies have indicated children with autism are more likely to engage in challenging behaviour during transitions. To increase successful transitions, students should be prepared for the possibility of change and the procedures that follow. The use of visual supports during the presentation of a change and teaching positive routines is essential. The following are examples of visual strategies that can assist when introducing new activities.

Priming

Priming is a strategy that helps prepare children for upcoming activities or events that usually create anxiety, and/or challenging behaviour. Children may:

  • display avoidance behaviour when new materials or tasks are presented
  • require extra support with social situations (initiating conversation, interacting with peers, etc.)
  • demonstrate difficulty with transitions
  • require extensive exploration before they feel comfortable to participate in a situation.

Priming can help familiarize children with materials or situations, introduce predictability during a new situation, allow for nonthreatening presentation of new situations, and increase a child’s likelihood for success. Priming sessions are usually short and concise and not intended to teach the material, only to familiarize the child so they are ready to for the new situation.
Teams and parents can use modified social narratives or social stories and/or video priming. Recently, new research has shown support for using social narratives or social stories to help prepare students for new routines and events. Presenting social narratives or social stories 3-5 days before the new situation may result in decreased challenging behaviour. Video priming can be used to also help students with autism prepare for a new situation. After identifying the series of tasks or steps involved, a video will be taken of each step and include a spoken narrative of the process and some requirements. The video should be approximately 1-4 minutes. Students then view the tape over a period of time prior to new situation.

The Change Card

Using visual schedules are extremely important for student with autism. When students display independence of visual schedules, adults working with students can begin to incorporate change. When a specific activity is changed, a plan of support should be established. Select a meaningful visual cue when introducing the concept of change (e.g., surprise icon, exclamation mark, a word, etc.). Next, place the visual cue on top of the already scheduled activity. It may be helpful to include the student in the change routine so that the student is putting the visual cue on top of the planned activity. Additionally, introduce change in a positive way. Change activities that are perceived as non-preferred by the student to an activity that is motivating or preferred. Next, change can occur from a neutral activity, and eventually an activity that is difficult to accept. A gradual exposure to change may result in a deeper understanding and acceptance of changes to their routine.

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Summer Entertainment

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Tip of the Month:
June, 2019

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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Sticky Notes

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Sticky Notes
Sticky Notes
Sticky Notes
Sticky Notes
Sticky Notes
Tip of the Month:
May, 2019

In working with a student, staff often carry a variety of tools with them, such as visual schedule, token board, first…then visual, contingency map, and many others. These tools can be cumbersome for staff to carry and organize, often leading them to be misplaced or unused.

One way to help ensure that staff will always have most, if not all, the tools necessary to support the student without the hassle of carrying multiple items, is by using your everyday sticky notes and a pencil.

Sticky notes provide a blank canvas for staff to create almost all the visuals needed to support a student. The sticky notes also allow staff to individualize the visuals to the present situation.

Some examples of various visuals that can be created on a sticky note are shown to the right.

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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:

Introduction
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”!

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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.

References

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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