Teach Organizational Skills

Printer-friendly version
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.

Click here to view our archived tips of the month.

Setting Up Visual Schedules

Printer-friendly version
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

Click here to view our archived tips of the month.

Start off the New Year Organized

Printer-friendly version
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

Click here to view our archived tips of the month.

Errorless Learning

Printer-friendly version
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...

Click here to view our archived tips of the month.

Collaborate Problem-Solving Approach

Printer-friendly version
Tip of the Month:
June, 2018

The Collaborative Problem-Solving Approach is an approach developed by Ross Greene and J. Stuart Ablon that is aimed to reduce adversarial relationship between adults and students.

The approach views problem behaviours as an attempt by the student to solve a problem in the face of missing skills, such as social skills, executive skills, language skills, and other skills.

When a student presents a challenging behaviour towards an expectation given by an adult, there are three ways an adult can react to it.

Plan A:

Continue to impose adult will and expectations: “You must do it!”, “Stop it!”, “Because I said so!”

• Continue to pursue adult expectations

• Does NOT decrease problem behaviour
• Does NOT teach missing skills
• Does NOT result in lasting solution to the problem
• Does NOT create a ‘positive’ relationship between adult & student

Plan B:

Collaborative problem-solving approach
Mutually satisfactory & realistic solution to both parties

• Continue to pursue adult expectations
• Decreases problem behaviour
• Creates a ‘positive’ relationship between adult & student
• Teaches missing skills to the students
• Results in a durable solution to the problem


Plan C

Drop the expectation for the time being

“You can do it later”, “You don’t have to do it”

• Decreases problem behaviour
• Creates a ‘positive’ relationship between adult & student

• Expectations are NOT met
• Does NOT teach missing skills
• Does NOT result in a lasting solution to the problem

As you can see from the chart above, the Plan B approach results in the best outcome for both the student and the adult involved in the situation.

Click here to view our archived tips of the month.

Reinforcer or Break

Printer-friendly version
Tip of the Month:
May, 2018

Often, we look at reinforcer (or reward) and break as the same thing where in reality they serve different purposes.

A break is an activity that helps a person bring themselves back into a zone where they are at their optimal condition for participating and engaging in an activity. A break:
· Is something that everyone needs throughout the day
· Is typically short in duration (5 minutes or less)
· Should always ends with the student returning to the current task
· Is NOT something that the student needs to earn
· Is NOT access to preferred item/activity

A reinforcer is a preferred item or activity that the student receives contingent on the student completing a given task or instruction. A reinforcer:
· Uses a preferred item or activity based from a completed preference profile (see Resources for example)
· Can only be accessed by completing a given task or instruction
· Is typically short in duration (5 minutes or less)

To review, a break is a self-regulation activity designed to help a student stay engaged throughout the day, while a reinforcer is an item or activity that helps motivate a student to complete a given task or instruction.


GoNoodle, Inc. (2015). Press play on movement and mindfulness. Retrieved from https://www.gonoodle.com/
CosmicKids. (2018). Welcome to Cosmic Kids!. Retrieved from http://www.cosmickids.com/

Your Kids OT. (2016). Brain breaks to help concentration in the classroom!. Retrieved from https://www.yourkidsot.com/blog/brain-breaks-to-help-concentration-in-th...

AFIRM Team. (2015). R+ reinforcer selection list in PDF. Chapel Hill, NC: National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder, FPG Child Development Center, University of North Carolina. Retrieved from http://afirm.fpg.unc.edu/resources/r-positive-reinforcer-selection-list-pd

Click here to view our archived tips of the month.

Is Bullying an Issue for Students with ASD in Your School?

Printer-friendly version
mage courtesy of <a href="http://www.freedigitalphotos.net" target="_blank">FreeDigitalPhotos.net</a>
mage courtesy of <a href="http://www.freedigitalphotos.net" target="_blank">FreeDigitalPhotos.net</a>
mage courtesy of <a href="http://www.freedigitalphotos.net" target="_blank">FreeDigitalPhotos.net</a>
Tip of the Month:
May, 2018

Most research suggests that bullying is an under-reported event in schools today. Bullying frequently occurs in areas of minimal supervision and victims may fail to report the bullying incident because of a fear of reprisal, a fear of not being believed, or a belief that reporting the incident won’t help.

Students with ASD, particularly those with Asperger’s Syndrome or High Functioning Autism (HFS), are thought to be at much higher risk for being bullied than more challenged students with ASD or than their typical peers because of their social difficulties, specifically a failure to accurately read social signals and a tendency to struggle with emotional regulation.

We’ve written tips of the month on the topic before, but the recent media focus on bullying brought the topic to the forefront yet again.
A recent visit to an intermediate classroom provided a very typical example of a school team struggling to support a student with ASD who was a victim of bullying. The student was being consistently ignored, teased or berated by his classmates, usually without the knowledge of the teacher. The victim was a kind and socially interested young boy who often acted impulsively and attempted to get the attention of his peers in ways they perceived as socially immature. The student who sat next to him often tried to re-direct the student with ASD but was not very assertive himself and on the playground backed away from physical play or conflict.

The teacher was extremely concerned about a couple of past incidents and had talked to her class about being kind to the victimized student on previous occasions. She modeled respect and understanding in her interactions with all the students, but the classroom had several needy students, including another student with Asperger’s Syndrome. The learning assistance teacher had created a social skills group with two supportive peers and the victimized student in which she tried to help the victimized student develop strategies to avoid bullies.

There was a strong element in her lessons of improving his social thinking so that he could understand why his behaviours were making him a target for bullying, but the primary strategy taught was to teach him to “walk away” (which, of course, left him with no social interaction).

The student with ASD tried very hard to be included but his efforts frequently failed. He was frustrated and sad that others didn’t like him or were mean to him even when he tried. More and more he was resisting coming to school, or was avoiding social situations by hiding in the washroom or retreating to the The problem was clearly multi-faceted and was not being successfully remedied by trying to improve the social skills of the student with ASD or by reminding his classmates to be kind.


How common is this picture and what can we do as teachers and parents to make a difference?

How do you know if there is problem in your school?

ask the kids!

Research suggests that other students are often the most reliable judges of who are bullies and victims in their peer groups. Teach the difference between “ratting” and reporting. Remind bystanders of their role and encourage reporting to a designated adult such as the school counsellor.

listen to concerns expressed by parents, students and colleagues.

If anyone notices a change in the behaviour or attitude of the student with ASD, it can be a sign that bullying or being ostracized is taking place. Take the concerns seriously and investigate! You can read about some of the common signs of bullying in Barbara Coloroso’s Bully Handout for Teens.

what makes a difference?

Here’s what the research shows:
positive behaviour supports
Model and reinforce the concepts of support, kindness and acceptance. Adults should never ignore unkindness or bullying in their presence as that sends a message that these behaviours are tolerated or condoned.
school wide behavioural expectations
Implement programs that provide clear consistent messages about how students are expected to treat each other, and that reward these behaviours.

peer sensitivity training
Encourage empathy in peers by teaching them about ASD and explaining why students with ASD behave as they do. Provide positive information about Asperger’s and HFA rather than focusing only on weaknesses. Help peers understand that students with ASD struggle with social and communication skills and ask for their help in redirecting their classmate.

peer mentoring programs
Train and assign peer mentors who share similar interests with the student with ASD (strength based approach). Provide opportunities for the individual with ASD to use their strengths and affinities.

address the issue of bystanders
Promote a culture in which bystanders are rewarded for stepping up to defend a victim. In Barbara Coloroso’s book, The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander, she states, “a potent force is kids themselves showing bullies that they will not be looked up to, nor will their cruel behaviour be tolerated or condoned.”

So we say… take it seriously.

The attitude of “kids will be kids” should be relegated to history when it comes to bullying behaviours. With increased awareness, many schools have made great inroads in reducing overt school bullying and violence.

We recommend the following resources to help your school understand how to more effectively deal with the issue of bullying, particularly with regard to students with ASD:

Click here to view our archived tips of the month.

Handling Teasing

Printer-friendly version
Tip of the Month:
February, 2018

Laugeson (2014) defined teasing as any disparaging remark directed toward another person. Often, the teaser is reinforced by the attention that he or she gets from the crowd and/or the pleasure he or she gets from the discomfort of the victim. Research has shown that socially rejected teens, much like most of our students with ASD, tend to get angry, upset, or physically aggressive when they are teased, while more socially accepted teens often respond to teasing with humor or assertion. Understanding these can provide us with a framework on teaching our students how to respond to teaching.

How to Handle Teasing (Laugeson, 2014)
1. Act like what the person said didn’t bother you.
2. Act like what the person said was lame or stupid.
3. Give a short verbal comeback, such as one of the examples below:
“Yeah, and?”
“Is that supposed to be funny?”
“So what?”
“Who cares”
“And your point is…”
“Big deal”
“And why should I care?”
4.Sound bored OR Have an attitude when you use the comebacks. Decide what is more comfortable for you to use.
5. Give a nonverbal comeback. Pick one that you can do and is comfortable for you to do:
-Rolling your eyes
-Shrugging your shoulders
-Shaking your head
-Be ready with several verbal comebacks. The teasing won’t stop after just one comeback.
-After giving a few verbal comebacks, remove yourself by casually looking away or slowly walking away

Role-play various scenarios with your student in a safe environment until he or she is comfortable with giving both verbal and non-verbal comebacks. Focus on the tone of voice and body language as you are practicing with the student.

Important Note:

  • Don’t ignore the teasing
  • Don’t walk away without giving verbal comebacks
  • Don’t tell an adult right away
  • Don’t tease back
  • Don’t banter (friendly, playful teasing) – very risky to engage in
  • Teasing will get worse before it gets better – encourage the student to persevere and continue to use the strategy
  • Expect the teaser to try again
  • Don’t use verbal comebacks with physically aggressive peers OR with adults (e.g. teacher, parent)
  • Reference

    Laugeson, E.A. (2014). The PEERS® Curriculum for School-Based Professionals: Social Skills Training for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder. New York: Routledge.

Click here to view our archived tips of the month.

Preparing for Winter vacation

Printer-friendly version
Preparing for Winter vacation
Tip of the Month:
December, 2017

As winter vacation fast approaches, it might be a good idea to start preparing our students for the transition between school to holidays. Research has shown that individuals with ASD transition better if they are informed ahead of time and if they can predict what is coming.

One way to support the transition is through the use of calendar (see Winter Vacation Calendar TEMPLATE). Using a calendar that shows when the student is going to school and when he or she is not presents a visual prompt to let the student know of what is happening the next day. The calendar can also go to the parents so they can use it during the holidays to prepare the students for returning to school.

Using the calendar with the student (see Winter Vacation Calendar EXAMPLE)

1. At the end of the day, show the student the calendar and inform him/her of what it is for (e.g., “Let’s look at how many more school days before holiday”).
2. Prompt the student, if necessary, to locate the day’s date
3. Have the student mark off the date (e.g., using a marker, put a sticker on it, etc)
4. With the student, count out the remaining days until the holiday begins
5. Show the student of what is the plan for the next day (e.g., “Look at the calendar. Are we coming to school tomorrow?”)
6. Continue doing so until the last day of school
7. Send the calendar home and demonstrate to the parents how to use it to prepare for coming back to school in January

Winter Vacation Calendar EXAMPLE.docx32.6 KB
Winter Vacation Calendar TEMPLATE.docx24.33 KB

Click here to view our archived tips of the month.

Transitioning from an iPad

Printer-friendly version
Tip of the Month:
November, 2017

With the increasing popularity of iPad and Apps, students with ASD are given access to more technologies than ever before. One of the challenges that parents and teachers face is to successfully transition the students off the device and on to another activity. It is well documented that individuals with ASD struggle with transition in general (Hume, 2008). This can be due to their needs for predictability, lack of understanding of what is going to happen next, or challenges when their pattern of behaviours is disrupted.
There are many transition strategies out there that can help make these transitions more successful.

Visual schedule
A visual schedule showing the student the sequence of events that will happen can help build predictability for the students. This can be as simple as a First..Then.. visual.

  • At the start of the first activity, show the visual and go through the visual with the student.
  • As the first activity is done, inform the student that the activity is “finished” or “all done” and direct the student to look at what is the next activity going to be.
  • Praise and reinforce the student for successful transition.

Timer & countdown
A timer can provide a visual cue for the students of how much time remains in the current activity. Be aware of your student’s sensory profile to determine the type of timer that works best for your student.

A countdown can serve as a warning signal to prepare our students for the end of an activity. The length of the countdown (seconds or minutes) will vary depending on your student’s ability and the activity itself. A countdown can be presented in various ways:

  • Vocal countdown (e.g. “iPad is done in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, all done”)
  • Countdown using fingers
  • Countdown strip (see attached)

Guided access
iPad and iPhone has a built-in feature that will enable you to control access to the iPad including setting a timer and locking a screen that can be monitored using a passcode. Please see attached handout on how to enable and set up Guided Access for your iPad/iPhone.

Hume, K. (2008). Transition time: Helping individuals on the autism spectrum move successfully from one activity to another. Retrieved from https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/transition-time-helping-individuals-o...

Countdown Strip22.59 KB
FirstThenVisual21.15 KB
iPad Guided Access3.24 MB

Click here to view our archived tips of the month.