Enabling Conversation: Using Visual Supports to Support Social-Communication Skills

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Conversation Starter set
Talking Sticks
Tip of the Month:
March, 2014

Social-communication difficulties are a hallmark of Autism Spectrum Disorders. One significant area impacted by social-communication challenges is students’ conversation skills.
Aspects of conversations that students might need support include:

  • Starting a conversation
  • Engaging in an appropriate topic for conversation
  • Maintaining a topic and switching topics
  • Showing interest in others
  • Turn taking
  • Ending a conversation

To help students participate in successful two-way conversations with peers, try the following strategies for supporting conversation skills.

Conversation Starters and Talking Sticks
Conversation Starters and Talking Sticks are visual strategies that provide students with written questions with which to generate conversation. With these tools, students learn to initiate conversation as well as answer typical conversational questions. Most significantly, they learn to stay on topic by practicing generating their own responses and asking follow-up questions.

Each set includes six different topics with a yellow card signifying the start of each new topic for immediate access. Conversation Starters cue cards are available at www.nlconcepts.com

The Talking Sticks strategy is adapted from the resource From Tutor Scripts to Talking Sticks: 100 Ways to Differentiate Instruction in k-12 Inclusive Classrooms by Paula Kluth and Shiela Danaher. Questions with which to start conversations are written on popsicle sticks that students draw from a cup. This strategy can be used in a classroom, with a small group, or during one-to-one social skills intervention. See this month's Task of the Month to learn more about developing this strategy for your students!

Conversation Books

Conversation Books is an idea adapted from Linda Hodgon’s Six Tips for Teaching Conversation Skills with Visual Strategies: Working with Autism Spectrum Disorders & Related Communication & Social Skill Challenges. This strategy involves creating a wallet or pocket-sized photo album that student can carry with them. It should include photos of people, activities, and recent events in their lives as reminders for what to talk about. The books also help communication partners by providing cues for what to ask about.

People Books

Hodgon also discusses the use of People Books, in which each person has their own page. Choose individuals with whom the student interacts regularly; include facts about that person, such as interests and hobbies, as well as questions to ask that person. People Books can be used to prime students about what to say prior to starting a conversation with someone, or as support during a conversation when practicing conversation skills.

Take home message

Using visual supports for conversations, such as those described above, will enable students with ASD to engage in conversations with peers independently!

POPARD eLearnings
For more ideas about facilitating students’ conversation skills, check out the following elearning videos:
Circle Time Conversation
Conversation and topic maintenance
Sharing information during conversations

Check out these references for information about the visual strategies described above:

Hodgon, L.A. (2007). Six Tips for Teaching Conversation Skills with Visual Strategies: Working with Autism Spectrum Disorders & Related Communication & Social Skill Challenges


Kluth, P. & Danaher. S. (2010) From Tutor Scripts to Talking Sticks: 100 Ways to Differentiate Instruction in K-12 Classrooms. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

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Using Task Analysis & Chaining to Teach New Skills

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Example of a Task Analysis
Tip of the Month:
February, 2014

A task analysis involves:

  • Breaking down a target task into teachable steps and putting the steps in order for instructing the student.
  • Taking a closer look at the given task and asking what skills, knowledge, and adaptations will be necessary for the student to be successful.

Why use a task analysis?
Task analysis prepares adults for instructing the student and promotes student independence:

  • The overriding educational goal for most students with ASD is independence. Often, when engaging in a task or activity, many students will successfully complete the task following adult directives but are not able to do so when the adult is not present.
  • A task analysis helps promote independent performance by providing a “checklist” of steps required to complete that task that can be used by both the student and adult. Using this “checklist” the student is able to monitor his or her own progress; the adult can monitor student mastery of a task and identify specific skills that need continued practice or repeated instruction.

What to teach using task analysis?
A variety of skills can be taught using task analysis including:

  • Functional activities like washing hands
  • Motor tasks such as using scissors
  • Academic tasks like writing letters
  • Social skill behaviors, such as expectations for sitting and participating in circle time

How to teach using task analysis?

  • Break down tasks into sub-tasks and reinforce in small teachable steps to ensure that the student learns all of the steps involved in completing a task, and is taught the steps in the correct order.
  • For new tasks, chaining may be used to teach steps sequentially.
  • Teaching New Routines: Chaining
    Forward Chaining:

    • Steps are taught in “forward order”. The student begins the routine (the first step) and the remaining steps are supported with prompts or modeling.
    • Forward chaining is often used when the student already does a first step but cannot sustain whole task.

    Backward Chaining:

    • Steps are taught in “backward order”. The teacher supports the student through the first several steps and the student independently finishes the task (the last step).
    • Continue backwards (i.e., the student performs the last step only, the last two steps, the last three steps, etc.) until the student can complete the whole task independently.
    • This technique is often used for tasks with a motivating end (e.g. baking cookies) so the student is intrinsically rewarded for task completion.

    For more information on and examples of Task Analysis as a teaching strategy, follow these POPARD links:

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    Using breaks as a tool for self-regulation and on-task behaviour

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    Using breaks as a tool for self-regulation and on-task behaviour
    Using breaks as a tool for self-regulation and on-task behaviour
    Using breaks as a tool for self-regulation and on-task behaviour
    Tip of the Month:
    January, 2014

    As our students return to school after the holiday season we may find that they struggle to remain on task and engaged once back in the classroom. Readjusting to school routines and expectations is challenging for all students (and teachers too!), and we may find that regularly scheduled breaks, such as recess and free time, are not enough to help our students reset and get focused.

    Class-Wide Breaks

    When students are having difficulty paying attention or becoming fatigued or overwhelmed by seatwork, it is important to provide them with an energizing movement break to get the blood flowing to their brain. Movement breaks don’t have to involve going outside or even leaving the classroom; exercises, such as those detailed in the Brain Break resources, can be performed within the classroom, or even at students’ desks!

    If students need to calm down and get ready to learn, walk them through calm-down routines, such as deep breathing, to calm their minds and relax their bodies. To help students engage in calm down routines, use visualization. For example, when guiding your students through deep breathing, instruct them to close their eyes and visualize “smelling a flower” as they inhale and “blowing out the candle” as they exhale.

    Break Systems for Individual Students

    For some students with ASD, class-wide breaks might be all they need. However, most need more breaks throughout their day than do peers.

    For students who get upset, frustrated, or aggressive, use a break card system. Even if your student is highly verbal, it is more difficult for students with ASD to find the words they need to express themselves when feeling upset. Teach your student to show you the break card whenever he or she is feeling upset; you might notice frequent use of this card when introduced as your students tries out this new system. Be sure that breaks are limited in duration and that students always return to the work activity from which they took the break to avoid breaks becoming a means of task avoidance. For break activities, these students benefit from calm down routines (e.g., deep breathing).

    For students who tend to wander around or leave the classroom, , engage them in big body movements to help them release some of that extra energy. Wall push-ups or jumping jacks are activities they can do within or just outside of the classroom. These students should have scheduled breaks or a limited number of break cards to use throughout the day so that they begin to self-monitor how often they are getting up out of their desk.

    Finally, for students who struggle with particular activities like circle time, set an achievable time limit for their participation in the activity and provide a scheduled break to follow.

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    Building flexibility and predictability into classroom routines this holiday season

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    Building flexibility and predictability into classroom routines this holiday season
    Tip of the Month:
    December, 2013

    As Winter Break draws nearer and school routines shift to make room for holiday festivities, it is important to remember our students who rely heavily on the predictability of school routines in managing themselves throughout the day. This month’s tip focuses on building flexibility into school schedules and adding predictability to new, or special, classroom activities.

    build flexibility into your classroom schedule

    It is important to build flexibility into your usual classroom schedule by explaining to students that sometimes the schedule will change and teaching them how you will indicate when a change occurs.

    Having a consistent icon for change is an easy way to let students know that a change in routine will happen that day. A change icon can be placed directly on to your existing schedule and may be in reference to a particular activity or time at which an activity takes place. Change icons are especially helpful for unexpected changes and are applicable in a variety of situations year round, so don’t wait to introduce the symbol to your students!

    Attachment 1 below provides examples of symbols for change that you can print and use in your classroom.

    continue to reference your regular classroom schedule to show students the shape of the day

    Even though you may be spending the whole morning building gingerbread houses, it is important to review your usual daily schedule before getting started. Though the activities listed will be different, students can still get a sense of how long activities will last and be reassured that some aspects of their day will remain consistent, such as recess and lunch.

    Don’t worry about having a visual for every special activity that takes place. Rather, create a “special activity” or “surprise” item that you can insert throughout the year for any type of special activity in which your class might be involved. You can use words or visuals such as question marks or stars to indicate this type of event.

    See Attachment 2 below for examples that you can print and use in your own schedule.

    increase the predictability of new routines

    Help your student anticipate new activities by talking about them before they occur and reminding students as to when they will be taking place. Pictures, videos, or books about new activities (e.g., building gingerbread houses) will be a helpful way to show students what the activity looks like and what the behavioural expectations are for the activity.

    Additionally, within activity schedules will act as a visual support to students during new or unfamiliar activities. Specifically, within activity schedules can be used to show students next steps in an activity and how many steps there are before task completion. In addition to providing structure to your students with ASD, within activity schedules are a great tool for building independence among all students by reducing the need for individual questions about next steps.

    To the right, see an example of a within-activity schedule you might write on the chalkboard when your students are making holiday cards.

    use visual timers and countdown strips

    It is important to continue to use visual timers during special activities to help students evaluate how long they have been participating and how much longer an activity will continue. This will help them regulate their behaviour in both preferred and non-preferred activities. Specifically, if a student is enjoying the activity, the timer can be referenced by the student’s educational assistant or teacher to show that the end of an activity is approaching; this will help promote a smooth transition when the activity is over. It may also be help to use a countdown strip at the end of the activity if the student seems unwilling to stop what they are doing. Additionally, if a student is tiring of an activity a visual timer may help them persist if they can see that only one or two minutes remain.

    what comes next...

    Another way to facilitate smooth transitions is to indicate to students what will happen when the activity is over. This can be done by referencing the classroom or within-activity schedule to remind students what is coming next.

    Giving simple and direct instructions for the transition (e.g., "please clean your desks and then get out your lunch") will also help students carry transition efficiently from the new activity.

    Remember the holidays are an exciting time as they include many fun activities for students and teachers alike! By increasing the flexibility of classroom routines and predictability of new and unfamiliar activities, students with ASD will be better supported and able to participate alongside their classmates.

    Attachment 1, Symbols for Change.pdf192.63 KB
    Attachment 2, Special Activity.pdf49.28 KB

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    Effectively Managing Classroom Behaviour

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    Semi-circular desk arrangement
    Tip of the Month:
    November, 2013

    It’s November and that means that the school year is well underway. As schedules continue to get busier and holidays begin to build excitement among your students, we want to help you keep your classrooms well-managed and problem-behaviour free! In this month’s Tip, we’ve included easy-to-implement strategies for maintaining positive and well-managed classroom environments as a quick resource for you from now until June.

    proactive strategies for effective classroom management

    Listed below are four areas in which proactive intervention strategies can be used to decrease off-task student behaviour and increase student engagement. By implementing proactive strategies you are taking a step toward preventing disruptive behaviour before it occurs.

    establishing classroom rules & procedures

    Classroom rules should be used in every classroom to identify general standards for expected classroom behaviour. It is important that students are explicitly taught each classroom rule when they are introduced and that they are reminded of the rules throughout the school year.

    Explicit teaching of classroom rules involves:
    • A visual presentation of the rules
    • Checking for student understanding by providing (or having them generate) examples and non-examples of each rule
    • Identifying which rule is being followed in response to appropriate student behaviour (e.g., “Johnny, I really like how you are following rule #1 and paying attention when I’m talking”)

    setting up effective seating plans

    It is important to remember that for students to maintain focus on teacher instruction, they must be facing the teacher when instruction is delivered. If they cannot easily look and listen to what the teacher is saying, they are less likely to actively listen.

    One seating plan that enables all students to face the front of the room is a semicircular desk arrangement, shown above.

    This seating plan has been demonstrated to promote student engagement for at risk students and increase hand-raising behaviour by having all students face the teacher.

    managing transitions

    Incidences of disruptive behaviour are also more likely to occur during transition times. As such, it is in the teacher’s and students’ best interest to keep transitions as efficient as possible. Efficient transitions can be taught to students through direct instruction, guided practice, and feedback. Like classroom rules, it is important to demonstrate expected behaviour for transitions and provide positive feedback to students who demonstrate expected behaviour.

    Before any transition, give students clear, step-by-step instructions:
    a. What to put away (e.g., “Put away your independent reading books”)
    b. What to get out (e.g., “Take out your math textbook, notebook, and a pencil.”)
    c. How to set up the materials that will be needed (e.g., “Open your textbook to page 87, and leave your notebook and pencil in the corner of your desk.”)
    d. How to indicate that all steps have been completed (e.g., “Look up here when you’re ready”)
    e. A cue when to start the transition (e.g., “Go!”)

    A visual checklist can also be provided on the blackboard for students to reference as they carry out each step.

    There are key components to delivering both praise and directives to students that will enhance the impact of your communication on student behaviour.

    When delivering praise, try to:
    • Specify the behavior that you are praising.
    • Praise behavior immediately after it has occurred.
    • Praise student effort rather than skill level.

    When asking a student to do someting, try to:
    1) Be very clear about what you are asking your student to do
    2) Use a positively framed statement
    3) Use a firm but calm voice
    4) Be somewhat close to the student (within 3 feet of the student)
    5) Engage in eye contact with the student before making your request
    6) Praise for compliance once the student performs the requested task or behaviour

    take home message

    Good classroom management is a direct, proactive intervention that prevents problem behaviour before it occurs. Keep your students on-task by setting up their environments and using teaching techniques that promote student engagement.

    The information in this month's tip has been adapted from Effective School Interventions, Second Edition: Evidence-Based Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes by Nathalie Rathvon (2008). ISBN: 978-1572309678

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    Ready to Read?

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    Ready to Read?
    Tip of the Month:
    October, 2013

    Students with ASD who have significant speech and language delays enter our school system each year. It is often challenging to determine how best to include them in typical learning activities in primary classrooms (Grades K – 3). We are frequently asked for advice on how best to address literacy development and have compiled the following tips you may find helpful:


    “Readiness” may look different in the student with ASD than it does in typical students. We have seen students with no spoken language and a limited ability to follow verbal directions learn to read simple patterned books and follow written directions on worksheets. The “readiness” signals we saw in one of these students was an ability to recognize the DVD covers of his favourite videos and to enjoy copying the names of them on pieces of paper. Other readiness signals you might see could include being able to point to pictures in a book when they are named, showing an interest in (or obsession with!) the alphabet, or showing an ability to recognize logos (e.g. getting excited when seeing the “Golden Arches” symbol for McDonald’s in an advertisement). Being able to match pictures to real objects or to other pictures or being able to draw a representation of something he or she has seen, can also indicate readiness.

    top down and visual

    Most readers with autism with whom we have worked, do better when the material being presented as a “literacy” activity is meaningful and motivating to them. Although some children are fascinated with letters and even letter sounds, they may not move beyond that stage if they are not shown how to combine these letters to make words. And they won’t be interested in doing that, unless the words themselves represent something that is meaningful and motivating to them. Several good reading programs for children with special needs, including Teaching Reading to Children with Down Syndrome by Patricia Oelwein, recommend top down, visual approaches to literacy instruction. In other words, teaching sight words may be the place to start with your student. And, having him match the words to pictures may need to replace having him read the words aloud. Alphabet knowledge and phonemic awareness may need to come later.

    systematic insruction

    As with most typical learners, instruction should be provided systematically. Create personal word dictionaries and review them regularly. Document the words the student can reliably recognize. Create simple patterned books using photographs (e.g. I can run. I can jump. I can swim., etc.). Add new words incrementally, using the child’s interests as much as possible. Create practice activities in motivating formats (e.g. Concentration, Go Fish). Label the environment and provide access to lots of interesting and functional reading activities to promote generalization. At some point, if reading and writing are to become fluent and generative the student will need to learn the sounds and letters of the alphabet. Olewein recommends starting with initial consonants and simple word families once the child has 50 to 100 sight words they reliably recognize.

    Although not all students with autism will learn to read novels, many more students with minimal verbal skills can learn to read functional material than was previously thought. When we are creative and systematic, and when we make our literacy activities meaningful and motivating, we can be successful in teaching reading to very challenged students with ASD.

    for more information

    You can also find some great tools and information at the following websites:
    http://www.filefolderheaven.com has lots of free printables for literacy activities.
    http://www.educateautism.com/ also lots of free printables and ideas.
    http://tarheelreader.org/ On this site you can find free downloadable electronic books, some with voice output, and also some tools that allow you to create your own personalized books.
    http://www.freereading.net/index.php?title=Main_Page Free reading is a high quality, open source, free reading intervention program for grades Pre-K to 6.
    http://www.senteacher.org/Print/ Games and activities… free and printable. Emotions and more.

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    Facial Recognition and ASD

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    Tip of the Month:
    September, 2013

    We had the opportunity this summer to do some reading on facial recognition and ASD.

    It is fairly common knowledge that most individuals with ASD demonstrate some difficulty compared to their peers at recognizing and labelling facial expressions that represent different emotions. In our experience it seems less commonly understood that some individuals with ASD are significantly less able than their peers to recognize and/or remember the faces of even people they interact with regularly (e.g., their classmates). Although this can also occur in individuals without ASD where the disability is called prosopagnosia, there is a significant body of research that suggests this is more common in those with ASD compared to individuals without an ASD diagnosis.

    Although studies differ depending on how tests were conducted, results on facial recognition studies indicate that as many as 30% of individuals with ASD may display significant difficulty recognizing faces compared to their peers. Studies on teaching facial recognition strategies, such as discrimination training, are hard to find and those that we could find were small single subject studies or failed to determine whether instruction in a lab setting resulted in improved recognition skills in day to day settings. It appears that little is yet known as to how best to address this weakness in children or adults with ASD.

    So what does this mean for educators and parents? We think it is important to consider the possibility that your student may have facial recognition difficulties when you see any of the following behaviours:

    watch for these behaviours:

    • The student cannot seem to learn the names of his classmates… he may have difficulty distinguishing one face from another. It does not necessarily mean he does not care, is not interested, or is not “trying hard enough”.
    • The student stares intensely at a specific feature of someone’s face… he may be trying to fix in his memory an aspect of the face that will allow him to remember the individual.
    • The student persists in calling individuals with similar features the same name (e.g., all tall dark men with glasses are “Uncle Bob”).
    We also think it is important to recognize how this difficulty might impact the student’s ability to develop successful social relationships.

    consider that:

    • Other students may get irritated and think the student with ASD lacks the “smarts” to remember his or her name. They may interpret the behaviour as uncaring.
    • The student with ASD may have difficulty “finding” the individual they know has been a good playmate in the past, especially in crowded or unstructured situations (e.g., recess).
    • The student who has begun to recognize his facial recognition problems and is compensating for it by staring, may be unaware that this behaviour can make others uncomfortable.
    • The student may successfully learn to distinguish one face and will “stick” to that individual at all costs. He may become distressed if that individual is absent or uninterested, in part because he cannot remember the names of any other peers or recognize who else he may have played with previously.
    • A lack of ability to remember names and faces may contribute to or exacerbate social anxiety.

    how can we help?

    • Provide assistance to the student in finding “friendly” and “understanding” peers. If the child has facial recognition difficulties he may need ongoing help rather than simply showing him once and then assuming he’ll be fine on his own the next time. A peer buddy system may help.
    • Point out helpful recognition features when you introduce children. For example, say “This Monica. I like the freckles on her nose and her big blue eyes.”
    • Provide photos of classmates to the student with ASD, labelled with their names. Send them home for practice, highlighting the names of the children who seem most “connected” to him or her at school.
    • Keep seating arrangements the same in class in terms of who sits by the student with ASD. It may be easier for him or her to remember that “John” is on the left even if he can’t easily pick out John on the playground.
    • Consider educating the peers about the difficulty the student with ASD may be having, particularly if the student is socially outgoing but continues to address children by the wrong names. Explain that they should not take the behaviour as a personal slight, but should calmly let the student know their correct name.
    • The older student with ASD may be helped to advocate for himself by talking with him about how he can explain his difficulty to others. For example, “If I don’t say “hi” to you when I pass you in the hall, it’s because I have difficulty recognizing faces, not because I’m trying to ignore you!”

    bottom line:

    Consider the fact that a component of the social difficulties exhibited by an individual with ASD may be related to a weakness in facial recognition and do what you can to help that student compensate for the problem or build his/her skills in this area.
    Have a great school year!


    Weigelt, Sarah; Koldewyn, Kami; Kanwisher, Nancy. Face identity recognition in autism spectrum disorders: A review of behavioural studies Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews, 36 (2012), 1060-1084. Retrieved from http://web.mit.edu/bcs/nklab/media/pdfs/weigelt-kanwisher-2012-1060.pdf August, 2013
    Cracking the Enigma: Why do (some) autistic kids struggle to recognize faces? Retrieved from http://crackingtheenigma.blogspot.ca/2012/07/why-do-some-autistic-kids-s... August, 2013

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    Including the Student with ASD in the Development of the IEP

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    Including the Student with ASD in the Development of the IEP
    Tip of the Month:
    August, 2013

    It’s August and sometime this month you will start to think about the upcoming school year. Whether you are a parent of a child with an ASD or an educator who will be supporting a student with ASD in your school, your thoughts may turn to the strategies you will employ to help achieve a successful year.

    We suggest you consider how you might include your child or student in the development of his/her individual educational program (IEP), as part of the process you employ to educate him or her about his/her individual learning differences, strengths and challenges. It may not be necessary to use the “Autism” label in this process if that is something you feel will worry or confuse the child. Many families and school teams focus instead on the fact that all learners are unique and that some learners may need extra support to help them compensate for or overcome their learning challenges. They balance this information by highlighting the student’s strengths, ensuring that the child’s strengths and interests are considered when developing the IEP, and that the child feels good about what they can do.

    on self awareness:

    “Ideally, it starts by setting the preconditions when the child is young. An important precondition for successful self-advocacy and disclosure is self-awareness. People with ASD need to understand how autism affects their interactions with others and the environment. Also, they need to be familiar with their strengths and challenges. A parent or caretaker can do this with a child from a very early age. In fact, the earlier a child has an explanation about his differences, the better off he will be.”

    From “The Secrets of Self-Advocacy: How to Make Sure You Take Care of You” by Stephen M. Shore, Autism Advocate, 2006, Vol. 44, No. 4 retrieved from http://www.autism-society.org/living-with-autism/lifespan/self-advocacy...., July, 2013

    How can you approach the goals of self-awareness and eventual self-advocacy with the student with ASD?

    consider these tips:

    1. Use age appropriate material to help your child understand the concept of individual differences. If your student has significantly impaired language abilities and/or a limited theory of mind, you might do this with pictures.

    A student who uses pictures to communicate, may participate in an IEP meeting by showing his own preference profile during the meeting (see “Josh” above). He may be shown where his preferred activities might be included on his daily schedule if a sample schedule has been prepared prior to the IEP meeting.

    An older or more literate student may benefit from being exposed to materials related to a variety of non-specific learning disabilities.
    Here are some examples:

    • Self-Assessment Construct Cards from All Kinds of Minds https://docusourceofnc.nowdocs.com/OrderFlows/CatalogViewer.aspx?return_... .
    • What is My Learning Style? at http://www.whatismylearningstyle.com/learning-style-test-1.html
    • Learning Style Test for Children at http://kids.lovetoknow.com/wiki/Learning_Style_Test_for_Children
      A variety of Autism specific self- awareness materials may also be helpful:
    • Asperger’s, What Does It Mean to Me by Catherine Faherty
    • Freaks, Geeks and Asperger’s Syndrome by Luke Jackson
    • The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (And Their Parents) by Elizabeth Verdick and Elizabeth Reeve
    • Different Like Me: My book of autism heroes by Jennifer Elder
    • 2. Ensure positive parent/teacher collaboration. It is important that the educator understand what the child knows and understands about his or her differences, and what he or she is, as of yet unaware. A parent/teacher/casemanager meeting prior to the development of the IEP can be helpful to determine in what ways the student should be included in the process.

      3. Create an agenda for the IEP meeting that provides opportunities for the student’s input. Some students may only attend the beginning of a meeting, to share their strengths or preferences, while more sophisticated students may attend the entire meeting and provide input on the specific accommodations they feel they will need to be successful. In either case, try to create an opportunity for the student to ask questions (Who will help me? Who will I sit beside?, etc.)

      4. Provide instruction to the student prior to the IEP meeting about what he will be expected to do, and why his input is important. There are some good resources on the website I’m Determined, including: Understanding My IEP which help de-mystify some of the typical vocabulary and processes. For older students go to: http://www.imdetermined.org/files_images/general/Im-Determined-Understan... and for younger students see the document at http://www.imdetermined.org/files_resources/83/itsallaboutme-understandi... . As much as possible, help the student understand why his input is important. It is critical that he see the process as supportive and does not become overwhelmed by a long list of all the things he can’t yet do.

      5. Always start and end the meetings with a “positive” about the student.

      Many teams fear that “too much” disclosure regarding a student’s challenges may lead to a lowering of expectations by the student or the team. A worst-case scenario for many would be the student who refuses to attempt anything he finds difficult using his “autism” as an excuse. This can be avoided by letting the student know that everyone finds something difficult and that accommodations and adaptations are provided to support success, not highlight differences, and that as an individual, he has many positive attributes (strengths and interests).

      On Self-Advocacy:
      Self-advocacy involves knowing when and how to approach others to negotiate desired goals, and to build better mutual understanding and trust, fulfillment and productivity. Successful self-advocacy often involves an amount of disclosure about oneself to reach the goal of better mutual understanding. In other words, it is sometimes needed in order to explain why an accommodation is necessary or helpful.

      From “The Secrets of Self-Advocacy: How to Make Sure You Take Care of You” by Stephen M. Shore, Autism Advocate, 2006, Vol. 44, No. 4 retrieved from http://www.autism-society.org/living-with-autism/lifespan/self-advocacy...., July, 2013

      For more information on how successful adults with ASD have learned about their own strengths and challenges related to their ASD, and have dealt with barriers they have encountered, we highly recommend the book, "Ask and Tell: Self-Advocacy and Disclosure for People on the Autism Spectrum" by Stephen Shore.

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    Schedule Summer Fun!

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    Schedule Summer Fun!
    Tip of the Month:
    July, 2013

    Summertime offers many challenges for our students with ASD. The structure and predictability of school is missed by many of our students. Vacations create new routines to learn and some family activities may stretch the capacity of our children’s flexibility. We worry when our children spend too much of their time playing repetitive games on the computer instead of interacting socially.

    Consider talking to your child at the beginning of the summer about what activities will occur, day by day, week by week, and month by month. Let them know when you expect company, when you have vacation time, what you will do on vacation, and where they will go when you are at work. Create a daily schedule that provides structure with flexibility and post it where you and your son or daughter can refer to it and make changes as needed. Use the schedule template attached (download in PDF or Word 2010). Use the calendar attached to mark off key days. Consider using picture symbols or color coding if your child does not yet read. Use the attached social narrative to read to your child if he or she is known to respond well to this technique (fill in the blanks with your personal family information).

    Summer should be fun for all of us! By preparing your child and providing reassuring visual supports that let them know what summer will “look like”, you can go a long way to helping you and your child have a stress free and relaxing summer!

    JULY 2013 Calendar.pdf17.29 KB
    JULY 2013 Calendar.docx13.23 KB
    August 2013 Calendar.pdf17.83 KB
    August 2013 Calendar.docx13.27 KB
    MY SUMMER HOLIDAYS social narrative.pdf18.89 KB
    MY SUMMER HOLIDAYS social narrative..docx13.83 KB
    Daily schedule template.pdf110.68 KB
    Clip art symbols for calendar.pdf509.75 KB

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    Tip of the Month:
    June, 2013

    Not all individuals with ASD are ready for or interested in dating in high school, yet they may want to be part of the group and recognize that many others their age are dating or engaging in more intimate relationships with others in their peer group. Other individuals with ASD really want to have a boyfriend or girlfriend in high school for reasons other than conforming with the expectations of their peer group.

    We want our kids to stay safe both physically and emotionally. Rejection can be painful but not allowing an individual to explore this aspect of themselves can limit their ability to grow and mature. So how can we help our sons, daughters and students safely navigate these often murky waters? (Waters that are often admittedly murky for even neuro-typical teens!)

    Consider the following tips:

    Watch for signs that your son or daughter is interested in this type of relationship. Do they talk about having kids, a wife or a husband when they grow up? Are they staring at or showing other signs of attraction towards the opposite or the same sex? Are they interested in reading about or watching shows or portions of shows that depict intimate relationships? These and other signs can signal the need to tackle this subject head on.

    teach general social skills
    Hopefully, by the time the student enters high school he or she has had some exposure to interventions that help teach general social skills. The skills one needs to fit in and have fun with others will hold your student in good stead should they show interest in dating. Individuals with ASD need to know that successful relationships require them to understand the expectations and perspectives of others.

    It’s never too late to try to provide this information in positive and supportive ways to our students with ASD. Many programs are available that help teach these skills including Navigating the Social World by Jeanette McAfee; Think Social: A Social Thinking Curriculum for School Aged Children by Michelle Garcia Winner; and Building Social Relationships by Scott Bellini.

    your dreams or theirs?
    Try not to impose your dreams and wishes for typical relationships onto your student. Not everyone develops at the same rate and if your son or daughter currently shows no interest in dating, it does not mean that they never will. At the same time, do not assume your student has no interest simply because he or she is socially immature in other ways. Hormones are a powerful thing and many students will at least wonder what they’re missing when all around them they see their peers forming “couples”.

    keep the door open
    Whether or not your student shows an interest in dating, continue to ensure he has plenty of group-based social opportunities to keep the door open for the development of closer friendships and relationships. Create safe environments in which your student can meet others, interact with them and develop relationships based on mutual interests. School clubs or projects and extra-curricular activities that are geared towards young people are excellent places in which to meet others.

    true friends or false friends?
    If your child is high-functioning and relatively independent in the school environment, get information on those with whom he or she hangs out. Teachers will often know those students who may not be good role models or may not have the best interests of the student with ASD at heart. Teach the student with ASD strategies for determining who might be a good friend vs. who might be a “false friend”. Teach the student to watch out for “friends” who only want to hang out with them when they need something (money, food, a homework assignment, etc.). Teach him to be wary of students who ask him to do unusual things. They may be trying to set him up as the butt of a joke. Teach him to be careful if he notices that a friend is only nice to him in certain situations but avoids him or ignores him in other situations.

    “rules” and expectations of dating
    Give the individual written information about the “rules” and expectations of dating. Peter Gerhardt, a renowned expert on adults with developmental disabilities recommends the book Dating for Dummies by Joy Browne. Other books specific to ASD and dating include Growing Up on the Spectrum: A Guide to Life, Love and Learning for Teens and Young Adults with Autism and Asperger’s by Lynn Kern Koegel, Ph.D. and Claire LeZebnik; and Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian with Practical Advice for Aspergians, Misfits, Families & Teachers John Elder Robison. For students who are more cognitively challenged. Mary Wrobel’s book Taking Care of Myself is recommended.

    internet safety
    Ensure your student understands internet safety. It is often easier for students with High Functioning Autism or Asperger’s to meet others on the internet (they don’t have to read facial expressions or interpret tone of voice, etc.). Be sure they understand that everyone on the net is not always who they say they are. Make sure they don’t give out private information. If they want to meet the person they are communicating with, ensure they set up a meeting in a public place and take a trustworthy friend or a parent with them. That friend or parent can watch from afar once it is evident that the person is who they say they are, and the friend or parent is readily available if things don’t go well.

    communication and boundaries
    Talk to your child about his or her boundaries and role play the “what ifs”. Let them know it is okay to clearly state what they are comfortable doing and what they are not. A good relationship is one in which the individuals like each other for who they are, not for what they do or don’t do; will or won’t do.

    respect others
    Help your child understand the boundaries of others and ensure he is able to respect those boundaries. Help your student understand that when other’s say “no” to a suggestion or to a touch that they must respect the wishes of the other person, even if their feelings are hurt.

    answer questions honestly
    Put your fears and discomfort aside and answer any and all questions your son or daughter may ask you. Point the student to another source if the question is one you don’t feel qualified to answer. School counsellors, doctors and family life teachers may have the materials and resources you need or can counsel your son or daughter individually.

    We really enjoyed reading Laura Schumaker’s blogs on TeenAutism.com. She writes about her son Matthew and in her story that was rejected by Modern Love she stated:
    As littered with roadblocks as it was, Matthew’s search for a meaningful relationship was as important as anyone’s.
    Read her informative and heart warming blogs at http://teenautism.com/

    Click here to view our archived tips of the month.