Addressing Social Skills in a Busy Classroom

Printer-friendly version
wait in line
ask friendly questions
offer help
Tip of the Month:
May, 2012

It can be challenging to add a social skills training component to an already full curriculum. And yet, unaddressed, the social skill and performance deficits of students with ASD can often be more debilitating than any lack of academic success.

No matter how skilled and able you are to read, navigate a computer, solve challenging math problems or convey sophisticated information about a special interest, if you can’t take turns, wait, share, show concern for others or have a conversation you are at risk for failure socially, and later may have trouble getting and keeping employment.

Although many students with ASD are lucky enough to get early intervention to address some of their social learning difficulties, and others attend social skills groups either in school or as an extra-curricular therapy, they still need opportunities to practice these skills in daily life i.e., with their typical peers in the classroom!

Although the strategy below does not replace the need for the comprehensive program that is needed for some students, we’ve observed improved skills when teachers use variations on the following strategy:

  • identify a key skill that is needed by the student with ASD, that you can work on with everyone in your class. Skills such as waiting, offering assistance to another, giving a compliment or asking someone a question about their life or interests are great behaviours to target. There are many social skills checklists available on the internet, and in books that target social skills (see recommended resources). The Social Responsibility Performance Standards in the BC curriculum also describe some social skills we should target in school aged children. We liked the checklist we found from the University of Illinois – Urbana that you can have older students do on their own or that can help frame your observations: The speech/language pathologist or school psychologist is also a resource for social skills checklists.
  • Pick a skill and designate it as the “skill of the month”. Brainstorm with your students all the ways they might display that skill in the classroom, at home or on the playground. For example, “waiting” could include waiting for the teacher to call on you when you have your hand up, waiting in line, waiting for a turn in a game, etc. Students could make posters, draw comic strips or do other projects to illustrate the concept if there is time. Post the “Skill of the Month” in a prominent place in the classroom as a reminder of the target skill.
  • Get the students to describe or role play what the behaviour looks like and how it makes others feel. For instance have the students role play “waiting patiently” and get them to explain how that may make others feel. Use Social Behaviour Maps to show the impact of the expected behaviour as compared to the impact of the “unexpected” behaviour (e.g., barging in, calling out, interrupting, etc.)
  • Reinforce the students for exhibiting the target behaviour. For instance, notice when students show good waiting behaviours. Put their names in a jar for a draw for a prize once a day or once a week. Let students nominate other students during class meetings (e.g. I noticed that Sandy waited really patiently when I was taking a long time at the drinking fountain.) Put the name of the nominator and the nominated student in the prize draw jar to encourage students to support each other in meeting the target.

It is much easier to target a particular social skill and reinforce its use with all students than it is to target a different social skill for each child. As well, the student with ASD will benefit from the repetition and modeling of the target behaviour as it is displayed by his or her peers.

Click here to view our archived tips of the month.

Organizing your visuals... it makes all the difference!

Printer-friendly version
Slide Holders for symbol storage
Solving Behaviour Problems in Autism by Linda Hodgdon
Another great book by Linda Hodgdon
Tip of the Month:
February, 2012

Many teams we support struggle to keep all the visual supports they use for their students organized and readily accessible. We’ve found a few strategies that really seem to help:

consistent picture sizes
If you are using picture symbols, create a template to ensure they are all the same size. This can make storage a lot easier. Pre-made templates are available using programs such as Boardmaker™ or on websites such as Do2Learn.

Create enough duplicate symbols so that you have one for each situation in which you would use the symbol. This is really helpful if you’re using a visual schedule and the same event may happen more than once a day.

Store the symbols in a way that protects them and in which you can find them easily. A clear box with file cards to put away the symbols alphabetically might work for you. We really like the use of a binder (8 ½ x 11) with plastic slide holders. Symbols of the size 1 ½” by 1 ½” that are laminated and have a circle of soft Velcro on the back fit into the plastic sleeves very nicely. And the 20 slides per page make it easy to quickly scan and find the symbol you want. You can put the slides away categorically (e.g. a page of food symbols, a page of activity symbols, etc.) or alphabetically.

tidying up
Build a time into your schedule to put away symbols at the end of the day. This is actually a nice activity to do with your student as it models organizational skills and gives you an opportunity to review his day with him.

keep them handy
Store visuals that are used for specific subjects or activities, in a binder or container that is used for the activity, so they are always available when you need them

listen to your student
Carry a notepad to jot down other visuals you might need as you go through the day. Remember, if you have a persistent problem , the student is asking the same question repeatedly, or you find yourself saying the same thing over and over again, this may indicate the need for a visual support!

schedule time
Ensure that there is time in your schedule to create the necessary visual supports or find out who is available to make the supports for you. Visual supports are a cornerstone of successful programming for a large percentage of those with ASD.

Click here to view our archived tips of the month.


Printer-friendly version
Tip of the Month:
January, 2012

Zero tolerance is not enough!

A core deficit of ASD is difficulty understanding or reading the intentions of others.
The child who is accidentally bumped may react as if the bump was done on purpose. The child who is maliciously teased may think that those teasing him are his friends because they are paying attention to him. Understanding the motivation behind others actions can elude many students with ASD making them even more at risk for damage by bullying from those who target students who are differently abled.

On the other hand, the student with ASD who is accidentally hurt or unintentionally excluded may report that he is being bullied, although the intention to bully is absent. Bullies are known to target kids who don’t have strong peer group connections, and they are usually clever enough to bully out of sight of supervising adults, so when bullying is reported by the student with ASD it can be difficult to determine whether the “bullying“ was intentional or not.

However, whether the bullying is real or perceived, it can significantly damage the confidence and self worth of the individual on the receiving end. So how can we protect students with ASD from these negative effects while minimizing the chances that typical students may be falsely accused or punished? We believe the key is to be proactive.

Consider the following tips:

  • Provide adequate supervision. Most students will not bully a severely disabled student but instead target the student with less visible differences. Students who are near the eye of a watchful adult are less likely to be bullied. Be careful not to hover too closely however, or the typical kids will disappear removing potential opportunities for positive social interactions!
  • Teach the student with ASD how to read facial expressions and body language. There are many commercial materials available to teach these skills as well as some useful websites listed below.
  • Teach the peers about respecting diversity. Point out the strengths of all the students, especially the student with ASD. Class-wide programs that target understanding and acceptance of those with ASD are widely available and we’ve listed some examples below that are appropriate for specific age groups. In British Columbia, the Canucks Autism Network is doing a great job of getting many of these materials out to schools.
  • Teach Social Thinking™ . Students with ASD who are intellectually capable can benefit greatly from programs that teach Social Thinking™, to help them better understand how their own behaviours might impact how others treat them. Adam, a student with Asperger’s, in the film The Boy Inside by Marianne Kaplan, reported that he had “no clue” why he wasn’t accepted into conversations. Programs like Think Social by Michelle Garcia Winner can help develop the insight and skills necessary for the student with ASD to succeed socially.
  • Use peer buddies or a circle of friends so that the student with ASD has something to do and someone to be with during unstructured times like recess and lunch.
  • Teach the student with ASD emotional regulation skills. A 2007 Canadian study indicated that students who reacted emotionally to bullying were more likely to be targeted repeatedly. Specific strategies need to be taught and practiced for the student with ASD to learn and generalize needed emotional regulation skills.
  • Create supervised activities in an area of interest to the student with ASD during recess and lunch. Invite peers with similar interests.
  • De-brief altercations in which bullying has been reported. Use visual tools such as comic strip conversations to help the student with ASD understand the perspective of others. Role play alternative responses.
  • Teach the ASD student appropriate responses to the initiations of others. In other words... what should he do and say when: someone asks him to play; someone calls him a name; someone tells him to go away, etc.?
  • Bottom line...

  • Solutions to bullying are not as simple as a “zero tolerance for bullying” policy. When it comes to students with ASD we need to educate both the student and his peers if we are to effectively eliminate bullying and the negative effects of perceived bullying.
  • References

  • Craig W., Peplar,D., and Blais J. (2007) Responding to Bullying: What Works? School Psychology International; 28; 465
  • The Boy Inside, a film produced and directed by Marianne Kaplan, 2006, MSK Productions Inc. Moving Images Distribution, 606 – 402 W. Pender Street, Vancouver B.C. V6B 1T6;; Available with study guide in all British Columbia School Districts.
    Kaplan, Marianne and Brett, Dawn; The Boy Inside Study Guide, (2007), Province of British Columbia
  • Winner, Michelle Garcia Think Social: A Social Thinking Curriculum for School Aged Students (2006)
  • Please note: The following list of resources contains only a small sample of what is available and represents a place to start in your search for effective tools.

    Resources for Peer Education

    In British Columbia, the POPARD consultant that serves your district can assist your school team in designing a peer education program that specifically meets your needs or you can check out the following resources:

  • Demystifying Autism: The Friend 2 Friend Simulation Game by Heather McCracken. Geared for students aged 10 to 18 the kit contains a CD, implementation manual and simulation glasses. Available at
  • We CAN Be Friends program is provided to selected schools in BC free of charge. The program provides 5 lesson plans and necessary resources for each of 4 elementary grade groupings (K-1; 2-3; 4-5; 6-7). A lending library of books is also gifted to the school. For more information and applications go to
  • Resources to help “Bully proof” the student with ASD

  • Model Me Kids produces videos that model expected behaviours in a wide range of situations. Video modelling has been shown to be quite effective in teaching social behaviours to students with ASD. Model Me Kids have recently added iPhone and iPad apps to their catalogue. Go to
  • Do2Learn has a great website with activities on teaching feelings and facial expressions. Go to We’ve found that individuals of all ages are fascinated with the facial expressions game which allows you to manipulate facial features to create a variety of standard and novel facial expressions. A speech language pathologist is a great resource for materials that teach body language and other aspects of non-verbal communication.
  • Click here to view our archived tips of the month.

    Special events at school...

    Printer-friendly version
    Special events at school...
    Tip of the Month:
    December, 2011

    Special events at school... helping the student with ASD cope and succeed.

    December is a month in which many special events at school happen: concerts, plays, parties, winter carnivals... the list goes on. These events can be very challenging for students with ASD who may have difficulty handling change or who may have sensory sensitivities. Most parents really want their child to participate with their peers in these events in as normal a way as possible.

    The following tips may help reduce the stress that can be experienced by the student with ASD, his peers, his parents and his teachers when including the student in special events:

    • Familiarize the student with the location in which the special event will be held. If the student is already wary of events such as assemblies, you can expect that a school concert will also be difficult. Short, frequent opportunities to visit the gym and sit with his peers may help de-sensitize him to the experience. Consider alternatives to having him sit on the floor with peers (e.g. on a bench or a chair at the side of the gym) if he is unable to cope with sitting with his peers.
    • Make sure he knows when the special event will occur, as well as when any rehearsals will occur. Use his visual schedule!
    • Include him in rehearsals, but consider having him watch rather than participate during the first few rehearsals. Take pictures of the steps of the tasks within the rehearsal and print them out. Write a sentence or two about each picture and send it home for the parents to read with the child. For an activity like a winter carnival, prepare him with pictures regarding what will occur and what choices he will have. Use pictures even if the child is verbal. If the student is anxious he may not adequately process verbal explanations. Videos of events can also be a great tool for helping the child to understand expectations.
    • Consider allowing the child to carry a break card during rehearsals and during the event. Cue him to use the break card if you see signs of escalating stress. Allow him to use the break card as often as he needs during initial rehearsals. Later, encourage him to stay longer before taking a break. Knowing that he can take a break if he needs to, can frequently reduce stress, allowing better coping to occur.
    • If sensitivity to noise is an issue, consider tape recording rehearsals. Don’t forget to include applause in your recording if that is likely to be a part of the event. The recording can be played at school or at home, quietly at first and then with increasing volume. Knowing what to expect can reduce the anxiety that noise sensitivity may induce. A video can serve the purpose of both picture and auditory rehearsal.
    • Be cautious regarding the use of costumes or make up. Often children don’t see the costumes or make up until the last rehearsal before the event. This can be very upsetting to some children with ASD who may not be expecting that everyone will look different during the event than they did in most rehearsals. Talk about costumes and demonstrate how make-up can change one’s appearance. Show the student before and after pictures of children with and without costumes. Be prepared that the student with ASD may not tolerate wearing a costume or donning makeup and allow him to participate without these items if necessary.

    The joy and satisfaction that comes with having a student with significant challenges join in with his peers successfully is well worth the extra effort you put in to including him. Each time the child successfully manages in a situation he finds challenging, he builds resilience and adds to his repertoire of coping skills. Most students with ASD will be able to participate with appropriate supports.

    For more information that may be helpful when considering how to support the student with ASD to participate in special events, you may also find helpful the following elearning modules on our website:

    Self Regulation posted by Jacquie Bezo, posted March 2009
    Emotional Regulation by Jacquie Bezo, posted April 2009
    Using Video Modelling to Teach Children with Autism by Kelly MacGregor, posted August 2007

    The Out-of-Sync Child has Fun by Carol Stock Kranowitz contains lots of ideas for the student who may have challenges due to sensory sensitivities.

    No More Meltdowns by Jed Baker contains simple and effective ideas for preventing the challenging behaviours that may result from the anxiety created by special events.

    Click here to view our archived tips of the month.

    Time Out: A tool for you?

    Printer-friendly version
    Time Out: A tool for you?
    Tip of the Month:
    October, 2011

    John’s teacher gives him a “time out” for throwing the ball at another student’s head during a game of dodge ball. He is required to sit on the bench at the side of the gym for the reminder of the game.

    Susan’s teacher overhears her swearing at her partner during an assigned project. She directs Susan to a “time out” of 5 minutes in the hallway outside the classroom.

    Harold has a meltdown in class, tipping over his desk and yelling. He is escorted to a “time out” room attached to his class where he is expected to remain until he is calm.

    time out

    What is the purpose of the specific “time out” procedure in each scenario?

    In the first two scenarios, it would appear that the teachers hope that the use of time out will teach his or her student to refrain from a particular behaviour.

    In the third scenario, the intention seems to be to provide the student with a safe, quiet place to calm down, away from the other students. However, the teacher may hope that using the time out room will also have an impact on reducing Harold’s “tantrum” behaviour.

    Can time out, as described above, be expected to change the challenging behaviour? It depends.

    Time out, as defined in the field of applied behaviour analysis, is a technique designed to remove the student from the opportunity to access reinforcement.

    To be effective, the student must find some aspect of the situation from which he has been removed reinforcing. That is, in general, the student must prefer to stay in the game or in class. As well, the time out itself, should not be viewed by the student as reinforcing (e.g. John should not prefer sitting on the bench to being in the game or see getting a time out as a “badge of honour”).

    NOTE: It is the perspective of the student that determines whether or not time out will be effective in a given situation... not the intention of the teacher. In Harold’s situation, the teacher must realize that “time out” used as described is not a strategy designed to change behaviour over time, but is a reactive strategy to manage a difficult situation safely and with dignity.

    what if time out isn’t working?

    John continues to use inappropriate physical aggression in P.E. and Susan continues to swear in class, no matter how often time out is applied. The teachers in these scenarios need to figure out why John and Susan continue to engage in these behaviours.

    what triggers the behaviours?

    What need is getting met by the student when he or she engages in the behaviour? Susan may enjoy the attention she gets by swearing. John might need a break from the game because he finds it difficult to cope and has discovered that he is removed each time he tries to hurt others. Susan may not have a repertoire of more appropriate behaviours to get peer attention. John may not have the personal awareness to know when he needs to request a time out, or the social skills to ask for a time out. When time out isn’t working to change behaviour, we need to think about what we want the student to do instead in those particular situations, and teach those skills.


    Best practice is to plan the use of any strategy designed to change behaviour. Use of a generic, one size fits all, time out strategy may work for some of the students, some of the time but when time out is used poorly, it can be ineffective or make problem behaviours worse. It some cases it can humiliate or de-moralize a student. At the very least it removes the student, albeit temporarily, from opportunities to learn new skills. Bottom line, time out should rarely be used as a stand-alone behavioural intervention. Positive behaviour supports that teach and reinforce the expected behaviours should precede and augment any use of time out in a plan to change behaviour.

    Click here to view our archived tips of the month.

    The student with ASD in your classroom

    Printer-friendly version
    You might find these books useful
    Tip of the Month:
    September, 2011

    The Student with ASD in your Classroom: Tips for Teachers and Instructional Assistants

    Here are some tips from experienced teachers and instructional assistants for achieving success with a student with ASD:

    • Familiarize yourself with the student’s profile as soon as possible. What are the student’s strengths and preferences? What things does he find challenging? Create an updated Preference Profile (see attached sample) with the help of the student’s family.
    • Think about seating and room arrangements. Ensure the child’s desk is placed in an area that respects his strengths and needs, allowing you to provide support as needed, easily and quickly. Set up his work space to minimize distractions and optimize the potential for positive social interactions.
    • Use the student’s name to get his attention and to ensure he knows you are speaking to him (e.g. “John, good morning!” rather than just “How are you today?”).
    • Give clear, direct instructions, avoiding the use of implication (e.g., ”John, please sit at your desk.”, rather than “John, where are you supposed to be?”)
    • Tell the student what to do rather than what not to do (e.g. “John, you need to be quiet.” Rather than “Don’t shout.”)
    • Allow processing time when giving instructions, before repeating or re-wording your direction. Use visual supports whenever you can to make expectations clear (e.g diagrams, lists, models).
    • Be firm, but kind. Be generous with your use of praise when your student behaves in ways that are expected.
    • Recognize that difficulties with attention and organization are common in students with ASD. These are typically part of his disability rather than a symptom of laziness or a negative attitude.
    • Remember that behavioural challenges often result from underlying stress or anxiety. Again, clear expectations should be tempered with understanding.
    • Most importantly, start each day fresh with realistic but positive expectations. The majority of students with ASD are wonderful additions to a classroom when provided with appropriate accommodations and supports.

    For more information and ideas for supporting the student with ASD, you can also check out the following resources:

    Preference Profile.docx17.45 KB

    Click here to view our archived tips of the month.

    Someone you know?

    Printer-friendly version
    Tip of the Month:
    August, 2011

    Do you suspect that your student, your child, or someone else you know may have an Autism Spectrum Disorder? When we learn some of the behaviours associated with an ASD, it is not uncommon for us to wonder about whether similar behaviours we see in those we know may indicate that they have an ASD. And, in fact, ASD is diagnosed based on a collection of behavioural symptoms. Blood tests or brain scans currently cannot determine the presence or absence of an ASD. But, we are fortunate in British Columbia, as the Ministry of Health has created specific guidelines for the diagnosis of ASD based on the latest tools and research, making diagnosis more consistent and accurate than ever before. Individuals qualified to diagnose ASD are available in centres across the province.

    So, what should you do if you suspect an ASD? Consider the following as you ponder what action to take:

    if you suspect your child may have an ASD:

    • Familiarize yourself with some of the “red flags” of ASD. A great resource which includes video of typically developing children contrasted with those who have been diagnosed with ASD is available at Red Flags. Read the list of ”red flags” and then click on the link to the VIdeo Glossary. This information may reassure you that your child is generally doing well or may confirm that you are right to be concerned.
    • Write down your concerns and make an appointment with your doctor. Since early intervention has been determined to be the most effective way of improving outcomes for those with an ASD, it is best to go sooner rather than taking a “wait and see” approach.
    • Expect that your doctor will take your concerns seriously and make appropriate referrals. The doctor may refer you to a paediatrician or may refer to other disciplines for further assessment (e.g,. a speech/language pathologist) before recommending an assessment by a qualified ASD diagnostic team.
    • If your child is older (i.e,. 4 – 5 years old or more) his/her symptoms may be more subtle. If the behavioural differences you notice are persistent and are negatively affecting your family life or your child’s learning or socialization, take your concerns forward to your physician. If your child attends a daycare or preschool, ask the daycare provider or teacher questions about your child’s ability to socialize with peers and provide your physician with this information.
    • Always remember that there is a range of what is “normal” developmentally, and that there may be reasons other than an ASD for any behavioural differences you may see. A referral for an ASD assessment does not necessarily mean your child has an ASD but can be the first step in getting any help he or she may need.

    If you suspect a close friend or a relative may have a child with an ASD:

    • Be careful what advice you offer, particularly if it is unsolicited. Remember that ASD is a complex disorder and even trained professionals can sometimes disagree on a diagnosis.
    • If you have concerns about the child’s behaviours or developmental milestones and are asked for advice or support, it is best to direct your friend or relative to the professionals that are in a position to assist and assess... i.e,. doctors, occupational therapists, speech/language pathologists or behaviour specialists.
    • Generally, it is just as inadvisable to dismiss a parent’s concerns (e.g., “Don’t worry... there’s nothing wrong.”) as it to tell the parent you think his or her child has autism. To be safe, refer to those who can objectively confirm or refute the concerns (i.e., qualified professionals).

    If you are a teacher and think a student in your class shows symptoms of an ASD:

    • Document social, behavioural and communication differences that concern you.
    • Discuss concerns with the parent(s) and recommend further evaluation by members of the school based team i.e., learning assistance teacher, speech/language pathologist, and school psychologist. It is not considered appropriate for a teacher to suggest a possible diagnosis of ASD to a parent at this stage, although the teacher’s observations are important for diagnostic specialists to consider as part of a multi-disciplinary assessment.

    what to do?

    Ultimately, it is a parent’s decision, in consultation with the physician, whether or not to pursue a referral for a formal assessment by ASD diagnostic specialists. In the meantime, whatever the child’s differences, consistent, structured and supportive environments are considered best practice for supporting all children with learning challenges.

    for more information:

    For more information on the diagnosis of ASD, please refer to the following elearning lessons on our website:\

    The Psychological Assessment by Michelle Pozin.

    Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Parts 1 - 3 by Zuhra Teja.

    Click here to view our archived tips of the month.

    Making and Recording Summer Memories

    Printer-friendly version
    making memories
    Tip of the Month:
    July, 2011

    Does your son or daughter with ASD have difficulty remembering special events? Is it hard to have a conversation with him or her about shared experiences? Reminiscing about favourite times together helps build family bonds. Being able to reflect back on past experiences can help the individual with ASD make decisions about what to do in new situations. As well, building autobiographical memories is thought to contribute to the development of a sense of self. Difficulties communicating or weaknesses in the development of episodic memories may be contributing to your child’s challenges in remembering and reflecting on past experiences.

    making memories

    Summer is a time when many of us do special things with our children and is a great time to try the following:

    • Take your camera or cell phone (with a camera) everywhere! When your child shows an interest in something, take a picture or video of him looking at or interacting with the item. Make a comment at the time that describes what you are seeing (e.g. “I think you’re really interested in that bug.” Or “You looked like you were having lots of fun on that swing!”)
    • Collect remnants from the activities you do together. An ice cream wrapper, a ticket stub, or a leaf are examples of remnants that may help trigger memories for your child.
    • Review the photos, movies or remnants together. You can build a scrapbook, create a slide show in Powerpoint or create a book on an IPad. It doesn’t have to be expensive or beautiful, but rather something you can enjoy doing together. Let your child help decide which photos or remnants to use. Label the photos or remnants with short sentences that describe the feelings of the participants (e.g.. "Mom was so proud when I went tubing with her. I had a blast!)"
    • When you’re having a hard time finding meaningful or engaging activities for your child, have him look at the book or choose new items to include in the book. (By “book” we mean either a physical book or an electronic “book” on the computer.) This can be a great rainy day activity.
    • Keep the books accessible and try to build in regular times to review the book together. One family we know read the book together as part of their bedtime story routine. They created a variety of books over the years and one of their son’s favourites includes pictures of him as a toddler playing with his siblings.
    • A caution: try not to make the process of building a book together a “test”. Don’t ask your child a lot of questions about the pictures or remnants or demand that he point to items or people in the pictures (e.g., Who is that? Show me Uncle Bob. Where’s Sammy?) . Instead, model the language and comments that you hope he will internalize (e.g.. "I remember that day. We had such fun at the park until it started to rain. But then we got ice cream!"). Let your child set the pace and include quiet intervals so he has the opportunity to communicate too.

    getting started

    To help get you started, you might want to check out any of the myriad of sites on the internet on scrapbooking. We typed “family scrapbook ideas” into our search engine and found lots of helpful information. If you have an IPad or an IPod Touch, you might be interested in one of their photo album apps. And, if you’re more comfortable in a Windows environment, Office Powerpoint is a very easy tool to use to build a book of memories.

    Click here to view our archived tips of the month.

    Social Communication: Initiating is as Important as Responding!

    Printer-friendly version
    Social Communication:  Initiating is as Important as Responding!
    Tip of the Month:
    May, 2011

    Many students with ASD and verbal challenges are taught to communicate using a variety of augmentative or alternative communication systems to supplement any speech they do have. These systems can include sign language, picture symbols (such as PECS), low-tech voice output devices (Big-Mac recording devices), or computer-based electronic voice output devices (iPad with Proloquo2Go, Vantage, Dynavox’s V, etc.).

    Regardless of which system a student is using (including any speech), teams are encouraged to think about how the child will initiate requests and social interactions. Too often, students with verbal challenges who use augmentative communication systems learn to use their system only in response to a question from someone else (e.g., "What do you want?"), and fail to understand that they can use their system to get social attention, to initiate greetings, to ask questions, or to make requests without waiting to be asked.

    This month’s tip will provide a few ideas for creating opportunities that will stimulate a child to use their communication system to initiate.

      Set up routines in which the expected behaviour is to initiate.

    • For example, have the student take the attendance down to the office with his communication system. Have him greet the secretary: ”Hi, Mrs. Jones. Here’s the attendance.” (A Big Mac switch can be used to record this message.) Teach the secretary to wait until she hears the message before she responds to the student.
    • Set up situations to tempt communication.

    • For example, give the child something he wants in a difficult to open container. Make sure he has a communication system available that can allow him to ask for help: “I need help, please”. Or leave a necessary item out of a routine, e.g., provide the yogurt, but not the spoon. Make sure he has the appropriate vocabulary available to request: “I need a spoon, please.” or “Where’s my spoon?” You can also give the child just a little of anything he requests, providing an opportunity for him to practice using the system to ask for more: “I want more, please.” or “Let’s do that again!”
    • Whenever you want the student to initiate, it is very important to be aware of the prompts you provide.

    • In the long run, we want the child to know he can initiate communication without being directly told what to say or when to say it. In other words, we want him to respond to natural cues in the environment. It’s critical to provide “wait time” in the situations you set up to teach initiation. Once the child is taught the expected response (e.g., hitting the Big Mac switch to initiate a greeting), the individuals supporting the student need to provide prompting in a “least to most” fashion. Ensure the communication system is available and set up the situation. Wait expectantly. If the child does not initiate, gesture towards the communication system or device. Wait expectantly. If the child still does not initiate, gesture towards the system again and provide a generic verbal prompt e.g. What do you need to say? Wait expectantly. You can model the expected response and/or provide hand over hand support only when lesser forms of prompting have failed to elicit the expected communication.

    For more information on developing communicative initiations in children with ASD the reader may wish to check out the following resources:

    The webcast, A Clear Picture: The Use and Benefits of PECS , provides information on the picture exchange communication system designed to teach functional communication with a focus on initiation:
    The manual for PECS is an important teaching resource for teams using this system.

    Websites that support specific augmentative communication devices also provide good information. A downloadable handout from DynaVox called "Chain of Cues" provides a helpful summary of the least to most prompting hierarchy: .

    You might also be interested in "The Chain of Cues" video example – elementary (2 minutes) on the same site.

    Click here to view our archived tips of the month.

    Why can't he get organized?

    Printer-friendly version
    Why can't he get organized?
    Tip of the Month:
    April, 2011

    Many bright and otherwise academically capable students with ASD have significant difficulties with organization. Sometimes even those individuals who love to “organize” within a specific topic area (e.g., they know the exact location of every trading card they’ve ever collected) are poorly organized at school. Organization can be a relative challenge for students with other learning difficulties too.

    If you have a student with ASD who never seems to have the needed materials for a subject, whose desk is a disorganized “disaster” , who carries everything in his backpack (sometimes including last week’s lunch!) or whose locker is a mess, the student may have executive function deficits (E.F.). An online article by Dr. James Chandler, Pediatric Psychiatrist stated that executive functioning deficits are more common in ASD than they are in ADHD or other learning disorders.

    This month’s tip will identify a few strategies to consider for teaching the student with organization, planning and monitoring difficulties.

    • First and foremost, don’t write off poor organizational skills as simply being due to poor motivation or laziness. EF deficits make what may appear to be simple tasks, extremely mentally taxing.
    • Teach your student how to create his own lists, use his agenda, and create reminders and cues for himself. Initially, you will need to provide a lot of monitoring and support. Engage the student in the process by soliciting his input (e.g. Where would you like to keep the list?, What would help you remember best?, Would it help if you wrote different items in different colored ink?, etc.).
    • Teach and engage the student in goal setting. Walk him through the planning process: What do you have to do first? What do you have to do next? What materials will you need? How much time will this take?
    • Schedule in organization time. Students with EF deficits often fail to take into account that planning and organization take time, but in the long run they need to learn that it is time well spent. (e.g. taking the time to physically organize assignments can prevent you from having to spend the time re-doing them if they get lost!).
    • Help the student learn to monitor and reflect on his level of organization. With visual supports and today’s electronic gadgets (e.g., i Phones have apps for time management and organization) the task of organizing need not be onerous. But, it is not always an easy habit to develop. Many students with ASD will need long term support to help them develop more effective organizational systems.

    For more information on supporting students with Executive Functioning Deficits, check out the following resources:

    Click here to view our archived tips of the month.