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.
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.