Thursday, September 29, 2016

A-LIST Spotlight: Kendall Koehler, Centerville City Schools

Recently, we visited another one of our fabulous A-LIST members, Kendall Koehler, at Normandy Elementary in Centerville City Schools.

It was great to observe Kendall's routine, watch a lesson, and snap some pictures of the great ways she is incorporating evidence-based practices in her classroom.

The first thing you will notice upon entering Kendall's room is how she has provided the sensory modulation support of reducing visual clutter. Rather than using all of the overhead fluorescent bulbs in her classroom which can cause students with autism to be overstimulated auditorily and visually, Kendall uses natural light from her windows and soft lighting from lamps. This makes the room feel warm and inviting.

Kendall also uses cool, calming colors to reduce visual clutter. Additionally, she has made some lightweight portable dividers that staff can move throughout the classroom as needed to limit student distractions. She uses solid fabric in a cool color and PVC piping to construct these awesome tools!

Another way Kendall helps her students stay calm and assist them with self-management is through providing a calming space or homebase within her classroom where they can go between activities, after stressful times during the day, or when needing a break. Incorporating a space like this into the classroom is wonderful for times when additional staff may not be available to take students to a larger, dedicated sensory calming room.

Kendall also understands the importance of incorporating exercise into her students day by allowing students to take turns leading a yoga sequence upon returning from their inclusion times in order to ready their bodies for more learning. Pictured below are examples from the FitDeck Yoga Exercise Playing Cards.

Organization is also evident in Kendall's classroom through the use of labeled bins for lesson materials and designated drawers for each student to keep their materials. Organizing materials in this way helps increase student engagement because less time is spent locating and gathering what is needed throughout the day. Directly teaching the routines of where materials are kept helps increase independence. When working with paraprofessionals this system can also be helpful in limiting auditory clutter in the classroom because less discussion needs to occur to explain where materials are located.

Another routine Kendall uses is a transition chair for students to sit in while waiting for another activity or when lining up at the door. Standing still is often very difficult for our students with autism so giving them a designated location to wait by the door provides this expectation and can limit how many redirections are needed while they are waiting.

Kendall communicates some routines to her students through the use of visual supports. Pictured is a mini-schedule or routine schedule she uses to communicate to students what the sequence of reading a story during reading groups will be. Communicating expectations promotes a greater understanding for our students with autism. It also helps them understand what will have to occur before the task is considered finished. This is a great portable resource that students can use as a list to check off with a dry erase marker to show they have completed it. Additionally, Kendall shared that her students could take this visual with them when they go to inclusion in the general education classroom for reading groups as well. 

Kendall also uses visual supports to help illustrate higher-level vocabulary concepts in her classroom. This is an excellent example of using visual reading supports through pairing vocabulary words with a picture. She has displayed the vocabulary that is relevant to the lesson on the board so students are able to retrieve these new words while reading. writing, and discussing the concepts. 
The ACT team wants to extend a big THANK YOU to Kendall Koehler for allowing us to observe these great evidence-based practices in action and for being a valuable resource to fellow educators in the Miami Valley!

Monday, September 26, 2016


Do you work in a school district within the Ohio Miami Valley? Do you have access to Boardmaker software? Do you need visual tools to meet the needs of your students with autism and low-incidence disabilities?

Who: Intervention Specialists, Paraprofessionals, or Speech Therapists in the Ohio Miami Valley (Darke, Clark, Montgomery, Greene, Miami, Preble counties)

What: Boardmaker Plus! v6.0 Make and Take Training presented by the MV-ACT

Cost: FREE!!

Where: Computer Lab at the Montgomery County Regional Center 4801 Springfield St., Dayton, OH 45431 (Space is limited to 15 spots)

When: Friday, October 7 from 9:00am-3:00pm 

Why: This Make and Take training will provide an overview of how to use Boardmaker to create visual supports to use with students. Many examples and templates will be shared. During the morning, participants will create a variety of visual supports for teaching a favorite picture book to be shared with other participants. In the afternoon, an overview of how to use Boardmaker to create interactive materials using Boardmaker Plus! v6.0 for use on the computer or interactive whiteboard will be provided for interested participants with examples and templates. 

What to bring: favorite picture book to teach, laptop with Boardmaker if available.
How to register: contact Mary Fryman by email at or by phone 937-236-9965,ext.2122

We hope to see you there!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Autism Top Ten Strategies: Professional Development at National Trail Elementary

Today the team was excited to share our knowledge of evidence-based practices for students with autism with the staff at National Trail Elementary. We loved sharing all of our visual tools and answering questions on how to make the practices work for their students.

One thing we always stress is that the evidence-based practices not only help students with autism and low-incidence disabilities but they can also be effective tools to use with a group of students or the whole class. This was a great way to connect with National Trail Elementary's commitment to Universal Design for Learning. 

Check back throughout the year for an in-depth look at each of the strategies we shared today!

Friday, September 16, 2016

No room for your visual tools?

Emily Ottmar and Taylor Ruef at Stevenson Elementary found that there was no room on the student's desk for the visual contract while working on their task. Now, each student keeps his/her visual contract under their chair when they are using it. This allows quick and easy access! When they are finished with the contract, they store it in the pouch behind their seat.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A-LIST Spotlight: Emily Ottmar, Mad River Local Schools

Recently, the ACT team had the pleasure of visiting A-LIST member Emily Ottmar at Stevenson Elementary in the Mad River Local School District to see what evidence-based practices she is using to kick off the new school year. 

Check out some of the great strategies we saw in action in Emily's classroom!

Emily uses the evidence-based practice of visual supports through the use of visual schedules to help students navigate the classroom and school environment with increased independence. She also uses the practice of differentiation through using whole-day schedules with students who need more structure and using a class-wide schedule with smaller center schedules for the other students. A key element of Emily's visual schedules is that students get to interact with the schedule through removing individual schedule cards and taking them to the designated location within the classroom. The also interact with the large class-wide schedule through taking turns moving the schedule card to the finished pocket under the door handle. Our team has found that allowing students to interact with the schedule is an essential way for them to develop an understanding of their daily routine and see how time is passing as activities are completed. She also uses a SpEd Hack strategy of color coding smaller schedule cards to help staff with organization. Emily got these great schedule cards from the Autism Classroom News TpT store!

As educators, we know that things don't always go as planned during the school day. For these times, Emily has a visual support to cue students that there is going to be a change. She uses a large change card on her morning message board to review scheduled changes such as a fire drill, field trip, or assembly. Sometimes changes occur without notice. Staff still needs to be prepared to cue students at these difficult moments. Emily's staff has a small change card that they keep on their badge holder to show students when an unplanned change occurs or to provide a reminder during the day. 

Additionally, Emily uses visual supports to create mini-schedules or routine schedules to help students build independence during regular classroom routines such as unpacking backpacks in the morning or using the sensory motor room. These routine schedules demonstrate how Emily is able to perform a task analysis of classroom routine in order to break them down to manageable steps for students. 

Emily also has incorporated the use of visual supports throughout her students school day to help students understand what is expected. She uses a choice board on baking sheets where students get to move their picture next to their desired choice activities. During breaktime students choose between the iPad or reading a book in the classroom tent. Presenting these options visually helps students understand what the options are for this time. The breaktime visual also incorporates a sentence strip for students who are developing verbal skills. 

As an A-LIST member, Emily understands the importance of addressing students' sensory needs throughout the school day to ensure that they are ready for learning. Sensory needs can be met through a variety of ways during the school day. Sometimes, a team may decide to give a student a specific break to meet their needs. Many times this break will occur through the self-management strategy of home base or calming corner. Emily's home base area is a clearly defined corner of her room. She provides various seating options. Students who crave vestibular input may enjoy the rocking chair, students who need some proprioceptive or deep pressure input may choose the foam couch or a beanbag, or students needing sensory deprivation to give them a break from overwhelming stimuli may choose the tent.  The colorful ribbon hula-hoop overhead helps to further designate this area. A great time to provide breaks is after stressful times of the day such as a difficult subject, large inclusion class, specials, lunch/recess, or assemblies. Depending on the student, additional breaks may be needed throughout the day as well as when a student is feeling stressed to proactively prevent meltdowns. 

Another evidence-based strategy Emily uses is exercise. She has a scheduled time during the day for a group exercise routine incorporating yoga moves and calming input

Emily's classroom environment includes visual boundaries to help students understand where they should be during activities. The table has taped lines to signal where student materials should remain when completing table work. On the carpet, each student is given a special spot using a round placemat.

We loved how Emily uses reinforcement in her classroom! She uses the ACT team visual support of a visual contract to help students understand how much work needs to be completed during teacher, group, and independent work times through the use of tokens correlating with the number of tasks to be completed. This student loves Backyardigans so Emily was sure to include incorporate interests with his tokens. 

Emily also incorporates interests into choice time activities. Look at these great building blocks that Emily added community pictures too for a student who likes to create mini-cities for cars to visit. What an awesome idea!

While in Emily's classroom we also saw the great ways she incorporates the instructional method of structured work systems. In her structured work area, students follow a top-to-bottom sequence of completing the activities in each bin and placing completed activities in the green "finished" bin. Staff uses the work baskets bulletin board to see what tasks students need to complete that day. For some students, they will take the visual icon to the taskbox shelf and match it to the corresponding bin to find the work they need to complete. This is another great way Emily facilitates independence!

She incorporates a similar strategy of structured teaching to teacher-directed activities as well through using numbered bins to hold the activities to be completed. This helps students see how many activities are expected to be completed during that time.

Another reason Emily is a great A-LIST member is that she understands the importance of generalizing communication skills to the classroom and focusing on functional communication. Rather than teaching vocabulary in isolation, Emily has created structured play bags which contain reinforcing, interactive games and activities such as puzzles, board games, or Mr. Potato Head and picture supported communication supports such as a turn-taking book or communication board. While completing these activities with students 1:1 or in small structured play groups, Emily's staff can work on a variety of functional communication skills including vocabulary development, social skills and reciprocity. This is a great example of naturalistic teaching because it takes an activity students will enjoy and teaches them the necessary functional communication needed to participate. 

The ACT team wants to extend a big THANK YOU to Emily Ottmar for allowing us to visit her classroom, being a part of the A-LIST and modeling evidence-based practices for other educators in the Miami Valley!

Monday, September 12, 2016

A-LIST: Autism-Low Incidence Support Team

Since the Miami Valley Autism Coaching Team originated we have coached over 1000 educational teams! During this time, there have been many team members that we have met who impressed us with their ability to implement evidence-based practices with fidelity. Each year we recognize these educators by inducting them into our Autism-Low Incidence Support Team or A-LIST. 

A-LIST team members are an invaluable extension of our team. When coaching other teams, many times we will ask that they visit A-LIST classrooms to see evidence-based practices in action. Our A-LIST members offer valuable insight into ways to make these practices most effective with students. 

Stay tuned to our blog as we shine a spotlight on our A-LIST members throughout the year!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

UPCOMING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT-- SpEd Hacks: Organizing Classrooms, Paperwork, and Paraprofessionals

Do you teach special education within the Ohio Miami Valley? Are you looking for tips and tricks to help you organize your classroom? Then you are invited!

Who: Intervention Specialists in the Ohio Miami Valley (Darke, Clark, Montgomery, Greene, Miami, Preble counties)

What: SpEd Hacks: Organizing Classrooms, Paperwork, and Paraprofessionals in the Special Education Classroom presented by the MV-ACT

Cost: FREE!!

Where: Room 300 at the Montgomery County Regional Center 4801 Springfield St., Dayton, OH 45431

When: Thursday, September 22  from 9:00am-3:00pm 

Why: In this full day session, participants will learn strategies for organizing some of special education's most challenging areas including classroom layout, scheduling, curriculum, paperwork, and managing paraprofessionals. A variety of examples will be provided. Time will be provided for participants to begin tackling their own schedules with troubleshooting input from ACT team members and fellow participants if needed.

What to bring: laptop and electronic version of current schedule 

How to register: contact Mary Fryman by email at or by phone 937-236-9965,ext.2122

We hope to see you there!