Monday, February 27, 2017

Around Town Round Up--Reinforcement Systems

One key evidence-based practice that we suggest to teams in the use of Reinforcement

When we want to INCREASE the likelihood of a desired behavior occurring, we need to recognize that adding a desired reward, event or outcome after the behavior is the most likely way to increase the occurrence of that desired behavior. In many classrooms, teachers implement a reinforcement system to increase the likelihood that students will perform desired behaviors such as work completion or compliance with adult-directed tasks. 

Today's Around Town Round Up focuses on the various Reinforcement Systems we have seen across the Miami Valley. 

The first step to implementing a reinforcement system is determining a reinforcement menu. It is important to tailor your reinforcement menu to the individual needs and preferences of the student. What may be reinforcing for one student, may not be reinforcing for another. Individuals may be reinforced using edibles (food and liquid), tangibles (stickers, money), social (praise, attention), sensory (feels, looks, smells, or sounds good), or special interests/activities. One way we determine which type of reinforcement is most effective for an individual is through the use of surveys. Click on the survey titles below to be guided to some of our favorite reinforcement surveys!

Once you have determined what will be reinforcing for the student, develop a menu of options for the student to choose from using objects, pictures, symbols, and/or words. When asking the student to choose a reinforcer, make sure to only present the items that you are willing to provide at that moment. For instance, swinging outside on a snowy winter day would not be an option. 

This individualized menu is velcro'd on the inside of the student's daily binder. 
Jennifer McGowan, Smith Middle School

This menu is velcro'd on the inside of a file folder individualized for the student.
Emily Ottmar, Stevenson Elementary

This reinforcement menu incorporates coin counting skills and uses visual cues to help students see how many coins must be earned to earn various reinforcers. Higher motivating activities have a higher value. Unavailable options are covered with a post-it note to indicate they cannot be chosen.

Anne Rosenbaum, Orchard Park Elementary

Leslie Mann, Smith Middle School
This is a great example of incorporating interests in a reinforcement system!
Heather Balkcom, Springcreek Primary

Then, determine how you will communicate expectations for earning reinforcement to the student. Many times we will see that a teacher has put a lot of thought and planning into developing a system for the student, however if the student isn't explicitly taught the expectation and given a visual way to convey these expectations it all falls apart! Such a shame after all of that planning!

One of our favorite reinforcement systems is the use of a visual contract. A visual contract is a tool used to facilitate student compliance for task completion in the classroom. Some students need visual cues to help them understand what is expected of them and how and when they can obtain a desired object or activity. You must decide how many tasks or steps the student needs to complete before he can earn the reward.   Start with a number you feel the student can tolerate and be successful.   Each step or task is represented on the contract.  This can be with a picture or token such as a button, a poker chip or some type of durable item that can be secured with Velcro.  Secure the tokens below the symbol of the reinforcement. 

These examples incorporate interests such as Backyardigans or elephants. There are velcro dots for each task the student needs to complete. On the inside of each folder, is the student's individualized reinforcment menu where they can choose what they want to work for and place it on the outside of the folder. 

Emily Ottmar, Stevenson Elementary
 These examples use smiley face tokens.
Jennifer McGowan, Smith Middle School

In this example, instead of a set number of velcro dots, the teacher used a velcro strip which gives some flexibility to the number of tasks to be completed. When implementing this visual contract, the teacher would only set up the number of tokens to correspond with the number of tasks.

For many students, edible reinforcers can be very motivating! Using a pill box to hold edibles to be earned after each task has been an effective intervention we have seen. This also provides ongoing reinforcement to keep students motivated throughout a work session. Many edibles can be broken or cut up. A little goes a long way!

It is important that students are able to interact with their visual contract through taking off tokens or opening their pill box as they complete tasks.  This helps students see that the work is "going away" and they are getting closer to their reinforcement. When all the tokens are removed from the contract, the student can take the reinforcement.

If your student can read, you can create a contract that looks more age-appropriate, such as a checklist. Start with tasks that are easily obtainable at the beginning of the list to build positive momentum. End with the reinforcing item at the bottom of the list. Many teams laminate their checklist sheets or slip it into a page protector and use dry erase or Vis-a-Vis markers to write assignment steps. For reoccurring assignments or routines, you can laminate a completed list to use when needed.

Again it is important that the student has the opportunity to interact with their checklist and can check off as they go. Everyone loves the satisfaction of checking off items on their To Do list!

Keep in mind some students may need a more frequent schedule of reinforcement as they build stamina in performing desired behaviors. You may need to start with immediate reinforcement following a desired behavior. Gradually, you can work up to more delayed or intermittent reinforcement.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Taskbox Time--Math

Presenting academic assignments using a structured work system approach is an effective way to communicate the expectations to students. One strategy is to use taskboxes for a variety of pre-academic and academic math tasks.

A pre-academic math skill may be matching objects to a container with 1:1 correspondence.

Match bouncy balls in ice cube tray with 1:1 correspondence

Match rubber sea animals to muffin tin with 1:1 correspondence

Taskboxes can be use for practicing shape identification or finding which shapes don't belong to a set.
Stick red X on shape that doesn't belong using sticky tack

Unlock lock to remove metal ring by matching shapes on key and lock
(Kate Pennington, Kettering ECEC)

Some taskboxes focus on counting out a set of objects.
Put corresponding number of lion erasers in egg carton

Count and match buttons to template on outside of baggy and then seal inside

Use taskboxes to work on money skills such as making a purchase or counting coins.
Sequence set of 4 quarters

Match corresponding coins from container to make purchase on baggy

Packaging tasks give students an opportunity for repetitive matching and counting practice.
Count and match tiles to counting template and package

Match poker chips to template and package

Merge math and reading skills using a taskbox focused on reading number words. 
Match number work to numeral and slide index card into pocket

Many taskboxes can be made simply with common household and office supplies. The Target dollar bins and Dollar Tree also offer affordable materials for easy taskbox assembly. In the Miami Valley, many teachers volunteer at Crayons for Classrooms or attend the Montgomery County Material Reuse Facility's Teacher Shopping Days.

For more ideas check out some of our favorite structured work system books.

Monday, February 13, 2017

UPCOMING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Video Modeling, Priming and Prompting, Oh My!

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, Speech and Language Pathologists, School Counselors and Therapists, Occupational Therapists, and Parents in the Ohio Miami Valley (Darke, Clark, Montgomery, Greene, Miami, Preble counties)

What: Video Modeling, Priming and Prompting, Oh My!

Cost: FREE!!

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

When: Tuesday, March 7th  from 12:30pm-3:30pm 

Why: In this fun, user-friendly presentation, we will address some of the challenges of video modeling and help participants realize what an easy and beneficial strategy it can be. A variety of videos will be shared to demonstrate the uses of video modeling. This session will show participants how to use a tablet or smartphone to capture video and perform basic edits using iMovie. At the end of the session, those in attendance should have a working knowledge of getting started, creating a video and presenting the video to the user. Participants will return home or to their classrooms feeling confident that video modeling is a well researched, easy, and effective practice to use with their students. 

What to bring: To practice creating a video, bring your smart phone or tablet (iMovie app is optional). Consider specific students and goals you want to target during planning and practice activities.

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

We hope to see you there!

Monday, February 6, 2017

UPCOMING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Movement Plus Mindfulness: A Formula for Self-­Management

Do you work with children with autism within the Ohio Miami Valley? Are you looking for ways to reduce your students' anxiety? Then you are invited!

Who: Intervention Specialists, Occupational Therapists, School Counselors or Therapists, and Parents in the Ohio Miami Valley (Darke, Clark, Montgomery, Greene, Miami, Preble counties)

What: Movement Plus Mindfulness: A Formula for Self-­Management presented by the MV-ACT

Cost: FREE!!

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

When: Tuesday, March 7  from 8:30am-11:30pm 

Why: Many individuals with autism struggle with anxiety issues. This can amplify the symptoms of ASD and trigger self-management struggles such as behavioral difficulties, aggression, and self-injury. If the anxiety remains unmanaged, it may interfere with an individual’s ability to function at an optimal level and can negatively impact family functioning. By using a multimodal relaxation approach, individuals with autism, across the lifespan, may experience fewer challenges due to unmanaged anxiety. Come and practice some relaxation strategies that can be used by individuals of all ages.

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

We hope to see you there!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Regulation Rendezvous--Calming Input

As we mentioned in our last Regulation Rendezvous about Home Base, it is important to incorporate sensory regulation supports into the school day to help students better manage their sensory systems. Many students with ASD need calming input throughout the day to decrease anxiety caused by the various environmental and social demands of school. 

One example of calming input is proprioceptive input. The proprioceptive, or heavy work, sensory system is primarily a calming sensory system. It has a regulatory effect over all of the sensory systems. Proprioceptive input has a calming effect on the nervous system for up to 90 minutes. When in doubt with which sensory supports to utilize, especially with a student showing signs of anxiety/escalation, begin with sensory strategies from the proprioceptive system.

Proprioceptive Input can be passive or active. 

Passive proprioceptive input requires little to no effort from the person participating. When using passive proprioceptive input, it needs to be applied 15 minutes prior to the calming input to begin.

Some examples may be alternate seating such as a beanbag chair.
Taylor Ruef, Stevenson Elementary

Weighted items such as a vest, lap pad, or weighted blanket or a pressure vest can also be calming. We love this great idea from Lemon Lime Adventures.

In some classrooms, staff provides input through joint compressions or through deep pressure to the students shoulders and arms. 

Active proprioceptive input requires the person participating to actively engage in the activity to receive input.

In some classes, students push heavy carts, carry crates of books or milk cartons, use a pusher, pull a heavy wagon, use a steamroller squeeze machine, or propel themselves while laying prone on a scooter board.

Steamroller Squeeze Machine

Robbie Whorton, Trotwood-Madison High School

Heavy work can be stocking shelves with books or cans or tossing a weighted ball with a peer.

Stevenson Elementary, Mad River Local Schools

Many classes participate in calming yoga routines at scheduled times during the school day.
Stevenson Elementary, Mad River Local Schools

Emily Ottmar, Stevenson Elementary

Many students enjoy the opportunity to choose which type of calming input they want to perform using a visual choice board.
Robbie Whorton, Trotwood-Madison High School

Other times, students follow a specific sequence of activities. 
Emily Ottmar, Stevenson Elementary

Linear Vestibular Input can also be calming. Students may benefit from rocking in a rocking chair, taking a walk, or swinging on a 2-point suspension swing. Linear vestibular movement should be back and forth or side to side. Refrain from jerky, rotational. and/or rapid acceleration-deceleration which can be alerting.
Emily Ottmar, Stevenson Elementary

Chewing can provide calming input as well. Chewy licorice, beef jerky, gummy worms, or chewing gum can give great input. Also frozen fruit snacks get really chewy! Some students benefit from the use of chew tubes or sticks or more discrete chewelery.
Anne Rosenbaum, Orchard Park Elementary

Using lamps or natural lighting instead of bothersome overhead fluorescent lights can be calming for students with both visual and auditory sensitivities.
Rachel Hatton, Normandy Elementary

Athenia Eversole, Versailles Elementary

Kendall Koehler, Normandy Elemenatary

Deep breathing can also provide calming input. Learning to control one’s breath can lower anxiety, support clear and focused thought, and assist in self-management of emotions. We often suggest the use of our deep breathing folder or Breathe2Relax app.

We love this great breathing example from Empower Tools at using an expandable sphere.