Thursday, March 30, 2017

Around Town Round Up-- Play and Leisure Visual Supports

A great way to work on communication skills is through giving students the opportunity to communicate about their favorite toys or activities. In many classrooms, these opportunities are built in to the daily classroom routine during play and leisure times such as reinforcement breaks or recess. 

One effective way to provide visual tools for play and leisure times is using pocket charts where students find their name card and move it next to the selected item. Pocket charts can be easily modified to limit or change choices with little need for restructuring which makes implementation easy.


Another way to display student choices that can be easily changed or modified is through these unique cookie tray magnetic boards. 

Emily Ottmar, Mad River Local Schools

 Using basic "I want" sentence starters and a few options may work better for some students when choices are more limited and/or stay the same consistently for that location.

Choices can also be incorporated as an anchor activity after work is completed while students are waiting for peers to finish. This small bin has a communication support on the front with choice visuals. All available items are located in the bin for easy access and so that the bin can be brought to the table to limit additional transitions and distractions for peers still working.

We have seen many great examples of choice boards for YouTube or GoNoodle videos which many of our students find very motivating.

Rick Wical, Beavercreek City Schools

One student had difficulty understanding when it was inside recess, when it was outside recess and blacktop only, or when it was outside recess and she could swing on the swings (got to love our Ohio weather!). This great visual helped communicate when they would be outside. Staff could use a dry erase marker to cross off unavailable options. Additionally, a portable STOP sign could be hung on the gate to signify when swinging wasn't allowed. 

Sometimes students need additional communication supports once they have selected their leisure activities in order to participate. Here is a great example of a taking turns book for puzzles.

Emily Ottmar, Mad River Local Schools

On our BoardmakerShare site we also have this great template that can be adapted for use with board games or modified for other play and leisure activities. Click the picture to access the template!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A-LIST Spotlight: Jennifer Jette, Vandalia-Butler High School

The Miami Valley Autism Coaching Team loves our A-LIST members who are an extension of our team out it school districts across the region. They are a wonderful example of evidence-based practices in action and often provide us with practical ideas that can be used with other teams.

Recently, we visited the classroom of A-LIST member, Jennifer Jette, at Vandalia-Butler High School.

 Jennifer knows how important it is for her students to be internally regulated in order to be at their best for learning. One way Jennifer meets this need is through the use of breaks in a homebase location within her classroom where students have access to preferential seating such as a beanbag or therapy ball. 

Jennifer also helps her students stay regulated by limiting visual clutter and distractions by giving each student a study carrel workspace to complete assignments. 

Jennifer helps keep her high school students organized through the use of color-coded binders and visual supports such as the written reminders for the cost of lunches each week at school and at community outings. 

When working on functional cooking skills in their kitchen area, Jennifer's students benefit from the visual supports of pictures and/or labels to help them find the supplies they need which helps build their independence. 

Another way Jennifer builds student independence is through the use of daily visual schedules which have the time and activity paired with a picture symbol cue. We love how she uses clear page protectors to create a dry-erase surface for easy modifications throughout the day and to give students the opportunity to interact with their schedule through checking off tasks. 

Jennifer also knows the effectiveness of the Evidence-Based Practice of Reinforcement. One way Jennifer uses reinforcement is through highlighting students in a special bulletin board display for the "Worker of the Month". What a wonderful way to highlight student success in their community job placements!

A special thank you to Jennifer for welcoming us back into her classroom and for being such a wonderful model for fellow high school teachers across the Miami Valley! 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Taskbox Time--Matching

It's that time again! We are excited to present some new taskbox ideas that can be used when working on matching skills with students.

Some basic activities may be matching by color or shape.
Use a Sharpie to color spots in an egg carton and have students match blocks 
Match shapes using velcro

Glue large pom-poms into the bottom of old playdoh containers and have students match the lids by color

Many taskboxes can be differentiated to meet needs of various students within the same classroom.
Match lids by shape to containers

Match pattern blocks by shape to container and then match lid 

Other matching activities require students to discriminate more detailed items.
Make a pocket board using Environmental Print
Find great Environmental Print for FREE at Hubbard's Cupboard

Match mini erasers in an ice cube tray

Build MatMan
Emily Ottmar, Stevenson Elementary

Turn a Memory game into a taskbox that incorporates student interests

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. Other organizations provide donations. 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.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Regulation Rendezvous--Home Base

Welcome to our newest series, Regulation Rendezvous, which highlights the wonderful sensory supports we have seen across the Miami Valley.

To kick things off, we are starting with one of our favorite supports for helping students manage their anxiety and sensory regulation, Home Base. The use of Home Base can help students prevent or recover from a behavioral meltdown as a result of sensory overload or increased stress and anxiety. Home Base should be a specific location within the school or home environment where the student feels safe, comfortable, and is typically "sensory neutral" or has very minimal alerting input.

Some schools have enough space for dedicated Home Base room.
Snyder Park Elementary, Springfield City Schools

Perrin Woods Elementary, Springfield City Schools

Orchard Park Elementary, Kettering City Schools
Intensive Needs Classroom, Greene County ESC

Many times, teachers create a Home Base area within the classroom due to space, staffing, safety, and/or convenience. Home Base goes by many other names as well such as a Calm Down Corner, Cozy Corner, or Chill Out Zone.

Kate Pennington, Kettering Early Childhood Education Center

Many Home Base areas have flexible seating such as a bean bag or rocking chair.
Anne Rosenbaum, Orchard Park Elementary

Kendall Koehler, Normandy Elementary

Amy Beanblossom, Arcanum Elementary
Rachel Hatton, Normandy Elementary

Sometimes, teachers will block off this space using dividers, tables covered with a sheet, or a tent.
Kendall Koehler, Normandy Elementary

Jamie Zimmer, Kettering Middle School

When using a tent, we suggest a cotton or canvas material. Often times the texture and scratchy sound of a vinyl tent can be too alerting for students who are trying to calm down.
Orchard Park Elementary, Kettering City Schools

Lisa Reinmuller, McKinley Elementary

They may also have weighted items like a weighted blanket or lap pad. And dimmed lighting to reduce visual distractions as well as use of calming colors such as blue and purple.
Athenia Eversole, Versailles Elementary

We recommend that time in the Home Base area be scheduled throughout the school day especially to help students prime or recover for times of day that may be most stressful and difficult to regulate. For many students with autism these are less structured times such as such as specials, lunch, recess, or assemblies due to the increased sensory and social demands.

Home Base breaks should often be different than reinforcement breaks. Home base breaks are a tool necessary for helping students with sensory regulation. They should not be contingent on being earned or withheld from students. Home Base breaks should be viewed with as much importance as academic times because maintaining self-regulation allows for more opportunities for learning and increased success in the school environment.

Sometimes staff or students may initiate additional Home Base breaks if they sense sensory overload. Going to home base should be viewed in a positive way and not associated with punishment or “time out” and should be directly taught as a strategy to help students cope. Some signs of sensory overload that we often see include but are not limited to "cocooning" in hooded sweatshirts, increased rocking or pacing, increased self-talk or scripting, closing or rubbing eyes, or increased need for deep pressure such as through hugs or leaning into furniture. Other students engage in escape behaviors when they are unable to communicate they need a break. These signs vary with each student. Consult with your OT if you need help identifying these signs in your student. One effective strategy we see is teaching students to use a break card.

Home base is not intended to be an escape from schoolwork. If a student finds the classroom to have too much sensory input, schoolwork can be completed within the home base area. Sometimes this may be a spot in the library or in a study carrel work space.

For additional information, visit the Home Base module on the Autism Internet Modules at