Back to School Night!!!

This year I feel SO much more prepared for Back to School Night at my school. Last year around this time I was still super overwhelmed setting up my new program, learning my kids, trying to train and support my aides, etc. Though I had provided parents with schedules, copies of current goals and some general information about the classroom, we flew through all my planned discussions and introductions pretty fast and the rest of the night was fairly disorganized. Not to worry, we had lots of productive things to talk about like being in HS, planning for the future, getting services through the state, etc. I don't feel that I did enough to really explain what was happening on a daily basis, how that can relate to what is happening at home and how we can work together to have each student succeed in both environments.
So this year I set up a powerpoint that will help keep us focused and on topic AND am planning a little surprise for the parents. My students will be planning & baking a special treat (to be determined during tomorrow's morning group!!) for their parents. I'll be taking photos and showing examples of the visuals we used to prepare the treats as well as showing parents all the skills we were able to target during this lesson!
Take a look below to see what I'm including in my powerpoint! Best of luck everyone, I hope you all have a great Back to School Night this year & set the stage for a great parent-teacher partnership this year!


All fonts used from KG Fonts

Lacking Motivation? The true meaning & methods behind our most powerful tool: REINFORCEMENT!

Conducting Preference Assessments:

Why conduct preference assessments?
Here’s the thing… if you have ever tried to make a change in your student’s behavior WITHOUT having a powerful reinforcer, you know that is a lot harder and a lot less effective than if you had something the student REALLY wanted! Well, the reason it wasn’t working is that it was not actually a reinforcer. What if the “reinforcer” for all the work you put in to help your students during the school day, after school, on the weekend, etc. (let’s be real, teachers work HARD!) was a smiley face sticker (I mean ONLY a smiley face sticker. In place of your paycheck…). Would you keep doing it? Mayyyybe not.

In the field of Applied Behavior Analysis, the term “reinforcer” is used only for items, activities or other rewards which increase the likelihood of a behavior happening again in the future. So if you want to know if it’s truly a reinforcer – look for the behavioral change!

The best starting place? Find things your student really likes by conducting preference assessments! Once you get through this first step, you can begin to observe and assess whether or not providing this item/reward to the student for engaging in a desired behavior (or the absence of an undesired behavior) causes an increase in those desired behaviors (or an increase in the amount of time the undesired behavior is absent).

 Ok so where do I start?
1.     Develop a list of potential reinforcers.
o   Observe your student throughout the day.
§ Check to see what items the student gravitates towards:
·         Watch to see the types of objects your student is interested in (e.g., things that are wet vs. dry, big vs. small, colorful vs. black and white, types of textures, smells, and other features, etc.)
Now think about whether these items/activities are appropriate as rewards, if not consider different items or activities you could provide the student which are more appropriate (e.g., playing with glue may not be appropriate, but applying body lotion may serve as a replacement for this).

§ Look at the types of behaviors your student engages in:
·         Watch to see how your student manipulates items (e.g., spinning, smelling, rubbing on parts of own body, holding up to light or to own eyes, etc.)
Now think about whether these activities are appropriate as rewards, if not consider different items or activities you could provide the student which are more appropriate (e.g., if the student is interested in smelling materials or individuals, a sensory box with various different scented items could work – try bottles of oils, different spices, scented stickers, etc.).
o   Ask your student’s parents:
§ Parents are always an invaluable resource when getting to know your student. Check in with them, perhaps sending a survey home to find out the types of things their child spends most of his/her time doing, is interested in, seeks out at home, in stores, etc. 
§ While you’re on the subject, find out what kinds of restrictions the student has. Some parents may not want edible reinforcers used (or only in smaller quantities, less frequently, only healthier options, etc.), there may be food allergies, perhaps your student will ingest dangerous substances when playing with specific toys, etc. 
o   Ask your student!
§ For students with higher verbal abilities, simply asking may be effective, for students who do not express their interests as well, having them sample things in their environment, exposing them to items in different environments, or perhaps bringing them to a store and looking to see what items they gravitate towards.

2.    Conduct your preference assessments.
o   Create a list of all possible items. Split the list into edible vs non-edible items, you will want to assess these separately. If it is a very long list, you can split them up into multiple lists, then take the top few items from each and assess together.
o   There are two types of preference assessments covered in this resource, though these are not the only types out there. If you’re interested in finding out about other options, feel free to reach out to me or consult some other Autism/Applied Behavior Analysis resources! These are the two I use most often with my students which I have found provide helpful results and are fairly simple to administer and assess.
o   Multiple Stimulus Without Replacement (MSWO):
§ In this preference assessment, you are providing the student with various items and allowing him/her to select an item, once it is selected the item is removed (not replaced), then the student will select from the remaining items until all have been chosen or the student stops selecting items altogether. 
o   Paired Choice:
§ In this preference assessment, you are providing the student with two items from your list (by the end of the assessment every item will have been paired with all other items once) and ask the student to select one. 

3.    Analyze your data (after you have repeated your preference assessment for a second time, on another day, to see if the results are consistent). Review your data and look to see which items are selected most often and in what sequence. The items which are chosen first in the MSWO or which are selected regardless of the pairing most often in the Paired Choice assessment are the ones you want to use to create behavioral change (when I refer to behavioral change I don’t just mean reducing challenging or inappropriate behaviors, but also increasing skill performance!)

4.    Test it out – start using those rewards and see what happens!

Check out my Behavior Data Resource for more on this subject. The resource includes specific instructions for setting up your MSWO or Paired Choice preference assessments, a sample parent survey, editable & PDF data sheets for each assessment, as well as resources for daily behavior data collection, ABC data collection, etc.

Best of luck to you and your students!!

It's that time of year... Here's to planning for next year's class!

Clearly by now you get that I'm a bit obsessive and a total over planner (in my professional life only, most of my family & friends are probably having a pretty good laugh at that statement!) and planning for incoming students is pretty much that times about 1,000...

Here's the thing: Working with students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder is hard (absolutely amazing, but hard). There is SO much to discover about each student, including finding out their mode of communication, preferences, patterns of maladaptive behavior as well as environmental triggers, and of course, identifying existing and missing skills and effective teaching strategies! Given that your student is likely to have communication challenges, it also takes quite a bit of work to get all that information. It could either take you a year of trial and error or you could do some leg work before the student is in your classroom and get ahead of the game!

I probably also don't need to remind you how challenging it can be for our students to adapt to changes to their routines and adapting to new environments... Again, preparation really is the key here. If the student knows about the change (and I mean repeated exposure to detailed information, timelines, pictures/videos, etc.) and has been exposed to the new environment, classmates, and teachers (try to set up some really positive experiences with these environments and individuals) then you have really covered all your bases.

I go into a lot more detail on some of the strategies for obtaining necessary information and preparing students as well as staff for success in one of my new TPT products (New Student Profile). Click the following link for a free preview of the product: Transition Guidelines Freebie

One final tip:
Speaking with previous teachers, therapists, behaviorists, etc. is a great way to get some initial information about a student. However, nothing is a replacement for seeing and working with that student yourself. Every teacher has their own approach, and (lets face it) their own biases and opinions. When possible, ask for graphs or evidence to support what others are saying. For example, if a teacher/therapist reports serious behavioral challenges with your student, ask for not only details and examples, but numbers and facts (e.g., Can I see the behavior graphs?, Are there injury logs & reports?, What did the functional assessment show?, Can I review the behavior plan?, How long has this plan been in place, any modifications?, etc.) Look: you don't want this to turn into an interrogation, and you want to maintain a positive relationship with this service provider, so try to keep any judgement or opinions about the information you are given. Remember, the student will be in your program soon enough where you can do your own assessments and make any changes you feel the student will benefit from (not just one's that don't reflect your own style), so don't stress over the past, just use it to benefit your future instruction with this student.

Good luck and happy planning everyone :)

Below are some transition related resources up on my My TPT Page:


What's so funny? Here's my blog on teaching humor and joke telling to literal learners.

"Knock knock."
"Who's there?"
"Horse who?"
"A horse who is looking for someone to feed him."

Sound familiar? I have a student with a lot of language skills who seeks out attention through basically everything he does. He recently discovered joke telling (which I was attempting to teach a different student) and LOVES that he can make the communication partner laugh. He also laughs hysterically with them even if he can't explain/doesn't understand why/how the joke is funny (which as a teacher I want to fix, but as a person I think is absolutely adorable). Anyway, after a few days of reading scripted jokes which he had some trouble memorizing, my student started making up his own jokes (amazing)! The joke above is a regular one in his rotation. So we have some work to do but the good news is he is HIGHLY motivated!

There are many challenges in teaching learners with cognitive, communication, and social delays about humor and how to deliver a joke. Let's break it down:

Joke Delivery:
1. Taking conversational turns - this is a BIG one. It is also especially hard when your student is using any type of textual cue for a joke script.  Your student asks and answers the questions in the joke (no participation opportunity for the communicative partner) example: Student says "Why do bicycles fall over? I don't know. Because they are two-tired" while communication partner stands and waits for an opportunity to talk (or more likely while a teacher or instructional aide desperately try to stop him from speaking and to give the other person a turn!)

       Initial thoughts: Check for prerequisite skills. Does your student know how to have any type of   
       reciprocal conversation? Or is it the general back and forth that is challenging? If this is the case,
       you should start to target taking conversational turns in general (which could take on a similar
       approach to what is described below). Note - This doesn't mean that your student should not still
       work on joke telling at this point, but recognize what the challenge is and make sure that your
       initial focus is on conversational turn taking and that joke telling may be just one of many ways
       you target the skill.
       One idea for tackling this challenge:

    •  If using text cues for teaching the joke phrases while also teaching joke delivery skills, use index cards (or some other small cards) so each part of the joke conversation can be placed on one card. *It may also help to add in turn taking cards or turn taking labels onto the joke cards as well as to teach the student to pass the cards back and forth when it says a certain person's name. This can be very effective since the student is learning not just to pause, but is getting repeated practice of waiting until the communication partner makes a guess or says he doesn't know before delivering the answer. Otherwise your student may have trouble determining how long to wait before saying something. (A more complex delivery skill would be to teach your student to ask again or say something like "Do you know?", "Do you have a guess?", "Do you give up?" etc. if the other person is taking too long. We are NOT there yet, give your student some time to get the basics down first!)
      • Example: Card #1: John's turn, Card #2: "Why do bicycles fall over?", Card #3: Mr. Smith's turn (John should hand the set of cards to Mr. Smith), Card #4: Make a guess or say "I don't know.", Card #5: John's turn (Mr. Smith passes the cards back to John, pairing a vocal response from the communication partner with the opportunity to give the answer), Card #6: "Because they are two tired."
        • Just an aside: Adding in the turn taking cards may really benefit your student. It may also bring up some fun new challenges, like teaching your student NOT to read them. You really want to curb this immediately if he/she begins to do so. As you know with repeated practice these types of errors can quickly become an embedded part of their response forever and what was cute/funny in your classroom will not be as socially acceptable in other settings. You may even want to use pictures or put the John's/whoever's turn cards in a different font, color, or put them in parenthesis while the other cards are all in quotation marks just to show the student that they are NOT read aloud.
2. Responding to unscripted responses from the communication partner. In the example above I noted that on Card #6 there is no varied response based on the response from his partner on Card #4. Here's the thing.. If the person guesses incorrectly or says "I don't know," your student should deliver the answer either way. The tricky part? What if they are correct?! If you are teaching joke telling in a systematic way, then build this into your skill acquisition program:
  • Step #1 could be to teach the student how to deliver the joke when the communication partner says "I don't know."
  • Step #2 could be to teach the student how to deliver the joke when the communication partner makes an incorrect guess.
  • Step #3 could be a combination of steps 1 & 2, teaching the student to respond to varied responses in the same manner.
  • Step #4 could be to teach the student how to deliver the joke when the communication partner makes a correct guess.
  • Step #5 could be a combination of steps 1, 2 & 4: Teaching the student to discriminate between and respond appropriately to varied responses.
  • Step #6 could be to teach the student how to deliver the joke when the communication partner makes a guess which is close but not exactly correct.
  • Step #7 could be a combination of steps 1, 2, 4 & 6: Teaching the student to discriminate between and respond appropriately to varied responses.
  • Note: You may not need to break this skill down so far for some learners, even further for others, etc. You also may decide that only certain steps are necessary or appropriate for your learner. Is it the end of the world for the student to still deliver the punchline even if the communication partner already guessed it correctly? Not at all. Decide what works and is appropriate for your learner and deliver your instruction based upon those needs. 
 3. Vocal pacing and intonation. *This is much more complex and general skill deficit in the area of expressive language. Use of pacing boards, speaking fluency drills, etc. could be helpful for pacing while visual cues (such as making some words physically bigger or smaller) could help with teaching the student which words receive emphasis or enlarged punctuation and specific instruction on how your word should sound in coordination with that punctuation mark may be appropriate. These are just some very basic and general thoughts on a broad area of instruction so I would suggest breaking down these skill deficits (perhaps speak with your speech and language pathologist for ideas) and teaching them explicitly. Note: Again, this activity of joke telling could be an appropriate practice opportunity for your student to work on those skills, but it should be just one of many.

Joke Comprehension:
This can be very tricky. While it isn't totally essential that your student understand the joke for the interaction to take place, if you want the interaction to be more meaningful and for your student to make more connections, it really should be a focus as well. I've struggled here. Throwing more language at my students after their joke delivery (when they're mid-way poised to turn and walk away since the joke is finished for them!) of "Oh get it, 2 tires and too tired haha!" really isn't cutting it. Well I, like many teachers, spend quite a bit of time browsing around on Teachers Pay Teachers and recently found a very cute joke-telling product by Speech2U. (For anyone who is interested, the product is Flip Flap Knock Knock Jokes: Humor and Social skills) It's a visual knock-knock joke set up which can help with the pacing and turn taking component skills I discussed above, but what I LOVE is the visual explanation card she created. You could sit down and go through various jokes with your student reviewing what "The joke said" vs what it "Sounds like" to determine why/how it is funny. I am excited to try this out with my students and see how it goes! I'm planning to do this in a group setting, put it up on the SmartBoard provide visuals for the whole joke (or have my boys display their fantastic artistic skills) and break it down that way.

Has anyone else had success teaching joke telling and comprehension? If so PLEASE share!!

Have a wonderful and relaxing weekend everyone!

P.S. Just a little side note/tangent: When first working on new communication and social skills, at least ONE of the partners needs to be proficient in the skill. I always cringe when two of my students who struggle with the same social skills try to navigate a conversation together. I am NOT suggesting that the students should not be interacting, but that the conversations should be more structured and clear. Have them talk with a third party who can help to translate and lead the conversation. Why is this such a hot topic for me? I have a lot of concerns about embedding errors and the long term impact of poor practice opportunities on the student's communicative and social skills...  With the expansive and lasting impact that poor communication and social skills has on your student's whole life, give them the best chance of making significant gains by providing quality instruction and successful practice opportunities whenever possible.

Providing Support While Building Independence!

I am so fortunate to have so much support and so many resources for my classroom of students with autism! I love my aides and truly could not be providing the same quality of instruction to my students without their help... However some days I worry about the level of support we are embedding especially for my boys who are in High School now. How can we expect these students to go home and occupy their time appropriately and have a level of autonomy if we do not give them an opportunity to learn the skills to do so in a structured setting? Better (or more worrisome??) question: how can we expect these students to leave a highly structured instructional setting in 6 short years ready for work and an independent lifestyle if we are not preparing them for it???

Relax everyone, transitioning to adulthood is an extremely overwhelming topic for educators and families alike, let's remember to take it one step at a time! All I'm talking about now is having students learn to spend a bit of time without as much supervision and having them still engage in productive and meaningful activities.

Over the past few months I have been working on different types of independent work skills and schedules with my students based upon their readiness levels and prerequisite skills. Some students are learning to read and follow written directions to perform independent skills, others are learning how to use a digital timer to perform open-ended activities in a more structured manner (who else has a few kids who could either play with the same toy for an hour OR who get off task during an open-ended activity and resort to inappropriate behaviors for various reasons?), and some students have recently learned to read and follow checklists of up to 10 activities without staff assistance! A few of the students who acquired this more complex skill are now also working on structuring their own time by creating the checklist. Side note: I have some students who actually do not need the checklist and still appropriately allocate their time to different activities during a leisure period, which I have to say is pretty incredible :)

One example of a Task Analysis I have been using to teach this skill of creating and following an independent schedule is: 
Program Name: Creates and Follows Independent Activity Schedule                                               90% Independence over 2 consecutive days
Set Up: Present Student with activity choice board. Present him with a blank checklist of 5-10 tasks (or have him retrieve a lined paper and create his own).
SD: “Make your checklist” ***Once Student’s checklist is made he should independently begin following the checklist without any additional directions.***
Response: Student will perform the chain below to complete each task on his checklist and cross them off as they are finished.
Reinforcement: Student will receive 1 token at the end of the checklist.                          
Error: Non-verbally redirect Student back to the current step in the sequence.
Current Target:
5 - 10 Task Checklist
5 - 10 Task Checklist
5 - 10 Task Checklist
5 - 10 Task Checklist
5 - 10 Task Checklist
Task Analysis:
1. Selects task and writes on checklist

2. Adds # of minutes 
(if necessary)

3. Crosses task off activity choice board

Create whole checklist before beginning to perform activities (repeat 1-3 for each task before moving on to 4 for the first task)
4. Points to/identifies first/next task

5. Retrieves task materials

6. Retrieves timer 
(if necessary)

7. Sets and starts timer for designated duration
(if necessary)

8. Performs task for duration (open-ended activity) or until completed (closed-ended activity) Performs task = stays in instructional area, manipulates materials in appropriate manner as the skill was learned for duration with no more than 10 consecutive seconds off task behavior.

9. Stops timer when it sounds within 3 seconds
(if appropriate)

10. Cleans up and returns materials

11. Checks off task

Daily Average %:

  Note: Actual procedures and steps should be modified and individualized for each student's skills and needs.
See the sample Activity Choice List included in this blog which students can use to select their independent activities for their checklists. As always, each students' list should be a bit different since the students do not have the same preferences, mastered skills, etc.

 Just a reminder, the students who are working on these skills and utilizing these checklists have the prerequisite skills to do so! They are all readers with a number of independent skills, however accommodations can be made for non-readers or students with lower reading abilities. Use a picture choice list instead of a written choice list, use a digital representation of the time instead of a time written out or a picture of the timer itself, set to the correct duration.

Best day through this process? The first day I ran this program with a student who is a real rule follower (a boy after my own heart!) selected 10 tasks in order from the top of the list. On the next opportunity I stopped him from writing and gestured for him to look up and down the list first and that was it! He found out that going in order meant missing out on video games, UNO, and lots of other fun activities. So when you are creating your activity choice lists be sure to mix up the activities so students are really making thoughtful decisions about how they want to spend their time.
Tip # 2: I have the students cross off their selections from the checklist so that they do not pick the same activity twice in the same checklist. However, for some students I have them wait until ALL the activities have been selected (throughout multiple checklist opportunities during the course of the day) so they include more of a variety of tasks.

Regardless of what step they're at or how many tasks they can perform on their own, just remember that each step is one towards independence and given the level of structure and supervision most students in specialized settings are used to, each step is a huge deal so remember to celebrate it :)

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