Facilitating Communication from the Start: A Back to School Guide

{Guys... We are running an exciting Back to School Giveaway from Sept 1st to the 8th!  
Check out the details below. But FIRST, I wanted to chat with you a bit about getting back into language facilitation while you're getting settled in back at school this fall!}

If you've worked with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, you know that verbal and non-verbal language, communication & social skills are at the top of the list of challenges they face (to varying degrees). Not having the skills or being able to generalize those skills in order to effectively communicate is not only frustrating and limiting to the functioning of your student out in the world, but it can also cause lots of other issues, including challenging behaviors. Needless to say, one of your biggest jobs as a teacher of students with autism is to support the language needs of your students. ALL LANGUAGE, ALL DAY, EVERY DAY is the new motto of our classroom & I hope I can persuade you to adopt a similar one.

As you're getting your classrooms ready & heading back to school (for those of you who are winding down your first month... I hope it's been a great one... sorry your summer was so short... it's never too late to bring in new strategies so keep reading!) it's the perfect time to start thinking about how you are teaching & eliciting from your students (with or without autism). 

Eliciting Language - What is it and why is it important?
Eliciting language is essentially setting up situations where the student will need to communicate in order to access something desired or needed. For example, if the student is working on writing his schedule and there are no pencils in the classroom, he will need to 1 - look around for a pencil, 2 - ask to borrow one if a classmate or teacher has one in view, 3 - ask someone for help (or better yet, use a "WH" Question to find the item). If it is lunchtime and the microwave isn't working, the student will need to find another way to heat up lunch, eat lunch cold OR ask someone to help! This is a big one - remind me to put this in my Sub Binder - make sure everyone knows that you don't immediately side step out of the way when a student with special needs enters your space and needs to pass through... Lots of people are polite. Lots of people "in the real world" will likely move aside for your student in the community too. However, some people may not notice they are approaching. Some people may not know what their intentions are. Some people may be intimidated when your student becomes a larger adult. I think we know where this is going, if your student is used to people always moving aside and never using the language skill of stating "excuse me" (and the social skill of waiting until the person moves out of the way) the likelihood that they will run into someone or become very frustrated when this expectation isn't fulfilled is pretty high. Set your kids up for success. Show them what they need to do. Make them practice. Even when you're in a rush. Even when you're having an important conversation with your supervisor in the doorway and it's lunch time. Even when... you get it. All language. All day. Every day. 
Note: This doesn't mean that every time the student needs to do a given activity you will purposefully put up a road block to elicit language, but it means that you will periodically use this instructional method to teach language skills within the context that they need to be used.

Another important strategy for teaching language skills and eliciting the use of those skills when they are needed is using visual cues. From communication choice boards to written scripts and/or text cues, visual language supports can be extremely beneficial to your students. Using pictures and words helps with comprehension so that your student is selecting the word(s) he/she intends to use. If you're setting up communication choice boards (check out this FREEBIE), you are providing your student with a limited and manageable array of choices to use when communicating. This can be set up for specific activities (e.g., the different words and phrases needed during a game are very different than math) or can span the whole day and be more generic (think basic needs - bathroom, break, water, etc.). When using visuals which are activity specific, put them where the activity takes place, or have the student bring them along with their other materials for that task. This "I Need to Go" Door Sign (included in the Back to School Resource Pack) is the newest visual I have put in place in my classroom & I'm super excited about it. I have LOTS of independent students in my class guys... they know what goes where, they know their routines, they can follow complex schedules, and yet standing at the door waiting for an adult to 1. Notice them and 2. Ask them what they need was at an ALL TIME HIGH in June. My plan is to have the language supports in place AND IN THE PLACE THEY'RE NEEDED in order for my students to begin initiating language use in order to access what they need. What we don't want to do is teach our students that the behavior that gets them access to what they need is running out of the room (at which point an adult intervenes & ultimately discovers the need & prompts the correct request then grants access) or being off task in the doorway for 10 minutes waiting to be "discovered" by an adult. No, we want the student to come to the step in the chain (whether the chain is bathroom use, unpacking and going to the locker, going to the lunchroom, etc.) where they need to communicate information with an adult and to make that communication happen so they see that their words have meaning & their words are what get them what they need.

Guys, language is power. Language is essential for success. Language is essential for a high quality of life. Help your kids get there! Please feel free to reach out to me at any time with ideas, questions, etc.


Here Are the Giveaway Details:
1. Like Smarty Symbols on Facebook
2. Comment below about what your biggest challenge is heading back to school
4. GOOD LUCK! There are some AWESOME prizes up for grabs :)

Next, hop on over to Autism Classroom News HERE for an awesome blog post about Steps to Building Classroom Teams!


  1. I think the biggest challenge is building a routine that meets the needs of my student and keeps her included in her classroom.

  2. Helping kids learn all of the new routines is always hardest, but so orth the time!

  3. I teach the same kiddos for multiple years (I've had 1 of my boys for 5 years now and will most likely have him another 6). My biggest challenge is starting the year with fresh ideas, tasks, and schedules and not just the same thing we've done before! I get stuck in my old routines and have difficulty seeing the "next step", especially at the very beginning of the year!

    1. AGREE 10000% this is a struggle every year for me. Trying to find new ideas/crafts/books/everything year to year!


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