School Health Clinics now have visual supports

Members of WAT have provided WWS school health clinics visual aids and a communication binder to use with students who are experiencing limited verbal capability to express concern or worry.  The school nurses have been utilizing the binder for a variety of situations.  Each health clinic has also been provided two posters listing stress reduction strategies and phrases as well as a calm/soothing picture.  Each poster housed at health clinics in each elementary school, WIS, and WHS were created by WHS art club students.  The posters housed at WMS health clinic were created by WMS art club students.  WAT members would like to thank WMS and WHS art teachers and students involved in the development of these posters.  WAT members would also like to thank the district school nurses for their continued dedication & devotion to the health & safety of district staff, students, & families.

Feeling Communication board

Wall Street Journal Article about Gluten Free Diets


Attached above is an article published in the Wall Street Journal about the effectiveness of Gluten Free Diets for students who are on the Autistic Spectrum. The new work was competed at the University of Rochester Medical Center and it concludes that the gluten free, casein free diet doesn’t improve the symptoms of Autism.


Successful Transitions…


I am utilizing an amazing book to support my students getting ready to transition to the middle school.  The book is titled,  My New School: A Workbook to Help Students Transition to a New School.  The book is targeted for students ages 4-10.  I have found it easily modified to fit the needs of a variety of ages.  If you are interested in exploring this book, we are fortunate to have a copy in the Westfield Autism Library, located at Maple Glen Elementary.   Here is a summary of the book:

For many students with autism spectrum disorders, even relatively minor changes to their daily routines and schedules are overwhelming; imagine how traumatic moving to a new school would be! Written by somebody who truly knows kids, this interactive book addressed directly to the student takes a practical and honest approach to this anxiety-provoking subject by acknowledging the difficulties transferring to a new school can bring and engaging the students in a series of proactive activities designed to lessen his fears by resulting in tangible steps to take, to-do lists, checklists, etc. Whether the transfer is due to a typical transition between school levels, a family move, divorce or whatever, this book is sure to make the transition smoother.

My observations:

1.  Reduces overall anxiety.

2.  Connects students to staff and building prior to the actual transition.

3.  Encourages students to identify their individual strengths and areas of challenge.

4.  Supports relationship building with staff.

5.  Provides self-assessments, check-lists, and “to do” lists to promote a smooth transition. 


The use of visual aids to help our students with Autism succeed at school is often a common practice for many special educators. Visuals are extremely useful when our students are at home, too. I was reminded of this while recently visiting a friend’s house who has a high-functioning student with Autism. For the purposes of privacy, I’ll call him Bobby.

Bobby is a very bright 6th grader who does well at school. He is capable of carrying on a conversation about his preferred topics. He gets along well with his three siblings. Sometimes his parents “forget” that Bobby may need support to do every day tasks. On this particular day, the whole family was to do chores around the house to get the house ready to have guests over. Everyone was to pitch in until the work was done. For Bobby, this was daunting! Every time he was given a new task, he would ask, “is this my last chore?” to which his parents replied, “probably not.” This caused Bobby’s anxiety to increase and his questioning and frustration to increase, which then led to his parents becoming equally frustrated with Bobby. Bobby needed to know the answers to the basic questions: 1) what work, 2) how much work, 3) how will I know I’m finished, and 4) what do I do next. A very simple way to do this for Bobby would have been to make a list. If he had been assigned 3 chores (or whatever was needed) that were written on a piece of paper/dry erase board/etc. along with a quick verbal  description of the task, he would have been able to complete his chores without any difficulties. For example, his list may have included: 1) put the clean dishes away, 2) pick up toys in the basement, 3) vacuum the carpet in the basement. This, along with quick synopsis of what the task required (ie: put all of the toys in the toybox), would have really been helpful.

For students who are not readers, using pictures, symbols, or objects to indicate chores or activities is a great idea. The student can move the picture to a “finished” area when it’s completed and see what is next.

For specific ideas and/or visual aids, please feel free to contact your school’s WAT representative.

Getting creative with different resources

As a teacher and a parent, it seems that the story of our life is “trial and error.” When our students have needs, we try different strategies and interventions that we think and hope will support them to work toward a desired outcome. There are several valuable resources, programs, and strategies out there that have proven to be successful for many. Of course we know, one size does not fit all, so sometimes we need to tweak and adjust to find what works for each student.

The general education classroom can be a difficult environment for some students; The distractions, demands of multiple directions, and, as much as we try to prepare, the uncertainty of what is next. Add some anxiety to the mix, and this can lead to some tough days for some students.  After many different “trials and errors,”  I have worked to create the following, which seems to be working for one particular student. This is just an example of how getting creative with a few different resources can sometimes be the “answer.” (until it isn’t anymore, and then we tweak again!)

Super Flex  In a weekly Social Skills group, I have been working with 2nd graders using SuperFlex. They love the super-hero concept, and they truly relate to the Unthinkables! When the students are having a tough day, we (me, classroom teacher, aides) are able to refer to these Unthinkables and help prompt them through the moment. (available in the WAT library)
 Sticker Strategies I have combined our work with SuperFlex with Sticker Strategies. We have combined some of the strategies offered by this resource as tools to “defeat” the Unthinkables. My students have their own “Flexible Thinking Book” that we add to each group. (All schools have a copy of this resource. It is also available in the WAT library)
                         IMG_1452 IMG_1453 IMG_1454
For one student, we have reinforce the use of Flexible Thinking in the classroom with an Angry Birds Puzzle. The student is interested in Angry Birds, so earning a puzzle piece is highly motivating. Once the puzzle is complete, he earns time for a preferred activity in the classroom.
Although having these tools in place helped this particular student some, it still wasn’t enough. His anxiety in the classroom became so disruptive to his learning and participation in the classroom. The classroom teacher and I worked together to create a modified version of a work station for the classroom.
IMG_1446 IMG_1447 IMG_1448 IMG_1450
The teacher has set up an area in the corner of the classroom for the students to use as a work station. We created an Angry Birds themed visual for him. Only routine work, such as morning work, or review work is done in the work station. This offers the student a safe, expected place to work. Tasks are broken into 2 or 3 different “jobs.” Each job is in a folder. Once he finishes the job, he adds the angry bird to his board. When the visual on the board is complete, he takes a 5 minute “basket break” in his area. This has worked wonderfully for this student. The teacher is also able to utilize it when the student’s anxiety is heightened during a new task or instruction. She will have him work at his work station, and later, revisit the new concepts.

 The last little nugget that has helped at the workstation: The iPad. If the student needs to copy something from the board or needs to refer to a visual on the wall, the teacher takes a picture of it so he can see it up close at his work station!  

Be patient. Be creative. Know your students. Keep working to find what works best for each student. This took months to finalize as it is being used today!

Holiday Tips

Holiday Tips

Helping Parents of Kids with Autism Handle the Unique Challenges of the Holiday Season
The holiday season is a joyful time, but as we all know, it can also be incredibly stressful. Nobody appreciates this more than the parents and families of children with autism, who already face unique challenges.

Routines and structure are more difficult to maintain during the chaos of the holidays, and kids with autism must deal with new faces, places and a disruption of their schedules. And, since many children with autism are also sensitive to noise, touch and light, the din of the holidays can become disorienting and overwhelming. This can mean a new level of stress and anxiety.

The following are tips provided by medical experts, educators and families of kids with autism. Several of the professionals and parents are available to discuss these and other ideas for making the holidays more fun for everyone involved:

  • Plan ahead whenever possible. Compile a list of activities that can help your child fill his or her time wherever you go.
  • Use rehearsal and role play to give children practice ahead of time in dealing with new social situations, or work together to write a “social story” that incorporates all the elements of an upcoming event or visit to better prepare them for that situation.
  • If you are going to visit family or friends, make sure there is a quiet, calm place for retreat.
  • Keep an eye out for signs of anxiety or distress, including an increase in behaviors such as humming or rocking – they may indicate it’s time for a break.
  • Engage kids with autism in repetitive activities such as stringing popcorn for trimming the tree.
  • Practice unwrapping gifts ahead of time, which will help a child with autism learn the understanding and the meaning of gifts.
  • Take toys and other gifts out of the box before wrapping them. It is more fun and less frustrating if a child with autism can open the gift and play with it immediately.
  • Try to relax and have a good time. If you are tense your child may sense that something isn’t right.
  • Get a list of gift ideas for relatives from your child’s teacher and therapists.
  • Don’t shield your child from the extended family. Family members need to understand the challenges you face.
  • Take pictures when you and your child trim the tree, visit relatives, open gifts, etc. Make a book about your holiday by gluing the pictures onto construction paper, writing a short sentence under each picture, and stapling the pages together. When someone asks your child a question regarding the holidays, your child can use the book as a visual cue to help tell about the things he or she did.

Tips provided by: Dr. Gary Goldstein, clinical scientific advisor for Autism Speaks and president and chief executive officer of the Kennedy Krieger Institute; Dr. Fred Volkmar, director of the Yale Developmental Disabilities Clinic; Dr. Melissa Nishawala, clinical director of the Autism Spectrum Disorders Service; Dr. John Brown, Director, Reed Academy; Dr. Ivy Feldman, educational director, The McCarton School; and Diane Marshall, mother of a son with autism.

Healthcare reform

by Jennifer Teal

Healthcare and insurance can be a difficult sea to wade in during the best of times.  Now, with the new Affordable Care Act being implemented, many changes are occurring.  These changes can impact families dealing with ASD.  The following is a link to resources to help deal with the changes and learn about what they may mean for you and your family.


Twelve Tips for Helping People with Autism and Their Families Have a Happy Holiday

Twelve Tips for Helping People with Autism and Their Families Have a Happy Holiday

While many happily anticipate the coming holiday season, families of people on the autism spectrum also understand the special challenges that may occur when schedules are disrupted and routines broken. Our hope is that by following these few helpful tips, families may lessen the stress of the holiday season and make it a more enjoyable experience for everyone involved. The following tips were developed with input from the Autism Society, the Indiana Resource Center for Autism, Easter Seals Crossroads, the Sonya Ansari Center for Autism at Logan and the Indiana Autism Leadership Network..

1. Preparation is crucial for many individuals. At the same time, it is important to determine how much preparation a specific person may need. For example, if your son or daughter has a tendency to become anxious when anticipating an event that is to occur in the future, you may want to adjust how many days in advance you prepare him or her. Preparation can occur in various ways by using a calendar and marking the dates of various holiday events, or by creating a social story that highlights what will happen at a given event.

2. Decorations around the house may be disruptive for some. It may be helpful to revisit pictures from previous holidays that show decorations in the house. If such a photo book does not exist, use this holiday season to create one. For some it may also be helpful to take them shopping with you for holiday decorations so that they are engaged in the process. Or involve them in the process of decorating the house. And once holiday decorations have been put up, you may need to create rules about those that can and cannot be touched. Be direct, specific and consistent.

3. If a person with autism has difficulty with change, you may want to gradually decorate the house. For example, on the first day, put up the Christmas tree, then on the next day, decorate the tree and so on. And again, engage them as much as possible in this process. It may be helpful to develop a visual schedule or calendar that shows what will be done on each day.

4. If a person with autism begins to obsess about a particular gift or item they want, it may be helpful to be specific and direct about the number of times they can mention the gift. One suggestion is to give them five chips. They are allowed to exchange one chip for five minutes of talking about the desired gift. Also, if you have no intention of purchasing a specific item, it serves no purpose to tell them that maybe they will get the gift. This will only lead to problems in the future. Always choose to be direct and specific about your intentions.

5. Teach them how to leave a situation and/or how to access support when an event becomes overwhelming. For example, if you are having visitors, have a space set aside for the child as his/her safe/calm space. The individual should be taught ahead of time that they should go to their space when feeling overwhelmed. This self-management tool will serve the individual into adulthood. For those who are not at that level of self-management, develop a signal or cue for them to show when they are getting anxious, and prompt them to use the space. For individuals with more significant challenges, practice using this space in a calm manner at various times prior to your guests’ arrival. Take them into the room and engage them in calming activities (e.g., play soft music, rub his/her back, turn down the lights, etc.). Then when you notice the individual becoming anxious, calmly remove him/her from the anxiety-provoking setting immediately and take him/her into the calming environment.

6. If you are traveling for the holidays, make sure you have their favorite foods or items available. Having familiar items readily available can help to calm stressful situations. Also, prepare them via social stories or other communication systems for any unexpected delays in travel. If you are flying for the first time, it may be helpful to bring the individual to the airport in advance and help him/her to become accustomed to airports and planes. Use social stories and pictures to rehearse what will happen when boarding and flying.

7. Know your loved one with autism and how much noise and activity they can tolerate. If you detect that a situation may be becoming overwhelming, help them find a quiet area in which to regroup. And there may be some situations that you simply avoid (e.g., crowded shopping malls the day after Thanksgiving).

8. Prepare a photo album in advance of the relatives and other guests who will be visiting during the holidays. Allow the person with autism access to these photos at all times and also go through the photo album with him/her while talking briefly about each family member.

9. Practice opening gifts, taking turns and waiting for others, and giving gifts. Role play scenarios with your child in preparation for him/her getting a gift they do not want. Talk through this process to avoid embarrassing moments with family members. You might also choose to practice certain religious rituals. Work with a speech language pathologist to construct pages of vocabulary or topic boards that relate to the holidays and family traditions.

10. Prepare family members for strategies to use to minimize anxiety or behavioral incidents, and to enhance participation. Help them to understand if the person with autism prefers to be hugged or not, needs calm discussions or provide other suggestions that will facilitate a smoother holiday season.

11. If the person with autism is on special diet, make sure there is food available that he/she can eat. And even if they are not on a special diet, be cautious of the amount of sugar consumed. And try to maintain a sleep and meal routine.

12. Above all, know your loved one with autism. Know how much noise and other sensory input they can take. Know their level of anxiety and the amount of preparation it may take. Know their fears and those things that will make the season more enjoyable for them.

Don’t stress. Plan in advance. And most of all have a wonderful holiday season!


More information available at:

Expected and Unexpected Behaviors by Stacy Lucich

Mr. Butz recently attended a great conference on social behaviors, and brought back some great information and new ideas to use in our social group! The past few weeks we have discussed “expected” and “unexpected” behaviors. This terminology takes away from placing value on the behaviors, good or bad, and describes the behaviors as what they are, something one would expect or not expect in a given scenario.  “Expected” behaviors are the things students should, and are expected to do when working in a group, playing with a friend or listening to the teacher’s lesson. They are behaviors that aren’t necessarily taught, but rather picked up along the way as students progress through their schooling. Examples of “expected” behaviors include sitting in your chair, looking at the speaker or making a comment that is related to the topic being discussed. Sometimes, however, students may show “unexpected” behaviors. These “unexpected” behaviors vary widely from child to child and may consist of laying their head on the table to making off-topic comments.


This terminology seems to be clicking with many of the students in our Social Skills Group, as many students will identify “expected” behaviors or “unexpected” behaviors. One student even reminded the rest of the group, “Remember to use expected behavior today!”


In future Social Skills Groups we plan to discuss how everyone will at some time or another have “unexpected” behaviors. “Unexpected behaviors” do not define who you are, but rather are minor hiccups in a rather full day of demonstrating “expected” behaviors.


Stacy Lucich is Mr. Butz’s student teacher for the Fall 2012 trimester.  She comes to Westfield Schools from Saint Louis University.


Thank you Vectren!

WAT would like to thank Vectren Foundation for their generous grant donation to WAT to assist with providing supports to students with ASD.  The grant funds allowed WAT to purchase items for WAT district library as well as a reading tool for each special education teacher in the district.

Next Page »