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)
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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.
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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!

Homework tips

Back to school means back to homework! The battle at home can be just as stressful for parents as it is the kids! The link below offers some tips for “homework battles.”

Resolving “Homework Battles” With Aspergers Children

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:

No More Stinking Thinking

Recently, I used No More Stinking Thinking: A Workbook for Teaching Children Positive Thinking, by Joann Altiero. I used part of this book with 2nd graders, and they responded very well to it.

The common language and the foundation of the book is based on pretend characters, and circumstances. (So if your kids have a tough time with fantasy and reality, make sure they understand it is pretend!) Students “apply” to be a Super Thinking Wizard. They make a promise to promote kindness and healthy thinking instead of stinking thinking (negative thoughts). They have to keep the evil Warlock Lord Stinker away because he brings the stinking thinking.

This pretend scenario provides common language to social situations that may arise in the classroom, as well as a foundation of social skills taught throughout the book. The book covers jumping to conclusions, wearing blinkers (focusing on weaknesses), putting things in a nutshell (always or never), making a big or little deal, selfish thinking, and all or nothing thinking.

When I am in the classroom with one of my students, and he starts to show his frustration, I remind him he is letting “Lord Stinker” take over, and most times, he changes his reaction!

This book is available in our WAT library!

Hamilton County Leadership Academy

The Hamilton County Leadership Academy will present The Autism House: Visual Supports for the Home on Thursday, May 12th at 5:00-7:30 p.m. at the Conner Learning Center.  The Westfield Autism Team (WAT) will be there, as will many of the  local Autism Teams from the sorrounding school districts, with information on Autism.  The Conner Learning Center is located on 1700 East Conner Street in Noblesville.  Please click this link to see the flyer, and we hope to see you there!


Lots of my students with autism have trouble remembering to put their homework

back in their backpacks. They leave a textbook at home etc. I made a small tag

printed in red that says WARNING! ITEMS MISSING I laminated the tag and

attached it to a plastic clip. The student knows to clip it to his backpack as soon

as he takes anything out. When everything that he needs is back inside, he returns

the tag to a small plastic baggie that I supply. In the morning, if the tag is still there,

he know to check and see what is missing. This works pretty well for a lot of

my students.

Autism at a Glance

Impaired social interactions, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual repetitive or severely limited activities and interests can all be characteristics of Autism. Not all people with Autism exhibit these characteristics and it is important not to make generalizations regarding people that have Autism. People with Autism may also exhibit these characteristics with varying degrees of severity from mild to disabling.

Autistic students can have signs of poor social interactions that include not responding to their name, avoiding eye contact with other people, trouble interpreting what others are thinking or feeling, showing little or no facial expressions, lacking empathy for others feelings and trouble with expressing their own feelings. These can cause hurt feelings with peers, lead to the identified student getting into trouble because they don’t express their anger or feelings appropriately, and generally make it difficult to maintain relationships with others.

Many children with Autism have a reduced sensitivity to pain, but are abnormally sensitive to sound, touch, or other sensory stimulations. These unusual reactions may contribute to behavioral symptoms such as a resistance to being cuddled or hugged. Many children with Autism can be sensitive to loud noises.

Other characteristics may include difficulty with changes or transitions from one activity to another. It may be difficult for an Autistic student because of a strong need of closure or difficulty stopping a task before it is completed. Using visual cues or reminders for students  when they are asked to stop an activity  may help the student to transition on to the next activity or assignment.

Getting a quick glance of some of the characteristics of Autism may help when working with students with these characteristics. It is important to look at the individual and decide how to help them best based upon their particular needs. The Westfield Autism Team is there to assist Westfield teachers in developing the best plan for our identified students.


There are many different and useful resources for anyone interested in learning more about Autism.  The most obvious ones are the internet and your local library.  You can get more specific information from the Hamilton-Boone-Madison Cooperative Autism Resource Team or now from some of the Westfield Austim Team members.  There are many great resources and WAT encourages everyone to become more educated on Autism.