Hi! I’m Nikki from Teaching Autism. From a young age, I always wanted to be a physiotherapist. Then, I collided with the world of Special Ed and never looked back. I completed my training in record time and headed straight to a wonderful Autistic Unit. I work with children diagnosed with moderate to severe, low functioning autism in the UK; my students are between the ages of 3-7. There are seven pupils in the class, and this is how we manage it!
So, each student has their own timeline. One of our children is half day, so he has a different timeline to the others. Another child doesn’t yet understand symbols, so he has objects for his timeline, i.e swimming trunk for swimming, a bus toy for a trip, calculator for maths, etc. By having individual timelines, the students can have it more personalised to them and their needs. (Our children all have they own colour which is used for everything.)
We all know how hard it can be for our students with autism to engage in an activity, especially if they don’t really understand why they need to work. They would much prefer to go back to playing elsewhere or to have some free choice. The “first, then” boards are great for helping students to understand better that they WILL have what they want, but first, they have to work! Be sure to have these on you and ready for when they sit down for work. Before calling a student to the work desk, get everything laid out; that way you can go straight into the activity, as opposed to rustling about trying to find things.
I Am Working For
These are not very commonly known but are a GREAT asset, especially for students who understand a reward system. You can individualise these to different students as well by putting their favourite characters on, etc. I recommend building it up; you may start with the student only having to achieve 3 boxes, then move on to 4, 5, 6, etc. This is a great visual to show them throughout the session/morning/day how close they are to achieving their reward!
Picture yourself in a foreign country: Nobody speaks your language. You’re in a busy restaurant, and you’re trying to order something. Nobody understands you, and the menus are in a different language, so how do you communicate? That is how some of our children feel on a day-to-day basis; they know what they want, they just don’t know what you’re asking of them–or how to tell you what they want. Communication books are great in the way that each student has their own. It’s personal to them, and you can add the symbols that are most relevant to them depending on their ability.
Have you ever said to one of your students, “Just one more minute,” and then looked at the clock to see that 3-4 minutes have passed? Yep, it happens to everyone. The best thing to use is a timer. The sand timers are great and come in all sorts of different times, ranging from 30 seconds to 1 hour, some even more! It’s a great motivator for students to keep going, especially when they can physically see that time is going, and they’ll soon be on their way for free choice!
Transition is hard for many of our students; they may not understand where they are going or what they are going for. A transition board is great to have somewhere that is easily accessible and preferably on the way to the door to the exit of the classroom. We have a few main areas: class, bus, home, playground, assembly, and lunch. The children are able to put themselves onto the place they are going next or can have support from staff so they are able to see where they are going. Each morning the children come in and check themselves in by moving their faces from home to class!
Traffic Light System
This is a great system that is really popular with a lot of our classes. You can personalise it to say whatever you want or just have it as a general traffic light system. You can use an arrow to move it onto the part that you feel necessary or have children’s faces by it–however you feel it would work best with your class. You can use it for noise levels, behaviours, etc. We tend to use this for behaviours; if a child starts to display challenging behaviours, then we head to the traffic light and show them orange. We have lots of visuals around on how they can get back to green and the same for red. Some of our students take themselves to the poster now and show us how they feel!
The greeting books (Good morning/Good afternoon) are great to help the students settle down to read for their work and get them focused. Their greeting books are all different levels depending on the individual. They contain things like: What day is it? What month is it? What season is it? Who’s in class today? How’s the weather today? What should we wear in this weather? How do you spell your name? (Not necessarily in that order.)
Movement breaks are all about getting the students moving, getting them back to being focused and re-energized to carry on with their work. You can either have print-outs that you can use with the students as visuals, or you can put some songs on YouTube that are just great! The students love it, and it helps to recharge their batteries. These work especially great during wet playtimes, if the children have been indoor all day!
Transition is a big issue with children with autism, and one of the best ways that we get our children ready for what is coming next is songs! We have the following songs: Good Morning (welcome the children in), Counting (for maths work), Literacy (alphabet), Playtime, Dinner, Snack, Goodbye, etc. These are played consistently in a routine for when the activities happen next so that the children can learn what happens after certain songs and prepare themselves for what is coming next.
Each week on Friday, we have an achievement assembly. One child in each class is given a Star of the Week certificate for something they did well that week, and they get to put their face on the giant star on display in the hall. There is also a Pupil of the Week, where one pupil from the whole school is chosen to be on the IWB for everyone to watch and see what they have done so well that week. This is then followed by ‘Reach for the Stars’ (song by S Club 7), where students are encouraged to sing, dance, and sign along to the music! When the pupils complete work, we also put it up for show on our display:
IEPs are great, but we also use Pen Portraits, which are great for staff and parents/guardians to discuss/find out more of the day-to-day needs of children. It’s on one sheet of paper, and this gets updated yearly (or more, if necessary). It’s also great to pass to anyone new in the room. It’s a document that follows the children onto their next class in the next year, too.
Class meetings are really important when working with Special Ed. Monday morning, just before the children come in, we have a planning session. We go over the weekly plan and what is going on each day (this is pretty much similar each week–just different art activities, cooking, etc). On Friday morning we reflect on how the week went, what worked, etc.
Liaise with Parents
We liaise on a daily basis with parents/guardians through our home/school books:
Thank you for reading my post on Classroom Management in an Autism Classroom. I have been working with Autism for almost 6 years now and still learn new things each and every day in this world! Feel free to head on over to my blog for more info or check out my store with lots of great resources to set up your classroom! Have a great year, and enjoy each moment with your students!