Accessing General Education Standards

A big issue in special education currently is for students with significant cognitive impairments to have access to the same curriculum as general education students. There are many pros and cons to the issue I will list a few of my opinions, simply because I'm an opinionated person :-) In subsequent posts, I hope to give you some ideas on *how* I access general education standards and still try to make it meaningful for my students.
But I figured I'd get the opinionated part out of the way first ...


  • I spend a lot of time and energy trying to educate typical peers about my students and one of the things I try to make clear is that my students can do many of the same things that they can, just in a different way. Having my students learn about the same topics as their typical peers gives them an opportunity to illustrate that academically.
  • Many of the general education standards (especially the "Listening, speaking, viewing" ones) are extremely similar to the IEP goals that my students are already working on, so obviously I think those are applicable and relevant.
  • Many of the science standards are very reinforcing to students with autism, which makes them easy and fun to work on. This past week, for example, we were working on simple machines and my students had a great time making pulleys and wheels and axles. 
  • You never know a student's potential! I'm always amazed at what my students pick up on and retain. I have met and talked with adults with autism who were in special education classes for kids with severe intellectual disabilities and treated like they were stupid - but they tell me they understood things, just couldn't express it (until one day something "clicked") and these people now have PhDs. I'm doing my students a huge disservice if I just assume they don't understand anything and don't at least expose them to a variety of ideas and information. 
  • There are only so many hours in a school day. How do I find time to teach my students about the Civil War, geometry, poetry AND still have time to work on things like eating with a fork, using the toilet, holding a pencil, learning how to play appropriately, sit in a group, etc. I mean look at the ABLLS-R (which is what I use as an assessment and curriculum guide for my students) - there are 481 items (not counting the 56 in the reading/math/writing sections) that focus on communication and functional skills - the skills deemed necessary to be ABLE to learn in a general education class. Your typical child has these skills by the time they enter kindergarten (or preschool!), so general education students don't have to work on them. However, they are skills you NEED to function in the "real world". How do I work on all of those skills PLUS fit in a whole other day's worth of instruction in academics - all in ONE day? 
  • Seriously - is it more important to be able to ask for something you need or tell someone you're in pain, or to tell me what contributions some famous person in history gave to society? If you can't feed yourself, speak, play with a toy, or sit in a chair for 30 seconds - when is being able to explain how many planes and angles an octagon has going to come in handy?
  • I have students in kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth, and fifth grade in my class. Each of those grades has different standards. We're back to the 'only so many hours in a day' argument, just from a different angle. 
OK - now that's out of the way, the fact is we have to do it whether we want to or not - it's the law.

Here are some links to sites with more information on aligning IEPs with standards and/or providing access to general standards:
K8 Access Center
Curriculum Access for Students with Low-Incidence Disabilities
from the Council for Exceptional Children

Some books that I have found helpful:
Accessing the General Curriculum
Teaching Literacy to Students with Significant Disabilities
Teaching Language Arts, Math, & Science to Students With Significant Cognitive Disabilities
Aligning IEPs to Academic Standards

And materials that I LOVE:
Exploring Science
Curriculum Companions
Millie, Trudy, Bailey, Sammy
Childcraft Lotto games (their website is down for maintenance right now, I'll add the link later - but I will probably have to make an entire blog post about these - they might be my favorite materials that I have in my classroom!)

I will be posting, soon, examples of standards and how I modify or adapt them for my students. I often try to tie in functional skills or find other ways to make them meaningful for my students and I will elaborate on how I do that.
In the meantime, please visit my class blog to see examples of my students accessing general education standards.

File folder activities

As I mentioned in my post with examples of task boxes, people with autism tend to be very visual thinkers. File folder activities, like task boxes, provide visual structure and allow repeated practice on skills and concepts. File folder activities take up much less space, so I prefer them for "flat" activities. For students who are at an object-level of recognition/communication (i.e. don't associate a photo or drawing of an object with that actual object), task boxes are probably more appropriate but for a student who recognizes and understands pictures - file folder tasks are great.

Online sources for file folder activities (some are free printable, some are to purchase):

Other ideas to make your own:
  • Use flashcards 
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  • Cut out shapes
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  • Cut out pictures from workbooks/worksheets


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  • Little stickers for counting (for this particular one I used number stickers meant for mailbox numbers)
  • For this one I just wrote letters on index cards for students to practice spelling their name

    • This one uses library pockets to sort boardmaker pictures according to their short vowel sound
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        I write the skill addressed on the tab of the folder, clip the baggie with the pieces inside the folder, and store them in a plastic container.



        This is what my class schedule looks like this year.

        7:15 – arrival, breakfast ...We have a "peer buddy" program at our school and each special education student has a 4th or 5th grade friend that helps them from the bus to their classroom and stays with them until 7:55am.
        One para is out at the buses with the peer buddies in case anyone needs extra assistance :-)
        I meet the students at the door, provide help if the peer buddies need it, and toilet the trip-trained students
        One para is in our classroom kitchen and supervises breakfast (the buddies eat with my kiddos at our dining table).
        When the students finish eating, their buddy brings them over to our group tables goes over yesterday's journal page with them to review what happened the day before, helps them put their page in their binder, assists them in "signing in" (writing their name on the board) then makes sure that the student gets their hygiene bag out of their cubby and combs/brushes their hair, helps them put on chapstick if needed, check and file nails, make sure their hands/face are clean, etc. (by this time the para from the buses is inside and assists with clipping nails if needed)

        7:45 – Students put hygiene bags and watch the morning announcements on TV - peer buddies assist them in standing for the pledge, make sure they're paying attention, etc. (did you hear what he said is for lunch? I love pizza!) When the announcements are over (around 7:55) peer buddies go back to class and we take my students to the gym to run for 3 minutes (just to get in a tiny bit of aerobic exercise and some sensory input)

        8:00-8:45 - group rotations (3 rotations of 15 minutes each)
        one para takes 3 kids at a time to the sensory room - while there, she works on communication activities
        one para reads library books with 3 students for 15 minutes
        I work with the remaining 3 on various IEP goals

        8:45 – Circle Time/Math (during math one of the paras changes the child who isn't toilet trained)
        We first count to 100, then go over the calendar, make a "graph of the day" as a group (graph boys/girls, hair color, eye color, shirt color, sometimes I just pass out random pictures of things like animals, school supplies, shapes etc. and we graph that), then we use the Intellitools Math (Oshie Otter) program on the interactive whiteboard - each student gets two turns.
        Then, depending on what we're studying, we will do another activity - weighing things, measuring things, counting money, etc.

        9:30-10:15 –More rotations - 3 rotations of 15 minutes each
        One para takes three students to the kitchen for snack (where they work on preparing their own snack and communication)
        One para takes three at a time to the sensory room (where they work on communication)
        I work with the remaining 3 at a time on various IEP goals.

        10:15 – The students go to their independent work desks and complete their independent work schedule (currently 3 shoebox tasks, 3 file folder tasks, etc. for most of my students - some do worksheets, some do puzzles, etc.) and one of us toilets the trip-trained students

        10:30 – Language Arts - We use the Intellitools Balanced Literacy program on the interactive whiteboard, supported with other "stuff"

        11:00-11:10 - Recess

        11:10 - Centers/Independent Leisure activities (I pull students one a time for IEP work as needed) - one of my paras changes student

        11:30 – Science/Social Studies - we do different activities at the group tables, depending on the unit

        12:20 – One para leaves for lunch break, the other passes out sensory toys and supervises while the students play at the group tables, I call students one a time to wash their hands in the bathroom then get their lunch in the kitchen

        12:40 - Second para leaves for lunch, 12:50 - first para returns

        As students finish their lunch, they scrape/dump their plate into trash, wash their plate and cup then return to kitchen table. When everyone is finished, students pass a wet/soapy dishcloth around and clean up their area of the table. One student takes the dishcloth, tablecloth and dish towel to the washing machine and starts the laundry.

        12:50 – Students return to tables and play with sensory toys (para supervises) while I call them one at a time to brush teeth in the bathroom (while they're in there I change/toilet the ones who need it)

        1:10 Second para returns from lunch, paras start lining up students who have finished brushing teeth for specials

        1:15 – Specials (my paras and I all go with the students)
        Monday – Computer Lab
        Tuesday – Music
        Wednesday – Adapted PE
        Thursday – Media Center
        Friday – Art

        1:45 – Journals at the group table, pack up backpacks, toileting

        2:10 – load buses

        Five reasons why I love my job

        We had our county's Special Olympics Athletics event (track and field events) this past Friday.  After putting together a slideshow of photos, I started looking through photos from past events, which led to just generally looking through past photos. I started reflecting on how much I adore my job and thought I'd share some of my favorite memories. These aren't really tips for teaching kids with autism, but they are reflections on teaching kids with autism, and what makes teaching kids with autism such a rewarding experience!!

        Here are the five memories that stand out in my mind when I think of why I love my job.

        • There is nothing like hearing a child's first words - I don't have kids of my own, but I imagine hearing your own child speak for the first time is an amazing experience.  I do, however, know that the entire world stops moving when a child you've been working with for years who has never verbalized a word before speaks.  One day, we were leaving art class and telling the art teacher "Bye".  I had one student who was completely nonverbal (in the 4 years I'd had her in my class, she had never vocalized a sound), so we were encouraging her to sign/wave goodbye when she said "buh-bye".  My parapros, the art teacher and I nearly fell down - the art teacher said "Bye!" and she said it again.  That day, I walked her around the school and she said "bye" to almost everybody in the building LOL.  

        • Sometimes I feel like I'm not making a difference ... that nothing I do is reaching a child. One little boy had been in my class for almost 3 years and I could *not* for the life of me find a way to keep him from hitting himself (hard) in the forehead.  One day, he was frustrated - he made his fist and was about to hit himself but he stopped before his fist made contact and made the sound of a race car braking ("aeerrrrrrrrk"), looked at me and said "it's OK" and put his hand down.  He went from hitting himself over 60 times per day to zero by the end of that year. I don't know if it was even anything I did, but something clicked and the callus on his forehead went away. I hate that part of my job involves having to witness children harming themselves (and others) but when I am able to help them stop (or at least be there to them stop, whether or not I help) it makes me want to work that much harder to help the next child.

        • One day I was struggling with a new student who was a little resistant to doing her work. Another student (who had been in my room for a few years) looked over and said "Don't fight it, student's name, Mrs. Mays always wins." Just knowing that at least one student realizes that a tantrum isn't going to get them out of doing their work makes it worth getting beat up a little while they're still learning that I'm stubborn. :-)

        • Kids with autism often have sensory "issues", and some of them really prefer not to wear clothes - especially if the clothes are scratchy or tight.  One year we had a group that seemed like they were always trying to take off their clothes.  My parapros and I were constantly saying "We can't be naked at school", "We have to wear our shirt at school", etc. Before the holiday program, we were in the media center getting ready.  I took one student behind a bookshelf to put on his shirt for the program and he grabbed the shirt he was wearing and wouldn't let me take it off to change his shirt. He looked me right in the eyes and said "Mrs. Mays - we can't wear naked at school!". See? They do listen to me sometimes!

        • This last one is just a funny memory that has nothing to do with me teaching, but is a perfect example of the fact that my job is never boring. These kids make me laugh and provide experiences that I would never get in any other workplace.  One day a student stood up out of the blue in the middle of class and announced to us "I'm a giant marshmallow!".  I later had him repeat it so I could watch it whenever I needed to remember how adorable my kiddos are.


        If you've watched my classroom tour video, you know that my classroom is sort of a maze.  Each area is clearly defined with physical boundaries.  Some of the dividers are play panels, that divide larger areas, which I love - they hook together and can also be bracketed to things to create "walls", they even have "gate attachments".

        I discovered that using those large dividers between desks (for individual work stations) took up a *lot* of room and also made it harder for us to see everyone at once.  I tried using the cardboard type study carrels on the desk, but the students knocked them off, bent them, or ripped them.  Purchasing individual study carrels would be expensive. Daddy to the rescue again :-) I asked him to create some mini-dividers with a solid base that would be difficult to tip over.  I wanted something just big enough to block visual distractions from the student on either side.  These work perfectly!!

         He used PVC pipe, plastic cable ties, fiberboard for the divider and plywood for the base - so it was very inexpensive.  Again, like the footstools, they could be more aesthetically pleasing if you wanted to put more money into it, but I'm more function-oriented :-)

        Adapting furniture

        107I saw a footstool in a catalog that gave me one of those "What an amazing yet simple idea! Why didn't I think of it?" moments. One footstool was a couple of hundred dollars - so I took the picture from the catalog and asked my daddy if he could make me some.  Mine may not be quite as aesthetically pleasing, but they do the job!! Here are the benefits that I love.

        • Daddy put a bracket thing around the chair legs to attach the chair to the box (if you click on the picture you can see the bracket in the larger version) - this keeps the kids from being able to tip backwards in their chairs (and then fall).  We have rocking chairs for that! 

        • Some of the boxes have little bathroom mats nailed to the top to muffle foot-stomping sounds.
        • Chairs that are across from each other at the table are attached to each other so no one can push their chair backwards (I have a few students who try to get away from me and work that way).  
        • I also have a student who likes to tip the table over.  Daddy attached the box to the table so that the table stays put.
        You can see in this photo that we use a few other seating adaptations as well.  Here are some of the things we use for sensory input.
        • Core disks - these allow for some "wiggly" movement but aren't as distracting as sitting on a therapy ball (my students tend to bounce with great intensity on therapy balls and thus can't get any work done because they're so engaged with bouncing)
        • Chair huggers and Cudlle loops (I just want to point out that the kids put these on and take them off themselves - they should NEVER be used for restraint purposes, only to provide proprioceptive/deep pressure input!)
        • Not shown in this picture - some kids keep weighted lap pads on their lap for additional proprioceptive input.

        This isn't really "adapting furniture", but I'm going to include it here anyway. In the video tour of my classroom, you saw cubbies where the students' pencil boxes, hygiene bags, etc. were kept.  Well about 2 weeks into the school year it became clear that the cubbies weren't going to work this year.  There was no good location to put them that would allow the students to get to and from the cubbies and tables without causing major traffic issues (the layout of my room last year was completely different and the cubbies worked then, it just doesn't work with the way the room is set up this year).  So I bought chairpockets (I got mine here, but you can get them from lots of teacher stores or even make your own - but I'm no seamstress!). The students keep the following in their pocket.
        • pencils, crayons, scissors, glue sticks (there's a little zipper bag for this)
        • hygiene bag (comb/brush, nail clippers, emory board, chap stick, Q-tips, tissues, hand sanitizer)
        • folder with blank journal pages
        • journal (binder with completed journal pages)
        • handwriting book (we use and love the Handwriting Without Tears program)
        • math workbook (we use the kindergarten level of our school's math program)
        • phonics dictionary (beginning sounds - for each sound we study we add pictures to that letter's page)
        • some kiddos have fidgets and/or chewies attached to their pockets (there's a little loop on the pockets) 
        This works out much better than the cubbies because no one has to get up to get their materials. It cuts down on transition time, dropped items (nothing like dropping a pencil box or folder and everything spilling out of it!

        Lunch, part 2

        In a continuation from the last post, as promised, here is our lunchtime routine.

        • One of my parapros sits with the students at the group table while they play with sensory toys. My other parapro goes to the cafeteria with empty plates.  The cafeteria workers serve my students' lunches onto these plates instead of trays.  Mrs. Pfefferle uses one of the cafeteria carts to bring the lunch plates back to the class kitchen and puts them on the counter.  I pour drinks and put the cups at each students' place at the table.  
        • I call students, one at a time, into the bathroom to wash their hands. 
        • After washing hands, the student goes into the kitchen.  They get their plate from the counter and carry it to their seat.  Then I call the next student.

        • We sit with the students at the table and encourage social communication.  Attainment makes some great placemats with communciation symbols on them that facilitate mealtime communication.  (Even for verbal students, the picture symbols provide reminders and cues.)
        • We also encourage students to use their fork/spoon to eat
        • We work on cutting,and pouring (refilling drinks, cutting food into bite sizes) as well
        • When a student is finished eating, they carry their plate to the trash can, scrape their food into the trash, then bring their cup to the sink and pour out what's left of their drink.  We then help them wash their plate, silverware and cup, rinse them, and put them in the dish drain.  
        • After finishing their dishes, the student goes back to their seat at the table so that they can continue to have conversations with their friends.  
        • When everyone is finished eating and washing dishes, we pass around a soapy cloth and each student washes their part of the table. 
        • The students go back to the table to play with sensory toys, one student puts the tablecloth and dishtowels in the washing machine and starts the laundry, then I call students one at a time to come back into the bathroom to brush their teeth.


        I mentioned that we work on communication intensively during snack time.  During lunch, we work on other things, mainly ADL (activities of daily living) and social skills.
        I am very lucky in that my classroom has a fully equipped kitchen and a 12-seat dining room table.  We eat lunch in the class kitchen Monday through Thursday. On Friday, we eat in the cafeteria.
        To avoid another super-long post, I'm going to explain why in this post and then go into more detail about what we do during lunch in the next post.

        Why do we eat in the classroom?

        • My students are learning how to participate in every-day activities both at home and in the community.  While functioning in the school environment is important, my main focus is on home and community - because that's where "real life" happens after they finish school. Now, at home and in the community, outside of cafeteria-style restaurants (which aren't the norm), mealtime is not similar to the school cafeteria experience.  In the classroom kitchen, we eat off of real plates, with real silverware.  We drink from cups instead of milk cartons.  We sit in chairs - with backs! 
        • My students have sensory processing difficulties - the cafeteria is LOUD! 
        • We work on table manners, using utensils, using a napkin, and communicating socially during lunch.  In the cafeteria (not even considering the noise that would be distracting to this instruction) this would draw attention to my students -- no one else in there has an adult sitting right next to them reminding them to use their fork (though many of them need someone there lol).
        So why, you may ask, do we eat in the cafeteria? And why on Friday?
        • School is part of their "real life" for the next several years.  It is important for them to have that cafeteria experience if possible (though, in my opinion, less important than learning table manners, social skills, etc)
        • Friday at our school is always pizza day.  All nine of my students love pizza and are therefore focused on eating and less likely to engage in inappropriate behaviors.
        • Pizza is supposed to be eaten with your hands! So we don't have to worry about the students sticking out by not using their fork.
        • On Friday, several teachers have their whole class or a group of students eat in the classrooms as a reward - this makes the lunchroom a bit quieter.
        • Friday is also ice cream day - which gives me a built in reinforcer to encourage appropriate lunchroom behavior - our lunch table is right next to the ice cream cooler, so it's likely they will remember to "be good" to get ice cream (makes the delayed reinforcer less abstract).

        Snack Time

        Yes, I realize this post is frighteningly long.  I apologize, yet I fear it's not the last time I do that.  I tend to be wordy - plus I want to make sure I cover everything and am specific! It's all my grad school professors' fault - "Make it detailed enough to be replicable!"

        In my class, snack time is not a "break" time.

        Why not?? One of the hallmark characteristics of autism is difficulty communicating.  On the one end of the spectrum are your kids with Asperger's Syndrome who have trouble with pragmatics and with the social aspect of communication but can talk just fine (just ask them about something they're interested in and you'll see!).  On the other end are the kids like my students who either don't speak or only say a few words.  Many of the kids on this end of the spectrum not only don't speak, but they also don't sign or use any form of communication consistently. You're most likely to elicit communication when you find something they really like and only let them have it if they ask for it (whether they ask by saying "I want it", signing it, handing you a picture of it, pointing to it, or whatever).  Problem is, often the child has very limited interests and there may only be a few things that are worth all the effort they would have to put forth to ask for it (and if it's not worth it to them, they aren't going to ask!) and sometimes some of the things that *are* that motivating to them you can't take away (eg. the student my really enjoy flapping their hands, verbally stimming or rocking back and forth  - kind of hard to keep their hands/voice/body from them until they ask for it! I suppose you could hold their hands/body still but I have yet to find a way to keep their voices turned off - if you find a way PLEASE let me know!!) :-) And once you take away those, you may be left with a favorite toy or two and favorite foods.  This makes playtime and snack/mealtime excellent times for working on communication!! But for this post I will focus on snack time.

        Scheduling snacktime: In my classroom, from 9:30-10:15, we have small group rotations.  At 9:30, Mr. Anglin (one of my amazing paraprofessionals) and 3 students go to the sensory room to work.  I work with 3 students in the classroom.  Mrs. Pfefferle (my other amazing paraprofessional) and 3 students have snack at the kitchen table.  At 9:45 the kids rotate so my 3 go with Mr. Anglin to sensory, his 3 go to snack with Mrs. Pfefferle and her 3 come to me.  At 10:00 they rotate again. I do this because I have 9 kids in my class and, as you'll see, our snacktime "routine" isn't exactly simple.  We're instructing - which means the students are working on something they're not familiar with or proficient at.  That neccessarily means that it's going to take time and effort on the students' and our parts.  A group of 3 kids to one adult is, in my opinion, a large enough - if not too large - group for this level.  Ideally each student would have an adult to work 1:1 with them, but we get free and appropriate, not ideal.
        kitchenAll nine at one time, even with all three adults, is just too much.  Too many people talking at once, too distracting for the kids (one para is trying to get one child to say one thing, another trying to get another to say something else, how can I expect the child I'm working with to be able to focus on what I want her to say?), and logistically difficult because all three adults are trying to move around the table back and forth to the pantry/fridge/choice board/etc. and it's not that big of a kitchen!

        Setting the stage: ChoicesFor some reason, there is a magnetic chalkboard hanging in the kitchen in my classroom.  I don't understand why, but I take advantage.  At the beginning of the year, I send home a note asking parents what snacks their child really likes.  I print boardmaker pictures of these food items (and the drinks we have - juices, milk, water, koolaid) and make sure I keep them stocked in our pantry/fridge.  I then use my xyron laminator with magnetic laminating film to laminate and magnetize the pictures and hang them on the chalkboard.  I printed a large "snack" and "drink" sign to hide the choices.  This way the pictures are conveniently stored in the kitchen where we need them. They don't get gross yucky (have you ever seen velcro dots on the back of a picture that's been held by someone who just ate cheezits or peanutbutter? Food just becomes embedded in the fuzz) and if they do we can wipe them off (have you ever tried to clean cheezit out of velcro? Even with a stick pin it's impossible).

        We use a small magnetic board as a choice board, putting just the snack items that are choices that day (anywhere from 2 to 8 choices, depending on the child's skill level at choosing from an array).  For students who don't comprehend line drawings yet, we use photos of the actual food/drink, and for students at an object-level, we attach a piece of the food (cereal, small cookies, crackers, pretzels) or part of the packaging (poptart wrapper, the foil top of a pudding cup, juice box, koolaid packet) or a plastic version (apple, glass of milk) to the picture. 

        How do I know how many choices to give? or whether to use drawings, photos, or objects? Glad you asked!! I determine this during discrete trial training.  Hold up a juice box and a container of milk and ask the child "Which one is juice?" or "Which one is milk?" - if they can do that consistently, then you know they can identify juice and milk.  Now do the same with photos.  Then with photos of a different juice box/milk container.  Then with line drawings (boardmaker pictures or other pictures).  Do this with other drinks and food items.  Only expect a child to communicate when you are sure that they know what they are communicating!! If they don't know that the sweet stuff they like to drink is represented by the boardmaker picture of the pitcher of red stuff with a smiley face, they won't be likely to ask you for koolaid using that picture!

        To determine how many choices, take something that you know the child can identify - either objects, photos or pictures.  Put out two different things and ask for one (which one is the pretzel?).  If they can do that, then put out three choices.  If they can do three, try four.  Keep going until you get to eight choices (sometimes I go as high as ten).  It's not often that you have to choose between more than 10 things - even kids' menus at restaurants don't have that many choices.  Whatever amount the child is consistently able to discrimate from is the number of choices I give them.  This way they have more variety but I know they are still able to actually tell me what they want instead of just randomly choosing something because they're overwhelmed by all the choices.

        Keep in mind – if a student cannot discriminate between two objects yet (the juice box and the glass of milk, or the pretzel and the cereal) then we need to target that for instruction! I won't get into that now, but if you need help with that and can't wait until I blog about it J, maybe looking at this example of a discrete trial training session.

        Line up!

        Originally uploaded by MNicoleM

        This picture is from a couple of years ago, this year I have shapes to line up on but the concept is the same. The feet and/or the shapes give the student a visual cue of where to stand. The idea of "standing in line" is quite abstract. For students who don't understand spatial concepts like "behind", it's hard to explain what you want them to do! Give them a set of footprints or a shape to stand on and they're more likely to stay in the correct place (they are still distractable and may still wander away, but tell them to "get back on your feet" or "get on your shape" and they understand what you're asking.
        They're also practicing their colors and shapes along the way!

        I ordered the shapes from Lakeshore (They no longer have the feet - but I did find some feet at Flaghouse (search the catalog for "activity walkers") but you could make your own out of construction paper or cardstock and laminate them).  I run the shapes throught my xyron laminator using the permanant adhesive stuff and they stick very well for the entire year (well - unless you have Ashley in your class, she worked for about 3 weeks straight on the green star and finally got it pulled up - but so far *knock on wood* she hasn't been able to pull up any more so I think that was just a fluke :-) and besides she's a professional peel-stuff-upper!) It lasts through a year's worth of sweeping, vacuuming and mopping as well as the fancy floor-cleaning-machine that maintenance uses.  The only problem I've run into is that at the end of the year, when I have to pull them all up so the floor can be stripped and waxed, I haven't found an effective way to get the sticky off - so I have just replaced the shapes ... (I have tried goo-gone, oops!, nail polish remover, soaking them ... when xyron says permanent adhesive, they aren't kidding!)

        My classroom's physical setup

        Here is a video tour of my classroom this year.  The camera work isn't the best, I apologize.

        Untitled from Nicole Mays on Vimeo.

        My classroom is set up with very clear physical boundaries defining each area.
        • This defines the space so that the students understand where they are supposed to be
        • This minimizes visual (and some auditory) distractions from other areas of the room
        • This provides obstacles to discourage "runners" from eloping (or at least gives us a bit more time to catch up to them)
        As you will see from the video, the main areas of my classroom are
        • the entry "hallway" where the students put away their backpacks in the morning and where we line up when leaving the classroom
        • laundry area
        • kitchen
        • bathroom
        • storage nook and closet
        • whole group instruction area (tables)
        • carpet/circle time whole group instruction area
        • individual work desks
        • computer stations
        • other various areas (the small whiteboard easel, swing, books, listening area, etc.)
        • teacher desk/area (at the back of the room)
        • teacher work area (at the front of the room)
        • Sensory room (separate room)
        When we do small group work, the groups are either in the sensory room, on the carpet, or at one of the tables in the front of the room.  ADL (Activities of daily living) obviously take place in the bathroom, kitchen or laundry area.  Whole group work either takes place at the tables (if there will be writing, using manipulatives, etc.- anything where the students will each be doing their own activity) or on the carpet (when we use the wiimote whiteboard, story time, etc. - anything where we will be working on one activity together as a group).
        I am tremendously lucky to have a lot of storage! I also use shelf units as dividers, and then cover the shelves with curtains (I use curtains to cover EVERYTHING, as you can see - out of sight is out of mind and it keeps little hands from getting into everything - also minimizes visual distraction as the curtains are a solid, calming blue). The shelves provide even more storage.
        You will also probably notice the light covers.  These are available in different colors, but I kindof have a blue theme going in my room anyway, and I have found blue to be a calming color for most of my kiddos so I go with blue. They tone down the harshness of the flourescent lights but still leave plenty of light for us to see.
        The wooden dividers between the individual desks were made by my dad, as were the footstools on some of the chairs that you see and the stairs in the entry "hallway".
        The next few posts will be about room setup, and I'll go into more detail about some of the areas and things that you see in the video.

        Task Boxes

        OK - so now you know who I am and why I do what I do.  But what am I doing here? In the blogosphere? Well - I love what I do! I cannot imagine doing anything else, I adore going to work every day (well - most days) and I think I am good at what I do.  Don't get me wrong,  I don't think I'm all that, I don't want to come off as cocky, but I've worked very hard to learn how to teach kids with autism and I feel like I am beginning to apply what I've learned in my classroom. Some of my coworkers (and my husband, but he's biased) have encouraged me to share with others.  As sort of a test drive, I posted about task boxes on my personal blog ( - and got a pretty good response (it's the only post that ever gets read LOL), so I figured I would try it.

        My plans for this blog are to have more posts like the following - basically just a description of something I do in my room, why I do it, how to do it, etc.  I hope to intersperse some product reviews/recommendations as well.

        So - here is the post that started it all :-)

        Task Boxes

        match identical objects, originally uploaded by MNicoleM.

        OK - so this is a different kind of post than usual :-) My husband is trying to convince me to start a blog about teaching kids with autism ... and in preparation of that, I'm going to try to put some posts up here and see how I feel about it ... since nobody reads this anyway, I figure it won't matter and this way I can at least see if I feel like I could do this :-)

        So anyway, task boxes. People with autism tend to be very visual thinkers. There's a program called TEACCH ( and one of the basic principals is visual structure. Applying visual structure to learning activities leads to task boxes. They are self-contained activities (in this first instance, the activity is matching animals). The student can see how much work there is to do and can tell what to do by looking at the materials. The teacher can work one on one with the student on a new activity or skill and when the student starts to become comfortable with the activity, they can work independently to practice the skill. This is more meaningful for the student than completing worksheets because the materials are manipulative and it is also more practical, especially if the student isn't able to read and write (which would make completing a worksheet independently pretty difficult). Additionally, because students with autism often need lots of repetition and practice on a particular skill, you would have to make several copies of the same worksheet and waste a lot of paper - this way you just pull the pieces off and the task is ready to be used again for continued practice.

        Task boxes can be purchased from companies pre-made, which I often do (My time is sometimes more valuable than my money and I would rather buy the materials ready-to-use because I don't have time to create them). Some companies I have purchased task boxes from are:
        Shoebox tasks
        HOT ideas

        Some good books with examples of tasks are:
        Tasks Galore
        How Do I Teach This Kid?

        and some websites with awesome examples are:
        Preschool Fun
        Autism Teaching Tools

        As for making them - you can find lots of "file folder game" activities for regular ed students online and in teacher stores, many of those same activities work well with students as "task folder" activities. Also some commercially produced materials lend themselves very well to task boxes. Below is a size sorting task I made with a size sorting kit from Lakeshore ( as well as a patterning activity and another size sorting activity I made out of materials from a commercially produced kit I bought from a teacher store or catalog (don't remember which one ...). Pretty much any teaching materials can be glued and velcroed to create a task box.

        sort big and little

        match patterns, extend patterns

        sort size (big/little)

        I have also used erasers - they make erasers in all kinds of shapes and you can do lots of matching/sorting/counting activities with those, counters, those foam shapes, buttons, beads, dollhouse furniture and accessories, etc. I went to Hobby Lobby and Michaels, bought lots of these things and made tons of task boxes in the past few weeks (I have a student teacher and have time to do things like this now lol). Here are some more examples of the ones I made. For the "box" part of it (the base), I used little plastic baskets, lids to paper boxes that copy paper comes in, plastic trays, boxes meant to store and file photos in, and sometimes just a piece of cardboard or posterboard. Anything sturdy enough to attach the base pieces to!

        Sorting by shape using foam shapes:
        sort shapes

        Sorting by category (things in the kitchen, things at the beach, things we eat, desk items, tools) using scrapbook/craft buttons:
        sort by category

        Sorting nonidentical objects (balls, dogs, and birds) with miniature dollhouse accessories:
        sort nonidentical objects (balls, birds, dogs)

        You can see more examples of mine here

        I owe it all to Andrew!

        Me and Andrew in 2002

        Well hello! I am Nicole Mays and I teach students with Autism.  Several people have been encouraging me to start a blog about teaching students with Autism, so here I go.  I figure the first post is a good place for an introduction and brief history.

        Let's travel back to 2002.  I was a senior in college at North Georgia College and State University in Dahlonega, GA.  I was a music major, with a concentration in clarinet performance.  During school breaks, I substitute taught in my hometown of Winder, GA at Kennedy Elementary School.  One week, a parapro in one of the self contained MOID classes (moderate intellectual disabilities) was out for a week and I was her sub.  There, I met a young man named Andrew.  I instantly fell in love with this boy and was fascinated by him.  He had a disability called Autism - something I vaguely recalled hearing about but wasn't all that familiar with.  Each evening that week, I searched the internet and read all I could about Autism and Fragile X (his diagnosis).  I knew, somehow, that my music degree - that I was about 3 months away from completing - would never be used.

        Andrew laugh
        Andrew, 2004

        My cousin had just graduated with a degree in journalism and gone back for her Master's degree and initial certification in education and was going to start teaching the coming fall.  I called her, got the information about the degree program and began looking into the special education program there.  Things started to fall into place.  I discovered that I could teach on a provisional certificate as long as I was enrolled in a certification program (a very controversial concept, I know - and I'm not sure how I feel about it as a whole, but it certainly worked out for me!).  Andrew's teacher was wanting to transfer to a general education class but the principal was having trouble finding a replacement sped teacher to take her place.  I was able to graduate with my BS in music, enroll at Piedmont in their MAT program for sped, was hired at Kennedy to teach on a provisional certificate, and from there life fell into place. (On a side note, this is also when I met my now-husband - the spring of 2002 was truly a life-altering time in my life on many levels!)

        The degree program that I was in was a Master of Arts in Teaching degree for E/BD, SED and Autism.  The class I was teaching was a MOID class.  I took the Praxis in E/BD, K-5 gen ed curriculum, and the adapted curriculum (to be certified to actually teach the class I was in).  Just for the heck of it, I also took the Interrelated Praxis. That first year, especially the summer before I started teaching, I did a LOT of reading, researching and learning on my own. I went into teaching having had no education courses, no student teaching, no training in how to write an IEP or anything.  I spent the entire summer poring over my students' IEPs, ordered all the Wrightslaw books, joined CEC and NASET and read all the literature I could find through them.  I was so terrified of stepping into the classroom and messing up - I mean, these were children's lives I was dealing with! But that's another story ... I'm telling the story of how I became so obsessed with autism LOL.
        My first class

        So ... that first year, there were 3 students in my class who were served under an Autism label and one other who had a medical diagnosis but was served MOID through the school.  The other 4 students in my class were just your typical MOID students.  And I adored them all, I was determined not to have a favorite - but if I *had* allowed myself to have a favorite, I admit it would have been Andrew.  That kid was (is) just an amazing kid - and I give him full credit for leading me to where I am today.  Though in my "personal" education I was learning about kids with intellectual disabilities, my "formal" education was in E/BD, SED and Autism.  And honestly, the 4 kids in my class with Autism were much more challenging than the others, so I was spending more and more of my "free time" trying to understand this enigmatic spectrum.  And as anyone who has experience with ASD knows, the more I learned, the less I *knew* ... and the more curious I became.
        Andrew through the net
        Andrew at a reunion party at my house in 2008

        Two of my professors in the MAT program encouraged me (relentlessly) to pursue my PhD, so as soon as I graduated, I applied to Georgia State's PhD program, with a concentration in Autism.  That's where I am now, I have one more class then my dissertation.  And still - the more I learn, the less I realize I know and the more I want to continue to learn.  I also have a very taboo plan for when I graduate - instead of joining the faculty at a research university (like the PhD program is preparing me for), I intend to remain in the classroom.  Sure, I may teach some college courses in the evenings.  And of course I want to continue to do research.  I just can't imagine leaving the classroom!! My eventual goal is to open a school for kids with moderate to severe autism either in or near Winder.

        OK - back to the journey.  When I graduated with my MAT, I was still teaching students with MOID.  There were 10 students in my class, 5 of them had autism.  I also had three students who were in wheelchairs.  I ran into lots of problems trying to accommodate all of my students.  First of all, just setting up the classroom created a perdicament - for the wheelchairs, I obviously needed open areas so the kids could have access to everyting and be able to maneuver around the room.  For the kids with autism, however, I needed boundaries to define different areas for different activities and to discourage elopement.  Another problem arose in that some of my kids with autism had aggressive behaviors - and one of my students was medically fragile! And one of the kids with autism liked to try to push over the standers and other equipment - even if there was a child in it! How on earth do I make sure the students are safe? Not to mention that a little girl with Down's Syndrome was very affectionate and liked to hug people - and one of my boys with autism was very tactile defensive and reacted very negatively to being hugged, especially without any warning.  What do I do to keep her from hugging him and him from hitting her?? And then you get into instruction - there are diametrically different methods for teaching kids with severe autism and teaching "typical" kids with MOID.  I was basically having to run two separate classes within one classroom with one teacher. But - there was another MOID class across the hall - and about half of her students had moderate or severe autism as well.

        Our school system did not have an "Autism Program" or an "Autism class", so I asked to just have the two MOID classes re-distributed, having the kids with more severe autism in one group and the more typical MOID kids in the other - and of course, I requested the class with the kiddos on the spectrum.  Since then, there is still no Autism program nor does there seem to be a plan to develop one in the county.  My class continues to be made up of students with severe autism (the classroom is still technically a "MOID class" - even though none of my students' IQs fall in the moderate range according to their test scores, ... which I don't necessarily agree present accurate representations of their abilities anyway - but those are other soapboxes!) For all intents and purposes, it may as well be an autism class.  Or an ABA class, whatever you want to call it (btw, I have taken all of the coursework to be a BCBA but have not sat for the exam yet because I don't have the supervised hours yet).

        me and my A
        Me with Andrew in 2007 at our county's Special Olympics

        Anyway, that's how I got to where I am today, and the role that Andrew played in changing my life.  This was a long first post, and subsequent posts will be more focused on strategies, methods, techniques, activities, etc. - on *HOW* I teach kids with autism - but I felt that an introduction was a good place to start.  :-)