Pretend Play

Children with autism often have difficulty pretending. They don't always use toys the way typical children do - give them a tea set and they may bang the cup on the table, spin the plate, etc. rather than pretend to pour or drink tea. They don't intuitively associate the toy pieces with real-life situations or they don't know what to do with the toys. One thing that we work on in my classroom is learning *how* to play appropriately. Here is one way I address that - by providing visual prompts of what to do with the toys!


Initially a paraprofessional, peer buddy, or myself will work with the student - pointing out different things that the child can do with the toy as well as modeling, prompting and reinforcing appropriate play. In addition to practicing "pretending", there are tons of opportunities for working on communication - expressive and receptive - while playing. We work on identifying items or following directions that involve discrimination using these toys and visuals (tell the student to "brush the dog" - they have to locate the brush, locate the dog, and perform the action). We point to a picture and ask "What can you do?" and they have to describe the picture (i.e. wash dishes). We use the knife to pretend to cut food and ask "What am I doing?" and the student tells us "cutting". Or we put the hat on the baby and ask the student to "show me what I'm doing" and they point to the correct picture on the visual. When the student becomes more proficient at playing, they play independently or with other students and the visuals serve as reminders for them.

IMG_2956 IMG_2953 IMG_2958

How do I determine what to include on the visual prompt? The best way I've found is to watch typical kids playing with a similar toy and note what kinds of things they do!

IMG_2960 IMG_2962

Some of these particular visuals were made with photos found on the internet, others use boardmaker symbols - you could take photos of yourself or someone else playing with the actual toy pieces you have, use drawings, or whatever works for your students!

I store the visual in the tub with the toys so that it's always available at playtime!


Camp Mays

I know that times are tough for everyone right now financially but if you have a few dollars to spare, Camp Mays could use the help!!
I would love it if readers could share this on their own blogs, facebook, twitter, etc.

As most of my readers realize, parents of students with severe autism face several challenges once school is out for the summer. Our county's extended school year only lasts three weeks which leaves almost two months where my students are at home. While summer break is, for most kids and families, full of opportunities and fun, that's not the case a lot of the time with my students. It is often difficult if not impossible for parents to find a babysitter or child care provider who is qualified and willing to care for some of my students so they have almost two months with no break at all from caring for their child - a child who requires constant active supervision. Additionally, my students' parents spend so much time, money and energy just providing everyday care for their kids that they often have little time, money or energy left over to do "fun" things.
In an effort to provide some respite for my students’ parents and provide some opportunities for "typical" summer fun experiences for my students over the summer months, a few years ago I began taking my students on day trips to places like White Water, Children's Museums, parks, etc. What has evolved has been dubbed “Camp Mays”. Last summer, I rented a van each week and took my students (along with several of my friends, family and coworkers who volunteered to help) to a movie, Jungle Jumpers, Stone Mountain, the Georgia Aquarium, and swimming. Some of my students' families may not have otherwise been able to provide these opportunities for their child. In the past I have funded “Camp Mays” almost solely from my own pocket – purchasing the admission tickets, renting the van, buying the gas, and buying lunch for each child and volunteer. Families do not have to pay anything at all for their child to be able to participate in Camp Mays. In each of the past two years I have spent over $3000 of my own money on Camp Mays. This year my husband is out of work so I am scaling down the activities and doing more free things (like swimming at a friend’s pool, going to the playground and park). I feel that these opportunities provide such a great service to my students and their families – mainly giving the parents a small break from the extreme demands that a child with severe autism present almost constantly and providing opportunities for my students to participate in fun activities just like other children. So even though I really can't afford it, I still want to go forward with Camp Mays this summer and am trying to find ways to do so.

100% of all money donated will go to van rental, gas, admission tickets, lunch and snacks for Camp Mays adventures.

If you would like to see some pictures of my students and our adventures, I invite you to visit our class blog at
Specific entries about Camp Mays can be found at the following addresses:

CBI resources

In my school district, elementary schools are typically allotted four CBI (Community based instruction) trips each school year. Many teachers take one each grading period but I usually choose to take all four toward the end of the year. I know that if I only do something once every few months, I forget a lot between times - but if I do it several times consecutively it gets ingrained in my brain a little better, so I think that taking all four trips close together increases the likelihood of generalization for my students.

This means that I spend a lot of time during the year teaching community skills without actually going into the community. I generally focus on these areas:

  • community signs - recognizing and identifying them and what they mean
  • community places - recognizing and identifying them and understanding what we do and see in different places
  • community helpers - recognizing and identifying them and understanding what they do
  • practicing skills like addressing/stamping mail, ordering from a menu, shopping from a list, paying for things 
In this blog post I will share some of my favorite resources for the first three categories mentioned above. I'm working on a follow up post to address the last one :-)

Most of the resources mentioned here are store-bought but community instruction materials are pretty easy to DIY - take a walk through your community and take your own pictures of buildings, people, etc. A child with autism is much more likely to recognize an actual picture of the post office in their own town than they are a generic "post office" photo or drawing! Search online using flickr or google images (make sure you look for pictures licensed under a creative commons license so you aren't stealing copyrighted work!) to find pictures. Use those pictures to make flashcards, worksheets, etc.

You can also take your own pictures for social stories or your own video for video modeling - just make sure you get permission from the store/doctor/post office/whatever before you do so. Usually when you explain that you are making a video or picture-story for a child/children with a disability to learn about shopping/visiting the doctor/going to the post office/whatever, people are more than happy to cooperate and allow you to photograph/video. Some places, though, have to get permission from corporate offices before allowing any photography or video to be taken - so call ahead!

I have, use and love PCI's Survival Signs program (software, flashcards, large signs, bingo games, reproducible worksheets and board game - they are all awesome). The worksheets have students match the picture parts of the sign to the words on the sign, which works on word recognition and plays to the visual strengths of kids with autism. I love, though, that the curriculum focuses not just on recognizing the word/picture but also on things like where you see the signs, what to do when you see them, and comprehension of what the sign *means* and not just what is *says*

I also like the Conover Company's iPod/iPad app, Community Signs and Words for many of the same reasons - the videos explain what the signs say, mean and what to do when you see them. Conover Company has several apps as well as comuputer software programs that I covet ... for example: Clothing Store Signs and Words, Emergency Signs and Words, Grocery Signs and Words, Information Signs and Words, Pharmacy Signs and Words, Public Transportation Signs and Words, Restaurant Signs and Words, Safety Signs and Words, School Signs and Words, Shopping Signs and Words, Survival Signs and Words and Words that Direct ... and one day when I win the lottery I will surely purchase them all!

Attainment has a set of Survival Sign Software that includes Basic Signs, Safety Signs and Community Signs. It uses video to teach, has quizzes where the student had to choose the correct sign and (my students' favorite part) they get to put signs in photos of real-life scenes. The software also comes with printable activities.

Remedia Publications has flashcards, a workbook and a video - I have, use and love the flashcards and workbook, just discovered the video while writing this post - it is now on my wishlist!!

Here is a survival sign activity from Speaking of Speech

Trend has a great bulletin board set of Safety Signs and Symbols, a learning chart, and

Here is an activity I found on Boardmaker Share: Survival Signs in my Community (*requires Boardmaker Studio)

Community Places
I absolutely love the stories in the Life Skills Readers by Attainment - they have photographs and simple social-story type text describing common places and things we do there. There's also a section on signs. One of my favorite things about the Attainment stuff is that the book comes with a CD of the entire book in PDF format - which allows me to print each student or group a color copy of the pages. I do not have the software that goes with this series (again, just discovered it while getting the link for this blog entry) but it looks like it would be great for the interactive whiteboard - add another thing to my wishlist!

Also from Attainment is Community Success which has illustrated social skills, "OK" and "Not OK" examples, and step-by-step pictures that I use to make my own social stories, checklists, shopping lists, visual prompts, and more. For example, there is a little picture of each department in a grocery or department store, pictures for all of the steps involved in community outings (find items on your list, place items on counter, give cashier money, wait for change, say thank you, etc.). There are a few assessment pages in the back of the book as well.

Another one from Attainment is the Stepping Out curriculum. My favorite thing about this is that is came with prompting/cuing materials like a money-counting guide, ID cards, picture prompt cards, etc. It also has worksheets that would be super fantastic for older and/or higher functioning students than mine - but they do provide a great framework and starting point for making similar activities for my students.

Model Me Kids has a great video modeling iPod /iPad app (and DVD as well) - Going Places

One of our class favorites, Mr. John from Special Kids, has a great video called "Let's Go To" - I highly recommend ALL of the Special Kids videos. They are great for video modeling, vocabulary, and spelling.

 PCI has- Community Places Bingo is another great way to practice idenitfying places in the community as well as the services provided by each place. (They also have Community Helpers Bingo)

Community Helpers
Stages (Language Builder) flashcards are one of my staples - and their Occupations flashcards are a MUST. There are two flashcards (a male and female) for each of over 50 careers - and they are actual photographs. Stages also has a theme kit which includes the occupation flashcards, posters, BINGO and memory matching game cards.

Trend's Community Helper bulletin board set also includes photograph-type pictures of real people - and they have flashcards and border to match.

Attainment's Members of the Community has some great pictures of different people who work in the community as well, with activities and worksheets to go along.

I love the DK book Jobs People Do because it has pictures of children dressed up for each career and my kids like looking at the pictures.

People and Places
Most of my favorite materials are the ones that tie together the people and places. I usually bring these out after the student is able to identify/label the people and the places separately - then we start tying it all together by talking about where people work, what tools they use, things we see at the different places, etc. 

There is an awesome pocket chart set from Learning Resources that has transportation, tools, people, buildings and street signs that students can sort.

Lakeshore has a Community & Careers Theme Box with lots of cool stuff in it - bingo type boards of things we see at different places, little buildings and cards to sort what we see where (my favorite part), maps and more.
One of my favorite resources from Lakeshore is now discontinued - Let's Talk About Social Studies discussion cards include a set on community helpers/tools/places. If you ever see them at a yard sale or anything, I'd recommend grabbing them!

These flashcards have pictures of people, things, and places in the community on one side and "WH" questions on the other side - they are great once a student can label the people/places/things in the community!

And last but CERTAINLY not least, Karen Cox has a plethora of activities and resources on her website!

What are some of your favorite resources for teaching students about the community? 


I want to apologize for neglecting my blog!

Here are the reasons/explanation :-) (not excuses): 10 annual reviews in January and February, 8 alternate assessment portfolios due in March, and I take my comprehensive exams for my PhD on Monday and Wednesday.

I will be back very soon with new posts!!