A Day in my AU Classroom: Video Tour of my Workbox System

Friday, April 25, 2014 / 10 comments

I've had a lot of requests for an explanation of my workbox system, so here you all go! Through this system, there is virtually no daily prep for workboxes! We just routinely change them out every month or so as our students master new skills.

I hope you like the video tour! I have plans to show more of the classroom next week!

Please send me any questions you have :)

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Don't Reinvent the Wheel! {FREE visuals, choice boards, etc, YAY!}

Monday, April 21, 2014 / 3 comments

Don't you just LOVE when you come across something that will save you time?

Today I found this website, and I screamed I was so happy! FREE boardmaker visuals already pre-made and ready to print!

Happy printing, laminating, cutting, and velcro-ing!!!!! :)
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Earth Day Activities {Craftivity Foldable, Audio Book, Student Readers, & Take Home Activity}

Sunday, April 20, 2014 / Leave a Comment
Earth day is Tuesday, and for ONCE I actually have a product ready! In our classroom, we love to do arts & crafts, but we have to somehow make these projects meaningful to the students and not just "cute."

In my new Earth Day pack, I've included an Audio Book PPT (fancy!) and student readers, materials & visual directions for the foldable, and a take-home activity for students to complete with their parents and bring back. I even got tech-savvy this weekend, and learned how to many VIDEO previews of my products -  SO much easier than a bunch of little pictures. Be sure to take a look!

Psssst - Right now its on SALE (along with my whole store!)
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Data - Discrete Trial vs Fluency {Guest Post from Sasha Hallagan - The Autism Helper}

Monday, April 14, 2014 / 3 comments
I'm so excited to share today's post! I've asked the AMAZING Sasha Hallagan from The Autism Helper to help explain how we should be effectively teaching new skills through Discrete Trial Training, as well as how we can make those skills more functional through Fluency Instruction.

Enjoy, loves... :)

When it comes to academic data, all of my goals and programs fall into two categories: Discrete Trial Training and Fluency Instruction. I choose different skills for different reasons. It's essential to include both types of programming into your classroom curriculum in order to develop skills that are mastered and functional. So let's scale back and review the what and why behind each type of instructional approach.

Discrete Trial Training
What?: Discrete trial training is a one-on-one teaching strategy that teaches a new skill in a structured and controlled setting. Each trial has a defined start and end point (hence discrete).

Why?: Discrete trial is all about repetition and reinforcement. You want to present multiple trials and provide immediate reinforcement for correct responses. The idea is the more times the correct response is reinforced, the quickly the learning will occur.

Fluency Instruction
What?: Fluency is accuracy plus speed. We want our learners to have skills that can be produced quickly and correctly. A fluency program looks at the rate of performance - how many responses can the student produce within a specific amount of time.

Why?: Fluency is all about being functional. We live in a fast paced world. Nobody is waiting behind you in the grocery store while you painfully count out each an every coin to pay your bill. We want the skills we teach our students to be second nature. Fluency builds that.   In a perfect curricular world, we need both.

Using Discrete Trial Training to teach a new skill and then use Fluency Instruction to make that skill functional. Don't linger in Discrete Trial too long we want to make sure the student is not relying on reinforcement for every response.

Let's run through a sample skill set and see how this would look in a classroom setting. Let us the example of teaching Expressive Color Identification. Start with a specific set of color options. Never pick only 2 options. They will have 50% chance of getting the answer correct! I like to use 3-5 options depending on the student. Make sure you use multiple exemplars. Don't use only type of blue. Use a range of blue shades, shapes, and depictions of the stimuli.

  The Autism Helper - Data 

The teacher will present the color and say, "What's this?" If the student answers correctly, provide immediate reinforcement for the response. If they answer incorrectly, provide error correction. I write out the complete program script and staff expectations. This is essential when you are having paraprofessionals run a program like this. Lay out exactly what should be done and said. Also, lay out the order you will be introducing new stimuli. Be sure to include discrimination trials. Once you have two sets of colored mastered, next include a set of all colors within both sets. Also include mastery criteria.

Here is what a sample data sheet would look like:

The Autism Helper - Data

Once one set has been mastered, move to fluency instruction. Start with a short time period if fluency instruction is new for your student. Begin the timer, scroll through the flashcards, put corrects in one pill, and incorrects in another pile. Count up the piles when you are done and fill in the data sheet. Easy peasy.

The Autism Helper - Data

Fluency instruction makes it easy to compare data and gives the most information. You know how many they got correct and in how long. Percentage, consecutive opportunities, etc, doesn't tell us all that. If we say a student can identify letters with 90% accuracy - what does that really mean? How many letters? How long does it take them? Taking 2 minutes to identify each letter is not functional and will not pave a yellow brick road toward reading. If we say a student can identify 20 letters minute - that gives us a ton more information. Fluency instruction is a classroom must have. It's easy to run, relatively easy to set up (check out my fluency mega pack), and is perfect for a paraprofessional to run.
Although this seems like a whole lotta hoopla just to learn colors, for many of our students - they require this structure and consistency in order to fully master and generalize new skills. As a teacher, I love seeing the skills progress. Tracking data can be so rewarding because we see our hard work pay off!

Sasha Long, M.A., BCBA
The Autism Helper
Helping You, Help Children With Autism  

Thanks SASHA - You ROCK! 
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#willworkforcaltrans Spotlight on Special Thinker: Diego

Saturday, April 12, 2014 / Leave a Comment

Today we get to meet Diego, son of Dori (autism mom & special education teacher, too!)

Check her out on Instagram @DORI510

“You need a sign," Diego informed me.  He was going to be 5 soon and had just slipped on the wet tile in the kitchen. “Make me one then,” I told him.  Famous last words.  I had wanted him to start writing his named but this stubborn child refused to use markers, crayons or pencils.

What started as a slip and fall evolved into a full blown obsession.  Diego makes signs for everything and out of anything.  It’s how we got him to start writing and reading.  For Sale signs started simple then started including details; red bike, fast scooter.  Anything that helped him become interested in words and their meaning.  Before you knew it, our house was covered in Post It’s with directions, exit signs, and warnings.  But I wouldn’t change it for the world.

We were blessed with Diego in 2006.  I quit my job as a Special Education Teacher so I could stay home and spend the first few years with our child.  I imagined days of scrapbooking while the baby (or babies) played.  We’d bake cookies and sing songs together.  We would take long walks to the park so he could play while I chatted with the other moms.  You know, all the fun things that parents are supposed to do.  We waited so long to have kids, this was supposed to be IT! 

That first year and a half we hit most of the typical milestones- sitting up, rolling over, crawling, walking, but there were a few things that made me think- no language, fleeting eye contact, obsession with the blinds in our house. Open, close, open, close.  It felt like Autism. I didn’t want to say it.  I didn’t want to think it.  But it was there. Trips to the park were few and far between.  Diego was more interested in a tree than kids or playing.  His little chubby legs stumbling along, around and around while his hands simply dragged around the trunk.  Same tree every time. 

On a long car drive, I shared my concerns with my husband, hoping he would say I was worried about nothing.  That maybe I’m making too much of little things.  That’s not what he said.  He said, “That makes sense. Autism.  Yeah, I see it too.” Damn. Then then doctor agreed.  Damn. Then the psychologist agreed. Damn.  And two more after that.  Double damn.

Then it was time to get to work.  And work we did.  We had in-home services, OT, speech, and of course my own home therapy.  It was a full day of work for both of us.  It was the most difficult time of our lives.  I felt cheated out of his childhood.  What should have been easy was a battle.  Learning to use a cup was painful.  Saying words was agonizing.  Potty training was simply impossible.  Every little change in our routine triggered big meltdowns.  Our house had double locks for fear of him escaping.  We couldn’t go anywhere and he never slept.  It was exhausting.

He started preschool at 3 in a visually structured class and I decided to go back to work.  I just needed time to think about other people’s problems for a little while.  We also enrolled Diego in daycare with support services to be provided at the daycare center. We lucked out with a simply amazing team!  They worked at the daycare center for 2 hours a day, 5 days a week.  With the school support, the daycare support and still visiting a speech pathologist twice a week, we were getting somewhere!  Words like “Legos, milk, food, snack, green, orange, mom, dad, more,” became part of his vocabulary.  Tantrums began to fade.  A little loving boy started to be understood.  He was finally able to share things with us!  

It was a whirlwind of emotions.  Time always seemed too short.  Days flew by.  But strong connections were made.  I called in favors when needed.  Working in Special Education, you never know who you’re going to meet.  That parent, she runs the local park for kids with special needs.  That other parent is a psychologist.  The program specialist; she’s BFF’s with a service provider I’ve been wanting to touch bases with.  When it’s your own child, everyone is fair game.  And lucky us- the people we reached out too wanted to help. They became our support network and us a part of theirs.  It was simply a blessing. 

Fast forward five years- Diego is now seven, and he’s simply amazing!  He talks non-stop about earthquakes and fault lines. He can build machines out of cardboard and make them work.  He’s able to get up on stage and perform in plays and dances.  Of course, he still has challenges (classroom noise is upsetting, personal space is always an issue, making friends is HARD) but we are focusing ourselves on the positive and counting the blessings he has brought us.

Diego is amazing to me.  Simply amazing.  He has friends of all abilities.  He understands what it’s like for his friends with limited vocabularies and reminds us, “When I didn’t have words, I was mad and threw things too.  She’s just mad.”  He takes dance classes and goes to Lego camp.  When people mention a country, he has to know if it’s above the equator or below.  He loves to see traffic signs from other countries and still points out orange construction cones when we’re driving around.  He’ll even tell you what kind of cone it is.  Yes, they have names.  Who knew?  With time, I’m praying and hoping that his social interactions become easier.  Although, I have a feeling when he’s an adult, it will be okay. 

Before Diego was born, I remember thinking, I just want a child who is average and has a fun life.  Well, Diego is certainly not average but he does have a fun life!  Give him cardboard, tape and markers and he’ll build you a trash compactor.  I know for a fact, that kid will work for Cal Trans.           


There was once a lazy dinosaur laying in the jumbo hot tub. And suddenly, a crazy UFO swooshed through the area. There was a navy radio. Weird? A lady appeared with a sword. What she did with it was she made dinosaur soup out of the dinosaur.

The end

^story written by Diego :)

WOW! Thank you so much for sharing Diego with us, Dori!!!! He is truly something special! :)

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Spotlight on Special Thinker: Joaquin

Wednesday, April 9, 2014 / Leave a Comment

Today we meet Joaquin, son of "Ausome" Mom from the Ausome Life Blog.
You can follow her on IG as well, I do!! (@ausomelife)

When Joaquin was diagnosed with Autism at age 2 he was completely non-verbal. Before he could verbally communicate he did attempt to communicate in other ways. His preferred method of communication was to pull and guide us. He still prefers to point, and hand us the things that he wants. Although, he is able to use these alternative methods of communication, as a parent I have always had a desire to hear him use his voice. After a year of various different therapies and interventions (speech, ot, sensory integration, ABA), I was fortunate enough to hear his first word. His first word came at age 3, and it was the most incredible word ever. His first word was the word Duck!

I would like to say that his language just exploded after that, as is common in most typically developing children. However, language development was still very slow and challenging. Although, he seemed to be picking up more words, he had a very hard time using them spontaneously, and consistently. He still needed a lot of support to get those one word utterances out. Eventually, we did start to see him sporadically use 2 word phrases, and I was so excited. Every time he hit in a new milestone I was just sure the flood gates were about to open and he would just start having full blown conversations with me. I thought to myself, soon I will be telling him to be quite because he is just talking too much! Of course, that was not the case. About 6 months passed and it seemed like Elias language had just plateaued.

In September 2013, a few months after he turned 4, we discovered that Joaquin is Hyperlexic. He has always been very passionate about arranging letters and spelling words. At one point we noticed that he was reading. He would just pick up random books, like my books on coaching or feminism, and he would just be reading the titles out loud. After doing some research I learned that this talent of his is actually called Hyperlexia. This is a learning difference, that some children have where they actually learn to read and write but struggle with verbal communication. Upon learning this about him I immediately started speaking to his teachers and entire therapy team. I rallied everyone to change how we were teaching him. I'm a strong believer and advocate for teaching children how they learn. So we all started to include more visual and written communication for him. I took 1 week off from work to make our home more Hyperlexic friendly for him. I created charts for him and communication boards. I also organized and labeled everything around the house... the P-touch was my new best friend! The good news is that in 4 months of changing our teaching approach. Joaquin went from using 2 word phrases (ex. want bread) to using 5 word phrases with minimal prompting (ex. I want to eat bread). Incredible!

One of the most important things I love to share with parents that are raising children on the spectrum, is that you should not be afraid to try a different approach. Pay attention to your child’s interest, how they interact and interpret the world, they are trying to tell you something. Use these findings to try different things with your child, eventually you will find an approach that works best. At the same time try not to get too frustrated when an approach that worked before is no longer working, sometimes they need a break, or sometimes it could be that they need a new approach, they might be bored.

Autism is definitely a journey, and there is no one right way for everyone. You will pick up and learn so many things about how your child learns and thrives along the way. I hope that one of the most wonderful things you will find along your journey in raising a child that thinks differently, is that you too will start to think differently. You will learn when to pay attention to your training, and when to pay attention to your intuition. You will learn to think creatively about how to help your child. You will learn to think of your child’s learning difference, not as a disability, but as a different way of accessing information and interpreting the world. Our role is to unlock those differences, and be the missing piece they need to thrive in this world. Be their biggest fan, their best advocate, their parent! 

Thank you so much for sharing your son's story with us, Melina!!! I LOVE that his first word was "duck!" So AUSOME!! :)post signature

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Spotlight on Special Thinker: Raiden

Sunday, April 6, 2014 / Leave a Comment

Today we meet Raiden, son of Rachel Reynolds (Ms. Rachel's Rainbow Room blog).

My Son Raiden

Raiden has taught me so much. He has taught me to enjoy the simple things in life. He has taught me about honesty. He teaches me to celebrate daily, no matter how small. He teaches me to dance. He is the most authentic and beautiful person I know. He only sees good in people. He gives compliments like it is going out of style. His smile lights up a room. IF you need a hug, this is your guy. Raiden has made me a better person. He has changed my life. 

Raiden loves to travel. Staying in hotels is the best thing in the world to him. He has certain criteria for a “good hotel”. It has have a FREE HOT BREAKFAST (even though he eats a bagel and cream cheese), it must have a business center (so he can print off points of interest- like bridges and buildings with cool elevators), it must have an elevator (his other passion), and POOL. Once he called various hotels asking questions. I think he made over 200 phone calls in one night. We found out when we received the high phone bill. 

ELEVATORS!!! This guy is crazy for elevators. He watches elevator videos on youtube. Yes, there are tons of videos about elevators. Who knew? He knows all the brands and can tell you what brand they are just by looking at the shape of buttons, placement etc. One of his science projects was about elevators. He collects elevator parts and I want to make a pretend elevator in his room using these parts. 

BRIDGES!!! Bridges are another one of his passions and was one of his science projects too. haha. When, we go on trips we look up cool bridges that we can go over. Sometimes, we will go out of our way to find a bridge for Raiden. He really enjoys the beauty of these bridges. Who is to blame him. They really are beautiful. He wants to go over the Golden Gate Bridge one day. He has a poster of it. I can’t wait to take him. 

PIZZA!!!! Yeah, I know lots of people love pizza. But, Raiden really loves pizza. This kid can eat some pizza. He loves finding little hole in the wall pizza places when we travel. His favorite in our area is “Dewey’s”  and “Pogolino’s” and in my home town Columbia, MO he loves Shakespeare’s and Gumby’s. 

Raiden is 15 years old now and is in high school. He has had so many accomplishments over the years. He began therapies at 11 months old. He was diagnosed with autism right before he turned 3. He was late doing everything. He had to work so hard to do the things that come naturally to a lot of children. We shed many tears along side him as we worked so hard doing therapies in and out of the home. He had speech, language, OT, PT, & ABA. He was nonverbal for awhile. Then, we only heard his voice during his flashcard time. I plastered the house with pictures. I put pictures and labels on everything. I love hearing his voice!!! It became our fun game. As we ran around the house naming the pictures. Certain tactile sensory was so hard for Raiden. I remember placing him in a bucket of rice and brushing him with each diaper change. I remember him crying in the sand box. Then, the joy of seeing him laughing and giggling one day while he was throwing sand in the air and it was getting in his hair. I remember him crying when the grass touched him, then giggling as the grass tickled him. He was so scared to walk. He liked being close to the ground and crawling. We gave him “magic shoes” that we had him fitted for. They squeezed his legs and provided him pressure so he could feel his legs while he learned to walk. Swinging was always his thing. He loves to swing. He loves water and always loved bath time. He still does. He will fill the tub all the way to the top and lay down so his nose and eyeballs are out of the water. I can hear him talking in the bath tub. I stand on the other side of the door listening to what he is saying. Sometimes, he is reciting shows. Many times he is reciting our conversations. He listens to what I say to him, more than I realize sometimes. He talks about bridges he wants to see and places he wants to travel to. My heart just oozes with love for this kid. 

He is kind of realizing things are a little different for him. But, he can’t quite articulate it. Recently, we were in DisneyWorld. We went to a 4-D movie, (A Bug’s Life). I thought he would love it. Not so much. He was squeezing my head, pulling on my ear and yelling. We left. My husband told Raiden he shouldn’t hurt me. He asked him what was wrong. He told us that he didn’t like it, that he is autistic. It was the first time he said something like that. We asked him what that meant to him. He was upset and yelled, “I have no idea.”. Sometimes, that is how I feel. I have no idea. I wouldn’t say this journey gets easier. But, it’s definitely interesting and its our journey. I have laughed, cried, been angry, but most of all I’m just in awe of this kid. 

Yes, Raiden has made me a different person. A better person. He has taught me what really matters in life. I dance, I smell those roses, I smile. I look into his eyes and I feel love. He doesn’t have to say it, he radiates it. He is my son. I have devoted my life to him and teaching children with autism. I will make this a better place for our babies. That is my goal in life. I want to make a difference. 

Rachel Reynolds 
Mom of Raiden & Raena 
& Autism Teacher 

Rachel, thank you so much for sharing Raiden with us today - You are one amazing mom and he is one amazing boy! :)

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Spotlight on Special Thinker: Georgie!

Thursday, April 3, 2014 / 2 comments

Today we get to meet Georgie & celebrate 9 things his momma loves about him for his 9th birthday!

Enjoy :)

Meet the Light of my Life, Georgie!

Georgie's first walk for Autism Speaks in Chicago (age 3)

Georgie was diagnosed with PDD- NOS shortly before his 3rd Birthday. Georgie had no language and had numerous repetitive behaviors. He was also on the go all the time! He has been my tour guide on the path of Autism for the past nine years and has taught me so much.  My Georgie just celebrated his 9th Birthday last week with 15 friends for the first time! It has not always been easy, but here are 9 things that I LOVE about my Georgie and want to share about him. 

1. His smile will light up a room! He is a happy boy and brings a smile to those that work with him and are around him. 

2. He is full of compassion for others. If someone is hurt or upset Georgie has to go out of his way to check on them. 

3. Loves his little brother! When we brought his baby brother home 6 years later, Georgie embraced him and kisses him every single day! They are truly best buddies! 

4. His huge love and passion for trains! My family has learned a lot about trains over the years due to our numerous train adventures. When Georgie is on a train, he never stops smiling!

5. He has an awesome belly laugh!

6. He loves the outdoors! His favorite is swimming and going to a sandy beach in the summer. He also loves water parks! 

7. He loves books and going to the library. He is currently in 3rd grade and learning to read. 

8. He loves his dog Maggie! She is a 10 year old German Shepard that is not far from his side when he is home. 

9. He loves going to school and we have been blessed with amazing teachers and support staff. Georgie has come a long way since his diagnosis and I look forward to the next 9 years! He is an AMAZING BOY and I am so proud and lucky to be his Mommy! 

Thank you so much for sharing Georgie with us, Susan, he is such a joy! Happy Birthday Georgie!!! :)

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