My students have Autism. Autism is defined by IDEA as a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child's educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. Autism falls on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) along with Asperger's and Persuasive Developmental Disorder NOS. My students fall on the severe end of ASD. Most of my students are non-verbal. One of our biggest goals in their education is to teach them alternate methods of communication whether it is through gestures, signs, pictures, or facial expressions. I have designed my classroom to meet my students needs and foster communication.
PECS- stands for Picture Exchange Communication System. It is a method of teaching communication skills to non-verbal students and helps students develop skills to initiate communication.
IEP- stands for Individualized Education Plan. When a student is diagnosed with a disability a team that includes parents, student, teachers, and service providers will write this document and create goals for the student and includes any modifications and adaptations to the curriculum needed.
Sensory- any form of input that stimulates a student. My students have a variety of sensory needs such as: dim lights, bright lights, and pressure to name a few. Students with Autism sometimes demonstrate behaviors such as 'hand flapping' or clapping, squinting their eyes, wearing head phones, rocking- this is their way of meeting their sensory needs.
CBI- stands for Community Based Instruction. Each week we go outside the classroom to a variety of locations in the community to practice the skills we lean in the classroom. For example- we go to the grocery store every week to buy our snack supplies- the kids help make the list, find items, pay, and bag the groceries.
First, the general layout...
A few changes on the other side of the room include: The bulletin board was moved closer to the door and now serves as a Classroom Information board. Our classroom behavior plan, transportation plan, supervision and break schedule are posted there. Although I requested 2 of the 1/2 walls, I was only able to get 1 so I am still using the book shelf as a divider. It helps prevent students from darting out the door.
Students will be storing their book bags in the top portion of this cabinet. I made matching curtains for this cabinet but I forgot them at home today. All of the sensory items I mentioned above (bean bags, spinners) are kept in the bottom of the cabinet along with our social skills activities like games and puzzles.
I added 1" binders to the cabinets with Velcro. Inside the binders are picture icons of what is in the cabinets. If a student wants something out of the cabinet they have to request it by handing or touching the corresponding picture to staff. This is just one step in the process of teaching communication and initiation skills. You will also notice that there are giant locks on the cabinets-this is so the students are forced to communicate what they want. The word "forced" sounds harsh, but it is essential that students learn how to make requests when the items they want are unavailable. Often, students want things that are unavailable to them and they don't know how to communicate their wants- for instance, if a student eats at a restaurant and needs ketchup but can not verbally request it they may become frustrated. If they have been taught to use picture communication they can find the picture of ketchup in their portable binder and give it to a waitress.
Does that make sense? It's hard to explain.
Now, for the pride and joy of my classroom...
You may have noticed already, but all of the other walls are almost completely bare except this one. Why you may ask? My students are highly distractable. Since this is the only visually stimuli in the room, they are forced to focus on this rather than random wall decorations. Once they get the hang of using this system I will slowly add in distractors on the walls.
This is a brand new system for our classroom, and I am very excited about it. Let me show you all the components and how it works.
If you go back and look at the schedule that was posted on the wall you'll notice that the "Functional Reading" schedule strip was green-like this one. The academic periods (Functional Reading, Functional Math, and Vocation) are all strips and each contain any where from 1-3 box numbers. Students must locate the correct strip and then find their box #'s at the work station. They get their box, complete or work on it and then put the box back. Once they complete a box they move that box # to the bottom under where it says "I am working for".
Once a student completes all their assigned boxes and the numbers are at the bottom, the student will receive their reinforcer. This process is repeated for each academic area. When working on a non-box activity such as Art, students still choose a reinforcer, but they earn star icons for good behavior like staying seated, sharing, and participating.
I am very excited to put this system into use. I experimented with something similar over the summer, so I think this will be successful. If it doesn't, I will re-evaluate and re-invent it again. The best part of the system is that it is adaptable to every ability level but it is still cohesive.
If you read this far...THANK YOU! I have truly enjoyed creating my classroom and sharing it with you. If you would like further information on Autism or strategies for teaching students with severe disabilities, please feel free to ask. I am not an expert by any means, but I am willing to help any way I can.
Teaching these students is my dream job and I am dedicated to their success...even if it means spends nights and weekends working on THEIR classroom.