How to organise preschool work for children with autism

How to organise preschool work for children with autism

Children with autism benefit greatly from learning in a structured environment. Order and routine will be your best allies when teaching children with additional needs.

Most preschools have a set daily schedule and have well-organised equipment for children, particularly Montessori preschools. Other preschools are more free play orientated, having a more flexible routine and environment where the learning is more child-led.

Regardless of which approach you use in your classroom, consider revising how you organise work for your student with ASD, as adding some more structure.

These strategies will help your students engage with the work and complete their work independently.

  1. Reduce physical clutter and visual clutter. Consider putting toys away and rotating toys every few weeks. This reduction in physical clutter will allow children to see the toys available, plus they might be happy to see new toys every few weeks. Having too many toys can easily distract children, particularly children that might have difficulties remaining on task.
  2. Organise equipment in trays or boxes so the child has all the materials needed for the task in hand when he gets the tray/box. If possible, label with pictures the trays and containers to help the child learn the name of the task or toys included, i.e. threading, pegs, cars, pouring, scooping, puzzle, etc. If your student is using PECS, make sure the pictures or symbols you use to label the work are the same as the ones available on his/her PECS book.
  3. If your student has difficulties remaining focused on a task, consider simplifying the tasks. Remove some of the work so that the child can finish the job quickly and successfully. For example, pegboards are normally presented with a bowl with many pegs. Remove some of the pegs; you might leave just a small amount so the child can finish the task easily. This will give the child a sense of achievement. You can add more pegs week after week as the child makes progress with this task.
  4. Consider having a quieter table for children who find it difficult to concentrate when working near other children. Find a quiet corner in the classroom, separated from distractions, if possible. Make sure you have space for 2-3 children at that table, as this will allow the child to do work with another child or a small group. Avoid isolating the child with the teacher or classroom assistant. We want to give the child the opportunity to work in a quieter place, but in the company of some peers.
  5. Consider having a mini schedule for work time. Some children work well just picking up work from shelves. Some others might benefit from a mini schedule. This way, they know what work needs to be done and how much work they have to do. You can also consider a choice board, where you give some work choices, but the child chooses what task he/she wants to do next.

I hope these ideas for organising preschool work for children with ASD help you working with your students. 

Are any of these ideas new to you? 

Which one would you like to try with your child?

Let me know in the comments below.


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You Won’t Be Cold Anymore With Lámh Signs

Last year, I recorded one of Mr Tumble´s songs with Lámh sings. Many parents and teachers commented on how helpful that was, so I recorded an updated version of it so more teachers and parents can use it with their children.

Although the weather is cold, we must make sure children go out to play every day. A walk around the block or, if you are closer to nature like us, a walk by the sea or in the woods, will provide the best movement break for the kids.

The song I recorded for you it´s called “You Won´t Be Cold Anymore” by Mr. Tumble. It´s perfect for teaching children to dress appropriately for the cold weather. It also teaches signs for clothing items such as; coat, scarf, gloves and hat.

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You Wont Be Cold Anymore With Lámh Signs

How to use the First & Next board

Learn how to use First and Then boards, and avoid making the mistake that most people make when introducing this concept for the first time.

First and next boards are elementary schedules that we use to help children with autism learn what activities will happen next. They can also be of benefit to any child or student who finds it challenging to transition from one activity to another.
The boards help to show what activity is to be done now, and what has to be done next. They are generally presented on a piece of A4 paper or card with the words First/Next displayed clearly.

First represents what’s happening now, and next represents what’s going to happen later. Put one symbol to represent first, and another one to show next, then explain to your student what task needs to be done now, and what needs to be done next.

I tend to use real-life pictures of each task with my students. For students that cannot identify images yet, I like to use the actual object. For example, I stick a Lego brick on the first box and a playdough container on the next box. However, I use symbols for older students. Using symbols helps to simplify the work involved in printing and laminating the boards, as you could, for example, have a symbol for tabletop work, and another for garden time, rather than having to print lots pictures of specific activities.

If you want to introduce the First/Next board to a child for the very first time, make sure you select two activities that the child enjoys. Initially, the child might think that those two pictures represent a choice board, that is why it’s crucial to dedicate time to teach that the two images (or objects) represent a sequence of events.
So I always begin with two activities children enjoy so they are naturally interested in the boards. If you were to choose an activity that the child doesn’t enjoy with the promise of a reward, they might refuse to take part! So keep it fun and interesting until the student develops the habit of using the First/Next boards consistently. Gradually introduce more challenging activities first and always a preferred activity or a reward next.

Over time, we want to teach children to delay gratification, a skill that is very important for all children, not only children with special needs. Children will be likely to succeed in school, and in life, if they can delay gratification for a better outcome in the future. It’s an important lesson to learn that first we have to complete our obligations and afterwards we can then have time to have fun or relax!

For a toddler that might simply be First, you brush your teeth, Next storytime. At the same time, an older child might be able to understand that First, they have to do their homework and next they get to watch some TV.

I understand that introducing visual supports might seem tedious to begin with – but it’s really worth the extra effort. Over time and with consistency, you will see your child co-operating more at home and in school, and developing good habits that will be hugely beneficial to both you and your child or student long into the future.

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How to use First & Next boards

How to support children with autism learning their peers’ names

Do you know that some children with autism struggle recognising people’s faces?

I was stunned years ago, at the start of my career, when I realised that one of my students didn’t know the names of his classmates. This boy, who had autism, enjoyed being with other children and often engaged in play and conversation, that is what made it even more confusing to be at the time.

My son Sebastian, who also has autism, struggles with that too. Of course, he remembers and knows well close relatives and close friends, but outside this circle, he finds it hard to remember people’s names and faces.

That is because some children with autism can find difficult recognising people’s faces. This deficiency can also be called facial blindness. It does not mean they can’t recognise people, but it can mean that it might take them longer to get to identify a new face.

While recognising faces and remembering people’s names might be an issue for some children with autism, there are ways to support them so they can get to know their classmates.

In today’s video, I talk about two activities you can do in the classroom to make sure your student learns his or her peers’ names, and get to know the other children in the class a bit better.

P.S. Forward this email to any colleagues that you think might benefit from this information.

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How to support children with autism learning their peers’ names

Help your child say more words

3 strategies to get your child communicating.

One of the questions parents and teachers often ask is “what can I do to help my child say more words?”.

This week, in my video blog, I answer a question that a mum of a 4-year-old boy with autism sent me asking for advice on how to help his son use more words.

Each child is unique; all children will learn and develop at their own pace. But there are several effective strategies you can implement to encourage more communication.

In this video blog, you will learn 3 strategies I always use with my students.

And now your turn, which strategies do you use to encourage your students to communicate more?

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Help your child say more words: 3 strategies to get your child communicating