Academics / Tasks

AT Considerations for ASD Wikispace link:

Learning Styles:
  1. Auditory: Tone, pitch, voice speed affect learning
  2. Kinesthetic: physically interact with environment through movement, drawing, taking notes, etc.
  3. Visual: Students with autism are visual learners who often "think in pictures" and may more readily comprehend information if visual cues are used. Verbal instructions alone may not be sufficient.

Provide Choice: (Texas Guide for Effective Teaching - TARGET)
  • Between activities: Can offer actual activities, picture representations, a written list of activities, etc.
  • Order activities are completed in: Can number activities written on paper, put visual representations of activities in order, etc.
  • Where activities are completed (desk, on floor, table, etc.) - can use visual representations of available locations
  • Who the activity will be completed with: images of available adults or peers that can assist
  • Avoid giving too many choices. It can be overwhelming
  • Don't make choices open-ended: "Do you want to read or draw?" versus "What do you want to do next?"

Teaching concepts that involve movement and interaction, such as verbs and social interactions:
  • It is difficult to teach these using stagnant pictures or drawings, because the movement is an important part of what is being taught. For example, a student may label a photograph of someone eating a sandwich as "sandwich," not "eating."
  • Use video clips as "stimuli" when teaching. For example, using a video clip of someone jumping on a trampoline to teach "jumping"
  • Instead of video, recruit other adults or peers to demonstrate (i.e., student waving)

National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders:
Prompts are additional stimuli used to assist the student in responding correctly. As a result, correct responding allows for reinforcement and lessens the motivation for avoidance or escape.
Types of prompts:
  • Verbal: “It’s a BIRD”
  • Gestural: Teacher points to the correct answer choice
  • Model: Teacher demonstrates to the student how to tie his shoes
  • Physical: Physically assisting a student in picking up toys
  • Textual: Written instructions, such as “Write your name here.”
  • Visual: Daily & activity schedules, written notes, pictures, cue cards, etc.

Task Analysis:
National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders:
Involves breaking down a complex behavior into a sequence of smaller, more manageable steps. These steps are then presented to the student, and can be demonstrated in a variety of formats, such as pictures, icons, or written/typed words. Because following multi-step instructions are difficult for some students with autism, task analysis allows for a variety of more complex activities to be completed independently by the student. It also ensures consistency between educators, which is important for students with autism. When teaching the steps in a task analysis, prompts are used regularly to ensure accurate performance of the behavior. Some examples are:
  • Self-help skills, such as hand washing: turn on water, get soap, scrub hands, rinse hands, turn off water, dry hands
  • Classroom routines, such as entering the classroom: go to desk, open backpack, get science folder, copy questions from board, etc
  • Academics: get out pencil, write name, write date, fill in blanks from story, cross off each word from word bank as you use it, etc.
  • Social routines, such as greetings: walk to person, wait for eye contact, say "Hello "
  • Games: open box, unfold game board, give 3 cards to each person, roll dice, move player forward the same number, etc.
  • Data Sheet:
Options for teaching the steps of a Task Analysis:
  1. Backward Chaining: Steps are taught in a sequence, starting with the last step in the sequence. Earlier steps in the chain are prompted, with the last step being done independently by the student. Reinforcement occurs after the last step. Thereafter, reinforcement is given for completion of the last two steps, and so on until all steps are completed independently.
  2. Forward Chaining: Steps are taught in their naturally occurring order. Reinforcement occurs after the 1st step in the sequence is completed independently. Thereafter, reinforcement is given for completion of steps 1 & 2, and so on until all steps are done independently by the student.
  3. Graduated Guidance: Prompting is used for every step, but the prompt is immediately faded as the student begins to respond correctly.

Errorless Learning
Texas Guide for Effective Teaching (TARGET):
  • This instructional procedure is intended to decrease the opportunity for response errors by the student, such as selecting incorrect items or labeling items incorrectly.
  • Because errors are reduced, the student is exposed to the correct form of the behavior more frequently
  • The negative effects of errors are reduced, which may lower the frequency of problem behaviors (those whose intent is to avoid/escape non-preferred tasks)
  • Less instructional time is spent correcting errors
  • Because responding is more accurate, the frequency of reinforcement can be increased
  • These prompts must be faded over time to allow for more independent responding
LEARNet Tutorial on Errorless Learning:

Shaping: (Texas Autism Resource Guide for Effective Teaching - TARGET)
Shaping is a technique used to add behaviors to a person’s repertoire. Some students with autism have approximations of a behavior (says "wah wah" instead of "water"), but the target behavior does not yet exist (saying "water"). With shaping, what is reinforced initially is some approximation of the target behavior. An approximation is any behavior that resembles the desired behavior or takes the person closer to the desired behavior. Successive approximations are steps toward the target behavior, the behavior you want to shape. Reinforcement is used throughout the process of shaping, being provided for the current approximation. As the student's behavior comes closer to the target behavior, previous approximations are no longer reinforced. Example: For a student using sign language, a less accurate sign for "cookie" might be accepted and reinforced initially. Through prompting, error correction, and reinforcement, the student's sign will more closely resemble the target sign for "cookie."
Other ways in which shaping can be used:
  • Extending the period of time a student does a particular behavior, such as staying seated, participating in social interactions, or remaining on-task.
  • The number of tasks completed: A student may initially be reinforced for completing 1 activity on his activity schedule, but over time receives reinforcement for 2, 3, or more consecutive tasks.
  • AAC low-mid-high tech tools: More accurate usage of the device/tool can be shaped over time
  • The length of vocal utterances a student uses when communicating: For example, "computer" might initially result in computer time. Next, "want computer" is needed to receive access to the computer, followed by "I want computer," and so forth. Recommendation: for requests made by the student (those you're willing to grant), do not attempt more than 4 times to have the student use the current approximation. Go ahead and provide the item/activity to the student at that point. The idea is that more accurate responding results in receiving things more quickly, and with less effort, while also continuing to encourage communication by the student (because the thing requested was eventually provided).
  • Accuracy of behavior: For example, coloring outside the lines up to 4 inches would be reinforced initially, then 2 inches, and so forth.

General Instructional Strategies:
  • Mix and vary easier and more difficult tasks. Avoid only working on newer, unmastered activities which require frequent prompting and correction. This may make learning more aversive to the student, because successful completion of tasks is rarer.
  • Consider the number of demands being required of the student during activities. Treat individual parts of an assignment as separate demands that the student can choose to complete or not. Thus, a worksheet with 10 math problems can be counted as 10 separate demands towards the reinforcement, instead of a single worksheet. If a student has to complete 10 activities before being reinforced, there is a big difference in what is being required of the student in this example.
  • Reduce the number of tasks the student must complete at once:
    • Fold worksheet to show fewer problems
    • Circle/highlight the problems to be completed
    • Allow the student to choose a certain number of problems/tasks to complete. Example: Ask the student to circle 5 problems out of 10 on a math worksheet
    • Odd / Even: For numbered worksheets, have the student to complete only problems with odd/even numbers
  • Minimize visual overload by decreasing the number of problems per page and removing unnecessary illustrations
  • Avoid "busy work" that the student has already completed that day, or frequently in recent history. This is most relevant for tasks the student can already complete independently, where no new learning is occurring. Repetitive tasks that are too similar in format may become aversive for the student, resulting in problem behavior to avoid/escape them in the future. Make instructional periods relevant for the student.
  • Highlight, circle, underline, or other strategy that brings attention to critical information in assignments (vocabulary words, instructions)
  • Begin with easier (mastered) skills/instructions, then fade in more difficult ones (called "behavioral momentum")
  • Vary the types of activities being worked on at one time. Extended periods of time with similar content (math) or format (worksheets) increases the likelihood of problem behavior
  • Initiate interactions with students on a regular basis, such as
    • Conversations
    • Calling on student to answer questions, make comments, or assist the teacher or other students
    • Specific verbal praise
  • Maintain a close proximity to the student when giving instructions.
  • Pre-teach lessons, familiarizing the student with the materials and instructions
  • Peers:
    • Prompt peers to assist students. In order to fade how frequently you are required to prompt or redirect the student back to task, other students can be prompted to do so instead. Example: "Dave, will you tell John what page he needs to turn to?"
    • Instead of repeated reminders from the teacher, prompt the student to observe peer behaviors. Example: "John, what is Dave doing right now" or "John, what page did Dave turn to?" Over time, the student may begin to reference peer behavior as a cue for what he/she should be doing, instead of waiting for an adult to provide a reminder.
    • Prompt the student to ask a peer what he/she should be doing
  • Check in with the student soon after giving a group instruction to ensure he/she is completing it and is doing so correctly. This gives you more opportunities to catch errors before they occur and offer assistance as needed.
  • Shorten work periods, allowing breaks for compliant behavior. With this approach, you are rewarding compliance by allowing the student to temporarily "escape" the non-preferred activity in an acceptable way. It signals to the student that compliance and attention to tasks will be rewarded. It is a type of reinforcement (negative reinforcement) in which aversive/unwanted events (typically academics) are removed or lessened for compliance, which increases the likelihood of more compliance in the future.
  • Use distinctive hand gestures, body language, and facial cues/expressions while communicating to groups (increases attending)
  • When not in close proximity to student, gesture to point of focus (e.g., vocabulary word, image on screen)
  • When in close proximity but giving group instructions, gesture to student's materials to bring attention to it
  • Get student's attention (eye contact or body orientation) before giving direct instructions
  • Always "check in" after giving group instructions to ensure student comprehended and has begun the task
  • Make instructions visual, such as writing down the page number while asking students to turn to it. Follow this up by gesturing to the visual instead of repeating the verbal instruction right away.
  • Use concise verbal instructions, keeping the number of steps low (1-2). Visual supports will allow you to increase the number of tasks/steps that can be completed independently, because the cues are stagnant and can be referred to repeatedly by the student.
  • Teach what "finished" means: Take a photo of or show finished copy of assignment. If the student incorrectly communicates that he/she is finished, refer back to finished product/model.

Strategies for Group Instruction:
  • Stand in close proximity to the student when giving group instructions. This allows you to offer additional assistance without drawing attention to the student, having to walk to the student, or interfering with what is being said to the entire class. As an example, the teacher can gesture to the activity/task on the student's desk that is being discussed with the entire class.
  • If the focus of instruction is not on the student's desk, bring attention to it (e.g., point to dry-erase board)
  • Follow-up group instructions ("Everyone turn to page 19") by checking in with the student soon after. This allows the teacher to repeat instructions or use prompting if necessary, and ensures that the student is complying.
  • Address the student individually:
    • Before a group instruction: "Dave I need you to listen to this"
    • If needed after a group instruction is given: "Dave, I need you to turn to page 24"
  • If possible, seat the student close to peers who:
    • Are more willing to offer assistance
    • Are able to assist without being at risk themselves academically
    • Display lower rates of disruptive or distracting behaviors
    • Model appropriate behaviors and communication
  • Some students may not initiate responses/answers to group questions, so make a point to call on students in these situations. Choose questions that the student is familiar with already. Consider preparing the student ahead of time for what you may be asking him/her.
  • Use gestural prompts in place of verbal ones, when possible (i.e., pointing to assignment after giving a group assignment). If unsuccessful, add verbal prompts.

Increasing Independent Functioning:
  • A goal of any instructional program should be to decrease dependents on adults
  • Although 1-on-1 instruction, small group instruction, and the presence of paraprofessional support throughout the school day can be effective for teaching a variety of skills to students with autism, educators must be cautious not to create "prompt dependency." Prompt dependency may occur if
    • prompts or other forms of assistance are provided too regularly to the student, even when more independent responding by the student is possible
    • prompts are not faded to allow for more independence
  • If prompts are necessary for successful responding by students, always have a plan for fading them. Prompts can be used:
    1. Before errors occur: See Errorless Prompting description above
    2. After errors occur: The student makes an error, after which he/she is prompted to exhibit the correct response.
  • Strategies like Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) incorporate prompts, and can be very effective for teaching a variety of skills to students with autism. Although prompting is a key component for skill acquisition, it must be faded over time to allow for more independent responding.
  • Work Systems, such as those utilized by TEACCH, are designed to reduce educator support and develop maximal independent functioning for students with autism.

Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH) - Texas Guide for Effective Teaching (TARGET)
  • TEACCH is a structured teaching program whose aim is to provide structure and organization in the learning environment
  • Noteworthy components of the program:
    • The physical environment is purposefully structured in numerous ways (e.g., classroom design, student desks, organizational systems)
    • An emphasis is placed on scheduling, and visual supports are incorporated.
    • Work systems incorporating visual strategies are used to make clear the tasks and activities that must be completed by the student, as well as how they are to be completed. The goal is independent completion of work tasks.
    • Task organization: a)The independent tasks students complete; b)The steps of task completion; c)The number of tasks to be completed; d)Final outcomes of completed tasks

Structured Work Systems - National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders

Motor skills related to academics - AT Considerations for ASDWikispace:

Using Special Interests - Texas Guide for Effective Teaching (TARGET)
Areas of use:
  • Academics: Using an interest in trains to teach counting
  • Behavior: Incorporating a favored superhero into a behavior plan, such as how to act in the cafeteria
  • Social Skills: Using cartoon characters to teach social interaction skills
  • Self-help: Using a wash cloth with an image of a preferred vehicle to teach bathing skills; Toothpaste with cartoon character image on container