Thursday, May 30, 2013

Positively Autism May 2013 Newsletter

May Newsletter Topic: Autism and Inclusion -

"You're Going to Love this Kid!" Inclusion Video w/Great Strategies -

Getting Comfortable in the Inclusive Classroom: Creating a Supportive School Environment for Students with Autism -

Differentiated Instruction to Meet the Needs of All Learners -

Honoring and Including Students with Communication Differences -

Inclusive Peer Training May Outperform Traditional Autism Interventions -

Find an Inclusive Program (Camps, After School Programs, etc.) -

How Inclusion Benefits Businesses -

Summer Activities, Songs, Safety Resources, and Train-Theme Stories -

May Positive Autism News -

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Summer Activities, Songs, Safety Resources, and Train-Theme Stories

Positively Autism's collection of summer activities includes:
  • Travis the Train Visits the Beach
  • Travis the Train Goes on a Summer Picnic
  • Sunny Vocabulary
  • Train in the Sun (Vocabulary Story)
  • Swimming Pool Safety Story
  • Summer Song Videos
  • Summer Books
  • Links to summer travel tips, summer tips sheets, and printable activities.

Find all of the activities here:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Monday, May 20, 2013

Find an Inclusive Program (Camps, After School Programs, etc.)

The National Inclusion Project provides a searchable data base for inclusive programs, such as camps, after school programs, educational programs, and events. If you know of an organization providing great inclusive services, you can submit them to the directory.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Inclusive Peer Training May Outperform Traditional Autism Interventions

Notes from Positively Autism: I consider this study to be really groundbreaking...if we can train other children in inclusive classrooms to engage socially with children with autism, and this helps improve certain social outcomes better than one-on-one training with an adult, how much money and staff time could be saved? I think this is an important line of research and hope to see more soon.

Reference: Autism Speaks. Read the full article here:

Peer Training Outperforms Traditional Autism Interventions

Training classmates produces greater gains in social inclusion than even one-on-one training between therapist and child the findings of a landmark study argue for a shift away from relying solely on such standard social-skills training and toward greater emphasis on teaching classmates how to interact with children who have social challenges.

The study was led by educational psychologist Connie Kasari, Ph.D., of the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment. It appeared in the April issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

The researchers enrolled 60 students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), in grades 1 through 5. All attended mainstream classes for at least 80 percent of the school day. The researchers randomly assigned them into one of four groups:
  • One group received one-on-one training with an adult for six weeks. The provider helped the child practice social skills such as how to enter a playground game or conversation.
  • One group didn’t receive any social skills training, but had three typically developing classmates learn strategies for engaging children with social difficulties. These classmates did not know the identity of the child with autism.
  • One group received both one-on-one and classmate training.
  • One group received neither intervention in the first phase of the study and later participated in one of the interventions.
All training sessions lasted 20 minutes, twice weekly for six weeks. During the intervention, observers watched and noted playground behaviors. These observers did not know which children had received which intervention. Three months after training completion, the investigators returned to observe the children with autism and interview them and their teachers.

Those whose classmates received training – including those who themselves received no social skills counseling – spent less time alone on the playground and had more classmates naming them as friends, compared to those who received only one-on-one training or no intervention.

In addition, their teachers reported that the students with autism showed significantly improved classroom social skills following training of their peers. By comparison, the teachers noted no changes in the social skills of children with autism who received one-on-one coaching without any training of their classmates. Like the playground observers, the teachers were not told who had received which intervention.

Read the rest of the article, including some limitations of the study, here:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Honoring and Including Students with Communication Differences

This article is from the website of Dr. Paula Kluth. It, along with many others on inclusive schooling, differentiated instruction, and literacy can be found at Visit now to read her Tip of the Day, read dozens of free articles, and learn more about supporting diverse learners in K-12 classrooms.

Adapted from: P. Kluth (2010). “You’re Going to Love This Kid!”: Teaching Students with Autism in the Inclusive Classroom (Rev ed.). Baltimore: Brookes.

I have a new student coming to my sixth-grade classroom and I am stumped. Ben does not speak very much but he sometimes uses an electronic device to make choices and greet people. He also knows some sign language. I am not sure how to include him in the class or how to build a relationship with him. HELP!

This note came to me in the form of an e-mail. It was sent by Rachel, a teacher who has never had a student with these communication differences in her class before. Rachel’s concerns are understandable. Having a student with such a unique learning profile can certainly be a challenge to a teacher in an inclusive classroom.

What is a Teacher to Do?: Ideas for Including Those with Communication Differences

My advice to Rachel was to begin by looking at what Ben could do, build from his strengths, and increase opportunities for all learners to learn about communication differences. Specifically, I recommended that she communicate with her student, attend to his abilities, teach and model augmentative communication and create communication opportunities for all.

Communicate with Students and Expect Them to Communicate with You

Teachers working with students who do not have reliable communication sometimes ask me, “What should I say to her? How can I tell how much she understands?” The truth is, teachers may not know how much a learner understands if he or she does not have a way to communicate. In these situations teachers should assume that the learner can learn and is interested in socializing and learning. As Donnellan (1984) reminds us, this is the “least dangerous assumption.” For reasons of respect alone, teachers should converse with students and be sure to extend those interactions beyond questions, directions, and commands. In other words, students with the most significant disabilities often have too much “teacher talk” in their lives and not enough personal interaction. These students will benefit from teachers who tell them stories, offer observations, and share experiences since these types of exchanges may be too rare in these learners’ lives.

Pay Attention to Communication Abilities

Too often professionals focus on what students cannot do instead of what they can do. All students with disabilities have some ways of communicating even if they do not use spoken words. Does the student point to objects she wants? Does she use facial expressions to indicate distress, pain, or happiness? Can she use an object to make a request (e.g., grab her lunchbox when she is ready to eat)? Can she accurately use a gesture to communicate a need, a want, or a feeling (e.g., clapping hands when she wants to hear music)?

While a teaching team will certainly want to help any student build on and enhance his or her communication strategies, support should begin with an exploration and honoring of the skills and abilities students already have. Teachers may not be able to accurately identify ways in which learners are communicating after knowing them only a few days or weeks. Therefore, families must be interviewed and consulted about their child’s communication strategies.

Teach All Students to Use Augmentative and Alternative Communication

If a learner with disabilities uses a picture board to indicate choices, the teacher might ask all students to use a picture board for choices at some point in the day. Or she might consider giving all students a spelling test using finger spelling (sign language). Or instead of having students shout out answers, she could ask them to write answers on paper or provide a signal for “yes” or “no.” In teaching all students to use alternative modes of communication, teachers create a more dynamic learning environment and introduce students to a wider range of choices they can make when communicating, creating, composing, and expressing.

Create Communication Opportunities

To ensure that all students have opportunities to communicate, teachers need to put structures and activities in place that allow for interaction. In one classroom, the teacher started every morning with a “whip” (Harmin, 1994). She pointed to each student in the class, one by one and asked them to give a 3-5 word phrase related to her prompt of the day. One morning for instance, she asked students to report on something they learned on the previous day’s fieldtrip to an art museum. Responses ranged from “Picasso was a sculptor” to “dancing is art”. Teachers can also simply ask students to “turn and talk” to each other at various points in the day. Or educators can ask students to respond physically instead of verbally when answering questions. For instance, instead of asking, “Who can tell me what H20 is?”, the teacher might say, “Stand up if you think you know the common name for H20”.
Another way to engage all students in whole-class work is to prepare the student with a communication difference for his participation. The teacher might give the student a question before the class starts so he can form a response or so he can simply feel more relaxed and confident when his turn comes. While this type of preparation is often helpful for any learner, it can be especially useful for individuals who use some type of augmentative communication system or strategy. For instance, Josh, a student without reliable communication, often participated in discussions by using a small portable keyboard. His teacher always previewed the lecture for him in a 5-minute summary and gave him a question to answer before the class began so he could be ready to share his typed response at the right time in the class discussion.


Giving students the right communication supports is key to realizing other successes in the classroom. For instance, the more complex a student’s communication becomes, the more meaningful the curricular adaptations will be and the less likely the student will be to share needs and wants through challenging behavior. For this reason, teachers like Rachel (the educator who sent me the email about her sixth-grade student) are wise to focus on communication as a central focus of a learner’s program. With careful planning, the needs of Ben, her students with disabilities, can not only be met but can be a catalyst for honoring and including all voices in his inclusive classroom.


Donnellan, A. (1984). The criterion of the least dangerous assumption. Behavioral Disorders, 9, 141-150.
Harmin, M. (1994). Inspiring active learning: A handbook for teachers. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Differentiated Instruction to Meet the Needs of All Learners

by Carol Ann Tomlinson

Book Description:

It's an age-old challenge: How can teachers divide their time, resources, and efforts to effectively instruct students of diverse backgrounds and interests, as well as skill and readiness levels? The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners offers a powerful, practical solution.

Drawing on nearly three decades of experience, author Carol Ann Tomlinson describes a way of thinking about teaching and learning that will change all aspects of how you approach students and your classroom. She looks to the latest research on learning, education, and change for the theoretical basis of differentiated instruction and why it's so important to today's children. Yet she offers much more than theory, filling the pages with real-life examples of teachers and students using-and benefitting from-differentiated instruction.

At the core of the book, three chapters describe actual lessons, units, and classrooms with differentiated instruction in action. Tomlinson looks at elementary and secondary classrooms in nearly all subject areas to show how real teachers turn the challenge of differentiation into a reality. Her insightful analysis of how, what, and why teachers differentiate lays the groundwork for you to bring differentiation to your own classroom.

Tomlinson's commonsense, classroom-tested advice speaks to experienced and novice teachers as well as educational leaders who want to foster differentiation in their schools. Using a "think versus sink approach," Tomlinson guides all readers through small changes, then even larger ones, until differentiation becomes a way of life that enriches both teachers and students.


by Carol Ann Tomlinson

Book Description:

In this 2nd edition of a book that has provided inspiration to countless teachers, Carol Ann Tomlinson offers three new chapters, extended examples and information in every chapter, and field-tested strategies that teachers can use in today's increasingly diverse classrooms. Tomlinson shows how to use students' readiness levels, interests, and learning profiles to address student diversity.

In addition, the author shows teachers how to differentiate, or structure, lessons at every grade level and content area to provide "scaffolds"--as well as high-speed elevators--for

The content of lessons,
The processes used in learning, and
The products of learning.

Teachers can draw on the book's practical examples as they begin to differentiate instruction in their own classrooms. Strategies include curriculum compacting, "sidebar" investigations, entry points, graphic organizers, contracts, and portfolios. As Tomlinson says, "Differentiation challenges us to draw on our best knowledge of teaching and learning. It suggests that there is room for both equity and excellence in our classrooms.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Getting Comfortable in the Inclusive Classroom: Creating a Supportive School Environment for Students with Autism

This article is from the website of Dr. Paula Kluth. It, along with many others on inclusive schooling, differentiated instruction, and literacy can be found at Visit now to read her Tip of the Day, read dozens of free articles, and learn more about supporting diverse learners in K-12 classrooms.

Adapted from: P. Kluth (2010). “You’re Going to Love This Kid!”: Teaching Students with Autism in the Inclusive Classroom (Rev. ed.). Baltimore: Brookes.

Sometimes students with autism are unsuccessful in school because they are uncomfortable or feel unsafe or even afraid in their educational environment. Providing an appropriate learning environment can be as central to a student’s success as any teaching strategy or educational tool. Students with autism will be the most prepared to learn in places where they can relax and feel secure. In order to create environments most conducive to learning for students with autism and their peers without disabilities, teachers may need to examine ways in which classroom spaces are organized. Specifically, teachers may need to consider the sounds, smells, lighting, and seating options in the classrooms.


Some students with autism will not only struggle with sounds most of us view as annoying (e.g., car alarms, sandpaper on wood), but may also react negatively to sounds most of us would ignore or fail to notice (e.g., the whirring of a ceiling fan). Students might also react negatively to a sound most find pleasant while failing to react at all to the banging of a door or the scream of a siren. Wendy Robinson, the mother of a young man with autism, remembers how stunned she was at her son’s uneven reactions to sounds:

One evening he was seated on my lap on the hall floor while [his brother] bounced and punched a very large balloon around him. Suddenly the balloon burst by Grant’s side which sent my heart into a flutter. However, Grant did not flinch or even turn his head to the noise. Later, when I had my electric whisk in operation, he ran screaming from the kitchen and I had to stop what I was doing to find and console him. He had the same reaction to the Hoover and other loud electrical equipment. (Robinson, 1999, p. 43)
One of the ways teachers can help students cope with sounds is to simply talk to families about which sounds are hardest for the learner. For example, if Grant Robinson’s teachers knew about his fear of sounds related to vacuum cleaners and electrical equipment, they would think twice before signing him up for a woodworking course and could be sure to keep him away from things like the electric pencil sharpener and stapler.

Consider these additional ideas for helping students deal with sounds:
  • Once a disturbing sound has been discovered, helping the student can be as simple as moving her as far away as possible from the sound source.
  • Try earplugs or headphones for some activities or for use in some parts of the school building (e.g., gymnasium).
  • Reduce classroom noise. Echoes and noise can be reduced by installing carpeting. Remnants can often be obtained from a carpet store at a low cost. Some teachers cut tennis balls open and place them on the bottoms of chair or desk legs; this adaptation muffles the sounds created when furniture is shuffled (Grandin, 1998).
  • Can the sound be changed? For instance, if a student cringes when he hears clapping, students could develop another system of appreciation for celebrations, and assemblies. If whistles hurt a student’s ears, the physical education teacher might agree to use a megaphone, bell, music, buzzer, or hand signal to start and stop activities.
  • Prepare the student for the sound. If the teacher knows the school bell is about to ring the student can be cued to plug his ears or simply be told to “get ready”.
  • Allow students to listen to soft music using headsets in noisy or chaotic environments or play soft music (e.g., classical) for all students at times.
  • Many students have effective ways of coping with problematic sounds. Some learners, for example, will concentrate on an object or scribble on paper when they are bothered by sounds. Pay attention to these strategies and avoid interfering with them, if possible. While a student’s coping mechanisms may not be apparent to all, teachers should be open to the possibility that behaviors such as hand flapping and finger flicking may be helpful to the learner.
It is important to remember that students may find some sounds very helpful or pleasant and these sounds can be used to support the learner. Some students find sounds of nature (e.g., running water) calming, for instance. If these sounds can be identified, they can be used to support the learner during the day. A student who enjoys these sounds of water, for example, might be allowed to listen to a nature CD during the day.
Music can also be used as a teaching tool and as a curricular adaptation to support the learning of students with autism. Many students with autism report finding solace and joy in music. Wendy Lawson, a woman with autism, reports her relationship to music in this way:
Tunes and music or a gentle low-pitched voice can temporarily relieve moments of fear and anxiety. You’ll still catch me humming, singing, whistling, and even talking out loud in an attempt to dispel confusion or unease due to change. The strategy enables me to think and calm down. (Lawson, 1998, p. 4)



While a person without autism might associate a few smells—chalkdust, peanut butter, new-crayon—with schools, some individuals with autism associate dozens or hundreds of smells with schools. A student with a heightened sensory system may take in several different smells in just a few moments—the wet shoes of a classmate, the icing on a cupcake, the odor of a musty locker, the dirty shavings in the hamster cage, the teacher’s hair gel, and the rubber cement glue being opened across the classroom.

School smells that may bother students with autism include personal care products of teachers and other students (e.g., perfume), paint and other art products, school supplies (e.g., “smelly” stickers, chalk), cleaning agents, class pet odors, and plants. Teachers can take a few precautions and minimize the impact of some of the smells that are often problematic for learners with autism:
  • Many individuals with autism report that perfume and other personal products cause problems. If a student seems to avoid a particular person or if she will only interact with that person occasionally, consider that the student may be reacting to that person’s perfume, lotion, hair gel, after shave, cologne, or shampoo. If a student is very sensitive to these types of smells, teachers and other professionals working in the classroom should avoid-as much as possible-the use of products with heavy smells.
  • Food smells are incredibly distracting for some students with autism. One of my former students could smell a sweet treat two classrooms down from ours. While he loved the smell of baked goods, once he smelled them he could not focus on his work. In order to support him, all teachers in our hallway agreed to serve birthday treats at the very end of the school day. Parents agreed to bring all treats to the office and the school secretary offered to hold our brownies, cookies, and cakes until 2:45 in the afternoon.
  • In rooms that have strong smells (e.g., art room, cafeteria, science lab), students might be seated near the door or an open window. Or a student might use a small personal fan to minimize the impact of the smell.
Just because a smell is strong, however, does not mean that a student with autism will react to it in a negative way. In fact, many smells may be pleasing and even comforting to students. If these pleasing smells can be identified they might be used to support the learner with autism. For instance, I knew a young man who was calmed by the smell of mint. His teacher kept mint candies in her desk in case he needed to relax.



Some individuals with autism have incredible sensitivity to light. Liane Holliday Willey (1999), a woman with Asperger’s syndrome, describes this sensitivity as “impossible to bear” at times:
Bright lights, mid-day sun, reflected lights, strobe lights, flickering lights, fluorescent lights; each seemed to sear my eyes…my head would feel tight, my stomach would churn, and my pulse would run my heart ragged until I found a safety zone. (p. 26)
Florescent lighting, the most common lighting used in classrooms, can impact learning, behavior, and the comfort level of students with autism. In order to determine whether or not florescent lights are problematic for students in your classroom, you may want to turn off the overhead lighting for a few days to see if the change seems to impact the student. If the lighting does seem to be a concern for the student, you may need to experiment with different ways of using light:
  • Try lower levels of light, if possible.
  • In classrooms with several windows, try using natural lighting for part of the day.
  • Use upward projecting rather than downward projecting lighting.
  • Experiment with different types of lighting. Turn on the front bank of lights, but not the back or turn on alternating banks of lights. In one classroom, teachers strung white holiday lights around their whiteboards and chalkboards and plugged night lights into different sockets in order to give the classroom a more calm and peaceful feeling.
  • Try different colors of light, experiment with a pink or yellow lamp in a corner of the room.
  • Replace fluorescents with incandescent bulbs.
  • Some students find the use of sunglasses helpful. Glasses might be worn during recess or can even be tried indoors (especially near florescent lighting). A baseball cap can also help students avoid direct exposure to light.
  • Move the student’s seat. Sometimes the problem is not the lights themselves, but the reflection of light on a wall or other surface.
  • Florescent bulbs tend to flicker more as they age. If florescent lights must be used, the newest bulbs possible should be installed.
  • Some students find that it is particularly difficult to use white paper under florescent lights. Students may be bothered by the glare off of the paper. Using colored overlays can minimize or eliminate the glare.
  • Some students are more distracted by the sound than by the sight of florescent lighting. In these cases, the student may want to use ear plugs while studying. Or a student may find relief by simply moving away from the lights and the noise.



For some students having comfortable classroom furniture is critical to their learning success. One of my former students couldn’t sit in a desk for more than a few minutes but he could sit in a beanbag chair for forty minutes at a time. We soon purchased several beanbag chairs for the school (a few for the library, two for the music room, a handful for hallways) so that this student could be at ease throughout the day and so that all students could occasionally enjoy a change in seating.

Not every student with autism will need or like the feeling of a beanbag chair. In most cases, finding appropriate seating is a matter of trial and error. Another one of my former students, Kelly, seemed unable to settle into his metal desk, but he did not respond to our beanbag chairs or to the rocking chair we kept in the back of the room or to the pillow pile we kept in the “living room” area of the classroom. After experimenting with many different chairs, materials, and strategies, we finally found that Kelly could sit for over an hour at a time if we tied a cushion of woven wooden beads (the type you often see in taxicabs) to the back of his chair.

Having a few different seating options in the classroom can potentially boost the educational experiences of all learners. Seating that may appeal to learners with and without autism include:
  • Rocking chairs, lawn chairs, old car seats;
  • Seat cushions (the type that can be tied on to the chair are only a dollar or two at discount stores);
  • Reading pillows;
  • Floor/exercise mats (individual mats can be made cheaply by sewing newspapers in between sheets of vinyl) or floor pillows (also easy to make with stuffing from fabric store and a few yards of material);
  • Couches, loveseats, arm chairs or large footstools; and
  • Physio-balls.
Some teachers like to adapt the environment by installing a carpet sample into one area of the classroom. Or by putting a few armchairs in a special part of the room. I taught with a kindergarten teacher who brought an old-fashioned, claw-foot bathtub into her classroom and filled it with small colorful pillows. A high school teacher with a very small classroom, clustered the desks together in groups of four and cleared nearly half of the classroom for a community area. This section of the room contained an old coffee table, two loveseats, an old turntable, and a huge upholstered footstool. Teachers of young students might provide space in a classroom with pillows, carpet squares, and stuffed toys.

Some students (with and without autism) may also prefer to sit on the floor for some part of the day. Students who prefer to sit on the floor or in chair without a desk, can work on clipboards or use lap desks. Beanbag lap desks can be purchased commercially for a few dollars. Some students appreciate using a lap desk with more weight; for these learners, simply cut the material, drain the soft beanbag material out, and replace it with sand or another similar substance. Many students appreciate the input provided by the heavier material.

Some students may also want to stand instead of sit for some part of the day. These students can be provided with a lectern and a desk near the back of the classroom and they can alternate between the two as needed.


Atwood, T. (1998). Asperger’s syndrome. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley.
Grandin, T. (1995). Thinking in pictures. New York: Vintage Books.
Lawson, W. (1998). Life behind glass. Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley.
Robinson, W. (1999). Gentle giant. The inspiring story of an autistic child. Boston: Element.
Shore, S. (2001). Beyond the wall. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing.
Willey, L. (1999). Pretending to be normal. Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May Newsletter Topic: Autism and Inclusion

This month, we'll feature articles, books, videos, and resources about including students with autism in general education classrooms and community activities.

Inclusion means that children with disabilities participate in the general education classroom or other activities with children without disabilities. Inclusion has also been called "mainstreaming."

Advantages of inclusive school classrooms for students with autism include participation in a natural environment, exposure to the general curriculum, peer models for language and communication, and potential for acceptance and friendship among the broader community.

Classmates without disabilities may also benefit from having a student with autism in their class by learning about the differences among people and developing compassion and understanding. Some of the strategies that benefit students with autism in an inclusive classroom, such as structure and visual supports, may also be helpful for all students.

Reference: "What Are the Pros and Cons of Including Children with Special Needs in Regular Classrooms?" by Alan Harchik, Ph.D., BCBA-D