How To Stop The After School Meltdown

Top 5 Reasons to Use And Keep Using Visuals

Top 5 Reasons to Use And Keep Using Visuals For Students With Special Needs

I find myself asking repeatedly where is “student’s name” visual schedule?  A common answer is “Oh she doesn’t need it anymore.”  I have to challenge this.  I am happy that this child has learned the classroom routine, and yes once established it does not change very often…But it does and just because they have learned the classroom routine does not mean they no longer have the deficits that a visual schedule benefited in the first place.

Why do I recommend a visual schedule in the first place?  Why do I recommend that you continue to use it?

  1. It is static.  A system of pictures, pictures and text does not change.  It is consistent and predictable.  A child knows what the snack picture looks like and that it means after gym I get my snack.  Language is temporary.  Children have to be able to attend and process what you are saying, hold it in their memory and access it when it is needed.  Much like you and I will identify in the morning that we are running low on milk.  We identify it, put it on our list (visual aid) and file it away on our iphone or in our purse so that we can access it later when we need it.
  2. Increases independence. Our goal is to make our students with different abilities as independent and successful as possible.  If they have been using their visual schedule throughout the year they will be able to reference it themselves without a prompt making them independent in managing their schedule.
  3. Facilitates change. If there is going to be a change in routine the visual schedule can be used to show the student, things are a little different today.  A special symbol can be used to indicate that there is going to be a change.  Instead of gym we are going to go outside.  The student can more easily process this new information when presented visually and knows that it is temporary.
  4. Reduces overwhelm. Children with special needs often are dealing with sensory processing difficulties.  Their nervous system is already working hard to maintain a calm and organized state without having to add the processing of verbal information. The noise in the classroom may be too loud, the lights too bright and the demands of sitting in their desk too much.  When they are dealing with all of that having a consistent and easy to use visual schedule makes their day that much easier to manage.
  5. Promotes language. Many think that the use of visuals will prevent a non- verbal child from speaking.  Research has shown that when visuals are paired with language it may help with speech production. Anderson, A, Moore, D & Bourne, T. (2007). Functional Communication and Other Concomitant Behavior Change Following PECS Training: A Case Study. Behaviour Change, 24, 1–8. 

How to start

A visual schedule is simply made of pictures.   You can use pictures you already have.  Take pictures and print them.  Use google images.   That can be time consuming.   I like to make things as easy as possible.  I have put together  a Free resource for visuals, see the form below.  You can also find some that are ready to go such as Easy Daysies.  These are very cute and functional for home.  They also have add ons for activities, bathroom, family, kindergarten , grades1-7, and grades 1-7 french.

Something I haven’t tried, but really intrigues me is the new photo printers that you can print straight from your phone.  I am creating visuals all the time and this may really speed up the process. No more uploading photos, sizing and printing.  You just take the photo and print, visual done!  When I break down and purchase one of these bad boys I will post a review here.  I could also use it for scrapbooking and adding pictures to my passion planner. (Can you tell I am tallying up the reasons why I need to get one!!)

The tool that I cannot live without is a laminator.  These have come a long way! It used to be this huge tool at the school and you had to have something pretty special if you wanted it laminated.  Now you can get one for around $30 and laminate to your hearts content.  It can sit on your workstation and you just buy packs of the laminating sheets.  You don’t want to waste all that hard work you put into your visuals, so laminate them and they will last a lot longer!!

How do you set it up?

In therapy I use a simple chart with empty squares with Velcro on the squares and Velcro on the back of the picture.  I choose what we are going to be using in therapy that day and put a picture of each task up on the schedule.  The child or therapist can move the activity over when it is done.  Being able to move the picture over to the done side helps the child to feel accomplished.  Be mindful of how many things you put on the schedule.  5 items may be too much for some children and you may have to reduce to 3.  Looking at all those things on the schedule can be overwhelming.

What if they don’t like what is on the schedule?  In this situation you may use the first then strategy.

First then strategy.  You have two items on the card. The first item may not be their favourite activity but you know the second one is.  Present the card to the child with the instructions “First (less preferred activity) then (preferred activity).  This helps to motivate children to do something that may not be preferred or is a little more difficult for them because they know they get to do their favourite activity right away.

In the morning instead of nagging at your children, set up a visual schedule of their morning routine.  Eat breakfast, brush your teeth, get dressed, pack your backpack, get on your coat, head out for the bus.  This is great for increasing independence and helping kids that get distracted!  It also helps you to nag less!  If they still have trouble staying on task.  (You find them in the bedroom playing with toys instead of getting dressed). Try a Time Timer.  Children don’t understand the passage of time.  A visual timer like the time timer gives them a visual of time going away.  A kitchen timer or egg timer going off after you’ve told them 5 minutes still doesn’t help them transition because they don’t know the difference between 5 minutes and 5 seconds and they are now upset that they have to quit playing and get dressed.

Where do I find visuals?

It is always a struggle to find good quality resources.  I have compiled a list of the Top 5 Free Resources For Visuals.  These resources have tons of printables already created that you can just print and use.

Other kinds of visuals

Countdown calendars– Daddy is going away for 3 days.  Your child is very upset, especially since they have a hard time grasping verbal language.  So you tell them Daddy will be back in 3 sleeps but they seem to forget instantly.  Create a calendar or just a week at a glance.  Put three pictures of a pillow or something that represents sleep and then on the 4th day a picture of Daddy!! 3 sleeps and Daddy will be home.  Let your child remove the sleeps every morning and they will have a visual reminder of when Daddy is going to be home and it will help to reduce some of the anxiety and repeated questioning.

Picture cards on a ring– For children that have a hard time with transitions, or you want a quick way to communicate with them, some parents or Educational assistants in the classroom like to have commonly used visuals on a ring that they keep with them.  Put them on a key ring that you can attach to your pants or a lanyard that you wear.

There are so many ways to use visuals.  They help everyone stay on track.  They reduce the chance of the message being lost for kids that need extra time to process instructions, they are portable and technology makes it easier to create every day.  I use visuals every day, from reminders on my iPhone to the plans and goals that I write in my planner.  Visuals make life so much easier for me so why not use them to make life easier for our kids too!!

If you want more resources and ideas like my Pinterest and Facebook pages.  I am actively posting new things there every day.

If you have other resources for visuals I would love to hear them! Comment with your resources or questions.

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How To Stop The After School Meltdown

Why I love working with children with autism

I have a very rewarding career working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  I am rewarded every day and I enjoy going to work.  I actually look forward to it!  That is the goal isn’t it?  Find what you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.

Why I love it! Children with ASD are brutally honest.  They do not understand the complexity of social norms and hence will speak directly and to the point.  Typical children pick up at an early age the concept of empathy and that there is more to the world than just them.  Children with ASD have more difficulty understanding this concept and will say what is on their mind.  If you are fat they will tell you “you’re fat”, if they don’t like your hair they will tell you ” girls are not supposed to have short hair”.  It is very refreshing to listen to these children speak what is on their mind and not have to worry about what they should and shouldn’t say.

We get to celebrate every day.  Most days we can find something to celebrate about.  A child communicating for the first time.  Verbally or with adaptive communication, that is huge! A child after weeks, maybe months of working on a skill achieves it!  Every new skill gained, word said or breakthrough in how to tap into that child’s world is a celebration.  So every day we celebrate!

I am challenged every day.  Children with ASD do not follow the standard progression of development.   They may be unable to do a skill because of a deficit in a motor skill, a processing delay, or a sensory sensitivity.   It is my job and my team’s job, including the parents, to determine what is the issue that is preventing them from gaining that skill.  We have to be extremely creative and observant to figure out how to help that child gain the skill they need.

As much as I am challenged every day, I also learn every day from the children that I work with.  I may learn how to better interact with a child with a sensory processing difficulty.  I may find a strategy that works really well to calm down a child that is having a melt down.  I may learn why a child will not eat a certain food and find a different way so that they can get the nutrients that they need.

There is a saying “If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism”.  No two people are alike, no two children with autism are alike.  They are as individual as a snowflake.  Therefore I never have a day that looks like another.  Every day I learn, get challenged, celebrate, laugh and even cry.  But no two days are the same.  That is why I love working with children with autism…Happy Autism Awareness month.

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How To Stop The After School Meltdown

It’s All About That Base

Our proprioceptive sense and heavy work!

My daughter is a cheerleader and she is a base.  She is responsible with 4 other teammates to lift their flyer in the air.  That requires a lot of strength! At practice, they do it over and over again to get it perfected.  As an Occupational Therapist, I am often recommending “heavy work”.  Heavy work is any activity that involves using your muscles working against gravity or resistance.

This is all part of our proprioceptive sense.  Our what!  That is a big word.  You can now use it to impress your friends.  Proprioception is the sense of where our bodies are and how much pressure or force we have to use to move an object.  The receptors for proprioception are found in ligaments, joints, muscles, tendons and connective tissue.  If you have good proprioception you know where your body is in space.  Think of the football receiver that can jump up, catch the ball and land with his feet in bounds.  That is excellent proprioception! He knows where his body is in relation to the ball, in relation to the sidelines, how high he has to jump, when he has to jump, it is truly proprioception at it’s finest.  What about the other side? What does poor proprioception look like?  I think of children with poor proprioception as the “bangers and the crashers”.  They do not know where their bodies are in space so they bang into walls, desks, other children.  They seem to have no sense of personal space.  They love to crash and fall as this gives a lot of feedback to their sensory system so that they can feel where their bodies are.

As OT’s we recommend heavy work for these children, it provides a calming and an alerting response to the nervous system.  It stimulates those receptors in the muscles, ligaments and joints providing feedback to the nervous system about where their body is.   Think if you were just floating around random all day banging and crashing into things, wouldn’t it feel good to have this extra input to your body, helping you to feel your arms, legs and other parts of your body.  Wouldn’t it help you to feel more calm and grounded?  That is what heavy work does.  The other benefit of “heavy work” is that it stays in your system for one to one and a half hours.

I like to use purposeful activity whenever I can.  A child is not going to be motivated to do something if it feels like work.  But they will be if it is fun and it makes them feel like they are accomplishing something.  Favourite activity for younger kids is “make the room bigger”.  Ask the child to help you make the room bigger for Ms. Smith.  Have them push against the wall as hard as they can with their hands, turning to use one shoulder then the other and pushing with their back.   Older students can have jobs around home or school.  Putting all of their toys into a bin and pushing them to their room.  Filling up the wagon with toys and pulling it around the yard. Elementary and high school students can be given jobs around the school.  Picking up recycling and taking it to a central location.  Delivering lunches or carrying stacks of paper to the classrooms.

A great resource for activity suggestions is A Buffet of Sensory Interventions:Solutions for Middle and High School Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders by Susan Culp.  Another must read for Sensory processing and intervention is Building Bridges through Sensory Integration by Ellen Yack, Shirley Sutton and Paula Aquilla.  These are the two most dog eared resources in my OT toolbox and a must for anyone wanting to know more about sensory integration and helping children with these challenges.

Click here for Heavy Work Activities handout.

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