Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Where to Begin?

We are often asked where to begin with our students.

You take a new teaching position or you get a new student in your class.  Where do you start?

Before making the initial decision about what to teach or what visual supports to use, you have to gather assessment information.

In the United States, before students can be placed in a special needs setting or be served using an IEP (Individualized Education Program), they will have already been seen by an assessment team that includes a psychologist, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, etc.

The first step is to study these testing results. Specifically notice the developmental levels of the student in each domain. Especially helpful are age levels or grade levels reported for the domain. If these are reported, you then use your knowledge of typical developmental norms or expectations for each grade to form an initial idea of each student’s functioning level.

You then know you will need to match your visual supports and goals and objectives to this level.  For example, if a student’s report shows a cognitive age level of 12 to 18 months, you will not assume he recognizes a picture or knows a picture represents an object or an activity. You would know to start with an individualized schedule of concrete objects.

In the US, each state differs in assessments required and how information is gathered. For example, in our state of North Carolina, the teachers must complete an informal assessment using a tool chosen by the school system within the first 30 days of school. They document the results and compare these to initial test results; thereby, having the most current information on the students’ developmental levels. Because the teachers collect information on each student’s skills quarterly and report these results to the state, they continue using the appropriate tool for ongoing assessment.


By doing your own assessment with the child using one of these tools or another, you get a first-hand impression not only of the students’ levels but also about how they react to a learning situation.

Teacher, Jennifer Matzuga, informally
assesses student’s imitation skills.
In addition, we have found the students’ parents to be excellent resources for assessment information. At Tasks Galore, we put together a resource called Listen and Collaborate, designed to be used in an interview with parents at the beginning of the school year to gain information and to set the tone for a school/home partnership. This questionnaire poses questions about home skills in areas such as listening, expressive communication, play, self-care, safety, etc.

Version 1 for Preschool/Elementary Students


Version 2 for Middle/High School and Adult Learners 


Teaching staff create initial tasks using the information from all of these formal and informal assessments.  Based on the assessment results that outline students’ cognitive level, fine motor skills, need for structure, ability to understand spoken word, visual skills, etc., teachers design visually clear and manipulative tasks that coordinate with the students’ beginning skill levels in those areas.

Teachers also use informal, teacher-made observational assessments as they present the tasks. They watch their students work with the materials and see how they approach the specific tasks. They will then restructure the task to meet the child's needs, teach the task, restructure again if needed and teach again until mastery.

Once mastered the students "practice" the task away from the teacher to be sure that they are doing this task independently. Finally the task is placed into the general environment, such as a classroom center.

After this mastery, the teacher presents a new task that coordinates with the next level in that skill area.  Thus, teachers need to know the sequence of steps in a skill area, such as counting, recognizing letters, putting objects into containers, cutting, etc.

Our Tasks Galore books help with ways to adapt tasks so that they are visual clear and individualized for students.

There are great online resources as well as trainings through TEACCH at The University of North Carolina.



Saturday, June 4, 2016

June 2016 Task of the Month


Often children with autism spectrum disorders and other special needs confuse pronouns when increasing their vocabularies.  Practicing when to use which pronouns (in this task, he or she) with a variety of visual tasks enhances their learning. 

In this activity, students place the different drawings of boys, girls, men and women into the pocket that matches the appropriate, associated pronouns.  An arrow points out the different hair styles as a cue to determine whether the picture is of a male (he) or female (she). 

When working with students who have difficulty using he and she correctly, we try to determine whether the children are mistaking the pronouns that they use or whether they do not yet differentiate the appearances of males vs. females.  If it is the latter, their tasks would emphasize identifying men vs. women, boys vs. girls in many different types of more concrete tasks.

For more ideas like this visit our website.