Autism 101: Support Strategies {Part 4}

Welcome to Part 4 of the Autism 101 series. Today we are diving deeper into specific support techniques for working with people with ASD. If you want an overview of different interventions used with people with ASD, check out Part 3. For more information on what autism is, and how to identify it, check out Part 1 and Part 2 respectively.

Today we will be talking about different support strategies for those with an ASD diagnosis. Keep in mind, that we've previously discussed how each person with ASD is different, thus these supports and ideas are not a one-size-fits-all approach. You will need to take these approaches and individualize them to your students or adults you're working with.

Executive Functioning: What is It?

I'm sure we've all heard this term before. If you are a teacher, especially a special educator, you know this term well.  You might even be someone who struggles with this yourself (*raises hand*). This is such an important term that encompasses so much! But what does this all mean..?

What is executive functioning?

Executive functioning is the command center of the brain. Executive functions are the skills of the brain used for planning, organizing, and managing our thoughts. To say executive functioning is important is an understatement.

What are some executive functioning skills?


10 Things Tuesday: Every Day is Earth Day

Earth Day is right around the corner, so you might be thinking about ways you can help the earth (or teach your kids how to help the earth). But just because Earth Day is April 22nd, doesn't mean you stop caring about and celebrating the earth the other 364+ days of the year!


Autism 101: Supports and Interventions Overview {Part 3}

Welcome back to my Autism 101 series. Today is Part 3 of the series where we will focus on supports and treatments for individuals with autism, or ASD. If you want to know more about what autism is, or the warning signs and causes of autism, check Part 1 and Part 2 respectively.

Today we will be talking about different support strategies for those with an ASD diagnosis. Keep in mind, that we've previously discussed how each person with ASD is different, thus these supports and ideas are not a one-size-fits-all approach. You will need to take these approaches and individualize them to your students or adults you're working with.

Notice how I didn't say "cure". It's important to differentiate between supports and cures in this case, as there is no cure for autism, and many autism advocates push to have those with autism be viewed as an individual with strengths and weakness, just like anyone else, rather than someone who needs to be fixed. We all have our deficits (such as my organizational challenges), and wouldn't identify ourselves as someone who needs to be treated. Instead, we look for ways to help manage our deficits and supports our selves in being as independent as possible. This should be the drive when working with people with autism as well. Even still, with a word like "treatment" it's important to note that we are treating the symptoms and challenges that can come with autism, not the actual disorder itself.

Autism 101: What to Look for? {Part 2}

Welcome to Part 2 of the Autism 101 series. Check out Part 1 of the series, which begins with an introduction to autism spectrum disorder. For Part 2 today, we will be learning about red flags and potential causes according to current autism research.

There are lots of misconceptions out there about autism, which is why it's important to read up on current (and valid) research. Not everything on the internet is true (the majority of what's out there is probably false!) so make sure to do your homework! Make sure you are backing up what you are reading with other sources of information - this is just good practice!

So, we've gained a basic understanding of autism, and the common characteristics of ASD. Now, let's take a look at some of the warning signs of autism, or the indicators that you may consider an evaluation...

Warning Signs


SPEDtacular Freebie!

Today, I've linked up with Bender's Bunch to share on SPEDtacular Sunday Freebies! Check out Bender's Bunch for an archive of awesome freebies

My freebie for the link up is a set of comprehension posters for the classroom! Head over to Bender's Bunch to check out mine and all the other great freebies!


Operational Definition: What?!

Maybe you've seen this term before. Maybe not. Either way, it's important for you to know what the heck it is, especially as a special educator. It's a useful term and helpful to think about whenever we are defining anything.

What is an operational definition?

An operational definition is a way to define a behavior in simple, observable, and measurable terms. You want it specific, like a SMART goal.

When to use it?

An operational definition is used to define a specific target behavior, either one you want to increase or decrease. You'll usually see this in a behavior plan and on the corresponding data sheets.

Why to use them?

A clearly defined behavior is crucial. Operational definitions are important so that the behavior in question can be accurately measured, assessed, and treated by anyone who is working with the individual. The idea is that, no matter who reads the definition, they can understand exactly what the behavior looks like.

How to write one?

When writing an operational definition, you want it to be clear and concise, but encompass the entirety of the behavior in question. Additionally, you should not have vague or non-observable terms (like, anxiety for example). It's also helpful to have examples and non-examples in your definition.

Let's look at the target behavior of  "aggression" for example. Take a minute to think about what "aggression" means.

Now, write down what aggression looks like to you...

Probably depends on the kiddo right?

Often, we think we are being clear when we write down a term like "aggression" or "property destruction" but those terms can be interpreted differently. For example, I had a kid once who had self-injury as one of his target behaviors to decrease, but his self-injury wasn't as "obvious" as say, banging his head against the wall. Instead, he would quietly pick the skin on his wrist so severely that he would often require medical attention. However, if you didn't know what this looked like, or if it wasn't defined in his behavior plan, you may mistake it for say, scratching his wrist.

Now let's take a look at how I often write my operational definitions.
Now sometimes the order changes, depending on the sentence structure, so don't go overboard trying to do it exactly like this. But this can be helpful to give you an understanding of what should be included.

Using the above template, let's take a look at a sample definition for "tantrum"...
Helpful? Not really. The only helpful part of this is that I know whose behavior we are focusing on. Jordan's. But other than that, I'm not sure what to look for. When I think of tantrumming (is this a word?) I think of screaming. I had a kid once who used to spit at people during one of his tantrums. He also used to scratch his legs. So maybe that's what they mean...

So instead of speculating, let's take a look at a more specific and clear definition of tantrumming for Jordan...
Now, if I were in Jordan's classroom, I would likely be able to identify Jordan's tantrums easier than with the first definition. It includes necessary conditions to identify this as a tantrum (after a demand) and includes that in order for it to be considered a tantrum, two or more of the listed behaviors need to be observed. It also identifies that it needs to be at least 10 seconds long for it to count. (That's much more specific than "extended period of time") It also includes how to determine when one tantrum stops and another one starts. (Not at all identified in the first definition)

I understand that this seems wordy, but the idea is that it includes everything you need to know, and nothing you don't.

Also, like I mentioned above, providing examples of what the behavior looks like and examples (or "non-examples") of what the behavior does not look like, is also very helpful.
Writing operational definitions takes some practice. You may think you have a great one, and then when your paraprofessional goes to take data, you realize she's viewing the behavior differently. It takes some trial and error, even with seasoned professionals. What I like to do is train my staff on the behavior in question with me modeling how I'm taking data on a specific behavior and explaining the definition prior to implementing the behavior plan or data sheets. Then, make sure you are checking your staff's competency on the behavior plan and data collection procedures so you don't get a whole month worth of data that are useless!

I hope this post helps you understand a bit more about these super specific definitions! If you are anything like me, you'll spend your free time operationally defining different behaviors you see in your everyday life. No? Just me...?

Leave a comment and let me know what you think!


Autism 101: What is Autism? {Part 1}

April is Autism Awareness Month, so this month, we're going to learn about autism! Today's post is devoted to spreading awareness on what autism actually is...

Come back throughout the month where we will focus on supports, employment, and independence living skills with autism.

What is Autism?

Autism is a neurobiological disorder that affects brain development and lasts throughout one's lifetime. You may see the term autism spectrum disorder or ASD used to refer to the disorder. ASD according to the DSM-5, consists of persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction, and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities.

Review: Natural Calm Magnesium Powder

This post has been sponsored by Natural Vitality, the company who makes and distributes Natural Calm magnesium supplement. All content and opinions are my own.

When Natural Vitality contacted me about doing an unbiased product review for Natural Calm, I jumped on the opportunity! I have been seeing this product pinned all over Pinterest, on co-worker's shelves, and being showcased on blogs I follow. As someone who devotes their time and energy in alternative health practices, I've been intrigued by this product for some time, but had not gotten around to purchasing it. (blame my lack of energy...)

Why is Magnesium Important?

Magnesium is one of the most important nutrients for our bodies. We are able to get magnesium through our diet, but for a variety of reasons (including lack of nutrient-dense soil and stressful lifestyle), many of us struggle to get a sufficient amount of magnesium through diet alone. When this happens, supplementing with the nutrient is key. Natural Calm is a powdered magnesium supplement that easily dissolves in water and helps to restore magnesium to optimal levels.

SpEd After Graduation: Supports in Adult Services

When we think of "special education" we think of children. And rightfully so. Children with special needs generally (hopefully) attend special education classes and/or schools so they can access the general education curriculum and continue to grow as learners. Even those who don't attend special schools or are enrolled in sub-separate classrooms benefit from additional supports in the general education classroom. such as visual supports or environmental accommodations, to help them access their education. But what happens after graduation?

Transitioning from school to the real world is already challenging for most of us! Without getting into all the bureaucracy and funding difficulties within adult services, leaving special education services in the child world and entering the adult world is a beast. Limited resources and staffing, paired with challenges in maintaining an adequate budget and exemplary clinical supports, makes the on-going supports in adult services all that more difficult for the staff and administrators of the programs. The highly-structured, highly-funded, highly-ratioed dynamic of the kid-world is not easily replicated in the adult world, and if a transition plan is not given the necessary forethought and preparation, a child can easily slip through the cracks in adult services.

Photo: Pixabay

While we cannot control the budget or bureaucratic issues that arise in adult services, we can make these programs more clinically effective and supportive for our individuals. Read on to learn more about providing supports in adult services.


Easy Like Sunday Morning: A 90s Love Playlist

Happy Sunday! Hope your weekend has been treating you well so far. To help keep you going, I've created a playlist for the 90s kids (like me) out there. This playlist is a mix of heart wrenching ballads for unrequited lovers as well as passionate lyrics for the love birds. This carefully curated mix gives me all the feels (usually the angsty middle school feels), either connecting with the singer's rejection of their outpouring of love, or my longing for the deeply amorous love songs meant to incite love and passion in the listener.


Tips and Tricks: Target Dollar Spot Finds

Have you checked out Target recently? Well, duh, I'm sure you have. In my neck of the woods (Massachusetts) I've found some excellent finds at the Target Dollar Spot. I've snapped some pics below to show you some of the finds and include some ways you could tulize these in your classrooms, during 1:1 ABA sessions, at play at home with the kids, etc.

Jar of Super Heroes/Jar of {Insert Small Object Here}

These are as low-tech as it gets. These figures can be used for a variety of games, activities, skill concepts, etc.
  • Sorting (by color, type, size, etc.)
  • Counting/Math activities
  • As game pieces (for either homemade game boards, or board games in which you've lost the pieces!)
  • As tokens for earning reinforcement (earn one super hero for x behavior, or x time period without engaging in x behavior)
  • Sensory bottles (having a few small toys in a bottle of beans, rice, etc. to search for. This is a great coping strategy
  • Parts of speech (prepositions, adjectives, verbs)
  • Hide the Super Hero (skills you can target include: listening to directions to find the object, asking questions/20 questions to find it, following multi-step directions, written or verbally)
  • Receptive sorting (for use when you have a variety of different themed figures, such as sorting by ability to fly, sorting by living/nonliving, sorting by real/make-believe, etc.)
  • Patterns and sequencing
  • Receptive identification
  • An adapted version of this really simple, cool idea!


This box was robot magnets, but there were other shapes/themes in the basket.
  • Social skills such as:
    • Commenting
    • Answering questions
  • Pretend play
  • Tacting/Labeling
  • For tokens - used on a magnetic token board
  • Describing features/adjectives
  • Parts of speech - prepositions
  • Same/Different attributes

Craft Supplies

Who doesn't already have tons of idea for arts and crafts supplies?

  • Different crafts (obviously)
  • For token economies (like earning pom poms in a jar)
  • Leisure activities for reinforcement
  • Following directions
  • Learning to copy a model/exemplar

Grow Kit

So cute and spring-y! Even if you don't do anything with it, how cute this would look on your desk?
  • Life cycles instruction
  • Taking care of plants/life skill
  • Making science predictions and experiments
  • Pruning and maintaining plant (reinforcement or life skills)
  • Classroom job
  • Teaching responsibility
  • Maintaining a schedule (to care for plants)

Grow Capsules

  • Making predictions
  • Developing hypotheses (for example, what would happen if you put the capsul in milk instead of water?)
  • Observation and note-taking skills
  • Describing/adjectives

Building Blocks

A cheap alternative to Legos! Perfect for your prize bin :)
  • Building toys (obvi)
  • Learning how to follow a model/exemplar
  • A fun alternative to a token board (earn reinforcement after completing a building/shape/etc.
  • Sorting by attributes such as color or number of bumps

Peel and Stick Board

There were a couple different themes available at Target!

  • Play skills
  • Social skills
  • Pretend play
  • Commenting
  • Requesting
  • Labeling
  • Describing/adjectives/verbs
  • Leisure activity as reinforcement 

Mini Erasers

Um, adorable! I remember LOVING these when I was a kid and wanting to "earn" these.
  • Reinforcement (like, for me)
  • Prize box
  • Counting
  • Sorting by category, color, shape, size, etc.
  • Token system (for example, when you earn all the different types of vegetables for the basket, you get ____)
  • Pretend play
  • Erasing things? - No. Why would you?
  • Check out this great list of ways to use erasers in the classroom!

Any other ways you would use these items? What else have you found at the Target Dollar Stop?


Celebrate Women: Reading Comprehension Pack

Rabbit Rabbit! Happy March!

In preparation for Women's History Month, I've created a resource for middle school students - a reading comprehension packet celebrating inspiring women in our history!


Valentine's Outfits No Matter Your Status

Celebrating Valentine's Day? Celebrating Galentine's Day? No matter - I've got you covered. I've created three different outfits for you, however you celebrate the holiday!

For a night out with the girls:

Galentine's Day Date

For a romantic evening with your loved one:


Valentine's Playlists (and a Contest for You!)

Hey Lovers and Friends,

Today, I'm throw backing to two different playlists: One for the Lover and one for the...uh, Hater. Hater of Valentine's at least.

Click the buttons below to be taken to that post. One of these has a secret contest...


Grainz 4 Lyfe: #ILoveBread

Ok, what's this all about? Well, it's my attempt to showcase one of my favorite foods in the world: bread.

I'm not shy about this. I don't feel guilty about this. I have been borderline obsessed with bread since I was a child (eating slices of plain white bread as a snack) and my infatuation only grows as I get older. In this war time against the perfect side, I call to you for support. Grains are not the enemy! Sandwiches are not the problem! Gluten is not the reason you're sick (unless, of course, you have a diagnosed allergy, then, ok, sorry). We no longer have to shun our once-beloved pre-meal nosh. We can embrace our friend once again, and this campaign from Grain Foods Foundation is helping us get there!


Do You LoveTPT? Here's a Valentine's Treat

Happy Monday! Needing some extra love this time of year? Teacher's Pay Teacher's are celebrating YOU and spreading the love. Starting tomorrow and through Wednesday, TpT is throwing a #TpTBeMine sale! Many sellers will throwing their own store sale as well, which means, with the 10% off discount from TpT (using the code LOVETPT) you could save up to 28% off! My store will be discounted 20% - so you get the most savings!

IEP Writing: A How-to Guide

Happy Ground Hog's Day friends! In a totally unrelated topic, I'm going to take this time to talk about IEPs...

Image courtesy of: blackzheep for
Writing IEPs can be a lot of work! As a former special educator for 7 years, trust me - I know! To help make the process painless and efficient, I'd like to share with you some tips and tricks that have worked for me. I originally posted this guide on A Special Sparkle's blog, but have updated it for you here. This is a LONG post, so grab a cup of coffee and join me. Feel free to use this guide as you embark on all of your IEP endeavors!

Keep in mind, your state’s IEP may be outlined differently, but all of the information provided in this post is relevant, wherever you teach. 


5 Faves: My Top Oatmeal Recipes

Who doesn't love a warm, creamy meal in the morning? While some might prefer a crispy egg and cheese sandwich, or a stack of fluffy pancakes, I reach for a bowl of oats to satisfy my cravings. Not only do I think they're delicious, but I find them highly satisfying and manage the ravaging hungry I experience mid-day with other breakfast choices. The key to a satisfying oatmeal bowl? Read below to find out about my favorite recipes.

1. Blueberries and Honey

 I use frozen wild blueberries (FAR superior in taste and nutrients) and local raw honey (same deal with the honey). A delightful bit sweet and tart. Delicious combo!

2. Strawberries and Coconut

I also use frozen strawberries as well, if only because I don't eat them fast enough when fresh. Add some unsweetened (although still sweet) shredded coconut for a delightful tropical twist!

Can't Get Outside? 5 Ideas to Manage Cabin Fever and Indoor Recess

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere like me, you are in the dead of winter right now! Maybe some of you don't live in a climate where "winter" is as scary a concept as it is here in the Northeast, but for those of you who suffer from blistering wind, arctic temps, and freezing rain and snow during this time of year, you know how challenging it is to ensure your kiddos get the fresh air break they need. No matter where you live, indoor recess happens on occasion, and it helps to have a plan of action when that inevitable disappointing announcement comes through the loud speaker.

Images courtesy of Mrs. Fun and Supertrooper at

Below are my 5 favorite ways to manage indoor recess and your sanity:

1. Specified Activity Centers

You likely use centers throughout your classroom: library, computers, circle area, teacher's area, etc. You may also employ "centers" in your teaching. Do they work for you and your kids? How about incorporating them into you indoor recess activities too! You may have games or activities that you have specifically for indoor recess. Have centers available and a routine for when kids switch to their new indoor recess activity. Kids remain engaged, aren't constantly asking you what they can do, and you get to eat your lunch in peace (maybe).

Check out this great post for how to organize your indoor recess activities.


Need Help with Your Resolutions? Enter: Mason Jars

Hope your resolutions are still going strong! I'm here today to give you some tips to keep up with your health resolutions using mason jars!

Oh how I love the mason jar. Not only are they super cute and "rustic-ish", but very versatile! Here are my 5 ways to use mason jars to maintain your healthy lifestyle!

1. Mason Jar Portion Control

With the right size jars, you can easily control your portions when packing your lunch and snacks! Check out this nifty chart below, from Gourmandize, to help you keep your portions in check!

2. Mason Jar Overnight Oats

I love me some oatmeal. Especially steel-cut oats. However, steel-cut oats take a long time and when you don't have time in the morning (like me, who gives herself 20 minutes to wake up, get ready, and get out the door), it can seem like a fantasy to have warm steel-cut oats for breakfast on a workday. Enter: Overnight Steel Cut Oats

Overnight steel-cut oats are different than regular overnight oats, so I've included the recipe above for your enjoyment. This image is from my #RunTeacherRun tab, so check it out from more healthy tips

2017 New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year's! Hope everyone isn't feeling the effects of last night too hard. (If you are, check out my post from Friday)

In preparation for a new year of goals and opportunities, I'm writing down my list of New Year's Resolutions. Call them what you want: goals, promises, intentions. To me, it's just a name of things I want to work on this year. This year, instead of coming up with specific, measurable goals for my resolutions, I came up with a word for the "theme" of the year, and open-ended resolutions from which to make specific goals. I'm doing it this way, so that I'm not pigeon-holing myself to commit to a specific goal until I determine what's right for me and then at that point, can create more manageable, SMART goals of which I speak so highly. So I present you, my 2017 Word of the Year: Focus.
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