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.
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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?

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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!

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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.
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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

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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!

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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!

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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.
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