On October 19, Dr. Gina Cosgrove presented “Executive Functioning: Strategies to Support Individuals with Autism and Related Challenges” at Transitions’ “Strategies to Build Independence for Students with Autism, ADHD and Other Learning Differences” conference. Her presentation covered the basics of how to evaluate a student’s executive functioning needs and reviewed research-based strategies to help with planning interventions and implementing them in different settings. We would like to share what we learned from Dr. Cosgrove in this series of posts.
Teaching the Skills: Environmental Strategies
Environmental strategies are things you can change and control about a person’s surroundings to help them out in many aspects of their life.
- Visual presets are simple, basic and effective. These can include activity checklists, sticky notes, task breakdowns, reminders and other written instructions put in strategic places. With interventions such as these, kids don’t have to rely on aides as much and aren’t being verbally singled out in classroom or group situations.
- Visual boundaries, which can be as simple as masking tape placed on the floor, establish personal boundaries, give the student a sense of safety and quiet, and allow them a little freedom to move around without wandering the whole room. Other forms of visual boundaries are bins and boxes, which are very effective for keeping track of things, organizing materials and serving as reminders for certain tasks. This is an especially beneficial system because it allows the student to organize the bins themselves, creating new brain connections and reinforcing the lesson. Personal and video modeling strategies are great for teaching these organizational practices.
- Many students on the autism spectrum have problems initiating tasks. They need a jump start, and commands such as “clean your room” or “start your homework” are vague and can leave the student feeling overwhelmed. To help with this, one can provide templates for getting started. There are many ways to do this. They might take the form of step-by-step lists. You might start doing the task along with the individual to show them how to do it. Sentence stems are effective when it comes to writing assignments – for a personal essay about a student’s summer, you could get them started with a sentence stem like, “The best thing I did this summer was ____.” In general, pictures and concrete symbols work best to help plan stories, tackle assignments, figure out math problems or perform any task an individual is struggling with.
- Time Timers and Time Trackers are tools that visually show the passage of time. Young people on the autism spectrum tend to have difficulty understanding the concept of time as a result of their issues with self-monitoring. Tools like these can help them time tasks such as showering and studying, which can result in them being more independent and functional.
- Highlighting key points in reading assignments or written assignments can help students with attention-shifting issues focus on what they need to take away. Highlight the things that are really important to understand and things that will improve overall fluency in the topic.
- Calendars and timelines are great for breaking down problems that are big enough to overwhelm to the student at first.
We hope these tips and strategies are helpful to you. Good luck and check this blog again next week for the next installment in this series.