Visual Schedule to Improve Independent Play Skills in Children with Autism

Parents, caregivers, therapists and teachers alike work so hard to teach a variety of play skills but what happens when your child or student doesn’t make that leap from facilitated play to independent play? Independent play is such an important skill that will allow him or her to better connect with their peers, build friendships, expand problem-solving skills and structure downtime.  A successful transition from demonstrating play skills with adult support to playing independently can be impacted by a myriad of variables.

Some of my students struggle with independent play because it is difficult to move from a thick schedule of reinforcement of 1:1 adult attention to a thinner one of just having an adult “check in” once in a while.  Other learners have impairments impacting executive function, specifically the organization and sequencing of steps for meaningful and reinforcing play as well as on-task behavior, task completion and working memory. Additionally, in some cases the skill of independent play is elusive because teachers struggle to find ways to fade out prompts or to successfully thin out the schedule of reinforcement.

Below is the visual schedule with data sheets for measuring acquisition and progress that I have created.  I have found it useful with learners with very different skill sets and abilities.  Click here for a comprehensive Task Analysis on teaching independent play using a visual schedule.

Keep in mind that this is for learners that:

  • Have successfully acquired a varied repertoire of play skills
  • Do not require visual schedules that break down every step of the play
  • Are able to complete activities with delayed reinforcement

In order to prepare this for use with the learner:

  • Set up a toy organizational system that has toys bins
  • Print the materials and laminate the schedule strip and the cut out shapes.
  • Attach Velcro dots to the bins, schedule strip and shapes and to the work surface if you like
  • Identify activities that are suitable for this schedule

Remember that any open-ended activities like building blocks or coloring can be turned into close-ended activities by limiting the number of pieces or by teaching the learner to use a timer.

As you would when teaching any schedule, use a most-to-least prompting strategy, only use verbal instruction for the initial direction or S(e.g. “Go play.”), and prompt only from behind and out of view.

The schedule I have been using has a smiley face at the end of the schedule indicating a “free choice” time which all of my students understand.  However, if you are using this with a learner that requires a visual reminder of what they are working for, you could easily adapt this by putting a picture of the reward in the place of the smiley face.  Time to play!

*Don’t forget to download your free visual schedule and data sheets here!

Tip of the Week: Increasing Play Between Siblings

Helping learners with autism engage successfully with their siblings is an important goal. The ultimate goal should be for both the sibling and the child with autism to initiate interactions without adult direction.

Children playing a board gameActivities should be reinforcing for both kids in order to increase the likelihood that siblings will independently engage in play without prompts by adults. Try to avoid situations where you are requiring the typically developing sibling to engage in an activity just because it is motivating for the learner with autism.

Don’t expect the sibling to fill the role of “mini-teacher” or “mini-therapist.” While at times the sibling may need to prompt the learner with autism to complete a task or take a turn during a game, when possible be clear that the adult is responsible for guiding the child with autism through activities. The adult can also act as a model for appropriate language and prompting in instances when the sibling is alone with the child with autism. However, your goal is to provide low-pressure play situations for both children. One way to help with this is to introduce activities and games that the learner with autism has mastered so the sibling is less likely to take on the roll as teacher or therapist.

Teach the learner with autism to invite his/her sibling to play. It’s beneficial for both kids if the learner with autism initiates some activities. While introducing games and toys to learners with autism, it’s useful to have highly-motivating games that then become associated with the sibling. This way, when the learner with autism sees the game, he/she automatically thinks of inviting the sibling to play. In ABA terms, the presentation of the game acts as an Sd for inviting the sibling to play.

Allow both kids to have interests that are unshared. It is frequently counterproductive to force play situations. Finding common interests is the key to increasing the likelihood of each child initiating play in the future. If the child with autism is required to participate in un-motivating activities with his/her sibling (or vice versa), the child will begin to associate the sibling with undesirable activities. It is perfectly normal and healthy for both siblings to engage in hobbies, games, and activities that the other is uninterested in.

Modified Instructions for “All Around Town”

We’re excited to bring you the second installment in our new series of Modified Instructions, created by Sam Blanco, BCBA.  Sam’s Modified Instructions present 3-4 additional ways to play a mainstream game to make it most useful and accessible for our students with special needs.  These alternative instructions break down each adapted game by:

  • Age/Skill Level
  • Number of Players
  • Object
  • Skills Required
  • Materials Needed
  • Prep
  • Instructions
  • Considerations

We’re thrilled to introduce Modified Instructions for the All Around Town game, an all-time favorite around here. The game helps reinforce logic, sorting, and social skills in your student.

All Around Town is a multi-player game that engages students as they explore stores in the neighborhood and develop sorting, thinking, and organizational skills.  The shops in this town are just like the ones you have visited in your neighborhood!  As you move around the game board, you’ll visit the grocery store, furniture store, book store, clothing store, pet store and art supply store.  Race around town and collect a card from every store and match them to your game mat.  In addition to developing logic skills, players will also sharpen their social skills and awareness of community locations.  Don’t forget to download our free Modified Instructions for All Around Town today!

Pick of the Week: Grandma’s Trunk Alphabet Game

ProductWith five games in one, the options for practicing letter names and sounds, along with memory skills and story-telling are endless in the Grandma’s Trunk Alphabet Game. This set of 26 illustrated alphabet picture cards, 26 riddle cards, and guide all packed in one trunk allows you and your student to work on auditory memory skills and listening comprehension while playing What Comes Next?, Memory, Letter Sequence Memory, Grandma’s Adventures, or Riddles. Each game involves the child pulling an alphabet card and then using a visual prompt to reach a goal, whether it’s sorting, recalling, creating a story, or solving a riddle.

This week only, take 15%* off your purchase of the Grandma’s Trunk Alphabet Game by using our promo code TRUNK3 at checkout!

The 5 games included in Grandma’s Trunk are:

  1. What Comes Next? Take turns placing the letter cards in the trunk in alphabetical order.
  2. Memory Take turns repeating the sequence of cards already in the trunk, then adding one of your own and challenging other players to remember them all, in order.
  3. Letter Sequence Memory Deal the cards and take turns putting them in the trunk in alphabetical order, repeating the items already in the trunk and challenging other players to remember them all, in alphabetical order.
  4. Grandma’s Adventures Place the letter cards in the trunk and take turns pulling them out to create a cooperative story: “Once upon a time there was a grandma. She saw an iguana.”
  5. Grandma’s Riddles Deal the cards and then read a riddle and race to see who has the letter card that answers it.







*Offer is valid through Feb. 18th, 2014 at 11:59pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in the code at checkout!

Pick of the Week: 1 to 10 Counting Cans

Introduce early math to your students with this vibrant set of 1 to 10 Counting Cans. These cans depict and contain 1 to 10 kinds of colorful fruits and vegetables for your young learner to practice counting, number recognition, and sorting. This week only, save 15% on your order of the 1 to 10 Counting Cans for by entering in our promotional code COUNT10 at checkout!

Children will also be able to expand their knowledge of a variety of fruits and vegetables that are typically not found in other play food manipulatives. This set of 55 plastic fruits and vegetables will reinforce everyday vocabulary, fine motor skills, and number sense in learners in grades pre-K and up. Each can measures 3 by 4.25 inches.

Don’t forget — this week only, you can get your own set of the 1 to 10 Counting Cans for $39.91 reduced from $46.95 by using code COUNT10 at checkout.

*Offer valid until Feb. 4, 2014 at 11:59pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in the code at checkout!

NEW! Modified Instructions for Games & Toys, Created by Sam Blanco, BCBA

LetsPlay_WormThere are many great mainstream games available out there but it can sometimes be challenging to know if a particular game’s intended uses are feasible for a learner on the spectrum. With a few simple tips and modifications, many of these games can be altered to provide an excellent learning opportunity through play and most of all, fun.

We’ve worked with Sam to select some of our favorite games and toys. She’s field tested all of these with her students and figured out creative and innovative ways to adapt each game to meet the needs of her learners. Our Modified Instructions present 3-4 alternative ways to play the game, in addition to the regular intended uses suggested by the manufacturer. Sam’s Modified Instructions break down each adapted game by:

  • Age/Skill Level
  • Number of Players
  • Object
  • Skills Required
  • Materials Needed
  • Prep
  • Instructions
  • Considerations

This week, we’re introducing the first set of Modified Instructions for S’Match! Memory Game available as a free download at Different Roads to Learning. Just follow the link and click on “Modified Instructions” to download your free copy.

S’Match! is a favorite around here as it presents an exciting new SPIN on the classic game of Memory. This engaging multi-player game challenges players to find matches by the attributes of color, number or category. The game allows readers and pre-readers to learn and play together as the colorful cards feature both pictures and words. Download our Modified Instructions for Use for S’Match! for free today!

Pick of the Week: In, On, and Under

Teaching prepositions can be greatly enhanced if children are given ways to manipulate objects. The use of images and hands-on activities can help students better grasp what prepositions are and how they are used. To help your child get started with learning prepositions, this week only, we are offering a 15% markdown on the In, On, and Under kit. Enter our promo code BLOGPREP8 at checkout to redeem these savings.

In, On, and Under is a charming kit that teaches the prepositions “in”, “on”, “under”, “next to”, “in front of”, and “behind”. The game asks children to match a card with a penguin or chick in a hat or wooden tub to a game board.  The game includes 4 boards, 24 cards, 4 chicks, 4 penguins, a wooden tub, a felt hat, a metal carriage, as well as teaching notes. These appealing objects can also be used with and without the game boards to help your student expand spatial awareness and develop vocabulary and language skills.

This week only, save 15% on your order of In, On, and Under, by entering in promo code BLOGPREP8* at checkout.

*Offer is valid until Nov. 26, 2013 at 11:59pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces in the promo code at checkout!

Pick of the Week: Parachute Play

DRG_350_Parachute_PlayAs Fall creeps up and school looms near, we thought this week’s pick should embody the carefree and playful aspects of summer. Within a few short days, our regular school-day routines will start up again and the memories of sand squishing between our toes and summer BBQs will fade. So celebrate these final days with one of the most simple yet fun games around – the Parachute! This week, save 15% on our Parachute Play by entering the Promo Code BLOGPP13 at checkout. It measures 6 feet with 6 handles so you can play one-on-one or involve the whole family.

And if you’re feeling like you should be focusing on school readiness and not play, well the Parachute can help there too! Here’s a post by our brilliant friend Sam Blanco on her Teachthrough Blog about all of the educational uses of the simple yet wondrous parachute.

Age level: Preschool, Early Elementary
Description: I still remember how excited I would be when the teacher brought out a parachute during elementary school. Even now, I can’t exactly identify what it is about a parachute that draws children in, but I have found that it almost always works even for my most difficult to motivate students.

Skills & Modifications: There are many things you can do with a parachute. I’ve listed a few below, but if you have used it in other ways, please leave a comment explaining the activity!

  • Manding (Requesting) – I frequently use a parachute to have my early learners mand for actions. For example, I’ll have the learner lie down on the parachute, then they have to mand for me to “pick up the handle,” “swing,” ready set “go,” or “stop.” I also use the parachute (or a blanket) to teach early learners with autism how to request a parent’s attention. I will have the parent hide behind the parachute, and when the child says “Mommy” or “Daddy” the parent will drop the parachute so he/she is immediately visible and give the child lots of attention in the form of tickles, kisses, verbal praise, etc.
  • Comparisons/Adjectives – To help students understand the concept of big and little, I will have the children stand around the sides of the parachute holding onto it with their hands. I will place an object on the parachute, and we will bounce the parachute up and down to try to get the object to fall into the hole in the center of the parachute. Some objects will fall, but some will be too big to fall into the hole. I will ask the students why the object fell or did not fall.
  • Sorting – I will place several colorful objects on the parachute. We will then bounce the parachute up and down playfully. After a 30 seconds to a minute, we will put the parachute back on the floor, and the student will have to move each object onto a panel of the parachute that matches in color.
  • Identifying body parts – Because the parachute has a hole in the middle, I will sometimes use it for identifying body parts. The learner can lie down on the floor. Then I will put the parachute on top of them. I’ll pretend I’m looking for them (for example, “Where is Charlie?”) Then I’ll position the parachute so that one part (such as their hand or their nose) is clearly visible. I’ll lightly touch it and say “What is that?” and have the student label nose or hand or elbow, etc. Once the learner has an idea of the game, I may let them initiate it, or have them say “Find my nose” and I’ll place the parachute so their nose is visible.
  • Song Fill-ins – I like to sing songs while shaking or spinning the parachute. For students with autism or other language delays who struggle with this skill, the parachute can be a great motivator to help with song fill-ins and other intraverbal skills. I will sing the song while shaking or spinning the parachute, and I’ll stop singing AND moving the parachute when I want the child to fill in a word. As soon as the child fills in the word, I will begin singing and moving the parachute again. For many students, this is more motivating than a high five or saying “good job.”
  • Quick Responding – If you are working with learners with autism, the absence of quick responding is sometimes a serious barrier to learning. I have found that using the parachute isa  good way to motivate the student to respond quickly when presented with at ask by using it as described above with the song fill-ins. Once I am getting quick responding with the parachute, I quickly begin to work on generalizing the skill to other environments (such as the table or during a floor activity.)

Pros: There is a wide variety of activities that you can do with a parachute. As mentioned before, my experience has been that it is a great tool for motivating students who are difficult to engage. The parachute is also fantastic as a reinforcer or to use during a break. It is fun for students to play hide-and-seek with it, lie on the floor and have you lift the parachute high into the air then bring it down on top of them, or spin it in a circle. One final pro is that, depending on the size of the parachute, you can do these activities indoors. I have a parachute that is six feet in diameter, which is perfect for indoor activities with preschool and early elementary learners.

Cons: You have to think carefully about the environment in which you will be using the parachute and choose the appropriate size. Many parachute activities also require more than two people, so if you are working 1:1 with students, you should prepare ahead of time to ensure that a sibling or parent will be available to participate in the activity with you.

Remember, enter the promo code BLOGPP13 at checkout to save 15% on our Parachute Play this week only.

***This expires September 3, 2013 at 11:59 pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces in the promo code at check out!

Product Review: Sandwich Stacking Game

We recently came across a wonderful review of the popular Sandwich Stacking Game by Melissa & Doug on TeachThrough. Here is everything you have ever wanted and need to know about the Sandwich Stacking Game and how a parent or educator would incorporate it into lessons for his or her child:

Age level: Preschool, Early Elementary

Description: This silly game come with two sets of bread-shaped gloves and fourteen sandwich fillings that attach with velcro to the bread. Add twenty sandwich cards and a booklet with ten different games you can play with the materials, and you have a recipe for a great game.

Skills & Modifications: First of all, I should mention that I love any game that comes with instructions for multiple games. The fact that this comes with instructions for TEN games makes it that much more valuable to me, and it makes my job easier! I can find games that meet the skill level of my student, and then modify them as needed. Also, while I have listed below many ways in which I focus on target skills with these materials, I always end the activity by allowing the student to choose a game or to have free play with the materials for a couple of minutes.

Expressive Language – Students are usually highly motivated by these materials, so I use them to create opportunities for expressive language. Sometimes I’ll have the student create any sandwich they want and then describe it to me. Other times I will create sandwiches with the goal of targeting specific words or phrases that I am working on with the student.
Alike & Different – Sometimes I’ll have the student make two sandwiches, then describe how the two are alike and different. This provides and opportunity to talk about different ingredients, but also to discuss order of ingredients using words such as top, middle, and bottom.
Block Imitation – This is another game that, while it does not use blocks, can be used to test for generalization of block imitation skills. You can use the pictures included with the game, but those are all limited to four ingredients on each sandwich. For some students I take pictures of bigger sandwiches I have made with the game materials and have them recreate it based on the picture.
Scanning – I use this frequently to practice scanning skills. I lay out all of the ingredients on the floor (though be careful if the floor is carpeted, the velcro pieces may stick!) The student has to look at the picture card or listen to my instructions and find the correct piece. If we are playing with a peer, scanning may be more challenging because the peer may pick up the piece first, causing your student to have to scan once more to find the piece needed.
Peer Play – This is another great game for peer or sibling play. Students are highly motivated by the materials, and are frequently interested to see what other people are making as well.

Pros: This is one of those games that consistently causes giggle-fits with my students. It’s silly, challenging, active, and fun. Oh, and it’s machine-washable.

Cons: I have no cons for this game. It is a little pricey compared to most games and toys I purchase, but the materials are high-quality (which is usually the case with Melissa & Doug products.)

Cost: $29.99 You should invest in this game if: your student or child is highly motivated by active games, you are looking for materials to increase potential for peer play, or you are working with a range of ages at the same time.

ABLLS: B6, B12, B20, C41, K5, K9, K14, L2, L12, L22


Written by Sam Armstrong, MSEd, BCBA

Pick of the Week: All Around Town

Our Pick of the Week this week is All Around Town, a charming game that explores stores in the neighborhood while developing sorting, thinking and classifying skills. As you move around the game board, you’ll visit the grocery store, furniture store, book store, clothing store, pet store, and art supplies store. Race around town to collect a card from every store and match them to your game mat. In addition to developing logic skills, players will also sharpen their social skills and awareness of community locations. The shops in this town are just like the ones you and your child have visited in your neighborhood.

This week only, SAVE 15% on the “All Around Town” game by entering in the promotional code BLOGAAT2 at checkout!

This set includes a game board, 4 game mats, 60 game cards, and 4 markers. With the “All Around Town” game, players will be able to improve critical thinking and strategic planning skills as they race to be the first player with a card from all six stores in town.

Remember, this week only, take 15% off your order of the “All Around Town” game by applying our promotional code BLOGAAT2 at check out!*

*This offer is valid until August 6th, 2013 at 11:59 pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces in the promo code at check out!