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April is Autism Awareness Month. For me, this means informing educators about more effective ways to teacher our kids with autism. Some of these ideas are listed below. In effort to promote and maintain a level of excellence, there are some items that must be basic foundations in classes that serve students with autism. Promoting a basic foundation for your classroom will help you create structure in your student's program. Classrooms serving students with autism should have basic items in place to help that student be successful in the school environment. Below is a list of items that most classrooms that serve children with autism spectrum disorders, should have: 1. Schedule - A classroom schedule should be posted that reflects the following: independent work time, 1:1 (or 2:1) work time, small group instruction, social skills instruction, sensory play, structured play/structured recreation-leisure opportunities, fine motor work opportunities, personal management opportunities, limited large group activities. 2. An Effective Classroom Set Up/Engineered Environment for Students with Autism- An engineered environment created specifically to meet the needs of students with Autism is critical to the success of your classroom program. These items, such as visual supports, creating boundaries, individualization and organization should be seen, utilized and programmed into the daily operations of your class. 3. Data Collection System- A data collection system should be in place to measure each student's IEP (Individualized Education Plan) objectives. IEP objectives will need to be measured using effective data collection methods. Data collection sheets should be ready for the start of school. 4. Written Plan for Classroom Roles and Responsibilities- Your classroom should have a posted written plan that designates the major responsibilities each staff member assumes. This plan should also include the areas of the classroom each staff member is responsible for during the instructional parts of the day. For example, running the art lesson, recording attendance, preparing the snack time lesson, supporting the language lesson, preparing the daily calendar, may be the types of responsibilities noted. (Please understand that sometimes responsibilities overlap or change). Classrooms serving students with autism require a great deal of teamwork; a plan in which responsibilities are clarified will positively contribute to the productivity of your team. 5. Weekly Scheduled Debriefing Sessions- It is extremely important to meet with your team members concerning the needs and issues of your students. Your classroom team should have at the very least 1 weekly debriefing session before or after school. Suggested topics during this session are discussion of students, review and revising communication strategies, teaching strategies, behavior interventions, scheduling and classroom roles and responsibilities. Input from all staff members should be encouraged to help create a successful learning environment for staff as well as for students. 6. 3-Step Prompting Series- To serves as a guide for making requests of students should be used consistently in the classroom. Posting this on the wall will help remind staff of the technique. 7. Language Based Techniques/Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) - These techniques and strategies must be embedded in all activities throughout the child's day. AAC methods can include picture symbol task analysis, picture exchange, natural aided language techniques, visual cues for behaviors, picture symbols, photographs, written words (if the child is reading), etc. 8. A Written Behavior Plan- A plan should be in place for each child's targeted behaviors. If students have inappropriate behavior(s), there should be a plan for dealing with that behavior(s). All staff members in your class should have a copy of the behavior plans. The behavior plans can be very short or extensive depending on the needs of the student. Behavior plans can cover information as minor as "what to do when the child keeps taking of their shoe" to something as major as aggression, hitting, kicking etc. In each case, you will want to conduct a Functional Behavior Assessment to develop a Behavior Intervention Plan. The behavior plans should be a written plan of action so that each member of your classroom team responds in the same way to a behavior. 9. Sensory Issues- Sensory issues should be addressed throughout the school day. Sensory issues should be identified for each child, when applicable, and programmed for and incorporated in the daily schedule.