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First time teaching in LifeSkills/Autism classroom....HELP!

First time teaching in LifeSkills/Autism classroom....HELP!

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Hi! I am coming from 10 years experience working with students with SLD. I have just been hired to start up a new K-3 lifeskills classroom, from ground zero. I'll have 11 students and 3 assistants. 4 kinders in the morning, 5 kinders in the afternoon and 2 1st graders all day. My classroom doesn't even have furniture in it yet, let alone materials. They are all on order. If you were me, what would be the FIRST things you would have up and ready to go by Sept 7th? I want to utilize what little time I have to get as much done as I can. I have access to their IEP's and have already looked over goals and objectives. I will have access to STAR, Edmark, Read Well K and Handwriting without Tears. THANKS!!

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Marnie's picture

I taught in a K-2 AS classroom for 7 years...if you have access to will be the best resource. You will need to make individual schedles for the students to follow on a daily basis. This will be an enormous help in behavior and expectations. Also, look at TEACCH method and google watson institute (in pgh) for a great website...also google cindy glew for a helpful website.'s picture

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 your classroom, which serves 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.

**I have a book called "How to Set Up a Classroom for Students with Autism" it is equally useful for any self-contained life skills class. Just email me (at the AutismClassroom website)if you want me to send you a complementary copy also has some free materials for setting up a classroom. Hope all goes well.

speciallyforu57's picture

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Jennifer's picture
life skills elementary teacher

the first thing you need is:Paitence and Stamina! Second, keep your aids "in the know" about what you expect them to do. Make sure you have a master schedule and each student has an individual schedule. Build rapport with the children first, teaching them what's expected by use of positive reinforcements and possibly a token reward system (STAR program is GREAT), In the first 4-6 weeks establish routines, and behavior expectations, and utilize all the help you have in the classroom. dont be too overly concerned with centers, IEP objectives and grades that first six weeks... work on rapport building with the children, finding out their likes and dislikes. once this is established...then teaching academics or IEP objectives will come easier because youve taken the time to get to know the students and will have more success. Good Luck! Ive been teaching elementary lifeskills/ABA training/behavior managment for 6 years. Its a tough job,,, but I love it!

patrice's picture
ID-Moderate II

Hi Jennifer:
I have been a special programs teacher for twelve years. I taught AU four years and this year I became so burned out that I made a transission to elementary. I am excited about this change. So far it has been less stress. I know what you mean by establishing a routine and building rapport. Needless to say, so many of those studnets in this setting and those who struggle academically in meeting the standards for a high school diploma, I often wonder will our school system ever support the idea of a vocational school for these students. I believe if they had some working skils even if it was a shelter workshop it would benefit the student and parent by promoting a good work ethic and a sense of being independent. What do you think?

Nina's picture
Elementary Life Skills Teacher

Certainly be sensory sensitive when setting up your classroom and speak with your administrator about resources that may be available at other campuses or even the central office. Good Luck!

Peter Dragula's picture
Peter Dragula
Special education teacher from Dublin, California

Firstly, kudos to you for jumping into this. There are so many people who would not and there is such a big need out there. I've been teaching a moderate/severe class for the past nine years at Dublin High. Even though I'm at the other end of the age group for our kids I remember feeling as you did my first year.

I concur with the blog from above and most of what everyone else has to say here. The challenge for you is to simply accept that you will be in a dynamic situation that will change from day to day. Unlike a traditional classroom setting, you cannot expect the students to sit in their desks. At times it will be like surfing waves. Sometimes it will be calm and other days stormy with big waves crashing.

The main priority is to keep the kids safe. Complacency is your biggest enemy. Know your students. Create a system to track student behaviors, triggers, preferences, etc. Find opportunities for them to explore and do things, as well as to work on sitting, communicating, socializing, etc. Communicate with parents and help them to help you, to help the students at home. Have protocols in place for days or times when things don't work the way you planned.

You should also get a copy of the SEACO Binder that has a subset of California Standards and Best Practices in it to help you feel secure in what it is you are doing in the classroom and how you have it set up.

Exercise and opportunities to be outside- not isolated are really important. Find out what the students' preferences are and use those to negotiate new learning opportunities.

Get a Smart Board, an IPAD and check out:,

I also have some other resources on my website if you need more.

Good luck and enjoy the ride!!!! You will learn so much about yourself and your students from this job. Also remember to take time for your self and breath....:)

Anne's picture
special ed middle school mod to severe

I taught preschool for almost 20 yrs until our district did away with preschool. I was then moved to transition. . Talk about a major change! i went fro 3-5 yr olds to huge 18-22 yr olds. Anyway to answer ur? Basics. Potty training. Huge help to parents of they are still in diapers. Feeding skills. Using utencils and a regular cup. Eating nee foods or at least trying new textures and foods. Brushing teeth and hair and learning to wash hands. Putting on and taking off their own coat not to mention eventually doing fasteners. Transitiioning between activities without melt downs. Use visual supports and social stories. Dressing skills. I offered all my kids a McDonalds happy meal if they could tie their own shoe. So many life skills in addition to coloratching and recognition. . Matching. . Numbers . . Lettets. . .Scissor skills . . Writing. . I had full day so I could fit it all in. I loved seeing the progress! Now I need help figuring out middle school. Any advice?

Anne's picture
special ed middle school mod to severe

I guess my main point is these are skills parents have difficulty with. Once you accomplish them. . They realize their child is capable and are willing to try. I have potty trained more then 50+ kids and once i proved they could do it at school the parents were more helpful at home. And they are life skills which are sooo important. Who cares if you can count or read if you cant use the toilet and are still in diapers. Just my opinion.

Joe's picture

Since you are doing the younger students i'll only touch on the programming side of things. Setting them up for success will help them have a larger opportunity for it when it presents itself as time goes on.

I had some success with software called Teachtown. I'd also recommend access to a good OT and lots of sensory items. Picture schedules are sooo very useful in setting up a routine. In fact, I used pictures for a lot of my teaching. Also, PECS, or ProLoquo to go is very useful for communication issues. If you can get the parents to work with you in setting up behavior rules that you both can keep to it'll set up consistency. Consistency and constancy are key to help establish social norms. Also, put something different on each wall so that it's easier to tell them apart. If this can be done in the school along common paths such as to the restroom and eating area, so much the better. Remember that people with autism have a hard time seeing the forest for the individual trees and that things that are quiet or dull in color may be sensory overload for them. There are some light covers that help especially the blue ones as blue is calming and the cover blocks out the flicker that they can often sense. Also, try backwards chaining as a teaching strategy.

I know that's a lot of stuff in a very short space, but hopefully it'll help. I would say the biggest things that will help is staying consistent and being constant. ...ohh, and pictures.

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