The Autism Helper Podcast

Episode 29: Classroom Structure (Step 2 in the 7 Steps for Setting Up a Stellar Autism Room)

An episode of The Autism Helper Podcast

By The Autism Helper
Welcome to The Autism Helper Podcast, where we explore different strategies to improve the lives of individuals with autism.
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Episode 33: Work (Step 6 in the 7 Steps for Setting Up a Stellar Autism Room)
Now let's get to the meat and potatoes of your classroom. When setting up your class, what curriculum and activities do you need to ensure your students are learning? There's no quick and easy answer. The idea of developing a set of materials for your students is overwhelming. You may have students that have an extremely wide range of skills. You are working on potty training and pronouns and everything in between. The general education curriculum may not be appropriate for your class. You have two jobs: special education teacher and curriculum developer (but only one salary).  In this episode, we break down this process. One of our team bloggers, Gina and I discuss how to utilize assessments, your IEP goals, and state standards to prioritize, organize, and develop curriculum for your classroom. So before you start laminating away, take a minute to pause and be thoughtful and purposeful about what you are creating for your students. 
July 15, 2019
Episode 32: Data (Step 5 in the 7 Steps for Setting Up a Stellar Autism Room)
Yes - data collection needs its own step in the classroom setup process because it is that important. Data should be the backbone of your classroom.  You should embed your data collection system into your classroom setup process. Make it something thoughtful and purposeful not an afterthought. In this episode, we review best practices and tips for setting up academic and behavior data. For academic data, decide if organization by student or by center is best for your (hint: there’s no wrong answer). Organization is key because you need the time between your student doing a behavior to your pen hitting the data sheet to be minimal. For behavior data, learn more about my top 3 tips: keep it easy, keep it central, and make a team endeavor. Whatever stage you are at in the data collection process, this episode will challenge you to make it more efficient and streamlined.  Links:  TAH Data Blog Posts: Making Data Collection Quick & Easy: Paraprofessional Run IEP Center: Taking Data on Extreme Behaviors:
July 1, 2019
Episode 31: Visuals (Step 4 in the 7 Steps for Setting Up a Stellar Autism Room)
In this episode, we review how to set up visuals in your classroom in a way that is purposeful and effective. You want only the visuals that are useful and not a whole huge set of ones you don’t need. Use visuals to label. This helps with organization and teaching students to independently find and put away materials. Use visuals to support directives. We give so many verbal command on a daily basis and our kids with receptive language processing challenges just can’t keep up. Use visuals to show order to events/routines by creating mini schedules. Last, use visuals for behaviors and academics. This is essential. Use visuals to show the many if/then relationships we set up and the rules of the classroom.  These visuals are a tool and our student will need to be taught how to use these tools. Learn how to teach your staff and teach your students how to utilize these visuals on a regular basis.  Behavior visuals: Visual necklace: Visuals for routines: Mini schedules:
June 17, 2019
Episode 30: Schedules (Step 3 in the 7 Steps for Setting Up a Stellar Autism Room)
Schedules are a must have for every classroom because they are functional. We all use schedules! In step 3 of the Seven Steps for Setting a Stellar Autism Classroom, we review the whole schedule process. First, learn how to create a detailed student and staff schedule (and some important reasons on why you need both). After you create student and staff schedules, it’s time to make schedules for your students. Schedules should be individualized! Not every student needs a visual and moveable-piece schedule. Think about schedules on continuum. You should always be working towards having each student use a schedule that is less restricted and more generalizable. Some formats schedules can be in are object schedules, picture schedules, or written schedules and there are a multitude of ways to customize those options! The last step is training you staff to teach your students how to use their schedule. Schedules need to be taught!  Links:  All schedule posts: Preschool Schedules: Picking the Right Schedule Type for Each Student: Creating a Master Classroom Schedule: Creating a Classroom Excel Schedule:
June 3, 2019
Episode 29: Classroom Structure (Step 2 in the 7 Steps for Setting Up a Stellar Autism Room)
Why is structure important? A structured environment decreases negative behaviors, lessens student anxiety, increases independence, and improves student independence. And guess what? It also helps you manage and lead your staff. Creating and maintaining a structured and routine oriented environment will help your team work more collaboratively. In this episode, Jen Koenig, one our of team bloggers, and I discuss best practices for creating a structured environment. Jen shares her two essential considerations for each area of her classroom: functional and accessible. We discuss the different areas of Jen’s classroom and her thought process behind setting it up in a specific way.  Creating a classroom that is visually divided and visually defined will lead to overall student success. Your students will learn more and your team will be more effective. This episode is filled with action items and essential questions to be asking yourself either before you set up your class or in the middle of the school year.  Links: Color Coding Tools: Keeping Organized with Schedules: Setting Up Center Rotations:
May 27, 2019
Episode 28: Organization and Planning (Step 1 in the 7 Steps for Setting Up a Stellar Autism Room)
Step 1 in the Seven Steps for Setting Up a Stellar Autism Classroom: Organization and Planning. Don’t be tempted to skip this step. The classroom process should be purposeful and thoughtful. Spend time actively brainstorming and evaluating the needs of your students. Remember, as Dr. Stephen Shore said, “If you’ve meet one individual with autism, you’ve meet one individual with autism.” Your classroom should be changing and evolving every year because the needs of your students will be changing every year.  In this episode, we review important topics to begin the planning process. First we discuss how to create a “student need snapshot” by reviewing your students’ IEPs. Then we cover several important areas of the classroom to begin thinking about how the needs of your students will impact these areas. Finally, we start to make a list of centers for your classroom to address the IEP goals. Types of centers include group centers, direction instruction, paraprofessional led centers, independent center, and leisure centers. Many examples for each type are discussed!  Our classrooms sometimes look different because the needs of our students are so different. Let some good brainstorming and reflection drive your setup process!  Classroom Setup Checklist: 20 Questions for Organizing and Planning you setup:
May 20, 2019
Episode 27: Interview with Dr. Mary Barbera, BCBA
Dr. Mary Barbera is a best selling author, BCBA, and autism mom. In this episode, I chat with Mary about her journey into the autism world. She shares the story of her son’s diagnosis, how she learned about ABA, and what inspired her to become a BCBA. Mary’s bestselling book, The Verbal Behavior Approach, comes from Mary’s years of experience working with children with autism. Mary discusses how the verbal behavior approach is different than what many think of as ‘traditional’ autism and some important take home lessons from her book. Mary has developed several courses for parents, teachers, and BCBAs and provides insight as to which course would work best for each group. This episode is filled with helpful information from a true expert in the field!  Links: Turn Around Autism Podcast:
May 13, 2019
Episode 26: Conversation With Shannon Penrod of Autism Live
Shannon Penrod is a parent of a child with autism and a true advocate. She is the host of Autism Live a YouTube channel where she shares her experiences on parenting and ABA as well as interviews many experts in the field. Shannon’s perspective is invaluable and her story will motivate and inspire you.  Shannon and I discuss the process of her son’s diagnosis, his early years of ABA, and the successes he has had. She shares some of the struggles and how she was able to handle the difficult moments. Shannon gives her tips for finding a quality ABA program and the advice she gives parents of children with autism most frequently. There is so much to learn in this episode!  Shannon’s website: Youtube channel: Facebook:
May 6, 2019
Episode 25: Discussing School Readiness with Shira and Shayna from How to ABA
BCBAs Shira Gaunt and Shayna Karpel discuss school readiness and all that it entails. Shira and Shayna are from How to ABA and the Bx Resource. Coming from both a clinical and school background, Shira and Shayna share practical tips and ABA strategies in an understandable way. In this episode, we talk about what behaviors kids need to be successful in school. Shira and Shayna share their tips on teaching students how to work collaboratively, ask for help, and more. This episode is filled with ready to implement action items and a must-listen for teachers and clinicians.  Links: Facebook:
April 29, 2019
Episode 24: April Q&A
In this Q and A episode, listener questions are answered in detail! I share my advice for those wanting to become BCBA and the process I took in that endeavor. Next, I discuss strategies for keeping the noise level of staff down and how to directly and respectfully address those concerns with your team. Then, I review the legal issues surrounding leaving students out of a field trip due to behavioral or physical needs as well as some best practices to utilize during a field trip. Last, I answer a questions regarding a major behavioral problem with a student and what are the first steps to take in that situation.  Links about field trip discrimination:
April 22, 2019
Episode 23: Talking All Things DATA with Christine Reeve
In this episode, Dr. Christine Reeve and I discuss best practices for data collection. Chris is a BCBA with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. She has over 20 years experience in the field and has worked in a wide range of settings. Her most recent book, Taming the Data Monster, is a comprehensive resources on easy-to-adapt data collection systems. Chris is truly a data expert and we discuss everything from getting started taking data, how to analyze your data and make data based decisions, ways to get your staff on board, and more. Follow Chris @ Resources:  Chris’s free webinar on data collection: Excel spreadsheet:  Self-Graphing Data Sheets Blog Post:
April 15, 2019
Episode 22: What Your Classroom Can Learn from the Business World
A successful business thrives off of productivity, efficiency, and effective team management. In this episode learn how to apply popular  business and productivity life hacks and philosophies to your classroom. Grab some actionable takeaways that can be added into your work day immediately.  8 Business Strategies to Apply to Your Classroom: Eat the frog: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” Mark Twain 80/20 Principle: 20 percent of your activities will account for 80 percent of your results. Delegate Effectively:  “Delegation requires the willingness to pay for short term failure in order to gain long term competency.” Dave Ramsey BHAG: Big hairy audacious goals. Time Blocking: Things will take the amount of the time that you give it. Schedule email time: Do not let your email control your time.  “Bitch” Up: Complain or vent only to people above you. Sandwich Feedback: Provide feedback in a specific order to highlight positive things a staff member is doing and where some improvement can be made.  Links: Why Schools Aren’t Business: the Blueberry Story: Eat That Frog:
April 8, 2019
Episode 21: Is Your Literacy Program Functional?
Functional means designed to have practical use and used to development of a larger whole. Is your literacy instruction hitting these two things? In this episode, we discuss what functional actually means. Functional doesn’t mean vocational or having low expectations. Learn how to teach academics in a functional way at all ages. We live in a text rich environment and we need to be teaching literacy at every age in some way. Use the text you see every day as a teaching tool to work on generalizing and applying the literacy skills you teach. Consider students’ learning history, strengths, interests, and long term opportunities when selecting literacy goals. My call to action: evaluate you literacy instruction today. Link to Functional Literacy Curriculum:
April 1, 2019
Episode 20: Call with Leanne Page of
In this episode, learn how BCBA Leanne Page incorporates her knowledge of Applied Behavior Analysis into her daily parenting life. Leanne shares easy to understand action items that parents, teachers, or clinicians can utilize right away. Leanne’s approach is focused on using evidence based practices to build up the good that’s there. She relies on positive and proactive strategies that will make your life easier. This episode is filled with useful information on everything from token economy best practices to establishing successful bedtime routines.  Find Leanne at Check out her book, Parenting with Science here: 
March 25, 2019
Episode 19: Time Out: New School vs. Old School
Rethink your ideas about time out. Instead of viewing this intervention as harsh and aversive instead reframe time out as “time away from reinforcement.” When used in the correct situations, this strategy can be extremely effective to reduce dangerous and disruptive behaviors. In this episode learn how and why to conduct through baseline data so you are only using this strategy in the appropriate situations. Identify the reasons why a “time away from reinforcement” works and how this plays out naturally in the real world. Also, learn tips for utilizing visuals, adding a criteria for exiting a time out, removing the power struggle, and how to ensure that reinforcing aspects are actually removed. It’s time for a new school perspective on this intervention.  Behavior Edition Social Story Adapted Books: Visual Social Story Set: Behavior Management Visuals:
March 18, 2019
Episode 18: 7 Limiting Beliefs that EFF with Your Day
A limiting belief is a little voice in your head that negatively shapes your behavior and your path to success. The first step to change is becoming aware of your own limiting beliefs and then reframe your way of thinking about the topic. In this episode, I discuss the 7 limiting beliefs that may be sabotaging your work day before it even starts. The same old thinking leads to the same old results. Identify your limiting beliefs and how you can be changing the way you think to lead to more positive thinking and a more positive effect on your behavior. 
March 11, 2019
Episode: 17 Q&A March '19
In this Q&A episode, I answer commonly asked questions sourced through social media and my email. We discuss how to approach situations with parents who don’t agree with a behavior plan and how to reframe the way you think about parent relationships. Next, step up new methods for creating materials and a plan that logistically makes the most of every spare minute. Finally, we review some behavioral strategies for transitioning away from preferred items and to non-preferred tasks as well as how to begin to teach the skill of independent work. 
March 4, 2019
Episode 16: How Visuals Lead to Independence (hint: there’s more to it than you think!)
If you are in the special ed world, utilizing visuals isn’t a new concept. You are probably an expert on how and why using visuals is important. But let’s go one level deeper. The goal for all of our students and kids is independence. In this episode, we discuss how visuals help develop independent skills and how to translate this strategy to the real world. Evaluate the visuals you already have and assess where you need more or better visuals within your classroom or home. Then teach and fade. Visuals are a tool that need to be taught and once successful teaching is complete, pull back. Learn some essential tips to get your whole team on the same page for this important endeavor.   Show notes: Behavior Contingency Maps: Facebook Video Team Mission Statement:
February 25, 2019
Episode 15: Why Pinpointing Behaviors Will Improve Your Instruction - Chat with Brigid McCormick
In this episode, Brigid McCormick, BCBA shares valuable ways to improve your instruction, decrease your staff training time, and increase the overall enjoyment of learning all by spending time pinpointing behaviors. Brigid is the founder and clinical director of Precision ABA and passionate about utilizing Precision Teaching. Brigid shares what Precision Teaching is and how all teachers, parents, and clinicians can utilize the first step of Precision Teaching to create a detailed and specific definition of the behavior you are trying to increase. She shares how 4 words can be clearer and easier to understand than 20 when it comes to IEP goals. We discuss best practices on creating IEP benchmarks and objectives, learning channels, and what to do when your IEP goals aren’t getting mastered. This episode is loaded with examples and amazing lightbulb moments!  Links:  Learning Channel Matrix:
February 18, 2019
Episode 14: The 5 Mistakes I Made as a First Year Teacher
Learn from my missteps during my first year in the classroom. In this episode, I share 5 major mistakes that wreaked havoc on my first year and how you can avoid these. Trying to “do it all” really never works but it definitely doesn’t work when you have no clue what you are doing Learn how to tackle small projects one at a time and avoid the “hamster wheel” syndrome. Ignoring staff training is one big mistake I made my first year. This mistake is now shifted into one of my passions. I am so into staff training because I know first hand how disastrous it can be if you avoid it. Not asking for help and being the lone wolf are two other mistakes I made my first year. Being part of the school community is essential. Learn how to reach out for support while building rapport with your colleagues. Lastly, understand the importance on safety. This was something I didn’t realize in my naive first year. Don’t learn this the hard way. Plan now. Links:
February 11, 2019
Episode 13: You are Your Classroom's Publicist
Back in the day as a new teacher, I thought the bulk of my job would be actually teaching my students. I was so wrong. This job encompasses so much more - managing staff, paperwork, collaborating with clinicians, etc. And now we have one more title to add to the list: publicist. Take a second and think about what most of your school thinks about your students. Does the teacher down the hall know that Sam just mastered his colors after weeks of working on it? Do the other 3rd grade students know that Jenny knows everyone’s birthday in your class? Does everyone see the personalities, quirks, and other great qualities of your students that you experience on a daily basis? The other teachers and students in your school most likely remember the tantrum one of your students had in the middle of an assembly last month. The vice principal remembers that you running down the hallway with a bag of plastic gloves, wipes, and adult diapers when you need to toilet on of your students while your paras were at lunch. The rest of the 6th graders remember when your student went around and touched everyone’s ears at gym class. They unfortunately probably don’t have a correct perception of your class. You can’t blame them. People remember the bad things over the good things in general. And sometimes our bad things are pretty loud and dramatic to put it nicely. In this episode, learn how to spread the word about the awesome, amazing, stellar, impressive, and down right fantastic things your kids are doing. Learn how to advocate for your students by educating your entire school community in a positive and proactive why. Be your classroom’s publicist and spread some good PR. Staff Special Education Presentation: Autism Awareness Unit:
February 4, 2019
Episode 12: I Don't Negotiate, Except That I Do
My name is Sasha and I am a problem behavior causer. As a parent and a teacher, I have caused increases in problem behaviors. This happens because I negotiate, I give in, or I give attention. And guess what? This works for me in the moment. Negotiating or giving in gets that meltdown or negative behavior to stop. That’s what I want. I want that behavior to stop. But it does something else too - it teaches that child that negative behaviors result in something awesome. So they keep at it. Let’s change this contingency. In this episode, learn how to look to a long term instead of short term solution for behavior change. Negotiating or giving in may work in the moment but it doesn’t teach a positive alternative way for your child to communicate his wants and needs. It doesn’t promote long term success. I share specific strategies to respond, not react when behavior episodes occur and how to apply this to your everyday life.
January 28, 2019
Episode 11: Tips for IEP Meeting with Chrissy Kelly
In this episode, I interview Chrissy Kelly of Life with Greyon & Parker. Chrissy is a parent to two boys with autism. She is a dedicated advocate and has a high level of knowledge in special education and applied behavior analysis. She shares her journey through her blog and social media platforms instagram and facebook @lifewithgreysonandparker. Chrissy and I discuss best practices for the IEP meeting from both sides of the table. Chrissy shares practicable strategies for parents to implement when approaching the meeting, what red flags to look for, and some overall tips for advocacy. We also discuss what things teachers can do to help parents feel more welcome, comfortable, and confident in the meeting. All of this is for the common goal of having the home and school be one unified team to make the most progress we can with each student. Chrissy's insight and advice is invaluable and this episode is filled with action items that will have an immediate impact.
January 21, 2019
Episode 10: Lesson Plan Pep Talk
Let's talk about decision fatigue. Making decision after decision all day can be exhausting and mentally draining. Lesson planning not only helps hold you and your team accountable but it reduces the amount of decisions you need to make each day. You don't need to think about what you're doing with group #3 at 10:15 because it's already planned. In this episode, learn why lesson plans are essential to the susses of your class and how to write lesson plans that are actual helpful on a daily basis.  Links:  Creating a Classroom Excel Schedule: Lesson Planning and Curricular Maps:
January 14, 2019
Episode 9: Why I Hate the Phrase "Busy Work"
Sometimes independent work tasks are mistakenly thought of as "busy work." Busy work implies something that has the main purpose of being kept occupied. It has minimal functional purpose. Independent work is couldn't be farther from this. Independent work has the purpose of teaching students to work on their own for a sustained period of time. This is one of the most essential life skills you can teach your student or child. Without being able to work on your own for a sustained time period, you will struggle to maintain a job, contribute to your household, or be part of a community. Independent work is key.  In this episode, learn not only why independent work is so important but how to set this up in a meaningful way in your classroom. Banish the phrase "busy work" from your vocabulary. 
January 8, 2019
Episode 8: The IKEA Effect; How Staff Involvement Build Buy-In
It's happened to all of us. We went to IKEA, picked out the perfect $22 shelf, and proceeded to spend 5 hours putting it together. That shelf is now held together by masking tape but has made move after move with you because you refuse to get rid of it. You spent all of that time putting it together so it's staying with you. The IKEA effect is the idea that we place a higher value on things that we are involved in the creation of. Learn how to apply this concept to your classroom by increasing staff involvement to build buy-in. Whether it's for data collection, materials creation, and behavior plans, ownership leads to responsibility leads to buy-in.
December 31, 2018
Episode 7: Q&A Session
In this episode, I answer commonly asked questions pulled from emails, social media, and blog comments. Some highlights: I discuss how to streamline your end of the day transition, what to do when a student is extremely attached to the teacher, misconceptions for using google forms, getting staff buy-in, planning for a substitute, sharing data with parents, implementing centers, and more! Staff Training Podcast Episodes: Planning for a Substitute: Classroom Setup Blog Series:
December 24, 2018
Episode 6: Handling Student Aggression
All behavior is communication - even behavior that is disruptive, dangerous, and aggressive. Those behaviors are communicating something and they are communicating it loudly. While you are in the process of finding and implementing an effective and function-based intervention for dangerous student behaviors such as aggression or running, the day to day obstacles can be huge. Handling student aggression in a way that is respectful to the student while also keeping everyone safe is a daunting task. This can put a massive emotional and physical strain on the entire team. In this episode, learn strategies to approach these difficult situations as best as possible. Resources: How to Take Data on Extreme Behaviors: Using Google Forms to Analyze ABC Data: Click Counters on Amazon:
December 17, 2018
Episode 5: Navigating Sensory Needs During the Holiday Season
In this episode, Katie, an Occupational Therapist, shares tips and strategies for navigating the overwhelming sensory experiences that can come along with the holiday season. This time of year can be challenging for everyone and we want to be sure to be proactive and sensitive to the needs of our kids and students who have sensory struggles now more than ever. Katie shares tips related to planning ahead, having a back-up plan, how to train staff, and her go-to toolkit. This strategies apply not only to the holiday season but really any new event or novel experience! Links: Ten Tips for Managing Sensory Needs During the Holiday Season: Sensory Processing - Challenges and Red Flags: Ten OT Approved Holiday Gifts: How to Set Up a Holiday Party:
December 10, 2018
Episode 2: Growth Mindset for the Special Educator
With a growth mindset, effort and hard work are your keys to success. Failure and struggle are part of the process and the journey. As a special education teacher, parent, or professional, having a growth mindset is essential to excelling at your job. In this episode, we explore the benefits of having a growth mindset at work and how this can help prevent burnout and exhaustion. How do we get a growth mindset? Some tips: Celebrate and identify the little victories of your classroom to see the overall trend of your success. Start to add the word "yet" to the things you struggle with. "I'm not good at taking data... yet." "I'm not good at delegating... yet." And give yourself permission to have room to grow and develop. Lastly, add prompts for yourself. You need reminders and cues to engage in growth mindset based actions and thoughts. Read Carol Dweck's book Mindset: Watch Carol Dweck's Ted Talk:
November 20, 2018
Episode 4: Chatting with Gina about the Big Impact of Small Changes
Gina is part of The Autism Helper team and our resident preschool teacher. Gina and I chat about the process of building a new program program from the ground up, how she readily makes changes in her room, and the importance of teaching independence (even with our littlest learners). Gina took some important steps at the start of the year to find time to implement assessments, train staff, and work one on one with students. Read Gina's post about how to set up and run centers in a preschool classroom:
November 20, 2018
Episode 3: Staff Training Pt II
So you've been sold on this whole idea that staff training is important. Cool. Now how do you exactly go about doing that? What's the best way to teach your staff how to do something? In this episode, we get into the details of how to effectively teach your paraprofessionals everything from taking data to implementing behavior plans to prompt fading. I review the Behavior Skills Training Model: instruction, modeling, rehearsal, and feedback. Most people start and stop their staff training with instruction. But there is so much more that goes into effectively teaching someone how to do something. Learn the importance of each step and how to utilize this process effectively in your classroom. Check out my paraprofessional training guide:
November 20, 2018
Episode 1: Staff Training
Why do we forget about one of the most important parts of our job? Staff training doesn't seem to be a high priority on a day to day basis but it's actually what will give you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to the overall success of your classroom. Getting your staff on the same page has a lasting impact on all areas of your room. In this episode, let's discuss why staff training is so important and how your personal hang ups often get in the way. Feeling uncomfortable or awkward about telling your staff what to do is not an excuse for avoiding staff training. Finding time for staff training is another big obstacle most teachers face. Learn how to work with your administrators to find time either within the school day or outside of the school day. Don't be satisfied with an "okay" team, strive for having a great team every day.
November 20, 2018
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