Behavior is Communication

Behavior is Communication

Behavior is Communication. You might have heard this before…and it’s true!

“A child is not GIVING you a hard time, they are HAVING a hard time.” is a quote I once saw, but I don’t know who the original author is. It speaks brilliantly to why a child is doing what they are doing.  They are trying to communicate something, but are having difficulty.  It’s our job as educators to help figure out what our students are trying to communicate and what might be a cause for the behavior.  Helping your students get their needs met through their preferred method of communication will also help improve unexpected behaviors.  (See my post about Expected and Unexpected Behaviors).
Behaviors have different functions or meanings.  There are four main functions of behavior.
The functions of behavior include:  Escape/Avoidance, Attention, Obtain Something, or Reinforcement.  Let’s get a little bit into what each of these functions of behavior mean. I’ll get into each function further in a future post about Functional Behavior Assessments (FBA).
The function of Escape or Avoidance behaviors is for the student to avoid or escape something. Often the escape/avoidance behaviors occur when students are presented with a non-preferred activity or assignment.
The function of an Attention behavior is simply that…to gain attention. This may mean that the child is seeking attention in either a positive or a negative way. To the attention seeking children, attention is attention and whether it is positive or negative attention, they are still getting their needs met by gaining attention. 
Obtain Something
The function of this type of behavior is that the child is trying to get access to something by displaying a behavior. Typically it is something tangible that they are trying to get; maybe a specific toy or snack.
The function of this behavior is that the child is trying to have their sensory needs met. There are a variety of sensory needs that a child may need. They could either be sensory seeking or sensory avoiding. 
In each of these functions of behavior, your students are trying to communicate to you and may not have the language yet to tell you what they need. Here’s a few tips to help you decode the behaviors your students are trying to communicate.
  • Try using a “First/Then” board. The idea of a First/Then board is to have the child complete the task first and then they get the reward, which isa  pre-determined reward for a pre-determined amount of time. I also recommend using a visual timer for the reinforcer. If you need a First/Then board, you can see the one I’ve created here in both English and Spanish.
  • Try using a Token Economy. Students earn a pre-determined amount of tokens to earn a pre-determined reinforcer. Give your students a choice that they pick and are “working for”. We work for our paychecks, they want to work for something too! Each time you “catch” them doing something you want them to do (working, following directions, etc.) give them a token and when they earn all of their tokens, they get their reinforcer. Again, use a visual timer for the time they are allowed to use their reinforcer. If you need a Token Economy set up system, you can get mine here as well.
  • Teaching students how to take a break. They will need a break, especially if they are trying to avoid a task or become easily overwhelmed by work. I use break cards to help my students visually see how many breaks that they can take during a certain time. It also serves as a visual to help remind them to ask for a break. You can get my break cards here.
  • Visuals. Always use visuals! Visuals speak louder than words. Sometimes your words can be an auditory overload for your students and using a visual may get them to do what they need to do without you having to speak. I always keep the most used visuals on a key ring on my lanyard so that you are able to give visual directions to your students wherever you are. This works great!
  • Prep for your Transitions. Sometimes the transition time is the most difficult because though you know it’s coming, your students don’t always know. Prep your students by reminding them of upcoming transitions, whether it will be from a preferred to a non-preferred activity or walking in the hallway to lunch. Using a visual timer is great for this too. You may also want to use a visual schedule and social stories. You can see the visual schedule I have here.
  • Sensory diet. Providing a student with sensory needs a specified sensory diet will help them to meet their needs. You may teach replacement behaviors for certain sensory seeking behaviors as well.
Behavior is communication. It seems plain and simple to say.  However, it may not always feel plain and simple when you’re trying to figure it out. I hope this post has helped you think about some behaviors in your classroom and how you can help figure out what your student(s) might be in need of. Stay tuned for additional posts about behavior, FBAs, etc. 

Sensory Fun – DIY Fake Winter Snow!

Winter is on its way, which means the anticipation of snow-covered landscapes and the joy of playing in the fluffy white powder. For those, like me (here in sunny Florida) who don’t experience a snowy winter, or simply want to bring the magic indoors, I’ve got the perfect solution – DIY fake snow! With just two common household ingredients, baking soda and conditioner, you can create a sensory wonderland that’s not only entertaining but also provides a host of sensory benefits for children of all ages.

Recipe for DIY Fake Winter Snow:

Creating your own winter wonderland at home is quick and easy. Here’s a simple recipe for DIY fake winter snow:


  • Baking Soda
  • White Hair Conditioner (any brand – mine was from the Dollar Tree)


  1. In a mixing bowl, combine 3 cups of baking soda with 1 cup of white hair conditioner.
  2. Stir the mixture thoroughly until it reaches a snow-like consistency OR use your hands!
  3. Adjust the texture by adding more baking soda or conditioner as needed until you achieve the desired fluffiness.

Sensory Benefits:

  1. Touch and Texture Exploration:
    • DIY fake snow provides an excellent opportunity for children to explore different textures. The soft and moldable consistency encourages tactile exploration, aiding in the development of fine motor skills. Surprisingly, it also feels slightly cold!
  2. Visual Stimulation:
    • The bright white color of the fake snow creates a visually stimulating environment, mimicking the look of real snow. This visual appeal enhances the sensory experience and engages a child’s sense of wonder.
  3. Scent Sensation:
    • The use of scented conditioner adds an extra sensory dimension to the play. Whether it’s the crisp scent of winter pine or the sweetness of a snow-kissed morning, the aroma adds to the overall immersive experience.
diy fake snow

Activities for Extra Sensory Fun:

  1. Snow Sculpting:
    • Provide small tools, molds, and even miniature figurines to encourage children to sculpt and mold their own winter scenes. This activity promotes creativity and imaginative play.
  2. Hidden Treasures:
    • Bury small objects like beads, buttons, or mini toys within the fake snow. Challenge children to discover and excavate the hidden treasures, enhancing sensory exploration and cognitive skills.
  3. Winter Small World Play:
    • Create a winter-themed small world play setting by incorporating toy animals, trees, and other winter elements into the fake snow. This activity fosters storytelling and social interaction.

DIY fake snow offers a delightful and less-mess way to bring the magic of winter indoors. This easy-to-make fake snow provides endless opportunities for imaginative play, sensory exploration, and winter wonder.

So, gather your ingredients, whip up a batch of DIY fake snow, and watch as your students’ eyes light up with joy in their very own winter wonderland!

Happy playing! ❄️✨

Inclusion for Preschoolers with Disabilities

Inclusive preschool programs have many benefits. Creating an environment where children with disabilities learn alongside their typically developing peers has advantages for both the preschoolers with disabilities and their typically developing peers. In this post, we’ll explore the benefits of inclusive preschool programs and discuss five key strategies for fostering inclusion for preschoolers with disabilities in mainstream classrooms.

The Benefits of Inclusive Preschool Programs:

  1. Social and Emotional Development: Inclusive programs promote positive interactions among children of diverse abilities. These early social experiences nurture empathy, tolerance, and acceptance, setting the stage for healthy social and emotional development.
  2. Academic Growth: Exposure to a rich and diverse curriculum aligning with state and national standards benefits all students. Children with disabilities gain access to stimulating learning opportunities, potentially accelerating their academic progress.
  3. Language and Communication Skills: The inclusive environment fosters language development. Children with speech or language delays benefit from modeling their peers’ language skills, while communication is enhanced through peer interactions.
  4. Boosted Self-Esteem and Confidence: Inclusion communicates a powerful message of belonging. For children with disabilities, it can significantly enhance their self-esteem and self-confidence, contributing to overall well-being.
  5. Preparation for Life: Inclusive programs provide a realistic reflection of the broader world. Children learn to interact with individuals from various backgrounds and abilities, preparing them for a diverse society they will encounter in the future.

Strategies for Inclusion in Preschool Classrooms:

  1. Individualized Education Plans (IEPs): Once evaluated, develop and implement IEPs for children with disabilities, outlining specific goals and accommodations tailored to their unique needs. These plans ensure that each child receives appropriate support in the classroom.
  2. Collaboration Among Educators: Foster a strong collaboration among special education teachers, general education teachers, and support staff. This collaboration enables the sharing of expertise and strategies, ensuring that each student’s needs are met effectively.
  3. Universal Design for Learning (UDL): Embrace the principles of UDL in lesson planning and classroom design. By providing multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression, UDL ensures that lessons are accessible to all students.
  4. Peer-Mediated Interventions: Encourage peer interactions and relationships. Peer-mediated interventions involve typically developing peers assisting children with disabilities, promoting social and academic engagement.
  5. Professional Development: Invest in ongoing professional development for educators, focusing on inclusive practices, special education strategies, and assistive technologies. Equipping teachers with the knowledge and tools they need empowers them to meet the diverse needs of their students effectively.

Inclusive preschool programs are not just a path to education; they are a pathway to a more inclusive society. By implementing these strategies, educators can create a nurturing and effective learning environment that supports the development and success of preschoolers with disabilities in mainstream classrooms.

Spooktacular October! Ideas for your Special Education Classroom

October is a month full of magic and wonder, and it’s the perfect time to infuse your special education classroom with engaging activities and sensory experiences. In this blog post, we’ll explore a variety of October-themed ideas, including adapted books and sensory adventures, to create a memorable and inclusive learning environment.

1. *Adapted Books for Seasonal Learning:*

Autumn provides a rich backdrop for adapted books that engage and educate our students. Here are some ideas:

Pumpkin Colors Adventure: Have students engage with colors using an adapted book. Incorporate tactile elements like felt or fabric swatches to make it sensory-friendly.

Ghostly Emotions: Use this interactive book featuring friendly ghost characters to help students recognize and understand various emotions using cute ghosts!

2. *Sensory-Rich Pumpkin Exploration:*

Bring the magic of the pumpkin patch into your classroom with sensory-rich pumpkin activities:

Pumpkin Sensory Bins: Fill sensory bins with pumpkin seeds, textured fabric squares, fake fall leaves and mini pumpkins. Encourage students to explore different textures, fostering sensory awareness.

Pumpkin Investigation: Engage in a hands-on exploration of pumpkins. Encourage students to touch, smell, and even taste (Pumpkin Pie!) different parts of a pumpkin to build connections with the season.

You can add Sensory Bin Learning Activities in your bins to incorporate academics with sensory fun as well! Here are 2 that I’ve created to use with my students: October Math Sensory Bin and Fall Alphabet Letter Matching Sensory Bin.

3. *Spooky Sensory Play:*

Halloween-themed sensory play can be a treat for all your students:

Ghostly Goo: Create a sensory station with homemade ghostly slime. Students can enjoy the tactile experience of stretching, squishing, and molding the gooey substance. Add googly eyes for added fun!

Mystery Sensory Bags: Prepare sensory bags with Halloween-themed contents. Fill them with items like plastic spiders, bat shapes, or even edible items like gummy worms for a sensory surprise. Have students reach in and make an inference as to what could be inside!

4. *Adaptive Halloween Art:*

Engage your students in Halloween art projects with adaptations to accommodate different needs:

Adapted Pumpkin Decorating: Provide a variety of adaptive tools for pumpkin decorating, like Velcro stickers or fabric paint for students with fine motor challenges.

Collaborative Halloween Art: Encourage group art projects that promote teamwork. For example, a class mural or a collaborative Halloween banner allows all students to participate and contribute.

October is a time for creativity, sensory exploration, and inclusive learning in special education classrooms. By incorporating adapted books, sensory-rich activities, and adaptive art projects, you can create an unforgettable educational experience that celebrates the magic of the season while catering to the unique needs of your students.

In the world of special education, every season is an opportunity to inspire, engage, and create memories. Happy October!

For a selection of Adapted Books and Sensory Ideas for your special education classroom, visit the Special Education Clubhouse Shop!

Building Strong Relationships Through Predictability in Special Education

In the world of special education, building strong teacher-student relationships is essential for creating a supportive and effective learning environment. One powerful way to achieve this is by introducing predictability into the classroom. In this blog post, we’ll explore the significance of predictability and provide practical tips for special education teachers.

The Power of Predictability: Predictability creates a sense of security and comfort for young learners, particularly those with special needs. Here are some reasons why it’s crucial:

  1. Reduces Anxiety: Predictable routines and structures help reduce anxiety levels in students who may find unexpected changes overwhelming.
  2. Promotes Positive Behavior: When students know what to expect, they are more likely to engage positively in the classroom, leading to a conducive learning environment.
  3. Fosters Independence: Predictability empowers students to become more independent in their daily tasks, boosting their confidence.

Practical Strategies for Predictability:

  1. Structured Daily Routine: Establish a consistent daily routine with clear timeframes for activities like circle time, snack breaks, and learning sessions. Use visual schedules to make the routine visible and understandable.
  2. Visual Cues: Implement visual cues like icons, images, and color-coded labels to communicate instructions and transitions effectively. These visual aids are especially helpful for non-verbal or minimally verbal students.
  3. Personalized Greetings: Greet each student warmly and personally as they enter the classroom. A welcoming environment begins with acknowledging and valuing each student individually. Grab my Morning Greetings choice board.
  4. Interest Surveys: Get to know your students’ interests and preferences through surveys with your students or their parents, or through conversations. Incorporate these into your lessons and activities to make learning more engaging and relatable for your students. High interest activities lead to high engagement, and in turn, a higher rate of learning and remembering the activity.
  5. Open Communication: Create an environment where students feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and emotions. Active listening and responsiveness build trust.
  6. Positive Reinforcement: Celebrate small and large achievements alike. Positive reinforcement encourages students to continue putting in effort.

In the realm of primary special education, building relationships through predictability is a game-changer. It creates an atmosphere of trust, reduces anxiety, and empowers students to become more independent learners.

Remember, it all starts with predictability, but the positive impact on your students can last a lifetime.

The ULTIMATE Special Education Teacher Binder!

Are you looking for a way to get and stay organized in your special education classroom? 

Look no further! This is the Ultimate Special Education Teacher Binder for Organization! This IEP binder is a great tool for helping to get you organized and keep you organized all year…and for many years to come! This is everything you need to keep all of your special education papers, lesson plans, IEPs, notes, calendar, and so much more…all in one place.

I am ALL about organization. Not only is it important to have your paperwork organized in one place, but it is important for our students to see that we utilize organizational tools as well. I like to have the resources I need in an easily accessible place. This special education binder has dividers that are labeled with everything you’ll need to be organized in your special education classroom. It also has matching tabs for 13 different important areas in a special education classroom. If you haven’t used a special education teacher binder before, then you need to use one! I highly recommend it!

Sections included in the Binder:

  • Binder Covers
  • Binder Tabs
  • IEP at a Glance
  • IEP Meetings
  • Notes
  • IEPs
  • Student Info
  • Substitute Info
  • Parent Contact
  • Accommodations
  • Behavior Plans
  • Extra Info
  • Student Data
  • Lesson Plans
  • Calendars

This low-prep special education teacher binder is just the organizational tool you’ve been waiting for! It will save you a ton of time by having everything you need in one place. I hope it helps keep you as organized as it keeps me! Grab your copy by clicking here: Special Education Teacher Binder

Summer ESY Checklists for Special Education

Summer ESY Checklist

Summer is coming and that means you will have students who will qualify to attend ESY. In the field of special education, ESY stands for Extended School Year and it applies to students who would have a significant regression in one or more of 4 categories if they were not to remain working on their goals during ESY. (ESY post with more info coming soon!)

These summer ESY checklists for special education are designed to help you help your students and prepare for ESY. There are two different checklists included in this resource. One ESY checklist is for the teacher or service provider that is “sending” the student to ESY summer session. The other ESY checklist is for the students’ ESY folders. The checklists contain all of the information you will need to account for with each student who will be attending ESY and make sure that they are prepared to maximize learning.

These special education checklists for ESY summer session are available for FREE in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. You can click here to visit my shop and get your copy!

Asking for Help – Independent Functioning Skills

Everyone needs help sometimes and that’s okay. Asking for help can be challenging for our students with special needs. Learning to ask for help is a skill that sometimes needs to be taught. You might have students who need help and don’t ask for help. They may continue to work and get the answers wrong or they may just sit there and look around because they don’t know how to answer the questions. They may even try to avoid or escape the tasks. None of these are solutions to helping your students, but they may not know that. It’s our job, and it’s often an IEP goal for students to learn to ask for help when they need it.

Here’s how I teach students to ask for help. VISUALS! Using a visual reminder helps students become more independent in asking for help when they need it.

I use a two sided card. The green side says “I can work on my own.” The red side says “I need help.” Having these visual reminders encourages students to ask for help and also lets the teacher know when they are able to work independently. The students can either hold up the card showing the side that says they need help OR if your students are becoming more independent at asking (or if you have students who don’t like to look like they’re asking for help) then they can just flip the card and the teacher will see it on red when walking or scanning the room.

If you want these Help Cards for your students, you can click here or on the image above to sign up to get them in your inbox. I hope these help your students as much as they have helped mine!

independent functioning autism help cards

Promoting Autism Acceptance

April is Autism Acceptance Month. Though, acceptance of neurodiversity should be every month.

Here are some ways you can help promote Autism Acceptance in your school:

  1. Go on the morning announcements (or have students go on the morning announcements) and share information about Autism.
  2. Hang posters and facts/myth busters around your campus.
  3. Host a Autism Acceptance walk-a-thon or a Sensory Day.
  4. Have dress up days with different meanings for what students are wearing, all related to Autism Acceptance.
  5. TEACH KINDNESS. I always incorporate kindness in general when I am teaching about and spreading Autism Acceptance. The fact of the matter is that if you are constantly promoting being kind to everyone, regardless of differences, then students learn to accept neurodiversity as well.
  6. Have an Autism Acceptance poster or door contest. Students can share what they know about Autism and/or what they can do to be kind to those with Autism.
  7. Start a peer buddy program where students can sign up to be paired with students with Autism. They spend time together, participate in fun activities, and form meaningful friendships.

Transitioning Back to School After Winter Break

Episode 2 of the Special Education Clubhouse Podcast is now available.

We all know that transitions, large or small, can be difficult for our students with disabilities. That’s why I wrote this podcast. This episode gives reminders of procedures, routines and expectations to refresh with your class when returning from Winter Break, or really any long break off from school.

You can listen to the podcast wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts – Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Amazon Music.

Let me know if you enjoy the episode by leaving a rating or dropping a comment! If there’s any Special Education topics that you’d like to see discussed on future podcast episodes, please email me at specialeducationclubhouse@theteachingzoodesigns

Podcast Launch

I am so excited to share this big news with you! The Special Education Clubhouse Podcast has officially launched today! It is available wherever you enjoy listening to your podcasts: Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, and iHeart Radio. I will be releasing new episodes on Mondays to help give tips, ideas and advice to start your week off right!

The first episode is an introduction podcast that lets you know a little about me and what the Special Education Clubhouse Podcast will be about. I have so many topics planned for you in the weeks to come. If you have anything you’d love to hear on the podcast, please email me at specialeducationclubhouse@gmail.com