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

What is an IEP (Part 2)

What is an IEP? Part 2
    If you’re reading this post, I hope you’ve read Part 1 of “What is an IEP” and that you’ve found it helpful! In part 2, we’ll look at additional sections of an IEP and discuss what they include.
Supplementary Aides/Accommodations
On this section of the IEP, this is where it is documented that a student can receive (and MUST legally receive) the agreed upon accommodations. Accommodations are provided in a variety of categories: Timing, Scheduling, Setting, Presentation.
  • Timing – Does the student need additional time or breaks; if so, how much? (frequent breaks, time and a half, twice the allotted amount of time, more than twice the allotted amount time, etc.)
  • Scheduling – Does the student test better during certain times of the day?
  • Setting – Does the student require testing in a particular setting or accommodated setting? (Familiar place, familiar person, reduced stimuli)
  • Presentation – Does the student require oral presentation of test directions, prompts, etc.?
Special Considerations
This section of an IEP includes a variety of items that are important to note. This section may vary depending on what IEP system your school district uses.
In my district, the Special Considerations included are:
  • Healthcare Needs – Document medical information in this section.
  • Transportation Needs – If the student is eligible for transportation, you will need to add what types of services they need during transportation and provide rationale for determining the transportation needs (do they need a bus attendant, car seat, seat belt, etc. and document why)
  • Limited English Proficiency Needs – If English is not the first language of the student, this is where you will include this information.
  • Assistive Technology Needs – This may include communication devices or adaptive tools (paper, seating, writing utensils, etc).
  • Communication Needs – Does the student receive speech or language services or have any other needs to address for their communication? This is where we document all needs in this area.
  • Deaf or Hard of Hearing – If a student is deaf or hearing impaired, this area will include information and needs of the student relating to hearing.
  • Blind or Visual Impairment – If a student is blind or visually impaired, this area will include information and needs of the student related to vision.
  • Behavior Needs – This is where we document all needs for behavior, which may include information about any functional behavioral assessments (FBA), Behavior Intervention Plans (BIP/PBIP) or any crisis management information.
Coming up in another post – Part 3 in the “What is an IEP?” series. Stay tuned!
Need a condensed list of acronyms used in special education? Sign up for the mailing list and receive your copy directly in your inbox!

Thanksgiving Social Story

Thanksgiving is a time of being grateful and spending time with family. It can also be a time that may be new or bring uncertain feelings to our students and children with autism or other special needs. They may not know what to expect. Even though you might explain it to them, it can still be difficult for them to understand. Verbal explanations are not always the best way to help our students. Social stories are a fantastic way to help our students learn to navigate through difficult situations before they happen. It’s a way to prepare them for new situations that will help make it more comfortable for them.
I created this Thanksgiving Social Story to explain about Thanksgiving and walk through what it is and the events that happen. It comes in multiple options to choose what works best for your students. There’s a large print (8.5 x 11) in both color and black/white. The black and white versions are great to have students create their own book and color it to suit them, as they are reading and learning. The large print is also great if you are using it on a screen or projecting it. It also comes with two different style 1/2 sheet stories. Both also come in color or in black and white. Lastly, they come in a digital Boom Card version that you can use with Boom Learning and assign the story for your students, that can then take it with them on their tablets.
Thanksgiving Social Story
Thanksgiving Social Story
I hope that you find this Thanksgiving Social Story useful for your children or your students. Social Stories work best when pre-taught prior to the situation. I have a variety of Social Stories available and am constantly creating more as needs arise. If you have a need and you don’t see a Social Story available for that situation in my store, please email me and I’d be happy to create it!
Happy Thanksgiving!

What is an I.E.P.?

What is an IEP
Part 1
    What is an IEP? If you’re reading this post, you may be a special education teacher, a general education teacher with students who have I.E.P.s in your class, or a parent of a student with an I.E.P.  Hopefully after you’re finished reading this post, I’ll be able to help answer some of your questions.
    Let’s start with what I.E.P. stands for.  It is an acronym that stands for Individualized Education Plan.  An I.E.P. is just that – a plan that has been created to address a student’s individual needs and what can be put in place to help that child be successful.  There are many components to an IEP and I will break those down in separate posts in order to make sure I cover each one.
A new IEP is completed for each eligible student at lease once annually. IEPs are dated by calendar year, not school year. A new IEP is required to be updated at least once per calendar year. This is known as an Annual IEP Meeting. Any IEP meetings that happen in between one annual IEP and the next annual IEP are known as Interim IEP Meetings. Anyone on the IEP team can request an Interim IEP Meeting.
IEP Team
The child’s IEP team consists of:
  1. The child’s parent/guardian.
  2. The Local Education Agency Representative (LEA – another acronym)
  3. The child’s general education teacher.
  4. The child’s special education teacher.
  5. An evaluation specialist (School Psychologist, ESE Teacher, Service Provider).
  6. Any other service or related service provider.
The service providers for a child can be any or all of the following:
  • A Speech/Language Pathologist (SLP)
  • An Occupational Therapist (OT)
  • A Physical Therapist (PT)
  • Vision Impaired Teacher
  • Deaf or Hard of Hearing Teacher
  • ESE Teacher/Support Facilitator
  • ESE Counselor
  • Gifted Teacher (for twice exceptional or dual exceptional students)
There are four domains for capturing a student’s Present Levels of Performance on an IEP.  Present Level of Performance is also known as PLP (another IEP acronym).  The four domains are: Curriculum and Instruction, Social/Emotional Behavior, Independent Functioning, and Communication.  Within these domains, the student’s teacher(s) and service provider(s) input important information regarding what the student can do presently and is not yet able to do and would benefit from additional instruction with.  It is their current level of functioning in each particular domain. The information included in the four domains helps the providers to develop quality IEP goals for the student. (See separate post on developing quality IEP goals).
Parent Input
There is also a section on an IEP that addresses Parent Input. Having parent input is crucial to include on an IEP.  It provides parents an opportunity to express to the team what they see as their child’s strengths and areas of weakness. They can also include any special interests that their child has, as well as any goals that they have for their child’s educational needs. Parent input can help the team to see what the parent sees when they are with the child at home. School-based providers/teachers only get to see how the child performs at school, but there is another side of the child to see from the parent’s perspective. This can also help the team to develop goals, services, and accommodations for the child.
I know that’s a lot of information to take in, so stay tuned for Part 2. If you want to learn the acronyms used in special education, join my mailing list to receive the free Special Education Acronyms list.

Halloween Write the Room

Halloween Write the Room Activities

My students have always absolutely loved using write the room activities! The truth is, I love them too! It gives our students the much-needed opportunities to get up and move around while they’re learning. They get to be “word detectives” and look around for the words and then write them on their papers. It helps them build vocabulary too! I have made these for just about every theme or topic you can think of. I usually have students use this as a center activity for Literacy centers. This Halloween Write the Room set is perfect for Halloween classroom festivities or Fall Centers. 

The great thing too is that you can differentiate this activity depending on your students’ needs. I’ve included different types of recording sheets for your students to write their words. One with pictures and words to trace, then one with just the pictures to find, match, and write on their own. Then, to extend it, there’s also a variety of writing sheets included. Your students can build their writing ability by using one of these writing extenders to draw, and/or write about the words. For this activity, they can write a cute Halloween story and then share it with the class! 

Do you use write the room activities with your students? If so, do they like them?

Never tried it out, but want to? Grab this set here!

Tag me @teachingzoo using this set in your classroom and it just might be featured on my Facebook and Instagram pages!

5 Ways to Use a Timer in Your Classroom

Timers can be a very valuable tool to use for your classroom.  Let’s talk about five different ways that you can use a timer to benefit your students.

1. Teaching Students to Wait
Waiting can be such a challenging skill for some students.  Many of our students can have a short attention span and have a very difficult time waiting for something, whether it is for their turn with a particular item, going to the next (usually preferred) activity, and so many other instances.  Using a timer can gradually increase a child’s wait-time.  A visual timer is important for this because they can visually see how much time is left.  I use different timers based upon the needs of my students.  I’m including Amazon affiliate links for your convenience.  Here’s a few of the ones I use:
Visual timer with red “count down” timing.
Sand timers in a variety of minute options.

Digital timers.
2. Transitioning
Many students need a time warning of an upcoming transition.  Transitioning from one activity to another is something that students often need advanced notice about.  A visual timer is a VERY helpful way to help our students transition.  If you give your students also need a transition piece or something to hold during transition time, the sand timer is perfect because they can visually see when the sand has run out on the timer and it is time to transition to the next activity.  Then they can carry it with them to the next activity.  More about transition pieces and ways to use them in an upcoming post.
3. Data Collection
Timers are GREAT for data collection, which is an essential part of our jobs! You can use a timer to collect SO much data!  If you have a student with a goal of increasing time on a particular task (see #5) or decreasing time on a particular task or a student with a Positive Behavior Plan who has a time reduction target behavior, timers are a great tool to use.  Even if a student does not have a goal in a particular area written on the student’s IEP, but you see a need to increase or decrease time in a particular area, a timer would still be beneficial.
4. Breaks
Our students need breaks! You can check out my post specifically about breaks and using break cards to help here.  While taking breaks, it is important to use a timer to set a specific amount of time allotted for taking a break. This helps keep the breaks as short breaks that are targeting what they are intended for, a short period of time to re-group and re-focus for the remaining task or upcoming tasks.  Breaks may mean a quick stop to utilize a brain break for a few short minutes, it may also mean a quick time with a figit tool at the student’s work area, or it may even mean a time to use the cool-down area.  A post specifically about Cool Down areas is coming soon.
5. Increasing Time on Task
The fifth way I want to share with you is to use a timer to help students increase time on task.  Again, whether it is an IEP goal yet or not, sometimes students need help increasing their productive time on task.  You can use a timer for this.  With some students, you may even want to include them with the use of the timer.  For example, Student A typically has 3 minutes of time on task and you want to help Student A increase to 5 minutes on task.  By placing a timer with Student A in the area that the student is working, you can use a visual timer to show the student exactly how long they have been working and how much time is remaining until they finish working.  With other students you may just want to take note of the time they are working and how much they are able to increase.  However, I will say that utilizing a timer and engaging your student by including him or her in the action of increasing his or her time, will help improve the time on task more efficiently.
I hope you find these tips helpful!

I Need a BREAK! Visual Break Cards

I NEED a Break!
Break Cards for Calm Down Corner

    Everybody needs a break sometimes.  Our students can become overwhelmed at times, during work time especially, and may need a break.  The thing is that they may not always know how to ask for a break appropriately.  I use these break card visuals with students to help them learn to ask for a break when they need one.  Break cards are an essential tool for helping students who need to take a break during work time.  It is important for our students to have the breaks that they need.  Breaks can help students refocus and prevent unexpected behaviors (behaviors that may occur from feeling overwhelmed) from occurring by providing students the opportunity to utilize calming strategies and by showing students that it is OKAY to need a break sometimes.  We need to teach students to self-advocate for the breaks that they need.  However, we also want to teach our students that there is a limit to how many breaks they are able to take so that they are able to have time for work too.  The goal is for breaks to be utilized as a tool for self-regulation, but not to use them as a way to escape work.
    Some students only need one break, but others may need more. You can choose how many breaks your students get during a certain period of time.  Teach your students to take the break card visual off and give it to you.  They do NOT need to use verbal, which is an important factor, especially for our students with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other related disabilities.  I always start by helping the student request the break and have them take off the card and give it to me, using hand-over-hand if your student requires that level of prompting.  Typically, your students in general education classrooms will not need this level of prompting and can utilize their breaks if you first provide an explanation of what to use them for and how they work, and break expectations.  You know your students best and will know which level of prompting they need.
    DATA is KEY!  It’s important to also take data and keep track of how many/how often your student(s) are utilizing their break cards and taking a break.  I use a data collection sheet (included with the break cards pack) to keep track of the data for student breaks. You can use this data in a variety of ways.  For starters, you can use the data to include in a student’s IEP (more about IEPs in a new post series coming soon!)  You can use the data to reduce the number of breaks and/or the duration of the breaks that your student(s) take.  You can also use the data if there are already IEP goals that you are implementing regarding break time and/or work time.  I have also used these break cards for students who are in the R.T.I. process (Response to Intervention – another blog post coming soon).
I hope these Break Cards help you and your students!  Let me know by tagging me in a post on Social Media @specialeducationclubhouse and I may feature your photo!
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