How’s School? Autism In My Classroom Update {First Then FREEBIE}

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I’ve been SUPER busy with school, even more so than usual. I decided to teach my son, Jack, this year and was filled with trepidation at the thought.  I am happy report that it’s a lot better than I thought it would be, but still a lot of work.  Jack requires a lot of attention, so I find myself battling between giving him the attention he needs and balancing it with the attention the rest of my class needs.  I honestly don’t think it is just because he’s my son…I think I am showing him the attention that any student on the spectrum requires, but naturally I have a vested interest in his success.  
His first day, he fell asleep in one of the spots I’ve designated for him to go when he’s feeling stressed or under/over stimulated.  The next day he fell asleep on the way home =)
Currently he is obsessed with turrets.  Turrets everywhere, his poor neighbors at his table have learned everything there is to know about turrets and then some more.  
I let him use post it notes, which we quickly decided he needed to use to make a ‘post it book’ out of and keep in his folder.  Here’s a picture of just one side of his area where he’d stuck them:
He struggles with sight words…I mean STRUGGLES…so we drew pictures that meant something to him and posted them in his line of sight.  It must have helped, he made a 90! =)
 Right now I am having to figure out what works and what is acceptable for him to do.  I need to limit his iPad time and so I am using the token board I got from my friend, Erin {from Creating and Teaching} so that when he finishes class work and assignments  (etc) he can add a Creeper.  When he gets 5, he can have 10 minutes of iPad time (as long as I’m not in the middle of teaching.)  Everything is a learning curve.  
He has most of his issues when he goes to specials, so I created a little board (shown below) to help him if he melts down so that he and his teacher have a list of acceptable choices… sometimes just the distraction of talking about the choices calms him.  Each teacher will have a board to use and keep in their rooms.
I also have a ring of choices for meltdowns or stressful times, this is good so that if something comes up and he goes to a class where they don’t have a board, I can hand them this…or it is good for him to use with a sub.  Post it notes are for him to draw about what’s bugging him, headphones to limit distractions/noise, computer and iPad for reward, and our special ed teacher’s door since she’s his safe person.
 First/Then Visual Schedules are great for when he’s being non-compliant, he gets to choose the “Then” activity….I choose the “First”.
I am sharing the First/Then Visual Schedules I made as a FREEBIE {HERE}
Autism Classroom
I tried to take pictures as a concrete example of what the behavior looks like:
Below are the things he can do if he is having difficulty with stress or staying in his seat in my classroom….none of these are for a long time, maybe 5 minutes using a visual timer.  He also understands which is an appropriate choice for what time.  The pillows are actually in laundry baskets under my loft and is his favorite spot for when I am giving directions or reading.  He’s listening, he’s just not doing it in his desk (and I am ok with that).  Otherwise, he’s in his desk, but moving around so much that it is a distraction to everyone, including me…and him.
Here’s another choice, I am not sure if it’s a keeper yet.  He only uses it for short periods of time and then takes it off his seat, but I have noticed that when he does use it, he is better able to sit still.
He has to have options, especially for sitting.  He has a lot of sensory issues and cannot sit still for very long…so in addition to Brain Breaks, we have several places for him to go if he starts feeling like he needs that stimulation…one other choice is the balance beam from IKEA.  Yes, I got it originally for additional seating at the carpet, but along with my reading loft, it is a great place for Jack to go and sit during class.
What have I learned?  Patience is key.  Being flexible is also important.  You have to understand that his behavior isn’t a choice that he’s making and that most times when he acts or speaks out, it’s because he is feeling frustrated or anxious.  He avoids things that make him uncomfortable.  I’ve learned that I have to allow alternatives and compromise.  I have to choose my battles and let some things go.  I have to let go of the control.  It’s ok if he does his work in the loft….at least he’s doing his work.  I have to understand that if he’s listening to me reading a book under the loft, not facing me.,. that he’s still listening.  If I force the issue and try to make him do the things that I usually expect from “neuro-typical” children, not only will he not be listening or working, but he’ll disrupt the rest of the class.  My motto this year, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”  I do force the issue if it’s something important or educational.  
The other day I handed out a time filler (first one of the year).  It was a little page that had a coloring key. He said he didn’t want to do it.  It really wasn’t serving an educational purpose, so I let it go.  I told him he could look at one of his science books instead, as long as he didn’t disturb the other kids.  Did he try to get out of the other activities that day?  No.  Just the coloring page.  He knows what is important and what’s not.  He’s just not that into coloring or time fillers.  And that’s ok.
We are making progress and although Jack says school is just a ‘little bit fun’, it’s still not that bad. 
I’ll take it.


  1. Jennifer, I am so glad you keep us posted about your son this year. I have a child this year that I am positive he's autistic and I'm also positive that his parents have no idea! Every post about your son so far has really helped me and given me ideas to try with him. I think you are a wonderful teacher and I applaud you for taking this on. Keep the posts coming and know that you are doing a great job!
    Karen Rowland

    Adventures With Firsties

  2. I learned about the first/then board several years ago and still use that language all the time with my students. It does help all students know exactly what you expect of them. Have you tried a weighted vest for Jack? That helps if he needs sensory input. Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us.

  3. I agree with Karen! I have a sweet little boy who is autistic, however, the parents (and I) are just now in the process of discovering where he lies on that spectrum. Your posts help me in discovering what might work with him and/or what might meet his needs a little better. So far we are doing just fine. A little social anxiety but that's it. Thank you for sharing your journey! 🙂

  4. What a fantastic post! I loved reading it and thank you for the shout out 🙂 I use first then boards in my classroom all the time! I absolutely love them. Right now I have a student who we are working on reducing iPad time and increasing center play so anytime he asks for the iPad, the picture goes on the then side, and I chose a center for us to go to first. I set a timer, and after that center play (with support and models) he gets to earn the iPad. They have so many uses!!

    Creating & Teaching

  5. I have been thinking about you and how your school year has been going. Thank you for keeping us updated. I think YOU are amazing for doing what is best for you and your child. Love your motto this year. Keep up the amazing job!! Jack is so lucky to have you as a mom 🙂

  6. My coworker is currently teaching second grade and she has a student with special needs. Do you have a visual daily schedule template that you could direct me to or share? I love the first and next visual. Thanks for sharing. You blog post is very helpful and inspiring.

  7. I'm so glad that you are starting off on a good note! It will definitely be a learning curve for both of you, but as long as you keep searching for tools that will work for Jack, you will both have a successful year! Thanks for sharing your ideas!! These will definitely work for not just students on the spectrum, but some students with behaviour challenges as well! That Minecraft token board is genius!! And the choice board for specials is such a great idea. Have a great week!

    First Grade Garden

  8. You are doing an amazing job – I imagine it is hard to balance the teaching aspect and the mom aspect but you are doing everything so that a student can be successful! I am teaching a student with ASD for the first time in about 10 years so I will be reading to find tips and suggestions that I can try in my classroom. I really appreciate the First/Then pages and idea.

  9. I love the first then board, thank you so much for the freebie! Can I ask a question though – if children rush the 'first' activity so they can get to the 'then' one, how do you handle that?


    1. I think it depends on the activity, I pick my battles. If it is something important with clear expectations, he cannot move to the "then" activity…if it is something where just his effort or participation is acceptable then I let it go if he rushes a little. =)

  10. Thank you so much for a glimpse into your world friend!! I have a child who I think is on the spectrum. His older brother came last year, and because had the wrong teacher, he was a holy terror! Therefore, other teachers, such as the specials teacher, treat him accordingly (wrongly), and push all of his buttons. I'm trying so hard to find what works with him, and I've been successful in some areas, and I'm still struggling in others! An If….Then….. board would be great, because he struggles with transitions! I'm also going to use the calm down choices, I love it! Thank you friend, and you are doing an awesome job.

  11. You are about the sweetest, most patient person ever! I respect you SO much for teaching your own child. I taught my daughter reading/writing one year when I was team teaching….she's has not behavior or sensory issues… I can only imagine what patience it takes. Your post put tears in my eyes….I hope you have an incredible year with your class and your son….you have given me so many ideas for my kinders!

    Stephanie Ann

  12. It's so nice to see how well you train your child. I love the way the way you encourage him to work better to get those rewards. You've shared some ideas that can really help a lot of parents.

  13. Wow that is awesome that you get to teach your child! Thank you for everything that you have posted about working with your son. It is extremely helpful and I will be sending teachers your way to read this! Thank you for the first/then freebie. I know I'll be using this with students who are easily distracted and have a hard time focusing! You are an amazing teacher/mommy!

    Rambling About Reading

  14. Hi Jennifer…a former student at our school recently had her children's book about her brother with autism published. It's called "Why is he doing that?" By Rachel Cuellar. I thought it was a neat book…if you're interested, I just googled it and saw that there was some info about it on Pinterest. I'm not sure how to purchase it but I'm sure I could ask her former 3rd grade teacher if you decide you like it and get info on that for you. I hope you have a great year with your son in your class!!!

  15. Hi Jennifer,
    I have to admit that I read this post before the school year started and decided to come back to it now that we are 2 weeks in. I also have a friend in my classroom who falls on the spectrum. For him, we found that a bean bag chair works wonders for him on the carpet, we also have sensory time where he goes to the gym with an EA and does "heavy and hard" sensory (like jumping on a mat and landing on his knees). It seems to be helping my little friend, and I wanted to pass along the information to you!

  16. I’d like to stay connected to get the links to visual boards or any helpful materials. My son is autistic and having the limits to I-Pad’s and other interesting electronics sure do help!

  17. Thank you so much for your amazing ideas and insights into helping your child become successful in the classroom! I just discovered you and cannot wait to spend hours on your website learning all I can. I have three kiddos in my classroom that would benefit from my learning.

    My question – do you have any of your token boards or visual cards shared anywhere? I love your cards and have not been able to find anything comparable anywhere else!

    Thank you so much!!

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