The ASD Nest Egg

strategies to support kids on the autism spectrum

Author: Brandy Stanfill (page 1 of 2)

Talk Less, Draw More

Talk Less, Draw More

By Brandy Stanfill


The mainstream classroom is full of language processing demands that can be challenging for a wide array of students.  Strategies to support comprehension while reducing language processing can benefit English language learners, students with ADHD, autistic students, and students with auditory processing disorders.  Here are a few tricks to try in your classroom:


Quick Sketch

During your next read aloud, mini lesson, unit review, or group discussion draw a quick sketch of the contents.  A stick figure labeled Christopher Columbus, a half circle and triangle to represent a boat, and 1492 written beside it can help students hold onto who is under discussion, what the action was, and when the events occurred.  No drawing skill needed!


Visual Priming

The next time you are introducing a new activity or procedure show the group pics of the materials they will be using with simple one or two words labels.  These images and labels can help students learn new vocabulary and remember the difference between a beaker and graduated cylinder.  Google images are a teacher’s best friend!

drawing of a thought bubble


Thought Bubbles

When discussing characters from books or historical figures thought bubbles with simple phrases or quick sketches in them can help a student to understand the character’s experiences, emotions, goals, and perspective.  A stick figure of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird with a thought bubble that says, “curious about Boo Radley” and a line from stick figure Scout’s eyes to a stick figure of Boo can help a student understand the motivation for Scout’s behavior.  Perspective taking is harder when characters and historical figures are far removed from a student’s life experience.  Use visual supports to highlight universal experiences and motivations like nosiness!




Consider Video Modeling

Consider Video Modeling

by Brandy Stanfill


Video modeling is an effective tool for teaching a variety of skills to students with autism.  True to its name, video modeling is pre-recorded model of an individual using a skill or completing a task. The video is presented to the learner, paired with reinforcement, and viewed on a regular schedule.


There are a different types of video models, but the ones most commonly used in the classroom are:


Basic video modeling: This uses a peer or adult to model the behavior or skill you are trying to teach. Then the individual with autism watches the video, makes attempts at the behavior, and over time internalizes the skill or routine.

Video Self-Modeling:  In this type of modeling the learner is their own model.   To make the recording, you prompt the learner to imitate you to complete the skill/routine.  You record the process and edit out the prompts, or incomplete attempts.  This process works well for classroom routines like packing or unpacking, and for academic tasks with a specific procedure like subtraction with regrouping.

Benefits of video modeling:

  • Screen time is motivating!
  • Video models present visual rather than auditory instruction.
  • Video models don’t get tired, or distracted, and can be watched as often as needed.
  • Portions of the video can be used to support forward or backward chaining procedures.

To learn more about video modeling, read this.

For steps to creating a video model, click here.

The Hidden Curriculum

by Brandy Stanfill

There are unspoken rules and expectations in every environment.  Dr. Brenda Smith Myles dubbed these unspoken rules “the hidden curriculum.”  The hidden curriculum includes the unspoken or implicit academic, social, and cultural messages that are communicated to students across the school day.  Most neuro-typical people pick up on the hidden curriculum automatically.  People on the autism spectrum generally do not.   The hidden curriculum includes those unstated rules or customs that, if not understood, can make the world a confusing place and cause people who are not neurologically wired to automatically “get it” feel isolated and “out of it”.

Generally, when you think or say things like “I shouldn’t have to tell you, but…,” “everybody knows…,” “common sense tells you…,” “it is obvious that…,” you’ve stumbled onto the hidden curriculum.

The Hidden Curriculum in Action

The hidden curriculum can indicate how close you may stand to someone in the elevator or whether or not you are encouraged to chat with people seated nearby or if you should sit quietly.  It can also include essential information like police officers expect you to remain in your car if they pull you over for a traffic violation, or that you should expect to wait for hours in an emergency room despite the fact that you feel that your injury or illness constitutes an emergency.  If you violate these rules of the hidden curriculum by getting out of your car and approaching the police officer, or loudly complaining and demanding to see a doctor, your health and well-being may be in jeopardy.  Therefore, it is essential that educators and therapists actively teach aspects of the hidden curriculum.  To begin consider:

  • What environments are challenging for your student?
  • Who are the other people in this environment and what are their expectations?
  • What activities happen in this location, with these people?  What are the roles, rules, or expectations for completing the task?
  • And which of these pieces of information does your student know?  Which do they need to be explicitly taught?

yellow tic tacs in a container with faces drown onto several of them

Image source

Once you’ve identified what your student doesn’t know, it’s time to come up with a plan to teach them the info.  How you’ll go about this depends on the age and developmental level of your student.  You can experiment with a social tip of the day shared during homeroom or morning meeting, guided partner discussions of social expectations in advisory, one-to-one conferences to introduce hidden curriculum rules and prime students for new experiences, social stories or articles that lay out the hidden curriculum in a given situation, or highlighting social expectations in read alouds or just right books and connecting them to a student’s real-life experiences.  

Whatever method you choose it’s essential that you provide the hidden curriculum information that your student needs to be safe and successful.

To read more about the Hidden Curriculum, look at the Hidden Curriculum collection by Brenda Smith Myles.

Say something nice!



All day, every day, we send people positive or negative vibes, positive or negative energy that either draws people to us or warns them away. Smiles and words of agreement, affection and appreciation, affect people in a positive way and encourage our students to pay attention to what we say. Complaints and criticism push people away and cause our students to tune out our teaching and directions.

In the same way that we can train ourselves to catch our students being good, we can build the habit of thinking about and talking to them positively, and complimenting them to others.  Challenge yourself- say something nice about a student each day.  Turn to your co-teacher or colleague as the class is putting away materials or lining up and say one thing that you noticed.  “Raven made a great point about Reverend Dimmesdale’s motivation,” or “Winter was getting his subtraction facts so quickly today.”  It will positively impact your colleague’s mood (and possibly their perception of that student) and communicate to the child that you see them, hear them, and value them.  


Learn more about Haim Ginott herehg2

or check out his book Teacher and Child.


This post is by special guest author Dolores Troy-Quinn.  

As a former principal of an ASD Nest school, I had the opportunity  to hire numerous staff members as the program expanded. In my twelve-year tenure as principal I interviewed hundreds of people. Hiring the right people was the most important job I had!  I learned one important trait of a good special educator.


2000px-Heart_corazónThe work of a teacher is incredibly hard. Working with special needs youngsters is extremely hard.  Not everyone who has a special education license is a true special educator. Dual certification (SE/GE) makes it difficult for hiring committees to tease out the person who has the “true heart of a special educator.”  I always asked teaching candidates, “Why special education?” I
wanted to delve into their intrinsic motivation to work with this population of students.  This question was meant to separate the true special educator from the teacher who was looking for a job-any job!  A true special educator is tenacious in his/her ability to keep looking for answers to support a student’s growth.  A person who does not have a special education “calling”, may become frustrated, and ultimately, blame the student for his/her inability to learn.  I found a compelling
why story important in my selection process.

I’m not suggesting that every teaching candidate have all the answers.  What I suggest is that a few well placed questions about a candidate’s motivation may help separate the true special educator from the person who has the license, but not necessarily, the heart of a special educator.  Finding this type of special educator will reap untold benefits not only for your special needs students, but all of your students.

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