The ASD Nest Egg

strategies to support kids on the autism spectrum

Author: lh73

Lessons About Inclusion from Nest (Part 2)

Lessons About Inclusion from Nest (Part 2)

by Lauren Hough Williams


In Part 1 of this series, you learned that:

  1. Inclusion works.
  2. The classroom is the therapeutic environment.
  3. School. is. school.

To read about each of these in depth, read  the “Lessons About Inclusion from Nest (Part 1)” post. Read about Lessons #4-6 below:

4. Training is essential.

Inquiries come into the ASD Nest Support Project website everyday from teachers saying, “I have a student with ASD in my classroom. What do I do?” Although autism is more present in mainstream culture, many educators still do not feel qualified to adequately support their students with autism.  New York State has taken steps to address this professional development gap, requiring that all candidates for a classroom teaching certificate in all areas of special education complete coursework or training on the “needs of children with autism.”. However, a three-hour training is not sufficient for educators looking to understand, support, and challenge their autistic students. Also, what about training for the paraprofessionals supporting students with ASD? What about the special area teachers in music and art? What about the school aides, security guards, and administrators who also interact with these students every day? 

ASD Nest professionals receive graduate-level preservice training in the basics of ASD as well as understanding behavior challenges. Too, they participate in on-going professional development on topics such as executive functioning, social development, child development, neurodiversity, and understanding context. Students with ASD have unique social, behavioral, academic, and sensory needs, and professionals supporting them should always be learning and refining their practice.

Are you a NYC DOE teacher looking for training on ASD? Sign up for one of our Autism Institutes HERE. Workshop A explores the basics of ASD and Workshop B delves more deeply into strategies. Each workshop is 2 days.


5. The expert is the team.

We have learned that there is no “i” in team. There is no one professional or discipline that has all of the answers. We need teachers, therapists, administrators, parents, and the students themselves thinking and working together to create comprehensive supports for our autistic students. In Nest, this collaboration comes in the form of weekly, inter-professional team meetings where all members of a students’ team meets to discuss how the student is doing, what needs to be changed, and how supports can be provided consistently across individuals and environments. We also encourage push-in by providers into the classroom whenever possible. When occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, and social workers push into classrooms, students receive supports in their therapeutic classroom environment, and teachers get the added benefit of “live PD” as they can observe the therapists supporting their students therapeutically.


6. It takes a village.

Inclusion is is not a program or a classroom or a specific service or support. It is a mindset, belief, and practice that can lead to a sense of true belonging in our schools. It takes a whole-school approach which includes a committed and active administration, a sharing of best-practices between professionals, and a generalization of supports to avoid the “silo problem”

of academics happening only in the classroom, sensory supports happening only in OT, and language and communication supports only happening during speech. Schools need to work at all levels to create a sense of acceptance and belonging for all of it’s learners. Consider whole-school initiatives that support inclusion, such as “celebrating neurodiversity” or “everyone belongs.”

The ASD Nest Program and it’s model is growing and changing every day, and we do not have it all figured out. We will continue to challenge ourselves to think of new structures, supports, and approaches to help out schools and their students succeed. We will continue to focus on how to create the most inclusive, supporting environments we can in our schools, to help our students feel understood, supported, and, above all, happy.

To learn more about the ASD Nest Support Project, check out our website here.


Lessons About Inclusion From Nest (Part 1)

Lessons About Inclusion From Nest (Part 1)

by Lauren Hough Williams


The ASD Nest Support Project and its Nest Model have developed over the past 15 years after a “lightening strikes” realization on a Colorado road at the foot of the Rockies.  Dorothy Siegel, one of the founders of the ASD Nest Program, realized while reading Temple Grandin’s book, Thinking in Pictures, that there needed to be a fundamental shift in how we think about educating students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Pulling together a think tank of leaders in the NYC education space, this group began to outline an innovative model for inclusion where students with ASD were supported in their own, local, neighborhood schools.  This would happen in inclusive classrooms with trained professionals who work in inter-professional teams creating therapeutic classrooms where students with ASD could succeed alongside their neurotypical general education peers. This was the beginning of the ASD Nest Model.

Fifteen years later, the ASD Nest model is now in 43 school across all 5 boroughs in New York City and in 270 co-taught inclusive classes, supporting 1200 students with autism in kindergarten through 12th grade alongside over 4000 general education peers.  Co-teachers teach the general education curriculum, using specialized supports drawn from evidence-based and promising practices, helping students develop competence in their social and behavioral functioning, in order to ultimately realize their full, unique potential as independent and happy adults.

We have learned a lot in the past 15 years, and we continue to learn more about what it takes to build an inclusion program and create inclusive learning environments, where students with ASD can thrive.  Here are 6 lessons from Nest that we want to share with other schools and districts looking to build and improve their inclusive practices:

  1. Inclusion works

Research shows that both students with special needs, and their general education peers, benefit from learning in inclusive environments. Studies have shown that students with special needs in inclusive classrooms benefit academically, develop more positive peer relationships, and show decreases in problem behaviors.  General education peers in inclusion classes have also been shown to benefit both academically and socially, and also show an improved self-concept.  Want to learn more: check out this report presenting evidence for inclusive education. Also, check out Julie Causton’s WONDERFUL resources.


2. The classroom is the therapeutic environment.

Students spend the majority of their learning time at elementary school in their home classroom. Therefore, it is that environment that must provide the needed supports. We cannot rely on supports existing only at the other end of the hallway in the speech, occupational therapy, and AIS rooms. Too, we need to focus on providing class-wide supports. These universal supports are easier for teachers to implement consistently, they are accessible to all learners, and they do not single out individual students. Teachers should consider how to following supports can be implemented in their classrooms at a class-wide level:

  • Using a variety of co-teaching models for differentiation
  • Providing visual supports for routines, academic concepts, and directions
  • Incorporating sensory and self-regulation strategies (such as whole-class movement breaks using GoNoodle)
  • Using whole-class positive behavior supports
  • Incorporating student interests
  • and providing strategic social supports (like role cards for the different roles students could take on in a group activity: “timekeeper,” “materials manager,” “recorder,” and “talk/time tracker”).

Looking for more ideas, check out our Pinterest site which has examples of all kinds of whole-class supports.

3. School.  is.  social.

Student no longer learn in silent rows, plowing through workbook pages while teachers sit off to the side looking over their reading classes. Today’s student is asked to learn in a group on the rug, surrounded by classmates. Students constantly have to share space and air-time, not to mention their thoughts and opinions!  Group work is oftentimes the rule, rather than the exception, and students with social learning differences like ASD, who may not struggle with the academic content, can be tripped up by the social navigation demands of the activity. What we cannot do is assume that every student has what Michelle Garcia Winner terms a fully “social software package.”  Teachers need to consider the social demands of an activity, and not just the academic skill required. We cannot assume that every student can problem solve, ask for help, negotiate with peers, easily come to a consensus, change their plan on-the-go, and handle differences of opinion with peers. These “social skills” need to be acknowledged and explored explicitly for some students, so they they can successfully engage with their peers and succeed academically.

For more information on Social Thinking, read this.


Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!



Fostering Independence in the Classroom

by Lauren Hough-Williams

Fall is an exciting time for students and teachers alike: Sharpened pencils, pristine classrooms; new books and opportunities for a new year. There is a mix of nervous anticipation and the excitement of potential in the air. Returning students are ready for the challenges of a new grade and year, and teachers envision just how far their students will come by the end of June. Fall is full of possibility. So, be sure to take advantage of this opportunity and set the stage for a year of student independence and success.

Teachers, sometimes in our efforts to maintain a pristine classroom and establish efficiency and order, we overlook one of the fundamental goals we have for our students: developing independence. We manage the materials students will be using, we tell the students what to do and when to do it, and we solve their problems. This might help us keep the wheels on in September, and might be necessary as we introduce the rules of the classroom, but where does it leave us and our students a few months down the road? Are we finding ourselves frustrated with the lack of student independence and self-management come December? Here we are, still frantically scampering around the room passing out papers, reminding students of classroom procedures, and being the ones putting out fires!

Let’s remember the opportunity that the fall provides: the opportunity to establish routines and expectations that support student independence. Setting up our students to both expect and succeed in the area of independence can do wonders for our classrooms, our students, and our own sanity!

Here are 5 tips for building student independence in the fall:

1) Set the stage for independence: Consider your classroom set-up

What can you do in the environment that sets the expectation of independence?

  • Keep materials students will be using visible, accessible, and organized.  Don’t hide everything in the closet or keep them out of students’ reach! If they’re using materials regularly, students should be able to access them independently (and taught how to do so!).
  • Get assistants: Use classroom jobs/student monitors to help with repeated routines (passing out papers, retrieving table bins of tools). If you’re always the one handing out materials, you’re teaching your students to sit and wait rather then thinking about and gathering what they know that they and their classmates will need.

2) Stop repeating yourself! Create visuals for all classroom routines (post them and reference them early and often).

Repeating routines, rules, expectations, and directions is ineffective and frustrating! If verbal reminders are not sticking, create a concrete and permanent visual for students to reference independently.

  • Have one spot in your room where you ALWAYS post the directions. Whether the directions are in words, pictures, or a list of steps, this will serve as a reference point for students to begin to use independently. (Short on space and materials? Laminate a large piece of paper/chart paper and use that for your directions visual).
  • Post classroom expectations throughout the room, and reference them often. For older students, “If… then…” charts can capture lots of routines in one place (if I need a pencil, then I can…; if I forgot my book, then I can…, if I have to use the restroom, then I can…). Check out some great examples of classroom visuals here. (Nest Pinterest link)
  • Create a “What do I do when I’m through?” chart, showing students their options if they finish work early (independent reading, help a classmate, work from their independent work folders/on their independent project, etc). Explicitly teach this routine and then, when students, ask, simply direct their attention to the chart. No words necessary!

3) Offer options: Give students choice and encourage critical thinking

Options can help to increase active engagement, internal motivation, and self-reflection.

  • Ask students to make a choice about which strategy they will practice today in math (array? algorithm? picture?), and push them to articulate what it is about their strategy of choice that they feel works best for them.
  • Offer options for how they want to capture their thinking in social studies (graphic organizer? post-its? voice notes?).  Ask if there are any benefits/draw-backs of the method that they chose. Would they chose that same method again next time?
  • Have students decide how they want to handle situations where they feel that they’re stuck and need help. Will they ask a classmate? Try to skip the part they’re on and tackle another part of the assignment? Review their notes? Sign up for a conference time with the teacher? Take a quick break to calm down and regroup? Is there a way that your students can let you know which option they feel works for them that you can expect to see?

4) Comment rather than command: Use declaratives rather than imperatives

When we always tell students what to do, there’s little thinking they have to do for themselves.

  • Rather than reminding your student, “You need to get out your math reference book,” make a comment: “I notice that your table-mates have a book on their desks.” This encourages your student to take the extra steps of noticing what their peers are doing, assessing what they themselves might not be doing, and problem-solving for themselves. It’s a small shift in language, but a big step in terms of encouraging students’ active participation in their learning.
  • Use open-ended questioning when giving individual formative feedback: “I wonder what would happen if you…?” Or “What if you considered…?” For more information about formative feedback, see these 10 Tips for Formative Feedback and read about the Power of Formative Feedback.

5) Build metacognitive muscles: reflect reflect reflect

Stop and take the time to help students think about their own thinking and consider what they might do (maybe even with more independence) in the future!

  • Encourage students to set goals both big and small: “How long do you think it will take you to get set up for reading today?” or “Show me how far you think you’ll write on your paper today in writing. And let’s think about what helped you write yesterday…” This can be done individually or class-wide: “Circle how many math problems you think you can tackle in the first 10 minutes of work time today.”
  • Give students the time and the supports to reflect independently on their work and progress. A routine for exit slips can be great for this, but perhaps instead of offering only one type of exit slip, students choose what type of reflection works best for them: written reflection? Picture? Bulleted list? Reflection partner? And can these slips be referenced at the following lesson so students can be set up to learn independently from past experiences?

Building independence is an active process, and it is not something that will just happen for your classroom and for your students. Set some goals for yourself around building student independence. What do you want to see your students doing with more independence by the end of November? How about by the new year? Have a clear understanding of what this independence will look like in your classroom: what will be different from what you see today and how will you know your students are then ready for the next step in their independence?

Looking for more ideas? Here are a few additional resources:

10 more ways to build student independence in thinking!

Learning strategy resource

5 ways to Empower Students


Top 3 Tips for setting up your classroom in the fall

Summer’s winding down, and it’s time to start thinking about setting up your classroom!

Yes, think about desk arrangements.

Yes count your book bins.

Definitely break out your label-maker, but let’s not start there.  

Instead, let’s step back and look at three tips to kick off your classroom set-up:


  • Create a calm and consistent classroom environment through COLOR


You want to create a warm and inviting classroom environment where your students can learn, so let’s not set them up to be distracted!  So much of the bulletin board and border paper on the market is, itself, distracting — too bright, too shiny, too patterned. Stick with the basics. Choose 2-3 consistent colors for your classroom, and use them across all of your bulletin boards to create a cohesive and calming environment. Get some ideas HERE and HERE! Want to learn more about how color affects mood- HERE’s some research!)


  • Think about FLOW and how students will be moving around your room


Imagine that you will be laying down walkways for all of the paths your students will be walking most frequently. Are these pathways:

  • Clear of obstacles (if they have to walk around the projector cart, will the projector get bumped and disconnected daily)?
  • Clear of distractors (will the students touch the computers and every time they go to gather their writing materials)?
  • Clear of traffic jams (are all of the students’ reading bins lined up on one shelf, setting the stage for pushing and chatting)?

Check out THIS great video on classroom choreography! Plan ahead, considering travel paths, to maximize efficiency, minimize distractions, and optimize classroom space.


  • Take your students’ VISUAL PERSPECTIVE


Sit on your rug. Sit in every desk. Look back at the board from where your students hand their backpacks. See what your students will see.  When you are on the rug looking up at where the lesson charts will be, what distractions are up there? What is competing with your students’ attention (teacher materials? computer screensavers? window to the playground outside?).As you set up your classroom, help your students focus by taking down anything unnecessary.

Not every student will have the same view from his/her desk, so think about your most distractible students.  What will she be looking at? Can she easily see the board, rather than turning around (which has the potential to lead to wandering eyes)? Is he looking up across all of the other students’ desks — potential for peer distraction rather than focus on work!  Can he see what he needs to pack for HW from his cubby? Strategic planning of classroom environment and layout can help set even our most vulnerable students up for success.

Setting up your classroom is about more than flashy posters and laminated charts. It’s about seeing around corners, sometimes literally, to help your students feel calm, successful, and independent in their new classroom. Get more ideas about setting up your classroom HERE and you can also even set up a virtual classroom!


Simply Magical Post-its

I have a theory:


Office referrals for both behavior problems and academic difficulties would decrease exponentially if teachers were armed with post-its.


Yes, just post-its.7iaLrp9iA


We use them all of the time to remind us to make copies, to jot down ideas, and to flag important pages in teachers’ guides, but it often stops there.  Post-its stay in drawers, on desks, and at the bottom of bags.  


Let’s get them OUT! What if every teacher kept a pad of post-its in his or her pocket all day, every day?  


Simple post-it strategies can offer concrete, visual supports to help students understand expectations, remember directions, monitor progress towards a goal, and celebrate successes. I want teachers to see the simple magic of post-its–what a quick jot can do to help students succeed.




  • In a collaborative teaching classroom, you see one teacher write down the three verbal directions that were given at the end of the mini-lesson on a post-it , and that post-its is then placed on the desk of the student who always had trouble getting started. Just a few boxes next to each numbered step, and this post-it is now a visual checklist for a student to easily reference and use. Maybe this time the student can start his work, when he would otherwise wait for the teacher to help. Maybe this time this student shows more focus to the assignment, as he checks off each step when they are completed. Maybe he gets to be the one to helps his classmate who forgets what she’s supposed to do next, rather than always being the one who needs the reminders.


  • In a general education classroom, a teacher notices that a student keeps getting up to get water, sharpen her pencil, and chat with a neighbor. The teacher takes a post-it and says, “Let’s set a goal: 4 sentences or 6 sentences?” The student chooses the smaller goal, and the teacher draws 4 quick circles on a post-it and then adds “= a break” at the bottom.  The teacher then explains, “After each sentence you write, put a star in the circle. After 4 stars, you can take a break.” This post-it visual provides clear goals, student choice, as well as an opportunity for self-monitoring and reinforcement, not to mention a movement break. Maybe this time this student is more motivated with this more concrete goal of 4 sentences, rather than the open-ended “write for the rest of the period.” Maybe this student feels more successful with each star she draws. Maybe she takes a break to celebrate a job well-done, rather than to avoid a task that feels impossible.


  • In a self-contained classroom there is a student who started his day frustrated. Each period brings mounting expectations, demands, and feelings of failure. In this room, the teacher does not use post-its to list expectations, set goals, or monitor progress. Instead, he might jot down a quote from the student’s favorite movie or draw a sketch of the student’s favorite Minecraft character. This post-it is placed on the student’s seat so that it’s the first thing he sees when he comes back to his desk from a challenging lesson. After lunch, his teacher jots on a post-it, “Can’t wait for you to hear the read aloud this afternoon!” and just passes it to the student with a smile.  Our work as educators is sometimes to put aside the demands of the curriculum, and to first meet the needs of the child. A quick post-it can provide reassurance, comfort, and maybe even a laugh. Maybe this time this student is able to smile and take a breath in the middle of this difficult day. Maybe he’ll be able to make one comment during the class read aloud. And maybe he’ll go through his day knowing that his teacher knows him a little better than he had thought, and maybe he sees that his teacher cares about more than just the schoolwork.


Try it. See what you find. Carry that one pad of post-its and a pen. Create a simple checklist, goal sheet, or personalized note. And don’t stop there- get creative.  Does your student need a reminder about ways she can get help if she is confused? A list of prompts to help him with his reading jots? What about a graphic organizer to help him organize his thinking before jumping into that essay? What about just…



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