Thursday, August 27, 2015

I am Working For...[Reinforcement in the Sped Classroom]

In a Special Education setting, behaviours must be taught, practiced and reinforced in order to maintain and generalize skills for different environments outside of your classroom. Keep it simple and expand when necessary, starting with these tips.

Circle Time Rule Poster Visual

1. Establish a set of rules.

Provide a visual of the rule you want your student to follow. Simple picture communication symbols are great for lower learners, but real photographs of the students actually following the rule helps to demonstrate exactly what the good behaviour "looks like." If your student requires direct teaching of certain behaviours, add these as a goal on the Behaviour page in their IEP. Try to think of behaviours that will benefit the student when they integrate to other classrooms. i.e. staying in their seat and listening quietly. Think about the future and where you see the student progressing towards. If they are displaying behaviours at a young age that wouldn't be appropriate as they got older, try to conduct a change early.


"I will keep water in the water table"


2. Keep it simple and realistic.

In a mainstream classroom, you might see a list of 5-10 classroom rules that are expected to be followed simultaneously at all times throughout the school year. In a Special Education setting, focusing on 1-3 rules at a time will allow for thorough teaching of the expectations, adult modelling and proper reinforcement to maintain positive behaviour for longer. Make sure that behaviour goals are realistic. It is NOT realistic for a child with severe ADHD to sit quietly and listen to a teacher for 30 minutes at a time.


3. Reinforce in a variety of ways.

Allow students the opportunity to gain reinforcement in multiple settings in a number of ways. This will give a positive response for behaviour even when the student isn't expecting it - resulting in an increase in acceptable behaviour all around. If you only reinforce "good sitting" behaviour in the student's homeroom, the memory required to demonstrate the same skill in a different setting (i.e. science class) might not transfer for many of your students.

Here are some great ways to reinforce behaviour in different ways:


  • A token board for students to work up towards a reinforcement of their choosing.
  • A tally chart for specific successes throughout the day (i.e. toileting tally - the reinforcement here would be pre-determined and something extra special that the student doesn't normally receive).


  • A classroom behaviour chart where students work collaboratively towards a pre-determined weekly reinforcement (i.e. party time on Friday).
4. Teach through rapid reinforcement and prompting.

Just because a student sees a token board doesn't mean they know how to use it or what it is for. Demonstrate good behaviour through adult modelling and use ANY and ALL good behaviour to reinforce quickly (like, every 15-30 seconds at first). This will teach the student that if they display certain behaviours they will get what they want. You can adjust later.

Here is an example: Jane doesn't want to colour, and instead only wants to play with play-doh. Colouring is the task and play-doh is the reinforcer.

1. Have Jane sit down at the desk in front of the colouring page and a marker.
2. Use a first/then visual to show and verbalize "first colour, then play-doh."
3. If Jane does not pick up the marker, repeat the instruction.
4. If Jane still doesn't move, you may have to place the marker in her hand.
5. Hand-over-hand prompt Jane to colour on the page (for a few seconds).
6. Immediately provide verbal praise and the reinforcement (play-doh).
7. After 30 seconds or so, take the reinforcer away and repeat steps 1-6.

After the student has developed an understanding of this system (you'll know when they begin performing the task independently), you can...
  • Create larger spaces of time between reinforcement intervals
  • Lengthen and expand on the demands of the task
  • Begin to generalize the first/then behaviour into other tasks 
  • Add a token board to increase the amount of a task completed (i.e. 1 minute of colouring = 1 star...5 stars for a reinforcement)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

AODA: A Decade in the Making


The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was created to develop, implement and enforce accessibility standards for goods and services across the province. Read more about the ins and outs here, but in short the Act ensures that businesses and public spaces allow appropriate accommodations for people with disabilities to participate fully in society like everyone else. 


Imagine yourself in a wheelchair going about your day. That 10 cm lip going into the elevator and heightened doorknobs and buttons would prevent you from fully accessing support, resulting in an AODA violation to your condo building or workplace.


In July, my good friend Andrea Haefele was shocked when her family was not welcomed into a popular Toronto restaurant because of her daughter's Autism service dog. They were told by employees that animals were not allowed in the restaurant, even after the family presented documentation on the service dog's eligibility in public spaces. The Lion's Foundation of Canada are no strangers to educating the public on the acceptance of service animals as an accommodation, no, necessity for those with special needs, and helped Andrea to spread awareness about the importance of AODA guidelines in her community.
"If a person with a disability is accompanied by a guide dog or other service animal, the provider of goods or services shall ensure that the person is permitted to enter the premises with the animal and to keep the animal with him or her unless the animal is otherwise excluded by law from the premises. O. Reg. 429/07, s. 4."

In August, another Toronto family was outraged when their wheelchair-bound son was denied access to an amusement park ride because he couldn't stand next to the height measurement. His parents were appalled when an employee suggested they lift him from his wheelchair and hold him up to the measurement instead of using a measuring tape. Both of the above stories demonstrate AODA violations that unfortunately target our most vulnerable population.


A picture of the Centreville Amusement Park bumper car height restrictions sign located inside the bumper car area.
"The policies must deal with the use of assistive devices by persons with disabilities to obtain, use or benefit from the provider’s goods or services or the availability, if any, of other measures which enable them to do so. O. Reg. 429/07, s. 3 (3)."
Toronto's ParaPanam Games brought thousands of tourists to our city, and its council was sure to create a thorough accessibility guide that was put into place. However, the games did not appear to practice the strategy as seamlessly as participants and audience members complained about the barriers for blind persons to access a lot of the games' material. Having said that, however, the Toronto 2015 Panam and Parapanam games are said to be the "most accessible games yet." Meaning, we are improving but aren't there yet.

Why aren't we there yet?

The first two stories came from companies and businesses who swear by their AODA standards, and yet it was obvious that their employees were uneducated and untrained to properly maintain them. Even with incentives for those who do comply and penalties who those who don't, the proper training of employees is critical. The AODA states that training must include...
1. How to interact and communicate with persons with various types of disability. 
2. How to interact with persons with disabilities who use an assistive device or require the assistance of a guide dog or other service animal or the assistance of a support person. 
3. How to use equipment or devices available on the provider’s premises or otherwise provided by the provider that may help with the provision of goods or services to a person with a disability. 
4. What to do if a person with a particular type of disability is having difficulty accessing the provider’s goods or services. O. Reg. 429/07, s. 6 (2).
When will we get there? 

The AODA's goal is long term, and they hope to make Ontario fully accessible by January 1, 2025, meaning we are over 9 years away from everyone being able to access public spaces equally in our province.

What can you do?

1. Share the AODA with your fellow Ontarians, especially those with disabilities so they are aware of the rights they are entitled to.

2. Take a look at the public spaces in your neighbourhood - parks, playgrounds, shopping centers, business etc. to see if they are meeting accessibility standards.

3. Provide both positive and critical feedback to businesses and providers on things they are doing and can do to make their space more accessible. 

4. Share this post with a business owner you know to ensure the proper training of employees and that all businesses are striving towards the goal of the AODA.