Autism In The Classroom

Therapy Ball, Disc o Sit or Move n Sit – Which one should you use?

Burst Resistant Therapy Ball

There are now several studies that have shown students, including those with ADHD and other special needs, focus better in the classroom when they are allowed some movement.  One way kids can move while focusing is to sit on items like a therapy ball, Disc o Sit or Move N Sit wedge.  We are often asked by teachers and parents what is the difference and what would work best for our child.

All three of these types of items should help students to focus, because they operate in similar ways.  When a child sits on a therapy ball, wedge, or cushion they are sitting on a slightly unstable surface.  The slight instability of the surface causes the child to continuously make minor adjustments with their core muscles to stay balanced and seated on the object.  The core muscles of our bodies, the muscles that run up and down the front of our bodies and the mid and lower back help with stability and are rather large.  Thus the constant small movements of the core muscles allow the child to in a sense fidget without appearing to move.

Disc o Sit Jr.

Therapy Balls

Several studies have shown the effectiveness of therapy balls in increasing attention and focus with students.  You can read more about those studies here.  As we have talked to teachers here has been our feedback.  The positives first: a therapy ball provides more opportunities for movement with the leg muscles as well as the core muscles and has been helpful for very fidgety kids.  However, the downside is some kids have used the balls to gain attention by falling off the balls, rolling the balls and thus distracting the class.  If you do decide to use a therapy ball make sure it is an “anti-burst” ball as some cheaper therapy balls will in effect pop and almost immediately drop your student on the ground.  One can purchase ball chairs, but this is a more expensive option.

Disc O Sit

Sitting Discs

Both the Disc O Sit or Disc o Sit Jr.  have research behind them and have been used in classes to effectively help students focus.  These discs can be placed on a students chair so that they create the instability of a ball, but can’t roll away.  You will need to experiment with the amount of air you add to the cushion –  more air can create more instability, but the student may not like it.  These have a smooth side and a bumpy side with inch round knobs that provide slight sensory input.  Disc o Sits are highly sturdy and easy to inflate/deflate with a plug that you just pull out and blow into.  There are also lower cost versions of these.

Sitting Wedges

Move and Sit Jr

Move n Sit Wedge or Move n Sit Jr. also provide instability that causes the core muscles to move.  However, these items also have the added benefit of encouraging better posture.  For students with poor postural control, or those who tend to slouch this item will tilt their pelvis forward encouraging straighter spine alignment.  Like the Disc o Sit you can adjust the amount of air in the cushion by removing the plug and blowing into it.  This item also has a knobby side and a smooth side providing more or less sensory input.  There are also lower cost versions of sitting wedges as well.

It should also be noted that both the Move n Sit and Disc o Sit items are manufactured in Italy and do not contain any phthalates.

Join the New National Autism Resources Affiliate Program

National Autism Resources is proud to announce our autism affiliate marketing program. By referring your friends and family to shop at National Autism Resources, you can earn 8% of the total sale (minus tax and shipping) as our way of saying thank you. Also, if a person you refer makes any purchase within a 90 day period, you will get credit for all of those sales as well. Its never been easier to earn money while also helping people find great resources to support kids, teens and adults with autism.

This program is free to join. Once you meet the minimum requirements for being paid ($50), you will get a check in the mail from our trusted third party tracking system Share a Sale . This program is our way of saying thank you to all of our loyal customers and to help spread the word to those who need anything from teaching aids, to calming toys, or any of our proven autism products.

All you need to do to sign up is click here and begin filling out the information. Once you are approved into Share a Sale , just press the find merchants button, then type into the search box. Next, apply to our program and we’ll approve you ASAP.

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Thank you again for being one of our loyal customers. We are looking forward to having you as a partner of National Autism Resources.

Games to Help Kids and Teens on the Autism Spectrum Work on Social Skills

Summertime is a great time to work on social skills with your kids and teens with autism or Asperger’s syndrome.  Several social skills games are fun to play and can encourage the development of vital social skills that can help kids and teens for the rest of their life.  Here are a few of our favorites:


Have fun learning about manners as players help the Blunders kids learn vital social skills so that they can get invited to the neighborhood party.  This is a fun game for kids both on and off the autism spectrum.

Life Stories

The Life Stories game is designed for people of all ages and is a wonderful way to support family conversations and get kids and teens on the autism spectrum talking.  Build empathy, conversation skills, listening skills and work on perspective taking as family members share their life stories.  This game is fun for kids and adults both on and off the autism spectrum.


Relationship skills can be learned and current relationships can improve.  This evidence based game will teach teens and adults with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome how to communicate to improve their relationships.  Players can play as a Bachelor, Bachelorette, Married Couple or as Living Together.

Consequences Game

Our actions have good or negative consequences that can affect our relationships. This very simple chutes and ladders type game is great for helping young children learn the importance of consequences.

Bullies, Victims and Bystanders

Kids with autism and Asperger’s unfortunately are often the target of bullying.  This important game will teach grade school age kids how to deal with bullies including several positive behavioral strategies to overcome bullying.

6 Social Skills Games

This set of six board games will teach elementary age kids with autism or Asperger’s seven important social skills.  The games cover the following social areas: manners, empathy, emotions, emotion management, choices and friendship skills.


How Parents & Therapists Can Use Cooperative Games to Build Essential Developmental Skills

By: Amy Smith, OTR/L

Cooperative Games- these are a few of my favorite things!  As an occupational therapist, I try to challenge the children I work with, supporting them along the way while working on their areas of need & sneaking in some fun!  Using cooperative games has brought with it smiles, full-on giggles and children that are working on oodles of skills!

fs2What Is A Cooperative Game?
It’s a game where everyone plays together, no one is left out, and everyone has fun! Unlike a traditional game where there is one winner and one (or many) losers, in a cooperative game the players work as a team against a common obstacle, not against each other.  This model emphasizes play, not competition. Kids experience shared decision-making, build self-esteem & confidence, learn to share and to work as a team.  Cooperative games also encourage inclusion, eliminate stress and teach kids that playing together can be fun!

Why Children Benefit:
They are perfect for children who need a boost in confidence because the pressure of winning is off.  Peaceable Kingdom has a variety of preschool skill builder games that target children age 3-6. These games have 3 levels of directions. As a therapist, we often grade a game and/or activity up or down to help meet the needs of each child-essentially making it easier or harder (this is already built into the game).  In a 1:1 therapy setting, a child can begin a game at the 3-4 year old level and as they gain understanding of the game and build skills they can progress to the age 4-5 and/or age 5-6 set of directions-they can grow with the game and the game can grow with them.   Adults playing can play at the most advanced level of directions and/or work at their child’s level.

In group settings these games can be used at the level of each child present without separating games for each individual. Children improve comradery as they together strategize and attempt to beat the game. Children’s faces light up when they know we are both on the SAME TEAM and WE are going to try and beat the game. It’s not about me giving them a challenging task and sitting back- it’s about joining them.

For families, many children are 1-3 years or so apart from their siblings. With 3 levels of directions designed into each game, one game can suit the needs and developmental skills for siblings that are even 3+ years apart-encouraging a family to sit down for a game that is both fun and therapeutic!  Games are designed to be played in 15 minutes- an appropriate duration for this age group.

Feed The Woozle: My Favorite!ftw

Children roll a dice to see how many snacks they get to select for the Woozle. Options include: chocolate-covered flies, hairy pickles & other silly/yucky snacks. You can set up the Woozle close by or place it in the next room (added challenge).  Children load the snacks on a spoon and then spin the spinner to determine what move they need to do while bringing the spoon of snacks to the Woozle’s mouth (march, go crazy, hula dance, spin, walk backwards). Get the snacks to the Woozle’s mouth without dropping them & you get a yummy card! Once the group has collected all 12 yummy cards, you win! The silly snacks cause some serious giggles & children love to see their therapist, teacher, parent, sibling and/or friend trying to hula dance or spin without dropping the snacks before the Woozle can gobble them up! This game is great for children who don’t like to sit still and like to be on the move! It has the silly factor, yet is challenging. I’ve seen that children are very attentive since they get to use their whole bodies (helps children obtain & maintain appropriate level of alertness/arousal needed for new learning).

Some skills addressed through use of these games:

  • Turn taking & social skills
  • Body awareness
  • Motor planning & coordination
  • Modulation of motor movement & impulse control
  • Sequencing of multiple step directions
  • Counting
  • Development of fine/visual motor skills & dexterity

Although the game designers did not develop these games for children with special needs, I’ve found them to be a new invaluable resource for therapists, families and teachers.

Amy Smith, OTR/L has over 12 years experience as a Pediatric Occupational Therapist.  She shares Kids Development Studio with Elaine Westlake, MA, PT in San Francisco, California.  Check out Amy’s Website for help Maximizing Your Child’s Potential!

What is Sensory Integration?

Starting Sensory Integration Therapy
Starting Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory Integration is a theory originally developed by Dr. Jean Ayers an occupational therapist with training in neuroscience and educational psychology.  Dr. Ayers described sensory integration as a “neurological process that organizes sensations from one’s own body and from the environment thus making it possible to use the body effectively within the environment”.  This theory attempts to explain the relationship between sensory experiences and behavior.

Many children with autism have unusual responses to sensory stimulation that can cause them to react to their environment in unusual ways.  This can affect learning, self-help skills, social skills and more.  Some common signs of problems with sensory integration include:

  • Over reacting or under reacting to common sensory
  • Fear of noises, frequently covering ears or an acute awareness of background noises.
  • The child may respond to normal touch sensations as if they were painful.
  • May crave or refuse to touch certain textures like paint, play dough or sand.
  • They seem to have little awareness of pain or temperature.
  • Unusual activity level, the child is either very hyperactive or under active.
  • A child may have an extreme dislike of certain grooming activities, such as washing their hair, brushing their teeth, washing their face or having their hair brushed.
  • A child may seek out or crave sensory sensations like touch, rocking or spinning movement, or have a fascination with lights, fans, water or spinning objects.
  • The child may avoid certain tastes/smells that are typically part of children’s diets or constantly seek to smell non-food objects.
  • Coordination problems: they may have trouble on play equipment, seems to tire easily, hesitate going up and down steps, frequently bump or crash into things.

If you suspect your child may have sensory integration problems make an appointment to have them evaluated by an Occupational Therapist trained in sensory integration.

How to Help a Classmate with Autism


By: Daniel Stefanski

If you have an autistic kid in your classroom, it would be nice if you invite them to play during recess. Playing with a classmate on the playground is something most kids take for granted but autistic kids often struggle with making friends due to communication issues and not understanding social cues. Your autistic classmate may prefer to play one-on-one or side-by-side like younger kids do so be patient and understanding. Group play may be overwhelming for your autistic classmate because of sensory issues. For example, loud sounds such as laughing and shouting may hurt his or her ears.

If you are a parent of a an autistic child and you aren’t sure if your child has friends, you might talk to your child’s teacher to see if he plays or talks with other kids at school. Ask if your child sits alone in the classroom, at lunch, recess, or school events. When I was in third grade, a neighbor told my mom that I usually sat alone in the lunchroom. My mom felt sad when she heard this but appreciated the information and then spoke with my teacher about having a “buddy” sit with me at the lunch table.

You might want to ask your child to if he has friends at school. If he doesn’t have friends, you can come up with ideas together about how to make friends during and after school. Kids with autism and other disabilities may have difficulty participating in sporting events, but there are other places where your child may make friends. Introducing your autistic child to other kids with similar interests can be a great way to find friends for your child. My local library has story time, a chess club and a Lego club. These activities are educational and fun. Plus, it’s quiet at the library and the other kids aren’t loud or rowdy. I like going to art class too and I’ve learned how to make ceramics, draw, and paint with other kids who enjoy the same.

If your autistic child continues to have trouble making friends, it might be a good idea to enroll him in a social skills group. I attended one and it helped a lot. The leaders were professional counselors and I learned how to behave in social settings. We practiced proper social behavior by “role playing.”

So classmates, parents, and students, continue to give kids with autism, opportunities to make and keep friends.

Daniel Stefanski is an autistic teen, for more advice check out his book, How to Talk to an Autistic Kid.

Behavior Solutions for Students Who Won’t Keep Seated


By: Beth Aune, OTR/L, Beth Burt & Peter Gennaro

Today, more than ever, educators are faced with teaching core subjects for longer periods to prepare the class to master state standards.  This requires the students to sit at their desks for long periods, and they may lose focus.  Many students may have challenges with sustained sitting and have a sensory need for movement to help them maintain an alert state.  The student may leave his seat to pace, invent reasons to get up (sharpen pencils, get a drink of water, get some tissue), or stand up at his desk.

Here are a few behavior solutions:

  • Schedule movement breaks for the entire class inside the classroom, such as standing to “stretch and wiggle.”
  • Allow the student to help pass out papers, clean the board, or assist the teacher with technical media.
  • Let the student stand at the back or perimeter of the classroom or at his desk.
  • Allow a very motor-restless student to have a movement break outside the classroom.
  • Use oral strategies.  When the mouth is kept bus, often the body will feel calmer and the student can sit still.yhst-13171632195427_2197_2659997
  • Provide hand fidget tools, such as squeeze balls, tangles, rubber bands, and paper clips.

Was this behavior solution helpful for you?  If so check out Behavior Solutions in the Inclusive Classroom and the companion book More Behavior Solutions In and Beyond the Inclusive Classroom.

Excerpt from More Behavior Solutions In and Beyond the Inclusive Classroom, copyright 2011 Beth Aune, OTR/L, Beth Burt & Peter Gennaro. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Is it a Reading Problem or a Sensory Vision Problem?

Sobroken-lower much of learning depends on a person’s vision.  As a matter of fact much of the brain’s activity centers around vision.  Many children on the autism spectrum and those with sensory processing issues have problems with their vision that is not picked up by a typical vision test.  This can affect reading and concentration.

If the child you are working is experiencing reading problems here are a few things to look for that may point to a sensory problem rather than a reading or learning problem:

  • The child complains that letters seem to wiggle, blur, move or disappear on the page.
  • Reading is difficult when reading with fluorescent lights or flickering lights.
  • When the child reads they squint, close one eye, or move their face abnormally close to the page.
  • When the child reads they frequently rub their eyes, blink their eyes or eyes become teary.
  • While reading the child begins to complain that their eyes are burning or itching.
  • The child frequently loses their place while reading or needs a guide such as a finger or ruler while reading.
  • The child complains of double vision.

If the child you are working with exhibits any of the behaviors above make an appointment to see a developmental optometrist.  A developmental optometrist is trained in vision therapy which may be able to help the child improve eye muscle control.  If lighting is a problem have the child wear a hat, sun glasses or sun visor while reading.

Calming Vibrating Toys & Gifts for Autism & Aspergers


Did you know gentle vibration can be extremely calming and soothing for people on the autism spectrum?  A simple vibration toy or product can calm and sooth an autistic person who is feeling overwhelmed or in the middle of a melt down.  They can also sooth an autistic person who is feeling anxious.  Sometimes parents and therapists will give a child with autism a vibrating toy to help with a situation that usually causes a melt down to help keep the person clam during the stressful situation.  While some vibration furniture can run into thousands of dollars here are a few vibrating toys and items for people on the autism spectrum that won’t break the bank!   Vibration products make great gifts for people with autism, Asperger’s or PDD-NOS.

Vibrating Pillow

Click here to View

Click here to View

Vibrating pillows are often nice options for the home or classroom.  Some have switches and some are pressure activated.  If you are working with a child who is particularly self injurious it’s best to try and find a pressure activated pillows with no outside switches or hardware that could potentially scratch or harm the autistic person when in the middle of a melt down.  Again remember to avoid the shiatsu style pillows.

Vibrating Toys

Fortunately there are a wide variety of vibration toys to choose from.  Often you can find these toys in the baby section of a store.  Many of these toys are soft, plush toys that are activated by pulling a string such as the Wiggly Octopus.  This egg is small and easy to carry and it doesn’t look like a baby toy so it looks more socially appropriate for children and teens.

Hand Held Massagers & Mini Massage van

There are a variety of hand held massagers and mini massage items you can buy online.  The large variety of styles and shapes make it easy to find something in a favorite color or style, best of all most of these units only cost between $6.00 – $35.00 so they won’t break the bank.  You can even find animal massagers that are fun and engaging for children.

Vibrating Mitt

A newer vibration product that is working well for parents and therapists is the vibrating mitt.  This soft mitt features a soft sheep skin cover.  To use it just place the mitt anywhere on someones body and push down for instant on the spot massage.  This device is pressure activated so there is no on and off switch to worry about.  Also, because it is pressure activated it conserves battery life.

Vibrating Snake

Finally believe it or not, flexible vibrating tubes or “vibrating snakes” are also very calming and work well with people on the autism spectrum.  These flexible tubes can be positioned almost anywhere on the body to provide soothing vibration.  They work well when someone is sitting or laying down too.  The soft rubber cover of these tubes make them a good choice for someone who is agitated.

Autism & Language Series Part 4 of 4:

head shotBy: Angela Nelson

Labeling and Requesting are the most basic of all full sentence activities, and provide a basis for your student to understand that communication requires more than single word utterances. The following list of activities offers just a few examples of the many lessons you can use to help build full sentences and a more complete system of communication with your child.


You can use picture cards to discuss adjectives or descriptive words. Some adjectives are clear from the pictures, such as “the apple is round” or “the frog is green.” Other adjectives draw more on a child’s real-world experience, like “the bunny is soft” or “the banana is sweet.” To teach adjectives, you can start with a receptive task. Place cards in front of your child and ask them to “find something green” or “point to something that is round.” This receptive language activity will allow your student to hear some of the adjectives you use, before trying to come up with their own descriptive words when you start to build sentences with them.

To transition this activity to expressive language, you can hold up a picture and ask your student, “What color is the frog?” You will need to prompt your student at first either verbally or using a cue card method as described above.

Wh question

Use a picture of a common item to teach adjectives and WH questions.

Use a picture of a common item to teach adjectives and WH questions.

Picture cards provide a great opportunity to practice “Wh” questions. You can show your student a picture and ask him or her to answer questions such as “What color is the frog?” “Where would you find a plate?”  “When do you use a pillow?” “Why do you use soap?”

To start, some of these questions will fall easily out of the adjectives lessons you have already practiced, such as “What color is it?” Other questions will provide a new challenge for your student.

Tell me about

Use pictures with which your student is already familiar. The best pictures will be the ones you have practiced extensively on the Adjectives and Wh Questions. Show your student a picture and ask him or her to tell you about the item in the picture.

The first things that your student should be able to tell you about the pictures are the responses that they learned in Adjectives and Wh Questions. The difference with this drill is that you student has to generate the content themselves rather than respond to your question. When you ask your student “What color is it?” they know color is the relevant detail. In the Tell Me About lesson, students have to decide for themselves that color is a relevant thing to tell you about the picture.

You can start with scripted responses, using the picture to cue your student. Then you can progress to more creative responses that might not be so obvious from the picture. For example, show your student a picture of a duck. Ask your student, “Can you tell me about a duck?” By looking at the picture, your student can get some basic answers. “A Duck has feathers.” “A duck has webbed feet.” “A duck has a bill.” As your student becomes more familiar with this activity, you may progress to things about a duck that are not readily apparent from the picture. “A duck can swim.’ “A duck says ‘quack quack,’” “A duck lays eggs.”

The Tell Me about Lesson also gives you the opportunity to increase the length of your student’s verbal activity. Start by requiring the student to tell you only one detail about the picture. Then move up to two, or three or more details. Of course, if you ask your student to tell you three things about the picture, you may have difficulty if they haven’t mastered counting skills. Here’s a trick: hand your student three blocks and have them toss a block into a bucket with every detail they tell you. This is a great way to help your student count their answers, and it makes it fun for them!


The next step in this language building series is Storytelling. Again, this activity builds on the previous lessons. Show your student a familiar picture card and ask your student to “Tell you a story” about the picture. The first elements of the story will likely be familiar from the Tell Me About lesson. For example:

“Tell me a story about a duck.”

“There was a duck, it had webbed feet, feathers, and a bill. The duck went for a swim in the pond, then it laid some eggs and said ‘quack quack’”

As your student’s language skills grow, so will the creativity of the stories!


The setting in which you begin to teach language skills is very structured and formal. However these new skills will become more valuable as they generalize across time and setting, and with various communication partners. To help promote generalization, you can start by moving your therapy session to different places – starting even with different rooms in the house.

Next, it is important that the skills your child has learned in the formal therapy session be practiced throughout other aspects of the child’s life, such as during family time and at school. Make sure to bring the cards (or have second sets) to dinner, to the store, to school, etc. Whenever you communicate with your child, require the same full sentences that are expected during therapy. Stop and take the time to use the prompt cards if necessary.

Finally, keep good records and good communication channels open with all of the other professionals and family members in your child’s life. You should send a notebook back and forth to school, or perhaps start an electronic communication log to make sure teachers are requiring the same sentences, using the same words, and bringing in the same prompts as you are at home and in therapy. Consistency is a major key to building and generalizing successful language skills to help your child interact with the world around them.

Angela Nelson received her BA and JD from UCLA where she studied and practiced behavior psychology under Dr. Ivar Lovaas. As Founder and CEO of Stages Learning Materials, Angela has created autism and special needs curriculum products since 1997.

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