The Power of Choice!

Hello Everyone,

The extended school year program at my school is in full swing and I have three new students in my multiply-disabled classroom.  When I receive new students I need to gather baseline behavior and academic data to make sure that I’m providing the appropriate supports and behavioral systems to increase growth.  I have younger learners this year (grades K-2nd) and we’re working on reinforcing appropriate behaviors and pairing our classroom and staff with reinforcing items to increase motivation.

What do you work for?  Many times, parents or staff members will ask me WHY my students work for preferred items and/or edibles.  I answer them with “Why do you work here?”  I’m sure it’s because you love education and you want to inspire learners, but when it comes down to it you need a paycheck to support your family and pay the bills.  If the school failed to pay you chances are you’d have to quit and find another job.  Our students are working towards developing the intrinsic motivation that learning new skills provides but until we get to that point we want to provide immediate reinforcement to increase their academic, social and behavioral skill levels.    We want them to feel motivated to learn otherwise we’re going to see an increase in maladaptive behaviors and a decrease in academic and social skills.

How do we know what our students want to work for?   I always create a take home survey for my parents to fill out so that I can better get to know their son/daughter.  I also allow my students to explore the classroom when they first enter and write notes about the different items that interest them.  Once the students feel comfortable in the classroom and being around the new staff members I perform a preference assessment.  This assessment tool provides data about the most reinforcing items for my learners.  When I first started in the field of ABA this was a tedious pen and paper and Excel graphing process.  Thanks to the world of technology you can now use an application right on your SMARTphone or tablet to perform the assessment.  I use the application “Preference and Reinforcer Assessment.”  A link for the application as well as a sample of the preference assessment post-data graph are shown below.


   Preference & Reinforcer Assessment

     Finally,  once I’ve gathered this information and completed the preference assessment I create Choice Boards for my students.  These boards are laminated and Velcroed and taken everywhere with my students.  Please see the example below.



Choice boards are a simple and extremely powerful tool that can help our students to stay motivated and on task.  They are really simple to create and I’ve created a *FREEBIE* Choice Board product for you to use in your classroom or with you son/daughter.  The product comes with a description of how to create the choice boards as well as three templates to choose from.  The students in my classroom are presented with their choice boards and select a picture of the item that they would like to work for.  The picture that they select is then placed on their token board and once they earn all of their tokens they earn a break with that desired item.    Click the link below and be sure to check out the additional products that I’ve created.

Choice Board Product *FREEBIE*

     Once again,  thank you for joining me on my journey and please check back for updates.  I appreciate any feedback and/or questions!



Dana Grasso

(Author of Autism Zen)

Let’s Make a Sandwich!

Hello Everyone,

I hope that everyone is enjoying their summer break!  The extended school year program started at my school this week and I truly enjoyed the two week break that I had with my boys (Travis & Ben) before it started!  I wanted to create a blog post about my life skills “Let’s make a Sandwich” program and explain how beneficial it has been for my group of special needs students.  Each day, when my students work on their activity schedules they each make a sandwich to promote life skills, social skills, math skills, language skills and prevocational skills.  When they see the “Let’s make a sandwich” page in their activity schedule they know to grab the labeled bin (Shown below: middle row on right) IMG_3155

and listen to the staff member working with him or her about the sandwich that they would like to order.  The various sandwich options are shown on a ring (shown below) and can be faded once the student has mastered the various sandwiches and their contents.

image (6)

The student then states the name of the sandwich that they made and depending on their skill level, works on having the staff member “pay” for the sandwich.  This program is a favorite in our classroom and has promoted independence in several areas for our students.  We have also generalized this skill to our Friday cooking groups.  The students have practiced making sandwiches with real food to increase generalization skills and independence with mealtime routines.  I purchased this sandwich kit from Amazon (Melissa & Doug).  Sandwich Making Kit

If you’re interested in replicating this program in your special needs program, please click the link below!


Let’s Make a Sandwich Program

Thank you so much for joining me on my journey in creating lifelong learners!




Dana Grasso

(Autism Zen)

Classroom Organization (A Virtual Tour)


Thank you for joining me here at Autism Zen!   I’m on a journey as a special education teacher to help increase independence with life skills and social skills for my group of amazing special needs students.  I’m creating resources for other special educators to utilize to help students grow and become lifelong learners.

I’m going to to take you on a virtual tour of my special education classroom in this first blog entry.  I’ll be showing you the different centers in my multiply disabled classroom.  The layout of this classroom was designed with an amazing team of ladies that I work with (paraprofessionals)!  The learning space is functional and inviting and has everything we need to promote independence and help students reach their fullest potential!  We also take the skills that we work on each day in our room and generalize them into the local community every other week, but we’ll save that for another entry!


Morning Meeting Area:


We begin each day in our morning meeting area.  You can see the calendar and visual schedule board above.  We use this time to review the date, weather, theme and special activities that we have coming up.  Our students really look forward to morning meeting and our discussion of our theme and upcoming “community outing.”  After we conclude morning meeting, we complete a morning calendar journal to increase independence with labeling the date and weather.   Click the link below if you’re interested in implementing the use of a morning calendar journal in your classroom.


Morning Calendar Journal



Life Skills Area:

IMG_2920 (1)

IMG_2919 (2)



Our life skills center is utilized in the afternoon and focuses on various skills that can be generalized into the home setting or community.  I currently teach second through fifth grade students and many people ask why I start life skills so early.  I think life skills are essential when we talk about creating “lifelong learners”.  At times, individuals on the autism spectrum take additional time to master certain skills.  When we start addressing them at an early age we can utilize a task analysis to break down more challenging skills.  We can also help the students feel successful in school and at home by generalizing the skills that we work on.  Our students look forward to the life skills portion of our school day and parents have reported that they truly enjoy completing these tasks at home too.


Computer and Word Work Center:

IMG_2928 (1)

Pictured above is our computer and word work center.  The students in our classroom use the computers to type their personal information including their names, addresses, phone numbers, etc.  We also research information about our current theme and practice basic computer operation and behavioral skills.  I have a “Computer Rules” chart posted in between the computers that reminds students to use their headphones, wait their turn, have a calm body and refrain from loud talking.  These rules include visual pictures.  Our general classroom rule chart follows the same visual format and is shown below.  The word work center (pictured right) has individual pocket charts for each learner and students work on their current sight words that go along with our weekly/monthly  theme.

Classroom Rules with Pictures embedded:





Life Skills Center: Our Market

image-4.pngimage (5)

Pictured above is our classroom market during the month of September.  We focus on apples in the month of September and have created a mini apple market in our classroom.  Our students work on sorting apples, labeling the ingredients needed to make an apple recipe, paying for apples and ingredients, etc. (see price list above).  Think about how many academic and social skills can be incorporated during these activities!  The possibilities are truly endless!  After we practice this skill in the classroom we walk down to the local market and purchase apples and the ingredients needed to make a recipe.  We then create the recipe when we return to school.  When we focus on one specific theme and generalize it to the real-world setting we make learning meaningful for our students and see a tremendous amount of progress in several different areas.


If you’re looking for a weekly theme list to help plan out your life skills lessons, please click the link below. (FREE PRODUCT)

Weekly Themes

Life Skills Bins:


Pictured above are the life skills bins that we use during our activity schedules.  I will go into further detail about what activity schedules are in an upcoming entry.  These bins focus on several different academic skills, social skills and life skills.  We work on inserting batteries into remotes and flashlights, creating different sandwiches, sorting sugar packets, matching community helpers with their tools, sorting coins by value, matching objects to the rooms that they belong in, locating the items needed to make a specific recipe, labeling safety signs, sorting shapes that are found in everyday life, and many many more.  Don’t forget to subscribe and check back because I will be showing you individual pictures of what’s in these bins very soon!

Thank you so much for checking out my first entry and taking a virtual tour of my classroom!  Please remember to subscribe and check back as I go into further detail about my life skills and social skills programs!  If you’d like to explore additional programs check out my  Teachers Pay Teachers store to see the products that I have created to promote lifelong learning!


Zen be with you,


Dana Grasso

(Author of Autism Zen)