Apples to Applesauce & All Things Fall

Hello, Everyone!

Fall is here!  I LOVE everything fall and I’m excited to share how my class is celebrating the new season.  Our class focuses on a new theme each month that is aligned to every area of our curriculum to help promote generalization of skills.  This month we’re focusing on apples and all things fall.  We’ve  participated in several different fall activities to immerse our students in new experiences and promote growth in academic skills,  language skills, and social skills.

We kicked off our fall theme by walking down to the local supermarket and purchasing apples.  Our students worked on labeling street signs, greeting community members, following a shopping list, navigating through a grocery store,  and paying for their purchase.  We made applesauce with the apples that we purchased using the visual recipe listed below.

Apples to Applesauce – A Visual Recipe


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We’ve been working on building our language skills with a fall sentence to scene match.  I located various fall and cooking scenes to help increase communication and tact (labeling) skills.  I read the sentences aloud and the students matched them to the corresponding pictures.  This activity helped to increase spontaneous verbalization about various fall activities that they participate in with their families and classmates.


The students were really into the squirrel eating an acorn picture prompt and were talking about it frequently.   “Squirrels eat acorns.” was a phrase that was repeated quite frequently.  I took the spontaneous language and ran with it!  We have a family favorite board game about squirrels eating acorns so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to incorporate the social skills that board games require.  I highly recommend The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel gameimg_4438.jpg

This game incorporates fine motor skills (squirrel tweezers) to grab the acorns, matching colors, following 1-step and 2-step directions as directed by the spinner, turn-taking, etc.  Our class loves earning prizes in the form of stickers or edibles if they win the game!

Our class has also been working on weekly STEM challenges and these activities have really increased our motivation to tinker with materials.  Our students were each presented with a bag of objects that would either sink or float in a bowl full of water.  They all created their on apple boats as well and thoroughly enjoyed placing or dropping the various objects in the bowl.


Many of our students went on apple picking excursions with their families and benefitted from the use of a social story that I created for this experience.  Click on the link below if you’re interested in using this social story with your students or family!

Apple Picking Social Story

Thank you for joining me on the fall tour of my classroom!


All About Me Banner



I spent this rainy Tuesday afternoon in my classroom putting the finishing touches on my bulletin boards and lesson plans.  I’m really looking forward to a new school year and working with a new group of students.

I’m always looking for projects that my students can create to express their interests.  This can be a challenging process due to limited vocabulary and expressive language.  I decided that this year I would create my own All About Me Banner that includes pictures of real-life objects that my students can use to express their hobbies, favorite holiday, favorite food, etc.  IMG_4278I’m excited for my students to create their very own banner & to display them in the hallway of our school!

Click on the link below if you’re interested in using this product with your students!


All About Me Banner


I’m currently working on a fall social story about an apple picking experience!  I’m excited to share it with you soon!




Dana Grasso

Are my letters straight?

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I began to set up my classroom this week for the 2017-2018 school year.  I always have amazing visions for my bulletin boards, but as you can see I struggle with keeping my letters straight.  I even have a border to follow and they’re still uneven! This picture was taken after several attempts of stapling, pulling off, and stapling yet again.  I guess I looked silly during this process and my little guy, Benjamin pulled up a chair and sat directly in front of the bulletin board with a huge smile on his face. I decided that his actions meant that the letters were good enough! 🙂  IMG_3842

Travis thoroughly enjoyed his time in my room and was cutting and gluing everything that his little hands could grab.  He told me that I’m very lucky that I get to play with all of these toys each day with my friends.  I thought that was an interesting perspective and I agreed.

I’ve been very busy over the last couple of weeks planning our community outings and creating data sheets and lesson plans to accompany each outing.  I created the bulletin board above with a vision for my students to track their progress towards their individual goals after each outing.  I’m not exactly sure how I want it to look?   Please share any ideas/thoughts that you have.

Ice Cream Shop – A Visual Menu & Verbal Prompt Card

Hello, Everyone!

Today was the last day of our extended school year program.  I can’t believe how fast our program went this year! We went on a community outing to get ice cream so that we could celebrate all of the hard work that our students put in this summer!  We prepared for our community outing by reading stories about ice cream shops and explored various ice cream menus.  We also completed a survey and each of our students stated which flavor/toppings that they liked the best.  Then, I created an ice cream menu with pictures of the flavors and toppings to help promote independence.  I also added a verbal prompt card with blanks so that the students could role play ordering their preferred treat of choice.  This card can be taken to the ice cream shop to help increase independence with communication skills.  If you would like to use this *FREEBIE* with your students and/or children click on the link below.

Ice Cream Shop – A Visual Menu and Verbal Prompt Task Card

My students did a tremendous job generalizing these communication skills into the community.   Who doesn’t love ice cream on a hot summer day?

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You’re Going Camping – A Social Story


You’re Going Camping – A Social Story

Camping Social Story & Activities

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Hello, Everyone!

I LOVE social stories and I use them frequently in my special education classroom.  All children can benefit from the use of social stories to help make new experiences/places less scary and events more meaningful.  I use social stories before each of our community outings to help increase independence with the specific goals that my students are working on.  We’ve used social stories before going to restaurants to practice appropriate table manners before generalizing them into the community.  We’ve also used social stories to promote street and parking lot safety.   I’ve used dentist social stories that I found on YouTube before taking my son on his first dentist trip so that he knew what to expect.  Social stories are an extremely powerful tool, but they can be very challenging to find for specific situations.  My family and I recently went on a camping trip and had a wonderful time.   When we came home I thought about how students on the autism spectrum could benefit from a camping social story.  I looked for a camping social story on Pinterest, but I was unable to locate one. I decided to create a camping social story with actual pictures from our camping trip.  I like to use real pictures so that children can visualize what the experience will look like before it occurs.    I really enjoyed creating this social story because I was able to include my family in the pictures!  if you’re interested in using this social story in your home or classroom click the link below.  The social story also comes with a vocabulary page with pictures, a word to picture match activity, a 1:1 correspondence activity and a writing prompt to help promote generalization.  I hope to create additional social stories in the near future.  At the conclusion of our extended school year program my class is going to the local ice cream shop!  I’ll share a social story and corresponding activities from that experience soon!  Once again, thank you for joining me on my journey!


Dana Grasso

Camping Social Story & Activities

Preview Page from Camping Social Story:

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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)

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:

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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:

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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

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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)