There are times – because of lack of sleep, feeling unwell or just feeling unmotivated by the programs being offered – when students just feel like lying down or resting their head on the desk.

Embedding meaningful options can assist with the active participation of students.

I remember when I was in high school, some days I didn’t want to get out of bed and some days I wanted to put my head on the desk and escape into another world. I had to sit through that 50 minute English class whether I liked it or not and the jury is still out on how much of the 50 minute class I was actually listening to. What I wouldn’t give to have had some choice in those classes!

When I reflect on the experience of some of our young people with autism in the classroom their experience resonates with me.  I imagine there are times – because of lack of sleep, feeling unwell or just not feeling motivated by or engaged in the programs being offered – when they just feel like lying down or resting their head on the desk (in fact they sometimes do!) There are times when they have trouble transitioning from one place to the next, appear unwilling to sit with the class or participate in a given activity. Despite the visual daily schedule being available to them – outlining what is going to happen and when during the day – this may not be enough to motivate them to participate. In fact, it is really only one piece of the puzzle.

Embedding choice within anyone’s day, but particularly for young people with autism, can empower and motivate them to engage in their school day.  Embedding meaningful options for them within their learning experiences can be the difference between a student who is actively disengaged verse one who is actively participating within an activity (perhaps with some encouragement!) This can be as simple as offering them a choice of role in a science experiment, letting them choose what ingredient they want to put on their pizza during cooking or the end of day job they might complete. Short choices can also be imbedded within the daily routine to provide a higher density of preferred activities within a day. For one of our students, allowing him to choose the order in which three or four activities occurred made transitioning from one location to the next more efficient and resulted in a measurable increase in time spent engaged in learning. An example of this schedule is attached.

It is important to note, however, that offering choice doesn’t mean having free range to do whatever they wish in the day. Clear and consistent boundaries still need to be in place for the student. Staff clearly delineate when a choice is available (and this looks visually different to the daily schedule when the sequence of events is not optional) and what options for the choice are available.  This makes the process manageable as staff consider the staffing ratio available, the class timetable and the preferences of the student.

Katherine Halter
Giant Steps Sydney
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