Autism: How will a STOP sign work?

Visual strategies are tools that help solve many challenges with children with autism. A stop sign is a visual tool that can help students manage their behavior.

I just received a letter from a teacher who attended one of my workshops. I love it when people attend and then actually use the strategies we talk about. But sometimes people have questions after the program. I also love when they ask me for more. Here’s what she wrote.

“I have a question for you. During your workshop, you discussed the use of stop signs with children. I remember you saying that you didn't recommend it. Please confirm this. We have a SLP who remembers the same thing. However, someone is demanding her to use it. The child runs out of the room. Please give me your opinion on this topic.”

So. . . here’s my answer

It’s a great question. But I think what you are remembering is a bit out of context from a larger discussion. Perhaps I was answering a question in that conversation.

Here’s what I think 

We have a lot of vocabulary available to use when we are directing students. 

But it’s very easy for teachers and parents to use a term like “NO” or “STOP” too much. 

For example, “Stop picking your nose.” “Stop rocking in your chair.” “Stop talking so loud.” “Stop touching Suzy.” “Stop eating your dessert before you eat your sandwich.” “Stop throwing toys.” “Stop flushing the toilet so much.” “Stop running out of the room.”

Are you beginning to understand?  The word STOP becomes a generic word that loses it’s meaning when it’s used so much for so many different situations.

First point

I personally prefer to tell students what I want them to do rather than what not to do.  “Use a tissue.” “Put your feet on the floor.” “Use an inside voice.” “Flush one time.”

Second point

When I translate that to using visual tools, it totally changes what my visuals will look like.  My visual tool can represent the positive behavior that I would like the student to have.

Once I am re-directing my language and my visual tools, I have an opportunity to handle this specific situation.

Teaching the child to stop

Stop is a very powerful word.  Think about how it is used out in the community.  It isn’t overused, but it has extreme power. That’s a power I want children to understand. Think about school crossing guards.

But here are my questions

Why is he darting away?  Here are some example questions.

Does this happen when he is in the process of transitioning? Or when he is supposed to be doing something else?

Does he dislike the current activity?

Does he have a lot of energy and he’s been sitting too long?

Is there something interesting out in the hall?

Is he actually playing a game? (I run away and you catch me.)

Something different?

Can you tell when he’s going to run?  Is there some kind of pattern?  Location? Person he is with? Activity? Time of day? How often does it happen?

Do you need to make some changes?

Once you answer some questions, it can lead to making changes so the running doesn’t happen or so the frequency reduces. Dealing with the cause of the behavior is definitely a part of creating the solution.

Now on to the stop sign

So my question is, how would this stop sign be used? If it’s used to flash in front of a student when he’s running out of the room, it won’t work. It’s like one of those physics principles.

“Once a child gets in motion, 
the motion will continue until it is completed.”

If the sign is just posted on the door, and someone references it after the student is on his way out, I don’t think it will stop the impulsive behavior.

But here’s something different. If it’s used as a part of teaching a new routine, it has great potential.

So what’s the routine? That’s the part to figure out.

Here are some things to think about.

  • Teaching a routine to the whole group will probably have more success than trying to teach an isolated skill to just one student in a group. (It’s different if there is just one student in an isolated area.)

  • Decide the routine. What is the cue to go to the door? What does the student do when he hears or sees the cue? Where does student go? What does student do?

For example:

  • When the timer rings, it’s time to go to gym
  • Students go stand in line by the door (behind the STOP sign)
  • Wait for the teacher to tell them it’s OK to walk to gym

A stop sign can be a good visual tool. But it’s important to teach the behavior & routine you want the student to exhibit when he sees the visual tool.

Don’t over use the word STOP.

There are lots of things that I don’t know about this specific situation. But these points should help your team to develop a plan to achieve success. Perhaps the discussion could focus on how to teach appropriate routines. Then you’ll chose the perfect visual tool to use to enhance the routine.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

  1. An important point to consider is that if stop is to be a meaningful icon then it must also be respected when the student uses it.

  2. I’ve seen a teacher use this very effectively with her K class. The Stop and Go on reverse are on plungers stuck to the floor. There’s one by the door and usually one by a part of the classroom that is currently off limits. When the class is leaving the helper job is to change the sign to go then they leave. One little guy who we weren’t sure had it totally surprised us by turning the sign by the unavailable centre before entering and when asked to leave the space, pointed to the sign. It was really funny but we didn’t laugh. We just turned it back and showed him where he needed to be.


  3. Thank you, Linda for the above suggestions re: the use of STOP in supporting children with Autism. I have an Educational Assistant asking me if it is ok to use the word “freeze” to stop a 6 year old from touching other people’s private parts. Please comment. Thanks!

    1. Interesting question. I like that the Educational Assistant is trying to think of a solution to a “touchy” situation. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the correct vocabulary to use. Here’s why. First, I like to use vocabulary that has good “long term” value so I don’t need to keep reteaching each year or for each person who is correcting the student. Not many people would use the word “freeze” to stop a student. I think of that word being used on TV when cops are chasing criminals.

      I think this is a situation that needs something different. I know the student is 6 years old, but I don’t know anything else about the situation. Skill level, when the problem happens, how it happens, and more. Lots of questions to answer. Given that I don’t know much about what happens, my “go to” solutions tend to be to tell the student what to do. Put your hands in your pockets. Stand in a different place. I try to direct a student to do something else that would make it difficult for the inappropriate behavior to occur. That’s what I would strive for. But it’s really important to figure out why and when this kind of problem occurs. Is he targeting a specific student or everyone? It can seem pretty innocent at age 6, but as he gets older this behavior could cause huge problems. It sounds like you need a long term plan that is different from someone giving verbal corrections. Let me know what you decide.

  4. It was really interesting when you explained that visual tools are a good strategy to use when trying to help children that have autism. As far as I know, there are multiple levels of autism that can affect how children behave. I would imagine that there are different strategies that are better for certain levels of autism.

    1. I like how you are trying to sort out the autism questions. Here’s a simple explanation. Yes, there are “multiples levels” of autism, meaning that there is a wide range of skill level or ability level in this population. There are also many different autism characteristics that individuals may experience.How those characteristics are exhibited will be different in each individual. Some of those may be mild and some may be severe. The communication system is complicated. There is research to indicate the majority of these individuals understand VISUAL information better than AUDITORY information. Visual supports help these individuals in many ways, not just understanding language. They help clarify communication, aid with memory, and many more life skills. There are many different kinds of visual strategies that help young students, adults, and every age between. Sometimes people think that autistic individuals who speak or have higher level academic skills or those who are older “don’t need” visual strategies. Sometimes they are the ones who benefit the most from visual supports. I talk about this concept more in my books. My new book AUTISM SUCCESS SECRETS discussed this. See it here

    1. Yes, sometimes the best way to help our students is to have a large collection of small ideas and tools to use.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Sometimes the solutions for our students are really a collection of small ideas and strategies.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}