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.
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.”
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.)
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?
- 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.