Communication happens everywhere. Even in a noisy and crowded elementary school cafeteria. Last week I was in a meeting where the team was brainstorming ways to make one of my students more successful in this environment. When you combine the noise, length of time, and limited adult interactions this environment can be very tricky for our kiddos who require support in their communication efforts. During the meeting thoughts were spinning all around in my mind…I would have loved to have had my laptop right there creating away! We are very fortunate to have the hands-on support of our counselor to help our student as he makes his transition back into the cafeteria with his class. He loves singing songs and his parents have started implementing short social stories with him at home. With all of this in mind, there was a method to my madness and I was very intentional with my choices. I decided to make four initial support tools for his cafeteria experience: social story, song board, sticker chart, and positive behavior visual cues.
We identified four target behaviors that would make his cafeteria experience successful: sitting in his chair, keeping his food on the table, nice hands, and quiet voice. These are all the same “rules” expected of his classmates. As a way of communicating as his verbal language develops, he has been touching or pushing items so the “nice hands” cue has been one he has really responded to well. I prefer to use “nice hands” or “hands down” instead of “no touching” or “don’t push”. Using the positive action we want to see in our visual and verbal cueing is much less confusing and more direct way to teach the skill. I wrote the cafeteria rules out in a simple social story using first person. Again, this is a strategy to make the rules more obvious and meaningful. His parents will be reading this with him at home. At school, his entire support staff has a copy to read with him.
I love teaching through song. It makes it engaging for the child and because there is a simple message it also increases the chances for recall. I intentionally limited the amount of vocabulary and incorporated a lot of repetition. This will allow him to focus on the important aspect of the message: what he is supposed to do and where he will be doing it. This also went home and to his support team for extra repetition.
We have been using a combination visual behavior cue/schedule/sticker chart for this student throughout his day. He looooves collecting stickers and will negotiate hard to earn more! One of our points of emphasis for his time in the cafeteria is his duration of positive behaviors. We are transitioning him back to the space in increments, but would soon like to see him accomplish the full 30 minutes in the cafeteria. So this little sticker chart is a half page that we will tuck into his lunch box. Visually, the numbers increase as the time does. He will get t o pick out one sticker when he spends 10 minutes in the cafeteria, two for 20, and three for the full lunch period. This will also be a quick way for parents and teachers to see his progress and success.
I also made some visual behavior cues for the adults to use with him in the cafeteria. Initially, it will be used like a star board. I will have four bingo chips velcroed to the back of the board. He will earn a chip to put directly on the behavior picture as he is demonstrating the correct behavior (there is a gray dot on this picture to represent where the velcro will go). As the direct adult support gets phased out, the picture strip can remain as a visual cue for the target behaviors (without the velcro or gray dots!). I am excited to use this concept with several other students. It can even be used with articulation placement cues to show the child the exact actions they did and which ones are missing. The options are endless! I do love using visuals!
As you can see, the pictures and verbiage are consistent across the materials. My next step will be to create some visuals to help him initiate, respond, and interact with peers in this unstructured social setting. Because he can be difficult to understand, this will be a helpful tool for him to confidently get his message across to his peers.
I hope this has sparked some ideas for you! I’d have to say, my favorite is the song board – even though I don’t exactly have a good singing voice, haha! Please share challenges and success you have had with incorporating visual cues.