Mini Maps for Persons with ASD and Asperger's Syndrome

Mini-Maps - Originally 3 posts found at

For more information, listen to Lisa's interview by Char Boshart, MA, CCC-SLP on

The Speech Link: The Behavior-Communication Connection.

Some persons with Asperger's or ASD have difficulty with experiences that are too sensory in one way or another. In the classroom, at home, and in the community, activities can be broken down into smaller steps so that an individual can walk through these difficult experiences with a guide and a clear understanding that there is an end in sight.

For our purposes today, we will call this sub strategy “mini-maps.” A mini-map takes a piece of the main schedule and breaks it down into small, manageable tasks. The main schedule guides the person from one major activity to another, while the mini-map clarifies the smaller steps within that activity. This can be especially helpful to decrease frustration associated with academic tasks, but can be useful for any chunk of time that presents a challenge. In this post, I will share examples of using a mini-map in three situations: in the classroom, in the home, and in the community.

Part I: Mini-maps in the Classroom

First, let’s focus on mini-maps as they relate to academic endeavors. Often, teachers note that a common antecedent or trigger to behavioral difficulties is the presentation of academic tasks. The behaviors can range from a verbal protest to a meltdown when students feel overwhelmed by school work. The first question to ask, of course, is what is there about the work that makes the student feel so overwhelmed? Does the page look too busy? Is too much handwriting involved? Are there too many problems? Is it too difficult or too easy? (In other Asperger's 101 blogs, we will discuss ways to adjust the format and/or content of academic tasks to increase student success.)

The schedule says it is time for math. The student struggles consistently with math and typically puts his head down and produces little or no work. But with a mini-map, the student feels more able to get started and move forward. The mini-map is often a small checklist and can be decorated with a student interest to increase focus and motivation. This checklist then breaks down the expectations during math into smaller chunks. The mini-map or checklist might say something like this:

Warm up activity ______

Test Review ______

Do problems 3-10 ______

Discuss with partner ______

Next: 5 minute break ______

This mini-map often reduces the anxiety associated with challenging academics so that the student is more likely to get started and even more likely to continue . . . especially if there is a motivator at the end of the work. Try it and see if there is some progress in dealing with work avoidance.

Part II: Mini-maps at Home

We have seen how this can prevent work avoidance behaviors at school and now we will shift the focus to an overlapping struggle that is common at home . . . homework!

For many students with Asperger’s, they struggle to navigate the waters of school life only to come home and face more academic work. It is probably safe to say that most students, with and without Asperger’s, would rather not deal with homework in the evenings. However, the difference is that the student with Asperger’s has worked harder all day long to deal with not only academic stress, but also the added challenges of social interaction and sensory overload, creating a cumulative effect with different possible results. It is difficult for neuro-typical persons to truly understand this internal plight or struggle that persons with Asperger’s deal with on a daily basis.

I found myself in a situation recently and thought it might be a glimpse into what the cumulative effect might feel like: I had finished a long day at work and was driving home. However, home was 150 miles away and I started my trip at 6:00 in the evening. So, I’m tired and have a bit of a drive in front of me. Oh well, I’ve got to get home tonight. Then, it starts to rain heavily. I slow down and pay more attention. Then, a caravan of big trucks starts speeding past me. Now, I have to work much harder to stay in my lane and see where I am going. I notice that I have both hands on the wheel now and am sitting straight up to see the road better. Then, a construction vehicle moved into my lane directly in front of me. The lights on this truck were not only very bright, but were flashing in a random pattern at every corner of the truck, creating a disco effect. So now, I am tired on a rainy night with my windshields wipers moving as fast as they can against this sea of bright lights. I wanted to look away, but realized this could be catastrophic on a highway. So, I took the next exit and stopped at the first gas station. Some might call this “driving avoidance,” but I call it survival.

I think that might be how some of our children feel.

So, at the end of a long and stressful day, a student might have to face homework. A mini-map of the evening activities may be all it takes to help them get started, knowing that their favorite activity takes place right before homework time, right after homework time or both. And some children might benefit from a mini-map/checklist of the homework chunk of time itself. For instance, the homework mini-map might read:

1. Get your materials ready

2. Reading assignment

3. Math problems

4. Review with Mom or Dad

5. Have fun on the computer for 30 minutes! :)

Mini-maps can also help with other "rough spots" at home. Some examples include: household chores, personal hygiene routines, and shopping trips. One family found mini-maps to be helpful even for car rides. Their son would take off his seat belt repeatedly, causing many stops along the way. A mini-map was created that included pictures and words that directed him to: 1. Buckle your seatbelt. 2. Keep it buckled. 3. Listen for Mom or Dad say it is time to unbuckle. No more unplanned road stops for this family!

Part III: Mini-maps in the Community

Mini-maps can be highly effective in dealing with work avoidance behaviors at school and at home. Let’s now take this same strategy and apply it in community settings. Remember, a mini-map is taking an event or task and breaking it down into smaller, more doable steps. For a family that has difficulty with seemingly simple shopping trips, a mini-map might help to stay focused on the task at hand while preventing intense preoccupation with specific aspects.

As an example, a family would struggle when going to a store where there was a video section. The son would immediately take off for this area of the store and stay there for long periods of time in spite of many verbal reminders on the way in the car. This behavior would turn a short trip to the store into a long and almost painful event for everyone. Over time, families might opt to avoid these trips all together.

A mini-map for this situation might include a list of different departments in the store that they plan to visit. By adding either time limits or number of items to purchase or view at each part of the mini-map, the person might be able to flow through the strategy more successfully. The following is an example of what the mini-map might consist of:

1. Boys Clothing Department [2 pairs of socks & 1 shirt]

2. Dental Hygiene Department [1 tube of toothpaste]

3. Video Department [look at 20 videos & return to shelf]

4. Grocery Department [pick out snack]

5. Check Out [pay for items]

6. Go to car

7. Eat snack in car

Notice that the mini-map has strategically placed picking out a snack right after the video department, which is where the person with Asperger's has difficulty leaving. Remember to have the person either check off or mark through each step of the mini-map as it is completed. This will increase the effectiveness and meaning of the strategy. Take almost any difficult moment in the community and see if a mini-map might reduce that difficulty and enhance the experience. From a sporting event to a movie, mini-maps can be tailored to almost any community experience.

About the Author: Lisa has been an educator for over thirty years, working with students with special needs and their families. Born in San Antonio, Texas, she graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio and Our Lady of the Lake University with degrees in Early Childhood Education and Special Education. As the Director of Educating Diverse Learners, Lisa currently works with educators, students and their families by way of consultation, classroom support and training in school districts throughout the United States. Her most recent publications are “Visual Supports for Visual Thinkers: Practical Ideas for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Special Educational Needs” and “Positive Momentum for Positive Behaviors in Young Children: Strategies for Success in School and Beyond.”

Spare time for Lisa involves family, music and a good movie or a good book.

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