Educating Diverse Learners: Using Choice & Interests to Improve Therapy Outcomes

Interests can increase focus, attention and motivation. For individuals with Asperger’s, the interests they have may even help the stressors of the day feel less stressful. Almost any interest that a person has can be incorporated within a specific behavioral strategy. By doing so, the likelihood that the behavior strategy will work when it is needed is increased. In today's blog post, guest contributor Lisa Rogers, MA of Asperger's 101 shares two ways to incorporate student's unique interests and choice to improve speech therapy as well as academic outcomes.

Sprinkling Interests Throughout the Day

One way to incorporate an interest is to simply decorate a strategy with a picture of the interest. You can put a picture of a bird, or Batman or even a street sign in the corner of a breathing chart and the student may be more likely to use and follow that strategy when it is time to calm down. I have seen a small decoration of an interest help a student use their schedule more successfully. By sprinkling interests across different visual strategies, the student does not have to wait for a specific time to experience that interest. This can help with the intense preoccupation with that interest and the ability to transition away from this preferred time to less preferred activities.

As an example, a student with multiple strategies had a great love for dinosaurs. The teacher was very creative in all the ways that she incorporated dinosaurs throughout these strategies in addition to specific dinosaur time: 5 minutes at the end of each subject area with a box of miniature dinosaurs. The teacher set a timer for five minutes to indicate how long he could play with the dinosaurs. He also had a picture of a dinosaur on his transition marker, on his surprise card and on his “chill pass”. She added dinosaur books to the library and allowed him to write about dinosaurs in his journal every day as part of the writing activities.

Before sprinkling interests throughout the strategies, the student was very resistant to following directions or completing any assignments. Once his day was dinosaur-friendly, he was successful in all academic areas. An added and unplanned result was that he started to ask for less “dinosaur time” at the end of each subject area. Perhaps the more that dinosaurs were sprinkled throughout his day, the less he felt a need to hold on so tightly.

Using choice to increase academic success

We all like to feel in control, and our students are no different. Making a choice is one way for our students to exert control in an appropriate way. Research indicates that incorporating specific motivational variables (such as interspersal of maintenance tasks and natural reinforcers) increases the rate of performance on academic tasks and decreases disruptive behaviors (Koegel, L.K. & Singh, A.K.).

Choice can take on many forms as related to academic tasks. As one example, students can be given several topics to choose from to complete an assignment. Students may also be given a list of several activities, of which they are to complete two. By giving them a choice, students are more likely to begin the assignment and more even more likely to complete assignment.

Making a connection to general education strategies, differentiated instruction promotes the use of choice in a variety of ways. At a center or station, students can choose from a list of 5 to 6 activities.

For example: a math station list of choices might include a variety of activities that would be engaging and motivating:

  1. Put a puzzle together

  2. Play a game

  3. Build a structure

  4. Count the pieces in a puzzle to be sure I have all I need

  5. Make my own puzzle

  6. Make my own math game

A science station might have yet another list of fun activities to choose from:

  1. Read about insects.

  2. Make and label an insect diagram.

  3. Write five facts about insects.

  4. Choose one insect and make a poster about it.

  5. Use a magnifying lens to observe an insect in the jar.

  6. Write about what I observe on a clipboard.

Remember, choice comes in many forms. Offering a choice of writing tool, “Would you like a pen or marker?” could make all the difference to kick start the learning process. Maybe even having a choice of where the activity will take place can increase a student’s motivation.

About the Author:

Lisa received her M.A. in Special Education with an endorsement in the area of individuals with severe disabilities. Mrs. Rogers maintains The Education (K-12) Blogs as well as the Special Ed Q & A on the Asperger's 101 website.

She has also created products that have been used throughout the state of Texas for training purposes. Through the Association for Texas Professional Educators [ATPE], Ms. Rogers has produced an online course that targets the importance of visual strategies for student with autism spectrum disorders and just released her highly anticipated book titled: Visual Supports for Visual Thinkers.

Looking for even more therapy resources?

"The Behavior - Communication Connection" on Speech Link hosted by Char Boshart, MA, CCC-SLP.

You can listen to Lisa and Char's episode "The Behavior-Communication Connection" for FREE on iTunes by clicking HERE.

This episode is registered with ASHA for .1 CEU by completing the accompanying podcourse.

Access unlimited CEUs for as little as $89/year at Click HERE to learn more.

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