Monday, July 27, 2015

Promoting Communication with TV Show Characters

For most children, you want to find something motivating to reinforce their learning. This is more important for some than others. Not every child is intrinsically motivated to learn in school, and for those who need motivators for learning some are MUCH harder to identify motivators for than others.

Whether you teach regular ed, special ed, have inclusion, etc. I can imagine just about every teacher has 1 child in their room that is SO challenging to motivate. It keeps us on our toes right?

When working with children on the autism spectrum I find it is so important to identify a variety of motivators for each child. Motivators or reinforcers-- depends on the teacher you talk to or the context of a conversation. I use them both interchangeably.


We need these items to reinforce appropriate behaviors, correct responses, and my number 1 in the classroom-- COMMUNICATION! 8 out of 10 children who enter my classroom have little to NO communication skills. Very few point to items or combine a point with vocalization to gain the attention of a communication partner.

They climb. They are incredible climbers. Why? Because they can't reach what they want, they don't know how to ask for what they want with expressive communication, their social skills are impaired as well so what do they do? They get it themselves! Very independent little guys :)

When you teach communication you naturally have a decrease in many un-wanted behaviors (i.e. climbing) because you've given the child a new skill. They can now communicate what they want so they don't have to climb for it anymore, or cry because that was their only former way to get your attention.

For the sake of this post I have to assume that you all know what a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECs) is. If you don't, let me know in the comments and we'll save that for another post. We mostly use PECS in my classroom, because, as I mentioned about 80% have little to no expressive language. But in order to start PECS you need a REALLY strong motivator. You have to make that child WANT to communicate with you to get what they want. If you aren't using a strong motivator, guess what? Little Johnny could care less about making a picture exchange with you, you don't have an item he wants!

99.5% of the time you can generally target a strong motivator that is a food item. (i.e. goldfish, mini m&m, raisins, etc.) that a child will consistently make picture exchanges for to assist with teaching the first Phase of a picture exchange. However, there's always that outlier who could care less what snacks you have. (Yes, I've had a few!) So in my classroom I've found another strong motivator for my kiddos are TV/movie characters. #helloThomas #helloCARS #helloBubbleGuppies ...really, the list goes on and on.

I have used Sterilite containers from this must haves list, to create themed containers for favorite TV shows or movies. I look for whatever I can at discounted prices to fill these containers. Those character toys can get expensive! I include books, stuffed animals, toys, bath squirters (not to actually squirt water), anything that fits the theme. Like I said, these toys get pricey. Shop yard sales, ask for donations! I sent out a district wide e-mail (after obtaining permission) asking teachers to donate any character toys they had that their children no longer played with. I explained why I needed them and honestly, had enough of a response to start my boxes out.


There are many more containers than what is shown here. We keep them across the whole span of the cabinets. Staff can reach them easily, children cannot. We are always adding new boxes it seems as new children start and interests change or new interests are added.

To promote communication with these boxes they are kept up high and out of reach, so the children cannot access them on their own. At their level are a variety of pictures that they can exchange to get a box. This reinforces the single picture exchange they have been taught, practices differentiating skills between pictures, and reinforces traveling to a communication partner. And IT WORKS! The kids love these boxes. All highly motivating and sensory items are kept out of reach so children have to request them.


I put two pages up on the cabinets for the PECS knowing we would most likely expand the amount of boxes we had. Sure enough by the end of the year we had about half of the other page full as well. 

We also keep parts of different toys out of reach. For example, we may put out the marble run, but no marbles. (That serves 2 purposes; communication and safety for the kiddos who mouth objects) Sabotage their play and make them talk! I promise they will :)

Are you doing anything similiar in your classroom? What are some of your favorite ways to promote communication with your non-verbal students? Let us know!

Don't forget! Today is the last day my store is on sale for Back to School! 
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Erin-From-Creating-And-Teaching