Teaching independence to young children on the autism spectrum

Work flows routinely in a left to right direction. The jig (visual instruction) shows the worker what and how many of each item is to be packaged. It becomes a simple matching activity.  The coach will indicate to the worker how many packages to pack by the number of labels placed near the bags. A “finished box” is where the packages are placed once completed. After work, everything is returned to the shelving unit from where it was taken, ready for the next person to use it.


Teaching independence to young children on the autism spectrum is an art form.  It requires close observation and delicate timing to know when to help a child during their performance of an activity.  Parents and teachers who work with these young people sometimes offer too much help.  And since young autistics frequently develop routine ways of doing things, they may quickly become dependent on this help.  The activity gets done but not independently.  During any given activity, we need to constantly be asking ourselves, at those points where help is needed: what tool can I give this young person that will replace me and allow them to do the activity independently?

In our ShoeboxTasks workshop, the workers on the spectrum do assembly and packaging of the many loose materials that comprise the activities.  They work very well, rarely making mistakes.  And, once they know what work they are to do, they are independent in getting it, setting it on the work table, completing the job and then putting everything away.  While this work is being done, their coach, who has established their work schedule for the morning, has little to do with them, other than perform periodic checkups to see that the work is being done correctly.  Visuals, called jigs, are used by the autistics to give them information about what is needed and how much is to be packaged.  The work table and the environment are organized in such a way that the workers know where everything is.  Work flows routinely in a left to right direction.  The job coach sets out on the work table the number of labels that will indicate to the worker how many bags he will package.  When all of the labels have been used that particular activity is finished!


Each activity has its own shelving unit.  Materials are color coded in shoeboxes for easy access.  Additional raw materials are conveniently located on the shelf below and on the floor.


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