How using colour coded visuals can reduce anxiety when a child with autism starts school.

For many teachers coming to the end of the summer holidays now is the time to start preparing for the new academic year. With that in mind we turn to author and teacher Adele Devine who in this brand new blog demonstrates how developing a colour coding system can make for a more comfortable learning environment, especially for early learners with Autism.

Through the classroom door 

Fig 10.8










Transitioning into class can be a big hurdle for a child with autism. They have no idea what will happen beyond that door and the ‘unknown’ triggers alarm bells. We must also factor in some of the sensory issues, which often partner autism.

Turn up the volume of everything so that it is way above ‘uncomfortable’. Unfamiliar voices echo and what is that tidal wave sound?  Is there a toilet flushing? The lighting seems drastically different – flickering as it does in horror scenes, building a frightening atmosphere. Clothing that felt fine before has become itchy, sticky and hot. The child may not be able communicate or make sense of these nightmare feelings. They realise there is no going back, but moving forwards suddenly seems overwhelming.


Show them the way

Preparing visuals to explain our expectations can help make everyday transitions seem more achievable. We must try to avoid the child reaching that overwhelmed state by paving each step with a visual support. Matching photos and symbols can give the child a task to focus on. The visual clarifies our expectations and reduces the need for complex language.

Visuals help the child feel safer and more in control.


Provide individual schedules












The child enters the classroom with a clear idea of what they should do first. They match their photo to the one at the top of their personal schedule.

We must make sure schedules are placed somewhere prominent within the child’s reach.

Next the child removes the first symbol from their schedule.

We teach the child to do this by gently guiding them and providing hand over hand support.

For example, they might first remove the blue table symbol and if so they will transition to the blue table from the top of their schedule.


Using transition boards












On the blue table there is a transition board with other ‘blue table’ symbols. The child places their symbol on the board.
There is a photo on the back of the chair indicating where the child could sit. They may not choose to sit. That is okay. They can learn to sit later… Right now we want them to feel safe, in control and that they are on the right track.

At the blue table you can set up an activity for the child to do, this should have a clear structure so the child knows the expectation. They should be given hand over hand help with learning a new task so that it does not frustrate or overwhelm them. Showing the child will be more helpful than a verbal explanation. Do not do the task for the child over and over, instead reduce your support each time and allow them to build their independence.

When the blue table activity is ‘finished’ the child is given their photo. They return to the schedule to match it and check what is next.

Using symbols, schedules and transition boards reduces the need for too many verbal instructions, helps the child transition and promotes independence.


A visual link can be created through colour. The individual schedule is purple, the symbols and the transition board are outlined in purple. The class timetable is also backed in purple. The hope is that the child may start to make a connection between their individual schedule and the class timetable.



 The class timetable



A child may use a ‘Now and Next’ or ‘First and Then’ schedule to break down the expectations. These schedules are also backed in purple.

now and next2





 Now and Next schedule



Using a colour code for schedules, timetables, now and next boards and transition boards helps create a category. Children with autism are often very good at sorting by category, tuning into colours, shapes and patterns, but they can have difficulty generalising.

The colour purple creates a category for schedules. When the child wants to know ‘what we are going to do next’ they look for purple. We use the child’s strengths for categorising to create a stepping stone towards generalising.


Visual structure can bring order to chaos and help set the child with autism up to succeed.


Adele Devine is the author of Colour Coding for Learners with Autism available through Jessica Kingsley Publishers

New Autism titles September 2014

Browse our latest collection of Autism titles.
For more information on any of the books inside, simply click the title or cover image to view the full book page.

Listening skills for busy school staff – An interview with Nick Luxmoore

Nick Luxmoore is a school counsellor, trainer, teacher, youth worker and UKCP registered Psychodrama psychotherapist. He has over 35 years’ experience of work with young people and with the professionals who support them. We caught up with him to talk about his work, his latest book: Essential Listening Skills for Busy School Staff, and his top tips on listening for teachers and other school staff.

You’ve worked with young people and with the professionals who support them for over 35 years. What do you enjoy most about your work?

I enjoy helping to build a culture, especially in a place like a school, where everyone feels appreciated and so feels able to appreciate others. I know that sounds extremely trite but I also know that it’s possible to do this in schools, making that tangible difference. Potentially, schools can be very therapeutic places.
I also enjoy the anger of young people. That might sound like an odd thing to say, but people only get angry because they care and I love the fact that young people care passionately about so many things that are unfair or, at least, seem to them to be unfair!

What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?

It’s difficult living with the fact that you can only do what you can do; that people will go away and make their mistakes. Some will thrive but others will have really tough lives. And there’s nothing more that you can do about it. It’s a lesson that every therapist has to learn and a lesson that everyone who works in a school has to learn as, year after year, they say goodbye to the people about whom they’ve really cared.

What inspired you to write ‘Essential Listening Skills for Busy School Staff’?Luxmoore_Essential-Liste_978-1-84905-565-9_colourjpg-print

I used to be a teacher and, for years, I’ve been running all sorts of trainings for school staff. So I understand what it’s like to feel as if you’re never doing a good enough job, to feel that there’s never time to listen and to feel resentful of those people who seem to be getting all the attention and praise. This book comes out of all that experience and is informed by the questions people ask like, “This is all very well, Nick, but when are we supposed to find the time to do this listening? And what are we meant say to someone who’s depressed or cutting themselves?”

I’m passionate about this book because I think there’s a tendency in schools to refer children and young people on to someone else, often to someone from outside the school itself. People like counsellors and mental health professionals (keen to show how invaluable they are) sometimes give school staff the message that other people’s distress is far too disturbing and complicated for a mere member of staff to tackle. And nine times out of ten that’s just not true! Schools are about human beings supporting other human beings. A bit of guidance is always useful and my book provides that guidance for staff because most people want to talk to the person they know: not to some stranger they’ve never met before. I want staff in schools to feel able and confident to listen and support their fellow human beings, knowing that a little can be a lot and that you don’t need a professional qualification in how to be a supportive human being!

I also feel passionately that teachers aren’t the only people who listen in schools. In fact, it’s often non-teaching staff who find themselves besieged by needy people. So this book is as much for them as it is for the teachers. And it’s about listening, not only to children and young people, but to colleagues and parents. An upset member of staff is potentially just as disruptive as any upset student! And the extent to which we feel able to support other people will often depend on the extent to which we feel supported ourselves. So the quality of relationships in the staffroom matters just as much as in the classroom.

Can you think of an example where you’ve been able to help a student or colleague just through listening?

With students…. a baby develops a sense that it exists and is worth something because of the calm, interested attention that it gets from its parents and other people. So with young people it’s sometimes enough to listen and be interested. Our experiences of someone paying attention and finding us interesting are the building blocks on which everything else is built: our confidence, our self-belief, our sense of worth.

With colleagues…. I’ve listened to lots of colleagues who have ranted or wept buckets and there’s been nothing to say because life really can be that bad and sometimes it’s helpful when someone acknowledges this with us. People usually have good reasons to be ranting or weeping.

If you were going to give one tip to busy school staff to help them improve their listening skills, what would it be?

Listen to the feelings. Don’t worry about giving advice. Just listen to the feelings, especially the shittiest, angriest, saddest, most hopeless feelings. I’ll bet that the best listening experiences you ever had yourself were the ones when someone did just that for you. They didn’t patronise you. They didn’t offer you cheap advice. They just listened. And of course, when someone listens to our feelings expressed as words, we don’t have to enact those feelings!

 You can find out more about Nick’s book here. You can also find more of Nick’s books on working with young people here.

Request a copy of our 2014 new and bestselling books on Autism Spectrum Disorders and related conditions

2014 September  - Autism Catalogue Cover
Our brand new catalogue of books and resources on Autism Spectrum Disorders and related conditions will be available soon.

Click here to sign up for a free copy.

Our new catalogue has essential new titles from Cynthia Kim (Nerdy, Shy and Inappropriate) and Tessie Regan (Shorts).

This is a great opportunity for parents to get a hold of Tony Attwood’s newest book, Been There. Done That. Try This! as well as Jennifer Cook O’Toole’s The Asperkid’s Game Plan.

For professionals, the catalog offers useful new resources like A Practical Guide to Mental Health Problems in Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder by Khalid Karim et al., and the new fully updated edition of Kids in the Syndrome Mix by Martin Kutscher.

To request a copy of the catalogue please click here.

Click this link to see our full listing of books on Asperger Syndrome, Autism and other Syndromes.

Change Happens… Teaching a child with autism to handle a ‘whoops!’

whoops Adele Devine image


Teaching a child with autism to handle a ‘whoops!’

It’s raining and that lovely day at the beach that’s been on the calendar ‘FOREVER’ suddenly isn’t happening.

A change of plan seems logical, but may be difficult for the child to accept. They like to know and expect you to stick to the plan.  Why can’t we go to the beach in the pouring rain? Beach is on the calendar.

We use visuals such as calendars, schedules and ‘now and next’ boards because knowing what’s ahead creates a sense of order and allows the child time to process.
On the flipside changing set plans can create mistrust and anxiety, leading to shut downs or meltdowns.

So what do we do?

We know the potential reaction so we try to avoid the situation, but then change happens…

The day comes when we need to collect a sibling who’s poorly when we were about to watch a DVD or there’s a phone call we must take.


Preparation is everything!

  • Be more aware of your own routines and try to mix them up a bit. Do not sit in the same place every meal time or lay out the clothes in the exact same order.
  • Avoid always going the same route, as this creates the idea that there is only one right way.
  • Read a social story(TM) about when the phone rings or the traffic lights are broken and role play good reactions.
  • If a scheduled activity relies on dry weather then show on the calendar that rain will mean a change of plan. It’s on the calendar so it’s ‘okay’.


A Whoops! 

Holding up a ‘whoops!’ symbol (shown above and downloadable here) alerts the child that change is in the air. It allows them time to process and prepare to control reactions.

Choose a time to test out using the ‘whoops!’ symbol.

“Whoops! We have no vanilla ice cream. We only have chocolate.” Change is easier to cope with when it is good change.

Have another adult or sibling model a good reaction,

“Oh dear! I am sad that there is no vanilla ice cream. I was looking forward to it. Oh well, I will have chocolate instead.” Praise the ‘model’ for their good reaction. The child with autism will be watching and learning.

Next time try a less rewarding ‘whoops!’ Ask a friend to stage that unexpected call or visit. By role playing a change situation we create a stepping stone. Practicing when the situation is not ‘real’ removes the pressure.


Change Toolkit.

  • A whiteboard and dry wipe pen to write or draw the new schedule.
  • A visual timer such as a time tracker or egg timer.
  • A motivating activity (colouring, books, Lego, play dough) or fidget toy.
  • Some sort of food (cereal or raisins) and a drink.
  • A set of social stories(TM) (when the phone rings Mummy needs to speak, when a visitor comes to the house, when we have to go out in the car, when we have to take a different route)
  • An emergency occupier – iPad, or android tablet or game (make sure it’s charged).
  • A visual of a reward for after – (going to the shop or park, baking a cake) and a token board (if used).
  • Symbols for ‘whoops!’ ‘good waiting’, ‘good sitting’, ‘good listening’, ‘good looking’ and ‘good standing in line’.
  • A visual volume control.
  • Bundles of praise, patience and empathy.


Adele Devine is the author of Colour Coding for Learners With Autism available from Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Vipassana Retreat – a brand new article from the author of Mindful Living with Asperger’s Syndrome

Woodland Sunrise

Vipassana Retreat

When trying to make sense of the social world as a person diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome I have often found myself learning social skills through observing those around me, especially non-verbal gestures such as facial expressions and eye contact. This can often leave little scope for exploring one’s own emotions and feelings, such as being able to notice how they arise and pass and where they take control over one’s actions. Stepping back from the flow on a ten-day Vipassana retreat enabled me to get in touch with this.

One of the purposes of ‘Vipassana’ (which means to ‘see things as they really are’ in the Pali language) is to help those who practice the technique to experience themselves as they are and experience sensations as they occur. By sensations I refer to anything experienced at the physical level, both those that arise from internal bodily feeling and those that arise from external factors, such as the surrounding temperature or the materials of the clothing one is wearing. A mixture of sensations occurs throughout the body constantly, but due to the many distractions around us we are often oblivious to them and how they can determine our thoughts and actions.

Observed in noble silence for ten days with no verbal communication, no non-verbal gestures or signals and no contact with the outside world, a Vipassana retreat provides a distraction-free environment in which one can get more in touch with oneself and be able to observe the comings and goings of thoughts and feelings, including different degrees of Asperger-related obsession with thoughts. As a person with Asperger’s Syndrome what I found so helpful about there being no non-verbal communication was that I find trying to interpret a lot of non-verbal gestures (including understanding how other people feel about me) very confusing, which can then become a source of worry and anxiety, especially if I feel someone is giving me the ‘silent’ treatment. But during the retreat, being aware of the absence of non-verbal communication helped reduce a great deal of this worry, thus giving me more freedom to explore and understand the workings of my own mind.

During the first four days of the retreat participants are instructed to focus on the breath coming in and out around a triangular area from the tip of the nose to the upper lip, one gradually begins to notice a range of physical sensations that arise and pass around this limited area. Participants are encouraged to observe different sensory experiences as they occur rather than create sensations that we find comforting, allowing each breath coming in and out to be as it is naturally and each physical sensation to arise and pass as naturally as possible. On the fourth day one is then instructed to gradually expand awareness throughout the body, scanning through the body slowly starting from the top of the head.

Participants practice this technique for up to ten hours a day throughout the retreat, including three hour-long sittings of serious determination where one shouldn’t make any major movements to their posture or open their eyes unless absolutely necessary. This is so that as well as noticing different sensations or any urges to move, (such as averse sensations around the knee joints when sitting) one is able to observe their response rather than acting on it and acknowledge that sensations, both pleasant and painful are impermanent and subject to change.

Where I find Asperger’s Syndrome can be a strength during practice is through applying attention to detail and being able to notice sensations very closely. Sometimes, due to sensory preferences, the mind can end up being controlled by sensations that can lead to one becoming controlled by obsessive thought. With continued practice and patience, I found  that I was able to exert more control over my mind, including Asperger-related tendencies and obsessions, rather than allowing them to control me. Thanks to this I noticed that each night I was going to sleep much quicker than normal. I felt I was able to notice sensations on a deeper level, including blood flow and vibrations throughout my body coming from my heart beating. Normally, my mind distracts me from going to sleep.

I came home from the retreat thinking that although our physical make-up takes up a limited physical space it has a huge degree of variation with regards to what it is made up of in both a spiritual sense (with the five elements, earth, water, wood, fire) and in a scientific sense. Atoms and particles (the source of most physical sensations) are a constant in our make-up and we are unaware of how much they are influencing our thoughts and actions and how they trigger habits and obsessions. With awareness developed from patience and practice one can eventually exert more control over the mind, and thus more freedom from mental constraint, including anxiety and depression.

On my return to the outside world I noticed just how dependent we can be on external factors for happiness and self-esteem because we aren’t often in tune with how we are within. Turning our mirror neurons towards us enables us to see who we are as we are in the present, rather than being constrained by the need for outside approval. In turn, being happy in this way reflects well on those around us.


Chris Mitchell is the author of Mindful Living with Asperger’s Syndrome and Asperger’s Syndrome and Mindfulness both published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers

The Self-Portrait Dance – extract from Anna Halprin

Learn about the self-portrait dance – An interpretation of oneself through drawings of the individual components of the body. Merging them together allows you to see the image you have of yourself brought about by your subconscious. When combined with dance, the mind and body can connect and begin to raise questions about this image.
For more on the life and works of Anna Halprin, see Gabriele Wittmann’s book ‘Anna Halprin – Dance – Process – Form’  


The perceptual journey through the body, accompanied by Movement Ritual and psychokinetic visualisation, can be followed through images, texts and episodic dance. Visualisations of different areas of the body – the head, spine, ribcage, shoulder girdle, abdomen and pelvis, arms and hands, legs and feet – finally come together in the drawing of a life-size self-portrait in which the separate images fit together in one large whole. Daria Halprin says: ‘Thinking of the body as a family made up of separate yet interrelated members, we know that each part has an impact on the whole and that each part can help us understand the whole. When a family is in conflict, it is important to listen to each member separately as well as listening to how they communicate with one another so that we can really hear and understand.’36 As if in a mirror, the person who did the drawing sees and encounters herself in the image she has created, and embarks on the journey of deciphering the messages concealed in it. She approaches the image not as one who knows, but as one asking questions. Anna Halprin drew a self-portrait and transposed the image into dance when she was coming to terms with her cancer diagnosis, of which she writes:


‘This process of connecting with our internal imagery involved “dancing” the images that welled up from the unconscious as another way of connecting the mind and the body. In learning this imagistic language, it became clear I was receiving messages from an intelligence within the body, an intelligence deeper and more unpredictable than anything I could understand through rational thought.’ Various pathways open up as one approaches one’s self-portrait. The person who drew it lets the entire image, or aspects of it, speak to them and tries to hear, see and feel its messages (see Figure 18). The selfportrait is asked questions: Where are you from? Where are you going?


Answers come out of the silent dialogue, from the ‘soul’ of the image.38 In creative writing, texts and dialogues emerge between different forms and figures inthe image. They open up the gaze and the senses to the hidden, mysterious, unknown and seemingly alien, and blend together in a life story of the self-portrait. Processes of developing a concluding performance are walked through, following the model of RSVP Cycles (described below). The emotional process of discovery follows the thread of the Five-Part Process on the way to integrating the experiences gained.

For more on the life and works of Anna Halprin, see Gabriele Wittmann’s book ‘Anna Halprin – Dance – Process – Form’  

Summer Holiday activites for younger children with Autism and other learning difficulties (Day 5).

This one probably requires a trip to the local arts store but will provide hours of possibilities and fun once it’s mixed together.


In just a few steps we can turn basic tap water into buckets of fluorescent fun.glowing_water_by_plmethvin-d37fq3m

Here’s all you need

  • Water
  • A container
  • NON-TOXIC fluorescent paint
  • Backlight bulb

1. Add a few tablespoons of fluorescent paint in any color into very warm or hot water:

2. stir until completely mixed

3. add as much water as you’d like to increase the volume, stopping before the glow is too diluted.


You’ve got the base for glow-in-the-dark water balloons.

And that’s IT! Now get glowing!


Taken from The Asperkid’s Game Plan by Jennifer Cook O’Toole

Drawing your family as animals – activity from How to Get Kids Offline, Outdoors and Connecting with Nature

In this extract, you can try several different activities based on drawing family members metaphorically. For the younger children, this may be a case of drawing the family as people and this should still be encouraged despite not being within the guidelines of the activity! Older children may enjoy the chance to be creative by taking characteristics of the family members and representing them in animals and types of water.


read the extract…

For more great activities to keep children stimulated and active, see Bonnie Thomas’ How to Get Kids Offline, Outdoors and Connecting with Nature.

Attachment, schools and vulnerable children: An interview with Nicola Marshall.

Nicola Marshall is a certified coach, adoptive parent of three, and author of the newly published The Teacher’s Introduction to Attachment. We spoke to her about why she wanted to write a book on attachment for teachers, what she’s learned since starting her own training company for teachers and other school staff, and she shares her number one tip for educators working with vulnerable children. 

1) How did you become interested in attachment?

My husband and I adopted three children 6 years ago now and I became interested in attachment as a result of trying to understand the impact my children’s early years experience has had on them. Throughout the adoption journey Attachment was mentioned and it fascinated me to know that so much of what we do in our adult lives is a result of our early experiences. I’ve always believed this actually, as someone who has always been interested in people and how they tick, to know that how we build relationships comes from much of our early experiences made sense.

Since looking into attachment I can see how important all our relationships are and it’s a constant journey of discovery.

2) Why did you decide to write a book on attachment for teachers?Marshall_Teachers-Introd_978-1-84905-550-5_colourjpg-print

There are many books available on Attachment and I’ve read quite a few of them. They are brilliant in lots of ways but I also have found that they can be quite heavy and time intensive. If you are really interested in the subject, as I am, then there are brilliant books to further your understanding such as Bruce Perry or Dan Hughes books.

However whilst doing training for schools and other people working with children I have found that there’s a reluctance to read some of the more academic books on the subject. As a parent and a down to earth person myself I felt there was a gap in the market for a book that was accessible to all teaching staff, whether they are time pressured or just not that interested in the subject. This book is an easy to read, practical and very accessible and my desire is that anyone and everyone working with children of any description would read this and find it helpful.

 3) You run training programmes to help educate teachers and other school staff about attachment – what have you learned whilst doing this?

I have loved training educators over the last three years in this subject. The people who attend the courses are so dedicated and committed to the children they serve that it has been an inspiration to me. I have seen that many are under immense pressure to get children to learn who are just not ready to learn. The pressures on resources, funding and time are creating a system that seems to be a hindrance to vulnerable children out there who need patience, time and nurture given to them in order that they can learn.

Through the workshops and onsite training I’ve run and the hundreds of educators I’ve spoken to I can see that this is a vocation – you have to have a calling to be an educator as what you want to do and what you’re allowed to do many times don’t match up. I wish our educational system was more flexible as I know it’s not for want of trying on the front-line staffs side – they understand that we need a different approach with some children, that we need to be their parent, carer, therapist and social worker sometimes as the adults they meet at school may be all they have.

4) Can you think of a case study or example of having school staff educated in attachment, which has led to direct benefits for a child or group of children?

I can think of many schools and particularly children who have benefited from more of an awareness of Attachment. A few spring to mind. One child who is from a very small, rural school – his teacher came on my workshop a few years ago, the training impacted her and it helped her to understand his behaviours. However it didn’t seem enough. So this year I was asked to go and observe the child in school and to give some recommendations on what practical strategies they could use to help him. After two days we sat down with the parent of this child and discussed what had been observed. It was great to see that for that parent it was so important to know that someone could see the anxieties and fears her child was desperately trying to hide. We talked about practical ways to build relationships with him and to help him feel safe. As a result I am sure he will flourish in that very nurturing and caring school.

More locally to me, a High School have taken on the challenge of really trying to understand a complex child in year 8 who has an ambivalent attachment. Many of the schools sanctions do not work for this child and in fact send her on a spiral of negative behaviours as a result. With training and talking with the parents the school are using different strategies to try and help her feel safe and to take control of her regulation, so that she can settle to learn. The result of this for the child is that she can start to learn in school instead of just surviving but also the staff members are happier as they don’t have to keep enforcing sanctions that do not work. Finally, this child is not distracting the other children in the class, so they can learn too.

5) What would be your number one tip for teachers or other staff working with vulnerable children?

Look beneath the behaviours to the root. All behaviour communicates something. For children who have experienced early trauma their behaviours very often are how they express themselves. They are not ‘naughty’ children trying to manipulate. They are frightened, anxious children who will use any means at their disposal to feel safe and get their needs met. When you can see that and truly appreciate that then you can begin to meet their needs and the behaviour will change in time.

 You can find out more about Nicola’s book here.  You can also find out more about her training company, BraveHeart Education, and the work they do training educators in attachment and its implications for the classroom, here