Autism and Education Q&A with Trisha Katkin – the Autism Teaching Guru.

Trisha Katkin
Trisha Katkin

Over the last few months we have been highlighting the work of Trisha Katkin, one of the key thought leaders in the area of autism and education.

Regular readers may have seen her articles such as “10 Essential Life Skills for Students with Autism” and “10 Ways to Use Positive Behavior Supports for Students with Autism.” As far as this blog is concerned Trisha we think offers one of the best sources of information and support for both parents and teachers of children on the autism spectrum. She is always on the ball and her advice is totally actionable.

So we are delighted to announce that AutismTalk is going to run an interview with her at the end of this month. But the interview is a bit different from most that you have come across before.

How so you might ask?

Well we want you, our readers and followers, to decide which questions we should ask. So what questions do you have for somebody how has spent years in the special education field? She is now considered the go to expert for special education teaching professionals? We feel this is a great opportunity to ask those questions which you want to get answered.

So what next?

Simple. Just write the questions that you have in the comments section below or if you would prefer you can send them to us at

For those of you who don’t know her Trisha Katkin is a special education teacher in New Hampshire in America. She has her Master’s in Education and currently holds certificates in General Special Education, Learning Disabilities and Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities. She has been a guest speaker at the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability and has been featured on Autism Talk (), The American Autism Association (), as well as on Kerry Magro’s site at . She is a crusader for students with autism and fights to spread awareness for teachers, parents, and advocates who need help. She writes a blog at where her posts consist of actionable advice and tips that can be implemented immediately.

Thanks very much in advance for your help. We will confirm the date of the interview in the next week. So please watch this space!

Autism and Education – “The meaning behind the “special”.” a Cross Post from Megan Wolowicz

Megan Wolowicz Autism Teacher
Megan Wolowicz Autism Teacher

Today is my 4th day at Upper Arlington High School working in their special needs classroom. At 9:54, my lunch break began (come on guys, 9:54?) and I came to the atrium with a pile of IEP’s that would take me days to read in full. Technical behavioral and developmental jargon that most people wouldn’t understand. Goals that most people wouldn’t think needed to be established, because they come naturally to a typical person. I tell someone I work with kids with special needs and this is what they think. Special school accommodations.Special treatment to avoid problem behaviors. The word loses the positive connotation. It’s not the special I see every single day.

I know when T is having a rough day because his scripts change from Adele lyrics to “he’s weird, why is he so weird, make him stop singing”. Prettyspecial skill, huh? To be able to remember word for word the things you hear. Not everybody knows that T can speak not one, but five languages. Active participant in the school choir who has happily extended an invitation to his upcoming musical. You can expect me there with bells on.

J runs a lot. For no clear reason. Runs from the classroom. Out into the street. But he’ll tell you right away that it was wrong.  He’ll also tell you the scrabble point value of any word you give him, without hesitation.

I stay back with S to walk with her to class because it takes a little longer. Her Down Syndrome diagnosis inhibits her muscle growth and strength. But once we get to class and get settled, she updates me on the newest gossip from Seventeen magazine. She let me know that my white pants were not acceptable, because Labor Day has come and gone. She’s given me the thumbs-up to chaperone the Homecoming dance, but “pleaseeee don’t be embarrassing Ms. W, the cute boys will be there!”

Of course these kids are different. But different is not synonymous with less than. These kids have the ability to teach me something new every single day; whether it is giving me a tour of the school and formally introducing me to every staff member or subtle life lessons, like to speak kindly to others, because you never know what words will stick.

Special: better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual.These kids are so special.

This post was posted here – please drop round a see her other great posts.

Ms Wolowicz is a specialist teacher of children on the autism spectrum.  She says of herself “the only thing you need to know about me is that I have a small (okay, it’s pretty big) obsession with pugs. my diet normally consists of starbucks and some sort of cheese, preferably queso dip, and I am a die hard packer fan. “in every victory, in every trial my soul will sing, be lifted high”

To see here

Autism and Education – Tips for children on the autism spectrum starting the new school year.

Autism and the new school year Autism and the new school year[/caption]

As I’m sure you know autism and education is one of the big themes of this blog. And for many in the autism community the new school year is about to begin. To with our commitment to crowd sourcing ideas from our readers we decided to ask our readers on FaceBook what they thought were good ideas by asking the question “What tips would you give for children on the autism spectrum just about to start the new school year?”.

The results were ( as always from the autism community) both abundant and useful. So here is a selection for you.

“Leading up to going back to school, I show him pictures of his new teachers, talk about school and generally just prepare him for it. Also put him into the holiday Club 1 day a week through summer hols, which is basically on the school campus x x” came from Julie.

While Kirsty said “The school should have provided the child with a social story that can be shared. This should include any teachers they will be working with together with a picture. If they are changing rooms they should have pictures of that room. Give them an idea of what the day will be like but make sure they know that things can change. Practice the school run/route before term starts including getting uniform on. There are normally admin staff in school a week or so before term so call them or the head and ask them if you can visit before term starts.”

Michelle told us “When my son started preschool, I brought him to the school for orientation so he could see the classroom, meet the teachers and therapists. I took pictures of them and the classroom and building. I got a copy of the daily schedule and used Powerpoint to create a social story for him on how his days would go. I do something similar whenever he does anything unfamiliar from getting a haircut to going to birthday parties. I can’t anticipate every challenge, but I hope it helps him. I always hyper-prepare for myself, because I get very anxious, too, in new situations and it helps me.”

“We make a special orientation just for my daughter where I can take her to her classrooms and introduce her to her new teacher. We go they’ll the whole schedule. What I do at home is start school work more rigorously 1 month ahead of time. I take her out and get new stuff and always try to get her excited for school. We have 1 month before school starts, but she is excited to go. I’ll be more nervous later, because she is in a whole new wing this year and now instead of being 1 year behind she is now 2. I think I need to prepare myself more than her really.” was Katie’s similar approach.

Another Michelle’s idea got a lot of support “I would tell parents to set up a meeting with all teachers that will be involved with your child so you can make your expectations of them to help your child”.

“Colour code your subjects on your timetable and colour code your books/folders to match the subject. Arrange a social story about the new year. Where the toilets will be, which teacher they will have, what the classroom may look like etc” is Rachel’s very organised idea.

As Brenda says there are a number of ways to crack the nut “Before the schools in our area instituted Back to School Night before school started, I made an appointment with his new teacher to bring him in and meet him/her and see where he would be sitting, get familiar with the classroom, find the bathroom nearest the classroom, etc. All of his teachers were cooperative and eager to help him transition well to a new classroom (mainstreamed always). Took him school shopping and let him pick his backpack, notebooks, etc.”

So is there anything else you would add to this? If so please feel free to add your suggestions to the comments boxes below.


One thing I should mention is that I asked a similar question of another Facebook page. this time one run by a autism teaching expert called Trisha Katkin. Miss has shared some of her great posts with us in the past so please check them out here. Anyhow one of her readers named Tracy Sherriff has written a guide to this exact problem. The great news is that you can download it for free here.

So what actually is special education? Some tips for parents of children on the autism spectrum.

With the new school year coming up with thought it would be useful to share this infographic.

It gives a great overview of what special needs education actually means and involves.

Thus it is well worth sharing among the autism and adhd communities.

Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

10 Essential Life Skills for Students with Autism By Trisha Katkin

10 Essential Life Skills for Students with Autism By Trisha Katkin
10 Essential Life Skills for Students with Autism
By Trisha Katkin

Life skills are vital for everyone. These are the important life lessons that teach a child how to be independent. For students with autism, these skills are invaluable. Autistic students may not acquire basic life skills passively. They need a more direct route to be taught life skills. For many students, learning life skills will be more important than the dreaded common core.

  1. Safety Skills

Safety skills include rudimentary understandings of impending danger. Some children with autism do not understand that they shouldn’t run into a street or go off with a stranger. These are VERY important things for a student to learn. Safety skills include understanding of safety signs such as stop signs and street lights, but also what to do in an emergency.

In order for a student to be independent in the long term, they must know how to keep themselves safe. Staying indoors during a thunderstorm, calling 911 in an emergency, and how to properly shut off the oven or stove are just a few of the safety skills that a student would need to know before true independence.

Where to start? Take it slow. Start where the student is at. Teach safety awareness in a variety of settings.

At recess?

-Teach the student how to stay safe maneuvering around the playground equipment or how to swing without falling off.

In the classroom?

-Teach how to sit properly in a chair, not to rock back, and not to climb on desks or tables.

In the hall?

-Practice walking calmly, with hands by the side, and a quiet mouth.

Taking a walk?

-Practice learning the safety signs such as stop or turn it into a game by playing “Red Light, Green Light.”


  1. Communication

For me, I cannot imagine not being able to communicate. The frustration, the anger, and the yearn to be understood would otherwise consume me. Providing your students with a means of communication is critical. Find a communication tool that works for your student and is on their level. This can be gesturing to a desired object, a vocalization, use of PECs, or a AAC device. Start slow and work with the most important things to your student. If it is motivating to them, it is more likely to be communicated to you. Be open and discerning. Be observant.


That student that you think is not communicating, may just not be communicating in the way you know. < TWEET THIS!


  1. Self-Regulation

Self-regulation is tough. It is the idea that a student check in with themselves and see where they are at. It’s the idea that a student can think about one’s thoughts and understand how to cope with overwhelming situations and emotions. It’s sometimes called meta-cognition and is something that many neurotypical adults have a hard time with. Believe me, if you sat me in front of a plate of nachos and told me I had to wait to eat them, I wouldn’t last but 30 seconds. Teach the art of self-control. Help your students by teaching emotions and coping mechanisms directly. Discrete trial sessions are a good time to introduce new materials that you can then generalize to the rest of the day. Social stories are a perfect way to teach self-regulation skills throughout the day or as a group during morning meeting. If you need help getting started with social stories, check out my FREE Course HERE!


  1. Health

Health life skills include learning how to brush one’s teeth and hair and know how to follow through and complete a bathroom routine. This includes helping your student create healthy habits such as teaching them nutrition and healthy eating. The importance of exercise also falls into this category. Facilitate this by working in regular exercise into your day. Find time for stretching in the morning, yoga in the afternoon, or extra walks throughout the day. Exercise is fantastic for reinvigorating the body and mind. It’s also a nice way to take a break after a hard task. Make exercise fun by finding games and movement activities that your students like. Other health habits include bathing, clipping nails, and remembering to use soap.


  1. Self-Advocacy

Learning how to keep one’s body healthy is important, but also teaching what to do when one’s body is not healthy is another thing. You must teach both sides of this coin. Teaching self-advocacy will do just that. A student needs to know how to express what they need and when. The ability to ask someone for assistance is a necessary life skill. Help your students learn how to ask for help when they need it. Learning how to ask a teacher for help will be invaluable to them in the future when they are presented in situations that they be unaccustomed to.


  1. Independence

Becoming independent is the hope and dream for many parents and individuals with autism. Becoming independent includes activities of daily living. This means one’s ability to prepare, cook and feed one’s self, but also aspects such as washing, drying and folding laundry. Simple tasks such as sweeping or vacuuming the floor or folding small towels is a great place to start.

Adding jobs to your classroom is a great place to start. Practicing running the lunch choices down to the office or wiping down the desks at the end of the day are perfect options for integrating these skills.


  1. Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is the way your student views him or herself. It is important to foster self-esteem with your students in order to prevent shut down. Show respect for your students and in return, they will for you. Build self-esteem by using a student’s natural interests to motivate them, encourage along the way, and build trust. If you need help building self-esteem in your students, read my post, 10 Ways to Increase Self-Esteem in Your Students with Autism.


  1. Time-management

Executive functioning skills are typically hard for students with autism. Time management is one of these skills. The idea of breaking down a task, learning priorities and estimating how long a task may take is a hard one. Practice time-management skills by breaking down tasks for your student. As your students learn routines, their time-management skills will increase. As they become better at following certain routines you can teach them how to estimate how long a task will take them and practice breaking down easy tasks.

You could even double-dip a bit here. Tackle time-management and some independence skills by practicing making simple dishes. You could have your student practice breaking down the task of making a sandwich, trail mix, or some other small snack or meal.


  1. Money management

Understanding the basics of money management is important in everyday life skills. This includes paying bills, balancing checkbooks, and clipping coupons. Need ideas on where to start? Turn your math activities into life skills activities. Practice having a budget, paying for pretend bills or using coupons. In the long-term, a student will need to have these skills to buy their own groceries or pay their own rent.


  1. Decision-Making Skills

Becoming independent includes the ability to make decisions. We make hundreds of decisions a day. From simple to complex, decision making is something everyone does. Some students with autism have a hard time with decision making as it requires a multi-step process.

Teach your student how to make good decisions in three steps:

  1. Think about the future. (Will this decision help further your student to their future goals?)
  2. Stick to the facts. (What are the facts surrounding this decision?)
  3. Weigh the pros and cons. (Do the pros outweigh the cons? Choose that one.)


Now you know the skills that need to be taught. But you may be wondering how exactly do I teach them?







If you enjoyed this post, please visit my site! If you really liked the post, let me know! Zip me an email at, and if you REALLY REALLY like me, let’s join forces! Follow me on Twitter @TRISHAKATKIN, Pinterest, or Facebook. I would love to connect!