Using a Communication Log to Work With Children With Special Needs

In my last post, I discussed how an “earnings chart” can help children with special needs. This week, I want to tackle our “communication log,” which is directly linked to our son’s earnings chart.

The communication log is something created by myself and our child’s Resource Special (RSP) person. It also includes valuable input from our child’s aide. The RSP person and I discuss and eventually agree on what behaviors we’d like to target for my child during his day at school. These behaviors are directly linked to our at-home earnings chart.

How does the communication log work?

Even though the RSP person assists in assembling the log, it is our child’s aide who is responsible for implementing it. She spends her working time (minus her two breaks plus lunch, at which time the teacher is responsible for the log) observing our child and recording a check mark if he succeeds a targeted positive behavior.

To properly record this data, the categories are broken down into four time frames: 8:30 to 9:45, 9:45 to 11:30, 11:30 to 1:15, and 1:15 to 2:30pm. During a certain time of day, she will give our child a check mark for his positive behavior.

If our child accumulates enough check marks and has no other negative incidents, his aide gives him a sticker for that day. When our child gets his daily sticker, he has earned his chart item.

Last year, during second grade, we added a monthly earnings chart in addition to his well-established daily earnings chart. If he gets “stickers only” for a day, he gets the maximum number of daily points (which is 10). If he gains a certain number of points for a month, he then earns an end-of-the-month “surprise” (a small gift given to him at the end of each month).

What does the communication log look like?

Our log is really a one inch 3-ring binder. On the outside of the binder, I put a recent photo my son and his name written at the top of the photo. This personalizes the log.

The log contains sheets of data which are recorded by the aide on a daily basis. Each sheet has categories of potential “earned” behaviors which are broken down into the four manageable time frames. The RSP person and I named these sheets “(our child’s) Daily Check Off System.”
For this school year, the categories are “Volume Control,” “Engine Control/Communicates a Need for an Engine Break,” “Keeping Hands to Self,” “Following Classroom Directions,” “Appropriately raises hand,” “Speaks in Turn.”

Please note these topics are slightly different topics than the ones we had during second grade. When discussing third grade, the RSP person and I “graduated” my child from behaviors that we felt he no longer displayed. We felt he no longer had to earn “rewards” for learned behaviors.

We kept in mind, however, the idea that our child still needs to be challenged. “Following Classroom Directions,” for example, is still an occasional problem for my child, especially when his engine is running high and he is having trouble concentrating.

Also listed on our child’s daily check off system are a “concerns/comments” section and an “Upcoming Events” section. These are filled in, as needed, by his aide.

Additionally, there is one more section that was added this year, “SEAT.”

SEAT stands for Sensory, Escape, Attention, and Tangible. This section gets filled in whenever the aide needs to explain what she feels were the reasons for an “unexpected behavior.” She does her best to consider what lead up to the unexpected behavior and determine what she felt was the reason for that behavior. (Look for a future blog going into more detail regarding SEAT.)

Our communication log also contains a laminated daily schedule of classes. Our child is supposed to know his daily schedule. If he doesn’t, he is allowed to refer to schedule in his log.

There is also a list of “reminders” that our child and/or the aide can look at when needed.  This is important because children with autism are typically visual learners. With that in mind, we have learned to write things down to assist him. Or, we make a social story (another future blog topic).

In this case, the list of “reminders” includes the following: “Listen,” “Use your words for an engine break,” “Ask questions one at a time,” “Don’t touch things on other desks,” “No pounding the table,” and “Do not put your hands on someone else’s body.”

Some of these items were “graduated” topics from the second grade communication log, which we put on the reminder list for occasional reference.

Two last notes about our communication log:

First, your log may not end up even resembling our log. You must cater your child’s communication log to his/her school, the IEP team desires, the Resource Specialist’s experience, your child’s aide, your child’s teacher, and your own personal wishes for your child. You make your child’s communication log into what it needs to be in order to assist your child through their school day. You make it however you need to make it. There are no rules here.

Second, I began this year thinking hard about how my child was entering third grade. Third grade is a big step up from second grade. For example, my child now brings homework home nightly instead of weekly. And, next year, in fourth grade, his class size will greatly increase.

With this big jump in mind, I decided to further challenge my child. I added two “bonus” categories to his daily check off system (with the RSP person’s blessing). I told my child that the earning of any bonus items adds five points to his monthly “surprise” earnings chart. The two bonus items I added are “Discussing his Schedule” and “Noticing a Social Cue.”

For “Discussing his Schedule,” we not only want our child to know what classes he has on any given day but the goal with this bonus is to have our child responsible for his own schedule. We no longer want the aide tell our child, “Hey, you have math class in five minutes.” We feel it is important to have our child pay attention to his own schedule and to wean him off of having his aide constantly remind him, “Math class in five minutes.”

For “Noticing a Social Cue,” we want our child to begin to notice how others react to him non-verbally. He often has trouble noticing the facial expressions of others. A child could frown at him after he asks her to play chess yet he’ll completely miss the frown and its meaning.

The bottom line for this bonus choice is to try to get our child to begin to notice social cues with the knowledge that he may earn something out of it. He responds so well to earning things, and this is one way to begin the process of learning non-verbal communication that is so tough for many children with autism, including our child. Finally, I added these bonus categories on purpose and with our child’s future in mind.

In my next blog, I will discuss that future, the one where my child goes to school without his aide.

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