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Using the Workbox System for Preschooling Autistic Students

written by: Sharon Dominica • edited by: Amanda Grove • updated: 1/5/2012

Want to know more about the workbox system for preschoolers with autism? Here are the steps to start your own system for your autistic students.

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    Workboxes or task boxes were first popularized by Sue Patrick, for children with autism. This system has been modified in many ways in different settings, but basically the system involves boxes in which a complete short structured activity is kept. The child can open the box, complete the activity and close it. The workbox activity system is effective with children with autism for many reasons. It helps children to visually attend to the activity, establish a routine, and learn comfortably with structure. This article will help you set up your own workbox system for preschooler with autism.

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    Planning and Implementing a Workbox System

    The workbox activity may look very simple on the outside but needs to be well thought out. Good planning and implementation is what will make the system effective. Here are some strategies for using the workbox activity system and integrating into your autistic child’s learning system.

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    Making a Curriculum

    The first step to set up a workbox system is to look at what needs to be taught. Assess the child’s skills and knowledge and make a list of skills that need to be taught in the next two months or so. Break up these skills into their smallest components. Ensure that you cover all areas including reading and writing, math, science, geography, general knowledge etc.

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    Organizing Workboxes

    Now that you are ready with your curriculum, you can get started on making and organizing workboxes. You can decorate old shoeboxes to use as workboxes. Alternately, you can use plastic rectangular boxes that can be stored on top of each other. You may also want to make a space or shelf where you can keep the workboxes to be done for the day.

    Depending on your child’s ability, he or she can complete anything between 5- 12 workbox activities in a day. The next task is to allot a certain number od workboxes to each subject for a day. For example you can have two workboxes for language, three for math, one for science, one for art, and one miscellaneous workbox. You can color code or label workboxes to make it easier for you, as well as your child.

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    Deciding on Workboxes and Activities

    Now that your workboxes are ready, its time to start planning activities. Pick up any component of the curriculum and plan a simple, hands on activity to teach or reinforce that skill. A large number of preschool activity books are available that you can use to get ideas for workbox activities. Pick one skill for every workbox, and make a record of what you have gone through. Over the week, try to reinforce the same skill through different activities. This will help the autistic child to generalize learning.

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    Setting Up Your System

    Once the activities are ready, arrange the boxes in the order that they are to be done. Explain to the child that he needs to start with the first box and when he has done all of them, he can do something else. You may want to break up the learning into two sessions. A chart where the child can tick off the number of the shoebox once he’s done with it, will help to motivate him. Stick to a specific routine of working with the shoeboxes, and it will help the child feel comfortable and learn more.

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