This post originally appeared on the blog Autism Adventures.
Teaching students to take a break is a great skill in helping them learn to cope with emotions. Giving students the opportunity to request and grant a break is a skill that can really “make or break” a student’s ability to be successful in the classroom. Breaks can look different in different settings. They can also vary depending on the student.
A break is intended to provide the relief the student needs to decompress and cope with whatever they are struggling with.
A break IS NOT a break to have fun and relax.
These lines can get blurred real quick. If breaks are not supervised and set up in the correct manner, students will learn real quickly that they can request a break to get out of work. This is something you want to prevent!
With everything, teaching and maintaining functional communication between staff and students is key to success for everyone! Some students will be able to recognize when they need a break, and some students may choose to act out and need prompting from staff to take a break. Either way, we should be modeling communication to students. I like to use break cardsfor students who struggle with communication during a challenge. For example, if a student is demonstrating challenging behavior and would benefit from a break, I like to prompt them with a break card and help them to request it however they are able to. It could be verbally prompting them to request a break or it could simply be having the child hand over the break card to a staff with hand over hand prompting. Either way is OKAY. The student is learning that a break is something they CAN request. Let’s remember: the ultimate goal is to have every child independent with regulating their emotions and learning to cope with their emotions on their own. Eventually, this break card may be able to be attached to the student’s desk as a visual reminder cue card. Every student is different, but these break cards can be universally used for all!
If a student has learned to recognize that they need a break, initially you are thinking YES, I did it! But, after some time, it can be an escape for the student. There is a fine line in not allowing kids to take a break and allowing kids to take a break. If they need it, we want to give it. But what if they don’t REALLY need it! Who are we to determine if/when they need a break? Sometimes it is obvious if they need it, and sometimes we are not so sure.
A simple solution to this problem is to give them limited break cards. Teach students that they are allowed to take “X” number of breaks a day, and it is up to them to choose wisely. If they choose to use all of their breaks by recess, well, they can try again the next day. Over time, students will be able to determine if they need the break or not. There will be a learning curve with this method. Now, there will be times that an exception needs to be made. For example, the student used all of their breaks already and the school does an unannounced fire drill. If the student NEEDS an extra break, bend the rules ever so slightly. We don’t want to send students home frustrated and hurting themselves because, “too bad you used all your breaks already.”
This method will not work for every kid. Some students need their breaks and cannot put a cap on them. It’s important to recognize student needs before implementing something like this!
The student has learned to request a break and how to calm down during a break, NOW WHAT? Well, will the student go back to work? Are they able to transition back easily? For some students, this transition is no problem and you have nothing to worry about. For other students, it may be a struggle. Simply transitioning back to work can create a new tantrum and require another break, and this is a cycle you want to prevent! I like to use these transition cue cards in various aspects of the day, not just for breaks. These visual transition cards are an easy way to show students you are counting down! Simply remove one number at a time at whatever time interval you see fit for the students. It can be every 5 seconds, or every minute! You know your student the best and you know what will work! Adding this visual can help students to understand they are about to transition away from something!
I’ve already said this several times just within this blog post, but I really believe it. COMMUNICATION IS EVERYTHING! When students are in a break, sometimes we assume they are done and ready to go back to work. It can be traumatizing to be plucked out of a break quickly with no say in the matter. Communicate with the child. Ask the child, “Are you ready to go back to work?” Let students feel that they have a voice. This visual can help in this communication if needed. Of course, the student can’t keep saying “no” as all students need to eventually go back to work. This is where a transition visual cue card can be helpful, as well as timers and first/then cards!
The end all goal of breaks is to fade them away. Some students may always need breaks in the school setting, and that is just fine. Some students may need less breaks, or shorter breaks. Some students’ breaks may change from removing themselves from the classroom to a few minutes of just sitting at their desk. The goal is to fade the breaks, but it doesn’t have to be from 100 to 0 overnight.
Are you looking for some of these visuals in your classroom? Check out my Calm Down Kit #2!
Melissa is a moderate/severe special education teacher and author of the blog, Autism Adventures. Melissa creates products in her TpT store that help build independence for her students and that focus on functional academics, behavior management and communication development. Melissa lives in Long Beach, California with her husband and enjoys sunny days at the beach. You can visit her on Facebook , Instagram and Pinterest. To learn more about her teaching methods visit her at her blog, Autism Adventures.