CanYouSeeMe- How To WITH A SCRUPT on Offering Choice to Non-Verbal Students

Can You See Me?

Offering Choice to Non-Verbal Students: Tips, Tricks, and suggestions that work!

Offering choice makes instruction meaningful for students with significant disabilities who are non-verbal, minimally verbal, echolalic or non-responsive.

I was at a teacher training recently and during the break a teacher from a self contained classroom came up to me. She said she was glad to be getting some good information, but wasn’t sure exactly what to do with it… “In my class it’s like I’m talking to myself all day.”

I totally understand. Sometimes when you are with students who are minimally verbal, non-verbal, non-responsive, or echolalic, talking seems silly. It’s like talking to yourself all day long!

CanYouSeeMe- How To Offer Choice to Minimally Verbal Students- NoodleNook

I reassured her, but I know she is not the only one. Even if you only have one or two students who are challenged with verbal responses, it can be a tough to engage them in good instruction. So what do you do? Here is the biggest tip:

Offer Choice

Yeah… this is where the struggle starts. Why offer choice to someone who never responds? Well. truth is we can’t be sure if they are not responding to the choice itself… or not responding because no one ever asks them a choice questions! Maybe they have fallen out of practice on how to answer because no one ever bothers. We, as awesome teachers, need to build in choice as part of our day in as many opportunities as possible.

I think about myself. I make dozens of choices a day. So what does choice look like with a student who is minimally responsive? Let’s start with choosing between two crayons to color with.

Choice Script

“Student, what color would you like to use on the clouds? We have blue or white”.

Show the student the blue saying “Blue” and show the white saying “White”.

The student will respond (“Great Job”) or have no response. If there is no response, continue with:
“Let me know by (pointing/eye gaze/nodding/staring- however you are looking for a student to indicate choice) which color you would like to use.”

Show the student the blue saying “Blue” and show the white saying “White”.

The student will respond (“Great Job”) or have no response. If there is no response, continue with:
“I will help you pick a color.” Show the student the blue saying “Blue” and show the white saying “White”. “We have picked (name choice).”

This student had three opportunities to indicate choice, we have offered choice, and it has not slowed down our instruction.

About Choice and Response Mode

It sounds like a lot, but if you build this into as many parts of your day as possible, the expectation for a student to choose becomes normal. You have also guided the student while they learn how to exercise choice. If it were me or my child, I would want to know someone was offering them a choice… even if they were minimally responsive. Who knows, one day they may respond… but they never will if no choice is ever offered. Err on the side of presuming competence.

More importantly, when we offer all this choice, we are also constantly working on building a reliable response mode. You are telling a student how to answer questions for you (by pointing, eye gaze, nodding, blinking, turning their head) and then offering tons of chances to practice that skill and develop some consistency. That is probably the most important result of offering choice.

What About VODs

So, this is the thing most often asked when I talk about choice with teachers and the student uses a switch or VOD. “What do I program it to say so I don’t have to reprogram it every 5 seconds?”

I was in the community this week and a student had no response mode. All his available ways to communicate were in the classroom, so he did not have any way to interact… and he looked miserable. No one was talking to him. How easy would it have been to program even a single switch VOD with a phrase like “Put it in the basket” or “That is not on the list” and then asking him periodically if an item was on the list. Anything to get him engaged!

When it comes to programming VODs, think of authentic responses that can be used in several situation so you don’t feel like you are programming VODs to talk to yourself. Even a switch that asks “What are you doing?” could get a student interacting and also get your attention.

CanYouSeeMe- How To Offer Choice to Minimally Verbal Students

Long and Short of It

We have to stop doing everything for our students. They are people and they deserve to have some say in their daily routine. Offer choice to them just like you would want a choice if it were you. Use the script in almost any situation where choice is an option and it will start to feel natural. You may not feel like you have stopped talking to yourself, but at least you will feel like all the talk has purpose.

Come Back Next Week

We will have a post on how to do comprehension questions with students who are minimally responsive or non-verbal. Start practicing with choice until then!


Looking for some tools to use to develop response mode in your classroom? Try some of the communication boards that are available in the NoodleNook Teachers Pay Teachers store, like the PECS Communication Flip Board or the Communication Board. Check out this blog post if you want to read more on Least Dangerous Assumption or here for Switch Activities you can use in the classroom!

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