Circle Time-Part 1

A pre-school teacher of over a dozen young students with special needs asked for some ideas for decreasing disruptions during circle time in her classroom. Of particular concern is the behavior of a 5-year-old diagnosed with autism. “When teachers attempt to have him follow the daily routine on his picture schedule and come to circle time, he throws himself on the floor, screams at the top of his lungs, tries to hit, bite, and kick,” said the teacher. The teacher has asked for an IEP planning meeting to develop strategies to address this issue. But, meanwhile, she needs to help decrease the youngster’s frustration and bring some peace into the classroom.

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First, let’s analyze the situation based on the information submitted by the pre-school teacher.
1. The student seems content when playing with toys or working independently in a learning center.
2. The 5-year-old responds violently when asked to participate in circle time.
3. Not only does he prefer to continue playing in the learning center, but also he has an aversion to structured, group activities.
4. This youngster is non-verbal, so rather than using words to express his resistance to participating in circle time, he screams, bites, hits, kicks, and falls to the floor.
5. The student is diagnosed with autism, so he probably has some legitimate issues inherent in autism that keep him from being able to calmly participate in group activities, i.e. sensitivities to sounds and to touch, inflexibility about changes in routine. aversion to new activities, difficulty transitioning to new activities, resistance to interacting with other people, resistance to group activities, and other issues.
7. Aside from the fact that he is diagnosed with autism, the youngster may have learned some typical 5-year-old behaviors, e.g. using a tantrum to manipulate adults, refusing to follow directions, wanting to be in charge of daily activities, and wanting to play instead of work.
8. The teacher realizes it will not help this youngster in the long run if he learns he can avoid structured activities by “throwing a fit.”
8. The teacher is trying to keep some semblance of order in a circle time with over a dozen children – all of whom have special needs. She is concerned about the effect of this youngster’s tantrums on the other students.
9. The teacher realizes she needs to eventually help this youngster move toward group participation, and she is aware of the multitude of skills that need to be addressed.
10. The teacher wants to help the 5-year-old learn to participate appropriately in activities with his peers, but she is not convinced that forcing participation in circle time is the most effective way to teach him the necessary skills.
11. The teacher is trying to remain calm and professional, but, in reality, she feels as if she is at the END OF HER ROPE!
In Part 2 of the Circle Time podcast, we will take a look at some strategies the teacher might consider implementing in circle time for this youngster.

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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