April is Autism Awareness Month, and I wanted to highlight one of my favorite tools that I employ with students with autism spectrum and related disorders: The Incredible 5-Point Scale by Kari Dunn Baron and Mitzi Curtis. The 5-Point Scale is a tool designed to help students understand the confusing, emotional and language-heavy range of human behaviors by boiling it all down to a scale of 1-5. The approach is very versatile and can be applied to many situations and target behaviors, such as emotional state, voice volume or scales to help students grade their responses to everyday occurrences such as a “Participation Scale” within the classroom.
The original 5-Point Scale book models how to use the tool as an affective scale, with 1 being “fine” and 5 reflecting an “out of control” feeling.
Where you want the student to “be” on the scale can depend on the scale—in general, a 5 is always bad, but your target level may not always be a 1. In the example of the Participation Scale, when setting up the range with the student, you might describe a 1 as disengaged and “tuned out” in class. A 5, then would be “dominating” and thus the target level would be a 3- “listening and making comments appropriately.” It all depends how you want to apply it!
What the Incredible 5-Point Scale allows you to do is reduce the language load on your students while teaching them a strategy that can be carried over into many situations. It provides a way to give simple and quick feedback (without power struggles): “You’re at a 4 right now. Let’s move that down to a 3.” Additionally, you can continue to scaffold and build language by associating the simple numbers and labels with more complex descriptions of emotions and social behaviors. The 5-Point Scale is wonderfully “sharable”; once you create one with a student or group, it can easily be applied in their classroom or home setting by a teacher or parent, somewhat like an advanced social story.
The 5-Point Scale also is wonderfully complementary if you are using Story Grammar Marker with your students, because many scales can be constructed around (and teach variations according to) narrative elements such as Setting, Kick-Off and Reaction. Take, for example, a scale designed to help students gauge and react to problems (Based on Michelle Garcia Winner’s “Big Problem, Little Problem” strategy in her Think Social curriculum):
On the first page of my document above, you can see how the Problem Scale has been aligned with Story Grammar Marker by using the icons (perhaps a great use of the Universal Magnet Set) for Kick-Off — meaning the kind of Kick-Off or problem one is encountering —and Reaction. The scale thus shows 5 kinds of problems and an expected reaction. In the second scale, you can see that the scale has been applied to a particular setting —Halloween night in the neighborhood. The kids I worked with all generated the Kick-Offs at each level of problem- a very engaging activity for them and a good preview of the holiday. The Kick-Off and Reaction icons provided an additional connection recently when I developed a “Negativity Scale” and we discussed 5 different Reactions to the same Kick-Off (e.g. a friend spilling your drink), ranging from overly positive (1) to extremely negative (5).
I definitely recommend that you visit Kari Dunn Baron’s site and check out her products. In particular, I have found the original book and video a great place to start, and her excellent Social Times series of magazines for students shows how the approach can be expanded, with a different 5-point scale in each issue.
Sean J. Sweeney, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist and instructional technology specialist working in the public schools and in private practice at The Ely Center in Newton, Massachusetts. He has presented on the topic of technology integration in speech and language at the ASHA convention and is the author of the blog SpeechTechie: Looking at Technology Through a Language Lens, which won the 2010 Best New Edublog Award. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.