Down Time…Now What?

As teachers in public school autism programs, we have all run into the dreaded “DOWN TIME”. It can happen at any time and for a number of reasons: some students finish an activity earlier than expected, our plans didn’t take as long as we thought they would, a special or related service is running late, staff member(s) may be absent, etc. Whatever the reason, we have to think quickly! Consider things that can be used as not only time-fillers, but as great mini-activities to get your students using language, following directions, and cooperating in a small or large group.

Large Exercise Ball:

Keep an exercise ball handy. Present it during a group meeting time when:

  • Waiting for other students to join the group
  • Waiting for a related service to begin
  • Students are coming and going from meeting time (bathroom, hygiene, etc.)
  • Next activity is being prepared by staff members
  • A transition activity is needed

Students can (Based on individual student profiles):

Mand (Request): “My turn”, “Ball”, “Let me sit on the ball.”, “Can I sit on the ball?”, “Bounce”, “Let me bounce.”, “Roll”, etc.

Intraverbal Responses (Fill-in phrases, Answer Questions): 1, 2, 3, 4, (“5”), Ready, set, (“go”)

Tact (Label) items/actions: What is this? (“ball”), What are you doing? (“bouncing”, “rolling”, etc.)

Motor Imitation (Imitate movements): Teacher says: “Do this.”, “Copy me.”, “Show me this.”, “Do what ___ is doing.” (Student imitates teacher/student by sitting on ball, bouncing, picking up ball, etc.)

Listener Responding (Follow directions, Selection): Teacher says: “Sit on the ball.”, “Bounce”, “Pick up the ball.”, “Give the ball to ____.” (student follows directions)

Echoic (Vocal Imitation): Student can repeat fun words and phrases.

Additional Activity Ideas:

  • Trampoline
  • Swing in a sheet (need 2 staff members)
  • Spinning in a “spin chair”
  • Walking on a balance beam of blocks/obstacle course
  • Jumping/skipping/walking backwards/etc. on bubble wrap
  • Throwing balls/bean bags in basket or at target


  • Have many activities….The more that you have, the less likely your students will get “bored”.
  • Don’t present the same mini-activities every day. Keep it fresh!
  • Don’t make it a “cookie cutter” or “round robin” type of activity. Provide each student with appropriate language opportunities. Engage in differential instruction!

Check out our resource! Put your “down time” ideas on the provided activity cards. Laminate them and put them on a metal ring for easy access!

Downtime Teaching Tip Resource

FATE - Teaching Tips - Down Time


Downtime Teaching Tip Resource