Using the Incredible 5 Point Scale as a Tool for Communication

The Incredible 5 Point Scale, created by Kari Dunn Buron and Mitzi Curtis, can be used as an effective tool in emotional understanding and communication for those who have communication challenges. It was first designed to be used with children who have autism, but can be used with any student who faces challenges in identifying and communicating emotional responses. This tool is ideally used to promote the safe and effective communication of complex emotional responses (e.g., anger, sadness, annoyance, etc.) before a child tries to use ineffective alternative means of expression (e.g., crying, yelling, object throwing, etc,).


The 5-point scale can be broken down into specific lessons, but I have found that it is best to teach the basic scale first, which is:

5 (red): “I can’t stand this and am ready to explode”

4 (orange): “I am getting too angry”

3 (yellow): “I am getting really irritated”

2 (blue): “I am doing OK”

1 (green): “I am doing great”


There are also expressive faces to accompany these descriptions to promote further understanding of what each of these emotions means. For those who have more significant communication challenges, it may be easier for them to simply point to which emotion they are feeling at first. I have worked with children who have preferred to only reference the numbers (e.g., “I’m feeling 2 right now.”), and also those who have liked to only reference the colors (e.g., “I’m yellow.”). Regardless of the way in which the child communicates the response, it is important to positively reinforce this significant behavior necessary for daily functioning.


This tool can be used by parents, teachers, and other practitioners to aid in effective communication practices. This is especially important since the inability to communicate can be one of the most frequent antecedents in negative/disadvantageous behaviors. For those who are just beginning to use this scale, it is helpful to keep a laminated copy or an electronic copy on a smartphone/tablet quickly accessible for a visual reminder. This strategy can additionally be modified to fit each student’s needs, or the child could create his/her own scale with various colors and descriptions. Each student has different learning needs and it is important to be flexible and adapt to those needs!


Written by Catherine F., Novastar Prep Coach


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