How To Promote Autism Awareness From Home

Did you know this April launches the 50th anniversary of Autism Awareness month? The National Autism Society created Autism Awareness month in 1970 to increase knowledge of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and improve quality of life for those living with the disorder. While a lot has changed since 1970, the need to promote awareness of ASD still remains essential. Typically each year there are large events in several communities nationwide that promote Autism Awareness. Due to the unprecedented current situation with Covid-19, many may be wondering how we can promote Autism Awareness in our communities with the lack of social gatherings.

  1. Share digital resources with those in your community: work, classroom, clubs/organizations
    The National Autism Society and Autism Speaks have impactful online infographics and resources. Get creative outside!
  2. Have your family join you in chalking your driveway or sidewalks with Autism Awareness Month and the hashtag #celebratedifferences
  3. Share with families near your home by putting a little spring activity in their yard! Use spring items such as colored plastic eggs filled with treats and Happy Autism Awareness Month/ #celebratedifferences paper slips inside.
  4. Take a pledge by spreading the word & fundraising online through different social media platforms.
  5. Send snail mail to family and friends expressing the importance of Autism Awareness month and give them this information on how they can help

In times like this, it’s more important than ever to know that you are not alone in the fight to advocate and include those with Autism. While it can seem daunting to try to explain what Autism to people who may have never come into contact with the disorder before, small steps taken each day unites us in helping those with the disorder to be understood and makes our world a little bit brighter.

Three Ways to Help Your Child Communicate

A hot topic with families generally is how to help their family member with Autism communicate. Whether a child uses an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device, sign language, or their voice, communication is an area that families and experts see as essential for developmental growth. In Applied Behavior Analysis, there are several ways in which communication is incorporated into a therapy session. 

The founder of ABA, B.F. Skinner broke up communication into different categories:

  • Mands- Any type of vocal communication that indicates something desired (i.e. Joel asks his mom for a cookie on his AAC device) 
  • Echoics- Vocal imitation (i.e. Scarlett’s mom says “Popcorn” and Scarlett repeats by signing “Popcorn”)
  • Tacts- labeling an item (i.e. Brody sees his dog playing outside. He says, “dog”.
  • Intraverbals- a conversation (this can be a statement such as filling in the rest of a song. For instance, Abigail’s Grandma says “Ready, set…” and Abigail finishes the statement, “Go!”)

These four types of communication are incorporated into each child’s session at some point based on their assessment level when they start services. Beyond a session though, family members can increase communication opportunities at home or in the community by doing three things: 

  1. Provide opportunities for the person to communicate. If you’re providing dinner for them, place the plate on the table but intentionally forget the fork so they have the chance to request for it. This increases the amount of times the person has to communicate. That old saying, “practice makes perfect” is actually really valid in the communication world. Give them several moments each day to practice their communication and they will learn and grow from
  2. Participate in vocal play. Even before words exist for a child, babbling and hearing sounds is beneficial. When playing with a child and their train set, make the train sounds. This will give them the option to hear and imitate the sounds that you make. This can also be used if the person babbles at all. For instance, Colt continues to say “eeeee” so his therapist says “eeee” as well. 
  3. Provide opportunities for functional communication training. This is something that can be crucial even further into a child’s development. Provide communication when they are visibly doing something to gain access or avoid something. For instance, John is watching a movie with his parents. He becomes afraid of something on the screen and hides under a blanket. His mom provides some communication for him: “John, I think you’re scared. Do you want to keep watching the movie or do you need a break?” John then requests the break. This can also be utilized for those who are non-vocal or are unable to request a break. For instance, when Addie is approached by a horse at the farm she runs away. Her mom prompts her to use her device and say “no thank you” then gives her different options of animals at the farm they can look at. Addie chooses the goats. 

Communication is a vital skill for development along with being beneficial to express an individual’s needs, wants and thoughts in the home. By utilizing these three tips, communication can flourish in one’s day to day routine even when therapy is unavailable. 

References: 

Cooper, J. Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed). New Jersey: Pearson Education.

Shane, Joseph, “Increasing Vocal Behavior and Establishing Echoic Stimulus Control in Children with Autism” (2016). Dissertations. 1400. https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/dissertations/1400

Sundberg, Mark L. (2008) VB-MAPP Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program :a language and social skills assessment program for children with autism or other developmental disabilities : guide Concord, CA : AVB Press

Considering OUR Behavior as Parents

Generally, when families are referred for ABA services, it is due to the behavior of their child. That behavior can vary from severe to minimal, however if a referral occurs, it means the behavior is interfering in some way with the child’s ability to function in their day to day environment. 

Once ABA services begin, BCBAs and RBTs will work together to collect data and determine the function (The Why?) of the child’s behavior. Treatment plans are written to manipulate the environment so the child can access their “Why” without having to engage in the behavior being treated.  However, there can sometimes be a missing piece to the ever-evolving puzzle.

That missing piece is the function of the parent’s behavior, OUR behavior.  As parents, we often engage in behavior that results in the avoidance of behavior from our children.  For example, my son did not independently put on his own socks and shoes until he started kindergarten. Not because he lacked the ability to. He didn’t do it, because I was always in a rush and did it for him. I didn’t have time to sit there and go through the whining and arguing and whatever other behavior he engaged in on any given day to get out of doing it by himself. He and I were on a merry-go-round of avoidant behavior. Him – avoiding putting on his socks; me – avoiding the whining, as well as being late to work. 

As parents we often find ourselves engaging in behavior that is ‘easier’ than dealing with undesirable behavior from our children.  We only go to the store when they aren’t with us, we do the task for them because it is faster and easier, we cook them dinner, we know they like to avoid the refusal to eat, we hand them the iPad when we’re on the phone so we can concentrate on the phone call. The list goes on and on, and we generally don’t do it knowingly.  

 In an analysis on the contingencies of parent behavior Stocco and Thompson (2015) described differences in participant behavior dependent on child behavior. Less demands were placed on children who engaged in higher rates of problem behavior. Participants also removed non-preferred toys from the environment when those objects were related to an increase in problem behavior.  Children who engaged in less problem behavior were given more demands and non-preferred toys were left in the room. Another study showed that adult participants gave higher levels of reprimands, when those reprimands resulted in the discontinuance of behavior from the child participant. Yet, another study result has shown that parents who excessively help their children with tasks don’t allow the child opportunities to complete the task independently (remember the socks?). (Stocco & Thompson, 2015)  

There are some strategies that can help parents reduce problem behavior from their children while also reducing their own avoidant behavior. 

  1. Start getting ready earlier
    1. If getting dressed independently takes your child a long time, you may start getting ready for an event earlier to allow them the opportunity to do so without being rushed. 
  2. Take shorter trips to the grocery store
    1. If going to the store with your child is a struggle, try taking shorter trips where you only need one or two things, then start increasing the amount of time you spend there with your child. 
  3. Present non-preferred meals with preferred meals
    1. If eating vegetables is difficult, try veggie tots, or even presenting veggies with pizza (not necessarily on the pizza).  

One of the biggest, and most important things we as parents can do is take a step back and consider what the function of our behavior is, our “Why”.  Then we can begin to change our reactions to our children’s behavior to begin meeting their “why” before they (or we) need to engage in an undesirable behavior to get the result we want. 

References: 

Stocco, C. S., & Thompson, R. H. (2015). Contingency Analysis of Caregiver Behavior: Implications for Parent Training and Future Directions. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Summer(48), 417-435.



Autism and Higher Education

There are limited amounts of studies that show research on students with ASD in higher education.  The research that has been done indicates that students who transition into higher education can face complications, such as new situations and routines, time management, and social relationships. While that may bring some anxiety to both the parents and the student, there are multiple recommendations to help the transition and college experience more enjoyable.

  1. A Personalized Approach
  2. A Safe and Transparent Environment with Sufficient Planning and Clear Communication
  3. Academic Accommodations
  4. Coaching in Education, Student Life and Daily Living
  5. Adequate Psychosocial Support
  6. Leisure Activities and a Sufficient Amount of Rest

A Personalized Approach

Students want their voices to be heard.  They feel it would be beneficial for the staff to have the opportunity to take the students’ personal preferences into account when setting transitional goals. It could also be advantageous to have an awareness program contributing to breaking down perceived stigmas of ASD, and instead, highlights the talents of students with ASD.

A Safe and Transparent Environment with Sufficient Planning and Clear Communication

Due to new situations causing uncertainty, stress and anxiety, students emphasized the desire for colleges to provide both a safe and transparent education and living environment. To do this, support staff could familiarize the expectations of the new environments with the students. This could include a detailed description of the activities, conducting a campus tour, and identifying places the students could find peaceful. Another way to reduce stress, anxiety, and uncertainty is providing clear communication, letting the students know what is expected of them and their progress of new routines. One way to make this easier, would be to have one contact person who is familiar with ASD, whom the student could consult with during times of confusion, wanting to feel safe, or if they have questions.

Academic Accommodations

These can consist of additional time for written exams, extra preparation time for oral exams, having access to a separate room for exams, and allowing the option of doing alternative assignments instead of completing group work. This isn’t to say that no group work will be completed, but for a student with ASD who is feeling anxious or tense, having that option available could prove very beneficial. It’s also helpful for the staff to be aware that there is a diversity when it comes to ASD and that one student’s experiences might not be the same as another’s.

Coaching in Education, Student Life and Daily Living

This recommendation will help with both transitioning to higher education and the actual experience itself.  Research shows that students with ASD stated they would prefer to have one selected personal coach to help monitor and support their activities. These activities may include selecting a major, enhancing study skills, providing feedback on struggles, and providing advice if needed. As noted above, students with autism will have to collaborate with others at some point throughout their college experience, so having a coach to discuss ways to make those situations easier could be ideal.

Adequate Psychosocial Support

Psychosocial support is a typical term for non-therapeutic intervention that can help a person cope with stressors at work or in home. It is important for students to feel support from their family, most notably their parents, and this availability can help the students be able to talk to someone to prevent or cope with any stress, anxiety, or sometimes depression.

Leisure Activities and Sufficient Amount of Rest

A main strategy for handling anxiety and/or stress for students is to make time for leisure activities such as writing, watching television, running, or other areas of strong interest for that student. It’s also important to get sufficient rest, especially when embarking on a full-time course load when they enroll in higher education.

While thinking of your children going into higher education can be stressful, it’s also going to be a very rewarding time. I hope these six recommendations listed above will help ease the minds of both the student and parent when coming up on this journey of furthering their education!

 

References:

Hees, V. V., Moyson, T., & Roeyers, H. (2014, December 2). Higher Education Experiences of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Challenges, Benefits and Support Needs. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10803-014-2324-2.

 

Measuring Behavior: The Power of Data Collection

In applied behavior analysis, data drives each decision we make. Without data, we are simply making our best guess with the information we have at hand. Often these guesses are based on our own opinion and contain subjective information derived from how we “feel” things are going. Data allows us to make objective decisions based on quantifiable information.  When data is objective, it removes one’s opinion and makes the data more accurate. It is important that we make changes based on accurate information in order to support effective behavioral change. 

Data isn’t something that’s only meant for scientists. Many fields and professionals use data including doctors, pharmacists, mechanics, teachers, and business owners. In reality, most of us analyze, search, find patterns, and make predictions with information in our everyday lives. Data is everywhere and it often drives the decisions we make without us even knowing it.

Let’s look at some examples of how we use data everyday: 

  • Checking the weather to determine what to wear for the day
  • Making a grocery list to determine what you need from the store
  • Following a recipe
  • Keeping a food log
  • Using a device to track exercise, sleep, and mood

In applied behavior analysis, we use data to measure behavior change. The goal of any behavior analysis program is to change behavior. Behavior analysts measure the effect of interventions on behavior. Once an intervention is put in place, behavior analysts watch for a decrease in problem behavior and an increase in positive behavior. The only way we know this change is occurring is with data collection. Chances are, you have been asked to complete this very important task of data collection. 

Data collection is a core part of your child’s therapy program. Data is collected each time your child has a therapy session. You might even be asked to collect data outside of therapy sessions depending on your child’s goals. Data may be collected on your child’s behaviors, new skills, treatment goals, potty, social skills, sleep, or eating patterns. What behaviors and skills are tracked and the type of data collection used is specific to your child’s plan. 

There are numerous types of data collection some of which you might be familiar with and some that might be new to you. Anytime you are asked to collect data or when data is shared with you, your child’s consultant will train you on collection and interpretation. Below are different types of data collection that may be used by your child’s team or that you might be asked to collect.

  • Frequency: the number of times a behavior or response occurs.
  • Duration: the length of time from start to stop that a behavior or response occurs.
  • Latency: the length of time from the instruction to the start of the behavior.
  • Intensity/Magnitude: the degree to which the behavior is happening. What is the impact of the behavior?
  • ABC Recording: Descriptive information about the antecedent, behavior, and consequence when observing a behavior. The antecedent occurs before the behavior and triggers it. The consequence is what happened after the behavior including how others responded. 
Date/Time Activity Antecedent Behavior Consequence

 

  • Per Opportunity: When the opportunity arises for your child to engage in a particular behavior, skill, or response does your child complete it or not. 

In conclusion, data collection is a very important piece to your child’s therapy program. Data collection is not only used to track problem behavior, but also data is collected on your child’s new skills, goals, and other adaptive behaviors. Data collection helps us to know if treatment is working. With data collection, it becomes easier for professionals to understand behavior patterns and the progress of the individual. In the end, data collection can be viewed as the most important part of your child’s treatment program because without it, effective treatment would not be able to take place. Data collection is the foundation for decision making with one’s treatment and supports your child’s success. Now let’s take some data!

References

  • Bears, K. Johnson, C., Handen, B., Butter, E., Lecavalier, L., Smith, T., Seahill, L. (2018). Parent training for disruptive behavior; the RUBI autism network, parent workbook. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 
  • Cooper, J. Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed). New Jersey: Pearson Education.
  • Kansas Institute for Positive Behavior Support, University of Kansas. 



Autism and the Holidays: 5 Helpful Strategies to Increase Success and Joy!

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is a joyful and stressful time for many. For families of individuals on the autism spectrum, the holiday may prove to have some unique challenges. It is important for families of individuals with autism to consider these challenges and plan ahead in hopes to lessen the stressful times and increase success and joy for everyone. Let’s review some helpful strategies that you might consider implementing this holiday season.

1. The Importance of the schedule

Individuals with autism thrive on a consistent and predictable schedule. When the schedule is disrupted, problem behavior may occur. While your holiday season is likely to be less structured, it can be helpful to create a schedule and remain consistent with following it. Following a consistent schedule, may reduce problem behavior. Keeping consistent wake up times, bedtimes, mealtimes, and activities throughout the day will help ensure your child’s schedule is consistent and predictable. Your child may need a visual and preparation (e.g. visual schedule, calendar) of any changes to the schedule. If your child is receiving therapy, it is important to keep therapy appointments throughout the season. 

2. Preparation for new events and changes

With the holiday season brings a time of new events and changes to the schedule and environment. These changes may be difficult for an individual with autism. Preparation for these changes it key! Preparation for new events and changes can be done in a variety of ways and should begin weeks to days in advance from the change. Some individuals may need a visual schedule or calendar that includes new events and changes that will occur. To prepare the individual, the schedule may need to be reviewed several times. Other times, a script may need to be reviewed, modeled, and practiced with the individual so they feel prepared. If you are traveling, preparation should occur. While traveling, pack your child’s favorite things to have available to keep them busy during the flight (e.g. favorite snacks, toys). It may be helpful to have your child walk around the airport in advance to get used to the environment. 

3. Parties, Parties, and More Parties: Less might be More!

Holiday parties bring many people, noises, and extra distractions that may be difficult for an individual with autism. It is important to know your child’s limits and gradually extend the amount of time spent at a party. It may be helpful to practice this situation with your child prior to attending a party by using a script. With a script you can help to prepare your child on what to expect at the party and how your child should act. You can prepare scenarios that include how to greet others, how to engage in activities, as well as what to do and where your child should go if he or she feels overwhelmed. When your child begins to feel overwhelmed, encourage your child to communicate he or she needs a break and allow your child to go to an area they find reinforcing to take a break. Asking your child to stay at the entire party might be too much at first. Reinforcing small amounts of time and then increasing the time might be the right way to go. Being successful for achieving small steps to the end goal should be celebrated!

4. Connect with your Community

During the holiday season your community may offer additional resources, support, and activities for children with autism. Your community can be a great resource during this time. Many communities offer special and free events or activities for families of children who have autism spectrum disorders. These events provide safe and understanding environments as well as a time for families who are going through similar situations to connect with one another. To find out more information about activities in your area, it can be helpful to connect with local autism groups. 

5. Reinforcement

With all the newness and change the holiday season brings, it will be important to continue to support your child’s behavior and celebrate his or her successes. If your child has a behavior plan it will be important to continue to follow it during this time. Keep in mind the ABC’s (antecedent, behavior, consequence) of behavior. The antecedent comes before behavior and triggers it and the consequence is how you or others respond to the behavior. Keep track of behaviors and note any new behaviors that occur. When your child engages in new appropriate behavior and other behaviors that you want to see, provide reinforcement. When your child is successful in a new situation or at a party, provide reinforcement. Reinforcement may occur as praise, physical (e.g. high fives, hugs, pat on the back), or tangible items (e.g. toys, trinkets, activities, privileges).  Reinforcing the behaviors that you do want to see, will increase the likelihood that the behavior will occur again in the future. 

We hope that these strategies will help your child to be successful this holiday season and that your family experiences less stress and more joy that comes with the celebration of your child’s successes. Have a wonderful holiday season!

References

  • Holiday tips. Retrieved from www.autism-society.org
  • Bears, K., Johnson, C., Handen, B., Butter, E., Lecavalier, L., Smith, T., & Scahill, L. (2018). Parent training for disruptive behavior: the RUBI autism network, parent workbook. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Cooper, J., Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed). New Jersey: Pearson Education. 



BHOCE Accreditation

This year has brought on lots of excitement for our organization.  We opened our new office location, grew our service provider family to serve more client families and received our BHCOE Accreditation!

We are thrilled that Autism Services of Kansas is now a Behavioral Center of Excellence.  We want you to celebrate this accreditation with us. What does this mean to you and why is it important?

What is BHCOE Accreditation?

BHCOE stands for Behavioral Health Center of Excellence and it is an international accrediting body created to meet accreditation needs specifically for behavior analysis.

BHCOE Accreditation requirements are regularly reviewed at high, international standards in order to grant accreditation to organizations that directly work with behavioral health and behavioral analysis.

BHCOE Accreditation is a certification given to applied behavior analysis providers when they show that they meet the highest standards of care. In order to continue their BCHOE Accreditation, they must meet an assortment of clinical and administrative standards determined by an independent third-party evaluator.

History of the BHCOE

BHCOE Accreditation began as a five-year project to provide information about quality assurance for behavioral organizations, and transparency for their futures. It has since grown into the international Quality Assurance Standards and BHCOE Accreditation Program.

Since BHCOE’s official establishment in 2015, over 6,900 consumers have been surveyed and 8,375 staff have been surveyed. In 2017, only 57% of organization’s had a first-time pass rate.

What is a Center of Excellence?

A center of excellence is an organization that values clinical quality, staff satisfaction, and parent satisfaction while providing the highest quality of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) services.

This accreditation is earned, not given, as providers are evaluated on a number of measures related to their clinical quality of work and satisfaction. BHCOE Accreditation shows that the organization meets the highest standards of clinical quality and has been verified by a third-party.

A Center of Excellence is an organization that respects its employees and clients, cares about their feedback, and is able to learn internally in order to better serve their community.

What does this mean for you?

Autism Services of Kansas being BHCOE Accredited means that we are indeed providing quality services.  The accreditation was what we imagine an “audit” to entail. They went through all important documents, surveyed staff and clients, and other extensive measures.  Our goal of becoming accredited was to ensure that we are up to par with all Autism Providers across the nation.  Some states require accreditation for autism providers.  Kansas does not, however we hold ourselves to the highest standards.  We will continue to work to improve and refine our practices.  Each family we serve deserves to work with clinicians who are always seeking ways to grow and better serve them.  This is what we will continue to do.

References

BHCOE Accreditation. (2019).  Retrieved from https://bhcoe.org/

Reinforcement

Reinforcement is an important component to learning new skills and behaviors. While some reinforcement is contrived, much reinforcement occurs naturally in our everyday lives. We most often don’t even recognize that it is occurring. Reinforcement occurs when there is a stimulus change immediately following a response and increases the future frequency of that type of behavior in similar situations. More simply put, reinforcement is a process that occurs after the behavior and helps us to learn new skills because it strengthens it.
Reinforcement is part of what we call operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is simply one way we learn, and we learn through either reinforcement or punishment. Let’s look at some examples of naturally occurring reinforcement.

  • A baby reaches her hands towards the mobile and it moves.
  • You push the button on your coffee pot and the coffee starts to brew.
  • You put your keys in your car and it starts.
  • You lather sunscreen on your skin to avoid a sunburn.
  • These are things you might see or do in your everyday life. So how is reinforcement working in these situations you might ask?
  • The mobile moving when the baby reaches her hands increases the frequency of the baby reaching towards the mobile again.
  • Your coffee brewing increases the likelihood you will push the button the next time you want coffee.
  • Your car starting increases the frequency of you putting your keys in the ignition the next time drive.
  • Avoiding the sunburn increases the frequency you will use sunscreen again when in the sun.
Antecedent Behavior

Consequence

Baby sees mobile Reaches hands

Mobile moves/reinforces movement

The key word in all of these situations is INCREASES. The behavior increases which makes it reinforcement.
Reinforcement can also be socially mediated which means that it is must be delivered by another person. This is what we might call “contrived” reinforcement. Often, children with autism need some additional reinforcement to learn new skills and this is okay. Just because a child needs some extra reinforcement now does not mean they will always need that same reinforcement as they continue to grow. The goal of any reinforcement program should focus on fading tangible reinforcement as new skills are learned or problem behaviors decreased. For example, with my own child, I used a sticker chart paired with praise to increase going on the potty. Now that my child is consistently going on the potty, I no longer use the sticker chart and use praise intermittently.

Reinforcement has two categories, primary and secondary reinforcement. Primary reinforcement is reinforcement that is not learned. It is referred to as unconditioned reinforcement. This type of reinforcement refers to things such as food, water, sleep, and air. Secondary reinforcement is conditioned reinforcement. It is conditioned because it is the process of pairing something that was not previously reinforcing with something that is reinforcing such as the primary reinforcement of food. For example, pairing praise with a bite of food makes praise a conditioned reinforcer. With time, you should be able to remove the food and only use praise as a reinforcer because it has been conditioned.

There are two types of reinforcement, positive and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is when you add in or present something after the behavior that increases the future frequency of that behavior. Negative reinforcement is not negative, hence the title. Instead it also increases the future frequency of a behavior because it is reinforcement that removes something aversive to the individual. Let’s look at some examples.

Positive Reinforcement
Child picks up toys and teacher provides praise and a sticker. *This is positive reinforcement because the praise and sticker are added/presented, and it increases picking up toy behavior.
Negative Reinforcement
Child asks for a break from completing homework and parent allows the child to take a 5-minute break. *This is negative reinforcement because the aversive homework is removed, and the child is more likely (increases) to ask for a break the next time he is completing homework.
There are many things you can use for reinforcement, thus there are many different types of reinforcers. Reinforcers can be activities/privileges, tangible items, primary reinforcers such as food, social reinforcement such as praise, and tokens. Tokens signal larger reinforcement later. For example, your child must earn three tokens before picking a larger reinforcer. Tokens can be actual tokens, or they may be stickers, play money, etc. What your child finds reinforcing will be unique to them. Let’s look at some examples.
Activities/Privileges
Games: Board and interactive such as peek a boo, tag, ring around the rosy, etc.
Community outings: going to the park, out to eat, swimming, etc.
Art activities
Singing/music activities
Cooking
Staying up late
Taking a break/down time

Tangible Items
Toys
Books
Sensory items
Household items that your child enjoys

Social Reinforcers
Praise
High fives
Hugs
Back rubs
Thumbs up

Primary Reinforcers
Food
Water
Sleep

Tokens
Sticker chart
Play money (bucks)
Actual tokens

How do you know what is reinforcing to your child? You most likely can already identify your child’s favorite things; however, you may want to do an informal reinforcer assessment to get a better idea of which items are the most reinforcing. To conduct an informal assessment, identify what items your child plays with the most or watch them during play to see what they play with. You can also ask others who know your child well what they think your child likes. For example, asking your child’s teacher what they prefer at school. Once you have identified items that your child prefers, you can pair items and ask them to choose which one they what. Take notes, on the items/activities that your child chooses the most.
When teaching a new skill consider using some of your child’s favorite things as reinforcers to shape the new behavior or skill you want your child to learn. It will be important to cut off reinforcement for problem behavior and reinforce the skills and behaviors you want to see your child engage in. To use your child’s favorite items as reinforcers here are a few general strategies.
Place the items in your child’s view but not in their reach. This may motivate them to ask for the item or engage in the skill you are teaching.
Keep items that you are using as reinforcers put away. Try to only use them during the times you are shaping behavior or teaching new skills. If your child as access to the reinforcing items all of the time, they may get satiated on them and the items will no longer be reinforcing.
Vary up reinforcers. Just because your child likes something one day does not mean it will be what they are motivated for the next. Just as I mentioned above, your child may get satiated with the reinforcers.
When teaching a new skill or shaping a new behavior it is important to remember that you may need to reinforce successive approximations of that behavior. This is shaping. For example, when teaching a child to sit at the table you may first reinforce the child standing at the table, then sitting for 30 seconds, then reinforce only when they sit for 1 minute, etc., until you get to the target goal.
Often in the beginning when teaching a new skill or shaping a new behavior, reinforcement must occur in close approximation to the target behavior. That is, reinforcement should occur immediately after the response and for each response. Once your child starts to become successful for a period of specified time, you can fade reinforcement (i.e. reinforce for a certain number of responses or time).
Reinforcement is perhaps the most important and powerful principle of behavior analysis. It is always in use and sometimes we might accidentally reinforce behaviors that we don’t want to see. However, when reinforcement is used appropriately it can shape any new behavior or skill that you want to see your child engage in. What behavior will you reinforce today?

References
Bearss, K., Johnson, C., Handen, B., Butter, E., Lecavalier, L., Smith, T., Scahill, L. (2018). Parent training for disruptive behavior: the rubi autism network. New York: Oxford University Press.

Chazin, K.T. & Ledford, J.R. (2016). Preference assessments. In Evidence-based instructional practices for young children with autism and other disabilities. Retrieved from http://ebip.vkcsites.org/preference-assessments

Cherry. K. (2019). Positive and negative reinforcement in operant conditioning. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-reinforcement-2795414

Cooper, J., Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied behavior analysis. New Jersey: Pearson.

Creating Supportive Environments

Perhaps you have noticed or been told that your child “acts” a certain way in one environment and a different way in another. From experience, my own children engage in different behaviors at school than they do at home. I often get asked by parents why this occurs. A good place to start to uncover some answers to this question is by looking at the environment.

From a young age, children quickly learn the expectations and consequences for each environment they are a part of. Examples of different environments include the grocery store, swimming pool, park, home, and school. From a behavioral perspective, we believe that people engage in different behaviors across environments due to the contingencies that are put in place. A contingency is the relationship between two events, the behavior and consequence, and one is “contingent” on the other. Contingencies can be natural or contrived and come in the form of reinforcement or punishment. Here is an example:

Antecedent              Behavior                  Consequence

Child wants juice    Child says “Juice”   Parent gives child juice

This consequence reinforces or strengthens the behavior of appropriately asking for juice. Since the child received the juice, the child is more likely to say “Juice” in the future.

Let’s look at another example…

 Antecedent                                                               Behavior                       Consequence

Parent tells child it is time to take a bath           Child runs away          Delays bath

In this example, the behavior was also reinforced or strengthened because the child was able to delay the bath which is a non-preferred activity. Since the child was able to delay the bath, the child is more likely to run away in the future when it is bath time.

This is an example of how easy it can be to accidentally reinforce the behaviors we do not want to see. In this example, it would be important for the parent to follow through with the request and prompt or guide the child to that bathtub.

Consequences occur after the behavior and all behaviors have a consequence. At times, you may find that you have to be reactive; however, there are many things you can do to your environment to help your child be successful and decrease the chances the problem behavior will occur in the first place.

Often children with autism, need a little extra support to learn the expectations for each environment. While contingencies will always be different across environments, I will discuss some general strategies for creating a supportive environment that can work across the board.

  1. Safety First

Children with autism may engage in unsafe behaviors such as self-injurious behavior, elopement, jumping off of items, and climbing.

  • Ensure the room is set up for maximum safety
  • All items your child is not supposed to have are put up and away
  • Locks and gates can be used to ensure safety
  • Use of visuals such as a stop sign or signs signaling what your child is to do and not do in situations where safety is a factor can be useful.
  1. Structure, Consistency, and Predictability

Children with autism often thrive in structured environments that are high in predictability. There are a variety of ways you can make your environment more structured and predictable.

  • Use a visual schedule
  • Create an expectation visual: List what behaviors you expect from your child at various times of the day.
  • Use a first-then visual to show your child once a nonpreferred activity is complete a preferred or reinforcing activity will be next.
  • Balance nonpreferred/difficult and preferred/easy tasks throughout your child’s day.
  • It may be helpful to break nonpreferred/difficult tasks into smaller steps with reinforcement throughout.
  • It is important to keep a consistent daily schedule (e.g. consistent morning routine, bedtime routine, etc.)
  • Have structured play activities—children with autism may have a difficult time playing independently or appropriately. They may need adult facilitation to model, prompt, and reinforce appropriate skills.
  • Providing your child with reminders and prompts for appropriate behavior can help to encourage the behavior you want to see.

It is okay that children act different from one environment to another. It is not expected that children will act the same at home as they do at school or in another environment because the contingencies are different. However, you can set up each environment to be supportive of the behaviors you would like to see your child engage in.

Citations

Cooper, J., Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied behavior analysis. New Jersey: Pearson.

Let’s learn aba (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.letslearnaba.com/aba-terms/contingencies/

Roane, H., Ringdahl, J., & Falcomata, T. (2015). Clinical and organizational applications of applied behavior analysis. San Diego: Elsevier Inc.

Webster, Jerry. (2019, January 26). Contingency — the Important Relationship Between Behavior and Reinforcement. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/contingency-behavior-and-reinforcement-3110376

Understanding the Functions of Behavior

A primary purpose of applied behavior analysis (ABA) is to help individuals and families by addressing interfering or challenging behaviors. All kids throw tantrums, whine, or do not comply (follow directions), and so on. Understanding why the behavior is happening is crucial. Once the function (or the ‘why’ of the behavior) is determined, the behavior can be addressed. Today, we will discuss the four functions of behavior and how they are determined.

A common strategy used to determine the function of a behavior is through ABC data. While gathering ABC data, the following questions are needed:

  • What happens before the behavior (the antecedent)?
  • What is the behavior?
  • What happens after the behavior (the consequence)?

Image retrieved from https://medium.com/mah-behavior-support/start-here-roadmap-to-behavior-support-e7747caa295d

To help grasp the concept, let’s look at an example. A girl is crying in the check-out line at the grocery store. Before crying, the girl had asked her mom for candy and her mom said no. The girl continues to cry until her mom changes her mind and ends up buying her the candy. In this situation, the ABC data would be the following:

  • A: Parent says no to buying candy at a grocery store.
  • B: Child cries.
  • C: Child gets candy.

Using this information to find patterns in antecedents and consequences, a hypothesis can be made in regard to why the behavior is happening.

 

The Four Functions of Behavior

  • Attention: We all seek attention and interactions with others. Depending on the child, attention from certain people may be more reinforcing than others (e.g., peers versus teachers). In some cases, children may be seeking attention in any way possible, which includes both positive (e.g., laughing) and negative (e.g., yelling) attention.
  • Escape: When a non-preferred situation, task, or person is present, a child may engage in challenging behavior in order to escape.
  • Access to tangible items: The example above about the girl crying to get a candy bar (tangible item), demonstrates an individual’s behavior that is occurring to get access to some item.
  • Automatic: Some refer to this function as sensory. A behavior’s function is automatic when it is occurring because it is internally reinforcing (e.g., rocking, hand flapping).

 

Image retrieved from https://www.istockphoto.com/vector/vector-illustration-of-a-girl-crying-gm157038653-22295885

Strategies to Use Based on Function

  • Attention
    • Give frequent positive attention (e.g., tell your child “I love how you’re playing!”).
    • Teach appropriate ways to seek attention (e.g., have your child say, “Look at this!” to show you something instead of crying, or give a tap on your arm instead of hitting).
    • Ignore challenging behaviors that are seeking for attention (e.g., a child uses a cuss word that typically is either reprimanded or laughed at, ignore).
  • Escape
    • Teach appropriate ways to escape (e.g., have your child ask, “Can I be all done?” instead of throwing their food on the floor).
    • Follow through with the demand.
    • Teach how to ask for help if a task is difficult.
    • Offer choices.
  • Access to tangible items
    • Teach appropriate ways to ask (e.g., “Can I please have juice?”).
    • Follow through when the answer is no, to teach your child how to accept “no.”
    • Provide warnings when transitioning (e.g., Five more minutes to play video games”).
    • Set limits on access to certain tangibles.
  • Automatic
    • Reinforce behavior that is incompatible with interfering behavior (e.g., keeping hands in lap, instead of picking nose).
    • Provide opportunities for physical exercise/movement breaks.
    • Teach how to request for a break.
    • Teach a replacement behavior (e.g., chewing gum instead of grinding teeth).

It is important to note that a behavior can have multiple functions. For example, a child could be biting to get your attention, to escape from a demand, to get access to an item, or s/he likes how it feels to bite. If you are having any issues when it comes to behavior, be sure to consult a BCBA so a behavior plan can be created and implemented.

 

References

Chazin, K.T. & Ledford, J.R. (2016). Challenging behavior as communication. In Evidence-based

instructional practices for young children with autism and other disabilities.

Pratt, C., & Dubie, M. (2008). Observing behavior using a-b-c data. The Reporter, 14(1), 1-4.