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

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. 



Learn to Play, Play to Learn

Playing is an integral part of daily life for children. Through playing, all aspects of development can be promoted. For example, social skills such as sharing, cooperation, and turn-taking can be targeted while playing with a peer or family member (Lantz, 2001). Play takes many forms such as running, playing hide and seek, making art, or playing dress up. In today’s blog, we will discuss the different stages of play, how behavior therapists may encourage play, and ideas on how to promote play at home.

Stages of Play (Pathways, 2018)

1)      Unoccupied Play – This is when a child explores and discovers how their body moves (e.g., moving their arms, legs, feet, hands).

2)      Solitary Play – This is when a child plays alone and may include engaging with a toy.

3)      Spectator/Onlooker Behavior – This occurs when a child starts to watch other children play.

4)      Parallel Play – This is when a child plays beside or near other children but does not play with them.

5)      Associate Play – This is when a child interacts with others while playing mainly to give, take, and share toys. However, the amount of interaction is minimal.

6)      Cooperative Play – This is when a child plays and engages with others in the same activity.

ABA Interventions

1)      Natural Environment Teaching (NET) – This teaching method involves commenting on items/activities the child chooses to do. The goal is to increase a child’s verbal behavior, as well as expand their verbal responses. For example, if a child was playing with cars, saying “Wow! Your car is going so fast! Should my car go fast or slow?”

2)      Video Modeling – This teaching methodology has been found effective to teach children with autism a variety of skills. Video modeling is when adults or peers are recorded while acting out the targeted skill (e.g., playing with baby dolls). The goal is for the student to imitate the observed actions from the video to learn the skill (MacDonald, Mansfield, Wiltz, & Ahearn, 2009).

3)      Scripts – This is a specific visual strategy often used to promote social-communicative interaction while playing. Research has shown scripts are effective in enhancing interaction among children sociodramatic play (Goldstein & Cisar, 1992). Once scripts are learned, spontaneous responses are facilitated.

ErinoakKids Centre for Treatment and Development (2012). Sample Play Script.

 Retrieved from https://www.erinoakkids.ca/ErinoakKids/media/EOK_Documents/Autism_Resources/Teaching-Play-Skills.pdf

Other Visual Examples –

Memorizing the Moments. (2013, June 17). Block Building Templates. Retrieved from http://www.memorizingthemoments.com/2013/06/block-building-templates.html?m=1

Christine Reeve (2013-2018). Playground Schedule. Retrieved from https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Playground-Schedule-and-Script-Freebie-Autism-Special-Education-923613

Tips and Ideas at Home

  • Be sure to build play time within your child’s schedule.
  • Model how to play with the materials and/or toys. For example, if playing with play dough, show your child how you are making three balls to stack on each other to make a snowman. Ask them if they can make a snowman too.
  • As the holidays are near and you might be considering what to get your child, think about presents that could encourage your child’s play, based on their current developmental skills.
  • Set screen limits.
  • Get creative! Set up obstacle courses, build a fort out of blankets, decorate cookies, make slime.
  • If available, consider attending a play group.
  • Consider enrolling your child in an organized activity (e.g., gymnastics, karate).

In conclusion, playing is essential for all children’s development. Through play, children socialize, learn, and have fun! As Mr. Rogers said, “Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.”  Hopefully the holiday break provides some extra opportunities for playing and family time! Happy Holidays!

References

ErinoakKids Center for Treatment and Development. (2012). Teaching Play Skills to Children with Autism.

Goldstein, H., & Cisar, C. L. (1992). Promoting interaction during sociodramatic play: Teaching scripts to typical preschoolers and classmates with disabilities. Journal of applied behavior analysis25(2), 265-280.

Lantz, J. (2001). Play time: An examination of play intervention strategies for children with autism spectrum disorders. The Reporter, 6(3), 1-7, 24.

MacDonald, R., Sacramone, S., Mansfield, R., Wiltz, K., & Ahearn, W. H. (2009). Using video modeling to teach reciprocal pretend play to children with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis42(1), 43-55.

6 Stages of Play: How Kids Learn to Play. (n.d.). Retrieved from

How Kids Learn to Play: 6 Stages of Play Development