5 Ways to Get Ready for School

August is just around the corner and many are preparing for their children to go back to school or build an alternative school setting in their home. For children with Autism, a summer “break” or the foundational years spent at home may leave parents wondering what they can do to help their child prepare for school readiness. 

    1. Increase time at the table: Whether it’s sitting with preferred items at the table during play or working on pre-academic skills during non-preferred time at the table, increasing table time will help your child transition to sitting in the classroom setting at a desk. 
    2. Work on initiating writing actions and coloring: No matter where your child is at with writing skills, working on initiating more time writing, tracing, or coloring will help your child be able to practice these skills in a school environment. 
    3. Practice going through a calendar daily: Sitting and having your child listen to the day, month and year will help them prepare for calendar time at school. Feel free to play songs associated with the month and year along with seasons and/or weather. This will help your child be more interested in calendar time. Allow them to have as much ownership as possible by having them help placing the numbers into the calendar if possible. 
    4. Work on group skills and following group instructions: Have your child practice following instructions in a group of other children. Whether it’s at the playground, during a playdate or with siblings at home during play time, this will help your child be able to engage in group activities throughout the day at school.
    5. Practice walking in lines with other kids: Similar to the group instructions, having your child practice walking in lines will help get them into the routine and transition in a group.

3 Types of Planned Ignoring

Have you ever thought about ignoring your child? I’m sure there are times when there is an appeal to ignoring their behavior and other times it gets to the point where it’s driving you insane and you feel like you have to intervene. 

As far as behavior goes, planned ignoring is a consequence of a behavior that is directly thought out and as it says in the name, planned ahead of time. This can bring anxiety to a lot of parents and therapists alike. Ignoring can be really hard and can take several minutes to several hours. After knowing the basics and understanding that ignoring will lessen a behavior in the future, planned ignoring can become easier and feel like your best friend when unwanted behaviors arise. 

What exactly does it mean to ignore? Typically ignoring means avoiding eye contact, avoiding physical touch, avoiding engaging in conversation, avoiding reactions to behaviors, and creating obvious and possibly even exaggerated ignoring so the child gets the idea that the behavior is unwanted. 

According to the Rubi Autism Parent Training Network Handbook, there are three types of planned ignoring, all of which have their place in helping manage your child’s behavior:

  • Ignoring the behavior but not the child
    • For example a child repeating your name, you could still engage with the child and bring up several different conversation starters but ignore the repetitive behavior
  • Ignoring the child but not the behavior
    • This means that in certain situations you would still need to intervene and help during certain behaviors such as dangerous situations where your child could get hurt, you would still want to remove their bodies from danger but ignore them while doing it so that the behavior decreases in the future and safety is no longer an issue.  
  • Ignoring both the child and the behavior
    • In cases where both the child and the behavior are needing to be ignored would occur when the child is not in danger AND the behavior is disruptive or repetitive. For instance, a child dropping to the floor and tantruming during dinner could be ignored altogether for the behavior to decrease in the future. 

While the task to ignore may seem daunting, remember that it will be hard in the beginning but it will be worth it later and you’ll be so happy that you were able to ignore the behavior. Planned ignoring is a powerful consequence that is used in ABA daily because it works wonders and removes small “junk” behavior quickly and tougher behavior in the long term. 

Source: Bearss, K., Johnson, C. R., Handen, B. L., Butter, E. M., Lecavalier, L., Smith, T., & Scahill, L. (2018). Parent training for disruptive behavior: the Rubi Autism Network. Oxford University Press.

5 Sensory Friendly Ideas for 4th of July

Is your child not a huge fan of fireworks? We get it, the 4th of July can be a difficult time for a family trying to find firework alternative activities. Here are some tips and ideas for a sensory friendly holiday. 

  1. Backyard BBQ- While it may not be a((as fun of an outing)) fun outing, having some fun outdoors with a BBQ and your child could be just as meaningful as getting out in the community. 
  2. Baseball- Going to a baseball game could be just the thing your family is looking for and you can skip out before the fireworks begin or bring headphones for a child with auditory sensory needs. Go Royals!
  3. Zoo- going to the zoo could be a great way to spend time with your family and some amazing animals that you don’t get to see everyday! 
  4. Water time- whether it’s an outing on a boat, splash pad or pool having some family time in the water could be a great way to incorporate a sensory experience for your child that is positive and a great way to stay cool in the summer! 
  5. Make popsicles- Making a cool treat may be a great way for your child to engage with it’s((their)) sense of taste while staying cool on the fourth of July. You could even go really festive and make red, white and blue ones. Back to the Book Nutrition has an easy and healthy popsicle to make the day special! 

No matter what you end up doing with your friends, family and child, thinking a little outside the box and getting creative will mark a memorable holiday weekend!

6 Ways to Manage Meal Time

“My kid barely eats anything, they’re very picky,” is something I’ve heard commonly throughout my seven years in the  Applied Behavior Analytic (ABA) field. Parents can feel overwhelmed, annoyed or have completely given up on meal time behavior from their child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Up to 89% of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience challenging mealtime behaviors (Ledford & Gast, 2006). This can include a child refusing to eat, only eating certain foods based on texture, color, smell or taste, refusing to sit or unable to partake in meal time discussion with family members.

While the behaviors surrounding mealtimes and eating patterns of children with ASD do not have a ton of research to go off of currently, there has been some progress on feeding techniques with children that have seemed successful thus far. Here are some strategies that may work for you meal times: 

  • Take Data: According to best selling author and BCBA-D, Dr. Mary Barbera, speaks on she recommends taking 3 days of data collection on exactly what your child eats will help you be able to assess if your child needs more intensive therapy such as feeding therapy along with being able to look at the list of food they are eating and be more strategic about how you’re feeding them. Even if you can’t take all three, or it seems overwhelming to do so, start by taking data one time a day!
  • Be strategic: Barbera also says that categorizing food into three categories can help you see what nutrients they are eating daily and how to meal plan around that. She recommends categorizing food by: Easy food (those that your child eats often and easily), Medium food (those that they eat occasionally throughout the month but not daily), and hard food (foods that you would like them to eat but they do not eat currently). This can help for a parent to actually know how much the child is eating of each item and the parent can adapt to feed more of the healthy items throughout each meal instead of allowing the child to fill up on filler foods and snacks. 
  1. Limit snacks/drinks: these may fill them up but are not giving them the nutrients that they could get naturally in the foods they eat. For instance, if your child is only eating chicken tenders, skittles, goldfish and strawberries, you could focus on providing strawberries in the morning for fruit content and giving them the pizza in the afternoon or evening along with the snacks occasionally. This would increase the chances of your child being hungry enough to eat more of the strawberries or be open to trying new foods and drinks such as a strawberry smoothie or strawberry yogurt.  
  2. Engage with children during meal times: Research by  Odar Stough et al. (2015) found that direct commands and parents physically feeding their child during mealtime were related to increased bite acceptance. Bite acceptance means that children were more likely to eat more food or new foods by their parents sitting with them, encouraging them and helping to feed them. 
  3. Eat with your child: This goes hand in hand with the research above. Eating with your child will help them imitate the behaviors they see you do such as sitting at the table, accepting new foods, and eating different foods with different textures/colors/smells. 
  4. Place a variety of foods on their plate: You might be thinking that you’ve tried this before or your child will just be wasting food but there’s a good chance that by putting yogurt and granola on the plate with their preferred strawberries will increase the likelihood of them trying the other foods on the plate. 

Hopefully these tips bring you encouragement and excitement that you’ve been looking for in  your family’s meal time. Remember, when in doubt, consult your child’s medical team to see if there is more that needs to happen for your child nutritionally.

Happy eating! 

Citations:

  1. Am J Occup Ther. 2019 Jan-Feb; 73(1): 7301205070p1–7301205070p10.Published online 2019 Feb 5. doi: 10.5014/ajot.2019.024612
  2. Barbera, Mary BCBA-D. (2018). How to overcome picky eating for children with Autism. Published online 2018 October 10. www.Marybarbera.com
  3. Ledford J., & Gast D. (2006). Feeding problems in children with autism spectrum disorders: A review. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 21, 153–166. 10.1177/10883576060210030401 [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]
  4. Odar Stough C., Dreyer Gillette M. L., Roberts M. C., Jorgensen T. D., & Patton S. R. (2015). Mealtime behaviors associated with consumption of unfamiliar foods by young children with autism spectrum disorder.

5 Tips for Toilet Training

“We’ve tried potty training this week and I broke down crying within the first day,” is something I’ve commonly heard from parents when they start this new routine. Potty training is a phrase that can bring both excitement and fear to a parent’s routine. While most are excited for less diapers to consume their house, it can also bring tough moments figuring out when the child is ready to potty train, what the child is motivated by and how long it will take for them to be independent on the toilet. These factors can be overwhelming to tackle all at once but breaking them down into systematic steps and becoming organized with a routine can create ease into a new routine for both the child and the family. Here are a few pointers to help create a calmer environment for both the potty trainer and the family along the way:

  1. Have the bathroom stocked– It is important to have the bathroom full of supplies from underwear to clothing in case of accidents as well as creating a fun space for the potty trainer with toys and food that are used for potty training. 
  2. Set out toys and treats exclusive to the bathroom– This will make the bathroom space more inviting and motivate the potty trainer to want to go to the bathroom more often because of the items inside. 
  3. Create visuals and read stories that talk about bathroom routine– This will show the child the process of using the toilet and washing hands which will help them to understand the process in a more direct way and will normalize the bathroom routine in their everyday life.  
  4. Stick to consistency- As the old phrase says, “practice makes perfect”, and in potty training this remains true as it will help the potty trainer to practice no matter the environment to gain the skill and decrease the time needed to potty train. Also, remaining consistent with the type of underwear used will help the child to be able to understand the routine and to be able to engage the senses to gain independence in the skill. 
  5. Allow others to be a part of the routine and go on field trips- Let’s be honest, you’re going to need a break at some point, and other family members will need to know what the routine is for your child so that they can help them in different environments or when you’re not there. It’s also important for your child to be able to use different toilets in places that they frequent including school, stores, and places you go for community outings such as the library. 

This is an entirely new routine for yourself and the child. Giving yourself and the potty trainer some forgiveness during this process is crucial. Reach out to family members and friends for help and remember that this is temporary. Pretty soon you’ll have a full fledged potty trained child!

 

The Power of Visual Supports

I remember the first time I realized how powerful visual signs were in my environment. I was fifteen and sitting with my driver’s education booklet trying to memorize all the signs that were important to pass the driving test in order to get my learner’s permit. These particular signs were vital tools to help me stay safe while interacting on the road with other vehicles. In the same way, visual tools can be powerful supports for those in the special needs community. 

Visual supports come in many different types such as videos, objects in the environment, pictures, symbols and written words that can be used across many different types of devices such as ipads, phones, or as printed tangible images. 

Visuals can be used in powerful and various ways to help those with special needs, for example:

Visuals are helpful to explain a task or a combination of skills placed together such as hand washing, getting a haircut, or playing a game with others such as go fish. 

Visuals illustrate a story such as a social story that communicates a specific message, such as the book “My Mouth is a Volcano” By Julia Cook which teaches an idea of properly asking for a turn to speak. 

Visuals are capable of forming different types of communication such as providing an image of a toilet to request going to the restroom or providing an image of an angry face to communicate the emotion of anger. 

Visuals combined together can create items such as a token system, reward chart, or a schedule to provide structure in a daily routine, or increase the wait time before receiving an item.  This last example increases the delay between when a task (or tasks) is presented and the reward being given. A real life example is a token chart where a child earns a candy every five times that they successfully use the bathroom, with the goal being to increase the number of times the child can go without receiving the reward. 

 

Visuals provide those in the community a compelling way to provide the learner the ability understand in-depth concepts, build their confidence, provide structure in routine, and allow the opportunity for interaction with others. Visuals are integral to the environment as an engine driving the communication to those in the community. 

Just as I learned in Driver’s Ed, visuals remain necessary for everyone in each community, not just the neurotypical or neurodiverse populations. Learning how to use visuals will continue to help bridge gaps, however small, between the two communities. 

Resources: 

Gerhardt, P, Cohen, M. (2014) Visual supports for people with autism: a guide for parents and professionals. Woodbine House   

Cook, J., & Hartman, C. (2019). My mouth is a volcano! Chattanooga, TN.: National Center for Youth Issues.

Visual supports. (n.d.). Retrieved December 06, 2020, from https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/topics/communication/communication-tools/visual-supports

 

Finding Balance Between Punishment and Reinforcement

A few weeks ago one of my friends bought a new puppy. She was telling me that the puppy continued to go after one specific piece of wood furniture even after several reprimands. I smirked as my friend was telling me this because I knew exactly what was going on. Behavior is relatively similar for animals as well as for humans. Either the puppy’s desire to eat the wood furniture was stronger than the reprimand or the puppy enjoyed any kind of attention, even negative. 

Here’s the thing, punishment isn’t inherently bad. Punishment has immediate effects and can be useful. However, it has severe negative effects and needs to be used with an alternative behavior to replace it. For instance, the reprimand my friend’s puppy was continuing to receive wasn’t enough to stop the behavior. What the puppy needed was for them to show her what was acceptable behavior. 

Many of us can remember a time where we were in trouble and consequently received a reprimand, time out, or sent to our rooms. Research shows that with long periods of punishment and without properly including an alternative behavior some of these will occur: 

  • Higher rates of aggression from the one being punished
  • Avoidance of the person implementing the punishment
  • Guilt/shame

Reinforcement, even though it is used more frequently in behavior analysis because of the side effects being less intense, has side effects as well. 

  • Decrease in desired behavior in other settings (doing homework at home but failing to do work at school)
  • Nagging to gain reinforcement
  • Becoming dependent on the reinforcer to engage in the behavior (only does chores when receiving the reinforcer)

Creating a positive and safe environment in your home is all about finding balance between punishment and reinforcement. 

The biggest things to remember are: 

  1. Why is the behavior happening? (Escape, Attention, for a Tangible item, self-stimulatory/automatic behavior)
  2. What method will produce the best results? If the behavior is dangerous than a quicker method such as punishment could produce fast results, however it could also be damaging if it increases the dangerous behavior (such as aggression becoming heightened) 
  3. What is the alternative/expected behavior? Have you identified the behavior you would like to see? Have you verbally expressed this with your child? 
  4. Have you modeled or role played the alternative/expected behavior? Everyone learns in different ways. While some of us are auditory and can understand with just a verbal instruction, others need to see it visually or kinesthetically. 

The above tips will help as a reminder when behaviors are increasing and you’re feeling overwhelmed. Hopefully this creates a balance in your parenting as well as providing harmony in your house.

 

Power Of Choice

Have you ever wondered what it is like to have Autism? As a neurotypical person or a person without a diagnosis, it is difficult to understand or identify how it feels to be a person with a diagnosis. While researchers continue to try to gain information on how it may feel to have Autism, there’s no easy way to gain that information. Further, it may be hard to simply ask those with Autism to describe what it’s like because they can’t quantify it. While as parents, educators, advocates ,and therapists we may never understand what it’s like for those diagnosed with Autism, there are some ways to ensure that we foster their input into their daily lives. 

Empowerment:

Are they able to thrive as they are? What are some ways to allow them to feel that they are a part of their day? Some ideas are giving them choices, providing them with schedules that they can give input to, picking an extracurricular activity, etc. 

Are choices incorporated into their day? For instance, a nonvocal child may not be able to verbally say what they want for breakfast, but if you place two items in front of them they may direct a part of their body towards one option. 

Are they allowed to be involved in their day/therapy/education? While a four year old may not be able to sit in an IEP meeting or understand the complexities of it, he can tell you what he likes and dislikes. If he’s super interested in trains, incorporate trains in whatever way is possible. 

Are they listened to/heard? Even non-vocal people communicate with some type of noise/cue to say no. If they say no, are their requests honored when appropriate? Sometimes it may be impossible to honor the request but if they’re looking for space or a break, are they given that when possible? 

In the typical hustle and bustle of the day this may be overwhelming or daunting. Currently though, there is an opportunity where many are staying at home often and routines are simplified. This may take time and practice, particularly during this time of change, but it could be the perfect time to take a step back and start new habits. A daily routine is essential, so it’s important to have those with Autism engaged in creating their schedule as much as possible. Eventually they will be in the driver’s seat of their daily life so let’s help them to make that transition as easy as possible. It may be scary to initially give them a small choice, and it may feel like they are starting out on the road for the first time, but looking back later and seeing them flourish will be worth it. 

How to Help Teach Children About Covid-19

This is a stressful and confusing time for all of us. There’s a lot of unknowns in our minds of how long our lives will temporarily be in the status they are in, with us all trying to socially distance and stay at home as much as possible. This is especially confusing for children who do not fully understand the impact of Covid-19. Asking children to wear a mask, wash their hands frequently,  no longer see friends or extended family, and having their schools closed brings about a lot of emotions and uncertainty. It can also be confusing to see others  wearing masks in the community, particularly in places where they did not previously see them such as the grocery store and gas station. 

Here are a few resources and ways that may aid in teaching about Covid-19:

  1. Tara Tuchel, a Speech Language Pathologist, has several free resource aids and social stories including stories on: what is Covid-19, Schools staying closed, distance learning, wearing a mask, and seeing other people wear masks. She even has a wearing a mask coloring book for children! These stories are made with simple concepts that can help your children become more familiarized with everything happening in their community. 
  2. Amanda Mc Guiness, an Autism Educator, has a free printable calendar with a visual “no school” icon for non-vocal children or a child that may need a visual calendar to remind them daily that school is closed for the day. 
  3. AutismSpeaks collaborated with Autism Certification Center to provide free access until June 1st  to video learning and resources to the Autism community. 
  4. The National Autism Association has several free resources including a hand washing tutorial, several Covid-19 social stories and resources for caretakers as well. 

While there isn’t much that can be done at this time to change our home status, these tools can aid in providing helpful conversation and visuals to reduce stress and anxiety. At the end of this, the hope is that we can look back on this time and remember fondly being able to stay at home and keep our health as a priority. Continue to take care of your children and those with Autism and tell them that all of their therapists and BCBA’s miss them and hope to see them soon!

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.