Preparing for New Outings

For some of you, outings may have always been challenging but adding a pandemic to the mix may have made family outings more difficult for you and your child. Children with Autism can struggle with being in new and unfamiliar places which can make anything from errands to the post office to eating at a restaurant extremely overwhelming. However, outings are a pivotal experience for children with Autism so that they can generalize skills and get used to different environments and social engagements. Afterall, at some point they will be adults and we want them to be as successful as possible. 

 

Here are some tips to help prepare you and your family for upcoming outings to make them more enjoyable for all. 

  1. Make a social story
    • Social stories are great for children of all ages because they can describe an event and provide context. Including pictures and giving detail to the outing can make the child more comfortable with the outing before you go. 
  2. Prepare your car with items that may make the outing more successful
    • Some children may need items to get them through a car ride or store experience. Bringing along a familiar toy can help with waiting in lines, at restaurants or in the car. 
  3. Prepare yourself with any items your child may need to communicate with. Your child may need to bring their PECS book, AAC device or any items that help them to communicate properly in their daily life. 
  4. Practice loading the car and driving to the location in advance. Sometimes it may take several practice attempts and slowly integrate your child into the experience. For instance, your child may feel too overwhelmed with starting out the first time going to a restaurant by diving into all of the steps it takes before you sit down to eat. It may be helpful to break up the trip and practice a week or two in advance so that your child becomes more familiar with the drive, walking to and from the restaurant, meeting the staff, sitting at a table, and picking a food to eat. 
  5. If possible, take supportive family members or friends with you.
    •  This can ease your stress level, have someone to help you prepare ahead of time and help you if things become overwhelming or difficult during the outing. Having a person to communicate your child’s needs to others while you are helping your child can be super beneficial during an outing if necessary. 
  6. Notify the employees at the outing ahead of time of your child’s needs.
    •  A lot of places can accommodate noise, lights, and the amount of people in attendance if your child needs those types of accommodations. They can also be prepared for any preparations you may have in advance and make sure your child feels comfortable with them as well. 

In the end, practice makes perfect. The more outings you are able to take your child on, the better that you both will feel and the more comfortable you will be in the long run. 

How to find Autism support groups in your area

For children and parents alike, receiving an Autism diagnosis can come with a lot of questions and emotions. Beyond that, families may feel isolated from neurotypical friends because of the unique challenges they face as a family with a person with Autism. While there are many resources out there for support groups, it can be overwhelming or time consuming to find something in your area. Here’s a quick guide to help you in your search to find other families facing similar needs because of Autism. 

Globally:

  1. Look on Facebook:
    1. Facebook is full of specific groups tailored to the needs of several populations. Doing a quick search for: children with autism groups or parents of children with Autism can bring you to an online group on Facebook. Even adding in your location could help you find a group closer to you with local resources. 
  2. Center for parent information and resources: 
    1. This organization offers training and resources to families to give them confidence and direct support they are looking for, particularly with behaviors. The training includes other families and may give you a connecting point on finding the support you’re looking for as well. 

Locally:

  1. Check your local YMCA or Boys and Girls Club:
    1. Depending on the local area, the YMCA and Boys and Girls club will sometimes offer opportunities for children with Autism as well as support groups for family members. If they do not provide support in your area, they may be able to direct you to resources nearby. 
  2. Contact your local government: 
    1. Not only will the local government be able to provide information on what you and your child may need to sign up for moving forward with governmental aid and support, they can give you information on several organizations as well as Autism friendly activities in the area. For instance, many movie theaters, bowling alleys, and kid activity centers will provide hours and experiences for those with Autism.
  3. Contact your local school: 
    1. The school that your child attends or could attend in your local area can often give you information on the surrounding community and link you to parents who may be offering support groups nearby.
  4. Contact a local church:
    1. Typically there are churches nearby that offer respite evenings for care takers of children with special needs or special Sunday school events. Contact a local church who can direct you to their services or the services of a church nearby. 

5 Ways to Incorporate Movement with Social Thinking

Movement and physical activity are a part of everyday life. Children are always on the move while playing, standing in line with the class, or being a part of the group. However, it seems that providers and teachers spend a great deal of time teaching clients and students sitting at tables. Social thinking and social skills involve the whole body to communicate with others. One of the steps to face-to-face communication is to establish a physical presence. You use your whole body to move closer to people to indicate you want to communicate or join the group. Along with using your whole body, thinking with your eyes is also important for face-to-face communication. Thinking with your eyes allows you to observe what is happening around you. Teaching movement with social skills and social thinking helps children understand that these skills are not just used in social conversations. Here are five strategies to combine movement and face-to-face communication for children. 

  1. Follow the Leader. This game includes several social concepts and encourages self-awareness and social attention. During this game, you can teach children to keep his/her body in the group and think with your eyes. However, this game might be challenging for clients and students due to the multiple social skills involved and the child having to imitate peers. 
  2. Four Square. This game helps children work on keeping focus on the game and thinking with your eyes. It might be necessary to slow down the game to simplify the game for your client or student. 
  3. Lining up and walking with the group. This works on the child keeping his/her body in the group and learning behaviors that are expected. It is important to remember that our clients tend to be “me thinkers” rather than “we thinkers.” This means that these social concepts do not come naturally and requires more practice. Have children observe the group they are a part of and stay with the group while walking. This may be challenging for children, so try using a peer to prompt them to stay in the group. 
  4. Red-Light, Green-Light. Thinking with your eyes is the key to this game. Both the leader and the followers need to use your eyes to play the game. 
  5. Playing team sports. While playing sports, like soccer, children include several social skills like thinking with your eyes and using your whole body. Children must look at other players for signals on what to do, as well as keeping the body in the group. 

Teaching children to use movement with communication helps with generalization and understanding social skills. To communicate with others, you must think with your eyes and keep your body in the group. These five activities are exciting and engage the child while learning social skills. The social world is constantly moving, movement and learning go hand and hand. 

 

Resources:

Winner, M. (2017, August 29). Social Thinking Articles. Retrieved July 3, 2020, https://www.socialthinking.com/Articles?name=teaching-physical-movement-face-to-face-communication

Incorporating Games into Social Skills Instruction

Finding different ways for children with ASD to engage with their peers socially can be a challenge. Incorporating game play into the child’s social skills repertoire can be a great way to create new social opportunities for the child with his/her friends and family.

Skills that can be targeted using game play:

  • Asking someone to play
  • Turn taking
  • Waiting
  • Staying with the group
  • Team work- e.g. set up and clean up
  • Sharing
  • Appropriate voice level
  • Collaborative play
  • Resolving conflict- e.g. not going first or not getting the desired game piece
  • Handling winning and losing

Keep it simple! For children who have limited exposure to game play, don’t work on too many skills at once. As the child masters a skill you can build on that skill and target others.

Keep it fun! For some children, you may need to adjust the rules prior to playing so the game can progress more quickly. Be sure to look for signs of fading interest during the game and find a way to end the game successfully. For example, have each person take one more turn before ending the game. Keeping the experience fun is key so the child will want to play again.

Provide praise! Be sure to provide immediate and specific praise when the child exhibits the skills you are targeting. You need to meet the child’s level on communication when providing praise. For example, “Wow, you’re doing a great job waiting your turn!” or “Great waiting!” depending on the level of the child.

Make the game meet your needs! You may want to adapt the game to take out skills your child isn’t quite ready to work on yet. For example, in Candyland take out the cards that advance or move back your game piece if the child isn’t ready to work on handling disappointment. You can also adapt game by adding in skills you want to target. For example, add in cards that target asking another player a question before moving his/her game piece. You can also find ways to add in movement for children who need it. For example, every time someone lands on green you do 3 jumping jacks. Just think of the directions in the box as being suggestions so be creative and think of ways to make the game meet your needs.

Don’t give up! Remember that the first try might not go as planned so go easy on yourself. Continue to provide the opportunities to the child so they can continue to grow and learn. Progress can’t be made if opportunities are not available. Be sure to collect your data so you can track the progress.

Overall, games allow for a great opportunity for children with ASD to play with peers and family members while learning social skills and life-long leisure skills. Be creative and have fun!

4 Ways to Encourage Water Safety

Warmer weather ignites the territory of several outings including playground/park visits, swimming pools and backyard play dates to include water. While some of these activities may be risk free, several include bodies of water that could be a potentially dangerous situation for children and in particular those with Autism. 

As a parent or caregiver of someone with Autism several questions may come to mind such as: When should my child be learning how to swim, what are some ways to teach water safety, and what are some resources that I can look up to gain water safety during outings. Here are four ways to encourage water safety and answer the questions above. 

 

  1. Use visuals and social stories to explain water safety: Explaining outings to the child ahead of time and giving them details of how to behave around the water is a helpful way to prime your child on water safety and what you expect. When googling water social stories you can find several videos to show your child or you can create your own story explaining your outing and what you want the child to do.
  2. Practice being around water and safety precautions often. Practice makes perfect is a silly saying, but it will help make your outings near water much easier. The more you practice going to places with bodies of water and showing your child water safety, the more they will be able to replicate this behavior later on.
  3. Start swimming lessons early: If your child shows interest in water, starting swimming lessons will help them to be able to know what to do when they encounter water. This will create a relaxed relationship with water and will make both your child and you more confident in situations where there is water. Teaching coping strategies in water that may arise in a dangerous situation such as the child falling, large waves, etc will also help them gain confidence while swimming.
  4. Do your research ahead of time: There are several water based play areas where lifeguards and staff have been through training to aid those with disabilities. Doing your research ahead of time to find either a place with licensed staff or a private expert will help the initial process of water safety for you and your child and give you both peace of mind.

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.

Pairing and Building Rapport

In the field of applied behavioral analysis building rapport or “pairing” with the child is a vital step in early intervention. What is pairing? Pairing is when you pair yourself with reinforcement. This creates a positive therapeutic relationship between both therapist and child through the delivery of desired edible incentives, attention, or activities without the presence of demands (Lugo et al., 2018). The end goal of this process is that the child wants to see you and your company is liked. When the child finds you reinforcing by your presence, attention, and praise, they will be more motivated to comply with your demands.

Below are five easy steps to help you pair yourself with the child to make sessions both fun and effective.

  1. Play
  • Take a honest interest in what the child likes. During this step, you find out what the child enjoys and join in the activity with them. For example, if the child is playing with a kitchen set, ask if they would want to be the server or customer and role-play dining scenarios. Another useful tip during this time would be to ask them what their favorite food is, where they like to go to eat, etc.
  1. Assess
  • Preference assessments help to identify possible reinforcers for the child. There are multiple ways to conduct these but some simple ways would be to ask the child or ask people who know the child such as their parents or guardians.
  1. Reinforce
  • Use preferred items during therapy sessions. If the child likes to play Zingo, have them label a function of a particular item in the room when they match a chip to their board.
  1. Make learning fun
  • While working with the child, provide opportunities of turning “work” into games. You can turn a scavenger hunt to assist the child in recognizing colors, numbers, or finding items based on their features. There can be more enjoyable ways to help achieve their goals to keep the child motivated to learn.
  1. Never stop pairing
  • The process of pairing should be a continuous process that never ends and should be acted on during every session. The sessions then become something the child looks forward to which makes the therapy sessions more gratifying for both you and the client.

Building rapport through pairing is helpful in not only developing a positive therapeutic setting for both parties, but it can also help in decreasing problematic behavior.

References:

ABA pairing. (2020, November 17). Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://howtoaba.com/aba-pairing/

Lugo, A. M., King, M. L., Lamphere, J. C., & McArdle, P. E. (2017). Developing Procedures to Improve Therapist-Child Rapport in Early Intervention. Behavior analysis in practice10(4), 395–401. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-016-0165-5

Lugo, A. M., McArdle, P. E., King, M. L., Lamphere, J. C., Peck, J. A., & Beck, H. J. (2018). Effects of Presession Pairing on Preference for Therapeutic Conditions and Challenging Behavior. Behavior analysis in practice, 12(1), 188–193. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-018-0268-2