3 Ways To Create A Break Space

Sometimes children, in general, need a place to calm down that feels safe and supportive. While some things differ for each child, behaviorally speaking it’s important to make sure the space includes and does not include certain things. Below are 3 ways to create a break or calm space: 

  1. Choose an area that is naturally calming for the child: Providing an area such as a tent, bed, couch, or area that the child naturally gravitates to but is not reinforcing in itself is beneficial for creating a positive space.
  2. Do not include reinforcers: Including toys in the space can be confusing for the child and interfere with their ability to calm down. Limiting items in the space can help your child gain coping skills to be able to utilize lifelong and will reduce the place being reinforcing so that the child engages in behaviors to enter the space
  3. Include designated time in space: Allow the child to pick the space whenever they feel it is needed but give the child 2-5 minutes at the calm space at a time so that they are not escaping the task presented or the environment that is aversive completely. 

While a calm space is important, providing a break in an appropriate way that minimizes behaviors and the amount of breaks while encouraging the child to regulate and maintain in the environment longer is vital for the child as they age. Implementing the steps above will help you and your child gain confidence, communication and decrease the dysregulation depending on the function of the behavior.

5 Preventative Strategies During Waiting Time

Waiting for food at a restaurant, a doctor’s visit or even an unplanned event that is happening later than expected can be extremely stressful for a parent and child with Autism alike. Planning ahead can provide ease in unexpected and expected waiting time. Here are some strategies to help the waiting time run smoothly:

  1. Practice waiting in a natural environment: Practicing waiting at home or in a comfortable place can help a child to understand the idea of waiting. Have the child wait at the table before food is prepared, waiting before reading a bedtime story or waiting before walking out the door can help them gain more of the skill before being thrust into the community. 
  2. Provide a reinforcer: Provide a toy or book to pass the time for the child.
  3. Utilize visual supports: Timers, social stories or token boards can give a child a clear start and ending time for the waiting period.
  4. Make visuals easy to access: Put visuals in an easy to grab area for car rides and community outings. 
  5. Model what waiting looks like: Have children and adults alike model waiting and point out other children waiting for items so that your child gains more examples of what waiting looks like. 

Once you prepare and put these preventative strategies in place, waiting time will be more enjoyable and well practiced.

Choosing A Extra-Curricular For Your Child

Swimming, Baseball, and Boy Scouts are just a few activities for children, including those with special needs to participate in during the year. For children on the Autism Spectrum, it can be very easy to know what they prefer and what they do not prefer. However, it can be difficult to get them to try new and different things. Picture this scenario: you’re at a baseball practice for the first time your kid refuses to participate and is on the ground crying and kicking. Should you flee and never return to baseball because of their episode or should you try to push for participation? 

Step 1: Preference Assessment

Before choosing a sport or activity for your child with Autism, pay attention to what they are naturally drawn to. This is called a preference assessment. A preference assessment is where you observe the child and what they choose to interact with to gauge what their reinforcers are. There are several ways to conduct a preference assessment to see what your child enjoys, but a natural/free operant preference assessment is the easiest to conduct because you can just observe your child in the natural environment to see what they gravitate towards and time (take duration data) on how long they play with each item. The item they go to and the amount of time they spend with the activity could give you an idea of where to start with an activity. 

Step 2: Ask questions

Once you have an idea of what they’re interested in, enroll them in that activity and request as much information as you can on the location, the coach/adults information and what basic skills they’ll need to have. This will help you to be able to build visuals and practice the routine beforehand. 

Step 3: Practice, Practice, Practice

Buy the equipment you need ahead of time and practice wearing the uniform for weeks beforehand. Try to take trips to the location of where the activity will take place. Read a social story to help your child prepare for the activity. Create a playdate with children who are also enrolled in the activity to help your child engage with them before so they can gain social skills and comfortability with their peers. All of these suggestions will help your child to be more successful and prepared for the activity at hand. 

Step 4: Address behaviors as they occur

When your child engages in a behavior during the activity, remember the functions of behavior and address each one as they occur. It may take several weeks for your child to feel comfortable with the crowd and the task at hand but doing something that interests them and having an opportunity to engage with peers and new adults is vital for their development. 

Fostering a growth mindset in neurotypical kids can be important for them to grow in independence and initiate new experiences but for those with Autism it can be even more crucial. By following the steps above, your child, you, and the rest of your family will feel more confident in the new activity while gaining new skills that are important in life. Stay confident, collected and rally your support team for any endeavor and you’ll be sure to feel accomplished with having your child try something new. 


3 Ways to Disrupt Repetitive Behaviors

Have you ever wondered why your child wants to listen to the same movie on repeat? While this could just have to do with their preference and enjoyment of the movie and embedding it into a daily routine, children with Autism can display repetitive actions in several forms such as:

  1. Verbal repetition
    1. Echolalia- repeating words or sounds directly after hearing someone use them
    2. Scripting- reciting words, lines or phrases from a variety of media sources or people
  2. Physical repetition
    1. Hand flapping, pacing, repetitive motions
  3. Repetitive play/schedule
    1. Playing with the same toy in the same way, repeating the order of the schedule/play

Parents can often wonder, why is my child so repetitive? Especially if it begins to impede on everyday activities. They may wonder how they can help their child to be able to enjoy other activities and stop the behavior that is disrupting their daily routine. The difficult part about repetition with children with Autism is that there is no answer as to why they enjoy repetition. However, there has been a lot of research done on different techniques that can help to change repetitive behaviors or eliminate them from disrupting. 

Here are some ideas that can help with the disruption: 

  1. Modeling other behaviors
    1. Modeling ways to indicate excitement, play, exercise and social engagement can help your child to understand different ways to engage in activities
  2. Differential reinforcement
    1. Providing reinforcement (social praise, edible, toys, or other highly preferred items) when the child is doing the activity you want them to will increase the likelihood that they will do that in the future
  3. Providing visuals  
    1. Providing visuals to indicate a schedule to help with the transition from repetitive behavior to other activities can provide your child with consistency and aid in decreasing maladaptive behaviors

Using these tools above can help you and your child to have a better understanding of what is appropriate, functional and aid in developing life skills to enhance social, play and physical abilities. 


Below are some research studies done with specific methods used to decrease repetitive behavior: 

Brown, J. L., Krantz, P. J., McClannahan, L. E., & Poulson, C. L. (2008). Using script fading to promote natural environment stimulus control of verbal interactions among youths with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 2(3), 480-497. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2007.08.006 

Charlop-Christy, M. H., & Kelso, S. E. (2003). Teaching children with autism conversational speech using a cue card/written script program. Education and Treatment of Children, 26(2), 108-127.

 Dotto-Fojut, K. M., Reeve, K. F., Townsend, D. B., & Progar, P. R. (2011). Teaching adolescents with autism to describe a problem and request assistance during simulated vocational tasks. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5(2), 826-833. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2010.09.012 

Ganz, J. B., Kaylor, M., Bourgeois, B., & Hadden, K. (2008). The impact of social scripts and visual cues on verbal communication in three children with autism spectrum disorders. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 23(2), 79-94. doi: 10.1177/1088357607311447 

Goldsmith, T. R., LeBlanc, L. A., & Sautter, R. A. (2007). Teaching intraverbal behavior to children with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 1(1), 1-13. 

Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E. (1993). Teaching children with autism to initiate to peers: Effects of a script-fading procedure. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26(1), 121-132.

5 Types of Learning in ABA

Applied Behavior Analysis is modernly known based on it’s proven research effectiveness for children with Autism and other types of neurological disabilities. Though B.F. Skinner is commonly referred to as the founding father of Applied Behavior Analysis, there are a few pioneers in the field who have provided different ideas and teaching methods that you may find beneficial in teaching your child. 

  1. Discrete Trial Training by Ivar Lovaas 
    1. This method of teaching is fast paced, engages the child in a one on one setting and involves giving an instruction, providing help if necessary and then providing reinforcement as immediately as possible. This is a very common method of teaching that is used in ABA services for learning listener responding skills, imitation, play and intraverbal skills. 
      1. Children ideal for this teaching method are those who learn with repetition, immediate help and follow through. 
      2. For more information on DTT
  2. Direct Instruction by Siegfried Engelmann
    1. This method includes a small group of students and provides the teacher with a manual as well as a response from a group of students. Children are grouped based on their knowledge of the material. The goal is for the students to slowly memorize the material and fix mistakes by hearing their peers successfully recite the material. It is face to face and provides immediate error correction. 
      1. Children ideal for this teaching method learn by memorization and thrive in small groups 
      2. Click this link for more information about Direct Instruction
  3. Incidental Teaching by Mcgee, Daly and Jacobs
    1. This method uses the natural environment and intentionally has the instructor set it up to encourage children to learn and initiate. Reinforcers are placed in sight but out of reach to encourage requests and the environment is used with different people and different locations to encourage generalization of the skills learned. Children are given several opportunities to learn throughout the day and based on the child’s motivation. 
      1. Children ideal for this teaching method are those who struggle to communicate and enjoy learning naturally
      2. Click here for more information on Incidental Teaching
  4. Personalized System of Instruction (PSI) by Fred Keller
    1. This method breaks down a skill into several meaningful parts, is self paced, personalized and requires a proctor or person to help each individual. This teaching method requires a 90% mastery of each unit to be able to move on to the next unit or skill level. 
      1. Children ideal for this teaching method enjoy learning at their own pace and can do a bulk of work on their own and have improved attending skills. 
      2. For more information on PSI 
  5. Precision Teaching by Ogden Lindsley
    1. This system of teaching emphasizes that “the student is always right”, provides an assessment at the beginning of the system and then uses data to record how the child is progressing. Data is collected using a specific type of chart called a standard celeration chart that indicates the child’s progress. 
      1. Children ideal for this system of teaching are children who enjoy individual learning and benefit from repetitive teaching.
      2. For more information on PT

While these teaching methods vary in their way of teaching, they have all been backed by research and implementation to stand the test of time and be valuable to learners. It is our hope that these methods will be able to teach your children new information and systems to benefit their development and skills across all environments.

Constructing Social Skills and Language through Imaginary Play

Imaginary play skills come easily to neurotypical children. They can spend hours pretending to be their favorite princess or build an imaginary rocket. Neurodiverse children however, such as those with Autism can struggle to understand or incorporate imaginary play into their daily routine. This can impede their ability to participate in games, play with other children or understand complex language. Below are a few ways a parent or caregiver can engage with children to start the building process of imaginary play.

  • Engage in something that interests the child 
    • Does the child enjoy a certain character from TV or a certain animal? Using items that incorporate their favorite things can help them engage in imaginative play. 
  • Use siblings or plan a playdate 
    • Using siblings or planning a playdate and being able to give real time instruction or modeling to your child is beneficial. It helps your child to be able to imitate and gain reinforcement immediately in a social form.
  • Have reinforcers ready
    • Have your child’s favorite items on hand either to play with or gain an edible reinforcer after performing an imaginary play skill.
  • Practice daily
    • Practicing one imaginary play skill daily can help your child to gain this skill in a timely manner. 
  • Check in with your child’s team 
    • Asking therapists and teachers to help with the implementation of the imaginary play skill you are targeting can also benefit your child. A built-in imaginary play time with your child’s school teacher can help your child gain those skills even faster! 
  • Set up the environment for success 
    • Removing distractions such as musical toys or cause and effect toys and limiting their favorite toys during the imaginary play can help your child to be able to attend to the skill and learn readily. 
  • Resource of Imaginary play ideas

When To Use A Token Economy System

Did you ever have a sticker chart growing up? Maybe you had a chore chart at home? Did you have a progress tracker at school? I can remember having a reading progress chart at school that once I filled out a certain amount of book certificates that I had read, I received a pizza at a chain restaurant in town. I also remember countless sticker charts used at home to measure my progress of how often I vacuumed and cleaned my room. These are all types of token economy systems.  

What is a Token Economy System

A token economy system can come in many different forms but has the same recipe. A token economy is any type of system that includes items that are received and accumulated in order to purchase or gain a bigger type of reward. Token economy systems shouldn’t be used in every situation and with every child, but they can be beneficial in certain situations. 

What type of child would benefit from a token economy? 

Any child who is able to understand waiting, first/then language or would be able to enjoy gaining a small reinforcer while waiting to obtain a larger reinforcer at the end of a specific time period, will benefit from a token economy system. 

When would it be beneficial to use a token economy system: 

Token economy systems can be used for a variety of skills, tasks or compliance. Token systems can reward progress of a skill, compliance, or appropriate behaviors. If your child has the skills above and could use a type of reward system that shows their progress, this can be beneficial to their daily routine or parts of their day. 

Does this sound like something you would be interested in trying in your home or suggesting to an educator? A simple google search can give you endless options and possibilities of what your child’s token system can look like. Do they enjoy money? Or Star Wars? The sky’s the limit in what characters you use and how you create an enjoyable experience for your child.

Transforming No Into Yes

The ability to say no is a powerful thing. Saying no can help your child advocate for themselves and communicate their dislikes. However, in excess, it can also be used to the detriment of them being able to make progress, learn and communicate. What happens when your days are filled with a whole bunch of refusal? Start teaching your child compliance training. 

Compliance training is a type of training that helps your child to be able to gain the skill of listening and performing a skill when an instruction has been given. This is imperative to teaching rules on safety, daily living skills and important guidelines to follow in the community. 

Once you’ve brainstormed a list of skills you’d like your child to learn or the refusal behavior you’d like to change, use the steps below to help them complete new skills. 

  1. Provide a simple instruction or direction to your child 
  2. Physically guide your child as soon as you’ve given the direction 
  3. Praise your child specifically with what they did well during the performance of the skill
  4. As your child begins to gain confidence with the new skill, reduce the amount of physical guidance you give to help them

Compliance training can take many trials across several days or weeks for your child to gain a new skill. However, if you continue to monitor your child’s progress each day, you will see how they are progressing. Taking data can be a helpful tool to ensuring you are seeing your child’s development of the skill. Imagine the amount of skills your child could learn with the steps of compliance training and enjoy the process of getting there.

The Battle of Learned Helplessness vs Independence

“Mom, Mom, Mom”, this desperate plea for attention may sound familiar to you. From birth, children need their parents or caregiver’s help to complete tasks. From eating, to changing diapers, and to bathing. For children with ASD, once this becomes their routine, it can be challenging for them to recognize as they develop what they can do for themselves. 

Some children may even insist on the help of a parent when they know they can accomplish the task just for the sake of the routine. Other children may just assume mentally that they can’t accomplish the task because their parent has always done the task for them. At this point parents may recognize that the child needs independence but don’t know how to motivate the child to get the task accomplished. Here are some steps that parents can take to help their children gain skills and more independence: 

  1. Assess where your child’s skills are
    1. Watch your child when they think you aren’t looking and see what they really can do on their own. This is called a baseline, knowing where your child is at before you start helping them to increase their skill set. 
  2. Begin to slowly fade out the help you’re giving your child. Depending on your child’s skill set and needs, you can explain this to them ahead of time to prime them for the transition, provide visuals or other support. 
    1. Fade your prompts from what will initially help them to be independent with the skill to the next effective step: 
      1. Ways to help during a task: 
        1. Physical- physically guide your child
        2. Model- Show the child by exemplifying the skill
        3. Verbal- give a verbal instruction or explanation
      2. Ways to help your child before a task:
        1. Movement- gesturing/tapping to what you want them to use/do
        2. Position- Place the item you want them to use closer
        3. Redundancy- Make the item you want them to use more obvious in the environment
  3. Know if you’re talking to them and telling them how to do something, that is a verbal prompt. Limit talking to them during tasks!
  4. Act like you’re busy, even if you’re not. This may help your child from trying to gain more help from you than what is needed.
  5.  Be consistent, positive and ignore behaviors. 

These steps aren’t easy and it takes a lot of work on your part to implement but in the end you’ll have a kid reaching new milestones. Seeing your child be able to be as independent as possible will make you and likewise your child feel accomplished. 


6 Steps Towards the Foundation of Learning- Imitation

Let’s set the scene. You’ve tried to teach your child to put their dishes in the sink and they are not moving from doing it with physical help to independence. It can be easy to ponder the ways in which you’ve offered time to train your child how to do a skill. What can be more difficult, is looking at the ways in which you learn skills and transferring how you learned, over to your child. 

Imitation is often an important part of learning. In school, children typically learn in group environments. Imitation is used vastly in the classroom to enhance daily routine skills and self help skills. Imitation is also learned in the home from children either by seeing their parents do something or imitating a sibling. 

Imitating is a very powerful way to learn but it is sometimes overlooked in the aspect of teaching a skill. Imitation leads to verbal, self-help, motor social, and responding skills. Some may call it the foundation of learning. 

So how can you teach imitation? Here are some steps below to help teach your child the basics of imitation if it does not come naturally to them. 

  1. Start with basic gross motor skills or vocal skills that you’ve seen or heard the child possibly do spontaneously already. 
  2. Provide the instruction “Do this” or “Copy me”. Emit the skill and then have the child do it in return.
  3.  If they do not respond with the action, give them physical help. Repeat the above step several times until the child is able to do the action on their own. 
  4. Once the child is repeating basic motor skills, you can begin to work on more complex 3 or 4 step activities. 
  5. Make learning fun! Do it in an enjoyable way that has you and your child laughing. Use songs or games to create a more inviting setting. 
  6. Have others provide imitation instructions to your child to make sure they are able to do the skill in a variety of ways. 

Incorporating these steps will not only help your child with basic activities, but will also allow them to work in other settings with other adults and children alike.