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. 

5 Tips for Providing Diverse Culture to those with ASD

Autism affects every culture, race, and ethnicity. With that, comes a population of neurodiverse children who also have a whole different set of customs, traditions, and religions than their peers. While parents may desire to check out a Hanukkah celebration, Filipino festival, or an Indian restaurant, they may hesitate because of the change in schedule and custom for their children.

Here are five ways to provide variation into your schedule to increase diversity:

  1. Read multicultural books and buy multicultural toys for your child.
    1. Some of our favorite books are: I Am Enough by Grace Byers, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson, and What Should Danny Do (the Power to Choose series) by Adir Levy
  2. Slowly increase the spice level or different types of foods in your home. For instance, if your child has a friend from Kenya and you would like to incorporate Kenyan foods into your meals, start with a soup that is similar to one that you eat in your home with one Kenyan food item in it. Once your child eats that item, continue to alter the recipe until your child eats the entire Kenyan soup.
  3. Go to festivals or cultural events: Plan on going to festivals or cultural events by prepping the child ahead of time or even driving by on multiple days so the child can see the event before immersing into it. Bring necessary items such as headphones or contact the event coordinator to be able to come at a time that suits your child’s sensory needs.
  4. Watch multicultural shows: Immerse your child into different shows with a multicultural audience
  5. Plan neurodiverse and multicultural playdates with others: Facebook or NextDoor may be great resources to find others in your area that are looking to multicultural or neurodiverse play dates.

Once you include some of the ideas above in your daily routines, your children will be more likely to be able to participate in multicultural events, food and customs with ease.

7 Ways to Incorporate Children Into Your Household Chores

Do you ever struggle with getting household chores done while your children are around? Neurodiverse children or those with Autism Spectrum Disorder can struggle with sustaining play while others are working in different areas of the house. One way to combat this struggle is to have your children work with you on household chores. While each chore can be done with some help from the child, here are a few ideas below to help you get started when your child has not exhibited chore skills yet.  

  1. Have your child help you meal plan by portioning out snacks into bags for daily consumption or portioning out ingredients to cook a family meal
  2. Allow your child to dry the dishes while you wash them or help you load/unload the dishwasher 
  3. Give your child clothing to place into the washer/dryer 
  4. Have your child place pillows or blankets on bed to help making the bed in the morning 
  5. Allow your child to water indoor or outdoor plants 
  6. Give your child silverware to place at the dinner table 
  7. Have your child gather supplies before bath time such as toys and towels 

Once your child has learned these basic skills, they can advance onto higher level chores such as learning to assemble lunch or snack items (sandwiches, peanut butter crackers, etc) and doing a load of laundry independently. This will give your child life skills that they can utilize into adulthood, help them feel like they are contributing to the family, and will foster quality time during a family chore.

A new meaning for the ABC’s: Understanding Antecedents and Consequences

A new meaning for the ABC’s: Understanding Antecedents and Consequences

In the early 1950’s B.F. Skinner, the founder of Applied Behavior Analysis, came up with the idea of a 3 term contingency. This 3 term contingency describes the relationship within the environment that a behavior occurs and then what happens next. If you think of any basic story it always starts out with setting up a scene and explaining characters, then an event takes place and then the choices that the main character takes during the event unfolds and consequences are detailed. This is the exact idea and meaning of the 3 term contingency. 

This 3 term contingency also now as ABC data can set up a scene to let us know what may be the main cause of a behavior that is occurring. For many parents and caregivers, it is important to understand ABC data and how to define it so that when a novel behavior occurs or a behavior increases significantly, the family can take data to see if the environment or what happens as a consequence is changing the behavior or is the reason the behavior is occurring. 

Below details the new ABC’s for you and the definition of ABC data:

  • First an Antecedent happens, the environment is set up and described. 
  • Then a behavior or event occurs. This is any action that a person does. 
  • Finally, a consequence is described. Whatever happened AFTER the behavior is noted. 

Once you understand what ABC data is, you can then begin to write out these three parts in detail as data. This will help identify more what is going on and how it is being reinforced so that you can adapt the environment easily.

Four Ways to Prepare for Extended Family Visits

With the holidays right around the corner, we wanted to provide some helpful ideas to prepare for family gatherings. Having extended family visits can bring joy for both parents, caretakers and the child themselves. Unfortunately, it also has the potential to ignite certain difficulties for those with Autism including noise, unfamiliar routines, travel, unfamiliar family members and unfamiliar interactions. All of this unfamiliarity has room to cause behaviors and stress for the child and caretaker alike. Preparation ahead of time for the child with Autism and for other family members is crucial for a relaxing visit. Here are some ways to prepare in advance for extended family visits:  

  1. Provide social stories and visual supports:
    1. Social stories and along with visual schedules can help your child prepare for unfamiliar routines, travel and unfamiliar interactions. This will give your child insight into the new routine, provide practice opportunities and give them ways to cope if they do become overwhelmed.
  2. Prepare extended family:
    • Giving your extended family tips on how to interact with your child and ways they can help you prepare such as having visual supports ready in a new environment, toys or food that will make your child comfortable. This can provide support for yourself and your child and help extended family to prepare for the visit as well.
  1. Practice new routines as much as possible:
    • Providing more practice for your child to visit unfamiliar houses and people will help them gain skills to be able to visit extended family and varying environments.
  1. Delegate and remember self-care:
    • Sometimes as a caretaker or family member, you may be thinking of the child and not preparing yourself as needed for the family visit. Make sure to take care of yourself and engage in some self-care to make the preparations and visit enjoyable for you as well. Remember, many people want to help but they don’t know how. Delegating your tasks to other family members or friends can also help take the stress off of the visit for you and your child.

6 Types of Chores to Try with Your Child with ASD

No matter the age, engaging in some type of activity to help oneself is important. An age old question that many parents or caregivers ask is when should a child begin learning chores or self-help skills. This can relate to any child but it poses a bigger challenge for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). What chores and self-help skills are appropriate for your child? A lot of it depends on their listening and motor skills. The six types of chores listed below will give you a place to start with your child. 

  1. Making the bed: This is an easy task to show a child how to perform it and they can pick this task up relatively quickly even if they struggle with motor skills. A neurotypical 2-3 year old can perform this task so it’s a good basic level one to start with. 
  2. Set the table: This is a task that can adapt over time but is relatively easy for children who struggle with motor skills as well. Once the child is given a model and help of where the plate, cup and silverware should go, they can perform this task with ease.
  3. Drying/Unloading dishes: Since this task is relatively straightforward, it is an easy skill to teach a child with ASD. Once they know where the dish items go, they can match where the other items go as well.
  4. Wiping surfaces: Since most children with ASD have had some contact or history with cleaning themselves with a rag/paper towel, they are able to transfer this skill to wiping off counters and tables.
  5. Putting dirty clothes in the hamper/laundry: This task is similar to making the bed. If they have worked on cleaning up skills before, they should pick up the task and it does not require complex motor skills.
  6. Cleaning up table after snack/meal: This task can be done either by handing their dishes to an adult, throwing their trash away or having them put their dishes in the sink, depending on their developmental age and motor skills. Have the child start with something basic and in their repertoire of skills but slowly work up to doing more of the task (start by handing a plate to an adult and then eventually work up to putting dishes in the sink).

Once your child has mastered the skills above, they can work on more complex tasks such as showering themselves, dressing themselves, taking care of plants or animals, and cooking. I hope this brings excitement and peace of mind to your house and family to be able to have another set of helping hands and that you understand how important these lifelong skills are for your child.