Simplifying the Science: Are You Giving Your Student Enough Freedom?

One of my favorite research papers was published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis in 1990 by Diane J. Bannerman, Jan B. Sheldon, James A. Sherman, and Alan E. Harchik. The title is Balancing the Right to Habilitation with the Right to Personal Liberties: The Rights of People with Developmental Disabilities to Eat Too Many Doughnuts and Take a Nap. It’s an in-depth look at the level of control practitioners can exert over the individuals they serve, and the implications of that control.

It’s important to consider the ethical implications of requiring the individuals we work with to complete specified exercises at scheduled times, eat a healthy diet for all meals, and limit TV. I have seen situations in which the practitioner is holding the individual with developmental disabilities to a higher standard than they hold themselves! Most of you reading this can probably quickly rattle off the name of the last TV show you “binge-watched” or the delicious ice cream you enjoyed too much of.

So how do we teach making appropriate choices to individuals with developmental disabilities without denying the personal freedoms we all value?

One quote from the paper states, “Not only do people strive for freedom in a broad sense they also enjoy making simple choices, such as whether to engage in unproductive, though harmless, activities, like watching sitcoms on television, eating too many doughnuts, taking time off from work, or taking a nap before dinner.” In an effort to teach our learners independent skills, we often neglect to teach meaningful decision-making that reflects the types of decisions neurotypical adults make every day. Since the paper was originally published, there has been more work done on promoting decision-making skills for learners with developmental disabilities, but the issues described in the paper are still relevant today.

Here are a few key considerations described:

  • We need to consider client preference when creating daily schedules, goals, and access to preferred activities.
  • A client’s refusal to participate in an activity may not be a failure to teach appropriately but an expression of preference.
  • It is important for practitioners to teach choice-making. The paper states, “Many people require teaching to help them discover their own preferences and learn to make responsible choices.” We should consider this as an essential step towards promoting independence in our clients.
  • Inflexible schedules for clients can sometimes be obstacles to opportunities for choice-making.

The paper goes on to cite multiple research articles and laws for both sides of the argument about the right to choice for those with developmental disabilities. You can read the full text here.  Overall, I consider this article to be essential reading for anyone working with clients with disabilities. It provides a lot of information to support its final conclusion that “all people have the right to eat too many doughnuts and take a nap” and we have the responsibility to teach clients how to exercise such freedoms.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, msed, BCBA

Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals.

Pick of the Week: Following Auditory Directions—Improve Auditory Processing of Visual & Spatial Information

Improve auditory attention, processing, and memory of visual and spatial information with Following Auditory Directions by SLP Jean Gilliam DeGaetano, and save 15%* on it when you apply our promo code FAD15 at checkout!

With 33 different cartoon illustrations and accompanying instructor directions, this unit will help your students stay engaged and attentive, as they listen carefully and translate auditory directions onto their picture pages. Each instructor’s page also has directions so that parents may review lessons at home as needed. Example directions include: Circle the picture that shows Fido in front of the front door; Find the picture where Fido is in front of the dog house, and color Fido brown; and Put dots on the hippopotamus that has painted toenails and is wearing a bow.

Spatial concepts include: front, top, in, on, behind, next to, close to, long, short, most, different, none, almost, beginning, end, few, dirty, clean, inside, under, near, tall, medium, between, middle, over, center, closed and open.

Don’t forget! You can take 15% off* your order of Following Auditory Directions this week only when you mention or enter promo code FAD15 at checkout!

*Offer is valid until 11:59pm EDT on July 29, 2014. Not compatible with any other offers. Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in your code at check out!

Tip of the Week: Use Technology to Promote Social Interactions Between You and Your Child

Last month I had the privilege to speak in New Jersey at the 2014 Statewide Conference for Fathers of Children with Special Needs. I love the opportunity to speak with parents, and this conference allowed for lots of small group discussion that centered on the individual needs of each of the families represented there.

My focus was on utilizing technology, and one of the fathers said, “You know, I see what you’re saying about how I can use the iPad to increase social interaction, but my son won’t do that with me. When I try to work with him on the iPad, he just wants to go to Temple Run. He won’t play with it the same way he does with his teachers.” This question highlights the differences between the home environment and other environments. This is a common problem that parents face, not because they’re doing anything wrong, but because they have a different relationship with the child than the teachers do.

Go back to when you were in middle school. Imagine that you’re at home with your parents, you’re in your room engaged in one of your favorite activities, and your mother comes in and says, “Let’s watch a movie about how the solar system was created.” It is highly unlikely that you are going to leap at that opportunity. At home, you like to have your own space and free time, you have lots of choices for what you can do, and there are options that are more motivating than watching that movie.

Now think of the exact same situation, except you’re in your middle school science classroom and the teacher says, “Let’s watch a movie about how the solar system was created.” You never get to watch movies in that science class, you usually have to take notes and worry about when the teacher might call on you to answer a difficult question. It is much more likely that you are going to want to watch a movie in this scenario. Compared to the options you usually have during science class, watching this movie is highly motivating.

The same thing happens at home when you try to introduce an educational or challenging activity, and for learners with special needs, an activity we think of as fun may in fact be highly challenging. It’s important to acknowledge that parents are working with the child in a different environment so that we can create strategies that are feasible for creating success in the home. There are some things you can do to make it a bit easier on yourself when introducing iPad or tablet activities.

My biggest tip is to offer choices. For example, instead of saying “Let’s play on the iPad,” say, “Do you want to play Animal Race on the iPad or go outside and jump on the trampoline together?” This way, you’re labeling a specific app instead of providing free access and you’re creating an opportunity for interaction no matter what the child chooses.

My second tip is to utilize built-in accessibility tools. Use Guided Access to lock the app. This way, the choice really is to just play that app or select the other option presented. If the child selects the other option, that’s fine! You can let them know when they have free time on the iPad and when they only have the option of playing with a particular app. You can also limit the amount of time they play quite easily by going to your “Clock” app on the iPad or iPhone. Look at the menu of ringtones, scroll down to the bottom and select “Stop Playing.” Set the time, and when time is up, whatever app your child is playing with will automatically close. If you have a passcode set for your phone, then the passcode has to be typed in before access to the app is available again.

Some learners also respond very well to visual cues to signal when they have free time on the iPad versus structured time. This can be accomplished by changing the color of the iPad cover (my students know that the “orange iPad” is for structured time) or by placing a reusable sticker on the edge of the screen.

My final tip is to consider motivation. There are apps out there that I think are great, but I have to start with what my particular learner will be interested in and build from there. Find apps that have a characteristic that should appeal to your learner, such as specific cartoon characters, animals, or music.

Using these simple tips can provide some success in using technology to promote social interaction between you and your child, or between your child and his/her siblings and peers. If you’ve used other strategies successfully, please share them with us on Facebook.

Pick of the Week: I Can Do That! – Learn prepositions and self-awareness with a Dr. Seuss classic!

Practice motor skills, learn prepositions, and develop self-confidence with the award-winning Cat in the Hat I Can Do That! Game. This week only, save 15%* on your order of the I Can Do That! Game by entering or mentioning promo code CATHAT4 at check-out!

This wacky, fun-filled game will have young players moving all about as the Cat in the Hat comes to play. Flip over three cards to create a new challenge. Can you slide under the Trick-a-ma-stick with the toy boat on your head, or jump up and down with the cake between your elbows? Players will have a blast as they practice early reading skills and develop motor skills, understanding of prepositions, and self-confidence.

The game comes with: 1 Trick-a-ma-stick, 9 game pieces of objects straight from the Cat in the Hat story (e.g. cake, fish, boat, ball, book, gown, fan, toy man, rake), 1 sand timer, 33 game cards, and 1 manual.

Remember to redeem your 15% savings* on the Cat in the Hat I Can Do That! Game this week by using promo code CATHAT4 at check-out!

*Offer is valid until 11:59pm EDT on July 22, 2014. Not compatible with any other offers. Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in your code at check out!

Tip of the Week: Teaching Language—Focus on the Stage, Not the Age

Teaching language skills is one of the most frequent needs for children with autism, but also one of the most misunderstood skillsets amongst both parents and practitioners. The desire to hear your learner speak in full sentences can be overwhelming, making it especially difficult to take a step back and consider what it means to communicate and how communication skills develop in neurotypical children. Many times we get hung up on what a child should be capable of communicating at a certain age, rather than focusing on what they are capable of communicating at this stage of development.

Many practitioners and curricula utilize Brown’s Stages of Language Development.* Brown described the first five stages of language development in terms of the child’s “mean length of utterance” (or MLU) as well as the structure of their utterances.


From aacinstitute.org

Sometimes it is necessary to compare a child to his or her same-age peers in order to receive services or measure progress, but it can be detrimental to focus on what a child should be doing at a specific age instead of supporting them and reinforcing them for progress within their current stage.

Research has suggested that teaching beyond the child’s current stage results in errors, lack of comprehension, and difficulty with retention. Here are some common errors you may have witnessed:

  • The child learns the phrase “I want _____ please.” This phrase is fine for “I want juice, please” or “I want Brobee, please,” but it loses meaning when overgeneralized to “I want jump, please” or “I want play, please.” It’s better to allow your learner to acquire hundreds of 1-2 word mands (or requests) before expecting them to speak in simple noun+verb mands.
  • The child learns to imitate only when the word “say” is used. Then the child makes statements such as “say how are you today,” as a greeting or “say I’m sorry,” when they bump into someone accidentally. Here, the child clearly has some understanding of when the phrases should be used without understanding the meanings of the individual words within each phrase.
  • The child learns easily overgeneralized words such as “more.” This is useful at times, but the child can start using it for everything. Instead of saying “cookie” he’ll say “more.” Instead of saying “train,” he’ll say “more.” And he may say “more” when the desired item is not present, leaving the caregiver frustrated as he/she tries to guess what the child is requesting. Moreover, as language begins to develop, he may misuse it by saying things such as “more up, please.”
  • The child learns to say “Hello, how are you today?” upon seeing a person entering a room. A child comes into the classroom and the learner looks up, says “Hello, how are you today?” The child responds, “Great! Look at the cool sticker I got!” Your learner then doesn’t respond at all, or may say “fine,” as he has practiced conversations of greeting.

These are only a few of the common language errors you may see. While you may want your learner to speak in longer sentences, your goal should be to have them communicate effectively. With this goal in mind, it becomes essential to support them at their current stage, which means it’s essential to assess them and understand how to help them make progress.

This is why I always use the VB-MAPP to assess each child and make decisions about language instruction. I need to have a full understanding of how the learner is using language, and then move them through each stage in a clear progression. I may want the child to say “Hello, how are you today?” But when I teach them that, do they understand those individual words? Do they comprehend what today means as opposed to yesterday or tomorrow? Do they generalize the use of “how” to other questions?

As you make treatment decisions for your learner, think about their current stage and talk about how to support your child with both a Speech Language Pathologist and an ABA therapist.

*Brown, R. (1973). A first language: The early stages. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSEd, BCBA

Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals.

Pick of the Week: Auditory Timer – ONLY $5 This Week!

DRT207Keep your student on schedule with our popular Auditory Timer, and get yours for $7.95 only $5 this week (37% savings)! Enter promo code TIMER5 to redeem your savings at check out!

Our versatile white Auditory Timer can count both forwards and backwards, up to 99 minutes. The timer also counts seconds, and beeps when time has elapsed. You can also set it to go off in increments, such as every 5 minutes, with the simple push of one button. Press “START/STOP” to begin or stop timing. Then press both the “MIN” and “SEC” buttons simultaneously to reset the time. The personal timer also has a magnetized clip on the back so that it can be attached to pockets, belts, or the refrigerator. Only 1 AAA battery required.

Don’t forget—you can get your Auditory Timer for only $5 this week (37% savings) by using promo code TIMER5 at check out!

*Offer is valid until 11:59pm EDT on July 15, 2014. Not compatible with any other offers. Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in your code at check out!

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy 4th of July!

The Fourth of July is a time of celebration for families and friends to enjoy the summer with barbecues, fireworks, and patriotic music. We hope that you will be enjoying the long weekend this year with your loved ones, whether you will be staying at home or going away.

The displays of fireworks are beautiful and inspiring. But we know that these displays do not always bring smiles and wonder to children with autism. Here are a few helpful tips we found by ABPathfinder on making your Fourth of July evening more enjoyable for you and your children:

Prepare your child. If they’re old enough to understand, tell them about the fireworks. Let them understand what will happen and emphasize that it is a safe, fun way to see some beautiful displays.

Let them in on the planning. Let the child take part in the planning. Have a picnic, determine what you’ll bring, where you’ll go. Try to provide a set time for each activity, including bringing a timer. If the child is enjoying the display, you can always turn the timer off. If the child is not enjoying the display, you can help them refocus by telling them “Look. Just 3 more minutes on the timer!”

Show them videos of displays. Help the child prepare for what they’ll see by watching videos of past firework celebrations. There are some great sources on YouTube, and it will allow the child to see the beauty of the fireworks while still in their controlled setting.

Fingerpaint some fireworks. Let the child explore the beauty of the fireworks by helping them fingerpaint their own display. Use black construction paper for the night sky and colorful paint for the exploding colors!

Provide ear plugs. Obviously, if your child has auditory sensitivity, you’ve already got this covered. But the report from some of today’s fireworks can be overwhelming. Be prepared up front for it.

View displays from a distance. There’s no reason you have to be right under the displays. Most fireworks displays are better viewed from a distance. Find out what displays are occurring in your town, then scope out some parks or parking lots where you can get a good view of the event.

Provide comfort items. Taking along a favorite blanket or teddy bear can be just the thing the child needs to keep calm. Simply holding it can provide the child with comfort and control over their environment.

Let them explore child-safe fireworks. There are a number of child-safe fireworks available that can give your child an opportunity to participate in the fun. Champagne poppers and snaps are a good way for your child to join in. Be careful with sparklers and smoke bombs, in case your child has an urge to grab the flames.

Join another special needs peer. Joining with another special needs family can also be helpful. Not only does it give your child someone to play with, but it also provides your child with a peer that can model appropriate behavior for the celebration.

Have fun. Last but not least, be sure to have fun. Showing you child that you’re not worried can be the first indicator on how they should react. Hopefully, they’ll join you in the fun!

The Fourth of July can be one of the most challenging holidays for families with Autism, but we hope that these tips can make it a fun, safe event for the whole family.

Modified Instructions for Laundry Jumble Game

We’re excited to bring you the fifth installment of our series of Modified Instructions, created by Sam Blanco, BCBAIn this installment, we’re introducing Sam’s Modified Instructions for Laundry Jumble Game, one of our favorite matching and sorting games. Laundry Jumble is an adorable matching and sorting game that also develops tactile and fine motor skills.

Beautifully illustrated cards display various animals that tell users which article of clothing they need to find. Reach into the dryer to find the piece of clothing that matches the card using only your sense of touch. Make a match and you can keep your card. Watch out for the Skunk’s undies, though! Draw that and you lose a card. This is a fun and engaging game that encourages tactile exploration and fine motor skills with laughter.

Included in the game are 11 pieces of washable doll–size clothing, 30 game cards featuring full–color illustrations, and a fabric dryer measuring 8″L x 6.5″W x 10″H. Don’t forget to download our free Modified Instructions for Laundry Jumble Game today!

Sam’s Modified Instructions present 3-4 additional ways to play a mainstream game to make it most useful and accessible for our students with special needs.  These alternative instructions break down each adapted game by:

  • Age/Skill Level
  • Number of Players
  • Object
  • Skills Required
  • Materials Needed
  • Prep
  • Instructions
  • Considerations

Pick of the Week: Parachute Play—Reinforce a Variety of Skills with Summer Fun & Games

Parachute-6footThe end of the school year means more sunshine and fun outdoors. Start the summer holidays with our bright and colorful parachute, and save 15%* when you order it this week with promo code PCHUTE2! The parachute comes in two different sizes—our 6-foot parachute fits up to 6 (pictured left) and our 12-foot parachute (pictured at the bottom) fits up to 8 children for play.

Parachute Play has something for every child. You can teach colors, peer play, and basic prepositions of “over” and “under”. Children love sweeping the parachute up in the air and watching it flutter down. Best of all, it’s just plain fun for all of us!

And if you’re feeling like you should be focusing on school readiness and not play, the Parachute can help there too! You can download a copy of our Modified Instructions for Parachute Play written by our BCBA Sam Blanco for a variety of games modified for learners of different levels. Below are also some of Sam’s tips on various skills that can be reinforced with the simple yet wondrous parachute:

  • Manding (Requesting) – I frequently use a parachute to have my early learners mand for actions. For example, I’ll have the learner lie down on the parachute, then they have to mand for me to “pick up the handle,” “swing,” “ready, set, go,” or “stop.” I also use the parachute (or a blanket) to teach early learners with autism how to request a parent’s attention. I will have the parent hide behind the parachute, and when the child says “Mommy” or “Daddy” the parent will drop the parachute so he/she is immediately visible and give the child lots of attention in the form of tickles, kisses, verbal praise, etc.
  • Comparisons/Adjectives – To help students understand the concept of big and little, I will have the children stand around the sides of the parachute holding onto it with their hands. I will place an object on the parachute, and we will bounce the parachute up and down to try to get the object to fall into the hole in the center of the parachute. Some objects will fall, but some will be too big to fall into the hole. I will ask the students why the object fell or did not fall.
  • Sorting – I will place several colorful objects on the parachute. We will then bounce the parachute up and down playfully. After a 30 seconds to a minute, we will put the parachute back on the floor, and the student will have to move each object onto a panel of the parachute that matches in color.
  • Identifying Body Parts – Because the parachute has a hole in the middle, I will sometimes use it for identifying body parts. The learner can lie down on the floor. Then I will put the parachute on top of them. I’ll pretend I’m looking for them (for example, “Where is Charlie?”) Then I’ll position the parachute so that one part (such as their hand or their nose) is clearly visible. I’ll lightly touch it and say “What is that?” and have the student label nose or hand or elbow, etc. Once the learner has an idea of the game, I may let them initiate it, or have them say “Find my nose” and I’ll place the parachute so their nose is visible.
  • Song Fill-ins – I like to sing songs while shaking or spinning the parachute. For students with autism or other language delays who struggle with this skill, the parachute can be a great motivator to help with song fill-ins and other intraverbal skills. I will sing the song while shaking or spinning the parachute, and I’ll stop singing AND moving the parachute when I want the child to fill in a word. As soon as the child fills in the word, I will begin singing and moving the parachute again. For many students, this is more motivating than a high five or saying “good job.”
  • Quick Responding – If you are working with learners with autism, the absence of quick responding is sometimes a serious barrier to learning. I have found that using the parachute is a good way to motivate the student to respond quickly when presented with at ask by using it as described above with the song fill-ins. Once I am getting quick responding with the parachute, I quickly begin to work on generalizing the skill to other environments (such as the table or during a floor activity).

Don’t forget to save 15%* this week only on your Parachute when you enter or mention promo code PCHUTE2 at check out!

*Offer is valid until 11:59pm EDT on July 8th, 2014. Not compatible with any other offers. Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in your code at check out!

New Yorkers: Are you available for an app-testing play date with Tiggly this Wednesday?

The folks at Tiggly are hosting an app-testing playdate for New York families with children aged 3 to 6 years from 10:00am–12:00pm this Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014. The play date will allow families to check out the new learning games and toys in development by Tiggly. In return, families will receive goodie bags and a chance to enroll in their Playdate Loyalty Program.

Space is limited, so please RSVP to attend the Playdate this Wednesday. Send an email to kate@tiggly.com to register and get more information on location and directions.

Tiggly Shapes combines the essential educational benefits of physical play with the learning potential and fun of the iPad. This simple set of four geometric shapes interacts with three free apps to create an ideal learning environment for children. 

Tiggly Shapes melds the best of what the digital world has to offer with the developmental importance of manipulative play in toddlers and preschoolers. Seventy years of academic research has demonstrated that manipulating physical objects is essential to early childhood development. Tiggly enables parents to bring this critical component of early learning to the “digital sandbox” today’s kids inhabit. The product consists of a simple triangle, circle, square, and star that become interactive when used with Tiggly Apps to create a robust learning experience.