Safety, Wandering and Emergency Planning for Individuals with Autism: An Interview with Gary Weitzen of POAC and the Autism Shield Program

The safety of individuals with autism is an enormous concern for parents and caregivers across the country. POAC Autism Services consulted with Dennis Debbaudt to pioneer The Autism Shield Program providing safety training for police, fire fighters, and EMTs. More recently, POAC has developed a companion workshop designed for caregivers, teachers, and child study team members.

Sam had a chance to talk with Gary Weitzen, Executive Director of POAC Autism Services. Gary is an excellent source of information and has been incredibly generous and proactive in sharing his experiences and knowledge with the community. POAC has now trained more than 15,000 police officers and first responders on autism recognition and safety. We’re sure you will find Gary’s insight and suggestions exceedingly helpful and applicable to children and adults of all ages.

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Fifteen years ago, Gary Weitzen’s five-year-old son with autism went missing. The first place his parents looked was the lake, because like many children with autism, they knew he was drawn to water. Fortunate to find him in time to save him, this experience and many similar stories Gary would hear over the years, were the impetus for creating the Autism Shield Program. Gary is now the Executive Director at POAC, an organization in New Jersey that provides free resources for the autism community.

“The Autism Shield Program is a comprehensive program really designed to keep our children safe in their schools, homes, and communities,” Gary said. “It originally started training police officers. Multiple FBI studies have shown that if you have autism or any other developmental disability you’re seven times more likely to encounter police than if you don’t have autism.  We’ve expanded it to the current program which also includes firefighters, EMTs, emergency first responders, school nurses, prison guards, and parents.”

One thing that Gary stresses repeatedly is the need for children with autism to learn how to swim.

“I lived with the fact that my son almost drowned. [Fifteen years ago] it was just huge numbers of children with autism drowning. Like every week another child with autism died, another child with autism died. It was overwhelming,” Gary said. “We thought, we have to do something here. We have to let parents and police know exactly what’s going on here.”

Eight years ago, POAC started training police departments on how to respond to emergency situations that involved individuals with autism.

Wandering Child

“I always tell the first responders the same thing: individuals with autism are never lost. Ever. They’re always going somewhere. They didn’t wander out of the house like someone with Alzheimer’s would or even a small child would. Our guys are going somewhere so you want to try to get the information right away about where you think they might be going from the caregiver. If you get that information beforehand, you can try to search there. Always start a search with bodies of water. Always. If the child is missing from a specific location, start with concentric circles out and hit every body of water,” Gary said.

Two more suggestions have been extremely beneficial for law enforcement and first responders in dealing effectively with individuals with autism. The first is to speak in short, direct sentences telling the individual what TO DO instead of what NOT to do. The second is to provide a prompt if the individual is without identification and not giving contact information upon request.

“Let’s say, you ask Charlie his phone number, he doesn’t give you a phone number. Ask his phone number again, but this time prompt it with the area code for that area. ‘Charlie, what’s your phone number, 9-7-3…’ Ninety-nine times out of 100 our guys with autism will finish their phone number.”

Gary also suggests families complete an Emergency Planner and to register with 911 in order to assist with improving safety and emergency response efforts. He urges families to utilize services such as Project Lifesaver.

“[Project Lifesaver] has been in existence for over 15 years. It’s LoJack for our kids who wander off. It was designed for Alzheimer’s patients and expanded to individuals with autism. There are now more individuals with autism that are on it than people with Alzheimer’s,” Gary said. “The success rate in 15 years nationwide: 100%. There’s never been a case of an individual on the program not being found alive ever, ever, ever. Hundred percent success rate. And the average time it takes from the time mom calls up ‘My child is missing’ until the sheriff’s officer has their child in their hands: 14 minutes.”

For individuals who may not tolerate the Project Lifesaver bracelet, Gary recommends creating a rule about cell phones and using the cell phone to ensure the individual is safe.

“If the rule is I always have to have my smartphone with me, in my pants pocket, guess what, they will always have that smartphone with them in their pants pocket. And it doesn’t have to be turned on,” Gary said. “It just has to have power and with iPhones and Androids you can get free apps like the Find My iPhone. There’s also programs out there with Verizon, AT&T, and other providers for $10 a month to put a family locator on the phone, set up a location, so if the phone moves 50 feet away from wherever the location, work, school, home, mom or dad gets a text instantly. The phone is on the move. And you can track it in real time. So there are so many things that are out there that people need to take advantage of and could take advantage of. They just have to be told about them.”

Beyond wandering and encounters with police, POAC also works with fire departments and with parents to increase safety during house fires.

“Very often, individuals with Asperger’s will hide in a house fire. And look, regardless of their age—face it—our guys and girls will re-enter a burning building. This happens all the time. All the time, firefighters come, they save the child, the child’s with mom, with other kids, and in the confusion of the fire, especially if there’s somebody still in the house they’re trying to save, we’ve had so many individuals with autism walk right back into the burning house in front of the police, firefighters, and their family and burn alive and die in the house.”

Gary recommends running fire drills at home with clear rules, such as, “Stand by Mrs. Smith’s mailbox.” It’s also important to identify who will be responsible for the individual with autism during an emergency. But Gary cautions that even with supervision, an individual with autism may be dangerously insistent about re-entering a burning building.

“So, where’s the best place to put a child at the scene of a house fire? Locked in the back of a police car. They’ll potentially scream, bang their head, maybe hurt themselves, but they’re alive. They’re alive,” Gary said. “We have videos of a child wandering off and the firefighter actually trying to hold them and the kid just runs across the street back toward the building.”

POAC has also provided many trainings for both parents and professionals about sexual education for individuals with autism. Gary describes sexual abuse as a major problem for individuals with developmental disabilities that people are afraid to address.

“Unfortunately, the sexual abuse rate with our guys to sexual predators is through the roof. The numbers for females are, close to 70% of females with autism were sexually assaulted by predators. Seventy percent. Seven out of ten of our girls are sexually assaulted before age 18. And the number’s around 40% for males. And I go into why that is, they’re the perfect victim. They don’t understand intent, they don’t understand the social rules.”

“You have to start sexual education with our guys in preschool,” Gary said. “That shocks people when I say that, but Sex Ed in preschool is, ‘What a bathing suit covers no one’s allowed to touch.’ That’s Sex Ed in preschool. So it’s not as scary as people think. But you know when most Sex Ed is taught to individuals with developmental disabilities? After something happens. After someone gets assaulted or after someone masturbated in class or someone touched someone inappropriately. You know, we better do something! No, they’re fifteen! Start early.”

“A big problem for parents of children with autism, and I say this as a parent of a child with autism, is that you’re thinking it’s not your kid. Parents on the lower end of the scale always think, ‘Nothing’s ever going to happen to my child because somebody’s always with them—it’s them kids with Asperger’s who are running willy-nilly off by themselves all the time—those are the ones getting into trouble.’ And then right across the room, the parents with the higher functioning kids think, ‘Well nothing’s ever going to happen to my son because my son tells me everything, it’s those low-functioning kids who can’t speak that everything’s happening to.’ But, it’s happening to all of our kids equally, wherever they fall on the spectrum, and the problem is the parents always think ‘Well, not my kid, it’s somebody else’s.’  No, you’ve got to think, this definitely could be my child so what do I have to do to increase his safety?

POAC continues to provide free workshops and resources to residents in New Jersey. And Gary will continue with that effort for a long time yet. “I always joke that the Irish in me wants stuff to be meat and potatoes. I want it to be real. I want it to be real for the families. I want it to be real for the officers. Any one of our trainings, I want the person to walk away with something that they can use that day to make a child safer.”

TipsForParents_4.16.14

If this story has touched you or you feel you can use it, Gary asks that you please consider making a tax-deductible donation to POAC.

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5 Essential Resources for Your ABA Program

Our focus here at Different Roads to Learning is always on supporting the language and social skills in children on the spectrum through evidence-based interventions. We’re staunch believers in Applied Behavior Analysis and we’ve built our extensive product line around the tools that will best support these programs. As we continue to focus on Autism Awareness this month, we asked our BCBA Sam Blanco to choose five of her go-to resources and tell us a bit about why they’re integral components in her work. This week, we’re are also offering a 15% discount* on these five essential resources from our catalog. Be sure to use our promo code ESSABA5 when you check out online or mention it when you call us at (800) 853-1057.

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When you work with children with autism, you typically are focused on four goal areas: developing language and communication skills, improving social skills, increasing independence in both academic and daily living tasks, and addressing any maladaptive behaviors. While there are a wealth of resources available to help achieve goals in these areas, there are five resources I really can’t live without.

VB-MAPP: The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program by Mark L. Sundberg, Ph.D. is essential. It’s easy to use, provides a wealth of information in a relatively short period of time, and allows you to prioritize the unique needs of your particular learner. Beyond the milestones assessment, I love that the VB-MAPP provides a way to assess and measure barriers to learning such as aggressive behaviors, prompt dependence, and defective scanning skill. Finally, as a special educator, it can be difficult at times to know how your student is doing compared to his/her peers in a general education environment. The Transition Assessment portion of the VB-MAPP allows you to assess and measure progress towards specific skills necessary for transitioning to a less restrictive environment.

Language Builder Picture Cards: After the VB-MAPP, these cards are the first investment you should make if you’re working with learners with autism. They are designed to help you teach a wide range of skills including receptive language, expressive language, matching, sorting by category, and identifying feature, function, and class. I use these cards to play games with my learner to practice prepositions (such as hiding a card picturing a frog and having the learner find it by listening to directions like “the frog is under the pillow.”) I also use the cards as prompts for a “What am I thinking of” game. For this game I can look at the picture, then give the learner clues so he/she can guess what I’m describing (such as “I’m green. I have four legs. I hop.”) I then trade turns, and the learner has to look at a picture and provide clues for me to guess what is pictured. All in all, the Language Builder Picture Cards provide so many opportunities for language development you’ll never regret the investment.

Time Timer: I love the Time Timer so much that I actually own the 3-inch, 8-inch, and 12-inch models. For young learners, the clear visual indicator of the passage of time helps prepare them for transitions, complete transitions with greater levels of independence, and begin to understand the passage of time. Older learners use it to manage their time better during tasks, regulate their own behavior, and increase independence in both academic and daily living skill tasks. For all students, it helps facilitate a better understanding of the concept of time. When I taught in the classroom, I used the 12-inch model so that it was clearly visible for all students. I love the 3-inch model for older students who still need the visual tool.

A Work in Progress: When I first began teaching learners with autism, a colleague recommended A Work in Progress to me, and I have come back to it again and again over the years. It provides strategies and a curriculum for addressing the needs of learners with autism, including topics such as self-stimulatory behaviors, sleep problems, eating problems, toilet training, and social play. Most importantly, it describes how to meet the needs of learners with autism in language that is accessible. The curriculum portion of the book describes in detail what a teaching session should look like and how to run discrete trials. It also provides comprehensive instructions for dozens of programs.

Verbal Behavior Targets: Unlike A Work in Progress, this book is not a curriculum, but, as Luckevich states in the introduction, a guide to selecting targets “to meet the unique language goals of each individual child.” Verbal Behavior Targets provides hundreds of targets for each stage of language development (split into 6 chapters: words; multiple words; instructions and questions; sentences; category, feature, and function; and conversation topics. I know there have been many moments in the past, especially when I was first starting out, in which my learner would master a target skill and I would struggle to come up with additional targets. This book helps you continue to push your learner towards independence by providing a vast number of targets in developmentally appropriate sequence. And did I mention she also included data sheets?

As a therapist, finding quality teaching resources can be challenging. There are so many products to choose from and the choice and cost can be overwhelming. The items described above are not only high-quality, but are essential to providing the best possible learning environment. Investing in a few versatile, solid products saves you money over the long term, makes both teaching and prep time more efficient, and helps provide a vast range of possibilities for student learning.

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This week only, you can save 15%* on any of these products on Sam’s list of 5 essential ABA resources by using promo code ESSABA5 when you check out online.

*Offer expires at 11:59pm ET on April 22, 2014. Not valid on past orders or with any other promotions and offers. Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in your code at check out!

Ready Set Play! Strategies for Modifying Games

In continuing our celebration of Autism Awareness Month, we’d like to share with you another article from our very own Sam Blanco, BCBA on how to modify games for learners with autism.  Sam focuses on helping educators and parents understand how to thoughtfully integrate games, toys, and technology for students with autism and other developmental delays, and here she presents a few simple, yet effective, ways of adapting every day games and toys to meet the needs to students on the spectrum.

Ready Set Play! Strategies for Modifying Games
by Sam Blanco, BCBA

Choosing games for learners with autism can be quite challenging, especially when your goal is to provide social opportunities through playing games with peers or siblings. Sometimes you find a game that you think your learner will find highly motivated, only to discover there are aspects of the game that make your learner lose interest quickly. Here are a few tips to help modify games to meet the needs of your individual learner.

One of the easiest and best modifications you can make is to shorten the duration of an activity. Most of the games and activities you will find on this website take 10-15 minutes. For longer activities, I will set a timer and let the learner know that the game will last for 10 minutes (or less, depending on the learner) or allow the learner to choose the duration of the game. Also, though it may feel unnatural, (especially if your learner is engaging with you when he/she rarely does) I try to end the activity when the learner’s interest is at its peak. This will make the learner more likely to request or be interested in the activity in the future.

If the game is too difficult for the learner, you can do some of the steps for your learner. For example, for some of my early learners, I will complete one or more steps in the game Roll & Play. Some of my learners struggle with grasping the cards between their index finger and thumb. I can pick up the card for them, and then continue with the game. This allows us to maintain a quick pace in the game, maintain the learner’s interest, and continue the focus on the skills presented in the game. It’s important to remember that just because you are completing some of the steps, it does not make the game less valuable. Usually, I am practicing grasping objects in other activities and will eventually introduce it into the game, but I want to maintain focus on only 1 to 2 skills when I am teaching through games. Otherwise, the game can become very slow and less motivating for the learner.

Another easy modification is to simply remove some parts of the gameS’Match is a fantastic memory game that helps learners match items based on three components: shape, color, and number. For some learners, I remove the spinner so that I can introduce the game with just two components. I’ll either verbally tell the learner “This time, we’re matching by color,” or I’ll have a textual cue. This way, I can focus on the skills of matching, while making the game easier for learners who might struggle with the skill of remembering three different components of each picture in the memory game. Once my learner has mastered the game with matching by two components, I introduce the spinner and matching along all three components. (There are also games I play with my learners that just involve the spinner, which you can find here.)

Increase your expectations as quickly as possible. For each of my learners, I typically have two categories of games: Emerging and Mastered. With emerging games, the learner still requires modifications, but I am trying to fade those modifications and increase expectations as quickly as possible while still maintaining the learner’s interest and motivation to play the game. With mastered games, the learner is able to play the game as designed with peers or siblings and I can focus on social goals instead of game-related goals.

Games provide a wide array of opportunities to teach academic, non-cognitive, and social skills. Modifications such as those listed above can open up these opportunities for your learner in age-appropriate and fun ways.

Sam Blanco is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and 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, by organizing resources in an easy-to-use way that also directly connects to data collection and increasing progress in learners with autism. She is the lead contractor for Theatre Development Fund’s Autism Theatre Initiative, working to modify Broadway shows such as The Lion King and Spiderman. She also provides workshops for professionals and parents about assessment, managing difficult behaviors, verbal behavior, and using games and technology effectively in teaching practices. You can follow Sam on Twitter: @SamBlancoBCBA.

Pick of the Week: Early Intervention Resources

It’s a fact that Early Intervention leads to positive outcomes for our children. Understand the key principles of Early Intervention approaches with our two newest additions to our early intervention books, The Early Intervention Workbook and Early Intervention Every Day! These reference books cover evidence-based intervention approaches, as well as the best practices on implementation.  Buy one or both of them this week only and save 15%* by using our promo code DRLEI15 at check out.

The Early Intervention Workbook: Essential Practices for Quality Services was written for current and future early intervention providers of all disciplines who are looking to maximize their efficacy. The entire early intervention process is broken down into seven key principles with detailed tips, activities, and strategies on both what to do and how to do it. The workbook covers referral, initial visits with the family, evaluation and assessment, IFSP development and implementation, and supporting a smooth transition out of EI. The authors strive to empower professionals to make positive change happen on both a personal and systemic level by identifying and focusing on successful evidence-based intervention approaches and providing guidance on actual implementation. This is a comprehensive book for group training or independent work, and a great reference.

Effective early intervention doesn’t stop when the provider leaves a family’s home. For parents and caregivers, Early Intervention Every Day! is a practical sourcebook packed with research-based strategies that demonstrate how take a consistent, active role in supporting young children’s development. Targeting 80 skills in six key developmental domains for children birth to 3, this guide also gives professionals loads of ready-to-use ideas for helping families embed learning opportunities into their everyday routines. The guide empowers families to work on IFSP goals during recurring activities, such as grocery shopping or riding in the car, and to give children opportunities to practice and reinforce new skills throughout the day, along with many other strategies for helping children with developmental delays participate more fully in family life.

Remember – this week only, you can save 15%* on your order of either or both The Early Intervention Workbook or Early Intervention Every Day! by using promo code DRLEI15 when you check out online!

*Offer expires at 11:59pm ET on April 15, 2014.  Not valid on past orders or with any other promotions and offers.  Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in your code at check out!

Our Autism Journey: One Family’s Story

April is Autism Awareness Month.  We couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to kick things off than by sharing the personal story of someone who inspires and motivates us: Debora Thivierge.  Deb is now a BCaBA, executive director and founder of The Elija Foundation.  But most importantly, she is Jason’s mom.  Her story about her journey and the steps she has taken to not only help her son but support parents and families all over is a real inspiration to all of us in the autism community.  We’re so very proud to share this exclusive article by Deb and hope it resonates with all of you who love someone on the spectrum.

Our Autism Journey

by Debora Thivierge, BCaBA


When my son Jason was diagnosed with autism at twenty months old, I was lucky enough to discover the book “Let Me Hear Your Voice” by Catherine Maurice. Her story became a beacon of hope for me; a light through the early darkness of Jason’s diagnosis. She inspired me and set me on a path to help my son, myself, my family and others on this autism journey.

Hope was a critical component of my family’s survival. The word hope is defined as “the emotional state which promotes the belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one’s life.” The opposite of hope is despair. I was determined that despair would not define my emotional state, as it would most certainly lead to detrimental outcomes for Jason.

Not only did Dr. Maurice’s personal story give me the hope I needed, but it also gave me scaffolding upon which to build my son’s treatment plan. After reading the book, I realized that there could and would be significant progress if I utilized applied behavior analysis (ABA) as my main course of treatment.

In 2002, my goal as a parent was to educate myself about autism. The more I learned, the more I recognized the need to educate other parents facing the challenges of autism. I decided to start a foundation that would provide information and resources to families and professionals on Long Island focusing on ABA and its efficacy for children with autism.

I decided to name the foundation ELIJA, an acronym for “Empowering Long Island’s Journey through Autism.” ELIJA’s mission is to bring top experts in the field of autism/applied behavior analysis here to Long Island, to give workshops and presentations where they can share their knowledge of current research and treatments, and to help families and professionals advance their skills in implementing ABA programs.

Having these presenters come from all over the country gives parents, professionals and caregivers direct access to information that they might not otherwise have access to. It also gives them the ability to become fluent in the many different tools and techniques of ABA and how to work with their children on a day-to-day basis. Over the past eleven years, the workshops have educated, inspired and instilled hope in thousands of people, including myself. It was and still is so important to me to help parents understand that their role as educator is one of the most crucial components in research outcome data.

I quickly discovered that parents were desperate for information and this kind of support. Having the ELIJA Foundation as a resource gave them an opportunity they wouldn’t have had otherwise – to obtain information directly from autism professionals actively involved in research and education.

The workshops gave parents and professionals the opportunity to network with each other informally. The setting was comfortable and inviting. We would provide lunch, so that participants could focus on meeting, talking, sharing information and experiences and, most importantly, creating lasting connections.

Parents of children with autism often feel extremely isolated, from family and friends who may not understand autism and the challenges they are facing, and from the community at large. ELIJA’s workshops gave opportunities for families to feel connected, to feel not so alone and to find shared interests with other families. When professionals, families and educators feel connected, they tend to be more effective in their implementation of plans and advocacy for the children they work with. These connections bring some measure of relief to parents, who are often exhausted due to lack of feedback and support in the community and in educational settings.

In retrospect, I look back and wonder where Jason would be today, had I not done all this intensive instructional training, and kept on top of his curriculum, especially the goals and the skills that we were teaching him. I knew his long-term outcome would be affected by our choices of what to teach him, and what not to teach him. These choices were sometimes challenging, but I was able to look at the data tables to determine that his biggest deficit was language.

I learned to change my expectations, and give and take in terms of Jason’s progress. I accepted the fact that he may never write neatly or clearly, or be able to complete a 500 piece puzzle or climb a jungle gym or run a marathon. That’s okay. Twelve years after Jason’s diagnosis, he still has autism, but I can’t even imagine where he would be today without our hope, determination, and the intensive interventions we have painstakingly implemented. Our family’s journey through autism continues.

Debora Thivierge, BCaBA, received her BA in Sociology from Hofstra University and is a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst. She serves as the Executive Director and Founder of The ELIJA School and Founder of The ELIJA Foundation. Debora has volunteered her time to numerous Autism groups such as Nassau County’s Department of Health Early Intervention Coordinating Council, New York State Association of Behavior Analysis, Nassau County Autism Coalition run by the County Executive and currently serves as a board member of The Behavior Analyst Certification Board® (BACB®). For the past 13 years, she has been providing advocacy to families and conducted training workshops to promote evidence based instruction for families and educators who have been touched by Autism. She has a 15-year-old son with Autism.
 
Contact
ELIJA
11 Laurel Lane
Levittown NY 11756
(516) 216-5270
www.elija.org 
deb@elija.org

We’re Making Plans for Autism Awareness Month – You Don’t Want to Miss Out!

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we are gearing up for some exciting activities and projects for you to participate in with us.  Be sure to stay updated with our blog, Facebook, and Twitter for the new information, promotions, and fun activities we have in store all the way through the end of April!

Every week, we’ll be featuring a special guest article, promotion, interactive discussion, or contest that highlights the importance of understanding autism spectrum disorder and how it has affected our individual communities.  If you’re not yet subscribed to our emails, don’t forget to sign up for them to stay updated with all of our plans!

Join us all month long as we do our part to spread awareness on autism, and don’t forget to Light It Up Blue on April 2nd!

How Are You Lighting It Up Blue?

April is Autism Awareness Month, and we are excited to know how you are bringing awareness to your community! From our home, New York, all the way to Sydney, Australia, each April 2nd marks the day communities all around the world honor the significance of Autism Spectrum Disorder. In commemoration of the UN-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day, many iconic landmarks, hotels, sporting venues, museums, and bridges within thousands of communities take part to Light It Up Blue, as an initiative to raise awareness about autism.

Help us spread awareness for autism by sharing with us your photos of how you’re Lighting It Up Blue on April 2nd. Send them to us on Facebook or pin them up on Pinterest and mention @DifferentRoads in the caption, or share them on Twitter with #LightItUpBlue and mentioning @Difflearn in your tweet! If you’re preparing with other ways to spread awareness, let us know, as well!

Ideas to spread awareness among your family and friends:

  • Wear blue – Incorporate blue into your outfits for the month of April, starting on April 2nd. Encourage your relatives, friends, and co-workers to do the same.
  • Light your home up blue – Get blue light bulbs for your front porch light or outdoor lights.
  • Post blue online – Share photos of Autism Awareness icons on all your social networks.

Ideas to spread awareness in schools:

  • Educate students and faculty – Hold an assembly on autism and invite an expert in the field to talk with the student body.
  • Organize a fundraiser – Seek out donations from families of students and faculty to contribute to the efforts autism-related organizations such as Autism Speaks.
  • Bake – Have a “blue bake sale” and sell baked goods decorated with blue and symbols related to autism.

For more information on the Light It Up Blue initiative and how to do your part in Autism Awareness, visit Autism Speaks.

Tip of the Week: Choose When to Battle

Instead of choosing your battles, choose when to battle.

Recently at a workshop I was providing, a parent shared a difficult behavior that her 8 year old son with autism was exhibiting. When it was time to play with trains, he wanted a specific train. He would scream and cry until his mom found the specific train he wanted, and sometimes she was unable to find it at all. The screaming often lasted 30-60 minutes. She said this frequent behavior was stressful for both her, her son, and her other two children.

My suggestion to her was to tell her son “wait quietly,” and that she not search for the train while he was screaming or crying. As long as he was quiet, she would search, but when he started screaming or crying she would stop searching. We talked about the importance of just asking one time to “wait quietly,” and whether or not her son would benefit from a textual prompt (such as a paper that said “Wait quietly. I’m looking.”) As we discussed this, the parent said, “I just know I can’t do that all the time. I have to pick my battles.”

It’s important to note here that I have very different expectations for teachers and parents when it comes to implementing interventions. A teacher’s sole purpose when they’re with your child is to teach in a way to meet their unique needs. Teachers should be implementing an intervention 100% of the time.

Parents, on the other hand, are in a very different situation. Parents are frequently trying to implement the intervention while also cooking dinner, answering the phone, taking care of other children, etc. Unless the intervention is addressing a dangerous behavior, I don’t expect parents to be implementing the intervention 100% of the time. It’s unrealistic given the different environment the parent is working within.

But I’m not letting parents off the hook! Let’s go back to the example from the workshop.

My response to this parent was that picking your battles doesn’t necessarily mean choosing to address other, less stressful behaviors instead of this behavior. Instead of picking your battles, think of it as picking when to battle. For this parent, she would direct her son to “Wait quietly” when she knew she was ready to implement the intervention. When she knew she wouldn’t be able to implement the intervention (because she was excessively tired or she had the other two siblings with her and no other adult support) she would not say “Wait quietly.”

This may seem a bit silly at first, but over time, the child learns that when mom says “Wait quietly,” she means it. I also suggested that the first time she tries it, she should set herself up for success. Have her mother babysit the other two children, have a therapist or teacher come provide support or coaching if possible, and make sure she has enough time to follow through on implementing the intervention successfully the first time. While it takes some time and planning, the long term benefits can be powerful for the whole family.

I do not know if this particular parent tried out any of my suggestions after the workshop, but I have used this strategy with many other parents over the years. Two things tend to happen. One: the child figures out the parent means what he/she says. Two: As the child learns this and the parent experiences success, the parent uses the intervention more frequently creating a calmer, less stressful environment for both parents and children.

Pick of the Week: “Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents”

Executive function in individuals with autism has become a hot topic, and this is the bestselling guide that helped put executive skills on the map for school-based clinicians and educators.  This week only, you can save 15% on your copy of the second edition of Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents.  Just use our promotional code EXECSK5 at checkout.

This manual explains how these critical cognitive processes develop and why they play such a key role in children’s behavior and school performance. Concise and practitioner-friendly, the manual provides step-by-step guidelines and practical tools to promote executive skill development by implementing environmental modifications, individualized instruction, coaching, and whole-class interventions.

Included in this book are sections on developing behavioral objectives and measuring intervention effectiveness, strategies to intervene at levels of the student and the environment, routines in getting ready to begin the day, collecting homework, writing papers, studying for tests, managing open-ended tasks, managing anxiety, and much more. With these strategies, you will be able to address executive skills such as task initiation, sustained attention, working memory, planning, organization, time management, emotional control, and response inhibition, among others. More than 24 reproducible checklists, questionnaires, planning sheets and assessment tools are also included to empower readers to immediately help teach executive skills.

We’ve also included a sample chapter on our site so you can have a sneak peek at this edition!  Don’t forget – take 15% off your order of Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents: A Practical Guide to Assessment and Intervention by using EXECSK5 at checkout this week!

Visual Schedule to Improve Independent Play Skills in Children with Autism

Parents, caregivers, therapists and teachers alike work so hard to teach a variety of play skills but what happens when your child or student doesn’t make that leap from facilitated play to independent play? Independent play is such an important skill that will allow him or her to better connect with their peers, build friendships, expand problem-solving skills and structure downtime.  A successful transition from demonstrating play skills with adult support to playing independently can be impacted by a myriad of variables.

Some of my students struggle with independent play because it is difficult to move from a thick schedule of reinforcement of 1:1 adult attention to a thinner one of just having an adult “check in” once in a while.  Other learners have impairments impacting executive function, specifically the organization and sequencing of steps for meaningful and reinforcing play as well as on-task behavior, task completion and working memory. Additionally, in some cases the skill of independent play is elusive because teachers struggle to find ways to fade out prompts or to successfully thin out the schedule of reinforcement.

Below is the visual schedule with data sheets for measuring acquisition and progress that I have created.  I have found it useful with learners with very different skill sets and abilities.  Click here for a comprehensive Task Analysis on teaching independent play using a visual schedule.

Keep in mind that this is for learners that:

  • Have successfully acquired a varied repertoire of play skills
  • Do not require visual schedules that break down every step of the play
  • Are able to complete activities with delayed reinforcement

In order to prepare this for use with the learner:

  • Set up a toy organizational system that has toys bins
  • Print the materials and laminate the schedule strip and the cut out shapes.
  • Attach Velcro dots to the bins, schedule strip and shapes and to the work surface if you like
  • Identify activities that are suitable for this schedule

Remember that any open-ended activities like building blocks or coloring can be turned into close-ended activities by limiting the number of pieces or by teaching the learner to use a timer.

As you would when teaching any schedule, use a most-to-least prompting strategy, only use verbal instruction for the initial direction or S(e.g. “Go play.”), and prompt only from behind and out of view.

The schedule I have been using has a smiley face at the end of the schedule indicating a “free choice” time which all of my students understand.  However, if you are using this with a learner that requires a visual reminder of what they are working for, you could easily adapt this by putting a picture of the reward in the place of the smiley face.  Time to play!

*Don’t forget to download your free visual schedule and data sheets here!