“Please, Thank You, and You’re Welcome: Teaching Social Skills to Teens on the Spectrum” by Kirt Manecke

This week, we’re pleased to share a piece from Kirt Manecke, author of one of our newest additions Smile & Succeed for Teenswho offers his advice and take on how to teach teens and tweens very important social skills such as handshaking and saying “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.”

Please, Thank You, and You’re Welcome:
Teaching Social Skills to Teens on the Spectrum

by Kirt Manecke

Saying “please”, “thank you”, and “you’re welcome” are extremely important for social and job interactions. Why then is it so rare to hear these words spoken by teens and tweens? I recently had breakfast with my friend and his two kids, who are 12 and 16, at a restaurant. Both kids frequently failed to say please, thank you or you’re welcome to the waitress. I found myself saying thank you to the waitress for them! Their father did not seem to notice their lack of manners.

Research from Harvard University (Deming, 2015) says social skills are the top factor for getting a job. In my former life, when hiring teens for my specialty retail business, I looked for friendly teens with good social skills. Teens who smiled and said “please” and “thank you” were often the ones I hired. I knew they could engage customers and keep them happy and coming back. Often, we are drawn to making friends with people who have these same good social skills.

Social skills are especially difficult for teens on the autism spectrum, but many of these skills can be learned, and with practice, can become habit. Social skills are critical to make friends, get a job, and to live a fulfilling life.

Recently I helped some teens and tweens with autism prepare to sell products at a local farmers’ market. I acted as the customer in the initial role playing scenarios and found that the kids did not say “please”, “thank you” or “you’re welcome”. I then used information from my book Smile & Succeed for Teens: Must-Know People Skills for Today’s Wired World to teach them these skills. We took turns being the customer and the employee while role-playing how to say “please”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome”. Using their new social skills, the kids were able to sell chips and salsa at the local farmers’ market the next day.

You can do the same type of role playing with your kids. To improve their social skills, role play the skill with them. For example, have your teen or tween read the section, “Shake Hands Firmly.” Then, practice shaking hands with them, being sure to show them how “Too Tight”, “Too Loose” and “Just Right” feels.

I spent nine months meeting with teens to get their input for the book, and that’s a big reason teens and tweens find it appealing and are reading it. The font is large enough to make reading easy, plus there are fun, informative illustrations with educational captions every few pages.

Since, the book has received praise from teachers and school administrators, as well as Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures, and The Autistic Brain, who called me one evening after reading Smile & Succeed for Teens. She urged me to use her testimonial, “Smile & Succeed for Teens is a fantastic resource to help teens be successful at work”, to get the book out to all teens and tweens.

A firm grasp on social skills is key to maneuvering through all stages of life. Mastering these skills boosts teens’ confidence and gives them the skills they need to succeed in school, work and relationships. Please share the following book excerpt with your teen or tween to give them a head start in mastering these important social skills.

REFERENCES

Deming, D.J. (2015). The growing importance of social skills in the labor market (Working Paper No. 21473). Retrieved from National Bureau of Economic Research website: http://www.nber.org/papers/w21473.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kirt Manecke is a an award-winning author and sales, marketing, fundraising, and business development specialist with over 30 years of experience surprising and delighting customers. Kirt’s books have won 11 awards. Quick-easy social skills for teens! He spent nine months meeting with teens for his award-winning book on social skills for teens. Kirt is currently at work on two children’s books. For more information, contact Kirt at Kirtm@SmiletheBook.com.

The Social Problem-Solving Model: Promoting Greater Social Independence – Part II

In continuing our exclusive social problem-solving series, Drs. Gordon and Selbst, developers of the new POWER-Solving® Curriculum, have addressed the importance of social information processing as a framework for understanding how children and adolescents get along with their peers and adults.

The Social Problem-Solving Model: Promoting Greater Independence – Part II
Steven B. Gordon, PhD, ABPP & Michael C. Selbst, PhD, BCBA-D

Social Information Processing (SIP) is a widely studied framework for understanding why some children and adolescents have difficulty getting along with their peers and adults.

A well-known SIP model developed by Crick and Dodge (1994) describes six stages of information processing that individuals cycle through when responding to a particular social situation:

  1. encoding (attending to and encoding the relevant cues);
  2. interpreting (making a judgment about what is going on);
  3. clarifying goals (deciding what their goal is in the particular situation);
  4. generating responses (identifying different behavioral strategies for attaining the decided upon goal);
  5. deciding on the response (evaluating the likelihood that each potential strategy will help reach their goal, and choosing which strategy to implement);
  6. and performing the response (doing the chosen response).

These steps operate in real time and frequently outside of conscious awareness. Many studies have demonstrated that children and adolescents have deficits at multiple stages of the SIP model which impact their development of appropriate peer interactions and the development of aggressive behaviors (Lansford, Malone, Dodge, Crozier, Pettit and Bates, 2006).

As a result, they have difficulty attending to and interpreting social cues, adopting pro-social goals and utilizing safe, effective and non-aggressive strategies to handle conflict situations. The development of strong social skills has been shown to contribute to the initiation and maintenance of positive relationships with others.

POWER-Solving BooksThe POWER-Solving® Curriculum (Selbst and Gordon, 2012) is heavily influenced by the components of the SIP model as seen in the five steps of POWER-Solving, easily learned in the acronym POWER:

  • Put the problem into words;
  • Observe your feelings;
  • Work out your goal;
  • Explore possible solutions;
  • Review your plan

The curriculum is comprised of several modules, each with their own materials for facilitators and students. While it is critical for the student to learn the POWER-Solving® Steps first (i.e., the “toolbox”), the facilitator can determine the sequence of the subsequent modules. For example, one may prefer to move to the Anger Management module after the introduction. Alternatively, one may decide to move to Social Conversation or Developing Friendships. The goal is for students to learn valuable POWER-Solving skills that they can apply to an infinite number of social situations throughout their lives.

REFERENCES

Crick, N.R., & Dodge, K.A. (1994). A review and reformulation of social information-processing mechanisms in children’s social adjustment. Psychological Bulletin, 115(1), 74–101. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.115.1.74.

Lansford, J.E., Malone, P.S., Dodge, K.A., Crozier, J.C., Pettit, G.S., & Bates, J.E. (2006). A 12-year prospective study of patterns of social information processing problems and externalizing behaviors. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 34, 715-724.

Selbst, M.C. and Gordon, S.B. (2012). POWER-Solving: Stepping stones to solving life’s everyday social problems. Somerset, NJ: Behavior Therapy Associates.

ABOUT STEVEN B. GORDON, PHD, ABPP

Steven B. Gordon, PhD, ABPP is the Founder and Executive Director of Behavior Therapy Associates, P.A. He is a clinical psychologist and is licensed in New Jersey. Dr. Gordon is also Board Certified in Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology and is a Diplomate in Behavior Therapy from the American Board of Behavioral Psychology. Dr. Gordon has co-authored three books, published numerous articles, presented papers at local and national conferences, and served on editorial boards of professional journals. Most recently, Dr. Gordon and Dr. Selbst have co-authored the new social-emotional skills program POWER-Solving: Stepping Stones to Solving Life’s Everyday Social Problems. Dr. Gordon’s professional interests range from providing assessment and treatment for individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders, AD/HD and other disruptive behavior disorders associated with childhood and adolescence. He has co-founded and is the Executive Director of HI-STEP® Summer Program, which is an intensive five-week day program for children to improve their social skills and problem solving ability. In addition, Dr. Gordon has had extensive experience providing clinical services not only for children diagnosed with phobias, stress, selective mutism, obsessive compulsive disorders and depression, but also with adults coping with anxiety,depression and relationship difficulties. Dr. Gordon is a member of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, and the New Jersey Psychological Association.

ABOUT MICHAEL C. SELBST, PHD, BCBA-D

Michael C. Selbst, PhD, BCBA-D is Director of Behavior Therapy Associates, P.A. He is a Licensed Psychologist and a Certified School Psychologist in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He is also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst at the Doctoral level. Dr. Selbst has co-founded and is the Executive Director of HI-STEP® Summer Program, which is an intensive five-week day program for children to improve their social skills and problem solving ability, and the Director of the Weekend to Improve Social Effectiveness (W.I.S.E.). He has extensive experience working with pre-school aged children through adults, including individuals who have social skills deficits, emotional and behavioral difficulties, learning disabilities, gifted, and children with developmental delays, including those with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Dr. Selbst consults to numerous public and private schools, assisting parents, teachers, and mental health professionals, and presents workshops on all topics highlighted above, as well as Parenting Strategies, Depression, and Suicide Prevention. Dr. Selbst and Dr. Gordon have co-authored the new social-emotional skills program POWER-Solving: Stepping Stones to Solving Life’s Everyday Social Problems. Dr. Selbst is a member of the following professional organizations: American Psychological Association; National Association of School Psychologists; Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies; Association for Behavior Analysis International; Association for Contextual Behavioral Science; New Jersey Psychological Association; and New Jersey Association of School Psychologists.

The Social Problem-Solving Model: Promoting Greater Social Independence – Part I

This week, in continuing the spirit of Autism Awareness, we’re excited to feature a two-part expert article on a social problem-solving intervention method by Steven Gordon, PhD, ABPP, and Michael Selbst, PhD, BCBA-D, who are the founder and directors of Behavior Therapy Associates, P.A.  Here in Part I, Drs. Gordon and Selbst have addressed the outcomes of different types of social skills training and what an effective social skills teaching program encompasses in order to promote independence in learners.

The Social Problem-Solving Model: Promoting Greater Independence – Part I
Steven B. Gordon, PhD, ABPP & Michael C. Selbst, PhD, BCBA-D

Students with social skills deficits often have difficulty in many of the following areas: sharing, handling frustration, controlling their temper, ending arguments, responding to bullying and teasing, making friends, and complying with requests.

These impairments require direct instruction to address the deficits. In addition, these impairments are exacerbated for those with a mental health diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Nonverbal Learning Disorder.

A large body of research indicates that social skills training produces short and long term positive outcomes. The improvement in social skills has many benefits: an increase in students’ positive behavior, reduction in negative behavior, improvements in academic performance, more positive attitudes toward school, and increase preparation for success in adulthood.

Children Hanging Together

Social skills learning programs have yielded significant benefits in many studies conducted to date. “The ultimate goal of a social skills program is to teach the interpersonal, problem-solving, and conflict resolution skills that students need relative to interpersonal, problem-solving, and conflict resolution interactions. In a generic sense, then, students with good social skills are unlikely to engage in inappropriate internalizing or externalizing behaviors” (Knoff, 2014). In one important meta-analysis by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), it was concluded that social and emotional programs are effective in both school and after-school settings, for students with and without behavioral and emotional problems, for racially and ethnically diverse students from urban, rural, and suburban settings across the K-12 grade range.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) interventions improve students’ social-emotional skills, attitudes about self and others, connection to school, and increase positive social behavior while reducing conduct problems and emotional distress. CASEL’s review also indicates that school-based programs are most effectively conducted by school staff (e.g., teachers, student support staff) and suggest that they can be effectively incorporated into routine educational practice. In light of CASEL’s positive findings, it has recommend that federal, state, and local policies and practices encourage the broad implementation of well-designed, evidence-based social and emotional programs in schools. Continue reading

Tips on Effective Self-Management with ABA Techniques by Daniel Sundberg

Most of us at some point or another have struggled with time management. Whether it is finding more time to spend with your children, or just finding the time to exercise, time management can be a major challenge. But the benefits are potentially huge. When I first started graduate school I had trouble scheduling classes, work, research, exercise, and social activities. Fortunately, I was introduced to some effective techniques, derived from the principles of applied behavior analysis, designed to help people systematically manage their own behavior, known as self-management (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). The self-management process at its core is about taking data on your own behavior and setting up systems to manage your own performance. Individuals have used self-management to address a wide variety of challenges, from reducing smoking and managing spending, to better utilizing their billable hours and managing medication use. Additionally, self-management techniques have been used by individuals with a wide range of developmental and cognitive abilities (Cooper et al., 2007), and have been shown to be effective in increasing an array of positive behavioral skills in individuals with autism (Lee, Simpson, & Shogren, 2007).

While I find a specific tool like the Self Management Planner useful in coordinating my own efforts at self-management, the components of a good self-management program can be incorporated into many different types of tools or systems. These components are very similar to those that you may see in effective applied behavior analysis or performance management programs (Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1968; Daniels & Bailey, 2014). At its most basic level this process involves specifically identifying important goals and related behaviors, measuring progress, determining how to affect those behaviors and reach your goals, and evaluating and modifying your program as necessary (Cooper et al., 2007). While Cooper et al. (2007) present a wide range of self-management tactics, here are a few specific suggestions for making your self-management program more effective:

  • Define your goals and the related behaviors. Creating a goal is a very important part of this process, as specific goals have been repeatedly shown to be more effective than vague goals (Locke & Latham, 2013). By identifying what you ultimately want to accomplish in the future it becomes much easier to identify things you can do today to get you there. Here are some specific tips for setting your goals:
    • Set a long term goal in terms of an accomplishment, not an activity (e.g. “save $5,000 for a vacation” rather than “spend less money”).
    • Make these long-term goal challenging yet attainable.
    • Set many short term goals, and direct these towards behaviors and results.
    • Make these short-term goals realistic – err on the side of making them too easy.
    • Make both short-term and long-term goals as specific as you possibly can.
    • Use your short-term and long-term goals to identify day to day behaviors that will allow you to reach your goal.
    • When you are selecting the goals that you want to focus on, pick only a few at any given time. It is reasonable to focus on around 4-6 goals at a time, too many and it becomes easy to lose focus – if everything’s a priority, nothing’s a priority.
  • Identify measures. Tracking and measuring your progress is critical, and a large part of that involves clearly defining how you will measure the goals and behaviors you identified. For example, if you want to reach a set of parent training goals will you measure it in time spent working on that goal, milestones accomplished, appraisal from a clinical supervisor, or some other means? The more objective and countable, the better.
  • Change the behavior of interest. There are a number of ways to try and change your behavior. Often times, simply measuring behavior can produce change. If that is not enough, enlist the help of a friend to help you set and track your goals, keep you accountable, and deliver consequences. You can use Facebook or some other social media tool to make a public commitment and regularly post on how you are progressing. Paid programs such as Stickk can help you to track and measure your progress towards a goal. It is also possible to rearrange your environment in a way that makes the desired behavior more likely, B.F. Skinner wrote extensively on this in this in Enjoy Old Age: A Program of Self-Management (Skinner & Vaughan, 1983).
  • Track and measure. Record data on your progress every day, or at least several times per week. Frequently tracking your performance will also serve as a regular source of feedback, which can by itself change behavior.
  • Evaluate and modify your program. Taking frequent data will also allow you to make much more informed decisions about the effectiveness of your program. When recording your data spend some time evaluating your self-management program. Determine whether the goals you have set are realistic, you have enough time in your week to accomplish what you want, your environment is set up to help or hinder your progress, etc. This step is a lot easier to do if you are frequently taking data. If you are not making the progress you want (or aren’t even able to track your progress!) that means something needs to change. Reflect on what has been done thus far and consider other changes you could make that will lead to greater success.

Here are a few other points that are not specifically part of the self-management process, but may help you in your efforts:

  • Before you go to bed, make a list of the things you need to do tomorrow. Keep that list next to your bed, so you can jot down a task you think of in bed, rather than fixating on it.
  • Consider whether there are tasks that you do better at different times in the day. For example, I find that I do my heavy mental activities best in the morning, and try not to schedule anything too mentally demanding during the post-lunch lull.
  • Honestly appraise how well you respond to prompts and lists. For some, having a to-do list can control a lot of behavior, for others it is not nearly so effective. If you find that you don’t respond well to to-do lists, no amount of listing and planning is going to change your behavior. You may find that you need to recruit a friend to help in your program.
  • Schedule in some breaks. Most of us cannot tackle tasks back to back to back all day at the energy level needed. Even if it is 10 or 15 minutes, plan in some time during the day to take a quick break. You may find that this has the effect of making your time on task much more effective.
  • Avoid multi-tasking with important activities at all costs. The act of shifting your focus from one activity to another can take up more time than you expect, and eliminate any perceived efficiency from doing two things at once.

Self-management is no easy task, but the benefits can make the effort well worth it, not just for you, but for those you work with as well.

WRITTEN BY DANIEL SUNDBERG

Daniel Sundberg is the founder of Self Management Solutions, an organization that operates on the idea of helping people better manage their time. Towards this end, he created the Self Management Planner, which is based on an earlier edition created by Mark Sundberg in the 1970s. Daniel is currently a PhD candidate and continues his work helping individuals and organizations better themselves.

Understanding Autism: Tips for Teens by a Teen by Alexandra Jackman

We’re excited to feature some tips for teens from Alexandra Jackman on what it means to understand autism and the perspectives of their peers with autism. You may remember Alex from last year, when we shared an exclusive interview from our BCBA Sam Blanco with Alexandra Jackman. Alex is a 15-year-old New Jersey teen and the creator of the documentary A Teen’s Guide to Understanding and Communicating with People with AutismShe’s also been awarded Hasbro and GenerationOn’s scholarship grant for being a “Community Action Hero” and making a difference in her community through hands-on service projects that create awareness for important social issues. Congratulations, Alex!


Understanding Autism: Tips for Teens by a Teen
by Alexandra Jackman

During summer camp when I was eight, I met a girl named Jaime. I noticed that at lunch she always sat by herself with an aide. I assumed she wanted to sit alone, because she never came and sat with the rest of us. One day I was curious, so I hesitantly asked if I could sit with her and the aide replied “yes.” I learned that Jaime had something called cerebral palsy. She couldn’t speak but communicated through hand signals.

Jaime and I started hanging out outside of camp activities, and I really liked her. Just because communicating wasn’t her strong suit didn’t mean that she couldn’t be a friend. I think our friendship helped others in the camp group realize, “Oh, we can hang out with her,” and they started including Jaime in camp activities.

That was the first time I realized that many people don’t take the opportunity to get to know people with special needs. I almost didn’t. If I hadn’t been curious that day, I would have most likely missed out on the opportunity to get to know someone I really liked.

Knowledge Matters
I think knowledge is so important. As a 15-year-old autism advocate, I often notice how other teenagers interact with people with special needs in my school and in my community. I have found that teens (and adults) often ignore their peers with autism not to be mean, but because they do not understand what is “wrong.” People don’t know what to say because they don’t understand what is different. I think that it is important to change this.

Fortunately, there are many resources to teach people about autism. However, very few of those resources teach middle and high school students about special needs. So, as a teen, I have some tips that I think can help spread autism acceptance and understanding to hormonal, moody, creative, curious teenagers. Well, people kind of like me.

While not everyone with autism will have all of these behaviors, these general tips are important to keep in mind whenever you are speaking, studying, hanging out, or working with a classmate or friend with autism:

Be direct: Social cues can often be difficult for people with autism. It’s kind of like texting in real life. When someone texts “What?!” are they angry, excited or disappointed? Do ALL CAPS always mean that someone is yelling at you? Many people with autism cannot always distinguish the tone of what others are saying to understand the emotions behind words. Imagine how much harder it would be to interact with people if everything said to you was said with a monotone voice and blank facial expression. So, when talking to people with autism, try to say what you mean and be straightforward.

Be specific in your communication. Avoid open-ended questions: It is important to realize that for many people with autism, a question like “Do you want to go hang out in town with me?” can be overwhelming, because there are just so many possibilities. Maybe you are going to Starbucks, a diner, or shopping. Maybe you are going to the doctor’s office for a vaccination or to the dentist. What might be less stressful would be to specify exactly where you would be going. For example, asking something like “Do you want to come to the diner with me for lunch?” or “Do you want to go into town with me to see a movie and then go shopping?”

Don’t judge physical behaviors. You do similar things: Many people with autism make repetitive movements called self-stimulatory behaviors, such as flapping their arms or tapping things. Also known as stimming, these behaviors are a way to handle emotions and keep calm. While these movements might seem weird to you, everyone exhibits self-stimulatory behaviors that help them deal with stress. Do you ever bite your nails, twirl your hair, or bite on a pencil? Yeah, that’s stimming, and it’s how you handle your emotions.

Get past the disability and make a friend: Having an autism spectrum disorder is not who a person is, it is just something that they have. So don’t let autism define a person. Get to know who the person is on the inside. You just might meet someone you really like!

WRITTEN BY ALEXANDRA JACKMAN

Alex Jackman is a 15-year-old autism advocate and the writer and director of the documentary, A Teen’s Guide to Understanding and Communicating with People with Autism. A high school sophomore in Westfield, NJ, she is currently the peer mentor leader for monthly special needs teen nights and the founder of The Hangout Club, a program at her school to promote inclusion. She is also a special needs volunteer at the YMCA, The Friendship Circle, and Children’s Specialized Hospital. She has received a number of honors for her advocacy efforts and speaks to students, adults, and professionals throughout New Jersey and beyond about autism.

Guest Article: Tips on Encouraging Picky Eaters

This week, we’re thrilled to share some exclusive tips from Julia Singer Katz at the Kutest Kids Early Intervention Center on how to deal with picky eaters, from using colors and schedules to modeling good habits.

Don’t let picky eating ruin meal time or divide your family at the dinner table. Encouraging healthy eating habits with a stubborn child requires patience with a firm touch. Here at Kutest Kids Early Intervention Center, our therapists are all too familiar with this phenomenon and would like share some common tips. Begin by setting the stage for healthy choices, thereby helping your child overcome their picky habits with a few key strategies.

Start With a Schedule.  Hungry kids are often less picky than those that have been snacking on junk foods all day. Scheduling snack time – and sticking to it – ensures your kids are hungry when a healthy meal is served. Don’t just schedule snacks, though. Having breakfast, lunch and dinner at regular times further encourages kids to eat only when the food is available.

Skip the Junk.  A pantry or fridge full of unhealthy options further encourages picky eating. What kid is going to fill up on broccoli when they know there are ice cream and chips just a few steps away? If the only options are healthy options, a hungry child is more likely to choose those with few complaints. Keep the healthy snacks accessible – cut up carrot and veggie sticks and keep raw fruit washed and cubed for easy serving.

Add Some Healthy Elements.  Even the most adventurous eater may turn up their nose to a completely unfamiliar food. Instead of making a full change out of the gate, begin by introducing healthier elements to their favorite dishes. Try oven-baked chicken fingers with a whole-meal coating instead of processed and fried nuggets. Mix in some shredded zucchini with their macaroni and cheese. Add fruit to a no-sugar cereal. Small changes can win over a picky eater.

Eat the Colors.  Most kids respond well to games and challenges. Brightly colored foods, such as vegetables and fruits are healthier than most dull and bland-colored foods. Make a game out of eating as many colors in a day as possible! This may encourage an otherwise picky eater to eat more vegetables and to try new foods.

Loosen Up the Rules.  A strict clean-your-plate rule does more harm than good. In the end, it just encourages over-eating while also making the dinner table a place of stress and tears. Allow your kids to decide when they are full. If they want a snack later, it’s not an issue if you have a scheduled after-dinner snack time, and they only have access to healthy snacks.

Model Good Eating Habits.  Often, picky eating is a learned behavior. Only serve foods that you will eat, and don’t complain about any food within the child’s hearing. Have meals at the table, and never encourage mindless snacking while watching television.

Many kids naturally go through phases of picky eating. Keeping unhealthy food to a minimum and only serving it as an occasional treat will help your family weather these finicky moments.

WRITTEN BY JULIA SINGER KATZ, MSS, LSW

Julia Singer Katz MSS, LSW is the Supervisor of Clinical Program Development at the Kutest Kids Early Intervention Agency, an all-inclusive therapy center in Philadelphia. She’s very passionate about helping each child reach his or her fullest potential and making a difference in the community.

NEW Product Spotlight: Independence Day GPS-Enabled Clothing for Kids with Autism

This week, we’re thrilled to introduce you to a one-of-kind clothing line developed by autism mom Lauren Thierry. These unique shirts improve the quality of life, self-esteem, safety, and independent dressing skills of children and teens with special needs. Inspired by preppy American fashion brands, these stylish shirts come with a discrete GPS tracker embedded in the seam enabling you to locate your child at any time. Each pullover features stretch Lycra panels instead of buttons, zippers or laces, and no scratchy tags at the waist and neck, optimizing the shirt for comfort. Best of all, each shirt is double-faced so it can be worn backwards or inside-out and still be on the “right way”!

This week, we’re offering two of Independence Day’s stylish shirts at a 15% discount. We think these shirts offer quite a bit, helping individuals dress themselves appropriately while providing the comfort of knowing that you can locate your child if they should ever wander.

We’re also excited to introduce you to Independence Day founder and autism mom, Lauren Thierry. She’s written an excellent article just for us on her experiences with her son, Liam and how she came up with this ingenious idea. We hope you enjoy!

As Most Autism Moms Know, Revolutions are Relative
by Lauren Thierry

I have just been feted at lovely party in a lovely suburban hotel, where the emcee called my clothing line, Independence Day, “Revolutionary!”

As a former media person, I’m used to hyperbole. I know they have to have a hook, an angle. But I admit this made me blush and, well, made the journalist in me pine for “accuracy.” What I did was not revolutionary. It was simply something that had to be done. Like the moms in the 1960’s who safety pinned mittens to their kids coats before there were mitten clips. The moms did it because those “kittens” might lose their “mittens.” Revolutionary? No, just “mom sense.”
So when I figured out a way to “fashionably” GPS-dress Liam, my son with autism, it was pretty much “the mitten thing.” To the tenth power. No longer are moms talking about frozen fingers. They are talking about saving lives. Finding the one who wanders.

I took a mainstream rugby shirt and tweaked it just a bit, so that my son with autism could wear it easily, and softly folded a GPS into the fabric. That wasn’t a revolution. It was however, the start of a 14-piece clothing collection for those with disabilities. And it did start a “thought revolution.” That maybe those with cognitive impairments, or physical handicaps, could – and should – get dressed independently and look just like everyone else. And be safe and accounted for. So I cringe when I’m called a “designer.” I’m not even a fashionista.

ID Clothing Comparison

So why would someone like me start a “trendy/preppy” clothing line? Why would I carve out a niche in the preppy apparel space already dominated by Gap, JCrew, Abercrombie, Lacoste, Lilly, and Ralph?

Because that’s the stuff I wear, my typical 12-year-old twins wear. But my son with autism – and some 12 million other tweens/teens/young adults – cannot wear. Because tags, buttons, zippers – even collars – make those rugby shirts, cargo pants, and pretty pastel dresses impractical, uncomfortable, inaccessible and sensory-averse to those in that disabilities demographic.

ID Clothing Lauren MomBecause I’m an autism mom. That makes me a warrior mom. An activist mom. Someone who sees a lot of families, like mine, just trying to get through the day with a kid who can’t dress himself, except in baggy sweats and mono-color T-shirts. Even then, my Liam runs a 50% chance of getting those clothes on backwards. Or inside out. Or some other way that embarrasses his siblings and starts our day off under a cloud.

I’m not re-inventing the preppy apparel wheel here. I’ve just made some ingenious (patent pending) tweaks to these classic clothing lines, so that this population can have the opportunity of looking like any other kid going off to Greenwich High School, and the dignity of putting those clothes on independently – without Mom’s help for 30 minutes every morning.

I’m not just some suburban mom with a half-baked “really cool idea.” I’m a Columbia grad with a 20-year career behind me as a Financial TV news anchor. I’ve worked for small TV stations around the country as well as for Los Angeles and New York outfits from ABC/Disney to Time Warner. I’ve learned how to “think small” and “think big.”

ID Clothing Lauren CNNI quit my job as a CNN Financial news anchor to take care of my son and advocate for autism causes. I shot a documentary, “Autism Every Day,” which premiered at Sundance. Shooting that doc, I spent 24 hours in the homes of 8 “autism families.” I saw that, like my son, these kids learned by “rote” the fundamentals of dressing. But due to simple design obstacles like “fronts and backs,” there was a wide margin for error. That was my first “focus group” on the dressing issue, all down on film.

I shot footage of stressed-out, exhausted parents who’d given up trying to dress their special needs children fashionably, just putting their kids on school buses in pajamas.

I shot footage of siblings of these kids, embarrassed to be seen next to their minimally-dressed brother or sister. Their experiences reflected my own.

I’ve seen where my son Liam and millions of others with special needs are forced to adapt to a world that is simply not adapting to them, in some of the simplest of ways. Like getting dressed.

I’ll leave finding a cure for autism to the scientists. But I can put out a clothing line that’ll get these kids up and into clothes just as beautiful and classic as the major designers…and out the door in 3 minutes. On their own, independently. Mom won’t be here forever, you know.

Getting dressed – on trend, and on time – every morning. Now that’s Independence.


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lauren Thierry HeadshotLauren Thierry is the founder of Independence Day/ID, a technology and fashion convergence designed to address a myriad of safety and dressing issues for the special needs population. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Thierry was a TV Anchor in local, national and business news for more than a decade before she left her job at CNN Financial News to care for her autistic son, Liam. She became a driving force behind numerous autism education initiatives. Among them, she created the fundraiser known as Autism Awareness Day at Shea – then at Citi Field – for which the New York Mets to devote one game a year to autism education. She brought in strategic partners Hess Oil, Prudential Elliman, Bear Stearns, Royal Bank of Scotland, BNY Mellon, and various hedge funds to the effort.

Thierry produced the documentary, “Autism Every Day,” described as “The shot heard ‘round the world for autism,” when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. Shooting the film, she saw that wandering/elopement were major issues for autism families. She also noted that the simple act of getting dressed for these families was a grueling obstacle course of “fronts and backs,” “insides and outs,” zippers, buttons and tags. That was Thierry’s first “focus group,” all down on film. Independence Day/ID Clothing was started to address those issues.

Independence Day/ID is an American Express Passion Project winner for 2013.

5 Tips on Teaching Safety Skills to Children with Autism

This week, we’re thrilled to bring you a second guest article by Sarah Kupferschmidt, MA, BCBA. Sarah has written a very comprehensive article on teaching street safety skills in children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Learning to navigate the real world involves many complex skills that we may often take for granted. So how do we teach our children when to cross the street and what to watch out for? Read on for Sarah’s tips on how to teach and reinforce safety skills in children.


I am passionate about empowering children with special needs and their families with skills and knowledge that they can use to improve their quality of life. This is why I am super excited to be sharing tips and strategies that relate to keeping your child with autism safe on the street. Learning to navigate the real world involves a lot of complex skills that we sometimes take for granted. For example, learning to determine when it is safe to cross the street requires the ability to attend to your environment, the ability to identify moving cars from cars that are still, the ability to identify the signal at the cross walk that lets you know it is safe to cross, among many, many, more. In some cases even more advanced problem solving is required because if the sign says it is safe to cross and a motorist continues through the intersection we need to be able to identify the moving car is approaching and that we need to wait for it to pass before crossing the street. So where do we begin?

Tip #1: The Learner is Never Wrong

I love the saying “the learner is never wrong” because of what it implies. Whenever considering teaching a new skill to a child or student we need to focus on that unique child’s strengths and weaknesses. Where do we need to boost up their skills and what do they already know so that we can capitalize on those strengths. Before going out to teach your child with autism how to cross the street safely, they should have some imitation skills, be able to respond to instructions and attend to you or a teacher amidst a lot of distractions (e.g., cars, background noise and pedestrians, just to name a few). Once you have determined they are ready to learn this important skill you would want to use things that are of interest to them and that you know align with their learning style. For example, are they a visual learner and if so, how can you incorporate visuals to maximize their learning potential in how you go out and practice crossing the street safely?

Tip #2: Simplify the Complex Skills

As mentioned earlier in the post, many of the skills that we use actually have many components, something we take for granted. In this case, teaching how to cross the street might involve the following steps:

  1. Stop at the curb/crosswalk
  2. Look at the crosswalk signal
  3. Decide if it is safe to cross (e.g., does it say ‘walk,’ or does it say ‘stop’)
  4. If the sign says walk, then look both ways
  5. Decide if it is safe (e.g., is there a car moving or not)
  6. Walk safely across the street (e.g., this means walking not running, perhaps holding your hand)

It is important to remember that these steps are just an example of what you might teach. You would individualize this based on the environment in which you live (e.g., if there is a crosswalk sign or crossing guard, or not) and the expectations you have as a family (e.g., to hold the hand or not). Teach this using tools that you know are effective with your unique child. For example, you may decide to print out a visual depiction for each of the steps and show them as you talk about it and practice. This depends on your child’s unique learning style. As with every skill that that we teach, it is never enough to just tell someone or show someone how to do it. We need to actually go out and practice.

Tip #3: Practice, Practice, Practice

Use every opportunity that you have to go out and practice this very important skill. I would also recommend that you set up specific times to go out and practice. You can use the visuals that you printed and go through each of the steps while you are out. If you notice that your child is struggling on a particular step, then practice that particular step at home even more. For example, if your child is not identifying the walk signal when you are out on the street, set up times to go over that at home.

Tip #4: Monitor Progress

In order to see how your child is doing on each of the steps it is a good idea to record how they do on each of the steps. You might print off a checklist with each of the steps that looks something like this:

Street Safety Chart

You would calculate the number of times you recorded a Y over the total number of steps (e.g., in this case 6). For example, if I worked on this with my child and he did all of the steps he would get a 6/6. If he missed a step his overall score would be 5/6 or 83%. This score can then be used to monitor progress. I would also suggest that anytime you go out and practice you highlight whichever step(s) that they missed, if any. This will allow you to see if you need to work on something a little bit more before you go out and practice.

Tip #5: Notice the Good Stuff

Feedback is critical when you are teaching a new skill. Otherwise how is your child going to know how they are doing? This means that when they get it right we need to notice it and we need to be specific about what it is they did well. You can even use the visuals if you have them. You might say something like “I love the way you followed all of the steps of what to do when crossing the street safely! You stopped at the curb, looked at the signal…etc.” You may point to the visual as you tell them. If they missed a step remind them that next time they should try to remember what it is that they missed. Anytime they do one of the steps spontaneously, point it out to them and give lots of praise. Over time we can fade the praise out but it is really important when teaching a new skill, especially at the beginning.

If you have any questions about any of the tips listed here feel free to contact me or a local Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). I am passionate about keeping our kids safe! Sign up for my newsletter or follow me on Twitter for regular tips and strategies!

WRITTEN BY SARAH KUPFERSCHMIDT, MA, BCBA

Sarah Kupferschmidt is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who has worked with hundreds of children with autism and their families across Ontario. She has had the privilege of supervising ABA programs and training clinical staff in those programs.  Currently Sarah offers parent coaching and workshops to teach parents but also educators on the most effective ways to teach children using the principles of ABA.  She is also a part-time faculty member at Mohawk College in the Autism Behavioral Science program, in the social sciences program at McMaster University, and an Adjunct Professor at Sage Graduate School.  Sarah is CEO and co-Founder of Special Appucations, Incwhich is a company that creates educational products that help maximize the learning potential for children with autism because they are designed using the principles of ABA.  Sarah has appeared as a guest on CP24, CHCH news, Hamilton Life and the Scott Thompson radio show as an authority on autism.

Tips for Costumes & Trick-or-Treating for Kids on the Spectrum: Getting Ready for Halloween

October means it’s time for trips to pumpkin patches, ghastly goblin decorations, and candy corns galore. So what better time than now to share this wonderful guest article about getting ready for Halloween by BCBA Claudia Mármol.  Claudia shares with us a few tips on how to make dressing up and trick-or-treating as seamless as possible for a child on the spectrum.

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Wouldn’t it be fun to have your child dress up in their favorite TV character or have them pick up their costume for this Halloween? Most parents would answer “Yes” to the above question, as we all dream of having our child walk down the streets and go trick-or-treating. Thus, as much as children enjoy this holiday, so do adults. However, we have to keep in mind that children with autism and related disorders have sensitivity to certain stimuli such as textures, colors, smells, loud noises, and such that make wearing a typical Halloween costume difficult.

Below, you will find some helpful tips to keep in mind before we try to make our child wear all sorts of costumes, masks, make-up, wigs, and the like:

  • Try to avoid masks or anything on their heads: Since children dislike certain textures, their costume should not include anything that will disturb their head and/or skin (such as masks, make-up and/or excessive facial paint, big hats). These also become uncomfortable to carry, fade after a few hours, and can even be a little scary for our little ones, so avoid them as much as possible.
  • Make it comfortable: Whether your child will be trick-or-treating or not, make sure that the length of the costume (both legs and arms) is not too long for him/her as to impede their ability to walk and run with their friends. Also, keep in mind the material of the costume and the weather (i.e., avoid materials that will make your child sweat). I would suggest having a cotton costume and having a back-up plan, such as a Halloween-inspired shirt in case your child does not want to remain in his/her costume
  • Try it on before it’s that special day: In order to avoid a meltdown on Halloween night, have your child wear his/her costume around the house so that he/she gets used to wearing it and feels comfortable in it. Also choose shoes that your child can comfortably walk in to ensure that he/she will be okay during trick-or-treating.
  • Choose something FUN for them: Have your child take part in this special holiday by having them choose what they want to dress up as, but always keeping in mind the above stated. Here are some additional ideas and all-time favorites for Halloween:
    • Favorite TV/Movie Characters, such as Disney characters and super heroes.
    • Halloween favorites, such as witches, ghosts, wizards, and monsters.
    • Others: Animals and insects, such as cats, ladybugs, bees, dogs, and spiders are all simple yet fit the occasion!

Here are other tips to ease the difficulties related to Halloween:

  • Practice the trick-or-treating route in advance: In the days leading up to Halloween, walk with your child around your neighborhood and note his/her reaction. If your child feels scared with some decorations that include excessive lighting, have strobes or scary monsters, ghosts, and witches, then you will know to avoid these houses on Halloween.
  • Consider alternatives: If your child is not the one to walk around and may not like the Halloween decorations, then you may want to join with other parents so that you can host a Halloween party that is autism-friendly. If you don’t want to host a party, then consider attending a mall, local children museums, or any child friendly location that will have a themed activity.
  • It’s okay to stay home: If you think your child will not enjoy the Halloween festivities of going trick-or-treating and dressing up as something, then stay home. You can have your own Halloween fun by watching a movie, creating Halloween-inspired foods together, as well as arts and crafts that will get your child involved (stay tuned for our other post on Halloween Arts & Crafts).

Thus, Halloween should be a fun holiday for all of us! But do know that it can be a scary time for some children, so keep in mind all of the tips discussed above and be aware that comfort is key for your child’s happiness.


WRITTEN BY CLAUDIA MARMOL, BCBA

Claudia Mármol is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and the founder of Heal the World Behavioral Services, a private ABA center that provides quality ABA therapy to children diagnosed with autism and related disorders in South Florida. Since 2007, Claudia has worked with numerous children of various ethnicities, backgrounds, and related disorders as well as typical children exhibiting problem behaviors in clinical settings, family homes, and schools. Claudia specializes in the development, implementation, and supervision of Verbal Behavior Programs in both English and Spanish.

Guest Article: Tackling Tantrums by Bridge Kids of New York

For parents, it can be difficult and frustrating to help their children through tantrums. We’re pleased to share with you a second guest post by Bridge Kids of New York (BKNY), who shares with us a few (humorous) words of advice on tackling tantrums.

T-A-N-T-R-U-M-S
by Bridge Kids of New York

Young girl indoors cryingHere at BKNY, parents reach out to us for support in a variety of areas. Not surprisingly, one of the most popular reasons we hear from parents is for support in managing tantrums! Why is this not surprising? Well, it’s not surprising because very few of us will make it through life without ever throwing a tantrum! We’ve all been there, right? Whether you were 5 or 35, you’ve most likely engaged in a tantrum. For our little ones, who are still learning about rules, expectations, effective behavior, and self-control, it makes sense that we will periodically see a tantrumit’s often part of the learning process. So, for all of our parents out there who are tackling tantrums, here are a few words of advice for you:

Take a deep breath
Analyze why the tantrum is occurring and Avoid reinforcing it
Neutral tone and affect
Tune out the bystanders
Remember the big picture
Understand that this is a learning moment for your child
Make objective decisions rather than emotional ones
Stop beating yourself up

Take a deep breath.
Tantrums can be stressful for everyone involved! As a parent, it may be emotionally difficult, frustrating, or potentially embarrassing to work through a massive tantrum with your child–these are common emotions! But here’s the thing: when your child is mid-tantrum and about as far away from calm as possible, that’s when it’s the most important for us to be calm. After all, someone has to be! Whatever emotions you feel in these moments are perfectly valid—acknowledge themthen take a deep breath and try to release them. One of the most important things you can do for your child during a tantrum is to remain calm

Analyze why the tantrum is occurring and Avoid reinforcing it.
All behavior occurs for a reason. Whether or not you fully understand your child’s tantrum, rest assured that there is a function behind it. In order to handle it appropriately and use proactive measures in the future, we need to analyze what is going on. We need you to become a tantrum detective! Think about what happened right before your child’s tantrum (i.e. the antecedent). Were you talking on the phone instead of paying attention to her? Did he have to share a favorite toy with another child? Did you ask him to do something challenging? Looking at what happened right before will probably give you some information about why the tantrum is happening. Thinking about (and potentially reconsidering) how you typically respond in these situations may also help. Once you determine why the tantrum is occurring, the next step is to not give into it. So, if your child is tantrumming in the middle of the grocery store because you said “no” to the box of over-processed chocolate cereal, you want to make sure that you do not give in and buy the cereal. If you cave during a tantrum, you will likely reinforce that behavior and see it again in the future. So do your best to stay strong!

Neutral tone and affect.
We’re all human and it’s natural to lose our cool from time to time under stressful circumstances. Tantrums can get the best of you sometimes! In these moments, try to remind yourself to use a neutral tone and affect. Let your face and your voice send the message that you are unphased by the tantrum (even if you don’t totally feel that way on the inside!). Channel your inner actor (we’re in NYC after all!) and put on your game face!


Tune out the bystanders.

Let’s be honest, a tantrum that occurs in your home feels very different than a tantrum that occurs in public. When you are out in the community, there may be additional safety concerns (e.g. running into the street), worries about disturbing others (e.g. crying in a restaurant or movie theater), and, perhaps the most challenging of all, those darn judgmental bystanders! You know the ones we’re talking about. Those people who either can’t relate to what you and your child are going through, or the ones who pretend like they can’t relate because, after all, their children NEVER, EVER, EVER had tantrums (read: sarcasm). Then, there are also the people who get involved, thinking they’re helping you, but are actually making the situation worse. You know these people toothe sweet older lady who tells your child that Mommy will buy him a candy bar if he stops cryingyou’ve met her, right? Unfortunately, you cannot always control what other people will say, do, or think. But, fortunately, you can control what YOU will say, do, and think! In these moments, do your best to turn OFF your listening ears and do what you know is right for your child.

Remember the big picture.
Okay, so here were are in the middle of a huge tantrum. Could you make that tantrum stop in a matter of minutes or even seconds? Yes, in many cases you probably could. All you have to do is give in. If your child is tantrumming because you told her you would not buy that candy bar in the checkout line, you could probably put a quick end to it by just caving and giving her the candy. And that option can be pretty tempting sometimes! This is where we urge you to remember the big picture and think long-term. The goal is not to stop that particular tantrum in that particular momentthe goal is to reduce those tantrums from happening in the long-run. We want to decrease the behavior that interferes with your child’s success and increase the behavior that supports itthat’s not going to happen by giving in. Caving in the middle of a tantrum may stop it in the moment, but ultimately it will teach your child that throwing a tantrum is an effective way to get what he wants. So the next time he wants something, he’s likely to resort to that behavior again. As you can imagine, this may easily turn into a cycle of increasing tantrums. Although it’s easier said than done, try to remember the big pictureyou’ll thank yourself later!

Understand that this is a learning moment for your child.
Every moment of every day is a learning moment. This applies to all of us, by the way, not only our children! Believe it or not, your child is actually learning during those tantrums. He is learning all kinds of things, in fact! Your child is learning whether or not Mommy really means the things she says. She’s learning whether or not you are consistent. He’s learning about rules and limits, or lack thereof. She’s learning what behaviors are going to be effective and what behaviors are not. He’s learning how to respond to undesired situations, like not getting what he wants. The list could go on and on! So remember this when your child is having a tantrum and focus on teaching the things you actually WANT to teach! Furthermore, remember that learning is hard sometimes. It’s okay for your child to struggle a little bit in the learning processyou (and we!) are there to be his teachers.

Make objective decisions rather than emotional ones.
We’ll start this one by acknowledging that it can sometimes feel nearly impossible to be objective during a massive tantrum, especially when in public. To the best of your ability, set your emotions aside and try not to take it personally. Your child’s tantrum is happening for a reason and that reason is most likely not about trying to hurt your feelings. So, take a moment to have a mini out-of-body experience, away from your emotions, and try to look at the situation as an outsider. Remember, you want to analyze what is really happeningunfortunately, those pesky emotions can really cloud your judgment. Try to let your choices and reactions be based on facts rather than on feelings.

Stop beating yourself up!
You are not a bad parent. Your child is not a bad kid. You are not the only parent whose child has tantrums (despite those ridiculous people who make you feel like you are!) In fact, your child’s tantrum may actually be the result of you being a good parent and setting limits. You do not have to be perfect every second of every day. You can make mistakes and so can your child. It’s okay. This is a part of the process. Chin up, thumbs up, you got this!

Note: If your child engages in behavior that is dangerous to himself or others, we suggest that you consult an appropriate medical professional as well a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) immediately. Safety should always be the first priority. Feel free to reach out to our behavior team and/or attend one of our Tackling Tantrums workshops for more information on understanding and changing behavior!


WRITTEN BY BRIDGE KIDS OF NEW YORK, LLC

Bridge Kids of New York, LLC is a multidisciplinary team of professionals who strive to improve the quality of everyday living for the children and families they serve, providing each family with progressive services that merge evidence-based practices with play-based and social instruction. To find out more, contact them here or email info@bridgekidsny.com.