To All Autism Parents

This is for all autism parents who’ve once heard “your child has autism.”

This comment from my experiences has came with different emotions for different people. Sadness of the uncertainty…Happiness about finally knowing what the diagnosis was… And often a neutral look where I cannot see any expression.

To All Autism Parents

Over the years I’ve been contacted by thousands of parents asking for advice about their child’s autism diagnosis based on my experiences navigating the world growing up on the autism spectrum. During those times there have been many of these emotions I’ve seen from parent.

I was thinking about this recently when a mom reached out to me online telling me that her child was just diagnosed with autism. I asked her some preliminary questions such as “When were they diagnosed” and the follow up hit me when she said “my 2-year-old was diagnosed with autism today.”

This was one of the first times I ever talked to a parent the actual day of their child’s diagnosis. She told me more about how she was feeling right now. How her heart was breaking for her child. How she had seen signs for so long and how it had finally become confirmed.

Then she said I inspired her and I honestly didn’t know what to say. For her to contact me had left me at a loss for words. I took a few minutes to compose myself before following up. I than wrote this letter to the mom saying…

“Thank you for your kind words. Remember that you are never alone in this community and there are so many people who you can rely on. Many of them will have already walked similar roads to yours. Lean on these people. Listen to their stories and most importantly, cherish each and every single day that you have with your child. We are learning more about autism everyday to provide them with supports to see them progress.

I know today may have left you with so many different emotions. My parents had those same feelings when I was diagnosed with autism when I was 4. But my parents were able to get through that day and so will you. You will become a champion for your child and their greatest advocate they will ever have. I wish you nothing but the best for you and your child in the future.

Your friend, Kerry 

 

She followed up hours later with gratitude and saying that she would look into the Tool Kit. To this day I’ve been thankful to this mom for sharing her story with me. Stories like hers is why I’m an advocate today. For those other parents out there whose child is diagnosed I hope this message I shared will be helpful for you as well. If I can ever be a resource you can message me on my Facebook Fan Page here.

My hope by sharing my successes and challenges on the spectrum is that I can provide our community with resources that they can use to help their children. That’s one of my hopes that won’t be changing anytime soon.

Kerry Magro is an award winning national speaker and best-selling author. Kerry has become a rolemodel in the disabled community. Non-verbal at 2.5 and diagnosed with autism at 4, Kerry has overcame countless obstacles to get to where he is today. A recent Masters graduate from Seton Hall University, he currently is CEO and Founder of KFM Making a Difference, a non-profit corporation focused on disability advocacy and housing.

 Today Kerry travels the country sharing his story and telling our society to define their lives and their dreams in the best way they can. Of his highlights include publishing 2 best-selling books (Defining Autism From The Heart and Autism and Falling in Love) and working on the 2012 Motion Picture Joyful Noise. Kerry currently resides in New Jersey and works in New York as the Social Media Coordinator for Autism Speaks.

Educating for Inclusion

I am a special education teacher interested in learning more about educating for inclusion. How can I set up my small groups to target skills that will serve my students well in the classroom?  

Answered by Renita Paranjape, M.Ed., BCBA, Director, Intake, IBI and Group and Transition Services, Geneva Centre for Autism

Presenting a special guest post by Renita Paranjape from ASAT.  

Preparing students for group instruction in inclusion classrooms requires careful consideration of the responses required in that setting as well as the strengths and needs of the child with autism. What follows are some considerations that may ease the transition of students from one-to-one instruction to group-based instruction within inclusion classrooms.

Educating for Inclusion

Investigate the next setting

Take time to visit and observe group instruction in the inclusion classroom. There are a few questions to keep in mind when observing the inclusion setting, including:

  • What is the content of the group instruction?
  • How large are the groups?
  • How does the teacher engage the students (e.g., visual stimuli, choral responding)?
  • How long are the group activities?
  • How often are students required to respond during group?
  • Are there reinforcement systems in place within the group lessons?
  • What are the teacher’s general behavioral and learning expectations of the students during group instruction?

Once you have a clear idea of what transpires during group instruction, attempt to replicate, as closely as possible, the activities observed in the inclusion environment during small-group lessons.

Setting up the group

Here are some pointers for setting up group instruction:

  1. Group children according to their skill level so that those who require skill building in more foundational skills are grouped together, while the students with more advanced skills are placed together.
  2. Alternatively, you may want to consider mixing students by skill level, so that students with more advanced skills can serve as a model for students who require models of responses during the lesson.
  3. All students should have a clear view of the teacher and the instructional material, with distracting items kept to a minimum.
  4. One adult should be the “teacher,” delivering all instructions in front of the group and providing the reinforcers to the students.
  5. Position other adults behind the group to serve as “prompters” of responses. These adults should stand, not sit, behind the students, fading their proximity to the students as independence increases. These adults should only prompt if necessary, and the students should be expected to follow the instructions provided by the teacher who is leading the group.
  6. Have available the student’s individualized motivation system in view of the student. The teacher leading the lesson should provide the reinforcers to the students based on the student’s individualized program.
  7. The other adult or “prompter” can also record data on the responses of the learners during group instruction.
  8. The teacher of the group and the prompters should communicate regularly before and after the group lessons to identify roles and student goals. Discussion should not occur during the lesson.

Readiness skills for small group instruction

The following are a few examples of what learners may benefit from in order to participate in group instruction, but they are not necessarily prerequisites. Some of these goals require group instruction in order for the goals to be taught, whereas other goals can be introduced in smaller groups or in one-to-one instruction.

  1. Attending to the teacher with peers present. In most ABA programs, attending is one of the first foundational skills that is taught. This is accomplished either by teaching students to provide eye contact or teaching them to orient toward the communicative partner. Once this skill is established, the next step for group instruction would be to teach attending even when there are peers present and when the teacher is standing and moving around the classroom.
  2. Tolerating the presence of peers. Since small-group instruction requires the presence of other students, it is important to assess whether the student can sit alongside a peer without being distracted.
  3. Sitting for longer periods of time without frequent breaks. Group instruction will require the student to sit for longer periods of time. Collect baseline data on how long the student will sit appropriately before accessing a reinforcer; then systematically increase that time so that the student can sit for longer periods of time to earn access to a bigger reinforcer (e.g., recess).
  4. Remaining on task for longer periods of time. This may seem similar to number 3 above, but it is not only important to consider how long your students can sit appropriately, but also how long your students will work efficiently before becoming off task and or requiring breaks. In small group settings, students are typically required to complete independent seatwork for upwards of 15 minutes or more. As a readiness skill, assess how long your students can remain on task and systematically increase how long they are required to work independently.
  5. Preparing the student for thinner schedules of reinforcement. Consider your students’ current schedule of reinforcement and develop a plan to thin that schedule. This would apply primarily to appropriate behaviour, such as attending and sitting appropriately, as correct responses in group would likely be reinforced on a continuous schedule initially.
  6. Responding to name and following distal instructions. Can your students respond to their names from varying distances and in different contexts? Can they follow directions given from afar? In addition to being able respond to their name in a classroom setting, students must also learn to not respond in certain situations. Distinguishing between, and responding to, instructions such as “everybody,” “[student’s name]” and “[other student’s name]” are key foundational skills for small-group instruction.
  7. Following complex instructions. Your students should not only be able to complete one-step directions (e.g., “Get a pencil”), and two-step directions (“Get a pencil and write your name”), but they should also be taught to follow even more complex directions (e.g., “Get a pencil, turn to page 5 of your workbook, and write your name at the top”).
  8. Waiting for attention and instructions. When a student makes the transition from one-to-one instruction to a group setting, the teacher’s focus is no longer solely on one student, but he or she is balancing his/her attention from one student to another. It is important to teach the student how to occupy his or her time without engaging in stereotypic, or other challenging behavior, as the teacher’s attention is diverted.
  9. Hand raising. Hand raising is a skill that requires attending, performing a gross motor action, inhibition of responding until cued by teacher, and discrimination of instructions. Initially, students can learn to raise their hands to access a preferred item with an embedded prompt in the instruction (e.g., “Raise your hand if you want candy!”). The instructions can then become increasingly more complex and students can learn to raise their hands to answer questions, to refrain from raising their hands when they are not able to answer a particular question, to request an item they might need for a task, and to volunteer to participate in an activity.
  10. Observational Learning. One of the benefits of small-group instruction is the abundance of opportunities to learn appropriate responses by attending to the responses of other members of the group. Often times, students with autism need explicit instruction in attending to the responses of others, in differentiating whether those responses were appropriate based on teacher feedback, and in being able to repeat those correct responses when directed by the teacher.
  11. Choral Responding. Another key response of small-group instruction is being able to say responses aloud and in unison with other students. For example, the teacher may say, “Everyone tell me what is two times two,” and all of the students would be expected to say, “Four.” This skill can first be introduced in one-to-one instruction.

Effective teaching strategies to include in small-group instruction

The research in small-group instruction has identified specific strategies that have been found to be particularly effective for learners to acquire skills in a group setting (e.g., Heward & Wood, 1989; Kamps et. al, 1991).

  1. Creating many opportunities for learners to respond: Given that the density of instructions will likely be less in a group situation than in a one-to-one teaching interaction, it is important to create as many opportunities as possible for your students to practice responding, and, in turn, acquire skills. Ensure that there are many instructions delivered for each student.
  2. Frequent rotation of materials: This is a necessary strategy to help alleviate boredom with the content of the curriculum, and it also helps to promote generalization of responding across various stimuli.
  3. Interspersing known targets with unknown targets: This strategy creates a momentum for responding fluently, provides the opportunity for reinforcement to occur, and also ensures that mastered targets are maintained.
  4. Choral responding: Having your students respond in unison is a useful strategy, and is important to target, because it occurs frequently in most general education settings. It is beneficial for learners, as it allows them to have more opportunities to respond, as well as allows them to be cued by their fellow classmates rather than their teacher.
  5. Random responding: Random responding refers to presenting instructions in an unpredictable format so that students are not aware of when they might be called upon. This method can improve attention and motivation, as students will not be able to predict when it is their turn to respond.
  6. Repeating peer responses: Requesting that students repeat the correct responses of their classmates can help further observational learning skills by requiring students to attend to and assimilate the responses of others.
  7. Student-to-student interaction: Another effective teaching strategy is to promote interaction among students. Specifically, students can learn to listen and repeat each other’s responses to general curriculum-related questions, ask peers to clarify if an instruction was missed, or ask peers for items needed for a task.

Small-group instruction can be a highly effective way to prepare students for less restrictive settings. With appropriate environmental manipulations, as well as effective teaching strategies, students who participate in group instruction can acquire skills needed for fuller inclusion.

References

Carnahan, C., Musti-Rao, S., & Bailey, J. (2009). Promoting active engagement in small group learning experiences for students with autism and significant learning needs. Education and Treatment of Children, 32(1), 37-61.

Harrower, J. K., & Dunlap, G. (2001). Including children with autism in general education classrooms: A review of effective strategies. Behavior Modification, 25(5), 762-784.

Heward, W. L., Gardner, R., Cavanaugh, R. A., Courson, F. H., Grossi, T. A., & Barbetta, P. M.(1996). Everyone participates in class: Using response cards to increase active student response. Teaching Exceptional Children, 28(2), 4-10.

Heward, W. L., & Wood, C. L. (2009). Let’s make some noise! Using choral responding to improve the effectiveness of group instruction. In W. L. Heward, Exceptional children: An introduction to special education (9th edition) (pp 158-159). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Merrill-Pearson Education.

Kamps, D. M., Walker, D., Dugan, E. P., Leonard, B. R., Thibadeau, S. F., Marshall, K., & Grossnickle, L. (1991). Small group instruction for school-aged students with autism and developmental disabilities. Focus on Autism and other Developmental Disabilities, 6(4), 1-18.

Ledford, J. R., Gast, D. L., Luscre, D., & Ayres, K. M. (2008). Observational and incidental learning by children with autism during small group instruction. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 86-103.

Rotholz, D. A. (1990). Current considerations on the use of one-to-one instruction with autistic students: Review and recommendations. Focus on Autism and other Developmental Disabilities, 5(3), 1-5.

 

Renita Paranjape, MEd, BCBA, is a Board Member of ASAT. Renita joined the ASAT Board of Directors in 2015. Prior to serving as a Board Member, Renita served as ASAT’s Social Media Coordinator. Renita received her Master’s degree in Developmental Psychology and Education from the University of Toronto, and completed courses in Behavior Analysis from the University of North Texas, in 2009. Since 2002, Renita has worked in the fields of ABA and ASD in several capacities, including supervising an ABA program in a private school, supervising ASD consultants in public schools, and managing an ABA program in group homes serving adults with severe behavior disorders. In her current role, Renita has been fulfilling the role of Director of Intake, IBI Services, and Group and Transition Services at Geneva Centre for Autism in Toronto. Renita is passionate about the dissemination of science based treatments for autism, and working with families to access those resources.

 

The Truth About Having A Sibling With Autism

Here’s the truth about having a sibling with autism. When we were younger, I tried so hard to reach out to my brother, but he seemed to reject me. I would try to play with him, and he would either push me away or run away. It was frustrating. I knew my brother had a disability, but I didn’t really understand the different characteristics of autism. I couldn’t understand why if I showed him how to catch a ball, he would just let it hit him or drop to the floor. He wouldn’t look at me when I called his name. He wouldn’t even stay in one place to figure out how to play the game. Whatever was going on in his own head was much more fun than his big sister, and it ticked me off.

Things are really different now. I’m much more educated about autism. I understand that individuals with ASD have communication deficits. The disability also makes it difficult for people to learn social skills. Observational learning is something that isn’t instinctive, but has to be taught. There’s also a piece to the disability where people are really rigid in their behaviors. They might engage in repetitive behaviors and that’s much more motivating for them to do than interact with others. It’s just the disability. Everyone has different manifestations of these traits, and to varying degrees with different combinations. They often say, “If you met one person with autism, you met one person with autism.” It’s so true.

The Truth About Having A Sibling With Autism

The Truth About Having A Sibling With Autism

Deborah with her brother and worship band.

In our mid and late twenties, my brother and I hang out much more. We even hang out with other people. This took over twenty years to develop. I don’t want to paint a picture that my brother and I had only painful memories in our childhood, because we didn’t. It’s just now, we have a much more interactive relationship. Not only with me, but with others. As you can see in the pictures above, my brother is just one of the gang.

This is us hanging out at a cafe after a band practice. My boyfriend and I are part of a church worship band. My brother comes to our practices and listens to us. He loves music, and live music amplifies the experience. He often paces the room, and listens to us sing. Afterwards, we often all go out to eat and hang. When we hang, my brother is just part of the gang. He’s just as much a goofball as our friends are, and fortunately, they all treat him like one of the gang. I can’t say how much it means to me that we can hang out with friends together. It’s not always picture perfect, but this night definitely was.

How did we get here?

  1. On my end, the more I understood about the disability, it made me realize he wasn’t being a jerk. There are things you have to teach him, such as looking at your eyes. Now he does that really well.
  2. It helps being a practitioner in the special education field. I’ve encountered some learners who never learn a new skill and some learn really fast. Everyone is different. It’s not lessening your expectations, but understanding that he may or may not acquire the new skill you just taught him. For example, even after 26 years, the man still does not catch a ball outside of his periphery. At this point, as long as he doesn’t let a ball hit him in the face, I’m OK with him and his hand eye coordination. That doesn’t mean I don’t play catch with him or try, but it just doesn’t discourage me or bum me out.
  3. I realized real quick that my attitude towards my brother affects how everyone else treats him. I’ve had strangers and acquaintances give weird or concerned looks towards us. Even now, I get that from time to time. Whatever. I love this man, who is my brother. Just let the love shine!

To any families out there… Be brave! Have hope! Press on!

 

We’re incredibly honored to publish this guest post by Deborah Chang, an autism blogger. Visit Deborah’s blog here. If you’re interested in submitting a guest post for our blog, please email elizabeth@difflearn.com for more info. 

Ecological Assessment For Successful School Inclusion Settings

School learning communities are dynamic and complex, and meeting the challenge requires a detailed understanding of how such communities work, a task that is ideally suited to Ecological Assessment. Ecological Assessment for successful school inclusion settings can be a vital part of the structure of maintaining scientifically-grounded, evidence-based practices in schools. Like functional assessment, Ecological Assessment uses the tools of Applied Behavior Analysis – behavioral definitions, direct observation and data collection, task analysis, simple statistical analysis, structured interviews – and applies them to the ecosystem of the classroom and other settings in schools.

ecological assessment for successful school inclusion settings

In 2007, Cooper, Heron, & Heward wrote: “An ecological approach to assessment recognizes the complex interrelationships between environment and behavior. In an ecological assessment a great deal of information is gathered about the person and the various environments in which that person lives and works. Among the many factors that can affect a person’s behavior are physiological conditions, physical aspects of the environment (e.g., lighting, seating arrangements, noise level), interactions with others, home environment, and past reinforcement history. Each of these factors represents a potential area for assessment.” (p. 55)

Ecological Assessment has been discussed in behavior analysis for at least the past 45 years. Wallace and Larson (1978) described Ecological Assessment as referring to the analysis of an individual’s learning environment and his/her interactions within and across these settings. In stressing the importance of ecological assessment, Hardin (1978) said that “appropriate and effective intervention cannot occur without an adequate understanding of the child and his or her environment.” Heron and Heward (1988) pointed out that sometimes students’ situations warrant comprehensive study, saying, “…some students’ learning/behavior difficulties are subtle and complex and, thus, necessitate a more global assessment to ensure the most appropriate instructional approach.”  They suggested that Ecological Assessment should be based on various sources of information such as student records, interviews, formal and informal tests, and direct observation, and include an examination of specific influences within a setting such as:

  • Spatial Density
  • Seating Arrangement
  • Noise
  • Student-Student Interaction
  • Classroom Lighting
  • Teacher-Student Interaction
  • Home Environment
  • Reinforcement History

According to Carroll (1974) a model of Ecological Assessment consists of six steps:

  1. “Delineation of the assessment goals (i.e., identify the data to be collected and how they will be used)
  2. Formation of a conceptual framework within which to assess the learner and the environment (i.e., identify the relative importance of learner and environmental factors)
  3. Implementation of the assessment plan (i.e., conduct direct observations, inspect work samples or products)
  4. Evaluation of assessment results
  5. Development of a set of hypotheses (i.e., relationships between student behavior and identified learner characteristics and environmental factors)
  6. Development of a learning plan (i.e., an intervention strategy designed to match learner characteristics with appropriate environmental settings).”

Like functional assessment, Ecological Assessment is part of an analysis involving students and the environment. While functional assessment identifies specific behaviors (usually problem behaviors) exhibited by a student as the target of the assessment, Ecological Assessments have both a setting focus and a student focus. Ecological Assessments study the nature of all behaviors required to be reinforced in a particular setting and the specific circumstances under which those behaviors must occur. It then compares these requirements to the abilities and experiences of the student. The central question in an Ecological Assessment is, “What does the student need to do to succeed?”


Why Conduct an Ecological Assessment?

There are many reasons to conduct an Ecological Assessment:

  • With students making transitions between programs, Ecological Assessments can supplement the typical discussions between sending and receiving teams, providing formal observations, data-taking, setting inventories, and structured interviews that allow for a smoother transition
  • For students who are less-than-engaged in class and exhibit off-task behavior, Ecological Assessments help teachers identify and eliminate the barriers to on-task behavior and, as efforts are made to resolve issues, provide both a baseline and a convenient on-going monitoring vehicle for both the student’s behavior and any continued existence of the barriers
  • When evaluating student readiness, Ecological Assessments identify the key skills actually reinforced in target environments, so that specific, concrete, realistic preparations can be implemented


The Future of Ecological Assessment

Educational teams in schools tackle problems encountered in inclusion settings every day, both from the assessment side and the student preparation side. While Ecological Assessment has been frequently discussed as a valuable tool and would seem to be ideal for gaining a detailed understanding of environmental barriers and challenges in classrooms and other inclusion settings, there is little established structure to guide clinical implementation.

At this point, one Ecological Assessment is very likely to look completely different from another. Like functional assessment, Ecological Assessment in the future must take on recognized and validated structure that is data-based, reliable, and highly descriptive of setting characteristics and related student abilities. Insights into how to provide meaningful student inclusion experiences depend on well-developed tools that synthesize and easily communicate information about complex challenges.

Well-structured Ecological Assessments will provide a vital means of approaching inclusion that, in addition to providing a detailed analysis, will create a structure that can extend well beyond the initial decision-making phase of programming, and, without a doubt, promises to contribute enormously to student program development.

 


For more on Ecological Assessment, check out our newest product by Fovel, the SEAT!

seat

This innovative new protocol and manual provides essential structure to facilitate ecological assessment of inclusion settings that is systematic with ABA principles and straightforward to implement. This assessment tool is a must for practitioners and educational teams at all levels and grades, who need to design, and evaluate student inclusion experiences using evidence-based methodologies.

This week only, get the SEAT for 15% off with promo code SEATNEW.

 

WRITTEN BY J. TYLER FOVEL, M.A., BCBA

Tyler Fovel has worked in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis for over 40 years, with all ages of students and with dozens of educational teams. He has published manuals on educating students with autism and related developmental disabilities: The ABA Program Companion and The New ABA Program Companion (DRL Books). He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Jan, and their golden retriever, Lucy. 

 

How To Have A Successful School Experience

Every parent wants their child to succeed in school. The definition of success may differ from parent to parent, but most would agree that they want their child to get good grades, demonstrate good behavior and make friends. These desires are no different for parents who have children with developmental disabilities. So, how do you know if your child is ready and are there ways to predict how well they will do? Tools like the Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP), which is one of the primary assessment tools used at the Behavior Analysis Center for Autism (BACA), can assist parents and professionals alike in assessing their child’s skills and providing them with valuable information as to what areas they can support their child to increase the chances of them doing well in whatever educational setting they may enter.

How To Have A Successful School Experience

General skill deficits will likely determine the educational placement of your child, but may not be the biggest issue at hand.

Behavior problems and problems with instructional control can cause significant barriers to achievement with grades, developing friendships and avoiding expulsion. Learned prompt dependency may make developing independence and responsibility more difficult. Failure to generalize already existing knowledge across multiple examples, people and environments will require more teaching time and may manifest inconsistent performance on tests and classroom work. If your child likes very few things, seemingly peculiar things, or has strong motivation for some things, but is unwilling to work to attain them, it may make it more difficult to motivate them to learn material that is presented. If your child is reliant on getting something for responding every time in order for learning to occur, the teaching process will likely remain a tedious one and decrease the likelihood that they will be able to maintain those responses when those incentives are not provided as frequently. Many children with developmental disabilities will rely on providing themselves with reinforcement in the form of self-stimulation when such dense access to preferred items or activities is not provided.

Overall skill level will undoubtedly increase the odds that your child will be able to manage good grades. However, their ability to acquire new material quickly and then retain that information for later use may play a more critical role in their long term accomplishment. Adapting to change quickly or ‘going with the flow’ will be critical when faced with day to day schedule changes that occur in classrooms or other instructional environments. General independence with functional skills such as toileting, eating and managing their personal items such as backpacks, folders, etc., will decrease the amount of time their teachers may need to focus on teaching these skills and allow more time for teaching other critical skills.

All of these things taken together can seem daunting, even for parents of typically developing children. The good news is that there are things that every parent can do to help. Perfect parenting is unattainable, but valiant and consistent attempts with certain things can go a long way. Allowing your child to experience the consequences of their behavior can be tough, but is central to ensuring that they will behave well when it counts. Having your child try things on their own before helping them and then only helping them as much as needed to get the job done whenever possible will foster independence. Exposing your child to new or different things within fun activities can increase the things they are interested in. Those things can then be used to motivate them to learn. Setting up opportunities for them to experience even small changes, modeling a calm demeanor and praising them for doing the same when unexpected things happen can also help.

Your child’s teacher or other professionals like Board Certified Behavior Analysts can aid you in thinking of other ways to enhance what you are already doing and assist in developing an individualized treatment plan to support you and your child.

WRITTEN BY MELANY SHAMPO, MA, BCBA

Melany Shampo is a clinical director at the Behavior Analysis Center for Autism in Fishers, IN.

This post first appeared on Indy’s Special Child. 

Teaching Social Skills to Teens on the Spectrum

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.

Teaching Social Skills to Teens on the Spectrum

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.