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.

_______________________________________________ 

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.

Increasing Play with Unit Blocks – Free Download

Blocks PileSymbolic play refers to a child’s ability to use one object or action to represent a different object or action within imaginary play. The symbolic play skill that involves object substitution typically begins to emerge around 18 months. For example, you might observe a child using an empty box for a “hat” or an overturned bucket for a “drum.” Blocks are a mainstay in early childhood classrooms because the benefits are innumerable. Block play can help to facilitate cooperation, visuo-spatial skills, problem solving ability, social skills, and language development, and is a good predictor of future mathematical abilities.

One hallmark of the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder is a presence of “persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends.” Additionally, rigid thinking patterns may make symbolic play difficult for children with autism as they might view objects in a limited way that makes it difficult to pretend a block is something other than a block. Blocks on ShelfSince unit blocks are a huge component of early childhood classrooms everywhere one could imagine that exposure to them and some level of proficiency opens up huge social opportunities for learners with autism spectrum disorders with their mainstream peers in the classroom.

Some learners will require scaffolding in order to progress from the use of literal props within pretend play to object substitutions. Research suggests that systematic prompting is a common component of successful interventions used for teaching play.  Depending on the learner, various types of prompts will be used as you systematically move from most intrusive to least intrusive prompt levels. Sometimes, a learner begins to respond to natural cues before you have moved through each prompt level. However, for learners that require support froma visual prompt you can attach drawings of objects onto the blocks and then systematically fade them out. Once the learner begins to consistently use the blocks with the attached images you can use stimulus fading procedure to fade out the visual prompt. This can be done by photocopying the image and systematically changing the lightness until eventually the learner is presented with just the block.

Below you will find downloadable images in the shape of unit blocks to help you facilitate symbolic play with a learner who requires visual prompts. The images are to scale and just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all of the possibilities. It is important to teach various object substitutions for each block shape so that the skill is generalized. In a classroom where the curriculum is organized thematically, you could attach a few visuals to various blocks each time the theme changes to encourage symbolic play for the whole class.

Click here to download our Free Unit Blocks Template!

References

Cook, D. (1996). Mathematics sense making and role play in the nursery school. Early Childhood Development and Care, 121, 55-65.

Wolfgang, C., Stannard, L. & Jones, I. (2001). Block play performance among preschoolers as a predictor of later school achievement in mathematics. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 15(20): 173-180.

Smilansky, S., & Shefatya, L. (1990). Facilitating play: A medium for promoting cognitive, socioemotional and academic development in young children. Gaithersburg, MD: Psychosocial & Educational Publications.

Christakis, D.A., Zimmerman F.J., & Garrison M.M. (2007). Effect of block play on language acquisition and attention in toddlers: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 161(10):967-71.

Pepler, D.J., & Ross, H.S. (1981(. The effects of play on convergent and divergent problem solving. Child Development, 52(4): 1202-1210.

Lang, R., O’Reilly, M., Rispoli, M., Shogren, K., et al. (2009). Review of interventions to increase functional and symbolic play in children with autism. Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities, 44(4), 481– 492.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall.


Written by Stacy Asay, LMSW

Stacy is a licensed social worker, providing home and school based services to children and their families in the New York City area. With nearly 16 years of experience, her work with special needs children integrates a strengths-based, holistic approach to child and family augmented with the tools of Applied Behavior Analysis, a methodology that allows for reliable measurement, objective evaluation of behaviors, and the systematic teaching of language and learning skills.  This results in an individualized curriculum that equips children with the tools they need for learning and living while honoring their unique spirit.

Guest Article: “Promoting Socialization in Children with Autism Through Play” by Julie Russell

We’re so pleased to bring you this guest post by Julie Russell, Educational Director at the Brooklyn Autism Center (BAC). BAC is a not-for-profit ABA school serving children aged 5–21. Here, Julie describes specific, simple strategies for promoting socialization in children on the spectrum.

_______________________________

Promoting Socialization in Children with Autism Through Play
by Julie Russell, Brooklyn Autism Center

Socialization – defined as a continuing process where an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and appropriate skills – is a vital part of life. It is also a particularly difficult skill for individuals with autism. Children with autism often struggle with initiating conversation, requesting information, making contextual comments, and listening and responding to others. These difficulties can interfere with the development of friendships for children on the spectrum.

The best way to improve socialization in children with autism is to emphasize play. There are several strategies to teach play skills to children on the spectrum that can help them improve socialization and develop friendships.

One method of teaching socialization is to condition the typically-developing peer as a reinforcer by pairing the peer with items and activities that are reinforcing for the child with Autism. The peer can give the child with Autism a preferred edible or join in on a preferred activity for the child with autism. If Ben’s (the child with autism) favorite edible is Twizzlers and his preferred activity is completing a puzzle, Adam (his typically developing peer) can offer Ben a Twizzler and join in on completing the puzzle. The typically developing peer is then associated with both the preferred edible and the preferred activity, making Adam a reinforcer for Ben.

This method is a great way to make the peer more desirable for the child with autism. The items or activities used for conditioning should only consist of items/activities that the child with autism already enjoys. When trying to introduce a new item or activity to the child with autism, peers should not be included right away. Trying to teach how to play with the item and the peer simultaneously can be confusing and over-stimulating for the child with autism. The child with autism should first be taught how to play appropriately with the age-appropriate activity during individual instruction, and then the peer can be included in the activity once mastery of the activity has been demonstrated.

Another way to promote socialization is to engage the child with autism in cooperative games, or any activity that requires interaction where each child has a role that is needed in order to complete the activity. This way, the motivation to engage with the typically developing peer will be higher. When teaching the child with autism how to play cooperative games, such as board games, you can include teaching skills that target turn taking and sharing. Children with autism (or any child) may have difficulties with giving up preferred items/activities, so these may be challenging skills to teach. In order to teach these skills with success, begin by having the child with autism share and take turns with non-preferred items/activities, then gradually fade in more highly preferred items to take turns and share.

Evidence-based practices such as social stories, peer modeling, and video modeling are also excellent methods to promote socialization in children with autism. Reading social stories and watching “expert” peers interact will allow children with autism to view and understand appropriate behavior before interacting with a new peer or practicing skills such as turn-taking, requesting information, and listening and responding to others.

All of the above methods of promoting socialization are used in Brooklyn Autism Center’s after school program BAC Friends, which pairs our students with typically developing peers from neighboring elementary and middle schools. We also provide additional opportunities for our students to practice peer socialization (along with academic work) during our reverse inclusion program with Hannah Senesh Community Day School. These methods combined with enthusiastic peers have helped our students improve their socialization skills and develop meaningful friendships.

_______________________________

WRITTEN BY JULIE RUSSELL, MS, BCBA

Julie holds an M.S. in Applied Behavior Analysis from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts and received her BCBA in 2009. She has over 10 years of experience working with children with autism and related developmental differences in centers, schools, school districts and home-based programs. Julie received her supervision hours for board certification in behavior analysis by Dr. Nathan Blenkush, Ph.D., BCBA from JRC in Boston, Massachusetts. She was a Clinical Supervisor at ACES (Center for Applied Behavior Analysis) in San Diego California and Clinical Supervisor at the ELIJA School in Levittown, NY before joining the Brooklyn Autism Center as Educational Director.

Guest Article: “Seamless Separation: Transitioning to School” by Bridge Kids of New York

As our kids and students prepare to go back to school, we thought it was the perfect time to share this wonderful guest post on transitioning into a new school or classroom, submitted to us by Bridge Kids of New York. Read on below for exclusive tips on how to best help you and your child have a smooth transition back to school.

_________________________________

Seamless Separation: Transitioning to School
by Bridge Kids of New York, LLC

When your young child enters into a school or daycare setting for the first time, the transition can be challenging for both you and your child!  This may be the first time your child has had to navigate a new environment without your support and it may be the first time you have had to entrust your little one to someone else.  Of course this has the potential to be stressful for everyone involved!

Here are a few proactive tips to help both you and your child have a smooth transition:

  • Try to meet with your child’s teacher prior to the first day of class.  Discuss your concerns, goals, and values.  Share important information about your child and ask the teacher to fill you in on any key information you should know about the classroom and/or the teacher’s approach. This conversation may help to ease your anxiety and build trust between you and your child’s new teacher.
  • Establish a communication system.  Talk to the teacher and/or the school’s administration to determine the best means of exchanging important information and find out how frequently you can expect communication.  This will help to establish trust, create consistency between home and school, and keep you informed as to all of your child’s triumphs!
  • Have a game plan for the first week of school.  Although we certainly hope you and your child will transition to school without any difficulties, we always advise that you be prepared just in case!  Expect that the separation may initially be challenging for your child.  Talk to the teacher and school administration ahead of time and develop a plan for how you can help your child to be successful.  Rather than waiting for a difficult and emotionally-charged situation to arise and then reacting to it, we suggest that you take proactive measures and develop a plan when both you and your child are calm.  We highly recommend that you consult with a Board Certified Behavior Analyst when developing this plan to ensure its integrity as well as the safety of all involved.
  • Try to remain calm and confident for your child.  Children are often very good at reading our moods, emotions, and energy.  If you enter into the school transition with outward uncertainty and nervousness, you may send your child the message that he should feel the same way.  Instead, try to remain calm and positive about the change—model the behavior you want to see.
  • Prepare your child for the transition to school.  Discuss this new chapter in a way that expresses excitement and positivity.  Provide your child with clear information on what to expect.  Surprises or confusion can make this process more challenging for your child so do your best to help him understand what will happen.
  • Create a “Going to School” storybook.  Consider creating a fun storybook to help your child get ready for this new transition.  Your storybook can include both text and pictures of the school, your child’s teacher, your family, and even some of his classmates (with consent from those parents, of course).  You will want to provide your child with a step-by-step guide for what to expect.  Using actual photographs may help your child to feel familiar with the school environment before the first day.  We suggest reading this storybook to your child for at least 1-2 weeks prior to starting school, in the morning before school, and again after school until he/she is adjusted.  You may even send the storybook to school with him.  These types of books help to provide important information and also serve as a cue to remind us to talk about it!
  • Do a dry run.  Ask the school for permission to bring your child for a visit before school starts.  Allowing your child to see the classroom and meet the school staff may help him to feel more comfortable on the first day.  You may even consider taking pictures of your child in the school building or with her teacher to post in her bedroom or to include in your storybook.  If school is in session and the administration gives you permission, you may even consider trying to walk out of the room for a few minutes during the visit to assess how your child will adapt to you leaving later on.  (As a pointer, try not to make a huge production out of leaving!  A dramatic exit may lead to a dramatic response!)
  • Practice separating from your child in familiar environments.  If separation is very challenging for your child, you may want to consider practicing this separation in a familiar environment.  It may be overwhelming for your child to adjust to separation from you and the introduction of a new environment and new people all at the same time.  In preparation for school, try separating from your child in environments where she already feels safe and secure (e.g. in your home).  Provide your child with lots of praise and reinforcement for separating from you calmly and successfully!
  • Gradually increase the length of separation.  Some children benefit from gradual and systematic separation.  You may initially just try walking out of the room for 10 seconds, then 30 seconds, then 1 minute, and gradually increase from there.
  • Try to engage your child in a favorite activity before separating.  By doing this, you are pairing the separation with something your child enjoys, which may make the separation itself less aversive.  It may also serve as somewhat of a distraction, so your child is less likely to focus on your absence.  Remember to do this proactively, not in response to problematic behavior.

Important Note:  The tips outlined in this post are proactive measures only.  We hope that applying this advice will help to prevent or reduce interfering behavior and set your child up for success.  However, despite these proactive measures, some children may engage in interfering behavior that is dangerous to themselves and/or to others.  We do not recommend implementing a procedure that may result in an unsafe situation.  For this reason, we highly suggest you consult with a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) prior to implementing intervention procedures.  A properly trained professional can assist you in keeping the situation safe while helping your child to be successful.

We hope these pointers will help to make the school transition smooth for both you and your child!  Of course this list of tips is not comprehensive and our behavior team is full of other suggestions, so feel free to contact us for support!  You may find our upcoming Seamless Separation Workshop to be helpful!  Click here to register for this FREE workshop.  We understand that every child and family is unique and that successful transitioning may need to be individualized based on your unique needs.  We are always here to help!

For more information about Bridge Kids of New York, please email info@bridgekidsny.com or visit www.bridgekidsny.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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