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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few key considerations described:

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

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

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, msed, BCBA

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

Using Music to Help Children with Autism: A Guest Post by Board Certified Music Therapist Ryan Judd

For those of you who don’t know him, we’re thrilled to introduce you to Ryan Judd. Ryan is a board certified music therapist with a Masters degree in Music Therapy and has been working as a music therapist with children with special needs for more than 13 years. We’re excited not only to share his wonderful wisdom with you but also to let you know that you can now incorporate his teaching techniques at home and school with The Rhythm Tree Music & DVD Package. This comprehensive package includes a DVD with 9 interactive songs that address particular skill sets, a full-length CD for listening and learning on the go, a 30-page guidebook with music and lyrics along with strategies for addressing developmental goals, and 3 sets of musical and motivating instruments so the whole family can join in. It’s this week’s pick so you can save 15% on The Rhythm Tree DVD and Music Package by applying the promotional code BLOGRHY3 at checkout.

“Using Music to Help Children with Autism”
By Ryan Judd

I am a lucky man. I get to see music touch the lives of children with autism on a daily basis. Even after 13 years of providing music therapy for children with autism, I still am amazed at the power of music and the way it can grab a child’s attention and motivate them to perform challenging tasks.

Today, I would like to share with you some ways that you can use music to motivate children with autism and help them reach developmental goals. The cool thing is that you don’t need to be a musician or even be able to sing on key in order to use music with children! Music offers so many possibilities for growth and development. I am here to help you begin to tap into this powerful medium.

Let’s look at how you can use music to help children learn social skills, and in particular, greetings. This can be challenging for some children with autism, especially when the expectation is to make eye contact when greeting a peer. If you practice greetings through a fun and engaging song, you can grab a child’s attention and help them practice this foundational social skill.

I have created a simple but effective greetings song for you that is easy to learn and easy to remember. It is to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” I changed the words, but have written the original words above these, so that you can get a better feel for the timing. So here it goes. Let’s try it!

Twinkle Twinkle little star, how I won-der what you are.
Hello, hello, hello friends, it is time to sing a-gain.

Up a-bove the world so high, like a dia-mond in the sky.
Look at a friend and say “hi.” Use your eyes and give high fives.

Twinkle Twinkle little star, how I won-der what you are
Hello, hello, hello friends, it is time to sing a-gain


To practice this song and teach it to your child, start by facing each other and holding hands while seated. Now rock back and forth or side to side while singing. This not only gives your child time with you to practice greetings, but it’s also a great way to bond with your child. Facing each other also sets you up perfectly for making eye contact. If your child is not willing to hold hands for that long, then try a patty-cake type pattern by slapping your knees with both hands and then their hands. If your child craves deep pressure, you can push firmly down on their shoulders, after slapping your knees.

In order to prompt your child to use a greeting in this song, you can use the musical tension that is created by stopping a song in the middle. For example, if you hear, “Twinkle, twinkle, little ________” your brain just wants to hear “star” if it is left out! You can use this natural tension as a non-verbal prompt by pausing before the word or action that you want your child to take. To create even more tension, take a loud, audible breath in, and hold your breath while waiting for them to respond. For our greetings song, it would look like this.

Hel-lo, hel-lo, hello friends, it is time to sing again.

Look at a friend and say ________ (big dramatic pause while waiting for your child to make eye contact and say “hi”).

Use your eyes and give high _______ (big dramatic pause while waiting for your child to make eye contact and give a “high five”).

If your child is non-verbal, no problem! You can have them wave high instead of saying it, or have a visual icon for them to select or touch. You can also set up an electronic Augmentative and Alternative (AAC) device, so that they get the auditory feedback from pushing a button and hearing a recorded voice say “hi.”

To generalize this skill when you are out and about, you can prompt your child by singing, “Look at a friend and say _____ (big pause).” This musical cue can be very effective in prompting a child to use an appropriate greeting with a peer or adult. Just make sure to be patient and give plenty of wait time!

I hope that you’ve found this article helpful and that you’ll begin to explore the potential and fun of using music with your child. Whether you are looking to build a deeper connection, or help your child learn developmental skills, music is a great source of motivation. I have a free bi-weekly newsletter that gives great suggestions and resources for using music with your child, so please sign up at http://www.therhythmtree.com/user-registration.

If you are interested in having all of the tools you need to bring the joy and benefit of music into your child’s life, check out my award-winning DVD and Music Package for Children with Special Needs. It is now for sale at Different Roads to Learning!

Remember, this week only, take 15% off your order of the Rhythm Tree DVD & Music Package by entering in BLOGRHY3 at check out!*

*This offer is valid until July 22, 2013 at 11:59 pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces in the promo code at check out!

Pick of the Week: Know the Code at School – Social Skills Card Games

Know the Code at School is a behavioral and social skill card game that illustrate 50 social skills in typical school scenarios. Each card shows a skill with a relevant photo, lists five sequential steps to accomplish the skill and suggests a talking point. The cards are great for games and role plays at an elementary or middle school level.

This week only, save 15% on the Know the Code at School cards by entering the Promo Code BLOGKC9 at checkout.

*Offer expires on April 3, 2012 at 11:59 pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces after the Promo Code when you enter it at checkout.

Sensory-Friendly Showings of The Lorax, Mirror, Mirror and more at AMC

AMC and Autism Society of America have teamed up once again to bring sensory-friendly special screenings of current, hit movies to families. The auditoriums dedicated to the program have their lights up, the sound turned down and audience members are invited to get up and dance, walk, shout or sing.

March 10 – Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax

April 7 – Mirror Mirror

May 5 – Pirates! Band of Misfits

June 2 – Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

All shows are at 10:00 am local time.

Click here for a complete list of participating theatres.

Pick of the Week: Sign to Talk Nouns Flashcards

Sign to Talk: Nouns presents 150 photographic flashcards designed to shape verbal language specifically for individuals with autism and other developmental challenges. These cards are ideal for their crisp, clear images and their Kaufman Speech Praxis word shell breakdowns which help to shape articulation skills on the back of each card. The set offers myriad teaching opportunities as each card also depicts a photo of a person demonstrating the sign in ASL and a description of the hand shapes for each target item. Use this deck for home or school, to teach sign manding, or for the child-appropriate images that aid in any language acquisition program.

This week only, save 15% on the Sign to Talk: Nouns by entering the Promo Code BLOGSTN at checkout.

*Offer expires on February 7, 2012 at 11:59 pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces after the Promo Code when you enter it at checkout.

Teaching Interactions – Strategies for Teaching Students with ASD by Autism Partnership

Teaching Interactions

 Teaching Interactions (TI’s) are another instructional format that can be invaluable in teaching children skills.  This instructional technique was developed at the University of Kansas as part of the Teaching Family Model for delinquent youth.  TI’s have several benefits as it allows for structured training of more complex, often sophisticated skills in a highly natural, interpersonal, expanded conversational format.  TI’s are designed to teach complex skills (e.g., social skills, problem solving, etc.).  They utilize shaping and reinforcement to teach a skill and rely on a task analysis format.  The teaching style is typically conversational and flexible in nature, providing the student multiple opportunities to participate in the teaching process.  Although flexible, the technique approaches teaching skills systematically, and requires planning for generalization.  Following are the 6 steps of a TI and both guidelines and considerations when utilizing this teaching technique.

 

  • Initiation & Labeling
  • Rationale
  • Demonstration
  • Practice
  • Feedback
  • Consequences

This is part of a guest series by Autism Partnership founders Ron Leaf, John McEachin and Mitchell Taubmann. Established in 1994, Autism Partnership is one of the nation’s premier agencies dedicated to providing intensive behavior intervention for children with autism and their families. They offer a comprehensive program and a variety of proven services, including in-home, in-classroom and one-on-one, as well as lectures and workshops. All programs are handled by expert staff and tailored to each individual child, family and caregiver, with the goal of helping that child achieve their best life. For more information, visit www.autismpartnership.com.

Changes to Definition of Autism to Exclude Many Currently Diagnosed on the Spectrum

A new study by an expert panel appointed by the American Psychiatric Association is examining the impact that the proposed changes to the definition of Autism under the DSM-V would have both on diagnosis and on access to services. The changes would almost certainly exclude high functioning individuals. For more complete details on the findings and the ramifications, read the full article New Definition of Autism Will Exclude Many, Study Suggests in the NY Times.

This obviously raises a lot of strong emotions in our community. How do you feel about the changes? Do you think it would affect the access that your children or students would have to services?

People with Disabilities to Vote with iPad

The state of Oregon provided iPads to voters with disabilities who may find it difficult to use a paper ballot in Tuesday’s election. The program is being tested and if successeful, will continue in January. Read more about this inititative in the Disability Scoop.

Special Needs Talk Radio has debuted!

Coffee Klatch, a corporation dedicated to providing resources and educational programs for families with special needs children, has a new sister company called Special Needs Talk Radio which features interviews with leading experts, advocates and more in the field of Special Needs. Special Needs Talk Radio debuted on September 6 and will present six new shows hosted by twelve different moderators. This new network is aimed at providing parents with the most current news and information covering a wide range of special education topics.

The network will present six shows that will be broadcasted weekly and are currently scheduled to run through mid-October. They cover topics from Parenting Issues, Raising children with ASD, Special Education and the Law, Inclusion and more. The website also offers interactive features that allow users to be actively engaged in the content by suggesting topics, making comments, and asking questions that can be answered during the live shows.

To find the show schedule and to learn more about each program and upcoming guests, visit:

Special Needs Talk Radio

Pick of the Week: Music in my Mouth – Songs for Speech & Language Skills

This CD with 26 original songs and the accompanying manual are designed to be used by SLPs, early educators and families to teach and practice a variety of skills related to the development of communication skills. Competence in communication is essential to a child’s personal, social, and academic success. Each song equips children with the concepts, behaviors, and self-talk skills that support the development of speech, language and social interaction. The manual provides detailed tips on how to integrate the songs with other activities.

Save 15% on Music In My Mouth this week only by entering the Promo Code BLOGMMM at checkout.

*Offer expires on October 4, 2011 at 11:59 pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces after the Promo Code when you enter it at checkout.