Pick of the Week: “The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules” – A teen’s guide to not-so-obvious social codes

It’s not easy for any teen or tween to fit in, but it can be especially tough for Asperkids. Jennifer O’Toole knows this first-hand, and has written a book she only wishes she had when she was a teen with Asperger Syndrome.

This week only, save 15%* on The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules by entering promo code ASPERKID at check out!

In The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules, O’Toole doesn’t offer advice on what Asperkids should not do, but on what they should do with witty and wise insights into baffling social codes. With helpful tips, practice scenarios, checklists, and quizzes, Asperkids will learn how to:

  • Thank people, apologize, and offer compliments
  • Build and maintain genuine friendships and how to deal with bullying
  • Actively listen and have a meaningful conversation
  • Step back and see the “big picture” instead of focusing on the details
  • Make a correction and let go of the need to be right

With over 30 social rules and logical explanations, this illustrated handbook offers information that tweens and teens can truly digest. And having been there herself, the author shares her experience and points out the potential pitfalls with humor and sensitivity.

Don’t forget to save 15%* on The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules this week by using our promo code ASPERKID at checkout!

*Offer is valid until 11:59pm EDT on September 16th, 2014. Not compatible with any other offers. Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in your code at check out!

Tip of the Week: Teaching Language—Focus on the Stage, Not the Age

Teaching language skills is one of the most frequent needs for children with autism, but also one of the most misunderstood skillsets amongst both parents and practitioners. The desire to hear your learner speak in full sentences can be overwhelming, making it especially difficult to take a step back and consider what it means to communicate and how communication skills develop in neurotypical children. Many times we get hung up on what a child should be capable of communicating at a certain age, rather than focusing on what they are capable of communicating at this stage of development.

Many practitioners and curricula utilize Brown’s Stages of Language Development.* Brown described the first five stages of language development in terms of the child’s “mean length of utterance” (or MLU) as well as the structure of their utterances.


From aacinstitute.org

Sometimes it is necessary to compare a child to his or her same-age peers in order to receive services or measure progress, but it can be detrimental to focus on what a child should be doing at a specific age instead of supporting them and reinforcing them for progress within their current stage.

Research has suggested that teaching beyond the child’s current stage results in errors, lack of comprehension, and difficulty with retention. Here are some common errors you may have witnessed:

  • The child learns the phrase “I want _____ please.” This phrase is fine for “I want juice, please” or “I want Brobee, please,” but it loses meaning when overgeneralized to “I want jump, please” or “I want play, please.” It’s better to allow your learner to acquire hundreds of 1-2 word mands (or requests) before expecting them to speak in simple noun+verb mands.
  • The child learns to imitate only when the word “say” is used. Then the child makes statements such as “say how are you today,” as a greeting or “say I’m sorry,” when they bump into someone accidentally. Here, the child clearly has some understanding of when the phrases should be used without understanding the meanings of the individual words within each phrase.
  • The child learns easily overgeneralized words such as “more.” This is useful at times, but the child can start using it for everything. Instead of saying “cookie” he’ll say “more.” Instead of saying “train,” he’ll say “more.” And he may say “more” when the desired item is not present, leaving the caregiver frustrated as he/she tries to guess what the child is requesting. Moreover, as language begins to develop, he may misuse it by saying things such as “more up, please.”
  • The child learns to say “Hello, how are you today?” upon seeing a person entering a room. A child comes into the classroom and the learner looks up, says “Hello, how are you today?” The child responds, “Great! Look at the cool sticker I got!” Your learner then doesn’t respond at all, or may say “fine,” as he has practiced conversations of greeting.

These are only a few of the common language errors you may see. While you may want your learner to speak in longer sentences, your goal should be to have them communicate effectively. With this goal in mind, it becomes essential to support them at their current stage, which means it’s essential to assess them and understand how to help them make progress.

This is why I always use the VB-MAPP to assess each child and make decisions about language instruction. I need to have a full understanding of how the learner is using language, and then move them through each stage in a clear progression. I may want the child to say “Hello, how are you today?” But when I teach them that, do they understand those individual words? Do they comprehend what today means as opposed to yesterday or tomorrow? Do they generalize the use of “how” to other questions?

As you make treatment decisions for your learner, think about their current stage and talk about how to support your child with both a Speech Language Pathologist and an ABA therapist.

*Brown, R. (1973). A first language: The early stages. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

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.

Simplifying the Science: Using Evidenced-Based Practices to Increase Food Variety for Children with Autism

An essential part of ABA is providing evidence-based treatment. Research is consistently being done all around the world to determine best practices for working with learners with autism, as well as addressing many issues outside of the realm of special education. This week, we’re pleased to introduce the first in a new month series: Simplifying the Science. In this feature, BCBA Sam Blanco will highlight one paper from the world of research to help provide you with a deeper resource base. She’ll delve into the study and offer some strategies on how the findings apply to your programming needs. Our hope is that these monthly tips will shed a different light for you on the importance of looking to research for guidance.

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When faced with feeding issues, many parents or caregivers may not consider seeking out help from a BCBA or behavior analyst. There is a tendency to associate ABA with sitting at a table and completing discrete trials, but this is only one tool in a behavior analyst’s extensive toolkit. Whether you are providing intervention for feeding issues or seeking more information, it is essential to look to scientific research for help.

There are several studies available about feeding issues, and many of these studies are specific to feeding issues in individuals with autism. One such study was published in 2010 in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA) by Hildur Valdimarsdóttir, Lilja Ýr Halldórsdóttir, and Zuilma Gabriela SigurÐardóttir. “Increasing the Variety of Foods Consumed by a Picky Eater: Generalization of Effects Across Caregivers and Settings” provides one detailed case in which a five-year-old boy with autism refused to eat anything beyond meatballs, fishballs, fruits, and cereal. While his school had had some success with getting him to eat a few new items, the boy’s parents were unable to reproduce the same results at home.

The intervention the researchers used involved multiple steps that would require the assistance of a BCBA or skilled behavior analyst if you wanted to replicate it at home. In order to increase the number of foods this boy ate, the intervention included several behavioral techniques such as escape extinction (not allowing the child to escape mealtime upon refusing to eat or engaging in inappropriate behavior), stimulus fading (setting goals of increasing difficulty), and a schedule of reinforcement (frequency of reinforcement for appropriate behavior) that was systematically thinned as the child experienced success. By the end of the intervention, the boy was consuming 39 new, “non-preferred” foods, including 14 vegetables.

You can read the research study here, which I recommend you share with your child’s ABA provider. I also suggest taking a peek at the references listed at the end for insight into other resources. This particular study is of a five-year-old boy with autism, but you may find studies that are more relevant for your particular child.

In the end, when you’re feeling at a loss for strategies on improving your child’s eating, there is a lot of research out there. It takes time to go through it and set up a similar system for your own child, but the end result can have a huge impact on your child’s health as well as the stress-level in your home during mealtimes. It is definitely worth the effort to attain more information.

Written by Sam Blanco, 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.

Teaching Functional Living Skills to Children with Autism at the Grocery Store

We hear over and over again how children with autism may need hundreds or even thousands of opportunities to practice a skill before acquiring it. It’s important to keep this fact in mind when it comes to functional living skills (e.g. making the bed, cooking a meal, etc.). Many of the parents I work with prefer to focus on academic skills rather than functional living skills. Some feel that by focusing on functional living skills, they’re giving up on larger goals for their child, such as being placed in a general education environment, having the opportunity to go to college, and/or having the opportunity to have a career.

I always encourage parents to focus on both academic and functional living skills. While it may seem unnecessary to start thinking about teaching a nine year old how to grocery shop, it’s really just providing them with many, many opportunities to practice the skill. Typically developing children “practice” grocery shopping from a young age by watching their parents and playing “store” with friends, but children with autism are unlikely to observe their parents while they’re shopping or to play such games as “store” without explicit instruction. By practicing the skill with your child early on, you’re promoting future independence.

You can practice these skills when you are in the grocery store with your child, and you may just find that your child enjoys shopping. (Grocery shopping is a favorite activity for two of my current students.) It may be beneficial for you to just start out with one skill, choosing the one you think your child is the most likely to experience success with or that your child will be the most motivated by.

 BEGINNER SKILLS
  • Choosing if you need a cart or a basket (Is our list long or short? Do we have big or small items?)
  • Using a grocery list (reading the list, crossing off items already placed in cart/basket)
  • Using supermarket signs to find items (understanding categories, knowing where to look for signs)
  • Greeting cashier
 INTERMEDIATE SKILLS
  • Choosing good fruit or vegetables (looking for bruises, identifying ripeness)
  • Giving money to cashier
  • Accepting change from cashier
  • Taking bags when it’s time to leave
 ADVANCED SKILLS
  • Comparison shopping (looking at unit price, comparing prices of two brands)
  • Making sure you received correct change
  • Returning an item that is damaged

You shouldn’t limit these skills to just the grocery store either. All of these skills are useful in department stores, pharmacies, book stores, and more. Your child may be more motivated to use these skills at the book store or a toy store. You can help your child learn the skills there, then generalize them to other types of stores.

If you need help getting started, you should ask your child’s teacher or therapist to accompany you on your first trip. They can help you identify the appropriate steps to put your child on the path to independence.

NEW! Modified Instructions for Games & Toys, Created by Sam Blanco, BCBA

LetsPlay_WormThere are many great mainstream games available out there but it can sometimes be challenging to know if a particular game’s intended uses are feasible for a learner on the spectrum. With a few simple tips and modifications, many of these games can be altered to provide an excellent learning opportunity through play and most of all, fun.

We’ve worked with Sam to select some of our favorite games and toys. She’s field tested all of these with her students and figured out creative and innovative ways to adapt each game to meet the needs of her learners. Our Modified Instructions present 3-4 alternative ways to play the game, in addition to the regular intended uses suggested by the manufacturer. Sam’s Modified Instructions break down each adapted game by:

  • Age/Skill Level
  • Number of Players
  • Object
  • Skills Required
  • Materials Needed
  • Prep
  • Instructions
  • Considerations

This week, we’re introducing the first set of Modified Instructions for S’Match! Memory Game available as a free download at Different Roads to Learning. Just follow the link and click on “Modified Instructions” to download your free copy.

S’Match! is a favorite around here as it presents an exciting new SPIN on the classic game of Memory. This engaging multi-player game challenges players to find matches by the attributes of color, number or category. The game allows readers and pre-readers to learn and play together as the colorful cards feature both pictures and words. Download our Modified Instructions for Use for S’Match! for free today!

Pick of the Week: Parachute Play

DRG_350_Parachute_PlayAs Fall creeps up and school looms near, we thought this week’s pick should embody the carefree and playful aspects of summer. Within a few short days, our regular school-day routines will start up again and the memories of sand squishing between our toes and summer BBQs will fade. So celebrate these final days with one of the most simple yet fun games around – the Parachute! This week, save 15% on our Parachute Play by entering the Promo Code BLOGPP13 at checkout. It measures 6 feet with 6 handles so you can play one-on-one or involve the whole family.

And if you’re feeling like you should be focusing on school readiness and not play, well the Parachute can help there too! Here’s a post by our brilliant friend Sam Blanco on her Teachthrough Blog about all of the educational uses of the simple yet wondrous parachute.

Age level: Preschool, Early Elementary
Description: I still remember how excited I would be when the teacher brought out a parachute during elementary school. Even now, I can’t exactly identify what it is about a parachute that draws children in, but I have found that it almost always works even for my most difficult to motivate students.

Skills & Modifications: There are many things you can do with a parachute. I’ve listed a few below, but if you have used it in other ways, please leave a comment explaining the activity!

  • Manding (Requesting) – I frequently use a parachute to have my early learners mand for actions. For example, I’ll have the learner lie down on the parachute, then they have to mand for me to “pick up the handle,” “swing,” ready set “go,” or “stop.” I also use the parachute (or a blanket) to teach early learners with autism how to request a parent’s attention. I will have the parent hide behind the parachute, and when the child says “Mommy” or “Daddy” the parent will drop the parachute so he/she is immediately visible and give the child lots of attention in the form of tickles, kisses, verbal praise, etc.
  • Comparisons/Adjectives – To help students understand the concept of big and little, I will have the children stand around the sides of the parachute holding onto it with their hands. I will place an object on the parachute, and we will bounce the parachute up and down to try to get the object to fall into the hole in the center of the parachute. Some objects will fall, but some will be too big to fall into the hole. I will ask the students why the object fell or did not fall.
  • Sorting – I will place several colorful objects on the parachute. We will then bounce the parachute up and down playfully. After a 30 seconds to a minute, we will put the parachute back on the floor, and the student will have to move each object onto a panel of the parachute that matches in color.
  • Identifying body parts – Because the parachute has a hole in the middle, I will sometimes use it for identifying body parts. The learner can lie down on the floor. Then I will put the parachute on top of them. I’ll pretend I’m looking for them (for example, “Where is Charlie?”) Then I’ll position the parachute so that one part (such as their hand or their nose) is clearly visible. I’ll lightly touch it and say “What is that?” and have the student label nose or hand or elbow, etc. Once the learner has an idea of the game, I may let them initiate it, or have them say “Find my nose” and I’ll place the parachute so their nose is visible.
  • Song Fill-ins – I like to sing songs while shaking or spinning the parachute. For students with autism or other language delays who struggle with this skill, the parachute can be a great motivator to help with song fill-ins and other intraverbal skills. I will sing the song while shaking or spinning the parachute, and I’ll stop singing AND moving the parachute when I want the child to fill in a word. As soon as the child fills in the word, I will begin singing and moving the parachute again. For many students, this is more motivating than a high five or saying “good job.”
  • Quick Responding – If you are working with learners with autism, the absence of quick responding is sometimes a serious barrier to learning. I have found that using the parachute isa  good way to motivate the student to respond quickly when presented with at ask by using it as described above with the song fill-ins. Once I am getting quick responding with the parachute, I quickly begin to work on generalizing the skill to other environments (such as the table or during a floor activity.)

Pros: There is a wide variety of activities that you can do with a parachute. As mentioned before, my experience has been that it is a great tool for motivating students who are difficult to engage. The parachute is also fantastic as a reinforcer or to use during a break. It is fun for students to play hide-and-seek with it, lie on the floor and have you lift the parachute high into the air then bring it down on top of them, or spin it in a circle. One final pro is that, depending on the size of the parachute, you can do these activities indoors. I have a parachute that is six feet in diameter, which is perfect for indoor activities with preschool and early elementary learners.

Cons: You have to think carefully about the environment in which you will be using the parachute and choose the appropriate size. Many parachute activities also require more than two people, so if you are working 1:1 with students, you should prepare ahead of time to ensure that a sibling or parent will be available to participate in the activity with you.

Remember, enter the promo code BLOGPP13 at checkout to save 15% on our Parachute Play this week only.

***This expires September 3, 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: “I See I Learn” Books

Early childhood is a period of vital learning through sensory experiences. Visual learning and comprehension are expressed long before children learn to read and utter a wide range of vocabulary. The I See I Learn series by visual learning specialist Stuart J. Murphy applies this natural capacity of young children with engaging and stimulating stories that are reinforced with visual strategies that help young learners prepare for school and other situations.

I See I Learn BooksThe I See I Learn series introduces a neighborhood of gentle, caring individuals, who respect and nurture each other. The stories are infused with experiences in which our fictional friends Freda, Percy, Emma, Carlos, Camille, and Ajay learn basic life lessons by effecting positive results.

 

This week only, SAVE 15% on the I See I Learn books, by entering in the promo code BLOGISIL3 at checkout.

The books are divided into the comprehensive domains of Social and Emotional Skills. Each title addresses a particular issue relevant to the experiences of young learners. In Percy Gets Upset, readers learn how to deal with frustration. Good Job, Ajay! helps children build confidence. Emma’s Friendwich explores the fun and challenges of making friends. In Camille’s Team, the gang must work together to share in the fun and learn cooperation. Percy Listens Up gently helps children understand that not listening often leads to missing out on great fun. And Freda Stops a Bully explores how it feels to be teased and bullied and what strategies kids can use to stop it.

Informative illustrations paired with diagrams that illustrate various issues encountered in children’s daily lives help make these lessons easier for young learners to remember.

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Additional activities and questions in the back of the books also help educators and caregivers further explore each issue discussed in the stories with their children.

Experts in the field of educational development for young children agree that learning tools need to have the ability to apply children’s own viewpoints in solving the conflicts that they may face on a daily basis. Stuart J. Murphy does this exactly with a positive-child approach in his series. Each layout – each word – reflects Murphy’s ability to see scenarios and dilemmas “as a child” and to present them in natural, kid-friendly language with solutions that make sense from their perspectives. The dynamic illustrations in each story are engaging and help generate excitement in young learners when you decide to introduce a new title.
 
 

BLOGISIL3 Promo Code

This week only, SAVE 15% on any one of our selections from the I See I Learn series by Stuart J. Murphy, by entering in the promo code BLOGISIL3 at checkout.*

 

 

 

*Offer expires on May 14, 2013 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.

Wait, What Are We Talking About?

I typically work with very young learners in Early Intervention but there was a time I was working with older children, which necessitated work on conversation skills and topic maintenance. With the start of a new academic year and changes to my caseload I am currently finding myself with students who again need some assistance in this area.  Children with autism spectrum disorders often struggle in conversations because of limited or restricted interests, attending issues, difficulty determining what is relevant or salient to the topic and might also struggle with the rapid transitions necessary to shift between speaker and listener.  This change in my caseload has meant that I’ve found myself digging into old files and unearthing some ancient DIY efforts of mine that I had used in the past.  What I came across that I wanted to share was a visual support that I had used in small groups to facilitate a variety of skills.  It’s something I called Chit Chat and it helped to cue the students in shifting from speaker to listener while maintaining a balance in the conversation with turn taking and reciprocity as well as staying on topic.

The idea was that we would all sit down for a “chat” and initially I would go first in order to model how the board was used rather than providing explicit instruction until the group could use the board on their own and I could fade myself out of the conversation.  The first speaker would choose a token corresponding to a topic of interest, make a statement relevant to the topic chosen and then pass the token to a friend.  The token would provide a prompt for the speaker to maintain the chosen topic as well as cue the rest of the group to visually reference the child whose turn it is to be speaker.  Depending on the level of the group I would individualize the number of conversational exchanges on one topic required before bridging to a new topic. The group I was working with at the time was able to talk about more general topics but this could be individualized to more specific topics depending on the group of students you are working with.

I’m excited embarking upon a new academic year with all it’s unique challenges and successes and am happy to dust off Chit Chat and give it another whirl this year with all new students.  I would be curious to hear from other educators and therapists what tools they’ve created that they find themselves going back to year after year.  You might be surprised what you find at the bottom of your file cabinet!

Also, check out this great link I stumbled across from POPARD Provincial Outreach Program for Autism and Related Disorders in British Columbia, Canada.

http://www.autismoutreach.ca/elearning/social-skills/conversation-and-topic-maintenance

Pick of the Week: S’Match! Memory Game

S’Match! presents a fun “spin” on the classic memory game. The S’Match Spinner tells players whether they’re looking for matches according to color, number or category. The game allows for readers and pre-readers to learn and play together as the colorful cards feature both the pictures and words. You can useS’Matchfor developing language, memory and concentration skills while children learn about sorting and categorizing.

This week only, save 15% on S’Match! by entering the Promo Code BLOGSM5at checkout.

*Offer expires on July 31, 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.

Pick of the Week: What Are They Thinking? Flashcards & CD

Inferring meaning from images and text can be a real challenge for many students. What Are They Thinking? flashcards and worksheets help students develop empathy as they learn to recognize and understand emotions. This is a wonderful resource for initiating conversation and storytelling. Using this set, you can help students explore the relationship between thoughts and feelings as well as teach them to recognize how behavior affects others. The set comes with 30 large photo cards, an instruction booklet and a CD that contains reproducible worksheets for each student.

This week only, save 15% on the What Are They Thinking? flashcards by entering the Promo Code BLOGWATT7 at checkout.

*Offer expires on July 24, 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.