Successful Generalization and ABA

Successful generalization is best taught at the very core of a structured well planned ABA Program.  Students on the autism spectrum have many barriers interfering with generalization of learned skills in areas like communication and language, academics, play, or social situations.

The wide range of skill deficits and barriers for each ASD child affects each differently.

ABA gives practitioners the framework necessary to critically analyze the variables that lead to behavior, but systematic programming in how to teach for generalization deserves the same attention and specificity that curriculum development has received for treating ASD.

Many individuals with ASD have difficulties generalizing from a structured learning environment to the “real world” independent of their functioning level. This is likely due to the degree they are affected by the disorder and their individual learning styles, which, in turn, affects their rate of acquisition, maintenance, and generalization of new concepts.

To simply rely on teaching structured skills puts practitioners in a “train and hope” situation when addressing generalization.

Practitioners can plan and effectively train for generalized behavior change by using The R.E.A.L Model, Rethinking Generalization: Recreating Environments to Accelerate Learning. The R.E.A.L. Model teaches for generalization using a unique 5 level process, which systematically changes environmental antecedents and consequences in order to increase skill acquisition and generalization.

R.E.A.L Model Levels of Generalization

Level 1: The R.E.A.L. Model begins in level 1 focusing on the behavioral process to teach for generalization during stimulus discrimination training of concepts and the teaching of skill acquisition taught in a highly structured environment.

Level 2: In level 2, the process continues with systematically introducing stimuli and contingencies within a structured teaching setting focusing on stimulus generalization in the teaching of concept formation.

Level 3: At level 3, behavioral persistence and retention becomes the focus when training for generalization across settings and time as stimuli and conditions from the natural environment are introduced from a structured to a semi-structured teaching setting.

Level 4: As concepts, skills, and language are acquired at mastery, targets are moved to level 4 where special emphasis is on bridging concepts and skills and bringing behaviors under multiple control with daily routines. The focus is on teaching for generalization of complex repertoires the child will use in the natural environment in the shaping of behavioral cusps.

Level 5: Finally, Level 5 focuses on the teaching of social repertoires generalization on the verbal community. Emphasis of teaching is on social competence and flexibility while training the needed social skills in play and communication when the child interacts with peers, family, and the community.

ABA is not a commodity, but a scientific evidenced-based discipline informed by the principles of behavior analysis and generalization is crucial for treatment effectiveness and social validity. By teaching for generalization alongside and within a structured  ABA program, we can prepare a new generation of learners for success.


About The Author

Brenda J. Terzich-Garland is the author of Rethinking Generalization, The R.E.AL. Model: Recreating Environments to Accelerate Learning, published in 2020. Ms. Terzich-Garland received her Masters degree in Psychology (with a concentration in Behavior Analysis) from the California State University, Sacramento and is Board Certified Behavior Analyst.  She is Co-founder and Trustee, Chief Clinical Officer and Vice-President/CEO of Applied Behavior Consultants, Inc. (ABC, Inc) and has been an officer of the California Association for Behavior Analysis.  Ms. Terzich-Garland also has been certified by Pyramid Educational Consultants, Inc. as a PECS Supervisor and Implementer.  She is a member of the International Association for Behavior Analysis (ABA), California Association for Behavior Analysis (Cal-ABA) and has served as a Board Member for the B.F. Skinner Foundation. 

Posted in ABA

My child is home with me. Any suggestions for home schooling?

This month’s ASAT feature is from Marcia Questel, MSEd, BCBA. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

My daughter’s school is closed due to COVID-19. Her teacher and I have been in contact about what I can do to support her learning. Do you have suggestions to increase the success of my home schooling efforts?

Answered by Marcia Questel, MSEd, BCBA
Clinical Director of Robinson Center for Learning
Consultant for 121 Learning Works, LLC

Since the arrival of COVID-19 across the nation and around the world, many parents, like you, are now home 24/7 with their children with autism. At first, school closures may have led parents to envision days filled with the freedom and flexibility to spend increased quality time with their children. By now, parents everywhere are coming to grips with how they are going to teach their children at home (some for the first time) with very limited resources or support. They may be struggling with financial instability, worrying about when they will return to work, filing for unemployment, or juggling working from home— all while homeschooling.

So many parents are overwhelmed with demands to provide structure for their families while remaining flexible with their ever-changing situation. They are trying to keep their children safe and healthy while attempting to engage and entertain them and figuring out how to allow socially-distant interactions with their friends. Parents are learning to balance teaching their children academics without neglecting their emotional and mental health needs. They are doing all of this and simultaneously striving to maintain a sense of security and calm. Still, the typical demands remain. Beyond addressing all of these new challenges, they continue to manage their homes, prepare even more meals, balance their new budgets, perhaps even work from home, and still hope to make room for increased quality time together.

While some families may still be able to receive in-person services, many parents and providers are attempting to maintain a strict quarantine. This has led to a reduction— or entire removal— of crucial intervention services including, but not limited to, a wide range of special education services, behavioral consultations, speech therapy, group therapy sessions, and more. Although this may be supported by remote “telehealth” provisions, the swift and wide-sweeping changes to children’s routines may lead to a wide array of behavioral and emotional challenges. Parents of children with autism may be faced with many concerns related to increased screen time and sedentary activities, dietary issues, unwanted behaviors, compliance issues, rigidity, and/or emotional dysregulation— with service disruption causing an enormous upheaval. My colleagues and I at 121 Learning Works and the Robinson Center for Learning are happy to provide the following suggestions and resources to help during these challenging times. Here are some quick tips to help you make the most of these days out of schools/center-based programs:

  • Establish a Routine: You’ve probably all heard it by now, right? Establishing a routine during times of emergencies is extremely important and beneficial for children regardless of neurological differences. Furthermore, it helps the entire family to pass the increased time at home with some amount of structure. This benefits the quality of life for everyone. While you and your children might enjoy some extra down time, a rough schedule will keep everyone moving, oriented, and focused. Go ahead and give yourself and your kids plenty of breaks and time to have fun – but build it into an overarching structure. Some parents and caregivers find it helpful to make a daily schedule (8:30-9:00 breakfast, 9:00-9:30 hygiene and getting dressed, 9:30-10:00 math, etc.). There are a lot of examples of these online and instructions on how to implement them (see the link in #12). When conducting the routine, make sure that you utilize pictures and/or text along with your verbal reminders to provide the most salient information that resonates with your child, as every child is different.

Here is an example:

autism home schooling activity

A note of support for the schedule: Make sure that you provide plenty of support throughout the first several days! Be prepared to provide immediate prompting and assistance, which may at first feel like it is more than your child usually needs. At this time, he or she may struggle with consistency or compliance due to the upheaval in their routine. While your child may be fully capable of certain skills, remaining available to provide a bit more support and/or reinforcement for these skills may promote smooth completion and help to prevent errors.

Parents should remain focused on chaining skills to the previous and next steps. This proactive approach should help to yield a more successful completion of the activity schedule and, with practice, become a more fluid and more rapid routine.

But, remember, don’t sacrifice great learning moments in order to stick to rigid structure. That’s where Tip #2 comes in:

  • Flexibility: This is also a time where your child’s education can be entirely individualized. Take advantage of that! If they become interested in an activity and it is taking up more time because you’re expanding on the topic, they are asking questions, or they need more time because they are struggling a bit, allow the extra time. Avoid rushing them through it. You may find that you need to back up, slow it down, or teach a prerequisite skill. Go ahead! You have plenty of time! At school, teachers spend time doing things such as handing out materials, getting the class settled, dealing with interruptions, collecting materials, etc. that you do not have to deal with. Research shows that their “time on task” at school isn’t nearly the entire 6 hours (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, 2014). You can teach your lessons much faster with only your children. This gives you more time to teach more precisely to their needs, preferences, and interests – moving faster or slower as they need you to. Be flexible!
  • Approaching Tasks: Once you’ve decided on your schedule (keeping it loose), you need to show your child that this homeschooling thing isn’t going to be too aversive. First, before you start anything, focus on the approach to any new task as a separate opportunity to provide reinforcement, rather than focusing on the actual task itself. It is important that your child receives positive feedback for simply accepting that there is a new type of demand coming and engaging in compliant behaviors with a willing demeanor. Teaching washing dishes? Maybe starting with just putting soap on a sponge is enough on the first day. Learning to make the bed? Prompting everything but the last step of putting the pillow at the head of the bed may be reasonable. Think of this like being proud of yourself for simply going to the gym for the first time rather than getting hung up on how many minutes you lasted on a piece of equipment. All of this is new and simply engaging in any responses to new demands is reason to celebrate. Start slowly.

If you are teaching an academic skill, or something that requires sitting, get your child to the table or desk with an engaging and short task, or even access to a preferred activity! Perhaps you want to look up a quick science experiment (like the one in this video about soap getting rid of viruses!) or do a brief assignment that is in their “wheelhouse,” something that they are good at and in which they have confidence. No matter what, avoid starting off with hard work that you must struggle through with them. This is a learning experience for everyone! Get started on the right foot and try to make it light and fun whenever you can.

Note that throughout this article, the emphasis is on helping children feel successful and establishing norms, it’s not about attempting to teach so many skills as fast as possible. Pace yourself. This will help to alleviate your and their anxiety and help everyone involved to feel more successful. Reviewing previously learned skills throughout the first several days is completely acceptable and beneficial, especially if you’re able to incorporate them into a work schedule as described above.

  • Explore: Use this list of free resources to find many online learning tools! So many companies on that list and this one, called “Coronacation!,” are offering free subscriptions to websites like Headsprout, and special programs like Scholastic’s free daily courses and their list of “learn at home” projects.. Many of the resources listed typically have a monthly fee. Take advantage of these being free right now! Also, many museums are offering virtual tours (like the National Museum of Natural History); aquariums and zoos are offering live streams, and there is even a list of thirty virtual field trips that kids can take, to provide immersive learning experiences while we are all stuck at home. If you’re like me, you might feel overwhelmed at how much is actually out there to explore versus how much time is in the day (while also juggling all of the things mentioned in the introduction). It is not expected that you will click all of the links or read all of the lists. Just remember that they’re here when you need them and, when you do have a moment, take that time to explore. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at what is out there for you to utilize within your teaching right now.
  • Use Themes: One way to use those sites is when you’re creating a conceptual theme in your lesson plans. Teaching with themes can be really beneficial to tie all of the information togetherFor example, if you were teaching about life or water cycles, you could start with an English Language Arts (ELA) section with non-fiction information to read and write about. Then, you could read a fictional story about a chick or caterpillar. The sites above have incredible online books with vibrant pictures and audible text. In math, count eggs or do addition by popping open plastic eggs with different numbers of pom poms inside. Then, you could explore a virtual zoo or aquarium. When you go out for your walk for your Physical Education (PE) section, talk about the clouds in the water cycle or try to find evidence of a life cycle. Themes keep children engaged in the topic, build up the concept in a multi-faceted way, and engage all of the senses with various learning experiences. Think of ways to build themes when you can and don’t forget to incorporate topics into PLAY! Making learning fun whenever possible is important for promoting engagement and connecting separate ideas into “big picture” concepts. Play, as shown in the following example, provides opportunities that allow a child to own the material and use it, to demonstrate their understanding, and may help to reveal any blind spots that the instructor didn’t plan for in an otherwise didactic delivery.

Here is one example of teaching through play experiences: In this video, you will see the results of teaching several skills including opposites and problem solving. To begin, the main “problem” is the classic emergency “The floor is lava!” This child has recently learned that ice can cool things down and that heat melts ice. He is learning to solve problems creatively and to engage in longer scenes of pretend play, including displaying feats of strength and superpowers. He suggests that an “Ice gun” can cool the lava down, but the result is a very slippery floor! The following consequences lead to the need for more problem solving and understanding of opposites, while hysterical fun ensues.

For more engaging teaching videos, subscribe to our channel on YouTube!

  • Exercise: Exercise and fresh air are mandatory components of the school day. Children in the United States are required by law to have physical education and recess periods. Be sure to take breaks to dance, play in the backyard, go for a quick walk only if it is safe to do so (even 5 to 10 minutes will help!), do a short workout video from YouTube (such as Go Noodle Pump It Up!), or do some yard work. It is important that children get exercise, not just for their physical health, but for their mental fitness and emotional wellbeing. Check out Five Keys to Keeping Your Kids Active and Healthy at Home and Exercise Tips to Help Kids, Teens and Families Stay Balanced at Home. You’ll find that you have a much easier time teaching them, that their attention is better, and that they have an elevated mood. Not to mention, it will entice them to drink water, which is especially important during this viral outbreak.
  • Try to Regulate Diet and Sleep: Throughout this time of school closures and social distancing, it’s easy to fall into unhealthy routines and habits. Are your kids making poor choices? Establish some rules NOW so that you can all get used to them. The first few days might be hard, but everyone will acclimate over time, and some of the rules that seemed difficult to adjust to will eventually become the “new normal.” Make meals that include plenty of protein to keep kids fuller for longer periods of time. Remaining active (learning through themes and play, and exercising) can help to stave off cravings that occur when children are sedentary or bored. Also, try to keep sleep and wake times consistent. Planning for good “sleep hygiene” is vital because a solid night of sleep can make all of the difference for everyone in the family (that exercise component can help to improve sleep, and vice versa). For more on improving sleep, diet, and exercise, you will find helpful resources following this link by Autism Speaks. If you fail to promote the best of these for a day or two, don’t worry! This has been hard for everyone. Just start fresh!
  • Patience and Grace: We need two giant helpings of these every day. Start your day with some deep breathing or children’s yoga videos. Maybe your children can kick off their day with a favorite game or physical activity to get them started off in a good mood. When things go off the rails, and they will, simply pause and reset. It’s ok. Even the best educators are home with their own kids figuring out what to do on the fly. Be patient with yourself. Be graceful towards yourself. Then, you will have an easier time expressing these qualities to your children and you’ll set an example of how we handle crises.
  • Any Questions or Concerns? Avoid keeping these to yourself. As is almost always the case, there are others with those same questions who would also benefit from you asking. This may mean that you raise these concerns to your remote educator or clinician. Doing so provides an opportunity for them to appreciate that particular concern (you may be the second or third parent to bring the issue up) and they can, in turn, discuss what they’ve learned from other parents so far. This would help these professionals to serve you and the broader community better. It is likely that this unprecedented situation is providing novel windows of opportunity for teaching your child, but there are also many new challenges to face. Therefore, the next point is vital for you as an individual, for your family and community, and for the broader good of society.
  • Make sure that you form a virtual circle of support around you and your family. We are hearing so much about how communities are coming together in quite inspirational ways. From neighbors in Italy joining in song from their balconies, to the families celebrating birthdays with drive by caravans, many people are out there trying to support one another. They’re doing it for their loved ones but they’re also doing it for their own mental health – to feel connected and to beat back the encroaching worry that this may go on longer than they originally thought. Know that you are not alone and that there are many people willing to support you during this difficult time. Bringing your friends, family, clinicians, and telehealth providers into your circle will help to ensure that you are supported. It is crucial that you continue facilitating open lines of communication with those that you typically had physical contact with, through remote options like phone calls and video chats. Doing this will benefit everyone while we all get through this difficult time together. Right now, SPAN has many great resources for families, including weekly discussions.
  •  For links to scheduling assistance and examples, ready-to-print schedule formats, as well as many more resources regarding COVID-19 and other topics, please see this list of related links created by Amy Redwine for the Robinson Center for Learning and 121 Learning Works. For more information about these programs, other resources, and services provided, please visit the websites linked above.

Some references related to this article:

Benner, M., Partelow, L. (2017) Reimagining the school day: Innovative strategies for teaching and learning. Center for American Progress. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education-k-12/reports/2017/02/23/426723/reimagining-the-school-day/

Heitz, R. P., Schrock, J. C., Payne, T. W., & Engle, R. W. (2008). Effects of incentive on working memory capacity: Behavioral and pupillometric data. Psychophysiology, 45(1), 119-129.

Esterman, M., Noonan, S. K., Rosenberg, M., & DeGutis, J. (2013). In the zone or zoning out? Tracking behavioral and neural fluctuations during sustained attention. Cerebral cortex, 23(11), 2712-2723.

Lim, J., Lo, J. C., & Chee, M. W. (2017). Assessing the benefits of napping and short rest breaks on processing speed in sleep‐restricted adolescents. Journal of sleep research, 26(2), 219-226.

Massar, S. A., Lim, J., Sasmita, K., & Chee, M. W. (2019). Sleep deprivation increases the costs of attentional effort: Performance, preference and pupil size. Neuropsychologia, 123, 169-177.

Mavilidi, M. F., Drew, R., Morgan, P. J., Lubans, D. R., Schmidt, M., & Riley, N. (2020). Effects of different types of classroom physical activity breaks on children’s on‐task behaviour, academic achievement and cognition. Acta Paediatrica, 109(1), 158-165.

OECD (2014), “Indicator D4: How much time do teachers spend teaching?”, in Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888933120005

Stapp, A. C., & Karr, J. K. (2018). Effect of Recess on Fifth Grade Students’ Time On-Task in an Elementary Classroom. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 10(4), 449-456.

Teng, J., Massar, S. A., Tandi, J., & Lim, J. (2019). Pace yourself: Neural activation and connectivity changes over time vary by task type and pacing. Brain and cognition, 137, 103629.

Citation for this article:

Questel, M. (2020). Clinical Corner: My child is home with me. Any suggestions for home schooling? Science in Autism Treatment, 17(4).


About The Author

Marcia Questel is a BCBA with a Master’s degree in Special Education (Concentration – Autism) and Graduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis from Long Island University. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Developmental Psychology with a focus on autism and other developmental disorders, where her passion for researching executive functioning and Theory of Mind began. Her journey in this field started 18 years ago while volunteering in an early intervention center. It was at that time that autism became a part of her, and her family’s, life. Since then, she has been dedicated to the autism community, finding the best practices in the field, and serving families. Previously, Marcia provided 1:1 instruction, managed an autism center in New York, and taught piano to children with autism and their siblings. Marcia is currently working in private practice, providing consultation to families and school faculty, and is a Content Editor for ASAT’s monthly publication, Science in Autism Treatment. In response to the current climate, she is conducting survey research regarding access to telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, engaging in telehealth services through 121 Learning Works, and is creating supportive content for parents and professionals.

Posted in ABA

Five Misconceptions About ABA

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As a career behavior analyst who has learned, taught, and practiced in the field for over 25 years, I have heard many mischaracterizations of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). These are not new, but they are pervasive, divisive, and most importantly, may lead to people not accessing supports that could be life-changing for themselves and their families.  Here are five misconceptions that I still hear, and my considered response to each.

1. ABA is abusive

It is heart-breaking that this misconception still exists.  Yes, ABA professionals have engaged in abusive behavior towards individuals with disabilities.  So have doctors, priests, parents, teachers, psychologists, and literally anyone else in any position of power.  That doesn’t mean that medicine, religion, parenting, education, or psychology are abusive.  It doesn’t mean that the abusive practices were part of the practice of behavior analysis. 

The Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts clearly outlines behavior analysts’ responsibility to clients, which includes holding client rights in the highest regard, respectfully assessing behavior, obtaining informed consent for all assessments and interventions, and avoiding restrictive and harmful procedures (BACB, 2014).  If a behavior analyst is abusive towards a client, they should be reported and certification should be revoked, just as in any profession where abuse can occur.  Abusive acts are not part of the practice of ABA.

2. ABA is a treatment for autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

Although very frequently associated with the treatment of ASD, to say that ABA is a treatment for ASD is a gross misconception (Chiesa, 2006).  ABA is a science that leads to technology that is useful for teaching skills that are lacking and for helping people to overcome behavioral challenges.  That ABA is frequently applied to such teaching for individuals with ASD reflects the demonstrated effectiveness of these technologies in supporting individuals with ASD (NAC, 2009), and not that it is only effective for ASD.  

In fact, ABA is defined by its principles and methods (Lerman, Iwata, & Hanley, 2013) and not by the populations that it serves.  Decades of research have demonstrated that ABA is an effective means of helping people with a variety of concerns, including those resulting from various disabilities (e.g., ADHD, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities), lifestyle and health challenges (e.g., obesity, medication adherence, addiction), organizational needs (e.g., staff training, safety), and even stages of life (e.g., parenting, geriatrics).  In short, ABA can help with any kind of behavior of any kind of person.

3. ABA is only for people with severe impairments 

This misconception is related to a view of ABA as a treatment of ASD.  Even within the ASD community, there is misunderstanding about the many levels of support that ABA can provide.  I have heard that students were “too high-functioning for ABA” and that some students have “graduated from ABA.”  The fact is that if anyone is learning anything, it is because of the principles of behavior, whether or not they are labeled as ABA in these situations.  

To appreciate how a systematic and well-supervised application of ABA technologies can help people at all levels of life, one needs only to look at the vast research on ABA in a variety of educational and organizational environments.  If ABA can teach a non-verbal child with ASD to speak, and also teach a college student to stay organized, what can it not do?

4. ABA violates autonomy and human rights

Sadly, the assumption is often made that behavior analysts force people to change their behavior against their will.  This could not be further from the truth.  If a behavior analyst is following the ethical code, then they are obtaining client input and informed consent for all behavior change procedures (BACB, 2014).  If a behavior analyst is not obtaining informed consent and failing to tailor the program to the clients’ needs, wishes, and preferences, then they are practicing unethically.  The ultimate goal of any ABA intervention is to fade out added supports and promote independence given the same supports and strategies that others in the natural environment benefit from.  For example, a token board might be implemented to support a child in learning from his teacher, but the goal is for that token board to eventually be systematically removed and for the child to learn from his teacher through the same naturally-occurring reinforcers as same-age peers (e.g., praise, grades, feeling of accomplishment).  To take a more extreme viewpoint, the ultimate goal of teaching someone to use the bathroom independently is to improve the likelihood of freedom, dignity, and safety for that person for a lifetime.

5. ABA leads to robotic, scripted responding

This misconception comes from the misuse of ABA strategies by poorly-trained, unethical providers.  Unfortunately, the terminology associated with ABA can be misused, such that consumers may have a hard time discriminating true ABA strategies (that are conceptually systematic with the science) from those that are mislabeled as ABA.  The scope of this discussion is much broader than can be addressed here, but the basic lesson is that ABA is not something that can be photocopied out of a book or downloaded from a website and applied to everyone in the same way.  Here are some red flags to watch out for as potential indicators that an intervention is not truly based in the science of behavior analysis:

  • Extensive/excessive drilling; all intervention is 1:1, knee-to-knee, table-top
  • No data collection, or data collected but not assessed
  • Scripting of learner responses without plans for generalization
  • Infrequent assessment of preferences (or not at all)
  • Intervention is combined with other strategies or is practiced for limited time periods (e.g., “we do ABA for 1 hour per day”)
  • Intervention is limited to one setting, with little or no parent/caregiver training or involvement
  • Behavior reduction without prior assessment and proper consents

Hopefully misconceptions like these and others can be reduced by continuously representing ABA as an ethical, effective science.  True to the values of ABA, by spending more time talking about what ABA is, we can spend less time explaining what it is not.

References

Behavior Analyst Certification Board. (2014). Professional and ethical compliance code for behavior analysts. Littleton, CO: Author.

Chiesa, M.  (2006).  ABA is Not a Therapy for ASD.  In M. Keenan, M. Henderson, K. P. Kerr and K. Dillenburger (Eds.) Applied Behaviour Analysis and ASD:  Building a Future Together (pp. 225-240).  Jessica Kingsley.  

Lerman, D. C., Iwata, B. A., & Hanley, G. P. (2013). Applied behavior analysis. In G. J. Madden (Ed.), Handbook of applied behavior analysis: Vol. 1. Methods and principles (pp. 81–104). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

National ASD Center (2009). National Standards Report. Randolph, MA.


About The Author

Dana Reinecke, Ph.D., BCBA-D is a doctoral level Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA-D) and a New York State Licensed Behavior Analyst (LBA).   Dana is a Core Faculty member in the Applied Behavior Analysis department at Capella University.  She is also co-owner of SupervisorABA, an online platform for BACB supervision curriculum, forms, and hours tracking.  Dana provides training and consultation to school districts, private schools, agencies, and families for individuals with disabilities. She has published her research in peer-reviewed journals, written chapters in published books, and co-edited books on ABA and autism.  Current areas of research include use of technology to support students with and without disabilities, self-management training of college students with disabilities, and online teaching strategies for effective college and graduate education.  Dana is actively involved in the New York State Association for Behavior Analysis (NYSABA).

Posted in ABA

Coping with COVID-19: An annotated list of resources for families of individuals with ASD

Compiled by Maithri Sivaraman, MSc, BCBA and David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D

Association for Science in Autism Treatment

Compiled byMaithri Sivaraman, MSc, BCBA and David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-DAssociation for Science in Autism Treatment

“You can’t always control what goes on outside; but you can always control what goes on inside.”

– Wayne Dyer, EdD

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to significant disruption in services, changes to routines and structure, and an array of challenges associated with social distancing. Couple all of that with the reality that many parents are working from home, managing the home-schooling of other siblings in the family, and learning new technologies and platforms. Any of these can be a significant source of stress for parents of individuals with autism. 

Fortunately, a number of organizations have created helpful resources and tools that we have compiled into an annotated list. Prior to highlighting these resources, we want to share a few suggestions and strategies. Many of these are echoed in the resources highlighted below.

1.      Make time to talk to your child about the situation. Think of the discussion with them as a series of small conversations. Be truthful, avoid sugar-coating the situation, and be prepared to deal with their fears. 

2.      Check-in with them to ensure their understanding and revisit conversations and topics as needed. Focus on being supportive and offering the kind of comfort your child needs. For some children with autism this might mean being able to ask repetitive questions about the situation; for others it might be physical comfort or needing concrete plans and structure.

3.      Remember how much of an important role model you are to your child and other members of your family. To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in your family.”

4.      Catch your children being good. Reinforce cooperative behavior, flexibility, patience, kindness to others, healthy communication, and a sense of humor with behavior-specific praise (e.g., “I was so proud of you when you………”).

5.      Allow yourself enough private time to process what you might be going through so you have the resources to be there for your family.

6.      Monitor and limit what your children hear on television. News on the television or internet might be too vivid for them and lead to more confusion and fear. Don’t rely on the news to give them the information for which they may be looking.

7.      As we move from a more immediate situation to a longer term one, develop a mindset in which each new week will reflect new strategies, new “work-arounds,” and lessons learned. We are all adjusting as we go.

What follows is a non-exhaustive list of coping for the general population:

*  Crisis Management Institute offers a curriculum with new weekly content to help parents talk to kids about COVID-19. This week by week format will help make the adjustment period easier to manage and perhaps lead to lifestyle changes for your entire family. Topics include:  Attitude affects outcome (Week 1); Managing anxiety (Week 2); Coping with an uncertain future (Week 3); Empowerment (Week 4); Filling time when kids are home (Week 5); and Distinguishing fact from hype (Week 6).

Child Mind Institute’s resources for parents during the COVID-19 pandemic is an excellent addition to this list. They offer tips to handle children’s anxiety that might arise from knowledge about the virus, to tantrums or meltdowns that occur due to schedule changes or transitions. Some of their materials are also available in Spanish.

You will also find a Symptom Checker which presents questions about various behaviors to see if they align with specific psychiatric and learning disorders. Although the Symptom Checker is not a substitute for a formal and thorough assessment by a professional, it may suggest possible diagnoses that can lead to a follow up conversation with your child’s pediatrician or other health care provider. Please note that changes in behavior that follow the stressful experiences associated with COVID-19 may not be indicative of a new disorder and actually reflect some adjustment challenges related to the pandemic and the disruption and changes associated with it.

* The CDC offers resources and concrete suggestions for parents to discuss emergency situations, such as the COVID-19 with their children. There are also specific tips for younger children, and an activity sheet that targets emotions experienced during an emergency. The activity may also be suitable for children with autism due to its visual nature. These materials are also available in Spanish. Additionally, the CDC provides a helpful list of possible reactions to expect from children of each age group. These are not specific to COVID-19 but address emergency situations in general. This article offers information that is COVID-19 specific and offers both general strategies and developmentally suitable talking points.

* The National Association of School Psychologists and National Association of School Nurses have created a booklet that offers specific tips for parents regarding how to have the COVID-19 talk with children. Specifically, they recommend monitoring TV viewing and access to social media.

UNICEF offers specific DOs and DONTs while talking with children about the virus. For instance, they recommend using the words “acquiring or contracting the virus,” and avoiding saying “transmitting” or “spreading” as the latter assigns blame and indicates intentional transmission. They also offer 8 tips on supporting your child, and emphasize that parents first take care of themselves. Specific strategies for teachers are provided, for children of all ages ranging from preschool to secondary, and some of these can also be tried at home, and adapted to suit children with special needs.

* The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has put together a parent guide to handle the physical and emotional stress in the family during the COVID-19 outbreak, and provide suggestions for scheduling and planning family activities during the pandemic. A separate section emphasizes self-care and coping strategies, and ways to seek additional help.

* The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration created a comprehensive fact sheet that offers strategies for helping children manage stress during an infectious disease outbreak. It also provides tips geared toward varying age groups.

ChildTrends provide information laid out much like our article here. A number of helpful suggestions are provided followed by a comprehensive set of links showcasing resources for both children and parents.

* Challenging times call for creative solutions. Since the pandemic will likely impact community travel for the near future, we wanted to include this short piece published in the Huffington Post about adapting birthday parties. 

Resources specific for individuals with special needs:

* The International OCD foundation provides a comprehensive list of ideas for parents of youth with OCD, and handling questions that their children might have. This resource provides general suggestions and strategies specific to discussions with a child with OCD.

Autism Speaks offers several helpful resources for parents, educators and health professionals working with children with ASD. Particularly useful are Dr. Peter Faustiono’s tips for the autism community, and a flu teaching story for children with several clear pictures. The story is also available in Hungarian and Korean at the moment. The printable handwashing routine with empty spaces to plug in pictures of the child at the end of the story is an excellent visual tool.

* A resource packet collated by the Autism Focused Intervention Resources and Modules provides support for individuals with autism during uncertain times. Their suggestions broadly fall under seven categories – support and understanding, offering opportunities for expression, coping and calming skills, maintaining routines, building new routines, fostering connections, and changing behaviors.* Autism New Jersey has gathered a range of resources on their website titled “coronavirus hub”, where they offer information about telehealth, service delivery, employment and financial concerns, and tips for families, among others. The tips for families include a webinar on managing problem behavior at home, a coronavirus story for children, mindfulness and self-care activities, and ways to manage disrupted routines.

* SPAN Parent Advocacy Network have compiled a comprehensive list of resources for families during the COVID-19 crisis. They offer links related to education, health, activities for children and youth, self-care information and multilingual resources. The page is updated continuously with new links, and also lists national, state, and county level resources and information from the government.

Schools and service providers were not prepared for the impact of this pandemic and are learning how to navigate this new way of working with families and delivering services. Service providers and families are making collaborative efforts to find optimal and effective solutions and workarounds for disruptions to services brought on by the present scenario. We are all in this together and together we will figure out how best to meet the needs of our children.

Citation for this article:

Sivaraman, M., & Celiberti, D. (2020). Coping with COVID-19: An annotated list of resources for families of individuals with ASD. Science in Autism Treatment, 17(4).


Maithri Sivaraman is a BCBA with a Masters in Psychology from the University of Madras and holds a Graduate Certificate in ABA from the University of North Texas. She is currently a doctoral student in Psychology at Ghent University, Belgium. Prior to this position, Maithri owned and operated the Tendrils Centre for Autism providing behavior analytic services to children with autism and other developmental disabilities in Chennai, India. She is the recipient of a dissemination grant from the Behavior Analysis Certification Board’s (BACB) Committee of Philanthropy to train caregivers in function-based assessments and intervention for problem behavior in India. She has presented papers at international conferences, published articles  in peer-reviewed journals and has authored a column for the ‘Autism Network’, India’s quarterly autism journal. She is the International Dissemination Coordinator of the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) and a member of the Distinguished Scholars Group of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies.

David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D, is the Executive Director of ASAT and Past-President, a role he served from 2006 to 2012. He is the Editor of ASAT’s monthly publication, Science in Autism Treatment. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from Rutgers University in 1993 and his certification in behavior analysis in 2000. Dr. Celiberti has served on a number of advisory boards and special interest groups in the field of autism, applied behavior analysis (ABA), and early childhood education. He works in private practice and provides consultation to public and private schools and agencies in underserved areas. He has authored several articles in professional journals and presents frequently at regional, national, and international conferences. In prior positions, Dr. Celiberti taught courses related to ABA at both undergraduate and graduate levels, supervised individuals pursuing BCBA certifications, and conducted research in the areas of ABA, family intervention, and autism.

Posted in ABA

A Letter From Our Founder

Dear Families of ASD Children and Friends, 

We usually celebrate Autism Awareness in the month of April, but this year during the unprecedented pandemic our families are facing the challenge to provide supports for their ASD children.  Whether it’s continuing their school programs at home or creating more positive behavior, our ASD families are facing enormous challenges each day.

 In the 1990’s, a listserv called the Me List was created for parents who believed in Applied Behavior Analysis as the evidenced based intervention that works. There were few school programs, parents had to do it themselves. Through the Me List, we learned about what was helpful to our children and our families. We all came together from across the country and beyond to share what worked, so that others could benefit from our experiences Different Roads became an ABA resource due to the suggestions of these parents and what they had learned from their home programs.

This month, we’d like to honor the spirit of the original Me Listers who inspired the creation of Different Roads to Learning. We wish be able to help you in some small way find something that will help you get through the weeks to come.  It is with that spirit we extend this sale, in the hope that it will help you and your families and the children whose lives we hope to improve. If you have questions on science-based treatments or are having trouble sourcing supports for your learners please reach out to us. Our hearts and thoughts are with you.  ​


About The Author

When her daughter was diagnosed with autism at the age of six, Julie Azuma started Different Roads To Learning to support parents running ABA programs in their homes. Since then, schools across the country use Applied Behavior Analysis and Verbal Behavior in both contained and inclusion classrooms. Tens of thousands of children have been mainstreamed by the age of 5. Our children are more capable in every way. Today, we are proud that our mission remains to provide the most effective, informative, affordable and appropriate materials to support the students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in their social and academic growth. 

Posted in ABA

EVIDENCE-BASED PRACTICE IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

By Sam Blanco PhD, BCBA, LBA, Mordechai Meisels MS, BCBA, LBA, Bryan J. Blair, PhD, LABA, BCBA-D, and Laura Leonard MS, BCBA, LBA

As providers of services to people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), we are experiencing an unprecedented situation given the impact of COVID-19 on nearly all service providers. As schools, organizations, and individual practitioners work to shift their practice to a virtual service delivery model, it is essential that we maintain a commitment to evidence-based practice. When faced with so much uncertainty, it can be a relief to turn to the research base and identify how to implement best practices within this new model. Research on telehealth provided to individuals with autism has grown in recent years and demonstrated that effective treatment is possible (Ferguson, Craig, & Dounavi, 2019; Peterson, Piazza, Luczynski, & Fisher, 2017; Vismara, McCormick, Young, Nadhan, & Monlux, 2013; Ferguson et al, 2019).

The first priority when implementing services via telehealth is to ensure you are using a HIPAA-compliant platform, such as Doxy.me or WhatsApp. When we approach evidence-based practice, we must focus on three primary areas of research: the basic principles of ABA and its practical applications, applications of telehealth, and other uses of technology in teaching. The good news is that there is a lot of research-based information available to guide us as we change to a telehealth model.

Current research on telehealth for individuals with ASD primarily focuses on parent training and supervision. However, in the current crisis, it is necessary that direct care be provided through telehealth. In order to effectively provide direct care, we are suggesting the following steps in order to appropriately implement telehealth services. 

(1) Assess prerequisite skills and unique needs of the client. An assessment and survey is provided at the end of this article (Appendix A). The BCBA should complete this assessment with parents/caregivers in the room with the client. If the results of the assessment demonstrate that the client does not have the prerequisite skills to participate effectively in interventions delivered remotely (i.e., telehealth), then the prerequisite skills will need to be taught and/or a parent/caregiver will be required to be in the room with the client during direct care. It is also possible that with drastic changes in routines and supports, problem behaviors may have increased or topographies of problem behaviors may have changed. If this is the case, the BCBA should also conduct a functional behavior assessment (FBA). An FBA can effectively be conducted through telehealth (Wacker, et al, 2013). 

There are many options for how a telehealth session can be conducted and how a display (e.g., computer screen) can be presented to the client. In assessing prerequisite skills of the client, it may also be beneficial to conduct a preference assessment of the general set up for the client. For example, does the client respond better when the screen only shows the practitioner’s face, or does the client respond better when the screen shows the practitioner’s face and a token system, etc. There are many options for how the screen is presented to the client. 

(2) Conduct parent training to adequately prepare for telehealth. Prior to any direct care provided by a behavior technician, the BCBA should conduct parent training. There are three goals that should be targeted and met here. First, the BCBA and parent should work together to teach prerequisite skills to the client. If prerequisite skills cannot be taught quickly, then a clear plan should be developed and implemented for how the parent/caregiver will assist with prompting and providing reinforcement during sessions with the BT. The next goal is to identify any potential safety issues and provide guidance on implementation of any interventions. Finally, the parents should be taught what to expect from telehealth and provided with a clear plan for giving feedback to the BCBA throughout the process. 

(3) Identify reinforcers and how reinforcement will be provided. A preference assessment should be conducted with the client utilizing any new options presented through the use of technology as well as identifying any barriers resulting from the use of telehealth. For example, a potential new option might be sharing your screen to show clips of a client’s favorite show on YouTube. A potential barrier might be that a highly reinforcing activity might include social mediation and/or interaction with another person that is not possible unless you’re physically in the room or that the client is unwilling to relinquish a reinforcer when the BT is not physically present in the room.

Speak with the parents (and the client if he/she is capable of participating in the conversation) about specific reinforcers to include in the preference assessment. After the preference assessment is conducted, you should create a clear plan for how reinforcement will be provided. 

One potential option here is the use of a token system. The research-base on using token systems with telehealth is primarily focused on teaching parents how to utilize the token system correctly (Hall, 2018; Machalicek, Lequia, Pinkelman, Knowles, Raulston, Davis, & Alresheed, 2016).  If a token system is currently in place, it may be beneficial to continue with the existing system as long as the necessary materials are in the room with the client and either the client can provide his/her own tokens upon being told to do so by the BT or a person in the room can provide the tokens. Another option is to use existing technology to provide tokens. If you elect to use technology, you can remotely split the computer screen to show a token system on one side of the screen, use built-in capabilities of platforms such as Microsoft Teams to switch control of the screen to the client so he/she can give the token upon correct responding, or use built-in capabilities of platforms to share the screen of an existing token system app. If a token system is being used and earning the requisite number of tokens results in an activity within the client’s room (i.e., access to a preferred toy) you must assess the client’s ability to relinquish the reinforcer. A final possibility here is to incorporate access to preferred videos or songs through the shared screen.

If a token system is not being utilized, a clear plan and schedule of reinforcement should be defined. The plan could include delivery of reinforcement in the form of videos, online games, or apps through the telehealth platform by the BT. If reinforcement includes items that are present in the room with the client (such as edibles or favored toys) then an additional person (such as a parent or older sibling) will be required to be present in the room with the client during sessions. 

If the client responds to vocal praise as a reinforcer during in-person sessions, then it should be determined if vocal praise through the screen is also reinforcing for the client. If it is not, a response-stimulus pairing procedure (Dozier, Iwata, Thomason-Sassi, Worsdell, & Wilson, 2012) should be utilized. 

Sessions with the BT should not begin until the previous steps have been completed and the BT has been trained on both the platform for delivering services and the steps for implementing programs and delivering reinforcement.

(4) Train the BT on how to implement discrete trial instruction through telehealth. Discrete trials training can be implemented as it typically is, though technology can be utilized to streamline the process when images, text, or videos are used. Cummings & Saunders (2019) utilized PowerPoint 2016 to create matching-to-sample trials for use in discrete trial instruction. Blair & Shawler (2019) identified best practices and provided a tutorial for developing and implementing emergent responding through computer-based learning tools. In addition, there are apps such as Kahoot or Quizlet Learn that can be utilized. 

It is essential that any technology components that you introduce are clearly understood by the BCBAs and the BTs. Our recommendation is that brief video models be provided (i.e.,video-supported task analyses)  so that the steps of implementation are clear to all practitioners implementing services. After video models have been viewed, the BT should practice implementing the technology with the parent or the BCBA prior to conducting a direct care session.

If it has been determined that the client does not yet have the prerequisite skills for the BT to implement services through telehealth, the parents should be trained on implementing discrete trials. Hay-Hansson & Eldevik (2013) outlined a procedure for using videoconferencing to train discrete-trial instruction teaching. 

(5) Consider how visual schedules and supports may be used. Visual schedules and supports can be presented on the screen, utilized through a separate app (such as Todo Visual Schedule or Choiceworks), or made with pre-existing materials that are in the home. If you elect to use a separate app for the visual schedule, ensure that the BT has mastered the platform for providing instruction before implementing additional technologies. 

(6) Consider how to implement Active Student Responding (ASR). Drevno, Kimball, Possi, Heward, Gardner, & Barbetta (1994) identify a clear procedure for implementing error corrections during ASRs. With the use of technology as described previously (such as Microsoft PowerPoint) error corrections can be made quickly because they can be built directly into the presentation. 

Ultimately, as you review the suggestions, two things become very clear. First, we must consider the training needs of the client to effectively participate in treatment through telehealth. Second, we must consider the training needs of the practitioners who will be implementing treatment to ensure they can effectively put these practices in place. More than ever, we must assist each other in providing resources: sharing video tutorials for how to implement specific technologies, identifying technologies that will allow us to better implement services, and identifying platforms that reduce response effort and training needs for BCBAs and BTs. 

Download Appendix A: Telehealth Clinical Effectiveness Survey here.


Mordechai Meisels is the Founder and Chief Clinical Officer of Encore Support Services, a leading provider in special education and ABA therapy services.  Under his leadership, Encore quickly expanded across state lines, servicing thousands of children in the Tri-State area. Mordechai’s vast expertise in the behavioral health industry inspired him to fill a critical void with the founding of Hadran Academy, a high school for high functioning autistic youth. In true visionary form, Mordechai combined his background as an expert clinician and passion for technology with the creation of Chorus Software Solutions. As the Founder and CEO of Chorus, Mordechai is committed to creating innovative technology to empower care teams, increase operational efficiency, and ultimately impacting quality of care.  

Dr. Bryan J. Blair is a licensed behavior analyst (MA), Board Certified Behavior Analyst, and is currently an Assistant Professor at Long Island University – Brooklyn where he is also the coordinator of the Applied Behavior Analysis graduate certificate and supervised fieldwork programs.  He has worked with children and adults with developmental disabilities and other clinical disorders for over 15 years in a variety of settings.  For more information or to contact Dr. Blair please see his website:  https://www.bryanjblair.com.

Laura Leonard MS BCBA LBA is the owner and clinical director of ABA TREE, a behavioral health agency in NYC, former ABA director of an early intervention program and current Director of Behavioral Services at a private school in Brooklyn. Laura provides supervision to BACB candidates and is primarily focused on reduction of maladaptive behaviors. www.abatree.org

Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for sixteen years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. She is also an assistant professor in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges, and she is the Senior Clinical Strategist at Chorus Software Solutions

Posted in ABA

Getting Through The Day During School Shut Downs

It’s difficult to know what advice to give when schools are shutting down and parents are faced with an unknown period of time without services. Here are a few ideas for how to approach each day with your child with autism. Our goal is not only to ease this transition (for your child and your entire family) but also to prepare for the upcoming transition when school resumes. 

One note before we jump into suggestions: you should view these suggestions as just that – possible tips to help improve your day. Some of them may not be a great fit for your child or your family; others may spur additional ideas. These should not be viewed as additional requirements or be something that increases your stress.

  • First and foremost, try to maintain the small routines as much as possible. For example, have your child still get up and get dressed, instead of making it a pajama day every day. 
  • Provide structure. A simple thing you can do for both yourself and your child is to create a schedule for each day. Included in this schedule can be basic routines (get up and eat breakfast,) and new ones (complete work in workbook, do a puzzle,) as well as fun things (choose a movie to watch, dance to music) A visual or written schedule will help everyone with structure during the day.  Don’t forget to add in hand washing regularly as this is the best prevention for spreading the virus.  
  • Indicate changes on the calendar or schedule.  Most children with autism prefer structure and routine, so setting this up day one will be helpful.  Oftentimes, explaining to your child, in whatever way they best process information, that you will be home for many weeks may help them no longer wonder. Putting “home” on each day of a kitchen calendar, at least through your school district closing date may allow your child to visually see that school taking place for a period of time.
  • Get fresh air.  Whether you take a walk around the block or sit outside and count cars that drive by, being in social isolation does not mean being homebound.  Getting some fresh air, while remaining only with family members can be helpful to everyone.  Depending on your child’s interests, kicking a ball around, using your home swing set, taking a walk or biking can really enhance the day.
  • Give yourself breaks. Whatever schedule you make should include some breaks for yourself as well. This might be allowing your child to watch a youtube for 15 minutes in the middle of the day so you can take a little breather. Scheduling it can be helpful for giving your child structure, but also letting yourself know when you get that break! 
  • Ask your service providers and teachers for any tips. They may have suggestions for how and when to use reinforcers during this time, or ways you can incorporate maintenance of skills throughout the day. These staff may be able to share websites that your child enjoys and uses in school such as Go Noodle, Epic, or other educational sites.
  • Use familiar materials. If possible, access materials used in school that are familiar to your child that may help them stay engaged during times you have other tasks to complete. These might include file folders, task boxes or others. Many items can be printed from websites, such as Teachers Pay Teachers.
  • Use technology to increase social time for both yourself and your kids. Set up virtual “playdates” with cousins, friends, etc. You might also consider taking a look at this list from Common Sense Media for multiplayer apps. These include games that can be played by people in the same room or in different locations. 
  • Get your child involved. The first step to this is giving your child choices throughout the day. You can also provide some new options. Perhaps there are things you’ve been wanting to do, such as teach your child how to make a couple of basic meals, and you can add these in now. You can also ask your child if they have ideas for things they might want to do during this time. 
  • Talk about COVID-19:  You know your child best and if it is appropriate to talk about what coronavirus is or not. If this seems appropriate, the CDC posted some useful information on how to talk to your child about this.  In addition, they created a child friendly video that may help your child understand the virus.
  • Make hand washing fun:  Since you will likely do this more often with your child, try to make it fun!  Sing their favorite song while rubbing hands, use soaps that foam or have desired scents, and if appropriate, even play with soap in the kitchen sink, making bubbles or washing preferred toys.  Playing with bubbles will increase handwashing post the activity too!

Finally, the Autism Research Institute is hosting some webinars for parents in how to deal with issues related to changes in schedules and routines due to Coronavirus. You can view their schedule here: https://www.autism.org/webinars-autism/

Our society is facing an unprecedented time and everyone is feeling unsure of what will happen next.  It is important to rely on those who can support you, even if it is virtual.  It sounds cliché, but relying on others to support us in these unknown times can really make a difference.  

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Written By Sam Blanco, Phd, LBA, BCBA and Cheryl Davis, PhD, LABA, BCBA-D

Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for sixteen years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. She is also an assistant professor in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges, and she is the Senior Clinical Strategist at Chorus Software Solutions

Cheryl has been in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis for over 25 years, working with clients with Autism Spectrum Disorders, developmental delays, and social emotional learners.  She consults to parents, public and private schools, as well as supervises BCBA/BCaBA candidates.  Cheryl believes in using progressive ABA techniques in her educational, behavioral and social programming for clients. She is an assistant professor in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges, owner of 7 Dimensions Consulting and co-owner of SupervisorABA.

Posted in ABA

Visual Schedule to Improve Independent Play Skills in Children with Autism

Parents, caregivers, therapists and teachers alike work so hard to teach a variety of play skills but what happens when your child or student doesn’t make that leap from facilitated play to independent play? Independent play is such an important skill that will allow him or her to better connect with their peers, build friendships, expand problem-solving skills and structure downtime. A successful transition from demonstrating play skills with adult support to playing independently can be impacted by a myriad of variables.

Some of my students struggle with independent play because it is difficult to move from a thick schedule of reinforcement of 1:1 adult attention to a thinner one of just having an adult “check in” once in a while. Other learners have impairments impacting executive function, specifically the organization and sequencing of steps for meaningful and reinforcing play as well as on-task behavior, task completion and working memory. Additionally, in some cases the skill of independent play is elusive because teachers struggle to find ways to fade out prompts or to successfully thin out the schedule of reinforcement.

Below is the visual schedule with data sheets for measuring acquisition and progress that I have created. I have found it useful with learners with very different skill sets and abilities. Click here for a comprehensive Task Analysis on teaching independent play using a visual schedule.

Keep in mind that this is for learners that:

  • Have successfully acquired a varied repertoire of play skills
  • Do not require visual schedules that break down every step of the play
  • Are able to complete activities with delayed reinforcement

In order to prepare this for use with the learner:

  • Set up a toy organizational system that has toys bins
  • Print the materials and laminate the schedule strip and the cut out shapes.
  • Attach Velcro dots to the bins, schedule strip and shapes and to the work surface if you like
  • Identify activities that are suitable for this schedule

Remember that any open-ended activities like building blocks or coloring can be turned into close-ended activities by limiting the number of pieces or by teaching the learner to use a timer.

As you would when teaching any schedule, use a most-to-least prompting strategy, only use verbal instruction for the initial direction or S(e.g. “Go play.”), and prompt only from behind and out of view.

The schedule I have been using has a smiley face at the end of the schedule indicating a “free choice” time which all of my students understand. However, if you are using this with a learner that requires a visual reminder of what they are working for, you could easily adapt this by putting a picture of the reward in the place of the smiley face. Time to play!

*Don’t forget to download your free visual schedule and data sheets here!

Posted in ABA

Suggestions for Ethically Fading Out ABA Services

While ABA is generally a long term commitment that a client and his or her caregiver makes, oftentimes before the child reached his or her third birthday, it is still important to have a fade-out policy in place in for when the client reaches their treatment goals or the provider is no longer able to provide services. Unlike many professions, behavior analysts want our clients to reach a point where they no longer need our services! Here are some tips for developing an effective fade out policy that is supportive of your client’s transition out of services.

1. Clearly outline eligibility, timeline and fade out procedure

The fade-out policy should explicitly state the conditions that qualify a client for fade out of services (e.g. client is no longer benefitting, client no longer requires the services, client requests discontinuation, client violates terms of client-services agreement, etc.). In addition, a fade-out should provide the family with a transition plan detailing when caregivers will be notified of anticipated discharge date, rate of fade out (e.g. Decreasing frequency of sessions from once per week to once every two weeks) and resources provided for addressing remaining areas of deficit. Having a clear plan takes the guesswork out of the process of transitioning out of services for both clinicians and caregivers.

2. Communicate your fade-out policy to caregivers at the onset of treatment

Include your fade-out policy as part of the initial intake process. This informs caregiver expectations and prevents them from assuming the myth that formal ABA therapy is going to be part of the rest of their child’s life.

3. Planning ahead for at least 6 months prior to termination of services

Structure treatment plans to account for and support transition out of services to ensure that fade out does not feel sudden or disruptive. Treatment should always maximize opportunities to utilize natural teaching strategies and caregiver training and support. It is recommended that the provider adequately train caregivers to support generalization of mastered programs as well as provide training so they have the necessary skills to know how to prompt, reinforce, and adjust the environment when necessary. In addition, work with any new provider who will be supporting the client to ensure a smooth transition and continuity of services.

4. Support client independence and teach functional skills

The long-term goal of ABA therapy is to help clients learn functional skills that can help them integrate into an inclusive environment. Thus, treatment plans should address functional skills first in order to ensure that the client can achieve maximum independence if services are no longer available.

5. Develop a network of professionals and community partners to assist in transition of care beyond scope of practice

Collaborate with ABA-friendly providers to provide resources for clients after they transition out of formal ABA services to maximize skill maintenance and continuity of care. Some BHCOEs partner with adult transitional programs that assist in job-placement into sites that utilize ABA-strategies to ensure success.

6. Include an aftercare plan with follow-up consultations when possible

Schedule follow-up consultations with caregivers after transition out of services to troubleshoot issues that may have arisen.


This piece was written by the Behavioral Health Center of Excellence and has been shared with their permission. For more information, please visit www.bhcoe.org.

Posted in ABA

Considerations for Parents on Grounding Kids

Many parents choose to “ground” their kids when they make poor decisions. Maybe they lose access to video games for a week, or can’t watch TV for a month. Grounding in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Here are a few considerations:

  • If you keep grounding your kid for the same behavior, then grounding is not changing the behavior. Sometimes grounding your child is a default response, but if it’s not working, you might want to consider some other options. You can take a look back at our series on differential reinforcement or our post on noncontingent reinforcement.
  • When possible, the consequence should be connected to the behavior. If your child throws a controller, then not having access to video games makes great sense. However, if video games are taken away for any infraction, it may not be the most logical punishment and over time, it may even backfire. If the child is losing video games for everything, then he/she might stop trying to earn video games at all.
  • Longer durations of grounding may make you miss out on opportunities for reinforcing appropriate behaviors. Remember that reinforcement is simply any consequence that increases the future likelihood of the behavior. If you have set a rule that your child is grounded from using video games for one year, then you are missing many, many opportunities to teach the appropriate behavior. The same can be said for one month or even for one week. Especially when considering children with autism, they may require multiple trials of the appropriate behavior before you see an increase in the appropriate behavior. In that case, grounding may just not be the best option.
  • Longer durations of grounding may backfire if you experience fatigue. Often our kids are experts at asking the same question repeatedly until you finally give in. The last thing you want to do is set a standard that when you say your child is grounded for a week, they are really only grounded until they wear you down.
  • Consider a different tactic. This isn’t possible for all behaviors, but if you are seeking a specific appropriate behavior, set a standard that if a certain duration or a certain number of appropriate behaviors results in more access to preferred items and activities. This is sort of the inversion of grounding and may be more successful.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for twelve years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. She is also an assistant professor in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

Posted in ABA