Do’s and Don’ts of Fidgets

This week, Different Roads is proud to share some tips from Nancy Hammill and Understood on the dos and don’ts of fidgets, both in the classroom and at home!

Fidgets, like squeeze balls and key chains, are self-regulation tools that promote movement and tactile input. They can be great for kids who struggle with attention, focus and sensory processing.

But in my many years as a teacher and parent, I’ve often seen them misused. When I see a child throw a squeeze ball across the room or obsess over making shapes out of Silly Putty, I know something’s gone wrong.

The problem is we often hand fidgets to kids without any direction, thinking they’ll magically know how to use them. Then when they play with them—rather than use them as a tool—we get angry.

That’s why it’s important to teach kids how to use fidgets. Here’s what I suggest.

How to Use Fidgets

First, explain to your child that a fidget is one strategy in her “tool kit” to help her improve focus on a task. When used correctly in the right situation, fidgets can help her be a better listener, sustain attention on her work, and even calm down or slow down her body and mind.

Basically, a fidget is a tool to help her focus—not a toy.

Second, work with your child to identify specific times she might need a fidget. For example, she might need it when she’s doing homework or needs to sit still in a movie theater.

Third, set up clear rules for how to use fidgets in your home, and communicate them to your child. If you’re unsure where to start, here are my “non-negotiables”:

  • Rule #1: Be mindful. Before you grab a fidget, think about whether you need it. If you don’t know, review rule #2.
  • Rule #2: You can only use a fidget to help with focus and attention or to calm down. Otherwise it will be taken away.
  • Rule #3: Don’t use a fidget if it distracts others or interferes with the work others are doing. If the fidget does distract others or interfere with their work, use a different fidget or strategy.
  • Rule #4: Every time you’re done with a fidget, put it back where it belongs. (In our house, we keep fidgets in a designated basket.)

If you want to try a fidget with your child, there are many options to choose from. Experiment to find what works best for your child. But I recommend that you don’t get a fidget that has a cute face or that looks like a toy. Your child needs to remember that fidgets are tools.

When you’re ready, you can set up a fidget basket (or other spot), print the rules, and put the rules in a place where your child can easily see and review them.


Nancy Hammill is the 2016 National Learning Disabilities Educator of the Year, awarded by Understood founding partner the Learning Disabilities Association of America. She has 20 years of experience as a classroom teacher, literacy specialist and learning therapist.

About Understood: The professionals who advise parents on Understood are all experts in their fields. They include educators, learning and attention specialists, physicians, psychologists, lawyers and more. They share a commitment to children with learning and attention issues.

Posted on March 30, 2017 by Different Roads to Learning

Posted in ABA

Cultural Competency in ABA Practice

By Maithri Sivaraman, BCBA

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) on their website lists credentialed behavior analysts from 99 countries spanning across 6 continents. Behavior analysts and consumers of behavior analysis are now establishing footprints across the globe. Each of these countries comes with its own set of cultural practices and norms. Leon Megginson, author of Small Business Management said, “it is not the strongest, or the most intelligent who survives, but the one most responsive to change.” Considering the high rates of global migration and the international dissemination that our field desires, practitioners find themselves serving an increasingly diverse population. A recent article in Behavior Analysis in Practice by Andrea Dennison and colleagues highlights the variations in cultural norms, caregiver and practitioner linguistic competencies that a culturally competent ABA therapist must consider when designing a home program.

What are the barriers?

The Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board requires that behavior analysts consider the role of culture in service delivery (BACB code 1.05c), involve clients and families in treatment process (BACB code 4.02), and individualize the treatment plan to meet client needs (BACB code 4.03). Yet the BACB Fourth Edition Task List and the upcoming Fifth Edition Task List which define the scope of practice of a credentialed behavior analyst do not make much mention of culture – which means that training programs do not typically include cultural competence. Dennison and colleagues (2019) identified several barriers in ABA treatment for culturally and linguistically diverse families and highlighted ways to overcome them.

Do we hold stereotypes?

With the influence of the media or the people around us, we tend to categorize people into social groups and create a simplified conception of the group based on some assumptions – we create stereotypes and hold prejudices. Implicit biases held by a practitioner towards certain cultural sub-groups may result in a subtle, yet observable bias towards the client, and adversely impact treatment outcomes. Dennison et al (2019) suggest that a practitioner’s “self-reflection and introspection regarding cultural attitudes and practices towards clients” may be a first step towards undoing these biases.

Are we aware of cultural norms?

Practitioners often find themselves in a variety of contexts and situations with varying contingencies. Each culture comes with its own set of learned behaviors, beliefs, and norms. Dennison and colleagues add that some cultures might prefer a warm, informal discussion with a service provider prior to a formal meeting to discuss goals. A violation of this might seem off-putting to the client, and conversely, such an expectation for an informal discussion might catch the analyst unaware. In some cultures even a simple handshake for greeting might be offensive. They recommend that practitioners monitor clients for signs of discomfort or displeasure during the course of the treatment to identify whether a cultural norm has been violated.

What to do when a practitioner doesn’t speak the home language of the client?

A language mismatch between the practitioner’s language and the home language of the client might lead to information loss. A client might not be able to completely express their priorities in terms of the services they need. Dennison urges practitioners to make every attempt to invite a bilingual practitioner or interpreter either in-person or online, to future family meetings. Providing the family with access to ABA textbooks written in their home language might be a good way to introduce ABA terminology and lead to better acceptability of services delivered. The authors caution against using loosely translated words; online tools might not be ideal for activities that require precise definitions.

Cultural analysis

“A cultural analysis involves an individual analysis of the cultural factors affecting an individual’s environment and the resulting contingency,” the authors add. A re-assessment of priorities in goals might be warranted, and a cultural analysis might inform what behaviors are identified as the primary targets for intervention. Dennison refers to the importance of social etiquette and the value placed on conflict avoidance in Latin cultures as an example. Measuring social validity might give the analyst information about whether the family sees the behavior change as meaningful.

Empathy grows as we learn

Try not to stigmatize immigrant families as “uncaring” for not seeking services earlier. Several socioeconomic stressors such as lack of housing and transportation availability likely play a role in their decision. The authors urge practitioners to empathize with these families and add that attempts to empathize can be made even if the practitioner and family do not share a common home language.

Finally, the lack of diversity in research with the omission of demographic details such as language and ethnicity of participants in scientific publications overlooks the critical value of such information. This calls for a shift in the field towards intentionally inclusive subject recruitment and the reporting of such information.

A culturally competent behavior analyst is not one who knows everything there is to know about every culture. This would be impossible. It is someone who can acknowledge that patterns of cultural difference may be present, and are then able to view a situation from a different cultural perspective than one’s own. Maintaining a curiosity about each client’s culture, and having an open dialogue with them about their background, ethnicity, and belief system can result in a positive outcome for the client and the analyst.

“If we are going to live with our deepest differences then we must learn about one another.”  ― Deborah J. Levine


Dennison, A., Lund, E., Brodhead, M., Mejia, L., Armenta, A., & Leal, J. (2019). Delivering Home-Supported Applied Behavior Analysis Therapies to Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Families. Behavior Analysis in Practice, OnlineFirst, 1-12.

About The Author

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 provided 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 (BACB) 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.

Previously published on Different Roads to Learning on November 14, 2019.

Posted in ABA

Supporting Your Child with Visual Timers

By Ashleigh Evans, MS, BCBA

Time is a challenging concept for children to grasp. It is even more difficult for concrete thinkers, as many neurodiverse children are. Children with autism tend to understand concrete concepts better than abstract ones, like time. Visual timers and other supports can help bridge the gap, giving children a better understanding of time. 

What is a visual timer?

Visual timers allow you to observe the passage of time through visual cues. There are different types of visual timers. The type you choose will depend on a number of factors, such as your child’s preference and your intended use of the timer.

Here are a few options

The Time Timer demonstrates the passage of time with a colored disk that fades away as time passes. With this timer, your child can easily observe the color closing in as the time passes.

Time Timers are great for longer activities, as you can set them for up to one hour.

Sand timers are another great option to demonstrate the passage of time. Each sand timer has a different duration. They come in durations of 1 minute, 2 minutes, 5 minutes, and 10 minutes. Simply flip it over and watch the sand flow down. When the minutes are up, the sand will be entirely at the bottom.

The Time Tracker is a unique and customizable visual timer. The green, yellow, and red sections light up to serve as warnings for the amount of time left for an activity. You can program the time each section lights up, making it customizable to your needs.

How can visual timers be used at home?

Visual timers are great for helping with transitions, whether big or small.

Here are a few ideas for using visual timers with your child at home

  • To show the remaining time in an activity. Transitioning away from a favorite activity like screen time or playing outside can cause distress for many children. A visual timer can make these transitions easier by providing a visual cue before the activity is over.

  • To help your child wait for an upcoming activity. Waiting is not easy. For children with a limited understanding of time, being told to wait may feel the same as being told “no.” To help your child understand what “wait” means, set your visual timer to allow them to observe the amount of time they need to wait.

  • For morning and bedtime routines. A Time Timer with a dry-erase board can be beneficial to help your child work through morning, bedtime, or any other routines. Set the timer for each task and check each off as you go through the routine.

  • To teach your child how long to engage in an activity. If your child tends to rush through activities they should be spending more time on, set a visual timer to help them identify how long to spend in that activity. Brushing teeth, for example, is a daily task that many children tend to rush through. A visual timer is a great way to help them learn how long to spend brushing.

Review the visual timer with your child and set expectations before using it. This will help things run more smoothly when you begin using it. Don’t worry if it doesn’t click right away. It may take time for your child to understand how the visual relates to the activity. With consistency, your child should be able to understand the concept of time better.

About the Author

Ashleigh Evans, MS, is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She has been practicing in the behavior analysis field for over 13 years and opened her own independent practice in early 2022. Her experience has been vast across different age groups, diagnoses, and needs. She is passionate about improving the field through education, reformative action, and better supervisory practices, leading her to create content and resources for families and ABA professionals which can be found on her website,

Posted in ABA

Creating Daily Routines to Eliminate Downtime and Increase Productivity

Imagine telling your students to sit down at the table for math. You finally get 4 students seated, but then you turn your back for two seconds to grab the materials for your lesson, and in the meantime, two kids pop up and run back to their preferred activities.

Scenarios like these make me want to pull my hair out. I hate downtime. My students struggle with it, which makes my life as a teacher so much harder.

So one way I have found to eliminate as much downtime as possible (besides packing my day full of activities) is to create routines in every part of my day. This way, students know what is expected and can independently get going with an activity even when I have to run and grab some materials, deal with a challenging behavior, etc. It makes my students (and me) more productive! In today’s post, I want to share some helpful tips and activities I have found to reduce downtime in the classroom.

Visual Schedules

One helpful way to do this is to post a visual schedule of your routine. In the beginning, you will need to teach this to your students on a very consistent basis. Over time, they will get into the swing of things and they’ll be ready to get started without you! For my morning group, by the end of the year, I put each kid in charge of a different activity (their names were written on a clothespin and clipped onto the activity) which gave me time to do attendance, get the lunch count, check backpacks, etc. while still monitoring the group as needed.


Binders can be another helpful way to create routines. Students can grab their binders and begin working on activities in order. If you need students to stop and pause between activities for more instruction, use dividers to split the binder into sections along with a “stop and wait” visual. (Check out this post for more info on my morning work binders or this post for 8 ways to use binders in your classroom).

I often find it is the beginning of the lesson that is the hardest…like I said before, teachers need time to get set up, materials gathered, smart board turned on, etc. In general ed, teachers often have a “do now” or “warm up” activity where their students do a review activity, practice problem, or introduction activity for the lesson that will follow. I find this extremely helpful in my classroom as well. Here are a couple activities I have used to fill the downtime in the beginning of a lesson.

Correcting Sentences

To start my advanced morning group, I had my students start with a daily correcting sentence worksheet. We would review as a group, then move onto other literacy activities (click here to see a blog post detailing what we did in this group).

Fluency Timings

I have utilized a few different versions of fluency timings in my classroom and they can be extremely helpful as a beginning “warm up” activity. (My little soapbox on fluency… fluency is speed + accuracy. Our students can sometimes learn skills, but they are too slow with that skill to make it actually functional. Fluency activities help students practice a skill and increase their speed.) With my beginner students, we use these fluency timings where students label as many pictures/numbers/letters/etc. out loud in one minute. With my advanced students, we did written fluency timings. We had kids assigned to be in charge of these as well (yellow cards were student initials who were in charge). These helped my kiddos increase their ability to generate ideas when given a topic, speed of writing, and made writing into a fun activity. And of course, including some visual directions for the activity increased student independence!


I helped a teacher create this check-in for students who came into her room when they needed a break from their general ed classroom. To help them not disrupt her other groups and get to their break as quickly/independently as possible, she came up with the idea to have them check-in, select their break activity, set a timer, and check out when they were finished. I have also seen some great social skills groups start and end with a check-in/out worksheet. Here is a sample from do2learn which provides these FREE.

Predictable Worksheets

I like these worksheets for practicing letters/numbers as they involve minimal writing, but more coloring, tracing, and circling.  Most of my kiddos could complete these with minimal assistance, and with so many worksheets, we could use them throughout the year to begin a group.

File folders, puzzles, or adapted books

Have a bin of these at the ready to either set at each student’s spot or have them make a choice from the bin as the beginning activity before starting your lesson. I love using my “All About Me” books which each student has to practice targeting personal information.

About The Author

This piece was originally published on Autism Tank.

My name is Hailey and I have been a special education teacher for students with autism for over 10 years.  I taught students in 1-8th grade.  My class size has ranged from 4-13 students over my career and I have had between 1-4 paraprofessionals full time in my classroom. I currently work in a school district as an autism specialist and help teachers in all disability areas to implement evidence-based interventions for their students. I have had several family members with disabilities, which initially made me interested in the special education field.  I took an intro to special education course in college, where I absolutely fell in love.  As a course requirement, we had to volunteer every week in a classroom, and it became the highlight of my week!  

Previously published on Different Roads to Learning on February 6, 2020.

Posted in ABA

Promoting Successful Dental Visits with Children with Autism

By: Randy Horowitz, M.S. Ed., S.A.S.

Children with autism often engage in problem behavior when asked to participate in activities to which they are infrequently exposed (e.g., doctor/dental exams, haircuts, etc.). In many cases, the problem behavior serves as a means to avoid an unpleasant situation or to communicate a need.

Why are dental visits problematic?

Infrequent exposure, combined with fears associated with dentists, sensory issues related to dental implements and changes in schedules (going to the dentist when you should be in school) prevents some children with autism from learning the appropriate skills and behaviors needed to be successful at the dentist.

Because of these challenges, parents and teachers tend to avoid dental exams, when in reality, they need to do the opposite. Create many opportunities to practice. Build skills. Practice appropriate behavior. Come into contact with reinforcement. Do so under the best circumstances (e.g., in the absence of a tooth ache or painful dental issue).

Prepping for success

  • Prepare the dentist/hygienist/receptionist in advance. Talk to the dentist prior to your scheduled appointment. Explain your child’s preferences and aversions (e.g., one person speaks at a time, noises, etc.) 
  • Visit the dental office without having an actual exam. Take a tour. Provide reinforcement for appropriate skills and behavior (e.g. labeling objects in the environment, walking nicely etc.). Leave on a good note. Consider repeating this across several visits.
  • Introduce pictures (e.g., the dentists’ office, waiting room, exam room, etc.) during structured teaching sessions
  • Use visual schedules to indicate when the appointment will be
  • Consider using social stories, peer models or video modeling procedures during regular teaching sessions

In some cases, the above strategies may not be effective, or your child’s rate of acquisition may be slower than the timeframe you have. In these cases, you may have to create a lot of opportunities for direct instruction. Practice a dental exam several times a day with the actual dental implements.

Some Prerequisite Skills (Mastery of these skills may create the occasion for more success during a dental exam)

  • Sits in chair (also lays back/tolerates the reclined position)
  • Imitates adult movements (e.g., opens mouth)
  • Follows simple directions (e.g., “say ah”, “open wide” etc.)
  • Tolerates toothbrushing. Use many different types of toothbrushes and toothpastes during teaching sessions at home. Programming for generalization across materials may help your child accept what the dentist offers.

Strategies for waiting

  • Strategically schedule the appointment for times that are less crowded. Ask the office if the first appointment of the day is less wait time than the end of the day.
  • Use a timer
  • Bring things to do (but avoid a situation where terminating a preferred activity or relinquishing a preferred object may cause problem behavior)
  • Wait in the car, take a walk around the block and ask the receptionist to call or text when the dentist is ready

Strategies for during the appointment

  • Begin with mastered skills. Ask the dentist to do a few trials of general direction following. This builds momentum and also provides an opportunity for the child to access reinforcement for correct responses
  • Pair the exam with reinforcement (e.g., preferred music, TV, etc.)
  • Give breaks out of the chair
  • End on a positive note. Even if the entire exam is not complete, if the child has tolerated many steps for longer periods of time, terminate the exam and schedule follow up.

Through systematic teaching and gradual exposure, children with autism can learn needed skills and behaviors to be successful during a dental exam. The rate of acquisition of these skills and behaviors varies across children. In some cases, mastery may take weeks or even months. In the meantime, remember to celebrate each successful step along the way!

About the Author

Randy Horowitz, M.S. Ed., S.A.S.

Randy has a Master of Science in Education from Queens College and a Certificate of School Administration and Supervision from the College of New Rochelle. Randy is currently a doctoral candidate in the educational leadership program at Concordia University. Randy started her career as a special education teacher in public school in Nassau County and then spent close to 30 years in senior leadership positions at nonprofit organizations serving children and adults with autism in NYC and Long Island. Randy has presented at local, national and international conferences on topics relating to educating individuals with autism. Her particular areas of interest include preparing and supporting individuals with autism for integration into community activities.

In addition to her many work responsibilities, Randy is also a seasoned runner and has participated in countless road races and marathons, including our Blazing Trails Run/Walk, raising well over $65,000 in the past 15 years to benefit the autism community.

Posted in ABA

Use Your Executive Functioning Skills | STOP and THINK During the Holiday Madness!

This week’s post comes to us from Stephanny Freeman, PhD and Kristen Hayashida, MEd, BCBA, our partners on the Play Idea Cards app. Play Idea Cards is a full curriculum on teaching play – right in the palm of your hand! Check it out on the Apple App Store

Everyone just loves the holidays!

Lots of emotions!  Excitement, joy, love, anxiety, anticipation, stress, and relaxation…

Lots of activities! Giving gifts, eating holiday food, traveling to see family and friends…

Lots of people!  Big groups, little groups, friends, family, loved-ones, and strangers too!

But the holidays are also a FANASTIC time to help your children continue their COGnitive development! 

You can target executive functioning (EF) during these special activities, which is not only a great opportunity to foster skills, but also helps you as a caregiver have a successful and joyous holiday season! Here are some of our tips to build EF during the holidays:

Consider EF Skills when Choosing Gifts for Your Children

Rather than impulsively buying the newest screen toys… plan, problem solve, and control those holiday emotions!! Use your EF skills to buy enriching toys and plan fabulous activities! Deck the Halls with Cogs of EF – fa la la la la, la la la la!

  • Working Memory – look for memory-based board games and the copying pattern games.
  • Planning – consider activities where children can make something (e.g., manipulatives such as blocks or magnetic tiles, arts and crafts, dough).
  • Cognitive Flexibility – give a track set and challenge the child to vary the path or move a vehicle through obstacles. You may also consider any “flexible” toys (e.g., magnetic sets, wax sticks, slime) to talk about how you can change the shape of the object.
  • Task Initiation – outdoor equipment would be great for this skill (think: balls, hoops, chalk, ropes, cones/domes), or cleaning and gardening supplies.
  • Emotional Control and Inhibition – use a gift that challenges your child to inhibit impulsive responses and regulate through frustration/excitement. We think of dress up clothes (for peer play, turn taking), advent calendars, surprise toys, bubbles, foam shooters, noisy electronic infant toys.
  • Organization – find toys that contain lots of pieces and can be sorted and used by category such as figures, furniture, vehicles, houses/garages/buildings with all the associated pieces, doctors/vet kits, cooking/kitchen/ice-cream stand/restaurant.
  • Problem Solving – STEM kits, puzzles, brain teasers all naturally present the child with problems to solve, but you can use these activities as opportunities to solve problems that may naturally occur (e.g., if chemicals don’t react, liquid spills from the beaker).

Embed EF practice in your holiday preparation!

Everyone is so busy making their lists and checking in twice! Involve your child during your holiday preparations to help build EF skills:

  • Shopping!  Make a store plan by the layout, develop a list, check it off as you go, make sure to consider other things if something is not available, don’t buy things not on the list!
  • Baking and Cooking!  Talk about the order, what’s in a recipe, have them retrieve the items (more than one at a time), try to remember the measurements, plan out the decorations (draw first, gather the colors, etc.)
  • Decorating the house/tree!  Sort decorations by room, place items on the tree by tree zone, and compromise and delegate roles and responsibilities.  Include how to be careful with delicate objects, how things are meaningful to others, and fix broken items.
  • Wrapping and giving presents!  Notice how people respond to gifts given.  Work on fixing ripped paper/ribbons that don’t cooperate, and glitter that gets everywhere.  Be sure to label and organize the gifts.  Solving any problems related to gift giving (oops, we forgot cousin Milt!)
  • Family Gatherings!  Organizing some family activity, planning where people are going to sit, getting along with family members and discussing how to behave in other people’s homes.

From our family here at KidsConnect to yours… Happy Holidays to the wonderful, thoughtful, executive functioning-using, caregivers! 

About the Authors

Dr. Stephanny Freeman is a clinical professor at UCLA, a licensed clinical psychologist, and Co-Directs the Early Childhood Partial Hospitalization Program (ECPHP).  For 20 years, she has educated children with ASD and other exceptionalities as a teacher, studied interventions for social emotional development, and designed curriculum and behavior plans in school and clinic settings.

Kristen Hayashida is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst at the UCLA Early Childhood Partial Hospitalization Program (ECPHP).  For the last 10 years she has served as a therapist, researcher and educator of children and families living with autism spectrum disorder through the treatment of problem behavior.

Posted in ABA

The Importance of Replacement Behaviors

By Sam Blanco, BCBA

I’ve written several posts about the importance of reinforcement, but now I want to turn my attention to another important concept: replacement behaviors. It can be very easy to slip into the habit of telling kids what NOT to do. “Don’t touch that! Don’t pick your nose! Don’t run!” However, if we can turn it around and tell kids what to do instead we often see higher rates of compliance.

Here are a few examples of replacement behaviors you can teach:

  • A student refuses to speak when they do not understand a question. You can teach the student what to say, such as “I don’t understand,” or “Can I get help?” Teach through modeling and role playing in one-to-one settings, then generalize it to the classroom or other environments in which the skill is necessary.
  • When you begin a math lesson, one student frequently attempts to run out of the room. Introduce a signal or symbol (such as a holding up a stop sign) to request a break. Initially, you might give the break each time the student uses the sign correctly, then begin to require more and more math work before a break is received. This allows for appropriate and safe breaks without disrupting the rest of the class.
  • When your learner is done with dinner, he pushes his plate into the middle of the table. Teach your learner to instead put items in the sink. You might start with just placing the fork in the sink, then add more and more items until they are clearing the table independently. Another replacement behavior may be to use a symbol or signal as in the previous example to request to leave the table, or to teach the learner to say “May I go?”

Keep It Simple

Replacement behaviors should be simple to implement, should be taught one-on-one with multiple opportunities to practice and be reinforced, and should, if possible, be functionally equivalent to the undesirable behavior. (For example, if a child is engaging in one behavior to escape, the replacement behavior should teach a more appropriate way to escape.)

Sometimes, simply instructing the learner on a replacement behavior makes a huge change, but often you need to combine teaching a replacement behavior with other strategies (such as differential reinforcement). What I do know is that identifying and teaching a replacement behavior is a necessary part of almost any intervention and should not be overlooked.

About The Author

Sam is an ABA provider for school-aged students in Brooklyn, New York. Working in education for over 15 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 the Senior Clinical Strategist at Encore Support Services. You can read more of Sam’s posts for Different Roads To Learning when you click here!

This post was originally published with Different Roads to Learning on December 19, 2019.

Posted in ABA

Learn More About Let’s Make a Contract

Jill C. Dardig, Professor Emerita of Education at Ohio Dominican University, and 
William L. Heward, Professor Emeritus in the College of Education and Human Ecology at Ohio State University

In this podcast, Drs. Jill Dardig and William L. Heward discuss their new book, Let’s Make a Contract. Contracts are particularly useful for children on the autism spectrum, who benefit from understanding clear expectations and receiving positive feedback and rewards.

In their interview, they discuss key elements of a behavior contract:

  • What a behavior contract is
  • How long a behavior contract should last
  • Common mistakes made with behavior contracts, and how to avoid negativity when mistakes are made
  • How contracts can benefit children, parents, families, school settings, and self goals

For more information regarding this interview, and for a full transcript of the episode, visit

Posted in ABA

Preparing Children with Autism for the Holidays

By Ashleigh Evans, MS, BCBA

‘Tis the season for joy and excitement. Perhaps a bit of stress and chaos too. October through December can be exhausting for many families. With holidays back to back, it can be challenging to maintain a comfortable routine. Children with autism tend to thrive on structure and routine, making these months particularly challenging. Rest assured, there are strategies you can take to prepare your child and your family for these major upcoming changes.

Plan ahead

Sudden or unexpected changes are often the most difficult for children with autism to cope with. When children are primed in advance for the upcoming holidays, this can greatly improve their response when the holiday events come along.

Holiday preparation strategies might include any number of the following:

  • Talk to your child often about the holidays and specifically what activities you all will be doing. For example, you might focus on Thanksgiving, discussing how you’ll be going to dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s house that day.
  • Read social stories and/or books about the holiday and associated events. Social stories are great for outlining and reviewing exactly what the plans and expectations are.
  • Create a visual countdown or a calendar that shows when the holidays are to serve as a visual reminder of the upcoming events. Prompt your child to reference this visual each day as you discuss the upcoming holiday.
  • Make backup plans in case things don’t go quite as planned.
  • Prepare a holiday bag with any supports your child might need. Depending on what their individual needs are, this bag might include things such as noise-reducing headphones, fidgets, or weighted vests.
  • Ensure your child has a way to safely escape if the setting becomes too overwhelming. For example, establish a dedicated location where they can go to calm down at each holiday event.

Maintain consistency where possible

With so much out of the ordinary during the holidays, it’s a good idea to try to avoid unnecessary major changes during these times. This isn’t always possible as life can be unpredictable. However, to whatever degree possible, maintain a consistent routine for your family.

Prioritize activities

With each holiday, there is an abundance of possible ways to celebrate, from large family gatherings and public outings to independent activities. The ways we celebrate holidays are often tied to sentimental family traditions. As such, it can be challenging to branch off from those activities that are special to us. It may, however, be helpful to prioritize the activities that are most important and most enjoyable to you and your family. If a particular holiday tradition historically causes more stress than enjoyment, consider alternative activities you can try that may be just as special to your family. Take your child’s preferences into consideration when planning events as well.

Be flexible

Sometimes our best-laid plans simply don’t work out. We might think our child can handle a new activity this year, but it still turns out to be overstimulating for them. Try to go into the holidays with a flexible mindset. If things don’t go quite as planned, have a backup plan prepared for alternative activities.

Recognize the progress, no matter how small

Focus on the victories, whether great or small. Holidays can be both magical and taxing on the whole family. Don’t forget to take the time to acknowledge the growth that your child has made. Happy holidays to all!

About the Author

Ashleigh Evans, MS, is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She has been practicing in the behavior analysis field for over 13 years and opened her own independent practice in early 2022. Her experience has been vast across different age groups, diagnoses, and needs. She is passionate about improving the field through education, reformative action, and better supervisory practices, leading her to create content and resources for families and ABA professionals which can be found on her website,

Posted in ABA

How to Manage the Impact of a Child with Autism on Siblings

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Mary Jane Weiss, PhD, BCBA-D and Nicole Pearson, PsyD, BCBA-D, Association for Science in Autism Treatment. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

I am a mother of three children, one of whom has autism and requires a tremendous amount of time and care. I worry about how this is impacting my other children, both of whom are a few years older and are very aware of how our family has changed because of their sibling’s diagnosis. Do you have any advice on how to best address this with them?

Answered by: Mary Jane Weiss, PhD, BCBA-D and Nicole Pearson, PsyD, BCBA-D, Association for Science in Autism Treatment

Having a child with autism spectrum disorder inevitably impacts the entire family, from the stress and anxiety that accompanies the initial diagnosis to the time-intensive nature of navigating treatment options and providers. It can also present challenges for siblings.

While children of younger ages may not be fully aware of their sibling’s disability, they likely detect parental stress, perceive inequities in the amount of time and attention given, and struggle with a sense of disruption in overall family life (Feiges & Weiss, 2004; Smith & Elder, 2010). Adjustment difficulties are influenced by such factors as sibling age and gender as well as family size. Siblings closer in age to the child with autism, and those who are younger and have not yet developed effective coping strategies can be more affected. However, as a parent, there are many strategies you can take to support sibling coping and adjustment.

Foster a supportive environment at home

Siblings may feel many emotions, including love, joy, fear, anger, embarrassment, resentment, and guilt, among others. Encouraging an environment of open communication allows the sibling to safely express all emotions. Doing so helps with positive coping and establishes a foundation for good familial communication and problem-solving.

Further, as siblings become aware of such differences, they will likely look to their parents and family members for guidance. Thus, parent coping and adjustment play an important role in sibling adjustment. As such, it is important for parents to be cognizant of the impact their actions, behaviors, and decisions will have on all their children.

Ensure your child understands what autism is

Parents sometimes overestimate their typical child’s understanding of autism as the child may be able to explain what it is without fully comprehending it. Making sure that siblings have developmentally appropriate information will help reduce their fears and misconceptions (Glasberg, 2000; Harris & Glasberg, 2003).

When speaking with children under age nine, parents should keep explanations brief and frame the sibling with autism’s deficits in the context of having not yet learned or mastered particular skills, such as playing with others or communicating in ways that other children do. For example, saying, “Your sister learns a bit differently than you and me, so she needs extra help,” or “Your brother may not be able to talk but we are teaching him other ways to show us what he wants to say.”

As children age, explanations can be more involved. Behavioral escalations can be disruptive for typical siblings, so providing them with clear explanations can help alleviate some of these feelings. Regardless of the children’s age, parents should offer reassurance and convey love and acceptance of everyone in the family. There are several free online resource guides available:

  • Autism Speaks offers a “Siblings Guide to Autism” toolkit designed for siblings ages 6-12 that parents and siblings can read together to learn more about autism and facilitate conversation about it
  • Organization for Autism Research’s “Kit for Kids” offers an illustrated booklet for elementary and middle school students, called “What’s up with Nick?” and “Autism, my sibling, and me”

Promote meaningful relationships between siblings

Creating opportunities for younger children to play together or helping older siblings to find common interests, even if it’s as simple as doing a puzzle together or playing a video game, can go a long way in increasing the quality and quantity of interactions and ultimately building sibling bonds.

Being mentors to one another can be very fulfilling for siblings and can promote bidirectional feelings of self-efficacy and nurturing. Prior to starting, make sure that the preferences of both children are understood, and start with easy tasks to ensure success. Perhaps the autistic sibling is great at puzzles, while the typically developing sibling is great at following recipes to bake.

Whenever possible, involving the individual with autism in the discussion of autism is preferred.  If it is possible to share information about autism openly and in their presence, it may be helpful to do so. For children who do not yet understand much about their autism, it is important to be as respectful as possible when explaining it to others, discussing it, or otherwise referring to it.

Build one-on-one time for each sibling and foster individuality 

While inequities exist in all families, they are intensified in a family who has a child with autism. And if typical siblings feel dissatisfied with these inequities, their relationship with their sibling with autism is negatively impacted (Rivers & Stoneman, 2008). To help minimize the impact of these inequities, it’s important to make time for one-on-one interaction with each sibling. Carving out even a small amount of time where you’re giving your child your undivided attention can go a long way. Let them know that even though they may not always get as much attention as their sibling, they’re loved and cared for equally.

Encourage siblings to get involved in sports, clubs, or other community activities where they can develop relationships with peers and just have fun. Doing so allows them the time and space to be their own person and establish a sense of individuality (OAR, 2014).

Consider additional sources of support

Finally, sibling groups can be a helpful source of support. They provide siblings the chance to meet and speak with others with similar experiences and can give them accurate and age-appropriate information about autism. If a support group isn’t readily available within your children’s school or your community, consider looking at some of the following resources for more information:

The Organization for Autism Research (OAR) has also developed the “Autism Sibling Support Initiative” offering helpful resource guides for young children, teens, and parents.

While much is often said about the challenges faced by siblings of people with autism, there are also substantial positive outcomes. Most siblings who reflect on the experience in adulthood attribute their high levels of compassion, tolerance, patience, and concern for others to having had a sibling with special needs. Furthermore, many of them develop a sense of mission and enter helping professions.

There is no universal description of the ways in which this role changes the lives of siblings of children with autism. Parents can help their typically developing children by creating an environment of transparency and openness about autism. They can help siblings find effective and rewarding ways to interact with their brother or sister with autism. Parents can also ensure that every child in the family gets needed attention and permission to pursue their own dreams. Finally, they can remember that most siblings of children with autism end up being compassionate human beings who treasure and admire their siblings, and who note both the struggles and joys that the family experienced because of being touched by autism.

Note: This submission was adapted from Drs. Weiss and Pearson’s book chapter, “Working effectively with families of children with autism spectrum disorders: Understanding family experience and teaching skills that make a difference” which appeared in “School success for kids with autism.”


Feiges, L. S., & Weiss, M. J. (2004). Sibling stories: Growing up with a brother or sister on the autism spectrum. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company

Glasberg, B. A. (2000). The development of siblings’ understanding of autism and related disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 143-156.

Harris, S. L., & Glasberg, B. A. (2003). Siblings of children with autism. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.

Organization for Autism Research (OAR). (2014). Brothers, sisters and autism: A parent’s guide to supporting siblings. Retrieved from:

Rivers, J. W., & Stoneman, Z. (2008). Child temperaments, differential parenting, and the sibling relationships of children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38, 1740-1750.

Smith, L. O., & Elder, J. H. (2010). Siblings and family environments of persons with autism spectrum disorder: A review of the literature. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Nursing, 23, 189-195.

Weiss, M. J., & Pearson, N. K. (2012). Working effectively with families of children with autism spectrum disorders: Understanding family experience and teaching skills that make a difference. A. L. Egel, K. C. Holman, & C. H. Barthold (Eds.). School success for kids with autism. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Citation for this article

Weiss, M. J., & Pearson, N. (2016). Clinical Corner: How to manage the impact of child with autism on siblings. Science in Autism Treatment, 13(2), 22-26.

About the Authors

Dr. Mary Jane Weiss, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LABA, is the Dean of the Institute for Applied Behavioral Science, the Director of the Ph.D. Program in ABA, and a Professor at Endicott College, where she has been for 11 years. Dr. Weiss also does research with the team at Melmark. She has worked in the field of ABA and autism for over 38 years. She received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Rutgers University in 1990 and she
became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst in 2000. She previously worked for 16 years at the Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center at Rutgers University. Her clinical and research interests center on defining best practice ABA techniques, exploring ways to enhance the ethical conduct of practitioners, and training staff to be collaborative, compassionate, and culturally responsive.  She is on the board of ASAT.

Dr. Nicole Pearson, PsyD, BCBA-D, is a Licensed Psychologist and Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA-D) who has been working in the field of autism and developmental disabilities for more than13 years. Passionate about serving children with complex medical, behavioral and mental health needs, Dr. Pearson has worked across a number of settings including hospitals, clinics, homes and schools. Most recently, she served in a dual role as Program Director and Director of Psychological Services at The Joshua School. Dr. Pearson provides consultation and training to schools and families through her private practice, West Side Behavioral Associates. She has also volunteered with autism programs internationally in Kenya and the Maldives. Dr. Pearson holds Master’s and Doctoral degrees in Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University and a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Villanova University. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for We are the Village Ltd. and A Global Voice for Autism.

Posted in ABA