Help Your Child Have A Successful Play Date!

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This week, clinical psychologist Lauren Elder offers advice on setting up play dates for children with autism.

Encouraging friendships is a priority for many parents, and a play date is a good first step. Playing with peers is difficult for many children with autism. So I’m glad you realize that a successful play date can require some planning. To maximize success, I recommend the following four steps:

Make sure your child is ready for play dates.

Children with autism are more likely to succeed with other children after they’ve gained the following skills.

* Some basic play skills. Your child needs to be able to play with toys and games, ideally those that interest other children his age.

* Some awareness and interest in peers. Your child doesn’t need to be skilled in interacting with other children. But it will help a lot if he’s interested and motivated to play with them.

* Can “practice play” with adults. For most children with autism, practice play with adults is the first step to interacting with children. As adults, we tend to be more structured and predictable and can provide appropriate prompting as needed. All this makes it easier for children with autism to learn basic play skills. These include taking turns and being able to play and share several different toys.

Choose the right playmate.

It’s important to make sure that the friend is a good match for your child. Ideally, find a friend who shares some of your child’s special interests. Play dates will be smoother if they’re naturally drawn to the same activities. If your child’s play skills are behind his peers, it can also help if the playmate is a little younger. In general, look for playmates who are patient and flexible. Many children with autism do well with peers who are friendly and willing to help draw others into social interactions.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

* Preselect the activities. I recommend starting with activities that are familiar to your child and have clear steps or roles. Examples include making (simple) cookies, a board game, video game or tag. In general, structured activities are easier than unstructured ones for children with autism. However, an unstructured activity that taps your child’s special interests (cars? trains? Lion King?) can be successful.

* Prepare a structured play date plan. Many children with autism have difficulty with transitions. It can help to give your child a visual schedule listing the planned play activities. If your child likes to play with a wide variety of toys, you might make clear that he and his friend will take turns choosing what to do next. I also recommend communicating a set end time. Generally, keep it under 30 minutes for the first play date. If that proves successful, consider adding time to the next visit.

* Role play with your child. Practice how to play with friends. Practice the activities you’ve planned, and describe or show your child the play date plan. Talk about things that might happen, such as the other child wanting to do something different than what your child wants to do. That will enable the two of you to talk about how your child should handle these situations.

Be ready to coach if needed.

While you want to use as light a touch as possible, you’ll probably need to help your child – at least as he begins to master this new skill. In particular, be ready to:

* Coach your child. He may need reminders to wait his turn, share, respond when his friend speaks to him, etc.

* Coach your child’s friend. With the right playmate, it can help to offer a few suggestions for interacting with your child. For instance, to “try again” if your child doesn’t immediately respond to a suggestion and to “gently ignore” an undesired behavior such as yelling.

* Let kids be kids. Coaching is important, but it’s equally important to give your child and his playmate a chance to work things out before you intervene.

I hope these tips help you witness many enjoyable play dates!

This piece originally appeared on Autism Speaks as part of their Got Questions? series.
Posted in ABA

Pick of the Week: Save 20% on Cooperative Games!

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When players work together, everyone wins!

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*Promotion is valid until April 25th, 2017 at 11:59pm ET. Offer cannot be applied to previous purchases, combined with any other offers, transferred, refunded, or redeemed and/or exchanged for cash or credit. Different Roads to Learning reserves the right to change or cancel this promotion at any time. To redeem offer at differentroads.com, enter promo code TOGETHER17 at checkout.
Posted in ABA

Tip of the Week: A Simple Highlighter Tip to Help Your Child With Handwriting

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This week, Understood and teacher Ginny Osewalt share an innovative way you can help your child with handwriting. 

If your child is a struggling writer or has dysgraphia, she may have poor handwriting and trouble with spelling and getting her thoughts down on paper. It may be hard for her to read back what she’s written. She may fatigue easily or avoid writing altogether.

When writing gets in the way of your child learning or showing what she knows, having her dictate her responses to a scribe can be an appropriate accommodation. At home, that scribe may be you.

When you scribe for your child at home, here’s a way to get your child more involved in the process. This tip helps your child take ownership of her written work—and provides some handwriting practice, too.

All you’ll need is a thin yellow highlighter and a piece of lined paper. When your child dictates, use the highlighter to record, word for word, her thoughts and responses. Be sure that you’re using good letter formation. Pay attention to the lines and margins on the page, and use appropriate spacing between words. After your child has finished dictating, hand her the paper on which you’ve scribed.

Next, have her trace over the yellow text with her pencil, starting with the very first word and continuing down to the last punctuation mark. When she’s finished tracing, have her read what she’s written to herself and make any changes without your help (if possible). Then, have her read it aloud to you.

You may be amazed at how well your child adapts to this scribing method. Just keep in mind that scribing shouldn’t replace good classroom writing instruction. Also, be sure to explore the wide range of assistive technology tools available for struggling writers, like keyboards and dictation software.


About The Author

Ginny Osewalt is a dually certified elementary and special education teacher with 14 years of experience in the classroom. She is also an Understood expert.

This post originally appeared on Understood.org

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*Promotion is valid until April 17, 2017 at 11:59pm ET. Offer cannot be applied to previous purchases, combined with any other offers, transferred, refunded, or redeemed and/or exchanged for cash or credit. Different Roads to Learning reserves the right to change or cancel this promotion at any time. To redeem offer at differentroads.com, enter promo code WRITE17 at checkout.
Posted in ABA

Tip of the Week: Travel Tips for Children With Autism

This week, writer and mom Ruth Manuel-Logan shares her tricks for travel with children on the spectrum. 

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Traveling with children can be daunting, and when you travel with a child who has autism and requires organized structure, venturing out into unfamiliar surroundings can add an entirely new dimension to the experience.

Autism is a spectrum of neurological disorders characterized by severe and pervasive impairment in various areas of development such as language and social skills. It affects 1 in 88 children, primarily boys, and it is most often detected by age 3. Because children with autism typically require predictability, vacations can be over-stimulating and distressing for the child with autism.

Unfortunately, there are many parents with children on the autism spectrum who are afraid of journeying beyond their own communities. Even thinking about taking a vacation can summon up feelings of trepidation in parents and family members. Caregivers are overwhelmed at the thought of managing quirky, self-injurious, or violent behaviors that their child might exhibit in public; they also fear stares, rude comments, or judgments by others. They may opt, therefore, to keep their special needs child at home.

But traveling with kids who have autism is possible and doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are tips that can make your trip a pleasurable one for your child and a positive experience for the family.

Choose the Best Destination for Your Child

Vacations mean transition, which children with autism may find difficult. You have to know your child and have a thorough understanding of his needs first. Children with autism tend not to be socially intuitive, and new experiences can result in meltdowns, so planning what can be executed and enjoyed by your child is imperative. “Children with autism are stress detectors. They sense others’ stress and react in ways that are considered an interruption to the planned agenda for the day. For this reason, vacations at the beach or in the mountains, where schedules are often flexible and unhurried, can be ideal for a child with autism,” says Rebecca Landa, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

Does your child like amusement parks? Is hiking in your child’s comfort zone? Do you find that his sensory issues fade when he’s basking in the sun on the beach? No matter where you travel, you should always remember the activities that your child will enjoy. Try not to overload him by bombarding him with too many things to do, as this will cause stress for everyone involved.

Include your children as active partners in the planning. Adapt it to your child’s interests, information-processing abilities, and attention span, and relate it to the upcoming trip. Researching the destination and how you’re getting there, and talking about accommodations and the kinds of activities that are well suited to your child are all part of planning process.

Make Arrangements Ahead of Time

Calling ahead to make special arrangements will make your trip easier. Contact airlines, hotels, restaurants, and amusement parks and explain that you are traveling with a child who has autism; discuss your needs and request certain accommodations.

Kim Stagliano, mom of three girls ages 11, 15, and 17 (all whom have autism) and author of All I Can Handle: A Life Raising Three Daughters with Autism, is a firm believer in planning ahead before she and her husband take their trio anywhere. “If we fly, I use the pre-boarding opportunity to tell the airline staff that the girls have autism, so that they can understand if we have a situation and offer us extra assistance if we need it.

Many major airlines, theme parks, hotels, and restaurants are often amenable to the needs of children with autism. In 2011, Logan Airport in Boston hosted a free rehearsal flying experience, called Wings for Autism, for children with autism and their families so that personnel can better understand the community. Families from three states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire — took part in the airport dress rehearsal. JetBlue even lent one of their planes for the event and its flight crew volunteered their time. Families were allowed to go through a mock airport experience, including a normal screening process with airport staff checking to see how a child reacts when a favorite toy or backpack is taken away for scanning. Then they boarded the plane and helped practice staying seated and belted. Airports in Philadelphia and Newark have staged similar events and Manchester Airport in London produced an informative brochure on flying with autism, called “Airport Awareness.”

Theme parks across the country are also finding ways to accommodate children with autism. “We usually go to the guest relations office that can be found in most theme parks and request special passes so that we don’t have to wait on long lines,” says Amy Dingwall, of Trumbull, Connecticut, whose 17-year-old son, Ryan, has autism.

Prepare Proper Identification

Having a child with autism means increasing your safety quotient; many kids tend to wander and flee from adult supervision. According to a survey released in April 2011 from the Interactive Autism Network, wandering is probably the leading cause of death among children with autism. Even more dangerous is the nonverbal child who wanders and cannot supply any information.

Getting your child a medical bracelet or necklace with contact information is essential, particularly when traveling. If your child has sensory issues that would prevent him from wearing the jewelry, you can order ID tags that can be attached to shoelaces or even zipper pulls (like the ones from Zoobearsmedicalid.com). If your child is nonverbal, you might want to make an ID card to put in his pocket with a current photo, contact information, and a list of allergies. Be sure to also indicate that your child is nonverbal. “No matter where you go, remember to think ahead about safety for your child,” Dr. Landa advises.

You could also have your child wear an autism symbol ribbon or even a shirt with an autism message or organization logo so that strangers get a visual reminder. “Our kids are so good-looking, folks are often taken aback by ‘unexpected’ behaviors. Place a label with your child’s name, your name, and a cell-phone number on the back of the child’s shirt while traveling so that if you become separated, a kind soul can contact you,” Stagliano suggests. When Stagliano’s daughter was 12 years old, she slipped out of sight at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and came close to boarding a tram. “No one may have noticed a kid on her own, but she would have been in grave danger.”

Pack the Essentials…and Some Distractions

Put together a checklist to ensure that you leave nothing behind that your child will require. Children on the autism spectrum often need reinforcements, many of them tangible, so don’t forget to bring these along on your trip to reward his good behavior. All children are attached to their loveys, but children with autism can’t leave them behind because they see the loveys as extensions of themselves; forgetting them can end up putting the brakes on a much-anticipated getaway.

Soothers such as MP3 players, DVDs, or a favorite piece of string or eraser usually keep children calm and preoccupied. Think of your child’s daily routine and bring along the necessities that help him get through his day — snacks, toys, books, diapers/Pull-Ups, or assistive communication tools. Show your child what you are packing just in case he feels any angst about your forgetting any favorite items. “We go to extremes to make sure our three girls have their familiar items to help them feel comfortable,” Stagliano says. “This includes electronics like their iTouch or MP3 player, portable DVD player, games, or iPad. We make sure to pack a suitcase full of distractions.”

Practice Vacation Scenarios in Advance

Let your child know what she might expect to do or see on vacation. Role-playing what might take place during the trip can ease future regrets. Creating a sequential picture story of what will occur is an enlightening and effective tool in getting your child ready for the trip. Experts say that these types of word/picture scenarios can help relieve stress and reduce problem behaviors in children with autism.

“The entire preparation process should be spread out over the course of many weeks. Each day, create a routine where you ‘talk’ about the trip together. You and your child can arrange pictures related to the trip in the order in which the events will occur chronologically. Help your child organize pictures of the hotel or family member’s house where you will be staying into a collage or other visual arrangement. You can even provide a simple explanation or caption for each picture. As the trip nears, your child will be able to help narrate the captions and event descriptions, or affirm your narration,” Dr. Landa says. “You know your child best, so be sure to tailor the amount and complexity of information to his or her needs.”

Dingwall finds that preparing Ryan just a few days before a trip works best for him. If she reveals details about a vacation too far ahead in advance, Ryan will lose sleep because of his anxiety and will also perseverate, a common trait among children with autism, whereby they repeat a certain phrase or action. “We are always prepared with two types of picture schedules — one on Ryan’s iPod Touch, using his picture-based prompting app iPrompts, and the other a backup with pictures and Velcro backings that can easily be switched as needed,” Dingwall says.

Always Set Aside Breaks

Vacations do not fall into usual routines, so children with autism may feel lost and unanchored, and that can lead to breakdowns. Know your child’s trigger points and plan accordingly. “We don’t feel as if we have to spend all day at a theme park. Just a few hours that my daughters can handle and then a swim is much easier than eight long hours in a park followed by meltdowns. We also make sure to stick close to our bedtime routine even though we’re on vacation. Getting a good night’s sleep often helps prevent [unruly] behaviors,” Stagliano says.

Does your child tend to tire at around the same time each day? Does too much visual or physical stimuli kick start bouts of anxiety? Did you overschedule your child? “As you assemble the trip agenda, it’s essential to plan for breaks and downtime so that it is not an afterthought,” Dr. Landa cautions. As the parent, you have to know when to throw in the towel by anticipating needs and taking a break by bringing your child to a quiet spot, a relaxation space, or back to the hotel room to wind down.

Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation. Reviewed and updated 2013.

 


About The Author

Ruth Manuel-Logan is the proud mom of a 12-year-old child with autism whom she loves to Reese’s Pieces. Ruth is hopeful that she’ll be able to flip on the auto pilot switch and allow her son to make his own independent mark in the world one day.

Article originally posted on Parents.com

Pick Of The Week: Introducing our brand new Play Idea Cards app!

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Our new app is a complete play skills curriculum. As guided by evidence-based intervention principles, the curriculum strengthens students’ pretend and innovative play skills, all for just $9.99!

 

Evidence-Based Intervention
We give you a step-by-step guide on how to develop your child’s play. Practical and easy to follow, it’s also based on years of research that breaks learning pretend play into 14 levels. Find out what level your child is currently on, and what to do next. Clear instruction and easy, executable ideas help your child play with toys at home.

Easy To Follow Play Idea Cards
Our flash cards are easy to use while you (parents, therapists, & teachers) play with your child. Use our suggested play activities, or create your own based upon the ideas from the cards. Most of our ideas come from toys you already have in your home, so start today!

Key Features

  • A clear instruction guide developed by experts in the field of ASD
  • 14 step developmental play scale that works for any child with any language capability
  • Simple play ideas using toys you already have at home!
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  • An outdoor option for every level so you can take your play outside!

Guide your young learner down the path of purposeful play! 

It Takes a Team: 4 Steps to Building a Stronger Therapy Team

For students on the Autism spectrum, having a strong and reliable therapy team to support individual needs can be an important factor in student success. When members of a therapy team are collaborating seamlessly, a student is more likely to have high quality support across all areas of development (communication, social, cognitive, play, motor, and adaptive skills).

mixed working group looking at laptopThe pervasive nature of ASD across these areas means that multiple disciplines are necessarily involved in effective intervention (Donaldson and Stahmer, 2014). When we work together and have a narrow focus, we can help our students make a great deal of progress. Gone are the days of a Speech Language Pathologist, Physical Therapist or Occupational Therapist taking a student away for traditional pull out therapy and leaving no time for debriefing with the classroom team.

Who comprises the therapy team is determined on a case-by-case basis. You may be wondering where to start with this sometimes daunting task of building a strong and supportive team. Below I will discuss some strategies that are evidenced-based and the ways that I incorporate them into my busy life as a speech language pathologist.

Pairing
One of the first things that I always try to do is build rapport with staff, which is known as a behavioral principle called pairing. It is important to build rapport and/or pair with team members, especially if you are new to the team or if other new members have joined. It may sound like very basic advice, but as clinicians we are very busy and sometimes we feel that we do not have time for this piece. I am urging you to put this time with staff on the top of your priority list. Once you have a good rapport with team members, it allows you to share ideas and collaborate more easily and more effectively.

Sharing
The next tip I have is to share the goals your student is working on. If you are the teacher, share the student’s IEP goals with the paraprofessionals and explain why you are teaching particular tasks. Knowledge is power! If you are the occupational therapist, please share your student’s therapy goals with the team. Therapy takes place all day, across settings and across instructors. If the team does not know what the goals are, they will have no idea how to address them across the school day.

Reinforcement
Students and professionals benefit from reinforcement! People feel good about the work at hand when they receive positive reinforcement. Let the paraprofessional know that they are doing a great job with their student(s). Everyone likes to get praise for a job well done!

Data
Another way that we can assure that our collaboration is helping the student is by collecting daily data on skills from all domains (i.e. behavior, academic, communication). When we, as a team, create a data sheet that captures the skills and specific targets we are addressing, we can use this across the student’s day. When we take this data and analyze the progress, we can all make informed decisions about a student’s programming needs. I have included a free team-based daily data sheet from Stages Learning. You can use this data sheet to track a variety of skills.

In my 14 years practicing in the field, the majority of people that I encounter are driven by a desire to see their students. However, even with the best intentions, we may face barriers in collaborating with other staff members. Follow the tips mentioned above and reach out to colleagues who seem to need additional support. I try to continually assess the needs of the teams I work with throughout the year. Maybe the team needs a refresher on a certain skill area – see if you can work this into your yearly professional development time. When we work together as a team, we can help so many students achieve their goals!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

rosemarie-griffin-headshotRosemarie Griffin, MA, CCC-SLP, BCBA is a licensed speech language pathologist and board certified behavior analyst. Currently she splits her time between a public school system and a private school for students with autism. She is passionate about lecturing on effective communication services for students with autism and has done so at the local and national level. Rosemarie also enjoys spending time with her family, playing the harp and shopping.

Article originally posted on Stages Learning Materials Blog.

Pick of the Week: Save 20% on 2D to 3D Learning Tools!

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We’ve got all the tools you need to develop imaginative play skills with our favorite hands-on learning storybooks and games!

This week only, save 20% on your purchase of these select 2D to 3D learning tools by using promo code 3D2017 at checkout!

*Promotion is valid until March 27, 2016 at 11:59pm ET. Offer cannot be applied to previous purchases, combined with any other offers, transferred, refunded, or redeemed and/or exchanged for cash or credit. Different Roads to Learning reserves the right to change or cancel this promotion at any time. To redeem offer at differentroads.com, enter promo code 3D2017 at checkout.

 

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

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

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

Brown_Grammatical_Structures_ChartFrom aacinstitute.org

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, BCBA
Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 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. Sam is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College. She is also a lecturer in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

 

 

Focus on Generalization and Maintenance

On more than one occasion, I’ve been in the situation that a student will only demonstrate a skill in my presence. And I’ve heard from other colleagues that they have had similar experiences. This is highly problematic. When it happens with one of my students, there is only one person I can blame: myself.  A skill that a student can only demonstrate in my presence is a pretty useless skill and does nothing to promote independence.

TeacherSo what do you do when you find yourself in this situation? You reteach, with a focus on generalization. This means that, from the very beginning, you are teaching with a wide variety of materials, varying your instructions, asking other adults to help teach the skill, and demonstrating its use in a variety of environments. Preparing activities takes more time on the front-end for the teacher, but saves a ton of time later because your student is more likely to actually master the skill. (Generalization, after all, does show true mastery.)

Hopefully, you don’t have to do this, though. Hopefully, you’ve focused on generalization from the first time you taught the skill. You may see generalization built into materials you already use, such as 300-Noun List at AVB press.

Another commonly cited issue teachers of children with autism encounter is failure to maintain a skill. In my mind, generalization and maintenance go hand-in-hand, in that they require you to plan ahead and consider how, when, and where you will practice acquired skills. Here are a few tips that may help you with maintenance of skills:

  • Create notecards of all mastered skills. During the course of a session, go through the notecards and set aside any missed questions or activities. You might need to do booster sessions on these. (This can also be an opportunity for extending generalization by presenting the questions with different materials, phrases, environments, or people.)
  • Set an alert on your phone to remind you to do a maintenance test two weeks, four weeks, and eight weeks after the student has mastered the skill.
  • Create a space on your data sheets for maintenance tasks to help you remember not only to build maintenance into your programs, but also to take data on maintenance.

Considering generalization and maintenance from the outset of any teaching procedure is incredibly important. Often, when working with students with special needs, we are working with students who are already one or more grade levels behind their typically developing peers. Failing to teach generalization and maintenance, then having to reteach, is a waste of your students’ time.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, 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. Sam is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College. She is also a lecturer in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.