Reaching Up! Setting Goals that are Realistic, Functional, and Meaningful

Happy New Year!  Many people are inspired by the start of the new year to set goals for themselves.  This is also an ideal time for parents to think about their goals for their children.  In setting goals for a child with a disability, there are a few important considerations that will improve the likelihood of the child’s success, as well as the parent’s satisfaction.

It’s usually a good idea to start with big picture goals, and then narrow them down.  You might start by asking yourself what your ultimate goal for your child is, and then where you would like to see him or her in 5 years.  Then, what would you like to be accomplished in this coming year? 

Let’s say your big picture goal is for your son to have a happy social life.  Your 5-year goal might then be for him to have at least 3 friends that he sees on a regular basis.  Your goal for this year might be to get him involved in an afterschool club on a regular basis. 

To take another example, your big picture goal might be for your daughter to communicate effectively with other people.  Your 5-year goal might be for her to have conversational exchanges with other people in the absence of prompts or augmentative communication.  And your goal for this year might be for her to ask for what she wants when she wants it (to “mand” for desired objects).

Starting with the big picture goal and thinking about the 5-year goal can help parents to maintain their focus.  If you start with small goals and build up, you might find yourself building in the wrong direction.  Most importantly, keeping the big picture and 5-year goals in mind help to keep your more immediate goals functional and meaningful.  When time and resources are precious, you want to make sure that you use them only to address goals that are going to help your child to attain his or her best, most important possible outcomes.

A second consideration in setting year-long goals is how realistic they are.  No one knows your child better than you, as his or her parent, but even parents can have difficulty gauging just where their child may wind up after a year.  Many factors can impact the success of any goal, including the interventions available and other, unexpected barriers or supports that may arise.  It can be helpful to break year-long goals down even further into smaller steps, which will be easier to predict and monitor. 

So, for the son who you want to see be more social, consider breaking the goal of joining an afterschool club down into its parts, each of which will be easier and faster for him to accomplish than the whole:  investigate the clubs that are available, discuss his top two choices with a guidance counselor, attend the first meeting, etc.  Each of these smaller goals can be measured and celebrated, helping to keep momentum and motivation towards the bigger year-long and further aspirations.  Similarly, the daughter who is working on communication can achieve smaller goals by learning to mand using prompts as earlier goals, and then continuing to mand independently as prompts are faded. 

Finally, each of the smaller goals set for the year should be measured so that progress can be tracked.  Seeing progress is not only motivating and exciting, but can help to guide when to advance to the next set of goals.  Measurement is also important for identifying when progress is not happening as quickly as desired, so that the supports and strategies in place can be updated for better success.


About The Author

Dana Reinecke is a doctoral level Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA-D) and a New York State Licensed Behavior Analyst (LBA).   Dana is an Assistant Professor and Department Chair of the Department of Special Education and Literacy at Long Island University Post.  Dana provides training and consultation to school districts, private schools, agencies, and families for individuals with disabilities.  She has presented original research and workshops on the treatment of autism and applications of ABA at regional, national, and international conferences.  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), and is currently serving as President (2017-2018).

Can the principles of ABA be used to toilet train a child with an autism spectrum disorder?

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Dr. Frank Cicero, Ph.D., BCBA, LBA. 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!

Here is the good news…children with autism can be toilet trained through the exact same methods that are used with typically-developing children. And what are these methods? Applied behavior analysis! If you have ever toilet trained a typically-developing child, you probably used a combination of praise and rewards for going on the toilet, explaining your expectations, removing the child‘s diaper, prompting to the toilet on some type of schedule, rushing him or her to the toilet when they seemed like they needed to go, and teaching how to notify you that he or she needs to use the bathroom. You might or might not have added in some form of punishment or verbal reprimand for accidents. Well…here is my advice for toilet training a child on the spectrum…use exactly the strategies that I just described.

So then, why does it seem so much more difficult? One of the biggest obstacles is simply getting started. Because parents think that toilet training will be very difficult, and something so different than anything else they have taught their child in the past, they delay training. Toilet training for a girl typically is recommended to begin at around two years of age. For a boy it is a little later (about two and a half). When it comes to a child with a developmental disability it is difficult to use these age guidelines. Instead, a child is ready to begin training when they can hold urine in the bladder for at least 1 hour, can remain seated on a toilet for at least three minutes, have an awareness of the relationship between following instructions and getting rewarded, and do not have significantly interfering problem behavior. Another challenge with toilet training a child on the spectrum is the absolute need for consistency and intensity of training once you begin. The more intense you implement a plan, the quicker you will see results. For the most intense procedure, I recommended toilet training for at least 6-8 hours per day. I also usually implement the training directly in a bathroom with the child wearing the least amount of clothing possible (usually underwear, shirt and socks). In this way, he or she can easily get to the toilet when needed and also you, as the trainer, can easily and quickly see when they are beginning to have an accident.

Toilet training consists of four main components: prompting to the toilet on a schedule, rewarding success, teaching how to request, and quickly prompting to the toilet at the start of an accident. For the schedule, I usually recommend starting with 30 minutes. The child sits on the toilet and tries to urinate for 1 minute. If the child is successful, immediately provide him/her with a very powerful reward with verbal praise. If the child is not successful, simply prompt him/her to try again in 30 minutes. In order to teach requests, prompt the child to request the bathroom each time you are about to prompt him/her to the toilet. You can use whatever communication system (i.e., verbal speech, picture exchange, signs, etc.) your child is used to and does best with.

Now, what to do with the accidents? Accidents in toilet training are a good thing. In fact, without accidents, you will only be reinforcing prompted trips to the toilet, thereby resulting in a child that is schedule trained instead of independent. You have two choices here, prompting/reinforcement or punishment. I usually recommend the first choice, prompting/reinforcement instead of punishment, at least in the beginning of training. Try encouraging a lot of drinking during training hours. Within the first second of the child having an accident, produce a loud verbal startle such as “HURRY, HURRY, HURRY.” This is not a reprimand but should be stated in a very loud, surprising, urgent tone of voice. The idea is to temporarily produce a startle response in the child so that urination is reflexively held for a brief moment. In that moment, you physically prompt the child to the toilet, where you instruct him or her (now in a very calm voice) to continue their urination. If they continue (which is likely), you reward the behavior with a reward and verbal praise. In this way, you turned an accident into a positive teachable moment. Continue with these strategies until the child begins to show fewer accidents, goes more on the schedule and begins to independently request. Throughout training it is very important to collect data on accidents and successes, so that you can make data-based decisions along the way. Fade the intensity of the schedule, fade out of the bathroom and ultimately fade the tangible rewards. With this intensive treatment program, I have seen complete training in as little as 1 week; however do not get discouraged if your child takes longer. What about training for bowel movements? Good news….you often get bowel training along with urination training without doing any additional procedures. Bad news…this is not always the case. When a child is trained for urination, but continues to have bowel accidents, you need to figure out the reason behind the problem before you can treat it. Is it simply a lack of knowledge? An ingrained ritual or routine? Noncompliance? A medical problem such as constipation? The nature of the accidents will guide your treatment. Very briefly, if the problem is a lack of knowledge, a reinforcement / punishment procedure should work. This procedure is similar to the procedure that I described for urination training, except that it is rarely implemented for 6-8 hours per day. Instead, you bowel train only when the child is likely to need to have a bowel movement. If the problem is more consistent with a ritual or noncompliance, you need a traditional behavior plan more than a toilet training intervention. And finally, if the problem is medical in nature, follow the recommendations of a physician or dietician.

Please use the following format to cite this article:

Cicero, F. (2009). Clinical corner: Toilet training. Science in Autism Treatment, 6(1), 3-4.


About The Author

Dr. Frank Cicero, Ph.D., BCBA, LBA is a New York State licensed psychologist, licensed behavior analyst and board certified behavior analyst with over 20 experience working in the fields of applied behavior analysis and autism spectrum disorders. He received his master’s degree in school psychology from St. John’s University and his doctoral degree in educational psychology from the City University of New York Graduate Center. Dr. Cicero is currently an assistant professor and aba program director for Seton Hall University, New Jersey. Prior to this position, he served as the Director of Psychological Services for the Eden II Programs, an applied behavior analysis agency in the New York City area serving children and adults on the autism spectrum. Dr. Cicero continues a private practice for child/adolescent psychology and aba as well as conducts program consultations in best practice treatment for autism, developmental disabilities and problem behavior. Dr. Cicero frequently conducts workshops and trainings nationally on a variety of topics within his fields of expertise. He also has several publications including peer reviewed articles, book chapters and a training book titled “Toilet Training Success.”

Ten tips to prevent autism-related shopping meltdowns

This week’s blog comes to us from Lucia Murillo, Autism Speaks’ assistant director of education research. and was originally posted on Autism Speaks as part of their Got Questions? series.

“How can I help my child avoid meltdowns at the store? Everything is okay with him until he gets into the store.”

Thanks so much for your question. You are far from alone in this challenge. For good reason, outings such as shopping can be particularly challenging for families who have children with autism.

The abundance of sights, sounds, crowds and other sensory stimuli can easily trigger challenging behaviors that seem near-impossible to handle in a public place. Unfortunately, this prompts many families to avoid taking children with autism to public places unless absolutely necessary. This, in turn, can contribute to isolation for the whole family.

So I’m so pleased for this opportunity to share a few meltdown-prevention strategies that, when practiced ahead of time, can help promote a calmer shopping experience.

But when I say “ahead of time,” I don’t mean right before you head to the store. These strategies involve time and patience. Ideally, you’ll also have the guidance of a behavioral therapist skilled in working with children who have autism.

#1 Give fair warning
Research and experience tells us that “knowing what to expect” helps children with autism cope with potentially stressful situations. This means resisting the understandable temptation to try to sneak a quick shopping trip into your son’s day. Whenever possible, I strongly recommend letting him know ahead of time where he is going and what he can expect.

#2 Take a virtual tour 
You and your son may be able to take a virtual tour of the store on the store’s website. If that’s not available, consider visiting the store on your own to take pictures and/or a cell-phone video.

This approach is particularly useful for preparing your child to accompany you to a new store. Sit down and look at the pictures and/or watch the video together so your son can become familiar with the new environment.

You might even take a virtual drive to the store using Google Maps.

#3 Practice and build tolerance

When you feel your child is ready to make an actual trip to the store, I suggest starting with a short trip and small purchase. Reward any degree of success with praise and perhaps a small prize or favorite activity.

As you sense your child is getting more comfortable with the short trips, gradually increase the length of time that the two of you are in the store. At this point, try to incorporate these trips into a regular routine – but always with fair warning – so your child can learn to expect them.

Repetition is important. And occasional reversals are likely. So don’t give up!

#4 Prepare a schedule 
Many children – and adults – on the autism spectrum greatly benefit from having a clear schedule for the day ahead. Visual schedules are particularly helpful, and the Autism Speaks visual supports guide can help you make one.

A morning review of the day’s activities can help your child gain a sense of where he’s going and what he’ll be doing. So on the morning of a shopping trip – or even the night before – sit down with your child as you add a shopping trip to the schedule. Or invite him to add it at the specified time.

It can help to schedule one of your child’s favorite activities following the shopping trip and together enter it on the day’s schedule. This can be as simple as time to play with a favorite toy or game with you.

#5 Remember: Rest is best
It can greatly increase your son’s chances of success if you make sure he’s well rested before the outing. In fact, the same goes for you! Being tired tends to shorten everyone’s tolerance.

#6 Identify triggers 
You know your child best. Are there certain sights, sounds or situations that tend to produce to a meltdown? You might try visiting the store without your son with an eye for such triggers. For some people with autism, fluorescent lighting is a trigger. Others are bothered by the loud hum of air conditioners or the blare of clerks calling to each other over the intercom.

#7 Provide personalized “armor”
Identifying triggers enables you to provide personalized support. For example, if loud sounds provoke anxiety in your son, he might be helped by headphones. If overhead lighting is a problem, he might be willing to wear sunglasses or a baseball cap. Many parents find these strategies make a world of difference for their kids.

#8 Getting ready to shop …
Before leaving the house, consider prompting your son with a finer breakdown of what you’re going to do on this shopping trip. For instance:

* We will drive to the store.

* We will park in the lot.

* We will walk into the store.

* We will find the items we want.

* We will pay for them at the register.

* We will walk back to the car.

* We will drive home.

* And we will play a game of Uno.

If, like many people with autism, your child responds best to visual information, try making a personalized story with pictures about the above steps. Autism Speaks has partnered with the University of Washington READI Lab to provide a series of personalized story templates that include Going to the Store. Learn more and download them for free here.

#9 Have a signal
Make sure there’s a way for your child to communicate to you when he begins to feel overwhelmed. We know that children who have autism vary widely in their ability to communicate. So one child might be able to simply say “I need a break.” Another might need to learn a sign – such as hands over ears. Picture communication systems are yet another option. (See the Autism Speaks visual supports guide mentioned above.)

Even if you child can’t reliably communicate when he’s getting overwhelmed, there are often behavioral cues that you can learn to recognize in time to leave the store or otherwise provide support before the meltdown.

#10 Bring “cool down” items
Meltdowns happen. Sometimes, having a favorite comfort item on hand can help ease the crisis.Despite all the best plans, meltdowns happen. You can ease the crisis by bringing an object or activity that you know will soothe. This could be a favorite toy or blanket. It could be a special little song.

All these strategies have the same goal: To provide optimal conditions for your child when taking him into an overly stimulating environment. By preparing ahead of time, you can increase the chances that the shopping trip – or any outing – will be more tolerable for your child and entire family.

 

Annotated Resources: Bullying

October is National Bullying Prevention Month! In this month’s ASAT feature, Sunbul Rai, MSc, BCBA, Renee Wozniak, PhD, BCBA-D, and Rachel L. Liebert have collected some amazing resources to address the issue of bullying. 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!

Bullying is an unfortunate reality for many individuals with (and without) autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This list of annotated resources has been created to serve as a helpful reference for individuals with ASD, parents, clinicians, and educators alike. Included are resources that provide realistic strategies around both preventing bullying and addressing existing bullying. We hope that this information will support informed decisions and assist you in taking a strong stand against bullying.

bullying

1.  National Autism Association (2015). A & S bullying: 5 things parents can do – www.autismsafety.org/bullying-tips.php The National Autism Association (NAA, 2015) provides a brief and practical list of five steps parents can take to address and prevent bullying in school, including 1) preparing the team, 2) addressing bullying with specific goals in the Individualized Education Plan (IEP), 3) preparing your child, 4) monitoring your child for signs of being bullied and 5) using the complaint process. At the outset, the authors stress the need to clarify the school district’s policies on bullying as a first step to prepare the team. Next, NAA suggests politely making it clear that you will be involved in helping the team to avoid your child’s victimization, and clearly communicating with teachers, administrators, the school board, and possibly the child’s peers to provide information on the child’s specific strengths and challenges, autism spectrum disorder, and the problem of bullying. In the IEP, NAA suggests addressing bullying by including social skills and self-advocacy goals, applicable accommodations, a familiarization plan, and specific peer support. To prepare your child, it is suggested to talk to him/her about appropriate friendships and about bullying, obtain social skills training if possible, and to help him/her get organized and oriented to the school in advance. Next, NAA suggests monitoring your child consistently for signs of being bullied by visiting the school often and keeping the lines of communication open with your child and teachers. If the complaint process is necessary, be persistent while avoiding being overly emotional; begin with informal written resolutions, moving to filing a complaint if necessary, while keeping in mind your rights under “The Individualized with Disabilities Education Act” (IDEA, 2004). “A & S Bullying: 5 Things Parents Can Do” is a quick read that may help parents take some simple first steps in addressing and preventing bullying issues for their child.

2.  Autism Speaks (2015). Combating bullyingwww.autismspeaks.org/family-services/bullying “Combating Bullying” is a compilation of information surrounding bullying of individuals with ASD, incorporating links to a variety of Internet and other resources. Some of the links include the Interactive Autism Network (IAN)’s study on bullying experiences of children on the autism spectrum, a Special Needs Anti-Bullying Toolkit, the trailer for and information on Bully: A Documentary, links to almost 20 books, 10 websites, and to other resources including a DVD and a list of signs to look out for that your child might be being bullied. The compilation addresses bullying of individuals with ASD and Asperger’s Syndrome, and includes information on bullying in schools, cyber bullying, and more. Information may be useful for parents, caregivers, educators, school administrators, individuals with ASD, and peers/friends of individuals with ASD.

3.  Autism Intervention Research Network on Behavioral Health (2013) – Remaking Recess www.airbnetwork.org/remaking.asp The Autism Intervention Research Network on Behavioral Health provides access to a booklet on a social skills intervention called “Remaking Recess” for use in the school setting. The booklet provides a treatment overview (helping children with ASD learn to engage with peers in the school setting) and a brief summary of playground engagement states (solitary, onlooker, parallel, parallel aware, joint engagement, games with rules) followed by specific strategies that can be implemented at recess time. Intervention strategies are included for a variety of situations, including 1) transitioning to an engaging activity and setting up, 2) providing popular developmentally-appropriate games and activities, 3) in-vivo social skills instruction, 4) facilitating peer conversations, 5) playing games, 6) sustaining engagement, 6) fading out of an activity and 7) a quick guide to boosting peer engagement. One of the main purposes of the intervention is to prevent bullying by aiming to improve the social inclusion of elementary-aged children with ASD by means of facilitated interactions with peers. “Remaking Recess” may be useful for individuals in educational settings who wish to take proactive steps to reduce bullying.

4.  Committee for Children (2015). Second step bullying prevention unit – www.cfchildren.org/second-step/research The Committee for Children is a non-profit organization that uses education with the aim of preventing bullying, child abuse and youth violence. The Second Step Bullying Prevention Unit is an initiative through The Committee for Children and is aimed at reducing bullying and peer victimization. The website includes information on the Second Step Bullying Prevention Unit Program as well as program outcomes. It comprises an article on the role of social-emotional learning (SEL) in bullying prevention efforts and highlights the importance of specific social and emotional skills taught in SEL programs, which include 1) empathy, 2) emotion management, 3) social problem solving, and 4) social competence. The website indicates that the implementation of the Second Step Bullying Prevention Unit can help empower schools to prevent and reduce bullying. It may be useful for professionals and parents alike to help them better understand specific skills that need to be taught to children to help prevent bullying.

5.  AbilityPath.org: Support for Parents of Children with Special Needs (2014). Bullying – www.abilitypath.org/areas-of-development/learning–schools/bullying/ AbilityPath.Org provides many bullying resources on its website and one of its highlights is the comprehensive report on bullying which focuses on supporting parents of children with special needs. The report is entitled “Walk a Mile in Their Shoes: Bullying and the Child with Special Needs” and emphasizes the “silent epidemic” of bullying that children with special needs face on a daily basis. It has several sections, which include: an overview of the report, testimonials from parents and children, targets: children with special needs, statistics, signs of being bullied, cyber bullying, teachable moments, the IEP, the law, the experts, the anti-bully program, and the call to action. Furthermore, it has several parent toolkits along with a teacher toolkit to help caregivers identify signs of bullying, and it highlights proactive steps that can be taken to protect a child with special needs. The information is also geared towards cyber bullying, which is bullying that can be conducted through the use of technology and social media sites. For example, one of the parent toolkits stresses the importance of protecting a child with special needs by teaching the child not to reveal personal information online, limiting online time, reviewing security settings on the computer and so forth. “Walk a Mile in Their Shoes: Bullying and the Child with Special Needs” promotes awareness, provides resources on bullying and its impact, and may be useful for parents, caregivers, teachers, administrators and other professionals working with children with special needs.

6.  PBIS: Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (2015). Bully prevention in SWPBS – www.pbis.org/school/bully-prevention PBIS: Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (2015) provides bully prevention manuals for the elementary, middle, and high school levels. The manuals are meant as a resource for the school setting and aim to provide students with the tools needed to be free of bullying through the use of school-wide positive behavior interventions and supports. The program described in the manual is divided into six lessons and focuses on the “stop/walk/talk procedure” for gossip, inappropriate remarks, and cyber bullying. The stop/walk/talk procedure involves physical and verbal components with examples of when these components can be used appropriately and when they should not be implemented. The manual emphasizes teaching the skill, followed by practice and roleplaying for a variety of scenarios. The lessons are easy to read and are ready for implementation in the classroom setting. PBIS’s bully prevention manuals may be useful for teachers or other educators in school and similar settings.

7.  National School Climate Center. (2015). Educating minds and hearts… because the three R’s are not enough – http://schoolclimate.org/ The National School Climate Center is an organization that utilizes relevant research to establish and distribute guidelines to encourage acceptance and safety in schools. The Center offers professional development programs for educators, parents, and after-school supervisors to better understand and promote children’s social and emotional wellness and communication. Their website offers guidelines to help educators and parents establish and maintain safe, comfortable schools and homes by understanding social and emotional learning. The “Bully Prevention” section of the website includes a toolkit entitled “The Breaking the Bully-Victim-Bystander Cycle Tool Kit.” This resource may be useful for educators who wish to create a positive school climate.

8.  The Bully Project (2015)http://www.thebullyproject.com/ The Bully Project is a website that aims to take action against bullying. It focuses on a documentary about children who were bullied during the 2009-2010 academic year and how their parents supported them and modeled “upstander” rather than “bystander” behavior. The website invites users to share their own stories and host or organize screenings of the film to raise awareness. The site also includes tools (including DVDs and toolkits that can be purchased) for students, parents, advocates, and educators, with a section devoted to individuals with special needs. The tools for educators are also available in Spanish. The “Roadmap to Building a Caring and Respectful School Community” includes work that was produced with the assistance of the Making Caring Common Initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The website also provides interested individuals a platform in which they can take action by joining regional anti-bully project teams. This resource may be useful for those looking to increase awareness and to take steps toward reducing bullying.

9.  Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center (2015). The end of bullying begins with you – www.pacer.org/bullying/ Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center’s website was developed for children and teenagers to be part of a social cause to end bullying. It includes a section dedicated to students with disabilities with legal information and template letters for parents to send to their child’s school to serve as notification of a bullying situation and a written record of having done so. The website also directs children and teenagers to other helpful resources including KidsAgainstBullying.org and TeensAgainstBullying.org. Ample information is provided about National Bullying Prevention Month (October) including a brief history, opportunities to register for events, key points to make should you wish to give a presentation, and directions to request a governor’s proclamation. Educator toolkits are available under the resources tab, and they include classroom toolkits, community toolkits, student-created toolkits, and activities for youth. Additionally, there is a guide for planning school events, and a peer advocacy guide. This website may be useful for children and teenagers who want to make a difference and provides tangible resources to reduce bullying.

10.  U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (2015). Stopbullying.gov – http://stopbullying.gov This government website provides a wealth of resources across a variety of areas, in both English and Spanish. An array of topics is covered with related subtopics and links. General topics and subtopics include:

  • What is Bullying – definition, roles kids play, and related matters (e.g., harassment, teen dating violence, peer conflict and more)
  • Cyber Bullying – what it is, how to prevent it, how to report it, and risk factors
  • Who is at Risk – warning signs, effects, and considerations for specific groups (including bullying and youth with disabilities and special health needs)
  • Preventing Bullying – how to talk about it, prevention at school, working in the community, and a training center which includes videos, reading modules, research and statistics, training manuals, toolkits, user guides and additional resources
  • Responding to Bullying – stopping it on the spot, finding out what happened, supporting the kids involved, and being more than a bystander
  • Get Help Now – includes steps to take to resolve a range of bullying situations

Cite this:
Rai, S., Wozniak, R. & Liebert, R. L. (2015). Annotated resources: Bullying. Science in Autism Treatment, 12(4), 23-27.

Bullying can be complex and the Association for Science in Autism Treatment has other resources available for help with this, as well. Please check out the links below to learn more!

1. Clinical Corner: Preventing and Addressing Bullying, Lori Ernsperger, Ph.D., BCBA-D
https://www.asatonline.org/research-treatment/clinical-corner/bullying/

2. Clinical Corner: Teaching Safety Skills to Adolescents, Shannon Wilkinson, MADS, BCaBA
https://www.asatonline.org/for-parents/education/lifespan/teaching-safety-skills-to-adolescents/


About The Authors 

Sunbul Rai, M.Sc, is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst® with a background in education and psychology.  She has extensive experience working with individuals on the Autism Spectrum in a variety of settings across Canada.  Sunbul serves as the Practicum Consultant for the University of New Brunswick’s Autism Intervention Training Program.  She is also the founder of the ABA Little Tots Program at Autism Services, the first intensive behavioural intervention (IBI) program in Saskatchewan.  She is committed to enhancing the quality of life of individuals with Autism so that they can reach their full and utmost potential.

Renee Wozniak, PhD, BCBA-D, joined the ASAT Board of Directors in 2016. Prior to serving as a Board Member, Renée was a part of ASAT’s Externship, where she assumed the roles of Media Watch Co-Coordinator and Media Watch Lead. Renée received her Ph.D. in Special Education, focusing on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), from Arizona State University. She has worked in the fields of ASD and ABA in a variety of capacities since 1998, serving in public schools as a special education teacher, behavior intervention teacher specialist and district-wide autism trainer, and in clinical and home-based ABA programs as a research assistant, clinical/behavior interventionist, and program supervisor. Renée has trained families, therapists, teachers, teacher candidates, paraprofessionals, administrators, and others working with individuals with autism, and has instructed master’s level ABA, ASD, research and special education courses. She currently serves in the roles of faculty and subject matter expert in Capella University’s Applied Behavior Analysis program. Renée is passionate about helping individuals with autism and their families by supporting and disseminating scientific research in autism treatment.

Rachel Liebert was an extern at ASAT from 2015 to 2016 while she was studying psychology at Barnard College of Columbia University.  She is currently a second-year law student at Fordham University and plans to pursue a career in public policy and child welfare.

Back to School!  Using Behavioral Strategies to Support Academic Success

 

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Back to school is an exciting time for students and teachers, but those with learning differences might find it stressful to start a new school year with new faces, rules, and expectations.  Fortunately, there are behavioral support strategies that can help to smooth the way for a fun, productive year of learning.  Following are some research-based methods to consider.

  • Choice

One of the easiest ways to help students to succeed in school is to offer choices!  Dunlap at el. (1994) found that students were more engaged in tasks and less disruptive when offered choices of activities.  Giving students choices of activities that all achieve the same learning objective is a great way to facilitate engagement and ownership of task outcomes.  Students who can pick how they learn something may be more enthusiastic about learning overall.

  • Momentum

Another great way to get compliance with task demands is to use the strategy of momentum.  This involves asking the student to do tasks that he is likely to comply with, before asking him to do things that are harder.  For example, a teacher might present a coloring activity to a student who likes to color, and then praise him for completing that activity.  The next activity could then be something a little harder and less preferred, like spelling, but now the student has a history of reinforcement for compliance and so is more likely to continue to comply.  Lipshultz and Wilder (2017) offer a review of the recent research in this area.

  • Task Distribution

Sometimes stretching learning out over multiple sessions and across days can be helpful.  Some research shows that distributed learning, where students are given instruction on the same skill for several days, is more efficient and effective than massed learning, where students are given lengthy instruction on the same skill all at once (e.g., Haq et al., 2015).  For students who struggle in a particular area, consider shorter, more frequent opportunities to practice and learn. 

Given thoughtful supports and reasonable, meaningful accommodations, students with learning challenges can be successful and happy in school.  Adding some strategies like the ones described here can make for a fun and productive year!

 

References

Dunlap, G., DePerczel, M., Clarke, S., Wilson, D., Wright,S., White, R., & Gomez, A. (1994). Choice making to promote adaptive behavior for students with emotional and behavioral challenges.  Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 27, 505–518.

Haq, S. S., Kodak, T., Kurtz-Nelson, E., Porritt, M., Rush, K., & Cariveau, T. (2015).  Comparing the effects of massed and distributed practice on skill acquisition for children with autism.  Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 48, 454–459.

Lipschultz, J. & Wilder, D. A. (2017).  Recent research on the high-probability instructional sequence:  A brief review.  Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 50, 424–428.


About The Author 

Dana Reinecke is a doctoral level Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA-D) and a New York State Licensed Behavior Analyst (LBA).   Dana is an Assistant Professor and Department Chair of the Department of Special Education and Literacy at Long Island University Post.  Dana provides training and consultation to school districts, private schools, agencies, and families for individuals with disabilities.  She has presented original research and workshops on the treatment of autism and applications of ABA at regional, national, and international conferences.  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), and is currently serving as President (2017-2018).

NAVIGATING SESAME PLACE WITH A CHILD WITH AUTISM

This week’s post originally appeared on INCLUDEnyc,

As a mom of a three-year-old with autism, sometimes I’m hesitant to visit places that are overcrowded with people. I always worry that my son Julian will become overwhelmed and have a meltdown. Recently, his daycare took him on a trip to Sesame Place, and despite my worries, I decided to attend. I also invited a friend who has a five-year-old son with autism named Brandon (who is one of Julian’s BFFs).

I created a social story for Julian and told him about all of the characters he would see when we went there. I let him know that we would be playing in the water, going to see Elmo, and that we were going to go on fast rides that went up and down. I spoke to him about Brandon coming with us and how we would be taking a bus. He was very excited and told me he was very happy; or, in his words, “Mommy, Juju happy” (he refers to himself in the third person and always calls himself by his nickname).

The morning of the trip it was a little shaky; we took a car to his school (he was not happy about this because Mommy had only mentioned a bus). When we got on the bus, he was upset and overwhelmed with all of the new changes in his routine. I won’t lie — I was feeling a little overwhelmed myself. It took about 15 minutes for him to calm down, but after that he watched the cars as they drove by and ate lots of snacks, watched parts of a movie that was playing, and climbed all over me. In the end, he didn’t scream and cry the whole time, he didn’t get sick, and best of all, we made it in one piece.

When we arrived at Sesame Place we went straight to the Welcome Center, which was right by the entry gates and, oddly enough, not packed. I told the woman at the desk that we were traveling with two amazing little boys with autism. We were asked basic information like our boys’ names, birthdates, heights and addresses and we were each given a plastic wrist band with the numbers 1-3 on it (each number had a tab that ripped off the band) for water rides. This wristband allowed us to enter the rides through “Abby’s Magic Queue” and skip the long lines 3 times (good for 4 people each time). We were also given a small card with the numbers 1-6, which allowed us to ride 6 dry rides (good for 4 people each ride). We also rented a double stroller for less than $20 which allowed us to stroll both boys and carry our bags easily.

First we did the water rides. We went on a raft/slide ride near the entrance about 4 times in a row. Lucky for us they didn’t ask for any of the tabs. Both boys had a hard time waiting their turn but equally loved the ride; the smiles on their faces were priceless. Next we did the lazy river (for this ride they took one of our tabs); we were able to do this one twice as well. There are some parts on the lazy river where you will get splashed or sprayed by water; we just used ourselves as shields to block them (none of the boys like water in their faces). By the time we finished the lazy river, it was time for lunch. We had chicken fingers and French fries (which only came out to about $30 with a souvenir cup and plate).

Next we went on the dry rides and did just about everything in the Elmo’s World section of the park. For the dry rides we went to the exit and handed our cards to the attendant. They crossed off one number from the card and we were allowed to board the ride first. We had lots of fun on the spinning cups and air balloons. Apparently Julian has a thing for rides that go high in the air (me, not so much; I am afraid of heights). We also went to take a picture with Abby and Elmo, and we were super lucky that there was no line at all.

When it was time to leave, we got to watch some of the parade and wave to some of our favorite characters. Julian was very upset that we had to go and started to cry. Brandon was able to help soothe him by taking his hand and telling him that he was going to be ok. Julian slept the whole ride back on the bus after having some snacks and water. At the end of the day, we actually had a great time despite the normal meltdowns and moments of overstimulation. I was so happy that he had gotten to experience Sesame Place just like any other kid would.

I wrote this blog to encourage other moms of children with disabilities to try and worry less about all the things that can go wrong when experiencing new things, and to take the risk and go for it. Inclusion is one of the most amazing things that places like Sesame Place offer, and best of all, there are supports in place to support our kids. Of course there are going to be bumps in the road, but it’s nothing different than the ones we face every day. Go out, try new things, and follow your child’s lead; the worst thing that can happen is a meltdown (we deal with these anyway). But the best thing that can happen is the making of incredible memories.


About The Author

Millicent Franco is the Program Intake Coordinator for INCLUDEnyc. Millie helps coordinate services for Spanish bilingual families through the help line. Prior to joining INCLUDEnyc, she was a Family Support Worker via Healthy Families New York where she provided families with child development information/activities in order to help create a community of informed parents raising secure children. She also brings previous experience as a Case Manager for Turning Point’s transitional housing program. She is the proud mother of an amazing little boy with Autism and wants to help break the stigma associated with having special needs.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration and ABA

This week, Dr. Val Demiri PhD, BCBA-D, LBA offers some helpful advice on how to improve collaboration between professionals from different disciplines.

As professionals, collaborating with others in your work environment is an essential skill that may have been historically overlooked as part of the specific training you received as a behavior analyst. Currently, becoming credentialed as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) does not entail any coursework requirement in collaboration, however collaboration is mentioned as part of the Behavior Analysis Certification Board (BACB) 4th Edition Task List under Section II, and The BACB Code of Ethics as follows:

TASK LIST Section II: Client-Centered Responsibilities
G-06: Provide behavior-analytic services in collaboration with others who support and/or provide services to one’s clients.

BACB CODE: 2.0 – Behavior Analysts responsibility to clients:
2.03 (b) When indicated and professionally appropriate, behavior analysts cooperate
with other professionals, in a manner that is consistent with the philosophical
assumptions and principles of behavior analysis, in order to effectively and
appropriately serve their clients.

BACB CODE: 7.0 Behavior Analysts’ Ethical Responsibility to Colleagues.
Behavior analysts work with colleagues within the profession of behavior analysis and
from other professions and must be aware of these ethical obligations in all situations.
(See also, 10.0 Behavior Analysts’ Ethical Responsibility to the BACB)

These current ethical codes and task lists must be adhered to by behavior analysts and should raise questions on how to obtain the skills required for collaboration. Because we are an evidence-based and empirically oriented field, we may often find ourselves in the midst of conflict when presented with non-behavioral and non-evidence based treatments to our clients that other professions may be using or want to use. How do we resolve the ethical dilemma in the best interest of our client?
One suggestion is to seek supervision and training in collaboration. Over the years, the need for training (both didactic and hands-on) on collaboration with other professions has increased. Perhaps perspective and understanding of other professions and their ideologies are good places to start so that we put ourselves in better positions to present our understanding of what will help our client. Let’s face it, behavior analysis can seem stuffy and arrogant, if not cold, to other professions who pride themselves in helping clients and building connections and who may have little understanding of our field.
The research on collaboration is beginning to emerge within our field (Kelly & Tincani, 2013; Broadhead, 2015) and we can certainly look to fields outside of ABA who have taken it upon themselves to educate their profession on what applied behavior analysis is and how to forge collaborations as well as find common ground between fields (Donaldson & Stahmer, 2014). Donaldson & Stahmer (2014) published an article explaining the philosophy and principles of ABA to the speech and language profession, while also emphasizing common ground, mutual objectives and understanding of ABA. Within our own field, some initial steps in understanding collaboration was undertaken by Kelly and Tincani (2013) who conducted a survey of behavior analysts regarding collaboration using the following definition:

“A component of consultation involving voluntary, interpersonal interactions comprising of two or more professionals engaging in communication modalities for the purposes of shared decision-making and problem solving toward a common goal and resulting in changes to tasks and solutions that would not have been achieved in isolation.”

Not surprisingly, the survey revealed that 67% of respondents reported no coursework with “collaboration” in the coursework title and most surveyed agreed that they would want more training in collaboration (Kelly & Tincani, 2013). Even more striking were findings suggesting that behavior analysts were not necessarily team players during the collaboration process as collaboration was reported to be uni-directional (Kelly and Tincani, 2013). Unfortunately, the lack of collaboration may subsequently create conditions in which interventions are less likely to be implemented, simply because other professionals involved in the care of the client were not part of the decision making for those interventions (Kelly & Tincani, 2013).
More so than ever before, researchers, clinicians and educators find themselves working in settings with diverse professional disciplines that are responsible for treating the same individual. Nowhere is this example made clearer for behavior analysts than the settings in which a host of related services from varying professions are provided to students as part of their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Understanding the dilemmas that behavior analysts might be faced with in terms of evidence-based interventions that are empirically sound, Broadhead (2015) offered a decision-making model for determining whether or not the proposed non-behavioral treatment is worth addressing. Broadhead (2015) suggested that gaining skills in systematically evaluating whether or not you question a treatment (which runs the risk of eroding relationships) vs. not addressing clearly dangerous and unhelpful therapies that have been debunked, (e.g., facilitated communication) can serve as clear guidance and decision making strategies when faced with such ethical dilemmas.
Understanding collaboration and gaining the skills needed to collaborate across disciplines should be both a professional goal and a goal within our field. In that spirit, the following tips for collaboration are offered:
1) Get to know the profession of others you work with in your setting. Ask for and offer others basic readings about your field, philosophy, and profession.
2) Talk about your own training and how you learned the skills you have and ask questions about training that other professionals have received in their field and how they came to acquire their skill set.
3) Be honest about philosophical underpinnings of how you have been trained (e.g., behaviorism, applied behavior analysis).
4) Discuss common goals you have for your client and how you can collaborate.
5) If appropriate, ask for a demonstration of a strategy or intervention, so you can see for yourself what is being done and offer to show how you would implement interventions for the same goal and discuss the commonalities or differences in strategies.
6) Set regular collaboration meetings and have an agenda where concerns, successes and progress are discussed.
7) Agree on a plan of intervention as a team.
8) Offer help with your skills that are applicable across all fields–such as data collection strategies, graphing, operational definitions, measurement of behavior, skill acquisition and progress.
9) Create a collaboration goal with someone outside your field.
10) Stay open to learning from others without compromising your ethical obligations as a professional and seek supervision.

 

Board, B. A. C. (2014). Professional and ethical compliance code for behavior analysts.
Brodhead, M.T., (2015). Maintaining Professional Relationships in an Interdisciplinary Setting:
Strategies for Navigating Nonbehavioral Treament Recommendations for Individuals
with Autism. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 8: 70-78.
Donaldson, A., & Stahmer, A. C. (2014). Team Collaboration: The use of Behavior Principles for
serving students with ASD. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools 45: 261–
276
Kelly, A., & Tincani, M. (2013). Collaborative training and practice among applied behavior
analysts who support individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Education and Training
in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 120-131.


About The Author

Dr. Demiri received her doctorate in Clinical and School Psychology from Hofstra University in 2004 and her Board Certification in Behavior Analysis (BCBA) from Rutgers University in 2005.  She currently serves as an adjunct professor at Endicott College in the Van Loan School of Graduate & Professional Studies and she is the district-wide behavior specialist at Hopewell Valley Regional School District in New Jersey.  Previously she served as the Assistant Director of Outreach Services at the Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, where she spearheaded the Early Intervention Program.  Her professional interests include diagnostic assessments, language and social skills development in individuals with autism spectrum disorders as well as international dissemination of Applied Behavior Analysis.  She has presented on Applied Behavior Analysis and autism locally, nationally and internationally.  Val is the co-author of the book, Jumpstarting Communication Skills in Children with Autism: A Parent’s Guide to Applied Verbal Behavior: Woodbine House.

Prompt Fading For Parents

This week, Leanne Page M.Ed, BCBA, offers advice on how to avoid prompt dependence. 

This piece originally appeared on bsci21.org.


“Dear Behavior BFF, I am not a parent myself but am writing you about my nephew. My sister and brother in law are constantly telling him what to say. “Tell her thank you. Say good morning. Say I want to eat dinner now.” I rarely hear the kid saying anything other than the exact words he is told to say. Is this normal? It seems like a terrible idea to me.”

The principles of behavior analysis can be helpful to anyone, not just parents.  What you are describing here is a high level of prompting that is likely leading to prompt dependence. The boy’s parents are giving so many prompts that he is not responding independently.

Is this normal? With parents – who knows?! We each do our own thing. We almost always start something with the purest of intentions as I’m sure your sister and brother in law have here. They want to help their son to speak, help him to participate in social interactions, and help him to learn to be respectful. But maybe they are helping too much.

It’s likely time for some prompt fading. When teaching new skills, it is common to start with high levels of prompting to help the learner practice success and receive positive reinforcement. But we can’t stay there forever. We have to fade out those prompts.

Other situations where parents are likely to over-prompt and be ready for some prompt fading strategies: toileting schedules and your child never initiates, always giving choices and never letting your child come up with a request independently, doing things hand over hand, doing daily living activities for your child, etc.

Step back one step on your prompts. Still provide a prompt, but scale it back a bit. Find where you are on this list and go down one.

  1. Full physical – hand over hand. Doing things FOR your child.
  2. Partial physical – still doing some parts hand over hand, but letting the child do some independently.
  3. Full verbal – telling them what to say as given in the original question above.
  4. Partial verbal – give part of the response, not the whole thing.
  5. Gestural – give a gesture or a cue

*This is not an exhaustive prompt hierarchy. There is more detail within behavior analysis but will stop here as parents are the intended audience and may not need that level of technicality.

Some ideas to fade out the full verbal prompt are to give an indirect or partial verbal prompt. From the examples you gave, instead, you could say:

“What do you say?”

“Do you need something?”

“Good ……”

Prompting your child can be a good thing, a great thing, even a research based thing. But when all you do all day is prompt- maybe it’s time to take a step back. Don’t drop the prompts all together. We still want to be sure the child is successful in each situation so they can gain reinforcement and see an increase of the desired behaviors in these situations.

Step back one prompting level at a time. When your child is successful at that level, step back again. Fade out the prompts until he is able to respond independently and the constant telling him what to say is a distant memory!

We barely scratched the surface on prompts and prompt fading. Here are some good places to start learning more about it!

Alberto, P. A., & Troutman, A. C. (2012). Applied behavior analysis for teachers. Pearson Higher Ed.

Cooper, J. (2009). 0., Heron, TE, & Heward, WL (2007). Applied behavior analysis.

MacDuff, G. S., Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E. (2001). Prompts and prompt-fading strategies for people with autism. Making a difference: Behavioral intervention for autism, 37-50.


About The Author

Leanne Page, MEd, BCBA, is the author of Parenting with Science: Behavior Analysis Saves Mom’s Sanity. As a Behavior Analyst and a mom of two little girls, she wanted to share behavior analysis with a population who could really use it- parents!

Leanne’s writing can be found in Parenting with Science and Parenting with ABA as well as a few other sites. She is a monthly contributor to bSci21.com , guest host for the Dr. Kim Live show, and has contributed to other websites as well.

Leanne has worked with children with disabilities for over 10 years. She earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Texas A&M University.  She also completed ABA coursework through the University of North Texas before earning her BCBA certification in 2011. Leanne has worked as a special educator of both elementary and high school self-contained, inclusion, general education, and resource settings.

Leanne also has managed a center providing ABA services to children in 1:1 and small group settings. She has  extensive experience in school and teacher training, therapist training, parent training, and providing direct services to children and families in a center-based or in-home therapy setting.

Leanne is now located in Dallas, Texas and is available for: distance BCBA and BCaBA supervision, parent training, speaking opportunities, and consultation. She can be reached via Facebook or at Lpagebcba@gmail.com.

 

Using Contingency Contracts in the Classroom

As adults, we’re fairly accustomed to contracts for car loans, new employment, or updates to our smartphones. But contracts can also be beneficial in the classroom setting.
A contingency contract is defined as “a mutually agreed upon document between parties (e.g., parent and child) that specifies a contingent relationship between the completion of specified behavior(s) and access to specified reinforcer(s)” (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). There are several studies that indicate using a contingency classroom can be beneficial in the classroom setting.
Cantrell, Cantrell, Huddleston, & Wooldridge (1969) identified steps in creating contingency contracts:
(1) Interview the parent or guardian of the student. This allows you to work together to identify problem behaviors to be addressed, identify the contingencies currently maintaining these behaviors, determine the child’s current reinforcers, and establish what reinforcement or punishment procedures will be used.
(2) Use this information to create a clear, complete, and simple contract. The authors provide examples of how these contracts might look. You can vary the contract based upon the behaviors you are addressing with your student and the student’s ability to comprehend such contracts.
(3) Build data collection into the contract itself. You can see an example from the article below. For this example, it is clear how points are earned and how the child can utilize those points, and the contract itself is a record of both the points and the child’s behaviors.

BlogPic

There are clear benefits to utilizing such contingency contracting: building relationships across different environments in which the student lives and works, addressing one or more challenging behaviors simultaneously, and providing opportunities for students to come into contact with reinforcement. You can read the entire article here:

Cantrell, R. P., Cantrell, M. L., Huddleston, C. M., & Wooldridge, R. L. (1969). Contingency contracting with school problems. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 2(3), 215-220.

And much more has been written about contingency contracting. If you’d like to learn more, we suggest taking a look at one or more of the following:

Bailey, J. S., Wolf, M. M., & Phillips, E. L. (1970). Home-based reinforcement and the modification of pre-delinquent’s classroom behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 3(3), 223-233.

Barth, R. (1979). Home-based reinforcement of school behavior: A review and analysis. Review of Educational Research, 49(3), 436-458.

Broughton, S. F., Barton, E. S., & Owen, P. R. (1981). Home based contingency systems for school problems. School Psychology Review, 10(1), 26-36.

Miller, D. L., & Kelley, M. L. (1991). Interventions for improving homework performance: A critical review. School Psychology Quarterly, 6(3), 174.


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.

Strategies for Teaching Games to Young Learners

In this month’s ASAT feature, Maithri Sivaraman and Ruth Donlin offer advice on selecting the best games for children with ASD. 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 son is 5 years old and was diagnosed with autism when he was two. He has responded well to early intervention services in terms of his communication and daily living activities. But it is still challenging to for him to play games with his neurotypical peers. When all the kids at a birthday party are playing “Simon Says,” my son prefers to play alone with his toys or just watch the other kids playing. I don’t know how to teach him to play new games or even identify what kind of games he likes. Could you provide some suggestions?

The growing awareness about the early signs of ASD has made it possible for an increasing number of children to be diagnosed by the age of 3 years (Stahmer, 2011). Considering the difficulty in building social relationships and peer play that is often associated with ASD it is important that specific instruction on social behaviors in various play situations is provided.  Research has shown that extensive and planned interaction with peers facilitates social skill development (e.g., Krantz & Mclannahan, 1993; Baker, Koegel & Koegel, 1998). At your son’s age, this interaction primarily occurs during play.

Play has been described as a “child’s workshop” where social rules and consequences are explored (Bruner, 1975). Teaching a game to a child has consequences beyond the game itself: Apart from having fun, it could lead to social engagement, formation of friendships and create abundant opportunities for imitation, negotiation, cooperation, and other skills. However, though important, teaching games to children with autism often involves many challenges, such as the play activity not being motivating to the child, the need for intrusive prompting, having to teach the rules of each game, and managing problem behavior, to name a few.  Some of these challenges can be overcome by using the strategies described below.

Considerations When Choosing a Game

Choose a game that is a match to the child’s developmental level and one that incorporates his or her interests and facilitates social skill development. Games may provide an appropriate social context to the perseverative interests of children with ASD (Koegel et al., 2012; Baker, Koegel & Koegel, 1998). It is a great idea to modify games to accommodate the child’s interests. For example, if the child has a keen interest in vehicles, the Red Light/Green Light game can be modified to be played with cars rather than people. A perseverative interest with names of washing machine brands can be accommodated in the same game by asking the child to take a step forward each time one brand name is said or stop when a different brand is said. For a child who likes twirling threads, the thread could be at the finish line to motivate the child to “go” during Red Light/Green Light.

Strategies for Teaching Games

Children with ASD are less likely to learn age-appropriate play skills through mere exposure to play materials and peers using those materials. Instead, intervention is often required to teach appropriate play skills directly and explicitly to these children (Lifter, Mason & Barton, 2012; Malone and Langone, 1999). When planning for social interactions and game play with others, the child with autism should understand what to do before being placed in the social play situation and have appropriate supports to avoid failed social experiences that could decrease long-term interest in the activity. Some strategies for teaching games follow.

  • Modeling – Provide your son with opportunities to observe others playing the game. At this stage, the only expectation is that the child stays within the play area for a few minutes and observes others. No other form of participation/engagement is required. Alternatively, providing a video model of a group playing the same game will serve as a form of priming and prepare the child for the actual experience, as long as the child has learned and is competent with observing of others, in vivo or video.

 

  • Shaping – The child could initially engage only in those play actions (relevant to the game) that he can do independently. Subsequently, better performances in these actions can be modeled and expected (Ward, 2011). For example, in a game like Red Light/Green Light, your son may initially just run along with all the other players. It does not matter that he does not stop at the Red Light. But if he/she is successful at this level and shows independent participation, over the course of the next few instances, a play partner could be made to hold hands with your son and have him stop at the Red Light. Gradually, the partner could stop holding hands and independent performance in “red” and “green” can be tested. Prompting – After being given a few opportunities to observe others playing the game, some prompting might be required for the child to improve existing play behaviors. In a least-to-most (LTM) prompting hierarchy, the least intrusive prompts are provided first. More intrusive prompts are provided only if the expected behavior does not occur at the present level of prompting. For example, in the Red light/Green light game, if a child does not start running when the leader says “green,” the teacher might initially say, “What should you do now?” A gesture to move or a gentle push may be provided if the student does not respond to the teacher’s question. One LTM prompt hierarchy that is often used to teach these kinds of skills is indirect verbal, direct verbal, gestural and a physical prompt, in order of increasing intrusiveness (Cooper, Heron & Heward, 2007; Davis-Temple, Jung & Sainato, 2014; Libby, Weiss, Bancroft & Ahearn, 2008). For example, when the leader says green, an indirect verbal prompt could be “What should you do now?” while a direct verbal prompt would be saying, “Run.” An example of gestural prompt for this situation would be a hand gesture indicating the child to move in a certain direction whereas a physical prompt would be to hold the child’s arm and gently push him forward. In contrast, A most-to-least (MTL) prompting hierarchy involves providing the most intrusive prompt initially. The prompt is then faded gradually to facilitate independent performance. Using the previous example, an MTL prompt strategy would begin first with a physical prompt and then fade to a gestural prompt, direct verbal, indirect verbal prompt, and finally allow for independence as the child is successful. The prompting techniques used should be tailored to each learner. Because LTM prompting allows the child to attempt the skill independently first, MTL prompting is recommended if errors (which can be more common with LTM) have been found to impede the child’s learning. LTM can be used for children who show rapid acquisition of skills and are familiar with this prompting strategy (Libby, Weiss, Bancroft & Ahearn, 2008).

 

  • Positive Reinforcement – Try to use naturally occurring reinforcers as much as possible. Exaggeration of facial expressions and emotions, and making funny noises could be a part of the game itself to make the activity more enjoyable. For instance, stopping during the Red Light could be accompanied by exaggerated body postures and funny facial expressions. Also, if the child is familiar with a token system, it could be extended to the game as a “points table” where everyone’s scores in the game are recorded. The winner of the game might then be given a chance to choose the next activity. Reinforcers that are a natural result of play are recommended over edibles/tangible items because they can be easily transferred to the natural environment during play with typically developing peers (Stokes & Baer, 1977). Maximizing the use of activities within the game that can serve as reinforcers will promote generalization. Learning to play a game in one situation and being able to do it flexibly in other similar but different situations requires the events within the game (stopping at “Red Light” with a screeching sound like a car, jumping and saying “Woohoo” at the finish line) to serve as reinforcers as opposed to using edible or tangible items which may not be available everywhere.

 

  • Chaining – In the context of simple games with a consistent, predictable sequence of play such as “Hi-Ho-Cherry-O” or “Candy Land”, the game could be broken down into a series of simple steps (task analysis). Teaching one step at a time to mastery before introducing the other steps could simplify the game for the child. For instance, in the game Candy Land, your son might initially be required only to pick up the card and label the color, while the parent or teacher helps him complete all the additional steps on his turn (e.g., finding his piece and moving it to the corresponding color). Following success at this step, he could be expected to pick up the card, label the color and also move his piece on the board. Subsequently, telling a peer to take a turn, waiting appropriately for his turn, setting up the game and cleaning up could be added to the list of expected behaviors.

 

  • Scripting – Playing games provides numerous opportunities to develop or increase communication skills such as imitating words, making comments (“This is fun,” “Your turn”), making requests (“Help”) and initiating communication (“Let’s play”). Visual script interventions have been shown to be effective with children with autism, including those with minimal language (e.g., single spoken words, Krantz & McClannahan, 1998) and those with extensive verbal skills but poor social skills (Krantz & McClannahan, 1993). Scripts typically are a written or pictorial appropriate phrases or sentences presented during play to evoke responding. For example, a script during the Red Light/Green Light game can serve as a prompt for social greetings (“Hi, let’s play”), asking for a turn (“My turn to be the leader”) and making comments (“We’ve all stopped like statues!”).

Assessing motivation – How to tell if the child is interested?

Gauging child motivation for an activity is as important as knowing how to teach a game. Being indifferent to a child’s interest level and focusing only on the process can impede his/her ability to play games (Taylor et al., 2005). The overwhelming urge to teach the child to play by all the rules of the game on the very first opportunity can be truly aversive for the child (and the parent or teacher!) and lead to problem behavior. A closer observation might reveal that problem behavior occurs when the child’s interest in the game starts to wane and continued engagement is expected.

This challenge can be overcome by taking motivation into consideration and choosing games that have components which you know the child enjoys. This increases the likelihood that the learner will exhibit independence in at least one of the expected play behaviors during the game. The Red Light/Green Light game might work well for children who like to run or be outdoors; Simon Says might work for children who have a good imitation repertoire; Hangman may be motivating for children who like letters; and simple board games like Tummy Ache/Pizza Pizza (Orchard Toys) may be enjoyed by children who prefer visual stimuli and matching.

Additionally, here are some ways of measuring motivation during the game (Ward, 2011).

  1. Mands/Requests – Did the child request for the game after a few exposures? Did he/she ask for a turn to hold up the colored cards and say “red” and “green”?
  2. Initiations – did he/she make any initiations during the game? (e.g., asking a partner to “stop” when they didn’t)
  3. Responses to partner initiations – does the child respond to play partners? (e.g., moving forward when a partner asks him to do so)
  4. Affect – Does the child seem happy? Is he/she smiling, jumping, or laughing?
  5. Independent play actions – Does the child run by him/herself during “green”? Or go back to the starting line at the end of one round?

If the game has been broken down into doable steps with appropriate reinforcement and the child is still not initiating or displaying independent play actions, these are clear indications of low motivation in the game, which can be also due to task difficulty. If such situations persist, it is best to choose a different game. Identifying a child’s disinterest and knowing when to stop, or modifying a game in a manner that might enhance motivation, can facilitate success.  Motivation can be fleeting: what was fun yesterday might not be fun today. But being proactive about gauging these variations is what should be lasting.

Summary

We have learned many effective ways to teach games over the years (Jung, 2013; Krantz & McClannahan, 1998; Maurice, Green & Luce, 1996; Stahmer & Schreibman, 1992). Since playing games is an important activity among typically developing children, play activities serve as an opportunity for children with ASD to learn appropriate social behaviors (Davis-Temple, Jung & Sainato, 2014). Whatever the goals associated with each game, adding “having fun” as one of them, and identifying and monitoring observable measures of enjoyment, may be the key to successful game instruction. Being process-oriented and showing our kids that games can be fun is more important than playing the game the right way.

References

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About The Authors

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 currently runs ‘Tendrils Centre for Autism Research and Intervention’ which is a registered resource center providing behavior analytic services to families in Chennai, India, conducting workshops, and supervising students pursuing certification. She has presented papers at international conferences, published articles  in peer-reviewed journals and has been authoring a column for the ‘Autism Network’, India’s quarterly autism journal. As an Extern at the Association for Science in Autism Treatment she has been involved in the international dissemination of evidence-based treatments writing articles for their newsletter and responding to media reports that highlight treatments for autism.

Ruth Donlin, M.S., is a Board Member of ASAT since 2010 and on the Public Relations Committee. She is a consultant in private practice based in New York, and has provided consultation to schools, agencies, and home programs for children and adults on the autism spectrum for 20 years. She presents on a variety of topics such as managing challenging behaviors, using visual supports, team dynamics, and social skill development at conferences regionally, nationally, and internationally. Ruth is Past-President of the Autism Special Interest Group (SIG) of the Association of Behavior Analysis International.