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Managing a Home-Based ABA Program

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Beverley Sharpe, a founding member and Director of Families for Early Autism Treatment of B.C. 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!

We have a home-based intervention ABA program for our son. What are some helpful suggestions for managing the steady stream of professionals in our home?

Answered by Beverley Sharpe, parent of a 22- year-old daughter with autism

Opening your home to therapists, behavioral consultants, and other providers is part of effective treatment for your child. However, it can sometimes be difficult to supervise a home that doubles as a work environment and the many opportunities and challenges that come with that arrangement. I am humbled by the high level of energy and dedication my therapy teams, past and present, have demonstrated within my own child’s program. Teamwork and collaboration are crucial elements to make home therapy effective. The following are some helpful tips I’ve learned over the years to help make home team coordination more manageable.

Be a Good Host/Hostess

I have struggled at times to balance being a “boss” and a “hostess” within my home. At the start of a shift, I recommend a five-minute exchange to greet and debrief the provider. No matter what job one has, people deserve to be acknowledged and greeted. I typically put on the tea pot or provide a cold drink, say hello, debrief, then let the provider begin the shift. With a new provider, I allow more time for him or her to set up materials, reinforcers, and data sheets before bringing in my child.

Define Your Expectations of Those Who Work with Your Child

An agency that provides home-based intervention will have a written job description or list of expectations for employees. If you are not working with an agency but are, instead, hiring and training your own team, please take the time to put important expectations in writing. Being on time, completing data sheets, communicating about behaviors observed, being prepared for shifts (including bringing appropriate task and reinforcer materials), and respecting other family members are examples of appropriate expectations.

Get Feedback from Staff

Over time I learned to explain to the team that it is hard for me to be both a boss and a friend. I truly did want to be a good listener, and at the same time a good manager of the team. I enjoyed the one-on-one time at the beginning of a shift with each provider and would ask, “How are you?” and “How are you finding the work with my child?” Their answers inspired me to make changes to the program, address issues with the behavioral consultant, and work on team building during team meetings that became more frequent when my daughter’s inappropriate behaviors became challenging.

When conflicts of any kind arise, talk about it and clear the air so that tensions or misunderstandings do not fester. Speaking about problems factually, face-to-face, with a hot cup of tea or coffee is a strategy that I have used. Also, I would make sure my daughter was engaged in an activity before starting the conversation. Remember, you can control yourself, your communication style, and the environment when you address an issue. Being respectful, honest and kind are great ways to be sure you have done your best to address issues. In my experience, new directions have come from allowing members of the team to share their perspective with you. Your child’s quality of life depends on effective intervention, and a home that is warm and inviting to the hard working providers who share your vision will help your son realize his fullest potential.

Keep in Touch with Former Providers

Email has enabled me to keep in touch with some of the former providers who have worked so hard with my child. One of Allison’s former providers is now professionally trained in hairdressing. Every year before Christmas this provider comes to our home to gift Allison a Christmas haircut! I love the expression, “Friends are like stars, you can’t always see them, but you know they are there.” I think of all past and present providers as being Allison’s stars, not all providers will maintain relationships with the family. The reality of employing people in your home is that some will choose, for reasons of their own, not to stay in touch with you or your child. Don’t take it personally. Life happens to everyone! Also, keep in mind that agencies may have policies forbidding contact outside of the current professional relationship.

Acknowledge Other Siblings in the Household

Shortly after putting together my first therapy team in 1997, I realized I had to address the issue of acknowledging siblings in the household. My daughter, Allison, who was receiving services in the home, was 3 years old at the time. She had a big brother, Jackson, who was 5 years old. Jackson came to think of it as normal that he would have to move from one room to another when Allison’s therapy sessions were in progress. He was always good-natured about this. I wanted to keep big brother Jackson involved with sessions, as appropriate, to help him feel more involved, instead of just frequently displaced. For example, turn-taking was a wonderful way to involve Jackson, as was the “Go Find” program.

I also reminded providers to acknowledge Allison’s brother whenever possible. I reminded them that a simple and genuine greeting will go a long way with his cooperation in the house! This helped to make Jackson’s cooperation more likely when he was asked to move to another room during a therapy session. Also, Jackson was taught to ask a provider, “What can I do to help my sister today?” when a provider started her shift. This simple act facilitated Jackson’s knowledge of his sister’s abilities, and gave him a lot of pride when he was able to tell his friends that he was helping his sister to learn! Big brother Jackson then became a big help during sessions by moving and sharing his play toys, games and puzzles and allowing space for his sister and her therapy team. Always remember, siblings are part of the household that supports the learning of the child!

Recognize That Housekeeping Is Important

Remember, your home is a provider’s work environment. I do my best to clean and tidy the therapy area before tackling any other room in the house on cleaning days. I also do a quick check of the bathroom area before sessions, as everyone appreciates a clean washroom! I make sure therapy notes, bulletins, communiqués are all neatly on their clipboards. I also make sure that my child is clean and presentable for the shift. Finally, I make sure that there is an “outing fund” with money for community activities. If my child worked towards a reward of an outing to the zoo, Dollar Store, or movie theatre, I wouldn’t want the lack of funds to delay the delivery of that reinforcer. Make sure your team knows to keep receipts for outings which are approved by the behavioral consultant and yourself. Also, remember to reimburse bus fare or gas money for a provider. Agencies will likely already have a policy in place for travel expenses as well.

Be a Good Employer, Which Means Advocating for Your Staff

Therapy time does not equate to babysitting. I had to correct a few well-intentioned neighbors who referred to my providers as babysitters. When my child is in the community, grocery shopping, at a gymnasium, or at work experience, these hardworking men and women are providing therapy, not just watching or transporting my child. Providers are important members of your child’s medically necessary treatment team. Correct misconceptions by family and friends along the way. Many family and friends may not be familiar with this type of therapy or treatment and may need some educating about the purpose and format of a home-based intervention based on applied behavior analysis. This education can help preserve the dignity and respect of your child, your team, and the discipline of applied behavior analysis for autism.

Stay in the Home During Therapy Time

For insurance purposes, many agencies require that a provider not be left alone in your home. Providers work in your home and deserve a safe and respectful environment. This means that a parent must remain in the home during a therapy session. This can be helpful for routine questions and support as well as in case of any emergencies.

Set Clear Expectations Around Cell Phone Use

The abundance of cell phones means that providers and families can be in real-time communication for shift or program issues relating to the child. However, they can also be a distraction from active treatment and supervision of my child. This has occasioned another hiring criteria for being on my child’s treatment team: Cell phone use for anything other than communication about the child, on their shift, is not acceptable. Cell phone games, texting, social media, and other social messaging are not acceptable. Even the ten seconds (as stated by one provider) it takes to text back to a friend means you are disengaged, not observing, and not “on” with your client – my child. Cell phone use expectations must be made clear from the very beginning and reiterated as needed.

Gift Giving

Holiday time was always a tough time at my home. In British Columbia, there was zero funding for autism treatment when I started my daughter’s program in 1997. I wanted to give tokens of appreciation to my daughter’s home treatment team for the holiday season. My budget was beyond tight, but homemade cards were always appreciated. One family I knew put together a cookbook of favorite home recipes for their home team; another family made a huge holiday dinner, in conjunction with a team meeting, to thank their team. There is always a way to say thank you to your team that is respectful of one’s budget.

Please note that many agencies and ethical guidelines for behavior analysts have strict policies around gift exchange and it is often not permitted. Check with your agency and your providers if you have any questions around this topic. And please do not be offended if a member of your team is not able to accept a gift.

Use Different Cultures and Celebrations as Learning Opportunities

We took the opportunity to learn about different religious holidays when one of our providers shared that she was Jewish. This was a wonderful learning opportunity for everyone on the team. We even made a card for the start of the Jewish New Year – Rosh Hashanah. Over the years, my daughter’s providers brought the wonderful gifts of sharing their religious holidays, culture, and favorite recipes that have enhanced our lives!

Making birthday cards for therapy team members gave my child the opportunity to use pencil and coloring skills, printing skills, and to sing the “Happy Birthday” song. All of these skills took a long time for acquisition. However, after all the hard work, to see my daughter use her skills to put a smile on her providers’ faces was priceless. To hear my child use her voice (she was non-verbal for the first 6 years of her life), and to hear her sing Happy Birthday – well, it is a win-win situation!

With a therapy team, it is a wonderful opportunity to have a simple celebration for each of the several birthdays throughout the year. My child learned that birthdays are for others as well as for herself. This learning extended to teaching big brother Jackson that every time we celebrate a birthday, he does not always get a present!

As our programs progressed, our behavior consultant added a cooking and baking program to help include both children in all household birthday celebrations for family members and members of the treatment team. The beauty of a cooking program was that skills, such as: counting, measuring, mixing, pouring, baking, decorating with icing, and washing and putting away dishes, were all “taught” in a fun way. This was a very detailed program with the huge reinforcer of getting a tasty item to eat at the end of completing a recipe!

In Summary

Managing an ABA treatment team in your home can be challenging but can be rewarding as well. There are many things you can do to help the team work well together and be effective in providing your child with the services he or she needs and deserves. Remember, it’s a learning process for all!

Please use the following format to cite this article:

Sharpe, B. (2017). Clinical corner: Managing a home-based ABA program. Science in Autism Treatment, 14(3), 17-20.


About The Author 

Beverley Sharpe is a founding member and Director of Families for Early Autism Treatment of B.C. (FEATBC). Bev’s daughter Allison was diagnosed with autism twenty years ago and Bev became an advocate for effective autism treatment. She was a member of the Legal Steering committee for the Canadian landmark decisions (Auton and Hewko) regarding autism treatment. Bev participates in new parent intake, political lobbying, fundraising, and speaks regularly with parents regarding advocacy in the school system. She also helps new parents access funding for autism treatment.

 

 

Simplifying The Morning Routine

ABA therapy can be used to teach/increase a variety of adaptive skills, such as tooth brushing, toileting, hair brushing, shoe tying, making a bed, etc. My favorite definition of an adaptive skill is anything that will have to be done for the learner, if the learner does not learn the skill. So if I don’t teach my child how to dress him/herself, then I will have to dress my child.

A common concern many of my clients have around adaptive functioning is the dreaded Morning Routine. Since my clients are usually school age, I have ample opportunity to help families target issues that regularly pop up during that frenzied time in the morning of trying to get the child out of the door on time. Issues like: task refusal, off task behavior, prompt dependency, skipping steps of the routine/completing the routine out of order, etc.

ABA interventions should always be individualized, but some of my most effective strategies for simplifying the morning routine include:

–          Visuals! Visuals are your friend 🙂

–          Use of auditory cues (timers)

–          ORGANIZATION

 With some simple tweaks here and there and adding in more supports, the morning routine can be less stressful, more efficient, and require less intrusive prompting which equals more independence for your child.

Let’s jump in:

Add visuals: I say “add visuals” and not “add more visuals”, because usually what I see is that families who struggle the most with the morning routine are not using any visual supports. If you are regularly struggling during the morning routine but you already have visual supports in place, then that’s a gold star for you. You are ahead of the game. If you are new to visual supports, just keep reading. Think of a visual support as a way to minimize prompting or assistance. If you have to stand in the bathroom doorway, physically assist your child, or keep giving the same demand over and over (“Make up your bed Evan ……. Evan, did you make your bed?”), then you definitely need to add some visuals. It is much easier to fade the prompt of a visual, than to fade your voice or your presence. Or to put it another way, do you want to have to stand in the doorway to make sure tooth brushing happens when your child is 25? Here are some awesome examples of visual supports, all were found on Pinterest.







Auditory cues: The use of a timer can be such a helpful addition to the morning routine because time is usually of the essence. We have to go, and we have to go now. For many of my defiant kiddos, those with attention issues, or those with lots of escape maintained behaviors, the simplest demand  (e.g. “Put your socks on”) can take ages and ages to actually happen. Decide on a specific amount of time for the skill to occur, and then set a timer. If the child can beat the timer, then allow them to contact reinforcement. Depending on the child, this could mean a treat, getting to pick what they wear that day, 2 minutes of TV time, etc. Make the concept of “hurry up” more concrete by helping the child understand how quickly tasks needs to be completed.

Organization: This tip is more for you than the child. Organization or proper set up for the morning routine does not begin that morning, it begins the night before. Part of the bedtime routine can include setting up items for the next day. This could mean lining up the soap, face towel, toothpaste, and toothbrush by the bathroom sink. Or this could mean putting the backpack by the front door, so there is no frantic search for it in the morning. How you organize will depend on the specific issues you are having in your home. The point is to set the child up for success. For younger children (especially if you want to increase independence) line up needed items/materials in their correct order so your assistance is not needed. For example, in the bedroom line up underwear, socks, pants, shirt, and shoes. In the kitchen, line up the bowl, spoon, and cereal box. For some children you may need to put number cards on each item (e.g. put a “1” card on the underwear). Any step you can do the night before will save precious time the next morning, and the materials being visible helps serve as a prompt of what to do next.

*Bonus Tip: A good way to practice the skills required for a successful morning routine is to incorporate weekend practice. If these skills are only performed M-F with a time crunch, then you’re setting yourself up for lots of frustration. On the weekends, still have your child go through the morning routine. Use this to fine- tune skills, or provide more repetition than is possible on a Monday morning. If tooth brushing is always a struggle, consider modifying the visuals or making them larger/more detailed. Try removing yourself, and only checking on your child periodically. If the child is older or needs less support, try implementing a checklist that the child completes. As they perform each skill, they check a box. When all the boxes are checked they bring the checklist to you for review.


About The Author: Tameika Meadows, BCBA

“I’ve been providing ABA therapy services to young children with Autism since early 2003. My career in ABA began when I stumbled upon a flyer on my college campus for what I assumed was a babysitting job. The job turned out to be an entry level ABA therapy position working with an adorable little boy with Autism. This would prove to be the unplanned beginning of a passionate career for me.

From those early days in the field, I am now an author, blogger, Consultant/Supervisor, and I regularly lead intensive training sessions for ABA staff and parents. If you are interested in my consultation services, or just have questions about the blog: contact me here.”

This piece originally appeared at www.iloveaba.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.

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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.

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Thinking Ahead: Self-Determination in the Elementary Years

Though I typically work with elementary-aged children, I’m consistently thinking about what skills the child needs in order to be independent and ready to transition out of the school setting as an adult.  Sometimes, it may seem that it is too early to be thinking about adulthood when the child is only 8 or 9, but there are things we can, and should, be doing to prepare our students from an early age.

One of my favorite articles addressing this issue is a 2015 article from Teaching Exceptional Children by Papay, Unger, Williams-Diehm, and Mitchell.  (The entire issue is about transition and is a fantastic read. You can view that issue here: https://journals.sagepub.com/toc/tcxa/47/6.) While the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires transition planning to begin at age 16, and some states require it to begin at age 14, if we want to provide more successful outcomes for individuals with special needs, we must begin thinking about the transition into adulthood at a younger age.

Papay et al., suggest focusing on self-determination. “Individuals who are self-determined have better knowledge of their own interests, strengths, and needs, and they carry out their own desires. Self-determined individuals make decisions, set goals, and carry out the necessary steps to ensure their goals are accomplished” (Papay, et al., p. 311, 2016). The authors then go on to suggest activities for incorporating self-determination at the elementary level, such as understanding grades, using responsibility charts, making choices, and problem solving. In the push to get students up to speed with academic skills, we may be leaving out these core skills that provide success in adulthood. And these skills, such as goal-setting and problem-solving are skills that typically developing children need years of practice to develop.

            So, how do you get started? Here are a few suggestions:

  • First, read the full article here: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0040059915587901
  • Call a meeting of the adults in the child’s life and the child to talk about appropriate goals around these specific skill sets.
  • Write down the ways in which you can incorporate self-determination activities in your student’s daily life.
  • Identify short-term outcomes you would like to see in relation to the activities you’ve identified.
  • Share with your colleagues and other students what you are doing in relation to self-determination to help normalize this conversation on the elementary level.

In recent decades, we have come a long way in providing services for youth with special needs. At this point in time, it is becoming more and more clear that we need to be doing more for adults with special needs, but we can’t wait until the individual is well into their teenage years to begin thinking about it.

Papay, C., Unger, D. D., Williams-Diehm, K., & Mitchell, V. (2015). Begin With the End in Mind Infusing Transition Planning and Instruction Into Elementary Classrooms. Teaching Exceptional Children, 47(6), 310-318.

Building Variability Into The Routine

Several years ago, I was working with a 6-year-old boy we’ll call Terrence. Terrence was diagnosed with autism. He was a very playful child who was generally good-tempered, enjoyed playing with trains and watching TV, and posed few difficult behavior issues for his parents…until the day there was construction on their walk from the grocery store to their apartment and they decided to take a different route home. What happened next is what most people would call a full-blown meltdown: Terrence dropped to the ground, screaming and crying, and refused to move.

Building Variability Into The Routine

Many of the parents I work with have a similar story when it comes to their child with autism and an unexpected change in the routine. The change varies: the favorite flavor of fruit snacks is out of stock at the store or the babysitter greeted the child at the bus instead of the parent or they grew out of the coat they wore the past two winters… In fact, it can be difficult to anticipate exactly what specific routine may be a trigger for your learner. This is precisely why building variability into the routine can be helpful.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • First, think about the routines that are the most likely to be interrupted. Make a list of these so you can begin thinking about how to address those issues.
  • Second, work with your team (whether that means family or practitioners that work with your learner) to select 2-3 routines to focus on first.
  • Discuss how those routines would most likely be interrupted. For instance, a favorite TV show may be interrupted during election season or you may have a family function when the TV show is aired. In teaching your learner to be flexible with changes in routine, you will contrive changes that are likely to occur to give your learner quality practice.
  • Plan to vary the routine. Essentially, you are setting up the change in routine, but you will be prepared in advance to help your learner behave appropriately. (You’re much more likely to experience some success in this scenario than you would be if a change in routine occurs unexpectedly and/or last minute.)
  • Give your learner a vocabulary for what is happening. I teach many of my students the term “flexible.” I might say, “I appreciate how you’re being flexible right now” or “Sometimes when plans change we have to be flexible. This means…”
  • Reinforce appropriate behaviors related to flexibility! You want to be clear when they’ve made an appropriate, flexible response. In the planning phase, you can discuss what appropriate reinforcers might be for the routines you are targeting.

If you build in variations in routine and teach your learner some strategies for being flexible, you and your learner are much more likely to be successful in navigating unexpected changes.

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.