10 Common Mistakes Parents Make In Playing With Their Children With ASD

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

Parents of young children with developmental disabilities are truly tireless. At times when one would think a break could be had – the time when they get to enjoy watching their children play, enjoy a conversation with another adult while their children play, or even relaxing by playing and having fun with their children – instead they are working with and teaching their children…and rightly so!

 
I’ve spent a good part of my career watching parents play with their young children with a variety of developmental disabilities (severe intellectual delay, Down syndrome, and autism spectrum disorder). Across the board, parents are remarkable. In a beautiful coordination of grace and direction, they work on controlling behavior, developing language, teaching concepts, maintaining attention, and building fun and relationships. Parents of children with disabilities are more directive and more instructional – yielding evidence of tremendous benefits for their children’s development as a result of these tireless warriors.

 
Children with autism in particular, have a significant and very specialized deficit in their ability to play with toys. Sometimes it can be in the functional domain but it is always difficult for them to think symbolically and abstractly about play. Teaching play to children with ASD is incredibly important and parents know this – they try!
For parents of children with ASD, here are 10 mistakes that are commonly made during play that can really disrupt their child’s growth in play.

 
1. Thinking that play develops on its own and randomly. Play in neurotypical children develops generally in a sequence and children with ASD do not naturally follow or progress through that sequence. Most books you find on children’s play show a fairly consistent developmental pathway for play. Skills build upon skills. Children start with very functional and constructional acts and develop into symbolic and creative play.

 
2. Forgetting to use play to actually teach play. Parents often use play to teach other skills (e.g. language or early concepts). Children with ASD have a core deficit in play so take time during your play with your child to actually teach them how to play with the toys regularly.

 
3. Thinking that your child will love play right away. For children with ASD, symbolic play is very difficult and likely your child would rather do other things than play. For example, a child with ASD may rather roll a car down a ramp repetitively then have the car “feel hungry” and go to the gas station for some “food.” It actually falls on the parent, at first, to convince the child that play is fun! This means you must have high positive affect (e.g., show excitement in your body language and in your words), work through difficulties with a huge smile, and laugh and enjoy using positive language.

 
4. Playing at a level that is way too difficult. Knowing what your child can do will help you teach them what comes next. If you child is just starting to put puzzles together, asking them to pretend to be Buzz Lightyear and talk like him is much too difficult.
5. Forgetting to imitate. It is critical for engagement building to imitate your child’s appropriate play behavior. Directiveness is still great but integrate imitation in your play. You should have a good balance of both. If your child is building blocks, grab a few and copy your child.

 
6. Constantly shifting your child’s attention. Sometimes it is necessary to move your child away from something that is a perseveration or a repetitive interest but in general, try to stick with what your child is doing. Sustained engagement with toys and people in coordination is a great skill and something children with ASD need to work on. It’s not a race to see how many different things you can do during a play time. Be patient and tolerant and build off of their interests rather than shifting their attention. Enjoy playing similar routines every time you play – just slowly build off of them.

 
7. Prompting intrusively. Starting off by hand-over-hand prompting or being very verbally directive (“put that block here and the train here”) your child is forced to shifts their attention without their own consideration. Instead, focus on what they pick up or are interested in, then move them forward by showing them something related to what they are doing, or general verbal comments (“Boy, that doll is super hungry!” as your child is holding a piece of play food).

 
8. Being concrete. If your child wants to do something a little imaginative, don’t bring them back to the concrete. If a child grabs a block and starts to eat it like a burger, please don’t tell them “It’s not food it’s a block!” Instead, imitate and say, “You have a burger, I have a hot dog!”

 
9. Missing the surprise factor. Every play session, even if it’s pretty routine and organized, should include something surprising by the parent. Parents should throw in a fun “wrench” and make a huge facial expression that indicates surprise. It’s called “violating” a routine or a play scheme. So if Mickey Mouse always goes to his top bunk in the play house, make sure one day the top bunk has cats in it! Your child will laugh and you can laugh too. This makes for enjoyment and further eye contact and engagement. It also facilitates problems solving.

 
10. Allowing your child to get away from play. Although the prior points suggest to following your child’s lead and imitate, the line should be drawn when your child doesn’t follow through with play. So if you are playing with your child’s interest (e.g. play food) and you make the suggestion of showing him dolls or plates or cups, then you verbally request his participation, he must follow through. Don’t allow your child to not follow through on play. Remember it’s a core problem for them so it’s hard!

 
Although play is still a “work” time for parents, hopefully these tips will help make it smoother and more enjoyable for everyone. This builds interest, sustained engagement, longer schemes and ideas for play, and positive practice of play skills. Ready Set PLAY!


About The Authors

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

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

Dr. Tanya Paparella is a specialist in the field of autism having spent more than 20 years in intervention and research in autism. She is an Associate Clinical Professor in the Division of Child Psychiatry at UCLA, a licensed clinical psychologist, and Co-Director of UCLA’s Early Childhood Partial Hospitalization Program (ECPHP), an internationally recognized model treatment program for young children on the autism spectrum.

How do you figure out what motivates your students?

 

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Niall Toner, MA, BCBA of the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities. 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!

MotivateEmail

I am a special education teacher working with students with autism. At times I find it difficult to figure out what motivates my students and what they’re interested in. Can you make some suggestions about the best way to do this?

This is an excellent question and one that highlights a challenge often experienced not only by teachers but also by family members of individuals with autism. We know that the interests and preferences of individuals with and without autism vary significantly over time. Also, we know that effective teaching of skills and behavior change are predicated upon the timely use of powerful reinforcement (i.e., positive consequences of skilled behavior that motivate and strengthen that behavior). As discussed below, identifying an individual’s preferences is a critical first step in teaching new skills because these preferences often lead to the identification of powerful reinforcers; but how we do this can be easier said than done, especially when the learner has a limited communication repertoire or very individualized interests. The best way to identify preferences is through ongoing preference assessments.

The value of preference assessments

Since many individuals with autism may have difficulty identifying and communicating their preferences directly, we must consider alternative methods of obtaining this information. At the onset, it is important to keep in mind that what may be rewarding or reinforcing for one individual may not be for another. For example, one child may enjoy bubble play, crackers or a particular cause-and-effect toy while a classmate may find one or more of these uninteresting or even unpleasant. Furthermore, an individual’s preferences change across time. For example, an individual may have demonstrated little use for music at age 11, but she may demonstrate a keen interest in music at age 13.

Preference assessments provide a systematic, data-based approach to evaluating a host of potential interests (e.g., food, toys, activities) for an individual. Although preference assessments do require time and effort up front, their use can decrease the time and energy, required to change behavior in the long run. Research indicates that when caregivers use a presumed preference that, in fact, is not the learner’s actual preference, valuable time, energy and resources are lost (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2006).

Types of Preference Assessments

Preference assessment can be conducted in three distinct ways: (1) Interviews and Formal Surveys; (2) Direct observation; and (3) Systematic assessment.

Interviews are a straightforward technique that can be used to gather information quickly. They involve obtaining information from the individual’s parents, siblings, friends, and teachers (and
from the individual, if communicative) by asking both open-ended and comparison questions. Examples of open-ended questions include: “What does he like to do?” “What are his favorite foods?” and “Where does he like to go when he has free time?” Comparison questions might include: “Which does he like better, cookies or crackers?” and “What would he rather do, go for a walk or eat chips?” Resultant information is then compiled in a list and identified items and activities can be piloted out as possible reinforcers.

Formal surveys can also be used to guide these discussions. One widely used survey is the Reinforcement Assessment for Individuals with Severe Disabilities (RAISD; Fisher, Piazza, Bowman, & Amari, 1996). This interview-based survey gathers information about potential reinforcers across a variety of domains (e.g., leisure, food, sounds, smells), and ranks them in order of preference. It should be noted that, although simple and time-efficient, using interviews alone can result in incomplete or inaccurate information. In fact, some studies have shown that, for the same individual, staff interviews did not reveal the same information as using a survey (Parsons & Reid, 1990; Winsor, Piche, & Locke, 1994).

Direct observation involves giving the individual free access to items and/or activities that he or she may like (presumed preferences) and recording the amount of time the individual engages with them. The more time spent with an item or activity, the stronger the presumed preference. In addition, positive affect while engaged with these items and activities could be noted (e.g., smiling, laughing). During these observations, no demands or restrictions are placed on the individual, and the items are never removed. These direct observations can be conducted in an environment enriched with many of the person’s preferred items or in a naturalistic environment such as the person’s classroom or home. Data are recorded over multiple days, and the total time spent on each object or activity will reveal the presumed strongest preferences. Direct observation usually results in more accurate information than interviews but also requires more time and effort.

Systematic assessment involves presenting objects and activities to the individual in a preplanned order to reveal a hierarchy or ranking of preferences. This method requires the most effort, but it is the most accurate. There are many different preference assessments methods, all of which fall into one of the following formats: single item, paired items, and multiple items (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2006).

Single item preference assessment (also known as “successive choice”) is the quickest, easiest method. Objects and activities are presented one at a time and each item is presented several times in a random order. After each presentation, data are recorded on duration of engagement with each object or activity.

Paired method or “forced-choice” (Fisher et al., 1992) involves the simultaneous presentation of two items or activities at the same time. All items are paired systematically with every other item in a random order. For each pair of items, the individual is asked to choose one. Since all objects and activities have to be paired together, this method takes significantly longer than the single-item method but will rank in order the strongest to weakest preferences. Researchers found that the paired method was more accurate than the single item method (Pace, Ivancic, Edwards, Iwata & Page, 1985; Paclawskyj & Vollmer, 1995).

The multiple-choice method is an extension of the paired method (DeLeon & Iwata, 1996). Instead of having two items to choose from, there are three or more choices presented at the same time. There are two variations to this method: with and without replacement. In the multiple choice with replacement method, when an object is selected, all other objects are replaced in the next trial. For example, if the individual is given a choice of cookies, crackers, and chips, and he chooses cookies, the cookies will be available for the next trial, but the crackers and chips are replaced with new items. In the without replacement method, the cookies would not be replaced and the choice would only be between the crackers and chips. No new items would be available.

A few final recommendations

When conducting preference assessments, consider testing leisure items/activities and food assessments separately because food tends to motivate individuals more than toys and other leisure items (Bojak & Carr, 1999; DeLeon, Iwata, & Roscoe, 1997). Also, be sure to assess preferences early and often. Preference assessments should be conducted prior to starting any new intervention or behavior change program. And remember that preferences change over time and require continuous exploration. Therefore, assessments should be updated monthly or whenever an individual appears tired of or bored with the preferred items. Keep in mind too, that the identification of one type of preference may provide ideas for other potential reinforcers. For example, if an individual loves a certain type of crunchy cereal, he/she may like other cereals or crunchy snacks. Or if an individual enjoys coloring with crayons, consider exploring whether he/she may enjoy coloring with markers or using finger paints.

Finally, when selecting a preference assessment method, a practitioner or parent should consider the individual’s communication level, the amount of time available for the assessment, and the types of preferred items that will be available. Taken together, these preference assessment methods can provide the valuable information necessary to help motivate and promote behavior change in individuals with autism.

References

Bojak, S. L., & Carr, J. E. (1999). On the displacement of leisure items by food during multiple stimulus preference assessments. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 32, 515-518.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward W. L. (2006). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

DeLeon, I. G., & Iwata, B. A. (1996). Evaluation of multiple-stimulus presentation format for assessing reinforcer preferences.Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 29, 519-533.

DeLeon, I. G., Iwata, B. A., & Roscoe, E. M. (1997). Displacement of leisure reinforcers by food during preference assessments. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 30, 475-484.

Fisher, W. W., Piazza, C. C., Bowman, L. G., & Amari, A. (1996). Integrating caregiver report with a systematic choice assessment. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 101, 15-25.

Fisher, W. W., Piazza, C. C., Bowman, L. G., Hagopian, L. P., Owens, J. C., & Slevin, I. (1992). A comparison of two approaches for identifying reinforcers for persons with severe to profound disabilities. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25, 491-498.

Pace, G. M., Ivancic, M. T., Edwards, G. L., Iwata, B. A., & Page, T. J. (1985). Assessment of stimulus preference and reinforcer value with profoundly retarded individuals. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 18, 249-255.

Paclawskyj, T. R., & Vollmer, T. R. (1995). Reinforcer assessment for children with developmental disabilities and visual impairments. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 28, 219-224.

Parsons, M. B., & Reid, D. H. (1990). Assessing food preferences among persons with profound mental retardation: Providing opportunities to make choices. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 23, 183-195.

Windsor, J., Piche, L. M., & Locke, P. A. (1994). Preference testing: A comparison of two presentation methods. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 15, 439-455.


About The Author

Niall Toner MA, BCBA, LBA is a licensed behavior analyst and board certified behavior analyst with over 10 years experience working in the fields of applied behavior analysis and developmental disabilities. Niall is currently the Clinical Director for Lifestyles for the Disabled. Prior to the position he served as a consultant to various organizations including the New York City Department of Education. He also held the position of Assistant Director at the Eden II Programs. Niall has presented locally, nationally and internationally. His interests are Preference Assessments and Functional Analysis, which he presents and publishes.

 

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.

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, PhD, LBA, BCBA

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

Go Play! The Importance of Symbolic Play in Early Childhood

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

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Most adults think of toy play as a natural part of childhood.  When my daughter was born, we were showered with plush animals, tea sets, and dress up clothes for her to use in play.  But what happens when the child does not find toy play to be natural?

Many children on the autism spectrum use toys non-functionally or repetitively.  When I ask parents of children with ASD to tell me about their child’s play they often say “he doesn’t know how to use toys appropriately!”  They then tell me about how the child may spin the wheels on the car while staring at the rotating objects.  They tell me about the specific scripts the child uses to carry out a routine with their toys and subsequent tantrums if the routine is disrupted.  Parents notice how this deficit in play impacts their ability to engage with peers or occupy their free time appropriately.

Symbolic play occurs when the child uses objects or actions to represent other objects or actions.  For example, a child using a doll as their baby and rocking the doll to sleep is an act of symbolic play.  The doll is not alive, but the child is representing a baby.  This skill is a core deficit in children with ASD.  This means that they do not “naturally” or “easily” acquire the ability to use toys to represent other things.  Development of symbolic play is crucial in early development and is tied to numerous subsequent skills:

Language: symbolic play is highly correlated to language development.  This means that the better the child’s ability to play representationally, the better the child’s language skills.  There is also emerging evidence to support symbolic play as having a causal relationship to language.  [Explanation].

Social Development: as neurotypical children continue their learning about symbolic play and through symbolic play, children with ASD often struggle to relate to their peers and understand their play schemes.  Some children with ASD may only engage peers in physical play (instead of symbolic play) or they may end up playing alone using their familiar play scripts.

Perspective-taking: symbolic play allows the child early opportunities to take on the perspective of another being.  If a child pretends to be a pirate, they being to talk and think of things a pirate might want/do.  This early practice with perspective-taking allows the child to use this skill when interacting with peers and adults.

Meta-cognition and Problem Solving Skills: meta-cognition is the ability to think about one’s own thinking.  This is an essential skill when solving problems and planning one’s time.  During play kids plan, organize and cognitively process through obstacles and mishaps with their toys.

Emotional Development: through symbolic play, children can practice expressing emotion through the scenes they create.  There is also some evidence suggesting that this early practice contributes to emotion understanding and empathy.

Clearly, children need play for growth and development.   However, for children with ASD the development of symbolic play may be difficult and, even thought of as WORK!

Given the numerous skills that come out of symbolic play, we urge parents of children with ASD to consider the importance of toy play.  Dedicate time and effort to engage your child in symbolic play.  It is usually not easy at first!  It might have been decades since you picked up an action figure and used him to fight off bad guys, but practice with your child.

Parents know that it is part of their job to help their child learn to read and do basic math.  They would not let their child escape those tasks because they are hard.  Please consider PLAY to be just as important and necessary for the child’s development.  Even if it is work at first, insist the child play with you and in time, improvements may come not only in toy play but also in so many other key areas of development.

Jarrold, C., Boucher, J., & Smith, P. (1993). Symbolic play in autism: A review. Journal of

Autism and Developmental Disorders, 23(2), 281-307.

Ungerer, J.A. & Sigman, M. (1981). Symbolic play and language comprehension in autistic

children. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 20, 318-337.


About The Authors

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

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

Dr. Tanya Paparella is a specialist in the field of autism having spent more than 20 years in intervention and research in autism. She is an Associate Clinical Professor in the Division of Child Psychiatry at UCLA, a licensed clinical psychologist, and Co-Director of UCLA’s Early Childhood Partial Hospitalization Program (ECPHP), an internationally recognized model treatment program for young children on the autism spectrum.

 

 

 

Ethics Part One: Data Collection and The Right to Effective Treatment

In the next few weeks I will be writing about ethics in the field of applied behavior analysis. This is the first part in a multi-part series.

Sometimes behavior analysts get a bad rap because we are so focused on the data. Somehow, there is a perception that writing down the numbers and graphing the information is “cold” or “unfeeling” towards the client. Over the course of my career, I’ve had more than one person say to me that I was more fun or more playful than they expected me to be as a behavior analyst. I’m not exactly sure where these misperceptions started, but today I want to get to the root of them.
As a BCBA, I am bound by the Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts. Within this code, it clearly states “Clients have a right to effective treatment.” This is something I take to heart every day in my work. And it’s the primary reason that I have my clipboard and am taking data. I want to ensure that the treatment I am introducing is actually effective. My data is what shows me when something is clearly not working, and allows me to be efficient with making changes the best benefit my client.
Clear, objective data allows me to be responsive to data and provide information in a responsible manner. Here are a few things to consider:
• When I graph data daily and look at that information, it’s very easy for me to see if a client’s performance has plateaued, is improving, or is actually getting worse. I can make adjustments based on the trend in the data.
• When all practitioners working with the client graph daily, I might (as the supervisor) see that the client is not performing as well with one practitioner. This might indicate that more training needs to occur. Or, I might see that one practitioner is getting far better results than the others. This might indicate that the practitioner is not recording data correctly or is doing something as part of the intervention that everyone should be doing.
• Data should be collected daily and the teaching programs should be clearly outlined. This way, if for some reason a practitioner abruptly stops working with the client or if the client moves, it is much easier for future practitioners to pick up where the last ones left off.
• Looking at data daily gives an idea of the individual client’s general trends in mastering new skills. For instance, last year I had a client who generally mastered new skills within one week, and his trend in the data was very consistent across all types of skills. So if we introduced a new program and he wasn’t mastering it for three weeks, it was an indication that we needed to re-evaluate what we were teaching or how we were teaching it. Being well-versed in your individual client’s learning patterns allows you to more clearly make individualized decisions!
We’d love to hear from you. What outcomes have you discovered in the relationship between being responsive to data and providing effective treatment for your clients?


WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

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

Discussing Concerns With Family Members

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Peggy Halliday, MEd, BCBA and David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D. 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!


I am concerned that my two year old grandson may have signs of autism, but I am uncomfortable bringing this up with my son and daughter-in-law. Do you have any suggestions about how best to approach them?

 

It is natural to be unsure of how to share your concerns with your grandson’s parents. As is the case with many concerned family members, you may worry that such a discussion will not be well received or may cause some discomfort or tension in your relationship. If autism is a possibility, you would not want to delay screening and referral for possible evaluation and services because this may waste valuable time during which intervention can be most beneficial for your grandson. Even knowing that the best outcomes are associated with early diagnosis and intensive intervention, it still may be difficult to talk to your son and daughter-in-law if they have not expressed their concerns to you.

As a grandparent, you have already raised at least one child, so you probably have a good sense of what is typical in child development, and what is not. You may feel that your grandson is not making expected gains or may appear delayed in some areas such as communication or play relative to other children his age. Also, you may not have day to day contact so slower development of skills may be more apparent to you. This may create a sense of urgency in you that should be balanced with the need to support your son and daughter-in-law.

There are several important considerations. The way in which you approach your son and daughter-in-law will depend in large part on the quality of your pre-existing relationship and on the nature of how you communicate with one another. You may possess a relationship where difficult issues are frequently and easily discussed. On the other hand, this may not typify the type of relationship that you have. Regardless of your relationship, it is important that you bring this up from a place of love and concern, rather than judgment and blame. Many parents who have been carefully and respectfully approached by a relative later admit that they already had concerns of their own, and it was a relief to discuss them with someone else close to the child.

We would like to offer some concrete suggestions that may increase the likelihood that your discussion will be positive and constructive.

Planning Ahead:

  1. Take some time to think about what you want to share and how you want to frame your concerns. You might begin by commenting on the child’s strengths and praising the parents’ love and dedication to their child. It is important not to appear judgmental or focused only on the concerns.
  2. Plan your discussion ahead of time. Find a time and place when you will not be interrupted. It may be best when the child is with another caregiver.
  3. The role you take in the child’s life depends, of course, on geographic proximity, but be poised to offer concrete, practical help whenever possible. For example, you might offer to babysit siblings while parents pursue evaluation of the child, or offer a respite weekend of childcare so that your son and daughter-in-law might have time to discuss the situation without interruption. Whatever assistance you offer, the important thing is that your grandson’s parents perceive it to be helpful, so try and gauge their reactions carefully.

Having the Conversation:

  1. Try to keep the conversation free flowing. You may want to ask a few questions that will allow the parents to express their own concerns, if they have them (e.g., “I noticed that Billy became very upset when the phone rang. Has that happened before?” or “Does he seek you out when he is upset?”).
  2. Avoid labels and technical terms, which may trigger fear or upset from the parents. Focus instead on discussing milestones, which are observable indicators of a child’s development and accomplishments.
  3. In some cases, it may be beneficial to think about the discussion as a series of tiny conversations. This would be more appropriate if you have frequent contact with your son or daughter-in-law. It may then be helpful to share some observations that may provide a backdrop for later discussion (e.g., “Little Peter seems overwhelmed by noise levels.” or “I have noticed that he does not seem to know how to use words to get his needs met.). It may also be helpful to discuss observations surrounding worrisome or absent peer or sibling interaction.
  4. Emphasize the need to simply get any concerns checked out in order to “rule out” anything serious or to get some guidance and support in how to promote skill development. You might follow this up by mentioning that the earlier a potential problem is recognized and addressed, the easier it is to help the child.

Other Considerations:

  1. Most parents begin to become concerned that something may be wrong when their child is between the ages of 12 and 18 months. If the parents are beginning to realize a potential problem exists, you want to gently urge them not to delay a preliminary assessment and evaluation.
  2. You should never take for granted that developmental concerns will automatically be addressed during routine visits to the pediatrician. Refer parents to resources such as good websites and resources they can explore on their own (we emphasize the word “good” as there is a tremendous amount of misinformation about autism both in the media and on the Internet, particularly many false promises about autism treatment). The most helpful websites at this stage are typically the ones that discuss developmental milestones. Parents often know when to expect their infant and toddler to sit up or take their first steps, but they do not know when they should begin to babble with inflection, point to things they notice or want, imitate gestures, or show interest in another child.
  3. If the child is in a daycare, speak to his or her teachers and directors about the child’s progress. They should be keeping records on how the child is developing in different areas such as social interaction, verbalization, etc. They are also a good resource to use to help evaluate your child in a school setting.

The following websites include milestones checklists, booklets, and charts, and a wealth of other helpful information.

  • Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT): On the ASAT website, you will find extensive information about the scientific support (or lack thereof) behind the full array of treatments proposed for autism, research reviews, articles and guidelines on how to make informed choices, and weigh evidence in selecting treatment options, a section of frequently asked questions such as the one you asked, information about upcoming conferences of interest, and links to helpful sites and other science-based organizations.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The Act Early website contains an interactive and easy- to-use milestones checklist you can create and periodically update for children ages three months through five years, tips on sharing concerns with the child’s doctor, and free materials you can order, including fact sheets, resource kits, and growth charts.
  • First Signs: The First Signs website contains a variety of helpful resources related to recognizing the first signs of autism spectrum disorder, and the screening and referral process. There is a directory of local resources for at least eight states and that number is likely to increase over time.
  • American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): The AAP website contains information for families, links to many other web sites, information about pediatrician surveillance and screening, and early intervention. This site contains great tools for pediatricians, as well as parents.
  • Autism Speaks: The Autism Speaks website includes an Autism Spectrum Disorder Video Glossary of clips designed to help parents and professionals learn more about the early ‘red flags’ of autism, information about how autism is diagnosed, and a resource library. They also offer a free 100 Day Kit designed to help families of newly diagnosed children make the most of the first 100 days following a diagnosis of autism.

About The Authors

Peggy Halliday, MEd, BCBA, is a Board Member of ASAT, and serves as the JCH Director of School Consultation at the Virginia Institute of Autism (VIA) in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she has been a practitioner since 1998. Peggy oversees trainings for parents and professionals and provides consultation to public school divisions throughout Virginia. She also oversees BCBA and BCaBA training experiences. In addition to serving as a presenter at state and national conferences, including the Organization for Autism Research (OAR), Commonwealth Autism Service (CAS), and Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) Peggy was selected as an autism expert for the “how-to” website monkeysee.com. Peggy has been on the board of ASAT since 2010 and serves on the Public Relations Committee.

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

 

Got Questions: Help for Socially Anxious Preschooler Who Has Autism

This piece originally appeared at Autism Speaks as part of their Got Questions? series.

My almost 3-year-old was recently diagnosed as having autism spectrum disorder. We struggle going places such as open gym or even the library because he doesn’t like other kids in his space. He does okay with adults, but other kids make him extremely anxious. How do I help him become more comfortable when other children are playing in the same area or with the same set of toys?

I commend you for seeking support for your son at this young age. Receiving a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder can be challenging and confusing. Yet research shows that early intervention can help maximize cognitive, language and social development.

In my pre-doctoral work at UCLA and my post-doctoral training at Pediatric Minds Early Childhood Treatment Center, my colleagues and I have seen many forms of anxiety in children and teens who have autism. Like your son, many of them experience anxiety around other children, especially groups of children. Understanding the reasons for this anxiety can help select approaches that help.

For example, you mention that your son “does okay” with adults, but not other kids. This is very common. While adults tend to be more consistently friendly and accommodating, children can be very unpredictable. For instance, it’s not unusual for three-year-olds to grab toys from each other, cry, get very close to each other and just be loud! This can be particularly anxiety provoking for someone with autism.

In addition, many people with autism are hypersensitive to sensory input. As a result, public places such as open gyms or even a lively children’s library can be over-stimulating. The sights, sounds and smells can feel intense, uncomfortable and overwhelming. Understandably, this can lead a child to avoid these environments and become upset in the midst of them.

I strongly encourage you to work with your son’s therapists to develop a personalized intervention plan. Children with autism who are under age 3 can qualify for such services through their state’s Early Intervention program. After age 3, these services can be accessed as part of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) through your school district.

Also see “Access autism services,” for more information on early intervention and individualized education services.
Fortunately, many programs are available to help young children with the type of social anxiety you describe. These include play-based forms of Applied Behavioral Analysis, occupational therapy that includes sensory integration, communication-focused intervention, social skills play groups and other options. Many children do best with a multidisciplinary approach that combines two or more of these methods with close collaboration among the care providers.

Also see, “Autism therapies and supports,” in the “What is autism?” section of this website. While every child has different needs, here are some strategies you can try – ideally in collaboration with your son’s therapists.

Practice. Are there specific social situations that tend to trigger your son’s anxiety? For instance, does he get upset when another child tries to take his hand or pull him into a game? Consider teaching him simple phrases he can use in these situations. For example, a simple “no.” You can also teach and practice toy sharing and turn taking at home. If your child enjoys play dough, for example, place just a few pieces on the table and take turns modeling each of the pieces, handing them back and forth. This can help him learn sharing and even waiting for gradually increasingly periods before getting what he wants. These skills can be difficult to learn. So start with brief periods of waiting and offer plenty of praise along the way. Providing this type of structured opportunities to practice social skills can encourage your son to use them in social settings.

Start slow. A room full of children may be too overwhelming for your child to use the new skills that he’s practiced with you at home. Consider hosting a playdate with one other child who is relatively calm and engaging. Sometimes, a slightly older child will understand how to be more accommodating.

In selecting where to have the playdate, consider your son’s comfort level. You might start at home or maybe a relatively quiet place at a nearby park.

Choose some relatively structured activities such as games or sharable toys that your child knows and likes. Keep the playdates relatively short to further the chances of success.

Bring the familiar. When entering a loud or anxiety producing environment, a comfort object may help provide a sense of security in an otherwise overwhelming environment. Consider allowing your son to bring a familiar toy, stuffed animal or book. Another possibility is a toy or game that actively engages his attention – and so directs his attention away from the hubbub around him.

Be patient. I encourage parents to appreciate that their child’s stage of development may not match what’s typical for his or her age. This is particularly true of social development in children on the autism spectrum. By focusing on small steps, you can foster your child’s confidence and decrease the likelihood of setbacks.

Remember, your child – like all children – is continually developing. You can support his social development – while decreasing anxiety around other children – by providing ample opportunities for success.


About The Author 

Dr. John Danial is a 2012 Autism Speaks Weatherstone predoctoral fellow. Dr. Danial’s fellowship supported his work with mentor Jeffrey Wood at the University of California, Los Angeles, developing and evaluating behavioral interventions that reduce anxiety in children, teens and adults with autism and low verbal skills. He is currently completing his post-doctoral placement at Pediatric Minds Early Childhood Center, working with families of children with developmental delays and social-emotional challenges.

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.

Ball Games, Bowling, and the Bachelorette: Getting Individuals with ASD Interested in New Activities

While many adults retain some nostalgia for the characters, games, and toys of their childhood, there is a natural tendency to develop new and changing interests through adolescence and adulthood. For example, a child who likes Sesame Street and juice boxes will probably outgrow those interests in favor of sports and theater, beer and wine. For those with autism, however, rigidity in interests and limited tolerance for new activities can result in a lack of age-appropriate leisure skills in adolescence and adulthood. Because leisure is seen as something “fun” and therefore often unimportant – or at least, not as important as language, social, and academic skills – parents and teachers may be reluctant to challenge children to develop new preferences and leisure activities. It’s perfectly understandable for caretakers to prioritize the efforts and energy put into teaching new skills towards those that are most functional, and to allow play and leisure to be more child-directed.
There are two critical concerns with a failure to develop age- and socially-appropriate leisure skills, however. One major problem is that anyone who doesn’t have something enjoyable to do when the demands of everyday life are lifted may wind up engaging in less than acceptable ways of keeping busy. What they may wind up doing instead is often classified as inappropriate attention-seeking behavior towards peers and staff members, or even destructive or self-injurious behavior. A functional assessment of the concerning behavior often points to the simple problem of boredom, and teaching and encouraging new leisure skills is the best solution.
The second big problem is that socially, the world that we live in is frankly intolerant of adults who exhibit interests in and preferences for activities that are considered childish. There are some acceptable versions of these interests for adults; for example, there are plenty of grown-ups who enjoy creating elaborate model train scenes and who have the financial resources to do so. The individual with autism who loves Thomas the Train may be successfully able to transition that interest into the grown-up version of train hobbies, but will probably be most socially accepted if Thomas is not part of that adult hobby.
So what should be done about the problem of age-, culturally-, or socially-inappropriate interests? Is it even possible to build a new interest in someone who is resistant to unfamiliar activities? The answer is yes. Here are some suggestions to guide the process.
1. It’s always easier to teach what TO DO rather than what NOT to do. Rather than attempting to eliminate or discourage inappropriate interests, put more effort into encouraging appropriate interests to replace the problematic ones.
2. Consistent, regular exposure to new activities is the best way to encourage interest in those activities. “Try it, you might like it,” should be the mantra. Where some people have a natural curiosity and desire to seek out new experiences, people with autism often actively avoid them, so such exposure has to be programmed and guided.
3. If the individual is really resistant to trying something new, consider pairing the new activity with a preferred activity or item. Maybe watching a few minutes of a baseball game on television would be more appealing if favorite snacks were available, or doing some paint-by-numbers would be more likely if a preferred staff member was also doing it.
4. If possible, start exposure and pairing EARLY. Although it’s definitely possible to foster new interests in adults with autism, it’s much easier to establish a pattern of trying new things in a younger child. I strongly advocate having exposure to new activities as a part of regular programming along with language, academics, and social skills training, from the earliest possible point. You want trying something new to be a strong skill set.
5. Don’t get discouraged, and don’t force interests that aren’t being enjoyed. This is a tricky balance. It can take several exposures to get someone to start to enjoy something new, so don’t give up too quickly, but at the same time, know when to say when. If a good effort has been made to try something but the person just doesn’t seek it out after several opportunities, move on to another interest.
6. Keep an eye out for new possibilities, and build on existing interests. If someone genuinely enjoys drawing with markers, he or she may be open to painting, sculpting, or photography. If someone enjoys photography, maybe scrapbooking is a natural extension. An individual who likes to eat may be really motivated to learn to cook, and to enjoy cooking as an activity.
7. Look for ways to generalize existing interests. For example, an individual who enjoys looking up facts online can learn to enjoy researching trips or other leisure activities. Someone who likes to build with Legos might like to learn to put together model car kits or refinish furniture.
Age-appropriate leisure skills are important for many reasons, not the least of which is so that people don’t get bored and engage in problematic behavior when they have nothing else to do. Most adults have something to look forward to when their work is done, and those with autism deserve the same. Children who develop the skill of learning to try and like new things will definitely be a step ahead in terms of having good reinforcers and pleasurable experiences to look forward to throughout their lives!


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).