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).

Tip of the Week: Dos and Don’ts of Fidgets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rule #1: Be mindful. Before you grab a fidget, think about whether you need it. If you don’t know, review rule #2.

Rule #2: You can only use a fidget to help with focus and attention or to calm down. Otherwise it will be taken away.

Rule #3: Don’t use a fidget if it distracts others or interferes with the work others are doing. If the fidget does distract others or interfere with their work, use a different fidget or strategy.

Rule #4: Every time you’re done with a fidget, put it back where it belongs. (In our house, we keep fidgets in a designated basket.)

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

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


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

Why All Parents Should Use Token Economies

Why All Parents Should Use Token Economies

As parents, we want our kids to want to have good behavior. They should want to behave because it’s the right thing to do, right? Yeah right. This is why all parents should use token economies.

Have you met a 3 year old with an innate desire to good for this world? It’s in there somewhere but at age 3, it’s more like threenager-ville. Little humans do what gets them what they want. They behavior in a certain way to achieve a certain outcome.

A threenager is likely to tantrum to get access to their favorite toy, TV show, candy, a left shoe they can see on the other side of the room — you name it. They are acting a certain way (tantrum) to achieve a certain outcome (getting whatever they want).

What can we do about this? Is there any way to teach them to behave?! Well, we can make sure they get what they want not by having a tantrum, but by engaging in desired behaviors.

We can use positive reinforcement in a more structured and specific way than just handing out praise and rewards willy-nilly.

The definition of a token economy is: a behavior change system consisting of three major components: (a) a specified list of target behaviors; (b) tokens or points that participants receive for emitting the target behaviors; and (c) a menu of backup reinforcer items.

Token economies can possibly take the form of sticker charts, chore charts, marble jars, etc. You need a physical token that your child can earn when they engage in the desired behavior. You do NOT need to go out and spend $50 at the nearest school supply store making a big fancy chart. You can draw 5 circles on a piece of paper. When they do the desired behavior, draw a check mark in the circle. Done. Grab that piece of junk mail off the kitchen counter and a half-eaten, I mean half-broken, crayon.

The next step is to define the behaviors. Again, you don’t need a big fancy dictionary. Just pick one to three behaviors that will earn the tokens. You need your Little to understand this so it can’t be a big grown up idea like ‘being responsible’ or ‘showing respect’. What does that mean to a Little? Be specific. You earn a token for: (1) following instructions without yelling; (2) eating 5 bites of every food Mom puts in front of you; and (3) putting on your shoes when instructed to.

Pick your battles. You may have a list of 20+ things your Little could stand to improve. I’m pretty sure I have a list of 20+ things to put myself on a token economy. Let’s prioritize and make it understandable by the kiddo.

Lastly — what can they earn with these tokens? You can give choices before earning and they can decide at the beginning or at the end. You can make a fancy menu of reinforcers — Chuck E Cheese is the perfect example of this. This many tickets = this super awesome toy.

Or, you can just say: get all the stickers, get 5 check marks, get 10 marbles and earn a fun activity. You can pick from: extra screen time, trip to the library, a new toy from the dollar spot, etc.

All of that in short form:

  1. Pick 1-3 behaviors and make sure your Little understands what they are.
  2. Have an actual token they can earn and set a goal.
  3. Provide the reward when they reach that goal. Make it a big deal!

Tips:

  • When you first start out, set the goal low. If it’s too hard to achieve, that won’t motivate anyone, especially a Little who is struggling with those behaviors to begin with.
  • Over time, raise the goal. Make the reward bigger for a bigger goal, smaller for a smaller goal. Play with it to see what is successful for your Little and doable for you in your busy day.
  • Make every token earned a big deal — lots of praise and excitement.
  • Don’t spend a lot of time and money setting up a fancy system. Like all things we do as parents — as soon as we get a good system down, our Little changes things up on us and we have to be flexible. My own daughter sees a strip of printer paper and thinks I’ve made her a new sticker chart. That’s how fancy sticker charts are at my house!
  • Be creative!
    • My aunt gave this idea from her life: She had a picture of a poodle and her daughter glued cotton balls on it. When she filled the picture, they actually got the poodle!
    • My sister let her oldest pick out his marbles for a marble jar on a special shopping trip to the craft store (less than $5 — don’t go overboard, folks!). That helped him buy into the process form the get go.
    • Cut up a picture of the prize like a puzzle. They get a puzzle piece as a token. The finished puzzle earns the prize!
    • Look in the app store. Seriously — there are many apps for reward charts.
    • Google ‘behavior chart’. You’ll find a gazillion cute templates if that’s what you’re into — cutesy.
    • I once made a necklace for a student who was really into jewelry. It was a laminated sticker chart necklace and she loved it.

One last thought: Someday you will find that things are going well and the token economy goes by the wayside. Remember it when a new problem behavior crops up and you are once again at your wit’s end. Start over. Pick new behaviors, new rewards, same system.

Don’t take my word for it — this is just the tip of the iceberg in behavior analytic research supporting token economies.

If you’re not a crafty person, you can always check out our reward chart here

Citations:
Cooper, J., Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Basic Concepts. In Applied Behavior Analysis(2nd ed., pp 560-567). Columbus: Pearson.

Kazdin, A. E. (Ed.). (1977). The token economy: A review and evaluation. Plenum Publishing Corporation.

Kazdin, A. E. (1982). The token economy: A decade later. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis15(3), 431-445.

Skinner, B. F., Ferster, C. B., & Ferster, C. B. (1997). Schedules of reinforcement. Massachusetts: Copley Publishing Group.

Reitman, D., Murphy, M. A., Hupp, S. D., & O’Callaghan, P. M. (2004). Behavior change and perceptions of change: Evaluating the effectiveness of a token economy. Child & Family Behavior Therapy26(2), 17-36.


Leanne Page, M.Ed, BCBA
 has worked with kids with disabilities and their parents in a variety of settings for over 10 years. She has taught special education classes from kindergarden-grade 12, from self-contained to inclusion. Leanne has also managed a center providing ABA services to children in 1:1 and small group settings. She has extensive experience in school and teacher training, therapist training, parent training, and providing direct services to children and families in a center-based or in-home therapy setting. Since becoming a mom, Leanne has a new mission to share behavior analytic practices with a population she knows needs it- all moms of littles! Leanne does through her site parentingwithaba.org and through her book ‘Parenting with Science: Behavior Analysis Saves Mom’s Sanity”.  You can contact her at lpagebcba@gmail.com.

Educating for Inclusion

I am a special education teacher interested in learning more about educating for inclusion. How can I set up my small groups to target skills that will serve my students well in the classroom?  

Answered by Renita Paranjape, M.Ed., BCBA, Director, Intake, IBI and Group and Transition Services, Geneva Centre for Autism

Presenting a special guest post by Renita Paranjape from ASAT.  

Preparing students for group instruction in inclusion classrooms requires careful consideration of the responses required in that setting as well as the strengths and needs of the child with autism. What follows are some considerations that may ease the transition of students from one-to-one instruction to group-based instruction within inclusion classrooms.

Educating for Inclusion

Investigate the next setting

Take time to visit and observe group instruction in the inclusion classroom. There are a few questions to keep in mind when observing the inclusion setting, including:

  • What is the content of the group instruction?
  • How large are the groups?
  • How does the teacher engage the students (e.g., visual stimuli, choral responding)?
  • How long are the group activities?
  • How often are students required to respond during group?
  • Are there reinforcement systems in place within the group lessons?
  • What are the teacher’s general behavioral and learning expectations of the students during group instruction?

Once you have a clear idea of what transpires during group instruction, attempt to replicate, as closely as possible, the activities observed in the inclusion environment during small-group lessons.

Setting up the group

Here are some pointers for setting up group instruction:

  1. Group children according to their skill level so that those who require skill building in more foundational skills are grouped together, while the students with more advanced skills are placed together.
  2. Alternatively, you may want to consider mixing students by skill level, so that students with more advanced skills can serve as a model for students who require models of responses during the lesson.
  3. All students should have a clear view of the teacher and the instructional material, with distracting items kept to a minimum.
  4. One adult should be the “teacher,” delivering all instructions in front of the group and providing the reinforcers to the students.
  5. Position other adults behind the group to serve as “prompters” of responses. These adults should stand, not sit, behind the students, fading their proximity to the students as independence increases. These adults should only prompt if necessary, and the students should be expected to follow the instructions provided by the teacher who is leading the group.
  6. Have available the student’s individualized motivation system in view of the student. The teacher leading the lesson should provide the reinforcers to the students based on the student’s individualized program.
  7. The other adult or “prompter” can also record data on the responses of the learners during group instruction.
  8. The teacher of the group and the prompters should communicate regularly before and after the group lessons to identify roles and student goals. Discussion should not occur during the lesson.

Readiness skills for small group instruction

The following are a few examples of what learners may benefit from in order to participate in group instruction, but they are not necessarily prerequisites. Some of these goals require group instruction in order for the goals to be taught, whereas other goals can be introduced in smaller groups or in one-to-one instruction.

  1. Attending to the teacher with peers present. In most ABA programs, attending is one of the first foundational skills that is taught. This is accomplished either by teaching students to provide eye contact or teaching them to orient toward the communicative partner. Once this skill is established, the next step for group instruction would be to teach attending even when there are peers present and when the teacher is standing and moving around the classroom.
  2. Tolerating the presence of peers. Since small-group instruction requires the presence of other students, it is important to assess whether the student can sit alongside a peer without being distracted.
  3. Sitting for longer periods of time without frequent breaks. Group instruction will require the student to sit for longer periods of time. Collect baseline data on how long the student will sit appropriately before accessing a reinforcer; then systematically increase that time so that the student can sit for longer periods of time to earn access to a bigger reinforcer (e.g., recess).
  4. Remaining on task for longer periods of time. This may seem similar to number 3 above, but it is not only important to consider how long your students can sit appropriately, but also how long your students will work efficiently before becoming off task and or requiring breaks. In small group settings, students are typically required to complete independent seatwork for upwards of 15 minutes or more. As a readiness skill, assess how long your students can remain on task and systematically increase how long they are required to work independently.
  5. Preparing the student for thinner schedules of reinforcement. Consider your students’ current schedule of reinforcement and develop a plan to thin that schedule. This would apply primarily to appropriate behaviour, such as attending and sitting appropriately, as correct responses in group would likely be reinforced on a continuous schedule initially.
  6. Responding to name and following distal instructions. Can your students respond to their names from varying distances and in different contexts? Can they follow directions given from afar? In addition to being able respond to their name in a classroom setting, students must also learn to not respond in certain situations. Distinguishing between, and responding to, instructions such as “everybody,” “[student’s name]” and “[other student’s name]” are key foundational skills for small-group instruction.
  7. Following complex instructions. Your students should not only be able to complete one-step directions (e.g., “Get a pencil”), and two-step directions (“Get a pencil and write your name”), but they should also be taught to follow even more complex directions (e.g., “Get a pencil, turn to page 5 of your workbook, and write your name at the top”).
  8. Waiting for attention and instructions. When a student makes the transition from one-to-one instruction to a group setting, the teacher’s focus is no longer solely on one student, but he or she is balancing his/her attention from one student to another. It is important to teach the student how to occupy his or her time without engaging in stereotypic, or other challenging behavior, as the teacher’s attention is diverted.
  9. Hand raising. Hand raising is a skill that requires attending, performing a gross motor action, inhibition of responding until cued by teacher, and discrimination of instructions. Initially, students can learn to raise their hands to access a preferred item with an embedded prompt in the instruction (e.g., “Raise your hand if you want candy!”). The instructions can then become increasingly more complex and students can learn to raise their hands to answer questions, to refrain from raising their hands when they are not able to answer a particular question, to request an item they might need for a task, and to volunteer to participate in an activity.
  10. Observational Learning. One of the benefits of small-group instruction is the abundance of opportunities to learn appropriate responses by attending to the responses of other members of the group. Often times, students with autism need explicit instruction in attending to the responses of others, in differentiating whether those responses were appropriate based on teacher feedback, and in being able to repeat those correct responses when directed by the teacher.
  11. Choral Responding. Another key response of small-group instruction is being able to say responses aloud and in unison with other students. For example, the teacher may say, “Everyone tell me what is two times two,” and all of the students would be expected to say, “Four.” This skill can first be introduced in one-to-one instruction.

Effective teaching strategies to include in small-group instruction

The research in small-group instruction has identified specific strategies that have been found to be particularly effective for learners to acquire skills in a group setting (e.g., Heward & Wood, 1989; Kamps et. al, 1991).

  1. Creating many opportunities for learners to respond: Given that the density of instructions will likely be less in a group situation than in a one-to-one teaching interaction, it is important to create as many opportunities as possible for your students to practice responding, and, in turn, acquire skills. Ensure that there are many instructions delivered for each student.
  2. Frequent rotation of materials: This is a necessary strategy to help alleviate boredom with the content of the curriculum, and it also helps to promote generalization of responding across various stimuli.
  3. Interspersing known targets with unknown targets: This strategy creates a momentum for responding fluently, provides the opportunity for reinforcement to occur, and also ensures that mastered targets are maintained.
  4. Choral responding: Having your students respond in unison is a useful strategy, and is important to target, because it occurs frequently in most general education settings. It is beneficial for learners, as it allows them to have more opportunities to respond, as well as allows them to be cued by their fellow classmates rather than their teacher.
  5. Random responding: Random responding refers to presenting instructions in an unpredictable format so that students are not aware of when they might be called upon. This method can improve attention and motivation, as students will not be able to predict when it is their turn to respond.
  6. Repeating peer responses: Requesting that students repeat the correct responses of their classmates can help further observational learning skills by requiring students to attend to and assimilate the responses of others.
  7. Student-to-student interaction: Another effective teaching strategy is to promote interaction among students. Specifically, students can learn to listen and repeat each other’s responses to general curriculum-related questions, ask peers to clarify if an instruction was missed, or ask peers for items needed for a task.

Small-group instruction can be a highly effective way to prepare students for less restrictive settings. With appropriate environmental manipulations, as well as effective teaching strategies, students who participate in group instruction can acquire skills needed for fuller inclusion.

References

Carnahan, C., Musti-Rao, S., & Bailey, J. (2009). Promoting active engagement in small group learning experiences for students with autism and significant learning needs. Education and Treatment of Children, 32(1), 37-61.

Harrower, J. K., & Dunlap, G. (2001). Including children with autism in general education classrooms: A review of effective strategies. Behavior Modification, 25(5), 762-784.

Heward, W. L., Gardner, R., Cavanaugh, R. A., Courson, F. H., Grossi, T. A., & Barbetta, P. M.(1996). Everyone participates in class: Using response cards to increase active student response. Teaching Exceptional Children, 28(2), 4-10.

Heward, W. L., & Wood, C. L. (2009). Let’s make some noise! Using choral responding to improve the effectiveness of group instruction. In W. L. Heward, Exceptional children: An introduction to special education (9th edition) (pp 158-159). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Merrill-Pearson Education.

Kamps, D. M., Walker, D., Dugan, E. P., Leonard, B. R., Thibadeau, S. F., Marshall, K., & Grossnickle, L. (1991). Small group instruction for school-aged students with autism and developmental disabilities. Focus on Autism and other Developmental Disabilities, 6(4), 1-18.

Ledford, J. R., Gast, D. L., Luscre, D., & Ayres, K. M. (2008). Observational and incidental learning by children with autism during small group instruction. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 86-103.

Rotholz, D. A. (1990). Current considerations on the use of one-to-one instruction with autistic students: Review and recommendations. Focus on Autism and other Developmental Disabilities, 5(3), 1-5.

 

Renita Paranjape, MEd, BCBA, is a Board Member of ASAT. Renita joined the ASAT Board of Directors in 2015. Prior to serving as a Board Member, Renita served as ASAT’s Social Media Coordinator. Renita received her Master’s degree in Developmental Psychology and Education from the University of Toronto, and completed courses in Behavior Analysis from the University of North Texas, in 2009. Since 2002, Renita has worked in the fields of ABA and ASD in several capacities, including supervising an ABA program in a private school, supervising ASD consultants in public schools, and managing an ABA program in group homes serving adults with severe behavior disorders. In her current role, Renita has been fulfilling the role of Director of Intake, IBI Services, and Group and Transition Services at Geneva Centre for Autism in Toronto. Renita is passionate about the dissemination of science based treatments for autism, and working with families to access those resources.

 

How To Prepare To Reinforce Appropriate Behavior

Often when we’re working with children with autism there are two areas we focus on: communication and play. However, due to the nature of your day or a specific activity, you may unintentionally punish spontaneous communication or play. So before we learn how to prepare to reinforce appropriate behavior, let’s consider a couple of examples:

How To Prepare To Reinforce Appropriate Behavior

Julie is a teacher in a first grade classroom with six children with autism. One of her students is Marcos, who rarely uses spontaneous language. While Julie is running the morning meeting, Marcos suddenly interrupts and says “I like elephants.” Julie says, “It’s quiet time, right now, Marcos.”

David is a teacher in a fourth grade inclusion classroom. Jaylene is a student with autism who rarely initiates interactions. He is speaking with another teacher when Jaylene approaches with a puppet, hands it to David, and says “puppet.” David tells her, “In just a minute, Jaylene.”

 In both of these instances, the teacher has not done anything wrong. In fact, we have all done this from time to time in the midst of busy days in which we’re managing multiple tasks. But there’s an argument to be made here that both Marcos and Jaylene missed opportunities for reinforcement of the behaviors we most want them to exhibit.

One thing that can help is to prioritize your goals. If the primary goal for Marcos is to use spontaneous language, then when we start out we want to provide a continuous rate of reinforcement. This means that it will sometimes interrupt other tasks, but if it is the biggest priority, that’s okay! The long term gains of reinforcing Marcos’s spontaneous language likely outweigh the frustration of an interrupted lesson.

The second thing that can help is communicating the priorities to other adults and staff. If David lets other teachers and administrators know that Jaylene’s foremost goal is to initiate interactions related to play, then a brief interruption in a conversation should not be an issue. Again, the long term gains of reinforcing Jaylene’s initiation of play likely outweigh any issues around an interrupted conversation.

Finally, try to plan ahead. Think about instances in which the child is most likely to engage in the targeted behaviors and talk with staff about how to ensure reinforcement takes place. The last thing we want to do is to unintentionally punish the desired behaviors.

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.

Tip of the Week: Common Mistakes in Implementing Reinforcement

Over the years, I’ve seen several behavior intervention plans written and implemented. Typically, these plans include reinforcement for the desirable behavior, but I see the same mistakes crop up again and again. Here are a few common mistakes in implementing reinforcement to look out for:Common Mistakes in Implementing Reinforcement

Fail to identify individual reinforcers. Hands down, the most common error I see is identifying specific activities or items as reinforcing. For instance, many people love gummy bears, but they make me want to puke. Presenting me with a gummy bear would not increase my future likelihood of engaging in the appropriate behavior! You must account for individual differences and conduct a preference assessment of your learner, then make a plan based on his or her preferences.

Fade reinforcement too quickly. Let’s say you’re working with a child named Harold who draws on the walls with crayon. You implement a reinforcement plan in which he earns praise and attention from his parent each time he draws on paper. The first few days it’s implemented, Harold’s rate of drawing on the wall greatly decreases. Everyone claims that his behavior is “fixed” and suddenly the plan for reinforcement is removed… and Harold begins drawing on the wall once more. I see this sort of pattern frequently (and have even caught myself doing it from time to time). After all, it can be easy to forget to reinforce positive behavior. To address this issue, make a clear plan for fading reinforcement, and use tools such as the MotivAider to help remind you to provide reinforcement for appropriate behavior.

Inconsistent with reinforcement plan. Harriet is writing consistently in a notebook, to the detriment of her interactions with peers. Her teachers implement a DRO, deciding to provide reinforcement for behavior other than the writing. However, the teachers didn’t notify all the adults working with her of the new plan, so Harriet’s behavior persists in certain environments, such as at recess, allowing her to miss multiple opportunities for more appropriate social interaction. To address this issue, make a clear outline of the environments in which the behavior is occurring and what adults are working in those environments. Ensure that all of the adults on that list are fully aware of the plan and kept abreast of any changes.

Don’t reinforce quickly enough. This one can be quite challenging, depending on the behavior and the environment. Let’s saying you’re working with a boy named Huck who curses often. You and your team devise a plan to reinforce appropriate language. You decide to offer him tokens that add up to free time at the end of the school day. However, sometimes as you are handing him a token for appropriate language, he curses again right before the token lands in his hand. Though it was unintentional, the cursing was actually reinforced here. Remember that reinforcement should be delivered as close to the desired behavior as possible. To address this issue, consider your environment and materials and make a plan to increase the speed of delivery.

Fail to make a plan to transfer to natural reinforcers. Ultimately, you don’t want any of these behaviors to change based solely on contrived reinforcement. Making a plan for reinforcement of appropriate behavior is essential, but your ultimate goal is to have the behavior be maintained by naturally occurring reinforcement. To address this issue, the first thing you need to do is identify what that naturally occurring reinforcement might be. For Harold, it might be having his artwork put up in a special place or sharing it with a show and tell. For Harriet it might be the interactions she has with peers on the playground. Once you have identified those reinforcers, you can create a plan for ensuring that the learner contacts those reinforcers over time. This might include pairing the naturally occurring reinforcers with the contrived reinforcers, then fading out the latter.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that reinforcement is not as simple as it seems. Taking the time to plan on the front end will help with long-term outcomes.

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.

Regulating Sleep in Children with Autism

With the new school year in session, it’s especially important to regulate sleep in students. In this month’s ASAT feature, Lauren Schnell, MA, BCBA, offers insight on a variety of approaches parents can take to address sleep disturbances in their kids with autism. 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 a home program coordinator who works with a six-year old child diagnosed with autism. The parents are concerned because their child struggles at bedtime and will often wake up in the middle of the night to come into their room. The parents want their child to stay asleep and have tried everything to get him to stay in bed all night. What can I suggest they do to treat their child’s sleep behavior?

Answered by Lauren Schnell, MA, BCBA

Sleep disturbances in children with autism are a common concern for many parents. It has been estimated that approximately 25% of typical children between the ages of one and four struggle with nighttime wakings (Lozoff, Wolf, & Davis, 1985). For children with special needs, the number increases dramatically with upwards of 80% experiencing some type of sleep problems (Lamberg, 1994). Of those who frequently wake at night, the majority end up sleeping in their parent’s bed and the sleep problems often persist over time.

Regulating Sleep in Children with Autism

The good news is there are a variety of behavior analytic approaches found to be effective in addressing sleep disturbances in children with autism. An underlying premise of these approaches is that poor sleep patterns are learned, and, as such, can be unlearned.

Prior to implementing a behavioral sleep program, it is important to first rule out any medical reasons for the sleep disturbance, such as physical discomfort related to an illness. Discussions with a pediatrician should help to determine if the sleep issues may be associated with an underlying medical issue and if further testing or evaluation is warranted.

If the sleep issues are thought to be behavioral, the first step is to complete a sleep log to determine the extent of the problem and potential environmental factors that may be adversely affecting the child’s sleep. A sleep log outlines the time the individual is put into bed, the actual time he/she falls asleep, frequency of night wakings, and the duration of those awakenings. Additional information may be collected on any other behaviors which are observed during bedtime, such as tantrums during the bedtime routine or disruptive behavior during the night. Baseline data collection should continue until a consistent pattern of sleep (or lack thereof) or challenging behavior is apparent. This information can later be used to assess the effectiveness of the sleep intervention.

Some questions which may be helpful for parents in completing the sleep log are:

  • What time does the child go to bed?
  • What does the child do leading up to bedtime?
  • What else is going on in the home while the child is in bed which could be influencing his/her sleep?
  • What activities does the child engage in prior to falling asleep?
  • What time does the child awaken during the night as well as in the morning?
  • Does the child take naps during the day?

Based upon the results of the baseline data collected in the sleep log, a number of interventions may be considered. Below are several practical strategies which may be helpful to improve the sleep behavior of the child with autism.

Bedtime Routines
A bedtime routine can be helpful for the child, as it creates predictability in the sequence of activities leading up to bedtime. A written or visual schedule may be helpful in ensuring the routine is consistently followed. The schedule should outline activities preceding bedtime; for example, brushing teeth, changing into pajamas, saying goodnight to loved ones, and reading a bedtime story. The routine should begin at least 30-60 minutes prior to bed time. It is also recommended that parents eliminate all foods and drinks containing caffeine at least six hours prior to bed, and avoid rigorous activities during the later evening hours.

Initially, the child may need a high rate of positive reinforcement for following the routine. Eventually, the parent may consider providing the child with positive reinforcement the following morning if he/she successfully follows the nighttime activity schedule and remains in bed throughout the night. Such reinforcement might include earning access to a favorite breakfast cereal, a toy, or getting a sticker to put on a special chart upon waking (Mindell & Durand, 1993). Continue reading

Pick of the Week: Sensory Tools for Staying Calm And Focused

Maintaining calm and focus can be a challenge in a busy classroom. Our solution? Help reduce fidgeting and reward good behaviors with these sensory tools for staying calm and focused: the Fidgets Kit and Reinforcer Kit. For this week’s Pick Of The Week, save 20% on these items by using promo code FOCUS20 at checkout.

DRK_315_Fidgets_Kit

Fidget toys can be a great and socially acceptable management tool for stereotypical or repetitive behavior in the classroom or community that may be distracting to classmates. While there are many reasons for fidgeting, including sensory overload, boredom, frustration, or anything in between, the good thing is that it can be easily managed. Some students find the repetitive action of “fidgeting” to be calming; thus, they are then better able to focus on the task at hand. Created in conjunction with our behavioral consultant Stacy Asay, LMSW, our Fidgets Kit includes an array of tools that provide a variety of sensory experiences: stretchy, chewy, spiky, twisty, bumpy, twisty, clicky, bouncy and smooshy!

DRP_575_Reinforcer_Kit

Our Reinforcer Kit provides a selection of products that many children diagnosed with autism would not only want to play with but would be willing to “work for” during their one-on-one intervention. Although teachers can always use praise, food, candy and other toys, we think this bright and colorful kit of tools will help our families get a head-start on what to use for children wanting a favored object. The kit includes:

Spectra Spinner (battery operated)

Wooden Slide Whistle

Magic Mic (an Echo Microphone)

Magic Spring

Squishy Flashing Ball

Jelly Ring

Bubbles and more!

 

*Promotion is valid for one-time use through September 20,  2016. Offer cannot be applied to previous purchases, combined with any other others, transferred, refunded, or redeemed and/or exchanged or cash or credit. Different Roads to Learning reserves the right to change or cancel this promotion at any time. To redeem offer at differentroads.com, enter promo code FOCUS20 at checkout.

Tip of the Week: Considerations for Parents on Grounding Kids

Many parents choose to “ground” their kids when they make poor decisions. Maybe they lose access to video games for a week, or can’t watch TV for a month. Grounding in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Here are a few considerations:

  • Considerations for Parents on Grounding KidsIf you keep grounding your kid for the same behavior, then grounding is not changing the behavior. Sometimes grounding your child is a default response, but if it’s not working, you might want to consider some other options. You can take a look back at our series on
    differential reinforcement
    or our post on noncontingent reinforcement.
  • When possible, the consequence should be connected to the behavior. If your child throws a controller, then not having access to video games makes great sense. However if video games are taken away for any infraction, it may not be the most logical punishment and over time, it may even backfire. If the child is losing video games for everything, then he/she might stop trying to earn video games at all.

Continue reading

Pick of the Week: Token Boards + 10-Packs, now available!

Token boards are a part of every ABA program. They give teachers a positive way to reinforce good behavior and monitor success. Our lightweight, laminated Token Boards are now available in 10-packs – and even better – you can save 15% on any of our token boards and their 10-packs this week! Just use our promo code TOKENS when you check out online or over the phone with us.

Once the student receives 1 to 5 stars on their token boards, they receive a reward – a favorite activity, a toy, or something good to eat! There is also a 2″ box at the end of the row, so the instructor can place an image of the reward.

Each token board comes with 8 reusable reward stars. The chart measures approximately 5″ x 9″.

View more token boards here.

*Code is valid for one-time use through August 9, 2016 at 11:59pm. Offer cannot be applied to previous purchases, combined with any other offers, transferred, refunded, or redeemed and/or exchanged for cash or credit. Different Roads to Learning reserves the right to change or cancel this promotion at any time. To redeem offer at differentroads.com, enter promo code TOKENS at checkout.