Facilitating Social Groups for Students with Autism

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we’re pleased to highlight an NYC-based agency called East Side Social this week! Alicia Allgood is a BCBA and co-founder of East Side Social. With her co-founder Kimia Tehrani, BCBA, they organize social groups and also provide a wealth of additional services for both parents and practitioners in the field of autism. Alicia was kind enough to provide some very comprehensive answers to our BCBA consultant Sam Blanco’s questions about facilitating social groups for learners with autism. You can learn more about East Side Social here.


Autism Awareness Highlights: Interview with Alicia Allgood, MSEd, BCBA
Co-founder of East Side Social, New York, NY

Facilitating Social Groups for Students with AutismSam: What prompted you to begin East Side Social?

Alicia: I co-facilitated social groups in San Diego in the early 2000’s with an amazing group, Comprehensive Autism Services and Education. They provided a number of other services, but the social group was the directing psychologists’ pet project, and you could really tell for the quality. It was wonderful to see these quirky, amazing kids that were struggling socially come into this group and make friends. They engaged with one another in significant ways that impacted their sense of well-being and confidence, all the while learning how to be more and more socially appropriate. I was inspired. When I met Kimia in New York, she and I found we worked very well together. I mentioned my interest in starting such a group in New York, and Kimia held me to it. We both saw a need for these services here, but there really wasn’t much being offered at the time, and that which was being offered didn’t have a behavior analytic approach. In our mind, this suggested they weren’t objectively verifying the effect of their programs, nor were they necessarily using evidence-based practiced to teach the skills these kids needed to learn. We saw a need, we were inspired, and so made the necessary movements to begin East Side Social.

Sam: What is the primary challenge to organizing social skills groups? How have you addressed it?

Alicia: We were both private practitioners prior to starting this social group. Starting a business is a whole other beast in its own right, and being a good technician doesn’t necessarily mean you’re prepared to grow that skill into an actual business. We were caught a bit by surprise by all that would be necessary on the back end. From marketing to balancing the budget and handling insurance billing, we were not prepared to take all of that on while maintaining our private clients and actually preparing for and leading the social group. Realizing our deficits along the way, we’ve hired consultants and people to support the back end, and that is what has really made this possible. We couldn’t do what we do without the support of a small group of really wonderful people. It’s also been extremely challenging to find a way to collect data on target behavior during our groups. We’re suddenly extremely sympathetic to classroom teachers who are asked to collect data on their students. We have tried data collection systems into our token economies. We’ve also used time sampling data, and once when feeling highly ambitious and having approval of all parents, we video-taped all groups and spent hours upon hours watching and re-watching these videos, tracking target group behavior and individual learner behavior. This is a continuous work in progress that we feel dedicated to on account of our commitment to ethical behavior analytic practice. It’s also a bit fun to solve this puzzle. Continue reading

Tip of the Week: Build Desirable Behaviors

One of my favorite textbooks about ABA is Focus on Behavior Analysis in Education: Achievements, Challenges, and Opportunities. And one of my favorite chapters in that book is called “Building Behaviors versus Suppressing Behaviors,” which focuses on school-wide positive behavior change This is an often-overlooked key concept in behavior analysis that can have a huge impact on the school environment. Furthermore, when we think of ABA, we often think about individual interventions, but the principles of ABA can be highly effective when applied to large environments, such as an entire school.

The chapter references several studies about school-wide behavior change and offers evidence-based practices for achieving such change. It also outlines social behaviors that should be taught, such as how to apologize or how to make a request, then discusses strategies for rewarding the desirable behaviors. I appreciate that it focuses on getting students involved in making such changes.

Teaching these desirable behaviors can often feel challenging with the additional stresses of a special education classroom. One curriculum I have found effective in addressing this problem is Skillstreaming. I often use Skillstreaming in Early Childhood with young learners, and love that it clearly defines desirable behaviors, such as how to listen or how to offer help (see image below), but provides those definitions in simple terms with visual prompts that help our young learners. It also incorporates positive reinforcement for learners who are engaging in those desirable behaviors.

Listening Skill

In summary, there is lots of evidence out there that focusing on what kids should be rather than what they should not be doing is beneficial for the learner and the general culture of the classroom. Providing clearly defined desirable behavior and building instruction in those behaviors throughout the day is essential. And that instruction may need to be more frequent and more detailed for our learners with developmental disabilities.

References

Heron, T. E., Neef, N. A., Peterson, S. M., Sainato, D. M., Cartledge, G., Gardner, R., … & Dardig, J. C. (2005). Focus on behavior analysis in education: Achievements, challenges, and opportunities. Pearson/Merrill/Prentice Hall.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, BCBA

Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.

Tip of the Week: Keeping Up With the Science

A major tenet of Applied Behavior Analysis is that it is evidence-based. For decades, our field has conducted research about behaviors we can observe in the environment, and worked to create positive behavior change. But keeping up with research or determining what is actually evidence-based can be quite challenging.

One way that some organizations and schools address this is by having a “journal club” of sorts. An article is selected each month, staff read it, and then everyone comes together to discuss it. This is a great way to get people talking about evidence-based procedures, help introduce people to new concepts, and create an environment that relies on science rather than anecdotal information.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Poll your participants. What topics might they be interested in? What dates and times work best for them? What is something they want to learn more about? You can use this information to get off on the right foot.
  • Sweeten the meeting. Make it fun with snacks or themes. It’s amazing how free food can draw people in.
  • Create questions for consideration. When you hand out the article, provide five or six questions for participants to consider as they read. This will help guide their reading and your conversation when you meet.
  • Make it applied. Think about how the information in the article can be used in your own setting. Have people discuss what it would look like if they tried out the interventions themselves.

Finally, take a look at Reading Groups: A Practical Means of Enhancing Professional Knowledge Among Human Service Practitioners by Parsons & Reid. This article demonstrates the utility of such groups, as well as important variables for implementing them successfully.

Good luck, and happy reading!

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, BCBA

Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.

Pick of the Week: Save 30% on “A Work in Progress” Companion Booklets & DVDs!

Building on the popular guide and curriculum A Work In Progress, this companion series of booklets and DVDs synthesizes information on various teaching strategies with demonstrations of actual sessions with students on video. The Work in Progress Companion Series aims to blend a natural, child-friendly approach to teaching while remaining determinedly systematic. This series offers viewers the unique opportunity to see these approaches implemented in actual teaching environments.

This week, we’re offering the entire Set of 6 Work in Progress Companion Booklets & DVDs for only $99.00 (a $150 value)! Or get one (1) Companion Set for $24.95 only $17.50!  Just use our promo code AWIPSET at check-out to redeem these great savings. View our entire sale here.

AWIP_Companion_Booklets_and_DVDs

Parents and teachers will find this series to be a helpful companion and extension to A Work in Progress. All author proceeds from the Work in Progress Companion Series will go directly to the Autism Partnership Family Foundation which was developed to provide services to families with limited resources, fund research that will investigate new strategies and programs that truly make a difference in the lives of children and families, and disseminate information about evidence-based treatment and provide resources for training parents and professionals.

Volume 1: “Cool” versus “Not Cool” teaches students foundational as well as advanced social skills in the difference between behaviors that are socially appropriate (i.e. cool) and those that are inappropriate (i.e. not cool). In later stages, they go on to actually practice the appropriate form of the behavior and receive feedback on their efforts. Research confirms the clinical experience that “Cool” versus “Not Cool” is effective in teaching social skills and enabling students to monitor their own behavior.

Volume 2: Learning How to Learn teaches and demonstrates programs that researchers have found helpful in teaching students how to learn.

Volume 3: Teaching Interactions offers a conversation-style of teaching which adds the all important element of leading students to understand rationales for why they might want to change their behavior and learn new skills. This booklet and DVD teaches students how to develop understanding and insight that help form their internal motivation.

Volume 4: Token Economy provides step-by-step instructions on how to ensure there is a strong connection between the target behavior and the reward that follows. Token economies have a number of advantages and can be very flexible in adapting to the age of the student, the types of rewards used, and the skills and behavioral targets you are seeking to improve.

Volume 5: Developing Reinforcers shows parents and teachers how to be creative in developing new sources of reinforcement, which is especially useful for students who have limited interests.

Volume 6: Bullying & ASD – The Perfect Storm focuses on the tools needed to help children with autism combat bullying. Students with ASD are particularly at risk because of their behavior issues and their vulnerability. This volume provides practical suggestions that help prevent the devastation of bullying.

Buy one (1) volume for only $17.50* this week using promo code AWIPSET at check-out! View our entire sale here!

*Offer is valid for one-time use only through January 26, 2015. Promotion does not apply to past purchases. Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in your code AWIPSET at check-out!

 

Simplifying the Science: Choiceworks App – Increase Self-Monitoring and Autonomy in Students with ASD

Finding the appropriate educational setting for individuals with autism can be quite challenging. And in working to provide the least restrictive environment, sometimes students are placed in classrooms where they can do the work but requires additional supports. This makes teaching self-monitoring all the more important as we strive to help our students attain independence in all areas.

A recent study by Miller, Doughty, & Krockover (2015) used an iPad app as part of an intervention to increase self-monitoring for three students with moderate intellectual disabilities in their science class. The goal was to increase autonomy in problem-solving activities linked the science lesson for that day. The app they used was called Choiceworks, which the authors described as: “a daily routine board maker [that] contains prompting tools to assist users through daily tasks. Checklists, schedule boards, activity timers, and a communication board can be developed using this system” (p. 358).

Over the course of a two-week period, each student was provided with three training sessions for how to use the iPad based on a task analysis the authors had devised. Skills taught included swiping, changing the volume, and operating the Choiceworks app. Next, the authors introduced five steps of problem-solving and provided mini-lessons on each of the steps. The authors used stories that required problem-solving, then taught the students how to use the app to navigate through the five steps of problem solving. Finally, the intervention was introduced in the science classroom.

All three students in this study significantly increased their independence in problem-solving. Furthermore, the results were generalized to solving problems related to daily living and were maintained over time.

The results of this study are important for several reasons. First, it demonstrates one method for increasing independence in individuals with developmental disabilities. Second, this increase in independence provides opportunities for more natural peer interaction since the individual with the disability will not have an adult always standing next to them. Finally, using a tool such as an iPad mini (as these researchers did) or iPhone is beneficial because many people are walking around with such devices, allowing individuals with disabilities to use a device to promote independence without increasing the threat of social stigma. The authors clearly show that, when provided with proper instruction, students with developmental disabilities can use the iPad mini to become more independent with both academic and daily living skills.

REFERENCES

Miller, B., Doughty, T., & Krockover, G. (2015). Using science inquiry methods to promote self-determination and problem-solving skills for students with moderate intellectual disability. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 50(3), 356-368.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, BCBA

Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.

“From Panic to Progress: Supporting Students with Autism Who Escalate” by Patrick Mulick, BCBA, NBCT

In this week’s guest article, Patrick Mulick, BCBA, NBCT explains the escalation cycle by which educators and caregivers can evaluate what to expect in their students’ behaviors and how to intervene in the most effective and least intrusive ways. We’ve also included FREE downloadable data sheets so you can try incorporating Patrick’s Escalation Cycle into your program!

From Panic to Progress: Supporting Students with Autism Who Escalate
by Patrick Mulick, BCBA, NBCT

As critical as it is to change the behaviors of those who escalate, it can be particularly hard to do so in those with autism. The antecedent (trigger) can range greatly from observable events, such as a puzzle piece not fitting properly to a private event that is difficult to predict (such as a strong discomfort from flickering lights in a room). The learner often will exhibit behaviors in attempt to escape the overwhelming experience that they have entered, but those behaviors are often uncoordinated, lack reasoning, and are unsafe. It is here that students may break windows, chase after staff, or hit themselves. And it is here where educators need to be at the top of their game to support a safe de-escalation.

This entails knowing the student, knowing their escalation cycle, and having a system by which one can continually evaluate the de-escalation strategies being used. Ten years ago I created the cycle below to help do just that. In many cases, it has been the starting point to great gains for my students who were prone to escalate.

Breaking down the cycle into five levels of observable behaviors allows for a much clearer understanding of what to expect. Identifying the appropriate interventions for each level allows for the actions of staff to be the least intrusive and the most effective. It is easy to be reactive in a moment of crisis, yet the moment calls for everyone involved to act in a prescribed manner. Whether it be dimming the lights, providing a break area, or clearing the room of other students, every intervention is with good purpose and good timing.

Visually representing all of this for an entire school team, from parents to principals, allows for a better common understanding of the plan and greater fidelity in its implementation. Any issues with ineffective supports used at the wrong times can be quickly weeded out, and any staffs’ fears who interact with the learner can be eased. To allow the school team more depth or specifics, this overlay can be used to spell out more details.

Escalation Cycle-2

Knowing that a plan is being implemented with higher fidelity, we can then begin to look at data. A standard A-B-C data sheet for specific incidents should suffice in tracking the plan’s effectiveness.

Where the above tools can help most significantly is in the coding of behavior clusters, which can then be tracked in the student’s day, such as on a chart similar to the below.

Escalation Cycle-3

As the student progresses through their tasks and activities, staff indicate the highest escalation cycle level the student reached, even if only for a moment (think partial interval recording). This tracking done all day, every day, provides teams with data that can inform the effectiveness of the de-escalation techniques being used. For example, learners with a tendency to become aggressive are generally perceived as escalating with high frequency. Utilizing objective data tracking can substantiate such subjective perceptions, more clearly showing the frequency of escalation behaviors and if they are improving week to week. Working from a place that is measurable and observable can help move your team from being reactive to proactive, fearful to confident, and from helpless to equipped.

WRITTEN BY PATRICK MULICK, BCBA, NBCT

Patrick is the Autism Specialist of the Auburn School District in Washington State. Over his twelve years as a teacher and consultant, he has grown to have a particular passion for equipping school teams that support students with autism. Patrick enjoys engaging educators through his hybrid of inspirational and instructional speaking. He is currently working toward becoming a certified member of the John C. Maxwell Leadership program. To learn more, visit his website at www.patrickmulick.com.

The Countdown to “ABA Tools of the Trade” Begins

We’re incredibly excited to let you know about a new collaboration between Sam Blanco, MSEd, BCBA and Val Demiri, PhD that will focus on data collection and effective behavior change in the classroom while utilizing the most effective tools in ABA. Different Roads to Learning is proud to have this excellent resource scheduled for publication in early 2016. The partnership between these two powerhouses is sure to make ABA Tools of the Trade: A Resource for Data Collection and Effective Behavior Change a must-have for your library.

The book bridges the gap between applied research and real-world settings, including the classroom, home, and community environments. It provides information about efficient tools available for effective data collection and meaningful behavior change. Beyond exploring a wide range of tools available for your use, it offers a comprehensive analysis of the decision-making process for increasing desirable behaviors, decreasing maladaptive behaviors, and examining your own behavior.

We’ll be sharing a tip from Sam and Val’s excellent Facebook page – ABA Tools of the Trade – with you every week so be sure to stay tuned.

Autism Parenting Magazine – News, resources, and expert advice for autism parents

Check out the newest issue of Autism Parenting Magazine! With up-to-date news and professional resources for parents of children with autism, this magazine offers expert advice from medical professionals and therapists among others, autism treatment centers and therapies, news and research in the field, and even real life stories from parents and families that inspire and provide support.

 

For more information about the Autism Parenting Magazine, visit their website here.

Application Open for Autism Speaks Local Grants

Photo by Autism Speaks

The Autism Speaks Local Grants application is now open. Through the Chapter, Regional and Neighborhood Grant programs, local organizations may apply for funding of up to $5,000. The Chapter, Regional and Neighborhood Grants programs focus on three objectives:

  1. “to promote local services that enhance the lives of those affected by autism
  2. “to expand the capacity to effectively serve this growing community
  3. “to increase the field of service providers across the country” (Autism Speaks)

The program notes that careful consideration will be given to those who specially provide services to underserved communities, as well as those who provide opportunities for individuals of varying functioning levels.

For more information about the application process, interested organizations may visit their FAQ page. Click here to apply!

 

Registration Open for the Ethics in Professional Practice Conference 2015

Presented by the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies and the Van Loan School at Endicott College, MA, the 3rd Annual Ethics in Professional Practice Conference will be held on Friday, August 7, 2015. Register for your spot now for a great opportunity to hear leaders in the fields of Psychology, Business, Autism and Applied Behavior Analysis. Speakers include R. Wayne Fuqua, PhD, BCBA-D, Michael F. Dorsey, PhD, BCBA-D and Mary Jane Weiss, PhD, BCBA-D.

Ethics in Professional Practice Conference 2015

For more information, visit the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies event page.