Supporting Your Child With Visuals

Reposted with permission from Ashleigh Evans, MS, BCBA

Visual supports are items used as prompts/cues to help guide one toward the expected behavior. Visual supports are not exclusive to children with autism. Even as adults, we all use visual supports, from our planners to organization apps and more.

Visual supports can be beneficial in reminding children of the expectations and guiding them through adaptive behaviors.

We’ll review a few common visual supports. If your child is receiving treatment, chat with their care team about implementing the most appropriate visual supports for your child. It’s easy to get carried away with all the visuals, but that can get overstimulating for many kids. Try one thing at a time to get a good idea of what is most helpful and build from there.

First-Then Visual

This is a tool that is simple to create and implement. The purpose is to help your child understand what’s to come next. You can create this in a simple way with a paper labeled first on the left side and then on the right side. You can use words or visuals to show your child what the current task is and what will come next.

Typically, the “first” side will have a non-preferred task such as “clean your room” and the “then” side will have a preferred item or activity such as “play outside.” So, first clean your room, then play outside.

Stop Signs

Ensuring your child’s safety is everyone’s number 1 priority. Teaching your child to respond to stop signs can be a great visual prompt as a reminder of locations they can and cannot go around the home.

Place a laminated stop sign on the doors leading outside (or any other areas in the home that are unsafe for your child). This can serve as a reminder to your child to pause and not go out that door if they are unaccompanied by an adult. This will take practice, but once they have the idea down, stop signs can be an excellent prompt!

Visual Schedules

The first-then visual is a simplified visual schedule showing two activities. A full visual schedule can be created to help your child understand several upcoming events. There are many ways to set this up. For example, you could set this up as a schedule of their full day. Or you may create one to support them through a portion of their day, such as the bedtime routine consisting of brush teeth, put on pajamas, bedtime story, etc.

Again, there are many ways you can go about creating this including using pictures or words. You could go about creating one yourself or purchasing one.

Visual Timers

Visual timers can be a really helpful way to help a child who doesn’t quite understand the concept of time, comprehend how much time is left of an activity. The red on the clock visually displays how much time is remaining for an activity or until an upcoming transition.

Visuals can be so valuable in prompting us through our daily lives. Finding effective visual supports for your child can make a huge difference.

About the Author

Ashleigh Evans, MS, is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She has been practicing in the behavior analysis field for over 13 years and opened her own independent practice in early 2022. Her experience has been vast across different age groups, diagnoses, and needs. She is passionate about improving the field through education, reformative action, and better supervisory practices, leading her to create content and resources for families and ABA professionals which can be found on her website,

Posted in ABA

Enhancing Emotional Understanding: Incorporating Emotion Flashcards in Natural Environment Teaching Activities for Children with Autism

By: Nicole Gorden, M.S., BCBA, LBA

Helping children with autism understand and express emotions is beneficial for their social and emotional development. One effective way to support this is by incorporating emotion flashcards into natural environment teaching (NET) activities. Below, we will explore the benefits of using emotion flashcards, provide guidance on incorporating them into everyday activities, and highlight their impact on promoting emotional understanding in children with autism. Whether you’re a parent, clinician, or teacher, this resource will empower you to create engaging and effective learning experiences for children with autism.

Understanding Emotion Flashcards

Emotion flashcards are visual aids that depict various emotions through pictures or illustrations. These cards provide a concrete representation of emotions, making them accessible and easily understandable for children with autism. By using emotion flashcards, we can teach children to identify, label, and understand their own emotions, as well as recognize and empathize with the emotions of others.

Benefits of Emotion Flashcards in NET Activities

  1. Visual Supports: Emotion flashcards offer visual supports that enhance communication and comprehension for children with autism. The visual nature of the cards helps bridge the gap between verbal and nonverbal communication, enabling children to better grasp and express emotions.
  2. Generalization: Incorporating emotion flashcards into naturally occurring activities allows children to practice recognizing and understanding emotions in various contexts. This promotes generalization of skills, helping children transfer their knowledge of emotions from flashcards to real-life situations.
  3. Personalization: Emotion flashcards can be customized to reflect the individual experiences and preferences of each child. Personalized cards featuring familiar faces or specific situations can help children relate to the emotions depicted and make the learning experience more meaningful and relevant.

Incorporating Emotion Flashcards in NET Activities

  1. Start with Basic Emotions: Begin by introducing a small set of basic emotions, such as happy, sad, angry, and surprised. Use the emotion flashcards during play activities that naturally evoke these emotions. For example, during playtime, show the happy card when the child is engaged in an enjoyable activity.
  2. Emotion Charades: Engage the child in a game of emotion charades using the flashcards. Take turns acting out an emotion while the other person guesses which emotion is being depicted. This activity promotes perspective-taking and understanding of nonverbal cues.
  3. Emotion Identification: Show the child a flashcard and ask them to identify the corresponding emotion. Provide reinforcement and praise for correct responses. Gradually increase the complexity by introducing more nuanced emotions, such as excited, frustrated, or worried.
  4. Emotion Role-Play: Use the flashcards to create role-play scenarios. Assign different emotions to the child and yourself, and act out how each emotion might be expressed in various situations. Encourage the child to mimic the facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice associated with each emotion.
  5. Emotion Matching: Create a matching game using emotion flashcards and corresponding facial expression cards. Have the child match the emotion flashcards with pictures of people displaying the corresponding emotions. This activity helps reinforce recognition and understanding of emotions in different contexts.
  6. Emotion Sorting: Provide a variety of flashcards representing different emotions and ask the child to sort them into categories based on positive and negative emotions or high-intensity and low-intensity emotions. This activity encourages categorization and differentiation of emotions.
  7. Emotion Journaling: Incorporate the use of emotion flashcards in a journaling activity. Have the child select a flashcard that represents how they are feeling at different times of the day and encourage them to write or draw their experiences and reflections.

Incorporating emotion flashcards into natural environment teaching activities can be a powerful tool for promoting emotional understanding in children with autism. By using visual supports, personalized experiences, and engaging activities, we can help children identify and understand emotions, enhance their social interactions, and develop important skills for lifelong emotional well-being. Whether you’re a parent, clinician, or teacher, incorporating emotion flashcards into everyday activities can create meaningful learning experiences that support the emotional growth of children with autism.

About the Author

Nicole Gorden, M.S., BCBA, LBA has over 14 years of experience implementing Applied Behavior Analysis principles with the Autism Population. She currently works for Comprehensive Behavior Supports in Brooklyn, NY.

Posted in ABA

ASD Intervention: How Do We Measure Effectiveness?

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Daniel W. Mruzek, PhD, BCBA-D, University of Rochester. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

Marketers of purported interventions for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), whether they are pills, devices, or exercises, claim that their products are effective. As proof, they point to any number of measures: some valid, some questionable, and some potentially misleading. Given that many of these “treatments” may be costly, ineffective and even dangerous, it is good to consider what constitutes legitimate measures of therapeutic benefit. How will we know if the intervention actually works?

A first step when presented with a potential treatment option is to investigate its scientific record. One can certainly ask the marketer (or therapist, interventionist, clinician, etc.) for examples of already published and peer-reviewed studies examining the effectiveness of their recommended intervention. An honest marketer will be glad to give you what they have in this regard or freely disclose that none exist. A good second step is to consult with a trusted professional (e.g., physician, psychologist, or behavior analyst who knows your family member) to get an objective appraisal of the intervention. If, after this first level of investigation is completed, a decision is made to pursue a particular intervention for a family member, there are additional questions that one can ask the marketer prior to implementation. Such questions may prove very helpful in determining effectiveness after the intervention has been employed. These include the following:

Question 1: “What behaviors should change as a result of the intervention?”

Virtually any ASD intervention that is truly effective will result in observable change in behavior. For example, a speech intervention may very well result in increased spoken language (e.g., novel words, greater rate of utterances). An academic intervention should result in specific new academic skills (e.g., independent proficiency with particular math operations). An exercise purported to decrease the occurrence of challenging behavior will, if effective, result in a lower rate of specific challenging behaviors (e.g., tantrums, self-injury). As “consumers” of ASD interventions, you and your family member have every right to expect that the marketer will identify specific, objective, and measurable changes in behaviors that indicate treatment efficacy. Scientists refer to such definitions as “operational definitions” – these are definitions that are written using observable and measurable terms. If the marketer insists on using ill-defined, “fuzzy” descriptions of treatment benefit (e.g., “increased sense of well-being”, “greater focus and intentionality”, an increased “inner balance” or “regulation”), then “Buyer Beware!” These kinds of outcome goals will leave you guessing about treatment effect. Insist that operational definitions of target behaviors be agreed upon prior to starting the intervention.

Question 2: “How will these behavior changes be measured?”

Behavior change is often gradual and may occur in “fits and starts” (i.e., the change is variable). In some cases, the behavior may initially deteriorate. Also, our perception of behavior change can be impacted by any number of events (e.g., the co-occurrence of other therapies, our expectations for change). Therefore, it is the marketer’s responsibility to offer up a plan for collecting data regarding any change in the identified “target” behaviors. Usually, it is best to record numerical data (e.g., number of new words spoken by the individual, number of bladder accidents, duration [in minutes] of tantrums). The use of numerical data to measure the change of operationally defined target behaviors is one of the best ways for a treatment team to elevate their discussion above opinion, conjecture, and misrepresentation. If a pill, therapy, or gadget is helpful, there is almost assuredly a change in behavior. And, that change is almost always quantifiable. Setting up a system to collect these numerical data prior to the initiation of the new intervention is a key to objective evaluation of intervention. Don’t do intervention without it.

Question 3: “When will we look at these intervention data and how will they be presented?”

Of course, it is not enough to collect data; these data need to be regularly reviewed by the team! One of the best ways to portray data is “graphically”, such as plotting points on a graph, so that they can be inspected visually. This gives the team a chance to monitor overall rates or levels of target behaviors, as well as identify possible trends (i.e., the “direction” of the data over time, such as decreasing or increasing rates) and look for change that may occur after the start of the new intervention. Note that the review of treatment data is generally a team process, meaning that relevant members of the team, including the clinicians (or educators), parents, the individual with ASD (as appropriate) often should look at these data together. Science is a communal process, and this is one of the things that makes it a powerful agent of change.

An interventionist with a background in behavior analysis can set up strategies for evaluating a possible treatment effect. For example, in order to gauge the effectiveness of a new intervention, a team may elect to use a “reversal design,” in which the target behaviors are monitored with and without the intervention in place. If, for example, a team wishes to assess the helpfulness of a weighted blanket in promoting a child’s healthful sleep through the night, data regarding duration of sleep and number of times out of bed might be looked at during a week with the blanket available at bedtime and a week without the blanket available. Another strategy is to use the intervention on “odd” days and not use it on “even” days. Data from both “odd” and “even” days can be graphed for visual inspection, and, if the intervention is helpful, a “gap” will appear between the data sets representing the two conditions. These strategies are not complex, but they give the team an opportunity to objectively appraise whether or not a specific intervention is helpful, which is much better than informal observation. Few things are as clarifying in a team discussion as plotted data placed on the table of a team meeting.

If the marketer does not answer these questions directly and satisfactorily, consider turning to a trusted professional (e.g., psychologist, physician, or behavior analyst) for help. Families have a right to know whether their hard-earned money, as well as their time and energy, are being spent wisely. Asking these questions “up front” when confronted with a new intervention idea will help. Marketers have a responsibility to present their evidence – both the “state-of-the-science” as reflected in peer-reviewed research, as well as their plans to measure the potential effectiveness of their intervention for the individual whom they are serving.

Citation for this article:

Mruzek, D. W. (2014). ASD intervention: How do we measure effectiveness? Science in Autism Treatment, 11(3), 20-21

About the Author

Daniel W. Mruzek, PhD, BCBA-D has been a member of the faculty at the University of Rochester since 2002 and currently maintains an appointment in the Departments of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Psychology. Also, he is CEO of Elevation Behavioral Services LLC, based at the Golisano Autism Center in Rochester, NY. As a psychologist and behavior analyst, Dr. Mruzek specializes in direct consultation and technical assistance to school districts and agencies through the region, nationally, and internationally. His areas of expertise include clinical and psychoeducational assessment of individuals with developmental and learning disabilities, assessment and treatment of challenging behavior, and promotion of inclusive practices (e.g., staff training and direct consultation to instructional teams). As a researcher, he has been the primary investigator and investigator on projects including the MCH Autism Intervention Research Program, the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, Seychelles Child Development Study, and the UR Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC).  A member of numerous committees and professional organizations, Dr. Mruzek is on the board of reviewers for several peer-reviewed scientific journals. His research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, and he has published chapters in various books and monographs and in peer-reviewed journals including The Journal of the American Medical Association, Autism, and Environmental International.

Posted in ABA

How do you figure out what motivates your students?

This 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 You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

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.


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.

Originally reposted to Different Roads to Learning on September 28, 2017

Back to School!  Using Behavioral Strategies to Support Academic Success

By Dana Reinecke, Ph.D., BCBA-D

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

  • Choice

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

  • Momentum

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

  • Task Distribution

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

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


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

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

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

About The Author

Dana Reinecke, Ph.D., BCBA-D is a New York State Licensed Psychologist and Licensed Behavior Analyst (LBA).   Dana is an Assistant Program Director in the Applied Behavior Analysis department at Capella University, overseeing the PhD in Behavior Analysis program and mentoring doctoral learners.  She is also co-owner of SupervisorABA, an online platform for BACB supervision curriculum and documentation.  Dana has provided training and consultation to school districts, private schools, agencies, and families for individuals with disabilities. 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 a Past President of the New York State Association for Behavior Analysis (NYSABA).

Originally published by Different Roads to Learning on September 21, 2017.

An Approachable Guide to Differential Reinforcement

By Morgan van Diepen, M.Ed., BCBA, co-founder of ABA Visualized

When it comes to teaching behavior strategies, reinforcement is one of the fundamental tools we use to encourage learners to develop new skills. Reinforcement can take various forms, such as praise, stickers, breaks, toys, or even homework passes. However, amid the importance of this strategy, there is often confusion surrounding different approaches, not to mention the jargon that comes with it – DRA, DRI, DRO – no wonder it can feel overwhelming!

Let’s demystify the concept of “differential reinforcement” and discuss when to use each type!

Differential reinforcement is a method of providing varying levels of recognition and rewards based on the behaviors we want to promote. In simpler terms, we adjust our responses to encourage learners to display certain skills more frequently. Let’s illustrate this with an example:

Imagine we are teaching a child to tie their shoes. Usually, they need a lot of support, but today they make an extraordinary effort to do it independently. In such a scenario, we can show more excitement in our celebrations and grant them extra playtime outside as a special reward for their progress. On days when they display less independent effort, we may show less excitement. Effort = Reward!

Similarly, in a school setting, consider a student who requires frequent reminders to stay on task. If they ask for a break, we could give them a short, two-minute break. However, if they have demonstrated exceptional focus and then requested a break, we might grant them a longer, five-minute break as a reward for their extra effort. The idea is that by adjusting our celebrations, we are encouraging more independence in new skills!

To dive a bit deeper, there are different types of differential reinforcement: Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior (DRA), Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behavior (DRI), and Differential Reinforcement of Other Behavior (DRO). While all this jargon can be confusing, it’s essential that behavior experts understand these concepts and when to use each one, as they each have their own unique benefits.

Let’s look at what each of these approaches would look like for one scenario: a learner who struggles with sharing and often grabs items from others, occasionally also hitting or pinching them (with the function of access).

Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior (DRA)

In DRA, we are aiming to build a behavior that is a better way for them to access or express their wants and needs. This behavior matches the function of the challenging behavior, meaning it’s just a better way for them to get what they want or need. In a DRA, we are often recognizing their engagement in communication skills like asking for help, a break, space, more time, items/activities, or attention by rewarding them with exactly what they asked for. In this scenario, when the learner asks for a turn, we recognize and reward his use of communication by allowing him to have a turn. Reminder: always individualize expectations based on your learner’s communication mode!

Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behavior (DRI)

In DRI, we are aiming to build a behavior of a specific expectation. This often involves tolerating something they may not particularly want to do, but need to do, including going to school, taking turns, completing assignments, keeping hands to self, and following directions. The team will choose one specific behavior to build and then determine a reward that the learner can earn for engaging in this expected behavior. The reward can be anything that’s motivating! In this scenario, even though the learner would rather being playing with the slime, he’s learning to share by waiting for his turn. When he waits for a certain amount of time, he earns the reward!

Differential Reinforcement of Other Behavior (DRO)

In DRO, our focus is on reducing the challenging behavior by rewarding times that it did not occur. The learner does not have to engage in any specific behavior to earn the reward, just refrain from the challenging behavior. First, determine how often the behavior is occurring and then create a schedule where the learner can earn a reward for going a specific amount of time (just less than their baseline) without engaging in the target challenging behavior. In this example, the learner was grabbing items and hitting his sister about every 20 minutes. The mom set up a schedule where every 15 minutes that he goes without grabbing/hitting, he earns a reward. Similar to DRI, the reward here can be anything that’s motivating! With this strategy, instead of recognizing and rewarding a specific skill (like requesting for a turn or waiting), we are rewarding the absence of challenging behaviors.

To choose which approach is best for your learner, identify the team’s priority goal!

  • Building communication/self-advocacy → Try DRA
  • Teaching tolerance → Try DRI
  • Maintaining safety → Try DRO

It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to differential reinforcement. Each learner is unique, and behavior experts should tailor their strategies to suit individual needs and challenges. You might choose to start with one approach and transition to another once certain target skills have been developed successfully. For example, if a learner frequently has challenging behaviors when asked to transition off preferred items and they haven’t yet learned to ask for more time, DRA would be a great choice to recognize and reward this communication. But once they are consistently asking for more time, moving to a DRI where they learn to tolerate “no” would be an appropriate next step. By using a range of reinforcement options and gradually fading out rewards as skills improve, we can encourage faster progress and build better behaviors effectively.

At ABA Visualized, we are committed to making behavior expertise approachable and easy to understand. In addition to the visuals seen here, our 2nd Edition ABA Visualized Guidebook offers 27 evidence-based visual strategies that embody a compassionate approach to supporting learners, including a new chapter on specific strategies for inclusive classrooms! With brand-new strategies and reimagined classics, you can feel confident you are supporting learners with current best practices and compassion. We’ve also updated our collection of templates and tools to accommodate the use of the strategies, making this a truly comprehensive resource!

About the Author

Our mission at ABA Visualized is to make behavioral expertise approachable, accessible, and relatable. This has been our mission since our first publication in 2018 and continues to guide decisions in everything we do.

As a BCBA working abroad and then with the vibrant international community in Los Angeles, Morgan quickly developed a passion for supporting under-serviced families. She realized the recurring barriers affecting these communities and limiting their access to effective behavioral expertise: long waitlists to learn from expert service providers and an abundance of technical jargon-filled texts. Morgan began to refine her approach to better disseminate behavior strategies to those who truly need it: families and educators.

As an infographic designer, Morgan’s husband, Boudewijn (Bou), naturally understands how visual storytelling can make the unclear, clear and the unknown, known. In a true collaboration between Morgan and Bou’s skillset, their flagship product, the ABA Visualized Guidebook, was created utilizing step-by-step visuals and approachable language to accomplish that sought-after accessible behavior expertise.

Since this publication, ABA Visualized as a company has grown to offer a collection of books and trainings available worldwide. We aim to continue empowering others through approachable education on strategies that can make truly meaningful impacts on individuals’ lives.

Posted in ABA

Essential for Living (EFL): What’s It All About?

By Patrick McGreevy and Troy Fry, Essential for Living

Essential for Living was published in 2013 and is a result of the guidance of our professors, Ogden Lindsley, Don Baer, and Mont Wolf, and the many children and adults with moderate-to-severe disabilities and limited skill repertoires. While many of these children and adults have autism, many others have congenital disorders like Down syndrome, Angelman syndrome, and any one of a number of other congenital conditions or pervasive disabilities that were acquired later in life.

Essential for Living is about all of these children and adults. It focuses on teaching the Essential Eight life skills, which help learners achieve better quality of life and eventually transition beyond a school setting:

  • Making Requests (mands)
  • Waiting after the request is made
  • Accepting Removals: Transitions, Sharing, and Taking Turns
  • Completing Required Tasks
  • Accepting “No”
  • Following Directions related to Health and Safety
  • Completing Daily Living Skills related to Health and Safety
  • Tolerating Situations related to Health and Safety

Our mission is to bring these Essential Eightlife skills to these children and adults, most of whom have difficulty fully understanding abstract concepts and making consistent progress on either a developmental curriculum like the VB-MAPP, or academic standards like the Common Core or Alternate Assessment Standards. The goal of this mission is to improve quality of life, rather than to catch up to typically developing peers or reach academic standards designed for those peers.

By shifting the learning goals away from meeting a more academic curriculum, Essential for Living offers more individualized and inclusive therapy that bolsters success among a wider range of learners, including individuals with more limiting or severe disabilities who are not a good fit for assessments like the VB-MAPP or the ABLLS-R.

To accomplish this goal, the EFL Handbook and EFL: The Teaching Manual include:

1.  Issues you should consider addressing and skills you should consider teaching first;

2. Teaching procedures, some of which may not be familiar to you, that may be required with children and adults with limited skill repertoires; and

3.  Performance criteria that include fluency.

An assessment with EFL will result in a list of specific skill deficits and problem behaviors that can become goals and objectives in an IEP or ISP, rather than a numerical indication of performance levels with respect to other learners or published performance standards. Learners will also receive alternative methods of speaking for non-verbal children and adults that last a lifetime.

Teaching with EFL will result in more effective teaching procedures and behavior plans, and more meaningful outcomes; more efficient IEP reviews and quarterly progress reports which include small increments of learner progress; and meaningful and achievable performance standards for teacher/therapist self-evaluation. Later, when it’s time for a transition plan, Essential for Living will guide instruction toward skills and outcomes that will matter in a post-school or post-clinic environment.

By making essential life skills obtainable early in life and beyond the classroom, we meet learners where they are. When we start with these strong foundations, we ensure better quality of life for all learners, no matter what their ability level.

About the Authors

Patrick McGreevy, Ph.D., BCBA-D

Patrick McGreevy received B.S. and M.A. degrees in Psychology and Special Education, respectively, from the University of Iowa. He was a special education teacher for eight years, working with children and young adults with moderate-to-severe developmental disabilities. He received the Ph.D. degree in Education from Kansas University under the guidance of Ogden R. Lindsley. He has served on the faculties of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Louisiana State University, the University of Central Florida, and the Florida Institute of Technology. He is the author of Teaching and Learning in Plain English, an introduction to Precision Teaching, and the founder and first editor of the Journal of Precision Teaching and Standard Celeration Charting. He is the author of ten journal articles and a book chapter on teaching verbal behavior. He is the first author of Essential for Living, a functional skills curriculum, assessment, and professional practitioner’s handbook based on B. F. Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior for children and adults with moderate-to-severe disabilities. For the past 30 years, he has provided consultations for children and adults with developmental disabilities in school districts, residential programs, and hospitals, specializing in the simultaneous management of aggressive and self-injurious behavior and the teaching of communication and language skills to individuals with limited repertoires. He is board certified behavior analyst, has given hundreds of presentations and workshops around the world, and is the recipient of the Ogden R. Lindsley Lifetime Achievement Award of the Standard Celeration Society. He is the President and Director of Consultation and Training Services for Essential for Living, P.A.

Troy Fry, M.S., BCBA

Troy Fry received his B.A. in Science and Mathematics from North Dakota State University and M.S. degree in Behavior Analysis and Therapy from Southern Illinois University. Troy attended the University Of Kansas doctorate program in the Department of Human Development and Family life for four years. He has been a Board Certified Behavior Analyst for the past 25 years. Troy has worked with children and adults with significant developmental disabilities in schools, clinics, hospitals, and residential programs across North America and Europe. Over the years, he has held the positions of teacher, consultant, clinical director, and chief executive officer. He is the second author of Essential for Living, a functional skills curriculum, assessment, and professional practitioner’s handbook based on B. F. Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior for children and adults with moderate-to-severe disabilities. He is the Associate Director of Training and Consultation Services for Essential for Living, P.A.

Posted in ABA

Promoting Engagement and Enrichment: Summer Activities for Children with Autism

By: Nicole Gorden, M.S., BCBA, LBA

During the summer break, parents and providers of children with autism may seek guidance on effective strategies to keep them engaged and occupied during this time. Fortunately, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) research provides valuable insights and evidence-based interventions to ensure a fulfilling and enjoyable summer experience for children on the autism spectrum. Let’s explore some research-backed strategies and resources aimed at keeping children engaged and occupied during the summer months.

1. Implement Structured Schedules

Children with autism benefit from predictable routines, which can reduce anxiety and promote a sense of stability (Smith et al., 2018). Establish a visual schedule that outlines the daily activities and transitions, incorporating both familiar routines and new summer-specific activities. Visual schedules, such as picture-based schedules, can effectively help children understand and anticipate their daily routines. If you are in need of some resources, you can find visual schedules here:

2. Engage in Sensory Play

Sensory play activities can offer opportunities for exploration, self-regulation, and sensory integration for children with autism. Research has shown that sensory-based interventions can lead to improvements in attention, social interaction, and adaptive behavior (Schilling et al., 2003). Consider incorporating sensory-rich activities, such as playing with water, sand, or textured materials, to provide engaging and stimulating experiences for your child. If you are interested in some supplies to encourage sensory play, you can find materials here:

3. Explore Nature and Outdoor Activities

Outdoor activities can provide numerous benefits for children with autism, including sensory experiences, physical exercise, and social interaction opportunities (Fisher et al., 2011). Take advantage of the summer weather and engage in activities such as visiting parks, going on nature walks, or participating in outdoor sports. These experiences can foster exploration, imagination, and a connection with the natural world.

4. Promote Social Interactions

Social skills development is a crucial aspect of a child’s overall development. Encourage social interactions by organizing playdates with peers who understand and support your child’s unique needs. In addition, community-based programs and summer camps specifically designed for children with autism offer structured environments that facilitate socialization and skill-building (Vernon et al., 2014). Such programs often provide opportunities for positive peer interactions and the development of social skills. You can check out these social skills games and activities as well:

5. Utilize Technology and Educational Resources

Technology can serve as a valuable tool to support engagement and learning for children with autism. Educational apps and websites designed for children with autism offer interactive and individualized activities that can enhance communication, academic skills, and independence (Ramdoss et al., 2011). Carefully select age-appropriate and evidence-based resources to ensure their effectiveness in promoting skill development.

6. Incorporate Special Interests

Children with autism often have unique and intense interests. These special interests can be leveraged to foster engagement and motivation during the summer break. Encourage activities related to your child’s interests, such as reading books, engaging in crafts, or participating in outings aligned with their passions (Solomon et al., 2008). By incorporating their special interests into summer activities, you can create meaningful and enjoyable experiences that support their overall development.

With the support of evidence-based strategies, parents and providers can ensure that children with autism have an engaging and fulfilling summer break. By implementing structured schedules, incorporating sensory play, exploring nature, promoting social interactions, utilizing technology and educational resources, and embracing special interests, you can create a summer filled with enriching experiences for your child. Remember, each child is unique, so adapt these strategies to meet their individual needs and preferences. By doing so, you can make this summer a time of growth, fun, and lifelong memories for your child with autism.


Smith, T., Klorman, R., & Mruzek, D. W. (2018). Predicting summer learning gains for students with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(6), 1930-1942.

Schilling, D. L., Schwartz, I. S., & Sandall, S. R. (2003). Children with autism in inclusive preschool settings: Can teaching assistants effectively implement behavioral interventions? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33(5), 559-571.

Fisher, A. G., Bundy, A. C., & Murray, E. A. (2011). Sensory integration: Theory and practice (2nd ed.). F. A. Davis Company.

Vernon, T. W., Miller, A. R., Ko, J. A., & Pugliese, C. E. (2014). Recreation programs for children with autism: Impact on families. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 48(4), 271-288.

Ramdoss, S., Lang, R., Mulloy, A., Franco, J. H., O’Reilly, M., Didden, R., … & Lancioni, G. (2011). Use of computer-based interventions to teach communication skills to individuals with autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review. Journal of Behavioral Education, 20(1), 55-76.

Solomon, M., Ono, M., Timmer, S., & Goodlin-Jones, B. L. (2008). The effectiveness of parent-child interaction therapy for families of children on the autism spectrum. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(9), 1767-1776.

About the Author

Nicole Gorden, M.S., BCBA, LBA has over 14 years of experience implementing Applied Behavior Analysis principles with the Autism Population. She currently works for Comprehensive Behavior Supports in Brooklyn, NY.

Posted in ABA

Meet the Treatment Team

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Kate McKenna, MEd, MSEd, MS, BCBA, and Executive Director David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D, Association for Science in Autism Treatment. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

This is Part 1 of the Description of the Treatment Team series.

Individuals with autism often receive services from multi-disciplinary teams. Treatment teams work in partnership with the individual and their family. The members of a team, and their specialties, may depend on the individual’s current level of functioning, the nature of the needs and concerns, the age of the individual at the onset of intervention, and the type of school or community setting where services are provided. The composition of the treatment team may also change as the individual ages. Below we provide a brief description of the roles of those likely to be members of a treatment team. For more information see Ramirez and Pantelides (2019). Please note that these members are listed alphabetically.

Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs)

Board Certified Behavior Analysts work with families and other team members on a wide range of activities related to improving language, social communication, play, academic, and daily living skills. BCBAs will also work to teach functional communication and other replacement skills with the goal of reducing challenging behavior that negatively impacts the individual’s ability to learn in the least restrictive environment. BCBAs will, if necessary, conduct behavioral assessments related to, for example, language and social skills or challenging behavior. They then provide interpretations of the results of such assessments to families and team members. Many BCBAs also hold licenses or certifications in other disciplines, such as special education, speech-language pathology, or psychology. For more information about what to expect from a quality program designed by a BCBA, click here.

Depending on the state and the services mandated in the Individualized Education Plan (IEP), a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) or a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) may be the person working with the individual. BCaBAs and RBTs receive training at institutions accredited by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) and work under the supervision of a BCBA. If they are providing services to the individual, they may attend and contribute to team meetings. Before team meetings, it would be important to work on communication systems with the BCBA concerning whom to talk with about what, as some of your questions and concerns should be addressed directly with the BCBA.

Early Intervention Providers

Early intervention providers seek to address the needs of children suspected of disabilities from birth to three years of age. In some states, early intervention is defined as birth to five years of age. Children in this age group must meet eligibility criteria, which differ from state to state, in order to qualify for services. Priorities in early intervention often include addressing deficits in cognitive, language, motor, social, play, and self-care skills. Focus in these areas seeks to reduce the gap between the child’s skills and those of their typically developing agemates and to prepare the child for public school. Early intervention providers deliver an array of services to both the child and the family, and these should be clearly delineated on a child’s Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).

General Education Teachers

General education teachers work with students in preschool, elementary, and secondary schools. They provide services to large groups of students, although class sizes range from school to school. Given the federal mandate that children participate to the fullest extent possible in the least restrictive settings, children with autism and related disorders often have considerable contact with general education teachers. This may involve an all-day placement or parts of the day spent in activities with same-aged neurotypical classmates. Since general education teachers have tremendous experience with typically developing children and the vast array of learning potentials, their input and perspectives on age-appropriate skills can be invaluable. In some states, the presence of a general education teacher at IEP meetings is required. In that role, they provide information about the grade level curriculum, prerequisite skills necessary for access to that curriculum, and the level of functioning typical of students at that age and grade. If the child receives shadowing support from a paraprofessional, the general education teachers will work closely with those individuals within their respective classrooms.

Occupational Therapists (OTs)

Occupational therapists (OT) providing early intervention (birth to age 3) may focus on gestures and actions critical for interacting effectively with the environment. This can involve functional and symbolic play with toys, coloring, stickers, play dough, and toy musical instruments. As children age and the focus shifts to preparation for school, goals related to fine motor skills such as handwriting, cutting, and the effective and efficient use of manipulatives may be targeted. Across the lifespan, occupational therapists work on daily living skills such as dressing and hygiene, as well as skills necessary for employment, leisure skill development, navigating the community, and living as independently as possible. For more detailed information about occupational therapy, click here.


The goal of paraprofessional teaching staff is to support the efforts of teachers. Their involvement varies widely with respect to both the amount and nature of their contact with students. For example, paraprofessionals may be involved in one-to-one teaching, small group instruction, or shadowing and supporting the child with autism in a general education classroom. Paraprofessionals working in a classroom are typically supervised by a special education teacher. Despite the limits of their role, it is often the case that a paraprofessional may spend the most time with the student during the school day, compared with the other team members. Thus, their input at team meetings may provide important information about the student’s response to services, although they may not always be present at these meetings.

Physical Therapists (PTs)

Physical therapists (PT) are concerned with establishing, improving, or restoring physical function of large muscles in gross motor activities such as navigating stairs, riding a bike, safe use of park equipment, and muscle movements necessary to engage in age-appropriate physical games and activities. PTs use therapeutic exercises to improve posture, locomotion, strength, endurance, balance, coordination, joint mobility, and range of movement and flexibility. The goal of physical therapy is the development and improvement of gross motor and basic movement skills.

Psychological Providers

Depending on the setting in which services are provided, clinical psychologists, school psychologists, or family counselors, may be included as ongoing team members. Parent training, participation in social skill groups, or behavior therapy can be included in mandated services on a student’s IEP. In some cases, the involvement of these providers may be restricted to conducting evaluations and making recommendations as part of the diagnostic process.

Social Workers

In some states, a social worker who specializes in autism may be part of the treatment team. The training that social workers receive in counseling, problem-solving, and monitoring the well-being of individuals and families, allows them to bring a wider perspective to the work of the treatment team. Social workers support individuals and families in a variety of ways, including aiding in filling out and filing paperwork to obtain additional services, serving as a clearinghouse of information on support services available in the state or community, acting as an advocate in dealing with local and state government agencies, and providing individual or group counseling. In some cases, a social worker may serve as the case manager.

Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers focus on meeting the unique educational needs of children with identified disabilities such as autism. They provide an array of services that can be delineated on a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Special education teachers work with students with autism in a variety of settings, including inclusive co-taught classrooms (ICT), self-contained classrooms, or in resource rooms. Placement typically depends on the extent of the student’s needs for modifications and support. In ICT rooms, special education teachers work closely with general education teachers in adapting and supporting the general education experience to make it more meaningful for the child with autism. In addition, the special education teacher typically supervises the efforts of paraprofessionals.

Special Education Itinerant Teachers (SEITs)

A special education itinerant teacher (SEIT) is a special educator who provides one-on-one educational support to students. The exact role of SEITs, the settings in which services are provided, and the ages of students served varies from state to state. In some states, SEITs work exclusively with children ages three to five, either in the home or in a preschool/daycare, spending all or part of the school day providing scaffolding and support to facilitate the student’s access to the curriculum and social interactions with peers. In others, teachers travel to different schools and work with students in elementary, middle, and high school. As members of the treatment team, SEITs provide updates on student progress, report on assessments they conduct, and suggest strategies to maximize student performance. If a student meets criteria, a SEIT provides a bridge from home to school if the student is unable to attend school in-person due, for example, to a prolonged illness.

Speech and Language Pathologists (SLPs)

Speech and language pathologists (SLP) are involved in the treatment of communication, language, and speech impairments. In addition, some speech and language therapists are educated in the treatment of swallowing and feeding disorders. SLPs respond to a variety of goals related to the muscle control necessary for speech production, articulation, prosody, vocabulary development, receptive and expressive language skills, conversation skills, and social pragmatics. When working with individuals who struggle significantly with spoken communication, speech pathologists are also involved in the selection and implementation of augmentative communication systems (see description on website).

The Importance of Science-Based Treatment

Science and evidence-based strategies and techniques should be the core of a treatment plan. It is important to note that providers may vary widely with respect to their commitment to scientifically validated treatments for autism. Some providers rely exclusively on scientifically validated treatments, others emphasize such treatments but may not restrict their practice to them (i.e., they may also use procedures that remain untested and lack scientific evidence), and still others appear to be providing services without consideration of scientific support for the methods they use.

Furthermore, some providers collect data to objectively assess whether their interventions are leading to positive outcomes, whereas other providers do not use data and rely exclusively on subjective impressions to assess progress. These differences exist across all disciplines, so consumers should assume their right to ask questions about how progress will be measured.

Finally, keep in mind that a license or certification is no guarantee that an individual: 1) possesses adequate, or even any, experience working with individuals with autism; 2) uses scientifically validated methods when providing their services; and 3) relies on data to guide their assessment of progress and decision making, and 4) brings a strong sense of collaboration and compassion to the team.

For more information about science-based autism treatments or being a savvy consumer, click here.


Ramirez, H., & Pantelides, M. (2019). Clinical corner: What does it mean to become an advocate for my child on multi-disciplinary teams? Science in Autism Treatment16(12).

Citation for this article:

McKenna, K., & Celiberti, D. (2023). Description of the treatment team. Science in Autism Treatment, 20(4).

About the Authors

Kate McKenna, MEd, MSEd, MS, BCBA, LBA, received a Masters in Child Study from the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study at Tufts University, a Masters in Special Education from Pace University, and a Masters in ABA from Hunter College.  In addition to New York state certifications in general and special education from Birth to Grade 2 and Grades 1-6, she holds a New York State Annotated Certification in Severe/Multiple Disabilities. Kate is currently completing a Masters degree in Children’s Literature at Eastern Michigan University.  She was an extern at the Association for Science in Autism Treatment before joining the Board of Directors in 2020.

David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D, is the Executive Director of ASAT and Past-President, a role he served from 2006 to 2012. He is the Editor of ASAT’s monthly publication, Science in Autism Treatment. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from Rutgers University in 1993 and his certification in behavior analysis in 2000. Dr. Celiberti has served on a number of advisory boards and special interest groups in the field of autism, applied behavior analysis (ABA), and early childhood education. 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 ABA at both undergraduate and graduate levels, supervised individuals pursuing BCBA certifications, and conducted research in the areas of ABA, family intervention, and autism.

Posted in ABA

Nurturing Self-Care: Prioritizing Wellness for Teachers and Clinicians Supporting Children with Autism during the Summer Months

By: Nicole Gorden, M.S., BCBA, LBA

As teachers and clinicians dedicated to supporting children with autism, it’s important to recognize that prioritizing self-care is not only essential for our own well-being but also for the quality of care we provide. The summer months offer a valuable opportunity to focus on nurturing self-care practices and promoting wellness. In this blog post, we will discuss the significance of self-care, examine the benefits it offers to professionals in the field, and provide guidance on how to prioritize self-care during the summer break.

Understanding the Importance of Self-Care

Self-care is not selfish; it is a crucial aspect of maintaining overall health and well-being. It involves intentionally engaging in activities and practices that rejuvenate, nourish, and support our physical, emotional, and mental needs. Prioritizing self-care enables us to bring our best selves to our work and positively impact the lives of the children we support.

Recognizing the Challenges

Working in the field of autism can be rewarding but also demanding and emotionally taxing. As teachers and clinicians, we often invest our time and energy in meeting the needs of others, sometimes neglecting our own well-being. The summer break provides an opportunity to shift the focus back to ourselves and recharge.

Setting Boundaries

One essential aspect of self-care is setting boundaries. Use the summer break as a time to establish clear boundaries between work and personal life. Allocate specific times for work-related tasks and dedicate the rest of your time to personal interests, hobbies, and relaxation. Communicate your boundaries effectively with colleagues, supervisors, and families, ensuring they understand and respect your need for downtime (e.g. – put up that away message and do not check your emails on vacation!).

Engaging in Relaxation and Stress Reduction

Summer offers an ideal time to engage in relaxation techniques and stress reduction activities. Explore practices such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or mindfulness. Dedicate time each day to engage in activities that promote relaxation and help alleviate stress. This can include reading, taking walks in nature, practicing hobbies, or spending quality time with loved ones.

Nurturing Personal Interests

Use the summer break to reconnect with your personal interests and passions. Engaging in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment outside of work is vital for your overall well-being. Pursue hobbies, explore new interests, or enroll in a class or workshop that allows you to develop new skills or indulge in your favorite pastimes.

Connecting with Peers

Building a network of supportive colleagues and peers can significantly contribute to your well-being. Reach out to other professionals in the field, attend conferences or workshops, and engage in discussions or online forums. Sharing experiences, seeking advice, and collaborating with like-minded individuals can provide a sense of support and camaraderie.

Reflecting and Growing

Summer break offers an opportunity for self-reflection and professional growth. Take time to reflect on your experiences, identify areas for improvement, and set goals for the upcoming year. Consider attending professional development workshops or engaging in online courses to expand your knowledge and skills in working with children with autism.

Seeking Support

It’s crucial to recognize that self-care doesn’t mean facing challenges alone. Seek support when needed. Connect with mentors, supervisors, or therapists who can provide guidance and assistance. Remember that seeking help is a sign of strength and a commitment to your well-being.

Prioritizing Physical Health

Maintaining physical health is an integral part of self-care. Use the summer months to establish healthy habits such as regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and sufficient sleep. Engage in activities that promote physical well-being, such as swimming, hiking, cycling, or participating in recreational sports.

Prioritizing self-care as a teacher or clinician supporting children with autism is not only beneficial for your own well-being, but also for the quality of care you provide. Use this summer as an opportunity to set boundaries, engage in relaxation and stress reduction techniques, nurture personal interests, connect with peers, reflect on professional growth, seek support when needed, and prioritize your physical health. By investing in self-care, you will rejuvenate yourself, enhance your ability to support children with autism, and find greater fulfillment in your role. Remember, self-care is not a luxury; it is a necessity for professional longevity and personal satisfaction.

About the Author

Nicole Gorden, M.S., BCBA, LBA has over 14 years of experience implementing Applied Behavior Analysis principles with the Autism Population. She currently works for Comprehensive Behavior Supports in Brooklyn, NY.

Posted in ABA