Resources For Parents

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Peggy Halliday, MEd, BCBA. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

The following websites include milestones’ checklists, booklets, and a wealth of information to help parents become savvy consumers of autism treatment. The contributors are parent groups well as professional, medical, scientific, and legal and/or advocacy organizations which are available to meet the needs of families.

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 

The AAP is an organization of 67,000 pediatricians committed to the well-being of infants, children, adolescents, and young adults. The AAP website contains recent information about autism prevalence, links to many external resources and training websites, information about pediatrician surveillance and screening, and early intervention guidelines. This site offers great tools and resources for both pediatricians and families. 

Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) 

The ABAI is a nonprofit professional membership organization whose objective for education is to develop, improve, and disseminate best practices in the recruitment, training, and professional development of behavior analysts. ABAI offers membership to professionals and consumers, which entitles them to a newsletter and other benefits, including event registration discounts, and continuing education opportunities. 

Association of Professional Behavior Analysts (APBA) 

The APBA is a nonprofit professional membership organization that is focused on serving professional practitioners of behavior analysis by promoting and advancing the science-based practice of applied behavior analysis. Membership is open to professional behavior analysts and others who are interested in the practice of ABA, including professionals from various disciplines, consumers, and students. 

Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT)  

The ASAT is a non-profit organization founded in 1998 “to promote safe, effective, science-based treatments for people with autism by disseminating accurate, timely, and scientifically sound information, advocating for the use of scientific methods to guide treatment, and combating unsubstantiated, inaccurate and false information about autism and its treatment.” To serve its mission ASAT provides a comprehensive website which includes Research Synopses of a vast array of autism treatments to help families and organizations make informed choices, as well as specific resources for journalists, medical providers, and parents of newly diagnosed children. ASAT also publishes a monthly online publication, Science in Autism Treatment, with over 12,000 subscribers from all 50 states and over 100 countries. ASAT has Media Watch Initiative that responds quickly to both accurate and inaccurate portrayals of autism treatment in the media, and an Externship Program which includes students, professionals, and family members.

Autism New Jersey (Autism NJ) 

Autism NJ is now the largest statewide network of parents and professionals dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with autism and their families. Since its establishment in 1965, Autism New Jersey’s mission has been to ensure that all individuals with autism receive appropriate services. Autism New Jersey is a nonprofit agency committed to ensuring safe and fulfilling lives for individuals with autism, their families and the professionals who support them through awareness, credible information grounded in science, education, and public policy initiatives. 

The Autism Science Foundation (ASF) 

As well as providing information about autism to the general public and promoting awareness of the needs of individuals and families affected by autism, the Autism Science Foundation’s mission is to support and fund scientists and organizations conducting research into Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

Autism Speaks 

Autism Speaks supports global research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and cure for autism and raises public awareness. The website contains information on resources by state, resources for families, advocacy news, and suggested apps for learners with autism. The Autism Speaks 100 Day Kit for Newly Diagnosed Families of Young Children was created specifically for families of children ages 4 and younger to make the best possible use of the 100 days following their child’s diagnosis of autism.  

Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response Education (AWAARE).

This organization has developed three “Big Red Safety Toolkits” to respond to wandering incidents: one for caregivers, one for First Responders, and one for teachers. They are free and downloadable from their website.

Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) 

The BACB is a nonprofit corporation established as a result of credentialing needs identified by behavior analysts, state governments, and consumers of behavior analysis services. Their mission is to develop, promote and implement an international certification program for behavior analysis practitioners. The BACB website contains information for consumers (including a description of behavior analysis), conduct guidelines, requirements for becoming certified and maintaining certification, and a registry of certificants that can be searched by name or state. 

Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies 

The Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies website seeks to bring together knowledge and behavior analysis resources, a glossary of behavioral terms, online tutorials and suggestions for effective parenting. A continuing education course series is offered through collaboration with the University of West Florida and is designed to provide instruction in a variety of areas of behavior analysis. To utilize all of the features of the website, you must register.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 

The Act Early website from the CDC contains an interactive and easy-to-use milestones’ checklist you can use to track how your child plays, learns, speaks, acts, and moves ages 3 months through 5 years. The milestones checklist is now available as a free downloadable tracker that follows your child’s progress. There are tips on how to share your concerns with your child’s doctor and free materials that you can order, including fact sheets, resource kits, and growth charts. 

Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. (COPAA) 

The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates is a national American advocacy association of parents of children with disabilities, their attorneys, advocates, and others who support the educational and civil rights of children with disabilities. The website provides important information about entitlements under federal law and is divided into resources for students and families, attorneys, advocates, and related professionals, and a peer to peer connection site. 

Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) 

The CEC is an international professional organization dedicated to improving the educational outcomes and quality of life for individuals with exceptionalities. The focus is on helping educators obtain the resources necessary for effective professional practice. Autism is one of many disabilities discussed. 

Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) 

Sponsored by the Institute of Education Services (IES) of the U.S. Dept. of Education, ERIC provides ready access to education literature to support the use of educational research and information to improve practice in learning, teaching, educational decision-making, and research. 

First Signs 

The First Signs website contains a variety of helpful resources related to identifying and recognizing the first signs of autism spectrum disorder, and the screening and referral process. A video glossary is useful in demonstrating how you can spot the early red flags for autism by viewing side-by-side video clips of children with typical behaviors in comparison with children with autism. First Signs aims to lower the age at which children are identified with developmental delays and disorders through improved screening and referral practices. 

Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) 

IDEA is a law that ensures services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities. The IDEA website contains information on early intervention services, local and state funding, and Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) issues including evaluation, reevaluation, and procedural safeguards. 

The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC)

IACC coordinates ASD related activities across the United States Health and Human Services Department and the Office of Autism Research. The IACC publishes yearly summary advance updates from the field of autism spectrum disorder.

National Autism Center (NAC) 

The NAC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to disseminating evidence-based information about the treatment of autism spectrum disorder and promoting best practices. Through the multi-year National Standards Project, the NAC established a set of standards for effective, research-validated educational and behavioral interventions. The resulting National Standards Report offers comprehensive and reliable resources for families and practitioners. 

National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders (NPDC) 

In 2014 the NPDC, using rigorous criteria, classified 27 focused interventions as evidence- practices for teaching individuals with autism. This website allows you to access online modules for many of these practices as well as an overview and general description, step-by-step instructions, and an implementation checklist for each of the practices. NPDC is currently in the process of updating the systematic review through 2017 as part of the Clearinghouse on Autism Evidence and Practice. It also has a multi-university center dedicated to the promotion of evidence-based practices for ASD. The Center operates three sites at UC Davis MIND Institute, Waisman Center, and the Franklin Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Caroline Chapel Hill. Each of these websites delivers a wealth of information including online training modules, resources, factsheets, and more.

NIH National Institutes of Health (NIH) 

The NIH, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting medical research. Helping to lead the way toward important medical discoveries that improve people’s health and save lives, NIH scientists investigate ways to prevent disease as well as researching the causes, treatments, and even cures for common and rare diseases. 

The Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI)

OCALI working in collaboration with the Ohio Department of Education, is a clearinghouse of information on autism research, resources, and trends. The OCALI website contains training and technical assistance including assessment resources and ASD service guidelines.

Organization for Autism Research (OAR) 

OAR is a nonprofit organization dedicated to applying research to the daily challenges of those living with autism. OAR funds new research and disseminates evidence-based information in a form clearly understandable to the non-scientific consumer. The OAR website contains downloadable comprehensive guidebooks, manuals, and booklets for families, professionals, and first responders.  OAR offers recommendations and worksheets for educators and service providers to assist in classroom planning, and a newsletter, “The OARacle.” In conjunction with the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation, OAR also offers Operation Autism for Military Families, a web-based resource specifically designed and created to support military families that have children with autism. 

Rethinkfirst 

Rethink is a global health technology company which provides cloud-based treatment too for individuals with developmental disabilities and their caregivers. Their web-based platform includes a comprehensive curriculum, hundreds of dynamic instructional videos of teaching interactions, step-by-step training modules, and progress tracking features.

Virginia Commonwealth University Autism Center for Excellence 

VCU-ACE is a university-based technical assistance, professional development, and educational research center for autism spectrum disorder in the state of Virginia. VCU-ACE offers a wide variety of online training opportunities for professionals, families, individuals with ASD, and the community at large. The website contains many useful resources, including a series of short how- to videos demonstrating particular evidence-based strategies, webcasts, and online courses. 

Wrights Law 

Wrights Law is an organization which provides helpful information about special education law, education law, and advocacy for children with disabilities in the USA. The Wrights Law website contains an advocacy and law library including articles, cases, FAQs and success stories, and information on IDEA. 

Zero to Three: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families

This is a national, nonprofit organization which seeks to inform, educate, and support professionals who influence the lives of infants and toddlers. The organization supports the healthy development and well-being of infants, toddlers, and their families by supplying parents with practical resources that help them connect positively with their babies. They also share information about the Military Families Project, which supplies trainings, information, and resources for military families with young children. 

Please use the following format to cite this article:

Halliday, P. (2016 revised 2019). Consumer Corner: Some resources for parents. Science in Autism Treatment, 13(2), 27-31.


Peggy Halliday, MEd, BCBA, has served as a member of the Board of Directors of ASAT since 2010. She has been a practitioner at the Virginia Institute of Autism (VIA) in Charlottesville, Virginia since 1998. She oversees trainings for parents and professionals and provides consultation to public school divisions throughout Virginia.

Curriculum Guides For Older Learners

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Dr. Kirsten Wirth, C.Psych., BCBA-D. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

My child is older now and the early years curriculum guides we have used (e.g., the Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills-Revised (ABLLS-R) and Verbal Behavior Milestones and Placement Program (VB-MAPP)) are no longer appropriate. How should we plan for his future and current goals?

Answered by

Kirsten Wirth, C.Psych., BCBA-D

Wirth Behavioural Health Services

There may be some good curricula that can be used at an older age (e.g., Partington’s Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLS)).  Curricula like the AFLS include measuring basic living skills, vocational skills, home skills, community participation, and independent living skills.  That said, there are several reports that highlight areas to consider in programming for any individual.  Peter Gerhardt (2009) developed a paper that covers what services are available for adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and considerations that should be made. The Drexel Autism Institute put out a report discussing transitions into adulthood (Roux, Shattuck, Rast, Rava, & Anderson, 2015). This question will be answered using information from both reports as well as clinical experience working with children and adults with ASD over the past 18 years.

Both reports highlight the importance of starting early.  For example, on average, transition planning and working towards future goals should begin by 14 years of age, although in some states this may happen earlier.  In many high schools and programs this type of planning happens much later, but the reason 14 years is recommended is because it can take several years to teach job or recreational skills, as well as any skills that need to be taught well before the ultimate desired outcome.  Also, more time allows for assessing and incorporating changing and developing interests over time. It is ideal that all these skills are incorporated into the students’ school program.  Skill areas may include planning for a vocation, post-secondary education, recreation and leisure, community safety, transportation, vacationing, health and wellness, sexuality instruction, handling crisis and interacting with first responders, daily living, and communication.

Where to start? Start by thinking and talking with the individual, family, and staff involved that know the individual best. Think about each area and explore what the individual might be interested in 5-10 years down the road as a team. Once all the ideas are jotted down, start discussing what should be chosen to target or to explore further. Keeping in mind you should weed out things that are not realistic but keep things that may be a stretch.  How do you know if it is realistic or not?  Having a detailed and current assessment of the individual’s abilities and skills is helpful.  For example, if an individual has intellectual and adaptive scores at or near the average range, a traditional college education may make sense and they may not need goals set in post-secondary education.  However, making friends and enjoying leisure and recreation may be an area of weakness so goals should be set in those areas.  As another example, if an individual has very low intellectual and adaptive scores, a college education may not make sense, but a part time job and skills around that job may need to be learned. Most importantly, goals should be set incorporating the individual’s existing skills, preferences, and interests.

Vocational goals: Is the individual able or interested in part-time or full-time work?  If he is still in school, can he work part-time?  What kind of work can he do independently right now?  What kind of work is he realistically capable of gaining skills in during the next 5-10 years?  Sometimes exploring different types of work through volunteer experience can be set up either with a one-on-one support person, or just on his own.  If skills need to be taught, how much should they be broken down for the individual to perform all skills independently?  Can all skills be taught at the same time or one at a time?  For example, if he is going to do custodial work at a local small hotel, this might include vacuuming the hallways; sorting, putting laundry through the washers, and folding; sweeping up the breakfast area; and making small talk or hanging out during breaks.  Each skill may need to be taught explicitly or not, dependent on the individual. Sorting laundry may include teaching matching skills and sorting skills before applying to daily life; or, many of these tasks could be taught by practicing in the school or leisure program on a regular basis.  Making small talk or engaging in conversation during break may require setting goals in social skills and communication areas as well. Taking direction from supervisors or others in authority and learning how to ask appropriate questions might be another area of consideration.  How will the individual get to work? Is he able to learn to drive a car to get himself there? Should a bus route and taking the bus be taught?  Driving or even using transportation might have multiple steps to learn, especially if there are construction detours, or changes to timing that would have to be checked regularly.  Do the vocational goals require further education?  Do money concepts have to be taught? Counting out change? Entering an order into a computer system?

Post-secondary Education goals: Does the individual have any special skills or strengths that should be considered?  Is the individual interested in a trade?  Business?  Graduate school?  If the individual could realistically perform a job in their area of interest down the road, do goals need to be set for pre-requisite subjects at the high school level – even if it may take longer to meet them – such that entry requirements can be met?

Recreation & Leisure goals: What kinds of interests does the individual already have during downtime?  Are interests limited?  Developing new preferences might be required. This might include providing repeated exposure to new places or activities to see if the individual enjoys them, or providing additional reinforcement for participating in them.  Do any barriers exist to participating in the new experiences?  Does any desensitization (e.g., exposure to certain sounds or experiences in the environment while preventing problem behaviour) have to occur before going on outings?  Are there refusals or problem behaviours to be decreased?  If so, goals should be set in those areas as well.  Does he or she need help with setting goals to earn a specific amount of money to go on a desired vacation or attend an event?  Does the individual have a regular group of friends to attend events or hang out with?  Do friendships need to be established?  Are social and communication skills related to making friends required to be learned first or during?  Should the individual get a ride with friends?  Take the bus?  Drive and offer to pick up friends?  Establish a meeting place at the event with friends?

As you may have noticed, many of the areas described above overlap with social and communication areas, transportation, and others. Goals naturally should be set in each area to appropriately encompass all skills needed in one’s day-to-day life. Remember the other areas as well; i.e., health and wellness (e.g., exercise, healthy eating, good hygiene), sexuality instruction (e.g., how to have sex, when to have sex, protection from disease and pregnancy), daily living skills (e.g., laundry, cooking, shopping), and so on. Happy planning!

References

 

Gerhardt, P.F. (2009). The current state of services for adults with autism. Arlington, VA: Organization for Autism Research.

Roux, A.M., Shattuck, P.T., Rast, J.E., Rava, J.A., & Anderson, K.A. (2015). National Autism Indicator Report: Transition into young adulthood, Philadelphia, PA: Life Course Outcomes Research Program, A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, Drexel University.


About The Author 

Dr. Kirsten Wirth (C.Pysch., BCBA-D) is a licensed psychologist and board certified behavior analyst-doctoral with a PhD in Psychology – Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) from the University of Manitoba. She is an Advisory Committee Member, Founder, and a Past President of the Manitoba Association for Behaviour Analysis (www.maba.ca). Dr. Wirth is the Co-Coordinator of Clinical Corner for the international organization, the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (www.asatonline.org). She is also the author of “How to get your child to go to sleep and stay asleep: A practical guide for parents to sleep train young children.” Dr. Wirth has 18 years experience working with children, adolescents, and adults, with or without developmental disabilities and autism using, teaching, and training others to use ABA. She provides screening and diagnostic assessment for children with autism, early intensive behavioural intervention (EIBI/ABA) programming to children with autism and their parents, or intensive behavioural intervention (IBI) for older children or adults with autism or developmental disabilities. Dr. Wirth also conducts assessment and treatment of severe problem behaviour, child behaviour management, parent coaching, sleep assessment and coaching, toilet training, social skills training, skill building, school or daycare consultation, and more, for children with or without psychiatric diagnoses. Dr. Wirth has been an invited speaker and presenter at local and international conferences and is a co-investigator of a number of research projects including comparison of comprehensive early intervention programs for children with autism and comparison of prevalence rates and factors related to delayed diagnosis.

Preparing For The Holidays

While the holidays can be a very fun and exciting time, they often tend to disrupt regular routines. A disruption in routines can frequently lead to added stress, anxiety, and behavioral difficulties for individuals with autism and their families. So how can you maintain the fun in holidays but also manage the major changes in routine? Here are a few ideas that may be helpful:

Use and/or modify tools your child already utilizes well. If your child uses an activity schedule, calendar, or some kind of app to prepare for transitions and upcoming events; be sure to include new icons, symbols, or preparation for the events related to holidays.
Practice the event. It may be possible for you to role play an event such as a larger family dinner, loud music, or the arrival of a someone dressed up as a character (such as Santa Claus.)
Take the time to list out what may be unique or new. While you cannot prepare for everything, it’s valuable to consider what your child may not have encountered in the past. For example, will there be lit candles within reach? Will there be appealing items your child is required to leave alone? Once you’ve brainstormed a bit, you’ll be better able to respond appropriately.
Enlist some help. If there is a family member or friend who will be present and can help if you need it, ask for their help beforehand and be specific. This might be asking them to engage your child in an activity for a short period of time, or running interference for you when your distant aunt approaches with a litany of rude questions about autism.
Make sure your child has an appropriate way to request a break. Whether your child is verbal or nonverbal, it’s helpful to teach them an appropriate way to exit a situation that is uncomfortable. This is a skill you can practice at home and use in other environments as well.
Recognize your successes. The holidays can be a stressful time, but they can also be a great indicator of just how far your child has come. Relatives you haven’t seen in a year are far more likely to see the difference in your child’s growth than you are, since you’ve seen that steady growth from day to day. It can be a wonderful time to step back and acknowledge just how hard you have all worked in previous months.

These are simple steps that may be helpful in reducing stress during the holidays. Do you have special tips for how you prepare?


WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

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

Implementing the Intervention…Even When Things are Going Well

Recently I was working with a parent who was using a TimeTimer with her son to help him recognize when it was time to get ready for bed. Our plan was to start the timer every night while he was engaged in an activity, show him the timer and have him repeat how many minutes left, then have him tell his mom when the timer went off. For the first couple of weeks, this plan worked beautifully. The boy could see the time elapsing, brought the timer to his mother when it went off, and then started the process to get ready for bed without engaging in tantrum behaviors.

I went in for a parent training session after a month of the intervention and the boy’s mother informed me the timer just wasn’t working any more. As we started talking, I realized that the mother had drifted from our original plan in a way that is quite common. As her son experienced success, she used the timer less frequently. Then, if he was struggling, she would introduce the timer. In effect, she started only using the timer when he was misbehaving, instead of using it as a consistent tool to help him with the bedtime routine.

This type of procedural drift (when there is an unintentional or unplanned change in the procedure outlined for the intervention) is very common for parents, teachers, and ABA therapists. It’s important to understand this type of drift so it can be corrected when it occurs.

Here are a few things to remember when implementing an intervention:

• First, any intervention should include a clear plan for fading the intervention. In the example above, the TimeTimer was an appropriate tool for this particular child, who was only four years old. But we don’t want him to rely on the timer for the duration of childhood! A plan should include how to fade the intervention with specific steps and specific requirements for mastery.

• The use of the TimeTimer is considered an antecedent intervention. This means that we are implementing a change in the environment prior to any problem behaviors to help the child contact reinforcement and experience success. Antecedent interventions should be implemented consistently as part of a routine, not ONLY when a problem behavior occurs. If it is only implemented when the problem behavior occurs, it is no longer an antecedent intervention.

• If we implement a tool (like the TimeTimer) only when problem behavior occurs, it’s possible the tool will become aversive to the child and possibly result in an increased magnitude of the problem behavior.

• Consider using tools for the people implementing to intervention to remind them of the specific steps. For example, you might create a video model and instruct the parent (or other adult implementing the intervention) to watch it every couple days. Or you might post the steps in a clear space to be reviewed regularly.

• Finally, we have to remember that a couple of good days in a row without any instances of problem behavior does not mean that the problem is solved. This is why the first step outlined above is so important. We want to teach the child replacement behaviors and give them lots of opportunities to be successful with it.

 

Ultimately, we were able to re-implement the procedure with this parent and see more continued success with this particular case. We also decided to post the steps to the intervention on the back of the TimeTimer for easy review on a daily basis.

However, in some cases, you might have to create an entirely new intervention using different tools. The goal is to be clear about the steps of the intervention, and to maintain those steps when implementing the intervention.


WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

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

Common Mistakes In Implementing Reinforcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

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

Improving Time-Out Procedures

Time-out is often a hotly-debated topic. Is it too punishing? Where should it take place? How long should it last? There are not easy answers to many of these questions. But there are some evidence-based suggestions that may improve a time out procedure should you decide to use one.

  • First, know the function of the behavior! If the child is engaging in the undesirable behavior for escape, then providing “time out” will likely increase the behavior. For instance, if a child gets sent out of the classroom each time he curses, this is effectively a time out from classwork. He may curse because in the past, cursing resulted in escaping from classwork. This is an instance when you would not want to use time out. A time-out may prove to be effective for behaviors that function for attention or access to tangibles. More on that next…
  • Consider a nonexclusion time-out procedure. In the past, we’ve discussed the time-out ribbon here. This is a useful tool for signaling to a learner that they have access to social or tangible reinforcers. If they engage in an inappropriate behavior, the ribbon is removed and they do not have access to social or tangible reinforcers, however they are still able to participate in the lesson or activity you have organized. It also allows them to practice more appropriate behaviors to earn the ribbon back. If the ribbon isn’t the best visual cue for your learner, you could make it anything this is visible for them and clearly delineates when they do and do not have access to reinforcement.
  • Consider the use of a release contingency. This means that a learner is unable to leave time out until a predetermined amount of time has passed without problem behavior. Perhaps if you’re working with a preschool child who has been kicking other children, the release contingency might be that they must sit with “quiet feet” or “feet on the floor” for one full minute before they can go back to play. Your other option is to put in a fixed time contingency, which is best done by setting some sort of timer so the learner can see how much time is remaining in time-out.
  • Combine time out with positive reinforcement procedures. Time-out by itself may result in decreases in behavior only when time out is a possibility. For instance, you may see a decrease in the problem behavior only when the child’s mother is at home, because the father doesn’t use time out. The goal is to decrease the problem behavior across all settings and activities. To that end, it’s helpful to teach appropriate replacement behaviors and reinforce the learner for engaging in those behaviors.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

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

Autism Awareness Month Is Over…Unless You’re A Parent

Autism Awareness Month is over, but for many parents of children with autism, awareness is a daily battle. You would think that after decades of research, awareness of what autism  would be more prevalent. But I still talk with parents who are struggling with relatives, friends, or strangers on the street being unaware, (and often incredibly rude,) about Autism.

             One parent I work with recently asked me if I had a stock response for such rude responses. The truth is that even after seventeen years of working with people with autism, I am often at a loss for words when I encounter statements such as “I don’t even think your child has autism. This seems like a discipline issue.” OR “Why aren’t you working on _______ since you’re spending so much time on all of these other behaviors.” So, I turned to some of my colleagues for help.

            Below is a list of some “stock responses” to help out in these awkward, and possibly offensive, conversations.

Response to statements like “Autism isn’t a real thing.”

“Autism is a real thing in our house. We’d be happy to have you come over and see first hand what it is and how it effects our family. In many ways, we need to live differently than we expected, but we have all learned to grow in ways we never expected. “

I think the best answer is probably to refer the person to a resource like Autism Speaks or ASAT. “Thanks for expressing an interest in what we’re doing.  Our strategies are based on scientific principles and are supported by trained professionals.  If you’d like to learn more about what it means, here’s a website you can look at.”  

“Autism is a tricky disorder because sometimes people who have it have strengths in some areas but weaknesses in others.  I know my child may seem just like any other kid, but he’s worked hard to get to this point, and he’s still working hard.”

“It may seem to you like my child is crying/tantrumming/etc. because he’s spoiled or just wants to get his way, but his ability to communicate with others is really impaired, so he gets easily frustrated.  Thanks for your concern, but we’re working on helping him to overcome this.”

I think my response would depend on the day and my mood.  On a BAD day, I might tell (yell at) the person to be thankful they are not faced with the same challenges in their children.  On a more level day, I would attempt to use it as a learning experience and provide a logical response that Autism is a genetic disorder recognized by the Surgeon General and defined in the DSM-V.  That it generally impacts the child’s social and communication skills and can often result in stereotypic motor movements like hand-flapping.  I would go on to tell them about ABA and that there is no known cure.

“Autism is a neurological disorder so his brain works differently than other people. I can send you some info through email if you would like.” (Or end it after the 1st sentence and walk away)

“Thank you for your concern. It really takes a supportive community for us to manage each day.  We prefer to not discuss this with people who don’t understand autism as our time is best spend with our child, rather than explaining ASD to others.”

“Autism isn’t a ‘thing’ – Well, it really is, but it’s a wide spectrum so almost every person with autism is different from any other one you’ve met. That’s why it can be hard to diagnose and treat, because of the wide range of the disability and variability across it.”

“Thanks, but I’d rather not discuss this with you” can go a long way, too!

 

Response to statements like “Why aren’t you working on _______ since you’re spending so much time on all of these other behaviors?”

“We are working tirelessly everyday to improve social behavior, we target the most interfering behaviors first and will systematically work through the list. “

“While _________ is important, there are other things that are more important at this time- _________ won’t matter if the child can’t tell you what he wants or needs. We’ll get to it eventually but only once it shows to be important and interfering with other things. “

“Or, we ARE working on it, but it takes a long time to change behaviors.” (maybe even insert a “You could help us by…”  line)

“Yes we are working on that too. We still have work to do. And how is your…”

 

Response to statements like “What’s his problem anyway?”

“He just learns some things differently and a bit slower than others; but you should see how smart he is in (describe an area of strength).”

“There are some things that really get him mad, but he is getting better and is learning to tell us what the problem is.”

 

Responses to “I’m sorry, but I don’t think my kids can be around your kid. I’m worried about them picking up some of his problem behaviors.”

“I’d say that’s too bad, he’s a great kid and really helps other people in ways that he can; he’s never had a problem with anyone.”

I tried to think of something good and positive, refine to say/write…but you know me…I would give them the middle finger :)”

 

More general advice:

I have worked with a parent who had business cards printed that had 2-3 websites listed on it. When the person started up, the parent handed the card to them and just said something like: “That is a big question that would take too much time to answer here so here are some resources for you to check out.” This allowed them to shut it down but in a way that was not confrontational. 

Remember that you don’t have to say anything, especially when it’s to a stranger. It is perfectly okay not to share personal details about your child’s diagnosis.

So you can see I try to not directly contradict someone saying something; I downplay the concern, reflect back, gently push back, and then stop talking and redirect the conversation if I can.

 

Thank you to Cheryl Davis, Michael Dorsey, Kari Dunlop, Dana Reinecke, Krishna Ruano, Sarah Russell, Erin Stone, and Tom Zane.


WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

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