Easy Data Collection for the Classroom

Get a preview of the helpful tips found in ABA Tools of the Trade by Sam Blanco, PHD, LBA, BCBA.

From the beginning of my career, I have loved data collection. Not only does it help me track what interventions are working and how quickly my students are learning, it also provides excellent structure and organization of what needs to be done on a daily basis. Much of this love of data collection was influenced by my colleague Val Demiri. While Val and I both looked at data as a way to make our lives easier, for many of our colleagues, data appeared to be more of an obstacle than a useful tool. So we set out to change that.

We’re both so thrilled about the release of ABA Tools of the Trade: Easy Data Collection for the Classroom. Our goal is to make data collection easier, more useful, and possible considering the many tasks a teacher is already doing on a daily basis in their classroom. Here are few things we’re really excited to have in the book:

  • An overview of some of our favorite tools for data collection, including why we love them and when they might be useful for you
  • An easy-to-use guide based on the specific behavior challenges you are currently facing, with suggestions for data collection and recommended readings
  • A task analysis of the data collection process that breaks down each step for pre-data collection phase, data collection phase, and post-data collection phase
  • A wealth of strategies to use to address problem behavior before they occur
  • An entire section devoted to BCBA Supervision that not only aligns with Task List 5 but also contains lesson plans and rubrics for assessing supervisees

We hope that by making data collection methods more accessible, we can motivate you to appreciate tools for data collection as much as we do!


About the Author

Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA, 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.

Focus on Generalization and Maintenance

On more than one occasion, I’ve been in the situation that a student will only demonstrate a skill in my presence. And I’ve heard from other colleagues that they have had similar experiences. This is highly problematic. When it happens with one of my students, there is only one person I can blame: myself.  A skill that a student can only demonstrate in my presence is a pretty useless skill and does nothing to promote independence.

So what do you do when you find yourself in this situation? You reteach, with a focus on generalization. This means that, from the very beginning, you are teaching with a wide variety of materials, varying your instructions, asking other adults to help teach the skill, and demonstrating its use in a variety of environments. Preparing activities takes more time on the front-end for the teacher, but saves a ton of time later because your student is more likely to actually master the skill. (Generalization, after all, does show true mastery.)

Hopefully, you don’t have to do this, though. Hopefully, you’ve focused on generalization from the first time you taught the skill. You may see generalization built into materials you already use.

Another commonly cited issue teachers of children with autism encounter is failure to maintain a skill. In my mind, generalization and maintenance go hand-in-hand, in that they require you to plan ahead and consider how, when, and where you will practice acquired skills. Here are a few tips that may help you with maintenance of skills:

  1. Create notecards of all mastered skills. During the course of a session, go through the notecards and set aside any missed questions or activities. You might need to do booster sessions on these. (This can also be an opportunity for extending generalization by presenting the questions with different materials, phrases, environments, or people.)
  2. Set an alert on your phone to remind you to do a maintenance test two weeks, four weeks, and eight weeks after the student has mastered the skill.
  3. Create a space on your data sheets for maintenance tasks to help you remember not only to build maintenance into your programs, but also to take data on maintenance.

Considering generalization and maintenance from the outset of any teaching procedure is incredibly important. Often, when working with students with special needs, we are working with students who are already one or more grade levels behind their typically developing peers. Failing to teach generalization and maintenance, then having to reteach, is a waste of your students’ time.

Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for sixteen 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, and she is the Senior Clinical Strategist at Chorus Software Solutions.

A Spotlight On Executive Function in the Early Childhood Classroom

By: Stephanny Freeman, PhD and Kristen Hayashida, MEd, BCBA

The new year brings opportunities for introducing new ideas and refining existing techniques for young learners. This week, we’re revisiting a blog from our archives that focuses on executive function.

When kindergarten teachers are asked what skills they would like their students to have the beginning of the year, their answers might be surprising!  Parents and caregivers are often concerned with making sure their children can say their ABC’s, count to 10, and know their colors. Some may believe that their children should be reading by the time they start kindergarten.  However, kindergarten teachers often have a different set of priorities, and instead are looking for skills such as:

  • The ability to listen to and follow directions
  • Follow classroom routines
  • Control impulses
  • Resolve a conflict or solve a problem calmly with another child

Kindergarten teachers value these skills because they are critical for school readiness, paving the way for children to be academically and socially successful.  Moreover, children who are behind in these skills can require disproportionate amounts of teachers’ attention, derail classroom activities and routines, and interfere with other children’s learning.

Underlying these school readiness skills are a set of higher order thinking skills collectively referred to as Executive Functions (EFs). EFs are the cognitive control functions that help us inhibit our initial impulses and think before acting.

But while most teachers agree that EF skills are very important, they are not explicitly taught in most early education settings (or at any point in most children’s educational experiences).

What skills are part of executive functioning?

Three key skills are generally agreed upon as the core of EF:

  1. Working memory: holding information in mind to manipulate, work with, or act on at a later time.
  2. Inhibitory control: the ability to regulate one’s attention, behavior, thinking, and emotion particularly in response to distractions or temptations.
  3. Cognitive flexibility: the capacity to shift one’s thinking, such as changing one’s approach to solving a problem if the previous approach is not working or recognizing and responding when the demands of that task have changed.

Seven additional skills are also considered to fall under the umbrella of EF, often relying and building on the three foundational EF skills:

  1. Initiation: the ability to begin a task or activity or to generate ideas independently in order to answer questions, solve problems, or respond to environmental demands.
  2. Fluency: how fluidly one can access and use relevant knowledge or skills.
  3. Planning: the ability to identify and sequence all the different steps needed to achieve a specific goal.
  4. Organization: the capacity to prioritize and make decisions about which tasks to undertake, and the needed resources to complete those tasks.
  5. Problem solving: carrying out the steps to achieve a desired goal, while monitoring progress making necessary adjustments.
  6. Time awareness: part of the broader skill of Time Management, which includes to the ability to anticipate how long tasks might take, to be aware of time constraints, track one’s progress, and adjust one’s behavior in order to complete tasks efficiently.
  7. Emotion regulation: skills including identifying one’s own emotion states and responding appropriately to emotional experiences.

Why do executive function skills matter?

Executive function skills predict a host of short-term and long-term outcomes!

  • They are a stronger predictor of school readiness than IQ.
  • They are also associated with higher achievement in both reading and math throughout children’s schooling.
  • EF skills, when tested in early childhood predict outcomes later in childhood and adolescence, including psychological and physical health.

Because EF skills are so predictive of later outcomes, they are being increasingly recognized as a critically important focus of intervention. 

Early EF training is … an excellent candidate for leveling the playing field and reducing the achievement gap between more- and less-advantaged children.

Diamond and Lee (2011, p. 6)

Can executive function skills improve?

Yes! All young children (typically developing and those with difficulties) can benefit greatly from instruction in EF!  Frequent practice of these skills and gradually raising the difficulty benefits children most in generalization and increasing gains. Practitioners and parents should consider:

  • Providing focused instruction in EF skills.
  • Combining explicit targeted instruction in EF skills with other activities in which they can then apply and practice those skills.
  • Building targeted EF skills into daily routines.
  • Providing multiple opportunities every day, particularly for children with disabilities, to test out and practice EF skills.

Most experts consider the development of self-regulation skills, of which executive functions are the crown jewel, to be the most important objective of high quality preschool—to help children focus attention, be emotionally expressive, not be impulsive, and to engage in purposeful and meaningful interactions with caregivers and other children.

Blair (2017, p.4)

About The Authors

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

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

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

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

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

The value of preference assessments

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

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

Types of Preference Assessments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few final recommendations

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About The Author

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

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!

References

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.

Promoting Autism Acceptance and Awareness in School Settings

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Simon Celiberti-Byam and Julia Weiss, High School Externs with the Association for Science in Autism Treatment. 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!

Increasingly, individuals with autism are included in regular educational settings. This is a huge improvement, as many were formerly taught in segregated settings and had reduced access to social, recreational, and educational activities. Still, these students may have visible and invisible challenges that make their school experience difficult or unpleasant. As peers in these settings, fellow students can do much to improve their experience and to lessen their challenges. As allies, peers can take the time to get to know autistic students, and to understand how to best connect with and support them. It is not just a positive experience for your autistic classmates; getting to know someone with autism expands our understanding of difference, exposes us to their unique qualities, and enriches our lives with friendship.

It is our hope that these reflections and suggestions can raise awareness of autism, increase acceptance of autistic individuals, and make our environments more inclusive and comfortable for all. We want to share some quick advice based on some things we have learned from this writing project about autism awareness and acceptance and from our own experiences getting to know some autistic classmates. There are probably more things, but we are still learning too!

Promoting Awareness

  1. One thing that our parents have taught us over the years is that, “If you know one kid with autism, you really only know one kid with autism.” Even if you know a kid with autism, it does not mean you understand all kids with autism. Kids with autism vary a lot in their abilities, challenges, likes, and dislikes. Don’t ever forget that!
  2. You will see kids with autism in classes throughout the school. Some may be in regular education, some in special education, and some may be in both. Keep in mind that some kids with autism may be in your classes, some may be in school with you but primarily are in special education classes. Still other kids with autism may require a lot more help and attend special schools altogether. There may also be classmates who are autistic, and you and the rest of your class may not know. This is why they say autism falls along a spectrum.
  3. Many kids with autism may express themselves or act in different ways than what you might be used to – and that is ok. You can still adapt and learn strategies to interact with them better. For example, you can avoid things that may upset them, learn more about what they like to talk about, or you can learn to not take things personally if they don’t respond to you when you strike up a conversation.
  4. Some people think it is better to say “kid with autism” than “autistic kid” because when you say it the second way it suggests that being autistic is the most important thing about them because you say it first. Many people with autism prefer to be called autistic and we should respect that preference. The good news is that you can just call your classmate by their first names and leave the differing views to other people to sort out.
  5. It is OK to respectfully ask questions about autism. There is a difference between being nosey and really wanting to understand more, and learn how to be a better friend to a kid with autism.
  6. If you want to learn more about autism or develop a deeper understanding, encourage administrators or teachers to invite a special presenter/speaker who can speak about autism. This could be a person with autism, a family member with autism, or someone working in the field.
  7. Consider holding a fundraiser for an autism organization. Some students in years past have hosted a fundraiser for ASAT. What follows are two examples showcasing a class effort (Calvary Christian School) and an individual’s effort (See page 42 for a story about Vaugh, age 13).

Promoting Acceptance

  1. Be a role model. For kids with autism, you can model what the right thing to do is – from shooting a basket to using better words when expressing yourself, and everything in between.
  2. For the rest of your classmates, don’t forget that you can be a role model of acceptance, patience, and kindness too!
  3. There are many things that kids can do to help classmates with autism feel welcomed in school (like sitting with them during lunch, helping them if they get stuck, or picking them to be on your team in PE). Do those things! Do them often!
  4. Find ways to include autistic classmates in extracurricular activities or outside experiences that match their areas of strength and interest (e.g., a school sport, robotics, or the performing arts). Perhaps they would be more willing to check it out if they had a buddy to help them feel welcomed.
  5. Be patient because it may take kids with autism a little longer to respond.
  6. Taking the time to get to know them is worth it and you will see their gifts and strengths. You may learn that you have a lot of things in common.
  7. Also appreciate the unique qualities of your autistic classmates. They are likely much better than you are at a bunch of things; it is good to notice and appreciate that.
  8. We have learned that kids with autism may be more likely to be teased, harassed, and bullied. If you see something, speak up or say something to a teacher or another adult. We know this can be hard but, in the end, you may be helping the bully learn from his or her mistakes.
  9. There are a couple of initiatives that are occurring nationally that show how to include kids with autism in a fun and meaningful way. Here are a few examples: Best Buddies International,Unified Sports and Lunch Bunch.
    • Best Buddies International is a nonprofit organization committed to creating a global volunteer team that aims to create opportunities for one-on-one friendships, employment, leadership, and inclusive living for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Many schools have created opportunities in schools for classmates to come together. This may involve matching up classmates who can then participate in activities inside and/or outside of school.
    • It’s too often that young people with disabilities do not get a chance to play on their school sports teams. More and more U.S. states are adopting the Unified Sports approach that the Special Olympics pioneered. Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® programming is in more than 8,300 schools across the United States at the time of this article, with a goal of existing in 10,000 schools by 2024.
    • A Lunch Bunch is program where a group of kids come together regularly with one or more classmates with special needs, often over lunch. Simply Special Ed offers some tips on how to start a Lunch Bunch on their website.
  10. If none of these programs exist in your school, perhaps you can be the one to help make it happen! In the meantime, talk to your principal or guidance counselor about how you may be able to help a classmate through reverse mainstreaming. Simply, reverse mainstreaming is a concept where kids can visit the classrooms of kids with special needs and join in on activities (such as playing a game or practicing social skills). There may be a few ways you use these experiences toward your service learning. If not, it would still be a great thing to do!
  11. One final note about promoting acceptance is to simply accept your classmates with autism. It sounds simple, but you do not need to always think of ways to help them to be different, or better, or fit in. Simply accepting them for who they are as you want others to accept you for who you are with all of your skills, deficits, strengths, weaknesses, quirks, interests, etc. is important for all individuals we come into contact with – regardless of whether they have autism or not!

Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” We end with this quote to encourage young people to help their schools become a more inclusive and kind setting for students with autism and other special needs. Every small step you take, can go a long way in changing the climate of your school and making school a better experience for classmates with autism.

Citation for this article

Celiberti-Byam, S., & Weiss, J. (2023). Promoting autism acceptance and awareness in school settings. Science in Autism Treatment, 20(4).

About the Authors

Simon Celiberti-Byam and Julia Weiss are High School Externs with the Association for Science in Autism Treatment

Review of Responsible and Responsive Parenting in Autism: Between Now and Dreams

Reviewed by David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D and William L. Heward, EdD, BCBA-D
Association for Science in Autism Treatment

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Executive Director David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D, Association for Science in Autism Treatment and William L. Heward, EdD, BCBA-D, Professor Emeritus, the College of Education and Human Ecology at Ohio State University. 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!

Parents of children with autism face many challenges beyond those directly associated with raising a child who may have a myriad of needs. They face a dizzying array of treatment options with interventions lacking any scientific basis, which are cleverly marketed and often eclipse those interventions enjoying scientific support. Access to qualified, compassionate providers may be difficult or delayed, particularly for children in rural communities, children of color, individuals who age out of the educational system, and families outside of the United States. Misconceptions and misinformation about autism and ways to help people with autism abound and those messages often distract and derail many parents from obtaining accurate information, support, and intervention. Parents who seek help for their children are often harshly criticized and labeled by some bloggers as lacking love or acceptance. Taken together, these realities can weigh heavily on parents who are just trying to help their children with autism develop independence and purpose, pursue their dreams, and live their best lives.

Fortunately, a new book provides a break from the vitriol, snake oil, and antagonism. Between Now and Dreams thoughtfully and artfully explains the complementary concepts of responsible and responsive parenting of children with autism. It provides a space for parents to reflect, to engage, and to look ahead.

Prior to offering details about this book, the first reviewer would like to share some background. I first met Shahla Ala’i-Rosales and Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe thirty years ago at the University of North Texas (UNT) when I was a newly hired Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology. Shahla was a behavior analyst, researcher, and practitioner in early autism intervention; Peggy, the mother of a son with autism, held an administrative job at the University. With a few other UNT colleagues, we formed a small working group to support each other in our individual efforts as well as to develop a community in which future collective efforts could take root. My time at UNT was brief, but I am so pleased (and a tad jealous) to know that Shahla and Peggy continued to collaborate and form a long-term friendship and professional alliance. Their book, Responsible and Responsive Parenting in Autism: Between Now and Dreams is a timely, and much needed gift to the autism community. Ala’i-Rosales and Heinkel-Wolfe share a series of interrelated events – challenges, plans, setbacks, and victories, large and small – in the lives of real children and their families (including their own). These stories demonstrate the importance of recognizing and celebrating children’s capabilities while encouraging and nurturing their self-actualization, individuality, and independence.

The authors put forth that raising a child with autism with an abundance of joy, purpose, and serenity relies on three interconnected powers: learning, connecting, and loving. Although the authors state that these powers are interconnected and that they influence and strengthen each other, Ala’i-Rosales and Heinkel-Wolfe have used them to organize their book into three unique parts. Each part is composed of several chapters; each chapter opens with a thoughtful quote that sets the stage for the lessons and wisdom that follows.

Part One: The Power of Learning  

Between Now and Dreams opens with a section devoted to principles of learning and how those principles can guide parents’ efforts to help develop their child’s fullest potential. The authors stress the need for creating and implementing carefully planned, intensive, positive applied behavior analysis (ABA) interventions in the home to keep children learning and moving forward in their lives. The abundance of examples discussed throughout this section showcase the vast applications of the science of behavior. Parents who are new to the autism journey will gain comfort in learning about principles that can be readily incorporated into their daily lives and appreciate a shift away from resolving problems to one of promoting empowerment and skill building, both for themselves, as well as for their children.

This section also chronicles the journey of ABA from its early applications to autism treatment, and to what the discipline has become today. The authors provide a sensitive and honest discussion of the bumps along the way.

Part Two: The Power of Connecting

This section of Between Now and Dreams will be invaluable for caregivers who may struggle with feelings of isolation, associated with both raising a child with many needs and experiencing the loss or shift in other relationships and career pursuits that may have followed their child’s diagnosis. Ala’i-Rosales and Heinkel-Wolfe beautifully capture the pursuit of supportive relationships, including with those who offer expertise and experience, as well as with other parents on very similar journeys. How one seeks and nurtures these relationships, as well as opting out when needed, is described with the same compassion and generosity reflected throughout the book.

Part Three: The Power of Loving 

The third section of Between Now and Dreams ties together the two prior sections. On its surface, a reader may assume that the section might focus myopically on positive emotions. Instead, the authors are realistic and don’t sugarcoat the challenges parents of children with autism face. Loss, fear, and disappointment are discussed openly in the context of numerous experiences, observations, and epiphanies. We left this section feeling grateful to the authors for being so incredibly transparent and vulnerable, yet insightful and encouraging in guiding us to be more active and loving parents.

Responsible and Responsive Parenting in Autism: Between Now and Dreams is an important, eloquently written, and engaging book for parents of children with autism of any age and who fall anywhere on the spectrum. It does not provide a cookie cutter approach, but rather a compassionately delivered collection of useful and practical suggestions that parents can select and tailor to their own home and goals.

Aside from behavior analysts, this book is also a must-read for teachers, therapists, medical providers, and others who work with children with autism. The content is accessible to those who are new to ABA and autism intervention, yet impactful for professionals with extensive training and experience.

Citation for this article:

Celiberti, D., & Heward, W. L. (2023). Book Review: Between Now and Dreams. Science in Autism Treatment, 20(3).

About the Authors

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.

William L. Heward, Ed.D., BCBA-D, is Professor Emeritus in the College of Education and Human Ecology at Ohio State University. He has taught at universities in Brazil, Japan, Portugal, and Singapore and lectured and given workshops in 23 other countries. A Past President and Fellow of the Association for Behavior Analysis International, Bill’s publications include co-authoring the books, Let’s Make a Contract: A Positive Way to Change Your Child’s Behavior (2022), Applied Behavior Analysis (3rd ed., 2020), and Exceptional Children: An Introduction to Special Education (12th ed., 2022). Awards recognizing Dr. Heward’s contributions to education and behavior analysis include the Fred S. Keller Behavioral Education Award from the American Psychological Association’s Division 25, the Ellen P. Reese Award for Communication of Behavioral Concepts from the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, and the Distinguished Psychology Department Alumnus Award from Western Michigan University.

5 Ways to Support Your BCBAs

By Ashleigh Evans, MS, BCBA

Board certified behavior analysts (BCBAs) are instrumental in the development and oversight of ABA services. Working in the ABA field can be incredibly rewarding, but also isolating and exhausting. One recent study found that 72% of ABA professionals experience moderate to high levels of burnout. Burnout can have serious implications for the individual, their clients, and the organization as a whole. One of the leading risk factors for burnout is a lack of support. By supporting your BCBAs, you can greatly reduce the risk of burnout in your organization. Let’s review 5 ways you can support your BCBAs.

1.   Provide Access to Stimuli, Technology, and Assessments

BCBAs need many things to be successful in the workplace. Data collection software and other forms of technology can greatly improve efficiency, streamline administrative tasks, and increase job satisfaction. Similarly, providing access to teaching stimuli can make a BCBA’s job much easier, allowing them to spend less time creating stimuli and more time doing what matters most–caring for their learners.

2.   Seek Feedback

Supervisors and employers regularly provide their employees with feedback on their performance. However, it’s important to remember that employers should also seek feedback from their employees, including their BCBAs. Feedback should always go both ways.

Just as ABA clinicians are continuously growing and improving, so should employers and organizations as a whole. While you may not be able to please every staff member all the time, seeking feedback from your team shows that you value their input and are motivated to improve the working conditions of your organization. Encourage open and honest feedback, but also create a system for anonymous feedback, as your staff may feel more comfortable providing feedback anonymously.

3.   Encourage a Healthy Work-Life Balance

While your BCBAs have dedicated so much of their lives to this field, their life revolves around more than solely work. Ensure your BCBAs have a healthy work-life balance. You can do this by establishing working hours and encouraging boundary setting outside of those hours. For example, if your BCBA’s work day ends at 5 pm, they should not feel obligated to answer client or staff phone calls after this time. A healthy work-life balance also includes taking time off. Encourage and honor your staff’s requests for time off.

4.   Provide Opportunities for Continuing Education

Continuing education is a requirement of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) for biennial recertification. The field of behavior analysis is vast and is constantly evolving. Ensuring your BCBAs have access to high-quality CEUs to expand their knowledge, keep up with the literature, and grow as clinicians will benefit your BCBAs, their learners, and your organization. It will also show them that you value their professional and personal growth.

5.   Set Realistic, Data-Driven Expectations

When setting workplace expectations (i.e., billable hours), ensure they are realistic and manageable. Furthermore, determine what is needed to help your BCBAs achieve these expectations and ensure you are providing support in those areas.

ABA professionals know the importance of following the data when making treatment decisions. This should extend into business practices as well. When establishing and modifying expectations, let the data lead the way. Let’s use billable hours as an example. Imagine you need to establish a billable hours expectation for your BCBAs. Using a behavior analytic approach, you would first identify the baseline number of hours that your BCBAs are currently achieving. If they have been successful at 20 hours/week, but you want them to hit 25 hours/week, approach this as you would with a client. Reinforce systematic approximations toward your end goal! You could first increase the expectation to 21 hours/week, then gradually increase the expectation as your BCBAs are successful.

Supporting your BCBAs using the above recommendations may significantly improve your BCBAs’ job satisfaction, improve client outcomes, and ultimately benefit your practice.

Resources

Camille Plantiveau, Katerina Dounavi & Javier Virués-Ortega (2018) High levels of burnout among early-career board-certified behavior analysts with low collegial support in the work environment, European Journal of Behavior Analysis, 19:2, 195-207, DOI: 10.1080/15021149.2018.1438339

Slowiak, J. M., & DeLongchamp, A. C. (2021). Self-Care Strategies and Job-Crafting Practices Among Behavior Analysts: Do They Predict Perceptions of Work-Life Balance, Work Engagement, and Burnout?. Behavior analysis in practice, 15(2), 414–432. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-021-00570-y

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, www.evansbehavioralservices.com/.

What Kind of Assessment is Right for Your Child?

By Mariela Vargas-Irwin, PSYD, BCBA-D, LABA, Executive Director of ABLS

Every day was hard with 5-year-old Tony. He would purposely find ways to annoy others and just did not seem to respond to consequences. The school tested him and said that there was nothing wrong; in fact, they said he was gifted.

Another child, Latoya, was never the same after being in a car accident. She cried all night and refused to get into any car. She also seemed to be unable to play with any of her previously preferred toys for long and had frequent tantrums.

Then there was 10-year-old Maria, who didn’t seem to be making any progress at school. She had an intellectual disability and her Individualized Education Program looked good on paper. However, she was becoming more aggressive each day and her language continued to be very limited.

Finally, Autumn, 2 years old, was in a fog. She stopped saying mama and dada, cried for no apparent reason, and ran in circles all the time.

Developmental and behavioral concerns about your children, such as those listed above, can be extremely distressing. Of course, you would do anything for your child!

But where to start?

What Tools Do I Need?

The first step is to consult your pediatrician. They will be able to rule out any possible medical problems and are more likely than a specialist to be able to see you quickly. Once a physical cause for your concerns is ruled out, your pediatrician will most likely refer you to a psychologist for an assessment. There are, however, several kinds of assessments that can be conducted.

A Comprehensive Diagnostic Assessment will include a cognitive and an adaptive assessment. It may include both norm-referenced assessments that compare children to others, as well as criterion-referenced tests that compare students to themselves. A Comprehensive Diagnostic assessment may result in a diagnosis such as Autism or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

The psychologist or a behavior analyst may also perform a Functional Behavior Assessment. A Functional Behavior Assessment examines the functions of the behavior via direct and indirect methods helping guide the development of a Behavior Support Plan.

Another type of assessment that may be helpful is a Program Assessment. A Program Assessment includes a visit to your child’s school to determine whether their needs are being met and their Individualized Education Program is being implemented properly.

Lastly, a Neuropsychological Assessment examines executive functioning skills, attention, and memory, in addition to cognitive and adaptive skills. 

How Would Assessments Help My Child?

To speak to the above examples, Tony would need a Comprehensive Diagnostic Assessment and a Functional Assessment to ascertain the function of his aggressive and disruptive behavior. The fact that he is gifted intellectually does not rule out that he may be struggling with Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity, Autism, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Latoya would need a neuropsychological assessment that will examine executive functions, language, and attention to ascertain the impact of the accident on her neuropsychological functions. Typically, a complete neuropsychological assessment is conducted immediately after the accident and then repeated every six months.

Meanwhile, Maria would require a Program Assessment to determine whether her school program is meeting her needs. This assessment should include a complete review of her progress reports in addition to a visit to her school. She may also need a Functional Assessment of her aggressive behavior at home.

Lastly, Autumn urgently needs a Comprehensive Diagnostic Assessment to rule out Autism.  If she does have Autism, she will need intensive early behavior analytic intervention to be implemented as soon as possible so time is of the essence. 

Whatever the assessment process holds for your learner, it is important that the instruments used are both reliable and valid, and ideally they would be able to be utilized to track progress over time. Every child is different; therefore, no assessment process will proceed identically. 

About the Author

Dr. Mariela Vargas obtained her doctoral degree from Rutgers University, completed her internship at Boston Children’s Hospital, and pursued post-doctoral training at the Baker Children’s Center. She has over thirty years of experience working with children with autism and other developmental disorders with behavioral challenges. Dr. Vargas has worked as a home-based behavioral therapist, overseen home-based programs, designed training protocols for ABA therapists and supervisors, and consulted with families and schools. She was the second president of the Massachusetts Association for Behavior Analysis and has presented in numerous national and international Autism and ABA conferences. A licensed Psychologist and Board Certified Behavior Analyst, she is the founder and executive director of Applied Behavioral Learning Services (ABLS). Her interests include inclusion, psychometrics, social skills, and executive behavior.

Self Care for Moms

By Leanne Page; originally posted on Parenting with ABA

When you hear the words “self-care”, what is your reaction? A sigh of relief? Rolling your eyes as it feels like just ONE. MORE. THING.?

As a busy mom, we’ve all heard the expression to put your own oxygen mask on first. But when are we supposed to do that?

Self-care doesn’t have to mean bubble baths and beverages. It doesn’t have to mean shopping or pedicures. So what the heck does it mean then?

The World Health Organization defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider”.

And the American Psychological Association says “Self-care has been defined as providing adequate attention to one’s own physical and psychological wellness. Beyond being an aspirational goal, engaging in self-care has been described as an “ethical imperative”.”

Self care means paying attention to your own wellness- emotional, physical, and psychological. How are YOU doing right now? And the question you’ve heard me encourage you to use before- 6 little magic word: What do you need right now?

Quick and easy ways to improve your physical self-care:

  • Drink more water. Make this easier by using habit stacking. This means take an existing habit and add the step of drinking a glass of water on top of it. In ABA speak, the existing habit becomes the SD for drinking water. When I turn on my coffee maker in the morning, I drink a big glass of water while the coffee machine heats up.
  • Sleep hygiene. Turn off screens earlier in the evening. Go to bed earlier. Remove distractions. Journal before bed. Whatever works for you to promote good sleep!
  • Eat healthy. Instead of focusing on removing certain foods from your diet, just add in one healthy thing a day- like a fruit or vegetable. Habit stack by adding a piece of fruit to your afternoon cup of coffee, tea, or water.

Quick and easy ways to work on your emotional & psychological self-care:

  • Gratitude practice. There is SO much research on the benefits of gratitude practice for your mental health. This doesn’t have to be time consuming or involved. Habit stack by thinking about one thing you are grateful for every time you brush your teeth. Or ask every member of your family what they are grateful for each day (or call it a happy thing or a good thing) every time you all sit down at the kitchen table together.
  • Insert a pause. Just a simple pause throughout your day can help! When you are starting to feel emotionally heightened, pause and take some deep breaths. Insert this pause before you react to your kids or something else. Just giving yourself that moment to breathe and collect your thoughts can be wonderful for your self-care!
  • Schedule alone time. Work with your partner or support system to have a standing date with yourself on the calendar. It may be 20 minutes to sit on the back porch or an hour on the weekend to go to a yoga class. Whatever works for you! Put it on your calendar and treat it like an important appointment. It is important!

If you like bubble baths and wine- feel free to use it for your self-care. But that’s not all that matters! What matters is that you find a way to give yourself a little breather from the mental load of motherhood.

Prioritize yourself- even just in small increments. Learn something new, try a new hobby, read a book, exercise. Find what works for YOU and schedule time for it. Guard that time as an important appointment because you are worth it.

What small ways can you incorporate more self care into your days this week?? Try something and let me know how it goes!

Leanne Page, MEd, BCBA, is the author of Parenting with Science: Behavior Analysis Saves Mom’s Sanity. As a Behavior Analyst and a mom of two little girls, she wanted to share behavior analysis with a population who could really use it- parents!

Leanne has worked with children with disabilities for over 10 years. She earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Texas A&M University. She also completed ABA coursework through the University of North Texas before earning her BCBA certification in 2011. Leanne has worked as a special educator of both elementary and high school self-contained, inclusion, general education, and resource settings.

Leanne also has managed a center providing ABA services to children in 1:1 and small group settings. She has extensive experience in school and teacher training, therapist training, parent training, and providing direct services to children and families in a center-based or in-home therapy setting.

Leanne is now located in Dallas, Texas and is available for: distance BCBA and BCaBA supervision, parent training, speaking opportunities, and consultation. She can be reached via Facebook or at Lpagebcba@gmail.com.