Building Variability Into The Routine

Several years ago, I was working with a 6-year-old boy we’ll call Terrence. Terrence was diagnosed with autism. He was a very playful child who was generally good-tempered, enjoyed playing with trains and watching TV, and posed few difficult behavior issues for his parents…until the day there was construction on their walk from the grocery store to their apartment and they decided to take a different route home. What happened next is what most people would call a full-blown meltdown: Terrence dropped to the ground, screaming and crying, and refused to move.

Building Variability Into The Routine

Many of the parents I work with have a similar story when it comes to their child with autism and an unexpected change in the routine. The change varies: the favorite flavor of fruit snacks is out of stock at the store or the babysitter greeted the child at the bus instead of the parent or they grew out of the coat they wore the past two winters… In fact, it can be difficult to anticipate exactly what specific routine may be a trigger for your learner. This is precisely why building variability into the routine can be helpful.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • First, think about the routines that are the most likely to be interrupted. Make a list of these so you can begin thinking about how to address those issues.
  • Second, work with your team (whether that means family or practitioners that work with your learner) to select 2-3 routines to focus on first.
  • Discuss how those routines would most likely be interrupted. For instance, a favorite TV show may be interrupted during election season or you may have a family function when the TV show is aired. In teaching your learner to be flexible with changes in routine, you will contrive changes that are likely to occur to give your learner quality practice.
  • Plan to vary the routine. Essentially, you are setting up the change in routine, but you will be prepared in advance to help your learner behave appropriately. (You’re much more likely to experience some success in this scenario than you would be if a change in routine occurs unexpectedly and/or last minute.)
  • Give your learner a vocabulary for what is happening. I teach many of my students the term “flexible.” I might say, “I appreciate how you’re being flexible right now” or “Sometimes when plans change we have to be flexible. This means…”
  • Reinforce appropriate behaviors related to flexibility! You want to be clear when they’ve made an appropriate, flexible response. In the planning phase, you can discuss what appropriate reinforcers might be for the routines you are targeting.

If you build in variations in routine and teach your learner some strategies for being flexible, you and your learner are much more likely to be successful in navigating unexpected changes.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, BCBA

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

How To Have A Successful School Experience

Every parent wants their child to succeed in school. The definition of success may differ from parent to parent, but most would agree that they want their child to get good grades, demonstrate good behavior and make friends. These desires are no different for parents who have children with developmental disabilities. So, how do you know if your child is ready and are there ways to predict how well they will do? Tools like the Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP), which is one of the primary assessment tools used at the Behavior Analysis Center for Autism (BACA), can assist parents and professionals alike in assessing their child’s skills and providing them with valuable information as to what areas they can support their child to increase the chances of them doing well in whatever educational setting they may enter.

How To Have A Successful School Experience

General skill deficits will likely determine the educational placement of your child, but may not be the biggest issue at hand.

Behavior problems and problems with instructional control can cause significant barriers to achievement with grades, developing friendships and avoiding expulsion. Learned prompt dependency may make developing independence and responsibility more difficult. Failure to generalize already existing knowledge across multiple examples, people and environments will require more teaching time and may manifest inconsistent performance on tests and classroom work. If your child likes very few things, seemingly peculiar things, or has strong motivation for some things, but is unwilling to work to attain them, it may make it more difficult to motivate them to learn material that is presented. If your child is reliant on getting something for responding every time in order for learning to occur, the teaching process will likely remain a tedious one and decrease the likelihood that they will be able to maintain those responses when those incentives are not provided as frequently. Many children with developmental disabilities will rely on providing themselves with reinforcement in the form of self-stimulation when such dense access to preferred items or activities is not provided.

Overall skill level will undoubtedly increase the odds that your child will be able to manage good grades. However, their ability to acquire new material quickly and then retain that information for later use may play a more critical role in their long term accomplishment. Adapting to change quickly or ‘going with the flow’ will be critical when faced with day to day schedule changes that occur in classrooms or other instructional environments. General independence with functional skills such as toileting, eating and managing their personal items such as backpacks, folders, etc., will decrease the amount of time their teachers may need to focus on teaching these skills and allow more time for teaching other critical skills.

All of these things taken together can seem daunting, even for parents of typically developing children. The good news is that there are things that every parent can do to help. Perfect parenting is unattainable, but valiant and consistent attempts with certain things can go a long way. Allowing your child to experience the consequences of their behavior can be tough, but is central to ensuring that they will behave well when it counts. Having your child try things on their own before helping them and then only helping them as much as needed to get the job done whenever possible will foster independence. Exposing your child to new or different things within fun activities can increase the things they are interested in. Those things can then be used to motivate them to learn. Setting up opportunities for them to experience even small changes, modeling a calm demeanor and praising them for doing the same when unexpected things happen can also help.

Your child’s teacher or other professionals like Board Certified Behavior Analysts can aid you in thinking of other ways to enhance what you are already doing and assist in developing an individualized treatment plan to support you and your child.

WRITTEN BY MELANY SHAMPO, MA, BCBA

Melany Shampo is a clinical director at the Behavior Analysis Center for Autism in Fishers, IN.

This post first appeared on Indy’s Special Child. 

How Siblings Of Children With Autism Can Help Improve Behaviors

How Siblings Of Children With Autism Can Help Improve BehaviorsWhen I first came across this study, “Behavioral Training for Siblings of Autistic Children,” I was immediately hesitant. There’s something about the idea of sibling-as-therapist that makes me cringe a little bit. When I work with the families of children with autism, the hope is that the siblings of the child with autism still have a childhood without being pushed into the role of caregiver. And I also want the child with autism to have independence and feel like an individual who is heard, which may be more challenging if their siblings are issuing demands just as a parent or teacher would. But as I read the study, I realized that the work they completed had incredible social significance.

In the study, there were three pairs of siblings. The ages of the children with autism ranged from 5 years old to 8 years old. The ages of the siblings ranged from 8 years old to 13 years old. The researchers trained each sibling of a child with autism how to teach basic skills, such as discriminating between different coins, identifying common objects, and spelling short words. As part of this training, the researchers showed videos of one-on-one sessions in which these skills were taught, utilizing techniques such as reinforcement, shaping, and chaining. What the researchers did next was the part that really stood out to me: they discussed with the siblings how to use these techniques in other environments. Finally, the researchers observed the sibling working with their brother/sister with autism and provided coaching on the techniques.

It should be noted here that the goal of the study was not to have the siblings become the teacher of basic skills. Instead, it was to provide a foundation of skills in behavioral techniques for the sibling to use in other settings with the hope of overall improvement in the behaviors of the child with autism. The researchers demonstrated that, after training, the siblings were able to effectively use prompts, reinforcement, and discrete trials to effectively teach new skills. But, perhaps the most meaningful aspects of the study were the changes reported by both siblings and parents. The researchers provide a table showing comments about the sibling with autism before and after the training. One of the most striking comments after the training was, “He gets along better if I know how to ask him” (p. 136). Parents reported that they were pleased with the results and found the training beneficial.

This study provides excellent evidence that structured training for siblings has real potential for making life a little easier for the whole family. The idea isn’t that they become the therapist, but instead that knowledge truly is power.

References

Schriebman, L., O’Neill, R.E. & Koegel, R.L. (1983). Behavioral training for siblings of autistic children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 16(2), 129-138.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, BCBA

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