Carefully Consider the Meaning of Independence

In working with individuals with autism, my goal is always to help them move towards independence. Recently, I was speaking with a colleague about an intervention I had done in which a child independently began his bedtime routine (brushing teeth, changing into pajamas, etc.) when his VibraLite watch vibrated at 8PM. When the watch vibrates, he resets it for 8PM the next day. Her response was that she didn’t believe that was truly independent behavior, since he required the prompt of the watch vibration. Many of you reading may agree with my colleague, but I think we must consider independence today in the context of our own behavior.

In the evening, I set an alarm clock, and I only wake up in the morning when it buzzes. When I run out of milk, I’ll put an alert in my Reminders app on my phone. When a friend invites me to lunch, I immediately enter the date in my calendar. All of these are technically examples of prompts, but if I am managing the prompts, I would argue that I am in fact engaging in independent behavior.

When I think about independent behavior, I want the children I work with to one day be able to grocery shop, go to work, eat a meal with a sibling, and more without having another adult facilitate those interactions. I want them to remember the time a movie starts, recognize when clothing needs to be washed, and pay their bills on time without another adult reminding them.

So, that begs the question: what counts as independence? We live in a time in which means we have a plethora of tools at our fingertips that weren’t available even a few years ago. Here are a few things you might want to think about in terms of independence:

  • What are the individual’s peers doing? Is it common for their peers to use a technological tool such as an iPad in the behavior you’re targeting? If not what are they using? Would that be an option for your learner?
  • What do you use in your day? If I’m using a Reminders app to keep track of my grocery list, then there’s no reason an individual with autism shouldn’t be allowed to do the same!
  • What does the research say? Many of the technological tools we use haven’t been out for very long, so it’s only been in the past couple of years that the research base is starting to catch up in terms of appropriate use of tablets, smartphones, and the like. But there’s a lot of good research out there! Take a look at the suggested reading list at the end of this article (and don’t forget to look at the reference lists in those articles to find more research.)
  • What does the individual gravitate towards? I have some students who prefer paper and pencil, and others that enjoy using tablets. I’m going to select interventions and tools for independence based on the individual’s own preferences! This may mean you have to try a few things out before you find the best fit.

All in all, I think it’s essential that individuals with autism be held to the same standard as the neurotypical population, not a higher standard when it comes to teaching independence.

 

Suggested Readings:

de Joode, E., van Heugten, C., Verhey, F., & van Boxtel, M. (2010). Efficacy and usability of assistive technology for patients with cognitive deficits: A systematic review. Clinical rehabilitation24(8), 701-714.

Hill, D. A., Belcher, L., Brigman, H. E., Renner, S., & Stephens, B. (2013). The Apple iPad (TM) as an Innovative Employment Support for Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Other Developmental Disabilities. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling44(1), 28.

Kagohara, D. M., Sigafoos, J., Achmadi, D., O’Reilly, M., & Lancioni, G. (2012). Teaching children with autism spectrum disorders to check the spelling of words. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders6(1), 304-310.

Kagohara, D. M., van der Meer, L., Ramdoss, S., O’Reilly, M. F., Lancioni, G. E., Davis,
T. N., Rispoli, M., Lang, R., Marschik, P. B., Sutherland, D., Green, V. A., & Sigafoos, J. (2013). Using iPods® and iPads® in teaching programs for individuals with developmental disabilities: A systematic review. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34(1), 147-156.

Mechling, L. C., Gast, D. L., & Seid, N. H. (2009). Using a personal digital assistant to increase independent task completion by students with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 1420-1434.

Uphold, N. M., Douglas, K. H., & Loseke, D. L. (2014). Effects of using an iPod app to manage recreation tasks. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 39(2), 88-98.

Van Laarhoven, T., Johnson, J. W., Van Laarhoven-Myers, T., Grider, K. L., & Grider, K. M. (2009). The effectiveness of using a video iPod as a prompting device in employment settings. Journal of Behavioral Education, 18(2), 119-141.

Wehmeyer, M. L., Palmer, S. B., Shogren, K., Williams-Diehm, K., & Soukup, J. H. (2010). Establishing a causal relationship between intervention to promote self- determination and enhanced student self-determination. The Journal of Special Education, 46(4), 195-210.


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 an assistant professor 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. 

Visual Schedule to Improve Independent Play Skills in Children with Autism

Parents, caregivers, therapists and teachers alike work so hard to teach a variety of play skills but what happens when your child or student doesn’t make that leap from facilitated play to independent play? Independent play is such an important skill that will allow him or her to better connect with their peers, build friendships, expand problem-solving skills and structure downtime.  A successful transition from demonstrating play skills with adult support to playing independently can be impacted by a myriad of variables.

Some of my students struggle with independent play because it is difficult to move from a thick schedule of reinforcement of 1:1 adult attention to a thinner one of just having an adult “check in” once in a while.  Other learners have impairments impacting executive function, specifically the organization and sequencing of steps for meaningful and reinforcing play as well as on-task behavior, task completion and working memory. Additionally, in some cases the skill of independent play is elusive because teachers struggle to find ways to fade out prompts or to successfully thin out the schedule of reinforcement.

Below is the visual schedule with data sheets for measuring acquisition and progress that I have created.  I have found it useful with learners with very different skill sets and abilities.  Click here for a comprehensive Task Analysis on teaching independent play using a visual schedule.

Keep in mind that this is for learners that:

  • Have successfully acquired a varied repertoire of play skills
  • Do not require visual schedules that break down every step of the play
  • Are able to complete activities with delayed reinforcement

In order to prepare this for use with the learner:

  • Set up a toy organizational system that has toys bins
  • Print the materials and laminate the schedule strip and the cut out shapes.
  • Attach Velcro dots to the bins, schedule strip and shapes and to the work surface if you like
  • Identify activities that are suitable for this schedule

Remember that any open-ended activities like building blocks or coloring can be turned into close-ended activities by limiting the number of pieces or by teaching the learner to use a timer.

As you would when teaching any schedule, use a most-to-least prompting strategy, only use verbal instruction for the initial direction or S(e.g. “Go play.”), and prompt only from behind and out of view.

The schedule I have been using has a smiley face at the end of the schedule indicating a “free choice” time which all of my students understand.  However, if you are using this with a learner that requires a visual reminder of what they are working for, you could easily adapt this by putting a picture of the reward in the place of the smiley face.  Time to play!

*Don’t forget to download your free visual schedule and data sheets here!

Pick of the Week: On Track! Responsibility and Behavior System

On Track! Responsibility and Behavior System

Start off the New Year on the right foot with this great tool to keep your family organized: the On Track! Responsibility & Behavior System. Establish clear expectations and logical consequences so that you can reduce the day-to-day arguments and chaos. The On Track! Responsibility and Behavior System incorporates household chores, daily to-do lists, money management, and behavioral issues into life lessons that teach organizational skills, accountability, and self-reliance. Targeted towards children ages 8 and up, the On Track! Responsibility and Behavior System is ideal for middle school-aged kids. Using the system will help instill independence in your child by establishing clear expectations and logical consequences. And this week only, you can save 15% by entering promo code BLOGTRB8 at checkout!

Worksheets, to-do lists, dry-and-erase markers, behavior contract, and more!The On Track! Responsibility and Behavior System includes:

  • Dry-and-erase Markers
  • Behavioral Contract
  • Dry-and-erase To-Do and Chore Lists (2 each)
  • Family Rules Sheet
  • 16-page Instructional Guide & worksheets to help families work together
  • The deluxe pocketed caddy – so it can be displayed on the wall, door, or any area

Remember, this week only, take 15% off your purchase of the On Track! Responsibility and Behavior System by entering in BLOGTRB8 at checkout.

*Offer valid through 01/14/14 at 11:59pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in the code at checkout!

Back to School Basics

You know it is officially back to school season when the grill in my backyard has been cool to the touch for days and I’ve had my yearly medical exam (PPD titer and all!). I hope it has been smooth sailing for you and your little ones as classes begin. If it hasn’t been, this is what I always try to keep in mind, for all people, big and small:

PREPARE!

It is best to join forces with your child and prepare for the year by making sure you cover what I like to call the 3 S’s.

SPACE

Make sure everything in your child’s work/play space at home is organized and equipped. Play continues to be an important part of learning even when school is in session so take this time to go through toys and arts and crafts supplies and weed out things that are broken or no longer developmentally appropriate for your child. Make sure there is a spacious and uncluttered work space stocked with all of the supplies your child will need to complete homework and school projects. It is also a good idea to keep a space near the work area for a visual schedule to help foster independence during homework time. Lastly, designate a spot near the entrance of your home where your child’s backpack, important papers and your keys can go each afternoon. The last thing you want is to add undue stress to your morning routine and risk missing the beginning of class.

SCHEDULE

We all know that with this population transitions can be especially difficult.  First, take care of as much as you can the night before. Pack bags, sign paperwork, pack lunches, and pick out clothing.  Also, don’t think that a a parent you are the only one responsible for this prep work. Incorporate as many of these things into your child’s evening routine as you can. Having your child participate will foster independence and build confidence. Again, visual schedules and token economies help facilitate independence and provide motivation respectively.  Structure benefits children so it is good to develop a general school year routine and stick to it as much as possible.  Predictability is helpful when it comes to transitions but also remember to build in components that have some element of change to them so that you can facilitate flexibility.  One part of the schedule that shouldn’t change is the sleep schedule.  Keep it as consistent as possible, even on the weekends.  I suggest building a calming activity into the schedule before bedtime and using a timer to help with the transition to bed.

SOCIAL

Sometimes, people find it surprising when I suggest preparation for social interactions but there are a lot of creative ways to help children familiarize themselves with conversational topics, common games and salient information about their peers and teachers.  I encourage all of the families I work with to print photographs of family outings or events that can be used as visual prompts for conversational topics.  Especially good are things that happened over the weekend.  If the picture book is reviewed Sunday evening they will be fully prepared to talk about what they did over the weekend. Additionally, you can find out what schoolyard games are popular with your child’s peer group and practice them at home with siblings or playdates.  If it is an athletic game you might also spend time with your child making a book about the rules that can be reviewed periodically. Lastly, I like to construct a “friend journal” with a child at the beginning of each school year.  You might need to enlist teachers or other parents to help with this but it is such a useful tool that it is worth the extra effort.  Start by obtaining photos of each classmate and pasting them individually into different sections of the journal.  On a daily basis you can help your child fill in something they have learned about their peers.  This could range anywhere from favorite cartoon or tv show to their age or their family members names.

Going back to school can be a fun and exciting time.  With a little preparation and creativity maybe it will be the best school year yet!