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Advancing Autism Services: Our Commitment to Public Policy

Written by Dr. Ashley Williams, Ph.D., LABA, BCBA-D, Vice President

National Social Justice Day is a time to reflect on the progress made in creating a more equitable and inclusive society. At LEARN Behavioral, this commitment goes beyond the confines of our therapy rooms; it extends into the heart of public policy advocacy. Our dedication to social justice is evident through our active involvement in various organizations and our continuous efforts to champion policies that support the autism community.

1. Advocating for Autism Services Nationwide

LEARN Behavioral is proud to be an active member of the Council for Autism Service Providers (CASP). Our leadership team actively participates as CASP Special Advocacy Group Leaders in 11 states where LEARN Behavioral operates. This engagement allows us to contribute firsthand to the shaping of policies that impact individuals with autism and their families. Additionally, our membership in the National Coalition for Access to Autism Services (NCAAS) underscores our commitment to addressing state and federal barriers to autism services. By collaborating with like-minded organizations, we strive to create a unified voice advocating for positive change on a broader scale.

2. Advancing Autism Equity Through State Organizations

At LEARN Behavioral, we understand the importance of grassroots efforts in promoting social justice. Our active involvement in local trade and professional organizations, including CalABA, BABAT, WAPA, ORABA, MAC, MIBAP, reflects our dedication to the larger behavior analytic community. Through volunteering and membership in these organizations, we aim to contribute to the development of equitable services for the diverse communities we serve. We believe that fostering connections within the behavioral community is crucial to creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for all.

3. Leading National Advocacy Efforts for Autism Policy Reform

LEARN Behavioral is fortunate to have resident experts in public policy who actively contribute to the
advancement of the autism community. LEARN leaders have published peer-reviewed journal articles on
public policy, presented at local and national conferences, and provided numerous testimonies
advocating for access to care. Our chief clinical officer, Dr. Hanna Rue, is a beacon of leadership in this
regard. Her participation in NCAAS’s “day on the hill” in Washington, D.C., exemplifies our commitment
to effecting change at the highest levels. By engaging with House and Senate offices, we strive to
influence initiatives that positively impact the autism community on a national scale.

4. LEARN Advocacy Network

The LEARN Advocacy Network, led by Dr. Rebecca Thompson, is a vital part of LEARN Behavioral’s public policy efforts, providing a monthly meeting ground for leaders from each state. Driving our advocacy initiatives, this collaborative team engages in meaningful discussions, sharing insights, and staying abreast of the latest developments in public policy. The network serves as a platform where LEARN Behavioral leaders exchange information, ensuring a well-coordinated and informed approach to navigating the complex landscape of policy initiatives.

As we observe National Social Justice Day, it is imperative to recognize the multifaceted approach LEARN Behavioral takes to contribute to a more just and equitable society. Through active participation in national and state organizations, as well as championing public policy initiatives, we are dedicated to making a lasting impact. Our commitment to social justice extends beyond our therapeutic interventions, reflecting our belief in the power of advocacy and policy to create positive change for individuals with autism and their families.

The Advances and Challenges of DEI Initiatives in ABA

Brandon Whitfield, Sr. Clinical Director for AST, part of LEARN Behavioral has presented at several conferences including BABA’s (Black Applied Behavior Analysts) inaugural conference to share ways ABA agencies can bring more equity to the field of ABA. In this conversation, Brandon discusses his role in helping to create The Black Master’s cohort and mentorship program as well as the ongoing need to prioritize DEI advancement in ABA. 

For more information: 

https://learnbehavioral.com/culture

https://learnbehavioral.com/culture/dei

Self-Care and Sensory Needs for Neurodivergent Individuals

Dr. Megan Anna Neff, a Neurodivergent Psychologist joins us to discuss discovering her own autism in the aftermath of her child’s diagnosis and how that has inspired her passion to support the neurodivergent community. Dr. Neff describes the experience of her autism revelation in this way, “For the first time in my life, my body made sense, my experience of self made sense, and it was a powerful moment of liberation.” We also delve into helpful strategies about sensory sensitivity and self-care that are helpful for adults and parents of children with autism.

For more information:

neurodivergentinsights.com

@neurodivergent_insights on Instagram

All Autism Talk (https://www.allautismtalk.com/) is sponsored by LEARN Behavioral (https://learnbehavioral.com).

7 Versatile Skills You’ll Gain as a Behavior Technician

Starting your career as a behavior technician can help you build valuable skills that transcend the field of autism.

It can serve as a springboard for launching a successful career in any industry, like human services or education, because it gives you a solid foundation.

Behavior technicians and behavior therapists — what we commonly refer to as BTs — develop “transferable” skills. These competencies can make you versatile and adaptable. Cultivating these talents as a BT can help you gain the expertise to excel in the field of autism. At the same time, you’ll position yourself as a well-rounded professional.

Here are seven of the top skills you’ll learn working as a BT.

1. Adaptability

As a BT, you’ll learn to adapt to different situations and environments. Autism is a complex spectrum, and each person you care for requires a unique approach. You can use this aptitude in other areas that require flexibility and quick thinking. Your ability to adjust to changing trends, new technologies, and unexpected challenges will make you stand out in the crowd.

2. Effective Communication

Communication is at the heart of behavioral therapy. As a BT, you’ll learn to communicate well with people on the autism spectrum, their loved ones, and your colleagues. You’ll cultivate the ability to share ideas, give instructions, and offer support effectively. This is essential in any field that involves working with others. Clear and concise communication fosters positive relationships. This skill prevents misunderstandings and allows for collaborative problem-solving.

3. Empathy

Working closely with people on the autism spectrum requires empathy and compassion. As a BT, you’ll learn about their challenges and truly care about their well-being. These qualities are universally valued and can benefit you in any field. Empathy and compassion create a supportive work environment. This skill also improves customer service and builds strong connections with colleagues and clients.

4. Analytical Thinking

BTs use analytical thinking to understand behaviors, identify patterns, and develop effective strategies. Knowing how to analyze data and find important information is valuable in many jobs. Whether you work in business, education, healthcare, or research, thinking analytically helps you make good choices and achieve positive outcomes.

5. Problem-Solving Abilities

Problem-solving is a fundamental skill where BTs excel. You’ll learn how to spot problems, find out why they happen, and come up with new ideas to fix them. This skill is transferable and valuable in many professions. Employers appreciate people who can face challenges directly and come up with solutions.

6. Collaboration and Teamwork

BTs work with families, other therapists, and educators as part of a team. This collaboration fosters excellent teamwork skills, which are sought-after in any field. To succeed in many jobs, it’s important to work well with others. This means sharing ideas, respecting different perspectives, and contributing effectively to group efforts.

7. Organizational Skills

As a BT, you’ll learn to manage schedules, paperwork, and resources effectively. In any job where you need to manage time and tasks, being organized is crucial. This skill helps you finish tasks on time, stay organized, and work efficiently.

Becoming a BT equips you with a diverse set of talents that can open doors to various career paths. The skills you’ll gain are highly valued in today’s job market.

To succeed in any job, it’s helpful to be adaptable, a good communicator, empathetic, analytical, a problem solver, collaborative, and organized. Cultivating these skills as a BT can propel you toward success and open doors that will get you there.

The Importance of Ethical Decision Making For Behavior Analysts

Dr. Linda LeBlanc, a Licensed Psychologist and author of 3 books on supervision joins us to discuss her latest book about ethics which she co-authored with Dr. Amanda Karsten, who is the Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Grand Valley State University. Their new book titled Proactive and Practical Decision Making for Behavior Analysis explores the critical need for continually examining and evolving the role of ethics in providing services. As Dr. Karsten shared, “I hope we can help normalize the range of emotions that early career folks may be experiencing but also empower them with strategies they can put into motion and navigate step by step. And to know that being in a difficult ethical situation is not going to overwhelm them.”

For more information:

https://sloanpublishing.com/ethics

All Autism Talk (https://www.allautismtalk.com/) is sponsored by LEARN Behavioral (https://learnbehavioral.com).

The Importance of Sticking to Consistent ABA Therapy

By Ashley Williams, Ph.D., LABA, BCBA-D

Schedule Transitions Make Sticking to ABA Therapy Even More Important

Anyone in charge of the family calendar knows how important it is to stick to a schedule. It helps keep life on track.

For children on the autism spectrum, a steady schedule is even more important. A daily routine can create a sense of structure and predictability. It can reinforce a sense of stability and allow them to focus better on learning and interacting with others.

When family schedules change — like the transition from summer to back-to-school — it can be anxiety-provoking. The sudden shift from a relaxed summer schedule to a structured school routine can be overwhelming. However, maintaining a consistent daily routine during this transition can help alleviate some of this stress and anxiety.

Back to School and Back to ABA Therapy Services

For children with autism, continuing with applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy when going back to school gives them a big advantage.

It helps to improve social, communication, and learning skills through reinforcement strategies. It also provides them with a set of tools to navigate the complexities of the school environment, helping them to learn how to interact with their peers, follow instructions, and interact in a classroom setting—all of which should be fun.

ABA therapy can be tailored to meet each child’s unique needs and goals, making it an effective way to support their overall development and learning. By incorporating play-based activities and strategies, children not only enjoy themselves but also experience the joy of learning through play.

5 Reasons Why Consistent ABA Services Are Essential

  1. Skill Maintenance: Consistency in ABA services helps children maintain the skills they have already learned. Without ongoing practice and reinforcement, they may experience skill regression, which can impede their progress. Consistent ABA services reinforce learned skills across different settings.
  2. Generalization of Skills: ABA services can provide opportunities to practice and generalize their skills in different environments. By working on skills outside the traditional school setting — such as in community settings or during recreational activities — your child can learn to adapt to skills across various real-life situations.
  3. Individualized Support: Consistent ABA services allow for ongoing individualized support tailored to the specific needs of your child. ABA programs are highly individualized, focusing on the unique goals and interests of each child. Continuity of services allows you and your team to monitor your child’s progress, adjust goals as necessary, and introduce new skills based on your child’s development and needs.
  4. Behavior Management: Summer break may have introduced changes in routine and increased leisure time, which can sometimes lead to challenging behaviors. As your child goes back to school, consistent ABA services provide behavioral strategies and interventions to address and manage these behaviors effectively. ABA professionals can work closely with you and your child to develop behavior support plans and provide guidance on how to address challenging behaviors as they arise.
  5. Transition Preparation: For those transitioning to a new school or educational setting in the upcoming academic year, consistent ABA services can facilitate a smoother transition. ABA professionals can focus on specific skills that will support your child’s adjustment to the new environment. That focus can include social skills, communication, and self-help skills. By addressing these areas during times of transition, your child can feel more prepared and confident when starting their new educational journey.

For children with autism, transitioning back to school requires a careful balance between preventing skill regression and having fun. At LEARN, our goal is both. A collaborative relationship between your family and your behavior analyst can help you create a steady schedule that works during this time of transition and sets your child up for ongoing success in school and life.

Ashley Williams is a senior clinical director at LEARN Behavioral.

For more resources about ABA consistency, watch our video “How ABA Therapy Helped Our Children Succeed: Insights from Two BCBA Moms.”

Back To School Tips for Parents of Kids with Autism

Jessica Sylfest is the parent of a child with Autism and ADHD and the Sr. Director of  Talent Acquisition for LEARN Behavioral. Jessica’s compassion, warmth, and learned wisdom are great offerings to all parents as we transition our kids back to school. There are a lot of specific strategies shared when navigating an IEP and how to establish good communication with your child’s team. As Jessica said, “I think there is such value in sharing experiences and sharing things that are going well and things that are a  struggle. You really never stop preparing. It’s just perpetual communication, planning with the school and with the other resources in our lives.”

To watch more podcast episodes visit www.allautismtalk.com

A Fresh Approach: Empowering Children with Autism

Written by Alison Spanoghe, Behavior Analyst, Autism Spectrum Therapies (AST)

When I first started working in a school system with children on the autism spectrum in the early 2000s, my leaders told me to stick to my instructions — no matter what. They told me this would be best for the children in the long run. As a newbie, I followed orders.

Often, though, that approach led to anger, tears, and resistance from the children who needed my help the most. Despite science backing up the “follow-my-orders” approach, it didn’t always feel “right.”

Today, my approach has evolved to something called “assent-based practice.” It’s a model that puts an end to instruction through coercion. It prioritizes the child’s agreement to participate in therapy rather than mandating that they follow orders.

The Old Way: Extinction

If you’re familiar with applied behavior analysis (ABA), you may have come across the term “extinction.” In simple terms, extinction means not reinforcing a previously reinforced behavior. The aim is to reduce the chances of that behavior happening again.

Let’s say your TV remote stops working. After a while, you’ll stop pressing the power button and maybe look for batteries or ask for help instead. The same principle applies to ABA services. If a certain behavior — like screaming — is not encouraged, the child will eventually stop doing it. You could then teach them a better way to communicate their needs instead of screaming.

While that might be good in theory, behavior isn’t always that straightforward. Also, the extinction approach can sometimes lead to other issues, like longer tantrums, aggression, or even distrust toward caregivers. That’s where assent-based practice comes in.

The New Way: Assent-Based Practice

Assent-based practice focuses on making sure the child agrees to take part in therapy — even if that agreement is nonverbal. When a child is actively engaged, that’s one indication that they are communicating that they agree with participating in treatment.

This type of approach involves:

  • Constant check-ins
  • Respecting when the child no longer wants to participate in treatment
  • Adapting the approach based on the child’s response
  • Teaching the child to communicate

The goal of this technique is to equip children with autism with skills that are useful in any situation. It also helps them advocate for themselves and make it clear when they want to say “no.” It’s more of a compassionate way of providing care.

Why Assent-Based Practice?

There are many benefits to using assent-based practice. It can:

  • Build Trust: It helps establish a safe and trusting relationship between the child and the therapist.
  • Promote Expression: The child learns that they are seen and heard. It encourages them to express their feelings.
  • Respect Autonomy: The child’s “no” is respected, promoting their dignity and independence.
  • Enhance Learning: This approach avoids standoffs. It allows more reinforcement of language use and engagement in the session.

Assent-based practice has become a popular topic in ABA services. It emphasizes getting the child’s agreement before continuing therapy. It teaches children to express their feelings. It also respects their dignity and independence.

Therapists can use this approach with any child at any time, leading to faster learning and better rapport with the child. While our understanding of assent-based practice continues to evolve, it is a worthwhile approach to consider because it puts the child first.

Alison Spanoghe is a behavior analyst with Autism Spectrum Therapies (AST).