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Back to School: Homework Tips

Heading back to school can bring a number of challenges for our kids, especially those with autism. Navigating new environments, teachers, therapists, and peers can each be a bit scary but full of opportunity.

One very common request we get is about supporting autistic kids with their homework. How do you get your child to do his or her homework? There are many strategies to help keep your child on task; all of them tried and true. Here are some to consider:

Make It Easier by Sticking to a Schedule

Set a schedule and stick to it. Like any other priority, if homework always occurs at the same time, and the routine becomes ingrained, your child will eventually accept the routine. This is true for teeth brushing, baths, and all of the chores children prefer to avoid. Initially, it is hard to hold the line on the schedule, but it sure pays off later.

Reinforce the Message That Homework Is Important

Set the stage and set the tone. Show your child that homework time is important and respected. Give them a special place to sit. Ask siblings to be quiet or leave the area during homework time. Check in frequently to see how they are doing and intersperse praise throughout homework tasks. Show them that you care and are invested in their homework efforts, and help them feel successful and competent.

Motivate with Kindness

Be firm but encouraging. Everyone tends to push back when they are nagged. Try to avoid nagging when you are frustrated by your child’s efforts. By observing your own behavior, you can better support theirs. You can set expectations for what the homework routine looks like, but make sure to be encouraging and motivating, too. Remind your child what you believe their strengths are and why you are proud of what they are learning.

Positive Reinforcement is Powerful

Use rewards. It is OK to reward your child for completing their homework. They are doing something difficult every day. Consider giving a reward for being successful at participating in homework time (not getting everything correct). Eventually, as homework time becomes easier, you can shift rewards to more academic goals. It does not have to be an ice cream sundae. Find out what they might like to do with you after they are done. This can be an opportunity to consider setting aside quality time that you will enjoy.

Every Opportunity for Choice Increases Compliance

Giving choices has been proven to increase motivation. What choices can they have during homework time? It is important for you to keep the time and the expectations the same. But, can they choose where to sit? Can they choose what materials to write with or write on? Can they choose what task to begin with? Also, consider letting them choose their reward as well. Give them at least three options. Empowering them in this way can be very powerful. The more control they have over the task the more motivated they will be.

Interested in more back-to-school tips? Check out our blogs, “Five Steps to Help Your Child with Autism Make Friends,” “This School Year, Build a Trusting Relationship with Your Child’s Teacher,” and “Tips for Reducing Back to School Anxiety.”


 

7 Tips for Creating Summer Fun For Autistic Kids

Summer is a few short weeks away! The joy of completing the school year also brings the challenges associated with unscheduled days, unpredictable new environments, and the unexpected elements of the season.

Here are seven helpful tips for planning your family’s summer that we hope will help create more fun and reduce stress:

1. Maintain Some Structure

Try to maintain your child’s typical eating and sleeping schedule as much as possible. It’s not easy to stick to a schedule during summer, especially as this is a time when you want to let go a bit and relax. If you can maintain the basic structure of your child’s routine with eating, sleeping, and some routine in the day, you are less likely to have an overwhelmed or anxious child.

2. Be Clear on Your Goals

You may want to create opportunities for your child to build social skills. Summer is a great time to enroll your child in social skills programs where they can participate in small-group activities and learn how to navigate relationships while receiving one-to-one support.

3. Prepare in Advance

Whenever possible, it can be helpful to familiarize your child ahead of time with the destination by using photographs, videos, etc. If your child has never flown or stayed in a hotel before, practicing these on a small scale can be helpful. Some airlines offer practice travel for families with autism. You may also want to visit a hotel room before an overnight stay.

4. Travel Safety

It‘s important to acquaint your family with your vacation details, such as where you‘ll be staying during your trip. If you are staying with family or renting an apartment or home, be sure to check that each door has a lock and that the perimeter of the house is secure. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with other parts of the property, such as areas that have access to water and other roads. Knowing these will help keep your child’s safety top of mind should they explore the area.

5. It Takes a Village

While vacationing or sunbathing with friends or family, welcome them to become part of your team. By sharing your concerns and requests for support, your community can be mindful and diligent with any possible safety or wandering risks. Helping others understand how they can best support you and your family, can make your experience more relaxed and enjoyable.

6. Get Support from Your Team

Remember to use what works for your child while planning your family’s activities.  If you‘re working with an ABA provider, ask for assistance with goals that support a specific outing or trip.

7. Don’t Forget to Have Fun!

Summer is the perfect time to maximize learning opportunities, access resources that may have been limited due to school schedules, and work on intensive programs that require a larger time commitment.

While that is all true, it’s still important to find time to have fun, enjoy the activities summer has to offer, and watch your child thrive!

Here are some additional resources to help make the summer season a success for the whole family:

The Benefits of ABA in Dual Environments

When a child is diagnosed with autism, parents become charged with finding quality treatment – and the evidence-based recommendation is to seek out Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).  Choosing the specific ABA program that is right for a child can feel daunting, especially if ABA is new territory for a family.  In this article, we look at the benefits of a program incorporating both in-home and center-based programs.

Many proponents of ABA like to state, “ABA can be done anywhere.” It is true – but we shouldn’t overlook another important point: the environment itself is a critical component of therapy.  Controlling the environment to some degree is frequently part of the teaching process.  Selecting a teaching environment is a decision that impacts the rest of the teaching strategy and so also has an effect on progress.

Common teaching environments for young children with autism include center-based ABA therapy, private or public school, a childcare environment, and home programs.   While there is not enough research to prescribe a particular environment or model generally for children with autism, many parents and professionals are finding that a multi-site model of a controlled environment (such as a center-based program) and a natural environment (home, childcare, school) provides the best of both worlds.

Benefit #1 – Social skills can be targeted consistently and with children in the child’s community.

It is necessary for peers to be available regularly for consistent teaching; in this respect, a clinic setting is ideal for having regular access to other children to practice target skills.  Ultimately, the goal is for the child to interact with the other children in their community, their siblings, classmates, and neighbors.  Having a regular home component allows the therapist to work on target skills with the people who will be important in their normal daily life, even if these opportunities aren’t as regular as those in a clinic setting.

Benefit #2 – Controlled Environment vs. Natural Environment: Best of both worlds

A multi-site model allows technicians to address the most challenging skills in a distraction-free environment, but still have access to the home or school setting, with all of its naturally-occurring distractions, to make sure that those learned skills are being put to use.

Benefit #3 – Consistency of the Behavior Plan

When a challenging behavior is treated differently across settings, it is more likely to persist; this set-up can even make the behavior worse in the long-run.  The best treatment involves the same plan being followed across the day.  Having professionals use a consistent plan in both the home and center environments also supports family members to do the same.

Benefit #4 – Assessment of Generalization

All programs must address the issue of generalization, but a multi-site model is tailor-made for this.  Generalization can be specifically addressed right from the beginning, either by teaching in both environments, or by teaching in one place and testing generalization in the other.

Benefit #5 – Ease of Group Work Vs. Ease of Parent Training – You Get Both!

One of the most important aspects of the teaching environment is the people present.  In a center-based program, other children are close at hand for social interactions, peer modeling, and working on group instruction, so these parts of therapy can happen regularly.  When ABA sessions are at home, it can be more convenient for parents to make themselves available for training.  In a multi-site model, the child benefits from both of these types of teaching opportunities.

Whichever provider a family selects, they should be sure to work closely with their team to personalize the child’s program to best meet their needs and the goals for their family.

– Richie Ploesch, M.A., BCBA & Katherine Johnson, BCBA

A New Year to Make Progress 2019

We are happy to re-share this blog from a previous year that received so much wonderful feedback. We wish everyone a year of great moments, memories and progress.

Autism is in the news, social media, and print more than ever. The increasing awareness is great. The influx of research and funding options is even better! The heartwarming stories and success stories are inspiring. Still, misinformation and slanted headlines are annoyingly abound. Such is this complicated, passionate and ultimately very unique autism community. We are glad to be a part of it, and do our best to honor and respect the many contributing voices. As a community, we are making progress and continue to be optimistic that together, we can make great strides. We have no doubt that the most important person to each and every parent, day-in and day-out, is your child with autism.

So what will this year’s 365 days mean for you? We suggest this simple, but powerful idea: progress. When you’re past the notion that there may be a quick fix and come to terms that the pursuit of a cure won’t help you with today’s challenges, progress is the name of the game. Forget quantum leaps; each milestone met will offer its own reward. Know there will be set backs and rough patches, and keep moving forward.

BE PRESENT: There are many amazing therapists, doctors and teachers in the world who have taught so much about development and parenting. However, keep in mind that you are the one who is with your child every day. For real progress to take place, you gotta be in the game. Don’t forget to take time to just BE with your child and appreciate all the beautiful, unique ways they express themselves.

BE CONSISTENT: What is the 12 step motto…”the more you work it, the more it works”? Working consistently with your child’s team to implement strategies, even when it’s hard or inconvenient, propels the process.

BE A FRIEND/SPOUSE/PERSON: You can’t focus on autism 24 hours a day. Remember to make time for yourself, friends and family. When you do, life just has more balance and you’ll likely have more stamina for the work ahead.

BE GRATEFUL: Count your blessings, celebrate the wins and enjoy every single bit of progress. This is what makes it all worth it. No one else will feel joy quite the way you will. It’s awesome.

This year, we will continue to be moved, enlightened and sometimes annoyed by it all. Stick to a plan that works for you and your family, and know that come December 31, 2019, you’ll be able to look at another year passed – and call it good.

For great news and information, visit our blog, All Autism Videos and All Autism Talk.

Successful Toilet Training for Kids with Autism

Potty training, toilet training, toileting… whichever term you use, tackling these skills can be a big deal for kids and their parents. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are often delayed at the age of successful toilet training, even when compared to children with other developmental disabilities. The average age in which a child is successfully toileting was 3.3 years of age for children with autism in comparison to 2.5 years of age for children with other developmental disabilities (Williams, Oliver, Allard, & Sears, 2003).

Extended use of diapers may diminish personal hygiene, self-confidence and increase physical discomfort, stigmatism, risk of problems later with bladder control and restrict participation in social activities (e.g., camp, after school program, etc.). Extended diaper use for children with autism is also problematic because these children may become so accustomed to using a diaper that they often demonstrate resistance to toilet-training procedures and will prefer to wait for a diaper in order to void (Tarbox, Williams, & Friman, 2004). Teaching independent toilet skill can improve the quality of life for children with autism and their families. Families will definitely benefit from the decreased costs of purchasing diapers, their children will feel empowered to address their physical needs independently all while decreasing the risk of complications associated with extended diaper use.

Before beginning toilet-training procedures, caregivers should check with their child’s doctors to rule out any medical conditions that may prevent their child from being successful with a toilet training program. Upon getting medical clearance, the next step will be to determine whether their child is showing signs that they are ready for toilet training. The following questions will assist with this step:

  1. Does the child act differently or seem to notice when diapers or clothing are wet or soiled?
  2. Does the child show any interest in behavior related to the bathroom, toilet, hand washing, dressing, undressing or related tasks?
  3. Does the child show an interest in seeing other people involved in activities or with objects related to toilet training?
  4. Does the child stay dry for at least 2 hours during the day or does his/her diaper stay dry after naps?

Each child and family is unique; therefore, the toilet training procedure needs to be designed to specifically fit the child and his/her family’s needs. Generally, caregivers and their clinician should identify and agree upon the child’s preferred mode of communication to best indicate when they need to use the restroom. This can be a specific word or phrase (e.g., “Potty”, “I need to use the toilet”, etc.) or it can be as simple as a hand signal or the presentation of an image of a toilet. To increase the potential for success, caregivers should have a preferred item or activity available (e.g. special snacks, video, etc.) and present it as a reward the moment that their child successfully voids in the toilet.  This item should be reserved only for toilet training. The child should also receive lots of praise and high fives when he/she stay dry for a specific duration of time.

Going from using a diaper to using a toilet can be a big change and is extremely difficult for lots of children. If your child has a hard time with transitions, a picture schedule may be a helpful tool to remind him/her of what task are needed to complete the toileting routine. Some things to remember: make sure to have plenty of extra underwear and clothes, a comfortable potty chair, a timer, your child’s favorite drinks, and a positive attitude!

Toilet training may be a lengthy process and require a lot of patience. This is a big commitment but the payoff will be huge!  Make sure to consult with your behavior analyst along the way to ensure the procedure is clear and is tailored to your child and family needs.

Dai Doan, M.S., BCBA

 

 

References

William, G., Oliver, J. M., Allard, A., & Sears, L.  (2003).  Autism and associated medical and familial factors:  A case control study.  Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 15, 335-349.

Tarbox, R. S. E., Williams, W. L., & Friman, P. C. (2004). Extended diaper wearing: Effects on continence in and out of the diaper. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37, 97-100.

How to Select Appropriate Gifts for Kids with Special Needs

Buying the perfect gift for kids and other loved ones can be challenging, and this can also be true when buying gifts for kids with autism. To help make your gift-giving easier, here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind when purchasing gifts for individuals with autism:

 

Focus on the person’s interests and preferences

Research shows that incorporating preferences into the learning and play environment of individuals with autism, can reduce behaviors and can increase certain skills (1). So we can capitalize on what someone already likes! For example, if a child likes dogs, find games, activities, or toys that are dog-related. If a child likes swimming, activities involving water play may be a hit (e.g., water tables, sprinkler toys, water beads, grow capsules). Alternatively, if a child is sensitive to loud noises, a toy fire truck with a siren may not be appropriate. Ask friends and family of the person for whom you are buying the gift what that person generally likes and/or dislikes.

 

Focus on age-appropriateness

Although keeping a person’s preferences in mind when shopping for gifts is a great start, always consider the age-appropriateness of the gift in mind. For instance, a teen with autism may love playing with shape sorters, but considering that he is a teen and the toy is meant for toddlers, there are more appropriate toys with which he could play. Try finding gifts that have similarities to the original toy, but have age recommendations that correspond to the age of the individual for whom you are buying the gift. For example, rather than buying a new shape sorter for the teen, a more appropriate gift might be Jenga or a piggy bank. In Jenga, stacking wooden blocks in a pattern and pushing wooden blocks out of a block tower is a similar activity to pushing shapes through a shape sorter. Additionally, dropping coins into a piggy bank slot is a similar activity to pushing shapes through a shape sorter. Both of the aforementioned activities could serve as a more appropriate replacement for the shape sorter.

 

Focus on developmental-appropriateness

Many toys come with age recommendations, and while these recommendations are helpful, they might not always lead you to the perfect gift. A rule of thumb when purchasing a gift is to consider both the age and the development of the person for whom you are buying a gift. For example, the game “Apples to Apples” would not be developmentally appropriate for a non-verbal teen, even if it is an age-appropriate game. When looking for the right gift, focus on what the person can do. For instance, if the non-verbal teen mentioned above is great at drawing, then a sketch pad or an adult coloring book could be a more appropriate gift. If you are unsure what the person can do, ask friends and family of the person for whom you are buying the gift what skills that person has mastered.

Note: Be sensitive to how family and friends of a person with autism may feel when being asked questions about the skills of their loved one. If asking questions, always frame your questions from the perspective of accomplishment (e.g., what skills have they mastered) and not deficit (e.g., in what areas are they delayed) to be supportive and respectful of the individual’s growth and development.

 

Be mindful of behavior excesses/triggers

Some individuals with autism engage in behaviors that put them or their loved ones at risk of harm. For example, if a child engages in pica (e.g., eating of nonfood items), gifts containing small objects may pose as a choking hazard. For example, if a child engages in aggression towards others, gifts with violent content may not be appropriate, as additional exposure to violence may contribute to future instances of aggression. Alternatively, individuals with sensory-seeking behaviors may benefit from gifts that redirect their behaviors in more appropriate ways. For example, if a child rocks back and forth, a swing may be a great way to meet their sensory need. Additionally, certain objects can trigger behaviors in some individuals with autism (e.g., loud noises, highly preferred items, phobias, etc.). Ask friends and family of the person for whom you are buying the gift if there are any behavior excesses/triggers to consider before purchasing a gift.

 

Focus on toys that encourage interaction with others

Social deficits are a defining characteristic of autism, which means that when gift-giving, try to purchase gifts that encourage social interaction. While almost any activity can be turned into a social interaction, certain activities may be more conducive to social interactions than others. For example, instead of buying a computer game, consider the game Bop It, which is an electronic game that can be played in a group.

 

Focus on expanding their repertoire

Individuals with autism sometimes have restricted or limited interests (e.g., a person only wants to talk about trucks or only wants to play with dinosaurs). In order to help expand their repertoire, try finding activities that are new, but similar to current interests. For example, if a child’s favorite activity is playing with PlayDoh, kinetic sand or slime may be an appropriate gift to help expand their repertoire because it is similar to their current interest, but slightly different. Ultimately, gifts that will provide them with new experiences may act as potential new reinforcers (e.g., stimuli that increase behaviors), and may significantly enrich their learning environment.

 

Recommendations

Stores: Lakeshore Learning Center, Autism-Products.com, NationalAutismResources.com, Target, Kohl’s, Amazon, WalMart, iTunes (for apps)

Brands: Melissa and Doug, Fat Brain Toys

Apps: Proloquo2Go, Avaz Pro, Life360 (Find my family, friends, phone), Choiceworks

 

– Brittany Barger, M.Ed., BCBA

 

 

Resources

Increasing Task Engagement Using Preference or Choice-Making
Some Behavioral and Methodological Factors Affecting Their Efficacy as Classroom Interventions

Preparing for Holiday Meals

The holidays are quickly approaching, which means family, festivities, and food! While the holidays can be fun for the whole family, they can also be a stressful time for children on the autism spectrum due to the changes in typical routines and settings. Holiday meals with extended family can present issues for a child with autism, including trying new foods, sitting among loud family members, and being in an unfamiliar location. Here are some helpful tips to make the holiday experience more enjoyable for the whole family.

Prepare your child for the event.
Use photos, a social story, or show them a video, modeling what will be expected of them. Will they need to sit at a communal table surrounded by family? Will they be expected to try new foods? How about preparing your child for the family members who will be present? You can practice with role play at home with real or fake food so your child is familiar with the expectation of the meal. To make it easier this time of year, you can also bring some favorite foods along that you know will be successful.

Support them during the event.
Bring activities and toys so your child has something to do while waiting for the meal to begin. If your child is very picky with food, bring some preferred alternatives that they will eat so they don’t become agitated while waiting and to remind your child of familiar food routines.

Give them a chance to escape if they need it.
If your child becomes overstimulated by loud noises or holiday lights and decorations, find a quiet place in the home for them to decompress and take a break. Your child can rejoin the family once he or she feels comfortable doing so.

While holiday meals can be stressful, hopefully these tips will help keep everyone’s spirits bright!

 

– Sarah Low, M.A., BCBA

Autism & Trick-or-Treating

Halloween can sometimes be a little scary for parents and kids, and not just because of ghouls or goblins. Between the sights, sounds and change in schedule, Halloween can present some “tricky” experiences for kids with autism and other special needs. Practice and preparation can make a big difference in creating a fun and successful holiday experience. We use Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) strategies every day to help our kids navigate new experiences, and these strategies are just as useful during special events and holidays such as Halloween. Here are four concepts that you can use to make trick-or-treating fun for your family:

Social Stories

Social stories should start at least a week before Halloween, for younger children this can be accomplished with a book or even a video about a child going trick-or-treating. The book or movie should match as closely as possible with the kind of experience you want to provide for your child. The parent should present the video or book alongside a scripted social story told from the child’s perspective.

Visual Supports & Schedule

Visual supports can include a sequence of pictures that reinforce the trick-or-treating activities. For example, in one photo the child in their Halloween costume, and then knocking at the door or waiting at the stoop, in the next photo. A third photo of the child receiving candy helps reinforce the repeated actions, and pay off of the outing. Having a schedule outlined and expectation clearly indicated, should reduce maladaptive behaviors and increase expected responses. These visual supports could be created during the practice sessions discussed later.

Priming

The last antecedent strategy is priming; before going trick-or-treating, parents should inform the child of the expectation and indicate that after these responses are completed they will receive candy.

Practice

To keep Halloween fun and exciting, and reduce possibly overwhelming experiences for parents and kids alike, going through several trial runs are helpful. Find some time where everyone in the family can dress up in their costumes and practice walking, waiting and receiving candy.

Halloween fun is possible with a little extra preparation!

 

– Elizabeth Jeffery-Arceneaux

How to Plan for the Upcoming School Breaks

In Tucson, Arizona many of our kids are heading into their Fall Break.  Your child’s breaks may come at different seasons and times of year. School breaks offer opportunities and challenges for all parents and children. These breaks can cause disruption in family routines and increase in down time for the child, which may result in low levels of motivation and higher levels of anxiety and stress. For parents of children with special needs, these may seem magnified. Below are some helpful tips to consider when planning for your child’s upcoming school breaks.

 

Keep Similar Routines
This may be easier said then done however, keeping your wake-up and bed-times similar and filling the day hours with activities will provide your child a predictable, structured environment, a sense of stability, and decreased stress. By reducing the amount of unstructured free time, your child will be less restless and bored. Don’t forget to include the homework routine as you have worked so hard to develop and maintain this prior to the break!  It is still important for children to practice academic skills even though school in not in session.

Keep Busy
Find educational, recreational and social activities to engage in daily. This will limit the amount of time your child is at home watching TV, texting, or playing video games. Ideally, an outside activity such as playing ball, going for a walk or participating in a team sport would be on the schedule daily. Even if your child doesn’t play a sport, any exercise activity has obvious health benefits, and increased physical activity helps reduce repetitive behaviors and improve sleep. Some resources to find community activities are your local Parks and Recreation Department, newspaper, and libraries. Some examples of home activities are board games, arts and crafts, academic tasks, meal preparation, outside games and reading.

Have a Daily Visual Schedule
The whole idea of a school break may be confusing for younger children since they are still developing the concept of time. School breaks also challenge the typical Monday-through-Friday predictable morning, school and after school routines. Utilizing a visual schedule will help your child understand the “what, when, where and why” of their day. It is also important to involve them by letting them choose what activities they would like to do. You can also have them cross off completed activities as well as the days so they can see how many days are left until school starts.

Read to your child
Children are exposed to literacy concepts many times throughout their school day. Continuing to expose them to books while they are home will only increase their language development, listening, and comprehension skills. Reading to your child also stimulates their imagination and facilitates a positive interaction where they receive one-on-one attention from the parent. Research recommends that parents set a side a scheduled time each day to read to their child (Raisingreaders.net).

Limit electronics
Allowing a child unlimited access to TV and computer can lead to childhood obesity, lethargy, difficulty in school, and insomnia. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children be limited to 1 to 2 two hours of educational programming daily. Here are some ways to limit your child’s access to electronics: First, keep them out of reach and out of your child’s bedroom. Have your child earn their time with electronics upon completion of other activities. Specifically allocate times within the day that are appropriate for your child to have access to electronics.

Work on Social Skills
This is the biggest opportunity provided by school breaks. Integrating social opportunities within your child’s day can take many forms such as homework assignments, board games, community activities, sports, and play dates. Some parents forget that activities like swim lessons, apple picking, and vacation trips can all be valuable new settings to prompt the use of social skills.

 

Hey Tucson families! Here are some additional resources to help make your season great for the whole family:

 

– Lindsay Abbott, MA, BCBA, LBA

Halloween Costumes for Kids with Autism

As fall approaches, we get excited by the prospect of cool weather, warmly colored trees and the festivities that come with Halloween. However, selecting a comfortable Halloween costume for your child on the autism spectrum can sometimes be more of a trick than a treat. When selecting a costume there are three helpful things to keep in mind: types of fabric, the interest of your child, and how your child will react to wearing a costume, as well as seeing others in costume.

What do you do when your child has a favorite superhero, but the costume is anything but sensory friendly? Try decorating a regular t-shirt with fabric glue or a hot glue gun. You can also decorate comfy pants to match. Another option is to create your costume using clothing made from jersey fabric. The jersey material will be thinner than the t-shirt material so be mindful when applying glue.

When deciding what kind of costume to make, it’s a good idea to start with whatever your child enjoys the most. Is it Baby Shark? Outer space? ABC’s? Creating a costume tailored to your child’s specific interest will be both fun and highly-motivating for them.

Finally, preparing your child to wear their costume and see others in their costumes can be a difficult task. Familiarizing them with the Halloween festivities beforehand is a good way to ensure things will go smoothly. If you have any costumes around your home, show them to your child. You can also show your child pictures and videos of people in costumes or read them a social story about Halloween.

It may be Halloween, but choosing a costume doesn’t have to be scary!

 

– Kristen McElroy