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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.”


 

Addressing Aggressive Behaviors in Children

Aggressive behavior is something that parents of children with autism or emotional disabilities are often confronted with on a regular basis. It can be a challenging, frustrating and emotionally draining experience. Through the support of a professional behavior analyst and consistent practices, parents, teachers, and caregivers can address aggressive behaviors in children and adolescents so that they can live productive and independent lives.

Many times when caregivers are faced with aggressive behavior, their impulse is to want to stop the behavior, and they may view the child as misbehaving. However, it’s important to understand that aggressive behavior is sending us a message. Every behavior serves a function— such as making a request, avoiding something, escaping a task or seeking attention. The same is true of aggression. For individuals with limited communication skills, aggressive behaviors can become inadvertently shaped by caretakers and others in their environment.

For example, a child throws a tantrum to gain access to candy. The parent gives the child candy to stop the tantrum. If this interaction repeats itself, the behaviors become reinforced and the child learns that tantruming is rewarded with access to the desired food. Next time, the parent may decide they are not going to give the child candy and so the child tantrums even louder and harder. If the parent gives the child candy, the parent has inadvertently reinforced the behavior. As parents, we all do this in very subtle ways regardless of whether our child has special needs or not, often without realizing that we are shaping our children’s behavior and strengthening the behaviors that are unwanted.

When children are small, it can be less of an issue for parents to manage aggression, or they may think that their child will grow out of it. It is easier to restrain young kids to combat and control outbursts, but if these are the only methods we use, we are not setting our teenagers up for success. It is important to understand why our kids are acting out and what they are trying to communicate. Once we know the “what” and the “why”, we can teach more appropriate means of communication to replace the need for aggression (such as making a verbal request and teaching the child to tolerate “no” when the answer is “no”). If the aggressive behaviors are not replaced by more appropriate functional behaviors, then we run the risk of shaping adolescent aggression which can include physical violence that is more serious and tougher to overcome.

If your child is demonstrating aggression, the best place to start is an assessment of his behavior to understand why the behaviors are occurring. A good assessment will tell you what the function of the behavior is, meaning— why he is acting out and what he is trying to communicate. Then a plan can be put in place to teach new methods for communicating effectively as well as reducing and eliminating the aggression using behavioral strategies.

Here are a few strategies you can use before aggressive episodes start:

  1. Give up some control over the environment or routines by offering choices; it does not matter if he brushes his teeth before changing clothes, but if having control over that routine helps keep your child’s aggression down, give up that control and let him choose. Providing choice also teaches independent thinking and problem solving which are critical skills for adult life.
  2. Prime your child by giving them a verbal “heads up” of what is coming: describe to your child when and what the expectations are for that setting.
  3. Use visual support like a picture board or a photo to help provide clear expectations for each activity or different parts of the day.
  4. Prompt and model the behavior you want to see instead of the aggressive behavior.
  5. Praise that behavior when you do see it so that it will continue to be a part of their repertoire. Remember if you like something you need to let your child know. In other words, catch them being good and if you like a behavior, reinforce it!

In the moment of the aggressive behavior, safety is most important! Do your best to keep yourself and your child safe. If you can redirect your child onto something else or an activity, that might be necessary.

Some parents of adolescents who display aggressive behaviors worry that it is too late for their child to have a fulfilling and independent life. On the contrary, it is never too late to start planning on a future for your child and working towards attainable goals. Think about what you want your child to be doing in a year from now and start working towards that today. If you want your child to ask for the desired item or preferred activity instead of tantruming to get it, start taking small steps now. If you are hoping they will have more friends in a year, start exposing your child to those opportunities and teaching the socially appropriate skills that will afford those opportunities. If you want them to have fewer aggressive behaviors, do not wait a year to start working to improve that behavior. It is never too late or too early to start working towards next year. The results will support your child in having their needs met and experiencing greater success at each stage of development. The ultimate goal is setting your child up for success and helping him achieve as much independence as possible.

-Richie Ploesch, M.A., BCBA, and Ronit Molko, Ph.D., BCBA-D

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.

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