Introducing Your Child with Autism to Classmates

All parents hope that their children will meet new friends and have an active social life—this is not any Blog-Autism-Classmates-Main-Landscapeless true for parents of kids with autism! In fact, it is this very subject that is mentioned near the top of many parents’ wish lists when asked what their greatest hope is for their child on the autism spectrum!

It can occasionally be more challenging for friendships to occur naturally due to the reduced interest in social interaction demonstrated by kids on the spectrum. However, as with many of the academic, life, and self-care skills that are taught systematically to these kids, social interaction skills and rules of friendship may be slowly introduced and put into action!

In order for these skills to be taught and practiced, however, there are a few things that parents can do to set their child with autism up for success in this area:

  • Ask your child’s teacher about possible peers: There are frequently a few kids in each general education classroom that appear empathetic and interested in our kids with autism. These are great candidates for peer interactions and possible friendships! Your child’s teacher will most likely have a few ideas about whom might pair well with your child in this manner, within the first few weeks of school.
  • Observe your child’s classroom, if possible: Most schools have parent observation policies that designate times of day that are best suited to seeing what’s going on in the classroom. Take some time to notice which kids are approaching him or her and whether these might be kids to ask over for a play date!
  • Volunteer to present a mini autism lesson, if possible: There are countless resources online for helping typically developing kids understand autism spectrum disorders, and what they can expect from someone who is on the spectrum. One I particularly like outlines some amazing books to help peers understand your child and his or her diagnosis: https://www.angelsense.com/blog/10-great-books-for-families-of-kids-with-autism/
  • Reach out to parents: Upon observing a child approaching or interacting with your child (or upon recommendation from the teacher), attempt to contact that child’s parents, and set up a time for the kids to get together!
  • Plan your play date: It will be very important that both kids are having a great time! Try to think of activities that are of particular interest to your child, and bring that peer along. For example, if your child really enjoys going to the zoo, and has an interest in animals, plan to visit the zoo on the kids’ first play date. This will pair the typically developing peer with something that is your child’s absolute favorite thing, and could lead to a stronger relationship!
  • Speak to the BCBA/supervisor in charge of your child’s services about programming for peer interaction: This is very common, and should be an integral part of any child’s treatment plan. Ensure that this is being programmed for specifically, and that there are opportunities to practice the skills both one-to-one during therapy, as well as in vivo with another child!

With practice, patience, and mindfulness on the part of adults, kids on the autism spectrum can develop meaningful and fulfilling relationships with their typically developing peers!

For additional information, check out our other Autism and school blogs.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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This blog was co-written with Rachel Nitekman.

Rachel Nitekman

Rachel is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) with over 10 years of experience working with children with autism, Down syndrome, and other developmental delays.  After graduating from the Blitstein Institute in 2011, she went on to receive her Masters in Psychology specializing in ABA, from Kaplan University, while working full time as a pediatric behavior therapist.  Rachel has worked with children in a variety of settings, including home, camp and school. She also worked for KESHET, an organization that provides services for children and young adults with varying developmental delays. Rachel is passionate about her work in helping children succeed to their fullest potentials in life.

Sending a Child with Autism to School

Sending a child with autism to school can be a very overwhelming process, not just for the children butBlog-Autism-Main-Landscape also the parents. The key to success is starting the process early so that your child will have all of the supports they need to make not just their first day successful but their entire school year. While the process will be slightly different for each child due to their specific needs, here are some general guidelines to follow to ensure your child’s success when sending them to school.

Before the First Day

  • Finding the right school and classroom: The first place to start when preparing to send your child with autism to school is by selecting the best school for your child. During the previous Fall or Spring, start touring schools and meeting with the teachers and administrative staff. You want to make sure that the school and classroom setting you choose will be the most beneficial for your child’s specific needs! You can start the IEP process with testing as well to ensure that when the school year begins, your child has all the supports they need on the very first day.
  • Social story: Once you have found the right school for your child, write a social story about the various rooms of the school and their teacher. Talking to your child’s teacher before writing it will also ensure you know what rooms your child will be frequently in for their classes. Just make sure to get permission first from the school before taking any pictures.
  • Practicing: Starting new routines can be hard for children with autism so by practicing the routine a week or two before school starts, your child will most likely be more successful on their first day. When practicing, consider all of the new variables for your child, such as wearing a backpack or school uniform, practicing carrying a tray of food, or waiting outside for the school bus.

On the First Day

  • Safety and Sensory Needs: It is always better to be over prepared than underprepared. If you are concerned about your child’s safety, consider an I.D. bracelet, which can be purchased online or at local stores such as Walgreens. If your child has any sensory needs, have their supports ready and available. These could include headphones, chew tubes, a fidget toy, sunglasses, and/or a compression shirt. Make sure if you are sending any of these to inform their teacher and administrative staff as well.
  • Other Materials: Sending an extra pair of clothes is always a good idea. While schools often have some extra clothes for children to wear, children with autism may be sensitive to different scents or textures and as a result refuse to wear the communal clothes. If allowed, consider bringing a water bottle or a preferred snack to eat at specified times.

Other Considerations

  • Dietary Needs: When you are finding the right school and preparing your child for success, dietary needs can be frequently overlooked. Communicate with your teachers and administrative staff what your child’s dietary needs are currently, such as small frequent snacks vs. a large meal or starting by eating in a quieter area of the lunchroom. While you can have goals for your child to eat the school provided meals with their peers in the lunchroom, moving slowly towards these goals will make your child more successful not just during lunch and snacks, but all day by not having your child feel hungry.
  • Communication: It is important to be very clear and honest about what type of communication you would like with the school and how often. Oftentimes children with autism are not able to recall and tell you what happened at school. An agreed upon communication system can alleviate this concern and also be used as a tool to work on recall.

After your child’s first successful day at school, make sure to congratulate not just your child and the school, but also yourself for starting the hard work early. As the school year unfolds, remember to stay in communication with your child’s teachers and administrative staff to make adjustments as needed and enjoy watching your child with autism succeed at school.

For additional information, check out our other Autism and school blogs.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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A Day in the Life of a BCBA – Who We Are and What We Do

Many parents often ask- What is a BCBA? And what exactly do you do every day? BCBA

Well, A Board Certified Behavior Analyst, or a BCBA, as defined by the BACB, is an individual who has received a doctoral or graduate degree, completed coursework in Behavior Analysis, and has completed countless hours of supervised practical experience, and lastly, has passed the BCBA examination.

Our job consists of creating, individualizing, maintaining, evaluating, and supervising your child’s ABA program and your team of behavior therapists. And to answer your next question; no, we do not only work with children who have Autism. We specialize in behavior management.

A BCBA spends his or her day working to maximize your child’s potential:

  • Face-to-face time: Your BCBA may arrange to come to your home or clinic visit to see your child in action. This time allows your BCBA face-to-face time with your child in order to make direct and objective treatment decisions based on observation and data in order to ensure your child’s success.
  • Supervision: Your BCBA will also observe the behavior therapist, provide constructive feedback, model programs and interventions, and answer questions. A well trained behavior therapist is quick, confident and motivated. It is the BCBA’s job to make sure that the behavior therapist remains supported.
  • Behind the Scenes: Your BCBA spends countless hours researching behavior analytic literature in order to stay up-to-date on effective programs, procedures, and practices. ABA is a science and involves many different technologies and principles.
  • Individualizing: Your child’s program is their own. The BCBA spends a lot of time working to ensure that goals and skills are tailored to how your child learns and what your child needs to grow. Whether your child needs help with communication, potty-training, etc; all programs are specific to your child.
  • Communicating: The BCBA also communicates with your child’s treatment team when applicable. We love to work together with your Speech Language Pathologist, Occupational Therapist, Pediatrician, Psychologist and YOU to ensure that we are aware of everything there is to know about your child, including progress the child is making in every area of their life and any difficulties your child may be having.
  • Parent Training: The BCBA works to help you and wants to ensure that we are providing a very thorough picture of your child’s strengths and weaknesses and how you can help your child when not in therapy. We provide parent training/parent coaching, and work to help you become and remain experts of your child’s ABA program.

When your BCBA is not with your child, do not fret; your BCBA is in constant contact with your therapy team, has access to treatment data, and team notes, and is always aware of what is happening in your child’s therapy. Your BCBA is also available to answer any clinical questions or concerns you have about your child’s ABA program via email and phone.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, and Hinsdale. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

5 Benefits of Working with a BCBA for Your Child with Autism

Knowing what kind of services and how to navigate the ABA world can be hard, confusing and Blog-BCBA-Main-Landscapeexhausting. When looking at an ABA program, you will always want a Board Certified Behavior Analyst on your team.

Here are 5 benefits to working with a BCBA and a team approach:

  1.  A BCBA has passed an exam that ensures he or she knows how to change behavior (both increase skills and decrease behavior) according to the principles of behavior – evidence based approach.
  1.  Working with a team typically results in creating a large and strong support system for the child, parents, and the entire family.
  1.  Working with a team helps to promote generalization of skills across people.
  1.  Working with a team allows a child to receive several hours (20-30) of therapy a week with 3-4 different therapists, which helps keep sessions fun, new, and entertaining.
  1.  Working with a team allows for different ideas to make progress across different skills and targets, especially when a child gets “stuck” on a target.

Things to keep in mind when using a team: all team members should be addressing behaviors the same way as well as teaching new skills the same way. Communication between team members is key for success. Lastly, therapists are different but implementation should be the same!

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

What is the Function of My Child’s Behavior?

As a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who continues to work with the pediatric population, I have often heard parents or loved one’s say, “I have no idea why he/she does this” or “It just happens out of nowhere,” when describing a specific behavior their child engages in. Blog-Behavior-Functions-Main-Landscape

Unfortunately, I can tell you that all behavior does in fact have a function, whether that behavior is an undesirable behavior or an appropriate behavior. More importantly, identifying that behavior function is an important part of effective behavior change.

In the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), behavior can be defined as having one of these four functions:

  1. Attention: This function is a means of gaining attention from another person or people and can take many forms. It can be provided by eye contact, a facial expression, telling someone “no,” laughter, or specific comments about a behavior. It is important to note that telling a child, “No,” “Stop,” or “I’m ignoring you,” after engaging in an inappropriate behavior is still in fact attending to the behavior despite the content of the words.
  2. Access to tangibles: This function is maintained by gaining access to a specific item or activity. Access to these preferred items may be for a leisure purpose (e.g. playing with a toy, going to the park, etc.) or a functional purpose (e.g. accessing a toothbrush to brush your teeth).
  3. Automatic: This function is maintained by automatic reinforcement in that the behavior in itself provides the reinforcement. Some examples of these behaviors may be thumb sucking or nail biting. If a child enjoys the oral sensation that is produced from these behaviors, you may see an increase in that behavior.
  4. Escape or Avoidance: This function is to escape or avoid an unwanted event or activity. Often behaviors of non-compliance may post-pone or even terminate the completion of an unwanted task, putting your hands over your ears may terminate the sound of a non-preferred noise, or scratching your skin may terminate the pain of an itch.

It is important to note that all individuals engage in behavior despite physical or intellectual capabilities. As previously mentioned, that behavior does in fact have a function, and it is through the relationship between the behavior and its environment (people, places, things) to which that function is identified.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Resource:

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

My Child Chews on Their Shirt

Many children chew on various things such as clothing, toys, and other household items. Blog-Chew-Main-PortraitThis can be a way of your child exploring his environment, fulfilling a sensory need, or it is being used as a calming strategy. Chewing on items is very common in children with autism as well as some typically developing children. Shirts are most often the item that gets chewed on because it is always available and easily accessible.

Below are a few tips on how to properly address children who chew:

  • Replace the shirt with a chewing toy. These items will allow your child to get that oral input of chewing without destroying their clothing. Chewing toys come in many forms such as tubes, necklaces, bracelets and shapes, and they are widely available on many therapeutic websites. Make sure this chewing toy is always accessible, and if you see your child begin to chew on his shirt, immediately give him the chewing item, or better yet have your child wear the chewing item so it is easily accessible.
  • If the chewing is something your child does when he is nervous, begin to explore other calming techniques in an attempt to replace the chewing with something more socially appropriate.
  • Reinforce your child during times when he is not chewing on his shirt.
  • Taking chewing breaks throughout the day. Engage your child in very fun and reinforcing activities, but let them know the chewing item needs to be put aside while they engage in the activity. Activities can include swinging, going to the park, playing a game on a tablet, singing songs, or whatever activity is really reinforcing to your child.
  • Engage your child in various oral exercises such as singing, blowing bubbles, making different sounds with their mouth, etc. Be creative and make these exercises fun and enjoyable.
  • If it seems like your child is in pain while he is chewing on items, it is important to seek the opinion of a medical professional to rule out any medical or dental issues.

If the chewing does not decrease over time or begins to worsen, there are a variety of therapists that are able to help with this behavior. These therapists can include Board Certified Behavior Analysts, Speech Therapists, Occupational Therapists, or Social Workers. Once the function of the behavior is determined, your child could begin one of the above therapies to assist in decreasing the behavior.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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Applying ABA at Home

Does your child struggle with stereotypical or problem behaviors in your home? Are youBlogABAHome-Main-Landscape exhausted from constant redirection and monitoring? Do you need a change? Can parents utilize the basic principles of ABA at home with their kids? Yes! Here are some quick tips and tricks to help behavior management in your home by applying ABA.

Give Behavior Specific Praise

Always praise appropriate behaviors! Providing this type of positive reinforcement for good behavior will not only increase your child’s motivation but will also allow you to see more of those behaviors in the future. Throwing in a specific praise statement gives the child feedback on the exact behavior you want to see increased. For example, saying “Nice job!” is good, but saying, “Nice job packing your back pack!” is even better and you’re likely to see them packing their backpack the next day.

Offer Choices

Whenever possible offer your child choices. This can range from choosing when they take their bath to what shirt they wear for school and everything in between. Offering choices allows your child to be part of the decision making process, making transitions or undesired activities less of a hassle. The more choices, the better.

Provide Clear Expectations & Follow Through

Set clear, concise expectations for your child and follow through with them! Stating expectations before engaging in a specific activity gives the child a set of rules to follow. As a parent you’re able to refer back to these expectations as reminders throughout the activity. Once you set an expectation it should be followed no matter what (this is key!). Remember to provide attention and praise for followed expectations.

Don’t Prompt Too Soon

When your child is engaging in any daily living skills (tooth brushing, setting the table, tying shoes, etc.) allow them to perform the task independently before you assist them. This teaches independence and problem solving. If your child is struggling after 3-5 seconds of attempting, then provide prompting to help them complete the skill. We don’t want to see inappropriate prompt dependency.

Provide directive statements as opposed to questions

Make sure you’re communicating directions clearly. Instead of providing a question, give a directive statement that your child needs to follow. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we’re asking questions instead of directive statements. When asking a question, it gives the child the opportunity to respond with their choice; however, providing a statement only has one appropriate outcome. Changing, “are you ready for dinner?” to “it’s time for dinner” is a quick fix.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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Managing Time With ABA Therapy

Research has shown that children with autism who receive 20-40 or more hours a week of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services make significantly more progress and have improved long-term outcomes. In short, the more ABA a child can receive, the better. To a parent whose child is newly diagnosed, this many hours can seem very overwhelming. Obviously parents want to do what is best for their child, so they want to get as many therapy hours as possible, but how do you balance a therapy schedule and typical daily activities? Below are some tips on how to make sure you have a balance between your child’s ABA therapy schedule and your daily routine.

Balancing the time commitment of ABA therapy:

  • If you child is seen in a clinic setting, use the time they are in therapy to yourTime Management and ABA Therapy advantage. Take this time to run errands, catch up on email, etc. Same with home sessions. If you child is receiving therapy in your home you can catch up on household chores.
  • Ask your child’s program supervisor for suggestions on how you can carry over certain skills at home. If your child is working on things like eye contact or requesting his wants and needs, these are things that you can do at home to help. The more your child can practice targeted skills, the quicker he will master these skills.
  • Find a parent support group so you can connect with families who are in a similar situation. It is important to have a good support network as they can provide support and give suggestions on dealing with the day-to-day challenges of having a child with autism.
  • Be sure to make time for fun activities/outings with your child during times they are not in therapy.
  • Utilize respite services for some kid-free time away from home. A respite worker can come and play with your child at home while you enjoy a date night or spend some time with friends.

It is important to remember, that while the more hours a child can get the better, it is also possible for children to still make progress with fewer hours. Sometimes 20 hours a week just isn’t possible, especially for a school-aged child. As long as your child is getting consistent ABA therapy you will still see gains. It is also possible to add hours during times when your child is not in school such as winter and summer breaks.

Click here to read more on the importance of parent involvement in ABA.

NSPT offers ABA Therapy services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

the history of autism

The History of Autism

Over the last 10 years the word autism has become a very well-known term. With the rates of autism steadily on the rise, most people are now at least somewhat familiar with it. But many people probably don’t know when autism officially become a recognized disorder, and how it evolved into what we know today? Below is a time-line of the history of autism.

  • Early 1900’s – The term “autism” was first used by Swiss psychiatric Eugen Bleuler to describe athe history of autism certain a sub-set of patients with schizophrenia who were severely withdrawn.
  • 1940’s – Researchers in the United States began using the term autism to describe children with emotional and/or social issues.
    • Leo Kanner – A psychiatrist from Johns Hopkin’s University studied 11 children with normal to above average IQ’s who had challenges with social skills, adapting to changes in routine, sound sensitivities, echolalia, and had difficulties engaging in spontaneous activity.
    • Hans Asperger – Also studied a group of children who were similar to the children Kanner studied except the children did not present with any language problems.
  • 1950’s – Bruno Bettelheim, a child psychologist coined the term “refrigerator mothers.” These mothers were described as mothers who were cold and unloving to their children. He claimed children of cold and unloving mothers were more likely to develop autism. This has since been disproven as a cause of autism due the total lack of evidence supporting such a claim.
  • 1960’s1970’s – Researchers began to separate autism from schizophrenia and began focusing their attention more on understanding autism in children. Autism also started to be considered a biological disorder of brain development. During this time, treatments for autism included various medications, electric shock, and behavioral modifications, most of which focused on punishment procedures to reduce unwanted behaviors.
  • 1980’s 1990’s – Early in the 80’s the DSM-III distinguishes autism as a disorder separating it from schizophrenia. During this time, behavioral modification became more popular as a treatment for autism. The way behavior modification was delivered began to rely more on reinforcement instead of punishment to increase desired behaviors. In 1994 the DSM-IV expands the definition of autism to include Asperger Syndrome.
  • 2000’s – present day – Rates of autism begin to rise and various campaigns have been launched to increase the awareness of autism. The prevalence of autism has increased from 1 in 150 in the year 2000, to 1 in 68 in 2014. Children are now able to be reliably diagnosed as young as 2 years of age. Due to years of research, the effectiveness of different intervention used to treat autism is better understood. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is currently considered to be the “gold standard” treatment for individuals with autism.


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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Sources:

 

ABA therapy

The Importance of Parent Involvement in ABA Therapy

Applied behavior analysis therapy (ABA) is a well-known, scientifically proven intervention for increasing functional skills in children with autism or developmental delays. While children can make great gains with ABA therapy, the children who make the most gains are the ones who have parents who are actively involved in their child’s therapy. Being actively involved doesn’t mean you need to observe every session and/or attempt to run your own sessions at home. However, what you can do is to carry over the skills your child is learning in therapy and then practice them during your child’s everyday routine. For example, if the therapist tells you they are working on increasing your child’s receptive identification skills, at home you can look through picture books with your child and have them point to various pictures in the book.

The Importance of Parental Involvement in ABA Therapy:

Children are with their therapist for only a small portion of each day, so the more they can practice thethe importance of parental involvement in ABA therapy skills they are learning, the sooner you will begin to see progress.  Conversely, if you do not carry over what your child is doing in therapy, it will most likely take them longer to meet their goals. It can also be counter-productive if you are doing something completely different than what is happening in therapy. For example, if a child is working on a certain method of communication in therapy, but the parents/caregivers do not make the child communicate this way at home, the child is going to get very confused and consequently will not learn to effectively communicate in a functional manner.

For suggestions on what type of activities you can be working on at home with your child, ask the behavior analyst on your child’s team. They can give you suggestions based on your child’s specific needs and goals.

Below is a list of some general activities that you can do with your child at home:

  • Have your child request preferred items and activities using their current mode of communication (vocal, signs, PECS, etc.). Keep their favorite items in sight but out of reach so they need to ask someone to get it for them. Or have preferred items in clear plastic bins that are not easy to open. So in addition to requesting the item, they can request “help” or “open.”
  • When your child requests something, have them make eye contact with you before you give them the item.
  • Look through picture books and ask your child to point to various pictures.
  • Ask your child to follow simple commands (e.g., clap, jump, find your nose, touch your toes).
  • Sing songs that have motions with them (i.e., Wheels on the Bus song). While singing do the different motions and prompt your child to imitate your motions.
  • Play a variety of developmentally appropriate games with your child to expand the variety of toys they find reinforcing.

Make the activities fun for your child. They are already probably receiving therapy multiple days a week, so you don’t want this to seem like work. If it seems like work, they will be more resistant to engage with you. Also follow your child’s lead and try to create “teachable moments” based off what they are currently interested in.

NSPT offers ABA Therapy services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!