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If you have a child with autism, you know that one of the biggest challenges can be trying to get them to stay on task. One way to help make this easier is by using visual schedules to help them see how their day will go.

Visual schedules are a great way to show kids on the spectrum what their day will look like and when certain things are happening. In this blog post, we will discuss the benefits of visual schedules for kids with autism and how you can use them at home!

Benefits of Visual Schedules

The benefits of using a visual schedule are numerous and here are a few examples of how they can be helpful to both you and your child:

  • Helping Kids Stay on Task

When you use a visual schedule, you are giving your child a way to see what they need to do and when they need to do it. This can be a great way to help them stay focused and avoid getting overwhelmed. By giving the child time to process the order of what their daily activities will be, we can help them focus on accomplishing the current task without having to worry as much about what comes next.

  • Decreasing Anxiety Around Transitions

Many kids with autism experience social anxiety and visual schedules can help them feel more in control. In general, since the COVID-19 Pandemic, there has been a universal uptick in anxiety in kids and our kiddos on the spectrum can be feeling especially anxious during these times.

Often times, transitioning between activities or new places can be a major source of anxiety in kids on the spectrum. When you use a visual schedule, you are giving your child a way to see what is coming up next and what they need to do. This can help them feel more prepared and decrease stress about what is going to happen next throughout their day.

  • Generalization and Play

By controlling the anxiety through the use of a schedule and allowing our kiddos to know what’s coming next we are able to work on generalizing various skills such as using toys for imaginative play to help them learn.

Visual schedules also help kids with autism better prepare for school where they will have to get used to certain routines and complete academic tasks throughout their day. Schedules can also provide structure to help kids with ASD which can give them the confidence to engage with peers and lead to an increase in social skills both in school and at home with their siblings.

Visual Schedules at Home

If you are interested in using visual schedules at home, there are a few things you can do to get started.

  1. How to get started with a visual schedule – Typically clinicians will use pictures as a way to create storyboards that can help your child make associations between pictures and their upcoming activities. Check out this link on Pinterest to help give you some ideas and get started: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/694609942543303915/ and while you’re there be sure to check out the Blossom Children’s Center page for more information on tips for your child https://www.pinterest.com/BlossomChildrensCenter/_created/
  2. Have the visual schedule in a location that is easy to access for the child This makes it easier for your child to use as a resource and helps them get used to using their visual schedule to think about and plan for their day.
  3. Establish the routine Remember to start small (3-4 activities at first). Routines are beneficial for any child but it can be especially helpful for kids on the spectrum. To learn more about how routines can be a huge benefit see a previous blog for more information: https://blossomchildrenscenter.plugdigital.io/2020/08/06/the-benefits-of-routines-for-children-with-autism/
  4. Have your kiddo help you make the schedule By allowing our kiddos to participate in making the schedule we can get them interested and engaged with whatever activities you have coming up for them.
  5. Model the visual schedule –  Modeling is the best way to teach “how to” use a visual schedule. When transitioning from one activity to the next, point to, remove or cover up the task you’ve completed or are currently working on. Label the activity (ex- we are brushing our teeth!) out loud so you pair the picture with the word for the activity.

The more you model and narrate using the schedule, the greater chance your child will catch on

  1. Consistency is key –We all know the old saying about practice makes perfect. So While it may be more work to carry around and use the schedule in the beginning, it will become second nature if you incorporate it into everyday routines. Model and narrate until your child starts to approach the schedule themselves and make it part of their own daily routine.

Next Steps…

Now that you have these strategies to get you started you can work with your child on achieving their goals. However, it’s important to remember that we all need a little help sometimes. So if you’re feeling like you could use some extra guidance be sure to reach out to a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who can offer you more help!

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If your child has been recently diagnosed with a disability, one of the next steps you will take is to create an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This blog post will outline the specific educational needs of your child and how they will be met.

It is important to understand who makes up your child’s IEP Team members and what their roles are. In this blog post, we will discuss the different IEP Team members and how to work with them to get the best outcomes for your child.

What is an IEP

  • An Individualized Education Plan (IEP): written document explaining how a child’s special education program will be designed to meet his/hers educational needs and goals
  • Written when a child qualifies for special education
  • Ages 3-25 and outlines services the district will provide to help the student make educational and academic progress
  • Amendable at any time
  • In 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was passed. This act granted the right to a “free and appropriate public education” to all children with disabilities

IEP Types

Initial IEP:  If it is determined that a student needs special education services, they may be referred for a REED (Review of Existing Educational Data) and a MET (Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team).

zSource: What are the different kinds of IEPs

Annual Review IEP: Must be held every 365 days. No extension beyond 365 days is allowed. A parent or school team member may request an IEP prior to the annual 12-month meeting

Re-Evaluation IEP: A student who is currently eligible for special education must be present for re-evaluation at least every three years.

Source: What are the different kinds of IEPs

Transition IEP: If a student will be 16 or older within the next year, a transition IEP must be created. This IEP must be updated every year until the student leaves school. The student must be invited to participate in creating this IEP.

The IEP Team

Who is involved: responsible for developing an IEP:

  1. Parents of the student
  2. At least 1 general education teacher of the student
  3. At least 1 special education teacher who has direct involvement with the student
  4. A representative of the school district
  5. Someone who can offer an interpretation and evaluation of the results
  6. At the discretion of the parent, other individuals who have knowledge of the child (outside SLP, OT, BCBA etc.)

How does my child receive an IEP?

  • IDEA requires all schools to have a referral process for identifying and evaluating children 0-21 who may qualify for special education
  • You, your child’s teachers can request an education evaluation from the school. No matter who requests this, the school needs your permission to evaluate
  • When to do the IEP: The IEP must be completed and notice given within 30 school days of consent for the child’s evaluation. Eligibility is determined at the initial IEP meeting, based on the evaluation results.

Source: Family Matters Special Education Individualized Education Program Fact Sheet

Acronyms

IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Federal Level)

IEP – Individualized Education Plan

LRE – Least Restrictive Environment

REED– REVIEW OF EXISTING EVALUATION DATA

MET– MULTIDISCIPLINARY EVALUATION TEAM

IEP FAQs

My child is in special education and would benefit from attending a private school. What do I do? Mandates regarding special education are only applicable to public schools and offered for kindergarten through high school. Therefore, private schools are under no obligation legally to provide special education resources, and therefore they do not have to implement an existing IEP.

Source: 1) Disabilities and Specific Needs – Survey of Exceptionalities 4300.40

I do not agree with the services my child’s school is providing. What do I do? You can negotiate with the IEP team if you feel your child needs a certain service that the school is not providing. Services are based on the child’s evaluation results, teacher input, test results, and medical data.

If you do not want your child in special education, you have the right to choose and do not have to give consent for an evaluation or services. Negotiations typically begin at the school level. If for whatever reason the scope of services can not be agreed upon between the school and the parents negotiations then take place at the district level. The next step would be some form of mediation with the final step resulting in a hearing.

I do not want my child in special education, but my school is insisting? What can I do? Parents have the right to choose not to place their child in special education and do not have to give consent for an evaluation or services. The IEP process requires parents to give consent twice so you can consent to having your child evaluated and then choose not to give consent for services.

What if my child is not found eligible for special education services? Children who are not eligible for special education services may still receive services through a 504 Plan, which provides services and accommodations to children with disabilities or other medical conditions

Resources

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The summer is a great time to work on speech and language skills! There are many fun activities that can help kids improve their speech and language abilities, specifically their expressive and receptive language skills. In this blog post, we will discuss some of the best speech therapy activities for the summer. We will also provide you with a few ideas to get you started!

Make a Snack

One way to work on speech and language skills is to make a summer-themed snack! This can be a great opportunity to work on following easy one step directions. For example, you could make a fruit salad with different kinds of fruits, or an ice cream sundae with different toppings and ask your child to hand you each ingredient.

Take A Trip To The Zoo

Visiting the zoo is a great way to work on speech and language skills! You can talk about the different animals, their habitats, and the sounds they make. This can be a great opportunity to work on pointing out and labeling the animals that you see. You can also work on expanding on your child’s utterances.

For example, if your child says that they see a brown bear, you can say “I see a big brown bear!” to help expand their vocabulary. It is important to keep in mind you want to match where your child is at with their expressive language skills. So if your child is using one or two word utterances you would want to work on adding one or two more words to them like we did in the example of seeing the brown bear.

Take A Trip To The Beach

The beach is a great place to work on speech and language skills! You can talk about the different types of shells, the waves, and the sand. This can be a great way to work on targeting verbs that are relevant to your visit to the beach. Verbs such as swimming, floating, and splashing to help your child make the connections for words in action.

On the way home you can ask open-ended questions about your visit to the beach such as “What was your favorite thing we did at the beach today?” This can help with your child’s receptive language skills by using your visit to the beach to make connections through words.

Have A Campfire

Camping is a great way to work on speech and language skills! You can talk about the different types of animals, the stars, and the fire. This can be a great opportunity to target sequencing events. Using words like “first” and “next” to help your child better understand how events are sequenced.

For example, you might be roasting marshmallows over the campfire and might tell your child “First we’re going to roast the marshmallow, after that we can put it on the graham cracker!” Another great idea is to sing songs around the campfire! Songs are a great way to increase your child’s vocabulary in a way that is engaging for them.

Another great target to work on for expressive language is through telling stories. By telling stories you can again work on sequencing skills while also working on narrative skills.

Reading A Book

Reading is a great way to work on speech and language skills! You can talk about the different characters, the setting, and the plot. This can be a great opportunity to not only promote language but also literacy skills. Find a book that your child is interested in and work on asking “wh” questions such as:

  • What do you think is going to happen?”
  • Where are they going?”
  • Who is sitting on the chair?”

By having your child take an active role and get engaged with the story you can help them to think critically about what is going in the story and increase their reading comprehension.

These are just a few fun ideas to help increase your child’s expressive language and receptive language while enjoying the summer!
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Self-stimulatory behavior, or stimming, is a common occurrence in children with autism. Many people don’t understand what it is or why it happens, so we’re going to take a closer look at self-stimulatory behavior in children with autism. We’ll discuss the causes and effects of stimming, as well as some strategies for managing it.

Examples of Stimming

Self stimulatory behavior is characterized by repetitive and often rhythmic movement or vocalization. Children with autism often use it as a way to self-regulate their sensory input and output. Stimming can be very calming for children with autism, and it can also help them focus on a task.

Examples of self-stimulatory behavior often include one of or a combination of the following:

  • Rocking back and forth
  • Flapping the hands
  • Spinning
  • Repetitive behavior or speech

These types of behaviors are for the most part harmless and should not be discouraged. However, sometimes stimming can also be disruptive to the child’s environment and to the people around them. Less common stimming behaviors include self-injurious behavior such as head-banging or biting oneself.

It’s important to understand the various aspects self-stimulatory behavior so that you can effectively manage it and make sure that your child is safe even when they may be in a heightened state trying to regulate emotions.

What Causes Stimming?

There are many different causes of self-stimulatory behavior. It may be a way for children with autism to deal with anxiety, boredom, or stress. It can also be a way for them to self-soothe or self-regulate their sensory input. Sensory processing can be especially difficult for our little friends on the spectrum and many times they are looking for an outlet to reduce their anxieties from their environment.

Can we “fix” Stimming?

Now that we have a basic understanding of what stimming is you may be asking yourself if you should worry about your child’s self-stimulating behavior. For the most part many of these behaviors such as hand flapping are harmless and we should not be trying to “fix” this behavior through therapy or any other type of means.

We need to accept that the child may engage in certain types of behaviors as a way of coping with their environment and for emotional regulation. These behaviors need to be accepted and the more people understand them the more they will be accepted by society at large and our friends on the spectrum can be allowed to be themselves.

When most of us are experiencing nerves or anxiety of some kind we engage in forms of self-stimulatory behavior ourselves and we may not even realize it! Things like tapping our feet or twirling our hair can all be considered forms of stimming because we are doing them to help soothe ourselves.

However, when it comes to the more dangerous self-stimulatory behaviors such as engaging in self harm these do need to be addressed.

Who can help address potentially dangerous forms of stimming?

ABA Therapy and the strategies used by BCBAs can be a great way to help decrease some of the more dangerous behaviors that our kiddos may be engaging in.

This does not mean that we need to punish the child in any way. Instead, the best strategy involves replacing the potentially dangerous behavior with another behavior that can provide the same type of comfort but in a safer way. Using strategies that involve reinforcing the safer alternative behavior can be a great way to help get your child motivated to try a different way to help with their emotional regulation.

Occupational therapists can also play a crucial role in helping children with ASD reduce their anxieties through sensory integration strategies as well. These strategies will help your child feel more at ease in what can be a busy or challenging environment.

Counseling and talk therapy can also have a major impact on helping children with ASD understand the intense emotions they may experience. Counselors can teach important emotional regulation skills to help process thoughts and emotions more clearly.

Ethical Questions about Stimming

In the past the it was common practice in fields such as ABA Therapy to try to get children with autism to stop stimming. However, over time people in the neurodivergent community have talked about how they felt that the stigmas associated with stimming and trying to get them to stop have led to trauma. Much of the controversy around the history ABA Therapy has led to a reckoning and thankfully the field has changed.

If you have decided to enroll your child at a center that provides ABA Therapy or any type of therapy it will be important for you to make sure that the therapists there are adhering to these new standards in their fields. As we have discussed in this post most forms of stimming are relatively harmless. In fact, if you focus on trying to decrease these behaviors you may even be encouraging your child to replace that harmless behavior with a more dangerous one.

It is important to listen to the adults who have lived through and experienced various forms of trauma so that we as educators and parents can do better for our children. To learn more about the views about stimming from autistic adults we suggest you check out the following links:

https://childmind.org/article/autism-and-stimming/

Are the suggestions above helpful?
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The Benefits of Using Natural Environment Teaching

ABA therapy (Applied Behavior Analysis) is a data-driven and evidence based form of therapy that helps children with autism develop skills and habits that will allow them to be more independent in their daily life.

There are several approaches to ABA therapy. The most popular method within ABA Therapy is Discrete Trial Training (DTT). This involves teaching a variety of skills through trials that are ran at a table and in a more controlled environment. Another popular method that is growing in the field of ABA is natural environment teaching, or NET.

NET involves teaching skills in a natural setting, as close to real life as possible. There are many benefits to using NET in ABA therapy.

Benefits of Natural Environment Teaching

  • Desensitization to potentially scary environments such as a hair salon or dentist’s office      
  • Learning daily habits for personal hygiene
  • Therapy is provided in an environment that allows for more opportunities to develop social skills
  • NET, when done in a child-led format, teaches the child problem-solving skills
  • Children can be more motivated to learn in a natural environment vs. a controlled environment
  • Greater emphasis is placed on using the interests of the child to learn
  • Core principles of NET are rooted in positive reinforcement

Natural Environment Teaching (NET): definition and benefits

Link:

www.autismlearningpartners.com

Over the years, using the NET method meant that a child would be learning specific skills in a more natural environment as opposed to at a table in a more traditional style of ABA using the DTT method discussed earlier.

For example, if a child is learning how to brush their teeth, a board certified behavior analyst may be teaching them this skill in a bathroom in front of a mirror. This would certainly qualify as a form of NET because the bathroom is a natural environment.

However, as NET has evolved and new studies have come out showing positive outcomes associated with it (Natural Environment Training | SpringerLink), researchers and clinicians have expanded on ways to use NET learning to expand their therapy sessions.

Centers like Blossom have taken the next step and have set up their entire center and programs in a completely natural setting that looks like a school and/or home setting. This allows the child to generalize skills that are being learned at the center.

Because of this exposure the child can be more independent and use these skills in their daily life outside the center. For example, if a child learns how to greet others in a grocery store, they are more likely to greet others in other places, such as at school or at a friend’s house.

What is Generalization Anyways? How Can NET Help?

Generalization in the context of ABA should be seen as the end goal of your child’s therapy journey. The journey starts with the child lacking certain skills or not being able to do daily tasks on their own. Through ABA and other therapies children can get the help they need to reach these goals as they relate to specific tasks.

However, what many families unfortunately experience is that when their child is asked to complete these tasks outside of the center where they are receiving services, the child can often struggle. This usually happens because the child is used to being in a controlled environment at their center.

Because a child is used to being at their center they develop a level of comfort at the center. There is less uncertainty because they know who will be with them and typically will know what to expect and what their surroundings will look like.

This is why generalization is so important to a child’s growth. If a child is able to learn a certain skill or do an activity in a specific situation, they should be able to utilize that skill or do that activity in another context. NET offers more opportunities for children to practice those skills in a variety of environments and social situations.

By putting the child in different settings and allowing them to practice the skills and activities they’ve learned they can develop a sense of comfort. That comfort will set your child up for success beyond their therapy center!
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Child on the swing.

Ah, spring. That sweet feeling of warmer days, the smell of rain in the morning, and finally, an excuse to get out your super cute rain boots! As the colder days start to fade, who doesn’t want to get outside and enjoy the nice weather? Getting out and doing family activities is a great way to practice applied behavioral analysis or ABA therapy in your everyday life. If you have no idea what to put on your calendar this spring, we’ve got some activities in the Metro Detroit, Michigan area that you and your family will adore doing together.

Top Four Spring Family Events in Metro Detroit

If you’re ready to get outside and enjoy some fresh air, check out these this spring!

1. Belle Isle Park

If you want to see an excellent view, you need to visit Belle Isle in the spring. It’s an island park located in Detroit, Michigan, and spans 982 acres. There are loads of attractions within the park, including:

  • Dossin Great Lakes Museum
  • Belle Isle Nature Center
  • Belle Isle Golf Course
  • Sunset Point

The Dossin Great Lakes Museum is located on a strand of Belle Isle. It displays the story of the Great Lakes of Michigan and Detroit’s role in the nation’s history. The museum also plays films for that family member who thinks museums are super boring. It has a variety of exhibits so everyone in your family will be happy with the trip. You can practice ABA therapy at the museum by bringing your child into a social setting and allowing them to interact and play with fun and interesting things. It’s open Thursday-Saturday from 10 am-5 pm and Sundays from 1-5 pm.

The Belle Isle Nature Center is fun for all ages! It’s an activity your kiddos will learn from while still having a blast and getting to play. They have a bunch of animals; toads, snakes, and turtles, oh my! On the third Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of every month, the nature center invites your little ones to join them for activities, crafts, and stories at their “Nature Tots” event. They also offer lots of field trips around Detroit and Michigan that your kids are sure to love. The field trips could be beneficial in practicing ABA therapy. From November to March, check out the nature center on Thursday-Sunday from 10 am – 4 pm. From April to October, it’s open seven days a week from 10 am – 5 pm.

Does your family love a little friendly competition? The Belle Isle Golf Course in Detroit is a short, six-hole course, the perfect length for those in your family who weren’t born to be the next Tiger Woods. It’s a perfect way to use ABA therapy with your child by allowing them to have fun and play. They offer a golf practice facility if you’re looking to improve your skills. Forgot your clubs in the trunk? No need to make the long walk back to the car; you can rent clubs there for free! It’s open every day from 9 am until dusk during March-October.

Sunset Point is at the very tip of Belle Isle. Just like its name suggests, this location offers the most exquisite view of the Michigan sunset. We’re not the only ones that cry over the beauty of sunsets, right?! Bring a blanket or some picnic chairs and don’t forget the snacks. Visiting Sunset Point is a fantastic opportunity for your family to share some quality time and enjoy nature together. It’s also a time for your child to be able to practice ABA therapy and play therapy outside the home. An essential part of ABA therapy and having a child on the autism spectrum involves helping them learn how to be mindful. Check out our post on the link between mindfulness and autism to learn more about how they involve one another. Spending time admiring a sunset can give your child a chance to practice mindfulness and find a quiet moment in their day.

 

2. Lafayette Greens Urban Garden

If you’re determined to get your family to help you in the garden this spring, take them to Lafayette Greens in Detroit, Michigan. It’s an urban garden and green space in the middle of downtown Detroit. You can find a wide variety of things there, like:

  • heirloom apple orchard
  • lavender promenade
  • children’s garden
  • short orchard meadow

There are lots of benches around, making this an inviting space for lots of people to gather. You can use this opportunity to practice ABA therapy with your child by allowing them to socialize with new people and explore the garden. If you forgot to check the radar before heading out, you don’t have to worry because they have lots of benches with umbrellas to protect you from the rain or scorching hot temperatures. This great space also celebrates local music and art from Detroit, Michigan. If you visit the place and fall in love, you can get married there! If you love it, but maybe not that much, you can use it to hold meetings or take a guided tour with a group. It’s open from April to September, from 9 am – 7 pm.

Child picking an apple.

3. Allstate Hot Chocolate 15k/5k in Detroit

If one of your goals is to kick your family into shape, you should all do the Allstate Hot Chocolate 15k/5k! It’s taking place in Detroit, Michigan, on April 21st, 2021, but it’s a virtual event. Your family can run in your neighborhood, a favorite park, or to the nearest ice cream shop for a reward after all your hard work. Your family can pick your comfort level since you have the option to sign up for 5k or 15k. Practicing play therapy outside the house is a beneficial ABA therapy technique and getting out and running around with the whole family can be a blast for kids. It costs $40.00 to register, but the proceeds go to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. In addition to the good feeling of knowing you donated to charity, you get a jacket and a finisher medal for participating. When you finish your journey, open up your medal, there might be a sweet surprise inside.

 

4. Michigan’s Bavarian Easter Celebration 

For some, the thought of spring comes along with visions of decorative eggs and giant bunny rabbits delivering baskets to their homes. The Bavarian Easter celebration occurs in Frankenmuth, Michigan, a little over an hour from Detroit, from March 19th – April 18th, 2021. The tradition of decorating Easter Fountains has been popular in Germany for over 200 years. Take a day trip with the family to see the festive Easter decorations and shop around town. If the thought of a getaway sounds like heaven, take your family to stay overnight in one of Frankenmuth’s incredible hotels. Like the Bavarian Inn and Zehnder’s Splash Village, some of the hotels have epic waterparks and arcades for your kids (well, who are we kidding, for you too)! There’s plenty of shops, restaurants, and activities to explore while you’re there. Use your trip to Frankenmuth to incorporate ABA therapy outside the house and allow your child to play, explore, and socialize with others.

 

Current COVID Restrictions and Guidelines

During unprecedented times, it’s essential to keep yourself and your family safe. It’s impossible to know what will happen from one day to the next, but it’s best to stay prepared. Currently, the CDC recommends wearing a mask in all public spaces and maintaining six feet of social distancing from people outside your household. So, if you can feel the stranger behind you breathing down your neck, feel free to ask them for six feet politely. The state of Michigan is currently recommending that all social events maintain social distancing and mask-wearing.

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Children playing and receiving positive reinforcement.

When it comes to replacing undesirable behaviors with those that are more appropriate, long-term actions, operant conditioning is often a preferred method of choice. While understanding operant conditioning’s objectives may be straightforward, grasping the differences between punishment and reinforcement, both positive and negative, may take a bit more explaining.

Let’s look at the ins and outs of punishment and reinforcement and how they can be useful in ABA.

  • What is Operant Conditioning?
  • Punishment vs. Reinforcement
  • What is Punishment?
  • What is Reinforcement?
  • Using Punishment Effectively
  • Positive Reinforcement and ABA Therapy
  • Understanding Positive Reinforcement
  • Measuring the Success of Positive Reinforcement

 

What is Operant Conditioning?

Operant conditioning is how one learns to increase or decrease specific behaviors. This form of conditioning is possible by making associations between one’s behavior and receiving a positive or negative consequence for that action.

 

Punishment vs. Reinforcement

In ABA therapy, it’s essential to understand that punishment and reinforcement are not associated with our typical understanding of good versus bad. Nor does it imply any form of physical, verbal, or emotional punishing. Both punishments and reinforcements can be either positive or negative. Let’s break down their meanings, mainly how they apply to children when implementing ABA strategies.

In simplest terms, positive means to add, while negative means to take away.

Often, this refers to a meaningful object or reward, such as:

  • Screen time on an iPad or tv
  • A favorite toy
  • Extra time outdoors

 

What is Punishment?

Punishment is a term that refers to decreasing specific target behavior. While positive punishment involves adding something unpleasant to a situation to decrease a child’s behavior, negative punishment involves removing something from the situation to decrease the target behavior.

 

What is Reinforcement?

In contrast, when implementing ABA strategies, reinforcements offer a way to increase a child’s target behavior. Positive reinforcement offers a desirable incentive as a reward to increase, strengthen, or replace a target behavior. Negative reinforcement involves taking the desirable stimulus out of the situation to increase the child’s target behavior.

While it does take a bit of adjustment in our natural thought process – understanding how positives can be useful in punishment and negatives can assist in reinforcements – they can offer astounding long-term results when implemented correctly. These results are particularly true for ABA practices.

 

How to Punish Your Child Effectively

Using punishment as a behavior-modifying technique can be useful in various situations by parents, teachers, and ABA therapy team members. To clear up any further confusion, think of positive punishment’s primary goal as a tool to deter your child from undesirable behavior. For instance, if your child spent extra time on her iPad while neglecting to make her bed for the day, a parent could add an extra chore, such as gathering up her laundry. In this situation, the parent will use positive punishment – the additional chore – to help her realize she should spend less time on her iPad tomorrow before making up her bed. Doing so will condition her to decrease her screen time, make time to make up her bed, and eliminate the additional chore.

Upset child hugging a teddy bear.

Positive Reinforcement and ABA Therapy

Once science was able to demonstrate that the use of positive reinforcement was successful in creating new behaviors and skills, it slowly began to replace the harsh and abusive treatment of individuals with autism. ABA therapy brought new approaches and success stories, replacing the horrible treatment of behavioral change in those with autism.

The use of positive reinforcement became an essential component in ABA therapy. It plays a critical role in the teaching, replacement, and strengthening of appropriate behaviors. When implementing positive reinforcements correctly and consistently, replacement behaviors become a new, long-term action. The utilization of positive reinforcement becomes a powerful tool for ABA professionals, but also caregivers, parents, and family members who work towards the behavioral goals of children with autism.

 

Understanding Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement provides undeniable results, making it known for being one of the most effective behavioral management forms for children with autism and behavioral issues. When using positive reinforcement in combination with ABA therapy, potentially harmful behaviors may also be replaced with new, healthier behaviors. Using this style of reward system focuses on finding a reward that is personal to each child. Positive reinforcements should consist of favorite items or privileges your child finds most meaningful and willing to work towards earning. A favorite toy or game on your phone will strengthen the likelihood the child will continue to revert to the new behavior. Ultimately, the objective is for this personalized reward, chosen by your child’s ABA therapist, to provide enough excitement and encouragement, eventually leading to the adoption of new, positive behavior.

If your child’s ABA team is not seeing the demonstration of a desirable behavior or skill, the child will not receive their reward. It is essential to repeat the modeling process as often as necessary, providing your child with ample time to learn and repeat the new skills and behaviors independently. While this may seem a difficult task, your ABA professionals will work closely with you to give plenty of guidance and modeling of each step.

The most meaningful reinforcers help children with autism learn to adopt new behaviors throughout all areas of development, including life skills. The consistent use of positive reinforcement implements change and strengthens reoccurrence. Here’s how the pairing of positive reinforcement with ABA therapy should look:

  • The child demonstrates an undesirable behavior
  • ABA therapist introduces a replacement behavior through modeling, immediately after observing the undesirable behavior
  • A positive reward praises them for using the new behavior
  • When the child begins to revert to the replacement behavior, collecting the reinforcer for a job well done, it will begin to increase the likelihood of future reoccurrence

Mother gives her child a positive reward.

Measuring the Success of Positive Reinforcement

So, how do we measure the success of these ABA strategies using positive reinforcement? Through proper modeling and consistency, new skills and behaviors will begin to reoccur with less guidance. In time, the need for reinforcers to produce these changes will also diminish. Once the child can demonstrate the replacement behavior without prompting or rewards, it officially becomes a successfully mastered goal.

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Speech bubbles

Understanding how your child develops speech and language skills can help you recognize and support their development. When your child receives a diagnosis of autism, these typical milestones for communication look different. By seeking early intervention, in combination with ABA therapy best practices, you can significantly increase your child’s ability to develop the speech and language skills they need to communicate as efficiently as possible.

Speech and Language Development

During your child’s first three years of life, their brain is developing rapidly, the most critical period for acquiring vital speech and language skills. Speech and language skills develop best when you immerse your child in an array of sights, sounds, and consistent exposure to others’ speech and language, across all their natural environments.

There are crucial periods for your child’s speech and language development during infancy and early childhood. During these critical periods, the brain absorbs language most rapidly and effectively. When children do not receive proper exposure to speech and language during these critical windows, communication learning becomes more difficult. While each child varies in speech and language development, a basic guideline for these milestones can help determine your child’s progression.

 

What Is Speech?

Think of speech as how we say and form sounds and words. Children develop speech

by learning a combination of motor movements with their jaw, mouth, cheek muscles, and tongue, they begin to form and produce sounds, leading to words. Speech includes many components, including:

Voice

Voice is the use of vocal folds and breaths to form sounds. Our voice can be soft, loud, high- or low-pitched.

Articulation

Articulation is how we form speech sounds using our lips, mouth, and tongue.

Fluency

Fluency refers to the rhythm of speech, which allows us to express ourselves articulately.

Speech bubble

What Is Language?

Language refers to the words we use. It encompasses how we use them to express desires and needs. Developing language includes what you express and understand, both verbally and nonverbally. Language includes reading and writing, as well as:

  • The meaning of the words we use when they have more than one representation
  • How new words form to express different meanings
  • The order in which we use words to form proper thoughts and sentences
  • Knowing how to express the words you choose

Language development supports your child’s ability to communicate, understand, and express feelings while supporting:

  • Problem-solving
  • Thinking strategies
  • Ability to develop and maintain relationships

Learning to use and understand language is also a critical step to:

  • Foundation for learning
  • Literacy
  • Reading
  • Writing

Speech and Language: The Differences

Many children experience a combination of speech and language needs but can have one without the other. It’s important to note the differences between speech and language learning and disorders. Children who have difficulty understanding receptive language – what others say – or difficulty sharing their wants, feelings, and needs – expressive language – may have a language disorder. Children with speech difficulties may:

  • Have trouble producing correct speech sounds
  • Stutter or hesitate when speaking
  • Struggle with correctly combining sounds and syllables to form words, known as apraxia of speech

How Autism Affects Communication

Children with ASD struggle with the ability to communicate and interact with others successfully. Your child may have difficulty developing speech and language skills and understanding what others are trying to express. Even communicating nonverbally is a challenge, such as:

  • Hand gestures
  • Eye contact
  • Facial expressions

Your child’s ability to use speech and language skills may depend on their intellectual and social development. Some children with autism may not be able to communicate using speech or language, while others have limited speaking skills. Others have an extensive vocabulary, able to talk extensively about particular subjects.

Children with autism typically face issues with the meanings and rhythms of words and sentences. They have trouble understanding body language and vocal tones, limiting their ability to interact with others socially.

Children with autism tend to exhibit the following speech and language difficulties:

1. Repetitive or Rigid Language

Children with autism who can speak will often say things that lack meaning or do not relate to the current conversations. For instance, immediate echolalia occurs when a child repeats words another person says, in person or from media. Your child may also respond to a question with the same question.

2. With delayed echolalia, the child will repeat words from a previous conversation.

Some children with autism speak with a high-pitch, sing-song voice, or use robotic-like speech patterns. Others use generic or informal phrases to begin a conversation, even around friends, family, and regular caregivers.

 

3. Exceptional Abilities and Narrow Interests

While some children with ASD can have in-depth conversations about a topic that greatly interests them, they may not have the ability to make this a two-way conversation. Others have musical talents or advanced abilities, such as exceptional mathematical skills. In fact, roughly ten percent of children with autism possess exceptional skills in areas including:

  • Memorization
  • Music
  • Math
  • Art

4. Uneven Language Development

Many children with autism develop some speech and language skills, but progress is typically uneven. Your child may develop a strong vocabulary in an area of great interest, while other areas will seem stagnant. They may be able to read words easily, but not register their meaning. You may also notice your child may not respond to others, even if addressing them by name.

 

5. Lacking in Nonverbal Skills 

Gestures are often a struggle for children with autism. During ABA therapy sessions, nonverbal cues are often a primary goal. Parents and caregivers benefit significantly by learning and using ABA techniques for this very purpose. Implementing ABA strategies, such as positive reinforcement, will help strengthen your child’s ability to communicate with nonverbal actions, such as gestures successfully.

Children with ASD often avoid eye contact, appearing to have a lack of interest or being inattentive. The use of meaningful gestures and other nonverbal skills will help enhance their language skills. Repetition and modeling through ABA practice will enhance these abilities, allowing your child to bypass frustration in their attempts to express feelings and needs. This may significantly reduce outbursts or other inappropriate behaviors they may commonly display. Through the consistent practices of ABA, your child will learn to form appropriate and acceptable behaviors, while adopting these new skills.

The most common speech and language struggles for children with autism are:

1. Speech

Roughly one in three people with autism struggles producing speech sounds effectively:

  • Babbling with word-like sounds
  • Parroting
  • Nonverbal
  • Grunting, shrieks, harsh sounds, and cries
  • Hums or talks in a musical rhythm
  • May use the correct words and sentences but uses an expressionless tone of voice

2. Language

  • Ability to memorize but lack understanding
  • Difficulty with conversational skills
  • Struggles with eye contact and gestures
  • Heavy reliance on echolalia to communicate
  • Struggles with understanding the meaning of words and symbols

Child in speech therapy

Treating Speech and Language Issues with Autism and ABA in Mind

Autism is typically evident before a child reaches the age of three. Speech and language delays can be recognized as early as eighteen months of age. It is vital to begin therapy as early as possible, to have the most significant impact. Children with an autism diagnosis will receive referrals to an array of specialists, including a speech-language pathologist. Your child’s speech-language pathologist will perform a comprehensive evaluation of their abilities to communicate. Upon completion, your child’s team will meet and discuss individualized goals and create a course of treatment.

ABA therapy is also vital in the success of your child’s achievements and will significantly benefit your family. Your child’s ABA team will work alongside you to train and educate you on strategies. With your child’s entire ABA team, you will have the necessary resources to continue best practices at home and in all-natural environments.

Children with speech and language delays often require extra help and individual instruction. Speech-language pathologists work directly with you, your child, caregivers, and teachers. Addressing the needs of children with ASD through speech and language therapy improves their communication skills. It is essential to begin early intervention therapies, including ABA, to help them thrive and meet their full potential. While there are various approaches, the most effective therapy programs begin during their preschool years. Successful sessions tailor goals towards your child’s specific interests, as you will notice with ABA therapy. ABA and communication therapy sessions will address your child’s behaviors and communication skills through consistent modeling and positive reinforcement.

Children with autism typically respond better to a program with structure and predictable routines. Your child’s ABA team will work with you to develop a schedule to carry out strategies, so you are a part of your child’s daily treatment programs.

Some children with autism never develop oral speech and language skills. The goal for them may be to learn primary forms of communication through gestures, including sign language. Other children may learn to communicate with a symbol system, using images to express themselves.  A symbol system may range from using picture boards and cards to electronic devices that generate speech.

The Speech-Language Process: What to Expect

Speech-language pathologists are an essential part of your child’s autism treatment team. Your child will benefit from early screening by a speech therapist. Speech therapists are often the first source of recognizing and diagnosing autism and making necessary referrals to other specialists, including ABA therapists.

When your child first receives a diagnosis of autism, a speech therapist will complete a full assessment to determine a course of action. Enhancing your child’s quality of life is of the utmost importance. Throughout therapy sessions, their speech-language pathologist will work closely with your family, school, additional caregivers, and other ABA professionals to ensure everyone is on the same page, working towards their goals. Your child’s therapist may recommend the use of:

  • Massage and exercise of their lips and facial muscles to improve articulation
  • Electronic gadgets which “speak” for your child
  • Signing or typing
  • Picture boards, picture exchange communication systems, and other image-communication devices

Benefits of Speech Therapy for ASD

Speech therapy helps improve your child’s overall communication skills. This dramatically increases your child’s ability to form relationships, respond appropriately in situations, communicate wants and needs, and function to the best of their ability in daily life.

Specific goals of speech therapy for children with ASD you will become familiar with include:

 

  • Articulation of words
  • Communicate verbally and nonverbally
  • Understand verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Understanding the intentions of others in various settings
  • Initiate communication without prompting
  • Understand and recognize appropriate times and places to communicate and how to communicate
  • Develop adequate conversational skills
  • Ability to successfully exchange ideas
  • Communicate in ways to develop relationships
  • Communicate, play, and interact with peers and caregivers
  • Learn to self-regulate

 

 

Additional Speech and Language Tips

Parents and caregivers are the first and most essential teachers during a child’s early years. Children quickly absorb and learn language by listening and practicing, so integrating ABA strategies is imperative. Help develop your child’s speech and language skills by:

  • Responding to their sounds, gurgles, and gestures, even at infancy
  • Repeat what they say and continue the conversation to introduce new words
  • Talk about the world around them, pointing to what you see
  • Ask questions and encourage responses
  • Telling stories often
  • Utilize songs and rhymes
  • Encourage your child’s speech and language development by talking together – whether it’s things that interest your child or exploring new topics. Follow their lead and note what they may show you, point to, or babble about most.
  • As your child learns new and helpful gestures, respond to their attempts to communicate with you. Repeat what they may be relaying and encourage confirmation.
  • Utilize ABA best practices to encourage them to continue sharing through gestures. Use ABA positive reinforcements to reduce tantrums when frustration arises.
  • Read to and with your child often. Select more complex books as your child progresses. Reading allows your child to hear different words in different contexts, helping them learn the meanings and functions of words.
  • Relate books to what’s happening in your child’s life. This may be going to a doctor’s visit, getting a new pet, or learning about families. Encourage your child to point or talk about the images. It’s a great idea when browsing through photo albums of your family and encourages communication.
  • When reading aloud with your child, point to pictures and words, and track them with your finger as you say them. Tracking helps your child form a connection between written and spoken words and enhances early literacy skills.

Finding Additional Resources

Your child may qualify for various speech and language delay and disorder programs. Talk with your child’s ABA team to find out what you may qualify for. Typically, a child under the age of three can qualify for early intervention special education services. Children three and older can qualify through their local school districts.  School-age children typically receive referrals and testing through their home campuses and may undergo the schools’ testing for speech and language disorders.

Children with specific learning disabilities are eligible for special education services and accommodations under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504.

At Blossom Children’s Center, we believe in an all-encompassing approach to providing your family with exceptional therapy, education, and support. We encourage you to visit our site for ABA information and additional resources and invite you to visit our highly trained team of professionals at our centers. We’re here to ensure your child thrives. Visit us today.

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Two children smiling

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often have difficulty relating to and communicating with other people. They may be slower to develop language, be non-verbal, or have significant difficulties understanding or using verbal language. Through the use of various tools and resources, along with ongoing speech and language pathology sessions, children with autism can learn and build upon various means of communication. We’ll explore:

  • Developing Communication Skills: Typically Developing vs. Children with Autism
  • Unconventional Communication Methods
  • AAC Options During Speech and Language Pathology Sessions and Natural Environments
  • Pairing AAC and Speech and Language Pathology

Mother and son sitting and talking

Communication and the Typically Developing Child

Children tend first to use communication to ask for something, protest, or satisfy a need. The second phase of communication is typically to get or maintain someone’s attention. This phase may include a child wanting attention or asking to be held. Lastly, and the most challenging part of communication skills, children learn to direct a person’s attention to an object or an event for social reasons.

Communication and Children with Autism

Children with autism learn to communicate best through a step-by-step process and usually require in-depth speech and language pathology sessions. Teaching communication skills may include gradual phases, such as reaching towards a toy they want. After this skill is successful, move to utilize eye contact. Verbal skills will eventually be the last step to teach in this progression.

Autism and Communication

Children with ASD often can’t grasp the concept that communication is a process that uses a combination of resources, including:

  • Eye contact
  • Facial expressions
  • Gestures
  • Words and sounds

 

While some children may develop speech, others may have difficulty using language to communicate effectively with others. How well they learn to communicate is vital across other areas of development, including:

  • Behavior
  • Learning
  • Social interaction

The Role of Speech and Language Pathology

Speech and language pathology methods are essential for children with autism across all developmental areas. Early intervention and ongoing speech and language pathology therapy are especially vital in your child’s communication skill success. Through speech and language pathology, children with autism learn to recognize and adopt acceptable skills and behaviors, leading to more effective communication methods. During speech and language pathology therapy, your child’s ABA goals and best practices help strengthen desirable outcomes through modeling, repetition, and positive reinforcements.

 

Unconventional Forms of Communication

Many children with autism use words and various verbal strategies to communicate unconventionally. Echolalia, for example, is very common in children with autism. Children mimic words and phrases without particular meaning or in an unusual tone of voice. They may tend to repeat words they hear immediately or at a later point in time. They may repeat words they hear from others around them, on TV, radio, or videos. They may also use neologisms, or made-up words, focus on one word and repeat it, or mix up pronouns.

Common Nonverbal Communication

Children with autism may utilize additional ways of communicating, including

  • Physically manipulation an object or person: this may include taking your hand and moving it towards something they desire
  • Pointing, shifting, or showing through a gaze

Communication Through AAC

The use of AAC helps give children with autism a voice. It enables them to interact with the people around them. Alternative and Augmentative Communication refers to any means of communication, other than traditional speech, that allows your child to use language. AAC tools may include gestures, using pictures, sign language, various visual aids, or a speech-output device, such as a tablet.

Research has shown that the use of AAC resources does not prevent the development of a child’s verbal communication skills. Many research findings support the use of AAC, noting an increase in speech, supporting the child’s development of verbal communication. AAC is often a powerful steppingstone to their verbal communication.  It supports challenges children may have when developing speech and language skills through typical aging or even ongoing speech and language pathology sessions. In fact, AAC options are common during speech and language pathology sessions, often helping to decrease challenging behaviors children exhibit when they cannot successfully express themselves.

Children playing on a phone, learning communication skills.

Pairing AAC and Speech and Language Pathology

Introducing AAC methods during your child’s speech and language pathology sessions allows them to explore the ability to communicate their wants and needs in a more effective, non-verbal way. Through the touch of a button or the use of an image, they learn to express themselves without tantrums and undesirable behaviors. Through redirection and the introduction of high and low tech AAC tools, speech and language pathology sessions offer your child a new communication method, building a stronger bond and trust between them and their caregivers and peers.

 

AAC High Tech Options

During your child’s speech and language pathology sessions, their therapist may utilize a variety of AAC devices. Through speech and language pathology, your child’s therapist will explore tech options that suit your child’s ABA therapy goals and overall needs. The use of AAC high tech options in your child’s speech and language pathology sessions and various natural environments may include:

 

  • Speech Generating Devices: VOCA’s, or Voice Output Communication Aids, help children communicate in various environments and situations while strengthening verbal and non-verbal skills through:
  • Expressive language
  • Joint attention/gestures
  • Pragmatics
  • Reading skills
  • Math skills

 

  • LAMP Words for Life: LAMP, or Language Acquisition through Motor Planning approach, centers around neurological, motor learning principles, and clinical experiences to address your child’s language development and communication needs. The LAMP program provides consistent motor patterns for words and a systematic way to help them develop communication skills and growth.
  • TouchChat: an app utilizing words, phrases, and messages, either spoken with a built-in voice synthesizer or by playing message recordings. TouchChat offers a variety of choices for your child, such as voices, English and Spanish, and screen display features.

 

Your child’s speech and language pathology therapist will work with you, your child’s caregivers, and the rest of their ABA therapy team, offering training and guidance with various AAC options.

AAC Low Tech Options

During your child’s speech and language pathology sessions, they will also explore various low-tech options. These may include the use of picture books, choice boards, and:

  • PECs: Picture Exchange Communication helps your child communicate through pictures while encouraging their spontaneous use to communicate with others. PEC’s start with one image then helps them gradually progress to adding on images and developing sentence strips.
  • Social Stories: narratives that illustrate various situations and issues and how children can deal with them, helping them understand social norms and how to communicate with others appropriately

 

Your child’s health and wellness are our top priority. From communication skills to school readiness, our highly trained team of professionals are here to support you through this journey in every way we can. Individualized ABA and speech and language pathology are just the beginning of meeting your family’s needs. For additional resources and to learn more about the all-encompassing services we offer at Blossom Behavior Wellness Center, visit us today.

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