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Autism Feeding Issues

Meal times and feeding can be a hurdle in the life of a family with a child who has autism. There can be difficulties with eating due to different textures, smells, sounds, food allergies, aversions, or a lack of interest. However, there are many strategies to help children with autism overcome the hurdle and have an enjoyable meal experience.

Autism Feeding Issues

Autism and Food Sensitivity

Children with autism have an increased likelihood of possessing food sensitivities. Both food allergies and food intolerances are common in children with autism. These children are twice as likely to have some type of food sensitivity. These food sensitivities are common due to immune issues as well as differences in their digestive tracts, especially in regard to carbohydrates.

Children with autism can have food allergies. These are similar to the rest of their peers in that food causes a reaction within the body and can be life-threatening.

Food sensitivities can cause

  • gastrointestinal pain,
  • nausea,
  • gut issues, or
  • hives.

However, not all children with autism can vocalize this discomfort and it may lead to behavioral outbursts. They may become more upset or stressed during meal times, have meltdowns, or attempt to avoid food altogether.

Additionally, children with autism may experience food intolerances. This is not the same as allergies as there is no life-threatening aspect. However, it can still cause the same or similar behavior outburst. Two common food intolerances in children with autism are gluten and casein (a dairy protein).

Food intolerances can cause

  • stomach pain,
  • diarrhea or
  • constipation.

It can be helpful to take a child with autism to an allergy specialist and one that specializes in working with autism. They will be able to determine any food allergies or food intolerances to avoid during meal times. This can make the whole process go smoothly and rule out one possibility of a child avoiding food.

Autism Feeding Issues

What to do if your child with autism won’t eat?

The first step in determining a plan towards diet expansion for your child with autism who won’t eat is to see which problem category they fall into.

Feeding problems or “picky eating”– Some children with autism only eat less than 20 foods and do not include all the food groups. Once they eliminate a food or a group, they will not eat from it again. Determining if your child falls into this category as early as possible is necessary to help them get feeding intervention from a feeding specialist or occupational therapist.

Medical – Sometimes eating can cause a child with autism discomfort or pain. Some possible issues can be reflux, constipation, GI issues, or respiratory involvement. Finding a pediatrician that specializes in working with children with autism is vital in order to get the issues resolved or managed.

Oral motor – Eating involves the coordination of the lips, tongue, jaw, and facial muscles before swallowing. Oftentimes, this process is learned young. However, children with autism can have a breakdown in this learning process due to structural abnormalities. Getting help from a speech-language pathologist can help in strengthening and using these muscles to aid in eating.

How do you teach a child with autism to feed themselves?

Before a child with autism can feed themselves, it is important to establish a routine with the child so they become more comfortable. Try to eat at the same place and same time every day that way it establishes a sense of routine for the child. They know when the family sits down at the table, it is their indicator that eating a meal will be involved as well as the expectations during that time.

  • Begin with the basics. Start off with the child eating foods they already know and love to help them ease into the situation
  • Remove stressors or other sensory aversions before starting meal time. Sometimes smells or unusual sounds can be deterrents to a child with autism at meal time.
  • Support a child’s posture while eating. Oftentimes children with autism have poor trunk and core stability so they may lean or wiggle in their seats. Putting cushions, towels, or a stool can help children sit more comfortably at the table or eating space.
  • Get foods out of the packaging. Sometimes children only think they like a specific brand of food. Taking food out of packages eliminates the questioning if it came from a certain brand. Putting food into clear containers as soon as they are brought home and helping to introduce new brands of similar foods.
  • Avoid focusing on food and your child’s behavior. If during meal time, the family is talking and eating there is less pressure on the child to eat and they can go at their own pace without worrying about being watched or eating quickly.

Leafwing Center can work with you to design a plan for autism feeding issues that you may be facing with your child. Our ABA therapists are trained in creating personalized plans that match your child’s ability levels. ABA therapists are trained to address the behavior. If you are concerned about the health and wellness of your child then you need to contact your physician.

Frequently asked questions about ABA therapy

What is ABA Therapy used for?

ABA-based therapy can be used in a multitude of areas. Currently, these interventions are used primarily with individuals living with ASD; however, their applications can be used with individuals living with pervasive developmental disorders as well as other disorders. For ASD, it can be used in effectively teaching specific skills that may not be in a child’s repertoire of skills to help him/her function better in their environment whether that be at home, school, or out in the community.  In conjunction with skill acquisition programs, ABA-based interventions can also be used in addressing behavioral excesses (e.g., tantrum behaviors, aggressive behaviors, self-injurious behaviors). Lastly, it can also be utilized in parent/caregiver training.

In skill acquisition programs, a child’s repertoire of skills is assessed in the beginning phase of the services in key adaptive areas such as communication/language, self-help, social skills, and motor skills as well.  Once skills to be taught are identified, a goal for each skill is developed and then addressed/taught by using ABA-based techniques to teach those important skills. Ultimately, an ABA-based therapy will facilitate a degree of maintenance (i.e., the child can still perform the learned behaviors in the absence of training/intervention over time) and generalization (i.e., the learned behaviors are observed to occur in situations different from the instructional setting).  These two concepts are very important in any ABA-based intervention.

In behavior management, the challenging behaviors are assessed for their function in the beginning phase of the services. In this phase, the “why does this behavior happen in the first place?” is determined. Once known, an ABA-based therapy will be developed to not just decrease the occurrence of the behavior being addressed, but also teach the child a functionally-equivalent behavior that is socially-appropriate.  For example, if a child resorts to tantrum behaviors when she is told she cannot have a specific item, she may be taught to accept an alternative or find an alternative for herself. Of course, we can only do this up to a certain point—the offering of alternatives.  There comes a point when a ‘no’ means ‘no’ so the tantrum behavior will be left to run its course (i.e., to continue until it ceases).  This is never easy and will take some time for parents/caregivers to get used to, but research has shown that over time and consistent application of an ABA-based behavior management program, the challenging behavior will get better.

In parent training, individuals that provide care for a child may receive customized “curriculum” that best fit their situation.  A typical area covered in parent training is teaching responsible adults pertinent ABA-based concepts to help adults understand the rationale behind interventions that are being used in their child’s ABA-based services.  Another area covered in parent training is teaching adults specific skill acquisition programs and/or behavior management programs that they will implement during family time.  Other areas covered in parent training may be data collection, how to facilitate maintenance, how to facilitate generalization of learned skills to name a few.

There is no “one format” that will fit all children and their families’ needs. The ABA professionals you’re currently working with, with your participation,  will develop an ABA-based treatment package that will best fit your child’s and your family’s needs. For more information regarding this topic, we encourage you to speak with your BCBA or reach out to us at [email protected].

Who Can Benefit From ABA Therapy?

There is a common misconception that the principles of ABA are specific to Autism. This is not the case. The principles and methods of ABA are scientifically backed and can be applied to any individual. With that said, the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Psychological Association consider ABA to be an evidence based practice. Forty years of extensive literature have documented ABA therapy as an effective and successful practice to reduce problem behavior and increase skills for individuals with intellectual disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Children, teenagers, and adults with ASD can benefit from ABA therapy. Especially when started early, ABA therapy can benefit individuals by targeting challenging behaviors, attention skills, play skills, communication, motor, social, and other skills. Individuals with other developmental challenges such as ADHD or intellectual disability can benefit from ABA therapy as well. While early intervention has been demonstrated to lead to more significant treatment outcomes, there is no specific age at which ABA therapy ceases to be helpful.

Additionally, parents and caregivers of individuals living with ASD can also benefit from the principles of ABA. Depending on the needs of your loved one, the use of specified ABA techniques in addition to 1:1 services, may help produce more desirable treatment outcomes. The term “caregiver training” is common in ABA services and refers to the individualized instruction that a BCBA or ABA Supervisor provides to parents and caregivers. This typically involves a combination of individualized ABA techniques and methods parents and caregivers can use outside of 1:1 sessions to facilitate ongoing progress in specified areas.

ABA therapy can help people living with ASD, intellectual disability, and other developmental challenges achieve their goals and live higher quality lives.

What does ABA Therapy look like?

Agencies that provide ABA-based services in the home-setting are more likely to implement ABA services similarly than doing the same exact protocols or procedures. Regardless, an ABA agency under the guidance of a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst follows the same research-based theories to guide treatment that all other acceptable ABA agencies use.

ABA-based services start with a functional behavior assessment (FBA). In a nutshell, a FBA assesses why the behaviors may be happening in the first place. From there, the FBA will also determine the best way to address the difficulties using tactics that have been proven effective over time with a focus on behavioral replacement versus simple elimination of a problem behavior. The FBA will also have recommendations for other relevant skills/behaviors to be taught and parent skills that can be taught in a parent training format to name a few. From there, the intensity of the ABA-based services is determined, again, based on the clinical needs of your child. The completed FBA is then submitted to the funding source for approval.

One-on-one sessions between a behavior technician and your child will start once services are approved. The duration per session and the frequency of these sessions per week/month will all depend on how many hours your child’s ABA services have been approved for—usually, this will be the number recommended in the FBA. The sessions are used to teach identified skills/behaviors via effective teaching procedures. Another aspect of ABA-based services in the home-setting is parent training. Parent training can take many forms depending on what goals have been established during the FBA process. The number of hours dedicated for parent training is also variable and solely depends on the clinical need for it. If a 1:1 session is between a behavior technician and your child, a parent training session or appointment is between you and the case supervisor and with and without your child present, depending on the parent goal(s) identified. Parent training service’s goal is for you to be able to have ample skills/knowledge in order for you to become more effective in addressing behavioral difficulties as they occur outside of scheduled ABA sessions. Depending on the goals established, you may be required to participate in your child’s 1:1 sessions. These participations are a good way for you to practice what you have learned from the case supervisor while at the same time, having the behavior technician available to you to give you feedback as you practice on those new skills.

As mentioned in the beginning, no two ABA agencies will do the same exact thing when it comes to providing ABA services; however, good agencies will always base their practice on the same empirically-proven procedures.

How do I start ABA Therapy?

In most cases, the first item required to start ABA therapy is the individual’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis report. This is typically conducted by a doctor such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a developmental pediatrician. Most ABA therapy agencies and insurance companies will ask for a copy of this diagnosis report during the intake process as it is required to request an ABA assessment authorization from the individual’s medical insurance provider.

The second item required to start ABA therapy is a funding source. In the United States, and in cases where Medi-Cal or Medicare insurances are involved, there is a legal requirement for ABA services to be covered when there is a medical necessity (ASD diagnosis). Medi-Cal and Medicare cover all medically necessary behavioral health treatment services for beneficiaries. This typically includes children diagnosed with ASD. Since Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence based and effective treatment for individuals with ASD, it is considered a covered treatment when medically necessary. In many cases, private insurance will also cover ABA services when medically necessary, however in these cases, it is best to speak directly with your medical insurance provider to determine the specifics of the coverage and to ensure that ABA is in fact, a covered benefit. Additionally, some families opt to pay for ABA services out-of-pocket.

The next step to starting ABA therapy is to contact an ABA provider whom you are interested in working with. Depending on your geographic location, ABA agencies exist in many cities across the United States. Your insurance carrier, local support groups, and even a thorough online search can help you find reputable and properly credentialed ABA agencies near you. Our organization, LeafWing Center, is based in southern California and is recognized for aiding people with ASD achieve their goals with the research based on applied behavior analysis.

Once you have identified the ABA provider with whom you wish to work, they should help you facilitate the next steps. These will include facilitating paperwork and authorizations with your funding source. Once the assessment process begins, a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or qualified Program Supervisor should get in contact with you to arrange times in which interviews with parents/caregivers and observations of your loved one can be conducted. This will help in the process of gathering important clinical information so that with your collaboration, the most effective treatment plans and goals can be established for your loved one. This process is referred to as the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and is elaborated on in different blog posts on our website. With regard as to what can be expected once ABA therapy begins, please read our blog post titled: When You Start an ABA program, What Should You Reasonably Expect from Your Service Provider?

Autism Feeding Issues

Meal times and feeding can be a hurdle in the life of a family with a child who has autism. There can be difficulties with eating due to different textures, smells, sounds, food allergies, aversions, or a lack of interest. However, there are many strategies to help children with autism overcome the hurdle and have an enjoyable meal experience.

Autism Feeding Issues

Autism and Food Sensitivity

Children with autism have an increased likelihood of possessing food sensitivities. Both food allergies and food intolerances are common in children with autism. These children are twice as likely to have some type of food sensitivity. These food sensitivities are common due to immune issues as well as differences in their digestive tracts, especially in regard to carbohydrates.

Children with autism can have food allergies. These are similar to the rest of their peers in that food causes a reaction within the body and can be life-threatening.

Food sensitivities can cause

  • gastrointestinal pain,
  • nausea,
  • gut issues, or
  • hives.

However, not all children with autism can vocalize this discomfort and it may lead to behavioral outbursts. They may become more upset or stressed during meal times, have meltdowns, or attempt to avoid food altogether.

Additionally, children with autism may experience food intolerances. This is not the same as allergies as there is no life-threatening aspect. However, it can still cause the same or similar behavior outburst. Two common food intolerances in children with autism are gluten and casein (a dairy protein).

Food intolerances can cause

  • stomach pain,
  • diarrhea or
  • constipation.

It can be helpful to take a child with autism to an allergy specialist and one that specializes in working with autism. They will be able to determine any food allergies or food intolerances to avoid during meal times. This can make the whole process go smoothly and rule out one possibility of a child avoiding food.

Autism Feeding Issues

What to do if your child with autism won’t eat?

The first step in determining a plan towards diet expansion for your child with autism who won’t eat is to see which problem category they fall into.

Feeding problems or “picky eating”– Some children with autism only eat less than 20 foods and do not include all the food groups. Once they eliminate a food or a group, they will not eat from it again. Determining if your child falls into this category as early as possible is necessary to help them get feeding intervention from a feeding specialist or occupational therapist.

Medical – Sometimes eating can cause a child with autism discomfort or pain. Some possible issues can be reflux, constipation, GI issues, or respiratory involvement. Finding a pediatrician that specializes in working with children with autism is vital in order to get the issues resolved or managed.

Oral motor – Eating involves the coordination of the lips, tongue, jaw, and facial muscles before swallowing. Oftentimes, this process is learned young. However, children with autism can have a breakdown in this learning process due to structural abnormalities. Getting help from a speech-language pathologist can help in strengthening and using these muscles to aid in eating.

How do you teach a child with autism to feed themselves?

Before a child with autism can feed themselves, it is important to establish a routine with the child so they become more comfortable. Try to eat at the same place and same time every day that way it establishes a sense of routine for the child. They know when the family sits down at the table, it is their indicator that eating a meal will be involved as well as the expectations during that time.

  • Begin with the basics. Start off with the child eating foods they already know and love to help them ease into the situation
  • Remove stressors or other sensory aversions before starting meal time. Sometimes smells or unusual sounds can be deterrents to a child with autism at meal time.
  • Support a child’s posture while eating. Oftentimes children with autism have poor trunk and core stability so they may lean or wiggle in their seats. Putting cushions, towels, or a stool can help children sit more comfortably at the table or eating space.
  • Get foods out of the packaging. Sometimes children only think they like a specific brand of food. Taking food out of packages eliminates the questioning if it came from a certain brand. Putting food into clear containers as soon as they are brought home and helping to introduce new brands of similar foods.
  • Avoid focusing on food and your child’s behavior. If during meal time, the family is talking and eating there is less pressure on the child to eat and they can go at their own pace without worrying about being watched or eating quickly.

Leafwing Center can work with you to design a plan for autism feeding issues that you may be facing with your child. Our ABA therapists are trained in creating personalized plans that match your child’s ability levels. ABA therapists are trained to address the behavior. If you are concerned about the health and wellness of your child then you need to contact your physician.

Frequently asked questions about ABA therapy

What is ABA Therapy used for?

ABA-based therapy can be used in a multitude of areas. Currently, these interventions are used primarily with individuals living with ASD; however, their applications can be used with individuals living with pervasive developmental disorders as well as other disorders. For ASD, it can be used in effectively teaching specific skills that may not be in a child’s repertoire of skills to help him/her function better in their environment whether that be at home, school, or out in the community.  In conjunction with skill acquisition programs, ABA-based interventions can also be used in addressing behavioral excesses (e.g., tantrum behaviors, aggressive behaviors, self-injurious behaviors). Lastly, it can also be utilized in parent/caregiver training.

In skill acquisition programs, a child’s repertoire of skills is assessed in the beginning phase of the services in key adaptive areas such as communication/language, self-help, social skills, and motor skills as well.  Once skills to be taught are identified, a goal for each skill is developed and then addressed/taught by using ABA-based techniques to teach those important skills. Ultimately, an ABA-based therapy will facilitate a degree of maintenance (i.e., the child can still perform the learned behaviors in the absence of training/intervention over time) and generalization (i.e., the learned behaviors are observed to occur in situations different from the instructional setting).  These two concepts are very important in any ABA-based intervention.

In behavior management, the challenging behaviors are assessed for their function in the beginning phase of the services. In this phase, the “why does this behavior happen in the first place?” is determined. Once known, an ABA-based therapy will be developed to not just decrease the occurrence of the behavior being addressed, but also teach the child a functionally-equivalent behavior that is socially-appropriate.  For example, if a child resorts to tantrum behaviors when she is told she cannot have a specific item, she may be taught to accept an alternative or find an alternative for herself. Of course, we can only do this up to a certain point—the offering of alternatives.  There comes a point when a ‘no’ means ‘no’ so the tantrum behavior will be left to run its course (i.e., to continue until it ceases).  This is never easy and will take some time for parents/caregivers to get used to, but research has shown that over time and consistent application of an ABA-based behavior management program, the challenging behavior will get better.

In parent training, individuals that provide care for a child may receive customized “curriculum” that best fit their situation.  A typical area covered in parent training is teaching responsible adults pertinent ABA-based concepts to help adults understand the rationale behind interventions that are being used in their child’s ABA-based services.  Another area covered in parent training is teaching adults specific skill acquisition programs and/or behavior management programs that they will implement during family time.  Other areas covered in parent training may be data collection, how to facilitate maintenance, how to facilitate generalization of learned skills to name a few.

There is no “one format” that will fit all children and their families’ needs. The ABA professionals you’re currently working with, with your participation,  will develop an ABA-based treatment package that will best fit your child’s and your family’s needs. For more information regarding this topic, we encourage you to speak with your BCBA or reach out to us at [email protected].

Who Can Benefit From ABA Therapy?

There is a common misconception that the principles of ABA are specific to Autism. This is not the case. The principles and methods of ABA are scientifically backed and can be applied to any individual. With that said, the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Psychological Association consider ABA to be an evidence based practice. Forty years of extensive literature have documented ABA therapy as an effective and successful practice to reduce problem behavior and increase skills for individuals with intellectual disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Children, teenagers, and adults with ASD can benefit from ABA therapy. Especially when started early, ABA therapy can benefit individuals by targeting challenging behaviors, attention skills, play skills, communication, motor, social, and other skills. Individuals with other developmental challenges such as ADHD or intellectual disability can benefit from ABA therapy as well. While early intervention has been demonstrated to lead to more significant treatment outcomes, there is no specific age at which ABA therapy ceases to be helpful.

Additionally, parents and caregivers of individuals living with ASD can also benefit from the principles of ABA. Depending on the needs of your loved one, the use of specified ABA techniques in addition to 1:1 services, may help produce more desirable treatment outcomes. The term “caregiver training” is common in ABA services and refers to the individualized instruction that a BCBA or ABA Supervisor provides to parents and caregivers. This typically involves a combination of individualized ABA techniques and methods parents and caregivers can use outside of 1:1 sessions to facilitate ongoing progress in specified areas.

ABA therapy can help people living with ASD, intellectual disability, and other developmental challenges achieve their goals and live higher quality lives.

What does ABA Therapy look like?

Agencies that provide ABA-based services in the home-setting are more likely to implement ABA services similarly than doing the same exact protocols or procedures. Regardless, an ABA agency under the guidance of a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst follows the same research-based theories to guide treatment that all other acceptable ABA agencies use.

ABA-based services start with a functional behavior assessment (FBA). In a nutshell, a FBA assesses why the behaviors may be happening in the first place. From there, the FBA will also determine the best way to address the difficulties using tactics that have been proven effective over time with a focus on behavioral replacement versus simple elimination of a problem behavior. The FBA will also have recommendations for other relevant skills/behaviors to be taught and parent skills that can be taught in a parent training format to name a few. From there, the intensity of the ABA-based services is determined, again, based on the clinical needs of your child. The completed FBA is then submitted to the funding source for approval.

One-on-one sessions between a behavior technician and your child will start once services are approved. The duration per session and the frequency of these sessions per week/month will all depend on how many hours your child’s ABA services have been approved for—usually, this will be the number recommended in the FBA. The sessions are used to teach identified skills/behaviors via effective teaching procedures. Another aspect of ABA-based services in the home-setting is parent training. Parent training can take many forms depending on what goals have been established during the FBA process. The number of hours dedicated for parent training is also variable and solely depends on the clinical need for it. If a 1:1 session is between a behavior technician and your child, a parent training session or appointment is between you and the case supervisor and with and without your child present, depending on the parent goal(s) identified. Parent training service’s goal is for you to be able to have ample skills/knowledge in order for you to become more effective in addressing behavioral difficulties as they occur outside of scheduled ABA sessions. Depending on the goals established, you may be required to participate in your child’s 1:1 sessions. These participations are a good way for you to practice what you have learned from the case supervisor while at the same time, having the behavior technician available to you to give you feedback as you practice on those new skills.

As mentioned in the beginning, no two ABA agencies will do the same exact thing when it comes to providing ABA services; however, good agencies will always base their practice on the same empirically-proven procedures.

How do I start ABA Therapy?

In most cases, the first item required to start ABA therapy is the individual’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis report. This is typically conducted by a doctor such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a developmental pediatrician. Most ABA therapy agencies and insurance companies will ask for a copy of this diagnosis report during the intake process as it is required to request an ABA assessment authorization from the individual’s medical insurance provider.

The second item required to start ABA therapy is a funding source. In the United States, and in cases where Medi-Cal or Medicare insurances are involved, there is a legal requirement for ABA services to be covered when there is a medical necessity (ASD diagnosis). Medi-Cal and Medicare cover all medically necessary behavioral health treatment services for beneficiaries. This typically includes children diagnosed with ASD. Since Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence based and effective treatment for individuals with ASD, it is considered a covered treatment when medically necessary. In many cases, private insurance will also cover ABA services when medically necessary, however in these cases, it is best to speak directly with your medical insurance provider to determine the specifics of the coverage and to ensure that ABA is in fact, a covered benefit. Additionally, some families opt to pay for ABA services out-of-pocket.

The next step to starting ABA therapy is to contact an ABA provider whom you are interested in working with. Depending on your geographic location, ABA agencies exist in many cities across the United States. Your insurance carrier, local support groups, and even a thorough online search can help you find reputable and properly credentialed ABA agencies near you. Our organization, LeafWing Center, is based in southern California and is recognized for aiding people with ASD achieve their goals with the research based on applied behavior analysis.

Once you have identified the ABA provider with whom you wish to work, they should help you facilitate the next steps. These will include facilitating paperwork and authorizations with your funding source. Once the assessment process begins, a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or qualified Program Supervisor should get in contact with you to arrange times in which interviews with parents/caregivers and observations of your loved one can be conducted. This will help in the process of gathering important clinical information so that with your collaboration, the most effective treatment plans and goals can be established for your loved one. This process is referred to as the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and is elaborated on in different blog posts on our website. With regard as to what can be expected once ABA therapy begins, please read our blog post titled: When You Start an ABA program, What Should You Reasonably Expect from Your Service Provider?

Traveling with your child with autism

Traveling with your child with autism anytime soon? Does it involve a long car ride? It’s time to start planning how to keep your child busy and how to make the long drive as enjoyable as it can be. Some children with autism may do really well on car rides as it provides them with time to do enjoyable things such as looking out the window and watching the trees and other cars go by. Some may enjoy listening to the music in the car, or even sleeping throughout the trip! Other children may not do so well and parents may run into troubles such as crying, screaming, kicking seats, and even trying to get out of seat belts. Regardless of how easy or how difficult your car rides are, some of the below strategies may assist with making the ride a bit more enjoyable.

Traveling with your child with autism

Preparation before traveling with your child with autism

We all prepare in some fashion before taking a trip and it is no different when traveling with your child with autism. The unknown can be scary. Prepare your child for the trip.

What to discuss with your child with autism before the road trip

  1. Talk with your child about the purpose of the trip.
  2. Talk about where you are going. You might create social stories to present this information more clearly with visuals. Remember, any type of visual support will reduce anxiety and increase interest.
  3. How long it will take, and the stops along the way. Use schedules, maps, and even photo albums to help understand where you are going and whom you will see.
  4. Make it clear why you’re taking this trip together.

Keep it positive as something to look forward to. Prepare a snack bag as well as a toy bag ahead of time so you have food when your child is hungry and toys when your child is bored. Toys such as drawing boards, electronics (iPad or similar device) on which the child can play games or watch movies, travel games such as perfection, and books may work well to keep your child occupied.

What to bring on the trip

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Flushable wipes
  • Extra batteries and chargers
  • Changes of clothing in case of accidents
  • Plastic bags
  • Medicine for nausea or other physical ailments
  • Extra headphones

Traveling with your child with autism: Safety Tips

Before you leave your driveway remember to switch on the child lock so that the rear door cannot be opened from the inside. If your child is someone who tries to get out of the seat belt, then you may consider getting covers or locks for the buckles in the backseat. Also, make sure that the child’s car seat is installed correctly. You can also make the car seat more comfortable for the long car ride by adding more padding under the seat cover.

Traveling with your child with autism

Strategies to use throughout traveling with your child with autism

Remember to be realistic. Your child may need to take some regular breaks and be able to get out of the car to stretch or run around. Look for signs that your child may be anxious, such as body language, and take pit stops as needed. Take extra time if needed and break the trip up if possible. Plan to spend the night in a hotel, or take the scenic route and turn it into a mini-vacation where your family can enjoy a few sights along the way.

Planning out the mileage of the trip and dividing that mileage up into small chunks can be very helpful. If you are driving 300 miles, break this up into 10 chunks of 30 miles (or even 20 chunks of 5 miles, depending on how often your child may need positive reinforcement for good behavior). Every 30 miles that your child behaves well (define this for your child such as sitting nicely, no screaming, and no kicking) he or she is allowed to pull a prize out of a prize bag that you have prepared ahead of time with treats, small toys, and special items that your child will enjoy. Children with autism often dislike uncertainty and that uncertainty often creates overwhelm and behavior problems. To avoid this, draw out squares on a piece of paper so he knows how many squares are left until you arrive at your destination. Possibly make the halfway point a very large prize, if he or she earns it.

Trying to rush travel can lead to more stress and increases the chances for something to go wrong or for you to forget something. Take some deep breaths, relax, and listen to some soft music to help you unwind, especially if you get caught in a traffic jam. The theme is to plan ahead so you and your family can be prepared for the long trek ahead.

Have fun and Bon Voyage!

Frequently asked questions about ABA therapy

What is ABA Therapy used for?

ABA-based therapy can be used in a multitude of areas. Currently, these interventions are used primarily with individuals living with ASD; however, their applications can be used with individuals living with pervasive developmental disorders as well as other disorders. For ASD, it can be used in effectively teaching specific skills that may not be in a child’s repertoire of skills to help him/her function better in their environment whether that be at home, school, or out in the community.  In conjunction with skill acquisition programs, ABA-based interventions can also be used in addressing behavioral excesses (e.g., tantrum behaviors, aggressive behaviors, self-injurious behaviors). Lastly, it can also be utilized in parent/caregiver training.

In skill acquisition programs, a child’s repertoire of skills is assessed in the beginning phase of the services in key adaptive areas such as communication/language, self-help, social skills, and motor skills as well.  Once skills to be taught are identified, a goal for each skill is developed and then addressed/taught by using ABA-based techniques to teach those important skills. Ultimately, an ABA-based therapy will facilitate a degree of maintenance (i.e., the child can still perform the learned behaviors in the absence of training/intervention over time) and generalization (i.e., the learned behaviors are observed to occur in situations different from the instructional setting).  These two concepts are very important in any ABA-based intervention.

In behavior management, the challenging behaviors are assessed for their function in the beginning phase of the services. In this phase, the “why does this behavior happen in the first place?” is determined. Once known, an ABA-based therapy will be developed to not just decrease the occurrence of the behavior being addressed, but also teach the child a functionally-equivalent behavior that is socially-appropriate.  For example, if a child resorts to tantrum behaviors when she is told she cannot have a specific item, she may be taught to accept an alternative or find an alternative for herself. Of course, we can only do this up to a certain point—the offering of alternatives.  There comes a point when a ‘no’ means ‘no’ so the tantrum behavior will be left to run its course (i.e., to continue until it ceases).  This is never easy and will take some time for parents/caregivers to get used to, but research has shown that over time and consistent application of an ABA-based behavior management program, the challenging behavior will get better.

In parent training, individuals that provide care for a child may receive customized “curriculum” that best fit their situation.  A typical area covered in parent training is teaching responsible adults pertinent ABA-based concepts to help adults understand the rationale behind interventions that are being used in their child’s ABA-based services.  Another area covered in parent training is teaching adults specific skill acquisition programs and/or behavior management programs that they will implement during family time.  Other areas covered in parent training may be data collection, how to facilitate maintenance, how to facilitate generalization of learned skills to name a few.

There is no “one format” that will fit all children and their families’ needs. The ABA professionals you’re currently working with, with your participation,  will develop an ABA-based treatment package that will best fit your child’s and your family’s needs. For more information regarding this topic, we encourage you to speak with your BCBA or reach out to us at [email protected].

Who Can Benefit From ABA Therapy?

There is a common misconception that the principles of ABA are specific to Autism. This is not the case. The principles and methods of ABA are scientifically backed and can be applied to any individual. With that said, the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Psychological Association consider ABA to be an evidence based practice. Forty years of extensive literature have documented ABA therapy as an effective and successful practice to reduce problem behavior and increase skills for individuals with intellectual disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Children, teenagers, and adults with ASD can benefit from ABA therapy. Especially when started early, ABA therapy can benefit individuals by targeting challenging behaviors, attention skills, play skills, communication, motor, social, and other skills. Individuals with other developmental challenges such as ADHD or intellectual disability can benefit from ABA therapy as well. While early intervention has been demonstrated to lead to more significant treatment outcomes, there is no specific age at which ABA therapy ceases to be helpful.

Additionally, parents and caregivers of individuals living with ASD can also benefit from the principles of ABA. Depending on the needs of your loved one, the use of specified ABA techniques in addition to 1:1 services, may help produce more desirable treatment outcomes. The term “caregiver training” is common in ABA services and refers to the individualized instruction that a BCBA or ABA Supervisor provides to parents and caregivers. This typically involves a combination of individualized ABA techniques and methods parents and caregivers can use outside of 1:1 sessions to facilitate ongoing progress in specified areas.

ABA therapy can help people living with ASD, intellectual disability, and other developmental challenges achieve their goals and live higher quality lives.

What does ABA Therapy look like?

Agencies that provide ABA-based services in the home-setting are more likely to implement ABA services similarly than doing the same exact protocols or procedures. Regardless, an ABA agency under the guidance of a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst follows the same research-based theories to guide treatment that all other acceptable ABA agencies use.

ABA-based services start with a functional behavior assessment (FBA). In a nutshell, a FBA assesses why the behaviors may be happening in the first place. From there, the FBA will also determine the best way to address the difficulties using tactics that have been proven effective over time with a focus on behavioral replacement versus simple elimination of a problem behavior. The FBA will also have recommendations for other relevant skills/behaviors to be taught and parent skills that can be taught in a parent training format to name a few. From there, the intensity of the ABA-based services is determined, again, based on the clinical needs of your child. The completed FBA is then submitted to the funding source for approval.

One-on-one sessions between a behavior technician and your child will start once services are approved. The duration per session and the frequency of these sessions per week/month will all depend on how many hours your child’s ABA services have been approved for—usually, this will be the number recommended in the FBA. The sessions are used to teach identified skills/behaviors via effective teaching procedures. Another aspect of ABA-based services in the home-setting is parent training. Parent training can take many forms depending on what goals have been established during the FBA process. The number of hours dedicated for parent training is also variable and solely depends on the clinical need for it. If a 1:1 session is between a behavior technician and your child, a parent training session or appointment is between you and the case supervisor and with and without your child present, depending on the parent goal(s) identified. Parent training service’s goal is for you to be able to have ample skills/knowledge in order for you to become more effective in addressing behavioral difficulties as they occur outside of scheduled ABA sessions. Depending on the goals established, you may be required to participate in your child’s 1:1 sessions. These participations are a good way for you to practice what you have learned from the case supervisor while at the same time, having the behavior technician available to you to give you feedback as you practice on those new skills.

As mentioned in the beginning, no two ABA agencies will do the same exact thing when it comes to providing ABA services; however, good agencies will always base their practice on the same empirically-proven procedures.

How do I start ABA Therapy?

In most cases, the first item required to start ABA therapy is the individual’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis report. This is typically conducted by a doctor such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a developmental pediatrician. Most ABA therapy agencies and insurance companies will ask for a copy of this diagnosis report during the intake process as it is required to request an ABA assessment authorization from the individual’s medical insurance provider.

The second item required to start ABA therapy is a funding source. In the United States, and in cases where Medi-Cal or Medicare insurances are involved, there is a legal requirement for ABA services to be covered when there is a medical necessity (ASD diagnosis). Medi-Cal and Medicare cover all medically necessary behavioral health treatment services for beneficiaries. This typically includes children diagnosed with ASD. Since Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence based and effective treatment for individuals with ASD, it is considered a covered treatment when medically necessary. In many cases, private insurance will also cover ABA services when medically necessary, however in these cases, it is best to speak directly with your medical insurance provider to determine the specifics of the coverage and to ensure that ABA is in fact, a covered benefit. Additionally, some families opt to pay for ABA services out-of-pocket.

The next step to starting ABA therapy is to contact an ABA provider whom you are interested in working with. Depending on your geographic location, ABA agencies exist in many cities across the United States. Your insurance carrier, local support groups, and even a thorough online search can help you find reputable and properly credentialed ABA agencies near you. Our organization, LeafWing Center, is based in southern California and is recognized for aiding people with ASD achieve their goals with the research based on applied behavior analysis.

Once you have identified the ABA provider with whom you wish to work, they should help you facilitate the next steps. These will include facilitating paperwork and authorizations with your funding source. Once the assessment process begins, a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or qualified Program Supervisor should get in contact with you to arrange times in which interviews with parents/caregivers and observations of your loved one can be conducted. This will help in the process of gathering important clinical information so that with your collaboration, the most effective treatment plans and goals can be established for your loved one. This process is referred to as the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and is elaborated on in different blog posts on our website. With regard as to what can be expected once ABA therapy begins, please read our blog post titled: When You Start an ABA program, What Should You Reasonably Expect from Your Service Provider?

Autism and bedtime routine

Design a bedtime routine that can be a win-win situation for your autistic child and yourself. Bedtime can be one of those nightly events which many parents love or hate or both! It means that peace and quiet are soon ahead, but it also can mean that a huge struggle is about to proceed. Many children with autism have difficulties either transitioning to bed, falling asleep, or even staying asleep all night long. Any of these difficulties can increase stress and tension in your home. Keep in mind that no single suggestion will be for all children but getting the right amount of sleep will allow your child to perform better academically, encourage the development of motor skills, and allow them to maintain a better mindset. Not to mention, it’ll help you get a fuller night of rest, too!


a child sleeping

Bedtime routine for children with autism

The first step to a healthy sleep starts with the daily routine. Be consistent. By creating a visual schedule, it helps to remind your child what they should be doing and what is to come. Take pictures of all events (e.g., dinner time at the table, bath time, reading books, and the child in bed), laminate the pictures and a piece of construction paper, and Velcro each picture either horizontally or vertically on the paper. When each event is completed, you can guide your child to take off the picture and point to the next event which helps them to actively check off their tasks.

Praise your child for successfully completing steps in their bedtime routine. Descriptive praise is when you tell your child exactly what it is that you like. For example, ‘I like the way you’ve found a spot for everything in your room’. This helps your child understand exactly what it is that they’ve done well. It’s also more genuine than non-specific praise like ‘You’re a good boy’. For younger children, you could use a reward chart.

A typical daily routine for better sleep

It is important for the daily routine to be consistent with time and order. Make sure your child wakes up every morning at the same time. They eat breakfast at the same time. Whatever the routine, keep it consistent so the child learns what to expect. A routine helps signal the body.

Morning routine

  • Wake up at 7 am
  • Brush teeth
  • Take a shower
  • Get dressed
  • Brush hair
  • Make bed
  • Eat breakfast

Afternoon routine

  • Eat lunch at 12 pm
  • Exercise for 1 hour
  • Plan activity

Evening routine

  • Eat dinner at 6 pm
  • Watch TV
  • Play a board game with the family
  • Read a few books to quiet down

Bedtime routine

  • Put on pajamas
  • Brush teeth
  • Go to the bathroom
  • Dim the lights
  • Put on the white noise machine
  • Give a massage
  • Go to bed

Remember there are triggers that might enhance alertness during bedtime like caffeine. Caffeine can stay active in our body for up to 12 hours. Monitor caffeine intake as well sugar consumption in foods. Watching TV, videos, or playing on the computer, especially if the shows or games are scary or violent, can lead to kids with autism having more trouble sleeping.

Problems sleeping happen more often in autistic children who have restricted and repetitive behaviors (lining up toys, rocking, hand-flapping), anxiety, or sensory problems and can lead to having trouble paying attention, feeling restless, getting angry, and throwing tantrums.


girl-sleeping

Autism and the successful bedtime routine

It can’t be stressed enough, to stick to a routine. Make bedtime routine no more than 20 to 30 minutes. The bedtime routine should be calming like reading a book, singing a song, or a massage. You know your child best. What is calming for one child may be stimulating for another. Design an area that encourages sleep. Make sure to only use your child’s bed for sleep. Keep the temperature in the room less than 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t leave lamps or overhead lights on overnight. Nightlights can be used to provide some light. Using a white noise machine will help your child from being disturbed by noise around them.

If your child has a hard time falling asleep, or wakes up in the middle of the night, first consider if they take naps during the day. You may want to reduce these naps so your child is more tired at night time. If your child wakes up in the middle of the night, be sure to keep the sleeping environment calm and do not allow him or her to play games or leave their room. This may take many sleepless nights by the parents but it will pay off in the end. It is important that your child learn the skill of falling asleep without a parent present. All children and adults wake briefly during the night but quickly put themselves back to sleep by reestablishing associations used at bedtime. So if your child needs a parent present to fall asleep at bedtime, he might need a parent to help him fall back asleep during the normal awakenings.

The time you invest in putting a sleep routine for your autistic child now will save you many, many hours in the long run and you won’t have to do it forever. Once patterns are established, you will be able to reclaim a large part of your evening for yourself.

Autism and bedtime routines: other considerations

It is important to address medical or psychiatric issues that potentially interfere with sleep. Your child’s medications might need adjustment if they affect his sleep. If your child suffers from a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, sleep walking, sleep terrors, restless legs syndrome, they may need a referral to a sleep specialist. Some children with persistent insomnia will need further behavioral or pharmacological treatment to improve their sleep.

Children and Adults with autism tend to have signs of insomnia: It takes them an average of 11-15 minutes longer than most people to fall asleep. Many wake up frequently during the night. Some adults and children with autism have sleep apnea as well, a condition that could potentially cause them to stop breathing several times during the night.

Let Leafwing Center help with the daily routine for your autistic child, so you can have a successful bedtime routine. Our ABA therapists are trained in creating personalized plans that match your child’s ability levels.

Frequently asked questions about ABA therapy

What is ABA Therapy used for?

ABA-based therapy can be used in a multitude of areas. Currently, these interventions are used primarily with individuals living with ASD; however, their applications can be used with individuals living with pervasive developmental disorders as well as other disorders. For ASD, it can be used in effectively teaching specific skills that may not be in a child’s repertoire of skills to help him/her function better in their environment whether that be at home, school, or out in the community.  In conjunction with skill acquisition programs, ABA-based interventions can also be used in addressing behavioral excesses (e.g., tantrum behaviors, aggressive behaviors, self-injurious behaviors). Lastly, it can also be utilized in parent/caregiver training.

In skill acquisition programs, a child’s repertoire of skills is assessed in the beginning phase of the services in key adaptive areas such as communication/language, self-help, social skills, and motor skills as well.  Once skills to be taught are identified, a goal for each skill is developed and then addressed/taught by using ABA-based techniques to teach those important skills. Ultimately, an ABA-based therapy will facilitate a degree of maintenance (i.e., the child can still perform the learned behaviors in the absence of training/intervention over time) and generalization (i.e., the learned behaviors are observed to occur in situations different from the instructional setting).  These two concepts are very important in any ABA-based intervention.

In behavior management, the challenging behaviors are assessed for their function in the beginning phase of the services. In this phase, the “why does this behavior happen in the first place?” is determined. Once known, an ABA-based therapy will be developed to not just decrease the occurrence of the behavior being addressed, but also teach the child a functionally-equivalent behavior that is socially-appropriate.  For example, if a child resorts to tantrum behaviors when she is told she cannot have a specific item, she may be taught to accept an alternative or find an alternative for herself. Of course, we can only do this up to a certain point—the offering of alternatives.  There comes a point when a ‘no’ means ‘no’ so the tantrum behavior will be left to run its course (i.e., to continue until it ceases).  This is never easy and will take some time for parents/caregivers to get used to, but research has shown that over time and consistent application of an ABA-based behavior management program, the challenging behavior will get better.

In parent training, individuals that provide care for a child may receive customized “curriculum” that best fit their situation.  A typical area covered in parent training is teaching responsible adults pertinent ABA-based concepts to help adults understand the rationale behind interventions that are being used in their child’s ABA-based services.  Another area covered in parent training is teaching adults specific skill acquisition programs and/or behavior management programs that they will implement during family time.  Other areas covered in parent training may be data collection, how to facilitate maintenance, how to facilitate generalization of learned skills to name a few.

There is no “one format” that will fit all children and their families’ needs. The ABA professionals you’re currently working with, with your participation,  will develop an ABA-based treatment package that will best fit your child’s and your family’s needs. For more information regarding this topic, we encourage you to speak with your BCBA or reach out to us at [email protected].

Who Can Benefit From ABA Therapy?

There is a common misconception that the principles of ABA are specific to Autism. This is not the case. The principles and methods of ABA are scientifically backed and can be applied to any individual. With that said, the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Psychological Association consider ABA to be an evidence based practice. Forty years of extensive literature have documented ABA therapy as an effective and successful practice to reduce problem behavior and increase skills for individuals with intellectual disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Children, teenagers, and adults with ASD can benefit from ABA therapy. Especially when started early, ABA therapy can benefit individuals by targeting challenging behaviors, attention skills, play skills, communication, motor, social, and other skills. Individuals with other developmental challenges such as ADHD or intellectual disability can benefit from ABA therapy as well. While early intervention has been demonstrated to lead to more significant treatment outcomes, there is no specific age at which ABA therapy ceases to be helpful.

Additionally, parents and caregivers of individuals living with ASD can also benefit from the principles of ABA. Depending on the needs of your loved one, the use of specified ABA techniques in addition to 1:1 services, may help produce more desirable treatment outcomes. The term “caregiver training” is common in ABA services and refers to the individualized instruction that a BCBA or ABA Supervisor provides to parents and caregivers. This typically involves a combination of individualized ABA techniques and methods parents and caregivers can use outside of 1:1 sessions to facilitate ongoing progress in specified areas.

ABA therapy can help people living with ASD, intellectual disability, and other developmental challenges achieve their goals and live higher quality lives.

What does ABA Therapy look like?

Agencies that provide ABA-based services in the home-setting are more likely to implement ABA services similarly than doing the same exact protocols or procedures. Regardless, an ABA agency under the guidance of a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst follows the same research-based theories to guide treatment that all other acceptable ABA agencies use.

ABA-based services start with a functional behavior assessment (FBA). In a nutshell, a FBA assesses why the behaviors may be happening in the first place. From there, the FBA will also determine the best way to address the difficulties using tactics that have been proven effective over time with a focus on behavioral replacement versus simple elimination of a problem behavior. The FBA will also have recommendations for other relevant skills/behaviors to be taught and parent skills that can be taught in a parent training format to name a few. From there, the intensity of the ABA-based services is determined, again, based on the clinical needs of your child. The completed FBA is then submitted to the funding source for approval.

One-on-one sessions between a behavior technician and your child will start once services are approved. The duration per session and the frequency of these sessions per week/month will all depend on how many hours your child’s ABA services have been approved for—usually, this will be the number recommended in the FBA. The sessions are used to teach identified skills/behaviors via effective teaching procedures. Another aspect of ABA-based services in the home-setting is parent training. Parent training can take many forms depending on what goals have been established during the FBA process. The number of hours dedicated for parent training is also variable and solely depends on the clinical need for it. If a 1:1 session is between a behavior technician and your child, a parent training session or appointment is between you and the case supervisor and with and without your child present, depending on the parent goal(s) identified. Parent training service’s goal is for you to be able to have ample skills/knowledge in order for you to become more effective in addressing behavioral difficulties as they occur outside of scheduled ABA sessions. Depending on the goals established, you may be required to participate in your child’s 1:1 sessions. These participations are a good way for you to practice what you have learned from the case supervisor while at the same time, having the behavior technician available to you to give you feedback as you practice on those new skills.

As mentioned in the beginning, no two ABA agencies will do the same exact thing when it comes to providing ABA services; however, good agencies will always base their practice on the same empirically-proven procedures.

How do I start ABA Therapy?

In most cases, the first item required to start ABA therapy is the individual’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis report. This is typically conducted by a doctor such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a developmental pediatrician. Most ABA therapy agencies and insurance companies will ask for a copy of this diagnosis report during the intake process as it is required to request an ABA assessment authorization from the individual’s medical insurance provider.

The second item required to start ABA therapy is a funding source. In the United States, and in cases where Medi-Cal or Medicare insurances are involved, there is a legal requirement for ABA services to be covered when there is a medical necessity (ASD diagnosis). Medi-Cal and Medicare cover all medically necessary behavioral health treatment services for beneficiaries. This typically includes children diagnosed with ASD. Since Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence based and effective treatment for individuals with ASD, it is considered a covered treatment when medically necessary. In many cases, private insurance will also cover ABA services when medically necessary, however in these cases, it is best to speak directly with your medical insurance provider to determine the specifics of the coverage and to ensure that ABA is in fact, a covered benefit. Additionally, some families opt to pay for ABA services out-of-pocket.

The next step to starting ABA therapy is to contact an ABA provider whom you are interested in working with. Depending on your geographic location, ABA agencies exist in many cities across the United States. Your insurance carrier, local support groups, and even a thorough online search can help you find reputable and properly credentialed ABA agencies near you. Our organization, LeafWing Center, is based in southern California and is recognized for aiding people with ASD achieve their goals with the research based on applied behavior analysis.

Once you have identified the ABA provider with whom you wish to work, they should help you facilitate the next steps. These will include facilitating paperwork and authorizations with your funding source. Once the assessment process begins, a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or qualified Program Supervisor should get in contact with you to arrange times in which interviews with parents/caregivers and observations of your loved one can be conducted. This will help in the process of gathering important clinical information so that with your collaboration, the most effective treatment plans and goals can be established for your loved one. This process is referred to as the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and is elaborated on in different blog posts on our website. With regard as to what can be expected once ABA therapy begins, please read our blog post titled: When You Start an ABA program, What Should You Reasonably Expect from Your Service Provider?

Autism and Motivation in Children

Autism and motivation in children can be a challenging combination. Motivation can be difficult for many people. Plenty of us struggle to exercise regularly or eat well. This is true even though these lifestyle changes could likely make a large difference in our health and consequently, our quality of life. Motivating children with autism also requires empathy and patience.

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are not always motivated to master basic tasks or life skills in the same ways as neurotypical children. Autism and motivation in children can seem incompatible. Or, perhaps your child is highly motivated to hyper-focus on certain tasks, just not the tasks you’d like them to choose. Motivating children with autism can be a struggle until you identify the specific factors that inspire your child.

Motivation

Each child with ASD may be motivated by different:

  • activities
  • enviroments
  • people
  • rewards
  • perceptions

It is important to spend time learning what is motivating to your autistic child. Then you can practice applying this information to help your child grow in their own motivation.

Intrinsic Motivation and Autism

In Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) we sometimes discuss motivation by categorizing it in two ways—intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that would be described as coming from within a person. That is, you do something because you like it.
For example, the prima ballerina rehearses 8 hours a day because she wants to be able to perform exceptionally. Autism and motivation in children can show up as an inner drive to accomplish a task or observe an activity. Your child may love cars and they are highly, internally motivated to sit by a window and watch traffic drive by or play with their own toy cars for hours.

Extrinsic motivation on the other hand refers to motivation that comes from others or our environment. For example, some employees in a manufacturing company may show up to work on time to avoid getting in trouble with the boss. Children with ASD may be motivated to put away toys with the reward of their favorite snack or TV show.

Behavior is affected by many influences. Autism and motivation both influence behavior. By observing patterns in your child’s choices, you can learn the best ways to encourage them to grow and learn new habits.

Autism and Motivation

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivational mechanisms apply to children living with ASD. Many children with autism are not interested in doing all of the things that we would like them to do. Motivating children with ASD to accomplish tasks or master skills is frequently different from motivating neurotypical children.

Some of our children on the spectrum may choose to engage in repetitive play or ignore others. Autism and motivation in children may look like your child only engaging in things that they find interesting. When this free time is interrupted, or when they are asked to move their attention to something or someone else, they may suddenly appear unmotivated to learn or disinterested. In some cases, other challenging behaviors can occur if we follow-through with our demands.

Factors that influence autism and motivation can be observed in your child. If you find your child happily engaging in an activity, take note of the type of activity and the environment. Certain types of play, food or stimuli may be preferred. For example your child may really enjoy playing with marbles. It may be helpful to ask the following questions to determine what is motivating children with autism. Does your child:

  • Suddenly stop enjoying or engaging with this activity if there is noise or music in the background?
  • Enjoy this activity more when they have different paths and features for the marbles to follow?
  • Like to play with marbles independently of peers, or do they enjoy others joining them?

Environmental inputs can influence children with ASD so strongly that motivation is impacted. An autistic child’s sensitivities are key factors in determining how autism and motivation should be approached to achieve the most effective outcomes.


Positive

Motivating Autistic Children: Intrinsic Motivation and Extrinsic Motivation Techniques

Without motivation, the learning process may be significantly slowed down or made to feel impossible. For this reason, every effort is made to increase a child’s motivation to learn at every stage of an ABA program. Ample time is spent finding out what things a child likes. Therapists will use reinforcer surveying or reinforcer sampling to determine the things that will motivate your autistic child long enough to learn. It is also important to learn what is not motivating to your child, so that you can avoid those challenges.

Motivation in an intensive Applied Behavior Analysis program may initially take the form of something extrinsic, such as being rewarded with their favorite foods, candies, or activities. Frequently, verbal praise and high-fives or anything that a child may find enjoyable can be used for positive reinforcement.

However, it is hoped that over time, this motivation will transition from extrinsic to intrinsic such that a child will engage in learning for personal joy and accomplishment. For example, a child may be motivated to build a block house because they are looking forward to feeling happy with the completed structure. To lead to this intrinsic motivation, rewards like candy or other foods can be systematically reduced while more internal, natural rewards take their place.


Motivational words

Motivating Children With Autism

Motivating children with autism is a multiple step process.

  1. Identify what your child enjoys on their own or is already intrinsically motivated to engage with or accomplish.
  2. Select rewards and positive reinforcements for your child to use as extrinsic motivation.
  3. Gradually, reduce the extrinsic rewards as you notice your child learning a positive habit or experiencing more positive feelings about accomplishing activities.
  4. Communicate with your child about the changes they are experiencing. Motivating children with autism gains momentum as your child feels supported and acknowledges their own positive progress.

Using extrinsic rewards is a common concern that others may have when considering an ABA therapy. However, professionals leading ABA programs plan ahead and strive to transition from extrinsic into more intrinsic forms of reinforcers over time. The use of transitional positive reinforcements, or extrinsic rewards, is an important factor in a child’s program that creates more positive associations with new behaviors.
If you are struggling to identify what motivates your autistic child or you would like to see changes in what motivates your child, it may be a good time to reach out to a trained professional. You can get help evaluating the influences of autism and motivation in your child. An ABA professional can also create a program tailored to your child to help them make progress towards motivational goals.

Frequently asked questions about ABA therapy

What is ABA Therapy used for?

ABA-based therapy can be used in a multitude of areas. Currently, these interventions are used primarily with individuals living with ASD; however, their applications can be used with individuals living with pervasive developmental disorders as well as other disorders. For ASD, it can be used in effectively teaching specific skills that may not be in a child’s repertoire of skills to help him/her function better in their environment whether that be at home, school, or out in the community.  In conjunction with skill acquisition programs, ABA-based interventions can also be used in addressing behavioral excesses (e.g., tantrum behaviors, aggressive behaviors, self-injurious behaviors). Lastly, it can also be utilized in parent/caregiver training.

In skill acquisition programs, a child’s repertoire of skills is assessed in the beginning phase of the services in key adaptive areas such as communication/language, self-help, social skills, and motor skills as well.  Once skills to be taught are identified, a goal for each skill is developed and then addressed/taught by using ABA-based techniques to teach those important skills. Ultimately, an ABA-based therapy will facilitate a degree of maintenance (i.e., the child can still perform the learned behaviors in the absence of training/intervention over time) and generalization (i.e., the learned behaviors are observed to occur in situations different from the instructional setting).  These two concepts are very important in any ABA-based intervention.

In behavior management, the challenging behaviors are assessed for their function in the beginning phase of the services. In this phase, the “why does this behavior happen in the first place?” is determined. Once known, an ABA-based therapy will be developed to not just decrease the occurrence of the behavior being addressed, but also teach the child a functionally-equivalent behavior that is socially-appropriate.  For example, if a child resorts to tantrum behaviors when she is told she cannot have a specific item, she may be taught to accept an alternative or find an alternative for herself. Of course, we can only do this up to a certain point—the offering of alternatives.  There comes a point when a ‘no’ means ‘no’ so the tantrum behavior will be left to run its course (i.e., to continue until it ceases).  This is never easy and will take some time for parents/caregivers to get used to, but research has shown that over time and consistent application of an ABA-based behavior management program, the challenging behavior will get better.

In parent training, individuals that provide care for a child may receive customized “curriculum” that best fit their situation.  A typical area covered in parent training is teaching responsible adults pertinent ABA-based concepts to help adults understand the rationale behind interventions that are being used in their child’s ABA-based services.  Another area covered in parent training is teaching adults specific skill acquisition programs and/or behavior management programs that they will implement during family time.  Other areas covered in parent training may be data collection, how to facilitate maintenance, how to facilitate generalization of learned skills to name a few.

There is no “one format” that will fit all children and their families’ needs. The ABA professionals you’re currently working with, with your participation,  will develop an ABA-based treatment package that will best fit your child’s and your family’s needs. For more information regarding this topic, we encourage you to speak with your BCBA or reach out to us at [email protected].

Who Can Benefit From ABA Therapy?

There is a common misconception that the principles of ABA are specific to Autism. This is not the case. The principles and methods of ABA are scientifically backed and can be applied to any individual. With that said, the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Psychological Association consider ABA to be an evidence based practice. Forty years of extensive literature have documented ABA therapy as an effective and successful practice to reduce problem behavior and increase skills for individuals with intellectual disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Children, teenagers, and adults with ASD can benefit from ABA therapy. Especially when started early, ABA therapy can benefit individuals by targeting challenging behaviors, attention skills, play skills, communication, motor, social, and other skills. Individuals with other developmental challenges such as ADHD or intellectual disability can benefit from ABA therapy as well. While early intervention has been demonstrated to lead to more significant treatment outcomes, there is no specific age at which ABA therapy ceases to be helpful.

Additionally, parents and caregivers of individuals living with ASD can also benefit from the principles of ABA. Depending on the needs of your loved one, the use of specified ABA techniques in addition to 1:1 services, may help produce more desirable treatment outcomes. The term “caregiver training” is common in ABA services and refers to the individualized instruction that a BCBA or ABA Supervisor provides to parents and caregivers. This typically involves a combination of individualized ABA techniques and methods parents and caregivers can use outside of 1:1 sessions to facilitate ongoing progress in specified areas.

ABA therapy can help people living with ASD, intellectual disability, and other developmental challenges achieve their goals and live higher quality lives.

What does ABA Therapy look like?

Agencies that provide ABA-based services in the home-setting are more likely to implement ABA services similarly than doing the same exact protocols or procedures. Regardless, an ABA agency under the guidance of a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst follows the same research-based theories to guide treatment that all other acceptable ABA agencies use.

ABA-based services start with a functional behavior assessment (FBA). In a nutshell, a FBA assesses why the behaviors may be happening in the first place. From there, the FBA will also determine the best way to address the difficulties using tactics that have been proven effective over time with a focus on behavioral replacement versus simple elimination of a problem behavior. The FBA will also have recommendations for other relevant skills/behaviors to be taught and parent skills that can be taught in a parent training format to name a few. From there, the intensity of the ABA-based services is determined, again, based on the clinical needs of your child. The completed FBA is then submitted to the funding source for approval.

One-on-one sessions between a behavior technician and your child will start once services are approved. The duration per session and the frequency of these sessions per week/month will all depend on how many hours your child’s ABA services have been approved for—usually, this will be the number recommended in the FBA. The sessions are used to teach identified skills/behaviors via effective teaching procedures. Another aspect of ABA-based services in the home-setting is parent training. Parent training can take many forms depending on what goals have been established during the FBA process. The number of hours dedicated for parent training is also variable and solely depends on the clinical need for it. If a 1:1 session is between a behavior technician and your child, a parent training session or appointment is between you and the case supervisor and with and without your child present, depending on the parent goal(s) identified. Parent training service’s goal is for you to be able to have ample skills/knowledge in order for you to become more effective in addressing behavioral difficulties as they occur outside of scheduled ABA sessions. Depending on the goals established, you may be required to participate in your child’s 1:1 sessions. These participations are a good way for you to practice what you have learned from the case supervisor while at the same time, having the behavior technician available to you to give you feedback as you practice on those new skills.

As mentioned in the beginning, no two ABA agencies will do the same exact thing when it comes to providing ABA services; however, good agencies will always base their practice on the same empirically-proven procedures.

How do I start ABA Therapy?

In most cases, the first item required to start ABA therapy is the individual’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis report. This is typically conducted by a doctor such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a developmental pediatrician. Most ABA therapy agencies and insurance companies will ask for a copy of this diagnosis report during the intake process as it is required to request an ABA assessment authorization from the individual’s medical insurance provider.

The second item required to start ABA therapy is a funding source. In the United States, and in cases where Medi-Cal or Medicare insurances are involved, there is a legal requirement for ABA services to be covered when there is a medical necessity (ASD diagnosis). Medi-Cal and Medicare cover all medically necessary behavioral health treatment services for beneficiaries. This typically includes children diagnosed with ASD. Since Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence based and effective treatment for individuals with ASD, it is considered a covered treatment when medically necessary. In many cases, private insurance will also cover ABA services when medically necessary, however in these cases, it is best to speak directly with your medical insurance provider to determine the specifics of the coverage and to ensure that ABA is in fact, a covered benefit. Additionally, some families opt to pay for ABA services out-of-pocket.

The next step to starting ABA therapy is to contact an ABA provider whom you are interested in working with. Depending on your geographic location, ABA agencies exist in many cities across the United States. Your insurance carrier, local support groups, and even a thorough online search can help you find reputable and properly credentialed ABA agencies near you. Our organization, LeafWing Center, is based in southern California and is recognized for aiding people with ASD achieve their goals with the research based on applied behavior analysis.

Once you have identified the ABA provider with whom you wish to work, they should help you facilitate the next steps. These will include facilitating paperwork and authorizations with your funding source. Once the assessment process begins, a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or qualified Program Supervisor should get in contact with you to arrange times in which interviews with parents/caregivers and observations of your loved one can be conducted. This will help in the process of gathering important clinical information so that with your collaboration, the most effective treatment plans and goals can be established for your loved one. This process is referred to as the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and is elaborated on in different blog posts on our website. With regard as to what can be expected once ABA therapy begins, please read our blog post titled: When You Start an ABA program, What Should You Reasonably Expect from Your Service Provider?

What should you do IN RESPONSE to your child engaging in challenging behavior?

Remember those four reasons why people may engage in challenging behaviors discussed in the previous post?  People may want attention from other people, may want something, may want to get out of something, or may enjoy how the behavior feels.  If you haven’t already read it, we suggest reading the prior post so the information below is as useful as possible.

This post will focus on reactive strategies, based on the reason your child is engaging in the particular challenging behavior.  In other words, what should you do in response to your child engaging in the behavior?  This is probably the most stressful for parents as they may wonder if what they are doing is right.  They may wonder if they are hindering or helping their child.  Hopefully we can provide some guidance.

If your child engages in a particular challenging behavior to get something that he/she wants, it is important for him to learn that his behaviors do not lead to getting what he/she wants.  You should avoid giving them what they want when engaging in the problem behavior, and even after the behavior ends.  The child should only be allowed to get what they want if he engages in a more appropriate behavior, which we will discuss in a future post. This can be difficult for parents as giving the child what they want quiets them down and relieves much of the stress in the home or community setting.  The problem is that your child will learn this connection and continue to engage in this behavior in the future when they want to same thing. It will become a repeated cycle.

If your child engages in a particular challenging behavior to get out of something, such as homework or eating dinner, it is important to not allow him to get out of the situation until they engage in a more appropriate behavior.  If the child hits and screams while doing homework, it is important to follow through, require them to complete a few more problems without hitting and screaming, and then they can leave.  More appropriate behaviors to get out of doing things they don’t want to do will be discussed in future posts.

If your child engages in a particular challenging behavior to get attention, you should avoid providing attention to them until the behavior is not occurring or he engages in a more appropriate behavior to get your attention.  Providing attention only teaches them that this bad behavior leads to what they want.  This connection needs to be disconnected and the child needs to be taught more appropriate ways to get attention.

Last, if your child engages in some challenging behavior because it feels good, such as head banging, it is important to block this behavior so that this particular behavior does not provide the sensory satisfaction that your child is receiving (in addition to preventing them from doing harm to themselves).  You can physically block the behavior or there are many devices created for this purpose.

Stay tuned for a future post providing suggestions for what to teach your child to do instead of engaging in the bad behaviors they currently know will get them what they want.  Just reacting how we have described above will not teach new, appropriate ways to get what they want.  Teaching a new, more appropriate behavior is the key to decreasing challenging behaviors.

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Parenting Survival Skills

Do you ever feel like your child or children take all of your energy and you therefore have no energy to give to your spouse, partner, or friends?  This is very normal although so important to pay attention to, be mindful of, and work at.  Humans are social beings and we need that support network to function in our daily lives.  Without it, we will get worn down and we will eventually see turmoil in our relationships, work, and ways of parenting.  Below are some relationship recommendations that are so important when raising children, more importantly, children with autism.

First, ensure that you have a close adult companion who you can confide in.  If you have a spouse or partner, it will most likely be them.  If you do not have a spouse or a partner, identify a close friend who you can have real, open conversations with and who can call on when in times of need.  It’s important to let someone know what you are going through and how you feel.  Someone who just listens can be a great source of strength.

Second, have high levels of communication with your partner about your parenting strategies, away from your child.  It is so important to have consistent parenting styles and strategies.  Disagreeing during an episode with your child will only increase the stress and make matters worse.  The communication needs to happen when you are alone with each other and you can come to resolutions.  This will help in times when one parent needs a break and the other parent can step right in and be consistent with the strategies that the first parent was just using.  Just as a marriage builds a relationship, a child builds a team.

Ask for help, especially at first. Don’t hesitate to use whatever support is available for you. Your family and friends are there to help, but may not know how.  Maybe you can just have someone take the kids out for an afternoon? Or cook dinner for your family one night.

If you can, allow yourself to take a break, take some time away.  It can be as simple as taking a walk or even going to see a movie, going shopping or visiting a friend can make a world of a difference. Schedule fun adult time on a regular basis, away from your child, with your partner or close friends.  This is so important!  Parenting is difficult and brings many challenges to relationships.  It is important to spend time together, focusing on the two of you and not worrying about your child in the next room.

Lastly, don’t forget to rest.  If you are getting regular sleep, you will be better prepared to make good decisions, be more patient with your child and deal with the stress in your life.

Remember that if you want to take the best possible care of your child, you must first take the best possible care of yourself. Relax, have fun, and focus on you!

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How To Make Long Car Rides More Manageable With Children With Autism – old

Taking a long car ride anytime soon?  It’s time to start planning how to keep your child busy and how to make the long drive as enjoyable as it can be.  Some children with autism may do really well on car rides as it provides them with time for them to do enjoyable things such as looking out the window and watching the trees and other cars go by.  Some may enjoy listening to the music in the car, or even sleeping throughout the trip!  Other children may not do so well and parents may run into troubles such as crying, screaming, kicking seats, and even trying to get out of seat belts.  Regardless of how easy or how difficult your car rides are, some of the below strategies may assist with make the ride a bit more enjoyable.

First, remember to switch on the child lock so that the rear door cannot be opened from the inside. If your child is someone who tries to get out of the seat belt, then you may consider getting covers or locks for the buckles in the backseat. Also, make sure that the child’s car seat is installed correctly.  You can also make the car seat more comfortable for the long car ride by adding more padding under the seat cover.

Providing visuals can be another great strategy in making long road trips more manageable.  Use schedules, maps and even photo albums to help understand where you are going and whom you will see. Any type of visual support will reduce anxiety and increase interest.

Your child may need to take some regular breaks and be able to get out of the car to stretch or run around.  Look for signs that your child may be anxious, such body language, and take pit stops as needed.

Planning out the mileage of the trip and divide that mileage up into small chunks can be very helpful. If you are driving 300 miles, break this up into 10 chunks of 30 miles (or even 20 chunks of 5 miles, depending on how often your child may need positive rewards for good behavior).  Every 30 miles that your child behaves well (define this for your child such as sitting nicely, no screaming, and no kicking) he or she is allowed to pull a prize out of a prize bag that you have prepared ahead of time with treats, small toys, and special items that your child will enjoy.  Children with autism often dislike uncertainty and that uncertainty often creates overwhelm and behavior problems.  To avoid this, draw out squares on a piece of paper so he knows how many squares are left until you arrive at your destination.  Possibly make the half way point a very large prize, if he or she earns it.

Prepare a snack bag as well as a toy bag ahead of time so you have food when your child is hungry and toys when your child is bored.  Toys such as drawing boards, electronics (iPad or similar device) on which the child can play games or watch movies, travel games such as perfection, and books may work well to keep your child occupied.

The theme is to plan ahead so you and your family can be prepared for the long trek ahead.

Have fun and Bon Voyage!

What Kinds Of Behavior Are Behavior Analysts Interested In

Behavior analysts are interested in behaviors which are observable and measurable. Voluntary behavior, or what is known as Operant Behavior, is of particular interest to behavior analysts. This is the kind of behavior that we are primarily concerned with when it comes to helping children with autism as it is the type of behavior that can be influenced or learned as a consequence of environmental events. We can manipulate a person’s learning of operant or voluntary behaviors by manipulating environmental events. For example, parents often reward their children for cleaning up their room (an attempt to reinforce the behavior). Cleaning a room is a voluntary behavior and by rewarding such voluntary behavior, the parent has set up the environment to increase the likelihood that their child will clean up the room again to get rewarded again. For the purposes of this post, we will use the terms reward and reinforce interchangeably, though reinforce is the correct term.

The second type of behavior is involuntary behavior, or a reflex. Technically, it is referred to as a Respondent Behavior (as opposed to an operant behavior). Reflexes are automatic behaviors that are physiological and not usually influenced by consequences. You as a person have little or no control in the behavior occurring. This includes behaviors such as a sneeze, becoming startled when something jumps out at you, or blinking. Since reflexive behavior is automatic and cannot be changed by environmental events or consequences, this type of behavior is rarely the focus of an ABA program.

In general, behavior analyst have an interest in reducing maladaptive, undesirable, challenging behaviors while increasing desirable replacement behaviors. Replacement behaviors are alternative behaviors we would like to teach individuals to take the place of the challenging behaviors. These behaviors should serve the same purpose (function) of the challenging behavior, be socially appropriate, and easier to engage in than the challenging behavior.

Some Components Of A Good ABA Program For Children With Autism

An effective ABA program should have the following components:

A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who designs and supervises the ABA program. A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) is a person who has met the educational and professional training requirements established by the Behavior Analysis Certification Board (BACB). Many autism special interest groups also recommend that the supervising BCBA have experience working in the field.

A second common characteristic of an effective ABA program is a detailed and thorough assessment of the learner’s behavioral and clinical needs. Before an ABA treatment program begins, it is imperative to assess the clinical needs of a child to formulate treatment goals and a highly individualized curriculum. A Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) typically includes direct observation of the client in their natural environments, interviews with parents and caregivers, record review, questionnaires, among other methods. In fact, assessment should not only occur before the onset of treatment but should be an ongoing process throughout treatment. This helps ensure that a child’s goals will remain individualized, and relevant to his or her needs at any given time.

From this detailed assessment comes the next common characteristic of an effective ABA program: meaningful and objectively defined skill development and behavioral goals. Goals in ABA typically fall under two general categories: Skill-development goals and behavioral goals.

  1. Skill-development goals are designed to address a child’s skill deficits and are based on their current needs, their developmental age, and their chronological age. A child’s developmental age is the age that represents their current abilities and adaptive levels, whether that be a year behind or two years behind their chronological age. Their chronological age is their actual age in years since they were born. Sometimes it is appropriate to teach a child skills that will match their developmental age. For example, when learning to speak, children will speak individual words before forming sentences. So, when teaching a child to speak, you begin at their developmental age for language and move forward from there. Other times, it makes more sense to teach a child skills according to their chronological age, as is the case much of the time when teaching toy play. You a teach a child to play with the same kinds of toys their friends play with so you can facilitate their friendships when they are around other children. Skill development goals should be highly individualized, socially valid, and address a child’s skill deficits across relevant domains (motor, academic, language, executive, play, adaptive, etc.) This is what is meant by meaningful goals, goals that are socially significant.
  2. Behavioral goals typically include reducing challenging, undesirable behaviors while simultaneously teaching desirable replacement behaviors. Identification of the function or “purpose” of the challenging behavior is an imperative first step in this process. An effective assessment will identify the function or functions of the challenging behavior(s). For example, after observation and data analysis, a BCBA may hypothesize that the function of a child’s tantrum behavior is “escape”. In other words, the hypothesis is that the child is engaging in tantrum behavior to escape or avoid a task, demand, or activity. From this point, a behavior intervention plan will be established to reduce the tantrum behavior and increase appropriate replacement behaviors such as asking for a break or requesting help. Replacement behaviors are alternative behaviors to the challenging behavior that should be functionally equivalent (serve the same purpose as the challenging behavior), socially appropriate, and easier to engage in. An effective behavior intervention plan should include proactive (before the challenging behavior occurs) and reactive (after the challenging behavior occurs) strategies.

Another part of goal setting in an ABA program is choosing objective goals. Objectively defined goals are important as it is a way of measuring an individual’s success and the appropriateness of how we are teaching an individual. When goals of the treatment program are defined in observable and quantifiable terms, a treatment program can make sure that a child is making progress towards the end goal. However, if the goal is vague, such as “teach social skills” rather than, “Billy will learn to initiate ball play games with his friends at school during recess time with 90% accuracy over a period of 4 consecutive weeks” it is difficult, or rather impossible to see if a child is making any progress. Therefore, goals have to be objective, observable, and quantifiable.

Measurement of the established goals is the next characteristic of an effective ABA program. Data collection and frequent review of progress are critical to effective ABA programs. When information on a child’s progress is collected while they are learning the task, their progress can be monitored to see if their learning rates are increasing, if their learning a new skill in an appropriate amount of time, or if progress is slow and the goal needs to be redefined or teaching techniques have to be altered. Without data collection, sound clinical decisions cannot be made.

Also, effective ABA programs will include numerous ABA techniques and principles into teaching a child to learn. ABA is more than just a discrete trial.

Further, an effective ABA program will promote independence across all areas of a child’s functioning. While initially a child may need help learning a new skill, once that skill is learned or ‘mastered’ a child will be expected to engage in that task all by themselves, or independently. The more independent a child becomes, the more they can navigate their surroundings without help.

The next two characteristics of an effective ABA program are that the program provides many learning opportunities for the child and that the intervention is consistent. When talking about learning opportunities it’s important to note that while a child is in an ABA therapy session, their mere presence alone is not enough to make sure that learning is occurring. It is up to the teacher to ensure that the child is absorbing the information provided and that the session is filled with such learning opportunities: in other words, ensure that the teaching session is productive. The goal is to get the most output or maximum learning in every session and to further the skill from where it was in the last session to a step closer in independence in the current session.

Consistency refers not only to  the number of treatment hours, but also to the notion that all team members are teaching a child using the same principles and techniques, and are working on the goals and instructions that were indicated to be effective when the assessment was undertaken or as directed by the leader of the team. So even though different people may work with a child across the span of a week, the child’s teaching will mimic that as if only one teacher was present the entire time.  For example, if teacher one is teaching a child the first step of brushing their teeth, which is to put the toothbrush in their mouth, teacher number two will continue where teacher number one finished, and teacher number three will continue where teacher number two left off.  This scenario actually shows one of the reasons why data collection is imperative. If the teachers did not take data on a child’s progress during their session, then the next teacher scheduled to work with a child would not be informed about what step to pick up from and/or which teaching techniques to use.

Another component of a good ABA program is the use of positive reinforcement.  While we will discuss positive reinforcement in more detail later in sessions, positive reinforcement basically means providing a reward for a behavior to increase the chances that the behavior will occur again. It is important that a child be in a positive learning environment, so that they are praised for their accomplishments and thus motivated to keep on learning. Children should be having fun during their sessions even though a lot is expected of them. Therefore, the use of positive reinforcement is essential.

Generalization is also a key component of an effective ABA program. Generalization refers to the concept that a child will demonstrate what they have learned in the ABA session outside of the ABA session; what they have learned to demonstrate with their ABA teacher with other people in their environment; and what they have learned to do using simple and concise language, to more complex language. Without generalization a child may only be
able to demonstrate a skill with a specific person, at a specific place, at a specific time. This is sometimes seen when a parent says, “oh he does it for me,” meaning that when a teacher asks a child to do something specific, say to clap, the child does not clap.  However, when the parent asks their child to ‘clap’ the child claps. This does not mean that a child does not know how to clap, it simply means that the child has not generalized clapping from his parents to another person. Generally speaking, it is more important for a child to do one thing with anyone and everyone asked, then a hundred things with only one person at one time and in one place.

Given this concept of generalization, good ABA programs will include parent training as a key part to the treatment program. Parents are key members of the ABA program and in a child’s life, they know their child best. As parents spend most waking hours with their child, it is important that they be educated and trained in continuing where the ABA session ended. An ABA therapy program is simply much more than the number of hours a professional agency works with a child – it should involve all environments in a child’s life. The principles of ABA should be incorporated into the child rearing practices in the families implementing this program so that there is consistency in a child’s environment and that as many learning opportunities during waking hours that can be captured, are in fact captured. That does not mean to say that parents become mini teachers outside of therapy and stop being parents, but it does mean that parents and other significant caregivers are an integral part of the treatment team.

Last but not least, an effective ABA program will hold regular meetings between all team members and the family to update a child’s curricula, targets, and goals, and will continually and consistently collaborate with other professionals working with a child in other domains.  This may include a child’s school teacher, speech therapist, medical doctor, psychiatrist, or anyone who has a say in helping a child. It is important that all members of a child’s team collaborate so that they are working together rather than unknowingly working in opposition to one another. And this is especially true when it comes to the area or domain of challenging behaviors. It is imperative for the welfare of a child that all persons interacting with a child are especially consistent in how they react when a child is engaging in an inappropriate behavior. So, by having consistent collaboration with other professionals on a child’s team, such consistency can be maintained.

Making Bedtime And Sleep An Easier Routine For Children With Autism and PDD

Bedtime can be one of those nightly events which many parents love or hate, or both!  It means that peace and quiet is soon ahead, but it also can mean that a huge struggle is about to proceed.  Many children with autism have difficulties either transitioning to bed, falling asleep, or even staying asleep all night long.  As all of these difficulties can increase the stress and tension in the home, below are some strategies to help reduce this potential stress. Keep in mind that no single suggestion will for all children and getting the right amount of sleep will allow your child to perform better academically, encourage the development of motor skills, and allow them to maintain a better mindset.  Not to mention, it’ll help mom and dad get a fuller night of rest, too!

Probably the most important strategy is to create a consistent nightly routine around the same time each night.  A routine helps signal the body that it’s time for bed and it can be soothing if there’s a lot of stimuli around. The routine can consist of a bath/shower, getting dressed for bed, playing a board game with the family, and/or reading a few books to quiet down.   Whatever the routine, keep it consistent so the child learns what to expect each night.

To enhance your child’s understanding of the nightly routine, you may consider using a visual schedule so they understand what happens in the evenings.  Take pictures of all events (e.g., dinner time at the table, bath time, reading books, and the child in bed), laminate the pictures and a piece of construction paper, and Velcro each picture either horizontally or vertically on the paper.  When each event is completed, you can guide your child to take off the picture and point to the next event.

If your child is one that seems wound up, even when he is physically in bed, make sure that the activities in the nightly routine are calmer in nature.  Choose books over exciting and loud family games.  Dim the lights when reading books. Play soothing instrumental music (baby lullaby bedtime music works well!) throughout the bedtime routine.  Focus on making sure the environment is quiet and calm.

If your child has a hard time falling asleep, or wakes up in the middle of the night, first consider if she takes naps during the day.  You may want to reduce these naps so your child is more tired at night time.  If your child wakes up in the middle of the night, be sure to keep the sleeping environment calm and do not allow him or her to play games or leave his or her room.  This may take many sleepless nights by the parents but it will pay off in the end.

Parents, remember, the time you invest in putting a sleep routine now will save you many, many hours in the long run and you won’t have to do it forever.  Once the patterns are established, you will be able to reclaim a large part of your evening for yourselves.