Using Time Warnings To Help Students With Autism

How do time warnings help students with autism? Transitions occur for everyone throughout the day whether that is from one task to another one or from one environment to another. One of the most difficult parts of the day for a student with autism is transitioning. This can be difficult because students may be engaging in an activity that they enjoy and they do not want it to end or they don’t know what is coming next and that causes fear. Students with autism thrive off of the need to have predictability in their daily lives. Teaching time warnings to students with autism can aid in them learning to be flexible and be prepared for the coming change in activity. This can be achieved by attaining these four things:

  • Understanding what time warnings are
  • How to use time warnings to achieve desired results
  • Coupling auditory reminders with time warnings
  • Coupling visual cues with time warnings
Using time warnings to help students with autism

Is it time? Do I need to get ready to go to my next class?

What are time warnings?

Time warnings are a frame of reference for students with autism to process how much time is left in an activity. Time warnings are actual timers or time limits being set to aid students with autism in transitioning either from activity to activity, environment to environment, or activity to reward. Without these time warnings, students with autism can be very distraught when it’s time to move and this can cause undesired behavior to occur. Time warnings can be used in addition to and with visual schedules as well as star charts. Time limits can be listed next to the item on visual schedules so that students with autism can set their own timer for the activity.

Using time warnings to help students with autism

How to use time warnings with students with autism

Just like with anything else using time warnings and achieving the desired result is going to take time and practice. It cannot happen overnight. An easy way to make the process go smoothly is to incorporate the student into setting the time. Buying a big timer or clock for school or at home can make it so the student can set the required time themselves. This way they are fully aware that a transition is coming. The more time a student has to anticipate a change in the schedule the better prepared they are to make the change. When a student with autism has to abruptly stop their current activity and proceed to something new, it can be upsetting for them as they have not had enough time to process that the activity will be coming to end.

Coupling auditory reminders with time warnings to help students with autism

Although a physical timer that goes off when finished is a great auditory cue to students with autism, other auditory reminders can be used with time warnings to further aid in transitions. Some examples include:

  • a bell
  • auditory time left reminder
  • verbalizing a natural end to a task to lead to a reward’

A bell or other sound such as a chime can be used as an auditory signal to students with autism that a task or activity is coming to an end and it is time to transition to the next task or activity. This sound can also help with sensory input for a child with autism without being loud or too overwhelming. Teachers can also provide auditory time left reminders to students. A timer may be counting down but sometimes if a student is very engaged in the activity, they could forget the visual cue. Therefore, a teacher giving a ‘five minutes left or two minutes’ oral reminder can serve as a marker for students that time is almost up. Giving multiple time-left reminders works best as a constant way to provide time reference to students with autism. Oftentimes activities have a natural end such as completing a puzzle, chart, game, or card stack. Letting students verbally know that there are just a few more pieces, cards, and turns left and that something desirable is upcoming can help with the transition. For example, saying ‘two more puzzle pieces left then it’s time for recess’ signals to the student that they have almost completed their task.

Visual Schedule

Coupling visual cues with time warnings to help students with autism

Many students with autism have an if/then chart or a first/next chart. These can be used as great visual cues to go along with time warnings. Students know that they will complete one task first and then move to another task, reward, or change their environment. As many students with autism learn and thrive off of visuals, this can be a great way to show time warnings. The visual cue could also come naturally with the task. For example, if a student is working through a stack of cards, as the card stack diminishes that is a visual cue that the task is coming to an end. As previously stated, displaying the timer for a task can be a visual reminder to the student as their time warning. They can see the timer going down and know that a transition will occur when the timer has been completed. It can also be helpful to sign the word finished at the end of a task as another visual reminder to students especially if the student is sensitive to auditory reminders.

Main key points to autism and time warnings

Time Warnings can be a great way to help a student with autism get accustomed to change. Introducing these time limits can take time but can result in making a smoother day for both the student and the teacher. These time warnings allow for the student to take on the responsibility of preparing for the transition. Coupling with visual and auditory cues as well as a lot so practice can produce the desired result for everyone involved.

Leafwing Center is a good resource and starting point when trying to incorporate time warnings at home and at school. Let the ABA therapist build a starting point of how to use time warnings for your child with autism. Call us today!

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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?

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