Advocating for Your Family and Good, Contemporary ABA With Arfa Alam

Arfa Alam is a senior manager at the Partnership for Public Service, a non-profit that envisions a dynamic and innovative federal government that effectively serves our diverse nation. Prior to joining the Partnership, Arfa performed labor human rights and social responsibility work in more than 40 countries in both the public and private sectors. Arfa joins us to share her experience and deep conviction for the appropriate care, and rights for all. She is the proud mother, wife, and sister of disabled and differently-abled individuals, including her two autistic sons, her husband who lives with early onset Parkinson’s disease, and her twin sister, who is deaf and was the first person in life to teach her about differences and empathy. 

As she shares, “As a first-generation American, it is particularly important to me to bring awareness, acceptance, and inclusion to our communities for individuals with disabilities and neurodivergences.” Arfa’s passion for public service stems from her experience as a first-first-generation Muslim-American with special needs family members. We are grateful for the opportunity to have this discussion with Arfa and we look forward to having her with us again soon.

For more information:

https://www.bestbuddies.org/

https://marybarbera.com/

All autism talk (allautismtalk.com) is sponsored by LEARN Behavioral (learnbehavioral.com).

Self-Care and Sensory Needs for Neurodivergent Individuals

Dr. Megan Anna Neff, a Neurodivergent Psychologist joins us to discuss discovering her own autism in the aftermath of her child’s diagnosis and how that has inspired her passion to support the neurodivergent community. Dr. Neff describes the experience of her autism revelation in this way, “For the first time in my life, my body made sense, my experience of self made sense, and it was a powerful moment of liberation.” We also delve into helpful strategies about sensory sensitivity and self-care that are helpful for adults and parents of children with autism.

For more information:

neurodivergentinsights.com

@neurodivergent_insights on Instagram

All Autism Talk (https://www.allautismtalk.com/) is sponsored by LEARN Behavioral (https://learnbehavioral.com).

How ABA Therapy Helped Our Children Succeed: Insights from Two BCBA Moms


In this informative video, two Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) moms, Heather and Trisha, share their personal experiences with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy and how it has helped their children succeed. For more information about our ABA Therapy services, visit: https://lrnbvr.com/yt-aba-moms

Back to School: Homework Tips

Heading back to school can bring a number of challenges for our kids, especially those with autism. Navigating new environments, teachers, therapists, and peers can each be a bit scary but full of opportunity.

One very common request we get is about supporting autistic kids with their homework. How do you get your child to do his or her homework? There are many strategies to help keep your child on task; all of them tried and true. Here are some to consider:

Make It Easier by Sticking to a Schedule

Set a schedule and stick to it. Like any other priority, if homework always occurs at the same time, and the routine becomes ingrained, your child will eventually accept the routine. This is true for teeth brushing, baths, and all of the chores children prefer to avoid. Initially, it is hard to hold the line on the schedule, but it sure pays off later.

Reinforce the Message That Homework Is Important

Set the stage and set the tone. Show your child that homework time is important and respected. Give them a special place to sit. Ask siblings to be quiet or leave the area during homework time. Check in frequently to see how they are doing and intersperse praise throughout homework tasks. Show them that you care and are invested in their homework efforts, and help them feel successful and competent.

Motivate with Kindness

Be firm but encouraging. Everyone tends to push back when they are nagged. Try to avoid nagging when you are frustrated by your child’s efforts. By observing your own behavior, you can better support theirs. You can set expectations for what the homework routine looks like, but make sure to be encouraging and motivating, too. Remind your child what you believe their strengths are and why you are proud of what they are learning.

Positive Reinforcement is Powerful

Use rewards. It is OK to reward your child for completing their homework. They are doing something difficult every day. Consider giving a reward for being successful at participating in homework time (not getting everything correct). Eventually, as homework time becomes easier, you can shift rewards to more academic goals. It does not have to be an ice cream sundae. Find out what they might like to do with you after they are done. This can be an opportunity to consider setting aside quality time that you will enjoy.

Every Opportunity for Choice Increases Compliance

Giving choices has been proven to increase motivation. What choices can they have during homework time? It is important for you to keep the time and the expectations the same. But, can they choose where to sit? Can they choose what materials to write with or write on? Can they choose what task to begin with? Also, consider letting them choose their reward as well. Give them at least three options. Empowering them in this way can be very powerful. The more control they have over the task the more motivated they will be.

Interested in more back-to-school tips? Check out our blogs, “Five Steps to Help Your Child with Autism Make Friends,” “This School Year, Build a Trusting Relationship with Your Child’s Teacher,” and “Tips for Reducing Back to School Anxiety.”


 

The Autism Journey: Accepting vs. Resisting A Diagnosis

BY: NICOLE ZAHIRY, M.A., BCBA
BEHAVIOR ANALYST SPECIALIST, AUTISM SPECTRUM THERAPIES

 According to Autism Speaks, in 2021, 1 in 44 children in the United States were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with boys being four times more likely to receive a diagnosis than girls. A diagnosis, of any kind, means something different from family to family and is often colored by their culture, belief system, generational influences, and socio-economic factors.

For some, a diagnosis provides validation—there is a name for the group of symptoms parents, friends or family members may have observe (or comment on)—things like: a language delay, “quirks” in social skills, atypical behaviors, or excessive tantrums. The diagnosis can be affirming; for moms, in particular, there may be a sense that their “gut” was right. It may be a sigh of relief that their intuition has been validated in the form of a recognizable diagnosis — something more than just an instinct felt deeply in some intangible way. For others, a diagnosis can be a devastating surprise — one that catches unsuspecting parents off-guard and leaves them feeling overwhelmed and underprepared.

Whether a parent has suspected something all along or is taken aback by a diagnosis, all families grapple with making sense of what it all means. The hard part, for many families, is being patient, hopeful, and resolute when the questions far outnumber the answers.

After a Diagnosis

Arguably, one of the hardest parts of the journey for parents of children with ASD, is the beginning. The unknowns are pervasive. The information “out there” is wild. Google is daunting (and often alarmist), and questions lead to more questions even before the diagnosis has been fully digested. Parents may begin asking themselves and others: What is ASD? What does it mean? Will my child learn to communicate? Will his/her behavior ever improve? What now? What do I do? What treatments are available? Why is this happening?

One truth about ASD is that autism is different for each autistic individual. As autistic professor and advocate Dr. Stephen Shore says, “If you’ve seen one person with autism, you’ve seen one person with autism.” And, it’s true. Autism looks, sounds, feels, and behaves differently for each autistic child.

A neighbor, friend, or family member’s autistic child, his/her skills and strengths, areas of need, where and how much he/she is impacted by the diagnosis, will all vary. Every child is unique. Every autistic child is too. Comparing one autistic child against the skills of another can be, at best, misguided and, at worst, detrimental. The best (albeit, the only) way to answer some of those nagging questions is to submit to the journey of autism and start down its road one step at a time, minute to minute, hour by hour, day by day.

The Journey of Autism: Resistance and Grief

There’s no doubt that undertaking something new can feel overwhelming. After all, autism is a journey most parents are ill-prepared to begin and may resist undertaking altogether. Beginning a journey with few answers, little information, and no preparation makes even the boldest and bravest among us uncertain. But, as the old adage goes, “A journey well begun, is half done.” For parents, beginning the autism journey on the right foot often means acknowledging resistance, grief, and other feelings about the diagnosis before heading down the road.

Resistance, in the beginning, often shows-up in unhelpful ways and can breed doubt or distrust and delay access to important early interventions. It often comes from a place of grief, guilt, or anger:  Could the doctor be wrong? Did I cause this? Maybe my child will “outgrow” it? Maybe my child is just “slow”? It can be difficult to side-step resistance and forge ahead when many questions remain unanswered. But, the autism journey is not linear—emotions, feelings, and reactions will not be either.

Later on, resistance can become an important component of advocacy. Resistance may prompt parents to speak-up/stand-up, and communicate to care providers if/when assessment, placement, or goals do not align with their (or their child’s) objectives for treatment. Resistance gives parents a new voice; it can lead to useful insights, self-reflection, and those wonderful “lightbulb” moments that have the power to remove roadblocks and push treatment forward.

Processing grief is sometimes an uncomfortable but important additional step for parents new to the journey. All the unknowns can be heavy; grieving the weight of those worries is important. It is OK to be sad. It is OK to feel loss. It is OK to shoulder that grief with a partner, a trusted friend, a therapist, or a family member. It is also OK if parents don’t feel these things, either.

But for those that do, it is critical to recognize that grief or sadness will eventually make way for other emotions and lend themselves to a steadfast resiliency that treatment, therapy, and advocacy often require.

It’s important to acknowledge that grief can (and often does) exist alongside hope, love, and other complicated feelings—sometimes competing for attention. Accepting a diagnosis is not the absence of grief, but rather, an acceptance of it. It is an acknowledgement that things will look different because of autism but also an understanding that different is not less. Different is important and valuable. Differences are necessary. Differences are an inherent component to being alive, to living, to being human.

The Road to Acceptance and Action

Accepting autism means taking those reluctant first steps.

Those steps can be taken with uncertainty, with fear, with resistance or grief, with hope, with love, with the whole gamut of emotions along for the ride. Acceptance involves understanding autism as more than a label but a gateway to support and community; an opportunity to educate siblings, family, and community members about autism, inclusion, and neurodiversity.

It can be a call to action — personally, within the walls of a home, and beyond. Several important organizations at the forefront of autism and autism research were started by parents. Parents looking for support, digging for answers, researching effective treatment for their children. Parents who didn’t expect autism. Parents who may have grieved the diagnosis. Parents who fought hard for their child, for change, for growth, for acceptance and advancement.

A diagnosis also allows parents to access effective therapies via private insurance and academic supports from their local school district. Therapy that opens doors, strengthens skills, and decreases the impact maladaptive behaviors like aggression or tantrums may have on an autistic child’s quality of life.

Acceptance fuels action. Action brings answers.

Autistic children will have different needs than neurotypical children. There will be different obstacles to overcome and different battles to be fought. But, in many ways, the journey will be the same. Life will ebb and flow and push and pull parents in a thousand different ways—some of which will not be easy to understand. Questions will always come before there are answers. And, there will always be questions that don’t have answers. There will be ups and downs. There will be periods of high highs and low lows.

But, there will be joy. There will be laughter. There will be love.

Nicole Zahiry, M.A., BCBA, is a behavior analyst specialist in Orange County, California. She has been active in the field of ABA for nearly 20 years. She is also a mother to three children, one of whom was dual diagnosed with ASD and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) at 5 years old. Nicole is a fierce advocate for neurodivergent inclusion and considers herself an ally of the disabled community.

Addressing Aggressive Behaviors in Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Benefits of ABA in Dual Environments

When a child is diagnosed with autism, parents become charged with finding quality treatment – and the evidence-based recommendation is to seek out Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).  Choosing the specific ABA program that is right for a child can feel daunting, especially if ABA is new territory for a family.  In this article, we look at the benefits of a program incorporating both in-home and center-based programs.

Many proponents of ABA like to state, “ABA can be done anywhere.” It is true – but we shouldn’t overlook another important point: the environment itself is a critical component of therapy.  Controlling the environment to some degree is frequently part of the teaching process.  Selecting a teaching environment is a decision that impacts the rest of the teaching strategy and so also has an effect on progress.

Common teaching environments for young children with autism include center-based ABA therapy, private or public school, a childcare environment, and home programs.   While there is not enough research to prescribe a particular environment or model generally for children with autism, many parents and professionals are finding that a multi-site model of a controlled environment (such as a center-based program) and a natural environment (home, childcare, school) provides the best of both worlds.

Benefit #1 – Social skills can be targeted consistently and with children in the child’s community.

It is necessary for peers to be available regularly for consistent teaching; in this respect, a clinic setting is ideal for having regular access to other children to practice target skills.  Ultimately, the goal is for the child to interact with the other children in their community, their siblings, classmates, and neighbors.  Having a regular home component allows the therapist to work on target skills with the people who will be important in their normal daily life, even if these opportunities aren’t as regular as those in a clinic setting.

Benefit #2 – Controlled Environment vs. Natural Environment: Best of both worlds

A multi-site model allows technicians to address the most challenging skills in a distraction-free environment, but still have access to the home or school setting, with all of its naturally-occurring distractions, to make sure that those learned skills are being put to use.

Benefit #3 – Consistency of the Behavior Plan

When a challenging behavior is treated differently across settings, it is more likely to persist; this set-up can even make the behavior worse in the long-run.  The best treatment involves the same plan being followed across the day.  Having professionals use a consistent plan in both the home and center environments also supports family members to do the same.

Benefit #4 – Assessment of Generalization

All programs must address the issue of generalization, but a multi-site model is tailor-made for this.  Generalization can be specifically addressed right from the beginning, either by teaching in both environments, or by teaching in one place and testing generalization in the other.

Benefit #5 – Ease of Group Work Vs. Ease of Parent Training – You Get Both!

One of the most important aspects of the teaching environment is the people present.  In a center-based program, other children are close at hand for social interactions, peer modeling, and working on group instruction, so these parts of therapy can happen regularly.  When ABA sessions are at home, it can be more convenient for parents to make themselves available for training.  In a multi-site model, the child benefits from both of these types of teaching opportunities.

Whichever provider a family selects, they should be sure to work closely with their team to personalize the child’s program to best meet their needs and the goals for their family.

– Richie Ploesch, M.A., BCBA & Katherine Johnson, BCBA

A New Year to Make Progress 2019

We are happy to re-share this blog from a previous year that received so much wonderful feedback. We wish everyone a year of great moments, memories and progress.

Autism is in the news, social media, and print more than ever. The increasing awareness is great. The influx of research and funding options is even better! The heartwarming stories and success stories are inspiring. Still, misinformation and slanted headlines are annoyingly abound. Such is this complicated, passionate and ultimately very unique autism community. We are glad to be a part of it, and do our best to honor and respect the many contributing voices. As a community, we are making progress and continue to be optimistic that together, we can make great strides. We have no doubt that the most important person to each and every parent, day-in and day-out, is your child with autism.

So what will this year’s 365 days mean for you? We suggest this simple, but powerful idea: progress. When you’re past the notion that there may be a quick fix and come to terms that the pursuit of a cure won’t help you with today’s challenges, progress is the name of the game. Forget quantum leaps; each milestone met will offer its own reward. Know there will be set backs and rough patches, and keep moving forward.

BE PRESENT: There are many amazing therapists, doctors and teachers in the world who have taught so much about development and parenting. However, keep in mind that you are the one who is with your child every day. For real progress to take place, you gotta be in the game. Don’t forget to take time to just BE with your child and appreciate all the beautiful, unique ways they express themselves.

BE CONSISTENT: What is the 12 step motto…”the more you work it, the more it works”? Working consistently with your child’s team to implement strategies, even when it’s hard or inconvenient, propels the process.

BE A FRIEND/SPOUSE/PERSON: You can’t focus on autism 24 hours a day. Remember to make time for yourself, friends and family. When you do, life just has more balance and you’ll likely have more stamina for the work ahead.

BE GRATEFUL: Count your blessings, celebrate the wins and enjoy every single bit of progress. This is what makes it all worth it. No one else will feel joy quite the way you will. It’s awesome.

This year, we will continue to be moved, enlightened and sometimes annoyed by it all. Stick to a plan that works for you and your family, and know that come December 31, 2019, you’ll be able to look at another year passed – and call it good.

For great news and information, visit our blog, All Autism Videos and All Autism Talk.

Successful Toilet Training for Kids with Autism

Potty training, toilet training, toileting… whichever term you use, tackling these skills can be a big deal for kids and their parents. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are often delayed at the age of successful toilet training, even when compared to children with other developmental disabilities. The average age in which a child is successfully toileting was 3.3 years of age for children with autism in comparison to 2.5 years of age for children with other developmental disabilities (Williams, Oliver, Allard, & Sears, 2003).

Extended use of diapers may diminish personal hygiene, self-confidence and increase physical discomfort, stigmatism, risk of problems later with bladder control and restrict participation in social activities (e.g., camp, after school program, etc.). Extended diaper use for children with autism is also problematic because these children may become so accustomed to using a diaper that they often demonstrate resistance to toilet-training procedures and will prefer to wait for a diaper in order to void (Tarbox, Williams, & Friman, 2004). Teaching independent toilet skill can improve the quality of life for children with autism and their families. Families will definitely benefit from the decreased costs of purchasing diapers, their children will feel empowered to address their physical needs independently all while decreasing the risk of complications associated with extended diaper use.

Before beginning toilet-training procedures, caregivers should check with their child’s doctors to rule out any medical conditions that may prevent their child from being successful with a toilet training program. Upon getting medical clearance, the next step will be to determine whether their child is showing signs that they are ready for toilet training. The following questions will assist with this step:

  1. Does the child act differently or seem to notice when diapers or clothing are wet or soiled?
  2. Does the child show any interest in behavior related to the bathroom, toilet, hand washing, dressing, undressing or related tasks?
  3. Does the child show an interest in seeing other people involved in activities or with objects related to toilet training?
  4. Does the child stay dry for at least 2 hours during the day or does his/her diaper stay dry after naps?

Each child and family is unique; therefore, the toilet training procedure needs to be designed to specifically fit the child and his/her family’s needs. Generally, caregivers and their clinician should identify and agree upon the child’s preferred mode of communication to best indicate when they need to use the restroom. This can be a specific word or phrase (e.g., “Potty”, “I need to use the toilet”, etc.) or it can be as simple as a hand signal or the presentation of an image of a toilet. To increase the potential for success, caregivers should have a preferred item or activity available (e.g. special snacks, video, etc.) and present it as a reward the moment that their child successfully voids in the toilet.  This item should be reserved only for toilet training. The child should also receive lots of praise and high fives when he/she stay dry for a specific duration of time.

Going from using a diaper to using a toilet can be a big change and is extremely difficult for lots of children. If your child has a hard time with transitions, a picture schedule may be a helpful tool to remind him/her of what task are needed to complete the toileting routine. Some things to remember: make sure to have plenty of extra underwear and clothes, a comfortable potty chair, a timer, your child’s favorite drinks, and a positive attitude!

Toilet training may be a lengthy process and require a lot of patience. This is a big commitment but the payoff will be huge!  Make sure to consult with your behavior analyst along the way to ensure the procedure is clear and is tailored to your child and family needs.

Dai Doan, M.S., BCBA

 

 

References

William, G., Oliver, J. M., Allard, A., & Sears, L.  (2003).  Autism and associated medical and familial factors:  A case control study.  Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 15, 335-349.

Tarbox, R. S. E., Williams, W. L., & Friman, P. C. (2004). Extended diaper wearing: Effects on continence in and out of the diaper. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37, 97-100.