Category Archives: Calgary

ABA – Not Just for Kids with Autism

ABA isn’t just for kids with autism!

Check out this article in the Atlantic on how B.F. Skinner‘s work, with the help of social media, is making a comeback to help people, “…lead healthier, safer, eco-friendlier, more financially secure, and more productive lives.”

 

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Visual Supports + Autism II

Another barrier to using visuals that I often hear, especially when working with adolescents and adults with autism is that:

“He/she doesn’t need visuals” or “Visuals are just for kids”.

Not true.

The truth is, visual supports are EVERYWHERE and we all use them in our everyday lives, not just children with autism. From street signs, to calendars, to figuring out how to sort your recycling or where to put your dirty spoon in a coffee shop (see below). These are all visual supports! And yes, we need them! They help us get through our daily routines, remember important things (like your grocery list that you happen to leave on your kitchen counter), and allow us to know what to expect and how to behave at any given time.

Visual supports come in all shapes and sizes. Yes, you have your typical Boardmaker photos that seem to be synonymous with visuals supports and that most people are familiar with. But, if you feel that these are “childish”, that’s okay – in the world of visuals this is only one option. There are photographs, drawings, cartoons, written words or phrases, or a combination of these.

So, how do you choose? In order to ensure that the most effective and useful visual supports are developed,  it’s important to get input from the individual and family regarding what they feel will be most appropriate. It’s also helpful to look at the individual’s skill level (i.e., look at their understanding of pictures, drawings and words as representations of actual items and activities), and their interest in the different types of visuals available (e.g., does the individual seem to be interested in, look at, or attend to actual photos of themselves doing activities, or are they more interested in cartoons?).

That said, regardless of what type of format you choose, visual supports are likely to make a big difference in the life of a person with autism (for more information on the value and importance of using visual supports, see this post on why I think visuals rock!).

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Autism + The Importance of Pairing

 

When you first set out to start working with a child with autism, your first step should always be to pair (or associate) yourself with good things, so that eventually you yourself become a reinforcer (be the “M&M“!). Here are some tips for successful pairing:

  • Do a preference assessment or reinforcer assessment to find out what the child’s interests are, and what they may be potentially motivated by (see this really great video on how to do a preference assessment from Autism Training Solutions)
  • Ensure the environment is “sanitized” (i.e., make sure the child’s toys and reinforcing items are put away and are out of reach). This is done to ensure that the child has to come to you to get access to items they want.  It is also a good idea to bring along with you new and exciting toys and activities that may be motivating to the child and that child only has access to when you’re there.
  • Be the “giver of all things good”.  Do this by delivering reinforcement “non-contingently” (i.e., give the child things that he likes for “free”!). In other words, child does not need to request or “earn” the reinforcers.
  • Do not place any demands on the child (this includes asking questions!), stop or remove fun things. Instead, follow the child’s lead, and if the child is already engaged in a fun activity, join in and make the activity even more fun! And if the child becomes bored with an item or activity, find another one!

Once the child is frequently approaching you, you are ready to start slowly introducing demands and begin teaching!

Check out this video of pairing in action:

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Autism Conference Webcasting!

The Penn State Autism Conference (with FREE Webcasting!) is now up! The conference runs from Monday July 30th (today) until Thursday August 2nd. As an added bonus: all of the presentation notes and handouts can be downloaded from the Penn State website! Check it out here!

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Visual Supports + Autism

Many children with autism are visual learners (see Temple Grandin’s book Thinking in Pictures). That said, it’s not surprising that visual supports often play a key role in intervention programs for children (and adults) with autism. Even so, sometimes it can be a tough job trying to convince people of the value and importance of using visual supports.

Over the next few posts, I’ll address some of the most common barriers to using visual supports and share some of my favourite resources.

“I don’t understand why we need visuals”

Every child is different, but more often than not, visual supports make a big difference, especially when it comes to addressing problem behaviour (and transitions, communication, social skills, leisure activities, daily living skills, and vocational skills). Basically visuals rock for a number of reasons. Here are a few:

Visuals enhance the understanding of expectations. Unlike words, which are fleeting, visuals are concrete (i.e., you can see them) and they stick around longer so your child can refer back to them a number of times if they need to. This is especially important for children who have difficulty following spoken instructions or processing difficulties. In short, visuals help children with autism better understand what we are saying to them.

Visuals break it down. Using visuals, you can break down complex tasks and display them in a simple and manageable step-by-step format. If you’ve ever been on Instructables (learning how to build a HUGE BUBBLE MAKER no doubt), or learned how to make a cool craft from Pinterest (like an origami paper crane), you’ll know that when you’re learning something new, a picture really is worth a thousand words. Also, this can reduce your child’s frustration by making the task seem easier and more approachable.

Visuals increase predictability. Children with autism often thrive on consistency and predictability within their routines and daily schedule. Visuals allow you to present the passage of time, events (including what events are going to occur and the order they are going to occur) and changes in daily routines in a clear, simple way. In addition, visuals give your child a way to reliably predict when an activity or task will be “finished”.

Visuals increase independence.  The great thing about visuals is that once you teach your child to use them, you can back up and gradually fade yourself (and often the visuals) out so that your child is engaging in the activity or task independently. In contrast, if you’re only using verbal prompts or cues, someone always needs to be there to tell your child what they need to do next.

Other reasons why visuals rock? They increase motivation (think: first/then boards), support choice-making (think: choice boards), and enhance communication (think: PECS).

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Evidence-based Practices + Autism

In a world of endless interventions and treatments for children with autism, parents and professional have a big job of sifting through which ones are likely to be effective, and have some scientific backing (aka evidence-based practices) and those that are not.

Fortunately, there are a number of free and easily accessible publications to help you navigate this process:

(1) AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS: GUIDE TO EVIDENCE-BASED INTERVENTIONSThis is the newest publication from the Missouri Autism Guidelines Initiative, and companion document to the widely respected 2010 publication, “Autism Spectrum Disorders: Missouri Best Practice Guidelines to Screening, Diagnosis, and Assessment”, which can also be downloaded from their website.

The director of Autism Speaks, Alycia Halladay, PhD, says, “This is an excellent resource for information on evidence-based interventions. It clearly spells out types of interventions and how they can be useful for individuals with ASD in a way that is understandable for multiple audiences. Parents and professionals working together on an intervention plan can use this guide to work through ideas, suggestions, or behavioral concerns.”

(2) A PARENT’S GUIDE TO EVIDENCE-BASED PRACTICE AND AUTISM: The National Autism Center has published a number of documents based on the National Standards Project, including this one, aimed at providing parents with information on evidence-based interventions.

Peter Gerhard, Ed.D., the Founding Chair of the Scientific Council Organization for Autism Research says,“In a field rife with fads, pseudoscience, and popular, yet unproven, interventions, the findings of the National Standards Project are a welcome and much-needed counterbalance to much of the hyperbole for both professionals and families.”

(3) THE NATIONAL PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT CENTER (NPDC) ON AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS (ASD): While not a guideline per se, the NPDC on ASD has identified 24 practices that meet the criteria for evidence-based practices for children with autism and has developed Evidence-based practice (EBP) briefs for all 24 that you can download from their website. They are also in the process of developing online modules for each of the evidence-based practices, which are available on the Autism Internet Modules (AIM) website.

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38th Annual ABAI Conference Highlights

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a self-professed “Behaviour Geek”, and any opportunity I have to learn about the wonderful science that is behaviour, I’m in. And so, every year I pack up and head to a number of different cities to attend training seminars, workshops and conferences. This year, I had the wonderful opportunity of going to visit one of my favourite cities in the States for the Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) 38th Annual Convention in Seattle (aka a Behaviour Analyst’s heaven).

In between waking up early to walk down to the market to Le Panier to devour the most incredibly decadent almondine croissants,  drinking the most delicious coffee on the earth from Monorail (a really cool, walk-up coffee window in the heart of downtown, almost too conveniently located a block away from the Convention Center), and meeting up with a few of my incredible advisers and professors from UBC, Dr. Joseph Lucyshyn (see wonderful, and this equally wonderful book on Positive Behaviour Support with families) and Dr. Pat Mirenda (see amazing, and this equally amazing book on AAC), I managed to pack in quiet a hectic schedule of workshops and lectures, leaving me tired and delighted, my brain filled with all things ABA.

Over the next few posts, I’ll highlight some favourite workshops and talks. Here’s the first:

Interventions for Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviour in Children with Autism:                          

Anyone working with children with autism has probably experienced what I call the “Thomas the Tank Engine” phenomenon – an almost obsessive interest in all things Thomas.

There has been a lot of interest the field of autism and ABA regarding the presence of OCD-like behaviours in children and adults with autism (sometimes referred to as autism obsessive-compulsive, or autism “OC”). The main difference it seems is that autism OC behaviours are not always related to relieving anxiety; rather, many individuals with autism often enjoy these repetitive behaviours (whether it be reciting lines from Thomas, talking about Thomas, playing with Thomas toys, looking at Thomas books, etc.).

The second part of this talk was about finding ways of taking these restricted “obsessive” interests and behaviours that are all too often seen as a hinderence and using them to teach skills. I love this! Embrace the laser-like focus children with autism have for these interests! I mean, what would have happened if someone told Stephen Wiltshire that he was drawing too much as a kid? Or told Temple Grandin that she thought too much about cows?

One of many the areas that the researchers are exploring is the use of these interests in teaching joint attention skills.

What are your child’s special interests and talents?

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