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Autism Tasks…Galore. Literally.

What’s a Structured Work System?

Structured work systems are probably best known as “TEACCH Tasks” or “Tasks Galore”  or simply “tasks”, and they’re a component of the structured teaching approach developed by TEAACH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication handicapped CHhildren).

In structured teaching, tasks and activities that are set up so that the child knows exactly what they are supposed to do, how much they are supposed to do, and what happens after they are finished. Visual prompts and cues are used to help the child understand what is expected. 

And yes, structured work systems are evidence-based! Wahoo! Check out this overview on The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder’s website.

Last week, I spent a day putting together structured work systems, or tasks, for a child on one of my teams. It started with a trip to the dollar store, a couple of hours of putting things together on my living room floor, and voila! Here are a couple of the tasks that I put together:

Tasks Example

Tips for Creating Structured Work Systems

When creating tasks, consider a few things:

  • Where is the child at? What tasks will the child be able to do?
  • What tasks will be meaningful and functional for the child?
  • Be creative! Think beyond colour/number/alphabet sorting and matching.
  • Tasks don’t have to be fancy or expensive. Tasks can be created from everyday materials you have at home or in the class, using containers and materials you would normally put in recycling and dollar store items.
  • Create tasks that serve multiple functions, and can be easily transformed into new tasks. I like to put all of my materials into ziplock bags and keep the containers separate for easy storage (rather than having hundreds of shoe boxes or containers all stacked up!).
  • Have a plan to fade the work systems or containers themselves so that the child will be able to do the tasks in the natural environment (because doing a task in shoe box or container is okay initially, but not really helpful in the long run).

Need some task inspiration? Check out the Tasks Galore series – you can order them online, or check them out at the Autism Calgary library here in Calgary (they have the whole set!). Also, there are literally hundreds of ideas and pictures on Pinterest.

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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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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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Top Picks for Autism Conferences and Workshops – Summer 2012

Autism and ABA learning opportunities in Calgary are a bit of a rarity (and I’m hoping to change that – I’ve paired up with Autism Calgary and will be presenting the first of hopefully many workshops in September 2012 on a topic that’s near and dear to my heart: sleep (details to follow).  In the meantime, here are my top picks for upcoming conferences and workshops in the summer months  (on the web and around the globe):

Penn State National Autism Conference (July 30–August 2, 2012): FREE, yes you heard me, FREE webcasting! With a ton of excellent speakers (SundbergEschIwata, Vollmer, and Cicero to name a few), and a myriad of topics to choose from (AAC for ASD, peer support and promoting inclusion, planning for autism emergencies, teaching children to follow instructions, girls and ASD, and effective toilet training and so on), clear your calendars folks because this is one you won’t want to miss! And did I mention FREE?!

Autism Society National Conference and Exposition (July 25-28, 2012 – San Diego, California): With presenters like Turnbull, Dunlap and Durand (aka the godfather of sleep and children with special needs), and an eclectic mix of topics (with a surprising amount focusing on adolescents and adults, which is all too often a rarity in the field), this is another conference that if you can swing it will be a good one, plus if you’ve ever wanted to go to Disney (and who doesn’t love Disney?!), this is your excuse.

Michelle Garcia Winner and Carol Gray Together at the Vancouver Convention Centre (August 16-17, 2012, Vancouver, British Columbia): This doesn’t happen often. Two wonderful, incredible speakers like this, teaming up to host a two-day workshop. Day 1 focuses on social strategies to teach people with ASD and Day 2 focuses on teaching “thinking” and cognitive behavioural strategies. 

 

Beyond these, some of my favourite sites I compulsively check for new, upcoming conferences and workshops are:

Community Education Services (right here in Calgary, run by Alberta Health Services and Alberta’s Children’s Hospital)

Autism Community Training (from our neighbors to the West in Vancouver, BC but often have live webcastings if you can’t make the trek out there)

Geneva Centre for Autism (in Toronto, ON, but also offer most of their workshops as live webcastings)

Autism Training Solutions (an excellent web-based training site that offers FREE webinars, and keeps a large collection of previous sessions that you can access at any time)

If you know of any upcoming conference and workshops (in Calgary or otherwise) share them with us!

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Calgary Autism Resources

There are great resources for children and families with autism and other disabilities in Calgary, but unlike the other cities I’ve lived in, finding them here is half the battle. Today I went on an adventure to explore some of the wonderful resources Calgary has to offer, and I was pleasantly surprised with what I found. Here are some of the highlights of the day.

Autism Calgary has an extensive resource library that’s open to members (membership to parents and professionals is free), plus it’s open on a frequent basis ( 9am – 5pm Tuesday to Thursday).  The only downside  is that you can only take two books at a time, which is hard for me because every time I go in there to get a book I find a handful of other books I want to take home with me.

The Ability Hub is another “must have” resource for families and professionals in Calgary. Not only do they boast a large collection of books and other materials (some of which can be accessed online) in their Resource Centre, but they also have a Boardmaker workstation set up in their brand new facility so you can create visuals, print and laminate without all the fuss (and expense) of doing it at home. What a grand idea! The Resource Centre also comes with Ambassadors (aka super friendly knowledgeable types) to help you navigate your way through the the mountain of resources, and questions you may have. As an added bonus, many of the Ambassadors have a personal experience with someone with autism (e.g., a child, a family member or a  friend), so if you’re a parent and all of this is new to you, you can be confident that someone knows what you’re going through and can help you find the support you’re looking for.

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