Category: Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Top 6 Practical Social Skills Training in Toronto Tips!

Read time: 3 minutes

In describing the early features of autism, many specialists mention poor social interaction. Autistic children do not naturally gravitate to their peers, failing to take part in group activities or make friends. 

Many autistics need social skills training in Toronto in order to learn social skills. There are, however, a number of strategies that can be used for this purpose. When these skills develop the overall quality of life will definitely improve – which should always be our end goal.

Two children playing together after social skills training in Toronto by Side by Side Therapy.

Autistic children might lack social play skills, seeming to prefer to be alone. It is important to remember that we cannot know for certain that this is their preference, but rather might be a function of a skill deficit – they may simply not have the skills and knowledge to appropriately interact.

6 Social Skills Training in Toronto Tips

#1 Practicing different play scenarios 

Play skills can involve social interaction but, like any other skill, they require practice. So, take your child’s favorite toys, and create different play scenarios. You can create a scene of a farm or play with cooking utensils. A stuffed toy can be used to practice various skills, such as feeding or dressing. 

An added bonus about this type of activity is that you can teach the child to take turns and follow rules. In case of smaller children, it might be a good idea to opt for games that involve movement. Prompts can be offered to support the learning process, and every achievement, no matter how small, should be praised.

Interactive play is a skill that is taught as part of the Social Skills Training in Toronto curriculum.

#2 Imaginative Play

In order to play with peers, autistic children must be able to engage in role play and pretend. As a parent, you can practice these skills at home, choosing games that are simple and fun. Young children often enjoy pretending to be their favourite animals or characters. 

If the child is older, and there are no significant cognitive delays, you might opt for a situation that requires a problem to be solved. For example, you can pretend a toy has been lost, asking the child to be a detective and help you find it. 

Pretend play is an important skill that is included in the social skills training in Toronto curriculum.

#3 Visual prompts

There are many children who learn better with the help of visual prompts, especially when it comes to complex skills. You can use pictures to discuss social situations and teach the child appropriate behavior. Use the pictures as a way to remind your child of the expected behaviour.  It is much easier to eliminate visual prompts than verbal prompts. 

Allow your creativity to run free and turn the learning experience into a game.

#4 Learning emotions 

To improve your child’s social skills, you might consider helping the child develop an emotional vocabulary. You can use pictures, moving on from simple examples, such as someone feeling sad or happy, to more complex possibilities, such as acting surprised, bored or confused. 

#5 Social skills groups

Nothing beats practicing a skill as close to reality as possible. For this reason, you should consider social skills groups, where the child has the opportunity to practice interaction with other autistic and neurotypical peers, on a regular basis. 

Every parent is free to decide whether the group will contain only autistic children or a mix and there is value in each option. Another important tip would be not to overly schedule the activities but rather opt for free play, trying not to intervene too much. There needs to be a goal for the group and the activities that are selected should endeavour to support that goal. 

A group of children smiling after a social skills training in Toronto group at Side by Side Therapy.

#6 Gesture imitation 

Autistic children often do not use gestures purposefully and they might not understand our gestures either. Gestures can be learned using imitation and the use of prompts. You can begin with simple gestures, such as waving goodbye, nodding your head or blowing a kiss. After a gesture is learned in imitation it should be generalized to the natural environment so your child will begin to use it without prompting and in the correct contexts.

Once these gestures are learned, you can move on to more complex ones, including physical actions and pretend play. For instance, you can pretend you are drinking a glass of water. Do not hesitate to use spoken words, finding a way to match them to the gestures you are teaching the child. And, remember, all should be done through play!

Hands together doing a cheer after social skills training in Toronto by Side bySide Therapy.

When it comes to social skills training in Toronto, we are proud to offer this foundational skill set to all of our clients. Contact Side by Side Therapy to set up your child’s no-charge consultation. We will discuss not only social skills training in Toronto but also the other therapeutic solutions we offer.

3 Applied Behaviour Analysis Tips to Get your Child Wearing a Mask

In these changing times, due to COVID-19, we have had to change our behaviour in a lot of uncomfortable ways. We’ve done this to follow the rules and recommendations set out by the government and public health officials.  The field of Applied Behaviour Analysis has a lot to offer to help!

One of the recommendations is the wearing of masks while out in public where physical distancing isn’t possible. Wearing masks may be uncomfortable and foreign to most adults. Parents of autistic children have been particularly concerned with how to get their children to safely and effectively wear masks.

Parents of children that have sensory issues already know how the struggle of the basics such as underwear and socks! Now with the expectations of wearing masks, there is the introduction of yet another stressor (for both child and parent!).

Create a plan based in Applied Behaviour Analysis:

Developing a plan to help desensitize your child to masks is essential. It is best to work with your therapy team to ensure you are taking the right steps for your child.

As changes in routine can be more difficult for children on the spectrum, I am providing you with these guidelines as a starting point.

If you don’t have a therapy team, feel free to reach out to Side by Side Therapy for a no-charge consultation. 

Here are 3 helpful tips to encourage mask wearing:

Make your Expectations Clear

Explaining to your child what you expect regarding mask-wearing will help to clearly outline what needs to happen and why.  It may be helpful to use the “If-Then” or “First-Then” language approach.  For instance, “If you want to go outside, then you have to wear your mask”. “First we put your mask on, then we can go to the store”. 

Boy sitting at desk wearing a mask after using applied behaviour analysis to learn to tolerate the mask.

Reinforcement and Praise

One of the foundations of ABA is reinforcement. Since wearing a mask is a huge accomplishment for your autistic child, it’s important to provide tons of reinforcement and praise. This will help make wearing a mask as motivating as possible. A few suggestions are:

Mom fixing a mask on her daughter using the principles of applied behaviour analysis.
  • Purchase a mask that has a preferred character or personalized touch on it.
  • Provide a favourite reward for wearing the mask for the agreed-upon time.  Remember, start slow so you can work to build up your child’s tolerance. 
  • Initially, you could have your child wear the mask while doing their favourite activity, such as playing on their iPad or Lego. 
  • When you have your first practice run in public you should do something fun! Going to your child’s favourite place or visiting loved ones are great ideas.  

Work on your child’s mask tolerance

Mask tolerance is going to be a challenge for a lot of autistic children and it is necessary to make the experience as fun and pleasant as possible.  This can all start with having your child, pick out their own material or mask while paying special attention to their sensory needs.  Once you have chosen a mask that you feel will be appropriate for your child, your next step is to create a plan of action for introducing and then successfully wearing the mask. 

The field of applied behaviour analysis suggests adopting three strategies to help in the desensitization of mask-wearing: Pairing, Shaping and Chaining. Read more about ABA terms and meanings.

Pairing

Pairing is a way that introduces unfamiliar objects, in this case a face mask, to a person. Present the unfamiliar object at the same time as a preferred object and the pleasant qualities of the preferred object are transferred to the unfamiliar one. To make the mask seems fun and welcoming present it to your child at the same time as you give reinforcers. It can take many presentations before the unfamiliar object becomes ‘paired’ with the preferred one. Once your child becomes comfortable holding it, it is then time to introduce shaping. 

Shaping

Shaping takes place once your child has become familiar and comfortable with the mask, and at this time, you can then, using the same positive reinforcers, have your child begin to gradually engage more and more with the mask. For example the process in a shaping procedure for mask wearing might be to:

Mom and son using the applied behaviour analysis concept of pairing.
  • Hold the mask;
  • Bring the mask close to their face;
  • Then touch the mask to their face;
  • Allow you to pull back the elastic bands or bring the ties around to the back of their head;
  • Fitting the mask to their head. This piece may need to be started in very short increments. You may want to use a visual timer to help cue your child to how much time is left. 

After your child engages in each step without challenging behaviour you need to reinforce their efforts. This may seem easy and straightforward but it may take some practice and many trial runs before success is achieved. As you know, practicing and learning a new skill takes patience, so too will becoming comfortable with mask-wearing. Be sure to initially practice pairing and then shaping at home or in a safe environment and once the comfort level is achieved you can try it out in public. And remember, your ABA therapist is always available to guide you and provide you with the resources you need to help manage this challenging situation.   

Chaining

Chaining is the idea of putting a number of behaviours together to create a sequence (or chain). In this example, a chain for mask wearing would include washing hands before putting the mask on, securing the mask to the head, wearing the mask, removing it safely, putting it in the trash or washing machine and washing hands again.

Chaining is a helpful way of teaching complex behaviours that happen in a specific order each time.

As wearing a mask can be difficult and uncomfortable in general, the challenge, unfortunately, may become magnified for those that have sensory challenges such as autistic children.  Therefore, it is important to work with your therapy team to come up with a plan and strategies to help your child manage successfully wearing a mask.

ABA in Toronto: 9 Life-Changing Benefits for Autistic Children

Read time: 3 minutes

ABA stands for applied behaviour analysis. It is a form of therapy based on the sciences of behaviour and learning. In some, it will lead to remarkable progress, helping them acquire an important number of skills. ABA is the most widely studied and most effective therapy for autism and related developmental disorders. 

Why should you consider ABA in Toronto for your child?

We have gathered nine of the most important reasons why one could benefit from this type of therapy. ABA in Toronto focuses on teaching socially significant behaviours, meaning behaviours that have a high probability of being important and pivotal to the child and family. 

Boy with autism playing with toys during ABA in Toronto


#1 Play

Autistic children often play in a stereotypical manner, engaging in repetitive behaviours. Through ABA in Toronto, they can be taught how to engage in spontaneous play, using a wide range of toys and learning to take turns. 

The therapist might facilitate the learning experience, prompting the child with the appropriate behavior. The therapist can also teach leisure skills, helping one develop a hobby, or an interest for personal enjoyment. 

Girls playing together learning social skills in ABA in Toronto


#2 Social Skills 

If a child already has good language skills, ABA in Toronto would be useful in teaching the necessary social skills for making friends. The more one practices social situations, the easier it will be to interact with peers in real life. 

ABA in Toronto can help the child develop additional skills (i.e: sharing, turn-taking, rule following etc) which might be useful for daily interaction with other children. These skills are addressed using structured play dates, social games and role play, among other strategies. 

Boy learning to brush his teeth in ABA in Toronto


#3 Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) 

For an autistic child, going through the normal routine can be challenging. In ABA in Toronto, he or she can learn and practice the tasks associated with the routine, including dressing and feeding. 

In teaching how ADLs should be performed, the therapist will take into account the child’s gross and fine motor skills, as well as their cognitive and speech skill levels. At-home practicing can help to jumpstart generalization and maintenance. 

Boy demonstrating independence learned in ABA in Toronto


#4 Independence

A big part of ABA in Toronto involves helping the child communicate more effectively. As the language skills develop, it will be less challenging to interact with peers. 

The child will learn how to handle situations by him/herself, developing the necessary confidence for more complex tasks and to be more independent. Positive reinforcement is used to foster skills, so that the child is less reliant on his parent or caregiver. 

Alphabet toy laid out in ABA in Toronto session


#5 Academics

Autistic children can struggle from an academic point of view, requiring help in that learning as well. ABA in Toronto can help develop reading and writing skills, as well as mathematical abilities.

The strategies used in therapy can and should be implemented not only at home but also in the classroom. Many classrooms are built on a foundation of ABA, without even intending to be. Most good teachers utilize the principles of ABA (even if they don’t call it ABA). 

Cartoon of boy saying "I need", self-advocacy skill learned in ABA in Toronto


#6 Self-Advocacy 

All children grow and become adults. As the child advances in age, ABA in Toronto will be useful in teaching self-advocacy – it will teach the child to speak up for him/herself, asking for what s/he needs. All children need to learn to become self-advocates.

Even in non-verbal children, ABA therapy can teach the child how to communicate immediate needs, preferences and how to protest and stop undesired situations. 

Girl with autism sitting on ground after ABA in Toronto session


#7 Quality of Life

As mentioned at the beginning, ABA in Toronto aims to improve socially significant behaviour. All of the things that the child will learn in therapy will contribute to a better overall quality of life. Even though the days might seem long and the therapy sessions will require a lot of dedication, in the end, you will have a child who likes his/her life. 

By fostering independence, language and social interaction, just to name a few, ABA empowers the child and his/her family. 

Parent learning with son during ABA in Toronto therapy session


#8 Parent Involvement and Learning

As a parent, it is normal to want your child to reach his/her full potential. In autistic children this path to reaching full potential can seem impossible. ABA can help parents benefit from a positive change in themselves, teaching them the skills needed to fight for their children. 

Taking part in therapy sessions, you will learn how to help your child develop useful skills and assess the progress he/she has made. The therapist can also guide the at-home teaching process. 

Parents looking happily at their child after ABA in Toronto therapy session


#9 Renewed Optimism

Sometimes, parents have a hard time seeing the strengths of their autistic child, as they rather concentrate only on the challenges their children face. ABA can help to highlight these strengths and transform them into learning opportunities. You will see your child being successful in ABA in Toronto and it will give you a new lens with which to view your child. 

During the ABA therapy sessions, you might also learn what motivates your child, allowing you to use these preferences later on to teach or maintain skills outside of a therapy session. 

If you are looking for ABA in Toronto, we recommend you connect with us. We can talk more about the services we offer and schedule a no charge consultation to assess your child’s needs. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Autism Parenting: What does an autistic child need? A confident parent!

Watch this video for a quick synopsis of this blog!
Family of four, a man and a woman and a son and a daughter. The daughter appears to have autism.

Confidence is not a parenting skill parents are born with, but rather a skill that is learned over time. Being the parent of a child with autism can challenge our confidence, but you must understand that this skill is vital in helping your children live better lives. 

When you show your children that you are confident, as parents, you make them feel safe. Each child needs to feel that their parents can help them express themselves and handle everything thrown in their direction. 

The diagnosis of autism, of course, will change your life and the way you will parent. But it will also give you added motivation to fight for your child and the life he/she deserves to live. You will not always have the answers and there will be plenty of times when you will have to show yourself as confident, despite feeling lost, confused or scared. 

How do you become a more confident autism parent? 

We have a couple of suggestions for you. The message to take home is: confidence is not necessarily always having a response to a certain situation. It is more about being there for your child, no matter what, and especially when he/she is having a hard time. 

Positive thinking 

Even though this is not necessarily an autism parenting secret, it is something we often forget. Living with autism, and the sometimes difficult behaviours presented by a child with this diagnosis, it is easy for parents to fall into a path of negative thinking and lose confidence along the way.

Positive thinking, on the other hand, can help you to become more confident in your skills and your parenting abilities. It can be useful when it comes to the way you respond to challenging situations.

You are not a bad parent

Every parent has been there. You felt inadequate, believing that your children deserve better parents. Just because your child has autism, does not mean you are a bad parent. 

Whenever you feel terrible, like you have failed your child, remember this – children need love above all else. They need us to be present and show them how to live in a world that seems foreign. 

Do not be afraid to ask for help

If you feel like your confidence has been shattered, it is time to get help. This can come from a family member, a friend or even a mental health professional. You might find help in joining an autism parent support group. Your child most likely benefits from therapy, so you should not hesitate to use this form of support as well. Respite might represent an option for you, so that you can have some time for yourself. In time, you will become a more confident parent, one who is calm and supportive of his/her child. 

Don’t bend to peer pressure

Autistic children have meltdowns and tantrums, and these often take place in public. If possible, try to go home or choose a private place to help your child calm down. Do not allow others to dictate what you should do, and keep in mind that getting the child out of the respective environment will be quite useful. All children have tantrums, and it just happens that it’s your child’s turn today.  Many parents are kind and empathetic in these situations, so just ignore the ones who aren’t!

Be present

A lot of parents make the mistake of thinking that they must always find a solution to a potential challenging situation the child is going through. Sometimes, this only adds pressure, causing your confidence to go down. 

Instead of forcing yourself to come up with an answer, try to be there for your child. Do not let your confidence suffer, but rather offer your physical presence and this should be enough. Help your child calm down by being calm yourself. 

Control your emotions

It goes without saying that no two children are the same, especially when  they are autistic. Anger can only damage your confidence, since it will cause you to feel out of control. If the situation seems impossible to handle, it might be best to take a step back. Always try to acknowledge your emotions, but without giving into them. 

Conclusion

What does an autistic child need? A confident parent! It might take time and you will make plenty of mistakes along the way, but you need to work on becoming more self-reliant. The bolder you are, the easier it will be to become the advocate your child needs for a better life.

Speech Therapy – Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC): a powerful tool

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects a great number of children and often these children have difficulty communicating and, in some instances, cannot verbalize their needs or thoughts at all.  In addition to having an applied behaviour analysis team these children benefit from speech therapy.

This by no means, should suggest, that these children understand less, but rather, they just have difficulty expressing what they understand. Speaking is one of the most effective ways of communicating and it allows us to successfully interact and navigate our way through life.  However, for many ASD children, they do not have this option and sadly, therefore, have a greater challenge to having their needs and wants understood. 

How can Speech Therapy help?

If you are a parent of an ASD child that is non-verbal or struggles with communicating, this can be very stressful and overwhelming.  It is important to know that there is help. To date, numerous tools and programs have been developed to aid in these communication and language development barriers. These are known as Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) systems.

AAC is an alternative method of communicating, outside of traditional speech, that has been developed to assist children with communication and language developmental issues. These systems can be added to your child’s existing speech therapy programs, however, they can also introduce new and alternative ways of dealing with communication issues.

AAC is a way to provide your ASD child with the ability to relay their thoughts and needs through alternative ways that include the use of pictures, gestures, sign language, visual aids or speech-output devices such as an iPad or Tablet. 

These AAC systems give your child access to their right to communicate and helps to ensure that their needs are being heard, taken into account and addressed. Every person deserves the right to share in the decisions surrounding their care and well being.

Sounds liberating, (not only for your child but for you, the parents and caregivers), doesn’t it? Taking the guesswork out of what your child is trying to communicate helps to reduce stress, for everyone, and opens up the opportunity to build stronger relationships between your child and the rest of their social and support network. 

Here is a breakdown of the types of AAC Unaided and Aided & Low and High Tech

Unaided systems – These systems don’t require the use of any equipment. Gestures, facial expressions, body language and sign language are some examples of unaided systems used to communicate.

Aided systems – These systems use tools or materials and can be either low-tech or high-tech. Some examples of low-tech are symbol boards, choice cards, communication books, alphabet boards or cards. High-tech examples include speech-generating devices (SGD) or communication devices and AAC apps on mobile devices. 

Below I will further elaborate on four of the aided systems that I feel may be helpful with your ASD child’s path to achieving successful communication.

LOW-TECH



Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS) – This program is a tool to aid in communication with non-verbal ASD children. PECS is a program where pictures of desired objects are exchanged (such as clothes or food) as a way of communicating.  These pictures can be photographs, digitally created images or hand-drawn pictures.

When a child wants something, they would hand a picture of the desired item to their communication partner (the parent, peer or care-giver) in exchange for the desired object. PECS begins with a basic request which will be extended to include sentences and eventually comments as well. 

As with most things that are of value and worthwhile, this program can take a long time (months) to become independent.  It also requires special training and materials and is able to be supervised by anyone who has taken the PECS training (usually speech therapists or BCBAs).

While some children will be able to pair a vocalization with the exchange, PECS itself does not teach the use of vocal language. Creating a ‘verbal’ child is not the goal but rather creating a ‘communicative’ child is the end goal.

HIGH-TECH

Speech Generating Devices (SGDs) or Voice Output Devices – These are hand-held electronic devices that when a child presses a button or flips a switch, the device will play pre-recorded words or phrases. These SGDs allow non-verbal people to communicate electronically. Therefore, in its most basic form, if a child would like a banana, they would press a picture of a banana and the device would then say “banana”, “banana please”, “I want banana” or I would like a banana, please” (or some other variation) in a pre-recorded human voice. 

Three examples of apps that can be paired with designated devices or used on tablets or iPads to become SGDs are:



TouchChat HD with WordPower – Although this is one of the most costly communication apps on the market, this program offers a range of options that far outweigh the competition. Utilizing Its voice recording capabilities allows you to touch individualized set-up cells and the program will then conveniently speak.   

Linggo Logo, an app used in speech therapy to help non-verbal people communicate.


LINGGO – This is a mobile app used on an iPad or tablet that’s currently in beta testing. It was created by a team led by a behaviour analyst in Toronto. The app lists words that are most used and relevant to the child’s daily needs, preferences and social activities. Linggo learns the language patterns of its users through machine learning.  Linggo also aims to enhance literacy by transitioning the learner from using picture based communication to written words and phrases.

Linggo also encourages vocal speech in the learner with the optional time delay feature to allow time for the learner to vocalize before the app. One of the most exciting parts of Linggo is that it gathers data on the learner’s independent vs prompted communications which will help the speech therapy team fine tune the teaching program to achieve maximum learning and communication.


LAMP Words for Life – This is an AAC app that is available for the iPad.  It is based on the motor planning theory of language acquisition. It utilizes pre-designed vocabulary pages that do not require much individualization or adjusting. This allows the user to transition between pages without having to re-learn the positions of previously acquired words.  There is evidence to suggest that children can become more proficient AAC users using motor planning because there is less searching for icons and specific phrases or sentences become almost rote. 

Now that you know about some of the AAC systems, implementation may be another challenge. Finding professional help can be useful and will play a very important role in your child’s communication development.  It is important to work closely with a Speech Therapy team to ensure that you are using the correct AAC systems.

Some AAC programs can be quite costly, you want to be sure they are worthwhile and effective for your child’s specific needs. A Speech Therapy team will often include a Speech-Language Pathologist, a communication disorder assistant or speech therapy assistant. The Speech Therapy team will take into consideration which AAC is appropriate and valuable for your child and will be able to address the many questions you will have.  Furthermore, they will create and implement a program that will work with your child at their current stage of communication development and capabilities.

Some advantages of AAC as described by users include:

  • Improved ability to communicate
  • Stronger friendships and relationships 
  • Increased ability for social interactions
  • Improved independence
  • Increased involvement in decision-making and autonomy regarding their lives
  • A feeling of being respected
  • Access to employment and volunteer opportunities
  • An improvement in physical and mental health.

AAC systems have proven to be tools that can open up doors for your ASD child by empowering them to communicate their needs and wishes.  Through the set-up of a well-designed communication program with the help of a Speech Therapy team, including the use of AAC tools and consistent practice, your child will find that a whole new world of opportunities can become available.  

If you would like help developing your child’s communication skills using AAC or otherwise, please contact us to set up a no-charge consultation today. 

10 Fun Occupational Therapy Activities to do at Home During Physical Distancing With Kids

We know how difficult it can be for an autistic child to spend all of his/her time inside the house. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to think outside of the box, finding occupational therapy activities to keep our children on the right path during social distancing. 

As a parent, you are well aware that social distancing has led to a disrupted routine, with your child suffering in the process. In an effort to help you, we have gathered several occupational therapy activities to try at home and have some fun. Are you ready? Let’s go!

Occupational Therapy Activities to Try:

Occupational therapy activity- sensory bottles.




#1 Making a sensory bottle 

This is a simple activity, which offers enjoyment long after it has been done. All you have to do is take a plastic bottle and fill it with water, food colouring, glitter, marbles or anything else that comes to mind. Involve your child in the decision process, and remember to use as many items as possible for a higher visual appeal. 

Occupational Therapy painting with vegetable pieces







#2 Painting with veggie slices

Painting can stimulate different senses, helping your child stay focused. Begin by cutting slices of colorful veggies, such as bell peppers, cucumbers or potatoes. You can then ask your child to dip the veggie slices in paint, pressing them on a piece of paper or a disposable cup. It is a simple yet fun activity to try!

Occupational therapy activity- sensory bins







#3 Sensory Bins

This is an occupational therapy activity for improving your child’s sensory skills, bringing him/her in contact with various textures. You will need a plastic box or even a tub, which can be filled with balls, beans or beads. The next step will be to place as many toys in there as the space allows it, asking your child to find them, one by one. 

Occupational therapy activity- scent jars






#4 Guess the scent 

Take a number of small containers and add different ingredients with a specific smell. You can use spices from the kitchen, but make sure these are easy to recognize. Ask your child to close his/her eyes and try to guess the scent. Opt for pleasant smells, as these can also induce a state of relaxation. 

Occupational therapy activity- toys in ice blocks





#5 Getting a toy out of ice

Fill a plastic box with water, then add some toys and place it in the freezer. Keep adding water, until you form a complete ice block. You can use food colouring to make different coloured layers of water. You can then work together with your child to get the toys out, using a hammer or other useful tools. Tip: fill a spray bottle with warm water to get the ice to melt faster.

Occupational therapy activity- homemade playdough





#6 Making scented playdough

If you want to stimulate your child’s sense of smell, you might also want to consider this activity. Homemade playdough is easy to make, requiring simple ingredients, such as flour, salt, cream of tartar, water, oil and food coloring. Once it is ready, just separate it into bowls and add different essences – vanilla, ginger, lemon, cinnamon or almond. Here’s a playdough recipe with just a few ingredients.

Occupational therapy activity- obstacle course







#7 A fun obstacle course

The great thing about this occupational therapy activity is that you can use anything in your home to create the obstacle course. You can place tape on the floor to offer your child a sense of direction, as well as add items that make the course more complex (such as a hula hoop or a jump rope). For gross motor skills, practice animal walks (hopping, wiggling or jumping). 

Occupational therapy activity- mirror or imitation games





#8 Imitation Games

For autistic children, it can be difficult to mimic another person’s movements. Mirror exercises can be of great help, not to mention they can be easily turned into a fun activity. Stand face-to-face with your child, asking him/her to mimic your movements (head, arms, trunk, and legs). This occupational therapy activity will increase coordination and body awareness. 

Occupational therapy activity- animal pose yoga





#9 Yoga animal poses

Yoga can help children, including those that are autistic, to calm down and find their inner peace. You can teach your little one several poses – the wide-legged standing forward bend can be imagined as an elephant swaying his trunk, while the plank pose can be taken for a crocodile. The downward-facing dog pose can remind the child of a bear, while the cat pose resembles a tiger. 

Occupational therapy activity- scavenger hunt






#10 Indoor scavenger hunt 

The indoor scavenger hunt is an activity in which the whole family can participate, being beneficial from multiple points of view: development of gross and fine motor skills, problem solving and social interaction. It can represent a challenge for the autistic child, especially if you choose objects that he/she is uncomfortable with, but, with your help, he/she will enjoy the activity. 

These are only a couple of the occupational therapy activities which you can consider doing with your child at home. As you have seen, these are easy and fun, and they will offer you an opportunity to relax in a time where uncertainty seems to be defining. 

Contact us to book your 30 minute no-charge consultation today if you need help finding activities that your child would enjoy.

Autism and Memory: Can you guess the amazing superpowers of a child with autism?

Read time: 4 minutes

This post was written by Dr. Tracy Alloway. She is an award-winning psychologist, professor, author, and TEDx speaker. She has published 13 books and over 100 scientific articles on the brain and memory. Her research has also been featured on BBC, Good Morning America, the Today Show, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, and Newsweek, and many others.

Autism is characterized by a difficulty to recognize and respond appropriately to social and emotional cues, which causes problems with social interactions. Yes, they have unique strengths that can give them an advantage in certain areas. Watch a clip.

Working Memory and the Brain: from Understanding Working Memory

The brain of a child with autism develops differently from children without it. Recent research has found that the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the home of working memory, is one of the brain regions most affected by autism. Initial results show that the PFC of a child with autism has a much greater volume of neurons, up to 67% more. One possible explanation for this excess growth is that the genes controlling neuron development are overactive, resulting in greater brain volume. Exactly how this is related to autistic behavior is unclear at the moment, but the link an abnormal PFC and autism suggests that there may be a working memory connection to the behavior. (Courchesne & Pierce, 2005).

Children with autism also display less activation in the PFC when they are asked to remember and process information. This pattern seems to be evident regardless of the nature of the task. In one experiment they were asked to process letters, in another, shapes, and in another, faces. In all instances, the result was the same: there was less activation in the PFC for children with autism than in those without it.

The study with faces, also found that children with autism tend to analyze facial features like objects, rather than in light of social relationships, which may explain their trouble interpreting social nuances (Koshino et al., 2005; 2008).

Furthermore, when a child with ASD is presented with two tasks and has to focus on one while ignoring the other distracting task, their brain activity reveals that they do not actually shift their attention to the more important information (Luna et al., 2002). They have a difficult time determining what information is important.

In the classroom, some students with ASD might appear to struggle with certain memory-heavy activities. However, this may be connected to their difficulty in knowing what they should focus on, rather than a working memory deficit per se.

Working Memory is linked to AUTISM

The working memory profile of the student with ASD depends on whether they are low or high functioning. In some cases, high functioning students can have an above-average verbal working memory, while low functioning students perform at the same level of a student with a specific language impairment. In general, low functioning ASD students also have a poorer working memory than their typically developing peers do.

However, even high functioning ASD students can display verbal working memory problems. In my own research, I found that the type of material they have to remember provides us with a clue to their working memory profile. They struggle in particular with abstract information like nonsense words or new vocabulary. Why? One explanation is that when they are presented with abstract ideas that they have to both process and remember, they spend too long trying to comprehend the material and so forget what they need to do.

For example, during a verbal working memory test, Daniel, a 14-year-old with ASD, was presented with the sentence: Dogs can play the guitar. Daniel spent a long time thinking about the sentence before finally answering “True”, because “you can train a dog”. As a result of the lengthy time spent deliberating the answer, he forgot the final word in the list of sentences (Alloway, Rajendran, & Archibald, 2009).

The strategies they use to remember information can also over-burden them. Studies confirm that when remembering information, high-functioning ASD individuals do not use their long-term memory, visual strategies, or even contextual clues. Instead, they rehearse things over and over again. While this can be useful in remembering short sequences of information, it is ultimately a time-consuming and inefficient strategy to simply keep repeating things. These students are aware of their own memory problems. Alistair, a high-functioning 13-year-old, commented that he had “number overload” when he failed a test that required him to repeat numbers in backwards order.

Now, let’s look at their visual-spatial working memory profile. The majority of individuals with ASD do not have deficits in this area.  In one task, students are shown a matrix with dots that appear in random locations and they have to recall their location in a backwards sequence. Both my own research, as well as other studies, confirms that students with ASD do as well as their peers without autism. In the classroom, this means they should be able to remember information that is presented visually. 

Cover of a book written by Tracy Alloway about a child with autism




To find out more about the memory superpowers of a child with autism, check out Dr. Alloway’s new children’s book here.

**

References

Alloway, T.P., Rajendran, G., & Archibald, L.M. (2009). Working memory profiles of children with developmental disorders. Journal of Learning Difficulties, 42, 372–82.

Courchesne, E.,  & Pierce, K. (2005).  Brain overgrowth in autism during a critical time in development: implications for frontal pyramidal neuron and interneuron development and connectivity. International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience, 23, 153-170.

Koshino, H., et al. (2005). Functional connectivity in an fMRI working memory task in high-functioning autism. Neuroimage, 24, 810–821.

Koshino, H., et al. (2008). fMRI investigation of working memory for faces in autism: visual coding and underconnectivity with frontal areas. Cerebral Cortex, 18, 289-300.

Luna, B., Minshew, N.J., Garver, K.E., Lazar, N.A., Thulborn, K.R., Eddy, W.F., & Sweeney, J. (2002). Neocortical system abnormalities in autism: an fMRI study of spatial working memory. Neurology, 59, 834-840.

World Autism Awareness Day: April 2, 2020

Add Your Voice to the Giant Autism Billboard for World Autism Awareness Day
Add Your Voice to the Giant Autism Billboard for World Autism Awareness Day

World Autism Awareness Day is today, which means it’s a great time to contribute to the Giant Autism Billboard (see it here). It’s a thought-provoking project centred around the importance of autism awareness, and it stems from the belief that the sharing of lived experiences is a great way to help others gain a better understanding of neurodiversity.

The Giant Autism Billboard, an online collaboration that invites autistic people of all ages as well as their family members, caretakers, and doctors to condense their life experience and advice about autism into one pearl of wisdom to share with the world, the idea, thought, or message they most feel represents their experience. Finding a way to distill life with neurodiversity into one statement is no mean feat, but it has inspired many voices throughout the autism community to offer their unique input.

Autism Awareness Day is only a starting point

The large collaborative project serves to illustrate an idea that’s central to autism awareness, which is that no two neurodiverse people are alike and no one’s experience with autism is exactly the same. This helps to create an understanding of autism as a spectrum of behavioural differences which are experienced uniquely, defying negative stereotypes and embracing the idea that neurodiversity can bring skills in addition to challenges. The project celebrates the voices of those affected, acknowledging that they are most able to provide true autism awareness and amplifying their voices to contribute to the cause.

The Giant Autism Billboard will be featured on the We The Parents website during the month of April, which has been designated as World Autism Awareness month. The site was founded in 2017 by parents Neve and Keane as a welcoming, judgement-free resource which parents can look to for advice, and takes special interest in supporting families affected by autism.            

I have contributed and I hope that you will as well.

Lindsey

Applied Behaviour Analysis isn’t all we do – we’re adding 5 amazing disciplines!

Read time: 3 minutes

Lindsey-Malc-Autism-ABA-Therapy-Side-by-Side-Therapy-Toronto


In these uncertain times, it’s important to have a goal and work towards achieving something. At Side by Side, that’s exactly what I’ve been working on! When I began Side by Side, I envisioned a group of talented therapists who would use applied behaviour analysis to improve the lives of special needs kids and their families by empowering parents to implement the strategies we use every day. 

What I very quickly realized is that parents want the support of a team of professionals, not only behaviour analysts.  Each of the disciplines brings a valuable skill set to the table and families deserve to have access to all of these skill sets under one roof. While I believe in applied behaviour analysis with my whole heart, I recognize that it doesn’t hold all the answers and that my ability to be helpful is amplified when I work with a team. 

I would like to announce that Side by Side Therapy is expanding our services and will be offering applied behaviour analysis, speech therapy, occupational therapy, therapeutic recreation, psycho-educational assessments and respite. I have been working hard to put together an excellent team of therapists who are dedicated to our mission of empowering parents to empower their children. Check the blog in the next few weeks for some short profiles of our team members. 

Please read below for a short description of each of the disciplines and some examples of goals that might be targeted:

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA):

Boy and therapist doing applied behaviour analysis therapy in Toronto

A therapy based on the science of learning and behaviour. At Side by Side, the main goal of ABA Therapy in Toronto is to change socially significant behaviours. A socially significant behaviour is one that is stopping you from fully participating in your life.  Some examples are: communication skills, social skills, play skills, life skills and decreasing challenging behaviours (aggression, self-injury etc). applied behaviour analysis can also be used to teach academics. 

Possible goals: 

  • Responding to name
  • Sorting items 
  • Reading

Speech Therapy (SLP):

A therapy that revolves around increasing speech, language, social communication, cognitive communication and swallowing disorders. Speech Therapy in Toronto involves work with children with autism or other special needs to increase their ability to communicate their needs and this often has an added bonus of decreasing challenging behaviours.  

Possible goals:

  • Increasing vocabulary
  • Improving articulation
  • Improving social skills

Occupational Therapy (OT):

A therapy that focuses on teaching the skills that a person needs to fully participate in their daily activities (or occupations).  Occupational Therapy in Toronto can help address mobility difficulties and how a child accesses their environment. OTs can suggest ways that the environment can be modified to allow the child to participate. 

Possible goals:

  • Learn toothbrushing
  • Improve handwriting skills
  • Expanding variety of foods eaten

Therapeutic Recreation:

A therapy that addresses goals from all domains of a person’s life using recreation and play as a vehicle for change. It’s about more than just playing. Therapeutic Recreation in Toronto will use recreation (play and leisure) to achieve goals and push your child to learn and grow. 

Possible goals:

  • Increasing engagement in social interactions with a peer
  • Improve fine motor skills
  • Increase time spent engaged in independent play

Respite:

Respite in Toronto is a service available to families of special needs children.  This service offers you the peace of mind to know that while you’re having a much needed and deserved break your child is being cared for and entertained. Our respite workers are informed of your child’s specific needs and interests and will design respite sessions to highlight these needs and interests. 

Possible respite activities:

  • Play at the park
  • Swimming at the community centre
  • Cooking with your child 

Psycho-Educational Assessments:

autism aba therapy lindsey malc side by side therapy doing therapy with a therapist


If your child requires a psycho-educational assessment in Toronto to determine his or her learning needs, our psychometrist can help you. We will walk you through the entire process and will provide you with recommendations for services and strategies that your child will benefit from. We can also help you convey your child’s needs to their school.

If you would like to know more about how your child and family might benefit from any or all of these services please contact me directly by phone at 1.877.797.0437 or by email at [email protected]

Stay healthy everyone!

Lindsey

Autism: How to have great transitions – Part 1

Read time: 4 minutes


This post is quite long, so it will be divided into two parts for your reading pleasure!

Toddler with autism smiling looking directly at the camera.

Transitions happen many times throughout our day and for the most part, as adults, we don’t necessarily even realize how often. While these transitions may not seem noticeable or bothersome to us, they are in fact quite difficult for most children and especially for those with autism spectrum disorder.

Being able to effectively transition between activities in our daily routines is imperative to leading a successful life: at home, school or at a job. Transitions include any change, big or small, such as a change of activity (especially from a fun one to a less enjoyable one), environment or teacher.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) influences the way children process and interact within their environment and presents communication challenges, sensory issues and deficits in social skills.  All these challenges have an impact on the child’s ability to smoothly make transitions. It can be difficult for autism spectrum disorder children to shift attention or change from the comfort of their routine. These difficulties and stressors can lead a child to experience agitation, sadness or anger.  

All of these concerns need to be considered and addressed in order to help your autism spectrum disorder child thrive. The first step in dealing with transitions is dealing with the associated worry around transitions. Understanding how your child’s autism spectrum disorder is impacting their transitional issues, sensory sensitivities and concerns combined with creating a plan will better help your child to manage their worry connected to transitions.

Being prepared and well equipped to assist your child with autism before, during and following transitions is the absolute greatest support you can provide them. 

When strategies are used to help autism spectrum disorder children with transitions you can expect: a reduction in transition times; behaviours will improve during transitions; there will be less need for adult reminders and participation in school and community excursions will become easier.

Sometimes, creating a plan for your autistic child can feel like you’re trying to solve a calculus equation.

In the preparation of your plan, it is important to understand what transitional issues you are dealing with, including your child’s sensory needs.  By observing your child for 3 – 5 days and jotting down each time your child gets frustrated or angered you will have a better understanding of what is going on. This review should include identifying the patterns and triggers that led up to the problems transitioning.

For instance, does your child not like being interrupted to move onto the next activity if they are still working on the present one?  Do line-ups and busy hallways at school make it difficult for your child? Is there sensory stimulation such as bright lights or cold temperatures that may impact them and therefore affect the transition? Once you have identified the transitional issues then you can move towards creating a plan to account for these barriers. 

Transitional strategies are methods that can help autistic individuals manage during times of change or disruption in activities, routines or situations. As challenges can exist at any point during the transition, it is helpful to go over the techniques before, during and after a transition. This preparation strategy can (and probably should) be explained verbally and/or visually with the hopes of increasing predictability and maintaining consistency in their routine. 

Your child must realize that transitions are not punishments and should therefore not be thought of as such. Instead, your child should understand that they are required throughout the day in order to follow the daily schedule. Having the parent, caregiver or teacher show excitement in moving through transitions may help in easing your child’s worry and the challenging behaviour they exhibit. With your enthusiasm alongside your well thought out plan and tons of praise and encouragement, in time, you will see changes that are heading in the right direction. 

11 Tips to Help Those with Autism Transition

Here are 11 useful tips and strategies to use in the development of your plan; they are the stepping stones to helping ease your autism spectrum disorder child’s transitions:

  1. Prepare & Talk About Transitions – To help in ensuring a smooth transition, it is useful to plan out and discuss the plan with your child and support them before, during and after the transition. It is easier to deal with and manage your behaviour when you know what to expect. For instance, if you know you only have an hour at the zoo, then you should discuss this with your child prior to arriving. Knowledge is power and if your child knows what to expect the element of surprise will be removed and this will likely help with the transition. 
  1. Time Warnings – Providing time warnings prior to a transition is quite helpful.  This allows the child to be aware that a transition is coming up shortly and can then better prepare themselves. Therefore, half an hour before the change of an event you can start to give 30, 15, and 5-minute warnings. As these verbal warnings may be too abstract for some autism spectrum disorder children, especially when time-telling is not yet learned, it is suggested to use a concrete tool such as a clock or a timer that can visually help to alert your child of the upcoming transition.  This visual tool can be reassuring during an unenjoyable activity as it shows the child that there is an end in sight. 
  1. Countdowns – To go alongside the time warning strategy, it is also helpful to give final countdown notice.  So, instead of expecting your child to move right into the next transition once the final 5 minutes have finished, giving them a 10-second further countdown will continue to help with the transition.  Even though you may have provided the time warning, which may seem enough, the transition may still seem sudden to a child with difficulty transitioning. Adding in the additional and final 10-second countdown will certainly make your expectations clear. If visual tools are more effective then you can show your child a visual that has a countdown from 10-1. As you’re counting down you remove the numbers until your visual is empty and your child knows that the transition is imminent. This final countdown method can also be useful when doing unfavourable tasks such as cutting nails, bathing or brushing teeth as the child will know the end is near which helps with their coping.
Picture from
Pocket of Preschool
  1. Create Visual Schedules – A visual schedule is a very useful tool when managing transitions. The schedule helps to reinforce the predictability that your child requires alongside outlining the events in a way that your child can review throughout the day. As autistic children often thrive with routine and consistency this visual method helps them see things in a format that they can clearly understand and remember especially if out of the ordinary things are going to happen. Being able to understand what the schedule holds can create opportunities for the empowerment of your child as they may be able to move through the transition on their own without coaching or reminding. 
  1. Offer Options – Just like adults, children like choices. Having options gives them a feeling of empowerment and control. Therefore, offering two realistic choices allows your child to feel part of the decision.  For instance, when getting ready to leave the park you can ask would your child prefer to play on the slide or the swings in their last 5 minutes at the park. Achoice can be as simple as asking would they rather skip or walk to the washroom.  It is surprising how willing children are to participate when choices are offered.

Come back next week to read the second part!

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sleep Problems

Read time: 4 minutes

If reading’s not your thing, watch this YouTube video instead!

Research shows that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) tend to experience other problems that go hand-in-hand with ASD, which are known as comorbid conditions. This research estimates that the number of children with ASD who would qualify for also having a comorbid condition is approximately 70-80%. The range of comorbid conditions that exist can affect an individual’s mental and physical health, as well as impact them neurologically and medically. Some examples of how these comorbid conditions can manifest include an atypical reaction to one’s surroundings, sleeping disorders such as insomnia, and poor muscle development.

Child with autism spectrum disorder sleeping at her desk, with pencil in hand.

It is very common for children to go through a stage where they don’t sleep through the night. This is actually a normal stage within a child’s physical and cognitive maturation. However, it is a stage that, should it be persistent, is detrimental to not only their health and development, but also their daily functioning. This can affect how they interact with others on a daily basis, especially in children with autism spectrum disorder. Researchers have also demonstrated that insomnia, on its own, tends to worsen the symptoms of ASD and lessens an individual’s ability to thrive in their life.

Existing research shows that there is a strong tendency for those with autism spectrum disorder to have  problems with establishing proper sleep patterns and that they are impacted to a much greater degree than neurotypical children. Additionally, the studies also reveal that those with autism spectrum disorder are at a much higher risk of developing these sleeping disorders than neurotypical peers. The number of those with autism spectrum disorder who have trouble sleeping ranges anywhere between 44-86%. This is contrasted by the overall child population, where only 10-16% experience sleeping problems. 

Many autistic children who experience difficulties regulating emotions and behaviour are shown to also exhibit difficulties with their sleep. A past study of Asperger syndrome and other forms of autism discovered that the children who had persistent insomnia displayed greater emotional and behavioural symptoms than children without sleep disturbances. Parallel conditions are also known to disrupt sleep, some of which include gastrointestinal irregularities, stimulants, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and anxiety. 

Young girl sleeping

A study found in the academic journal Autism looked at the frequency that sleep issues in children with symptoms that are commonly associated with autism spectrum disorder occurred. The study participants were evaluated for symptoms relating to autism, problems with their sleep, and emotional and behavioural issues. It was found that persistent insomnia was over ten times greater in autistic children than those who did not have ASD (39.3% vs. 3.6%).

The autistic children were shown to develop more sleep irregularities over a period of time, with a frequency of 37.5% compared to 8.6% of the children without autism. Both groups were children aged 11-13 years. Even though only a few girls were included in the study, it was discovered that sleep abnormalities occurred less in girls than boys and their sleep problems were temporary. Those with ASD who also had ADHD were more likely to develop sleep problems.

Without question, it is clear that there is significant scientific backing that demonstrates the link between autism spectrum disorder and sleep problems. Sleep disturbances can, in reverse, negatively affect the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder, such as experiencing an increase in repetitive and/or hyperactive behaviour, lack of focus/attention, displays of aggression, and an impairment in higher brain functioning. Given all these potential issues, it is important for parents to attempt to maximize their children’s sleep habits and put routines and strategies in place that will allow their children to get the most quality sleep.  

Sleep hygiene are the practices that we use to ensure that we have good nighttime sleep and as a consequence good daytime alertness. 

Some examples of good sleep hygiene for autism spectrum disorder are:

  • Avoiding daytime naps
  • Establishing a bedtime routine that offers time to relax and wind down before actually trying to sleep
  • Making sure the sleep environment is comfortable
  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day (even on weekends)
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Avoiding blue light producing screens for an hour before bedtime

If your child is having a difficult time with sleep, contact Side by Side Therapy for a no-charge 30 minute consultation and we can brainstorm some ideas to help! 

Autism Home Safety: 11 Useful Strategies

Read time: 5 minutes

“I just turned away for a second, he was right here!”, have said many parents in a panic when noticing their child was not in eyesight. This panic luckily is often only momentary, as the child usually reappears quickly. However, wandering by children, especially for children with autism spectrum disorder, can be frequent and for the parent/caretaker this can be frightening. 

Wandering is one of the top safety concerns facing a child with autism spectrum disorder, however, it is not the only concern to keep in mind and prepare for. Creating a plan can be overwhelming and finding a starting point may be difficult. In hopes of helping, I have provided some useful ways to assist in your planning to keep your child safe, especially within your home. 

Safety first road sign for children with autism.

Safety within the Home for Children with Autism

The home can become a dangerous place for children, especially those with autism, who face greater challenges around safety, awareness of surroundings and impulsivity. Parents put security and precautionary measures in place when all children are young but it is necessary to maintain these measures longer when their child has autism. Here are some things to keep in mind when you are creating your safety plan. 

  •  Household Toxins – Cleaning products and related hazardous materials must be locked away in a secure place.  As children are very crafty and persistent, it may be useful to lock the unsafe items in the garage, basement or any other area outside of the main living areas. 
  • Furniture – Top-heavy furniture and large electronics should be secured to the wall with brackets and straps.  Toppling furniture from climbing children is extremely dangerous and can easily occur if these heavy items have not been secured properly. 
  • Drowning – If you or a neighbour has a swimming pool, it is necessary to ensure that drowning prevention measures have been put into place.  As mentioned, with wandering being such a high concern, if a neighbour has a pool within close proximity to your home, you must communicate your concerns to your neighbours regarding the safety of your child and ask that the safety measures are put in place at their home. 
  • Some safety measures include:
    • Fences with self-closing latches
    • Keeping interesting toys/items out of eyesight to not draw the child’s attention to the dangerous area.
    • Enrolling your child in swimming and water safety lessons (if possible).
  • All municipalities have bylaws with regards to swimming pools in people’s backyards.  Research what the laws are where you live to ensure that your pool (or your neighbour’s pool) is following the law. 
  • Fire – Fire safety is of the utmost importance and needs to be practiced with the whole family.  As this training includes your child with autism, you may need to modify and tweak your plan to work with any additional needs and sensory issues that your child may have. There are a few extra things that a parent can implement to help the process. 
    • For instance, if your child becomes upset by loud noises, you can purchase fire detectors that you can record your voice giving directions to leave the house, removing the loud noise trigger and providing familiarity through your voice.
    • Additionally, since children with autism are more comfortable with routine and familiar places, it may be beneficial to take your child during a calm period to a local fire station so they may become familiar with the uniforms and equipment.  The hope is that these measures will prepare and help your child better manage a real-life situation.
    • Practicing fire drills at home in the same way they do at school will also be helpful for your child to become more comfortable if ever there was a real emergency. 
  • Hot Water – As many children with autism also have sensory issues, some children cannot perceive hot or cold temperatures and this can lead to accidental burns.  This can pose a safety concern especially if they are using the faucet independently. Some ways to teach your child the difference between the taps both in the sink and in the shower/bath is through practicing turning them on and off. As well, another tool you can use is a sticker to symbolize the dangerous tap or area of the tap. You can also control the temperature of the water on your hot water tank. 
  • Doors – With wandering being a high concern, the use of locks may be advantageous however they may not be full-proof. Keys may be well hidden but there is still the chance that they may be found, therefore, an additional safeguard through the use of an alarm system may be beneficial. If your child does find a way to leave unsupervised, you need to be vigilant in ensuring that they are always wearing some form of identification that contains their contact and any other pertinent information.   

Wandering in Autism

As wandering is one of the main safety concerns facing many parents of children with autism, it is necessary to take steps to reduce or eliminate this risk. 

Here are some ways to help keep your child safe from wandering: 

  • Understanding your child’s wandering triggers – Some children with ASD may wonder out of curiosity such as distractions from the park, train tracks, the beach – while other children wander to get out of a certain environment, such as ones that may be stressful, loud, bright, chaotic, etc. It’s important to know which type of wanderer your child may be to better understand how to avoid the behaviour. 
  • Keep your home secure – As mentioned previously, the security of your home is of the utmost importance in helping to eliminate wandering.  Locking doors, hiding keys and setting up an alarm system are tools that can be used to help in securing your home. 
  • Keep practicing and modifying communication and behaviour strategies – Teaching your child to request to go somewhere can be a very functional replacement behaviour for wandering. Helping your child learn self-calming strategies to use when they find themselves in stressful, boring or frustrating situations will help in them self-regulate and can potentially avoid wandering. Through trial and error, you will be able to find what works best for your child in these particular situations. 
  • Setting expectations are important – All parents know how difficult it can be preparing and accomplishing an outing, it can be even more difficult for a parent of an autistic child.  It is therefore imperative to outline and set your expectations with your child. You will need to communicate the plan, which can include approximate timelines and rules to be followed with your child and any other accompanying family members/caretakers. If everyone is on the same page and understands the expectations, the outing will likely be a more positive experience. 
  • Identification and monitoring technology are essential tools – Since many children with autism are unable to easily communicate, these identification and monitoring tools are extremely helpful in tracking a wandering child. Having your child wear a form of identification (such as a bracelet/necklace, GPS, marked information on clothing, medical alert tags) will ensure that should your child get lost and be unable to communicate, all their relevant information (name, address, phone number, medical needs, etc.) is available to get them help.  

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The first step to help ease the worry around safety and a child with autism is having an emergency safety plan in place. Evaluating and determining what your family needs to be safe and protected at home, school and the community will provide a helpful guide to protect your family for the dangers that exist. An example of an emergency safety plan can be found at family wandering emergency plan

The checklist below will provide you with a practical starting point.  

Safety Plan Checklist:

  • You need to determine if your child wanders, runs away or gets lost in a crowd?
  • You will need to evaluate areas such as home, school or community activities for safety concerns? 
  • Once areas of safety concerns have been reviewed, you will need to ensure that preventative measures have been put in place in each of those areas.
  • You could purchase wearable identification containing important contact and medical information that will always be worn by your child.
  • You should communicate with your neighbours and community that your child has autism and may have special needs to be aware of (i.e. wandering).
  • You should communicate with your child’s school to create a plan which ensures that safety skills are included in their Individual Education Program (IEP). 
  • You should communicate with the local emergency service providers and let them know that your child may be at risk at given times.

Remember, if your child should wander:

  1. Stay calm
  2. Call 911
  3. Search nearby water first
  4. Implement your emergency safety plan

If you would like help establishing your safety plan, please contact us.

Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis? 8 Steps to help kickstart your child’s success

Read Time: 5 minutes

The word autism in a magnifying glass, demonstrating that this article is about autism spectrum disorder.

Receiving a diagnosis that your child has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is not only scary but overwhelming too. There are so many questions and while there is a vast amount of research to turn to these answers often only result in further questions and possibly further confusion.

It is important to rely on your treatment team including a Board-Certified Behaviour Analyst in Toronto (BCBA) for support and guidance as they understand just how exhausting and challenging such a diagnosis can be. Working together will help with your child and family’s success both at home and at school.

Here are some helpful tips to try when your child gets an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis:

1.  Become an Expert in your Child’s Needs, Likes and Dislikes

Each child with autism spectrum disorder is different and we need to embrace, understand and support their differences. This can be achieved through research and asking questions about autism spectrum disorder and more specifically your child’s individual needs. As each child is unique, you must remain open minded about their experience of having autism. Once you gain some knowledge you will then be able to ask insightful questions to help build the best treatment plan for your child. 

The best place to start is with your child’s family physician, they will be able to refer you to an autism consultant who can work with you to develop a team. Your physician should also be able to provide you with useful resources such as finding the best Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) therapist or group including Board Certified Behaviour Analysts (BCBA) for your child. Remember finding the right therapist may take time and patience. There is no such thing as “one size fits all” in a treatment plan. 

2. Find Help through Technology

As technology has become an integral resource within our society, it has become a very useful tool for parents of children with autism spectrum disorder. Firstly, a vast array of knowledge and research regarding your child’s diagnosis and treatment can be gained through the internet. Secondly, technology is also used as a resource for community building through social media including parenting groups and intervention discussion forums.  Here there is an opportunity to seek the support and experiences from parents in similar situations and professionals in the field. These communities are amazing and can help one to realize they are not alone. 

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, technology holds a critical use for autism spectrum disorder children that have communication difficulties and is used as a tool to remove this barrier. AAC (Alternative and Augmentative Communication) gives a voice to children who cannot speak using tablets or computers with specialized apps that utilize text or image to speech technology. These are sometimes called SGD (Speech Generating Devices). 

3. Get Intervention as Soon as Possible

Parents that feel that their child might have autism spectrum disorder should speak with their child’s physician as early as possible to investigate a diagnosis. Don’t allow your child’s doctor to dissuade you or convince you to ‘wait and see’. With an early diagnosis and then prompt invention parents are able to start working towards helping their child to address interfering behaviours and increase communication skills.

Intervention is most effective in younger children. If your child’s interfering or challenging behaviour (e.g.: outburst in public) is addressed and dealt with early on, then the hope is that through reinforcing positive or desirable behaviour, the child will eventually be independent in the future in the same situations. Positive outcomes are possible for older children as well, so don’t give up if your child is older when they begin to receive treatment. 

4. Ensure your Child’s Treatment is a Family Affair

An autism spectrum disorder diagnosis not only affects the diagnosed child but it affects the entire family. It’s therefore necessary that the therapy plan includes siblings’ and parents’ opinions and experiences. Since schedules and rules set out in the plan will put expectations on the entire family, their input and buy-in is imperative for the success of the program.

It is also vital that family members are involved in the treatment plan to ensure that generalization occurs. This means that your child is able to demonstrate all the skills they are learning in new settings and with new people instead of only with the treatment team. It may become a balancing act for you, however with support, consistency and careful consideration and execution of the therapist’s recommendations your day-to day routines will become less overwhelming. 

5. Trust your BCBA, Treatment Team and the Process

As mentioned, finding the right BCBA and program can be a difficult journey, however, once this is accomplished you will soon see that you are on the right path. As your child is unique in their needs you must remain optimistic and open-minded. There will be necessary tweaks and adjustments along the way and through trial and error, you will certainly see positive changes.

Finding a team that suits your family’s needs and expectations is extremely important. You will also need to ensure there is a constant flow of communication between your family and your child’s BCBA so that modifications can be implemented and changes made whenever required. 

6. Celebrate the Successes

As you continue to fill your toolbox with more tips and knowledge it will open the door for greater success. At times there may be a lot of growth and positive changes and at others, there may be little or none. It is important to stay focused on the positive and reflect on the successes and celebrate them frequently. Continuing to stay on course and provide consistent routines and expectations for your child. The more you celebrate the successes the more likely it will be that you feel good about your child and family’s future. 

7. Make Safety a Top Priority

The challenges and long-term responsibilities that come with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis can be additional stress placed upon an autism parent. To help ease the sense of being overwhelmed it is important to get organized and put proper measures into place for a “just in case” situation (for example, looking into life insurance for family members). As children with autism can engage in more dangerous behaviour (wandering, mouthing and self- injury) a safety plan is essential.

It is necessary to develop a plan to address these safety risks with your treatment team. For example, you should ensure that your child always carries or wears identification, especially if they are a wanderer. A simple google search will yield many options for safety tools for your child with autism spectrum disorder.

8. Work on Establishing a Good Sleep Routine

One of the challenges many children with autism spectrum disorder face is difficulty sleeping. Poor sleeping can exacerbate some of the challenging behaviours associated with autism such as impulsivity, compulsions, hyperactivity and physical aggression.  Good sleep hygiene is vital to providing your child with quality restful sleep.

Keep in mind a few things while creating a routine, for instance: maintaining consistent times for going to bed and waking up; how much light is in their bedroom while they’re trying to sleep; ensuring your child has enough play time during the day and not too much screen time prior to bed; perhaps instituting a wind-down quiet period before bed; taking sensory issues into account, i.e. itchy pajama’s, white noise etc.  

If your child has recently received an ASD diagnosis and you are looking for ways that the Ontario Government can support you, please know that changes to the Ontario Autism Program are in the process of being established. They are working towards creating a new “needs -based and sustainable autism program”. Eligibility for this program has the following criteria:

To register for the Ontario Autism Program, your child must:

  • be under age 18
  • currently live in Ontario
  • have a written diagnosis of autism for a qualified professional

Your child’s written diagnosis must include:

  • your child’s full name and date of birth
  • the date of your child’s assessment
  • a statement indicating that the child meets the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder
  • the qualified professional’s name and credentials

For registration information please contact the central intake and registration team at:

Ontario Autism Program
Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services
P.O. Box 193, Toronto, Ontario M7A 1N3
1-888-444-4530 [email protected]

The site notes that if you have registered in the Ontario Autism Program before April 1, 2019 you do not need to register again.  As well, they mention that once your registration is complete, your child will be added to their waitlist and you will receive a letter from the ministry when it is time to complete further steps to receive funding.

Additional services and support are provided by the Ontario government for children with special needs, these are listed below:

For more information please visit:  https://www.ontario.ca/page/ontario-autism-program

If your child was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, please connect with us. We can help you navigate these distressing times.

10 Helpful tips on raising a child with autism

Read time: 5 Minutes


As a parent raising a child with autism spectrum disorder, you are faced with many difficulties and daily challenges which require adjustment in your parenting skills to include flexibility, patience, understanding and strength. You need to become very aware of your child’s specific needs while all along ensuring your own wellbeing and mental health.

It is important to realize that no two children with autism (as with all children) are the same. This therefore requires you to have the flexibility and open-mindedness to try numerous strategies and techniques to find the best fit for your child and family. This discovery may take some time and will include ups and downs, however, with persistence and the help of your child’s team you will find the path that will provide the direction necessary to seek positive change.

Here are 10 helpful tips to try with your child with autism:

1. Don’t make comparisons 

Every child is unique and faces their own challenges. It is important to not compare your child with siblings or classmates. All children develop at their own pace and react to situations differently. Situations that don’t cause one child to bat an eye might be devastating for another.  Comparing your child’s behaviour to that of others can cause your child to feel guilty for something that might be out of their control. 

2. Help your child realize when they need a break 

When your child with autism starts to feel frustrated, it is important for them to be able to identify their emotions and to be able to access the tools that will help them to calm and regulate their emotions. You can teach your child the tools they need in order to seek a break in a calm, comfortable and safe environment. This break will provide a safe place to allow them to calm down whichever way works best for them. This skill is crucial for all children but specifically for children with autism.

Parent talking with a boy with autism.

3. Listen to your child calmly and do your best to understand

Dealing with any young child can be quite difficult and trying to rationalize with them often is not successful, this is especially true of children with autism where there are language skill deficits. This ongoing challenge often leads parents to become frustrated and overwhelmed.

As a parent, it is crucial to maintain calmness (regardless of how difficult the situation becomes) to prevent escalation in the child’s behaviour. If you can calmly understand your child’s perspective you may then be able to adjust your methods so that you’re working with our child instead of against them. 

4. Help your child apply new skills to different situations (generalization)

Many children with autism don’t generalize their learning, meaning that they cannot apply a skill in novel situations. They might be able to use the bathroom at home but seem unable to use a public washroom, for example. It is important to practice the same skills in different situations and through repetition. Your child will eventually learn to apply them more easily regardless of the circumstances.

5. Keep an open mind

Our life experiences dictate our perspective and how we view the world. This simple fact can get in the way of understanding our child’s experiences. Neither yours nor your child’s beliefs are wrong. It is therefore important that you as a parent of a child that looks at the world differently is open-minded. Through tolerance and acceptance, you will be better able to understand your child’s point of view as well as acknowledging that there are alternatives and various approaches to helping them.

6.Maintain a sense of humour

Some of your child’s behaviours may not initially (or ever) fit within societal norms and may be perceived as unconventional. As mentioned earlier, these are only perceptions that we have been taught, if you were to look at the difference with an alternative lens using humour, you’ll likely find that you are bothered less and feel less judged. 

7. Never underestimate how much your child understands

 There is a difference between receptive language (what we understand) and expressive language (what we can communicate with words, sign language, picture exchange or augmentative communication). Many children with autism have difficulty with expressive language while their receptive language falls within normal development.  This means that they cannot express all the things they understand. There may appear a lack of understanding but this is likely not the case. 

Autism ABA Therapy Side by Side Therapy Toronto

8. Look into Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) therapy

As mentioned, it is important to be open-minded and this involves looking into therapeutic methods and techniques to help your child. ABA therapy has been established as one of the most effective methods in working with children with autism. It is important that your ABA team is lead by a BCBA (Board Certified Behaviour Analyst). You should investigate the ABA providers in your area because not all people practice in the same way.  ABA should be individualized to the child so if you’re concerned about a specific aspect of your child’s ABA therapy, you should feel confident to bring it up with your provider. 

9. Work with the school and be an advocate for your child’s needs

School plays a large and critical role in your child’s development. Your relationship with the school is important as your child will require additional services, support and programs.  These additional resources can and should be provided through the educational system. If you feel that the school is not recognizing your child’s additional needs or working with you for your child’s betterment then you need to advocate for them. You know what is best for your child and it is up to you to convey your needs and concerns. Ongoing communication and feedback will help keep you and the school on the same page and will align every player on your child’s team. 

10. Take a break yourself and seek support

Raising an autistic child may come with many challenges however on the flip-side it comes with many rewards. You need to remember to be kind to yourself, know you are an amazing parent doing your best in a demanding situation.  You need to ensure that you are in a place that you can handle and manage all that is needed of you. Don’t take everything onto yourself, reach out to your support network frequently. Seeking help will take care of yourself and in turn you will be the best parent you can be. 

Check out the resources page to find links to valuable information about autism spectrum disorder.

Behaviour Intervention Plans: The 8 essential elements

Read time: 2 minutes

Example of a behaviour intervention plan that addresses challenging behaviour.






There are many ways to intervene to address challenging behaviour.  In Applied Behaviour Analysis the Behaviour Intervention Plan (BIP) is used. Here are the essential parts of a behaviour intervention plan to look out for when designing one or if one is being implemented with your child.

Elements of a behaviour intervention plan

Operational Definition of Target Behaviour: 

This is the definition of the target behaviour.  It is used throughout the behaviour intervention plan. It is important that this definition is accurate and explicit so that anyone who reads the definition would be able to identify the behaviour. The operational definition should include descriptions that are measurable and observable. It is good practice to include a non-example of the behaviour. For example, if the target behaviour was crying, you would not track crying if the child was hurt. Everyone needs to be working from the same framework and that begins with a solid operational definition. 

Function of Behaviour:

It is important to identify or hypothesize the function of a behaviour before you attempt to change it.  Knowing the function will lead you to a function based replacement behaviour. Functional replacements are more effective because they meet the need that the original behaviour as serving. Read more about the functions of behaviour here.

Replacement Behaviour Definition:

Each target behaviour should have a replacement behaviour that will be taught and reinforced.  This behaviour also needs a proper operational definition to ensure that there is consistency across implementers and to ensure that each instance of the behaviour is reinforced. 

Antecedent Strategies:

These are the things in the environment that will be modified to avoid the target behaviour in the first place.  Some examples of antecedent strategies are to reduce distraction, provide scheduled or free access to reinforcers or proactively reducing demands. 

Skill Building Strategies:

In a behaviour intervention plan, these are the strategies that will be implemented to teach new skills.  These strategies can be tools like visual schedules, token boards or the specific steps that will be taught to the child to accomplish a new skill. 

Consequence Strategies:

These are the strategies that will be employed once the behaviour has happened.  These are important so that everyone on the team is aware of how to respond when the target behaviour happens. Consequence strategies are not exclusively negative, they are simply what happens after the target behaviour. Examples of positive consequences are receiving praise for completing an assignment on time, getting a high five for trying a new food or earning extra time on a device.  

Data Collection Procedures:

Data is an important part of any applied behaviour analysis intervention.  Data is taken to measure change, how quickly that change is happening and to identify when that change is not occurring. Treatment decisions like when to change targets, when to revise interventions or when a skill is mastered should all be made based on the data that has been collected. Data collection should be specific to the situation and able to be gathered with consistency and integrity.  Bad data doesn’t help anyone.  

Generalization and Maintenance Procedures:

Generalization and maintenance needs to be programmed from the outset of treatment in order for them to occur. It is very unlikely that a skill will be generalized without specific planning. Generalization is when a skill can be demonstrated in a number of settings or environments, with different materials and with different people. Maintenance occurs when a skill is reliably demonstrated with a level of reinforcement that is less than what was used to teach the skill. 

If you would like to discuss your child’s behaviour intervention plan please contact us for a no-charge consultation.

Lindsey Malc: Inspired Founder & Clinical Director

Read time: 2 minutes

Hello, my name is Lindsey Malc. I’m the founder and Clinical Director of Side by Side Therapy. In 2013, I became a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst. I have spent my entire career working with children with special needs and their families.  I have extensive experience in clinical as well as community settings. I have worked primarily with autistic children but have considerable experience working with typically developing children with challenging behaviour as well. 

I graduated with a Master of Applied Disability Studies degree from Brock University. I also hold an Honours Bachelor of Social Work degree from Lakehead University. I worked for many years at Zareinu Educational Centre (now known as Kayla’s Children Centre).  At Zareinu, I held many positions, from classroom assistant to Behaviour Analyst.  In my 14 years at Zareinu, I was fortunate to learn from a trans-disciplinary team of therapists who were passionate about helping our students achieve their maximums. Working with Psychologists, Speech-Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, Social Workers, Special Education Teachers, Early Childhood Educators and Recreational Therapists provided me with a very well rounded understanding of and respect for these vital disciplines. 

How I, Lindsey Malc, can help your child and family

I offer 4 services based on your family’s needs.  

I will help you better understand how you and the environment are impacting and maintaining your child’s behaviour.  Using Applied Behaviour Analysis, I will provide you with alternatives and help guide you to effective ways that you can change your child’s behaviour. Looking at the antecedents, behaviours and consequences will be the starting point for this service.  We will meet weekly or biweekly and will discuss what has happened since our last meeting. I will ask you to take some data because it can be difficult to remember everything and then analyze the information and identify patterns.  

I work with private schools or daycares to identify the function of challenging behaviour and to develop intervention plans that will be effective and easy to implement. Individual programs or class-wide behaviour interventions can be developed.  Realistic data tracking and follow up are provided.  These meetings can happen weekly, bi-weekly or monthly depending on your needs.

If your child with autism or other developmental disability is struggling with a specific skill or skill set, I can develop a targeted intervention to address this need.  I would develop the intervention and teach you or a caregiver how to implement it. We will meet weekly or bi-weekly. Manageable data collection would be an integral part of this intervention with the goal of empowering you to implement the same strategies to address future goals as they arise. 

If you’re looking for a comprehensive ABA Therapy program, to address all areas of your child’s development I can be the Clinical Supervisor for your child’s ABA program.  I qualify as a Clinical Supervisor for the Ontario Autism Program and am listed on the  OAP provider list.  I will complete a curriculum assessment and develop all of the teaching programs and targets for your child’s ABA program. I am happy to work with you to develop your child’s treatment team and to train the staff in all of the behavioural interventions that they will be implementing.  Supervisions would occur either weekly or monthly, depending on the supervision structure of your ABA team.

Professional Services

If you are pursuing BCBA or BCaBA certification, I am also available to supervise all of part of your experience hours.

Photograph of Lindsey Malc, Behaviour Analyst

I would be happy to discuss your ABA Therapy programming needs. Please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Call me: 1-877-797-0437

Email me

Thanks for your time and I look forward to working with you to address your child’s special needs.

Lindsey Malc, BCBA