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Top 6 Practical Social Skills Training in Toronto Tips!

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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.

Top 7 Effective Speech Therapy in Toronto Strategies to Try With Your Children

Read time: 5 minutes

Parents are often the first ones to notice that their child isn’t developing, especially in terms of communication. The lack of infant babble, the absence of eye contact and reduced interest in interaction are just a few of the features that cause one to question a potential diagnosis of autism. It is possible and often practical to begin speech therapy in Toronto before a formal diagnosis is given.

Mother and child sharing a tender moment before speech therapy in Toronto.

Autistic children might also present a limited range of facial expressions, being unable to comprehend language or show a regression (loss of words). The sooner Speech Therapy in Toronto is started, the better the outcomes are going to be. In this article, you will find a number of therapeutic strategies which might be of help. 

Speech Therapy in Toronto Strategies:

#1 Using non-verbal communication 

Interestingly, non-verbal communication accounts for 90% of all communication. Our body language, the gestures we make, along with eye contact, help us interact with other people and communicate our needs. 

A good strategy is teaching the child, through imitation, gestures that can be used daily. You can begin with gestures that are easy to imitate such as: clapping the hands, waving, stomping feet or raising arms in the air. 

#2 Oral Motor Exercises

For children who exhibit few or no facial expressions, this strategy might be quite useful. Performed regularly, it can strengthen the oral muscles, especially the ones around the mouth and jaw. 

The exercises can be practiced with a  mirror, so your child is able to see what their face looks like when they make the specific movements.  You can get some ideas of exercises from this Youtube Channel: Speech Therapy Practice. They have a series of different videos depicting different exercises you can try with your child. 

#3 Animal noises 

A fun beginning step to teach vocal speech might be to try and have the child make animal noises, especially if the child is motivated by animals. Capitalizing on this motivation might be helpful in engaging your child in doing the difficult work of learning to make the sounds. 

Various toys or books can be used to introduce the child to animal sounds. As his/her interest becomes visible, you can move to more complex games – perhaps you can create a toy barn or an animal train, having fun in the process. Be patient and have fun. 

#4 Singing songs

Very few children dislike music. Singing can help the child to learn new vocabulary, rhythm and even new topics or ideas.  

In choosing songs, it is important to take into account not only the current communication abilities of your child, but also their cognitive level. Nursery rhymes are a great place to start for younger children but older children can be introduced to all kinds of music. 

#5 Technology as basis for communication

We are lucky to live in an age where technology is advanced, creating opportunities for us to help autistic children communicate. Augmentative and alternative communication represents an option for children with limited or no functional speech, allowing them to communicate desires, needs, preferences, dislikes and comment. 

There are devices that contain recorded messages, which the child can use with the push of a button. As progress is made, these messages can become more complex. A low tech alternative is a picture exchange communication system.  You can read more about Alternative and Augmentative Communication in this blog I wrote at the end of April. 

#6 Learning how to sequence and tell a story

This is a strategy which is generally used in children with more advanced receptive language, allowing them to continue to develop their language. You would present them with images of the parts of a story, and ask them to put them in order.

For example, you might provide a picture of an empty glass with a carton of milk beside it, another picture with a full glass of milk and a third picture with half the glass of milk drank by a child in the picture. 

In opting for this activity, you would choose to begin by presenting the stories or situations that your child has experienced. This makes it more concrete and is easier for the child. In time, he/she can do this activity alone, or even draw his/her own pictures to tell a story. Many children enjoy ‘authoring’ their own stories. 

#7 Pretend play

Pretend play is a difficult skill for an autistic child to achieve but, with perseverance, it will help improve many aspects of the child’s development. On the plus side, it helps with social interaction, reinforcing communication again and again. 

The strategy would be to choose some of the child’s favorite activities, expanding on their existing sounds, words or sentences. Once you’ve identified what your child is doing naturally, you want to encourage the next step.

For example, if your child is building towers with blocks, you might begin labeling the colours of the blocks or dividing the blocks into colour groups to make red buildings and blue buildings.  You could also create a road (by laying the blocks side by side instead of on top of each other) to expand their play. 

With expanded play comes the opportunity for you to model expanded language use. The more you speak to the child, the more likely it will be for new words to appear in his/her vocabulary. 

These are some of the strategies that might be used in promoting speech and language development in autistic children. We offer speech therapy in Toronto, as well as a number of other useful therapies: Applied Behaviour Analysis, Occupational Therapy and Recreation Therapy – do not hesitate to contact us for a no charge consultation.

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!

The Value of Using Autism Therapy in Toronto for Support with an Autism Diagnosis

Read Time: 5 minutes

Finding out that your child has autism is probably one of the most difficult things in the world for a parent. You might go through a period of denial, believing that there has been a mistake. Then you might have a period of grief and loss, thinking about the way things would have been. You might cry about the loss of  your “healthy” child, feeling all sorts of negative emotions. Using the resources available from autism therapy in Toronto can help you right from diagnosis.

Accepting your autistic child as he/she is can be a liberating experience. The moment you stop fighting the diagnosis of autism, you will be in a better place to support your child’s needs. By embracing his/her uniqueness, you will be better able to make decisions and pursue the strategies and supports that your child requires.  

Mom hugging autistic son after discovering autism therapy in Toronto.

Embracing the atypical 

Do you love your child less because he/she is on the autism spectrum? The answer is clearly no. But parents are human beings nonetheless and they tend to turn into saviors, wanting for their autistic children to be “typical”. 

In truth, your child needs to be loved, first and foremost. You have to embrace the atypical and be accepting of who he/she is. Remember that you are your child’s greatest advocate. Acceptance is a gradual process and one that will help you fight for your child. 

Why is denial the first response?

In a beautifully written piece for The Autism Society, Dr. Robert Naseef says: “Acceptance is not about giving up or resignation, but rather learning to live with something that is hard to face.”

You received the diagnosis, but, deep down, you likely already knew something was not right. There are few parents who can accept this diagnosis and think about solutions on the spot. Most parents automatically go to denial as a first response – this is a defence mechanism, one that we have selected to keep pain at a distance. 

Even if your child has been confirmed to be on the autism spectrum, he/she is still your child. And you should try and see the diagnosis as the start of a journey, the one toward helping your little one achieve his/her maximum potential. Accessing autism therapy in Toronto is one way to help them.

Instead of fighting the diagnosis, it is best to accept it and learn how to live with it. Let go of the things you imagined and celebrate your child, and his/her abilities. The diagnosis will only help you cater more effectively to his/her needs and provide the needed support. A diagnosis can also help you access provincial funding for autism therapy in Toronto. You will have a happy child as a result and feel less stressed in your parenting. 

Autism is neither good nor bad

Are you familiar with the concept of radical acceptance? It refers to accepting something as it is, without fighting it. Acceptance is the first step to creating a plan. You have to acknowledge that something has to be done before you can create a plan to tackle it. When it comes to autism, this concept can be very freeing and can help you advocate for your child. Autism is neither good nor bad, and it is certainly not the only defining characteristic that your child has. 

Therapeutic solutions, such as autism therapy in Toronto, can help your child learn new skills and achieve new levels of potential. At home, you will have to work with him/her as well but make sure that you leave plenty of time for fun. Spontaneous play, led by your child, can be of tremendous importance. Do not insist for typical play, as this can only cause frustration. Follow your child’s lead and interests. 

Do not send the “you are broken” message

Even if an autistic child is non-verbal, you have to pay attention to your words and to your gestures. If you are constantly pushing for normality, you are sending a message that they are somehow “broken” or “damaged”. While it is not possible to separate autism from the child, you have to refrain from seeing your child exclusively from that autistic perspective. 

Challenge yourself to accept your child, with the good and the bad. Try not to see your child’s skill deficits as permanent, there is always something to be learned or a way to improve a skill or situation.  Use their needs as a jumping off point for new learning and skill development.   

A message to take home about autism therapy in Toronto

There will be plenty of moments when you will feel challenged, wanting things to be ‘normal’. In those difficult situations, remind yourself that autistic children are, first and foremost, children. And like all children, they need our love to thrive. 

Stop thinking about the things that are “missing” and embrace the child you have. Celebrate each small success and avoid comparing your child with others. With the help of a team of therapists, create a personalized plan using all the avenues available at autism therapy in Toronto, making sure that you are actively involved in the therapy process. You have the insight into what is important to your child and family and should feel comfortable to direct the therapy team towards achieving those goals. 

Contact Side by Side Therapy to have a no-charge 30 minute consultation to discuss the best options for your child.

Respite Services in Toronto for ASD Parents

Read Time: 3 minutes

With the weather finally getting warmer and the hope that the Ontario “stay at home” order will be lifted, parents are becoming optimistic that these days of isolation may soon be behind us.  Parents can begin planning how they will access respite services in Toronto. Parenting is hard on the best days especially for those that have autistic children, throw in a pandemic and life becomes more challenging and overwhelming than ever before. 

Couple at lake at sunset, enjoying the time that their child is in respite services in Toronto.

Understandably, parents need a break in order to successfully care for their children; taking care of themselves will guard against burn-out, stress and fatigue. Accessing respite as opposed to just a regular babysitter will also allow parents to go out on a date or take a break without stressing and worrying about their child’s well-being while they are away. 

Benefits of Respite Services in Toronto

Respite services in Toronto are available to come to your home and provide specialized caregiving to your child or children and youth that have special needs including Autism.  Respite services provide flexible short-term temporary care and relief, depending on your specific needs, which is essential for supporting parents with child/youth with special needs.  Allowing parents to have time to engage in self-care, rest, see friends and most importantly, spend time together, will undeniably help parents to be more successful and calmer caretakers.  

When the restrictions are lifted, parents need to take this opportunity to reconnect and take a well-deserved break. Parents, especially those of Autistic children, may have found a strain on their relationship due to the overwhelming commitments around caregiving, especially during these unprecedented times.  In realizing this, it is important, now more than ever, to use respite services in Toronto to take the time for each other to reenergize and connect.

Below are some suggestions of fun date ideas to do in the GTA:

Laser Quest is a wonderful activity to do while your child is being provided excellent respite services in Toronto with Side by Side Therapy



Laser Quest – After being cooped up for so long, if you are looking for a fun and interactive activity, that is reasonably priced, then Laser Tag is a great option.  They have many locations around the GTA from Toronto East, Mississauga, Brampton, Richmond Hill and Whitby. For more information please visit their website at https://www.laserquest.com/

Formula Kartwary is a wonderful activity to do while your child is being provided excellent respite services in Toronto with Side by Side Therapy



Formula Kartways Located in Brampton, Formula Kartways is a go-karting venue to fulfill your thrill-seeking needs. If you enjoy the need for speed or some friendly competition with your partner, then this is the perfect date place.  The great thing is that you don’t need to be good at go-karting to have a great time! For more information please visit their website at http://formulakartways.com/

Axe Throwing at Batl Axe is a wonderful activity to do while your child is being provided excellent respite services in Toronto with Side by Side Therapy



BATL Axe Throwing – If you are looking for a way to release some of the pent-up energy accumulated during your stay home during the pandemic, then axe throwing is the perfect solution. This incredibly fun activity has various locations around the city.  Try it out, you will surely not be disappointed!  For more information please visit their website at https://batlgrounds.com/

Cineplex Cinemas is a wonderful activity to do while your child is being provided excellent respite services in Toronto with Side by Side Therapy



Cineplex Cinemas – There is no better way to escape from reality than through the experience of a movie.  Going to the movies is a classic pastime and a great way to spend time with your partner.  With many locations around the GTA, you will undoubtedly find a movie that will sweep you away on date night! For more information please visit https://www.cineplex.com/

Visiting High Park is a wonderful activity to do while your child is being provided excellent respite services in Toronto with Side by Side Therapy



High Park – As Toronto’s largest public park, there are many amazing things to do in this vast, lush, beautiful outdoor playground. The park offers activities such as hiking trails, a few eateries, a picnic area, a zoo, a lakefront, to just name a few. What a terrific way to become reacquainted with your partner in an outdoor majestic environment. All you have to do is arrive, take a breath, relax and enjoy!  For more information please visit their website at http://www.highparktoronto.com/

Visiting the Distillery District is a wonderful activity to do while your child is being provided excellent respite services in Toronto with Side by Side Therapy



The Distillery District – Tucked away in the Toronto East-End, what was once a historic distillery district, is now a community made up of a mix of old and new, resulting in an amazing urban gem. While at the Distillery you will find cobblestone pathways that lead you to quaint art galleries, shops and restaurants. There are also often all sorts of events going on, which indeed, keeps the district full of energy and life. 

For more information please visit their website at https://www.thedistillerydistrict.com/

In conclusion:

Remember, parents are humans with important needs too.  Luckily, respite services are available to help make life easier and provide opportunities for partners to re-energize and reconnect. Take a break, go on a date, you know you deserve it!  

If you would like to discuss respite services in Toronto, please contact us to set up a no-charge consultation today. 

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. 

Top 10 Fun Autism and Sensory Friendly Places in the Greater Toronto Area

Read time: 5 minutes

Have you ever been in a situation where the music was just too loud or the lights were way too bright? How about being in a place that was far too overcrowded and you started to feel overwhelmed and panicky? Well, this is a common feeling for those that are diagnosed with autism or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). SPD is related to over or under sensitivity to certain sensory stimulation such as loud noises, bright lights, tastes and touch.

It is a condition that affects the way the brain receives and responds to information concerning our senses and has been found to create either an over or under sensitivity to certain things within our environment.  Those that have (children specifically for the purposes of this article) SPD often receive a co-occuring diagnosis like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). 

Since SPD is so prominent in children especially for those that also have additional disorders, life can become difficult for not only the child but for the parents and caretakers as well.  This sensory sensitivity can be very debilitating and sadly can turn a task as simple as going to the grocery store into a very difficult undertaking.

Here in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in Canada, some companies have caught on for the need to provide alternative accommodations for those that live with special needs like  SPD, ASD & ADHD etc. These establishments have collaborated with autistic focussed organizations to find ways to modify their businesses to provide a sensory-friendly environment.  

Child with autism plugging her hears and shutting her eyes tight.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sensory stimuli in the environment. These GTA attractions are working to help your child manage these times.


Below you will find some of the places around the GTA that are now offering these autism and sensory-friendly settings.

Autism or Sensory Friendly Attractions in Toronto

1. Ontario Science Centre – 770 Don Mills Road, Toronto, ON M3C 1T3The Ontario Science Centre offers Sensory-friendly Saturdays on the first Saturday of every month from 3 – 7 p.m. They have partnered with Geneva Centre for Autism and other organizations to offer sensory-friendly events and programs. Sensory-friendly Saturdays were created to provide an environment that is inclusive, respectful and accessible. Their program is available to everyone and is appropriate for all ages and abilities. 

The following dates are set for 2020:

February 1, March 7, April 4, May 2, June 6, July 4, August 1, September 5, October 3, November 7 and December 5 


For more information please visit their website at: https://www.ontariosciencecentre.ca/showsandexperiences/368/ 

2. Toronto Zoo – 361A Old Finch Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M1B 5K7

The Toronto Zoo has developed a downloadable app specifically for those with ASD. This app called MagnusCards (for more information please visit http://torontozoo.magnuscards.com/) was created to provide a structured, step-by-step program that has a game-like design which helps teach a variety of life skills through the use of the app.

This app is believed to provide empowerment and a welcoming environment for those living with autism and other cognitive special needs.  The five-card decks include information on entering the zoo, Indo-Malaya, Tundra Trek, African Rainforest Pavilion, and Getting Help.      

For more information please visit their website at: http://www.torontozoo.com/tz/accessibility 

3. Cineplex Movie Theatre – Variety of Locations

Cineplex theatres offer “Sensory Friendly Screenings”, which includes a “lights up and volume down” environment.  In partnership with Autism Speaks Canada, Cineplex provides an atmosphere that allows those individuals with ASD or those who suffer from sensory sensitivities the opportunity to enjoy new releases at the theatre. 

The website states that these screenings will take place approximately every 4 – 6 weeks on Saturday mornings at 10:30 AM, however it is best to check your local theatre in case any changes have taken place. 

For more information please visit their website at: https://www.cineplex.com/Theatres/SensoryFriendly 

4. Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) – 100 Queen’s Park, Toronto ON, M5S 2C6

The ROM has teamed up with Autism Ontario to create a “ROM Sensory Friendly Guide”, where they provide helpful tips for visiting. The guide speaks on different areas in the museum that could affect someone with sensory issues (such as loud noises, lighting, scents, temperature, sloped floors and crowded areas). It also outlines where there are quiet areas around the museum. 

For more information please visit their website at:

https://www.rom.on.ca/en/visit-us/accessibility/rom-sensory-friendly-guide-for-visitors

5. Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada – 288 Bremner Boulevard, Toronto, ON M5V 3L9, CANADA

Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is the first autism certified attraction in Canada.  This Certified Autism Center has been designated by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) after completing comprehensive autism awareness and sensitivity training. 

Ripley’s Aquarium is committed to ensuring that their visitors with ASD and other sensory sensitivities have the greatest time while at the attraction. The staff have undergone extensive training and each exhibit integrates some form of IBCCES sensory guidelines (https://www.ripleyaquariums.com/canada/files/2019/04/Sensory-Guides-Final.pdf) which provides the guests with additional information regarding the sensory impacts at each display or activity. 

Please check out their website for dates and times as they will be hosting several additional sensory-friendly days that include quiet spaces, music-free environments and increased lighting. 

6. Chuck E. Cheese – Various locations around the GTA

Chuck E. Cheese offers a sensory-friendly experience the first Sunday of every month at participating locations, this includes opening doors two-hours before their regular opening times.  The organization realizes that the Chuck E. Cheese experience can be overstimulating and therefore wanted to provide an opportunity for those that suffer from sensory sensitivities to come out and have fun with well-trained staff.  As it is their mission to provide an event that allows “ALL kids to be a kid”.

For more information please visit their website at:

https://www.chuckecheese.com/events/sensory-sensitive-sundays

7. Skyzone – Various locations around the GTA

Skyzone offers activities such as trampolining and jumping along with a wide variety of other programs. At Skyzone, visitors are provided with a fun experience that allows them to burn off energy in an extremely fun way.  Skyzone offers sensory-friendly hours which provides a calmer, toned-down jumping experience for those with special needs. 

For more information please visit their website at:

https://www.skyzone.com/programs/sensory-hours

8. Sobeys – Various locations around the GTA

As mentioned, tasks for which most would think is simple such as grocery shopping can be an anxiety-ridden experience for both a child with ASD and their parent/caretaker.  Grocery stores can have a lot of sensory stimuli such as loud music, bright lights and crowds which can be overwhelming for a child that suffers from sensory sensitivities.

Sobeys has taken notice of this issue and has now created an accessible and inclusive sensory-friendly shopping experience.  To accommodate the sensory needs, Sobeys provides every week, a two-hour shopping window where they eliminate almost all the in-store lights and sounds.

Some of the sensory sensitivity measures taken by Sobeys are turning down the lights, turning off scanners, lowering music, having staff members speaking in softer tones and holding off on any announcements. According to Sobeys, the sensory sensitive shopping takes place currently on Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.  Please check with your local Sobeys for up to date information on dates and times. 

For more information please visit their website at:

https://www.blogto.com/eat_drink/2019/09/sobeys-sensory-friendly/

9. Young Peoples Theatre – 165 Front Street East, Toronto M5A 3Z4

Young Peoples Theatre offers “relaxed performances” where the performances are the same however there is a more relaxed atmosphere relating to noise levels and movement.  The sensory sensitive measures include the house lights being adjusted so that they are not as dark as they normally would be. They have also created designated relief areas where you can go if a break is needed.  For the ease of your child’s visit the theatre has also created a visual visiting guide that can be looked over with your child prior to your arrival to help eliminate any fears or surprises that could arise. 

The visual guide can be found at: https://www.youngpeoplestheatre.org/about-ypt/accessibility/

10. Upper Canada Village – 13740 County Road 2, Morrisburg, Ontario

Upper Canada Village is nestled up in Morrisburg Ontario and offers visitors an exciting experience of what life was like back in the 1860s.  Through transporting back in time, visitors are able to explore authentic buildings, activities and the people of the time. Upper Canada Village offers ASD sensory-friendly Sunday mornings where a child with sensory sensitivities will be able to enjoy the attractions is a less chaotic and overwhelming environment. They provide some helpful tips on their website for visiting the village with a sensory sensitive child.

For more information please visit their website at:

https://www.uppercanadavillage.com/events/asd-sensory-friendly-sunday-mornings/

Enjoying fun and memorable experiences is so important for children and even though your child may suffer from sensory sensitivities it is comforting to know that particular companies are working towards creating inclusive and accessible environments for ALL children to feel welcome and be able to enjoy their time. 

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: what’s more important equality or equity?

Read time: 6 minutes

Equality and equity are words that are often understood as being synonymous as they both have the implication of fairness, however, the two meanings are actually very different. Equality means to have the same opportunities as everyone else. Equity speaks to ensuring that everyone has the opportunities they need to be successful.

There have been many political movements that have espoused equal rights: women’s groups, minority groups, autism advocacy groups and other disability rights groups.

With equality, it is assumed that everyone has the same starting point and should be treated in exactly the same way. While with equity, the belief is that not all people start at the same point and for that reason, each person should receive (based on their distinct abilities) what they need to be successful. In understanding the difference between the two, we can conclude  that fairness does not mean equality

Modifications and Accommodations for Autism

While the idea behind equality is to treat everyone “fairly” and “equally”, it has sadly missed the mark when looking at fairness around Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Assuming that everyone is equal and is starting from the same place (which we know is not true, especially in autism) can actually create unintentional barriers. For instance, modifications are necessary for those with autism to be successful in their daily routines.

Making practical changes allows the starting point to truly become one of fairness. Simply put, modifications and adjustments are how we can promote fairness and ensure that all people are provided with the tools they need to achieve success. 

An example of these modifications put into action is an autism framework is that of a child who has sensory concerns or challenging behaviour and has trouble sitting in a circle on the floor with the rest of the class.  Pressuring the child to join on the floor may create resistance or even a meltdown which affects not only the autistic child but the class as a whole. A small concession that a teacher may make is to allow the child to sit on a chair in the circle to help with engagement and integration.

Yes, this may seem to some degree “unfair” to the other children or “special treatment”, however with this minor adjustment being made to accommodate a child that has additional needs, the teacher has effectively created a more positive and successful learning environment not only for the autistic child but for the entire class as well.

We cannot and must not expect every child to fit into one box and hope that success will be the same across the board. We have to realize that accommodations and flexibility provided by parents, professionals and autism caregivers are not only kind but are actually essential to achieving true equity. 

Autism ABA Therapy Lindsey Malc Side by Side Therapy Equality vs Equity Cartoon of boys trying to see over a fence.
Equality vs equity cartoon showing the practical difference between the two terms.

As these adjustments are necessary, we need to position them as being so. Instead of the modification being looked at as unfair, it rather should be seen as levelling the playing field to ensure fairness. If we don’t make a big deal about these accommodations than others (classmates, siblings etc.) won’t either. We need to keep in mind that it’s not only those with autism that are different, but we are also all different in our own way and therefore have different capabilities and needs.

In focussing too much on equality and  fairness, we end up overlooking the wonderfulness of difference. Instead, we need to look at each person individually to ensure equity and flexibility are at the forefront. Then and only then we can indeed provide fairness in its truest form.  

To further exemplify, here in Ontario, Canada all of the changes that are being proposed and made regarding the Ontario Autism Program’s funding is a prime example of the misunderstanding surrounding equality and equity.  The province seems to be under the impression that allocating the same amount of funds for children who fall within provincially designated categories (age, etc). will provide equality across the board.  However, where the mistake lies is that autism does not affect each person in the same ways.

Therefore, funding and resources should not be allocated based on provincially set rigid categories such as age, and should instead be provided and distributed based on individual need. As autism falls on a spectrum from mild to severe, one child who is nonverbal may require, for example, far more Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) Therapy or Speech Therapy, than a verbal autistic child. This example is just one of many reasons why “equality” in this case will just not work.    

Below is a helpful example of a lesson that can be played with your children to help explain this confusing topic:  

The One Size Fits All Band-Aid Lesson – Ask the children to share their most serious injury: some may say a broken arm, a dislocated shoulder or a cut on the forehead. Once the injuries have been acknowledged, explain to them that your solution to heal them is to provide them each with a band-aid. 

This solution will most likely raise some confusion to the children, as how is a band-aid supposed to fix a broken arm or a dislocated shoulder? This unhelpful solution shows that there is not one solution to all situations and that each situation needs to be addressed in it’s own way. Even though using the same solution (the band-aid) may in theory seem fair, how can this “equal” method of treating three different injuries be acceptable? All that is accomplished is that only a small number of people actually get the help they need while the rest of the group suffers. 

Once again, it is important to remember that there is a difference between equality and equity. Fairness can only truly be gained with compromises and modifications which ensure that all people are indeed given the tools they need to be successful.  Would you not agree to a person with bad eyesight getting glasses or a non-english speaker having a translator at the hospital? It is a similar situation when making adjustments for autistic children and others with exceptionalities.

We know that not all people are born the same, and in keeping this in mind, we need to continue to work towards levelling the playing field to ensure actual fairness is received. 

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 2

Read time: 3 minutes

This post continues from the last post about autism and transitions. To recap: transitions happen any time you end one activity and begin another. Transitions can be big (graduating high school and starting to work) or small (ending an episode of your favourite tv show and watching something else). Transitions are often difficult for autistic kids because of the way that they are impacted by the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (communication, social skills and restrictive and repetitive behaviours). These core symptoms can negatively impact how easy it is for a child to transition.

The first 5 tips that were listed in the previous post are:

  1. Talk about and prepare for transitions before they happen.
  2. Give warnings about upcoming transitions.
  3. Use countdowns.
  4. Create visual schedules.
  5. Give options to increase feelings of control.

Here are the last 6 tips to help those with autism transition:

Kids with autism sitting in a group at school. All smiling with hands raised to answer a question.
  1. Use Natural Breaks – Using natural breaks is one method that can ease transitions naturally for those with autism.  For instance, if your child is playing with a puzzle, upon completion it would then be an appropriate and ideal time to move into a transition. Since the activity had an end point, this allows the child to feel closure and more willingness to move onto the next event. 
Child with autism playing with dinosaurs.
  1. Likes and Interests – As transitions can be daunting, especially transitions that are not preferred by your child, it is helpful to try and make the transition fun or exciting.  This playful and creative method can alleviate some of the associated stressors through distracting your child with games/activities that they enjoy. Let’s say you need to go on a long drive, and you know being in the car for long periods is a trigger for your child, try playing “I spy”. Or, how about if getting to school in the morning is a challenge try hopping on one foot all the way there. Use your imagination!  
Child with autism and parent talking.
  1. Objects or Songs – Using a physical object can help your child with autism in understanding a transition. Have your child grab their towel before bath-time, this will then alert and prepare them for the upcoming transition. Transition objects offer a visible reminder for your child to help recognize an approaching transition.   Songs can also offer concrete cues for the upcoming change such as singing or creating a bedtime song. Once the child hears or sings the song, they will then associate it with their bedtime. You can also have your child keep a favourite coping tool on hand, perhaps their special stuffed animal or blanket.       
Child with autism smiling, a closeup.
  1. Use Appropriate Forms of Rewards – Using a reward system is a very effective tool when dealing with transitions. By arranging a plan with your child prior to an event/transition with the understanding of what can be earned is a great motivator. It is important to be able to differentiate between a reward and a bribe.  Where a reward can have positive effects, a bribe can have the opposite outcome. For instance, if you plan to go out grocery shopping and agree to a reward of a chocolate bar should your child behave as expected then a reward is in play. However, if you go out to the store without an agreement  and your child has a meltdown because they want a chocolate bar, when you give in to this behaviour and buy them the chocolate, it is actually a bribe. Therefore, ensure you are making the distinction between rewards and bribes to ensure you’re using this transition tool effectively.

Additionally, rewards can be earned through using a First/Then Chart (or first/then language) which is a tool that visually explains what activity needs to “first” be done in order to “then” receive or do something the child may want.  For instance, if you have trouble getting your child to brush their teeth, you can say, ‘first’ we brush our teeth and ‘then’ we can read a book. With this sense of involvement and essentially partial control usually will lead the child to participate unknowingly.  

A sand timer, used in autism treatment to visually represent the time for a student.
  1. Slow down – As discussed, there can be numerous transitions in a day, and you may find that too many transitions are just too difficult for those with autism. It may be for the benefit of the parent, childcare worker, teacher and especially the child to slow down and even eliminate some transitions. Not every transition is necessary.  Find the transitions that can be cut out and structure your child’s day for maximum success. 
Parent or therapist doing a yoga routine with a child with autism.
  1. Deep Breathing / Calming Strategies – Deep breathing and calming strategies are not only important for children, but they are also useful for parents, caregivers and teachers alike. In learning how to use breathing and other calming strategies one is better able to self-regulation thus helping ease the anxiety surrounding the transition. In trying to teach your child deep breathing, it is helpful to have your child start with blowing bubbles and after practice, they should have a good grasp of the breathing action. Keeping bubbles on hand can help during times of need and once the action is mastered it is a calming mechanism that can then be used anytime and anywhere. 

Your child must realize that transitions are not punishments and should therefore not be associated as such. Instead, your child should understand these are necessary 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 anxiety and difficulties. With your enthusiasm alongside your well thought out plan and tons of praise and encouragement, you will see changes in your child’s ability to transition smoothly. Be aware though, there may need to be frequent tweaks to your plan and schedules as this ensures the best modifications are being made.

In keeping in mind the many factors that contribute to your child’s difficulties with transitions and maintaining flexibility and open-mindedness you will help in easing their transition and in turn, set them up for success.

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! 

Autistic People or People with Autism: 2 Completely Opposing Perspectives

Read time: 5 minutes

The subject of language is such an important factor in shaping the way we look at and interact with society. The connotations and assumptions that have been learned with language have moulded (intentionally or unintentionally) our perspectives and outlook. 

These learned assumptions play a large part in influencing our way of understanding and looking at things and sadly, at times, one’s outlook can be detrimental to others. Stereotypes and labels, unfortunately, are often a misrepresentation of what some believe to be the truth and regrettably place barriers before those they view as ‘different’ or as ‘other’. We view difference as being bad. However, what does different mean and who decided this?   

Autistic community targeted as different

When speaking on difference, the autistic community has struggled with being labelled and stereotyped as ‘different’. You can read about autism spectrum disorder here. If we, as a society, could change our perspectives and look at autistic people not as ‘different’ or as an ‘other’, but instead see that in a lot of cases, the difference simply lies in their approach to how they cope in and interact with society. This shift in thinking could truly offer this community the respect and acceptance they deserve.  

Couple arguing about whether to use person first or identify first language, meaning whether to say person with autism or autistic person.

To that note, there has been much debate and controversy surrounding the appropriate choice of language used when identifying or communicating with an autistic person.  This debate is focused on identity-first language (“autistic person”) versus person-first language (“person with autism”). Now, you may look at the above two forms of language and think these nuisances are based on semantics, however, if you look to understand and break it down the difference is not only important but rather quite clear. 

The concepts are:

  • Identity-first language which is the preferential choice of language for those within the autistic community. It is their preference for the use of words such as “Autistic” or “Autistic person” when being addressed, spoken or identified with. Since we know that autism is an inherent part of a person’s identity, it is believed that identity should be recognized first. The person cannot break away from autism. Therefore, from this perspective, identity-first language is a choice for empowerment, shared community beliefs, culture and identity.  It speaks to the fact that being autistic is nothing to be ashamed of and differences are to be respected and celebrated not criticized.

Versus

  • Person-first language has been adopted by parents, caretakers and professionals of autistic people and they use terminology such as “person with autism”. This viewpoint explains in essence, that person-first language puts the person before the disability or the condition and focuses on the merits and worth of the individual by accepting them as a person instead of a condition. This outlook taken on by caretakers, family members and professionals are based on the idea that they do not consider autism to be part of the child’s identity and therefore don’t want them to be labelled as such.      

The controversy, therefore, surrounding the use of person-first language as recognized by many within the autistic community, is that it suggests that a person can be separated from autism.  Autism is a neurological, developmental condition that’s considered a disorder with disabling effects. It is lifelong and does not on its own cause harm or death such as another disease might (such as measles… but don’t get my started on vaccine safety).

Diseases, unlike autism, are often labelled through the use of “with”, such as, “person with cancer”. Autism, on the other hand, is part of a person’s individuality and make-up which shapes a person’s way of understanding the world and interacting in it. In labelling autistic people in the same way you would someone with a disease puts autism as inherently bad just like a disease, which clearly could not be further from the truth.

Consequently, this is why those within the autistic community are fighting to change this use of language to a more identity focused instead of disability focused point of view. Is it too far-fetched for us to respect the wishes of those to whom we are referring  and who can, in fact, speak on real-life experience and their identity? 

By understanding the differences and connotations associated with language and its use, alongside, respecting the wishes of those that identify as autistic is crucial. When in doubt of which language should be used while engaging with the community it is best to check amongst the group and its members. If you are still unclear, then I recommend you reach out and ask. 

In my writing, I will use identity- first language, unless I am asked to do otherwise by my collaborators or the person I am writing about. This goes against my training and habits, but I want to honour the voices and opinions of the autistics who have shared their wishes with us.

Remember, language is important and impactful in so many ways and can, unfortunately, have harmful consequences if used inappropriately.  For this reason, we need to recognize the way in which we choose to use language and continue to be cognizant of its outcome, always. 

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.  

*************************************************************************************

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.

Applied Behaviour Analysis: 59 Terms and phrases translated for easy understanding

Read time: 7 minutes

Therapist and child doing applied behaviour analysis.

There are so many terms and acronyms that you’ll be encountering when you enter the world of applied behaviour analysis. It can be very confusing, especially because some of the words that are commonly used in ABA are used with another meaning in common language. I’m going to give the definitions in terms of children but they can be applied to anyone (adult or child).

Applied Behaviour Analysis Definitions of Common Words/Phrases:

ABA Therapy: Applied Behaviour Analysis is the application of the sciences of learning and behaviour to teach, increase or decrease behaviours that are meaningful to the client and their family. 

ABLLS-r (The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills – revised): This is a tool that is used as an assessment, curriculum guide and skill tracker when doing applied behaviour analysis. It was created by Dr. James Partington. Similar to the VB MAPP, it tests whether the child has specific language skills. The skills that are measured are sequenced from easiest to most difficult.  There are 25 domains, some of which include: expressive language, receptive language, writing, imitation, fine and gross motor skills. 

Accuracy: How close to the target something is or how correct it is. 

Acquisition Target: A target that is currently being taught.  This is a behaviour or skill that has not been learned yet. 

Adjusted Age: This refers to the age of your child based on their due date. For example, if your child was born 6 months ago but was 2 months early, they would have an adjusted age of 4 months. Doctors or therapists will sometimes use adjusted age when speaking about the development of your child.  People usually stop referring to adjusted age when the child is around 2 years old. 

Antecedent: In applied behaviour analysis an antecedent is what happens before a behaviour. Think of it like the trigger for the behaviour.  

Aversive: A stimulus that your child finds unpleasant or bothersome.  Aversives can be used as a punisher to decrease behaviour or the removal of an aversive can be used as a reinforcer to increase behaviour.  Your therapists should not be using aversives in your child’s programming without having a discussion with you and gaining your consent.

Behaviour: This is what the child does. Behaviours have to be measurable and observable. 

Behaviour Intervention Plan (BIP): This is a plan that will target the reduction of challenging behaviour for your child. They should always include: a specific definition of the behaviour, antecedent strategies, reactive strategies, a replacement behaviour and a mastery criteria.

Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA): This is a masters or PhD level therapist who has completed the requirements (specific courses, over 1500 hours of work experience and passed a credentialing exam) of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.  

Chaining:  In applied behaviour analysis chaining is when a skill is broken down into steps and then the steps are taught in isolation then brought together to form a longer sequence (or a chain). You can forwards chain (teach the first step then the second and so on), backwards chain (prompt all steps except the last, then prompt all steps except the last two and so on) or you can teach the whole chain (fade prompting across each step of the chain at one time). 

Chronological Age:  This refers to the amount of time your child has been alive. Even if they were born prematurely, this is the number of days/months/years that they’ve been on the planet. 

Clinical Supervisor (CS): In Ontario, a CS is the BCBA who is responsible for overseeing your child’s ABA program.  They make clinical decisions (decisions about what and how to teach) and collaborate with you and the rest of your child’s team in supporting your child as much as required. 

Consequence: In applied behaviour analysis, this is what happens immediately after a behaviour.  Consequences are neither good nor bad, they simply follow a behaviour. 

Deprivation: When your motivation for something is really high because you haven’t been exposed to it in a long time.  When you stop using or consuming something your desire, your need for that item grows. 

Developmental Age: This is the age at which your child demonstrating most of their skills. Doctors and researchers have set all of the developmental milestones to specific age windows.  For example, most children learn to speak in two-word sentences at around 18-24 months. Your child’s developmental age is the age at which they’re functioning emotionally, physically, cognitively or socially. Developmental age is not always correlated to chronological age.

Discrete Trial Training: This is a method of presenting the child with small segments of learning that are repeated, known as trials. Often the skill is presented in 5 or 10 trial blocks.  The blocks are repeated a few times a day until the child can demonstrate the skill without prompting. 

Discriminative Stimulus (SD): In applied behaviour analysis this is the demand, request or question that elicits a specific response.  The presence of an SD signals the availability of reinforcement.  

Duration: The length of a behaviour.  

Echoic: A verbal operant meaning repeating.  When the speaker repeats what they heard from someone else.  For example, when a father says “bedtime” and the child repeats “bedtime”. In applied behaviour analysis programs, echoics are usually one of the first language goals targeted.

Expressive Language: This describes our ability to use language, gestures and writing to express ourselves. 

Extinction Burst: A rapid escalation in the frequency, intensity and/or duration of a behaviour once the reinforcement for this behaviour has been removed.  Usually, the pattern during extinction is that there is a small reduction in the behaviour, a big spike and then the behaviour disappears completely. There is something known as spontaneous recovery, which can happen after extinction is used.  The child will test the waters and re-engage in the challenging behaviour that has previously been extinguished. By sticking to the plan and not reinforcing the behaviour, spontaneous recovery is usually short lived. 

Extinction: When you intentionally stop reinforcing a behaviour with the goal of reducing that behaviour. For example, if you don’t answer the phone when someone calls, they will eventually stop calling you.  Often leads to an extinction burst.

Fine Motor Skills: These are the skills that require movement and coordination of the small muscles of the body, specifically the muscles of the hands.  Cutting, writing and pointing are all fine motor skills. 

Functional Analysis or FA: This is a highly specialized process that BCBAs use to determine the function of the behaviour targeted for intervention.  By manipulating reinforcement the BCBA will see if they can influence the behaviour. By controlling the reinforcement for a behaviour, you’re able to determine the function of the behaviour and can create function based replacement behaviours. One specific type of FA is called IISCA (Interview Informed Synthesized Contingency Analysis), it was created by Dr. Greg Hanley. 

Functional Behaviour Assessment or FBA: This is a process for hypothesizing the function of a behaviour that is being targeted for intervention. In an FBA the BCBA does some or all of the following: observes the behaviour, completes interview style questionnaires and takes data. 

Generalization: When your child is able to demonstrate a skill using novel materials, with novel people and in novel environments. All ABA skill acquisition programs should have generalization steps built into the program because generalization does not always happen automatically. 

Gross Motor Skills: These are the skills that require movement or coordination of the large muscles of the body, specifically the muscles of the arms, legs and trunk. Walking, running and sitting are all gross motor movements. 

Intervention: This the strategy that will be used by the team to change a behaviour or teach a skill. Intervention is another word for program. 

Intraverbal: A verbal operant meaning conversation.  When the speaker responds to another person’s language in a conversational way. For example, if someone asks you “What’s your favourite colour?” your response “Red” would be an intraverbal. 

Latency: In applied behaviour analysis, this is the time between when an instruction is given and the beginning of the behaviour.  

Maintenance: When a skill or behaviour is able to be demonstrated long after it was originally taught and with less reinforcement than was used during teaching.  Sometimes a skill will be ‘moved to maintenance’ this means that the child will be asked to demonstrate the skill on a regular basis to avoid losing it.  Often there is a maintenance schedule that the applied behaviour analysis team will use to practice the learned skills so that they are not forgotten. 

Mand: A verbal operant meaning request.  When the speaker uses a word to make their needs known.  For example, saying “apple” when you want to eat an apple. Mands can be requests for objects, people or attention.  Mands can also be requests for the removal of something you don’t like. 

Mastery: The requirement for something to be considered learned.  Mastery criteria are always set before the behaviour is taught.  Often in applied behaviour analysis programs mastery criteria is 80% correct (or above) over 3 consecutive days with different instructors and novel stimuli. 

Natural Environment Teaching (NET): A form of applied behaviour analysis where learning occurs naturally or incidentally in the child’s typical environment.  Examples of programs that are best run in the NET are tooth brushing or feeding programs run at a family table during meal times. 

Negative Reinforcement: When something is removed from the environment that makes a behaviour more likely to happen again in the future. In applied behaviour analysis, negative reinforcement is not the same as punishment.

Neutral Stimulus:  Something in our environment that does not affect our behaviour.  We have not associated that object or event with anything else. 

Positive Reinforcement:  When something is added to the environment that makes a behaviour more likely to happen again in the future. 

Program: The specific strategies that will be used to change a behaviour or teach a skills. Each skill should have it’s own program description. Program is another word for intervention. 

Prompt Hierarchy: These are the graduated steps that a therapist will use to methodically remove support for a child to be able to perform a skill independently. Having a prompt hierarchy in place is important in order to ensure that all team members are using the least intrusive prompt required. An example of a most to least prompt hierarchy is: full physical, partial physical, verbal, gestual, modeling, pointing, gaze and no prompt (independent). 

Prompting: These are the strategies that are used to help a child learn a new skill. Generally, BCBAs will put a prompt hierarchy in place to guide the therapists in how to support the child. 

Punisher: Anything that makes a behaviour less likely to happen again in the future. 

Punishment:  A procedure that is used to decrease the likelihood that a behaviour will happen again in the future.  Punishment weakens behaviour. Your child’s therapy team must gain your consent before implementing punishment procedures in their applied behaviour analysis programming.

Rate: This is how many times a behaviour is displayed within a specific time frame.  Rate is always described in relation to time. For example, 7 incidents per day or 2 incidents per minute. 

Ratio: This is the number of responses required before a reinforcer will be delivered. It is possible to have either a fixed ratio (for every 5 responses reinforcement will be delivered) or a variable ratio (on average reinforcement will be delivered every 5 responses – sometimes it is delivered after one response and other times it is delivered after 9 responses). 

Receptive Language: This describes our ability to understand the words that are spoken to us. 

Registered Behaviour Technician (RBT): This is a credential offered by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.  An RBT is a person who practices applied behaviour analysis under the close and ongoing supervision of a BCBA. RBTs are not allowed to practice independently (without supervision) because they have not met the standards set by the BACB for that level of work. 

Reinforcement: A procedure that is used to increase the likelihood that a behaviour will happen again in the future.  Reinforcement strengthens behaviour. 

Reinforcer: Anything that makes a behaviour more likely to happen again.  

Response: An observable and measurable behaviour.  Often applied behaviour analysis folks talk about response classes, or groups of behaviour that fit into a category. 

S-Delta: A stimulus whose presence indicates that a behaviour will not be reinforced.  For example, an “out of order” sign on an elevator will decrease the likelihood that you’ll push the elevator call button. 

Satiation: When your motivation for something is really low because you’ve been exposed to it too much.  This happens when you use a reinforcer too frequently or in amounts that are too big. 

Schedules of Reinforcement: The frequency that reinforcement is delivered. There are fixed and variable schedules as well as ratio and interval schedules. Fixed Interval (FI) schedules provide reinforcement for the first example of the target behaviour after a predetermined amount of time has expired. Fixed Ratio (FR) schedules provide reinforcement after a specific number of correct responses (think of a token board). Variable Interval (VI) schedules provide reinforcement after an unpredictable amount of time has passed. Variable Ratio (VR) schedules provide reinforcement after an unpredictable number of responses have been given.

Scrolling: Rotating through a set of answers when you don’t know the specific answer. For example, if you showed your child an apple and asked “what’s this?” If your child was scrolling they would say “Orange, ball, tomato, apple”.  This happens if the prompting procedure is not applied correctly. Scrolling can happen with any of the verbal operants, not only tacting/labeling.

Self-Injurious Behaviour (SIB): Actions that the child does that cause injury to themself. Hitting oneself, biting oneself and headbanging are examples of self-injurious behaviour. 

Stims/Stimming: Self-stimulatory behaviour. These are some of the repetitive or stereotypic behaviours that a person with autism might engage in. For example, hand flapping, rocking and repeating movie scripts are all stims. Some people with autism report that they engage in stimming because they’re either under or over responsive to sensory stimuli and it helps to balance them. 

Tact: In applied behaviour analysis this means a label.  When the speaker names what they see or perceive in the environment. For example, smelling pie and saying “pie” or hearing a dog barking and saying “dog”. 

VB MAPP (Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program): This is a curriculum assessment that is based on Skinner’s Verbal Behaviour. It was created by Dr. Mark Sundberg.  Similar to the ABLLS-r it tests whether the child has specific language skills. The sections or domains of the assessment are based on Skinner’s verbal Operants. The assessment is divided into 5 parts: Milestones Assessment, Barriers Assessment, Transition Assessment, Task Analysis & Supporting Skills and Placement & IEP Goals. 

Verbal Behaviour: A branch of applied behaviour analysis based on the work of B.F. Skinner.  Skinner identified verbal operants or different parts of our language, each serving a different purpose or function.  There are many verbal operants but the basic ones are: mands, tacts, echoics and intraverbals. 

If you’re embarking on your applied behaviour analysis adventure and would like to discuss anything with us, please contact us for a no-charge 30 minute consultation.

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.

Functions of Behaviour: Luckily it’s always one of these 4

Info graphic listing the 4 functions of behaviour: attention, escape, access to tangibles and sensory

Read time: 3 minutes

When developing behaviour intervention plans, behaviour analysts investigate the environmental conditions that create opportunities for challenging behaviours to happen.  We look at the functions of behaviour.

In other words, we look at the antecedents (or what is happening before a behaviour) and the consequences (or what is happening after a behaviour) to determine how the behaviour is maintained.

Behaviour analytic researchers have shown that there are 4 main functions of behaviour that perpetuate every behaviour. Sometimes a behaviour will serve one function but more often it can serve many.  Functions of behaviours can also change over time. The 4 functions of behaviours are: access to tangibles, access to social attention, escape or avoidance of undesired situations and automatic reinforcement (sensory).  

The functions of behaviour don’t always equal their topographies

Sometimes it can be easy to confuse the function of a behaviour with it’s topography. Topography is the description of what the behaviour looks like not why it is occurring. For example, to say that someone is chewing is describing the topography of their behaviour not the function.

Once the functions of a behaviour have been discovered the behaviour analyst will develop a replacement behaviour that meets the same need, is easier and is 100% effective. Another important aspect of changing behaviour is to stop reinforcing the target behaviour.

If your child is engaging in an attention seeking behaviour, say calling out in class without raising their hand, the replacement behaviour could potentially be teaching the child to raise their hand to have the teacher call on them. In order for this replacement behaviour to take hold, the teacher has to be committed to always call on the child when they raise their hand and to ignore all instances of calling out. If the teacher continues to reinforce the calling out behaviour, there will be no reason for the child to stop.  

It’s important to remember that reinforcing doesn’t only mean being positive about something.  In applied behaviour analysis, when you reinforce something you’re simply making it more likely to happen again. If a child is engaging in a behaviour that is maintained by escape and you put them in a time out you are reinforcing their escape maintained behaviour, even though being in a time out is not fun.

If a child doesn’t like to eat their vegetables and swears at the dinner table and is sent to their room as a consequence the child’s swearing behaviour is being reinforced because they were allowed to escape or avoid eating their vegetables.  The child has learned that by swearing they will be sent away from the table and will not have to eat their vegetables.

Often the way to change behaviour is to do the opposite of the function while replacing the target behaviour with an alternative.  If the behaviour serves the function of escape or avoidance you would not allow the child to escape or avoid the situation. If the child is gaining attention from the behaviour you would want to limit attention (ignore the behaviour, not the child). If the behaviour allows the child to gain access to something tangible you would want to not allow access.

There are many ethical debates about whether it is okay to intervene in self-stimulatory behaviours (flapping, pacing, jumping etc). I believe that we should not stop someone from doing something simply because of how it looks to others.  Typically developing people engage in self-stimulatory behaviours (humming, playing with their hair, fidgeting) and no one is putting a behaviour interventions in place to stop them. If a sensory maintained behaviour is dangerous (self-injury) or disruptive then there needs to be intervention and a replacement behaviour should be established. 

 Click here to read about the elements of a behaviour intervention plan.

If you would like some help determining the functions of your child’s challenging behaviour contact Lindsey by phone at 1.877.797.0437 or by email.

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