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How to Build a Good Relationship with Your Child’s Teacher

As a parent, it is normal to have worries about your child’s academic success. How will your child integrate in the school environment? Will they establish positive relationships with their teachers and peers? These are only two questions among the many going through your head. Read on to learn how to build a good relationship with your child’s teacher.

The teacher is the number one person who can help your child integrate and achieve their full potential within the school. This is the major reason you need to build a positive relationship with your child’s educator. Together, you can set common goals and positively influence their long-term academic outcome.

In this blog, we will present a few strategies on how to build a relationship with your child’s teacher. The most important thing to remember is that teachers require time to get to know your child, so keep an open mind. Work towards the relationship you want to have and always state your goals.

How to Build the Relationship:

Use the first meeting to paint a detailed picture 

Parent building a relationship with their child's teacher in a meeting at the school.

Teachers are familiar with the diagnosis of autism. But they don’t know your child, and this is where you come in. To build a good relationship with the teacher you need to help them understand your child. Offer solutions on how to handle certain behaviours, meltdowns in particular.

Be sure to highlight your child’s strengths and what helps in interacting with them. The more information you provide, the easier it will be for the teacher to see beyond the diagnosis.

Talk about goals 

Once school starts, the teacher becomes part of the team. You need to mention the things you are working on in therapy, and how educators can reinforce them at school. It always interests teachers to help their students achieve their full potential. They will want to know about the goals you have for your child. Some teachers are open to Behaviour Consultations from the therapy team.

By informing the teacher about your child’s goals, you will develop a positive, team-based approach. The purpose is to create a team that works together, helping your child achieve new skills. Everyone on the team should be familiar with the things you want to improve or change.

Discuss communication expectations 

It is best to communicate regularly with your child’s teacher. However, remember that they are only one person who has to communicate with a lot of parents. Establishing communication expectations from the start can pave the way for a great relationship with your child’s teacher.

Some teachers prefer after school conversations, while others rely on emails and phone calls. What matters is that you ask and see what works best for both you and the teacher. When engaged in a conversation, stay on the subject. Try to place yourself in the educator’s shoes and see how hard they are working to help your child.

A plan to help the child succeed 

Work with your child’s teacher to develop a plan for how your child will achieve their goals. Modifications and accommodations can be made to the curriculum. Therefore, they should be used to make your child as successful as possible. Talk about behavioural issues and how they influence learning, and set goals based on the strengths of your child.

The key is to develop a partnership with the teacher, working towards a common aim: helping the child succeed. Ask the educator to offer his/her input and work on creating a road map for progress. Meet regularly to review the progress made and update the initial goals.

Don’t be afraid to talk about negative behaviours

Meltdowns and challenging behaviours can be part of life with autism, and teachers deserve open communication as much as anyone else. Don’t be afraid to talk about these issues, as the teacher is not there to judge your child but to help them. The teacher will be grateful that you were up front and this will help build the relationship.

It might help to discuss specific situations. Find out what caused a meltdown, and how the teacher saw fit to intervene. Have a talk about potential triggers and also about school-related behaviors that could be worked on during therapy. The more you are open about your child, the easier it will be for the teacher to relate and offer help.

Parent-teacher interview

A structured interview can be useful in developing a positive relationship with your child’s teacher. During the interview, you can talk about your child, and any issues related to his/her diagnosis. By doing this, the educator finds out more information about his/her students.

From your perspective, such an interview represents a sure way of starting things on the right foot. You can speak about emotional and behavioral difficulties, and academic goals. Depending on how much time you have available, you can also discuss how your child will integrate in the school environment.

Conclusion

It takes time to develop a positive relationship with your child’s teacher, but the effort is all worth it. The educator becomes part of the intervention team, fighting to help your child grow and overcome the challenges they face.

Interested in reading a New York Times article about how a Florida mom works to build a good relationship with her daughter’s school?

 

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Read time: 4 minutes

Has your child recently been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder? Has your child ever had an over the top reaction to what seems to be a regular situation? Obviously, all kids can have challenging behaviour, however, some children have a hard time processing and tolerating certain physical, situational, environmental and sensory experiences. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is the inability to process sensory stimuli. That means it can lead to reactions and behaviours that are disruptive to the child and those around them. Difficulty in processing sensory input can leave both the child and the parents/caretaker overwhelmed, stressed-out and anxious.  

Child with sensory processing disorder covering ears and smiling while playing outside.

SPD has made its way into mainstream culture. A quick Google Search will lead you to lots of information. Since ASD children have more difficulty processing sensory input, they may become easily overwhelmed or overstimulated by situations (i.e. bright lights, loud noises, crowded spaced) or things (i.e. textures of food or clothing). Many children with ASD also experience sensory processing problems. But SPD is not limited to children with autism. Children with ADHD or no other diagnosis at all can have SPD. Every child who has sensory difficulties will have a challenging time until their needs are identified and addressed.

SPD: Hypersensitivity vs Hyposensitivity

Sensory Processing Disorder is a neurological disorder that affects that way that a person receives and processes sensory information.   In everyone, messages from the senses are sent to the nervous system where they are processed. However, in SPD, this processing is faulty. This can lead to an uncomfortable experience for the individual. There are two kinds of sensory processing difficulties: hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity.

Hypersensitivity

Hypersensitivities can lead to oversensitivity and sensory avoiding. Several things can act as triggers to sensory meltdowns. For example, some of the triggers include crowded spaces, specific clothing, smells and textures of food, sudden or loud noises and bright lighting. 

Some hypersensitivities include:

  • Severe response to sudden loud or high-pitched noises
  • Easily distracted by background noises and movement
  • Does not like unexpected touching, hugs or cuddling
  • Uncomfortable around crowds or busy places
  • Fear of falling or getting hurt

Children that have sensory avoidance may do the following:

  • Become overwhelmed easily by places and people
  • Look for a quiet place when in crowded or noisy situations
  • Sudden noise can easily startle them
  • Bright lights can be bothersome
  • Clothing and fabric can make the child uncomfortable
  • Avoid hugging or touching others
  • Textures and smells of food can be bothersome
  • Transitions and change can be very upsetting and difficult

Hyposensitivity

Hyposensitivities can lead to under-sensitivity and sensory seeking. Often, sensory seeking children have a need for movement and have a lot of difficulty sitting still. They also like physical contact and pressure. 

Some hyposensitivities include:

  • A constant need to touch textures and people, even when it’s not appropriate
  • Lack of understanding of personal space
  • Uncoordinated and awkward movements
  • High pain threshold
  • Unable to sit still, constant movements
  • Rough and aggressive when playing with other kids

Children that are sensory seeking may do the following:

  • Constantly need to touch things
  • Be unaware of rough house playing and physical risk-taking
  • Have a high pain threshold
  • Constantly be moving and bouncing around
  • Show a lack of respect for other people’s personal space
  • Be easily distracted
  • Be clumsy and bumps into walls, trip over their own feet etc. 

It is important to realize that no two children are alike and each child’s sensory experience and coping mechanism are unique. And, your child may actually be affected by sensory issues from both categories. The journey to understanding your child’s sensory issues and ways of managing them can be an overwhelming task but there is help.  

Occupational Therapists can help

Occupational Therapists (OT) are trained in sensory regulation and can help to understand, identify and manage sensory stimuli issues. Accordingly, they can provide helpful tips, resources and supplies. For example, an OT might suggest a sensory diet to ease the anxiety and discomfort of your child. In effect, These strategies help children to manage their emotions and behaviours through specific activities and self-regulation techniques. 

Children with sensory processing disorder playing in sensory bins made by an occupational therapist.

Identifying and managing a child’s sensory difficulties will allow the child to cope with SPD. As a result, having a handle on their sensory triggers will provide them with the opportunities to use tools and strategies that will aid in their successful social interactions and day to day well-being.

How To Pick The Right Autism Therapy: 8 Questions

Read time: 4 minutes

Thanks to the internet, information on autism therapy is unlimited.  Some of it is very valid and helpful.  Some of it is not.  Use common sense when picking interventions or treatments to try.  If it sounds too good to be true, it just might be.

As of now, there is no cure for autism. There are lots of treatments that can teach skills and there are some medications that can improve some physical symptoms but there is no cure. That’s hard to hear as a parent and hard for me to say as a therapist.  I believe that every child is capable of learning and becoming a better version of themselves.

The interventions you choose should fit with your values and be evidence-based. Evidence-based means that different groups of researchers studied them and have repeated the results many times.  However, there are many autism therapy interventions that are not evidence-based. 

One of the problems with choosing an intervention that is not evidence-based is that it takes valuable time, energy and resources away from interventions that are shown to work. Very few families have unlimited funds for therapy. Therefore it’s important to try and get the most value out of the things you can do.

Parents interviewing team for autism therapy.

Ask these 8 Questions when choosing an autism therapy or provider:

1. What research is there that supports this intervention?

Look for studies that have been peer reviewed (that means that other experts in the field have reviewed the study and can vouch for the way the study was designed). 

Anyone can write a blog or publish an article on the internet.  That is to say you want to be sure that the information you’re using comes from reputable sources like Universities (and not just your aunt’s best friend’s cousin who had the same problem as you). 

At Side by Side Therapy, we only utilize evidence-based practices in our autism therapy. 

2. What training do you and your staff have?

In Canada, there is no standard credential for behaviour therapists.  In Ontario, in order to use your provincial funding on behavioural services, the program must be supervised by a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst or a Clinical Psychologist with experience in ABA. To be an Instructor Therapist (IT), most agencies require that the candidate have a post-grad diploma or certificate in Autism and Behaviour Sciences. It is slowly becoming the standard that ITs are Registered Behaviour Technicians (RBT) but it’s not mandatory. 

At Side by Side Therapy, all of our clinicians are encouraged to maintain the highest standard for their discipline. We are actively training the next generation of behaviour analysts. 

3. How will this intervention be individualized for my child? 

There’s an expression in the autism world: “If you know one person with autism… you know one person with autism”. Each child is an individual and learns differently.  In other words how they are taught, which reinforcers and prompting procedures are used and how success is measured should all be individualized.  It is impossible to pick up a textbook or curriculum and have an ideal autism therapy program. 

4. How do you measure progress?

Some clinicians are focused on the end goal – total independence.  Some children will never achieve total independence. It’s important that the way progress is measured is meaningful to the client and family. There are different dimensions that can be used to measure progress: frequency, intensity, duration and more! 

5. How will we work as a team? 

You want to ask about how frequently team meetings are held, how to contact the clinical supervisor if you need them (phone, email, text?) and how frequently parent training sessions are held. 

Parents should be involved in every aspect of their child’s autism therapy program. 

6. What are the goals of this autism therapy – in general and for my child? 

You want to ensure that the goals of the intervention align with your goals for your child. Some programs focus on language, while others focus on challenging behaviour reduction. You want to ensure that the goals reflect your child’s needs and your beliefs about education and will be in line with your thinking. 

7. What are your feelings on stim behaviours? Should we be trying to stop them?

For many years it was believed that therapists should stop children from engaging in self-stimulating behaviours (stimming).  Many autistic advocates have expressed how damaging suppressing stims was for them. A new belief is taking hold –  as long as the stim is not hurting anyone, destroying property or stopping the child from participating in activities, it should not be addressed. No one stops typically developing people from engaging in stims as long as they’re not hurting anyone or destroying property – why should it be any different for autistics?

8. What is the process for terminating services if I do not wish to continue? 

You should never be locked into a service.  If it is not working for your child or family you should be able to openly discuss this with the team.  In Ontario, specifically, you should not be pressured to sign over your entire Childhood budget or Interim One Time Funding Cheque to a provider. 

Connect with Side by Side Therapy to schedule a no-charge/no obligation consultation to discuss our autism therapy solutions for your child.

IBI and ABA: What’s the difference?

Read time: 3 minutes

When your child receives an autism diagnosis you are introduced to an alphabet soup of acronyms. IBI, ABA, OAP, FA, IEP, IPRC; the list is endless.  In this post you’ll learn the differences between two of the most used and often confused: IBI and ABA. 

Boy working with therapist in an IBI session for autism treatment.

What is ABA?

ABA stands for applied behaviour analysis and it is the science of learning and behaviour. There are a few laws of behaviour, very much like the laws of gravity. These rules are reliable, observable and measurable. The focus of ABA is to change socially significant or meaningful behaviour.  That  means that the goal is to improve people’ lives by helping them achieve more independence and access to the things that matter to them.

What is IBI?

IBI stands for intensive behaviour intervention. IBI is the intensive application of the science of ABA. For a program to be considered IBI, it has to occur more than 20 hours per week.  Because of the intensity, IBI programs are usually comprehensive. This means that they cover many domains of learning.  IBI programs are often recommended for children with level 2 or 3 autism (previously known as lower functioning children).

What are socially significant behaviours?

Socially significant or meaningful behaviours are the behaviours that matter to you and your family. Some examples are: communication, self-care (toileting, hygiene, self-feeding) and reducing challenging behaviour. Independence in these areas will allow your child to participate more fully in life.

Neither IBI nor ABA is better than the other. Some children learn best in a very structured environment (like IBI) while others learn best in a naturalistic setting (like school). Your child will make progress in both. There is a lot of research that shows that early intensive behaviour intervention has the best outcomes for young children

In an IBI program, your child will learn communication and language, social skills, play skills, pre-academic or academic skills, self-help skills, motor skills and much more.

In an ABA program, the therapy will focus on one or two specific goals that you want to address. Some parents choose to focus on challenging behaviour when doing a focused program. Also, some families find it helpful to focus on ‘high impact’ behaviours like toileting or feeding.

How do I decide which program my child needs?

Choosing which program is best for your child is a difficult decision. There are many factors that will play a role: your child’s needs, their other programs/therapies, location, finances, waitlists and your beliefs about education. You know your child best and it’s important that the therapy you choose fits your lifestyle and beliefs.  Therapy plays a big part of your life and it needs to make sense for your family. 

Working with a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA) that you can trust is really important. The BCBA will do an assessment to figure out what skills and needs your child has. Some common assessments are: the Assessment of Basic Learning and Language Skills – revised (ABLLS-r), the Verbal Behaviour Milestones and Placement Program (VB MAPP) and PEAK Relational Training System. These are curriculum assessments that determine current skills and areas of need. They do not provide a new diagnosis. The BCBA might also do a Functional Analysis (FA) to determine the function of a challenging behaviour. Based on the results of the assessments your BCBA will make a recommendation that is specific to your child.

You should be fully aware of and give permission for each part of your child’s program. The clinical team must explain how the skills will be taught. Behaviour does not happen in isolation, so you will need to implement the same strategies outside of therapy.

Who is on an IBI/ABA team?

There are 3 levels of clinicians on an IBI team: instructor therapists, Senior Therapists and the BCBA or Clinical Supervisor. The instructors are delivering the therapy on a daily basis.  The Senior Therapist does the assessment and follows the programming to ensure that it is being properly executed and that the child is making progress. The BCBA works with the Senior Therapist to do the assessment and determine what the goals should be.  They will work together with the Senior Therapist to write the programs and train the instructors.

How much does IBI/ABA cost?

Each centre is different and ABA is not regulated in Ontario (yet!) but you can expect to pay roughly $55/hour for the Instructor Therapist, $75/hour for a Senior Therapist and $150/hour for the BCBA.  At Side by Side Therapy, we use a 10% supervision model. That means that for every 10 hours of therapy your child  will have 1 hour with either the Senior Therapist or the BCBA.

The Side by Side Therapy Process

At Side by Side Therapy we determine which of our 4 streams of ABA service (IBI/Comprehensive ABA, Focused ABA, Parent Coaching or Behaviour Consultation) will meet your child and family’s needs. We write programs specifically for each client. Each program is different.

You are able to use your Ontario Autism Program (OAP) funding with Side by Side Therapy. We will help you navigate the process and will ensure that our services fall within the OAP guidelines.

Connect with Side by Side today to schedule your free no obligation consultation.

Early Start Denver Model (ESDM): Unleash Potential!

Read time: 4 minutes

The brain has a unique property called neuroplasticity. This means that our brains are constantly able to change and grow. Children under 5 years old have the easiest time with neuroplasticity. Even when the child has been diagnosed with autism, it is possible to make significant gains that are life changing. We can achieve this through early intervention. Specifically by using the Early Start Denver Model, we can begin even before a diagnosis is made. 

Child playing with is mom during an Early Start Denver Model session.

Within a therapeutic environment, the autistic child presents a higher chance of developing language, cognition, and social interaction abilities. We can teach skills to overcome the challenges associated with the autism diagnosis. But the essential thing is for the intervention to begin early on.

ESDM: The earlier, the better

Developmental specialists recommend the therapy to start as early as possible, as this leads to the best outcomes. Parents should not wait for the diagnosis but seek the help of a therapist as soon as they have suspicions about their child’s development. 

The sooner we start the intervention, the better the outcome is likely to be. Parents might struggle to accept the diagnosis, but they should waste no time in pursuing therapy.

A better chance of addressing behavioural issues 

Autistic children often have challenging behaviours which become more challenging over time. Addressing challenging behaviours is generally easier in younger children because they don’t have a long learning history. Having a long learning history means that the behaviour has been reinforced for a long time. Similar to a habit, behaviours with long learning histories are hard to break.

If there are challenging or non-adaptive behaviours present early intervention can replace them with alternative behaviours. The key is teaching replacement behaviours that meet the same needs but are more effective. For example, if a child is taught that they will get your attention if they cry, they will keep crying. They do this because that strategy works. But if you reward a child for using another strategy (e.g.: a word approximation, directed eye gaze or pointing) they will use the new behaviour instead. And then the challenging behaviour will fade away.    

ESDM: Individualized intervention from an early age

The therapist will develop an individualized intervention plan, based on the child’s needs, behavioural issues and the use of the Early Start Denver Model Curriculum Checklist. The Curriculum Checklist is a list of skills that are divided into levels that represent different ages.  The therapist uses the Curriculum Checklist to assess your child’s strengths and areas of need relative to same age peers. The purpose of the intervention plan is to help the child develop a wide range of skills including: attention, communication and interaction. 

As mentioned above, a structured environment will offer opportunities for learning. It facilitates the growth of skills, while it allows the therapist or parent to monitor the progress being made on a consistent basis. The therapist can adjust the plan as necessary, but the chief goal will remain the same: the child learns through play while having fun.

Early Intervention: Families receive support early on

As parents of special needs children, especially autistic children, it is normal to feel helpless and frustrated. Early intervention, though, can be highly beneficial for the entire family. It can provide support early on, reducing the amount of stress parents experience. Having an action plan and strategies to use will help parents to feel empowered and as though they are taking action. 

It is vital that the parents are also implementing the strategies and using therapeutic interventions with their children. The child has a limited number of hours with the therapist each week but many more hours with their parents. These hours should be maximized! 

What matters is that they capture the attention of the child and pursue communication. Being creative and silly will go a long way. 

ESDM: A combination of ABA and play

An experienced therapist will give the child time to become accustomed to the unfamiliar environment, chaining skills together to create a smooth session. It takes time to build the relationship, and only then will the therapist focus on addressing behavioural issues, cognitive and speech delays, etc.

Taking advantage of the brain’s neuroplasticity 

We see the best results up to the age of five years, as that is when the child’s brain is most malleable. We can unleash the learning potential in therapy and limit the effects of the autism diagnosis. As a result, the overall quality of life can improve, thanks to the newly learned skills. 

The benefits of early intervention using the Early Start Denver Model in autistic children are obvious. The earlier the child enters a structured, therapeutic environment, the better his/her progress will be. Parents should actively collaborate with the therapist, practicing taught strategies at home and helping their children unleash their full potential.

To learn more about how Side by Side Therapy can help your child with an Early Start Denver Model program, please connect with us!

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

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

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

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

Create a plan based in Applied Behaviour Analysis:

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

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

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

Here are 3 helpful tips to encourage mask wearing:

Make your Expectations Clear

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

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

Reinforcement and Praise

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

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

Work on your child’s mask tolerance

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

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

Pairing

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

Shaping

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

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

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

Chaining

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

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

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

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: 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! 

Autism Home Safety: 11 Useful Strategies

Read time: 5 minutes

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

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

Safety first road sign for children with autism.

Safety within the Home for Children with Autism

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

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

Wandering in Autism

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

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

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

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

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

Safety Plan Checklist:

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

Remember, if your child should wander:

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

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

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

Read Time: 5 minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Find Help through Technology

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

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

3. Get Intervention as Soon as Possible

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

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

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

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

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

5. Trust your BCBA, Treatment Team and the Process

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

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

6. Celebrate the Successes

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

7. Make Safety a Top Priority

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

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

8. Work on Establishing a Good Sleep Routine

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

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

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

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

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

Your child’s written diagnosis must include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Challenging Behaviour Consultation in Toronto

Challenging Behaviour Consultation in Toronto meeting, parents sitting with behaviour consultant.
Let’s use Applied Behaviour Analysis to improve your child or classroom’s school experience.

Behaviour consultation in Toronto is available to schools, daycares and camps to help staff support children with challenging behaviour. Child-specific or class-wide interventions are available.  Interventions are based in applied behaviour analysis.

Steps in Behaviour Consultation in Toronto Process:

  • Assessment

We will discuss the situation and the presenting problems with you. We will also do an observation. This information gathering step is crucial in the behaviour consultation in Toronto process as it guides the development of the interventions. It might be necessary to complete this step over two or more visits.

  • Plan Development

We develop a plan that is both realistic and effective. You will receive a written protocol describing the steps of the intervention, the reinforcement schedule, the prompting procedure, the revision criteria and the mastery criteria.

  • Training and Implementation

We use a Behavioural Skills Training model to teach your team how to implement the behaviour plan. The four steps to this model are: teach, model, rehearse and give feedback. Your team will have an opportunity to practice the new skills before they implement them.

  • Monitoring and Updating

We will monitor the success of the plan with you. When changes are necessary (as steps are mastered or if something is not working) we will make those changes with you.

Examples of Behaviour Consultation in Toronto Situations

  • Non-compliance or disruptive behaviours
  • Creating opportunities for social skill development
  • Class-wide incentive programs
  • Difficulty with transitions
  • Integration of child with special needs into the classroom or group
  • Creating positive behaviour supports

Read more about the Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysis publication: Evidence Based Practices for the Treatment of Challenging Behaviour in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: Recommendations for Caregivers, Practitioners and Policy Makers here.

The Behaviour Consultation service is meant to be a collaboration. We create plans that are easily implemented and are effective. Having worked in settings where ABA is not the predominant philosophy we are able to collaborate and find solutions that work for your setting.

Contact us to book your 30 minute no-charge consultation today.

Effective Parent/Caregiver Coaching

A smiling young couple sitting in their living room with a woman with a Behaviour Therapist having a parent/caregiver coaching session by Side by Side Therapy.
500Let’s work together! Parent coaching is effective to teach you skills to manage your child’s challenging behaviour.

Parent/caregiver coaching is designed to empower parents to address their child’s challenging behaviour. Strategies and protocols are developed on an individual basis to meet the needs of your family while being based in applied behaviour analysis.

This program is a series of coaching sessions between you and a behaviour analyst. Your child may or may not be present for the session. You will be asked to collect data on the target behaviours and this will be analyzed with your therapist.  Our BCBAs are OAP approved Clinical Supervisors and this program meets the Ontario Autism Program eligibility criteria.

Steps in Parent/Caregiver Coaching

  • Assessment

We begin by meeting to discuss your family situation and to develop a list of goals that you would like to achieve through the parent coaching. Goals can be based on present challenges you’re facing or potential challenges that you can foresee. Lindsey will ask you to collect some baseline data to gather more information about what is currently occurring and to help guide the coaching process. We will also agree upon the frequency of parent coaching sessions.

  • Plan Development

Following the assessment we will develop your parent coaching plan. Similar to a behaviour intervention plan for your child, you will receive a written coaching plan that lays out specific targets for intervention, replacement behaviours, data collection and teaching protocols. You will also receive sample data sheets to help guide your data collection.

  • Training and Implementation

We use a Behavioural Skills Training model to teach you how to implement the new skills you’ll be learning. The four steps to this model are: teach, model, rehearse and give feedback. You will have an opportunity to practice the new skills with Lindsey before you implement them with your child.

  • Monitoring and Updating

We will closely follow your implementation of the strategies provided in your coaching plan. We will review the data you collect. We will work with you to troubleshoot any issues that arise during the implementation of the coaching plan.

Sometimes changes to the plan are necessary. We will work with you to optimize the strategies that are included in your coaching plan.

A main goal of this service is to empower you to generalize the skills you learn with a specific challenging behaviour to other challenging behaviours that may arise in the future. 

Focused Autism Therapy in Toronto

Child refusing to eat spaghetti offered by parent. This is an example of a skill targeted in the autism therapy in Toronto program at Side by Side Therapy.
Let us help you address a specific skill set that your child is having difficulty with in our focused ABA program.

Based in applied behaviour analysis, focused autism therapy in Toronto programs are based in ABA and are designed to improve skills in one or two areas of development. These programs can target behaviours that you would like to increase or behaviours you would like to decrease.

Who would benefit from a focused autism therapy in Toronto program?

Focused autism therapy in Toronto programs are ideal for a child with a limited number of treatment goals or a child with a challenging behaviour that is acute and should be the focus of treatment. Skill building is always an element of focused ABA programs even if the target of the program is behaviour reduction.

This program meets the Ontario Autism Program eligibility criteria.

Steps in Focused Autism Therapy in Toronto Programs

  • Assessment

We begin by reviewing any previous documents related to your child’s treatment. We continue with direct observations and discussions with you and your child’s treatment team to identify a target skill that will be the focus of your child’s focused autism therapy in Toronto program.

  • Plan Development

Following the assessment we will develop your child’s treatment plan. Specific targets for intervention, replacement behaviours, data collection and teaching protocols are all generated on an individual basis. Your team will receive a written behaviour plan (including program targets, prompting procedures, revision and mastery criteria) and sample data sheets.

  • Training and Implementation

We use a Behavioural Skills Training model to teach your team how to implement the behaviour plan. The four steps to this model are: teach, model, rehearse and give feedback. Your team will have an opportunity to practice the new skills before they implement them with your child.

  • Monitoring and Updating

We will closely follow your team’s implementation of the behaviour plan. We will review the data collected by your team. We will work with your team to troubleshoot any issues that arise during the implementation of the behaviour plan.

We will make changes to the behaviour plan as necessary. Examples of changes that might be necessary are: changes to the schedules of reinforcement or changes to the contingencies surrounding the behaviour.

Examples of Focused ABA Programs

  • Establishing instructional control
  • Establishing or increasing communication skills
  • Compliance with dental or medical procedures
  • Enhancing sleep hygiene
  • Establishing or increasing toileting skills
  • Establishing or increasing leisure skills

Contact us to book your 30 minute no-charge consultation today.

Comprehensive ABA Therapy in Toronto

Comprehensive programs of ABA therapy in Toronto are designed to address a large number of learning domains. These programs generally focus on both skill building and behaviour reduction. Comprehensive ABA programs are optimal for a child with difficulties in a number of learning domains.

This program meets the Ontario Autism Program eligibility criteria.

Behaviour Therapist showing a child big block letters in a play room during an ABA therapy in Toronto 
session.
Allow us to create your child’s comprehensive ABA program!

Steps in Comprehensive ABA Therapy in Toronto Programs:

  • Assessment

We begin by reviewing any previous documents related to your child’s treatment. We continue with direct observations and discussions with you and your child’s treatment team to identify skill deficits and behaviours targeted for decrease. A complete curriculum assessment will be completed using either the ABLLS-r or the VB MAPP. This curriculum assessment is used to identify your child’s current skill levels and possible teaching targets.

  • Plan Development

Following the assessment we will develop your child’s treatment plan. The number of programs included in your child’s ABA therapy in Toronto program is based on their number of therapy hours per week. Their current level of functioning is also considered. Each ABA program will have a written teaching protocol, prompting procedures, target list, data sheets, revision criteria and mastery criteria.

  • Training and Implementation

We use a Behavioural Skills Training model to teach your team how to implement the ABA program. The four steps to this model are: teach, model, rehearse and give feedback. Your team will have an opportunity to practice each new program before they implement it with your child.

Your team will implement the ABA therapy in Toronto programs with your child and will collect data.

  • Monitoring and Updating

We will closely follow your team’s implementation of the ABA programs. We will review and analyze the data they collect. Working with your team we will troubleshoot any issues that arise during the implementation. Revision and mastery criteria will be outlined within each program so that your team may master or revise targets between supervisions with Lindsey.

We will make changes to the ABA program as necessary. Examples of possible changes are: changes to the schedules of reinforcement, changes to target order or changes to the prompting procedures.

Examples of Areas Targeted in Comprehensive ABA Therapy in Toronto Programs:

  • Adaptive or self-care skills
  • Cognitive functioning
  • Emotional regulation
  • Tolerance Training
  • Language and communication
  • Play and leisure skills
  • Pre-academics and academics
  • Reduction of challenging behaviours
  • Safety Skills

The goal of a comprehensive ABA program is to reduce the gap between your child’s current level of functioning and that of a typically developing peer. This is accomplished by addressing many domains of learning at once.

Contact us to book your 30 minute no-charge consultation today.

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

Applied Behaviour Analysis

What is Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)? 

What is Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)?

The overall goal of applied behaviour analysis is to make meaningful changes in a person’s life by increasing desired behaviours and decreasing interfering behaviours.  Applied behaviour analysis can be used to remove barriers that are limiting a client by allowing them to lead more independent lives. Applied behaviour analysis is one of the most effective interventions for treating Autism Spectrum Disorder. Using a variety of strategies, the applied behaviour analysis team utilizes reinforcement to increase the likelihood that the client will engage in desired behaviours. 

Who is on an Applied Behaviour Analysis Team?

Clinical Supervisor (a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst or a psychologist)
Supervising Therapist (depending on the size of your team)
Registered Behaviour Technicians/Instructor Therapists
Parents

It is important for all therapists working with a client to be in contact to align practices and goals. Consider including S-LP, OT and teachers to the applied behaviour analysis team for meetings and troubleshooting.



What does Applied Behaviour Analysis Therapy Look Like?

Autism Applied Behaviour Analysis Therapy Lindsey Malc Side by Side Therapy boy and therapist




There are a number of different approaches that might be utilized when doing applied behaviour analysis therapy.

Some examples are:

  • Discrete Trial Teaching/Training
    • Each step of a skill is isolated and taught in a series of trials.
    • Situations are contrived to maximize the opportunities for specific targets to be addressed.
  • Natural Environment Teaching
    • Teaching takes place in the natural environment (in the kitchen, on the playground etc).
    • Fosters generalization.
  • Verbal Behaviour Intervention
    • Focuses on teaching effective communication skills
    • Based on Skinner’s Analysis of Verbal Behaviour

How the intervention looks will depend on the goals of the program. In discrete trial training programs, the child and therapist will likely be sitting at a desk or table. While in a natural environment teaching session the child and therapist might be at the park.


How does applied behaviour analysis work?

Applied behaviour analysis is based on the sciences of learning and behaviour. Specific ‘laws’ of behaviour have been identified through scientific research that allow Behaviour Analysts to predict how a person will behave. Behaviour Analysts use this knowledge to facilitate learning.

Reinforcement

 autism Applied Behaviour Analysis therapy lindsey malc side by side therapy two girls playing on a tablet for reinforcement.

In behavioural terms, reinforcement is anything that will make a behaviour more likely to occur again in the future.  Reinforcement can be accomplished by adding something to the environment (positive reinforcement) or by removing something from the environment (negative reinforcement). 

* People sometimes confuse negative reinforcement with punishment but they are two separate behavioural principles.  

Some examples of positive and negative reinforcers are:

Positive

  • Getting a high five after finishing a difficult math problem
  • Having an ice cream after eating all the veggies on your plate
  • Getting an email with praise after making a big presentation at work

Negative

  • Drying wet hands (the water is removed from your hands and you’re likely to dry them again when they get wet in the future)
  • A loud alarm turns off after you buckle your seat belt (the alarm is annoying and you are likely to buckle up again in the future)
  • Removing an undesired food item from a child’s plate when they cry (the child is likely to cry again at the next presentation of that food item)

Punishment

In applied behaviour analysis a punishment is anything that makes a behaviour less likely to occur. Similar to reinforcement, there is positive punishment (adding something undesirable to the environment) and negative punishment (removing something desirable from the environment). While punishment is effective in behaviour change, much research has shown that reinforcement is longer lasting and more effective in changing behaviour.

Watch this clip from the Big Bang Theory which describes the difference between reinforcement and punishment.

Shaping

Shaping a behaviour occurs when we reinforce successive approximations of a behaviour. In order to be able to change behaviour opportunities for reinforcement have to be present. In shaping, you are making it more likely that an opportunity will present itself.

For example: Your minimally verbal child has recently begun to say an /m/ sound when they want milk. If you waited until they said the entire word ‘milk’ you would not have the opportunity to reinforce them. By shaping their response (and reinforcing each time they say ‘mmmm’) you are creating many occasions for reinforcement and learning.

Chaining

Chaining occurs when you string shorter behaviours together to form a longer continuous behaviour. There are 3 types of chains: forward, backward and total task.

The first step when chaining a skill is to do a task analysis. A task analysis is a procedure used to break down a complex task into it’s smaller parts.

For example: A Task Analysis for Making the Bed:

  1. Gather clean linens.
  2. Remove dirty linens from bed and pillows.
  3. Put clean pillow cases onto pillows and put aside.
  4. Put fitted sheet onto mattress.
  5. Put flat sheet on top of fitted sheet, on mattress. Pull up to align with top of the bed.
  6. Put blanket on top of flat sheet. Pull up to align with top of the bed.
  7. Place pillows on bed.
  8. Put dirty linens in the laundry.

Forward Chains: you teach the first step in the chain to independence before moving onto the second step. You would prompt the rest of the chain.

Backward Chains: you prompt all of the steps until the last step, which is the target. You teach the last step to independence before moving the target to be the second last step.

Whole Chains: you teach each step of the behaviour chain at once. This type of chaining procedure is effective when the child has a number of the skills required but is not yet completely independent.


Types of applied behaviour analysis interventions

There are 3 main types of interventions in applied behaviour analysis:

Antecedent Strategies (Prevention)

By changing the environment, we can avoid behaviours from happening altogether.

For example: You know that you always get hungry and distracted at 3pm, resulting in overeating at dinner time. You might prepare a snack to eat at 2:45 to avoid these behaviours. By changing the environment you have reduced the likelihood that the behaviour will occur.

Consequence Strategies (Intervention)

These strategies lay out how people will react when the targeted behaviour occurs.  Having a formal intervention plan will create consistency among staff or family members and will help change to happen quickly.  Having a formal intervention plan also removes any ambiguity about when to reinforce behaviour.

For example: You want to address your child’s pencil throwing behaviour during table work. After some discussion, you and the behaviour analyst hypothesize that your child is throwing to escape an undesired task demand. Together, you agree that when your child throws his pencil during table work you will respond by giving him another pencil. You will redirect him to continue his work and he will not be allowed to escape the task demand. You will also know when to reinforce his non-throwing behaviours.

Skill Building (Intervention)

These protocols are developed to teach new skills or to make existing skills more complex. 

For example: You want to teach your son to do the laundry. You would create a task analysis of doing laundry and decide if you wanted to use forward, backward or whole chaining. You would assess whether your son has the prerequisite skills to be successful before beginning the laundry instruction.


Data Collection

Data collection is an integral part of every applied behaviour analysis program. There are many kinds of data that might be tracked:

  • Frequency: how often a behaviour occurs
  • Duration: how long a behaviour lasts
  • Latency: how long it takes to start a behaviour
  • Rate: how many times something happens within a predetermined time frame
  • Antecedent-Behaviour-Consequence: what are the contingencies that are maintaining a behaviour

Data is used to make decisions in applied behaviour analysis. Each applied behaviour analysis program will have a specific data collection procedure with stated mastery criteria. Behaviour analysts take data to track success but also to be alerted when a program is not effective.

11 Essential practice elements of applied behaviour analysis

As stated by the Behaviour Analysis Certification Board (page 11) the following are 11 essential practices that should be present in every applied behaviour analysis program.

  1. Comprehensive assessment
  2. Focus on current relevance and future relevance of behaviour targets
  3. Isolating small units of behaviour to change to build towards substantial behaviour change
  4. Analysis of data specific to behaviour targets
  5. Purposeful intervention to manage the social and learning environment to maximize learning and minimize challenging behaviours
  6. Use of function based interventions
  7. Use of treatment plans that are individualized, specific and based in behaviour analytic theory
  8. Consistent application of treatment protocols across time and implementers
  9. Frequent re-assessment, evaluation and adjustment of treatment plan
  10. Direct support, modeling and training for family members and other team members
  11. Supervision by a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst

To read the definitions of a list of frequently used terms in applied behaviour analysis click here.

What is Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)?

The overall goal of applied behaviour analysis is to make meaningful changes in a person’s life by increasing desired behaviours and decreasing interfering behaviours. Applied behaviour analysis can be used to remove barriers that are limiting a client by allowing them to lead more independent lives. Applied behaviour analysis is one of the most effective interventions for treating Autism Spectrum Disorder. Using a variety of strategies, the applied behaviour analysis team utilizes reinforcement to increase the likelihood that the client will engage in desired behaviours.

Who is on an Applied Behaviour Analysis Team?

Clinical Supervisor (a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst or a psychologist) Supervising Therapist (depending on the size of your team) Registered Behaviour Technicians/Instructor Therapists Parents It is important for all therapists working with a client to be in contact to align practices and goals. Consider including S-LP, OT and teachers to the applied behaviour analysis team for meetings and troubleshooting.

What does Applied Behaviour Analysis Therapy Look Like?

There are a number of different approaches that might be utilized when doing applied behaviour analysis therapy. Some examples are: Discrete Trial Teaching/Training Each step of a skill is isolated and taught in a series of trials. Situations are contrived to maximize the opportunities for specific targets to be addressed. Natural Environment Teaching Teaching takes place in the natural environment (in the kitchen, on the playground etc). Fosters generalization. Verbal Behaviour Intervention Focuses on teaching effective communication skills Based on Skinner’s Analysis of Verbal Behaviour How the intervention looks will depend on the goals of the program. In discrete trial training programs, the child and therapist will likely be sitting at a desk or table. While in a natural environment teaching session the child and therapist might be at the park.

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