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What is Social Communication?

Read time: 3 minutes

Autistic children face challenges daily, and social communication is one of the most difficult to conquer. What is social communication? Challenges in social communication are associated with autism diagnosis. However, each child is unique and is impacted to a different extent. Some children may  start an interaction, while others will prefer their peers initiate the exchange. While autistic children might show an interest in engaging with others they can still have challenges.

Don’t make the mistake of believing that autistic children do not want to interact. The key here is to support them in interacting with their peers, offering tools for adequate communication. 

Social communication is a group of skills that include both verbal and nonverbal communication, social interaction and understanding others (Children’s Minnesota) . Many people just seem to have this skill naturally. Autistics often need direct teaching in order to master this skill. 

Why is social communication difficult?

The first thing we have to remember is that many autistic children need support in learning how to communicate. Some of them may not respond when talked to while others require a bit of time to plan an answer.

Eye contact is a major issue. In our society, eye contact is a very important behaviour.  A lot of value is placed on looking ‘someone in the eye’ or showing that you’re paying attention by maintaining eye contact. Many autistic children avoid it altogether, while others find it uncomfortable.

Eye contact used to be considered an essential goal.  However, recent research and an effort to include the voices and experiences of autistic adults has decreased the value and necessity of these types of goals.  Many clinicians are adopting an approach that teaches replacement behaviours that meet the same goals as eye contact. For example, one of the biggest reasons people give eye contact is to convey that they are paying attention and understanding the other person.  Alternative behaviours, such as turning your body to the speaker, nodding, saying words like “I see”, “I know what you mean”, “I get it” all convey the same message and do not require eye contact. 

While a typical child will learn through imitation, an autistic child will likely need explicit teaching. It is important not to give up and consider the child’s point of view. If he/she cannot communicate his/her own wants and needs, frustration can easily build up.

Things to work on in therapy

Social communication represents one of the main therapeutic objectives in many ABA Therapy programs. Depending on the age of the child and his/her developmental level, the therapist will teach the child how to interact with others and interpret their behaviour correctly. With older kids, one might also work on teaching the effect one’s own behaviour has on others.

Therapy will involve teaching the child to recognize and understand social cues. As mentioned, these children do not show these behaviours instinctively and they need to learn how to adjust their behavior to fit each social context. 

Language is a huge part of social communication. Using social situations, the therapist will work on both the expressive and receptive language. Taking into account the potential of the child, they will work not only on verbal communication but also on body language and facial expressions. He/she will also teach the child to adapt his/her tone of voice when possible.

Two girls engaging in social communication, sitting on the ground in a forested area.

It is a fact that autistic children often take things literally, which can lead to frequent misunderstandings. For this reason, when appropriate, therapy will include teaching the child to understand figurative language, including metaphors.

How will therapy help improve social communication?

While the beginning might be slow, over time the child will develop their abilities to interact. They will become more confident, seeking interaction with peers. Improving social interaction skills will remain a primary aim throughout all therapeutic sessions.

As in all ABA programs, each objective will be broken down into manageable steps. Often, the therapist will provide visual support and plenty of opportunities for the child to practice the newly learned skills. Positive reinforcement makes the behaviour more likely to happen again and it has the added benefit of boosting the child’s confidence.

In time, and provided the child’s development allows it, the therapeutic objectives can become more complex. Autistic children can learn to interpret subtle non-verbal cues and also to recognize emotional responses. They can master conflict resolution and pick up the best ways to develop friendship skills. Social Communication therapy can be funded by the Ontario Autism Program.

What about non-verbal children?

Non-verbal children can communicate using various strategies, but they will need help. The therapist can teach them to use gestures or sign language to communicate and introduce augmentative and alternative communication systems.

Some autistic children might never speak. But this does not mean the gate to social communication is shut. They still have plenty of opportunities to communicate with their peers, and it is up to the therapist to find the best solution for a non-verbal child.

Conclusion

While we can improve social communication in therapy, it is also important to educate people on the challenges autistic children face in this area. It is all about accepting differences and meeting these kids on their level, welcoming and honouring any form of communication and/or interaction.

Things You Need To Know About Language Delays

Often autistic children have language delays. Receptive language is the ability to understand information provided by other people, either verbally or in writing. Expressive language is the ability to put our own thoughts into words, both spoken and written. Speech therapy can help your child learn these valuable skills.

Autistic children might have a language delay, meaning their communication skills are not developing as expected. This delay can affect the receptive or expressive language and, in some situations, both. When the child does not follow a typical developmental pattern, all areas of their learning and development are impacted.

Language delays add to the complexity of ASD

Language delays add to the complexity of an autism diagnosis, having a negative impact on socialization and academic performance.

When a child has poor language abilities, she might find it hard to interact with peers. Children rely on verbal cues to play and take part in games, not to mention they need to understand language to follow instructions. The struggle is complex. The child cannot use expressive language to convey her thoughts. In addition, she might have a hard time understanding explanations or directions.

Toddler sitting on mother's lap with a speech therapist discussing her language delay

Receptive language disorder

When receptive language is delayed, the ability to understand words and associated concepts suffers. During the initial assessment, the therapist will determine the level of comprehension and establish an intervention plan.

Receptive language disorder is common in autistic children, affecting their ability to understand spoken language. The child might not follow directions, answer questions, or identify various objects. she might not understand gestures and their reading comprehension might suffer.

How does therapy help?

The speech-language pathologist can help the autistic child improve her receptive language. After identifying areas of need, the S-LP will use strategies to increase the level of comprehension. During therapy the S-LP will work on expanding comprehension, identifying pictures, following instructions and more. Progress will result in a higher level of independence and participation in activities of daily living.

Expressive language disorder

Many autistic children have difficulties in expressing their thoughts using words. Very often the expressive language is more affected than the receptive. Thus, the speech-language pathologist will concentrate on helping the child with the production of sounds and words. Visual support might facilitate the learning process.

Initially, the therapist will assess the child’s ability to use spoken language. She will also assess the child’s non-verbal communication. Based on the identified weaknesses, she will develop an intervention plan.

Autistic children who suffer from an expressive language disorder might have difficulties communicating their wants and needs. For instance, they might not say when they are hungry or if they need to use the toilet. Common struggles include using appropriate gestures and facial expression, correct choice of words and asking questions.

How does therapy help?

The S-LP will work to improve expressive language. During therapy, she will use strategies to teach the child to communicate her wants and needs. As therapy progresses the child will learn to express more complex thoughts and ideas.

The therapist might also use an augmentative and alternative communication system (AAC) to increase the expression of thoughts and feelings. Some examples are PECS, high-tech systems (LAMP etc) or even sign language. For more information about AAC read this blog post.

Mixed receptive and expressive language disorder

It can happen that both the expressive and receptive language abilities are impacted. In this situation, the speech-language pathologist will have to work on both areas, helping the child progress towards greater ease of communication. The earlier one starts intervention, the better the outcome is likely to be.

The most important thing to remember is that language impairments become visible as early as the first two years of life, when one can still take advantage of the brain’s neuroplasticity. Parents should be active in the intervention process, as they need how to communicate with their child and meet her on her level.

Patience is key in working to develop language abilities in autistic children. In the beginning, prompting and offering instructions in multiple steps might be highly beneficial. Also, one should provide the child with adequate time to respond. Visual supports can be useful in helping the child overcome any existing challenges and even to establish long-term communication.

You can read about language development milestones here.

How To Choose A Speech-Language Pathologist

For parents knowing how to choose a Speech-Language Pathologist can be tricky. The diagnosis of autism often involves language delays, causing parents to wonder what steps they should take in terms of intervention. Naturally, every parent wants the best for his/her child, including in therapy.

A Speech-Language Pathologist can help your child learn to communicate more effectively. But how can you be certain you have chosen the right S-LP? What are the things you should look for and what are the right questions to ask?

Two women sitting at a table talking about how to choose a speech-language pathologist.

Things to consider in choosing a Speech-Language Pathologist

This might sound like a given but you need to choose a therapist that has experience in working with children. This kind of specialist will know how to approach the child so he/she feels comfortable. Therapy should look like play, especially for young children.

Experience is essential. A knowledgeable Speech-Language Pathologist should interact with the child through play, opting for subtle strategies to improve communication. He/she should involve the parents in the intervention. A transdisciplinary approach always guarantees the best results, and he/she should include parents at all times.

A good therapist knows that parents play a major role in the therapeutic progress the child will make. The S-LP should teach parents strategies to use at home, taking parental input and comfort level into account.

From a pragmatic perspective, you can get referrals or research for Speech-Language Pathologists online, looking at your province’s College of Speech-Language Pathologists. You can also ask your child’s paediatrician or the school counsellor for a recommendation. Other parents are also a good resource. Once you have found a therapist, be sure to inquire about certification and additional education on autism intervention.

Questions to ask when choosing a Speech-Language Pathologist :

When choosing a Speech-Language Pathologist it is normal to ask questions. It might be a good idea to start by asking about the experience that they have.

Don’t be afraid to ask about the methods used and the reasoning for choosing these. The S-LP should also be able to provide evidence supporting her/his recommendations and point you toward resources where you can learn more.

These are some questions you might ask:

  • Who will work with my child?
    • Often, the Speech-Language Pathologist is part of a transdisciplinary team, which includes a speech therapy assistant, a behavioural therapist, occupational therapist, educator and so on.
  • What are the primary objectives of intervention?
    • You will work on these together but as a general rule the principal aim is to improve communication and social interaction. In some children, feeding and swallowing issues might also be addressed.
  • How many years of experience do you have with autistic children?
    • This is not necessarily relevant, but it can help you get an idea about how knowledgeable the SLP is in this field. Follow up with some discussion about previous cases and outcomes.
  • What is your treatment philosophy?
    • You are putting your trust in a new person, so it is important to know this. A good therapist will work with the family. He/she will always take the child’s needs into account.
  • Do you use AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication)?
    • This is important, as it is beneficial for many autistic children at the beginning of therapy and even later on.
  • How do you gain the trust of a child?
    • Some children require time to trust a new person. A good therapist will respect the child and his/her uncertainty, putting his/her emotional well-being in first place. Therapy should be offered through a lens of caring and empathy.

Practical questions are important as well:

  • What does the initial assessment entail?
  • Can I use my insurance to pay for therapy?
  • Are your services available right now? Or do I have to join a waiting list?
  • How many hours of therapy are recommended per week? And how long is a therapy session?
  • Are parents allowed to observe therapy sessions?
  • How is the intervention plan established? Are we allowed to offer suggestions?
  • How is the progress the child has made assessed?

Do not hesitate to ask as many questions as possible, as this process will help you choose a Speech-Language Pathologist for your child. It never hurts to follow your instinct, as parents often have a gut feeling telling them they found the right person for the job.

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.

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!

New diagnosis of autism? The most powerful things to do now.

Read time: 4 minutes

When your child get a diagnosis of autism, your world seems to dramatically change in the seconds before and after the words have been said. I have spoken with many parents who were simply not expecting the diagnosis when they went in for the assessment.  They had an image in their mind of a severely disabled person and that simply wasn’t the case for their child. 

What is the autism spectrum? 

Autism is a neurological (meaning it has to do with the brain) developmental disorder.  It affects how a child learns and develops in 3 main areas: social skills, communication skills and restrictive or repetitive behaviours.

Many people use the language ‘high functioning’ vs ‘low functioning’.  This can be very misleading. Many people think of the autism spectrum as being a linear spectrum. This representation doesn’t quite fit the autism spectrum, because there are three core symptoms of autism. There’s a newer way of conceptualizing it, that was created by Michael of 1autismdad.com in 2012. 

Imagine a blank sheet of paper with a dot in the middle.  This dot represents neurotypical development (non-asd). Near the top of the page in the middle imagine the words “communication deficits”, near the bottom left of the page imagine “social skills deficits” and on the bottom right corner imagine Stereotypic and repetitive behaviours. Each person with autism will develop needs in each of these areas differently.  You can visualize a person’s needs by how long the path is from the middle (neurotypical) to the core symptom. Some might be very impacted in the communication and social skills areas while they show very few (or none) stereotypic and repetitive behaviours. 

Autism triangle: a new way of thinking about the autism spectrum by asddad.com
Retrieved from: https://www.1autismdad.com/home/2012/03/14/visualizing-the-autism-spectrum on August 1, 2020

Top 5 things to do when your child get a diagnosis of autism: 

There are a number of resources that you can access when your child is first diagnosed.  Here are my to 5 recommendations of things to do: 

  1. Notice the small things – Your child might have difficulty with a lot of things, but try and pick out the things that your child excels at. You might need to be creative here, but it’s a good reframing exercise and will help you to focus on something positive instead of only the negative. 
  2. Reach out to others from the autism community.  There are a number of support groups on Facebook and other social media platforms.  You’ll find many people who understand exactly what you’re going through and who have been through it and survived.  It might take you a while to find your village, but once you do you’ll be so glad you spent the time to reach out. 
  3. Celebrate every victory. Learning something new might be very challenging for your child.  When they achieve a new milestone you should celebrate it loud and proud! 
  4. Create a self-care routine for yourself and your partner. You will feel compelled to spend every moment focused on your child’s therapy/friends/development. You must keep yourself healthy so you can be the best possible advocate for your child. Remember the flight attendant’s advice: always put your own oxygen mask on first.  You have to take care of yourself if you want to take care of others. 
  5. Create a team for your child.  There will be a lot of people in your child’s life: doctors, therapists, teachers, support workers and more.  You will need help to coordinate everything that needs to happen in order to set your child up for success. Find people you trust and who have values that align with your own.  

Don’t forget…

Your child is the same lovable, adorable, smart, deserving little person they were before they got a diagnosis of autism. There are times when the label is important and there are times when it is irrelevant. Try to think of the diagnosis as a path, that will lead you to treatments and strategies that will help your child. Also, having a diagnosis opens up doors for funding, supports and specialized programs.

Connect with Side by Side Therapy to discuss your options and what interventions would be best for your child and family. We offer no-charge and no obligation consultations to help guide you in making the right decisions for your child’s future.

9 Useful Occupational Therapy in Toronto Strategies

Using strategies from occupational therapy in Toronto will be helpful to autistic people who often have sensory processing issues. They might exhibit poor impulse control, be unable to handle self-care tasks or show reduced awareness of social cues.  

A diagnosis of autism should always guide the parent toward a multidisciplinary approach in terms of intervention  and occupational therapy (OT) should definitely be on the team! Keep reading and discover some fun and useful the activities that grew out of OT.

Child writing using a pencil grip in an occupational therapy in Toronto session.

Try these Occupational Therapy in Toronto activities:

#1 Exercises for fine motor skills

The purpose of these exercises is to strengthen the tiny muscles of the fingers and hands in general. The more often they are performed, the better the fine motor skills are going to be. 

For instance, a great occupational therapy activity would be to take an ice cube tray and put cotton balls in each ice cube opening. Your child can pick up the cotton balls with his/her fingers, tweezers or tongs. 

#2 Exercises for gross motor skills 

As a general rule, when addressing gross motor skills try to find activities that require the child to use his/her whole body. The goal is to focus on the larger muscle groups (arms, legs, core).  Building coordination, flexibility and stamina in these muscle groups is really important. 

Here is a simple exercise you can try. Take balls of different sizes, colors and textures, and place them around a room. Ask the child to retrieve each ball, using different types of movement: crawling, skipping, jumping and climbing. 

#3 Heavy work 

Another hidden gem from the OT world is heavy work. Activities that require the usage of major muscle groups can help children develop their gross motor skills even further. Heavy work activities have been shown to be calming for many children. They help the child understand and coordinate their body. You can ask the child to push a heavy object, pull on a rope or carry various items from one point to the other. 

Boy taking out the trash after an Occupational Therapy in Toronto session



One can push a laundry basket or a wheelbarrow filled with toys, carry a box loaded with toy cars or even engage in outdoor activities, such as digging, shoveling or raking. 

#4 Sensory bins

The sensory bin remains one of the easiest and fun activities to try. Many autistic children are sensitive to certain textures so this exercise is a great way to address this issue. You provide opportunities for your child to gradually become desensitized to different textures. 

Child's hand playing in multicoloured rice during an occupational therapy in Toronto session

You can fill several different containers with objects of various textures, including rice, beans, corn, cotton balls, and beads, asking him/her to explore each. Be creative! There are endless possibilities of what you can put into a sensory bin. 

#5 Homemade play dough 

Making homemade playdough isn’t only an occupational therapy activity! This activity serves not only as a teaching opportunity but it also offers a way to acquire valuable skills. This is an easy recipe to try. Once you’ve made the dough, you can use cookie cutters, kids knives or other toys to cut and make shapes. 

A simple activity, it will help with sensory exploration, improvement of visual skills and direction following. Some children like adding different scents to the dough (vanilla, mint, lemon etc.).  

#6 Painting with ice cubes

Take an ice cube tray and fill it with water and watercolor paint. Place in the freezer for a few hours. Give the frozen cubes to the child to use to paint. You can paint on regular paper or try coffee filters for an added sensory element. 

#7 Bring nature and sorting together 

Sorting and nature exploration represent two activities that many children enjoy and you can easily combine them. Just go outside and gather rocks, flowers, leaves and twigs, then ask the child to sort what you have gathered. 

The game of sorting nature can also facilitate the development of problem-solving skills, expand language as well as logical thinking. 

#8 Deep pressure activities

Many OTs will advocate for the use of deep pressure to calm children (and adults too!) Deep pressure can be used in children who have frequent meltdowns or tantrums, having a calming effect and offering much-needed tactile input. In all children, it is vital to ensure that you have consent before touching them. In children who are sensitive to touch, however, it must be performed gradually. 

You can take a blanket and roll up the child, burrito-style, or ask him/her to lie on the floor, placing pillows on his/her body. A large ball can be used to go over the child’s body, avoiding the head area. Bear hugs and squishes are other examples! 

#9 Crossing the midline

Crossing the midline is an important part of motor development, and something some autistic children struggle with. Crossing midline means being able to reach across the body (from left to right and right to left). Imagine that your body is divided down the middle with an imaginary line.  Using your right hand to scratch your left thigh is an example of crossing midline.  

Young Boy stretching his arm across his body during an occupational therapy in Toronto session.



Playing clapping games with a partner or a game of Simon says are great ways to practice crossing midline. 

These are some of the activities recommended for children diagnosed with autism. If you are looking for occupational therapy in Toronto, we are more than pleased to help you out. Call us for a free consultation and we will schedule an appointment as soon as possible. 

Top 6 Practical Social Skills Training in Toronto Tips!

Read time: 3 minutes

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

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

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

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

6 Social Skills Training in Toronto Tips

#1 Practicing different play scenarios 

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

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

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

#2 Imaginative Play

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

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

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

#3 Visual prompts

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

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

#4 Learning emotions 

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

#5 Social skills groups

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

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

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

#6 Gesture imitation 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Create a plan based in Applied Behaviour Analysis:

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

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

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

Here are 3 helpful tips to encourage mask wearing:

Make your Expectations Clear

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

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

Reinforcement and Praise

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

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

Work on your child’s mask tolerance

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

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

Pairing

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

Shaping

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

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

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

Chaining

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

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

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

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

Read time: 5 minutes

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

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

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

Speech Therapy in Toronto Strategies:

#1 Using non-verbal communication 

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

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

#2 Oral Motor Exercises

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

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

#3 Animal noises 

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

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

#4 Singing songs

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

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

#5 Technology as basis for communication

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

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

#6 Learning how to sequence and tell a story

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

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

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

#7 Pretend play

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read time: 3 minutes

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

Why should you consider ABA in Toronto for your child?

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

Boy with autism playing with toys during ABA in Toronto


#1 Play

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

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

Girls playing together learning social skills in ABA in Toronto


#2 Social Skills 

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

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

Boy learning to brush his teeth in ABA in Toronto


#3 Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) 

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

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

Boy demonstrating independence learned in ABA in Toronto


#4 Independence

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

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

Alphabet toy laid out in ABA in Toronto session


#5 Academics

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

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

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


#6 Self-Advocacy 

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

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

Girl with autism sitting on ground after ABA in Toronto session


#7 Quality of Life

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

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

Parent learning with son during ABA in Toronto therapy session


#8 Parent Involvement and Learning

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

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

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


#9 Renewed Optimism

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

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

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

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

Read Time: 5 minutes

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

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

Mom hugging autistic son after discovering autism therapy in Toronto.

Embracing the atypical 

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

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

Why is denial the first response?

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

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

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

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

Autism is neither good nor bad

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

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

Do not send the “you are broken” message

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

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

A message to take home about autism therapy in Toronto

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

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

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

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

Read time: 4 minutes

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

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

Working Memory and the Brain: from Understanding Working Memory

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

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

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

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

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

Working Memory is linked to AUTISM

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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References

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

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

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

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

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

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.

10 Helpful tips on raising a child with autism

Read time: 5 Minutes


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

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

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

1. Don’t make comparisons 

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

2. Help your child realize when they need a break 

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

Parent talking with a boy with autism.

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

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

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

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

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

5. Keep an open mind

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

6.Maintain a sense of humour

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

7. Never underestimate how much your child understands

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

Autism ABA Therapy Side by Side Therapy Toronto

8. Look into Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) therapy

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

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

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

10. Take a break yourself and seek support

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

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

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

Read time: 7 minutes

Therapist and child doing applied behaviour analysis.

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

Applied Behaviour Analysis Definitions of Common Words/Phrases:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duration: The length of a behaviour.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behaviour Intervention Plans: The 8 essential elements

Read time: 2 minutes

Example of a behaviour intervention plan that addresses challenging behaviour.






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

Elements of a behaviour intervention plan

Operational Definition of Target Behaviour: 

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

Function of Behaviour:

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

Replacement Behaviour Definition:

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

Antecedent Strategies:

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

Skill Building Strategies:

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

Consequence Strategies:

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

Data Collection Procedures:

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

Generalization and Maintenance Procedures:

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

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

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. 

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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