How To Use Prompts To Teach Children With Autism

Father Helps Daughter Put On ShoesTeaching a new skill to a child with autism requires a different approach than that used with a typically developing child. Why is this?

Children with Autism Learn Differently

Children diagnosed with autism often need teaching techniques to be tailored specifically to their learning style. Otherwise, a child may learn incorrect responses or become frustrated. A structured learning environment is an important factor when teaching an autistic child because it allows for greater control in developing correct responses.

The most effective way to adhere to a child’s specific learning style is through the use of prompting. With this technique, you must first determine what type of prompt will be administered, and then decide on the method of transfer used from prompt to the target. For example, if you are teaching your child to say “book” in the presence of a book, you may begin by pointing to the book while saying the word “book.” Read more

How To Motivate Children With Autism Using Reinforcers

Reinforcer SetA common difference between children with autism and typically-developing children is their motivation for social feedback and other natural consequences that occur for learning to take place. Typically, developing children have an easier time learning because they are motivated by social feedback from their parents and teachers. But with a child with autism, it is not always as simple as saying “great job!” to encourage learning. Without motivation, it can be very difficult to gain the attention of an autistic child, and even more difficult for learning to take place.

So, how do you motivate a child diagnosed with autism?

Reinforcers Can Help Motivate Children!

Reinforcers motivate children to learn new skills. Often times, children with autism are not readily motivated by social feedback or other natural consequences received from parents, teachers or peers. Insensitivity to social consequences and signals is a core aspect of the disorder.

How To Find A Powerful Reinforcer: Read more

Basic Principles and Practices for Teaching Children With Autism New Skills

Teaching new skills to children with autism can be very difficult. It is important to first understand the fundamentals of behavior.

Behavior is an important part of teaching because in order to learn a new skill, a child must understand what response is desired and when. A child learns when a response is desired by experiencing a stimulus (i.e. item/request/instruction) and discrimination (Sd- discriminative stimulus).  A child simultaneously learns there is a desired response and discriminates that the response is only desired in the presence of the Sd. For example, if you are teaching a child to say “book” in the presence of a book, the Sd would be the book itself and the desired response would be saying “book.” That child will learn to say “book” only when that book is present. Later on, that child may begin saying “book” in the presence of new books, a pattern called generalization.

So, why is behavior important in teaching a new skill? It is important because a child’s response IS a behavior!

 Descriptions Of Behaviors:

Reflexive Behavior is our bodies’ natural reaction to environmental stimuli (e.g. blinking when someone blows in your eyes, or jerking your leg when someone hits your knee cap). These behaviors are called reflexes and occur without being learned. Read more

Life Skills For Children and Teens With Autism

When a child with autism reaches the age of nine or ten, it is important to start emphasizing life skills within their therapy and classroom curriculum. Life skills have been defined by the World Health Organization as “abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.” Within the last ten years many special education programs have been veering away from life skills prioritizing an academic standardized curriculum more aligned to the needs of a general education population. While these skills are important when preparing for college or a future job position, it is just as important to know how to perform life skills.

Below are some ideas of ways to practice life skills whether you are a teacher, therapist, or parent with a child with autism:

Take public transportation– Whether in the classroom or on a field trip, taking public transportation provides many opportunities to build life skills. Have the child look at a map to decide what bus or train route is best. Have them count out money to buy a ticket and ring the bell when they have reached their stop.

Make Lunch– Teach your child to make a simple lunch food such as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You will need to model this in the beginning, and depending on the child’s fine motor abilities, you might have to provide assistance when spreading the condiments on the bread. But the best thing about making food is that when it is a food the child likes, the end result of eating it is naturally reinforcing.

Grooming routine– Brushing teeth, brushing hair, taking a shower and putting on deodorant are all life skills that become important to master during adolescence and the early teen years. Break each task into steps, and if necessary, provide pictures of each step to assist the child in remembering “what comes next.”

Complete a daily chore– Start to assign your child a daily chore and have them complete that same chore until they have mastered it. It is best to start with a simple two- to three-step chore like carrying dirty clothes to the laundry room (e.g. pick clothes up from off the floor, carry them to the laundry room, drop them in the laundry basket). Whichever chore you choose, you will need to model each step in the beginning and provide prompts to assist with each step.

Joining a social group or life skills group is a great way to have a professional assess which skills your child would thrive at best!

Vaccines and Autism: Science or Hoax?

Boy getting vaccineThe controversy surrounding the relationship of common childhood vaccines and autism has been raging for nearly two decades. However, the debate is comprised of about 10% science and 90% politics and media exposure. In the wake of the most recent revelation that Andrew Wakefield, MD, the original author of the 1998 article linking autism to MMR vaccinations falsified medical history on nearly all of the patients that comprised his study http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/01/05/autism.vaccines/index.html, many families are left to wonder if they can really trust any medical advice. The impact of Wakefield’s article has done egregious harm to the general health of children worldwide. While the article was ultimately retracted by the publishing journal and Wakefield himself was stripped of his medical license in May of 2010, many countries noticed a precipitous drop in childhood vaccinations in the past decade. Surges of measles outbreaks rose in the aftermath and the CDC reported that 90% of the outbreaks in th US of measles were in children not vaccinated.

In addition to the impact on general medical care for children, popular media sources were quick to raise concerns about the safety of childhood vaccines and the preservatives used in them. With the most recent revelation that the original data may have been fabricated, many parents wonder if there is any way to make a reasonable decision about vaccinations.

The Relationship Between Vaccines and Autism

There is some science that families can draw upon. Large scale epidemiology studies are available that shed light into the relationship of vaccines and autism. In my own practice, I tend to rely upon studies that track live births over long periods of time in several geographic regions. For example, the city of Yokohama, Japan decided to terminate their MMR vaccine program that ran from 1988 to 1993 and institute an alternative program. With the new system, the rates of vaccinations fell to under 2% of the population between 1993 and 1998. This rapid change provided an ideal model to study the rates of autism since essentially the MMR vaccination rate dropped to nothing. Results from the study indicated that autism rates rose dramatically during the 1993 to 1998 time frame and could obviously not be attributed to MMR vaccines (Honda, Shimizu & Rutter, 2005). Studies conducted in Denmark (Madsen et al., 2002) and the UK (Smeeth et al., 2004) also demonstrated no relationship between autism rates and MMR vaccinations. Read more

Potty Training And Autism | The Complete ‘How To’ Guide

potty training rewarded childParents of children with Autism, especially those with more severe challenges like language and sensory issues, often fret about embarking on toilet training. Questions about when to start and how to do it may linger and create anxiety. Also, as a child develops in personality and behavior, they are also changing physically, so it is important to remember the differences among kids and try not to compare your child to others. Your child’s readiness will depend on their own learned skills as well as developmental abilities such as muscle control.

The other half of the toilet training experience depends on the parent’s readiness. It takes time and energy to begin toilet training and may not always be an easy process. However, with some hard work and consistency from the child and parent, it can be done. Remember your goal; having an independent, happy child will be well worth the effort.

Signs that your child is ready to begin toilet training:

• Stays dry for longer periods of time

• Shows visible signs of urinating or having a bowel movement (e.g. squatting, pulling up pants, touching themselves, crossing legs) Read more

Your Child Has Been Diagnosed With Autism, Now What?

What To Do After Your Child Is Diagnosed With Autism:

Several weeks ago Deborah Michael posted a blog about warning signs that parents should look out for regarding Autism Spectrum Disorders.  That blog article got me thinking about the next steps and how to help prepare parents for those important decisions.  The initial diagnosis is often heart wrecking for parents.  Too many times I have seen parents develop a sense of hopelessness once the diagnosis is given.  Autism is a spectrum disorder.  There are children who are really low functioning and will require one-on-one assistance for the rest of their lives.  Yet, at the same time, there are many children who are really high functioning and will be able to lead normal lives, get married, and live on their own.  I was supposed to write a blog article on a checklist for parents as to what they should do once a diagnosis is given.  After thinking about that, I came to the realization that doing so would be impossible and also act as a disservice towards parents.

Therapies Available For Children With ASD

Hand in HandThere are many therapies available for children with a diagnosis along the Autism spectrum.  Children with the diagnosis often require speech/language therapy to develop their pragmatic and social language skills.  These children often benefit from participating in a social skills group in which they are forced to engage in social activities in a safe, non-judgmental environment.  The children often have difficulties with fine motor functioning and sensory regulation and would benefit from woSchedule A Visit To Our Autism Clinicrking with an occupational therapist to develop those skills.
Additionally, the children often would benefit from participating in behavior therapy to focus on increasing positive, on-task behaviors while extinguishing negative behaviors.  However, due to the fact that Autism is a spectrum set of disorders, one cannot say how many hours a week or even what specific therapies are warranted for any particular child.  As a neuropsychologist, I would work with the individual providers to help develop any particular child’s treatment plan.  So, the only checklist of services parents need to seek for their child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder is:  work with the neuropsychologist who made the initial diagnosis to help develop a treatment plan including speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, behavior therapy, and social work.  Read more

Autism Signs Appear in Babies’ First Year: What that means for Parents and Doctors

A Chicago Tribune Article states:

“In its detailed comparison of 50 babies – half of whom would go on to be diagnosed with autism – the researchers in this new study found a steady loss of sociability and responsiveness in the babies who would progress to an autism diagnosis. Those babies’ loss of social skills looked more like regression and less like a slowing of progress that allowed normally developing babies to pull far ahead of them. And that regression was most marked between 6 and 18 months, though it continued more gradually to the 3-year mark, where the study left off. But while the reduced rates of face-gazing, vocalizations and social engagement were evident to researchers who systematically evaluated the babies every six months, 83 percent of the parents did not observe the changes chronicled by researchers – not, at least, in the first year they were happening”.

Autism Checklist

We need to teach parents to look for Sociability and Responsiveness between 6 and 18 months. Pediatricians, you can teach parents to look for these things when the baby is seen at the 6-week check-up!

Here are a few things to start looking out for (feel free to contact us for a more detailed checklist!):

Face gazing

Does he respond to your voice?
Does he smile?
Does she make eye contact?

Vocalizations
Does he coo?
Does he make noises?
Does he cry and keep calm at appropriate times?

Social engagement
Does he smile?
Does she enjoy playing games like peek-a-boo?
Does he want mommy at around 9 months and cry with others?
Does he show interest in other children?
Does she use her index finger to point at people or objects?

A few questions can make the difference between early intervention and a quick jump on learning, versus a wider gap in skills as more time passes without proper awareness and attention. You and your pediatrician need to be watching for signs! Don’t forget- family history is a HUGE piece with autism spectrum disorders. If you have any form of social challenges in the family, start looking for signs very early!

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If you are a parent, what advice would you like your pediatrician to give you at your 6 week check up?

If you are a parent of an ASD child, how would an earlier diagnosis have changed where you are today?