Changing Things Up!

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Changing Things Up!
Changing Things Up!
Tip of the Month:
March, 2016

Research has shown that providing predictable environments and structured routines are critical to classrooms that support individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Children with autism may demonstrate rigidity and/or inflexibility when presented with change(s). Teachers, parents, and adults who work with students on the autism spectrum sometimes attempt to control the environment where little or no change is ever presented. However, it is extremely difficult to avoid change in everyday life. Situations and circumstances beyond our control can occur, storms close schools, teachers get sick, cancelled classes, etc. It is important to recognize the significance of exposing students with autism to change and teaching them how to effectively cope with the change.
A number of studies have indicated children with autism are more likely to engage in challenging behaviour during transitions. To increase successful transitions, students should be prepared for the possibility of change and the procedures that follow. The use of visual supports during the presentation of a change and teaching positive routines is essential. The following are examples of visual strategies that can assist when introducing new activities.

Priming

Priming is a strategy that helps prepare children for upcoming activities or events that usually create anxiety, and/or challenging behaviour. Children may:

  • display avoidance behaviour when new materials or tasks are presented
  • require extra support with social situations (initiating conversation, interacting with peers, etc.)
  • demonstrate difficulty with transitions
  • require extensive exploration before they feel comfortable to participate in a situation.

Priming can help familiarize children with materials or situations, introduce predictability during a new situation, allow for nonthreatening presentation of new situations, and increase a child’s likelihood for success. Priming sessions are usually short and concise and not intended to teach the material, only to familiarize the child so they are ready to for the new situation.
Teams and parents can use modified social narratives or social stories and/or video priming. Recently, new research has shown support for using social narratives or social stories to help prepare students for new routines and events. Presenting social narratives or social stories 3-5 days before the new situation may result in decreased challenging behaviour. Video priming can be used to also help students with autism prepare for a new situation. After identifying the series of tasks or steps involved, a video will be taken of each step and include a spoken narrative of the process and some requirements. The video should be approximately 1-4 minutes. Students then view the tape over a period of time prior to new situation.

The Change Card

Using visual schedules are extremely important for student with autism. When students display independence of visual schedules, adults working with students can begin to incorporate change. When a specific activity is changed, a plan of support should be established. Select a meaningful visual cue when introducing the concept of change (e.g., surprise icon, exclamation mark, a word, etc.). Next, place the visual cue on top of the already scheduled activity. It may be helpful to include the student in the change routine so that the student is putting the visual cue on top of the planned activity. Additionally, introduce change in a positive way. Change activities that are perceived as non-preferred by the student to an activity that is motivating or preferred. Next, change can occur from a neutral activity, and eventually an activity that is difficult to accept. A gradual exposure to change may result in a deeper understanding and acceptance of changes to their routine.

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Why Provide Choice?

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Why Provide Choice?
Why Provide Choice?
Why Provide Choice?
Why Provide Choice?
Why Provide Choice?
Tip of the Month:
February, 2016

Children learn to make decisions and think independently through choice. Choice allows students to not only feel in control, it also helps them learn about themselves. Adults tend to make various decisions for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), leaving them with few or no choices throughout the day. Providing students with choice and verbal reinforcement will help establish positive behaviours and motivation. Additionally, it promotes the development of planning and problem skills, as students must consider the possible choices and what they prefer. Providing a choice can be as simple as allowing the student to choose between a red pen or blue pen, markers or crayons, plain paper or coloured paper, turn right or left during a walk, etc.

During academic tasks, there are many opportunities to provide choice. Begin with providing a limited range of options to the student. For example, when teaching reading decoding or reading comprehension, the student may be presented with two different books to read. Both have been selected by the teacher to ensure appropriateness while considering developmental ability. The option to choose will more than likely ensure the student will complete the task. This will increase engagement, which typically results in increased focus and concentration.

Choices can be incorporated into a daily schedule. Rather than setting up a predetermined schedule, consider arranging some task cards on a table and allow the student to decide the free time task they will complete. For example, during a scheduled break, the student can choose from using blocks, playing a board game, or reading a book. This adds another level of control and motivation. Importantly, only tasks the team want completed or is available to the student should be offered (i.e., do not include computer time if the student is not permitted use the computer at that time.

Allowing the student to choose a reinforcer is another way to ensure its effectiveness (e.g., the student chooses reading as a reinforcer). The student genuinely enjoys the reinforcer and will want to work for it. This way, the student will complete the less preferred task (journal writing) to obtain the preferred activity (drawing with scented markers). This can be done through a choice board and a first/then schedule. The option to choose should be extended to the student in all possible circumstances.

Some examples of choice that can be offered:

  • Work alone or with a peer
  • Read quietly or with a friend
  • Write in your journal or use a computer
  • Complete five math questions out of eight
  • Juice box or milk for recess
  • Kick the ball or take a walk
  • Visit the secretary or principal

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The Importance of a Visual Schedule

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The Importance of a Visual Schedule
Tip of the Month:
November, 2015

Visual schedules are receptive communication tools that provide information about an event, location, and time. They can be used to display a sequence of planned events in the order they will occur and use symbols (pictures, text, photographs) that are easily understood by the student. As teachers and parents, it is essential to never assume a child “knows” the daily schedule or where they are supposed to be. When students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are unaware of their schedule or what happens next, there may be an increase of unpredictable, challenging behaviour.

Much of information provided within a classroom is done verbally. Many students, especially those with ASD, are unable to process and remember a long list of verbal information. Visual schedules are used to help the students who process visual information more effectively. The visual schedule can bring structure and predictability to the child’s day and can be extremely effective in decreasing unpredictable behaviour. It also promotes and increases motivation to complete less desired tasks and provides visual reminders that preferred activities are scheduled within the day.

The use of a visual schedule can assist students with ASD to comprehend abstract time concepts, such as later, next, or last. It can help transition from one activity to another, increase independence, teach the importance of organization, and increase inclusion. In addition, it can help children with ASD become flexible with changes or adjustments in the schedule. Teachers can introduce a change in schedule using a “change card” or the word “change” within the visual schedule. During the introduction to the “change” concept, change should occur from one preferred activity to another. When the student is able to accept the change and remain self-regulated, then non-preferred activities can be introduced.

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How to Reduce Wandering

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Tip of the Month:
October, 2015

Some children with ASD leave one environment to visit a favorite place, escape a stressful or overstimulating situation, or because of enjoyment to run and explore. Regardless of the reason, parents and teachers try to implement strategies designed to decrease the amount of wandering.

  • Determine the function of the wandering. Why is the child leaving the environment? This may require some basic data collection and noting what happens directly before the wandering and where the child goes. If the child is wandering to achieve a goal, let them explore the goal in a safe and supervised manner. For example, if the child wanders to the secretary’s office to gain her attention, schedule various errands throughout the day that brings the student to the office. If the purpose of wandering is to avoid something, the issue must be addressed and accommodations put in place. For example, if the child is wandering to avoid loud noises, the student can be provided with headphones or a break during times when the noise level increases.
  • Develop and implement strategies that can replace the wandering behaviour and teach the student to cope with the triggers.
  • Ensure that triggers are included in the IEP and/or behaviour plan so that school personnel can work on recommended strategies.
  • Use social stories to teach the child about the dangers of wandering and the appropriate ways to cope with triggers.
  • f the child wanders frequently, parents and school personnel may consider some identification system, such as; personal identity card, ID bracelet, or necklace.

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Swimming as a Teaching Opportunity

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Swimming as a Teaching Opportunity
Swimming as a Teaching Opportunity
Swimming as a Teaching Opportunity
Swimming as a Teaching Opportunity
Tip of the Month:
September, 2015

Swimming lessons and pool parties lead to opportunities to teach individuals with ASD independent showering.

Pool showers are great places to teach showering skills because everyone is wearing a bathing suit and there are usually multiple showerheads. This way, you can model appropriate showering for the individual with ASD and provide appropriate prompting and reinforcement. There are many ways to approach teaching or improving the independence level of this skill. Creating lists of needed items (towel, bathing suit, etc.), task analysis with pictures or even behavioural expectations could all be beneficial strategies.

Some individuals may require more explicit teaching and a task analysis of showering could be used. This kind of visual lends itself to data collection relatively easily. For example, you could be collecting data on how independent the individual is at each step and if they required any prompting (physical [p]; gesture [g]; verbal [v]).

Just like teaching or increasing the level of independence in any skill, there will always be some challenges. One obvious one for teaching showering at a pool is that properly washing all body parts is not appropriate and some individuals may not like showering with their bathing suits on. Additionally, keep in mind that individuals will require additional teaching to generalize this skill to ‘normal’ showering in their own homes.

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Creating Work Tasks

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Creating Work Tasks
Creating Work Tasks
Creating Work Tasks
Tip of the Month:
July, 2015

I recently created a work system for a little guy in Kindergarten and realized that the thought of creating a work system can be overwhelming for some people. Consequently, I thought it could be helpful to break down how I create this work system. For this system, I organized all activities into three categories- 1) Literacy, 2) Fine Motor and 3) Numeracy. Each category had an associated symbol (circle, star, squares).

These symbols went onto each activity bag. I also created larger ‘stickers’ of each symbol to go on the bins where the activities were kept. For storage, we used a four-drawer plastic storage system, similar to the one shown. The fourth bin was labelled the ‘Finished’ bin.

Here are the steps to take when setting up a work system:
1. Identify who you are creating a work system for and what goals you’re hoping to achieve.
2. Find resources to provide you with some inspiration for the types of activities you could include.
3. Collect your organization materials. I like using Ziploc bags because you can see what’s inside each bag and they are easily labelled.
4. You’ll also need a collection of permanent felt markers in a variety of colours, a pad of paper, a pen and all the materials you need to create each activity.
5. Put the materials for each activity in one large Ziploc. Label the bags with the activities’ name and corresponding symbols and place the bags into the appropriate drawer.
6. Once all your activities are in bags, create a list of each activity.
7. Create a ‘Work’ symbol to add to your student’s visual schedule.
8. Create an visual schedule for the work that will be completed within the Work System.
9. Once all of this is in place, your student can work through the activities in each drawer and place them in the fourth ‘finished’ drawer when they are completed.

More information on Work Systems, including how to implement and teach your student to use a Work System, can be found in our Task of the Month archives and in the POPARD Handout Series.

Resources include:

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Consequence Maps

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Consequence Maps
Tip of the Month:
June, 2015

Consequence or Contingency Maps are a cognitive-behavioural strategy for helping students understand the consequences of their behaviour. Additionally, they provide a visual representation of the expected behaviour and the unexpected behaviour, and show the consequences associated with both behaviours. Many students with ASD experience challenges with communication and implementing visuals provides students with concrete, static information about behavioural expectations and routines. Limiting the amount of talking, especially when the student is already agitated, can be a successful way of de-escalating situations.

There are a variety of ways to use a Consequence or Contingency Map. I will provide an example for ‘hitting when mad’.

Define the Behavioural Expectations: Define both the expected and the unexpected behaviours.

Create the visual: I like to colour code my visuals, showing the ‘Green Path’ (expected) and ‘Red Path’ (unexpected). The number of boxes, the type of visual input (drawings or written words), and the amount of information will vary for each student. The most critical information is the target behaviour/routine, defining the behaviour, and depicting the reward. I’ve found the most successful visuals are created collaboratively between the student and me. This increases buy-in and the student can take more ownership by deciding how to word certain phrases or choosing which pictures to include. Additionally, the student may have valuable insight, such as the calm-down strategy that words well for them, or which reward they would like to work towards.

Teach: After you have created the visual, the critical part is to teach your student how to use it! As I’ve mentioned above, creating the visual collaboratively with your student will increase buy-in and will make teaching its use much easier. Set aside a time to review the visual at least once a day, especially when it is first being introduced. Ensure the visual is always easily accessible to the student. Make multiple copies so that other adults who work with that student also have access to it.

Reinforce: If the student engages in the expected behaviour, provide them with their reward! This is a critical step for increasing the expected behaviour and decreasing the unexpected. Asking student input about what they want their reward to be will also increase the likelihood they will engage in the expected behaviour.

Fade Reinforcement: Take data on the changes of frequency, intensity, duration, etc. of the behaviour. Plan to fade the reinforcement over time. You do not need to fade the visual! We all use visual supports on a regular basis!

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Puberty and Dating

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Tip of the Month:
May, 2015

Many parents fear the day that their teenager wants to start dating. For parents of a teenager with ASD, this thought can be even more daunting.

It is important to remember that many students with ASD are slower to develop emotionally than typical teenagers, although they may be physically maturing at the same rate. This leads to a discrepancy between physical and hormonal changes and the ability for the individual to recognize and understand them. Consequently, teenagers with ASD can put themselves at risk due to their inability to read social cues and body language. They may not be able to recognize that their own, or someone else’s, actions or behaviours are not appropriate. For example, many individuals with ASD experience communication challenges. In teenagers, this could relate to an inability to stand up for themselves in situations that make them uncomfortable. Therefore, it is highly important to explicitly teach your teen about all aspects of dating, including body cues, hidden meanings, hidden agendas, appropriate/ inappropriate behaviour, how to act if someone is inappropriate to them, etc.

Every family is different in terms of philosophical and religious beliefs, but it is crucial to remember that a minimum amount of information must be taught to individuals with ASD regarding puberty and dating. This will help keep your child safe and combat rumours and misinformation that your child could be learning at school or through the media.

Specific Areas to Consider Teaching (adapted from Sicile-Kira, 2006):

  • Puberty and Changes to the Body
  • Contraception and Protection against STDs
  • Learning about and recognizing appropriate ‘dating’ or friendly behaviour towards your teen
  • Knowing what is appropriate behaviour toward an admired person
  • Appropriate masturbation and ejaculation

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Healthy Friendships, Healthy Dating Relationships

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Tip of the Month:
April, 2015

Many parents fear the day that their teenager wants to start dating. For parents of a teenager with ASD, this thought can be even more daunting. This post is the first of a two-part series on ‘ASD and Dating’, and will focus on healthy friendships as a prerequisite for healthy dating relationships.

Quite often, adolescents with ASD lack the experience of close friendships due to social communication challenges during their early and middle school years. Adolescents with ASD many have the desire to be close to someone, but do not know how to go about this in a socially appropriate way.

Research shows that having friendships and displaying appropriate levels of closeness are prerequisites to healthy romantic relationships. Therefore, it is highly important to continually focus on explicitly teaching students with ASD appropriate social skills and how to make and keep friends. It is also important to remember that many individuals with ASD want to make and have friends, but have not been taught the appropriate social skills and eventually give up after many failed attempts.

Tips for Establishing Friendships (Bolick, 2001):

  • Establish that the adolescent wants to make friends and that you have their “buy in”.
  • Find after-school clubs or activities that relate to their interests.
  • Look for activities that have inherent structure (individuals with ASD thrive on structure and routine and will likely be much more successful playing pool or bowling than hanging out at the mall).
  • Encourage the adolescent to volunteer with younger children (younger children do not need sophisticated communication exchanges) .

Teach the adolescent specific social skills in a variety of environments with a range of people:

  • Nonverbal behaviours (eye contact, body language, physical space, etc.)
  • Greetings and ways to start a conversation
  • How to respond to a bid for friendship from another person
  • How to differentiate between harmless teasing between friends and bullying or harassment
  • How to end a friendship politely

Resources:

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The Importance of Using Person-First Language

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Tip of the Month:
March, 2015

This Tip of the Month is short and sweet, but extremely important! Simply altering the way we talk about people can have a powerful, rippling effect. Make a conscious effort to consistently use person-first language.
Using person-first language is not only politically correct, it shows good manners, respect and most importantly, it can change the way we view a person, which can change the way a person views his or herself!
Person-first language puts the focus on the person and not on their disability and shifts our thinking from focusing on what is ‘wrong’ with the person. It can help teachers, therapists, family members and members of the community remember they are interacting with a person who has dignity, feelings and rights.
However, some people with disabilities and communities of people with disabilities have their own preferences about how their disability is discussed. For example, in some communities of the deaf, members would prefer it be said “He’s deaf,” rather than “He has deafness.” Additionally, in some communities of the blind, members would prefer it be said “She is blind,” rather than “She has blindness.” When in doubt, listen to how members refer to themselves or ask a member of that community.

How to alter the way you speak:

Use statements like these:
Sylia has ADHD
John has a learning disability in math
The children with autism
A boy with autism
Adults with disabilities

Instead of:
She’s ADHD
He’s LD
Autistic children
That autistic boy
Handicapped, special needs, disabled

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