Category: Resources

Choosing a therapist is an important decision, especially when it comes to the care of your child. Finding the right specialists to conduct Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy requires research and can feel overwhelming. This guide will help serve as an outline of what to ask behavioral centers to choose an ABA therapy location.


Important ABA Therapy Considerations:

  • Counseling service offerings
  • Cost and insurance
  • Communicating clearly
  • Setting goals and expectations


Using these topics as the start of your checklist, you can feel sure your therapist is answering all of your concerns. If you’re searching for ABA therapy in Michigan or elsewhere, we can help you get started in your search.


Defining ABA Therapy

Before you begin researching ABA therapists in Michigan or local to your area, let’s define ABA therapy.  ABA therapy focuses on the learning and behavior of children with autism or other behavioral disorders.  ABA therapy uses a variety of programs and methods to improve many aspects of an individual’s everyday life:

  • Motor skills
  • Speech
  • Language
  • Communication
  • Cognitive skills
  • Independence


There are even more benefits that ABA therapy can provide to children or adults with behavioral disorders. If your child shows early signs of autism disorder, intervening early on with ABA therapy is critical. By being a keen observer of your child’s behavior, you can learn to spot early symptoms of behavioral issues such as childhood developmental delays.


ABA Therapy Service Offerings

One of the most critical parts of finding a new therapist is making sure they offer the specific type of care you are looking for. You may be searching for a behavioral therapist specializing in ABA therapy, which will narrow down your search results. The Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center offers ABA therapy to Michigan residents, as well as multiple therapy options.



  • Occupational therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Speech and language therapy
  • General counseling
  • Support services


These therapy services may be used for treatment individually or in combination with ABA therapy. An ABA therapist or Board Certified Behavioral Analyst ( BCBA) will develop an individualized and comprehensive ABA therapy plan for each patient.


Cost and Insurance

If you have medical insurance, you may need a primary doctor’s referral to seek ABA therapy so check with your health care provider first. Your insurance can filter and recommend therapy services that are in your network. With insurance, you will want to make sure you know any co-pay or out of pocket costs for each visit. If you seek ABA therapy at our Novi office, you can give us a call or provide your insurance information in the online consultation form to check your coverage with our center.

Understanding the coverage and cost of therapy services is critical, especially when long-term care is likely on the table. Whether it’s your insurance provider or a therapist’s office, there are plenty of ABA therapy resources to help you learn if your insurance is accepted and if the out-of-pocket is suitable for you.


Communicating Clearly with Your Therapist

It’s essential to have an open communication line with your child’s ABA therapist, especially from the start. This open communication will stem from a clear understanding of the behavioral challenges your child has been facing. From your first phone call or consultation, be prepared to discuss the challenges your child may be facing in detail.

To better prepare, take some time to jot down a list of key talking points – you can even start by including your child’s daily routine as this is an integral part of improving behavior. You can also keep a list of any challenges or inappropriate behavior such as outbursts. Be sure also to note any areas of delays like speech and communication. This way, your ABA therapist has a full view of the extent of your child’s behavioral disorder and can come up with a personalized therapy program.



Setting Goals and Expectations of your Therapist

Once a clear understanding of your child’s needs is established, you can request a follow-up meeting where the ABA therapist can present goal setting and a program plan. You don’t have to commit a therapist after the first meeting – instead, work with them to set expectations of the type of therapy your child may expect under their care. Review these examples of types of questions to ask your ABA therapist to help guide the conversation.

You can brief yourself on some counseling approaches to better understand what your therapist might suggest. Check out the ten most common counseling approaches you may encounter here.


ABA Therapy in Michigan

When it comes to finding a therapy center, location also plays a large factor. Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center is an ABA therapy center based in Michigan that also offers various specialized therapy services. Our office is optimally located in Novi to serve patients seeking ABA therapy in Southeast Michigan. Finding an office local to you can also offer support in terms of nearby events that your child may find beneficial or entertaining.

Our team comprises occupational therapists, behavior analysts, speech and language pathologists, and other highly-trained professionals with the common goal of improving behavior to enhance lives. If you are interested in finding ABA therapy in Michigan, learn more about our team and therapy services to get started, or give us a call at our Novi office to ask any questions you may have.


Finding the Right Fit for ABA Therapy

On the journey to finding the right ABA therapist, you may not find the perfect match right away. Be cautious that introducing a therapist to your child will be an adjustment but take comfort in knowing that your therapist will be working tirelessly to make the transition smooth. Don’t be afraid to ask any and every question of your ABA therapist.

Living with autism disorder can be taxing for the individuals or their support group. Children and parents need to understand the connection between mindfulness and autism disorder to help ease life stresses with autism disorder. We don’t want finding the right therapist to be another strain in your life, so let us help you answer any questions you may have about ABA therapy.

Visit our Novi office or schedule a consultation with the Michigan ABA experts at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center to get started.

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The Role of a BCBA in ABA Therapy


You may encounter many different therapists when on the road to seeking behavioral therapy or ABA therapy. Board-Certified Behavior Analyst’s (BCBA) are qualified practitioners in the field of behavior analysis. Suppose you’re new to ABA therapy and beginning to research services? In that case, you may be wondering about the role a BCBA plays in ABA therapy and how they differ from other therapists.

This guide will help you understand what a BCBA is, from their qualifications to ABA therapy’s importance. With a solid understanding of the qualifications and requirements of BCBAs and ABA therapists, you can then learn more about ABA therapy to see if the program is right for you or your child. Let’s start by defining what it means to be a BCBA.

What is a BCBA?

A BCBA is a board-certified behavior analyst in the healthcare profession who specializes in human behavior. The extensive training of BCBAs allows them to properly observe, supervise, and support behavioral issues by creating a specific care plan for each patient. BCBAs work to improve children and adults’ behavioral issues, ranging from social development, emotional issues, developmental disabilities such as autism disorder, and more.

Board Certification is a requirement to practice behavior analysis and is provided through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. Certification displays a commitment to their practice and skill level. Let’s learn more about the specific qualifications necessary to become a board-certified behavior analyst.


BCBA Qualifications

BCBA psychologists make up a small percentage of practitioners of psychology. Specific qualifications are needed before they are qualified as a BCBA. An ABA therapist’s primary qualification to become a BCBA is an advanced degree such as a graduate degree in a behavior analysis-specified or education discipline. BCBA applicants can also complete a range of relevant board-specified courses. BCBA therapists abide by a professional code of ethics as determined by the American Board of Professional Psychology.


These guidelines teach practitioners several necessary skills when working in behavior therapy:

  • How to design treatment programs
  • How to provide consultation
  • How to collaborate with other analysts and therapists
  • How to accept clients


All in all, BCBAs have undergone advanced professional and educational training that allows them to provide a high-level of behavior expertise. These practitioners must recertify their BCBA status every two years. To learn more about the BCBAs at Blossom Wellness Behavioral Center, meet our team.


What is ABA Therapy?

ABA therapy focuses on applied behavior analysis to help patients breakthrough behavioral disorders and issues. By using simple actions, ABA therapy introduces a foundation for correct and appropriate behaviors. This specialized treatment can have a flexible plan that caters to each patient’s specific needs. ABA therapy uses these significant components to improve behavior:

  • Positive reinforcement
  • Antecedent, behavior, and consequence
  • Planning and assessment

ABA therapists study the stimulus and responses of each patient’s behaviors. ABA therapy is a standard therapy used for patients with autism disorder. Under the ABA therapy umbrella exist many techniques in improving the behaviors of children and adults. Check out the generalization of applied behavior analysis to learn more about this type of therapy.


The Role of ABA Therapists

An ABA therapist’s role focuses on applied behavior analysis and principles, mainly related to children and adults with autism disorder. The basis of ABA therapy caters to the individual needs of each patient. ABA therapists offer psychological techniques and education to equip patients with autism or other behavioral disorders with the tools they need to function.

An ABA therapist works to refocus patients away from negative behaviors and focus on the positive outcomes of therapy, such as more vital social skills and improved communication. ABA therapists work under overarching programs that are designed by other behavior analysts, like BCBAs. Let’s learn more about how BCBAs play a role in ABA therapy.


The Role of BCBAs in ABA Therapy

In ABA therapy, your day-to-day ABA therapist acts under the supervision of a BCBA. The BCBAs have the task of designing the overall program design for ABA therapy. This team of ABA therapy experts works to provide an ideal program and environment to help your child thrive. An ABA therapist works under a BCBA’s guidance, who designs overarching programs for staff and students or clients.

Practitioners with board certification may work in various therapeutic settings and help many different types of patients. With their extensive education and experience, BCBAs play an essential role in helping patients in ABA therapy. BCBAs set the standards for ABA therapy practices. Learn more about how BCBAs contribute to ABA therapy here.


Common ABA Therapy Approaches

Your BCBA and ABA therapist may take several different therapeutic approaches, depending on each patient’s specific behavior needs.

Here are a few examples of common therapeutic approaches you might expect in ABA therapy:

  • Functional Communication Skills
  • Social Skills
  • Independent Daily Living Skills


These approaches represent a fraction of the programs and techniques for behavioral analysis. If you are interested in learning more about other therapy services provided by the Blossom Wellness Behavioral Center read more about our multidisciplinary approach.


When is the Right Time to Seek ABA Therapy?

Early intervention is critical when it comes to changing and influencing behaviors. If you are noticing early symptoms of developmental disorders, seek the counsel of a professional psychologist. A psychologist or medical doctor can refer your child to ABA therapy, where they will work under the care of ABA therapists, BCBAs, and other behavior experts.

ABA therapy helps patients with behavior disorders to grow socially, emotionally, and mentally stronger. If you’re interested in starting therapy for yourself or your child, you can get started with an online consultation form. After reviewing your form, we can determine the next steps in seeing if ABA therapy is the right approach for your needs.

When it comes to ABA therapy, let Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center’s qualified specialists offer our support and expertise.

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As soon as your baby emerges from the womb, they begin to grow and develop exponentially. As soon as early infancy, your baby will start to explore their surroundings. While exploring a new curiosity for their environment, their development continues, and they begin to learn new skills. From starting to grab and reach to holding their head up, one of the first new skills a baby begins to learn is their gross motor skills.

Gross motor skills are a stepping stone to other fine motor skills. These skills are one of the first and most critical parts of a child’s growth and development. If your child is spending adequate time doing gross motor activities and experiencing noticeable issues with their gross motor skills, it’s time to seek help from an occupational therapist. Occupational therapy can get your child back on the right track with their gross motor skills and even assist in other critical development areas.

We’ll dive into ABA therapy more and how this type of program can complement occupational therapy. Let’s learn more about gross motor skills, why they are essential, and how you can help your child hone their skills and raise their confidence.


What Are Gross Motor Skills?

Gross motor skills are the basic building blocks to movement. These skills involve using the main massive muscle groups to move around. Gross motor skills are the ability to use these muscle movements for intentionally coordinated movements. These motor skills use major body parts such as the arms, legs, torso, feet, or the entire body. Children begin to practice these gross motor skills from early infancy. Think about the importance of tummy time in strengthening a child’s core. Developing the strength to hold their head up builds to crawling, then walking, and then more advanced movements.

Children continue to hone these movements and gross motor skills even as toddlers. Gross motor skills can include any of the following significant movements:

  • Sitting
  • Standing
  • Walking
  • Jumping
  • Balancing
  • Running
  • Lifting


These gross motor activities help teach a child more about their body, muscle control, coordination, and balance. From a young age, children need to experience gross motor activities, where they can utilize their muscles for movement, such as free play, swimming, and jumping around. Let’s learn why gross motor activities are essential to a child’s daily tasks and activities, so you know when to seek professional help for any developmental delays.


Why Gross Motor Skills are Important for Children

Gross motor skills are essential for childhood development in that these skills serve as the framework for more advanced fine motor skills. Fine motor skills require more detailed smaller movements, like using the hands to paint. A strong basis of gross motor skills can hint that your child will have an easier time learning fine motor skills, though each child is different. When there is a delay in these gross motor activities and necessary skills, it can hurt everyday tasks, like self-dressing


When children do not have well-developed gross motor skills, other areas of their natural development can suffer, leading to these common issues:

  • Physical troubles
  • Low confidence
  • Poor concentration
  • Avoiding social interactions


Delays in gross motor skills can have a long-term impact on your child. You can work to get ahead of these delays by proactively encouraging gross motor activities to improve muscle movement. If your child is exhibiting signs of delayed gross motor skills or other movement issues, it is best to consult a doctor or occupational therapist as early as possible. Let’s learn more about what occupational therapy is and how it can help your child’s movement by teaching gross motor activities and more.


What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is a very diverse profession in that therapists work with children, teenagers, and adults who may have various deficiencies or disorders. This type of therapy treatment focuses on a person’s ability to work on their cognitive, physical, social, and motor skills. Occupational therapy sessions work to set individuals up for success in so many different areas of their life, such as learning, regulation, concentration, and sensory processing skills. Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center’s occupational therapy program focuses on treatment interventions for these areas and more.


Occupational therapy is a huge benefit to children experiencing issues, such as developmental delays related to the previously mentioned skills. With intervention from occupational therapy, your child will increase their self-confidence. Gross motor skill activities and other developmental exercises will give children a sense of accomplishment, no matter how big or small the feat. If you’re looking for more information on occupational therapy, let us help you get started – learn more about the role of an occupational therapist.


When to Seek Occupational Therapy for Gross Motor Skills

Don’t be alarmed if your young child is a bit uncoordinated and a little clumsy – this behavior is expected with infants and even toddlers, as children are still honing their gross motor skills. Talking with your doctor and paying attention to developmental milestones will help to act as a benchmark for your child. These developmental milestones are only categorized as delays when achieved outside a one to three-month window of the outlined task. Developmental milestone delays are one way to tell if it’s time to seek occupational therapy for your child’s gross motor skills.


Here are some examples of different conditions that can affect a developing child’s gross motor skills:


  • Neurological impairment or disorder
  • Delay in Development
  • Developmental coordination disorder
  • Abnormal muscle tone
  • Loss of muscle control


Occupational therapy can assist with more areas than just motor skills. With gross motor skills and other developmental delays, early intervention is critical. Occupational therapy programs will cater to your child’s individual needs and help teach them these skills positively and in a fun way. There is so much importance to the role occupational therapy plays in early intervention.


Gross Motor Activities in Occupational Therapy

With the guidance of a professional, your child can begin their journey to rehabilitating any delays through the practice of gross motor activities. An occupational therapist’s work will start in a therapy session but continue long after the child has left their visit. Gross motor activities do not need to be done only in the presence of a therapist.

If you are working to better your child’s movement, consider seeking an occupational therapist’s professional guidance. In occupational therapy, practicing these skills will be made fun, and your child will engage in a variety of gross motor activities, including:


  • Hand-eye coordination games
  • Obstacle courses
  • Circles of interaction
  • Therapy balls
  • Tactile play


Our occupational therapy program is customized to support each specific child’s needs at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center. By working together, we can develop a strategy to increase gross motor activities and get your child back on track and move the way they intended. Through gross motor activities and other treatments, occupational therapy provides more skill practice than just assistance with motor skills. Learn more about our occupational therapy program and offerings.


At-Home Gross Motor Activities

Your child does not need to be in an occupational therapy session to improve their gross motor skills. Gross motor activities don’t have to be planned since they are a natural part of everyday movements and tasks. However, it’s important to observe children and provide them with opportunities to practice these skills. Children efficiently practice their gross motor activities at home, with and without adult-guided activities.


Whether your child is experiencing delays or not, you can encourage muscle movement at home with these gross motor activities:

  • Sports – Even a simple game of catch will encourage hand-eye coordination.
  • Hopscotch – Encourages jumping and balance.
  • Simon says – This game promotes concentration and appeals to other areas of development, including gross motor skills.

Any time a child is engaging in play, they are naturally working on their gross motor skills. One common enemy against gross motor activities is the increased use of electronic devices. Limiting your child’s screen time encourages them to play outside and do the simple gross motor activities that kids indulge in and enjoy. If you’re looking for ways to incorporate larger movements and muscle exercise into your child’s life, there is no shortage of gross motor activities for children.


Occupational Therapy and ABA Therapy for Autism Disorder

Occupational therapy can help children with autism focus on learning, playing, caring for themselves, and even managing sensory issues. This type of therapy improves the quality of life in those with autism disorder by teaching and strengthening various skills that were most likely lacking due to developmental delays.


Occupational therapy can pair well with Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA therapy, as a practical and complementary approach to improving life quality for those with autism. The occupational therapy treatments that can improve a child with autism’s life include balancing, improving muscle strength, and building coordination skills. The treatments from these multidisciplinary collaborations have positive effects and are more effective than ABA therapy alone.


Early Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children

Developmental delays don’t explicitly point to autism spectrum disorder, though they can be an early tell. The signs of autism disorder can come in many shapes and forms, with gross motor skills delays being only one aspect. Early signs of autism in infants may come in communication differences, social differences, or behavioral differences. Signs of autism in toddlers can be an extension of these differences but can show themselves in the form of acceptable motor skill delays or language delays.


ABA therapy includes a broader group of treatments and therapies that reinforce skills by encouraging and rewarding children. In ABA therapy, children will exercise all of the skills that may have been fully practiced during their age-specific development. If any of the previously mentioned signs sounds like your child, consider scheduling an ABA therapy session.


Who Should Diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder?

A speech pathologist or occupational therapist may notice signs of autism spectrum disorder, but a diagnosis can be given only by a qualified specialist. A qualified specialist, such as a pediatrician or psychologist, will perform a comprehensive assessment based on specific criteria before delivering a diagnosis. A comprehensive assessment may include the following types of tests:


  • Ages and Stages Questionnaires (ASQ)
  • Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales (CSBS)
  • Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status (PEDS)
  • Modified Check for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT)
  • Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers and Young Children (STAT)


Working with other therapists on developmental delays or abnormalities can help point to autism disorder if applicable. Once your doctor provides an autism diagnosis, ABA therapy, as well as other treatments, can begin. Treatment plans through ABA therapy can cover several different social, behavioral, and other categories. Autism disorder should not be self-diagnosed based on developmental delays alone. If you are working with an occupational therapist, ask questions about a combined approach with ABA therapy. Let’s learn more about how ABA therapy can help individuals.


Learning More About ABA Therapy

ABA therapy studies an individual’s behavior and learns to increase positive behaviors and decrease detrimental or harmful behaviors. Children and adults who engage in ABA therapy and are encouraged through positive reinforcement. They practice a variety of skills that apply to real-world tasks. ABA therapy is specialized to each individual’s needs with specific treatments and goals.

While children are undergoing ABA therapy, these sessions can begin to impact parents as well. Understand that there is a link between mindfulness and autism. By understanding mindfulness-based strategies through the help of ABA therapy, your child can begin to implement these into their everyday life and see the positive effects they bring.

By taking an active role in your child’s development and well-being, you can learn the early signs of autism that can lead you to a possible diagnosis. If your child is experiencing any development delays, act quickly, and reach out to a professional.

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Although language is a natural part of our communication skills, it doesn’t always come easy. Speech therapy can play an influential role in helping individuals with pragmatics, which are necessary skills to have for person-to-person communication. Let’s take a deep dive into what pragmatic language skills are and how you can use services like speech therapy and ABA therapy to improve your skills.


What Are Pragmatic Language Skills?

Pragmatics is the rules that govern our language system and explain the relationship between words and word use. Language is essential to effectively communicate, especially with children working to develop their language and speech skills. Speaking and understanding is a huge part of how we effectively communicate with one another.

Pragmatics is the way we use language to connect with others. This can include verbal and non-verbal language such as body language, eye-contact, using or understanding jokes, asking and answering questions, repairing communication breakdowns, or getting the attention of others.

Some examples of pragmatics include the following:

  • Verbal communication
  • Reciprocal play
  • Social behavior necessary for communication
  • Imitation
  • Joint attention
  • Turn-taking


Though the definition of pragmatics can seem complicated, the idea is more simplistic in practice. A lack of pragmatic language skills can be found when the speaker cannot effectively communicate what they say to what they mean. Learning pragmatics can be challenging on your own – we recommend seeking assistance from a therapist specializing in speech or ABA therapy to get started.


How Speech Therapy Helps with Pragmatics

Language rules and functions are essential in childhood development and learning, but sometimes, children need additional help through speech therapy to help with pragmatic language skills. A speech-language pathologist works towards addressing the various challenges a child may have with language and communication, including pragmatics.

With the assistance and support of a speech therapist, individuals can use these techniques to strengthen and learn pragmatics:

  • Reciprocal play
  • Peer to peer interactions
  • Conversational turn-taking
  • The body orientation and proximity
  • Theory of mind
  • Understanding non-verbal language and body language of others


There are so many benefits that speech-language pathologists can help provide in teaching pragmatics and strengthening other areas of this discipline. Without intervention, these language issues can persist, making classroom learning and interaction extremely difficult. When your child learns the skills to strengthen their language and communication, you will see their confidence soar.

If issues with pragmatics are just one bump in the road of autism disorder, see how ABA therapy can help.


Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy

Pragmatic language impairment or pragmatic language issues can be a common issue in children with autism. ABA therapy can help children and individuals learn pragmatics with a variety of language stimulation strategies. A therapist’s skills can help alleviate several issues beyond language, such as understanding the link between mindfulness and autism. Early intervention is critical when it comes to language issues in children with autism.

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In the emotional rollercoaster that is 2020, it’s safe to say many people’s mental health is suffering more than expected. Therapy is one way to improve your health and wellness. Getting help for your mental health can be challenging, and that is okay.

Learning about different kinds of therapy can make the process of improving your mental health a little bit easier. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a popular type of therapy used for a variety of different issues. Knowing what it is and how it works can help you decide if it’s the best therapy type for you.


What is CBT?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a psychological treatment that helps improve mental health. It is aimed at challenging and changing negative thoughts and behaviors. The goal is to modify dysfunctional emotions and get rid of any irrational beliefs. CBT’s principle is that psychological problems are partly based on unhealthy ways of thinking and learned unhelpful behavior patterns.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy provides strategies such as learning to develop a greater sense of confidence in one’s abilities, recognizing distortions in one’s thinking, and more to change one’s thinking patterns. Much of CBT involves someone facing their fears rather than avoiding them and using role-play to prepare for stress-inducing situations.

CBT is a common type of talk therapy. It is meant to be short-term and completed in a certain number of sessions, typically ranging from 5-20 sessions in total. The therapy’s length depends on the type of mental disorder, the severity of the symptoms, how much stress the patient is under, etc. Studies have shown that CBT can lead to significant improvement in wellness and quality of life.


Benefits of CBT

Almost everyone could improve their health and wellness by using cognitive behavioral therapy. It teaches people how to cope with stress and emotions in healthy ways to enhance their wellness.

In addition to helping people’s mental health, CBT can also help manage chronic physical symptoms. It can assist in resolving conflicts within relationships and learn better forms of communication. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can treat mental illnesses and teach people how to manage them. It can also help cope with grief or loss, as well as overcome emotional trauma.

Some of the mental illnesses and disorders that improve from using CBT include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Phobias
  • PTSD
  • OCD
  • Autism

CBT has been used to treat children on the autism spectrum, helping them become more mindful. Implementing this kind of therapy can improve the routine of a child with autism.

Implementing CBT in Your Life

If cognitive behavioral therapy sounds like something you’re interested in, how can you implement it in your life? First, find a therapist. Getting a referral from a doctor, friend, or any other trusted source is an excellent way to find one. Check the therapist’s background and education as well as their certification. The therapist must be qualified to help you. Research the therapist’s area of expertise to ensure they are the best fit for you. To learn more about picking a therapist, check out this guideline.

Next, consider the cost of the therapy. Some health insurance plans cover a certain amount of therapy per year. Before going to CBT, review the issues you would like to work on while in therapy. Having a sense of your concerns before meeting the therapist can help provide a starting point for improving your wellness.

You must go into therapy with an open mind and a willingness to improve yourself. Expect to become aware of troubling thoughts, emotions, and beliefs, and identify and reshape any negative thinking patterns. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can improve the happiness and wellness of people facing mental health issues.

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Children participate in ABA play therapy.

Finding the right counselor in a sea of specialties and counseling approaches can be a daunting task. Navigating an overwhelming amount of information may lead you down a rabbit hole of confusion. Whether you’re searching for therapy to meet your needs of trauma, family counseling, or anxiety, there is an array of counseling approaches to consider, including integrative therapy. Let’s examine the ten most common counseling approaches you will encounter, including the benefits of a therapist who utilizes an integrative therapy approach. We’ll also look at how many of these counseling approaches benefit children with autism when pairing with their ABA therapy sessions.


What are Approaches to Counseling?

Counseling approaches vary according to each therapists’ training and their counseling style. Approaches to counseling affect a therapist’s interactions with their clients, their methods, and their focus during therapy. While comparing the different counseling approaches, several similarities between some of these therapy models will come to light, as will many differences.


10 Most Common Counseling Approaches

Let’s take a look at the top ten most common counseling approaches you may encounter.


1. Psychodynamic Counseling

Psychodynamic counseling is the most well-known approach to therapy. It’s an approach originating from Freudian theory, promoting the essential need for a strong therapist-patient bond.

This counseling approach aims to help clients develop the psychological tools they need to deal with complex situations and emotions. Freud believed in the impact of one’s early experiences and unconscious motivators on their behavior.

Therapy sessions may include:

  • Dream interpretation
  • Free association
  • Projective tests
  • Hypnotism

While psychodynamic therapy was originally a long process, there are now successful short-term approaches that prove to be as effective.


2. Humanistic/Client-Centered Therapy

The humanistic counseling approach supports the assumption that people already possess the qualities they need to thrive.

This counseling approach encourages:

  • Empathy
  • Altruism
  • Intuition
  • Creativity
  • Humility
  • Curiosity

This approach to counseling, developed by Carl Rogers, later led to his founding of client-centered therapy – a humanistic counseling approach that supports clients in reaching their full potential.

Client-centered therapy provides the patient with a safe environment with a therapist who is empathetic and nonjudgmental. This method allows patients to experience a sense of openness and complete acceptance and love.

This approach stresses the vital need to allow the patient to make their discoveries rather than bombard them with the therapist’s direction. In this approach, the therapist’s role is to guide the patient in an accepting way, doing most of the talking as they discover the good within themselves.


3. Mindfulness-Based Counseling

Mindfulness-based counseling is an approach leading to a mental state of nonjudgmental awareness of one’s present moment experience.

This approach includes encouraging curiosity, openness, and acceptance through the patients:

  • Environment
  • Sensations
  • Thoughts
  • Consciousness
  • Bodily states


During mindfulness-based therapy sessions, the patient focuses on their thoughts and feelings at the moment, without making judgments. Like Buddhist traditions, this approach teaches the patient to be open-minded and accepting when responding to their feelings and thoughts.

Mindfulness-based counseling continues to grow in popularity for increasing relaxation methods while removing any negative or stressful judgments. It emphasizes the importance of teaching patients how they can deal with their emotional stressors through reflection. Mindfulness approaches often pair well with other approaches, including CBT, to help relieve anxiety effectively.


ABA Therapy and Mindfulness Therapy

The use of mindfulness therapy in ABA therapy is incredibly beneficial. Through various mindfulness interventions and training during a child’s ABA  therapy sessions, families and children with ASD can significantly reduce levels of stress. ABA therapy sessions with a mindfulness approach help every family member learn to develop healthy coping skills to produce positive outcomes for the whole family. As children continue to learn new behaviors and skills through their ABA therapy sessions, parents will benefit from ongoing mindfulness training. ABA therapy team members will provide parents with the tools and techniques necessary to continue in natural environments. As with all ABA therapy goals, incorporating parent involvement helps ensure these ABA therapy strategies can easily integrate into the child’s natural environments to help them thrive.


4. Rational Emotive Therapy

Rational emotive therapy is a type of client-centered therapy, or CBT, where the patient’s distress is viewed as a function of irrational thinking. During sessions, the therapist works with the patient to understand a particular event’s cognitive processes and how it may have created this outcome. This method helps the patient understand that their belief about a given situation, rather than the situation itself, is and should be the focus of therapy.

In contrast to client-centered therapy, this approach is active and directive, with an intent to help patients avoid their self-defeating beliefs. Instead, it works to help them experience a healthy, positive sense of wellbeing.


5. Reality Therapy

Reality therapy examines ideas about the social context of human behavior. Reality therapy is a client-centered type of cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy focusing on improving present circumstances and relationships while deterring from discussions of past events. It encompasses Choice Theory, which focuses on the ability individuals have to control their behaviors. This counseling approach recognizes not all aspects of life are within one’s power to change, yet we continue to face opportunities and respond rationally or irrationally.

Reality therapy helps patients learn to take control of their lives by enhancing their ability to build meaningful and useful relationships. This present-day, non-symptom-focused approach requires the counselor to maintain a positive, friendly, nonjudgmental role. Reality therapy promotes each individual’s responsibility for their actions while helping them learn to make decisions that are in line with the visions they have for their lives.

Most importantly, this approach to therapy centers around the idea that one’s most essential need is to receive love, feel a sense of belonging, and that all other basic needs will be satisfied by building strong connections with others. It teaches patients that although we cannot control how we feel, we can control how we behave and think and make better choices.


ABA Therapy and Reality Therapy

This method aligns well with ABA therapy beliefs in building a strong, trusting bond between therapist and child. By establishing a nurturing bond, ABA therapy sessions can help the child thrive and make decisions that align with their overall ABA therapy goals.


6. Systemic Therapy

Systemic therapy examines the influence of various patterns across systems, including family, school, or work, which influence our behaviors and psychological issues. A systemic approach strives to focus on the system rather than the issue at hand.

Systemic therapy pairs well with family counseling, enabling identifying dysfunctional patterns of communication and various behaviors between family members. Family members work with their therapist to recognize issues and develop healthier responses, roles, interactions, and overall dynamics.


7. Narrative Therapy

We all have a story we tell ourselves about who we are. We derive meaning from our stories, as they shape and influence how we see and react to the world around us. The narratives we create impact decisions we make and influence our ability to maintain and enjoy satisfying, meaningful experiences. Narrative therapy helps patients become the expert in their own lives. Narrative therapy counselors work with the patient to create alternate stories. Doing so helps create a nonjudgmental story that aligns more with reality.


8. Creative Therapy

The creative therapy approach incorporates various art mediums to help improve mood, behavior, and other aspects of one’s wellbeing. Creative therapy often pairs well with other forms of therapy, including CBT, to provide optimal results.

Music and art therapy, for instance, promote benefits including:

  • Increases in positive feelings
  • Reduction in stress and anxiety
  • Promotes healing
  • Creates a positive self-image
  • Encourages self-expression


ABA Therapy and Art Therapy

When therapists pair ABA therapy with art therapy, children with autism experience tremendous benefits. Through art and ABA  therapy, therapists can work closely with children to form bonds and promote communication. During sessions, children learn to replace undesirable behaviors with preferred behaviors using strategies they learn during this creative outlet.

Art therapy and its practices provide an antecedent-based intervention for children with autism. As with ABA therapy practices, ABI offers an evidence-based practice that stresses the importance of introducing stimulus changes before the undesirable situation occurs. Art within ABA therapy allows similar positive reinforcements in the form of the child selecting their favorite art activities during a session.

ABA therapy encourages family members to participate in art therapy and training to receive proper education and hands-on training. This opportunity allows families to incorporate art and ABA therapy at home and other natural environments.


9. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, revolves around the assumption that combining cognitive and behavioral therapy approaches allow one to focus on how their thoughts and behaviors dictate their feelings in any particular situation. CBT focuses on individual learning to control their brain rather than allowing the brain to have control. In other words, how you think dramatically affects how you feel. If you can change your thoughts, you can begin to change your emotions.


Principles of CBT include:

  • An easier understanding of behaviors by exposing their accurate functions
  • Substituting new adaptive learning experiences for previous nonadaptive learning processes can be beneficial.
  • Therapists should utilize a scientific approach to therapy by creating hypotheses about their patient’s cognitive and behavioral patterns.
  • Intervene and observe outcomes
  • Reframe original hypotheses when necessary


There are a variety of useful techniques and components a therapist may incorporate in CBT therapy, including:

  • Journaling
  • Social skills training
  • Cognitive restructuring
  • Exposure
  • Problem-solving training
  • Relaxation training


10. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy 

DBT is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that tries to pinpoint and change one’s negative thinking patterns and create positive behavioral changes. DBT teaches patients the skills they need to cope with and replace their unhealthy behaviors.

The term itself -dialectical- stems from the idea that pairing two opposites in therapy – acceptance and change – will provide more effective results than using either alone.

One unique aspect of DBT is its focus on understanding and accepting the patient’s experiences as a way for their therapist to reassure them and support the work necessary to change their negative behaviors.

Comprehensive dialectical behavioral therapy consists of four components:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group skills training
  • Phone coaching, as necessary for crises in between sessions
  • Consultation group meetings for health care providers to discuss patient care


The Integrative Therapy Approach

Most therapists choose to utilize an integrative therapy approach – a progressive form of psychotherapy. Integrative therapy combines various therapeutic tools and approaches to fit the needs of each client.

By utilizing the understanding of normal human development, integrative therapy modifies standard treatments to help develop individual tools and methods, as they tend to affect each client in different ways. By implementing integrative therapy, therapists combine elements from different styles of psychological theory and research. Integrative therapy allows more flexibility and supports an inclusive approach to treating a patient than a single, traditional form of psychotherapy offers.

Integrative therapy use spans therapeutic work with children, adolescents, and adults, in individual, family, and group settings. An integrative therapy approach can treat a variety of psychological problems and disorders and takes into consideration the patients:

  • Preferences
  • Needs
  • Characteristics
  • Physical abilities
  • Motivation level
  • Spiritual beliefs


How Integrative Therapy Works

Integrative therapy is more inclusive of the patient than traditional forms of therapy. While each counseling approach varies somewhat, they all can yield results with similar, more desirable outcomes. Since a single approach to psychotherapy does not always produce the most benefit to a patient, therapists who may be trained in one therapeutic approach often resort to integrative therapy practices. Therapists use tools and strategies from other therapies to create a unique and highly effective treatment form more suitable and sufficient for their patients.


Integrative Therapy Professionals

Integrative therapy is a common practice. Today, many psychotherapists refer to themselves as integrative therapists rather than identifying with a specific therapeutic approach. When considering an integrative therapy professional, keep in mind that integrative therapy is more of a specialized approach within psychotherapy’s general practice rather than a form of psychotherapy itself. Any licensed, professional psychotherapist may choose to take an integrative therapy approach. It is their educational background, experience, and skills that will guide their effectiveness.


Regardless of your need for counseling, there are a wealth of options at your disposal. We hope that this information provides you with a more in-depth look at the most common counseling approaches available to you, including integrative therapy’s effectiveness.


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A boy participates in sensory dysfunction therapy integration.

A common misconception of occupational therapy is viewing the therapist’s primary role as aiding children with their fine motor skills. While occupational therapists provide various services, the role of occupational therapy for children with autism is essential in first treating their underlying issues with anxiety. We’ll examine these underlying issues in children and why utilizing the ­­treatments and occupational therapy strategies can provide the most benefit. We’ll discuss the therapists’ roles and how ABA therapy and parental involvement are critical to treating anxiety by targeting sensory processing disorders.


What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy addresses the struggles people have with daily tasks, preventing them from thriving in their natural environments. It is a holistic therapy approach to help children, adolescents, and adults find comfort and safety in their environments and function at their optimal levels. Occupational therapy helps people learn skills that enable them to participate to the best of their ability in everyday life. This method may require teaching new skills, rehabilitating a skill, or modifying their environment to support their needs in achieving mastery of these skills.

Occupational therapy helps strengthen various areas of one’s life, including:

  • Self-esteem
  • Self-confidence
  • Learning
  • Gaining independence
  • Social interactions
  • Overall health and wellness

The central role of the occupational therapist is to treat the whole child. They consider all physical, emotional, social, sensory, and cognitive abilities and areas of need. The goal is to help children develop the necessary skills to engage and thrive across all environments.


Anxiety in Children

Unfortunately, anxiety disorder is the most diagnosed mental disability in children under the age of six. While many of these children have an autism diagnosis, it is becoming more apparent over the last five to seven years that many children suffer from anxiety disorders alone.

Many sensory integration issues may cause anxiety in children. Examples include meltdowns from their socks bunching up or a tantrum over the feel of their clothing labels. Some children may overreact to the temperature or the texture of particular food. All of these sensory inputs may lead to significant distress and cause anxiety. Once anxiety sets in, the smallest day to day task may become inconceivable to attempt.


Why is Occupational Therapy Helpful in Treating Anxiety in Children?

It’s essential to understand the crippling effects of anxiety many children suffer from­­. Children who suffer from anxiety may experience difficulty interacting within their environment, affecting every aspect of their daily routine and ability to function. Children with anxiety typically express their anxiety much differently than adults, often causing misconceptions and misdiagnosis.  They may present as angry, disruptive, overly worried, throw tantrums, or avoid people and situations. Occupational therapy (OT) significantly improves communication, interaction, and motor skills in even the most challenging cases.

The role of occupational therapists requires them to dig deeper to unveil possible underlying issues of anxiety before taking on more obvious ones. By discovering and identifying issues with anxiety, occupational therapists can then address the larger issue first, then work with the child to develop the skills necessary to perform their daily tasks.


There are various obstacles your child may encounter, leading to or increasing their anxiety. These may include impairments such as:

  • Cognitive
  • Physical
  • Developmental
  • Behavioral


Occupational therapists work with your child’s ABA therapy team to properly assess root issues and create an action plan. Through continuous therapy, treatment, and weekly meetings with their ABA therapy team, ongoing monitoring, and necessary changes are easier to implement. Much like your child’s ABA therapy sessions, OT goals, and recommendations will focus on (teaching self-regulating strategies when anxiety begins to rise in order) to help your child thrive in everyday life across all environments.


Examining Overload Responses

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) typically exhibit significantly different patterns of sensory processing while around others. Children with autism tend to deal with various sensory issues, leading to extreme overload and anxiety. One such issue is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. In another 60 to 70 percent of children with autism, sensory modulation, and processing disorder exist. While these issues add to the degree of stress and anxiety these children feel, studies show children with autism are generally slower to recognize and integrate various inputs from their senses. This delay makes their processing speed much slower, often leading to tantrums and meltdowns due to their inability to cope and respond.


Children with autism lack the appropriate filters necessary to screen out possible irrelevant information. Unfortunately, as the input builds and is unfilterable, the anxiety sets in, and meltdowns erupt. And this may very well overlap prior sensory input they are still attempting to process. Many classroom disruptions can trace back to a child working towards processing a noisy hallway or unpleasant texture from earlier while now attempting to process input from teachers and peers inside the classroom. Sensory overload knows no time limits and can present itself at any moment. As the tension and anxiety build, an outburst, meltdown, or overload may erupt.


The Role of Sensory Dysfunction

Let’s consider anxiety in school-age children. Often, children who struggle in school are mislabeled as lazy, disruptive, or perhaps having issues at home. They may seem disruptive or ADHD. Yet, it may become clear that the child is experiencing a sensory dysfunction when we take a closer look.


If a young student struggles with fine motor skills necessary for developing a pencil grip and mastering handwriting, the school’s occupational therapist may be of service. The therapist may find the student battles an underlying sensory dysfunction, causing severe anxiety and resulting in undesirable behaviors. This discovery allows the therapist to address one issue at a time, developing a stepping stone of occupational therapy strategies to work through sensory dysfunction, anxiety, and fine motor issues.


Sensory Dysfunction Therapy Integration and Autism

Children with autism have difficulty with the average day-to-day tasks and display behaviors that can hinder their participation throughout their daily lives. The focus of occupational therapy ensures that children with autism develop the skills necessary to participate in communal life by minimizing their difficulties in daily activities. Children may experience anxiety that hinders their optimal abilities and independence. Through integrating sensory dysfunction therapy with occupational therapy, children with autism can learn to participate in meaningful relationships and function within their community with a healthy support system.

Sensory processing difficulties affect more than 80% of children with autism. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fifth Edition, Sensory integration therapy, hyper or hyporeactivity to sensory inputs is now an official diagnostic criterion for Autism Spectrum Disorders commonly and successfully in use with pediatric occupational therapy. Sensory integration is the process of organizing sensory information in the brain to create an adaptive response. Utilizing sensory integration therapy provides a controlled and meaningful sensory experience, allowing the child to form responses spontaneously and appropriately, requiring the integration of particular sensations.

This integration process is successful because we know:

  • Sensorimotor development is vital for learning.
  • Each child’s interaction with their environments shapes brain development.
  • Their neuro system has plasticity capability.
  • Meaningful sensory-motor activities are a strong mediator of plasticity.


The Importance of Sensation

Sensory integration consists of the proper function across the following systems:

  • Tactile
  • Vestibular
  • Proprioceptive
  • Auditory
  • Visual
  • Gestation (taste)
  • Olfaction (smell)


Sensory processing issues we see in children with autism are associated with most behavioral and functional performance problems. Most common are the repetitive or stereotypical self-calming or sensory seeking actions. Many studies show that repetitive behaviors, including spinning, rocking, climbing, and turning, may indicate the existence of various sensory processing dysfunctions and behaviors.

Children with autism who struggle with sensory registration problems struggle to create appropriate adaptive responses to touch, pain, movement, light, sound, taste, and smell. They cannot process the degree, intensity and formulate a proper response to the sensory input, triggering stress and anxiety. Their inability to discriminate and process these inputs is vital for developing motor functions, postural tonus, and postural adjustment.

Along with anxiety, they may develop various sensory problems, including:

  • Hyperresponsivity
  • Hypo responsivity
  • Sensory avoiding
  • Sensory seeking


Occupational Therapy, Sensory Therapy, and ABA Therapy

Integrating ABA therapy, sensory, and occupational therapy helps remove the child’s barriers that may hinder socialization and learning. Combing ABA therapy with sensory and OT can help create an atmosphere of calm and focus for the child. Through close work with your child’s ABA therapy team, a systematic plan can help set goals to address your child’s anxiety by eliminating over-stimulation or under-stimulation within each environment. Working closely with each ABA therapy team member helps all therapists improve your child’s brain’s ability to process sensory information, form reasonable and acceptable responses, and develop skills to assist in their daily activities.

All therapists will work together to meet the ABA therapy team’s goals according to assessments of your child’s abilities and needs. The ABA therapy team will continue to encourage active parent involvement to help you learn new tools and strategies to implement at home and school. Through constant communication, your ABA therapy team will provide hands-on experience and resources and act as a direct link to all other ABA therapy team members if you should have questions, concerns, or insight to provide.

Your child’s ABA therapy team is a valuable resource for your entire family, as well. While children with autism struggle with anxiety, your ABA therapy team recognizes the entire family does too. Reaching out for additional support is part of the ABA therapy team’s commitment to your family. Through support groups and family counseling, your ABA therapy team is there to help reduce the stress and anxiety your family faces.


Tips, Tools, and Strategies

Your child’s entire ABA therapy team will have a wealth of tips, tools, and strategies for you to practice and implement at home. While you attend various therapy sessions, you can also note the many techniques and props they utilize for various skills, behaviors, and situations.


Tangible and Intangible Techniques During Occupational Therapy

The various tools and strategies in use during occupational therapy will help your child learn to handle anxiety by teaching coping mechanisms. This process may use both intangible and tangible techniques. An intangible technique may include lessons in belly breathing, guided imagery, or progressive muscle relaxation. Tangible techniques your OT therapist may utilize might include fidgeting toys and seats or weighted equipment and blankets.


Sensory Activities

As with ABA therapy, occupational therapy is full of helpful sensory-motor activities you can implement at home and across all environments. Sensory circuits are sensory-motor activity programs that help your child achieve a ready-to-learn state. Sensory circuits are a series of activities specifically designed to awaken all their senses. They work to energize or settle your children and get ready for the day. Sensory circuit activities include:

  • Alerting activities stimulate the body’s central nervous system and prepare it for learning. These activities may include spinning, jumping, or bouncing a favorite ball.
  • Organizing activities require the brain and body to work together, such as balancing on a board or juggling objects.
  • Calming activities give the body an awareness of space and increase their ability to self-regulate sensory input. These activities may include deep pressure, weighted toys, and heavy muscle work.


Additional Occupational Therapy Strategies to Help Reduce Your Child’s Anxiety

  • If your child gets overwhelmed by excessive noise, try using noise-canceling headphones or headphones playing music.
  • If touch is your child’s anxiety trigger, allow them to sit or stand in an area where they can avoid being accidentally brushed or bumped. Also, consider allowing additional transition time if in school or church to avoid crowds.
  • If your child struggles to sit still, include plenty of movement breaks, or use a wobble cushion.
  • If your child has anxiety over smells, use a sweatband with a small drop of essential oil, lotion, or shampoo they like.
  • Encourage food play whenever possible to help alleviate anxiety over food texture.


While your child’s occupational therapist is key to suggesting the best strategies and filters for your child, each member of the ABA therapy team is available to help. Together, you can implement proper techniques to target your child’s sensory systems, helping them learn to cope with anxiety and establish new skills to thrive.

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Therapy couch.

Starting therapy isn’t always easy to do, and that’s okay. No matter what brought you to therapy, the vital thing to remember is that you deserve to put your mental health first. In this guide, we will discuss the different experiences you may have while starting therapy:

  • How to combat the stigma against therapy
  • What you can expect from a therapy session
  • How to get started in your journey to better mental health

Whether it’s with a counselor or with close friends, it’s so important to have a strong support network that can be there for you when you’re feeling stressed, sad, or angry. Learn how you can overcome the stigma of starting therapy next.


Fighting the Therapy Stigma

Seeking therapy should be normalized, but there is an unfortunate stigma that you may need to fight against before you can allow yourself to start counseling services. Stigmas when starting therapy might stem from wondering what other people will think or thinking you are weak for seeking help. Do not let these stigmas stop you from seeking counseling services and being the best version of yourself.

You can learn to combat the stigma to start therapy by researching and finding out what kind of counseling services are available to you, whether online or locally. Have open communication with your trusted family and friends to speak openly about wanting to start therapy. Fighting the stigma starts with being truthful with yourself. When you can be honest with yourself, you can start to show yourself more compassion. Recognize that you are in power when you decide to seek counseling.


What to Expect from a Therapy Session

Walking into a therapy session for the first time may seem overwhelming. Still, your therapist will work to make sure you are in a comfortable, safe environment before starting your session. In a therapy session, you will need to be honest and vulnerable to have a productive session with your counselor. Remember that not every therapy session will end with butterflies and rainbows, so trust the process and take pride in knowing that you’re working to better yourself with each session.

If you’re starting to feel stressed or anxious about your first therapy session, remember why you sought counseling in the first place. You can always ask your counselor questions if you’re feeling uneasy or unsure of what to expect. With therapy, you should feel strong and empowered that you are actively taking steps to a better you.


Getting Started with Therapy

Therapy helps you learn more about yourself, navigate different situations, and grow and work toward better brain health. If you have been wondering if you should start therapy, start talking to your support network and researching counseling services near you. The sooner you can recognize that you want or need help, the quicker you are on the path to receiving the right mental health services for your life.

If you’re interested in starting therapy at Blossom Behavior Wellness Center for yourself or your child, you can begin your consultation online. We specialize in several individualized services, including Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy.

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Mother creates environment for children with autism.

When it comes to child development, we are often looking for typically developing milestones to help us understand where they may be developmentally. We use this method of measurement to determine emotional development, especially when children face experiences that involve emotions they may not yet understand. But what if your child’s development does not fit the typical mold? For parents of children who receive a diagnosis of autism, there is much more to consider. Let’s take a look at the neurotypical development of emotions, how emotional development may impact children with autism differently, and how we can foster growth within emotional intelligence and regulation through ABA therapy.

Understanding Neurotypical Emotional Development 

To understand the world around us, we rely on our emotions. While we may never fully understand all that encompasses emotions, studies show that emotional development is the key to our health and wellness. This makes the role of parents, caregivers, and educators vital in facilitating healthy emotional development and growth in children.

While we know every child develops differently, there are three main steps to fostering emotional development:

  • Step 1: Social interaction focuses on the relationships your child shares with others, including relationships with adults and peers, from their ABA therapy team to classmates and siblings. As your child develops socially, they will learn to share, take turns, help their peers, play, interact together, and cooperate.
  • Step 2: Emotional awareness is the ability to recognize and understand their feelings and actions and the feelings and actions of others. Emotional awareness extends to how these feelings and actions affect them and those around them.
  • Step 3: Self-regulation is the ability to express feelings, thoughts, and behaviors in a socially acceptable way. For instance, learning to calm down when your child becomes angry or excited is essential.

According to the National Center for Safe and Supportive Learning Environments, healthy emotional development leads us on a path to five vital skills:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Social awareness
  3. Emotional regulation
  4. Responsible decision making
  5. Relationship building

Mastering these skills greatly influences your child’s success at school, home, throughout their communities, and in society. When a child is unable to or does not receive proper developmental support and emotional guidance, they often struggle academically, physically, and behaviorally. A child’s inability to notice, understand, express, and manage their emotions, leads them to experience difficulty in various areas, including:

  • Bonding with others
  • Following directions
  • Focusing on and completing tasks


Emotional Development During the First Five Years

Emotional development is critical during the first five years of your child’s life. Without proper development, the three critical stages can impact your child’s development throughout all areas. Let’s take a look at emotional development during the first five years:

Birth to Age One

There are many debates on the range of emotions a baby experiences. Most believe they are born with three; anger, fear, and happiness. Others believe their emotions extend to a broader range of emotions. We do know that babies during this stage of life are continuously discovering how things make them feel. They cry, scream, and coo to communicate happiness or displeasure as we attempt to nurture their needs.

Creating a consistent environment for your child at this stage gives them a sense of safety. Responding to your child’s communication during this stage gives them the green light to continue to explore the world around them, fostering emotional development in the process. Allowing them to learn self-soothing skills will help foster the ability to manage emotions as they grow. Most importantly, it is vital to express your own emotions and mirror your child’s. Expressing your emotions shows your child you understand how they feel, gives them guidance on new emotions and creates a strong bond as you help their emotional development.


Age Two to Three

Around this age, your child’s vocabulary is rapidly expanding. Finding more ways to incorporate their new vocabulary with their emotions will also increase. During this rough stage, encourage your child to navigate by using gestures and drawing pictures rather than tantrums and tears. Modeling and nurturing their emotional development is crucial during these challenging times. It is a critical period to work with your child on healthy, acceptable emotional responses.

Model a calm demeanor with your child, even during their tantrums. Be empathetic yet firm and validate their feelings. Help them explore ways to express their emotions and model words to express themselves to help expand their vocabulary. And always provide positive reinforcement to help reinforce positive behaviors and their redirection of unwanted behaviors.


Ages Three to Five

When your child is in the preschool stage, independence and social awareness begin to develop rapidly. Your child will encounter many situations and challenges, including:

  • Sharing
  • Conflict with peers
  • Listening to others
  • Thriving in a new environment

This stage is the best time to encourage independence through coping skills. Through strengthening their emotional development, you will supply your child with the tools they need to thrive when away from you and their natural environments.

Even at this young age, you can foster coping skills by teaching them strategic ways to calm themselves and handle situations. Teach them to find a quiet space and take a moment of alone time, color, or cuddle a favorite toy to self-soothe. Explain to your child the challenges they may face and validate that their feelings are entirely normal. Validation will strengthen your child’s emotional development progress and help them manage their behaviors and reactions.


Emotional Development in Children with Autism

Children with autism often experience difficulty in recognizing, understanding, and controlling their emotions. Nurturing their skills in emotional development will bring essential changes, helping them understand and respond in more appropriate ways.

By twelve months of age, a typically developing baby can read your facial cues and begin to determine which of the basic emotions you are portraying – happiness, sadness, anger, fear, or disgust. More complex feelings include joy, interest, embarrassment, shame, pride, guilt, envy, trust, contempt, and anticipation. The typically developing toddler starts to use their words to express feelings. But, the emotional development in children with autism is quite different.

Children with autism find it difficult to read, understand, and display emotion.

You may notice your child struggling with challenges, including:

  • Recognizing the facial expressions you exhibit
  • Interpreting the emotions of others
  • Using emotional expressions
  • Responding appropriately to their feelings
  • Controlling their emotional responses or self-soothing
  • Lacking empathy

Ages and Stages of Children with ASD

Infants who later receive a diagnosis of ASD are typically able to recognize emotions similar to a typically developing baby. They are also able to show their feelings similarly to typically developing babies. However, these babies are usually much slower to develop their emotional responses as they age.

Early on, children with autism tend to show less interest in others’ feelings, emotions, and actions. They lack interest in sharing in the emotions of others or expressing social attention. Managing social situations by reading facial cues is also a significant obstacle, as they usually refrain from eye contact and, instead, read into what they see from the mouth.

By the time a child with autism reaches five to seven, they can recognize the basic emotions of happiness and sadness but cannot quickly understand more subtle expressions, such as anger, surprise, or fear. Children with less severe ASD may have the ability to show their feelings similar to how a typically developing child can, yet may find it difficult to understand them well enough to describe these feelings. Children with more severe ASD tend to have less emotional expression than the typically developing child. They may appear to be emotionless, lack empathy, or respond quickly and erratically.


Strengthening Emotional Development in Children with Autism

Utilizing strategies your family learns during ABA therapy is ideal for strengthening emotional development in your child. Through the use of ABA therapy strategies, including positive reinforcements and modeling techniques, your child will begin to develop their ability to read, understand, express, and respond to their emotions and the emotions of others. Here are some helpful tips to assist your child in strengthening their emotional development:

  • Speak with your ABA therapy team for strategies and guidance they may recommend for your child
  • Continue to use positive reinforcement strategies you learn during ABA therapy sessions to help encourage and strengthen acceptable and desirable outcomes and behaviors
  • Strengthen communication by labeling their emotions in natural contexts. For example, if you’re reading a book with your child, point out emotions, and discuss the characters’ emotions. Talk about their facial expressions, the situations that led to a particular emotion reaction, and how other characters respond. Work on mimicking the emotions of the characters and discuss how the story makes you feel.
  • Respond to your child’s emotions often, both positive and negative. Let them know you see the smile on their face and enjoy seeing how happy they are.
  • Validate their feelings. Help them understand you see their anger or frustration. If they use undesirable responses, use your ABA therapy techniques and strategies, such as modeling, to reinforce acceptable behavior.
  • Encourage eye contact often. This strategy helps your child learn to scan faces more effectively for emotional cues.
  • Draw your child’s attention to others in the room. Doing so is a powerful ABA therapy technique that encourages your child to absorb the emotional and behavioral responses others exhibit.
  • Play! We know young children learn through play and exploration, which is an exceptional tool to use when strengthening emotional development.
  • Utilize educational tools similar to those your child uses during ABA therapy sessions. Emotion flash cards use pictures of faces to demonstrate the basic emotions on the real or cartoon faces.
  • Use social stories to help explain various social situations and responses to your child. Social stories are highly useful tools your ABA therapy team will often use – a story or comic strip conversation demonstrating how your child feels and how others feel.

Creating an Ideal Environment for Children with Autism

Children with autism thrive on structure and routine. Following a set schedule can help limit confusion, emotional stress, and outbursts in any situation. There are many ways you can create an environment that feels safe, familiar, and nurturing while fostering emotional development, learning, growth, and strengthening of your child’s ABA therapy goals:

  • Set up an easy to follow, predictable routine. Your child will develop security and a sense of control with a reliable routine. Communicate before and during transitions and consider utilizing a family calendar or picture chart easily accessible to your child. It’s useful when unexpected changes are necessary for your day’s schedule. Discussing a visitor, a trip to the doctor, or ABA therapy session while physically manipulating your schedule display can help relieve emotional distress and create a sense of relief knowing what is to come.
  • Continue to provide books, toys, and activities that are appropriate to your child’s developmental age. Choose items that will engage them and hold their attention and allow you or siblings to play along. Be sure to use these opportunities to model emotion through words and facial expressions.
  • Provide your child with plenty of learning tools and activities without overstimulating them. If you begin to see signs of frustration, anxiety, or anger, help them control emotions through words, breathing, and encouraging self-soothing strategies.
  • Allow your child choices that help them feel their input and decisions are essential. Follow their lead when appropriate and talk through emotions such as noticing how happy a particular book makes them while you read together, or how well they are sharing with a sibling. Encouragement and praise will instill positive emotional growth.
  • Talk through emotions often and in every environment. Share your feelings, revealing matching facial expressions. Use every opportunity to model, point out, and discuss emotions and responses. Provide reassurance that every environment is a safe space for them to express themselves while utilizing ABA therapy strategies when necessary.

Nurturing and strengthening your child’s emotional development, primarily through their first five years of life, is essential in their continual growth and wellness. Through proper resources, support, and your ABA therapy team, you’ll arm yourself with the knowledge necessary to help your child thrive in all areas of development. For more information on programs and services for your child and family, we invite you to visit our center and meet our highly trained  ABA therapy team.

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Question Mark

While many parents have a long list of questions after receiving their child’s diagnosis of autism, we want to help make your search for answers less stressful. Here are the most frequently asked questions regarding your child’s speech and language therapy:

Question: What are some critical early speech and language milestones for young children?


  • 0 to 3 months:
    • Cooing
    • Smiling at familiar faces
    • Crying differently for different needs
    • Calming or smiling when spoken to


  • 4 to 6 months:
    • Babbling with different sounds (e.g., “mamamama” or “bababa”)
    • Laughing
    • Vocalizing excitement and displeasure
    • Moving eyes in the direction of sounds


  • 6 months to 1 year:
    • Using speech to get your attention
    • Using gestures to communicate (e.g., waving, clapping, pointing)
    • Imitating different speech sounds
    • Using one or two words consistently and appropriately
    • Enjoying games like peek-a-boo


  • 1 year to 18 months:
    • Shaking head “no;”
    • Using 25 words
    • Communicating needs with single words
    • Pointing to objects when named
    • Following simple one- and two-step directions (e.g., get your shoes, sit down, give me, come here)


  • 18 months to 2 years old:
    • Using 50-200 words
    • Responding to “yes/no” questions
    • Asking, “what’s that?”
    • Naming common objects


Question: At what age should my child start speaking?

Answer: All children learn at a different pace. Typical speech and language development begins with cooing and babbling before progressing to the imitation of environmental sounds (e.g., moo, baa, beep beep). Speech and language development then moves on to single words (e.g., eat, ball, more), phrases (e.g., want ball), and sentences (e.g., I want the ball).

Talk with your pediatrician if your child is not making attempts to vocalize. If your child is already receiving ABA therapy services, speak with your team about your concerns. Continue to monitor vital signs of speech and language delays or difficulties may include a lack of making eye contact, smiling, laughing, and engaging socially.

Child video chatting

Question: What are the ways to improve my child’s speech and language skills?

Answer: For children 0-12 months old:

  • Respond to your child’s coos and babbling
  • Keep vocabulary simple and consistent
  • Match your child’s language with activities (e.g., “Shoes on”)
  • Look at and explore with picture books. Label the images, take your child’s hand and point to pictures as you name them, and implement ABA therapy best practices by being consistent as well as repetitive
  • Tell nursery rhymes, sing songs, and play simple games together, such as peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake. Model and repeat to help ensure learning of new skills through your child’s ABA therapy goals


Children ages 12 months-24 months:

  • Reward and encourage efforts to say new words. Utilize positive rewards your child’s ABA therapy team establishes for long-lasting results.
  • Ask your child to “show me” if something is unclear
  • Talk to your child about what you’re doing
  • Encourage play with other children
  • Describe what your child is doing
  • Go on trips (e.g., visit the zoo, go on a walk, start a garden)


Question: What are excellent toys for children working on speech and language skills?

Answer: The best toys to promote speech and language are simple toys that allow them to be creative while playing. Consider using toys that do not make sounds, as these toys encourage children to use their imagination when attempting to make the sounds. Some of our favorite suggestions are:

  • Cars/trucks/trains
  • Play food
  • Farm set
  • Baby doll and dollhouse
  • Potato Head
  • Blocks and legos
  • Bubbles
  • Puzzles

Mr. potato head toys for children working on speech skills.

For additional resources and services for your child and family, visit us today.

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