Category: Research

Children hula hooping in a park.

There are different teaching methods under the Applied Behavior Analysis umbrella, including natural environment teaching. This type of teaching aims to take the aspects of behaviors taught in therapy and apply them to a real-life setting. Exposing individuals to this type of teaching method can put their skills to use in a practical way that lets them be the driving force of their behaviors.

With a new season comes new opportunities to embrace ABA therapy outside of your therapist’s office. The natural environment exposes children to different things not found indoors and offers a plethora of seasonal activities.

 

Natural Environment Teaching in ABA Therapy

The goal of ABA therapy is to help individuals with behavioral disorders learn generalized skills. Natural environment teaching benefits children with autism by providing an environment that more closely mimics their interactions outside of a formal therapy session. This teaching method is beneficial for children with autism to practice social skills, language skills, generalized skills, and other skills used to improve behaviors.

Natural environment teaching is just one method used in ABA therapy to assist with behavioral development delays and behavioral disorders, like autism disorder. Seeking ABA therapy early on is critical to intercepting any developmental delays.

 

The Foundation of Natural Environment Teaching

The framework of natural environment teaching is structured to encourage and motivate individuals to carry out actions and behaviors as they might in their personal lives. It encourages them to keep integrating skills learned in ABA therapy at the forefront. Before introducing natural environment teaching, Discreet Trial Training (DTT) is used in the classroom. DTT uses a two-dimensional approach to teaching behaviors, while natural environment teaching takes those same principles to a broader, real-world setting.

This broader approach is centered on the child’s current interest, encouraging them to have better attention and motivation for a given task. For example, an ABA therapist may follow the child’s lead and interest in going for a walk outside. A child may learn the color pink through flashcard learning, but in natural environment therapy, an ABA therapist may give the child a choice of three colors and ask them to find an object with that color.

Kids playing on a trampoline.

Spring Activities for Natural Environment Teaching

Being in an outdoor environment where children can engage with other people under the guidance of an ABA therapist and family will give cues of their progressing social skills. There are many different activities that the warm, welcoming spring season lends for natural environment teaching, whether in your backyard, a park, or another kid-friendly outdoor environment. Some examples of practical skills taught in natural environment teaching include labeling, requesting, social engagement, and non-vocal imitation.

Labeling is an aspect of ABA therapy that encourages children to describe certain people, places, or things. This practice can be adapted to natural environment teaching using outdoor objects that children will want to engage in, such as a swing set or other playground activities. Once the child has labeled the object correctly, they are rewarded with using or playing with that object. Working on requesting in an outdoor spring environment could involve using sensory toys like a water table but only giving a child one toy upon a successful request.

Engaging in conversation in a natural environment allows conversation with a child to flow more naturally. Using the context of the child’s surroundings to drive the discussion, you can encourage social engagement. Casual conversation, those surrounding an activity, or other verbal reinforcement and affirmation promotes the child to work on their social skills.

If a child is not proactively engaging in conversation, you may opt to use non-vocal imitation as an engagement tool. A fun, outdoor-friendly activity can be as simple as playing a non-verbal game of Simon Says. In this version, you will use only gestures and body movements, with the goal of the child actively following along after each new move.

Natural environment teaching in ABA therapy helps encourage positive behavior and communication. By learning and building their confidence in natural environment teaching, children will be better off with their real-world interactions.

 

Dealing with the Stressors of Behavioral Disorders

Autism disorder is taxing for both individuals and their families. By understanding the link between autism and mindfulness, you can effectively manage what could otherwise be a stressful reality. When the stressors are lessened, the child can be better focused on learning new and appropriate behaviors from ABA therapy techniques, whether they are taught inside or outside the classroom.

If you seek ABA therapy services on behalf of your child, the licensed therapists at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center cater to individuals with autism disorder and other behavioral concerns.

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Mother and child on a walk.

Every moment after a child’s birth is a critical point in time for their always-learning, always-growing selves. While children are consistently taking in their surroundings and learning from their interactions, there are age-specific milestones that they should be close in line to hit. If you are worried that your child may be falling behind and not developing at the correct pace, this may be a sign that your child is experiencing a developmental delay.

Paying close attention to critical aspects of your children’s interactions such as emotional responses or childhood speech can be telling and allow you to step in early and seek childhood speech therapy or Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy when necessary.

We will take a deep dive into these four main categories of childhood development:

  • Speech and language delays
  • Motor skills
  • Social development
  • Cognitive skills

 

This guide will provide a comprehensive summary of these various childhood developmental categories, why they are essential, and how you can spot early signs of delays. If any of these childhood speech delays or other developments resonate with your child, we will guide you on when to seek the counsel of speech therapy. Childhood development delays can seem mild, but it’s essential to be mindful and aware of critical developmental milestones to spot any hindrances early on.

 

What Are Childhood Speech and Language Delays?

Childhood speech and language are a crucial part of a child’s development and growth, interacting with other aspects of life. The presence of childhood speech and language delays could stem from several reasons, including development disorders or hearing impairment. Speech therapy can help to identify and distinguish hearing issues against childhood speech and language delays. Language delays can inhibit a child’s social interactions, cause undesirable behavior, and low academic skills.

 

Below are a few common types of childhood speech and language delays and disorders:

  • Childhood apraxia of speech – a childhood speech disorder relating to the inability or difficulty of executing speech movements in sequence.
  • Expressive language delays – difficulty using words to communicate.
  • Late talkers – Used to describe a limited spoken vocabulary in comparison to peers.
  • Learning disabilities – difficulty with reading, writing, and spelling.
  • Dysarthria – a motor speech disorder caused by weakened vocal muscles.

 

If your child is not exhibiting any signs of developmental delays, you will still benefit from learning how to spot red flags in their development. By understanding the development of childhood speech and language skills, you can better recognize and support your child’s speech and language needs and, most importantly, know when to seek a speech therapist’s intervention.

 

Spotting Early Signs of Language Delays

Childhood speech and language delays can come in many different forms. By being an observant and active caregiver, you can spot early indications of any issues. We often speak in exaggerated expressions when communicating with children, and for a good reason. Children are always learning and absorbing from their surroundings. These exaggerated expressions help promote imitation to children, which is a critical factor in early childhood speech and language development. You can spot signs of language delays as early as two months old and possibly even earlier.

 

You can spot signs of language delays by a lack of imitation, lack of eye contact, or even non-responsiveness, though non-responsiveness could also be a sign of hearing issues. These communication avenues can be observed as early as infancy. The earliest signs of speaking from an infant are in the form of cooing or babbling. If your baby is not babbling, not making gestures, or not engaging with you via eye contact during play, this could be a sign of a speech or language delay.

Grandson lying down with his grandma in the grass.

Late Talkers

Toddlers aged 18-30 months will begin speaking in small, shorter sentences – this is not abnormal and not a late talker sign. The late talker language delay is defined by limited childhood speech after the age of 30 months. You can begin to watch for signs of a late talker speech delay at whatever age your child may start wanting to speak and trying to form sentences. Though it is common for children sometimes to confuse their words or meanings, a consistent presence of this issue could be a sign of a late talker. Late talkers often experience word mix-up or confusion. Without a resolution of late talkers, this confusion can carry on into preschool-ages and have a long-term effect on a child’s academics, social interaction, and overall confidence speaking.

Childhood speech issues can manifest into a late talker child based on these risk factors: comprehension issues, limited gesture use, and family history. If you notice any of these signs, it is time to seek the intervention of speech therapy. Childhood Speech and language delays can cause significant issues if left untreated, and therefore early intervention in the form of speech therapy is critical. A late talker’s language delays may or may not be corrected after social interaction and social exposure, so it’s best to seek speech therapy at the first sign of late talkers.

 

When to Seek Speech Therapy for Language Delays

If you begin to notice signs of childhood speech issues, it is best to reach out to a speech therapist’s professional counsel as early as possible. A rapid and timely intervention can make an impactful difference in getting your child’s speech and language delays back on track. In the case of late talkers, progress can be made relatively quickly under a speech therapist’s guidance. You can learn more about helping late talkers with alternate communication strategies, such as American Sign Language (ASL), from a speech therapist.

For other childhood speech and language delays, a speech therapist can work with both children and parents to develop a care plan that is individualized for each child’s needs. Factors like environment and other interactions can be critical in their growth and development. A speech therapist will guide parents on altering a child’s environment and interactions for optimal childhood speech and language development and benefits.

Whether your child is a late talker or a troubled speller, speech therapy can support a child to manage their disorders or issues early on. A speech therapist can also reveal if childhood speech and language delays are signs of a neurological disorder, such as autism disorder. In this case, a speech therapist may recommend ABA therapy, which we will get into later on.

 

Delayed Motor Skills

There are two categories of motor skills that we look at when it comes to childhood development: gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills involve using the main, more massive muscle groups to move about. Some examples of gross motor skills include sitting, walking, and balancing. Fine motor skills refer to a more robust set of skills needed for more complex tasks such as eating, writing, and playing.

Children work on gross motor skills in early infancy and advance into more refined motor skills later on in early childhood. Gross motor skills serve as the framework for more advanced fine motor skills, making them an essential part of a child’s development.

Delayed motor skills can surface in a few different ways:

  • Delayed maturation
  • Disbalance
  • Discoordination

Delayed maturation refers to the ability to use gross motor skills, but within an appropriate range of the specific milestones, they should. Disbalance refers to a child’s inability to balance – this can manifest in both sitting and standing. Balance is necessary for a child to sit upright, stand, walk, and so much more. An uncoordinated child is not able to move all or parts of their body well. Most children, especially when learning to walk, will seem a little clumsy and off-kilter as they find their balance. The lack of coordination manifests into an underperformance of gross motor skills.

 

How to Improve Your Child’s Motor Skills

You can help your infant refine their gross and fine motor skills with activities such as playtime, tummy time, encouraging crawling, and sensory activities. Infants are also working on their gross motor skills during feedings. Reaching for a bottle or feeding themselves with utensils or fingers is an excellent activity for young children to practice their gross motor skills.

 

As children develop their gross motor skills, they will begin to define their fine motor skills even further. There are several playtime activities and games that can help toddlers practice their fine motor skills, such as arts and crafts, playing sports, and playing with interactive toys.

 

Social and Emotional Development and Impacts of Delays

Children are continually learning and developing different communication skills. Their social development and skills are mostly learned in settings involving interaction with new people, such as a playdate or starting school or daycare. Emotional skills factor into how a child communicates, especially in these social situations.

A child will learn social and emotional skills when dealing with unfavorable interactions, such as playing with another child that refuses to share. The social and emotional skills learned at a young age teach children how to respond to a situation effectively.

Social and emotional development delays can surface these types of behaviors:

  • Social awkwardness
  • Inability or difficulty initiating conversation
  • Difficulty coping
  • Prolonged temper tantrums or outbursts

These behaviors can signal to parents that a child is experiencing social or emotional developmental delays. In this case, children will require additional support and guidance to manage these behaviors. A therapist will teach children how to modify their response in dealing with new social and emotional challenges.

Without the proper social and emotional skills, communicating and interacting with others can become very difficult. ABA therapy can help children with autism work on their communication skills and further develop their social skills.

Little boy throwing a tantrum.

Red Flags for Cognitive Development

Cognitive development delays are arguably the most critical part of childhood development. Cognitive delays affect all other areas of a child’s development, including childhood speech, language skills, and social and emotional development. Cognitive delays can be found in infancy.

To spot early signs of cognitive development delays, look for these signs:

  • Lack of interest in playtime
  • Disinterest in the environment
  • Slow to respond
  • Lack of curiosity

 

If your child is experiencing any signs of cognitive issues or other developmental delays, a speech therapist can work with you and the child to get back on track. Cognitive development can also be a sign of a disorder, such as autism disorder. In this case, a therapist may recommend ABA therapy. Seek the professional counsel of a trusted and licensed speech therapist before assuming any disorders resulting from a childhood speech and language delay.

 

ABA Therapy for Autism Disorder

In some cases, childhood development delays can be the sign of a more significant issue or a disorder that would benefit from ABA therapy services. While speech therapy focuses on expressing both verbal and non-verbal language, ABA therapy focuses on the various behaviors that may affect children’s environment with an autism diagnosis. If you are working to better support your child with autism, ABA therapists seek to do just that with both parents and children with autism.

ABA therapy is a specialized and flexible treatment created to suit the individual needs of your child. ABA therapy uses the concept of significant generalization, which allows the child to use the new skills learned in ABA therapy and apply them to different settings with different people. In ABA therapy, you will have the support of a professional therapist to explain the many ways in which you can support your child, such as the benefits of routines for children with autism and understanding the impact of mindfulness on this disorder.

The ABA therapy program at Blossom Behavioral Wellness center includes learnings from these successful models:

  • Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)
  • Pivotal Response Training (PRT)
  • Natural Environment Teaching (NET)
  • DI (Direct Instruction)

 

When it comes to childhood developmental delays, time is of the essence. With early intervention in speech therapy and ABA therapy, these developmental delays can go from off-track to in order. Through modeling, repetition, and positive reinforcements, your child can overcome developmental delays with ABA therapy.

 

Red Flags for Common Childhood Developmental Delays

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Child with a colorful wall

When your child first receives a diagnosis of autism, life can become a blur. It is a challenging time full of meeting new doctors and therapists, finding resources, and absorbing all you can to help your child. While we understand the panic and confusion that may set in, our team at Blossom Behavior Wellness Center is here to help answer your questions and guide you through the process of starting early intervention services, one step at a time. Let’s examine the benefits of ESDM therapy.

 

What is ESDM?

EDSM, the Early Start Denver Model, is a form of behavioral therapy for children with autism. ESDM focuses on children from the ages of one to four years old. It is an early intervention therapy that bases its methods on ABA therapy. ESDM works in various settings as a group or one-to-one therapy in your child’s natural environments, including:

  • At home
  • In clinic sessions
  • In a daycare or school setting

 

ESDM is exceptionally useful for an array of learning styles and abilities, including children with significant learning challenges.

 

Scientific Studies of ESDM Effectiveness

More than a dozen studies demonstrate the effectiveness of ESDM in early intervention for children with an autism diagnosis. Many children as young as eighteen months with varying levels of learning abilities in these studies show tremendous improvements. The ESDM, early intervention studies focus on both one-on-one and group therapy sessions in your home and daycare settings. Benefits of the ESDM model include:

  • Improvements in brain activity while practicing social and communication skills
  • Increase in language abilities
  • Improvements in their adaptive behavior

 

Play-Based Therapy and ESDM

ESDM­­ uses play-based therapy to help your child learn new skills, such as social, communication, and life skills. Through play with therapists and caregivers, your child can learn how to express their wants and needs, begin to read social cues, and form positive bonds while exploring through play. Utilizing natural play situations to encourage and strengthen skills is a critical time for teaching during ESDM early intervention.

Child surrounded by toys playing

Your Role as the Parent

As the parent, your role in your child’s ESDM early intervention services is vital. As a parent, involvement makes ESDM possible through consistent modeling and strategies you will implement in their natural environments. Your child’s team of therapists will work with you to provide training, education, resources, and constant support. You are a critical factor in creating a successful ESDM early intervention process.

 

Therapists Providing ESDM Early Intervention Services

ESDM therapists are highly trained individuals who possess certifications after hours of training and applying techniques. This in-depth training ensures a highly qualified professional has the education and skills necessary to use ESDM with children with autism successfully.

Therapists your child may work with during their ESDM sessions include:

  • Developmental pediatricians
  • Psychologists
  • Occupational therapists
  • Behavior specialists (BCBA)
  • Speech and language pathologists
  • Early intervention specialists

 

Our team here at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center is available to ensure your child receives the best in early intervention services. To find out more about our services and how we can support your family, visit us today.

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insurance

ABA therapy aims to help your child replace disruptive or unwanted behaviors that may be harmful or interfere with their learning or socialization. It is a vital service necessary for your child to thrive. The process of finding the information and services your child needs can be both stressful and challenging when first receiving their diagnosis of autism. With overwhelming amounts of information to sort through, appointments to schedule, and accommodations to make, insurance may now be one less thing to lose sleep over. After years of tireless advocating, improvements to health insurance coverage for services, including ABA therapy, are being made. Determining whether ABA therapy coverage is a part of an insurance plan may be essential in making financial decisions for many families. So, where should you begin?

Two people reviewing insurance paperwork

Your Insurance and ABA

Begin by checking on the type of insurance plan your family has. This information is essential in determining which services for autism require coverage by your provider. Full coverage plans have set requirements, providing your child with benefits state laws direct. Other plans, including self-funded insurance plans, do not have this requirement, as they follow federal regulations.

 

Autism Insurance Reform

All fifty states now follow government requirements to provide coverage for your child’s ABA therapy. While all states require “meaningful coverage” for the services and treatment of autism in state-regulated health plans, you may find your plan has limitations. The standard benchmark for “meaningful coverage” is to provide with you ABA therapy coverage. Unfortunately, some insurance plans may impose caps on:

·       Number of ABA therapy sessions

·       Monetary amount

·       Age of child

Some families may be responsible for over twenty thousand dollars per year if ABA therapy is not a part of their plan.

Know the In’s and Out’s of Your Insurance Plan’s Loopholes

Not everyone is aware that full insurance plans may be subject to abide by laws in the state of issuance. This means coverage for your child’s ABA therapy may not necessarily be where the beneficiary lives.

Some states may offer an incomplete plan by allowing autism insurance laws to exempt plan types from specific coverage requirements. By citing fiscal impacts, some state legislatures do not mandate coverage for your child’s autism treatments. In other states, exemptions include the size of your group and the date of issuance.

My Insurance Plan Doesn’t Provide Necessary Coverage

If you find your plan does not offer the coverages your child needs for ABA therapy and additional services for autism:

  • Ask your employer if other self-funded plans are available.
  • What coverage will they provide for autism services?
  • Ask if your company provides options for fully insured plans.
  • Be sure to ask which state regulates this option to ensure your coverage.
  • Ask if this is a large or small group plan.

 

Medicaid for ABA Therapy Coverage

Public health insurance, for children with an autism diagnosis, is available through the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid. Every state receives funds with specific guidelines from the federal government, and federal law states that Medicaid shall pay for the following autism services:

·       Screening

·       Diagnosis

·       Treatment, including ABA therapy

 

It is essential to look closely at your state’s Medicaid program, as all states have different administration guidelines.

 

At Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, our team is here to provide your family with guidance through this challenging time. We are available to walk you through our all-encompassing services and assist with your insurance coverage questions. For more information on our ABA therapy and additional services, contact us today. 

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Woman filling out paperwork

Here at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we know firsthand how quickly medical expenses can add up on the heels of an autism diagnosis. But did you know that there are many grants available to children with autism? That’s right! And not only can these grant programs ease the financial stress of paying for medical supplies and equipment, but often, they’ll help pay for essential therapies like ABA therapy, counseling, and much more!

 

Today, we want to help you understand the grant process a little more and educate you about a few of our favorite resources! But let’s take a look at what a grant looks like for a child with autism first.

Heart with puzzle pieces

What is a Grant for Children with Autism?

At their foundation, grants provide access to the many beneficial (and often expensive) therapies, medications, medical care, and educational investments needed in the life of a child with autism. These organizations exist to make sure that money is not a reason that a child is not getting the care they need. But, the number of grants and organizations that offer them can be daunting, and frankly, confusing. That’s why we’re here! We’re spotlighting six different grant opportunities (nation-wide and Michigan-specific) below to highlight the life-changing assistance that you and your child could benefit from!

 

Grants for Children with Autism

You’re already doing so much, so searching for grant programs can often be a daunting task to add to your to-do list. Today, we’ve set out to help you wade through the resources available to you and your family so your child with autism can get the support they need, whether that’s ABA therapy, educational resources or the chance to attend summer camp! Let’s take a look at six of these grant programs now!

 

  1. CARE Foundation family funds
  2. Autism Care Today
  3. Small steps in speech grant
  4. National Autism Association’s Give a Voice program
  5. Autism Escapes
  6. Jack’s Dollars scholarship program

 

  1. CARE Foundation Family Funds

The CARE Grant Program helps families affected by an autism or ASD diagnosis with the costs associated with medication, diagnosis/evaluation, therapy sessions (including OT, ABA therapy, and speech therapy) as well as summer camps.

 

  1. Autism Care Today

Since 2005, Autism Care Today has been able to distribute more than $1.85 million in grants to families affected by autism. With that support, individuals and families can access services they might not otherwise be able to afford, like ABA therapy, assistive technologies, special needs summer camps, therapy dogs, etc.

 

  1. Small Steps in Speech Grant

The Small Steps in Speech grants go to individuals ages 3-22 for speech-related assistance resources. This includes future speech therapies, workshops, materials (like learning software). However, it should be noted that this specific grant does not cover the cost of iPads or ABA therapy.

 

  1. National Autism Association’s Give A Voice Program

The National Autism Association’s Give A Voice program sets out to give a voice to non-verbal or minimally verbal children with autism. Applicants that likely cannot purchase a communication device (iPad) for themselves are chosen based on need and awarded an iPad, protective case, protection plan, and a communication software app. This allows a non-verbal child to communicate with others, often for the first time!

 

  1. Autism Escapes

Autism Escapes is an organization that provides private air travel for families of children with autism—knowing that often individuals with autism also have other medical conditions that require frequent visits to a specialist. Therefore, these private flights allow families to get the medical help they need while removing the stress of commercial air travel.

 

  1. Jack’s Dollars Scholarship Program

This Michigan-based scholarship program provides much-needed financial assistance for individuals on the autism spectrum to participate in local community programs, including arts and crafts, dance, hobbies, music, recreation, and sports. The best part? Unlike a lot of grant programs, there are no age restrictions to qualify for this scholarship!

Here at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we know it can be confusing and stressful to search for grants and scholarships to help fund the much-needed therapies and assistance an autism diagnosis often requires. But, we’re here to help! Contact us today for more information on other grant resources or to schedule a consultation with our team of licensed specialists.

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Books and colored pencils

Autism has a long history, dating back to the year 1908, when the term “autism” was first introduced. Since then, more and more research has come out, providing parents of children with autism with options for behavioral therapy clinics and other resources to help their children thrive in peer-driven environments like school, church, play dates, and everything in between. We’ve come a long way from those early years of autism research. Thanks to the tireless efforts of researchers, scientists, doctors, and autism awareness advocates, we’re in a better place to support children with autism, making sure they have access to a more inclusive world.

 

Important Moments for Autism Awareness in the U.S. and Around the World

Many important moments in history allowed us to be where we are today when it comes to autism awareness and inclusion, so we’d like to highlight some of the most important pieces of history that you might not know.

 

  • 1908: The term “autism” first coined
  • 1943: American child psychiatrist Leo Kanner studies 11 children with “early infantile autism”
  • 1944: German scientist, Hans Asperger, coins the term “Asperger’s Syndrome”
  • 1991: The government makes autism a special education category
  • 2008: Co-Founder of Autism Speaks, Suzanne Wright, gets World Autism Awareness Day (April 2) recognized throughout the world with “Light it Up Blue” movement
  • 2019: Autism Cares Act of 2019 is passed and provides federal support for people with autism

 

 

So, now that autism is something that most people have heard of, how can we, as parents and caregivers, team up to work toward even further inclusion for children with autism?

Rocks with autism painted on them

 

Moving from Autism Awareness to Inclusion

Thanks to groups like the Autism Society of America and Autism Speaks, parents of children with autism now have somewhere to turn for not only acceptance but inclusion. Through various autism awareness campaigns, these groups have brought a widespread occurrence (1 out of every 68 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with autism each year) to light in a new way. They bring about positive changes that educate the public about autism and serve to bring about nation-wide inclusion for children with autism and autism spectrum disorders.

 

Because of these groups, we are seeing more instances of sensory-friendly events at movie theatres, library storytimes, and children’s museums. Not only does this inclusion allow children with autism to experience mainstream social situations in a way that’s more comfortable for them, but it also fosters a sense of belonging, which is a foundational trait that everyone needs to feel comfortable. Plus, peers can learn how to interact with children with autism by learning empathy and understanding that everyone has both strengths and challenges, and that’s okay!

 

Your Home for Behavioral Therapy in Novi, Michigan

Did you know that in Michigan, state laws allow insurance to cover behavioral therapy for children with autism? These laws make it even more accessible for families to get into a behavioral therapy clinic for early intervention and treatment, and that is so critical! Here at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we believe early intervention and behavioral therapy is essential to your child’s ability to improve their social and communication skills, allowing them to be included in typical classrooms while living their daily lives as fully and normally as possible. If you’d like to come in for a consultation to see if ABA therapy is right for your child, contact us today!

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Hands on a keyboard.

Easily one of the most daunting aspects of a diagnosis of autism is wrapping your brain around the sheer number of therapies your child might require getting them ready for school. While this process can feel lonely and isolating at times, there are plenty of helpful resources, especially in Michigan, that can support you and your child throughout the journey. Here at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we strive to help make your life a little easier by not only providing ABA clinic services but also by providing you with a list of our favorite resources. That includes our favorite five Michigan-based resources for parents of children with autism. Let’s take a look at all five right now!

 

  1. Autism Alliance of Michigan
  2. Michigan Alliance for Families
  3. Autism Society of Michigan
  4. Early on
  5. The Arc Michigan

Autism heart drawing

1. Autism Alliance of Michigan

The Autism Alliance of Michigan, or AAoM, is at the forefront of leading efforts throughout the state, not just the Metro Detroit area, to improve the quality of life for those with autism and their caretakers. By helping those affected to gain access to education, ABA therapy, comprehensive services, inclusion efforts, and coordinated advocacy, AAoM hopes to give every Michigan resident with autism the tools they need to navigate the autism journey.

 

Why We Love Them

The AAoM has a Neighborhood Directory that provides parents and caregivers in Michigan with more than 700 resources that range from finding an ABA clinic, sensory-friendly summer camps, autism-friendly businesses, and so much more!

 

Not only does the AAoM help to direct you to a licensed ABA clinic for ABA therapy and other essential therapies, but they a program called MiNavigator, a professional case management service that caters to Michigan families affected by autism. MiNavigator has a team of autism specialists on staff that can answer autism-related questions for parents and caregivers. Whatever assistance you need, they have someone on staff that can do their best to help support you and your family!

 

How Can You Contact the AAoM?

Whether you’re new to the autism diagnosis or have reached a point in your child’s autism journey where you need more assistance or support, you can contact AAoM, and they’d be happy to point you in the right direction or answer any questions you may have. Contact the AAoM through their website and join their monthly MiNavigator Newsletter to stay up-to-date with events, trainings, and other autism-related activities!

 

2. Michigan Alliance for Families

Do you have a school-aged child with autism and need help navigating the special education system? The Michigan Alliance for Families has a resource just for you, allowing you to connect with local parent mentors that have experience with most of the things you’re probably dealing with. Not only can they help you navigate this sometimes-stressful process, but they can also help you take the appropriate steps to learn how to be more involved in your child’s education, too!

Not only that, the Michigan Alliance for Families also has a vast arsenal of resources for any Michigan family with a child or children with disabilities, whether they be physical or otherwise. From more in-depth information about autism and ASD to referrals to local community resources that will help your child’s specific needs, like ABA therapy, the Michigan Alliance for Families makes it easier for Michigan families to get the care and representation they deserve.

 

Why We Love Them

Following a diagnosis of autism, it is easy to feel isolated, frustrated, and like no one understands your specific struggles. Thanks to the parent mentorship program at the Michigan Alliance for Families, you are seen and understood. Support is so important, not only for a child with autism but also for their parent or caregiver. By bridging the gap between Michigan parents of children with disabilities, the Michigan Alliance for Families is giving parents a much-needed outlet for discussing treatment plans like ABA therapy, picking an ABA clinic, and so much more!

 

How Can You Contact the Michigan Alliance For Families?

To get general information or to request support from a local parent mentor, check out the Michigan Alliance for Families website and fill out an information form. You should receive a response in as little as three days!

 

3. Autism Society of Michigan

The Autism Society of Michigan, or ASM, exists to provide education, respect, and the presumption of competence of all persons. By showing others that individuals with autism or autism spectrum disorders contribute in unique ways in not only their families but in school environments, too. ASM advocates for individuals with autism by making human connections and maintaining a supportive and integrated community through educational resources, workshops, seminars, and other services.

 

Why We Love Them

One of our favorite things about ASM is its comprehensive list of Michigan-based resources for individuals with autism and their caretakers. From a list of ABA clinics to ABA therapy resources, behavioral therapy, art therapy, and so much more, you can find the resources you’re looking for in your area with the click of a button! You can even breakdown your search results by county to make the search that much easier!

 

How Can You Contact the Autism Society of Michigan?

To gain more information or to get guidance on a particular question you have, contact the Autism Society of Michigan through their website to let them know how they can help you and your family today!

 

4. Early On

Early On Michigan is an excellent resource for parents of children under three years old to establish intervention services at an ABA clinic like ABA therapy. Because early intervention is crucial to the success of various behavioral treatments like ABA therapy, programs like this one must exist for Michigan families. Early On emphasizes the importance of both early identification and early referrals to help enhance the development of infants and toddlers with disabilities.

 

Why We Love Them

Early On was founded on several principles we believe in at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center. First, that early intervention is not only essential but crucial to the success of your child interacting with their peers in various environments. Second, that a parent or caretaker’s role is just as important as a therapist’s role. Without you, there could be no real progress. And by giving you the tools you need to succeed, an ABA clinic can empower you with the guidance and support you need to use everyday activities to promote learning. Early On even breaks these tools down in a logical way that makes understanding them even more straightforward. Let’s take a look below.

  • Intervention: according to the team at Early On, this comes from the day-to-day caregivers of the child, like parents. By providing practice, encouragement, and guidance, you can help your child succeed.
  • Service: this encompasses the professional activity that happens between your Early On provider and you. It allows you the confidence that you have the interventions necessary at the ready for those moments at home or during playdates when you need to redirect your child’s behavior.

 

How Can You Contact Early On?

If you think that your young child may have a developmental delay, you can contact Early On for a referral for services that might help, like ABA therapy. For more information or to ask more questions about their services, check out their website!

 

5. The Arc Michigan

The Arc Michigan ensures that people with developmental disabilities are valued and that they and their families aren’t excluded from community activities because of their limitations. By helping residents (and their families!) with things like employment, education, forming meaningful relationships, and living independently in their community, The Arc Michigan is fulfilling dreams, one Michigan resident at a time.

 

Why We Love Them

One of our favorite things about The Arc Michigan is that they have multiple chapters across the state, available to serve individual communities better and more precisely. For instance, The Arc Detroit chapter covers the cities of Detroit, Highland Park, and Hamtramck, helping you find services like ABA therapy and ABA clinics in each of those cities.

All five of these Michigan-based resources are there to help you navigate your child’s autism diagnosis, from understanding how to advocate for your child, to the importance of ABA therapy, as well as finding other autism-related resources for your family, like a licensed ABA clinic.

Speaking of ABA therapy, let’s take a closer look at how it can change the way your child learns and behaves, both in school and at home!

 

ABA Therapy: Defined

Here at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we believe that ABA therapy, or Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy, provides the basis for our therapists to look at how your child learns and behaves. More often than not, a reward system specific to your child encourages your child to replace an unwanted behavior with a desired one. Not bribery by any means, instead your child will receive the reward once the response is adopted, making it more likely to be repeated more often in the future. Children learn at different rates in ABA therapy, which is why your ABA clinic must take a personalized approach with each child, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. As such, something that motivates one child (even sibling to sibling), may not motivate another, so your ABA therapy team getting to know your child on a personal level is vital.

Mother shows her son a phone.

How Can ABA Therapy Make A Difference in My Child’s Life?

To prepare your young child for success in school, we believe intervention must start early, so not only can your ABA clinic work with your child on daily life skills but social skills and classroom readiness skills, too! A few of the skills you can expect your child to work on throughout ABA therapy are listed below. Let’s take a look.

 

  • Social skills (with adults, peers, and in group settings)
  • Potty training
  • Feeding
  • Coping skills
  • Communication skills

 

By working on these skills and more throughout their ABA therapy sessions, your child will not only be more confident and comfortable, but they’ll also be ready to adapt to their school environment better.

 

Your Role as a Caregiver

We alluded to it before, but we firmly believe that to get the most out of your child’s ABA clinic and ABA therapy sessions, parental participation is vital. No one knows your child as well as you do, so by providing insight into their behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses, your child’s therapist can better coordinate their care plan. You are your child’s most influential advocate, and we value your opinion. Here at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we strive to be an ABA clinic where your whole family can feel comfortable, included, and understood.

 

So, how can you continue the progress from your ABA clinic at home? Let’s take a look at a few ways below.

  • Play

Often, we hear that parents don’t know if they are using ABA therapy skills correctly at home and are unsure how to proceed. Have no fear! A lot of the progress we make in the ABA clinic is thanks to play therapy. This is a genius concept, especially for young children, because they have no idea that the game they’re playing is building social skills at the same time.

 

  • Don’t forget positive reinforcement

Whether your child responds to hugs, high fives, or special treats, remembering to compliment and reward desired behaviors while at home or out and about around town is key to keeping the momentum from your child’s ABA clinic going. This will also motivate them to keep repeating these behaviors with you consistently outside of the ABA clinic, too!

 

  • Take note

One of the other essential things you can do for your ABA therapist is keeping a running list of things that happen outside of the ABA clinic. Whether you have questions about specific things you want to save until your child’s next session, or you want to keep a list of achievements and struggles, taking a few detailed notes can help your ABA clinic know what skills still need fine-tuning.

 

Your Local ABA Clinic at Your Service!

Here at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we want to help you and your family work through an autism or ASD diagnosis as seamlessly as possible. We accomplish this by providing support through intensive programs and individualized services for children up to age eight like ABA therapy, Occupational Therapy, and counseling. Plus, for children six to 12 years old, we offer after-school peer groups and services, as well. From the initial diagnosis to every year in between, we’re here to help you and give you the tools and confidence you need to help your child thrive. Contact us today to schedule a consultation or with any questions you may have!

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Child painting flowers.

Art is a natural way for all children to explore and express themselves. Through drawing, painting, and creating in general, children learn about their emotions, cope with situations, and are encouraged to explore social interactions. Children with autism process the world differently and require more help in understanding and developing many of these skills.

Child painting a rainbow

According to the American Art Therapy Association:

 

“Art therapy is an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.

Art therapists are master-level clinicians who work with people of all ages across a broad spectrum of practice. Guided by ethical standards and scope of practice, their education and supervised training prepares them for culturally proficient work with diverse populations in a variety of settings. Honoring individuals’ values and beliefs, art therapists work with people who are challenged with medical and mental health problems, as well as individuals seeking emotional, creative, and spiritual growth.”

 

Through a combination of ABA therapy and art therapy, they can experience self-expression, develop and enhance a variety of skills, and experience multiple sensory stimuli in a safe, welcoming environment. Through the benefits of visual and tactile opportunities, introducing art therapy opens many possibilities for your child to grow.

 

Understanding Autism

Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is generally diagnosed by age three and is typically characterized by:

 

  • Difficulties in verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Social deficits
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Intellectual delays
  • Physical health concerns
  • Issues with motor coordination
  • Lack of attention and self-regulation

 

Children with autism tend to have trouble adjusting to change and do better with routines and familiar environments. Difficulties with various behavioral and sensory issues are also common characteristics.

 

Seeking Treatment Through Art Therapy

Implementing art therapy offers an array of possibilities for children with autism. Art provides a way to help them develop their imagination and understanding of the world around them. Expression through art offers an alternative way to build or enhance their communication skills. It’s also useful in meeting various goals, including:

 

  • Enhance visual skills
  • Define fine motor skills
  • Encourage social skills
  • Improve behavioral issues through integrating ABA therapy
  • Develop sensory integration
  • Decrease off-task behaviors
  • Increase learning opportunities

 

Assessing Your Child Through Art

Art therapy can offer a wide variety of assessment opportunities in a relaxed and engaging environment. Your child can be observed improving fine motor skills while enhancing their ability to focus and improve their sensory processing. Cognitive development and behavior are also areas of assessment easily seen through art therapy. It offers an environment that is less over-stimulating than other activities and provides routine, structure, responsibility, and less distraction.

 

 Strengthening Positive Behaviors Through Art

Art therapy offers children with autism a fantastic way to improve their behavior skills. Studies have shown that children with autism exhibit fewer behavioral problems after engaging in artistic activities, mainly when using one-to-one art therapy sessions. It has been noted as a valid form of early childhood intervention for children with autism for years. It offers an opportunity to express themselves better, use their imagination, and encourage abstract thinking. Art activities provide an incredible chance to facilitate their cognitive development while helping to build and strengthen their visual-spatial skills.

Kids hands with paint

When Art Therapy Meets ABA Therapy

Through the use of ABA therapy, our highly trained team works with children to learn to replace undesirable behaviors with preferred behaviors. By incorporating the family through education and hands-on training during their sessions, it helps them thrive in all of their natural environments.

Art therapy and its practices offer an antecedent- based intervention, or ABI, for children with autism. Much like ABA therapy practices, ABI offers an evidence-based practice that relies on introducing stimulus changes before an undesirable situation occurs. It also allows for similar positive reinforcements in the form of selecting favorite art activities or allowing them to make individual choices during the session.

Aside from ABA therapy, the introduction of art therapy to enhance the development of social skills in children with autism has been used as a successful alternative. Cooper and Widdows (2004) proposed that children with ASD, who tend to be more visual and concrete learners, can better communicate their feelings, emotions, and wants through art-based activities that seem to match their learning styles. In fact, they pointed out that it is easier to engage children with ASD in various art activities because they are allowed the chance to:

  • Feel more comfortable expressing themselves through art
  • Feel more accepted by their peers
  • Reduce stress and anxiety by focusing on creativity rather than verbal communication

 

Success in Art Therapy: One-on-One Sessions

While additional studies are ongoing, and a variety of variables still need to be introduced, art intervention studies are continually giving us insight into how it is helping children with autism make great strides in many areas.

In one study, researchers Evans and Dubowski (2001) examined the effects that art therapy offered a seven-year-old boy with autism. In total, twenty-seven art sessions, lasting thirty minutes each, were provided over two years. During these weekly sessions, his art sessions involved:

  • Painting
  • Scribbling
  • Manipulating tissue papers with his fingers

The study showed an increase in the child’s attention span and an enhanced ability to follow the therapist’s instructions. Towards the end of their two year period, the child began predicting the sequence of events during many sessions.

A separate study by Emery (2004) introduced art therapy intervention for seven months with a six-year-old boy with autism. The results were remarkable. By the middle of their seven months of sessions, he was already displaying considerable conversation skills. He began engaging with the researcher in a far less mechanical voice. It was also noted that his paintings became more concrete and showed his home and school life. He began engaging more in various tasks in his environments and even started making jokes.

Success in Art Therapy: Group Sessions

Group sessions, even as small as two students, have shown promising strides as well. Adding a social component into their sessions fosters interaction, and improves self-esteem. Improvements have been noted in areas of:

  • Eye contact
  • Verbal skills
  • Social skills
  • On-task behaviors
  • Focus

It’s important to note that social success can not wholly be contributed to group art sessions. While it presents ample opportunity, social and verbal skills must also be an area of focus during their meetings with routine therapists and ABA therapy work. It does, however, increase the chances of improving their verbal and social skills.

Here at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we are dedicated to providing your child and family with the tools you need to succeed. We invite you to explore the various therapies and programs we provide for all your family’s needs.

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Teacher and child in classroom

The use of positive reinforcement is a vital component in the replacement and strengthening of behaviors. When implemented correctly and consistently, positive reinforcement is a powerful tool for professionals and family members working with children with autism. Here at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we work closely with your child and family to educate and train you in behavioral reinforcement strategies to help your child thrive in all their natural environments.

 

To better understand the importance and benefits of positive reinforcement, we must first examine its roots. We’ll take you through the fundamentals of behavioral therapy and the development of behavior reinforcement.

 

  • What is Behavioral Therapy?
  • Behavioral Therapy and Children
  • Common Behavioral Challenges
  • Addressing Life Skills
  • Addressing Life Skills
  • Two Theories of Behavioral Therapy
  • Operant Conditioning and the Work of B.F. Skinner
  • Understanding Reinforcement and Punishment
  • Positive Changes in Therapy
  • Understanding ABA Therapy
  • Antecedent-Based Intervention
  • Benefits of Implementing Antecedent-Based Intervention
  • Functional Behavior Assessments
  • Understanding the Role of Positive Reinforcement in ABA Therapy
  • Selecting Reinforcers
  • Pairing ABA Therapy and Behavior Reinforcements Successfully
  • Modeling and Positive Reinforcements
  • The Difference Between Positive Reinforcement and Bribes
  • Positive Reinforcement vs. Punishment in ABA
  • Your Role as the Caregiver
  • Data Collection: How Parents Can Help
  • Keeping a Data Journal
  • Measuring the Success of Behavior Reinforcement
  • The Importance of Early Intervention
  • What is Early Intervention?
  • Developmental Screening: What to Expect
  • Why is Early Intervention Ideal?
  • Early Intervention and the Family

 

What is Behavioral Therapy?

Behavioral therapy is an action-based therapy that encompasses various strategies and techniques often used to redirect or change maladaptive behaviors. In simpler terms, behavior therapy focuses on replacing an unwanted behavior with a desirable one while reinforcing its continued use. It revolves around the theory that behavior, whether good or bad, is learned and can be changed. Providing alternative reactions or responses through behavioral therapy can be achieved by implementing behavior reinforcement techniques.

Types of behavioral therapy may include:

  • Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Exposure Therapy
  • Social Learning Theory
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
  • Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

 

Behavioral Therapy and Children

The most commonly used forms of behavioral therapy with children are Applied Behavioral Analysis and play therapy. The key to behavioral therapy with children is utilizing a behavior reinforcement system that rewards their positive behaviors and reactions while punishing negative ones. Consistency across all your child’s natural environments is critical in this technique’s success. Behavioral therapy has proven that it is beneficial for children with autism and continues to yield successful results.

 

Common Behavioral Challenges

While each child has different strengths and needs, there are often common challenges among children with autism. Learning to address these challenges through behavior reinforcement techniques, including consistent positive reinforcement, helps your child learn and develop beneficial skills and behaviors.

 

Behaviors to address first are those most challenging or potentially harmful to children with autism. These challenges may include:

  • life skills
      • executive function
      • personal care
      • self-advocacy
      • personal safety
      • acceptable social skills
  • aggressive behavior and self-injury
  • seeking and avoidance
  • mood instability, tantrums, and meltdowns, including harmful coping mechanisms
  • repetitive actions and restricting interests
  • ADHD, anxiety, and other psychiatric conditions that may hinder learning
  • noise sensitivity and their reaction and ability to handle such environments
  • sleep disturbance issues
  • sensory issues and reactions

 

Addressing Life Skills

Even the most basic life skills can pose the most considerable challenges for children with ASD and their parents. Through behavior reinforcement strategies and techniques, children on the spectrum can learn to adopt many of these skill sets to help them thrive as they grow. While the level of success varies by child, dressing, eating, and appropriate behavior in public are all wins they can achieve through positive reinforcement. Life skills include:

 

Executive Function

Executive function is one of the most challenging life skillsets for children on the spectrum to master. It is often an ongoing process best approached by enforcing a solid foundation and building as they grow. Executive function skills include:

  • breaking down tasks or directions
  • organization
  • planning

 

Personal Care

Children with ASD often face challenges with necessary personal care skills that may come naturally to other children their age. These tasks often include:

  • coping with anxiety and stress
  • daily personal hygiene, including their brushing teeth or washing hands
  • exercising
  • proper nutrition
  • tending to a cold, including blowing or wiping their nose, covering when coughing, or expressing aches or fever onset

 

Self-Advocacy

Children can learn to have their needs met through verbal or non-verbal methods. Through behavior reinforcement, they learn to express wants and needs, ask for help appropriately, and share their feelings and opinions.

 

Personal Safety

Helping your child learn this skill set is challenging but vital to their health and wellness. Learning personal safety skills may include:

  • stranger safety
  • leaving the house alone
  • crossing the street

 

Acceptable Social Skills

While social skills, in general, will be addressed in your child’s ABA therapy, learning acceptable behaviors falls under life skills. Behavior reinforcement strategies, such as positive reinforcement, helps your child learn what appropriate actions and responses in various situations may be. Actions may include:

  • tantrums at the grocery store
  • outbursts during church
  • interacting at a playgroup

Parents playing with a child for positive reinforcement.

Two Theories of Behavioral Therapy

Understanding the contributing principles to behavioral therapy will provide a deeper understanding of how essential behavior reinforcement is paired with your child’s therapy. The strategies and techniques utilized in behavioral therapy revolve around two theories:

  1. Classical Conditioning
  2. Operant Conditioning

 

  1. Classical Conditioning

This theory focuses on your child forming associations between stimuli. A stimulus that evokes an automatic or natural response is paired with a previously neutral stimulus. Through the repetitive pairing of the stimuli, they begin to form an association, leading to the previously neutral stimulus evoking the response on its own. Classical conditioning utilizes several techniques, including:

  • flooding
  • systematic desensitization
  • aversion therapy

 

  1. Operant Conditioning

The operant conditioning theory revolves around the use of negative and positive reinforcement and punishment and how they may be used to increase or decrease the frequency of a particular behavior. A behavior followed by a desirable consequence is more likely to be repeated, while a behavior followed by a negative consequence will be less likely to be repeated. The operant conditioning model often produces faster, more effective results, utilizing highly focused techniques, including:

  • shaping
  • modeling
  • punishment
  • reinforcement
  • contingency management
  • extinction

 

Operant Conditioning and the Work of B.F. Skinner  

ABA therapy’s model is designed around the theory of operant conditioning and the work of behaviorist B.F. Skinner. Skinner firmly believed examining observable external forces driving human behavior was more essential than one’s internal thoughts and motivators.  While many behaviorists focused their work around classical conditioning theories, Skinner’s focus remained on the significance that consequences of one’s actions hold and how they influence future behavior.

 

Two Types of Behavior

Skinner was willing to acknowledge classical conditioning may account for respondent behaviors but was not convinced it could account for most of one’s learning.

Skinner developed a distinction between the two types of behaviors and their vital roles in how learning takes place:

 

1. Operant Behaviors

Skinner believed that one’s actions on the environment and their immediate consequence play a vital part in the learning process. He believed that:

  1. Our conscious mind holds power behind our behaviors, whether automatic or spontaneous.
  2. The consequences of one’s actions are the driving force behind what influences whether or not they are repeated.

 

2. Respondent Behaviors

He believed respondent behaviors occur naturally or involuntarily, and therefore, do not need to be learned.

 

Testing His Theory: The Skinner Box

Skinner developed many devices, but most notable was his invention of the Skinner Box. He created a chamber equipped with a “rewards bar.” Able to house a small animal, Skinner began testing his theories of positive reinforcement and operant conditioning. Through the use of reinforcement and punishment techniques, Skinner was able to fine-tune his theories regarding the vital need for operant conditioning and behavior reinforcement in the learning process.

 

Understanding Reinforcement and Punishment

Two essential concepts of operant conditioning are the roles of negative and positive reinforcement and punishment.

 

Operant Conditioning Behavioral Reinforcements

Reinforcements include any outcomes that help strengthen or increase the repetition of a desirable behavior it follows. Two types of reinforcers exist and help increase behavior:

 

  1. Positive Reinforcers are favorable outcomes or rewards that are given following a desirable behavior. The addition of positive reinforcement strengthens the behavior.
  2. Negative Reinforcers remove unfavorable outcomes after an undesirable behavior. However, negative reinforcers strengthen the behavior by offering a desirable reward to avoid the negative behavior.

 

Operant Conditioning Punishment

Punishment refers to implementing an adverse outcome that will reduce the behavior it follows. Two types of punishments exist and help decrease behavior:

 

  1. Positive Punishment implements an unfavorable outcome to help decrease the response it follows. Think of this method as punishment by application.
  2. Negative Punishment removes a favorable outcome after an unfavorable behavior occurs. This method can be remembered as punishment by removal.

 

Positive Changes in Therapy

Skinner’s work paved the way for breakthroughs in the medical care and treatment of individuals with autism. For decades, autism was grossly misunderstood and typically associated with one having a psychiatric disorder. From the ’60s thru well into the ’80s, harsh punishment and abusive treatment were resorted to as a quick, easy, and effective way to create behavioral changes in individuals with autism. It was years before science demonstrated that through behavior reinforcement and, more specifically, the use of positive reinforcement, new behaviors and skills could be successfully learned and replaced with long-lasting effects. ABA therapy brought about a new approach, improving how a behavioral change in people with autism is handled.

 

Understanding ABA Therapy

To thoroughly understand the inner workings of successful behavior reinforcement through positive reinforcement, we must understand ABA therapy. ABA therapy examines how your child’s learning and behavior take place.

ABA looks at each child individually to determine strengths and needs across all areas, including:

  • communications skills
  • social interactions
  • self-care skills
  • quality of life
  • classroom readiness

 

This scientifically validated therapy stresses the importance of repetition and consistent practice of newly learned behaviors across all your child’s natural environments. ABA therapy utilizes positive reinforcement by providing your child with an enticing motivator that is not typically accessible to them. With your help, ABA specialists determine these reinforcers by knowing what is most treasured or motivating to your child and what they have responded well to in previous sessions or real-life situations. The use of behavior reinforcement, the motivator should always be paired with your encouragement, words of praise, and consistent repetition. Finding positive reinforcements they are most likely to strive for, such as screen time, or a favorite snack, will increase the likelihood they will work to adopt a more acceptable response or desirable behavior. Through ABA’s continued teaching practice using positive reinforcement, the newly learned replacement behavior becomes more natural to them.

 

Antecedent-Based Intervention

Antecedent-based interventions, or ABIs, involve modifying events or circumstances that happen immediately before a behavior. Antecedent-based interventions are built around the theory that our environment typically influences our behaviors. This theory leads to the conclusion we can modify undesirable behavior and replace them with desirable behaviors to support the learning and redirection of children with autism and other developmental disorders.

ABA specialists decipher ways to change or modify antecedents within all your child’s natural environments. Your child’s ABA team may:

  • identify activities that catch your child’s interest
  • recommend changes to your child’s daily routine
  • offer your child choices during activities
  • make modifications to your child’s instruction or the method of delivery

 

Knowing the ABC’s

The three crucial building blocks of ABA therapy help us understand the foundation of ABA therapy and the use of behavior reinforcement techniques.  These components are often referred to as the ABC’s and include:

  1. Antecedent: what occurs in your child’s environment beforea particular behavior
  2. Behavior: the response to or action taken because of the antecedent
  3. Consequence: the events that occur immediately following the behavior

 

Benefits of Implementing Antecedent-Based Intervention

Many children with autism have difficulty understanding the world around them. This challenge includes what is expected of them and what may or may not be acceptable behaviors. Children with autism often respond with or act out with undesirable behaviors. More often than not, this occurs when they find themselves in a new environment, situation or have deviated from their regular daily routine.

 

APIs help children with autism feel a sense of control. Control helps promote a sense of security, relieving stress, anxiety, and displaying undesirable behavior. APIs offer a chance for children with autism:

  • navigate through their daily routines
  • understand daily expectations
  • practice time management skills, including adhering to schedules and transitioning between activities

 

Functional Behavior Assessments

Before implementing an ABI, your child’s team of ABA specialists will conduct a functional behavior assessment. This assessment involves identifying factors that may be reinforcing undesirable behaviors. To effectively support behavior reinforcement techniques, modifications to the environment are made to eliminate undesirable behavior reinforcement. The goal of antecedent-based therapy is to:

  1. identify the factors that are reinforcing undesirable or unwanted behaviors
  2. apply antecedent-based interventions that help remove the reinforcement of undesirable behaviors

 

Understanding the Role of Positive Reinforcement in ABA Therapy

Positive reinforcement is a form of behavioral management known as one of the most effective behavioral reinforcement interventions for children with autism and behavioral issues. ABA therapy is used as a behavior reinforcement technique to decrease undesirable or potentially harmful behaviors and increase new and more appropriate behaviors. Behavior reinforcement strives to offer long term change in your child’s behavior. The use of this reward system, consisting of items or privileges your child finds most meaningful, makes the wanted behavior more likely to be adopted.  Ultimately, the goal when pairing ABA therapy with positive reinforcement is for personalized rewards to provide enough encouragement that they eventually result in new behavior, skill, or response. If the desired behavior or skill isn’t demonstrated successfully, the reward is not given. The behavior reinforcement process repeats as often as needed, providing your child time to practice and learn the new target skills and behaviors.

ABA therapy also incorporates generalization, the process of carrying positive behaviors into environments and situations outside the clinic. In your child’s natural environments, they can continue to work on behavior reinforcement strategies with their family, daycare providers, and additional caregivers or educators. ABA therapy’s expansive reach covers a variety of skills to help your child thrive, including:

  • behavior in their home environment
  • behavior in various social settings, such as a daycare or playground
  • communication skills
  • self-care skills

 

Selecting Reinforcers

Selecting your child’s reinforcers is a crucial step and helps ensure the success of behavioral reinforcement strategies to meet their goals. Positive reinforcement rewards should be personal and meaningful to increase their desire to repeat the new and appropriate behavior. The reinforcers provide optimal results when they are items your child is most eager to receive. The greater the value, the higher the likelihood they will work hard to repeat the new skills and behaviors independently. Meaningful reinforcers have proven to be successful for children with ASD while learning to adopt new skills they can use throughout all areas, including life skills. With the help of the family, your child’s ABA therapy team, and educators, the consistent use of positive reinforcement helps implement change in maladaptive behavior and strengthens lasting behavioral outcomes. Think about what your child seems most excited about. It may be:

  • extra screen time on a tablet
  • watching a favorite show
  • a special toy

Your child’s team of ABA specialists will gather information and ideas from you when you begin therapy, as well as collect their data through observations. This data will help them select the best possible positive reinforcements that present your child’s most motivation. Behavior reinforcement techniques and strategies will remain under ongoing evaluation for necessary changes and fine-tuning throughout their therapy.

Mother holding daughter.

Pairing ABA Therapy and Behavior Reinforcements Successfully

Pairing your child’s reinforcers works best when accompanied by your encouragement and sincere words of praise. Consistency is critical and will help strengthen the efforts of you and their team of ABA specialists as you work towards their goals.

 

Modeling and Positive Reinforcements

Modeling behaviors is another critical behavior reinforcement technique used during ABA therapy. While all children learn best through modeling and repetition, behavior reinforcement techniques motivate children with autism to strive to attain meaningful rewards. Modeling the positive behavior or skill may not be an immediate success, and that’s ok. The modeling process will continue to repeat throughout all your child’s natural environments, as often as necessary. ABA therapy provides your child with the time and patience they require to learn and repeat the new skills and behaviors. When they feel they are in a safe environment, working towards a behavior reinforcement reward, they begin to strengthen bonds, strengthen communication skills, and build self-esteem.

 

Your child’s ABA therapists will work closely with your family, their educators, and additional caregivers to teach you how to consistently and adequately use positive reinforcement to implement changes and strengthen skills.

 

The Difference Between Positive Reinforcement and Bribes

Parents often question the difference between positive reinforcements and bribes. It is essential to note ABA therapy is not based upon encouraging new behaviors through bribing children with behavioral challenges.  Let’s examine the differences:

 

  • A bribe is a reward offered before the desirable behavior or skill is demonstrated. A bribe’s purpose is to coax a specific action as repayment.
  • Reinforcers are only given aftera new, desirable behavior or skill is demonstrated. Positive reinforcement strives to guide the learning process through modeling, repetition, and verbal praise, accompanied by the behavior reinforcement reward for accomplishment.

 

Positive Reinforcement vs. Punishment in ABA

The answer to treating challenging behaviors in children with autism was once to incorporate punishment. The use of punishment was a seemingly effective way to address behavioral changes, yet it was a short-term fix. With the lack of education and understanding surrounding autism, a diagnosis of ASD was considered a psychiatric disorder. Yet, punishment sparked two significant concerns:

 

  1. Fear and Mistrust

Punishment was seen as the answer to ridding children of their bad behavior. Rather than acting as a positive behavior reinforcement technique, punishment methods instill fear. This fear is not only of the action but of the person administering it, and sometimes the environment altogether. While it may temporarily stop certain behaviors, it does nothing to strengthen the bond between the child and the therapist or caregiver, limiting their learning.

  1. Aggressive Behavior

Punishment also can create aggression in children. While modeling plays a crucial role in behavior reinforcement, it can send the wrong message when used to modify behaviors. A child who receives a spanking as punishment for undesirable behavior may associate the action with the emotion that accompanies it. The caregiver administering the spanking is likely angry, frustrated, and yelling. These characteristics often create aggressive reactions and behaviors in the child, rather than negating the original behavior.

While Skinner did find some effectiveness in positive punishment methods, he firmly believed the harmful effects of negative punishment were not worth the risk. Behavior reinforcement through the use of positive reinforcements far outweighed the results of enforcing punishment techniques.

Positive reinforcements slowly began to replace the use of punishment when treating patients with autism. ABA therapy’s new focus was removing abusive treatment as a behavior reinforcement technique, significantly changing how patients with autism were treated.

 

Your Role as the Caregiver

You play a critical role in your child’s success following ABA therapy sessions by understanding the importance of effective behavioral interventions such as behavior reinforcement. Your child’s ABA therapy team will create a plan consisting of various goals for your child to work towards accomplishing. Strategies involving behavior reinforcement will be introduced during your child’s therapy sessions, demonstrated to you, and meant to be implemented in your child’s natural environments. Suppose there are additional caregivers in need of guidance or training. In that case, sessions can usually be arranged to educate them in positive reinforcement at daycare, school, home, or other natural environments.

 

Data Collection: How Parents Can Help

Data collection outside of your child’s ABA sessions is critical to their therapy goals and overall progress and success. Your child’s therapists will collect their data during sessions but value and rely on your data collection as the parent. As a parent, you can provide insight into your child’s progress while in his natural environments. Your recordings shed a unique light on the growth and obstacles his therapists aren’t able to witness. Your data collection may lead to discovering why particular behaviors are occurring, or positive reinforcements aren’t working. Through collecting your data, your child’s therapist can take an in-depth look into why specific patterns of behavior may have formed in the first place.

 

Keeping a Data Journal

Parents are encouraged to keep a notebook of difficulties, concerns, and achievements. Keep track of what may or may not be working across all your child’s environments, which provides insight to your ABA team. You are also encouraged to keep a section of questions you may come across. A few helpful tips for what caregivers should include in their data journal:

  • keep a list of your child’s ABA goals for quick reference
  • note the environment you are in
  • behaviors you notice
  • the time of day
  • recent changes to the environment or their schedule
  • what currently motivates your child

 

Measuring the Success of Behavior Reinforcement

By consistently implementing ABA therapy interventions, new skills and behaviors will begin to emerge, needing less guidance or the need for reinforcers. Once they can demonstrate the use of the desired action independently, without prompting or the need for positive reinforcement, it is considered a successfully met goal or a mastered skill. Your child’s team will then update goals and continue to build upon their strengths, and address additional concerns.

 

The Importance of Early Intervention

Your child’s brain is rapidly developing from birth to age three. Their neural circuits, or connections in the brain, lay the foundation for:

  • health and wellness
  • behavior
  • learning

 

Every experience your child has before reaching the age of three has a unique and vital impact on their brain’s development. As they age, it becomes more challenging to change these connections that have been formed, making early intervention critical.

 

What is Early Intervention?

Early intervention is a combination of services and resources for developmental delays and/ or disabilities. These services are available to infants, young children, and their families. The most common services provided during early intervention include:

  • ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis)
  • Speech and Language Therapy
  • Occupational Therapy

 

Developmental Screening: What to Expect

An evaluation by a team of ABA specialists will allow them to assess where your child is developmentally. Developmental screenings provide an in-depth look into your child’s strengths and struggles. As their primary caregiver, you will be encouraged to provide valuable details about your child to help with further data collection. You will be able to provide information regarding your child’s:

  • cognitive skills
  • communication skills
  • fine and gross motor skills
  • behavior
  • overall physical and emotional health

The team will devise a plan incorporating behavior reinforcement techniques and strategies to help your child learn necessary skills and behaviors.

 

Why is Early Intervention Ideal?

Early intervention continues to make an incredible difference in the lives of children with autism spectrum disorder. Early intervention is ideal for implementing changes and behavior reinforcement strategies before their brains are fully developed, and healthy behavior patterns have been established. When services such as ABA therapy and behavior reinforcements are introduced at an early age, the success rate for long-lasting change is higher. Early intervention can make a significant difference in your child’s life by:

  • modifying behaviors before they become difficult habits to change
  • introducing new skills and routines
  • increasing their independence

 

Early Intervention and the Family

Early services benefit your entire family, not just your child. Your family will be provided with the recourses, tools, and support you need to work with your child towards meeting their goals. Proper education, support, and training will help you carry out behavior reinforcement techniques in all their natural environments.

Through early intervention services, your family will receive guidance and access to therapeutic sessions to help reduce stress and work as a family to work towards common goals for your child.

Take steps to support your child’s success through ABA therapy and behavior reinforcement today.

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The Early Start Denver Model

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Stack of books.

Since its inclusion in the DSM-III in 1980, Autism Spectrum Disorder has had an ever-growing number of different therapies attached to it. While parents of children who have Autism are willing to try all treatments that may assist in their child’s development, it can be exhausting to sift through the many options to determine which is the right one for your child to try.

At Blossom Behavioral Wellness, we know that evidence-based therapies are the ones that matter. Just as parents wish the best for their children and it thrills them to see them make progress behaviorally, emotionally, and socially, we at Blossom also celebrate every victory that our clients experience, both great and small. That’s where our specific therapy approaches, all backed by evidence of success, come in to play.

We are here to explain the Blossom Method, the three therapies our clinicians practice to maximize results for all children. They are:

  1. Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)
  2. Pivotal Response Training (PRT)
  3. Direction Instruction (DI)

Each of the above methods has many facets to it, so throughout this blog post, we’re going to dive deeper into the Early Start Denver Model. Our early intervention program uses foundational elements of the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) for infants to 4 years old with developmental delays.

Child working on homework

Early Start Denver Model

The Early Start Denver Model, sometimes referred to as ESDM, is a proven-effective therapy option available for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Designed specifically for children ages 12-48 months, ESDM creates positive, fun relationships between children and their therapists and boosts language, social, and cognitive skills.

Parents are directly involved with their children’s therapy during ESDM, which contains three main elements:

  • Play
  • Natural Routines
  • Individualized Activities

Not only do the above steps in the Early Start Denver Model help create and foster relationships between therapist, parent, and child, they also help your child improve their communication and cognitive skills.

The Benefits of Early Intervention

As the name Early Start Denver Model implies, therapists implement the program early in a child’s life. While children with Autism Spectrum Disorder can receive therapy and show improvement at any age, there are widely recognized benefits of early intervention for children with Autism. The goal of many early interventions is to use the high level of brain plasticity during infancy and toddlerhood to mitigate symptoms through changing brain development.

If you don’t yet know what early intervention consists of, look no further! Early intervention is a combination of services that infants, young children, and their family members can benefit from. Services such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Speech and Language Therapy, and Occupational therapy are often included in a child’s early intervention plan to mitigate developmental delays.

Early intervention programs begin with an assessment of your child by professionals in the field. The assessment takes into account where your child is developmentally and, following the evaluation, your child’s care team will create an individualized plan for your child to help them reach cognitive, emotional, and behavioral milestones akin to those that their peers are meeting.

Therapies such as ABA are dynamic, with the interventions included in your child’s care plan changing as your child reaches the goals set by their ABA therapist. When early intervention services are introduced into a child’s life before the age of four, the rate of positive change for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder is much higher. These positive behavioral, emotional, and cognitive changes are more established and long-lasting.

Play within the Early Start Denver Model

One of the main elements of the Early Start Denver Model is incorporating play into your child’s ABA therapy plan. Whether your child is at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center or in the comfort of your home, the importance of play in your child’s development cannot be understated.

Just as individualized therapy differs from child to child, play can look different depending upon the child who is receiving therapy. Some children will benefit from more structured play during their therapy sessions, while others may play better with fewer restrictions in place. The Early Start Denver Model can accommodate differences in play to ensure that it suits the child receiving therapy!

No matter the type of play that your child’s therapist incorporates, the therapist will intentionally focus on building motivation for learning, engagement with others and increasing your child’s cognitive development. Play should work to increase communication, imitation, sharing, and attention. The trained therapists have techniques they are using during play to foster the type of growth mentioned above. They are constantly working to create ample amounts of learning opportunities. On the child’s side of things, it just feels like play.

For example, therapy using elements of Early Start Denver Model may look something like this: a trained therapist is working with a child who struggles to vocalize during play, the therapist may create a play routine, by singing a song while moving the child’s favorite toy through the air and then pausing to encourage the child to vocalize, rewarding attempts to vocalize with social praise and attention.

Natural Routines in ESDM

The Early Start Denver Model works in any environment where the child receiving the ESDM treatment has natural routines to follow. In particular, parents need to continue to practice ESDM interventions with their children during routines taking place in the home, to ensure that what the children learn during ESDM carries over into daily life.

Early Start Denver Model therapies are structured to take into account the child’s natural development. As such, communication, social skills, fine and gross motor skills, and personal independence factor into naturally-occurring activities, such as snack time or when getting ready for the day. The organic nature of ESDM therapy does not typically interrupt a child’s day-to-day life and allows parents to recognize and take advantage of a child’s current strengths to offset areas of weakness.

At its core, the Early Start Denver Model helps parents learn how to talk and interact with their children during daily routines in a way that encourages their long-term cognitive and social development.

Individualized Activities During ESDM

Just as it is essential to facilitate ESDM during typical tasks and daily routines, it is also crucial to recognize how to individualize activities to take a specific child’s strengths and areas of growth into account.

Each child with Autism Spectrum Disorder has differing characteristics, requires different skill-building practice, and has unique parent interaction and cultural variables. As such, it is impossible to provide the same services to all children and expect the same results.

Clinically, studies of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder who have participated in individualized ESDM therapy display fewer and less severe repetitive behaviors, one of the core symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Repetitive behaviors are generally the first symptom to emerge in babies and toddlers with autism. These children have also shown more social and cognitive growth than their peers who did not receive ESDM.

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