Category: Research

Mother and daughter playing together.

If your child has recently received a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, you have likely discovered a lot of information regarding the diagnosis, symptoms, resources, and potential therapy options to try with your child. No two children with autism spectrum disorder are alike, which can make identifying and implementing the proper therapy a bit of a trial-and-error process.

While many children with autism will undergo applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, there are a variety of different treatments that can be used in addition to ABA to help your child make real, lasting progress. In this post, we will take you through the basics of occupational therapy, a beneficial piece to intervention for children with Autism, and the importance of sensory integration within occupational therapy for your child.

Child playing with bubbles

What is Occupational Therapy for Children with Autism?

One of the most widely-used therapies for children with autism spectrum disorder is occupational therapy. Occupational therapy is designed to provide children with autism the ability to develop and improve the daily skills required to increase their independence. Occupational therapists working with children will focus on self-care skills, sensory integration (motor planning, self-regulation, to name a few subtypes), learning differences, social-emotional/play challenges, developmental delays, gross and fine motor skills (coordination, strength, crossing midline, etc.), and visual perceptual and processing skills.

Many children with autism struggle with the skills mentioned above. Parents in the autism community may know that their children have difficulty processing sensory input and these difficulties make it very challenging to interact with the world around them on a daily basis. Thus impacting most of the skills addressed in occupational therapy sessions.

What is Sensory Integration in Occupational Therapy?

A new study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders identifies a link between sensory integration during occupational therapy and an improvement in autistic children’s ability to participate in daily activities and interactions.

Children with autism often struggle with quickly and adequately processing sensory information. As such, these children face the challenge of appropriately integrating this sensory information into their daily lives and, as a result, experience barriers to participating easily in everyday life. This study, involving a randomized, controlled trial, showed that sensory integration during occupational therapy alleviates some of these challenges for children with Autism.

How Sensory Integration Fits into Occupational Therapy

When children with Autism have sensory processing difficulties, it can mean they experience extreme sensitivity to things like loud sounds, bright colors, and quick movements, among other sensory input. These stressors cause children with autism to experience anxiety and unrest, and can result in negative or unwanted behaviors.

So, what does sensory integration and work on sensory processing look like in therapy for children with autism? It depends on whether your child is overresponsive, under-responsive, or craving sensory input. If a child is overresponsive to sensory input they can feel panicked, anxious and refuse to participate in tasks that are too intense. They may often demonstrate an emotional response/meltdown[KF1] that can lead your child to avoid sensory input because it can feel far too overwhelming for them. Those who are under-responsive to sensory input are often quiet and passive, not responding to stimuli that others typically respond to. They often disregard stimulation by not responding. Those that crave sensory input will seek out sensory input (which is a normal function), but then craves sensation that never appears to satisfy the child’s desire. This child can appear to be obsessed with sensory input. Oddly the more sensation a “craving” child gets, the more disorganized the child becomes, thus distinguishing the sensory craving from a normal amount of sensory input desired.

Children with autism can present with differing levels of sensory thresholds. Occupational therapists use standardized assessments and clinical observation/reasoning to determine the right interventions to use with each child. Children that display under responsivity, for example, are very under aroused and lethargic requiring more sensory stimulation in session. While a child that is sensory craving and overresponsive must learn how to tolerate intense sensory stimuli without gaining too much input and become overstimulated. Sensory integration therapy requires a delicate balance of sensory input performed by skilled occupational therapists.

Sensory integration during occupational therapy involves exposing children with sensory processing issues to sensory stimuli in a structured environment. The exposure is also repetitive. This process is believed to help your child’s brain adapt over time, allowing them to process and react to different stimuli and sensations more efficiently.

The Role of Play in Sensory Integration

As with other therapies children with autism spectrum disorder may receive, play is a significant factor in sensory processing work during occupational therapy. The use of play not only introduces your child to a range of stimuli, but it also helps to increase your child’s ability to tune out distractions and sensations that may cause them to experience an adverse reaction.

Your child’s occupational therapist will select a game or activity for your child that is uniquely suited to their needs during the therapy session. During occupational therapy, your child may play in a ball pit, use a sensory gym, or play with toys of various sizes and textures. Your child’s therapist will give them verbal cues to ensure that play requires them to move around, touch things, make noise, and engage all of their senses in a meaningful way.

When done consistently, such sensory processing work helps improve your child’s spatial awareness and normalize their experience with different sensory inputs. It can also help your child with social interactions and emotional regulation.

Social and Emotional Benefits of Sensory Integration

Children with sensory processing difficulties tend to struggle with understanding and interacting with the world on a social level. To guard against unexpected sensory input like a loud laugh, a sudden touch, or a bump, your child may hang back and avoid eye contact. It can be challenging for a child with sensory processing difficulties to know how to respond appropriately during a conversation or how to interpret social cues and body language.

Sensory Integration can help build your child’s ability to self-regulate during social interactions, allowing them to better manage their emotions, behavior, and body movements during situations that might cause them anxiety. Practicing typical social interactions during therapy can help normalize socializing for your child and provide them the tools they need to feel confident when interacting with others.

Your Role as a Parent in Sensory Integration

As the parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder, you will fulfill many roles in your child’s life, from caretaker, to advocate, to at-home therapist. No matter which therapies your child receives, your active participation is key to their progress. Reinforcing the skills and behaviors your child is learning with their therapist is crucial to their ability to grow.

It is unlikely that you will need to attend every occupational therapy session your child has. However, you will need to participate in some sessions to understand the ‘sensory diet’ your child is receiving and how best to put sensory processing interventions into practice at home. You’ll want to encourage your child when they perform a learned behavior successfully. You should integrate some of the activities your child practices during therapy into their daily routine, to provide consistency and structure to their routine.

The introduction of occupational therapy and sensory integration into your child’s therapy plan will help them improve not only their fine and gross motor skills but also their self-regulation skills. The more reinforcement your child receives at home, the more likely they will be to experience lasting, positive behavioral and emotional change.

To learn more about strategies to support your child and family, visit Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center today!

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Child playing with wooden trains.

One of the most essential aspects of ABA therapy is how it can be tailored to meet a child’s specific needs. The one-on-one attention and individualized plan your ABA specialist will provide your child is designed to help them reach their goals and learn new life skills. A significant part of differentiating ABA therapy is using forms of play that your child will find meaningful and respond to.

Processing an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis can be a big undertaking, and figuring out what’s best for your child in terms of therapy can feel daunting as well. With the help of your child’s ABA specialists, you’ll find the knowledge and tools necessary to support your child’s progress.

 

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover:

  • What is ABA Therapy?
  • A Brief History: F. Skinner and Behavior
  • What is Operant Conditioning?
  • The Three Building Blocks of ABA Therapy
  • The Role of Reinforcements in ABA Therapy
  • ABA Therapy and Positive Reinforcement
  • ABA Therapy and Changing Behavior
  • What is Play Therapy?
  • Benefits of Play Therapy
  • Directive and Non-Directive Play Therapy
  • 7 Types of Play
  • Successful Play Models in ABA Therapy
  • Floor Time in ABA Therapy
  • Expressive Art in ABA
  • Art Therapy and ABA Therapy
  • Play Therapy at Home
  • Recommended Toys for Child with Autism

 

What is ABA Therapy?

Though you may have done your research or met with an ABA specialist already, we thought we could start with a brief rundown of what ABA therapy entails.

ABA, or Applied Behavioral Analysis, is designed to take an in-depth look at how learning and behavior are connected and provide you a better understanding of how an environment can affect your child’s behavior. It examines:

  • how each environment can affect behavior
  • how behaviors work
  • how learning takes place.

 

A Brief History: B. F. Skinner and Behavior

ABA therapy is designed based on behaviorist B.F. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning, also referred to as Skinnerian conditioning. He believed it was more important to examine observable external forces driving human behavior rather than internal thoughts and motivators.  While other behaviorists focused on classical conditioning, Skinner concentrated on how the consequences of someone’s actions would influence their behavior.

 

Skinner’s Two Types of Behavior

Skinner developed a distinction between two types of behaviors:

  1. Operant behaviors: those behaviors that are under the control of our conscious mind. Whether these behaviors occur spontaneously or purposely, it is ultimately the consequences of the actions that influence whether they are repeated in the future. Our actions on the environment and the consequences of that action make up an essential part of the learning process.
  2. Respondent behaviors: those behaviors that occur automatically and do not need to be learned. These behaviors occur involuntarily, such as a leg kick when your doctor taps your knee during a checkup.

Skinner accepted that classical conditioning could account for respondent behaviors but was less convinced it could account for most learning. This began his deeper dive into operant conditioning’s vital role in learning.

 

What is Operant Conditioning?

Operant conditioning is the idea that appropriate responses can be taught by controlling what consequences stem from your child’s specific actions. Operant conditioning utilizes a reward and punishment system in response to behaviors. Whether with an ABA specialist, parent, or educator, your child will begin to make associations between a specific behavior and a direct consequence, whether negative or positive. Operant conditioning, paired with ABA therapy, plays a critical role in learning, and it is imperative to be consistent across all your child’s environments.

Operant conditioning suggests that behaviors followed by reinforcement are more likely to be strengthened and occur again in the future. Conversely, a behavior that results in punishment or an undesirable consequence will be weakened and less likely to reoccur in the future.

 

The Three Building Blocks of ABA Therapy

There are three critical building blocks of ABA therapy. These components include:

  1. Antecedent
  2. Behavior
  3. Consequence

 

  1. Antecedent and Antecedent-Based Intervention

An antecedent transpires directly before a behavior. Then the behavior occurs, followed by the consequence immediately after. Antecedent-based interventions, or ABIs, involve these events or circumstances that happen immediately before a behavior. Antecedent-based interventions are designed around the concept that since our environment typically influences behaviors, we can modify them to eliminate undesirable behavior. The ABA specialists look for ways to change or modify these antecedents across all your child’s natural environments. Strategies your ABA specialist may implement include:

  • Identifying items or activities that attract your child’s interest
  • Implementing changes in your child’s schedule or routine
  • Offering your child choices
  • Modifying your child’s method of instruction

 

  1. Behavior

Behavior is the action taken as a result or in conjunction with the previous precursor. ABA specialists provide your child with alternative responses and reactions during ABA therapy when negative behaviors are displayed.

 

  1. Consequence

Consequences are the events that immediately follow the target behavior

and are contingent on your child’s behavior.

 

The Role of Reinforcements in ABA Therapy

ABA specialists facilitate desired behavior through positive reinforcement by using a system of rewards that are personally meaningful to your child. It works to change your child’s behavior for the long term. ABA therapy also involves generalization, the process of carrying positive responses into situations and environments outside of the ABA clinic with individuals other than your child’s ABA specialist.

 

ABA therapy is expansive, covering a wide variety of skills, including:

  • Social skill building
  • Self-care skills
  • Behavior in the home environment
  • Behavior in other social settings, such as the classroom

 

ABA Therapy and Positive Reinforcement

Both in and out of the ABA clinic, one of ABA therapy’s central tenets is the concept of positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement works to encourage specific behavior in your child by presenting them with a reinforcing stimulus following their desired action. It is much more likely that your child will present the same positive behavior in the future when the incentive or reward is something meaningful to your child.

 

Much like ABA therapy in general, the rewards used as favorable reinforcement will look different for different children. Basic examples of rewards used for positive reinforcement include:

  • Verbal praise for completing an essential, necessary task, like homework or picking up toys
  • A small cash allowance for every passing grade received on a report card
  • A favorite piece of candy for politely introducing oneself to a new acquaintance

Little boy at the pool.

ABA Therapy and Changing Behavior

By far, ABA therapy is one of the most popular interventions available to children and people with autism. As a parent of a child newly diagnosed, you may be concerned about how working with ABA specialists can help change or modify your child’s behavior for the better. It is ok to be skeptical!

The use of a reward system includes various items or privileges your child responds to well. By individualizing these rewards, your ABA specialist creates a behavior system based on the rewards that will eventually result in a new, positive outcome. However, if your child does not present the expected skill or behavior, inside or outside the ABA clinic, the reward is not given. Your ABA specialists will make adjustments to find the rewards that provide the most optimal results. Over time, your child will learn and adapt to the expected skills and behaviors.

 

Play Therapy in ABA

The benefits of play as an aspect of ABA therapy cannot be understated. Whether your child is at the clinic with their ABA specialist or with you and your family at home, introducing play into their sessions will positively affect their behavior.

 

What is Play Therapy?

Play therapy is a therapeutic form of therapy used primarily with children. Play helps children learn to express themselves and articulate feelings through interactions and problem-solving. To the untrained eye, play therapy may look like regular playtime. In reality, it is an ideal time for ABA specialists to gain insight into a child’s struggles through observations. As children play, they may become less guarded and more open to sharing feelings. Without pressure, they are free to learn through exploration.

Play therapy offers children the ability to:

  • explore emotions
  • learn new coping mechanisms
  • redirect inappropriate behaviors
  • develop social skills
  • enhance language skills
  • strengthen fine and gross motor skills

 

Limitations of Play in Children with Autism

Children with autism are often met with difficulty and limitations during play. It’s common to observe children with ASD playing repetitively, limiting themselves to a few specific toys, or engaging in limited activities. These limitations can be attributed to a variety of factors, including:

  • limited communication skills
  • underdeveloped social skills

 

Benefits of Play Therapy  

Just as ABA therapy varies per subject, play will look different for different children. Play therapy may seem like a simple exploration session for some children, allowing them to experiment and play alongside other children. For others, play therapy may be more structured and formal. No matter what it looks like for your child, play therapy offers a wide range of benefits.

Play helps your child develop and strengthen skills, including:

  • interacting with others cooperatively and competitively
  • communicating needs and wants
  • strategizing
  • interpreting the intentions of others
  • taking turns
  • develop bonds with caregivers
  • practice self-advocacy
  • mastering skills
  • encouraging creativity
  • develop respect and empathy for others
  • alleviate anxiety

 

Where Does Play Therapy Take Place?

As the parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, you can feel confident in your ability to practice play therapy with your child. It does not need to take place solely in an ABA clinic. With the right coaching, knowledge, and resources from your child’s ABA specialists, you and other notable figures in your child’s life can play effectively with your child. Your ABA specialists will recommend participation across all their natural environments, including:

  • school
  • daycare
  • church
  • camps
  • relatives’ homes

 

Directive and Non-Directive Play Therapy

You can practice two very distinct types of play therapy at home, in the ABA clinic, or at school. They are:

  1. Directive play
  2. Non-directive play

 

1. Directive Play Therapy

Directive play therapy is a guided approach to play therapy. During directive play therapy, an ABA specialist or parent engages the child more often and directly throughout the play. The ABA specialist begins each session with specific goals and intervention strategies in mind. They might make suggestions to try to move the session along a particular path, ultimately leading to the lesson or discussion for the day’s session.

The ABA specialist will select specific toys and activities ahead of time. Throughout the play session, they will prompt or initiate situations to purposefully attempt to steer your child to the pre-planned lesson, discussing problems and solutions together.

 

2. Non-Directive Play Therapy

Non-directive play therapy is the polar opposite of directive play therapy. It involves a more unstructured type of play and encourages your child to lead. During non-directive play therapy, your child’s ABA specialist remains flexible, leaving your child to guide themself during playtime. You will notice the ABA specialist will maintain a hands-off approach with no pre-planned scenarios, activities, or interjections to facilitate the desired situation. There are very few boundaries during this type of play therapy, and your child will be allowed to work through problems and roadblocks on their own. This gives your ABA specialists an in-depth look at:

  • how your child handles situations in a natural environment
  • what challenges your child struggles with
  • how your child works to solve challenges on their own

Little girl playing.

7 Types of Play

There are a variety of types of play used in conjunction with ABA therapy. Each type can be implemented during your child’s ABA therapy sessions, at home, or across a number of their natural environments. Here are six of the most commonly used types of play that are ideal for helping reach your child’s goals in various environments:

  1. cause and effect play
  2. functional play
  3. exploratory play
  4. constructive play
  5. physical play
  6. pretend play
  7. social play

 

  1. Cause and Effect Play

This method of play involves toys or devices that require an action to produce results. Your child may need to press a colored button to activate music from a toy. Cause and effect play helps build your child’s sense of control as they understand their action produces the desired effect.

 

  1. Functional Play

Functional or toy play teaches children how to play with a toy in the manner it was created for, including pushing a toy truck or rolling a ball. Children with autism may struggle with this concept. Through ABA therapy strategies, including modeling and rewards, you can help your child learn to adopt these skills.

 

  1. Exploratory Play

Your ABA specialists may encourage your child to explore toys rather than play with them in their intended manner. As children explore toys and objects, they learn about the world around them. Sizes, textures, and shapes are part of the exploratory play and vital to learning during play and ABA therapy.

 

  1. Constructive Play

When children work towards building or creating with an end goal in mind, this is constructive play. They may build a house with blocks or finish a puzzle.  Often, children with autism will excel at constructive play tasks.

 

  1. Physical Play

Whether outdoors or inside, physical play supports your child’s gross motor skills and overall physical health. Through whole-body exercise, physical play lets your child explore, release energy, and interact with or near others.

 

  1. Pretend play

Pretend or imaginary play is an essential component of play for children. Often a delayed development in children with autism, this type of play helps:

  • expand their imagination
  • increase creativity
  • develop social skills
  • improve verbal and non-verbal communication skills

 

  1. Social Play

Perhaps one of the most concentrated areas of play during ABA therapy is social play. Social play within typically developing children follows developmental stages and milestones. Children with ASD find social play more challenging and require more time and guidance to develop these skills. Your ABA specialists will guide them through the four stages of play, teaching you techniques you can implement at home.

The four stages of play include:

  1. solitary play: playing alone
  2. parallel play: playing alongside others
  3. associative play: learning to play with and share with others
  4. cooperative play: working with others in a helpful manner to achieve a goal, complete a task, or follow the rules of an activity

 

Successful Play Models in ABA Therapy

As you attend ABA therapy with your child, their ABA specialists will model and educate you on successful ways to incorporate play across various environments. Two incredibly beneficial and simple play methods to practice at home include floor play and art.

 

Floor Time in ABA Therapy

You may have come across the term “floor time” as you’ve researched play therapy and interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorder. This type of play therapy involves the child, parent, and ABA specialist all working and playing together. Since children have difficulty expressing themselves in an adult-focused world, floor time provides an opportunity for you to join the world on their level. Floortime consists of both directive and non-directive approaches, allowing your child to experience the perfect blend of independence and structure during the session.

 

Just as you will differentiate other aspects of your child’s ABA therapy, you and your child’s ABA specialist will come up with a plan to differentiate your child’s play therapy and floor time as well. The session may begin with little to no direction, which will allow your child to determine the initial play activity. As the session progresses, you or your child’s ABA specialist can prompt your child to choose a new toy to play with, communicate in some way, or take another action that will make the session feel a bit more directed.

 

Key Goals of Floor Time During Play Therapy

During floor time, your child’s ABA specialists will be on the lookout for them to fulfill six specific goals. These goals are:

  1. Your child demonstrates an understanding of the mechanics of the activity.
  2. Your child actively engages with the ABA specialist in the clinic or with you.
  3. Two-way communication between you and your child or your child and their ABA specialist is displayed.
  4. Your child becomes aware of their specific wants and needs within the activity.
  5. Your child makes a gesture to communicate these wants and needs during the activity.
  6. Your child can calm themself down should they become upset.

 

For each child, achieving these six goals will look very different, but your ABA specialist will likely structure the floor time session to maximize the likelihood that your child will reach these goals.

Your child’s ABA specialist will allow them to lead the session. When given autonomy, some children may choose to play with blocks while others may gravitate toward dolls or toy trucks. Your child may opt for a simple board game. The possibilities are endless, but the options for play will be toys or games that your child has expressed interest in playing with in the past.

As the session progresses, toys and activities to make floor time more complex and dynamic are introduced. For example, your child’s ABA specialist may add a dollhouse, where they may have only been playing with individual dolls before. The introduction of a new, related toy allows your child to display their understanding of how dolls and dollhouses are connected.

During floor time at their ABA therapy session, you and your child’s specialist should be on the lookout for their ability to show an understanding of how to play with the specific toys presented. They should later begin communicating with you about the activity and asking pertinent questions or solving problems.

 

Expressive Art in ABA

One of the most natural ways for any child to explore and express themselves is through art. Whether your child is drawing, painting, or dancing, art offers a therapeutic way to learn about their emotions, develop coping mechanisms, and engage in social interactions. For years, art has been regarded as a valid form of early childhood intervention for children with autism.

 

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy that utilizes the creative process to improve mental, physical, and emotional well-being. When paired with ABA therapy, art therapy helps children with autism develop and enhance skills, learn self-expression, experience multiple sensory stimuli, and develop bonds. They are free to create and explore in a safe, nurturing environment by using visual, social, and tactile opportunities.

 

Benefits of Art Therapy

Introducing art therapy offers a wide variety of possibilities for children with autism. Studies show that children with autism exhibit fewer behavioral issues after engaging in artistic activities, especially when using one-to-one art therapy sessions with their ABA specialists.

Art stimulates their mind to help them develop their imagination, express themselves, and encourage abstract thinking. It provides an opportunity for them to facilitate their cognitive development while strengthening their visual-spatial skills. Offering this form of play supports their creativity while helping them see and understand the world around them.

Incorporating expressive art offers an alternative way for them to work on ABA therapy goals, including:

  • developing communication skills
  • enhancing visual skills
  • encourage social skills
  • addressing behavioral issues through ABA therapy integration
  • developing sensory integration
  • reducing off-task behaviors
  • increasing learning opportunities
  • improving fine motor skills

Art Therapy and ABA Therapy

Art therapy offers an antecedent-based intervention for children with autism. Similar to ABA therapy practices, it utilizes positive reinforcements. This may be in the form of allowing your child to choose favorite art activities or make individual choices throughout the art session. Success may come from one-on-one sessions or group art therapy. Let’s take a look at what you can expect from both models:

 

One-on-One Sessions

Art intervention studies continue to show increases in children with autism’s attention span and overall ability to follow their ABA specialist’s instructions. With ongoing sessions, children have developed the ability to predict the sequence of events during their art sessions. Through close work with ABA specialists during these sessions, conversation skills show improvement, and art becomes more concrete.

 

Group Sessions

Group sessions, consisting of two or more students, can help support social awareness. Adding a social component encourages interaction while boosting self-esteem. Various benefits of a group art setting include increases in:

  • focus
  • on-task behaviors
  • eye contact
  • communication skills
  • social skills

 

Assessing Your Child Through Art

Art therapy offers your child’s ABA specialist optimal assessment opportunities. Art environments help reduce over-stimulation and distraction. While in a relaxing, engaging environment, your child is being observed across all development areas as they create.

 

 

Play Therapy at Home

As crucial as effective play therapy is at the clinic during your ABA therapy sessions, it is just as essential to practice play therapy and floor time at home. Carrying play therapy over from their ABA therapy to your home is a critical element in generalization, or your child’s ability to respond to stimuli and present the same positive behaviors across multiple environments.

So how best to enact a play therapy session at home? As we’ve mentioned, play therapy will look different for every child. As such, it is vital to recognize the type of play that your child responds to best. Ask yourself these helpful questions while taking note during ABA therapy and home activities:

  • Does your child like arts and crafts?
  • Does your child enjoy music and dancing?
  • Do they enjoy board games more than other toys?
  • Is building with blocks or Legos an interest?

 

Once you understand how best to play with your child, you can introduce play therapy in your home.

Think back on how you have seen your child’s ABA specialists carry out a play therapy session with your child in the clinic. Refer to strategies and resources they have provided you. These steps likely included:

  • Starting with a non-directive approach, allowing your child to select the toy or game that you’ll use for the start of the session.
  • Rewarding your child for accurately describing the rules of the game or appropriately using a toy.
  • As the session progresses, introduce new, more complex toy and game options and gauge how your child responds.

Remember to take notes during the session to share with your child’s team of ABA specialists. The intel you provide the team will help your child’s ABA specialists continue to fine-tune their ABA therapy goals, strategies, and methods.

 

Recommended Toys for Child with Autism

If you wonder if there are specific types of toys that you can purchase to aid in your child’s ABA therapy, wonder no more! There is a myriad of toys that you can use to support your child’s developing fine and gross motor skills, social skills, and communication skills. There are even toys designed to help your child better understand cause and effect.

When introducing play therapy and floor time into your child’s daily routine at home, consider adding in a toy that is specifically designed to work on one of the skills your team of ABA specialists is addressing. There are a couple of toys our highly qualified team recommends:

 

Fidget Sets

We recommend toys considered to be “fidget” sets. These toy sets include items that offer different textures and features for your child to explore and interact with. Fidget sets can consist of:

  • stress balls
  • koosh balls
  • tangle toys

 

Smart tablets

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder can also benefit from playing with smart tablets explicitly designed for use in ABA therapy. There are various ABA-specific applications and games you can download for your child to use on the tablet. As your child uses the tablet, you’ll see an improvement in their behavior in no time. A tablet also functions as a reward during other points in your child’s therapy session.

 

Empowering Every Child

Play therapy is just one aspect of ABA therapy, but it is crucial to giving your child a sense of autonomy and the opportunities to learn and grow while having fun at the same time!

At Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we believe that every child and family in the special needs community should feel empowered and supported on their learning and growing journey. Blossom’s team works collaboratively with every family to provide children with Autism Spectrum Disorder the highest quality ABA therapy possible.

Visit our services page for more details on the individualized sessions and intensive programs Blossom offers. You and your child are sure to find a supportive, collaborative environment at Blossom!

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Books and journals.

A diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder in a child leads to lots of planning, questions, and problem-solving. As a parent, you will receive a lot of information about different interventions and therapies that may benefit your child immensely. One of the most important elements of applied behavior analysis is generalization. You will hear about this particular facet of therapy frequently, from therapists and peers alike.

Before we discuss the specifics of generalization and its importance to ABA therapy, let’s talk through what ABA therapy is and the core components that will make up your child’s play therapy plan.

Stack of documents

What is Applied Behavior Analysis?

Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, is a therapy that draws a connection between learning, environment, and behavior in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. ABA therapy is designed to help you and your therapy team understand how your child’s behavior works, how their behavior can be negatively or positively affected by their environment, and how learning takes place for your child.

In children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, applied behavior analysis can help grow their language and communication skills and decrease behavioral problems. Applied behavior analysis is also shown to improve attention and focus, as well as memory and social skills.

How Does ABA Therapy Work?

Applied behavior analysis is a flexible treatment, meaning it can be adapted to suit the individual needs of your child. ABA therapy includes the following major components:

  • Positive Reinforcement: This is one of the main foundational elements of ABA therapy. Your child is more likely to repeat a positive behavior if it is followed by something of value, such as a reward. Over time, this results in a positive behavior change. Your therapist will identify your child’s goal behavior. Then, each time your child uses this behavior successfully, either in ABA clinic or elsewhere, they will get a personally meaningful reward. Maybe for your child, it would be watching a particular video or snacking on a type of cookie they enjoy.
  • Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequence: Antecedents are what happen before a particular behavior occurs. They can be verbal or physical. A specific environment or particular thought or action can trigger these behaviors as well. Your child’s response is directly related to the antecedent. Consequences occur directly after the behavior in question and may include positive reinforcement or a lack of reaction for an incorrect or inappropriate response.
  • Planning and Assessment: Whether your child’s therapy takes place at home or in an ABA clinic, your child will work directly with a behavior analyst. This specialist is trained to design a program customized to your child’s needs, skills, and preferences. Data is collected in each session so that your child’s therapy goals are consistent, taking into account their progress.

Play Therapy in Applied Behavior Analysis

One of the most common elements in ABA therapy is play therapy. The method of using play during applied behavior analysis helps your child work on social skills and behavior changes. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder deal with short attention spans, sensory issues, and communication barriers. Classroom settings can exacerbate behaviors, as children are expected to sit quietly and respond to their teacher without disruption.

With play therapy, children are encouraged to move freely about and explore their surroundings. This exploration can take place either in their natural environment or an inviting room at an ABA clinic. A setting where your child feels at ease allows them to express their natural behaviors, which are invaluable for your therapist to observe. Your child’s therapist can note responses to reinforce or to work on changing while your child plays naturally in a safe setting.

What is Generalization in Play Therapy?

Your child’s applied behavioral analysis needs to extend beyond the ABA clinic to reach your child in their everyday life. This is where the concept of effective generalization in ABA therapy becomes very important to your child’s goals.

As one of the seven dimensions of applied behavior analysis, generalization’s importance cannot be overemphasized. In broad terms, generalization is the ability to use new skills in other settings and with other people. For your child, this means that positive behavior learned at the ABA clinic carries over into contexts other than the training environment. You will need to be there to help your child practice the skills they have learned in therapy out in public, with non-therapists, with their siblings and other family members. You’ll know you’re succeeding at generalization when your child’s positive behavior change proves durable over time, shows lasting effects, and appears in a wide variety of environments and situations.

So how best to practice generalization outside of the ABA clinic? Your ABA therapist will provide you with many instructions regarding the proper way to reinforce behavior learned in the ABA clinic. But before we get to that, there are several essential terms related to generalization that you should learn.

  • Response Maintenance

Proper generalization should take place in a variety of contexts with a myriad of people who are not your child’s ABA therapist. One of the most important aspects of practicing generalization with your child is response maintenance. Response maintenance is the continuation of a learned behavior after you remove the intervention from the current situation.

Your child may be able to produce the expected responses to their behavior in the context of the ABA clinic and with their therapist. But what happens when you’re in the living room at home? Or when your child is with you at a neighbor’s barbeque? Practicing response maintenance not only reinforces what your child has learned during applied behavior analysis, but it also helps normalize the expected behavior outside of the ABA clinic.

It is essential to test for maintenance over time to be sure that your child has mastered their new skill.

  • Response Generalization

It is one thing for your child to repeat a learned positive behavior correctly. But what about a behavior that is functionally similar to the behavior learned at the ABA clinic? Response generalization occurs when your child shows a positive learned behavior in a novel way and is something that you should look for to gauge your child’s progress. For example, after learning to use a spoon to eat cereal, response generalization would include your child selecting to use a spoon to eat ice cream.

  • Stimulus Generalization

This term applies to your child’s potential inability to discriminate between similar stimuli. Imagine if your child learned to call their father “dad.” Overgeneralization would occur if they called another male “dad,” as well. While their father a man, not every male is their father. Thus, calling another man “dad” is an example of stimulus generalization.

  • Stimulus Discrimination

While stimulus generalization focuses on your child’s ability to discriminate between two stimuli and respond to them differently, stimulus discrimination occurs if your child responds in the same way to two different stimuli. For example, imagine showing your child two pictures. On the left is a cat, and on the right is a dog. If the picture placement never changes, your child may not necessarily internalize what makes a cat a cat. They may only learn to point to the left image.

What happens if you switch the picture placement and ask your child to identify the cat? They may end up pointing to the left picture, which now shows a dog.

Participating During ABA

As the parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, your role will involve practicing and reinforcing positive learned behavior at home, during play. The necessity for parents to practice generalization through play therapy at home can cause some parents to feel anxious or overwhelmed. Some are scared that they will “mess up,” or somehow set their child’s progress back. Worry is a normal response, as working with your child on positive behavior changes is a lot of responsibility!

You will learn strategies and techniques during your child’s ABA therapy sessions, so you will not be entering into your role with no support or understanding of what outcomes you are meant to see. By seeing it in action and noting the effect it can have on his learning, you’ll be able to carry out applied behavior analysis steps in your daily routines.

Actively participating in your child’s sessions not only gives you more confidence and knowledge to carry out generalization outside the ABA clinic, but it also normalizes your role in the process to your child. They will come to respond to the stimuli and rewards you present in the same way they would to their ABA therapist.

Play Therapy at Home

Implementing your child’s new skills at home doesn’t have to be overly complicated. It can be as easy as playing a simple game to enforce a new behavior they’ve recently learned at the ABA clinic.

A great game to play to reinforce learned behaviors is Simon Says, as it encompasses a variety of elements reinforced during play therapy with your child’s ABA therapist. Simon Says will help your child work toward communicating more effectively. By having your child study your body language and facial expressions during the game, you will see them mimic what you are demonstrating, both physically and verbally.

It is essential for you to remember to reward your child for showing the appropriate reaction during play therapy. Meaningful positive reinforcement will make your child feel proud of their success and, over time, will help solidify their understanding of how to behave given certain stimuli. A high five or verbal praise motivates your child to improve his actions.

Children playing.

Try Play Therapy Outside the Home

When your child’s positive behavior carries over from the ABA clinic to your home, you will feel a sense of pride in your child’s success, and your ability to
support generalization at home. But what happens when you don’t see the same positive carry over, despite your best attempts, at a relative’s house, or school, or in the grocery store?

The purpose of play therapy is not only to reinforce positive behaviors but also to help your child develop the skills to display these behaviors naturally, regardless of the context. If you do not see your child’s behavior generalization when they are outside of the home or ABA clinic, you and your child’s teachers and ASD professionals will want to work together to come up with strategies that can be applied consistently across settings.

For example, you and your child’s therapist may arrange a room in the ABA clinic to mimic a school setting. You will want to include the same toys, activities, room set-up, and rewards into this facet of your child’s applied behavior analysis therapy as they would experience in their classroom. The more similarities you can create between a training and non-training setting, the easier it will be for your child to generalize positive behavior across contexts.

Setbacks in Generalization

No matter how much progress your child makes, there is always the chance that you may see a relapse of behavior. After making strides in generalization, such a relapse can be heartbreaking for both you and your child. Rest assured that, in applied behavior analysis, relapse will occur at one point or another and does not mean that you or your child’s therapist are failing in any way!

Both you and your child must prepare for the possibility of setbacks during generalization. Working with your child’s therapist to identify high-risk situations that may lead to a relapse of behavior is a perfect first step in preparing for a setback. The more you can identify triggers, be they physical, contextual, or verbal, that may cause your child to revert to the previous behavior, the easier it will be to overcome these momentary setbacks.

Preparing your child for setbacks is crucial, as well. If your child is aware that a lapse in behavior can happen and is no cause for alarm, they will be more likely to move on from the setback more easily.

Keep Track of Progress

As you and your child move through ABA therapy together, you will become more used to your role as your child’s supporter, cheerleader, and behavior reinforcer. You will develop a stronger sense of what is working for your child and what could use some fine-tuning. Keeping a notebook of questions you have, achievements you’ve noticed, and struggles for your therapist to weigh in on will help you grow more confident in your ability to assist your child outside of the ABA clinic!

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Boy reading a book.

When your child receives a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, you may experience a feeling of great overwhelm. You’ll be provided with information, tools, and resources that are meant to make your life easier. Instead, you may find yourself in a sea of confusion and worry. You are certainly not the first, and you aren’t alone. Our team at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center believes in walking you through each step and sharing all options available to you and your child. From ABA therapy to speech therapy, we are available to help educate you on all the avenues you may have to explore when searching for the services that fit your child’s needs.

Alphabet letters

Speech-Language Pathology

While not all patients require the same areas of therapy, speech-language is a common area of need. Speech-language pathology (SLP) encompasses a broad range of concerns, including:

  • Swallowing
  • Voice issues
  • Semantics
  • Social communication skills
  • Cognitive impairments related to communication
  • Finding the appropriate words
  • Language impairments

In infants, this may include difficulties feeding, while young children may require speech-language pathology for an array of issues, including cleft palate and developmental verbal dyspraxia.

Speech-language pathology offers therapy that works towards addressing the various challenges one has with language and communication. It can be extremely beneficial for people with autism spectrum disorders. Speech-language pathology improves verbal, nonverbal, and social communication skills. SLP’s overall goal is to help each patient communicate in the most useful and functional way possible. While some individuals on the autism spectrum are unable to speak, others are verbal but have difficulties holding conversations or reading body language and facial cues expressed by others. Speech therapy can help provide the tools and skills your child needs to thrive. Commonly addressed concerns you may see are:

  • Humming or speaking in a song-like way
  • Parroting, or echolalia
  • Robotic-toned speech
  • Babbling
  • No speech
  • Grunting
  • Yelling or shrieking
  • Expressionless tone

Additional Concerns Addressed with Speech-Language Pathology

Children with autism may face other speech-language challenges that can be addressed during speech and ABA therapy. Among them are:

  • Difficulty with receptive language
  • Difficulty with memorization
  • Unable to comprehend the meaning of symbols
  • Relying on parroting as an acceptable form of communication

When Should Speech-Language Pathology Be Introduced?

Early intervention is always the key to success, so the earlier you can begin, the better. Autism spectrum disorder is generally evident before a child reaches the age of three. Various language delays and concerns can typically be recognized as early as eighteen months. ABA therapy and Speech-language therapy both offer the best results and long-term outcomes when implemented at a younger age. Your child will greatly benefit from intensive and individualized sessions to address concerns before too many undesirable behaviors become routine.

Early identification and intervention have shown that two out of three preschoolers who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder have made tremendous improvements. By introducing services early on, such as ABA therapy and speech-language pathology, younger children have demonstrated improvement in their verbal and non-verbal communication skills and their ability to comprehend oral language. Research has even shown that children with autism who make the most gains are those who spend the most time in speech therapy sessions.

The Speech-Language Pathology Process

Your child’s introduction to speech therapy will begin with an evaluation by a certified speech-language pathologist. The pathologist will be assessing your child’s communication strengths and areas of concern. The evaluation process will help the speech therapist create your child’s goals and plan of action for therapy. She will then meet with your child’s ABA therapy team to devise an overall course of action.

Goals that may be included in your child’s plan include improvements in his spoken language and learning various nonverbal skills that will help him communicate more effectively. These skills may include:

  • Sign language
  • Basic gestures
  • Utilizing alternative methods like
    • Drawings
    • Photographs
    • iPads and other available technology

Strengthening Your Child’s Skills

Similar to the practices you are familiar with in your ABA therapy sessions, speech-language pathology aims to enhance the skills your child already exhibits while introducing new skills. The strengthening of skills may include:

  • Matching various emotions with the correct facial expressions shown
  • Understanding body language
  • Strengthening the muscles in his mouth as well as his jaw and neck
  • Developing clearer speech sounds
  • Responding to questions
  • Matching the various picture with their correct meaning
  • Using a variety of technology tools, such as a speech app on a phone or an iPad
  • Improving and strengthening the tone of his voice

The Potential Issues with Assessment

If your child is of school age, or you are planning ahead for school readiness, there are a few additional obstacles to be aware of. As a parent, you will need to decide to enroll your child in a school-based speech-language therapy environment or seek speech-language pathology therapy through a private practice.

Typically, a school speech pathologist will work with a team that includes your child’s teachers, social workers, and counselors in the school environment. What you’ll want to keep in mind is all school-based speech-language therapy programs are run under the rigid guidelines of your state. This creates strict rules regarding funding, the assessment process, and qualification eligibility. Currently, qualification for in-school speech-language pathology therapy requires a student to meet his state’s designated criteria on speech standardization and language testing. Unfortunately, many of these requirements result in students being assessed in a less than an adequate time frame. There are also concerns about a child’s needs being undermined by the state’s criteria.

If you do choose to take the school SLP path, be sure to become familiar with your child’s rights to services and the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process. Your child may receive speech therapy services in school as part of their IEP. Speech therapy is added into your child’s IEP as a related service and is provided to your family as part of his plan and goals at no cost.

If your child is not yet school-aged, he may be eligible to receive speech-language pathology services through your area’s Early Intervention program. Early intervention is available in your state to children under the age of three. Children who do not display the typical signs of growth and development as other children their age may be referred for assessments and services. Early intervention services are either free or offered at a low cost based on your family’s size and income.

Often, parents look into the option of private speech therapy to meet their needs. With a private therapy option, students are much more likely to qualify for speech-language pathology services. A private pathologist offers a broader array of availability, as it is a paid service.

A Deeper Look Into SLP

Speech-language pathology is often thought to be an area of services provided to those who need help with pronunciation or stuttering. A closer look will give a bigger picture of all the areas that are encompassed.

Strengthening Social Skills

The strengthening of social skills through speech-language therapy is a primary area of focus for many children with autism. Autism typically impairs social communication, general communication skills, and cognitive skills. Social skills therapy sessions focus on learning and strengthening your child’s social communication and desirable interactions. This is a wonderful opportunity to implement ABA therapy practices to enhance these wanted interactions. Your child may work with a therapist in a one-on-one environment or participate in social group therapy sessions.

Social skills groups allow your child to learn and strengthen the ability to read the gestures, expressions, and body language of his peers. It encourages social interaction and cooperative play. Through group therapy sessions, your child will learn to form relationships, strengthen eye contact, work through conflict, and form appropriate and acceptable social behaviors. Your child’s ABA therapy skills are utilized often, helping to reinforce the use of new and relevant skills and behaviors.

Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC)

Many young children with autism have found great success using pictures, photos, and drawings, or incorporating technology to communicate. This is often a very successful alternative to verbal language. Known as Alternative Augmentative Communication, or AAC, therapists, may introduce a variety of tools, including PECS, or Picture exchange communication system, speech output devices, and sign language. Alternative Augmentative Communication may be considered for your child after the assessment stage. The speech-language pathology therapist will help you and your child become familiar with the device and methods that seem most beneficial to your child’s goals. AAC can help your child:

  • Broaden his communication skills and options
  • Develop or increase independence
  • Increase and strengthen social interactions

The Role of Your Speech Pathologist

A speech-language pathologist is an essential member of your child’s team of therapists. Working closely with his ABA therapy team and additional therapists, they may be the central member on the team. A speech pathologist specializes in treating a variety of language and communication issues and speech disorders. Speech pathologists are often the first to recognize a child with autism and help implement the process of early intervention, diagnosis, proper referrals, and treatment plans. After your child has been officially diagnosed with autism, a plan to enhance your child’s communication skills and quality of life will be made and implemented by your therapist.

Just as with your child’s ABA therapy team, the speech-language pathologist will work closely with your family, his additional caregivers, school, and other professionals.

Child talking on the phone.

General Goals During Speech Therapy

While each child with autism has a unique set of strengths and areas of concern, there are also very general goals that may be addressed during your child’s therapy. To provide your child with the tools he needs to communicate successfully, his therapist may put a focus on areas such as:

  • The ability to articulate words well
  • Communicate effectively, both verbally and nonverbally
  • Comprehend both verbal and nonverbal communication
  • An understanding of others in a variety of settings with limited cues needed
  • The ability to initiate communication without the need for prompting from others
  • Knowing the appropriate time and place to use verbal communication
  • The development of proper conversational skills that are understood by others
  • The ability to exchange thoughts, feelings, and ideas
  • Able to communicate in various and meaningful ways to form relationships with others
  • Learn to enjoy communicating, playing, and interacting with others in their environment
  • Learn the importance of and how to self-regulate

20 Questions You May Want to Ask

Are you still feeling a bit overwhelmed? Our team has compiled a list of their top twenty questions you may wish to ask when visiting speech therapy offices and evaluating options. This helpful list will guide you and help you determine your needs, priorities, and how well your family may fit with the therapist, you are considering.

  1. How many people will be working directly with my child, and who will they be?
  2. How many patients does each therapist typically handle at one time?
  3. What is your experience with working with children with autism spectrum disorder?
  4. Where do you offer SLP services for children?
  5. Will I be able to watch my child’s sessions?
  6. How are my child’s goals determined?
  7. How involved can parents be in the SLP process?
  8. What will a typical session look like for my child?
  9. How do you measure progress?
  10. How often is progress measured?
  11. How often are goals changed?
  12. What can we do to practice at home?
  13. Will a speech pathologist train parents?
  14. Will my insurance cover your services?
  15. Do you have a waiting list?
  16. How often will my child’s session take place?
  17. How is school readiness incorporated into his therapy?
  18. How do we transition our child when he is school-aged?
  19. How often will he participate in group social skills therapy?
  20. Will his ABA therapy skills play a role in his speech therapy?

Understanding the critical role speech-language pathology plays in your child’s treatment is essential. Through early intervention, persistence, and plenty of parent involvement, your child will soon thrive with the language tools he is given. For more information on Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, our ABA therapy and Speech therapy services, contact us today.

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Family laughing.

There are many components in providing effective therapy for a child with autism. One very critical part is the collection of data. Records of your child’s behavior changes and newly introduced skills help track his progress within each of his carefully designed goals. Therapists, educators, caregivers, and you as the parent, each have a unique insight that provides a valuable, overall picture of his accomplishments and struggles. Our team wants to help educate you on the importance of data collection and what your role as the parent means.

ABA Therapy + Data Collection

Before your child begins ABA therapy, he will undergo assessments to evaluate his areas of strength and areas which need improvement. Individualized goals are created according to his results. Goals are based on:

  • Skills that need to be modified
  • Skills that need to be introduced
  • Behaviors that need to be modified
  • Behaviors that need to be replaced

ABA therapy sessions then provide the opportunity to work towards meeting his individual goals. Goals may be created in several areas, including:

  • Self-help skills
  • Coping skills
  • Verbal and non-verbal skills
  • Social skills
  • School readiness
  • Aggression or self-harming behaviors
  • Motor skills

Data is recorded during each session to monitor improvements made, strategies that worked well, or changes that may be useful for the next session. Ongoing data collection is critical in individualizing and modifying each child’s ABA therapy plan to help them thrive.


Laptop and notebook for collecting data

Why is Data Collection So Important?

Regular and ongoing data collection is vital in evaluating the progress your child makes towards his various goals. Critical decisions regarding his goals and therapy sessions are made based on this ongoing data collection. Your child’s therapists will collect their data during sessions but the value and rely on your data collection as the parent. As a parent, you can provide insight into your child’s progress while in their natural environment. Your recordings shed light on continuing growth that his therapists aren’t able to witness. Your collection of data can show his team what may be working and what isn’t. It allows their entire ABA therapy team to make the necessary adjustments accordingly. Data collection may even lead to the discovery of why particular behaviors are occurring. Through the collection of 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.

What You Should Know

As part of your child’s support team, you should expect to be in the loop at all times. The ABA therapy center you choose to work with must provide you with the knowledge you need to understand the ins and outs of the data collected. Before beginning, you’ll have the opportunity to meet with them and learn how to collect data. Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as:

  • Who will be collecting data during your child’s ABA therapy sessions?
  • Who else on the team will be responsible for collecting data in various settings?
  • What type of data will be collected?
  • What type of data would the team like you to collect?
  • How often will data be collected and analyzed?
  • When will the analyzed data be shared with and explained to you?
  • What does all of this data mean?
  • How often will the collected data result in modifications to your child’s goals?

How Do I Collect Data?

Collecting data provides invaluable information, but it doesn’t need to be an elaborate task. The focus is to help your child thrive, not bombard you with busywork. Think of it as providing snapshots of your child’s day that will help further his progress in ABA therapy. Create a few checklists to get you started and use them to get familiar with the process. If your child is working on self-care skills, create and keep checklists in areas that these skills are likely to be performed. When a new skill or behavior is completed successfully, such as brushing his teeth without assistance, check off a box.

Talk with your child’s therapist about additional information they may wish to see. She may want you to track dates or the frequency of a behavior. The duration of a behavior may be another valuable piece of data to track. There may also be instances where more in-depth information is necessary for you to record. Note what was going on in his environment before a tantrum. How did he react? What calmed him down? Providing this information is hugely beneficial in:

  • Helping to form new behaviors if needed
  • Noting if he has made progress with a skill already introduced

The ABA therapy team uses various methods in the collection of data, including:

  • Permanent Product: Data is collected based on the outcome of your child’s behavior instead of the actual behavior as it’s occurring.
  • Duration Recording: The collection of data is based on the length of time that the particular behavior occurred.
  • Latency Recording: Data is recorded according to the length of time it took from the given instructions to the beginning of the behavior.
  • ABC Data: ABC refers to recording data on your child’s antecedents, behaviors, and the consequences that go with the behavior.
  • Frequency or Event & Rate Recording: Data collection that will track the number of times a particular behavior occurs. When the rate is recorded, a specific time frame is designated, and the number of times the behavior occurs is then noted.
  • Time Sampling Recording: Instead of recording data consistently, data is collected periodically.

Helpful Resources for Data Collection

Do you need a bit of data collection inspiration? Our dedicated team at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center has put together a few useful sites. Take a look through a wide variety of tracking sheets, checklists, and data form options that will help you stay organized and track the information you need:

  • Cindy’s Autistic Support: a wide range of data collection materials for all your tracking needs
  • My Easy Bee: a packet of data collection forms you can easily customize

We’re here to help provide you with the services, resources, and tools your family needs. To learn more about our ABA therapy services, contact us today.

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Understanding Behavioral Therapy

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Child reading a Dr. Seuss book.

Understanding the role that behavioral therapy plays in a child with autism’s life is essential. We know the overwhelming amount of information you must sort through, and we don’t want you to do it alone. While all your child’s therapy sessions and appointments are essential, understanding the necessity of behavioral therapy has many benefits. It will help you process exactly how behavior is linked to his communication skills, social skills, and the reasoning behind positive reinforcements during ABA therapy.

Child playing in leaves

What is Behavioral Therapy?

Behavioral therapy focuses on working with the parent and child to teach techniques that will replace an unwanted behavior with a positive one. Providing your child with an alternative reaction or response to negative behavior is shown in ABA therapy as it is at our own ABA clinic here in Michigan. Using positive reinforcement helps to encourage and strengthen the likelihood of the wanted behavior becoming adopted. It tends to be an effective form of intervention, as it spans throughout many areas of your child’s life.

Finding a Fit

The reality of autism is that there is no master blueprint for this intervention. While there are many types of behavioral therapy, each child’s experience is unique. It is going to take patience and flexibility from your family as you all work together to find a plan that works for him. Your child’s therapist will design an individualized plan which will require close monitoring and adjusting. Long-term therapy has been proven to improve the behaviors of children with autism by focusing on skills, including:

  • Self-care
  • Communication
  • Social living
  • Play

ABA Therapy

Finding an ABA clinic that fits your needs is imperative. You will be an enormous part of your child’s therapy; learning techniques from your therapist and implementing them at home and in his various natural environments. Your therapist will help you and your child break down skills for your child to practice through repetition, praise, and positive rewards. This form of therapy tends to build a strong foundation which your child will continue to build on. Finding an ABA clinic that feels like the right match for your family is vital.

ABA has been a well-researched and widely used behavioral therapy for more than five decades. It is a well-structured intervention approach and many times, where children start. Along with ABA, behavior therapies to meet additional needs are also offered, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:

    Works well for children with mild symptoms as they learn to start recognizing their triggers and reactions. They learn ways to choose an alternate, more appropriate action or response.

  • Verbal Behavioral Therapy:

    This form of therapy helps non-verbal children to communicate effectively with intent. The therapist chooses a particularly stimulating motivator for your child that will help him begin to understand that utilizing language will bring him a wanted result.

  • Social Skills Groups:

    A beneficial way to help your child engage with others, practice communication, and reinforce positive learned behaviors. The therapist will be there for guidance in helping your child determine and use the desired behaviors he has learned.

As Michigan’s preferred ABA clinic, we invite you to come and explore our center. Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center is all-encompassing, and our dedicated team is here for you. If you aren’t in the Michigan area, we still strive to be a reliable resource for your family. You’ll find answers to many of your autism-related questions, helpful tips, advice, and events on our blog. Visit us now for a more in-depth look into ABA for your child.

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Child playing with a train on a carpet.

ABA therapy has been used successfully with children diagnosed with autism for decades. If your child has recently been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder) ASD, we’d like to help support you in your search for information. As you continue to educate yourself on the various therapies available to your child, we’d like to clear up a few misconceptions that have been formed about ABA therapy. Our dedicated team has put together a list of the top five myths surrounding ABA therapy:

ABA Therapy Myths:

  1. ABA therapy Only Works for Individuals Diagnosed with Autism
  2. ABA therapy Isn’t Really a Scientifically Based Treatment
  3. ABA Mistreats Children by Using Bribes, and Manipulation
  4. Punishment is Used in ABA Sessions
  5. All You’ll Do in ABA therapy is Play

Child drawing with chalk

What is ABA Therapy?

Let us first help you understand the core of ABA therapy. Applied Behavioral Analysis is a form of therapy that strives to understand your child’s environment and the effects it may have on his behaviors. ABA therapy includes evaluating how your child’s behavior and learning take place in these environments. Based on the use of a reward system personalized for each child, ABA therapy’s goal is to understand, positively influence, and change undesirable behaviors. Through the positive reinforcement process, a child can then replace unwanted behaviors with newly learned behaviors. Rewards are different for every child since they are determined by what is most meaningful to him. Through positive rewards, your child is encouraged to use new behaviors to help him thrive in his environments. With the help of caregivers, parents, and others in his life, ABA therapy can help him develop new life skills and form lasting changes. Together, as a support team, you’ll help reinforce the use of positive behaviors and replace potentially harmful or distracting behaviors that hinder his ability to learn. ABA therapy covers multiple areas in your child’s life, including home and school environment, self-care skills, and social skills.

The Myth: ABA Therapy Only Works for Individuals Diagnosed with Autism

The Facts:

ABA has been successfully used with a wide range of disabilities, disorders, and social issues. The methods behind ABA are not built around any one specific type of treatment. Focus is on the individual and what is meaningful enough to him to promote the repeat occurrence of newly learned behaviors. This means the use of ABA can be beneficial when applied to an array of issues, including:

    • Speech-Language Pathology
    • Addictions such as gambling and smoking
    • Academics

The Myth: ABA Therapy Isn’t a Really a Scientifically Based Treatment

The Facts:

Since the 1950s, ABA has been a field of study; showing astonishing success by the 1970s. The NIH (National Institute of Health) promotes the early intervention of ABA therapy; as it has been successful with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. ABA supports, encourages, and relies on the participation of the child’s family and caregivers. Studies have shown impressive achievements and lasting changes in children with a strong and active support system. ABA therapy is hailed as the most well-established behavioral treatment for individuals with ASD and is supported by:

      • The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder
      • NIH
      • U.S. Surgeon General
      • The National Standards Project

The Myth: ABA Mistreats Children, Uses Bribes, and Manipulation

The Facts:

Positive reinforcement should not be confused with a form of bribery. A positive reinforcer is given after the wanted behavior has been used; to reinforce the likelihood of repeating the desired behavior. ABA therapy uses these meaningful reinforcements to address the behavior, while a bribe is typically addressed directly towards the person beforehand, to elicit a specific response. ABA is a scientifically proven form of safe, effective therapy for behavior replacement in children.

    • Many myths describe food as a form of bribery or manipulation throughout ABA practices. It is important to remember that each plan is individualized and tailored the child’s needs, abilities, and personal motivators. Early intervention is encouraged, so working with young children is common, even here in our Detroit based Center. Many times, food is the most meaningful motivator for a young child. It is also an effective reinforcer with children who have limited or no language. As with all positive reinforcement practices in ABA therapy, it is given after the wanted behavior and accompanied by praise, encouragement, and support.

The Myth: Punishment is Used in ABA Sessions

The Facts:

While there was a time in the early stages of ABA therapy when punishment was used, positive reinforcement to encourage behavior changes has long since been the standard practice. Only in severe cases of self-harm, for example, would punishment be considered. It would then be paired with positive reinforcement practices to address the dangers of the unwanted behavior that needs replacing.

The Myth: All You’ll Do in Therapy is Play

The Facts:

Play is a much broader term than many realize. We see firsthand how early intervention brings many young ones to our Center here in the Detroit area. It is a well-known fact that young children learn best through play and exploration. Since ABA is a form of therapy centered around the child’s behaviors in their typical environments, we encourage a very healthy amount of play.

    • Play therapy allows the child and caregivers a chance to bond. It offers a chance for many children with social or speech difficulties to learn how to read and use non-verbal cues and express themselves. Through play, many opportunities to address unwanted behavior can arise; offering the chance to work on ABA strategies in your child’s natural environment.

Detroit’s Preferred ABA Therapists

We hope this has answered some of the questions you’ve had about ABA practices. If you live in the Detroit area, we encourage you to come and learn more about our services and commitment to the needs of families in the Detroit-metro area. At Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we believe an all-encompassing Center is most beneficial to our family’s needs. If you’ve found us but live beyond the Detroit area, we encourage you to visit our site often for resources, education, and support. Our highly trained staff is here to provide your family with the information you need to make the best-informed decisions for your child.

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Woman on a computer near a window.

Working with families and children with autism and other special needs is a rewarding job. Through Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA therapy, you can help children meet their maximum potential, working with them to learn new life skills while reinforcing positive behavioral skills. Families rely on you and their team of therapists for support, guidance, and training. This helps them continue to use ABA practices throughout the child’s natural environments when they leave your sessions.

The Behavioral Technician Path

If you’re interested in becoming a Registered Behavioral Technician, entering the ABA field as a Behavioral Tech is an excellent way to get started. A Behavioral Technician is an entry-level position which will allow you to become familiar with the practices and foundations of ABA therapy. With a high school diploma and little to no experience needed, you’ll gain insight, experience, and invaluable training.

The role of a tech includes assisting in implementing strategies to help the child create behavioral changes and learn new life and social skills. Techs work closely with the child, their family, and his team of therapists. A tech is not responsible for developing his ABA goals or assessments but will assist in helping the team implement the individualized plan. Your duties may include:

  • Collecting and recording data
  • Assist therapists with assessments
  • Assist with parent and additional caregiver training
  • Work with the child to help implement his behavioral plan

Woman working on a laptop

A Registered Behavioral Technician Career

Taking the next step to becoming registered provides many incredible benefits. A Registered Behavioral Technician, or RBT, opens many doors. It offers more career opportunities, higher salary, and more responsibility in the child’s plan. A Registered Behavioral Technician is a paraprofessional whose responsibilities may include:

  • Assessment
  • Measurement
  • Skill acquisition
  • Reduction of behaviors
  • Documentation
  • Reporting

Registered Behavioral Technicians implement behavior-analytic services, including ABA therapy, while under the close supervision of a BCBA-D, BCBA, or BCaBA. Yearly recertification is also required as a registered tech.

Who Else Can Become a Registered Technician?

Those who meet the requirements and will be working with children, clients, and/or families needing assistance with various developmental behavior needs are eligible and encouraged. This includes:

  • Parents
  • Educators
  • Case managers
  • Home health providers, including daycare or afterschool care staff

Meeting the Requirements

In accordance with the BACB, Behavioral Analyst Certification Board, several requirements must be met before becoming an ABA Behavioral Technician, including:

  • Minimum age of 18 years
  • High School graduate or equivalent
  • Submit a background check within 180 days of your Registered Behavioral Technician application
  • Completing 40 hours of required training
  • Passing the RBT Competency Assessment
  • Passing the RTB examination
  • Ethics and Professional Conduct instruction and assessments

Meeting the Required Training

You’ll be happy to learn there are a few routes to explore to meet your needs while working as a Behavioral Technician.

  • Agency Training Programs:

    Various agencies create their own training programs. Supervisors accept new hires and candidates from within to train in-house; meeting the requirements of the BACB. You may also seek out an external agency that provides this required training.

  • Traditional Course Programs:

    Some companies offer online options, while others hold in-person classes. Applying to a University is another option you may want to consider.

  • Training + Program:

    You can now find programs that offer your training within their RBT program. This option will provide you with your necessary training certificate for your RBT application.

An additional option offered to those who are already working in Behavioral Techs positions makes exceptions for those who meet the following criteria:

  • Completed 40 hours of qualified training
  • Meet all other RBT requirements
  • If training was before January 1, 2015, you might be eligible. You need to demonstrate adequate training was completed, all requirements were met, and you can successfully carry out duties as outlined in the RBT Task List.

Your Competency Assessment and Exam

After you’ve completed your 40 hours of training, a direct observation assessment is scheduled for you to show you are competent in all RBT Task List areas. Once you have passed this assessment, you may move on to your examination. Passing your RBT Exam is your last step in becoming a Registered Behavioral Technician.

Whether you’re interested in learning more about becoming an RBT to help others, or because you’d like to educate yourself and your family, you’ll find there are many benefits. Blossom is proud to be an employer who helps our employees become registered behavior technicians. We believe in helping our staff further their education, experience, and careers. Blossom will assist with tuition reimbursement if an employee decides to further their career path towards becoming a BCBA, OT, SLP, or Counselor. For more information on ABA therapy services in the Detroit area, contact Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center today!

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ABA Therapy 101

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Therapy toys for children.

If your child has recently been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, you are likely still processing the overwhelming amount of information you’ve been given. We know it’s a lot to take in, and we want to help make this time a little less difficult for you. At Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, our team is made up of compassionate, family-first individuals who are dedicated to helping in any way we can. Finding a center and therapists that are the right fit for your child, as well as your family, can be a stressful task. With an abundance of information and resources right at your fingertips, what is meant to be helpful may actually seem mind-boggling right about now. Let us walk you through some ABA therapy information that will be most beneficial for you to get started.

Toddler hands playign with toys

What is ABA Therapy?

Chances are you’ve heard or read a bit about ABA therapy at this point. Regardless of how much you recall or understood, take a deep breath and let us guide you through the basics from the beginning.

ABA, or Applied Behavioral Analysis, is a scientifically validated therapy that provides a better understanding of how your child’s behaviors can be affected by his environment. It also takes an in-depth look at how learning and behavior take place. It focuses on using a reward system meaningful to each child in order to replace an undesirable behavior with a wanted one. This method of therapy provides a way to take a more personalized view of your child’s behaviors and skills in their real-life circumstances. ABA therapy encourages and even depends on your participation as the parent, in order to help your child form lasting changes. Working together with your child and therapist will reinforce these positive behaviors while replacing those that may cause harm or interference with their ability to learn. ABA therapy spans many areas, including:

  • Social skills
  • Self-care skills
  • Home environment
  • School environment

Why Positive Reinforcement?

Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s (and even well into the ‘80s), punishment was seen as a quick and effective way to bring about behavioral changes in individuals with autism. Autism was greatly misunderstood and often associated with having a psychiatric disorder. It took years for science to show that through positive reinforcement, skills and behaviors could be learned or replaced successfully and have long-lasting effects. ABA therapy took on a new approach which no longer believed abusive treatment and punishments were the way to get desired results.

How Can ABA Therapy Change Behavior?

The first question on every parent’s mind is how ABA therapy can change or modify your child’s behaviors. Positive reinforcement plays a crucial role in ABA. Using the most meaningful rewards that resonate with your child creates an individualized way to make a significant difference. For many children on the autism spectrum, this has offered positive, long-lasting results in social skills, academic improvements, quality of life, and life-skills in general.

When a necessary change in behavior is needed, a special reward is given, but only after your child uses the new, positive behavior. The use of a reward system made up of items or privileges your child finds most meaningful makes the desired behavior more likely to be repeated. The end goal is for these individualized rewards to be more encouraging and eventually result in a new, positive outcome. On the other hand, when the wanted behavior or skill isn’t completed successfully, the reward is not yet given. The process is repeated, allowing your child the time needed to learn and adapt to the new skills and behaviors.

Are There Specific Behaviors ABA Therapy Focuses On?

When we talk about changing behaviors through ABA therapy, it can often be misinterpreted as a way to target poor behavior. This isn’t the case. ABA strives to create new, helpful behaviors across all aspects of your child’s life. For some, communication skills are a major focus. Creating a behavior that allows your child to express his feelings or ask for help more effectively is one such goal. You’ll find it can be beneficial when learning or changing behaviors and skills in his grooming or other self-care abilities. Social skills are another common area many therapists work on. Increasing social skills can help your child communicate with, work with, and share with his peers. Whether in a school setting or a play group, ABA offers a way for your child to form the social skills that can help him thrive in group settings in any environment.

Why Early Intervention is Best

Early intervention makes a tremendous difference in the lives of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. When ABA therapy is introduced at a younger age, preferably implemented before four years old, success rates are much higher. Working with your child early on allows behaviors to be modified before they have time to set in as habits and take longer to relearn. Early intervention also allows your child’s therapist to begin introducing new and helpful self-care and social skills while building on them to strengthen their repetition. ABA is also very successful when carried out in the child’s home. This means early intervention typically allows therapy to begin before your child has entered an educational setting or a social environment he may not be prepared for.

How Does ABA Prepare My Child for the Classroom?

We want your child to find success in school as much as you do! This is another reason we advocate for early intervention. By having a head start, your child’s therapist has the opportunity to work on classroom readiness. This includes academics as well as social skills and daily life skills. Your child will work on skills including:

  • Potty training
  • Feeding
  • Coping skills
  • Social skills with adults and peers, including group settings
  • Communication skills

Preparing your child before entering the school environment can significantly increase his success and ability to better adapt to his new environment.

But Isn’t My Child Just Playing?

A common and very successful method used in ABA therapy is to work on social skills and behavior changes through play. If you take into consideration the obstacles a young child with autism faces before even beginning a therapy session, this will make more sense. Many children deal with short attention spans, sensory issues, and communication barriers; not to mention the frustrations these can all bring about for a young one. Now add to this a day at daycare or school. Can you then imagine requiring your child to sit still in a rigid setting to learn new skills repetitively?

Now imagine a young child being encouraged to move freely in his natural environment or explore throughout an inviting room at a child-friendly center. He is more likely to succeed in this type of setting since it offers a more natural feel. It also allows his therapist to observe behaviors and social skills that may need adjustment, as well as introducing new behaviors and skill sets in a less stressful way. This “play” time allows your child to implement new behaviors while going about his natural, daily behavior of play.

And don’t be fooled by the appearance of play! Our highly trained therapists are well-versed in play therapy. Think of play as a type of language that most children can understand and relate to; allowing them to also learn through this time. Our therapists can use play therapy to work with your child if he is not yet at the level of engaging in play. You’ll come to find we take every moment in ABA as a teaching moment.

Children playing near their mother.

Your Role in Your Child’s Therapy

ABA therapy will not be your typical “wait in the lobby” session. Your participation in your child’s sessions is strongly encouraged and incredibly helpful. Since each child’s needs are different, their goals are as well. ABA is centered around individual needs, so your input is invaluable. You can provide your child’s therapist with an enormous amount of insight. What are your child’s strengths and weaknesses? Likes and dislikes? You can share your knowledge on triggers, daily routines, and areas of concern. No matter what, you are your child’s best advocate and offer a wealth of valuable information to his therapists.

ABA at Home

An active parent continues therapy at home. This means you have the power to help encourage new behaviors by applying what is learned during therapy to his home environment. Now before you wonder if you have what it takes, rest assured, you will learn strategies and techniques during your child’s sessions. This will allow you to continue the work after sessions are over. By seeing it in action and noting the effect it can have on his learning, you’ll be able to carry out ABA practices in your daily routines. Being an active parent during sessions helps you gain confidence and the skills needed to strengthen the recurrence of newly learned behavior. By practicing positive reinforcement in all areas, including dressing, toileting, and other self-care duties, you will set him up for greater success.

Continuing to apply learned skills after sessions can help your child experience less confusion. If his therapy sessions are in sync with his regular daily routines and environments, you are helping to strengthen and reinforce all efforts made during ABA therapy. Consistency is key in developing and achieving the goals you all have set for him. While we know structure and routine are beneficial to children with autism, incorporating ABA into all areas of his day have proven to be a practical method that can produce life-changing results.

Play at Home

We know this can be a tremendous amount to take in. We often hear parents express their concern that they “aren’t doing it right” or don’t know where to begin after they leave their first session. You are never alone! ABA therapy is about working as a team to help your child grow, and that includes arming you with the tools you need too.

Implementing these newly learned skills at home can be as simple as playing a game to practice strengthening what was learned. Is your child working towards communication skills? Play a little game of Simon Says. Have your child study your expressions and poses. Help him learn to read and mimic what your body language is demonstrating. And don’t forget your meaningful positive reinforcement! In the middle of a game, this can be as simple as a high five or verbal praise. The important part is providing the positive reward that motivates him most to help strengthen his actions and social skills.

Keep Lists

As you work through more sessions, you’ll develop a sense for what’s working well and what can use more fine-tuning. A handy tip is to keep lists or a notebook of questions, achievements, and even struggles. These lists can help build your toolbox while you’re still navigating your way as well! Try a few of these tips:

  • Concentrate on goals you and his therapist have set, as well as goals he is now doing well or has even mastered. These can be great go-to skills and behaviors to start with.
  • What have you noticed motivates your child the most? Have you tried new rewards, and how did they work? Keep track and share these at your next session.
  • Are there activities you’ve noticed your child prefers? Perhaps there are some that spark more desired behaviors than others? These are always good to note.
  • Have fun! Enjoy this bonding time with your child and make praise a part of every task well-done!

Here at the Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we offer a dynamic, all-encompassing approach to help your child succeed. With additional services available for your child within our center, we are ready to answer all of your questions. While working with your entire family, our team of trained therapists and loving staff will assist and support you on your journey. Find out why the Blossom Method is the preferred choice for children with autism and related disorders by calling us today!

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Hands painted for autism awareness.

Being on the spectrum can certainly present an array of challenges for your child as well as your family, but they don’t have to be debilitating barriers. Many influential people – some you may not have been aware of – have found ways to modify, adapt, and take on their challenges. The results? The ability to accomplish what others may have deemed impossible for their future, the courage to speak out, and being a role model for individuals with autism.

Spotlight

Daryl’s Diagnosis

When Daryl Hannah was a young child, doctors recommended to Daryl’s mother that she put Daryl in an institution where she could be cared for and heavily medicated. Daryl often talks about the medical field’s lack of understanding surrounding Asperger Syndrome in the sixties, as well as the therapies available today that could have provided her with a very different childhood. Daryl recalls feeling as though she was disconnected in school and often drifting off into her own little fantasy world. Feeling isolated from others due to her diagnosis kept her from forming relationships as a child. She recalls many moments of sheer terror being in crowds. As a school teacher and her biggest advocate, her mother decided to pull her from school for roughly a year. Daryl believes removing her from the school setting was a wise choice. Her mother allowed her to be who she was while working together towards modifying and changing behaviors, later reintegrating her into “the normal world” as she referred to it.

A Surprising Passion

Regardless of her fears, around the age of seventeen, Daryl decided to pursue an acting career. To her, it wasn’t about being on camera or the center of attention; it was about being able to live in a fantasy world where she felt comfortable. Daryl began her acting career in the early 1980s but kept her diagnoses hidden from Hollywood. Her challenges with being on the spectrum kept her from making public appearances. Her inability to attend events, premieres, and even give interviews, was due to the overwhelming shyness she refers to as “debilitating.”

An Escape

Falling in love with the big screen was what helped make an impact on her life. She saw acting as a chance to escape herself by “going to the land of Oz.” While she still struggles with many of her social fears, she has worked hard to push herself to do the work she loves. To this day, she can be found rocking or “stimming” and shares that over the years, she has been able to learn to live her life beyond her diagnoses. Even in her 50’s, she admits to still struggling but continues to focus on learning how to handle each challenge. Daryl reflects on her years of terror and insecurity while speaking out about embracing her autism in order to live her life. She is proud of her decision to open up publicly about her diagnosis several years ago and share her experiences to help others. She finds comfort in meditation, which often helped her control her overwhelming sense of fear throughout the years. Her ability to adjust to her environment and modify behaviors has led her to enjoy a successful career as an actress, despite her social challenges. When she is not busy with her work as an activist or taking the occasional acting role, she lives a very calm, low-key life away from the public eye.

With available therapies, such as ABA Therapy, your child and family can learn the skills modifications that will help them thrive. Blended throughout various therapies — such as OT and Social Skills Programs — ABA Therapy works with your child to achieve life skills, personal relationships, and find success in school. With early intervention, ABA Therapy can help your child and family create an individualized plan. Contact Blossom today for more information on our all-encompassing services.

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