Back to School!

back-to-school

Back to School! For some kids I know, its the first time at school, a change to a new school, or even a move to high school! So many changes, and it’s the time of year people either love or hate, depending on which side of the fence you sit on. And sometimes, you can feel both ways about it!

Going back to school for any child, can be a difficult time. It is a big change in routine, from usually unstructured, leisure-filled days, to highly structured routines of the classroom. In particular, the long summer break, over Christmas and New Years.

It can be particularly difficult for children with additional needs, as it is often a time of new teachers, aides, peers, classrooms, playgrounds, school bags, drink bottles, work expectation… the list could go on!

And while a lot of kids with additional needs thrive on the structure of the classroom, it can still take a while to settle back into the routine and pattern of the day.

So I’ve put together a few tips, mainly for parents, although it would be useful for educators to consider these things that parents might be dealing with. These tips are also relevant for any educational setting (pre-school, through to high school).

Be prepared!

We know there will most likely be an increase in challenging behaviour, sleep, diet, conversation – when school starts up. Even if you have done this for the past 10 years and that amount of school holidays, it is still a struggle for some kids. Provide a bit of structure, using a visual schedule, or a weekly schedule overview, so the child knows what to prepare for.

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Visual Schedule for personal care.

Provide ‘down time’

First few weeks back will be a lot for your the child to adjust to. Make sure you give them time to ‘have a break’ and do the things they love to do. It’s still hot out, so going to the pool or splashing through the sprinkler in the backyard with very few demands, will give the child an opportunity to regroup after a long day at school.

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Run through the sprinkler!

Keep Consistency!

It might be good to keep consistency with therapists and professionals working with the child. The child will know the expectations from the therapist, and will help provide a bit more of that “routine” they’re used to. Plus, they’re handy to have a chat to, if you need some suggestions to help the child with this transition back to school.

So just a few tips to help with that transition period of going back to school. Again, even though school holidays happen fairly frequently, and the child may have been at school for many years, it is still a big change and difference in their daily life, so try and communicate the changes as best as possible with the child.

Back to School!

ABA Intervention Programs in the 21st Century.

Technology is very much a part of our lives these days. So many apps to make our lives easier. Computers that can log you in via your in-built camera. Phones that can hold all the information in the world, at the touch of your fingertips, as well as all your contacts, photos, videos, music, entertainment, street directory… and the list goes on and on.

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Then – a typewriter vs Now – a tablet

In the area I work in, technology has had a huge impact on people’s lives. Giving people a voice, through Augmentative/Alternative Communication devices and apps, such as ProLoQuo2Go, and TouchChat.

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An example of an AAC – ProLoQuo2Go

Children with autism connecting with others, and making friends through playing Minecraft on their iPads. Even more recently, with Pokemon Go!

The use of heart rate monitors to help adolescents and adults self-monitor potential increases in stress levels, which may lead to challenging behaviour.

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Poster presentation from ABAI Chicago, May 2016.

Daily schedules and reminders – from calendars with reminders on your phone, to basic watches that vibrate at certain times, and prompt children to brush their teeth, or pack their bag.

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A watch “visual schedule”.

Application, after application, after application, to collect data, graph, and report on, to make changes as needed for skills teaching. (And that is just a small sample! At the ABAI Convention in Chicago, many of the stalls were advertising online data collection platforms).

It makes sense, in this technology driven world, that we utilise the benefits of technology to make positive changes, and add value to programs.

Which is why GSBS programs have completely customised, exclusive online programming, with every program we run.

Looking at all the options already available, and even trialling a few, they are extremely comprehensive. Some are a bit more difficult to navigate, and would take a lot of training and practice to become fluent in their use. Most, if not all, are based out the US, which is not really an issue, however there may be 1 or 2 things that pertain specifically to Australian audiences, that cannot be added or changed in those programs.

So when I started thinking about programs going “online”, I looked around, to see what I could possibly try and set up. And then I found it. Google.

If you haven’t already caught on, Google is amazing. Not only can the search engine tell us *anything* we want to know (I literally type a question in as if I were asking it to a person!), but they have a whole range of google apps, that are just fantastic! Email, calendar, a storage drive, business insights, advertising – all under one email address! The free account has a decent amount of space, but to upgrade, it is not terribly expensive. They also have “office” documents – Google Docs (Word), Sheets (Excel), and Slides (Powerpoint). As well as a free website option to crate your own website, and a form creation app to… well use as you see fit.

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So many apps, so little time!

Which is what we do.

Using the site as storage space, and Google’s easy to use template, private websites were made, to share information about the individual client, with all those involved in their care and support – parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, other professionals working with the person, and so on. Having input from the families, and the clients themselves, the website can be a useful tool, to share skills, and strategies.

Once the site  is created, you can input pages that contain forms, add information about skills pages, even have an online communication/notes book (which sends automatic emails after every session!) The sites are 100% private and you can control who can view and access the page. It is really handy because not only is all the data collection on there, but information about the program, and most importantly, information about the person at the centre of the program, is readily available.

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The easy-to-use-and-set-up website via Google Sites.

Moving to an online system, was a bit time consuming and tedious at first, a lot of trial and error during creation, but ultimately worth it. It means that I can access information on skills, even if I am not seeing the families every week, or interstate or overseas.

If multiple people (parents, home therapists etc) are working on programs, up-to-date information is available, as soon as it happens. It seemed to be the logical solution moving forward, making a program that is accessible, and affordable (and if it saves a few trees in the process, that can’t hurt!)

In terms of training – so far, I have had very good feedback about how it was pretty straight forward, and relatively easy to use. A few hiccups with ensuring everyone has access, but on the whole, it was easy for people to pick up. Which is a relief, because within GSBS, we want these programs to be online, to make things that little bit easier. And with Google, we are able to completely customise it to exactly what we want 🙂

Next adventure…. telehealth 😀 The initial research is promising, and would be of so much benefit to people who may usually never have access to services.

N.B. I have no actual affiliation/loyalty to Google, I just am very impressed by their range of products, and enjoy using them, so wanted to share some info!

 

ABA Intervention Programs in the 21st Century.

What’s your favourite colour?

Or food? Or animal? Or TV show? Getting to know someone, and finding out what their interests are, really can help strengthen your teaching relationship.

Concepts, and even some concrete skills, can be taught in ways that incorporate individual’s strengths and interests, to increase the chances that you are motivating them to begin, and complete the task.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And the theory of it is. The application, is a little harder. It takes a lot of time, creativity, and technological skill (sometimes), to make these things happen. Having done this for many, many years (almost 10!), I have lots of different ideas about teaching new skills and concepts, and ways to present. But I still always am learning about new ideas I can implement, and of course, there is always Pinterest!

Recently, I have been able to implement some specific interest-related tasks into sessions.

The first has been in one of my literacy programs. Particularly with teaching reading, finding interesting and relevant material, that is at the appropriate reading level, is not always easy. With one of my students in particular, his interests narrow in on the naughty neighbour Sid, from Toy Story, and Problem Child. He loves the naughty kids and is always enquiring about what would get them in trouble, yet he wouldn’t dare ever consider doing any of the things those naughty kids do (thank goodness!)

We have been looking for reading material that will hopefully be of interest to him. We read through Diary of a Wimpy Kid, some Nature Goodies (with worms and insects), but a really winner, that we have been reading through recently is “The World’s Worst Children” by David Walliams. Comprised of short stories involving disgusting children, including smelly children, and drooling children.

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While I sit there, trying not to gag while he is reading, the kid loves it! He reads so fluently, and will stop often to ask me questions, and clarify points! He is interested in what he is reading, and is understanding what he is reading – all we have worked towards with reading, is happening!

Another client I have been individualising more of his program for, is someone who loves the Wiggles. wiggles youtubeHe has inherited this love for the Wiggles, from his older brother, whom I learned all about the Wiggles from, many years ago! Now this kid is more of an “original” Wiggles fan, which suits me fine, because that’s who I learned about from his brother, but it does make things difficult, because all the VHS tapes of old Wiggles shows, are very slowly disappearing, or breaking. Luckily, thousands of those videos are preserved and accessible, via a quick YouTube search 😀

We have recently added a few more matching craft activities, particularly because he is very good at matching and puzzles. We have been slowly introducing a few different, and new, activities over the past few weeks, and he has been really enjoying the different tasks and demands. We have been able to incorporate a lot of fine motor skill work, and sight word and vocabulary building, within these activities.

interest instaExamples of some of the activities created: Emotions cards with cartoon
pictures of different feelings, and a cartoon ‘Wiggles’ music group puzzle.

Where possible, you should aim to include the individual’s interests in your programming. They are more likely to be interested in what you have on offer, and you can make those teaching times a little bit more exciting for them!

References

What’s your favourite colour?

Book Review: The Verbal Behavior Approach – Mary Lynch Barbera

 I finally got around to reading this book in 2015 🙂 I’ve had it for about 4 years, but just never picked it up!

While trying to gain inspiration for a journal club I am completing on verbal behaviour (and having no luck with!) I thought, why not read this – it might give me a few more answers!

I have always had an interest in verbal behaviour. I didn’t quite know what it was about, or how it was different from ABA, all I knew was it had something to with creating a ‘voice’ for people (not necessarily a speaking voice – more to do with communication) and it seemed to be presented in a much more ‘fun’ light than the traditional ABA programs I worked on in Australia.

Well, the way the traditional ABA programs were supposed to go, because I always feel I tried to make sessions as fun as possible… most of the time anyway.

What I got from reading this book was, I feel like I was inadvertently (there’s that word again) implementing techniques from a verbal behaviour program when I was working as a young, junior ABA therapist, and then when I progressed and moved into different roles, using the principles and science of ABA.

So basically, I was very impressed with this book, because it resonated well with me, it aligned very much with my beliefs about the work that I do. But mostly, I was impressed with the straight forward-ness of the book. I almost felt like passing it onto a few families I am working with and asking them to read it, but that would probably be quite overwhelming, despite the everyday language used, and practical examples.

The book is written by Dr. Mary Lynch Barbera, a BCBA, who is also the mother of a son with Autism. She became a BCBA after her son was diagnosed and was heavily involved in his program, moving him from a typical, Lovaas style ABA program, to a verbal behaviour program.I like her determinism, and her thoughts about how the differences in each program had their benefits.

The book worked through how you could go about setting up a verbal behaviour program (and got me motivated to create a mind map – using a very cool online mind map program – Popplet) and provided a very straight forward way to teach the different components of a verbal behaviour program.

I found a really clear explanation of the differences between an ABA and a verbal behaviour program. There was also a very clear, and initial description of conducting a functional assessment of behaviour, right at the beginning of the book – very important, you want to know what behaviour you want to replace, so you can know where to start 🙂

I also liked the focus on reinforcement and motivation, and how as a therapist, you basically wanted the child to be running to the table to do ‘therapy’. This is something that really struck a chord with me.

I have had some kids who didn’t care either way, but I have also had some kids who would do anything to avoid coming to the table 😦 I know it wasn’t me, because when I was playing around and being silly, we would have the time of our lives 🙂 but as soon as a demand was put in place, I was seen as something very aversive.

My personal experience with intensive ABA programs in Australia finished around 5 years ago, but I really don’t think things have changed that much. When I was working on those intensive programs, this was definitely not an aim of the program. I wasn’t given much of an opportunity to pair myself with reinforcement, I was basically having to go in and teach.

As a teacher, I completely believe you need to show respect for your students, and gain their trust, and then you can begin to teach – a very similar process to the rapport building and pairing with reinforcement discussed in this book, and as a cornerstone of a verbal behaviour program.

I believe I do this fairly well. Particularly as some of my more recent work involved me going into families homes and doing this within a 2 hour session, in a couple of weeks… very tricky, particularly when you are trying to explain your program, collect baseline data, and gain the parents (and siblings) trust and respect as well. It’s not easy, but it is definitely worth it.

I also took some things immediately away from the book – from teaching different and known item mands to a very beginning 4 year old learner, to how to use echoics and intraverbals, and transfer procedures (which was also one of those things I was already doing without even realising) with a 12 year old with some language, just not a lot of motivation to communicate 😉

I also then went a step further and found this extremely detailed, yet interesting, relevant, and clear explanation of verbal behaviour article, which was much more technically oriented, but consolidated the book. The Verbal Behavior Approach to ABA by Robert Schramm and Regina G. Claypool-Frey.

I recommend the book to anyone who is working within an ABA program already, and definitely anyone interested in applying verbal behavior techniques within a program. I really wish I had read it earlier – it is an easy, and quick read, and it has given me a lot of ideas. I feel a lot more confident with my programming going forward, with this information.


References

Barbera, M. &Rasmussen, T. (2007). The Verbal Behavior Approach: How to Teach Children with Autism and Related Disorders.

Popplet – a website for creating mind-maps

The Verbal Behavior Approach to ABA by Robert Schramm and Regina G. Claypool-Frey.

Book Review: The Verbal Behavior Approach – Mary Lynch Barbera

We’re going on a ‘treasure’ hunt!

One of my favourite children’s books is We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, which is fun to read and chant along too. It can be quite interactive too, and kids love the repetition and rhythm. However, this blog post isn’t exactly about the book (although it has given me a good idea for a blog post about some of my favourite children’s books!)

What I actually want to talk about in this blog post is another program that has many potential teaching components within a program. I call it “Treasure Hunt”. Basically, it is like a scavenger hunt, there is a list of items to collect and the child has to find these items. It can be expanded or modified to suit all learner’s levels.

I would mainly use this program when I needed a bit of time to either talk to parents, or write up notes. Turning anything into a game is always a good motivator, especially if a sibling is involved and there is a little ‘friendly competition’.

Some of the types of things I would ask to be found in a treasure hunt include:

  • a small, blue, circular object (i.e. it could be a ball)
  • a book with the word ‘the’ in it
  • a book with an animal in it
  • something you write with
  • something that is green and found in the garden
  • something you can eat
  • a transport/vehicle/any other category
  • 5 toy cars
  • completing activities e.g. 5 star jumps
  • purple piece of clothing
  • go to the lounge room and get a pillow off the couch, and come back,
  • and many other ideas!

As you can see, there are many, many options of things you can ask. Instructions, attributes, sizes, colours, visual pictures, written words, categories, numbers, counting etc.

As I said, I like to use this activity when I am needing to multi-task, in particular, when discussing things with parents. It not only keeps the kids busy, but tests their ability to generalise skills learned to a slightly different time in the session. It is also great because it can be modified as needed for all different learners.

Another benefit is that siblings can be involved in the game, and I have found it is always good to find ways to incorporate everyone in the family into sessions. This activity ensures the sibling doesn’t feel like they’re missing out on anything, and you can build on sibling relationships and social skills. It is also great when the kids start sending each other on ‘treasure hunts’.

Plus, you can have a lot of fun with the different types of items to find on the ‘treasure hunt!’

We’re going on a ‘treasure’ hunt!

I’m always ready for Summer!

Thinking back to some of the different things I have done over the years, I have been pretty lucky to be able to have a lot of fun in my work – particularly in sessions!

One thing I love to do, particularly on extremely hot, Australian Summer days, is do sessions outside, preferably near water. And one of my favourite things to use, are water balloons!

I don’t think I have used these since I was a kid. And even then, I don’t remember using them that often. But I was in Woolworths one day, walking past the party items, and thought “That would be an awesome idea!”

It was.

I cannot think of one child who did not want to give water balloons a go. I have one who was a little scared, but he was interested and watched me (hiding behind the wall, with his hands covering his ears) as I filled up water balloons and then proceeded to pop them all over his garden (I clearly had a great time!)

They have been an invaluable asset to my little reinforcer kit. And they surpassed their original use as a nice reinforcer for a hot day, to being a part of many different programs I was teaching.

Initially, I used water balloons as reinforcement e.g. “First we have to get all our tokens, then we can do water balloons outside!”

The I started realising there was a whole lot more we could be doing with water balloons.

I introduced waiting to three brothers who all wanted water balloons at once, but there was only one tap to fill it up!

I used it to teach accepting and tolerating change, at a very, very basic level i.e. I would say “What colour balloon do you want?” and whatever he would answer, I would say “Hmmm, nah, what about this colour instead?” and he would happily take it because at that point in time, he didn’t care about the controlling the colour, he just wanted a water balloon!

I used it to teach a brother and sister to follow more complex instructions e.g. “I want you to pop the balloon next to the small, green plant in the garden.”

It is great for even discrimination tasks – colours, attributes (big/little, full/empty, wet/dry).

And of course, requesting/manding! Getting signs/gestures/picture/vocalisations/mands for water balloons is always an exciting thing, especially with kids who are just beginning to learn to request, and then you get the added bonus of fun water balloons once the balloon has been requested for 🙂

Of course, there are a few rules discussed before the use of water balloons. I always check with the parents that it is an OK thing to use with their kids. And then the rule for the kids is once a balloon is popped, pick up all the pieces and put it in the bin, and then you can get a new one.

So even though we have had a mild winter here in Australia, I suggest stocking up on water balloons, because if you are anywhere near me, I’m going to buy out all the local supplies 😉

Resources

Water Balloon Pump

I’m always ready for Summer!