Fragile Learner – A child can be considered fragile when there are certain events that are causing or contributing to that child feeling extraordinarily stressed, in turn leading to the child experiencing difficulty effectively managing his/her day (sometimes referred to as “Setting Events”; for the purpose of this model, these events will be labeled “Context Events”). Context Events can have happened further back in time but continue to affect the present and/or can be situations that children “bring with” them.

Positive Context Events can set the stage for success. Adverse Context Events can negatively affect a child’s ability to cope with educational programming, social relationships and behavioral management.

The following strategies need to be crafted specifically for the individual child in accord with the child’s personal learning experience:

  • Structure: Structure is increased for the fragile child.
  • Demands: Demands are decreased whenever possible.
  • Reinforcement: Levels of reinforcement for work and appropriate behaving should be increased.

The full Fragile Learner Model, as well as a video explanation, can be found on the FirstPath Autism site’s video library. Examples of Context Events that can negatively impact children are:

• Physiological Variables
• Learning History Variables
• Emotional Variables
• Extraordinary Transition Variables

Typically, children feel helpless over Context Events because they have little-to-no control over them (and, frequently the adults involved don’t either). An adult who has tried to get through a work day while suffering a migraine or after having received a less-than-favorable job evaluation that day has probably felt a sense of fragility similar to what a fragile child feels.

IMPORTANT NOTE: One important consideration when implementing a Fragile Learning Model is to do so without the child “catching on” that it is being done based on the child’s behavior — in other words, we don’t want the child to know that we are decreasing demands, increasing structure, and increasing reinforcement based on the child’s behavior. We don’t want a child with a legitimate stomachache one day who has his/her workload decreased because of the stomachache, to then fake a stomachache every day after to keep getting out of work.

By: Amalie Holly, BCBA

Does this sound familiar? After doing some research and hearing recommendations from people you trust, you’ve made the choice to enroll your child in an ABA therapy program. Problem is, you’re not sure exactly what comes next. What can you do to help your child succeed? We’ve got a few tips we’d like to share.

Tip #1: Educate yourself on the core principles of ABA.

If you want to help your child succeed in their ABA therapy program, the first thing to do is ensure that you have a solid grasp on the subject yourself. To start, the core principle that guides ABA therapy is as follows: “Behavior is Lawful (guided by principles), Observable (we can see it), and Measurable (we can count it).”

All behavior happens for a reason, and appropriate behavioral analysis can influence and shape it. Changing what happens before or after a given behavior may alter the behavioral pattern. By shifting our own behavior, we empower children to make different choices.

But how does this translate into daily life? We can record specific behaviors, as well as the events that preceded and followed those behaviors, and use this information to figure out why that paritcular behavior occurs.

For example, one child may scream because he doesn’t want to leave the park, and another child may scream because she’s experiencing sensory overload. The screaming may sound the same, but the motivation behind the behavior is different.

Behavior doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and myriad factors influence an individual’s actions at any given moment. That’s one reason why it’s helpful to work with an ABA specialist: they are trained to see connections and deduce the functions of behaviors.

Tip #2: Take data at home.

In partnership with your child’s ABA clinician, decide which behaviors you’ll track at home. For example, perhaps your child has a problem behavior such as self-injuring by hitting himself or herself in the head with their fists. In order to find ways to decrease this self-harming behavior, you’ll want to note each instance, as well as what was happening directly before the behavior and what happened immediately afterward.

Note that this is a significant responsibility, and that you’ll want to ask fellow family members for their participation and support in this area!

Your ABA specialist can provide you with ABC (antecedent, behavior, consequence) data sheets to track effectively. These data sheets will help you and your child’s support team to understand the motivations behind the behavior. Furthermore, the data will shape a Positive Behavior Support Plan (PBSP), which emphasizes prevention of problem behaviors such as self-injury via antecedent management.

Once you’ve discovered the function of the self-injury, the PBSP will help you to take steps to reinforce replacement behaviors (defined as socially appropriate behaviors that meet the same function as the problem behaviors).

Tip #3: Communicate with key support people, and be consistent.

When your child begins working with an autism professional, he or she will learn new skills and practice modified behavior. As such, the time that your child spends working with a clinician each week is very valuable. However, your child’s time in ABA is outweighed by time at school or at home with you. That’s why it’s vital for the major players on your child’s support team to work together and send a consistent message regarding behavior.

It’s up to you to communicate with your child’s ABA specialist and consistently implement your child’s Positive Behavioral Support Plan at home. In turn, it’s also important to ensure that your child’s teachers practice PBSP principles in school. This way, your child will receive regular guidance and reinforcement, which helps tremendously in establishing new behavioral patterns.

Tip #4: Review PBSP data with your child’s support team on a regular basis.

If your child is receiving ongoing behavioral support through ABA therapy and an in-school program, then professionals are keeping behavioral data. Ask to review this data on a regular basis, and share the data sheets that you’ve been keeping at home, too. Reviewing the raw data allows you and your child’s ABA clinician to evaluate the effectiveness of the PBSP over time; it also helps point the way to possible modifications.

Tip #5: Be persistent and be patient.

ABA therapy is evidence-based and powerfully efficient, but even so, it may take time to discern lasting change in your child’s behavior. In fact, it’s common to see an “extinction burst” (a temporary increase in the targeted behavior) as a child tries harder to maintain their existing behavioral patterns. It’s difficult to see things get worse before they get better … especially if you’ve been dealing with your child’s problem behavior for an extended time prior to ABA.

So dig deep, be persistent, be kind, be supportive, be patient … and be sure to get the support you need to stay the course.

FirstPath Autism – Wouldn’t it be nice if we could sail through our daily lives unruffled, calm, and perfectly productive? Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t need to deal with unexpected cancelations, illness, and bad moods?

Sure, but that’s not real life.

We are human beings, not human doings, and we live on planet Earth. Here, even the healthiest and most well-adjusted children (and parents!) sometimes get sick, tired, and just plain stressed out.

So how do you carry on with a consistent ABA therapy program when the going gets rough? That’s the question we’re tackling today.


I know that it’s important to practice ABA exercises at home on a daily basis, but what happens when a child is just having a really rough day? How do you manage the reality of difficult days while reinforcing critical skills at the same time? Do you have any ABA therapy tips for that scenario?


Good question! Kids are only human, so of course they are going to have rough days now and then. Here are a few such scenarios we’ve seen: 

  • A child doesn’t get enough sleep one night, and as a result, he is grumpy the next day. 
  • A child has begun a new medication, and her acclimation period is challenging. 
  • A child faces unexpected transitions and cancelations; for example, the child wanted to play outside, but it’s raining, so outdoor play is off the schedule. Children with autism are prone to experiencing difficulty with transitions and changes to their typical routines.

We refer to any situations and feelings that the child brings into the ABA session as ‘Context Events’. These can be physiological, social, or emotional events, anything that affects the child and how he or she is able to learn on that particular day.  

As clinicians, we are committed to continuing the ABA program. That said, on tough days we look to modify three key areas to lessen the effects of Context Events. Ours is a Fragile Learning Model, one that takes human frailty into account. 

Specifically, on tough days we look at: 

  1. Increasing structure
  2. Decreasing demands 
  3. Increasing reinforcement 

For example, if I had a migraine one day, that is not the day I would choose to learn calculus! Instead, I would simply wish to get through the day as easily as possible because I am physically unwell. 

On a migrane day, I wouldn’t want any major surprises. I would prefer to stick with a predictable routine. And I might also treat myself a bit more gently, because I know that I am working much harder just to get through the day.  

The Fragile Learning Model allows clinicians and parents to manage tough days while still teaching children with autism social skills.

One important caveat to note: when using this model, be careful not to do so in such a way that the child catches on. Children are very smart, and if you alter the ABA therapy program dramatically whenever they complain of discomfort, they will learn that discomfort equals an easy session.

If a child has a real stomachache one day and then realizes that their program has been modified solely because of the stomachache … then the child might very well fake a stomachache to avoid working the next day!

Fortunately, FirstPath membership includes an easy-to-use set of ABA therapy tips and strategies for how to apply the Fragile Learning Model within various Context Events. Many parents and teachers use this model, and it is effective for managing even a child’s toughest days. 

And as an added bonus, parents like you also report integrating the Fragile Learning Model for themselves when they are having a rough day at work or at home. After all, when you take better care of yourself, you take better care of those around you as well.

If you’re a FirstPath member and you’re interested in learning more about Fragile Learning Model strategies you can download it here.

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If you’re not a member of FirstPath, sign up to access our full library of valuable lessons, and to download the Fragile Learning Model stratgies.

If you’re the parent of a child with autism, chances are you have plenty on your plate already. So perhaps the thought of celebrating Autism Awareness Month in April inspires you … or perhaps it feels like just one more thing to add to your already-long list.

That’s why we’ve compiled ten easy ways for you to get involved this Autism Awareness Month, and celebrate the strength, hope, and dedication of our autism community.

1.png Celebrate and enjoy your child for exactly who they are.

While it’s true that this is one item you do every day of the year, it’s also the most important one on the list. Simply loving your child and including him or her in your family’s daily life is a powerful choice. After all, it wasn’t long ago that many children with autism were institutionalized and segregated from their families.

When you choose to involve your child in your home and community, you set an inclusive example. This ripples outward and encourages other families to do the same.

What might you do? Perhaps you could write a story about your child and submit it to a popular site such as The Mighty, which helps families face disability and mental illness together.

If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you could even help your child to start a small business that allows them to share their gifts and abilities with the world. For inspiration, check out Made By Brad, a booming furniture-assembly business with one employee: a young man with severe autism.

2.png Wear blue on World Autism Awareness Day.

World Autism Awareness Day is sanctioned by the United Nations and takes place on April 2 each year. Light It Up Blue (LIUB) is Autism Speaks’ celebration of World Autism Awareness Day. Through LIUB, homes, shopping centers, and major landmarks also feature blue lighting as a statement of solidarity with the autism community. Plus, thousands of people wear blue to raise awareness of autism spectrum disorders.

So pick out your family’s favorite blue t-shirts and dresses and take the pledge to wear blue on Saturday, April 2, 2016. Share a photo on your social channels, email, or text, and spread the message of supporting our autism community. On that note…

3.png Take part in the Light It Up Blue online campaign.

Explore this list of additional ways to Light It Up Blue with social media, including personalizing your LIUB Selfie Sign, tweeting autism facts with the hashtag #LIUB, and turning your Facebook or Twitter profile picture blue.

4.png Consider participating in a fundraising event or making a donation to an autism support organization that you trust.

The two major autism advocacy organizations in America are Autism Speaks and The Autism Society of America. However, those are definitely not the only options. If you’d prefer to donate to a local or grassroots organization, just be sure to use a free online vetting tool such as Guidestar to ensure that the organization has a proven track record of using funds wisely. Share this information with your friends and family to raise support!

 5.png Obtain educational materials about autism support to share with friends and family.

This is a practical way to advocate for your child and strengthen your bonds with loved ones at the same time. Gather materials that explain autism in clear, concise terms and use them to answer questions. Keep in mind that your friends and extended family members may want to learn more but feel unsure about initiating the conversation. So don’t be afraid to share what you know.

If you want to reference an article containing the basic facts about autism, our post Autism Resource: Common Questions About Autism is a great place to start.

 6.png Read up on the latest findings in autism therapies and treatment.

Check out The Association for Science in Autism Treatment, which was founded to fight against inaccurate, false autism information. Its focus on evidence-based treatment helps parents discern which services are worth pursuing for their children.

7.pngConnect with fellow parents by joining a local nonprofit or support group.

Individual awareness and advocacy efforts are important, but groups allow us to share knowledge and join forces. If you’re looking to connect with a local organization, check the state-by-state Resource Guide provided by Autism Speaks and The Autism Society of America’s Autism Source Online Directory. You can also Google your location and “autism support” or “autism non-profit”. As we wrote in our post A guide to autism support for parents:

“Families in your area have valuable experience with government programs, school systems, non-profits, and more. Local parents have a wealth of information about how to advocate for your child in your specific town or city. It’s much more efficient to ask questions of fellow parents than to try and figure everything out alone.”

 8.png Prevent wandering and promote safety.

Wandering-related injuries and deaths are a tragic problem in the autism community and seem to be happening more often. The National Autism Association’s AWAARE Collaboration site contains a wealth of safety materials designed to prevent wandering-related incidents. Download the free toolkit materials and take precautions today; it could save your child’s life.

9.png Write to your state senator and representative to advocate for autism insurance reform.

This is an exciting time in autism-related reforms; in March 2016, the United States Federal Government announced that Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy will be covered by all government health insurance plans as of 2017.

Join the fight for ABA coverage in the insurance industry by visiting Autism Speaks’ State Initiatives page. Click on your home state to be directed to a list of current representatives to contact.

10.png Begin ABA therapy with your child.

ABA therapy is the autism treatment endorsed by the United States Surgeon General, the American Psychological Association, the National Institute of Mental Health, the Autism Society of America, and many more professional organizations. (Click here for a full list of ABA Endorsements.)

As Dr. Brad Ramsey said in How ABA therapy helped Jack blossom:

“With autism, there’s a lot of things out there that you can read on the internet but the only thing that’s been truly proven is ABA therapy.”

Want to help your child grow and develop all year long? Sign up for your free 14-day trial of FirstPath Autism today! You’ll receive access to our full ABA video library so that you can start providing in-home autism support.

Meltdowns are hard on everyone: the child, the parent, and the bystanders. But what if consistent ABA reinforcement could help reduce their frequency and severity? In this post, we’ll share several key reasons why ABA therapy aids in averting meltdowns.

ABA promotes emotional regulation

Working with an ABA therapist can help your child build vital emotional self-management skills, which in turn, can help to minimize the chances of a meltdown. At the end of the day, these self-control skills are key to preventing meltdowns and promoting independence.

For instance, teaching your child how to appropriately communicate what he or she wants and does not want can lessen your child’s need to use meltdowns to get wants and needs met. Additionally, building functional communication skills and consistency in the application of behavioral strategies between you and your child are key when meltdown behavior occurs.

Yes, it’s true that as a parent you can plan ahead and help your child to avoid sensory overload and other “triggering” experiences. That said, you cannot anticipate every possible situation.

As we wrote in our post, What to do when your child has a meltdown in public:

“The truth is, meltdowns happen to even the best of kids with even the best of parents. So don’t beat yourself up or think that you’ve failed. Ultimately, you can’t control another person’s responses. However, you can prepare for the possibility of meltdowns and equip yourself to respond appropriately when they do happen.”

While ABA reinforcement can’t prevent every meltdown, it can teach your child successful self-governance–an invaluable, lifelong skill.

ABA empowers your child to learn social protocols step-by-step

Recall the discouragement and frustration that arise within you when you’re asked to do something new without adequate instruction or coaching. Then, multiply that feeling by a thousand.

As you know firsthand, your child moves through a world wherein others expect him/her to make sustained eye contact, carry on complex conversations, pay attention to both spoken and unspoken communications. This can be unnerving and difficult.ABA empowers your child to learn social protocols step-by-step

Many children with autism have the potential to socialize successfully, but they need step-by-step, measured instruction in order to do so. While they may not initially grasp social conventions intuitively, they can learn them with practice, and reduce the frustration often associated with meltdown behavior.

ABA reinforcement empowers your child to identify and communicate emotional states

One of the fundamental tenets of ABA therapy is that all behavior is a form of communication. Every time your child bangs her head against a wall or throws herself on the ground, she’s trying to communicate something. Of course, you’d prefer that she express herself in a non-harmful way, and that’s where ABA comes in.

ABA clinicians help children with autism by teaching them to identify, label, and express various emotional states. (Check out our free Labeling and Identifying Emotions video lesson to see this process in action!)

The best ABA therapists provide children with opportunities to practice skills such as recognizing facial expressions, verbally naming emotions, and describing how others feel using context clues. These lessons offer a new vocabulary for expressing emotion, one that’s healthier and less dysfunctional than melting down.

ABA reinforcement provides immediate, consistent behavioral feedback

ABA reinforcement provides immediate, consistent behavioral feedback

If you’ve watched an ABA clinician work with your child, then you know that the therapist provides ongoing feedback in response to the child’s behaviors. For example, if your child flails in her seat, the clinician says, “Sit nice.” When your child looks away for an extended period, the therapist says, “Eyes on me.”

The result of these brief, consistent prompts is that the child learns what type of personal behavior is acceptable. This sense of structure and order is very grounding for children, as it enables them to understand the results of their choices. The child learns, “If I do A, then B happens. If I scream and tantrum, I don’t get what I want. But if I complete my lesson well, I always get my reward.”

Children are smart and efficient; once they understand what behaviors effectively get them what they want, they will choose those behaviors more often, and in doing so, develop a solid foundation of safe, responsible behavior.

Begin ABA therapy to prevent another meltdown

If your child is struggling with ongoing meltdowns, help is available. You can start a proven behavioral therapy program today and take the first step toward promoting healthy communication.

After all, while it’s important to know what to do when your child has a meltdown in public, it’s also essential to work on stopping meltdowns before they start. So don’t wait; sign up for FirstPath today!

Brad Ramsey is a family physician. His son, Jack, was a fairly normal, typical developing child until he was about two and a half. It was around that time that Jack’s behavior changed and he started making less eye contact and would wander off. After consulting with a friend who’s a pediatrician, they had Jack tested for autism.

Jack was prescribed 35 to 40 hours of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, speech therapy, Occupational Therapy (OT), and Physical Therapy (PT).

“When we first started ABA therapy what was kinda what was cool is we could sit down after their evaluation with Jack and see OK, this is where we expect him to be in three months, this is where we expect him to be in six months, and this is how we’re going to get there.

ABA therapy identifies goals, then provides you with step-by-step guidance

We saw the difference within one week and we just continue to see progression with him. His language has blossomed. He’s coming home telling me exactly what he’s done in school, where before all he would say was that ‘I don’t know.’ With autism, there’s a lot of things out there that you can read on the internet but the only thing that’s been truly proven is ABA therapy.

This is your child. You don’t give up. You just keep doing everything you possibly can for him because you never know what when that breakthrough moment is going to be. We’re very optimistic to see where Jack’s going to end up in the future, especially with seeing this much improvement with very little therapy. I’m looking forward to see what he looks like in six months or a year now.”

We are, too. Dr. Ramsey. We are, too. Hear more of Dr. Ramsey and Jack’s inspirational story here:

Your child has an autism spectrum disorder.

It’s a sentence that so many parents never expect to hear. But since autism now affects 1 in 45 children in America today, millions of families across the country receive autism diagnoses every year.

The news of your child’s diagnosis may have taken you by surprise, or it may have been a long time coming. Either way, it has the potential to change everything from your daily routine to your relationships to your child’s education.

At FirstPath Autism, we understand how overwhelming the post-diagnosis period can be. As such, we’ve created this autism checklist to help you to get organized and take good care of yourself during this transition time.

Autism checklistConnect with fellow parents and realize that you’re not alone.

After the diagnosis, you might feel isolated and unsure of the best next steps for your family. Overcome these feelings by reaching out to local parent support organizations. Find out if there are support groups for autism parents in your area, or join a group online.Getting support for yourself is one of the best things you can do for your children

As you research and seek out support, you’ll find that there’s a wealth of information and solidarity available to you. Plus, connecting with others and getting support for yourself is one of the best things you can do for your child. As we wrote in our post, A guide to autism support for parents:“While every individual with autism is different, we know this to be true: the investment you make in your own support during this time will pay dividends for years to come.”

Autism ChecklistDownload free resources to guide you through. 

A great place to start is Autism Speaks’ 100 Day Kit, an extensive resource designed specifically for families with young children in the post-diagnosis period.

Also, be sure to check out our free downloadable autism checklists:

And if your family members and friends have questions about what it means to be on the autism spectrum, try directing them to our Autism Resource: Common questions about autism.

 checkbox.pngRead books and articles that give you a sense for the diversity of autism.

Read books and articles that give you a sense for the diversity of autism While an autism diagnosis can sometimes make your son or daughter’s future seem bleak, read books by inspiring self-advocates on the spectrum such as Temple GrandinKerry Magro, and Daniel Tammet. Or, watch this joy-inducing video of Ellen DeGeneres meeting Sam, the dancing Starbucks barista. Remember that your child’s potential likely goes above and beyond what you have been told, and that he or she still has infinite opportunities.

Autism checklistTake time to absorb the information; don’t make sudden moves or major life decisions.

An autism diagnosis can be big news for you and your loved ones. As such, take a beat and get your bearings. Try to refrain from making significant decisions for a few months. As a newly-minted “autism parent” you’re already in a time of change and transition—try not to add any unnecessary stress to you and your child’s life.

That being said, early intervention does matter, and of course you’ll want to ensure that your child is receiving the necessary behavioral supports. Here at FirstPath Autism, we recommend starting an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program as soon as possible in the post-diagnosis period.

 Autism checklistGet started with a professional, high-quality Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program.

ABA therapy is a scientifically- proven treatment for children with autism. It is the research-based process of helping individuals to change and improve specific behaviors.

ABA therapy is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Surgeon General, and most major psychological and psychiatric associations. In short, it’s an early intervention that actually works to promote healthy neurological development. Plus, it’s a helpful framework to help you learn about the reasons behind your child’s behaviors. As we wrote in our post, Autism Resource: What is ABA therapy?:

 “ABA approaches behavior from a place of curiosity. The focus isn’t on finding fault or casting blame, but on discovery. In a sense, you become a detective, adding up context clues and forming a picture of your child’s motivations and preferred modes of expression.”

If you’re having a hard time wrapping your mind around the news of your child’s diagnosis, we understand. It’s a lot to take in. But in this time of change, it’s important to remember what remains the same: your love for your child and your desire to support them in living a full life. Your child’s story doesn’t end with an autism diagnosis; rather, a new chapter begins.

Imagine how confusing life would be if you didn’t have a sense of why people feel and act the way they do. Maybe you’d witness others’ tears and laughter and feel confused at the reason for their emotive behaviors. Perhaps you’d see someone’s fleeting facial expression as complex, stressful puzzle … one with too many pieces to put together in too short a time.

“Theory of mind” or “ToM” refers to the ability to recognize and understand the thoughts and feelings of others. As this process involves both sensory interpretation and social skills, it can pose challenges for individuals on the autism spectrum.

As we wrote in our blog post FirstPath Autism Q&A: Teaching children with autism social skills:

 “Children with autism often experience a ‘Theory of Mind’ deficit. Basically, this means that they are unable to read social cues effectively or look at life from another person’s point of view. Another term for this social disconnect is ‘mind blindness’.”

How does empathy fit in?

One common misconception often associated with people with autism is that if they struggle with mind blindness, they also lack empathy. However, dealing with Theory of Mind issues does not mean that an individual lacks empathy. In fact, just the opposite is true.

Theory of Mind (ToM) deficits help explain why people with autism sometimes find it difficult to respond appropriately in social situations. What appears as uncaring behavior at first glance may be a simple lack of understanding.

For example, if your child laughs at the sight of another person bursting into tears, don’t assume callous indifference. Instead, consider other interpretations. Your child may not recognize that the tears signify sadness. As such, your child might respond with laughter for any number of reasons.

Perhaps he’s laughing because he feels anxious and doesn’t know what to do. Maybe he’s giggling because the other person’s face looks strange, or because the unexpected wave of emotion took him by surprise.

It’s almost impossible for a child to respond appropriately if they don’t grasp the meaning of what’s happening. Individuals with autism do respond empathetically once they understand the emotional dynamics of a situation.

As Psychology Today blogger and self-advocate Lynne Soraya emphasizes:

For myself, I can say that I absolutely understand that people have their own plans, thoughts, and points of view – but those plans, thoughts, and points of view are often a mystery to me.”

How to develop Theory of Mind skills

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is a scientifically proven behavioral treatment for autism. One of the reasons why ABA is so helpful as an autism resource is because it breaks down complex social skill sets into manageable, teachable pieces, and then reinforces each one with consistent practice. This is tremendously useful when it comes to working with Theory of Mind skill gaps. Our video on “labeling and identify emotions” below shows this principle in action:

All of the exercises included in this FirstPath Autism video lesson focus on the same skill set – labeling emotions – but they approach it from different angles and utilize slightly different parts of the brain. This helps to facilitate learning and build up new neural connections too.

ABA exercises and autism resources such as picture cards help children with autism to develop Theory of Mind skills by teaching them how to interpret emotional cues. When a child has practice with identifying emotional states, he is empowered to respond empathetically and develop a Theory of Mind as well.

Looking to access additional ABA therapy video lessons? Sign up for your free 14-day trial of FirstPath Autism today and let us help you get started.

Be sure to read these related posts:

Did you ever bury a time capsule when you were young? Many of us feel a pull to preserve the present, especially as we feel time racing by. We want to leave our mementos for someone else to find. Invariably, the exercise leads us to ponder our futures, to ask, “What will the world look like 100 years from now?”

Just ten years ago in 2006, the incidence of autism in the United States was 1 in 110. Today, about 1 in 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder. The autism rate is rising, and the increase triggers changes in government policy, insurance funding, research, and societal norms.

While we can’t see into a crystal ball and predict the future, we can look at current trends and patterns to help us identify what we hope to see happening with autism support in 2016.

ABA therapy becomes available and accessible for everyone

Limited local availability and high cost are the two most significant roadblocks to families seeking Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services today. There aren’t enough trained clinicians to meet the demand, particularly in more remote areas. Plus, paying for therapy sessions out-of-pocket is out of the question for some families, and it severely strains the resources of others.

Within the next 100 years, we anticipate an increase in the number of ABA therapists and a complete reformation of insurance coverage for autism services, too.

As it so happens, this shift has already begun. Some states and companies continue to refuse ABA coverage, but many more are making positive changes. (Check out Autism Speaks’ State Initiatives page to learn more about insurance reform initiatives in your particular state.)

FirstPath Autism exists to help bridge the gap between families and professional, affordable ABA services. Though in-person therapy isn’t an option for everyone right now, our video library of lessons allows autism families to practice ABA from home.

Mistreatment and abuse can be halted by giving individuals a voice

Autism awareness has come a long way in the last few decades, but there are still disturbingly frequent incidents of prejudice, injustice, and mistreatment of individuals on the spectrum. By 2116, we hope that individuals with autism will be welcomed and fully included in our schools, homes, and communities.

Terri Baker’s son Kyle was treated by our FirstPath Autism Founder, Romey Kiryakous and her team at the Genesis Behavior Center. As Baker wrote in her Student Story guest post, How ABA Therapy unlocked Kyle’s world:

“ABA gave Kyle his voice and saved him …. Kyle had been physically, mentally, and verbally abused by teachers, principals, and administrators for years. This had been the reason his behavior had been so out of control; he had had no voice to get help.”

We grieve the prejudice and poor treatment that Kyle endured, and we’re honored to provide the ABA therapy tools that help individuals to speak up in abusive situations.

The strengths of individuals with autism are harnessed and their contributions honored

In the last decade, we’ve seen major companies step up to the autism employment plate, notably Freddie Mac, Microsoft, Walgreens, and SAP.

On a local level, myriad nonprofits and small businesses now employ adults on the spectrum to farm and harvest organic food, provide service at restaurants, welcome guests at hotels, and create new technology, media, and art.

In the future, we anticipate more innovative businesses and services springing up, allowing adults with autism to contribute to society and earn their livings too.

The gifts of neurodiversity are embraced

When it comes to autism support, we don’t need to aim for uniformity or conformity. Instead, we need to figure out ways to welcome our differences and suspend judgment about what qualifies as a “normal” brain.

As Steve Silberman writes in his bestselling book, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity:

“By autistic standards, the ‘normal’ brain is easily distractible, is obsessively social, and suffers from a deficit of attention to detail and routine. Thus people on the spectrum experience the neurotypical world as relentlessly unpredictable and chaotic, perpetually turned up too loud, and full of people who have little respect for personal space.” 

As we move forward into the future, we at FirstPath Autism focus on supporting individuals with autism in their social and emotional learning. In this way, we equip people on the spectrum to succeed even as we adjust our own expectations and behavior.

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Did you know that you can boost your child’s sense of self-efficacy—that is, a belief in his or her own capability—by providing Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) reinforcement at home?

According to Albert Bandura’s “Self-Efficacy” entry in the 1994 Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, Vol. 4:

“A resilient sense of efficacy requires experience in overcoming obstacles through perseverant effort.”

In other words, when you present carefully-planned ABA “obstacles” for your child to overcome, you prepare him or her for life.

On one level, ABA gives you the tools you need to teach concrete, practical tasks, such as how to button shirts or wash hands.

But on another level, ABA allows you to facilitate an overall sense of self-efficacy and independence.

So without further ado, here are a few tips to help you provide ABA reinforcement at home!

TIP: Recognize that consistency is key. 

We understand that it can be hard to muster the motivation for in-home therapy support. However, consistency is a vital element to ABA success. In fact, it’s one of the very first things we teach when introducing the principles of behavior analysis.

Once you have a set of responses established through ABA, you must be consistent in applying them at home. This way, your child understands that when he does X, Y is always the result.

Regular reinforcement like this can reduce the appeal of problem behaviors over time. After all, children are smart; they don’t spend too much time and energy on losing strategies.

Say your child whines often, and you’d like to see this behavior reduced. You and the rest of your child’s team commit to not reinforcing whining with positive or negative attention. (Remember that negative attention is still attention, and thus a potent reinforcer!)

Instead, when your child whines, he’s prompted to choose an appropriate replacement behavior such as asking politely. When he makes this choice, he receives positive reinforcement of some kind.

When your child starts seeing a lack of response to whining across the board, he loses his motivation for engaging in that behavior.

TIP: Set aside a special area of your home for ABA.

Setting makes more of an impact on learning than you might think. If you’ve ever tried to practice ABA exercises with your child with the TV on in the background, then you know this firsthand!

That said, have you considered that some stimuli you consider innocuous—such as the whirring of the microwave or the clicking of the fan—might negatively impact your child’s home-based learning?

As an adult, you might be able to tune out little interruptions, but your child with autism will likely have a harder time filtering out noise and other sensory disruptions.

That’s why it’s important to pick a quiet, out-of-the way location with minimal distractions for ABA.

Having a set space will lend a sense of focus to lessons, and it will also help you both to relax when you’re not engaged in ABA processes.

TIP: Have all materials ready before beginning sessions.

If possible, leave therapy-specific materials such as charts and learning tools in your ABA room/space so they’re readily available for lessons.

Stopping and starting lessons to chase down materials is distracting and inefficient, and it compromises the learning process.

We believe so strongly in this recommendation, that every video in the FirstPath Autism library includes a reminder to gather necessary learning tools, data sheets, and reinforcers beforehand!

For more detailed instructions on creating a supportive in-home space for ABA reinforcement, check out Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Tameika Meadows’ blog post Checklist: Preparing the In-Home Environment for Therapy.

TIP: Make therapy a part of your daily routine.

Make every effort to include ABA therapy as a part of your daily routine. By doing so, you’ll help eliminate wondering, “When will we fit in a session today?” Better still, you’ll drive greater progress by keeping things stable and consistent.

Why? Well, your child will be empowered to make gains because if you commit to daily work, you’ll practice more over the long term.

Remember that fantastic line from Anthony Trollope that we quoted in our blog post, Why ABA reinforcement at home makes a huge difference:

“A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labors of a spasmodic Hercules.”  

Doing a short ABA session every single day will yield greater results than doing a longer ABA session only every now and then.

In addition, setting a time means that you’ll effectively cue your child’s brain to expect to learn at the same time each day.

Professional artists often advise aspirants to establish regular artistic disciplines. Routine allows magic to happen. If a painter always goes to work at 9am, there’s less chance of resistance and a greater possibility of inspiration.

As New York Times bestselling author Anne Lamott writes in Bird By Bird:

“You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively.”  

The same goes for your child’s ABA reinforcement. If you adhere to a routine, you’ll lessen opposition, train the unconscious to kick in, and open the door for progress.

That said, plans do change and sometimes you’ll need to reschedule your in-home sessions. But don’t let the odd crisis keep you from establishing a consistent rhythm.

TIP: Know that there will be difficult times. 

Yes, you can improve your child’s in-home ABA experience by taking the practical steps we’ve outlined above. Yet perhaps the most important step you can take is to adjust your own expectations.

Paradoxically enough, your child’s therapy journey gets easier when you expect it to be hard sometimes.

As autism parent Shirley Nutt shared in her guest post on our blog, How ABA reinforcement at home helped one family:

“I remember … crying privately because [at first] it was painful to administer the medicine of ABA …. I realized that ABA is to autism as chemo is to cancer …. and that helped give me strength to get through the tough spots.”  

So if your child is exhibiting difficult behaviors associated with extinction bursts, hang in there. Ask for help from your clinician and support team, and trust that your perseverance will pay off in the end.

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