Common Misconception about Autism – “Do you think sensory issues are at the root of what makes autistic people different?”  

That’s the powerful question that Maia Szalavitz of TIME Magazine asked world-renowned professor, author, and self-advocate Temple Grandin in a 2013 interview.

Grandin’s reply? “I think the core criterion is the social awkwardness, but the sensory issues are a serious problem …. they make it impossible to operate in the environment where you’re supposed to be social.”

With that statement, Grandin linked sensory issues and socialization, and hinted at the relationship between sensory processing disorder (SPD) and autism as well.

SPD is a condition that affects the way that the brain communicates with the rest of the body. When the brain of an individual with SPD receives sensory information through the nervous system, it has trouble converting those signals into typical reactions.

As a result, the individual’s physical, emotional, and social responses appear unusual. Plus, SPD can manifest differently from one day to the next, further complicating the issue.

A Glimpse of Sensory Processing Disorder

What does this phenomenon look like in everyday life? Well, it may look very familiar to you as a parent. The symptoms of SPD overlap with stereotypically autistic behaviors.

Though SPD isn’t part of the formal diagnostic criteria for autism, sensory issues are prevalent among the ASD population.

Do you recognize your child in these descriptions?  

  • One morning, your son is comfortable with brushing his teeth. However, the next morning he protests that the toothpaste is “too spicy” or that the bristles are “too sharp”.
  • One afternoon, your daughter enjoys the sound of classical music playing on the car speakers at a preset volume. But the next day, she exclaims that the very same volume level is “too loud” and that it hurts her ears.

If these examples hit home, know that your child with autism isn’t trying to manipulate or gaslight you. Children with SPD really do experience sensory input differently from day to day. At times they struggle to process accustomed sights, sounds, tastes, scents, or touches.

As is the case with autism, SPD impacts every area of functioning. It affects everything from socialization to academics.

(Speaking of school, be sure to check out our blog post, A back-to-school checklist for kids with sensory processing disorder and receive your free downloadable checklist.)

SPD and ASD: Significant Overlap

But what’s the connection between SPD and ASDs? Are they one and the same?

As we wrote in our blog post, What we know about autism and sensory processing disorder,

“Think of the two conditions as circles in a Venn diagram; each circle is self-contained, but the overlap between them is significant.

Sensory processing disorder occurs much more frequently in children with autism than in the general population. According to this SPD Foundation website articleover 75% of children with autism also have symptoms of SPD …. However, the majority of individuals with SPD do not have autism.”

ASD and SPD are not the same, but the overlap between them is significant. Both are brain-based differences, neurological conditions that impact a child’s development.

ASD SPD Venn Diagram

Furthermore, SPD is similar to ASD in that it doesn’t indicate a low level of cognitive ability. It simply means that the brain is misinterpreting some sensory signals. Even individuals with high levels of functioning deal with sensory difficulties.

As Chantal Sicile-Kira wrote in her Psychology Today column, What is Sensory Processing Disorder and How Is It Related to Autism?,

“I have yet to meet a person on the autism spectrum who does not have a challenge in [sensory processing]. In interviewing adults and teenagers of different ability levels …. most of them stated sensory processing challenges as the number one difficulty for them, regardless of where they were on the spectrum.”

Helping a child with SPD

Children with autism and sensory processing disorder can grow and excel, and ABA therapy is an effective way to teach appropriate responses. That said, it’s also helpful to pursue occupational therapy for SPD specifically.

It’s also worth noting that, since SPD isn’t listed in the DSM-V, your best bet for getting related therapy covered by insurance could be seeking out autism-based service providers with a focus on sensory integration issues.

If you’re concerned about the possibility of SPD, know that a program of ABA therapy can support your child’s neurological development. You can access FirstPath’s full video library for a free trial period, starting today.  

You may know that April is Autism Awareness Month, but have you ever wondered when World Autism Awareness Day began, why the puzzle piece symbol has become synonymous with autism, or why the color blue? If so, then you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we’ll explore the history of the Autism puzzle piece and other well-known symbols of Autism Awareness.

World Autism Awareness Day – When and Why?

Saturday, April 2, 2016 marks the eighth year of World Autism Awareness Day. The day was formally designated by the United Nations on December 18, 2007, so the first official World Autism Awareness Day celebrations took place on April 2, 2008.CDC-autism-spectrum-disorder.jpg

The purpose of the day is to raise awareness for this common condition while inspiring an end to the discrimination and prejudice often faced by those our autism community. It was created within a human rights context, and has helped to raise funds and educate the public regarding the realities of autism. At present, the CDC estimates that autism occurs at a rate of 1 in 68 children in America.

Source: The Huffington Post: Autism Awareness Day 2010: Facts, Events, History

The Autism Puzzle Piece

The well-known autism puzzle piece symbol first came into use in the United Kingdom in 1963, when the organization currently known as the National Autistic Society (NAS) began using it as a logo. The graphic was designed to indicate the puzzling, confusing nature of autism. The original logo included an image of a weeping child in the center.

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Image: Original NAS logo (1963)

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While the NAS has since changed their logo, the puzzle piece image remains popular within the autism community. Many believe that it appropriately expresses the mystery and unknowns surrounding autism spectrum disorders. However, others dislike the idea of conflating an individual with autism with a problem to be solved, and prefer to employ more hope-filled symbols.

Source: The Art of Autism: The Autism Puzzle Piece: A Symbol That’s Going to Stay or Go?

Autism-awareness-ribbon.jpgThe Autism Awareness Ribbon

The ribbon decorated with a puzzle-piece design was created by the Autism Society of America in 1999, but the organization permits other groups to use the symbol as a sign of global autism awareness.

The Autism Society’s website recounts the symbolism in this way:

“The puzzle pattern reflects the complexity of the autism spectrum. The different colors and shapes represent the diversity of the people and families living with the condition. The brightness of the ribbon signals hope — hope that through increased awareness of autism, and through early intervention and access to appropriate services/supports, people with autism will lead full lives able to interact with the world on the own terms.”

Source: Autism Society: The Autism Awareness Ribbon

World Autism Awareness Day is a time to celebrate and honor the gifts and contributions of individuals with autism. It’s a day to release the prejudices of the past, embrace the realities of the present, and inspire hope for the future. As self-advocate and author Naoki Higashida emphasizes:

“I’ve learned that every human being, with or without disabilities, needs to strive to do their best, and by striving for happiness you will arrive at happiness. For us, you see, having autism is normal—so we can’t know for sure what your ‘normal’ is even like. But so long as we can learn to love ourselves, I’m not sure how much it matters whether we’re normal or autistic.” 

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Want to do your part to raise awareness within our community? Then be sure to check out our “10 ways to make the most out of Autism Awareness Month,” then share your activities on your social networks today!

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:

One of the best parts of parenthood is sharing your own childhood joys with your kids. When you raise a family, you have a chance to recreate your favorite memories and pass along cherished traditions as well.

That said, children with autism often need support in order to successfully participate in celebrations such as birthday parties. Such gatherings typically involve more people, noise, and sugary treats than usual, so it’s important to prepare your child to deal with the onslaught of emotional and sensory stimuli.

Not sure where to begin the preparation process? To help your child learn how to join in the celebration without suffering from confusion or triggering a meltdown, try a social story.

What are social stories?

As the National Autistic Society website notes, social stories were created by Carol Gray in 1991 as a means of teaching social skills to students with autism. By pairing pictures with explanatory text, social stories demystify daily life scenarios for individuals on the spectrum.

Social Stories: Birthday PartiesSocial stories feature brief overviews of common situations, along with tips on how to communicate, respond to cues, and engage in safe behaviors. They’re helpful tools that allow you to prepare your child to interact successfully.

Printable social stories for birthday parties

Feel like you don’t have time to create or gather printable social stories before you attend the festivities? No problem! We’ve got you covered. Here’s a list of our favorite online resources for birthday party social stories.

Lessen anxiety and plan for success

Social stories can mitigate the anxiety involved with difficult, over-stimulating, or unfamiliar aspects of birthday parties. When the balloon pops or the clown appears, social stories give your child a script to follow and a better chance of remaining calm.

As we wrote in our post Printable social stories and visual schedules for students with autism:

“Reviewing new social situations [in advance] may lessen the fear that accompanies them. In this way, social stories free children with autism to learn and make connections and provide socially appropriate behaviors.”

So don’t wait–download free printable stories today!

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:

If you’re a frequent flyer, you know how tempting it is to zone out when the flight attendants review emergency protocol before takeoff. As they point out the exits and demonstrate how to use an oxygen mask, you’ll likely see many of your fellow passengers distractedly checking their phones or flipping through the in-flight magazine.

Why do flight attendants reiterate the same information when most people don’t pay attention? Because in the event of an emergency, a few simple instructions could save a life, and you never know when you’ll need to apply that information you begrudgingly learned. And that’s why it’s important to teach your child how to respond in a crisis. The short time you spend going over the basics might make all the difference.

Why use social stories for emergency preparedness?

Social stories are brief, illustrated accounts that help children with autism to understand and interpret common social situations. Social stories, or FirstPath Autism’s “Steps to Social Success” spell out norms and expectations and equip individuals with autism to move through life with greater confidence.

Many people learn behavioral norms simply by watching others and mirroring their behavior. For children with autism however, the learning process looks different. There’s a need for specific, repeated modeling of social skills, in part because individuals with autism have visibly different brain structures.

As the 2015 University of Warwick article, Autistic and non-autistic brain differences isolated for the first time, notes, researchers have identified several measurable divergences in the brains of individuals on the spectrum. Individuals with autism have reduced functional connectivity in several brain regions related to social communication and behavior.

That’s one reason why it’s crucial to begin Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy as soon as possible after an autism diagnosis. ABA exercises help learners of all ages to build up essential neurological pathways, but this process happens more readily when children are young and neuroplasticity is high.

Stress and personal safety

Children with lower-functioning autism are prone to increased anxiety and stress, and this means that emergency situations pose greater risks.

The 2015 Disability Scoop article, Autism Severity Tied to Stress Levels, reports that cortisol levels “remain significantly higher throughout the day in children with low-functioning autism as compared to typically-developing kids and those on the high-functioning end of the spectrum.”

Since emergencies are high-stress scenarios, it’s vital to review safety protocols with children on the spectrum ahead of time. In this way, parents can empower children to respond with minimal increased stress when a crisis strikes.

If a building is on fire, immediate action is paramount. There’s no time to pull out note cards or convince a frightened child that the fireman is trustworthy. Split-second decisions are crucial. That’s why it’s so important to review protocol for emergency situations well before they occur.

Such preparation can also help to prevent meltdowns and other behaviors that could endanger an individual’s safety. As we wrote in our blog post Printable social stories and visual schedules for students with autism:

“Reviewing stories about potentially stressful situations can help to prevent a child from engaging in meltdown behavior. Furthermore, averting tantrum behavior can ensure a child’s safety in the event of a real emergency.”

Free printable social story resources

Ready to help ensure that your child stays calm in a crisis? Here are a few of our favorite online resources for printable social stories with a focus on emergency situations:

Take a few minutes to download a set of printable social stories and read through them with your child today. By preparing in advance with clear guidance, you’ll increase the likelihood that your child will remain safe in the midst of an emergency.

Want to read more about social stories? Check out these related FirstPath Autism blog 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.

Did this post inspire you? Then be sure to share it with your social networks!

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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