Our ABA Journey- Viewpoint from an Autism Mom and ABA Therapist

Blog 1:

I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and a mom of an autistic daughter.  I wear “two hats” as they say.  Sometimes I forget to take one hat off, before putting the other one on. Life can get so busy, emotional, and hectic.

My Job and Autism

Prior to having my daughter, I was a BCBA and worked as a behavior technician for 7 years. Before that I was a special education teacher for 5 years.  I have worked with children and adults on the spectrum since I was 17 years old (20+ years).

Working for ABA companies, I travel back and forth to client’s homes, school settings, and community settings, work long hours and late nights.  I love what I do, I especially love working at @GBCaba.  Every day I get the privilege to help clients with autism and their families, to help transform lives.

My Baby and Autism

Then, my daughter was born and I became a mom.  I began working at GBC aba, as a BCBA, the same year.  Work was great. My baby was healthy and I loved being a mom.  Things were going well, until they weren’t.

I didn’t know if I was paranoid or if it really was happening to me.  So many of the things I saw in my clients, I started seeing in my little girl.  I just had this feeling she had autism.  I enrolled her in early intervention, as soon as possible.  We had 5 different therapists coming to our home each week for one hour at a time, but it wasn’t enough.  Every month another milestone passed us by and my daughter’s delays were becoming bigger and bigger.

I took her to be evaluated for autism at 2 years old, but was told not yet.  I was livid and felt like the diagnostician was wrong!  I knew it… my daughter had autism.  Every minute without the formal diagnosis was another minute without ABA therapy.  The diagnostician wanted us to do further testing, we did what the diagnostician recommended.  One year later, after seeing countless specialists and going through other tests, she was diagnosed with autism, a heart defect, and a rare genetic condition.  Finally, she could receive ABA therapy to get her the help she needed!

You might ask, why didn’t you do it if you are a BCBA… more on this later, but the big answer is she is my daughter and even though I teach her daily, it is different! Being a mom is what she needs me to be.  I need other people in our lives, so I can be her mom.

Autism and ABA

I signed her up immediately for ABA therapy and waited for services to start.  We toured several agencies and interviewed them all.  To be honest, it was kind of weird being on that side of it.  For years, I was the one interviewing families.  In fact, I still do.  I was afraid the ABA companies would think of me as a competitor trying to steal secrets and gather Intel and not as a mom looking for help. In fact, one company did! After seeing my title and credentials (BCBA) in my email, they told me never to contact them again.  I was hurt.  I was just a mom looking for someone to help my baby.

Waitlists and Turnover

It took forever for services to start.  We were on waitlists, which many of you know is common with ABA companies.  I finally chose one company.  They did an assessment, but then we waited 3 months for staff and there was no word when they would start.

I couldn’t wait anymore, so we left that company and started at another one.  About one month after the assessment, we finally started with a team.  I was thrilled and hopeful.  My daughter would finally get some help! Then 3 months later, the BCBA left the company and so did all 3 of her technicians.  This was our first experience with turnover and it was massive.  This meant we had to start all over again with a new team!

The company was quick to find another BCBA and 3 more technicians.  Then 3 months later, that BCBA left the company and so did 2 of those technicians.  At this point, it just didn’t feel right to stick it through with the same company.  If the staff didn’t have company loyalty, why would we?

So after this round of turnover, we left this company too.  I’ve seen turnover before, as a professional, but never to this extent. I also hadn’t been on the parent side of things before.  It has been extremely frustrating and disheartening.  My daughter needs consistency and deserves the best.

Progress and Celebrating the Small Steps

GBC aba is a new company, new team, and I’m growing with them as a mother and a specialist.  I am once again hopeful because my daughter likes her technicians and the BCBA is a great fit for our family.  The best news is my daughter is starting to make progress!  She attempted to say “movie”, she can now turn on the bathroom lights, she is walking next to the cart at the store, she is eating with a spoon and is starting to learn how to use her AAC device to communicate! These may seem like small achievements to some, but to us they are huge! Every small step is one step closer to a better future for my daughter.  One step closer to more independence and a transformed life.  All this is possible because of #ABA.

Top 5 Outdoor Activities for Children with Autism

Here are the top 5 outdoor activities you can do with your whole family before summer ends with some tips on how to help your child with Autism be successful and have fun!

#5 Theme Parks

While theme parks are expensive, loud, and often over-crowded this time of year, an instant cocktail for sensory overload, there are ways your child with Autism can enjoy and have fun, too!  Call your local theme park or look on their website to see if they offer disability waivers, passes, or other accommodations.  Many theme parks (e.g. @Disneyland, @WaltDisneyWorld, @SixFlags) now are more accessible by offering accommodations like low wait times, front of the line passes, quiet hours, quiet rooms, diet or allergy-friendly menus, or allowing strollers to be used like wheelchairs.  While you do not need to tell the park your child’s specific disability, this would be a violation of Americans with Disabilities Act (#ADA), you might need a doctor’s note stating they require accommodations.  Do your homework before arriving at the park, so you are prepared.

When at the park watch your child and be sensitive to their needs.  Be prepared with favorite snacks, calming or soothing items (favorite blankets, toys, fidgets), noise cancelling head phones, iPad or tablets, and other favorite activities they can use while waiting in lines. When your child seems, overwhelmed, find a corner or quiet, less crowded area to allow them to recompose themselves, then return to the fun.

#4 Backyard Fun

Summer is a great time to break out the pop-up pools, sprinklers, water tables and sand tables.  All those kinetic sand, bubbles, goo and slime kits that your child got throughout the year are great to play with outdoors.  Less mess for you to clean up and fun for them! If you have room, you can set up a trampoline, swings, or hammocks.

If you have a runner/wanderer, keep a close eye on your child, stay within an arm’s reach, or try to schedule outdoor fun when your #ABA behavior technician or therapist is with you. This is a great time to practice those safety instructions: wait, come here, stop, stay in the boundaries.  If you don’t have a fence, set up cones or barriers for your child to know how far they can travel before they need to ask permission to leave the area.

#3 Splash Pads or Spray Parks

There are often some great local splash pads that are free or inexpensive to enjoy! You can search your county for local splash pads and spray parks.  Most are open through Memorial Day weekend. Your kids can get soaked by standing under the water towers, spray cannons, or buckets.  Come prepared with towels, swimsuits, sunscreen, and water shoes.  Most will allow you to bring outside toys for water play. water at most splash pads and spray parks are usually only 1-2 ft. deep. Splash around, cool off and enjoy the sun!

#2 Playgrounds

Local parks and playgrounds are great this time of year! Especially when you are needing to get out of the house, but don’t want to spend a lot of money. While there, you can practice the safety skills mentioned above, communication or social skills goals your child may have.  Your children can get their energy out, be social and have fun.

#1 Pools:

This is my favorite, both as an Autism mom and therapist!  Both private and public pools are a wonderful way to enjoy the summer sun, stay cool and have fun! It is so easy to spend hours in the pool! It seems like most children and adults with autism love the water.

While we love to watch our children having fun, we also have to be extra cautious around water.  Drowning is the leading cause of death for kids with ASD, this may be due to the tendency for children with autism to wander off and when they wander, they are drawn to water.  Check out these water safety tips to be prepared.  Ask your local pool if they offer private swim lessons or group lessons for children with special needs.  Many special recreation associations also offer swimming lessons.  Do your research, be prepared, but most of all have fun!

Last Days of Summer

Before you pack your kids to get on the bus for the first day of school this fall, take advantage of some of these ideas with the last few days of summer!

Tips to Help Kids with Autism Transition Back to School

 

Fall is approaching quickly!  The air is getting cooler, the sun is setting earlier and your local supermarket is selling out of school supplies fast!

Time to prepare your child for the first day of school! What do you need to do?

Covering The Basics

Register with your local school, pay the fees, buy some fall clothes (those jeans from last year are probably ankle cut by now), visit the doctor for the health physical, buy school supplies, and stack up on lunch and snack items.

What do you need to do to prepare your child?

Some of these may be less obvious, but will definitely help your child transition through this change.

8 Easy to Follow Priming Strategies    

Priming is something most of us do naturally, without even knowing we are doing it. Priming is an antecedent-based strategy, meaning a strategy we can use BEFORE the behavior typically occurs, with hopes that it will decrease the likelihood the behavior will happen.  That was a mouthful.  Basically, antecedent strategies, like priming, are things you can do every day to help your child be more successful.  They won’t always work to decrease the behavior, but they might, plus they are just good things to do.

Priming, specifically, is a warning given in advance notifying your child of an upcoming event or change in the environment. There are many ways we can prime our children.  Here are some of the ways you can prime your child about the 1st day of school:

  • Visual schedules (make a visual schedule showing your child the routine for getting ready for school or a weekly calendar labeling when school starts)
  • Visuals (try using real photos of your child’s school, teacher, bus, classroom if you can. If you don’t have real photos available, you can use clipart.)
  • Countdowns (here is a sample Back to School Countdown Calendar)
  • Timers (set a timer to transition from a preferred activity to a less preferred activity, like getting on the bus)
  • Schedules of Reinforcement (set up a preferred item or activity your child can earn when they get on the bus or come home from school the first week)
  • First Then Boards (use a first then visual “First School, Then Home or Then Park)
  • Vocal prompts (e.g. “One more week till we go back to school”)
  • Social stories (it is best to make your child a personal social story with pictures and thoughts that they would understand, check out how to make a social story here.)

Sleep Schedules

If your family is like mine, we stay up later and sleep in during the summer.  This makes transitioning to fall schedules even harder.  Start slowly by setting alarms earlier gradually, going to bed earlier a few minutes each night. If you don’t already have one, develop a night time routine that is consistent.  Children with autism like routines and having a predictable one will help reduce anxiety or behaviors that can occur when trying to put children to bed. Making these changes will help your child get back onto a school sleep schedule.

For children that struggle with falling asleep or maintaining sleep, try no electronics an hour before, essential oils diffused (we like lavender), play soft music, dim lighting, or try a back or foot massage (use lotion or oils). Make your child’s bedroom conducive to sleep—dark, cool, quiet.  Children need 8-12 hours of sleep per day. It is very common for children and adults with autism to have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep through the night. If your child is struggling with sleep, speak to their pediatrician.  Some children benefit from over-the-counter melatonin (available in gummy, chewable, or pill forms) or other medications designed to aid sleep.

School Visits

Schedule a school visit to help prepare your child for the first day of school. Attend any scheduled meet and greets at your child’s school.  If your school doesn’t have a meet and greet scheduled, you can set up a time to meet the teacher or tour the school before school begins. Contact the office or special education coordinator to schedule these visits.  When you are there, be sure to take photos for your social stories or visuals.  You can usually get photos of teachers off the school website.

From You to Your Child’s Teacher

Coordinate with the special education case manager for your child the first IEP meeting of the year.  You can meet formally or informally to discuss any changes (e.g. medications, new skills, lost skills) before school starts or within the first 30 days of school.

Teachers are supposed to read the IEP accommodations and goals prior to the first day of school, but often they are rushed and may forget what they are reading if they have to read 10-30 IEPs, plus prepare their rooms and lessons for the 1st week of school. Help your child’s teachers out by giving them something quick they can read that highlights your child’s strengths, weaknesses, preferred items and activities, and any supports you think will be helpful. Here are a few examples of handouts you can give your child’s teachers:

 

Photos Save Memories!

Don’t forget to take a photo of your child on the first day of school.  If mornings are too hectic, do it when they come home.  You want to remember your children and all their milestones they grow and they grow so fast!

Don’t worry about smiling at the camera or even looking!  If you can get a candid shot of them looking or smiling, go for it.  If not, you’ll still love to see the photo years to come.

Some of my clients have asked that we add goals like looking at the camera on cue or smiling when someone says “smile” as a goal for listener responding.  I’ve done it and for some kids this works and for some the smile looks forced.  Personally, I love more candid shots that are true to my child, but there is nothing wrong with these goals that make a difference in your family’s and child’s life!

Reinforce Yourself

If you do any of these suggestions, you are a rock star parent!  Be proud of everything you are doing for your child. Even just reading this blog! Being a special needs parent is tough, I know from personal experience.  I plan on getting my kid on the bus the first day of school, then treating myself to a favorite latte! Treat yourself! You deserve it!

How do you prepare your child for the first day of school?

Want to know more about organizational behavior management?

Organizational behavior management (OBM) is a sub-division of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) that focuses on uses our behavioral principles to influence employee and manager behaviors in the workplace. These strategies are likely to help companies reach their organizational goal, as well as have the employees achieve their personal professional development goals as well. This is likely to lead to an increase in productivity. OBM strategies can also be useful in training employees to engage in leadership behaviors, as well as creating an enriched, fun work environment for everyone (OBM Network).

So why did ABA start applying our principles such as positive reinforcement, objective performance measures, and self-management strategies to the behavior at an organizational level in the first place?

To answer this question, let’s take a few minutes to talk about the conventional pay system and the history of organizations in our country. In 1776, the idea of Capitalism was born when Adam Smith published An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. This drastically changed productivity through the 19th century, as shopkeepers, artisans, and farmers became more prevalent occupations and the notion that anyone could improve their living conditions swept the country (Abernathy, 2011, p. 2).

During this same time, however, Abernathy (2011, pp. 2-6) identifies five particular developments that contributed to the demise of this individual enterprise:

  1. Mass production. Eli Whitney’s invention of the mass production factory process “transferred the skill from the man to the machine” (Cook, 1977). Man did not need an individualized skill to succeed in mass production factory job. Rather, just about anyone could fit into the standardized system.
  2. Wages. Henry Ford started hourly page wages on a large company-wide scale. This fixed-time pay schedule has become the standard wage system in organizations.
  3. Information Age. According to Abernathy (2011, p. 3), only about 17% of Americans worked in “information jobs” in 1950 (an information job here meaning a position that requires some sort of specialty knowledge, such as a programmer, manager, insurance agent, broker, lawyer, etc.). However, as of 2011, at least 60% of Americans work in information jobs. That is more than a 350% increase in 61 years! Our nation has shifted from a system where the notion existed that individuals can change their living conditions through the work they produce, to a system where we are essentially mass producing information. Because of this, a lot of the ambition to perform well that existed when we created our own futures has been lost, and this separation between the worker and the result produced by his labor increased.
  4. Bureaucratic organization. Abernathy explains that as the implementation of the assembly line became more popular, the sizes of organizations increased and the notion developed that the worker was just another part of the assembly line’s machinery. This started the rise of bureaucratic organizations in our country. Max Weber described six characteristics of bureaucratic organizations, many of which served as the basis for the development of our modern corporate bureaucracy. He says that large organizations promote division of labor, utilize a chain of command for decision making, separate ownership from management, function with management as a distinct and full-time activity, and allow managers to apply standardized and unemotional decision-making across different cases (Treuathan & Newport, 1976).
  5. A loss of connectedness in the workplace. The development of the mass production system, use of the fixed-time wage system, increase in information jobs, and bureaucratic corporate system have all contributed to the decrease in the connection between work performance and rewards within the workplace. Abernathy asserts that this loss of connectedness “has eroded worker initiative and job satisfaction” (2011, p. 6).

On top of this, Abernathy discusses the pay crisis that is occurring in our country. He says that the conventional pay system utilized by most corporations in America is characterized by “guaranteed wages and salaries, annual merit evaluations and merit pay increases, annual cost-of-living pay increases, and market-based pay set by a market survey” (2011, p. 7). This way of pay became popular after World War II when there was an increase in demand for products worldwide and a shortage of labor, and corporations have continued to implement such wage systems since then.

In The Sin of Wages, Abernathy (2011, pp. 8-10) addresses the seven sins of this conventional pay system:

  1. Fixed-cost pay. The general way of thinking in corporations today is that as an employee, you are entitled to your salary and for a raise each year. This is problematic for (at least) two reasons. First, because of this way of thinking, a company’s payroll remains a stable (or, a fixed-cost) and grows at a compound rate over time. Then, when profits decrease, the most utilized solution is to layoff employees. Essentially, this sense of entitlement creates the sense of job insecurity that is prevalent in America today. Secondly, with the notion that pay is guaranteed for life, employers may be reluctant to hire new employees or increase pay when profits are high, so entitlement pay decreases the number of people who are hired and the amount of pay that is being provided.
  2. Pay for time. This one is pretty self-explanatory when you think about it, yet everyone on an hourly wage system is getting paid on this fixed-time system. Abernathy puts this very simply by saying, “When you pay for time, you get time. When you pay for results, you get results” (2011, p. 8). This is so incredibly detrimental to productivity. Employees will tend to stretch their work to fit the time that is available, especially since finishing a task early typically results in more assignments or criticism for not doing something. Therefore, if I can type this blog post in 1 hour and I am I get paid hourly to do so, I may stretch this process into a 3 hours by working slower, taking breaks, etc. to avoid having another task assigned to me. If I were on a $10/hour wage system, I would increase my wages from $10 to $30 by taking longer on the post. Compare this now to paying $20 per post. Regardless of how long I take to write the post, I earn $20 for each post of a specified minimum word length. That is what Abernathy means by paying for results.
  3. Corporate Socialism. With entitlement pay, good performers are getting paid the same as everyone else. Thus, over time, this high performance tends to drop to a mediocre performance as it is extinguished (i.e., unrewarded) by peers and management.
  4. Performancebased promotions. Companies using this conventional pay system typically don’t have extra money in their budget lying around to immediately reinforce (i.e., reward) employees for their work. Thus, these companies turn to promotions as a reinforcer (i.e., reward) instead. However, this pulls the best performers out of their job and into a management position, resulting in the loss of a good performer and the addition of an ineffective manager. This employee will then likely reach a point where their performance does not warrant a promotion anymore, and they will no longer contact this reinforcer. With the reward being withheld, extinction is likely to occur and various dimensions (i.e., frequency, duration or time, intensity, etc.) of their productive behaviors will decrease.
  5. Management by perception. The conventional wage system promotes lazy management strategies, in that time-orient pay does not require continuous measurement and recording of behaviors in the workplace. Therefore, managers use their subjective opinions to identify which employees are performing well and which ones are not.
  6. Management by exception. In addition to relying on subjective perceptions, managers also recognize employees based on exceptions since there tend to be few objective performance measures (as just discussed in management by perception). “In this system, employees don’t work to earn their pay, they work to avoid losing it” (Abernathy, 2011, p. 10).
  7. Entitlement thinking. Finally, the perpetuation of this entitlement pay has created an entitlement culture. Here, employees believe that they deserve their pay regardless of their own performance or the company’s performance. This conventional pay system has produced a culture in the workplace that has shifted from working to make a living, to being paid for simply going to work. The modern day employee does not accept the very simple notion: there cannot be any pay without a successful business.

If you’re like me the first time I was reading this stuff, you’re probably thinking, “Okay, all this is great, but what does it mean?” The take home point is that these “advancements” and the conventional pay system have shifted the emphasis of our modern day corporations away from the behaviors of the individual employee. It just so happens that the field of ABA focuses on predicting and influencing individual behavior based on current variables that precede and follow the behavior. Thus, ABA principles have been successfully applied to the behavior at an organizational level to address some of the problems that have arisen within our modern corporations.

However, since the bureaucratic corporation is the only thing most managers have been exposed to, OBM strategies are not widely implemented correctly, or at all, in American corporations. In his book Oops! 13 Management Practices that Waste Time and Money (and what to do instead), Daniels (2009) outlines 13 strategies that are commonly used in the modern day workplace that are actually detrimental to the success of the company, as well as the happiness and productivity of the employees. The practices that he discusses are employee of the month, stretch goals, performance appraisals, rankings, rewarding the absence of behaviors (i.e., no absences, no errors, etc.), salary and hourly pay, performance feedback strategies (such as, “You did a good job, but…” and the sandwich feedback method), overvaluing smart and talented employees, the budgeting process, promoting people no one likes, downsizing, and forms of reorganizing (i.e., mergers, acquisitions, etc.).

Through this blog series, I will dissect each of the principles proposed by Daniels (2009) and discuss the problems they create, as well as propose different practices based on ABA principles that we can use instead to promote productivity, obtain company and employee goals, and create a more enriched and fun work environment. Please feel free to contact me at dstone@gbcaba.com with questions, comments, or topics you’d like to learn more about.

References

Abernathy, W. B. (2011). The sin of wages. Atlanta, GA: Performance Management Publications.

Cooke, A. (1977). America. NY: Alfred A. Knoph.

Daniels, A. C. (2009). Oops! 13 management practices that waste time and money (and what to do instead). Atlanta, GA: Performance Management Publications.

OBM Network. “What is OBM?” Retrieved April 19, 2015, from http://www.obmnetwork.com/what_is_obm.

Treuathan, R. L., & Newport, M. G. (1976). Management functions and behaviors. Dallas, TX: Business Publications.

Introduction to Social Skills

From birth, every animal starts developing their social skills, even humans (yes that’s right we are animals). Having effective social skills are essential to being successful in life. Social skills teach us what to say, how to respond to others, and what behaviors are appropriate in certain situations. Social skills enable us to do well in several areas of our life, school, work, relationships, extracurricular activities, and so on.

Most children are able to learn and strengthen their social skills through everyday interactions with parents, caregivers, and peers. These interactions can occur directly and indirectly. Direct teaching occurs as it sounds, you are teaching the individual directly.

Direct Example: Mom and Billy are at the grocery store. Billy reaches up and takes a sample from a sample stand. Mom steps in an teaches Billy how to ask for a sample appropriately.

Indirect learning occurs through osmosis. So you are just kind of picking up the skills through daily interaction. Children learn though their own observations of others and trial and error

Indirect Example: Billy is on the playground at school. He goes over to Sarah and demands her to hand him the ball she is playing with. Sarah calls him rude and walks away. Later in the day, Billy sees another student go over to a student and request an item, by saying “Can I have a turn”. Billy thinks, “hhmmmm maybe I’ll try that next time!”

What happens when these skills aren’t able to be taught directly or aren’t picked up indirectly? That’s where social skills training comes into place. Social skills training is as exactly as it sounds, we are training an individuals social skills. We are taking the communication tools they already have, even if it’s not that many, and shaping them into more successful and socially appropriate skills.

For more information about social skills feel free to email me at cholman@gbcaba.com.

Welcome!

                                             Logo with service mark

Welcome to the blog of GBC aba! We are a collaboration of professionals who provide home-based ABA programming, Early Intervention (EI) services, behavioral consultation, tutoring, and school consultation.  Our team of consultants include Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) who have extensive experience providing services based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis to individuals, from infancy to adulthood, with a variety of needs.