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When working with a client recently, I was reminded again that children often use behaviour as a way of communication. In many of our posts we have covered, more than once, that there are four functions of behaviour, escape, tangibles, automatic and attention. Behaviours can provide access to more than one of these simultaneously and these behaviours may be appropriate or inappropriate.
All behaviour has a purpose
Inappropriate behaviours are never just something to be reduced to manageable levels, they are communicating a need. It could be “I don’t want to do this” or “I don’t have the skills to do this”. Sometimes it’s “I’m having a great time, but I don’t know how to show you” or “I need something”. For many children on the Autism Spectrum, there are skill deficits that can leave a gap between what a child is trying to say, and what they are able to communicate effectively to another person. Hence the importance of standing back sometimes and thinking about what is happening.
So, what does this mean for practice?
I speak about “replacement behaviours” often and that is first and foremost what needs to be addressed through therapy. Children have a right to develop the skills to independently communicate, so long term they can be their own advocates and control their own lives.
In the mean time, before those skills are developed and consolidated, as parents and therapists we can make environmental changes to reduce the demands on children, provide visuals that support them to understand the rules and what is happening next. It’s important to remember the onus is on us to support them. Children don’t act out to be malicious, or to spite anyone – we are responsible for their behaviour.
Our Program Managers are there to help if you have a child who is displaying problem behaviours and you’re unsure what they are trying to communicate. We can help you tease it the behaviour out, and develop a plan with you to work on reducing the problem behaviours, modifying your environment, and reducing the skill gaps.
ABACAS Program Manager
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I know you may not want to hear it be we are approaching the end of the school term and the long holidays. Many parents of children with autism often face this time with a range of emotions – relief and anxiety. Relief that there is an end in sight for the daily school & daycare routine. Anxiety when you think about how you will be keeping your child occupied over the holiday period.
Start planning for the holidays now (while you have the time and energy!)
Here are three ideas/strategies to help you cope with what’s to come:
- Create a visual holiday routine/schedule
For someone who struggles to differentiate between the days of the week, it is essential to establish a routine for a child with autism. By establishing a routine, you will be able to offer a sense of control and structure. It will also be much easier to transition to the back to school routine once the school term starts again next year too.
When a child is anxious about what is going to happen it will often come through in their behaviour. For example, I have seen children ask repeatedly for swimming throughout the day as they do not have an idea what they will be going next. Obviously, it’s a rare parent and child who is not going to be stressed by this behaviour (in the child’s case note being able to go swimming on demand). And yet, this behaviour may be avoidable.
With a visual schedule, children can see what is expected of them and what they can expect to do next. From a therapy perspective I would encourage you to think about including some time to practice the skills that they have mastered during therapy sessions too.
Your therapy team can help you work out how to create a visual schedule so please let them know if you’d like this help. Putting one in place now (even when it may not be as needed) is a nice way to transition into the holidays too.
- Let’s keep learning!
Learning does not end when the school term ends. When therapy stops (e.g. at the end of term) we often see a decline in skills acquisition and maintenance over the long holiday period. Being out of routine and not having therapy can lead to lots of stimming time and not enough skills practice.
Apart from keeping up with regular therapy sessions, I recommend my parents to spend time generalising the skills that their children have mastered within sessions. Holiday time can be spent expanding their skill sets and to exposing them to new stimuli. For example, teaching children to tact zoo animals when you make a visit to the local Perth Zoo or teaching them to tact car colours while playing “I spy” on the road.
- Have some down time
Being a parent is hard work. Therefore, it is very important to look after yourself during the holidays. Be it spending some alone time by the beach or even taking a short 5 minutes break to sit and sip on a hot cup of coffee before it gets cold. Do it. Because you deserve it. And remember, happy parents usually make for happy children too!
Holidays don’t have to be stressful!
In actual fact, holidays can be a lot of fun. Start thinking about how you will set up your days, particularly once you get past Christmas.
Please talk with your Program Managers about the activities that you could do to help generalise the skills that your child has learned during their therapy sessions. While the office will be shut from the 22nd December through to the 7th January, most of the team will be on board through-out the rest of January. We usually have a bit more flex during the holidays so increasing therapy sessions is also an option.
Assistant Program Manager (ABACAS)
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National Psychology Week begins this week with the theme “Connect to Thrive”. Children’s mental health and wellbeing is enhanced by caring and supportive adults in their lives and a positive social network of peers. This is the same for their parents. Feeling that you have a network of others around you that care, that you can talk to and just be with is important for parents overall sense of well-being too.
Why we should be concerned about loneliness?
Emerging research is showing that feelings of “loneliness” not only impact on our mood but behaviour. Too much loneliness can colour how we view the world and others around us. Hence the theme for this year’s National Psychology Week – Connect to Thrive. Developing relationships with others that are positive and meet our social and emotional needs boosts mental health.
Key skills that can help manage feelings of loneliness include positive thinking, stress management and communication. Finding opportunities to meet others is also essential, hence the emphasis on social networking (and not just online!).
The link below will take you to a tip sheet on how to “connect” with others developed by the Australian Psychology Society.
How to help children
Children benefit from positive connections with others too and many of the suggestions in the adult resource above also apply. Helping children develop and become confident in their use of social skills (so they can form positive relationships) is a great way to start. So too, is teaching children about positive thinking and optimism.
We will be looking at optimism in another post this week, both what it is and how parents can help children develop it.
As always though, you are very welcome to talk to any of the staff in the Centre should you have concerns about the wellbeing of your child. Reception will be able to provide information about our services on 9274 7062.
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In the last post of this series, I want to talk about behaviour change and ABA. I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about ABA being more than just tackling problem behaviour. ABA build skills, provides early intervention, social training, and much more. However, tackling problem behaviour is something we do, and often do very well. Working with problem behaviours requires multiple steps, and commitment from a number of people.
What’s involved with behaviour change?
I’ve outlined some basic steps for effective intervention below:
Your Program Manager will want to establish a stable base-line before they intervene. This can tell us a number of things such as, is the behaviour naturally decreasing and maybe doesn’t need intervention? What situations does the behaviour occur in, and are we able to predict it accurately? What does the behaviour look like?
All behavioural interventions should be function based. Interventions which are function based are supported in the research to be the most effective. Evaluating this might require formal testing, or can sometimes be done through observations.
- Replacement Behaviours
How can this child get their needs met in other ways? People have a right to get their needs met, and others have a right to have theirs met too. The solution should involve not only reducing the problem behaviours, but increasing skills and tolerance of the reasonable preferences of others.
Once all this information is gathered, there needs to be a long term plan to fade any artificial systems that might need to be put in place to increase tolerance and skill building to a level that can be maintained by the natural environment.
Making sure everyone is on board
The initial phases are the easier part, once all this information is gathered and a plan is written, all the people involved in the child’s life will need to buy-in to the plan. This means that they commit to following the recommendations consistently, across the board, and increase to the next stage of the intervention only when criteria is met in all environments. This part of the process is just as important as the plan itself.
For more information about ABA and how we can help with challenging behaviours please talk to your Program Manager (Rachel or I). We will be able to work out with you the best way to help.
ABACAS Program Manager