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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
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The collective gasp of all the people in the room is a familiar sound every time I mention the word “punishment”. I can thank some poor ethical choices from 50 years ago, and the confusion between the word punishment in regular language versus what it means in the context of Behaviour Analytic literature. This article will cover what reinforcement and punishment are in terms of behaviour, and hopefully you will have a better understanding of how we use these effective techniques, in a safe and ethical way.
Let’s start with reinforcement. Reinforcement is the addition or removal of a stimulus, that increases the future frequency of a behaviour. Any time behaviour is increasing (or maintaining) you are reinforcing it. You can reinforce your partner doing the dishes or them sitting on the couch, your child’s tantrums or their use of functional communication. There is no good or bad in reinforcement, it only refers to the behaviour increasing.
This is the same for punishment. Punishment is the addition or removal of a stimulus, that decreases future frequency of behaviour. Once again, there is no good or bad, and punishers are not necessarily things the average person would find aversive or see as harmful. Let’s look at some examples.
|Antecedent (before)||Behaviour||Consequence||Future Frequency|
|A parent says “please do your homework”||Child completes homework||Parent praises the child||Behaviour increases, more homework is completed (reinforcement)|
|A parent says “please do your homework”||Child completes homework||Parent praises the child||Behaviour decreases, less homework is completed
We may think we’re doing one thing…but actually children see it as another!
In this example the same sequences of events occur, and we see different effects on the child’s behaviour. It is these effects on behaviour that determine what is punishment or reinforcement. We see this happen in our daily lives all the time, we think that we’re helping, but behaviour isn’t changing or it’s getting worse. When we break it down something that we are doing in earnest, is actually punishment (reducing behaviour).
In conclusion, reinforcement and punishment are not about good and bad, they are scientific terms that help us understand behaviour. Once we understand a behaviour then we can change the environment, or up-skill people around us, to help a child better succeed and have a happier time in their home, school or community.
Please call Rachel or I on 9274 7062 for more information about your child’s program or about any of our services.
ABACAS Program Manager
Occupational Therapist Team
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Everyone has daily ‘occupation’, eg, work, play, eat, sleep, dress. Occupational therapy promotes normal development and stimulates learning in children with specific learning difficulties, physical disabilities, delayed development or those recovering from illness or injury.
Working with children, their families and teachers, occupational therapists aim to improve the child’s quality of life by helping them to participate in play, preschool, school and home activities.
An occupational therapist may work with children in any of the following areas:
Prerequisite activities – the child’s physical abilities, such as motor control, hand-to-eye coordination, body awareness and sensation.
Functional skills – the child’s day-to-day living skills, such as eating, writing, going to the toilet, interacting with other children and playground skills.
The environment – such as classroom furniture, classroom and schoolyard access, and equipment for woodwork, art and physical education.
Information sourced from OT Australia:
Please call Reception to find out more about our OT services on 9274 7062
Happy OT week!
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In the next of our five part series, we look at verbal behaviour in children. Some children come into our ABA program with little or no expressive language. Some of our young clients expect their parents to “read their mind” and just “know” what they want. In other cases, parents have developed really good skills of predicting or anticipating the child’s needs. For example, parents learn very quickly that when their child starts climbing up the bookshelf – it usually means that they want something.
For many of our young clients, the first step is to teach them the value of language. From a behavioural perspective, this may mean teaching the child the function behind a word. A child may be able to say the word “help”. However being able to say the word, is not the same as knowing that “help” is the word to use whenever the child requires assistance. For example, being able to use the word “help” becomes very handy when trying to reach that thing that’s out of reach.
Types of Verbal Behaviour
In order to understand this better, let’s have a look at the types of verbal behaviour. According to Skinner, verbal behaviour can be categorized into these parts: echoics, mands, tacts and intraverbals:
|Echoics||Repeating what is heard vocally or with the use of manual sign imitation – for example, saying “water” after another person says “water”.|
|Mands||Requesting for something – for example, asking for “water” because you are thirsty.|
|Tacts||Identifying objects, verbs, situations by labelling them – for example, saying “water” when you see water.
|Intraverbals||Answering questions – for example, saying “water” when another person asks: “What would you like to drink?”|
An Example of Teaching Verbal Behaviour
Programs focusing on verbal behaviour often start by working out what a child is able to do. There is no point trying to teach a child to use the word “water” if they are not yet able to produce the correct sounds. A child may first need to be taught how to say “water” and to learn how to pronounce it correctly so that others can understand (using echoic strategies).
From there, the next stage it to teach the child that saying the word “water” will lead to good things happening (in this case being given something to drink or to play with). This is the process of teaching mands. Positive reinforcement is important as it will lead to the child being more likely to say the word “water” whenever he/she wants a cup of water. A flow on effect from this is that in increasing the child’s vocabulary, we might be able to reduce problematic behaviour (e.g. sinks being flooded and fridge doors left open).
Of course, we also want the child to be able to use this new word in other contexts. For example, being able to apply it to new situations (e.g. looking at the ocean and commenting on the “water”) through to being able to answer other people’s questions (e.g. “what would you like to drink?”).
Where to from here?
All of our clients enter into our programs with different levels of language. The job of your ABACAS Program Manager is to understand their current level of skills and work out next steps.
Please feel free to talk to either of the Program Managers about any questions you may have about verbal behaviour and your child.
To find out more about our services in general please call the Child Wellbeing Centre on (08) 9274 7062.
Assistant Program Manager, ABACAS
ABACAS Team / Uncategorized
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In an earlier post this year we touched on the four functions of behaviour being:
- Tangible (things)
(This is the link to the post in case you want to re-read it – https://www.childwellbeingcentre.net.au/abacas-team/functions-of-childrens-behaviour/
To expand on last week’s blog about the three term contingency, we’re going to talk about how we can reduce motivation for children to engage in problematic behaviours, specific to their function.
Functions of Behaviour
First things first. When starting a new intervention it always help when your child is eating well, sleeping and in good health. Sometimes this is where we need to start before we can change behaviours. However for this example, let’s assume everything is fine. Let’s look in the example below:
|Child is playing alone for 10 minutes with parent in room||Child throws object at parent.||Parent scolds child about importance of not throwing items.
|A child has been playing on an iPad for an hour, parent removes and gives demand “clean up your room”||Child throws tantrum||Parent withholds iPad, but does not follow through
How does knowing the function help us?
In each of these scenarios a child has engaged in problematic behaviour.
Let’s tackle problem one. In this instance a child was engaging in appropriate play behaviour for 10 minutes before they engaged in the problem behaviour. The problem behaviour resulted in parent delivering attention, where as the play behaviour did not. The prolonged period without attention creates a state of deprivation which increases the value of a reinforcer (in this case attention). This means a child is more likely to give responses that have previously resulted in attention being delivered.
To improve the behaviour in this example, we can look at catching the child being good. Delivering attention often enough (for the behaviours you want to see more of) will make it less likely that the problem behaviour occurs.
Problem two lets us see an example of satiation which reduces the value of a reinforcer. These parents may successfully be able to get their child to clean their room on a regular basis using a “first, then” instruction with the iPad. However in this instance the child had prolonged free access to the reinforcer, and so it has temporarily lost its value. When you are offering reinforcement you should check for value, not just assume it is what the child wants.
A large part of the what the team does is to identify the purpose of behaviour. One we understand that we can make effective changes.
Please feel free to contact me on 9274 7062 if you would like to know more about functions of behaviour and motivations or talk about our services.
Program Manager, ABACAS
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Nothing is more heart breaking as a parent to hear that your child isn’t making friends. We all want the best for our children. The reality is that for some children (particularly the more shy and reserved variety) making new friends can be hard. Not only do children need some confidence to walk up to others but they also need an array of social skills to draw on.
5 Tips for Making Friends
Making friends (and keeping them) involve using a range of skills. These include being able to recognise when others are open to friendship and knowing how to approach and engage others. Then of course are the skills needed to keep friendships – which can also be tricky. But let’s start at the beginning with how children can make their first approach more successful…
The following are some tips for primary school aged children who have language skills but they can be modified for those a little less verbal:
Look for interest from other children
Imagine being in a park with lots of children running around. Running up to a random child who looks like they are doing something interesting might get a response but it might also lead to rejection.
Instead, encourage your child to look for other children that appear interested in playing with them. Who are these children? The ones that may already be looking at your child (watching what your child is doing) and the ones with a smile on their face. These are the children that are more likely to be positive about an approach from your child.
Children who are heavily involved in a game (particularly in groups) or playing with other children are less likely to give a positive response. They already have someone to play with. Sometimes groups of children want others to join them…especially if it’s a game that involves lots of running around. However if children have already worked out who they are playing with, they may not welcome approaches from others.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? However many children forget to say hello or introduce themselves. And of course, when your child does say “hi” to another child they need to look at them (eye contact) and smile too! This signals to the other child that they are being friendly.
Most of us enjoy it when others show interest in us. Your child asking “What are doing?”, “Can I play too?”, or “What’s that?” are good ways of starting up a conversation. They are also a way of testing the waters to see if the other child is interested in getting to know them too.
When the other child starts talking to your child, this is where conversational skills become important. Your child needs to show interest in what the other child says. They can also share something about themselves too. All of which helps to build a connection.
It’s great for your child to suggest activities that they and the other child can do. However if the other child wants to play another way or differently your child may need to go with the flow initially. Turn-taking with ideas and games can develop once your child works out that this is someone they want to spend more time with.
It’s OK if your child discovers that the other child isn’t that interested or isn’t the friend for them. Children can agree to disagree and part ways too. As a parent we can acknowledge our child’s disappointment but we need to refocus them on all the other children out there that may be the right sort of friend for them.
What to do if things just aren’t working?
The good news is that friendships skills can be taught. Many schools now provide programs targeting social skills and confidence so start by asking what your school may have available.
The internet also has bundles of resources and ideas for parents to access to help their children in this area.
In our Centre we teach social skills one on one in therapy and in various group programs (so children can practice their skills with other children).
Please call the Centre if you would like more information about our services on 9274 7062.
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Three term contingency?? For parents who are new to ABA, you’ll be discovering that we use a lot of jargon. It is our job to make sure that we not only translate this into layman’s terms for you, but also educate you about ABA terminology throughout your therapy journey. This is going to be one of a 5 part series focused on educating parents about terminology, what they mean, and how you can start applying them yourself. Parents continuing the work we do into the home, especially during Early Intervention (EI) is essential to see optimum success.
5 Part Series
In our five part series we will be covering the following terms:
- The three term contingency
- Functions of behaviour
- Verbal Behaviour
- Reinforcement and Punishment
The Three Term Contingency
The three-term contingency is a critical part of ABA, and all behaviour can, one way or another, fit into this breakdown. ABC, or Antecedent – Behaviour – Consequence, is how we frame behaviours. Behaviour and learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum – there is never a behaviour with no explanation. An antecedent is what happens before, and a consequence is what happens after. An antecedent can signal that reinforcement or punishment is, or is not, available for certain behaviours.
Here are some examples:
|The teacher says “who knows what letter this is?”||Child responds by putting his hand up and saying “a”||Praise from the teacher (attention)|
|A child has a difficult homework task in front of him.||Child says “Can I help you with the dishes mum?”||Mum says “yes of course” and they do dishes together (escape and attention)|
|Therapist says “What goes woof”||Child responds “Car”||Praise and an edible are given (tangible and attention).|
|A parent asks a child to turn off the TV||The child has a tantrum||The child is allowed 5 more minutes (tangible, escape).|
The consequence that is provided determines whether or not learning will occur. In three of these examples some “unhelpful” learning is occurring!
Sometimes your therapy team might ask you to keep ABC data on a behaviour of interests so that we can help design an intervention based on function (more on that next week).
If you are interested in this topic, or have any questions further questions about how this might be applicable to your child please feel free to call me on 9274 7062.
ABACAS Program Manager