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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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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
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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International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Awareness Day is on Sunday 9th September every year. Yet many people have little idea of what FASD is and how it is caused.
What is FASD?
We’re very used to hearing in the media that alcohol consumption can cause a higher risk of many health conditions (e.g. cancer & heart disease). Alcohol use is also related to a higher rate of injury such as falls and vehicle accidents. And for some, alcohol is their addiction. It’s also associated with higher rates of depression, self-harm and suicide.
Alcohol use in pregnancy is the primary risk factor for babies being born with something called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder or FASD. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders are neuro-cognitive disorders that may present with a range of markers, including: unusual facial features; developmental delays; learning disabilities; behavioural difficulties; and health complications. As there is a spectrum of symptoms, FASD is often undetected until the child is older. However we now understand that it is a lifelong condition and children (adolescents and adults) often need ongoing support.
What’s the best thing to do in pregnancy?
FASD is an outcome of parents being unaware of the risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Messages surrounding alcohol use during pregnancy in the past have been confusing. Do you remember back when the occasional glass of red wine was recommended for pregnant mothers? What we now know is that any level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy can present a risk to the baby in utero.
The tragedy of FASD is that it is avoidable. No one intentionally sets out to harm their baby. Views about alcohol use during pregnancy can vary from family to family, and culture to culture. However the reality is that exposure to alcohol during pregnancy can cause harm and no one knows how much or how frequently alcohol needs to be consumed to cause harm.
The safest thing to do during pregnancy is to cease drinking all alcohol. Just as with smoking (and our knowledge now of the health risks involved with smoking during pregnancy), stopping alcohol consumption is the safest thing to do for the developing baby.
Children with FASD have their own challenges which can vary from child to child. Families with children with FASD need support and often this starts with diagnosis and recognising the problem.
A great resource to find out more about FASD is the NoFASD website at:
And as always you are welcome to come and talk to any of the psychologists in the Centre about any aspect of your child’s development.
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Last week we spoke about some changes in the program, and how they might effect you and your child. This week I would like to talk to our parents and potential new comers about ‘why ABA’ or Behaviour Analysis.
Behaviour Analysis is built on the principles of learning, which have been demonstrated as effective in a huge range of populations. It is most well known for it’s use with children who have an Autism Spectrum Diagnosis, but less well known for it’s use in sports, feeding disorders, substance use, litter reduction and much more. Through ABA we can increase and decrease behaviours and build new skills, and we do so knowing our interventions are evidence-based and ethical.
ABA is Person-Centred
Quantifying behaviours as measurable and changeable can feel very ‘sciencey’, and because of this people sometimes feel that ABA might be impersonal, or out of touch with our loved ones. I’d like to argue that it’s the opposite, ABA is one of the most personalised and considerate interventions available, and above and beyond anything else ABA is the practice of hope for every single person we work with. There is an assumed capacity to learn and acquire new skills for all people, and the skills we teach are ones that are important to our clients and the loved ones in their lives. As people, we are always working through a scope of kindness and care, and as practitioners we are working towards effective and meaningful interventions that are evidence and ethically based.
Working with a range of clients, there is nothing more rewarding than hearing a child say their first word, or listening to the enthusiasm of a parent who’s child is starting to play with them for the first time. The goals set by ABA are often focused on developmental milestones, but these goals are also selected in collaboration with both parents and children, and that makes them so much more meaningful to our ABA families.
An ABA program should include people who are significant to the client. They should know what is being worked towards and what they can do to support these goals. They should also have a sense that these goals will make a difference to their lives, and feel pride in their contributions when steps are made towards a new milestone.
If you’d like to talk more about how ABA can fit in with your family, please contact me on 9274 7062.
ABACAS Program Manager
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Parents can do a great job of parenting when their children are younger and then struggle when their children hit the teen years. While the house rules may still be the same, the ways in which we encourage teens to make positive choices has to evolve.
What Happens in Adolescence?
From a developmental perspective, adolescence is the stage where young people learn the skills they are going to need to have a successful adult life. This includes things like building and developing deeper relationships with others, independence (both practical, emotional and financial), identifying core values and developing strong problem solving skills.
In addition to puberty and physical development, adolescence is also a significant time for brain development. The prefrontal cortex (which is the decision-making part of the brain) is being reshaped, with changes continuing on into the early 20’s. During this phase of development, the amygdala (which is the emotional and instinctive part of the brain) is used more often. Between greater emotionality and poor decision making it’s no wonder that adolescence can be a bumpy time.
Teens also face a lot more stress in their day to day lives. We all faced peer pressure to a degree when growing up. However this generation has non-stop peer pressure and media influences to deal with through their social use of technology. Uncertainty about the future world of work, the state of the planet and society are also there in the background.
Parent – Teen Relationships
With all this busy work going on in adolescence parents often find their parenting techniques changing. Expectations about behaviour don’t have to change but the goal in adolescence is to help the teen make better choices themselves. Fundamental to all of this is the need for a strong and positive relationship between child and parent. It’s from this relationship that a parent can encourage a positive and healthy transition into adulthood for their teen.
What does a positive relationship look like from a teen’s perspective? If I was to distil down all the feedback I’ve had from teens over the years it would look like this:
- My parents listen to me.
- They involve me in decisions that are going to affect me.
- They still show me that they love me but do it without embarrassing me (e.g. no hugs in front of peers).
- They get involved in the stuff that’s important to me (e.g. sports, hobbies and interests).
- They let me make my own choices about who my friends are but are there to help when I need advice.
- We have “rules” in the house and I know the consequences (even if I don’t like them) and
- They talk to me about the important stuff when I need them to (e.g. sex, drugs and depression).
There is a lot to do to help a teen work their way through adolescence. If I had to recommend a place to start, it’s listening. Listening (when it’s done properly) shows that parents are interested, that they care and are being thoughtful in their responses. Listening also helps parent develop greater insight into their teen’s needs, hopes and challenges.
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We are well used to hearing about the health benefits of exercise and children. It keeps children fit, at a healthy weight, builds up strength and more. Did you know that exercise is also good for children’s mental health too?
How does exercise help?
1. Exercise can help children self-regulate
Some of us need physical activity to help off-load feelings of stress and anger. Moving at a level that makes a child “huff and puff” is one way of resetting both the body and brain to calm. Whether running, power walking, cycling or swimming, exercise provides an opportunity for children to burn off those unwanted feelings.
2. Exercise helps children learn social skills and make friends
Team sports are awesome for this. Playing cooperatively with others gives us the opportunity to learn social skills both on and off the court/field. Most sports teach skills such as sharing, turn-taking, negotiation and problem-solving. While training or playing there is the opportunity to make friends. Having positive relationships with others is a protective mental health factor.
3. Exercise can help us learn
It’s no coincidence that teachers in classrooms will down tools and take kids off for a run or a quick game to get them moving. That movement increases the child’s level of alertness and overall energy levels. All of which is the precursor to better concentration and focus in the classroom. Plus some children just need those breaks to be able to sustain their concentration. Being able to learn and retain information helps children develop their sense of competence. Why is that important? See Point 4.
4. Exercise can build self-esteem
Every child has their own strengths and weaknesses. For those children who have to work harder at their academic subjects, sports is often the area where they will shine. Having a sense of self-competence and experiencing success are the building blocks of positive self-esteem.
5. Exercise can lift children’s mood
Physical activity also releases endorphins in the brain… which means children feel happier. It’s not a coincidence that people will often talk about how exercise helps with depression and anxiety. Exercise, timed well, can also help with improving sleep in children too!
So now you know some other reasons why exercise is good for kids (aside from the physical health benefits). Winter doesn’t have to be a barrier to exercise it just means that sometimes we have to be a bit creative in how we fit it in and take advantage of the sunny days.
And did you know…all of the above also applies to adults too!