I Love ABA!

Welcome to my blog all about Applied Behavior Analysis!

This blog is about my experiences, thoughts, and opinions on ABA. My career as an ABA provider is definitely a passion and a joy, and I love what I do.

This is a personal blog: The views and opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of the people, institutions, or organizations that I may be affiliated with.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Circle Time Fun!

Photo source: www.notimeforflashcards.com, www.pinterest.com

Or Circle Time Nightmares, just depending on your perspective really.

In case you are unfamiliar with the term, by “circle time” I mean group instruction or overview of a variety of tasks (academic, motor, songs, etc.) that usually takes place with the students sitting on the floor of the classroom. Circle time usually involves the entire class, and can last anywhere from 10-30 minutes depending on the age of the children.

For many of my young clients, a common problem I hear about over and over is “He/she just won’t sit during morning circle time” or “He/she is most disruptive during circle time”.
Considering that even preschools are implementing circle time now, this is a skill (really it’s a complex set of skills, but more on that below) that even 2 year old’s are expected to know.

So what’s the deal here? Why is circle time such a common issue that parents and teachers bring to me over and over again?

As much as it may seem like one skill, circle time encompasses a tidal wave of individual behaviors. Such as:
  • Appropriate near peers (absence of problem behavior)
  • Stay seated for extended duration/sitting still
  • Attending to the teacher as necessary
  • Attending to other students as necessary
  • Raises hand to gain attention
  • Raises hand to answer a question
  • Follow a group instruction (“everybody clap”)
  • Follow group instruction with a discrimination (“all the boys clap”)
  • Turntaking during group instruction
  • Quiet unless responding to a directive/answering a question

Add to that being in close proximity to multiple kids, thin schedule of reinforcement (usually), a high delivery of demands, and for many of my client’s circle time is a dreadful time that they hate. So what I usually see when I go into classrooms is everyone goes to circle time, and my client runs out of the room. Or, paces back and forth in the back of the classroom. Or, sprawls out on the floor and starts kicking peers.

There are tons of ways to improve your client’s ability to participate in, and learn during, circle time. That should be the overall goal: that your client can gain the same social and instructional gains from circle time as the other students in the class. Not just “sitting still and being quiet".

As the title of this post says, let’s get to the F-U-N already! **Some of these suggestions will require teacher approval. Also, it’s easier to incorporate these strategies across the entire class, not just for your client

  1. Create a schedule, or a loose outline, for how circle time will run. Turn this into a visual support and use it to help your client understand what will happen during circle time and how long circle time will go on (use of a timer can be helpful too). Refer to the visual before and during circle time.
  2. Reinforcement! From the perspective of your client, why should they sit “criss-cross applesauce” on the colorful rug? Connect specific behaviors to powerful motivating items or activities that can be delivered during circle time or immediately after.
  3. Embed manipulatives as often as you can. I find that it helps my clients stay seated with the group if they have something to touch or hold. So if the class is going to read a book about insects, see if plastic bugs can be passed around. Or as the class names different colors, have your client hand you a crayon of each color (“give me red….give me blue”).
  4. Be sure to think of ways to modify instruction based on learner needs. Think: adapting. If your client communicates with sign language, or through an iPad, do they have opportunities to respond to questions during circle time? If not, these are missed opportunities for learning to occur, or for the student to contact reinforcement. Tasks should be presented receptively as well as expressively, learner choice should be embedded (“should we read this book or that book?”), and opportunities for movement should be included as well. Think active engagement rather than students just quietly sitting and listening to the teacher.
  5. Let the teacher know what your learner knows. Here is a problem I see often: my client completely disengages from circle time, so none of the teachers call on my client or present him/her with any demands. So now we have a situation where not only is my client not participating, they have no opportunity to be reinforced for correct responding. Make sure that the teacher knows what skills your client has, and then you can prompt the client to respond if necessary (or provide reinforcement when they do respond). A way I have done this in the past is to make a simple sheet of several mastered tasks my client can do. Then the teacher can refer to the sheet when they call on my client. Maybe my client can’t say the alphabet, but they can clap hands on demand. Or they don’t know their numbers, but they can receptively identify colors. Again, modifying instruction will be key to making circle time fun for your client.
  6. When initially beginning intervention, it may be unrealistic that your client can participate in the entire circle time. You may need to start small and build the time up. When I am with a client we may sit with the group for 2-5 minutes, and then take a break away from the group for 1-2 minutes.  These breaks get shorter and shorter over time....but do not provide a break immediately following problem behavior. That will only shape up more escape maintained behavior.
  7. Repetition is your friend. The more streamlined circle time can be, the better. Many of my clients need the repetition of working on the same skill for multiple days in a row. In some classrooms the content of circle time can change daily, but I find that for many of my clients the more predictable the content is, the better able they are to participate. Previously, I have worked with some students where we came up with weekly circle themes (colors, numbers, plants, etc.). So each day of the week we explored the same theme. This routine helped keep my client interested and engaged, but the repetition also helped them grasp the concepts.
  8. Capture learner attention by embedding favorite items into circle time. Let’s say your client loves Hello Kitty, so have the students stick Hello Kitty faces on the calendar to mark days of the week. Or, if your client loves airplanes then the class can sing a song about airplanes or watch a short video about airplanes. Another way I have done this in the past was to have the children bring items from home, and the teacher would incorporate them into circle time. For my client, his face just lit up when the teacher began using photos of his dog to talk to the class about animals.
  9. Encourage peer interaction. Again, we want engagement not silent sitting. One of my favorite ways to encourage interaction is through songs or games that can be done before or during circle time. Have the kids sit facing each other and sing your greeting songs, but as you sing the kids need to wave at each other, shake hands, etc. Or, play a game such as Hot Potato or Parachute and have the kids work together in pairs or small teams. You can also do group games or activities that require sharing, such as having the children pass things to each other, or share materials .

*Recommended Resources:

Barton, Erin E., et al. "We can all participate! Adapting circle time for children with autism." Young Exceptional Children 14.2 (2011): 2-21.

Crozier, Shannon, and Matt Tincani. "Effects of social stories on prosocial behavior of preschool children with autism spectrum disorders." Journal of autism and developmental disorders 37.9 (2007): 1803-1814.

Garfinkle, Ann N., and Ilene S. Schwartz. "Peer imitation increasing social interactions in children with autism and other developmental disabilities in inclusive preschool classrooms." Topics in Early Childhood Special Education 22.1 (2002): 26-38.

Circle Time - Skill Building cheat sheet freebie

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Simplifying the Morning Routine

Photo source: www.kasheringyourlife.co.za, www.todaysparent.com

ABA therapy can be used to teach/increase a variety of adaptive skills, such as tooth brushing, toileting, hair brushing, shoe tying, making a bed, etc. My favorite definition of an adaptive skill is anything that will have to be done for the learner, if the learner does not learn the skill. So if I don’t teach my child how to dress him/herself, then I will have to dress my child.

A common concern many of my clients have around adaptive functioning is the dreaded Morning Routine. Since my clients are usually school age, I have ample opportunity to help families target issues that regularly pop up during that frenzied time in the morning of trying to get the child out of the door on time. Issues like: task refusal, off task behavior, prompt dependency, skipping steps of the routine/completing the routine out of order, etc.

ABA interventions should always be individualized, but some of my most effective strategies for simplifying the morning routine include:
-          Visuals! Visuals are your friend :-)
-          Use of auditory cues (timers)

 With some simple tweaks here and there and adding in more supports, the morning routine can be less stressful, more efficient, and require less intrusive prompting which equals more independence for your child.

Let’s jump in:

-          Add visuals: I say “add visuals” and not “add more visuals”, because usually what I see is that families who struggle the most with the morning routine are not using any visual supports. If you are regularly struggling during the morning routine but you already have visual supports in place, then that’s a gold star for you. You are ahead of the game. If you are new to visual supports, just keep reading. Think of a visual support as a way to minimize prompting or assistance. If you have to stand in the bathroom doorway, physically assist your child, or keep giving the same demand over and over (“Make up your bed Evan ……. Evan, did you make your bed?”), then you definitely need to add some visuals. It is much easier to fade the prompt of a visual, then to fade your voice, or your presence. Or to put it another way, do you want to have to stand in the doorway to make sure tooth brushing happens when your child is 25? Here are some awesome examples of visual supports, all were found on Pinterest.

-          Auditory cues: The use of a timer can be such a helpful addition to the morning routine because time is usually of the essence. We have to go, and we have to go now. For many of my defiant kiddos, those with attention issues, or those with lots of escape maintained behaviors, the simplest demand  (e.g. “Put your socks on”) can take ages and ages to actually happen. Decide on a specific amount of time for the skill to occur, and then set a timer. If the child can beat the timer, then allow them to contact reinforcement. Depending on the child, this could mean a treat, getting to pick what they wear that day, 2 minutes of TV time, etc. Make the concept of “hurry up” more concrete by helping the child understand how quickly tasks needs to be completed.
-          Organization: This tip is more for you than the child. Organization or proper set up for the morning routine does not begin that morning, it begins the night before. Part of the bedtime routine can include setting up items for the next day. This could mean lining up the soap, facetowel, toothpaste, and toothbrush by the bathroom sink. Or this could mean putting the backpack by the front door, so there is no frantic search for it in the morning. How you organize will depend on the specific issues you are having in your home. The point is to set the child up for success. For younger children (especially if you want to increase independence) line up needed items/materials in their correct order so your assistance is not needed. For example, in the bedroom line up underwear, socks, pants, shirt, and shoes. In the kitchen, line up the bowl, spoon, and cereal box. For some children you may need to put number cards on each item (e.g. put a "1" card on the underwear). Any step you can do the night before will save precious time the next morning, and the materials being visible helps serve as a prompt of what to do next.

*Bonus Tip: A good way to practice the skills required for a successful morning routine is to incorporate weekend practice. If these skills are only performed M-F with a time crunch, then you’re setting yourself up for lots of frustration. On the weekends, still have your child go through the morning routine. Use this to fine- tune skills, or provide more repetition than is possible on a Monday morning. If tooth brushing is always a struggle, consider modifying the visuals or making them larger/more detailed. Try removing yourself, and only checking on your child periodically. If the child is older or needs less support, try implementing a checklist that the child completes. As they perform each skill, they check a box. When all the boxes are checked they bring the checklist to you for review.