Cleveland ABA Therapy Strategies to Use at Home

Cleveland ABA therapy strategies to use at home

Parents are a key part of the puzzle when it comes to successful Cleveland ABA therapy for kids on the autism spectrum. Knowing how to work on the skills we target in therapy in a home setting is important for the sake of consistency, and helps those lessons to stick.

Applied Behavior Analysis, also known as ABA therapy, has been deemed the gold standard in autism treatment. It’s a branch of behavioral science that can be achieved either in-clinic or in-home by a trained therapist known as an RBT (registered behavior technician) and overseen by a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst, or BCBA for short.

It’s an evidence-based intervention predicated on the principles of behavior science, focusing on how people learn, behave, and change. A core foundation is what we call the “ABCs of Behavior.” That is, we study the antecedent, behavior, and then consequence – before determining what interventions will be most successful in addressing unexpected behaviors and promoting expected/helpful behaviors. Successful Cleveland ABA therapy helps improve kids’ quality of life, teaches them important life skills, and helps reduce disruptive behaviors.

As professionals, we’ve spent a great deal of time and dedication learning the science and strategies. That said, one of our key goals is to empower parents to implement similar tactics at home. Here, we detail a few of the basic strategies you can employ with your child across settings.

Positive Reinforcement

This is perhaps the most common strategy in ABA. Positive reinforcement is the idea that when something positive happens after a behavior (what we would refer to as the antecedent), it can have a positive impact on whether that behavior is likely to be repeated.

So a behavior followed by positive reinforcement is more likely to happen again – and continue happening.

Lots of parents use this strategy all the time with neurotypical kids. For instance, they do a chore, you reward them with an allowance. That motivates them to keep doing it.

ABA therapy Cleveland

With kids on the autism spectrum (or other conditions for which ABA therapy is prescribed), the reward usually needs to be more immediate, and perhaps more tangible. (Money is tangible, but its concept is a little abstract for some kids.) We may start small, especially for younger kids. Let’s say the LOVE blowing bubbles. If the goal is to get them to make a request for something, you immediately give them access to a few rounds of bubble-blowing after.

Depending on the targeted behavior and age/skill level of the child, there different reinforcement schedules we could choose from. These are:

  • Continuous schedule. The behavior is reinforced after every occurrence.
  • Fixed ratio. Behavior is reinforced after a certain number of occurrences (every 3, every 4, etc.)
  • Fixed interval. Behavior is reinforced after a certain amount of time (i.e., after 1 full week of expected behaviors).
  • Variable ratio. Behavior is enforced after varied number of occurrences (after one occurrence, then after four occurrences, then after two, etc.).
  • Variable interval. The behavior is enforced after a variable amount of time (after 5 minutes, then after 10 minutes, then after 2 minutes.)

You can discuss with your child’s ABA therapist what schedule they think would be most effective for targeting certain behaviors with your child.

Providing Prompts

Anytime you’re teaching your child something new, you can provide prompts. Lots of us do this naturally in parenting, but kids with autism and other conditions may need additional prompting to be successful.

There are many different kinds of prompts. For example, a physical prompt involves physically helping your child do something. A verbal prompt is telling your child something that will help them complete the task. If you provide a model prompt, you show them how to do it first. A visual prompt is a visual aid that helps your child complete the task. Gestural prompts are when you use body movements or gestures to help guide your child into completing something. Lastly, auditory prompts – like a stop watch or timer – that use noise can help support skill independence.

Cleveland behavior therapy kids autism

Some examples of prompts you can use at home:

  • Setting a timer to help your child transition from one activity to the next.
  • Providing your child with a visual schedule of the day’s routine, so they know what to expect.
  • Physically assisting your child with brushing their teeth.
  • Showing your child how to zip their coat.
  • Pointing to an object you want them to retrieve.

If you need some help with planning your prompts, our ABA therapy team can help.

Operant Extinction

This is the idea that a behavior that was previously reinforced (often unintentionally) can be decreased if we stop reinforcing it. Essentially, the goal is for your child to stop engaging in a certain behavior because they are no longer experiencing the same outcome as before. (Again, we’re focusing on changing the antecedent, or what happens immediately after the behavior.)

Keep in mind: All behavior is a form of communication. Your child communicates their wants, needs, and aversions with behavior. They may be trying to avoid certain non-preferred activities or foods. They may be wanting your attention. or they may be engaging in the behavior as a form of sensory input/avoidance. A behavior can be unintentionally reinforced when a child gets what they’re looking for by engaging in the behavior.

So let’s say a child has a temper tantrum that involves throwing themselves on the floor, screaming and crying. To quiet them down in a public place, you give them your phone. The child learns that engaging in screaming, crying, and laying on the floor, they are rewarded with game time. If you stop providing them with the phone when they engage in this behavior, eventually, the behavior will stop.

(Keep in mind, though: Temper tantrums are different than meltdowns, and may need to be approached a bit differently.)

Here’s another example. While seated in a grocery cart seat, your child kicks and hits you repeatedly. You get upset, use angry words and raise your voice. It continues to happen every time you go to the store. Eventually, you talk to your child’s ABA therapy team and determine the goal of this behavior is to get your attention. It doesn’t matter that the attention you provide is negative; you are still unintentionally reinforcing it. To achieve operant extinction, you must start to completely ignore this behavior. And then when your child is behaving in a way that is expected – lavish them with LOTS of attention and praise. By shifting the reward cycle, you can often change behavior.

Cleveland ABA Therapy Team Urges Consistency

The whole concept of rules and boundaries is based on the basics of behavioral science. In ABA, establishing rules – and then staying consistent – is imperative if you want to achieve better behavior.

Have a clear set of rules for each setting. These can start off very basic, such as “No hitting,” “No jumping on furniture.” But they can start to be more complex as your child progresses.

Break it down as much as needed. For example, it’s not just “house rules,” but “bathroom rules,” “bedtime rules,” “breakfast rules,” etc. Use visual schedules and auditory prompting, if need be. And then stay consistent. Kids who know what to expect are going to have an easier time behaving in a way that is expected.

If you have questions, our dedicated Cleveland ABA therapy team can help.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Cleveland, Akron, and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Treatments and Intervention Services for Autism Spectrum Disorder, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

More Blog Entries:

5 To-Dos After Cleveland Autism Diagnosis, May 13, 2022, ABA Therapy Cleveland Blog

Cleveland autism diagnosis

5 To-Dos After Cleveland Autism Diagnosis

Cleveland autism diagnosis

A Cleveland autism diagnosis can leave parents reeling – even when it’s something you’ve been expecting as you awaited the results of ADOS testing and other examinations. Sometimes, it can feel like something of a relief. You finally have answers. But there’s also the daunting next question: What now?

Parents face a lot of uncertainties, siblings may not understand (or may have much anxiety if they do), and the child who was diagnosed may not yet understand the implications – but can still sense shifts in emotional tone throughout the home.

Autism, more formally known as Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by difficulties with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and non-verbal communication. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that autism affects 1 in 44 children in the U.S. today. Our dedicated team of speech therapists, ABA therapists, occupational therapists, and educators offers help to families in Cleveland, Brecksville, Broadview Heights, and Akron.

No. 1: Breathe

The very first thing to do after a Cleveland autism diagnosis is BREATHE. Autism is a lifelong condition – and that in itself can feel very intimidating as you contemplate your next steps. But know that in most cases, the symptoms can be managed. Behaviors can be managed with help. Your child can lead a long, healthy, meaningful, successful life.

You have already taken the very hardest step in all of this, which is seeking professional intervention when you recognized something wasn’t quite right. You persisted in pursuing answers – even when you knew the answers might pose challenges you might not feel ready to face. You did this because you love your child.

Now that they have an autism diagnosis, give yourself a few beats to catch your breath, acknowledge your own feelings, and prepare yourself for the next chapter. Your engagement and advocacy will be pivotal to your child’s success, and it’s important that you’re in a good mental/emotional space to do so. Online support groups through Facebook and other social media channels can be especially helpful as you embark on this journey.

No. 2: Explore Early Intervention

The next/first step is to get help. Your options may vary depending on your child’s age. Do not worry that your child may be too young. A child can receive a Cleveland autism diagnosis as young as 18 months, and early intervention therapies are strongly recommended to start before a child turns 3.

In Northeast Ohio, we have a program called Help Me Grow for infants and toddlers birth to age 3 with a medical diagnosis or developmental delay, as well as for families concerned about their child’s development. They help work on things like speech delays, social interaction help with other kids, etc.

Services and specialists may include:

  • occupational therapy
  • speech therapy
  • physical therapy
  • developmental specialist
  • early childhood mental health therapy
  • registered dietician
  • vision and hearing specialists

You may need to obtain a referral to early intervention from your pediatrician or pediatric specialist. In Cuyahoga County, it takes about 45 days from the referral to complete the eligibility, assessment, individual family service plan, and then finally the beginning of early intervention services. There has been something of a backlog since COVID, so it’s a good idea to get this process started as soon as possible.

Cleveland autism resources

No. 3: Start Looking at Private Therapy

Early intervention is provided as a public service. But children with autism can also benefit from private therapy services. In the beginning, the schedule of these services may be intensive, ultimately tapering off as they reach their goals and milestones.

Children with autism are often referred for a combination of therapy services, including:

  • Speech Therapy
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Applied Behavioral Analysis (also known as ABA or behavior therapy)

Therapy & Wellness Connection offers all of these – and more – and insurance covers most if not all of these services if your child has been diagnosed with autism. We can provide these services in-clinic, in-home, and sometimes in school or daycare. Some patients may be eligible to receive some of these services via teletherapy.

The key with these services is consistency. Intensive therapy, particularly early on, can feel a bit overwhelming when it’s 3-4 times a week (longer stretches with ABA therapy), but showing up and being actively engaged in the carryover is important.

If your child is school-age, the school should begin the process of drafting an IEP, or individualized education plan. If you find ultimately that your child’s school and IEP fail to serve their best interests, there are scholarships available to enroll them in private education, with teachers who will teach the way they learn. Therapy & Wellness Connection offers homeschooling and other education services with credentialed special teachers and intervention specialists.

No. 4: Engage With a Social Skills Group

Among the most significant deficits many kids on the autism spectrum face are communication and social skills. They’re going to need as much practice as they can – early and often. And it’s a lot of pressure to just put on a sibling or two. Joining a Cleveland social skills group for kids with autism can help them make significant strides.

We offer several different social skills groups, sorted by age, at our Brecksville clinic. These include:

  • Say-n-Play. This is an awesome group that focuses on social interactions and activities like crafts, songs, games, and books. It helps children with speech-language difficulties, but also following directions and engaging with others in a group setting.
  • OT Group. This focuses on zones of regulation, social interaction, and skills of daily life. We take fun “field trips,” play games, and work on group projects.
  • Thrive Social Center Courses. These include everything from learning social boundaries to getting along with friends to teens & technology, to young adult groups.

This extra support will help prepare kids for real-world scenarios and interactions, helping them make friends, stay safe, and be included.

No. 5: Learn to Listen Without Your Ears.

If your child has received a Cleveland autism diagnosis and is non-verbal or speech-delayed, it can be very frustrating to know what they want, what they don’t want, how you can help, and how to parent them. But just because they aren’t talking doesn’t mean they aren’t communicating. Remember that behavior itself is a form of communication, and kids on the spectrum may be engaging in “unexpected” behaviors to communicate wants, needs, or aversions.

ABA Therapy is extremely helpful in addressing unexpected behaviors and promoting those that are expected and helpful. Speech therapy can help with non-verbal communication, articulation, and social pragmatics. Occupational therapy can help kids tackle critical life skills like self-regulation, measuring the size of a problem, diversifying their diet, self-care, etc.

But in the meantime, recognize that just because they aren’t talking doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to say. You may be your child’s voice for the foreseeable future. It’s important to try your best to engage them at every opportunity, and understand what’s NOT being said.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Cleveland, Akron, and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

What is Autism? AutismSpeaks.com

More Blog Entries:

Cleveland ABA Therapy Strategies, May 5, 2022, Cleveland Autism Treatment Blog

Cleveland ABA therapy

Cleveland ABA Therapy Strategies

Cleveland ABA therapy

Approaches to Cleveland ABA therapy for children with autism can be varied depending on the provider. If your child is on the spectrum and you’ve been referred to behavior therapy by your pediatric specialist, it’s important to talk to the behavior therapy provider not only about the goals they have for your child, but the strategies they employ.

At Therapy & Wellness Connection, our strategies may need to be adapted for each child, but they primarily involve positive reinforcement.

The goal of our Cleveland ABA therapy services is to provide kids on the autism spectrum with the spills they’re going to need to be independent in all types of environments. We help lay the foundation, the building blocks, to help them learn – which in turn is going to help them not only function, but fully engage – whether that’s at home, in school, or pursuing their passions as they get older.”

-Jaclyn McClymont, Therapy & Wellness Connection Owner & Founder

The basics of ABA usually involve things like:

  • Learning to make requests
  • Waiting a reasonable amount of time to have that request fulfilled
  • Transitioning from one activity to another
  • Completing tasks
  • Accepting “No”
  • Following directions
  • Mastering skills relating to health, safety, and important tasks needed for learning

Typically, we start with a functional behavior assessment, which helps us determine which behaviors we want to target for extinction, and which we want to promote/encourage.

Wherever possible, our Cleveland ABA therapy team will work to ensure that the “why” of what we’re learning makes sense to the child. So if the goal is for them to be able to put on their own jacket, we avoid initiating that task randomly. We do it, for example, to prepare to go for a walk or some other task.

We offer our services both in-home and in-clinic. In both cases, we try to use as many real-world examples as possible. So for example, if we’re trying to teach a child how to get ready to eat lunch, we want to give them opportunities to do things like choose their spoon from a kitchen drawer, as opposed to pointing to a flashcard of a spoon.

Understanding Antecedent-Based Interventions

One technique we frequently employ in our Cleveland ABA therapy sessions involve antecedent-based interventions.

To explain how this works, it’s helpful to understand how ABA therapy views learning. That is, we focus on a three-stage process referred to as the ABCs of behavior (Antecedent –> Behavior –> Consequence). The antecedent looks at what happens immediately before the behavior, what triggers it. Then we analyze the behavior itself. From there we look at the consequence, or what happens immediately after that may be enforcing it (intentionally or unintentionally).

For example, let’s say your child has major meltdowns while you’re making dinner. The antecedent may be their own hunger. The behavior is their meltdown. This may be unintentionally reinforced by a consequence of giving them a high-sugar snack, right before dinner.

As ABA therapists, we look at whether the behavior can be modified by altering the antecedent or consequence. We may modify the environment to reduce triggers. We may identify when bodily needs are triggering the behavior (hunger, fatigue, overstimulation) and work to address those. For example, a child who is overstimulated may need a movement break/exercise/quiet time at certain times of the day or when certain things are happening – to be able to better cope and avoid meltdowns.

In addition to modifying the child’s learning environment, another antecedent-based intervention is to give a child choices. Rather than asking a child to complete a worksheet, we may give them a choice: Worksheet A or Worksheet B. Having a choice helps children to feel more confident and in-control – and increases the odds they’ll complete the task, rather than defiantly saying no.

Finally, we may engage children using motivating items, such as a toy, a favorite food, or a game/activity.

Consequence-Based Interventions and Extinction

And we also look at altering the consequences, or reinforcement. Parents and other caregivers sometimes unintentionally reinforce unexpected behavior with a “consequence” like time out or verbal admonishment that actually gives the child what they want (a break, attention, etc.). They may not necessarily see it as “negative,” even if it’s carried out in that context.

Redirection is one that we use frequently. It’s when we distract a child from a problem behavior, drawing their attention to a more appropriate solution/behavior.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Cleveland, Akron, and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Applied Behavior Analysis, Autism, and Occupational Therapy: A Search for Understanding, July/August 2016, The American Journal of Occupational Therapy

More Blog Entries:

ABA Therapy Explainer: What’s a Functional Behavior Assessment? March 9, 2022, Cleveland ABA Therapy Blog

Brecksville ABA therapists

Brecksville ABA Therapists Offer “Time-Out” Alternatives

As Brecksville ABA therapists, our focus is on the study of behavior. When it comes to children with autism and other conditions, the interest is not only on what the challenging behavior is, but what the motivation – or function – is and how caregivers may be unintentionally reinforcing it. This brings us to the ever-popular approach of time-out.

You’re almost certainly familiar with the “time-out” strategy because it’s very popular. As explained by the CDC, timeout is when a child is removed from where the “misbehavior” occurred – deprived of fun, attention, or some other desired activity. Time-out is used for things like breaking a rule or not following a direction after a warning. It’s effective for lots of neurotypical kids because time-out is boring, and kids don’t usually like to be bored.

However, timeout isn’t effective for addressing all behaviors, and it’s may not be effective for every child. For children with autism spectrum disorder or developmental delay or some other disability, time-out can provide a safe space for them to work on calming themselves. However, it’s not going to be effective if:

  • The child is aggressive or using self-injuring behavior.
  • The child’s goal is to avoid the activity or interaction with others.

In both of these cases, time-out might inadvertently reinforce the challenging behavior. In the case of self-injurious behavior, putting them in a space alone isn’t likely to stop it. If the child’s goal is to avoid interaction or a non-preferred activity, time-out actually gives them what they want. In effect, adults may be inadvertently giving them a reason to engage in challenging behaviors to achieve the goal of getting in time-out.

Broadview Heights ABA therapy

Broadview Heights ABA Therapy Team Breaks Down the Function of Behavior

If your child is receiving Broadview Heights ABA therapy (also known as behavior therapy), you’ve likely heard the term “function of behavior.” It’s a common phrase in the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA). As behavior analysts, one of the primary steps in behavior modification is identifying the function of behavior. In other words, we need to understand why a behavior is occurring in order to respond appropriately in a way that will help us elicit the desired response/action from the child.

What it comes down to is that behavior, at its most basic level, is a form of communication. Behavior elicits reaction from others. If a child struggles to communicate in appropriate ways (language, body cues, facial expressions, etc.), they may rely on behavior. We as adults and caregivers reinforce behaviors when we respond with their desired outcome. Unfortunately, some of the ways we’re used to responding to “bad” behaviors can end up unintentionally reinforcing them.

We need to ask ourselves, “Why is my child falling to the floor screaming because I told him we’re having grilled chicken for dinner?” “Why is my child hitting me repeatedly from the grocery cart seat?” “Why is my child having a total meltdown when it’s time to get dressed?”

It’s critical to understand that all behavior happens for a reason. If we want to change the behavior, we need to find out the function – the “why” – of it.

Brecksville early intervention

Neuroplasticity and How it Relates to Brecksville Early Intervention Services

If your child has been recommended for Brecksville early intervention services, either due to developmental delays or a diagnosis of a condition like autism, Down syndrome, or cerebral palsy, odds are you’ve heard the term “neuroplasticity.”

That’s a somewhat intimidating word, but the concept is fairly straightforward – and important to understand if you’re considering the value of early intervention services, which are initiated before a child’s 5th birthday, or sooner if possible.

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change – to relearn, rewire, establish and strengthen important connections. If the brain is injured or developing atypically, neurons can be damaged, altered, or lost. The good news is that the brain can establish new pathways. There is a brief window of time with young children where the brain’s ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections – especially in response to learning or experience – is especially effective. This is called neuroplasticity.

Children’s minds are like little sponges, absorbing everything around them. It’s what gives them the “superpower” of learning the fundamentals of movement, language and basic independence (walking, talking, feeding, etc.) in just a few short years. If a child has a developmental delay or a condition that has made reaching typical developmental milestones challenging, intervening early with services like speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy, and physical therapy allows us to leverage a child’s natural neuroplasticity to help their brains create and reinforce new neural pathways that allow them to glean new skills, habits, and ways of thinking.

ABA Therapy Brecksville

When Should Our Child Start ABA Therapy?

When your child is diagnosed with autism, there are so many unknowns. Families may feel as if they’re drowning in all the decisions with which they’re faced, compounded by the fact that few practitioners speak of long-term outcomes with any great degree of certainty. That said, early intervention – including ABA therapy – is one course of treatment on which most agree results in optimal outcomes.

When a parent asks, “When should my child start ABA therapy?” the answer is almost always going to be, “As soon as possible.”

What is Early Intervention? 

Early intervention therapy refers to a multi-disciplinary approach geared toward children under age 3 but up to 5. It’s a combination of speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy, and sometimes physical therapy that is initiated with the understanding that a child’s earliest experiences play a critical role in a child’s brain development. We know that kids who receive early intervention therapy do significantly better when it comes to learning new skills, overcoming challenges, and increasing both their academic success and personal independence, we know that kids who do not receive early intervention therapy may be substantially disadvantaged.

ABA therapy is most effective the earlier it starts. One of the earliest studies on the benefits of ABA therapy found kids who started before age 5 had better outcomes than those who started after they turned 5. Kids can usually start ABA therapy as young as 2 (sometimes earlier), and research has found doing so leads to significant improvements in both cognitive and adaptive skills.

One analysis by the Institute of Child Health & Human Development revealed that when we intervene with a fourth-grader as opposed to a kindergartner, it takes four times as long to make the same progress – not only because of the explosion of brain development that occurs in those early years (and the plasticity of a young brain, which is primed to learn new things), but also because there is a substantial increase in skills kids are expected to have mastered by Grade 4.

In some cases, therapies can start in infancy, with goals and strategies of course tailored to the age and the individual.

By incorporating early intervention ABA therapy, kids can avoid more substantial learning challenges in the future.

How Does Brecksville ABA Therapy Help My Child With Autism?

When a child has autism, they typically have deficits in communication and social skills, and these go hand-in-hand with maladaptive behaviors. For all of us, behavior is a form of communication. Kids on the spectrum who lack many fundamental communication skills may use behavior in ways that are not expected to communicate their needs and desires. Families sometimes do more harm than good when they don’t understand the function of the behavior and end up reinforcing it. For example, a common motive for behavior is attention. It may not matter whether that attention is negative. When you respond to it with eye contact, physical contact and a heightened reaction – even an angry one – it may still be reinforcing the behavior. If the motive of the behavior is to evade and you put them in a “time out,” you are unintentionally reinforcing the behavior.

ABA stands for applied behavioral analysis, and it is where we deep dive into the “why” of the behavior. We ask, “What function does it serve?” and see if adjustments can be made to the antecedent or consequence that may result in altering maladaptive behaviors or encouraging expected behaviors. The earlier this process starts, the more adaptive children are to changing their behaviors. We can teach kids how to use functional communication to replace behaviors that are unexpected. We can also educate parents on how best to respond in ways that don’t unintentionally reinforce difficult behaviors.

What If I Don’t Want My Child to Be Labeled? 

We recognize that one of the reasons some parents shy away from early intervention therapy is because of potential stigma and concern that an autism diagnosis might set them on a path that would result in a long-term, detrimental label.

One thing to keep in mind is that stigmas are shifting. There is more awareness and acceptance. People increasingly recognize that autism doesn’t just look a certain way. It is a spectrum, and individuals on it can indeed grow to be happy, healthy, highly-functioning and invaluable members of society. Early intervention therapy is what sets children up for success. ABA therapy is a critical part of that.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, homeschooling, alternative schooling, virtual therapy and education, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Treatment and Intervention Services for Autism Spectrum Disorder, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

More Blog Entries:

How Our Brecksville ABA Therapists Teach Flexibility, Sept. 17, 2021, Brecksville ABA Therapy Blog

child developmental regression

Child Developmental Regression & What To Do About It

Child developmental regression is when a child loses certain developmental skills they previously acquired. It might seem as if they’re almost moving backward in their development. This is different from developmental delay, when kids reach certain milestones later than expected or their developmental progress flattens or stalls.

The condition is pretty rare, though it is sometimes associated with a number of diagnoses, each warranting prompt attention and intervention. The good news is that for the more common conditions, treatment can be effective when problems are caught early.

Examples of the conditions most commonly associated with child developmental regression are:

  • Autism spectrum disorder. This condition isn’t always associated with child developmental regression, but as researchers have noted, it is the most frequent condition in which regression is diagnosed. In rare instances, it can be associated with Heller’s Syndrome, also known as child disintegrative disorder (CDD). This is characterized by late onset (age 3 and older) developmental delays, social function, motor skills, and even cognitive function. Children with CDD will develop typically for the first 2 to 10 years before sharply regressing.
  • Neurodegenerative disorders. These include conditions like Rett’s Syndrome and Metachromatic leukodystrophy.
  • Trauma or stress. Traumatic or stressful events can cause some children to regress in some respects or act younger than their age. Examples of this include things like potty accidents, sleep disturbances, decreased independence and behavior disruption.

For this article, we’re focusing primarily on regression as it pertains to autism. It should be noted though that with the other conditions, medications, therapies, and other supports are known to help manage symptoms, prevent complications, and improve life quality.

What We Know About Child Developmental Regression and Autism

Regression with autism appears to occur very rapidly or gradually. In either case, the child struggles to regain skills they’ve lost.

Some researchers have concluded that while regression among some kids with autism can be very real, many instances are more likely a pileup of deficits and missed indicators that finally become unmistakable. Parental reports that classify the onset of autism can often be flawed – not because parents aren’t paying attention to their kids, but because they usually aren’t child developmental experts who even know what to watch for.

In other words, loss of social interest or communication deficits can take place at varying ages and to different degrees – it just becomes more noticeable at certain points. When it happens to kids who are little older, it can appear drastic and sudden. When it happens in kids who are a lot younger, it can seem very subtle.

In the past, doctors used to think that “regressive autism” was a subtype of autism, but the more we learn about the condition, the more those lines have been blurred. One study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found as many as 1 in 5 cases of autism involved regression – a rate that has risen as we’ve grown to include more people with unique presentations of autism.

Often, it looks something like this: An 18-month-old who seemed to be developing typically “withdraws suddenly,” ignoring his own name, talking less (to the point of not talking at all), ignoring engagement with other kids to play almost exclusively with inanimate objects, losing previous interests, and appearing to obsessively focus on a few things or activities. This may occur at the same time as the child begins to display behavior characterized as “odd” and repetitive.

Although doctors used to consider “regressive autism” to be its own subset of the condition, physicians increasingly argue that such classifications aren’t as pertinent because most kids with autism lose some skills, and there is a lot of variation on the types of skills they lose, to what degree, and at what age. A study published in the journal Autism in 2016 found that there were a range of onset patterns, with some parents reporting early developmental delays with no skill loss to no delays and then a clear loss of skills. Ultimately, this may tell us something about the onset of the condition, but it doesn’t necessarily change the approach and treatment in helping kids “catch up” in their social, emotional, and communication skills.

Child developmental regression typically occurs among children younger than 3, with the average age being around 21 months. The risk of children losing their developmental skills becomes increasingly unlikely the older they get, but early intervention speech therapy, occupational therapy, and ABA therapy can help them retain what they have and make gains where they’ve fallen behind.

Early Intervention Therapies Can Help Kids Who Have Developmental Regression

When it comes to children with autism, regardless of the onset pattern, waiting for the child to “catch up” on their own simply isn’t going to work.

Our Brecksville speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy, physical therapy, and special education team work together as a team in formulating an early intervention plan that can help children on the autism spectrum communicate, play, and learn. Our approach is going to be based on the skills they have compared to the skills they should be displaying for a child their age.

Therapy is not a “quick fix” solution. It is a commitment for families, but is well-established as one of the most effective means of treating children who’ve experienced developmental regression attributed to autism.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy, physical therapy, and special education services to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email

Additional Resources:

Why Act Early if You’re Concerned About Child Development, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

More Blog Entries:

At What Age Should My Child Begin Brecksville Speech Therapy? Oct. 16, 2021, Brecksville Speech Therapist Blog

Brecksville ABA therapists Thanksgiving

Brecksville ABA Therapists’ Tips on Navigating Thanksgiving

Lots of families look forward to celebrating the holidays each year, with Thanksgiving being a particular favorite. But as our Brecksville ABA therapists understand, parents of children on the autism spectrum may be worried that such celebrations are far outside their kids’ comfort zones. After all, the goings-on are seemingly chaotic, and many of the faces, smells, and tastes are not part of the daily routine they’re used to.

The good news is that with some preparation, it is possible for everyone to enjoy these gatherings.

Brecksville kids social group

Kids Ages 5-12 Social Group in Brecksville

Therapy & Wellness Connection is proud to offer Thrive Social Group sessions for school-age kids 5-12, every Wednesday from 3:30-4:30 p.m. We incorporate creative play, movement & music while teaching important social skills in this therapist-led group.

Our kids’ social group is offered in 6-week sessions for $180 total. The skills your child will learn and the fun they’ll have will be invaluable! Call today to reserve your child’s spot!

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – offers speech, occupational, physical & ABA therapy, as well as social groups, summer camp, day programs, homeschooling, alternative schooling, virtual therapy and education, vocational counseling and more. We’re headquartered in Brecksville, Ohio. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.