Akron ABA therapists

How Our Akron ABA Therapists Work With Occupational Therapists to Provide Kids Optimal Care

When it comes to treating a child with developmental delays, disabilities, or injuries, it’s important to keep in mind that a child is a whole person. What we mean by that is that when we’re treating a child with complex needs or conditions, it would be easy for therapists in separate disciplines to focus only on the symptoms/skills they specifically are treating. But a “whole child” approach taken by our Akron ABA therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists considers that these systems are all interconnected – and we can make faster, more meaningful progress when we collaborate and work together.

ABA therapy (applied behavioral analysis) is an evidence-based therapy that is utilized to treat children with autism and certain other conditions with a focus on social communication, disruptive/harmful behaviors, motor skills, and more. The general thinking is that whenever a behavior is followed by something of value (in a sense, rewarded), it’s more likely to be repeated. That works both ways. Behavior that is unhelpful or dangerous can be unintentionally “rewarded” by certain outcomes (attention, avoidance, etc.). By the same token, ABA looks at the child’s motivation behind the targeted behavior and then seeks to alter the consequence, depriving them of the “reward” for unhelpful behaviors while rewarding those behaviors that are helpful/expected.

Occupational therapy, meanwhile, helps individuals achieve specific goals that involve engage in meaningful activities of daily living. That could mean anything from teeth brushing to handwriting to avoiding major meltdowns when moving from one activity to the next.

When ABA and OT professionals work together in a clinical setting, it improves the child’s overall success. therapists are able to be in constant communication with those in other disciplines about the child’s progress, methods that aren’t working, cross-promoting skills that are being targeted in both disciplines, and each providing useful strategies that the other finds most effective.

Every child’s treatment plan at Therapy & Wellness Connection is tailored to that individual, with a focus on how we can lay the foundation needed to help them build the skills necessary to succeed in everyday activities – from self-care to school to making new friends to learning how to regulate their own emotions. When both occupational therapists and ABA therapists work together (or at least, coordinate their strategies), they can each help reinforce the lessons the other is trying to teach. Both are most effective when provided in a way that is playful in an environment that is both safe and fun.

Both disciplines approach therapy with similar goals and methods. For example, occupational therapists will break down mechanical processes of certain tasks so that the child has an easier time correcting their current approach (or developing a new skill) so that they can ultimately achieve their goal. In behavior therapy, Akron ABA therapists break down each task into a smaller steps, one-at-a-time.

Both work to address sensory processing disorders in similar ways as well. A person with sensory processing issues may have extreme aversions (or penchants for) certain sensory stimuli – lights, sounds, tactile pressure, textures, tastes, crowds, etc. This can manifest itself in different ways.

For example, a child who has a major sensitivity to lights and sounds may have a really difficult time in a grocery store. Akron ABA therapists will look at the behavior (a meltdown) and try to determine, “What is the motivation?” In this case, perhaps it is avoidance. The meltdown gets them out of the bright, loud environment. They then look to see how they can alter the antecedent (what happens right before) and the consequence (what happens right after) to modify or extinct the behavior. In this situation, they may see whether a visual schedule (helping them know exactly what to expect and for how long) or possibly some sort of adaptation (headphones, sunglasses, etc.) may help avoid the meltdown. Alternatively, they may initiate a positive reinforcer for the child engaging in short periods of time in bright or louder environments, gradually building up their tolerance level – and empowering them to communicate when a situation is becoming too overwhelming and they need a break.

Similarly in occupational therapy, the therapist will use a sensory integration approach to help kids gradually desensitize (or learn to better “read” the sensory input they are receiving) to certain stimuli. It’s done of a period of weeks, months, or even years, little-by-little. OTs also work toward helping these kids be able to advocate for themselves and more effectively convey when something is uncomfortable, painful, or difficult. When OTs and ABA therapists collaborate, they can each reinforce the goals of the other with the same child.

Given that so many children with autism spectrum disorder have both behavioral and sensory issues, it makes a lot of sense for us to initiate a cross-disciplinary approach that will set the stage for our kids to be successful and have the highest quality of life possible.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights 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, Psychology Today

More Blog Entries:

How Long Will My Child Need to Be in Cleveland ABA Therapy? Dec. 23, 2022, Akron ABA Therapists’ Blog

Akron ABA therapy

What Makes Akron ABA Therapy Effective for Kids With Autism?

Providers of Akron ABA therapy understand well why it’s considered the gold standard for treatment for children with autism spectrum disorder (as well as a few other conditions like Down syndrome). But there are many schools of thought when it comes to this relatively newer practice area, so it’s perfectly understandable that parents and caregivers would ask, “What makes ABA therapy so effective?”

We should start by pointing out the obvious: People on the autism spectrum tend to process information a bit differently than others who are considered “neurotypical.” Autism is considered a developmental disability associated with differences when it comes to learning, moving, or paying attention, as well as challenges with social communication, sensory processing, and variations in routine. It’s a broad spectrum, so not every child or challenge is the same, and it can also vary depending on the environment.

Akron ABA therapy – applied behavioral analysis – is an approach to treatment rooted in the proven scientific methodologies of respondent and operant conditioning with the goal of altering behaviors of social significance. That’s a mouthful, but basically, it’s trained behavior specialists using a formulaic approach to studying behaviors that may be holding the child back in life, and determining how we might help them gradually let go of those by using one-on-one positive reinforcement over a period of weeks, months, or years.

The goal is not to change the child. We accept kids with autism as they are. What we strive to do is help them more effectively navigate the world around them.

ABA often focuses on skills that are part of independence and success in everyday life. It will vary depending on the child, their age, and how their challenges are impeding their independence and quality of life. These can include things like:

  • Extreme sensitivity to certain sensory stimuli that can make it tough to carry out basic grooming.
  • Intense fixation/focus on things to the extent that it impedes social engagement.
  • Stringent reliance on routines that can impede the ability to transition from one thing to the next without major outbursts.
  • Inability to focus long enough to benefit from classroom instruction, even in a modified classroom.

Behavior technicians, who are supervised by board-certified behavior analysts, may work on things like teeth brushing, eating a variety of foods, getting dressed, improvement of tactile tolerance/sensitivity, self-awareness and understanding “the size of a problem,” having conversations, making friends, reading emotions, advocating for their needs/wants, etc. If issues like self-harm or elopement are a concern, we can help formulate strategies to help reduce those occurrence or severity.

This is done by breaking down these larger skills into smaller, more manageable steps.

This all probably seems quite serious, but one of the reasons our Akron ABA therapy approach is so effective is because it is play-based. There’s a ton of research to back this, and the crux of it is: Kids remember the skills they learn when it’s fun. The positive reinforcements are child-led so that it’s always engaging. If they’re interested in music or certain characters or animals or toys – we try to incorporate those as much as possible. It doesn’t mean every day is easy breezy or there are never tough moments. But patients and therapists form a trust over time that ensures the child feels safe and respected and heard – and happy – while they’re working on these skills.

Lastly, the most effective pediatric ABA therapy doesn’t start and end with the child. The best programs are those that incorporate the concerns, ideas, and feedback of parents, other caregivers, teachers, doctors, etc. Ultimately, we want the skills being taught to carry over across environments – whether that’s at home, school, worship, community outings, and just being out in the real world. We can help parents and other stakeholders by providing strategies to apply when certain challenges arise (role play, modeling, redirection, etc.) so that there is consistency across environments. That is ultimately what is going to help the child absorb the lessons we’re imparting faster.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights 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:

Efficacy of Interventions Based on Applied Behavior Analysis for Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Meta-Analysis, May 2020, Journal of Psychiatry Investigations

More Blog Entries:

How Long Will My Child Need to Be in Cleveland ABA Therapy? Dec. 23, 2022, Akron ABA Therapy Blog

Cleveland ABA therapy

How Long Will My Child Need to Be in Cleveland ABA Therapy?

No two children on the autism spectrum are the same, In turn, the methods, intensity, and duration of the Cleveland ABA therapy they receive will be specifically tailored to the individual. That said, we know many parents want to know – at least roughly – how long their child is going to need therapy. Rather than outline a set number of hours or months or years, we point to specific goal posts – the biggest being an indicator of their functional ability and independence in everyday tasks.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is recognized as an effective treatment for kids on the autism spectrum, and sometimes those with other conditions like ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Down syndrome, etc.

Most kids with autism will start ABA therapy sometime between the ages of 2 and 6 – with doctors and Cleveland ABA therapy providers agreeing that the earlier we start, the better. But as for how long it’s going to last, there is no magic number. What we can say unequivocally is that both intensity and duration (i.e., “the dosage”) of therapy are significant predictors of how well kids master their learning objectives.

This is well-established, but just as an example, a study published in 2017 in the peer-reviewed journal Translational Psychiatry examined the effectiveness of ABA therapy in varying durations for nearly 1,500 children ranging from age 18 months to 12 years, as measured by their mastery of skills ranging from social communication to self-regulation. The study found that both intensity and duration of therapy was positively correlated with better long-term outcomes in mastered learning objectives in areas like language, academics, adaptive behavior, and self-care.

Of course, it’s not expected that a child will receive behavior therapy indefinitely.

On average, it’s safe to say kids just starting Cleveland ABA therapy will receive anywhere from 20 to 40 hours weekly. The exact amount depends on things like the child’s age, condition severity, insurance coverage, parental ability, etc. This amount can be naturally reduced – or increased – over time as needed to ensure the child is receiving what they need to make progress on their goals.

We often start at a high intensity level – particularly during the first couple of years – and then taper off as the child gradually masters certain skills – sustainably and across different environments.

Some indicators we look for when assessing whether to reduce or discontinue ABA therapy are things like:

  • Confidence in the child’s stage of functioning and independence for their age.
  • The child is learning from the environment without the need for direct instruction.
  • Parents and teachers are able to manage and reduce problem behaviors without additional support of a behavior therapist.
  • The child is likely to benefit from a different educational environment (that isn’t one-on-one).
  • Key goals have been met, and target skills mastered.
  • The child is able to generalize their skills to different environments.
  • New skills are acquired and mastered without requiring direct intervention and instruction.

Ending ABA therapy is often a major transition for kids, teens, and young adults. Our team works with parents, teachers, and others to make that transition as smooth and successful as possible.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights 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:

An evaluation of the effects of intensity and duration on outcomes across treatment domains for children with autism spectrum disorder, September 2017, Translational Psychiatry

More Blog Entries:

Cleveland ABA Therapists Explain Our Aim for Generalization of Skills, Nov. 2, 2022, Northeast Ohio ABA Therapy Blog

Akron ABA therapist

Akron ABA Therapist on Responding to Difficult Behaviors of Child With Autism

One of the most significant challenges for parents of a child with autism is concern for their child’s well-being when difficult behaviors that are aggressive, self-injurious or socially isolating. As an Akron ABA therapist can explain, there is no one-size-fits-all “right way” to respond to difficult behaviors. It’s important to carefully look at what may be motivating the child to engage in this behavior and also what occurs right after that could be unintentionally reinforcing it.

Understanding the “why” is key to being prepared with a better response – one that involves keeping the child and others safe, and incorporates strategies to help reduce future occurrences and reinforce more appropriate means of communication.

Some of the difficult behaviors commonly reported by parents of children on the autism spectrum:

  • Scratching
  • Biting
  • Kicking
  • Headbanging
  • Face-slapping
  • Hair-pulling
  • Excessive scratching or rubbing
  • Refusal to cooperate
  • Screaming and yelling
  • Throwing things

In a survey of 2,300+ published in the journal Pediatric Reports, roughly 40 percent of individuals on the autism spectrum currently or in the past have engaged in both aggressive and self-injurious behavior. The duration, severity, and frequency of these behaviors vary across the autism spectrum.

Why Kids With ASD Engage in Challenging Behaviors

It’s important to point out that usually, the child is not intentionally trying to test your patience or hurt anyone. And this is why “punishment” isn’t usually the best way to handle it because it’s not a matter of being “bad” or “spoiled” (no matter what kind of snide remarks you may hear from others if you’re unfortunate enough to be dealing with an episode in a public space).

A fair amount of research over the last five decades has revealed that comorbidities are a significant contributing factor in such behaviors. One of the most commonly cited comorbidities associated with these behaviors is impaired interoception, which is when a person has trouble perceiving their own internal body signals. (This condition isn’t unique to people on the spectrum, but it is fairly common among them.)

As an Akron ABA therapist can tell you, all behavior – at the core – is a form of communication. In ABA, we work to alter behavioral outcomes by studying the triggers and consequences/rewards and then consistently modifying one or both of those. But when issues with interoception are part of the “why” for the behavior, it can be tougher because the behavior itself is intrinsically physically rewarding, providing a measure of sensory input or relief.

Other possible behavior triggers include:

  • Transitions
  • Sudden or unexpected changes (in plans, activities, expectations, etc.)
  • Frustration or anxiety
  • Poor social and communication skills
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Mental and/or physical fatigue
  • Executive functioning trouble

When you know this “why,” you can start looking at ways to reduce the chances of a trigger, as well as having a “toolbox” handy to respond quickly and effectively.

Addressing the Antecedent

In ABA, the antecedent is the first element of the “ABC’s of behavior science.” (The others are behavior and consequence.) The antecedent is the “trigger” or what happens right before the behavior occurs. Because kids with autism can’t always effectively express exactly what it is that they need or that’s causing them stress/pain/discomfort, etc., we have to carefully look for patterns of behavior to determine the specifics of what’s setting them off.

Armed with knowledge of the underlying issue, you can:

  • Have a plan. You know your child struggles with transitions. You can help reduce this difficulty (and the odds of a meltdown) by preparing them with verbal and visual cues, timers, social stories, etc. so that they don’t feel so “taken off guard” when they must move from one activity to the next.
  • Adjust the environment. Your child can still have meaningful or necessary experiences without experiencing them the exact same way as everyone else. Adaptations to account for sensory overload (headphones, sunglasses, chewable jewelry, etc.) can go a long way. Other adaptations can help ensure the environment is one that allows for engagement that is both calm and safe.
  • Be picky about events. If your child struggles mightily with crowds, a theme park vacation may not be the best idea. Or if you do decide to go, perhaps limit the amount of time spent or distance traveled in a single go. Another example might be a child’s birthday party. If you don’t want to skip it entirely, maybe come early or later and only stay for a certain period of time.
  • Have tools ready. Come prepared with tools to help them cope if they do start to feel overwhelmed. These can include fidget toys, electronic device with a favorite game app, “heavy work” exercises, etc.
  • Give them choices. Providing the child with a sense of control can go a long way toward helping reduce challenging behaviors. You aren’t just telling them what to do and expecting they will, but instead giving them a choice about how to engage. For example, not doing homework may not be an option – but they can choose to either do it at their own desk vs. the kitchen table, or they can choose to do it alone vs. with parent helping.
  • Designate safe spots. If you know certain places or scenarios are tough for your child, figure out in advance where they or both of you can go to self-regulate before continuing.

Adjusting the “Consequence”

The word consequence has a negative connotation, but that’s not necessarily what we mean here. It is simply: What happens immediately after the behavior? What is the child getting in return for their behavior? Is there a way to alter the consequence so that the child no longer finds engaging in that behavior to be an effective means of accessing that outcome?

When you work with an Akron ABA therapist, you’ll find the goal is to focus on supporting behaviors that are safe, productive, and boost the child’s confidence, while not supporting those that are harmful or socially isolating.

One approach that’s often effective when we’re trying to “extinct” a problem behavior is to avoid drawing attention to it. That often seems counterintuitive to many parents at first – because your instinct is to immediately tell them to stop, etc. But as long as the behavior isn’t dangerous, ignoring it entirely can be effective – especially if the behavior is attention-seeking. At first, this approach may actually trigger an increase in the behavior (referred to as a “behavioral burst”), but it will ultimately wane as the child learns they are not getting the desired outcome by engaging in it.

If you have questions about how to address the challenging behaviors of your child on the autism spectrum, working with an Akron ABA therapist can go a long way toward helping to identify the underlying cause and develop an effective response.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights 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:

Understanding Challenging Behaviors in Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Multi-Component, Interdisciplinary Model, July 2022, Journal of Personalized Medicine

More Blog Entries:

How Our Brecksville ABA Therapists Use Social Stories to Help Kids With Autism, Nov. 3, 2022, Akron ABA Therapy Blog

Brecksville ABA therapists

How Our Brecksville ABA Therapists Use Social Stories to Help Kids With Autism

Children with autism spectrum disorder often have a difficult time mastering important life skills related to social interactions, communication, and transitioning from one activity to the next. They also tend to be more visual learners, meaning they may struggle to follow auditory directions. Our Brecksville ABA therapists have found that social stories are a great way to bridge the gap and effectively teach key skills.

A social story is a visual tool that accurately describes a skill, context, concept, or achievement and incorporate 10 specific criteria. These include having a defined purpose or goal, identifying the most critical information on a certain topic, having a clearly defined title, body, and conclusion, writing that’s in a supportive, positive, and literal voice, and crafting descriptive sentences that answer the basic WH questions. They also incorporate visual aids – graphics, pictures, or sometimes even pictures of the child themselves engaged in the activity or a picture of the exact place where the activity will/would take place. First person language (i.e., “I go to the store”) is often used, but not always.

The concept for social stories was around long before they were called that, but credit is usually given to teacher Carol Gray, a mother of four kids with autism who was looking for ways to help her students as well as her own kids with things like transitions to recess and what to expect in a line.

Today, our Brecksville ABA therapists use and recommend social stories to help with all kinds of scenarios. Some examples include (but aren’t limited to):

  • How to use the bus
  • Using or sharing toys
  • How to talk to friends
  • Staying in the house
  • Wearing a seatbelt
  • Understanding personal space
  • Keeping your hands to yourself
  • Listening to teachers
  • Eye contact/staring
  • Using your words
  • What to do with big emotions
  • Going on a trip (or to the doctor, grocery store, airplane, movies, etc.)
  • Hitting, shouting, licking, spitting, biting, etc.
  • Asking nicely
  • Saying “No Thank You”
  • Not using potty words
  • Eating at the table
  • Brushing teeth
  • Using the potty

Social stories are a way that we explain social situations to kids on the autism spectrum to help them learn what they can expect in these scenarios – and what is expected of them. And while they were initially developed for kids with autism, they have turned out to be helpful for kids with other conditions like learning disabilities or intellectual disorders.

How Do Brecksville ABA Therapists Create Effective Social Stories?

Although not every story will work for every kid on the spectrum for every situation. In fact, part of the reason they work so well is because they are highly individualized. Social stories are a great tool for many people with autism because it can be tough for them to pick up on social cues that others notice naturally. Things like body language, eye contact, gestures, facial expressions – these are often difficult to read for kids with autism.

Although anyone can technically write a social story, it’s a good idea to get help from your child’s Brecksville ABA therapists when doing so. We help identify not only the activity with which the child is struggling, but also the specific skills they need to work on, and how we can break down the components of that activity to small, understandable bits.

Keeping it simple is really important. We want to make sure we’re focusing on very specific skills laid out in a very straightforward order with brief explanations as to the reasoning.

The stories can then be read to the child on an ongoing basis – and if possible, right before the event, as a reminder. As the child begins to understand the social situation and what is expected, the story can be phased out.

Research has shown that social stories can have a positive impact on the behavior of children with autism, though we like to also incorporate the use of other reinforcement tools, such as role play, feedback, and video modeling.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights 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:

The Effectiveness of Social Stories among Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Meta- Analysis, September 2016, By Mourad Ali Elissa Saad, Dean, College of Education, Arees University, International Journal of Psycho-Educational Sciences

More Blog Entries:

Choosing the Right Cleveland ABA Therapy Provider for Your Child With Autism, Sept. 19, 2022, Brecksville ABA Therapists Blog

Cleveland ABA therapists

Cleveland ABA Therapists Explain Our Aim for Generalization of Skills

When our Cleveland ABA therapists structure our behavior therapy sessions, we know that each one may look a bit different depending on the child’s skills and goals. But one thing that’s the same across the board is the main end goal: Fostering the skills necessary for the child to achieve independence. That means that when we’re designing our programs, we aim for the promotion of generalization.

Simply put, generalization is when learning goes from the narrow parameters of a clinic or classroom to much broader ones – essentially being able to apply those skills in real-world settings.

Often when any of us learn a new skill, we do so under a certain set of conditions. These can include things like the person teaching you, the tools you’re using, and the environment where learning takes place. But life is a constant stream of new experiences and situations. To adapt, we need to be able to apply what we’ve learned in unfamiliar situations with new people and different conditions than we’re used to. We may need to learn how to tweak our approach slightly if we want to succeed in certain conditions.

As Cleveland ABA therapists, we want our patients to be able to use what they’re learning in a clinical setting and apply it to real life situations – which more often than not are very different from the circumstances under which they originally learned.

Generalization is when a person can either perform a skill under varying conditions (stimulus generalization), the ability to apply a skill in a different way (response generalization), and continuing to use that skill over time (maintenance).

Many of us take for granted the ability to generalize skills. You learned fractions and decimals in a fourth grade classroom with a single teacher while using your spiral notebooks and No. 2 pencils. But you then learned – probably effortlessly – to apply those skills in the real world, in a setting where you were not with your teacher, in your classroom, with your notebook and No. 2 pencil.

But for people on the autism spectrum, generalization can be tough and may take more practice. Our Cleveland ABA therapists provide opportunities for them to practice. We also introduce variations incrementally, switching up the environments, people, and materials available to the child while we’re working on a skill. We want to help them apply what they’re learning in a clinical setting to the “real world.” Ultimately, this improves their level of independence and flexibility.

Cleveland ABA Therapists’ Techniques for Teaching Generalization

We can start a plan for generalizing a skill almost as soon as we introduce that skill.

For instance, if we know a certain setting was successful in teaching a student one skill, we may implement that same teaching program but in a different setting. So let’s say we’ve been successful in teaching a student to count 1 to 10 in the clinic. We may try continuing to practice that skill they’ve mastered, but in a totally different environment.

Another method would be altering instructions slightly. So let’s say a student does very well in correctly identifying a certain item when we say, “Show me the _.” We would then start switching up the instruction, and instead of “show me the” we would say, “point to the _” or “where is the _?” We might also change the materials we’re using, though we generally start off only altering one variable at a time.

When we know a child has mastered a certain skill, we may start pulling back on our social or tangible reinforcements. For example, we may have given a great deal of positive praise as a reinforcer of expected behaviors and responses before, but then we start to make those less frequent and predictable. In doing so, we increase the chances the child will be able to perform that skill in a real-world setting – where they aren’t likely to receive any praise from others.

Another approach our Cleveland ABA therapists use is to teach the skill in the natural setting where it’s probably going to be used most often. We also follow the student’s motivations and incorporate their interests whenever possible.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights 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:

Training and generalization of affective behavior displayed by youth with autism. Fall 1996, J. Applied Behavioral Analysis

More Blog Entries:

Top Akron ABA Therapy Strategies, Oct. 27, 2022, Therapy and Wellness Connection Cleveland ABA Therapy Blog

Akron ABA therapy

Top Akron ABA Therapy Strategies

If your child has been diagnosed with autism in Northeast Ohio, you may have been referred for Akron ABA therapy services. ABA therapy (short for “Applied Behavior Analysis”) is considered the gold standard treatment for children with autism, and the earlier we start, the better the long-term outcomes.

ABA therapy is an established but still newer behavior science that is continually evolving and improving. While we don’t expect parents to know all the ins-and-outs, we do encourage parents to take some time to understand some of the basic terms and foundational techniques.

Positive & Negative Reinforcement

This is probably the most well-known pediatric ABA therapy strategy – and one of the most easily understood as it’s regularly employed by parents and teachers in other settings. The idea of reward for good behavior and consequences for poor behavior is fairly common way to teach kids which actions are expected and which are not.

Similar principles are used in ABA – except we typically don’t characterize behaviors as “good” or “bad.” They are either “expected” or “unexpected.” Expected behaviors are those understood to be effective when engaging others in society. Unexpected behaviors are not effective – and may even be harmful.

With Akron ABA therapy, positive reinforcement could be something as simple as eye contact, positive verbal affirmations, hugs, a favorite song, 2 minutes of screen time, etc. – anything we recognize the child values and wants to continue working for. “Negative” reinforcement isn’t necessarily “bad” – because again, this isn’t about “bad” behaviors. It’s about unexpected or unhelpful behaviors. So “negative” reinforcement could be something as simple as withholding eye contact or praise. It’s not so much looked at as a “punishment” as a denial of reward for unexpected behaviors.

Prompting & Fading

Prompting & fading is a technique we use in Akron ABA therapy that uses certain cues to help children understand what is expected of them. Prompts can be verbal, physical, visual, etc.

For instance, a physical prompt might involve guiding a child’s hands to complete a certain task. A verbal prompt might be using certain words or phrases to encourage a child’s engagement in a certain activity or completion in a certain task.

Fading prompts are when we slowly start scaling back on those prompts, allowing the child an opportunity to initiate or handle the remainder of the task on their own.

Video Modeling

This can be an especially helpful tactic for visual learners. Video modeling as an Akron ABA therapy tool may involve showing them videos of social-emotional interactions that give them clues about how to interact with peers, how to appropriately express emotions, how to measure the “size of a problem,” and how to deal with big feelings.

Behavior Chaining

Children with autism may have a tough time learning a new task. But by using a behavior chain technique, we can break up bigger tasks into smaller, more manageable ones. Akron ABA therapy pros will often combine this with prompts & fades until the child is able to initiate and complete the task on their own.

Individualized Approaches for Every Child

Ultimately, the right ABA therapy approaches for your child will be those that are tailored to their unique skills and goals – and may take some trial-and-error. Our Akron ABA therapy team at Therapy & Wellness Connection is committed to finding what helps each child thrive – and we’re here to answer your questions and discuss the evidence-based approaches and strategies we’ve found most effective.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights 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 Applied Behavior Analysis? Autism Speaks

Cleveland ABA therapists

Cleveland ABA Therapists on Differences Between Bribery vs. Reinforcement

As Cleveland ABA therapists, so much of what we’re able to achieve with our pediatric patients is because of our tactical use of reinforcement. Reinforcement can be positive (game time, a sticker, a favorite song/dance, a gummy treat) or negative (typically ignoring or denying a preferred activity). Where possible, we lean toward the use of positive reinforcements. But we recognize that from the outside looking in, this might seem like bribery.

So, what’s the difference between bribery and positive reinforcement in Applied Behavior Analysis treatment for kids on the autism spectrum?

Here’s our Cleveland ABA therapists generally outline the difference:

  • Bribery is what takes place when a child has already started engaging in a problematic or unexpected behavior and then something like screen time or a special treat is offered in an effort to get them to stop engaging that behavior. It’s not really used as a learning moment or opportunity for a child to gain a new set of skills or engage in a different pattern of behavior. Bribery often stems from a one-time interaction where a child gets some sort of preferred item, food, or activity in exchange for changing their behavior. It might be effective in the short-term (which is why so many parents use it!) but that behavior is going to happen again and again – and won’t change unless you offer the same/similar “bribe” to offset it. Ultimately, it’s the child who maintains control in this scenario.
  • Reinforcement occurs when the preferred item or activity is given only after – and contingent upon – the expected/appropriate behavior change. That might sound really similar to bribery, but we’re delivering the reinforcement only after we see the child “change the channel” and their behavior as a means to increase that behavior.

To illustrate the difference, let’s give a dinner time example.

Let’s say you’ve spent time preparing a meal for your family and place it in front of your child and encourage a bit. The child immediately bursts into tears, throws themself on the ground, and demands chicken nuggets. You respond, “If you will stop crying, I’ll go make you some nuggets.” The crying stops, the child gets their nuggets – win-win, right?

Except that was bribery. It “fixed” the immediate issue, but the same scenario is going to happen again and again – and your child isn’t going to eat their dinner if they know chicken nuggets are on the table as on option – if they have a “big reaction.”

Instead, our Cleveland ABA therapists would recommend a reinforcement approach. Take a deep breath. Then rather than wholly giving in to the child’s demands, make them this deal: You will make chicken nuggets. Plan to do so ahead of time, in fact, if you know this is likely to be a point of contention. Then you use the chicken nuggets as the reinforcer. You require first a bite of dinner in exchange for each chicken nugget. With this tactic, you are reinforcing the expected behavior (eating the dinner you prepared) with the reinforcer (they chicken nugget they really want).

In the end, the goal of “bribery” is for the person giving the “bribe” to get what they want. But with reinforcement, the goal is ultimately to benefit the child/learner.

When we talk about reinforcement tactics in ABA, we sometimes hear from parents that they are reticent to “bribe” their child to do what’s expected of them in the first place. But this is where they are confusing bribery with reinforcement.

Look at this way: If what you’re doing is not effective, trying something new may be necessary. And reinforcement involves a bit of planning on your part. You know your child is likely to take issue with the dinner you prepared. Set them up for success by motivating/teaching them upfront.

Cleveland ABA Therapists Tips for Parent Positive Reinforcement

As ABA therapists, our sessions take a fair bit of planning to ensure we’re targeting the goals/skillsets of each child with whom we’re working. But parents can use some of these same basic strategies at home to help facilitate desired results.

A few ideas:

  • Catch” expected behaviors. You may already be planning to provide your child with some type of treat, like game time or some chocolate. All the better if you can do so after “catching” them engaged in expected/appropriate behavior that you want to target or encourage. The more you do this, the more expected behaviors you’ll see.
  • Make sure you’re targeting an appropriate behavior to reinforce. You want to be sure it’s something your child is actually capable of. Start with easier tasks and then work your way up to more challenging skills. Remember: You want to set them up for success and improve their confidence that they can reach their goals!
  • Keep an eye out for warning signs. In ABA, one of the first things we learn is to study the “ABC’s” of behavior. This involves carefully observing the antecedent (what happens right before an inappropriate behavior), the behavior itself, and then the consequence. By altering either the antecedent or consequence, we can help children alter behaviors and gain new skills. Watching out for warning signs is knowing what antecedents are likely to trigger a meltdown or other inappropriate behavior that you’re trying to target. Go into situations you know may be triggering prepared with tools to help reinforce when they engage in expected/appropriate behaviors.

In the event a tantrum or meltdown occurs, it’s important to wait until they are in a calmer place before initiating any sort of reinforcement. (They’re unlikely to be able to respond much at all when they’re in such a heightened, emotional state.)

When they do start to calm down and get a reign on their emotions: Praise them for it! This is positive reinforcement to. Praise them using their calm-down strategies (deep breaths, counting to 10, squeezing their palms, etc.). Then when they are truly calm enough to engage in meaningful communication, you can outline the terms of the reinforcement (i.e., three bites of dinner = 1 chicken nugget).

If you have questions about the difference between positive reinforcement and bribery and how best to implement positive reinforcement at home, our dedicated Cleveland ABA therapists can help.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights 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 Speaks

More Blog Entries:

How Our Cleveland ABA Therapists Teach Kids With Autism Personal Hygiene Skills, Aug. 11, 2022, Cleveland ABA Therapy Blog

Cleveland ABA therapists

Stimming with Autism: FAQ With Our Cleveland ABA Therapists

Our Cleveland ABA therapists are far from the only ones who are well-informed on the fact that restricted interests and repetitive behaviors are among the primary criteria for defining autism in diagnostic criteria. What is less common knowledge, however, is the fact that this can encompass a very broad range of traits that can appear in a vast array of varying combinations and with different levels of severity. Stimming, a common behavior among people with autism, can be generally be understood as a form of repetitive behavior – but it gets a little more complicated than that. And understanding WHY people do it is important to informing how we approach it in therapy, at home, at school, and in everyday life.

Repetitive behaviors are among the first to appear in very young children with autism. They’re often apparent for people across the spectrum, but they may be more obvious or pronounced in those with cognitive deficits. However, they are less studied (and therefore less understood) than the other primary identifier of autism: Social and communication difficulties.

What Exactly is Stimming – and How is it a Repetitive Behavior?

Stimming can be thought of as a subset of repetitive movements.

It can involve things like:

  • Spinning
  • Flapping hands
  • Snapping or flicking fingers
  • Twirling
  • Rocking
  • Repeated verbalizations
  • Fiddling with objects

They’re categorized as a repetitive behavior because the person engages in them over and over again in a given time or place.

Does Stimming Behavior Have a Function?

The word “stim” is short for “self-stimulatory behavior.” Some Cleveland ABA therapists and other professionals shy away from categorizing the function as solely self-stimulatory, there may be intensified pressure on the person with the diagnosis to suppress them. And this may not be a good thing because, as people with autism will often say themselves, stimming can serve important functional purposes to their own mental health and physical well-being.

This is important to note because historically, parents, teachers, and others have labeled stimming behaviors as “disruptive” or “inappropriate.”

But there’s a growing body of evidence that stims can help people with autism relieve themselves of sensory overload. In turn, this helps them better cope with intense anxiety, avoid meltdowns, and express their emotions.

Others say that engaging in stimming helps them to generate or hang onto a sense of body awareness. It may also help them focus their concentration when they’re feeling otherwise overwhelmed. Further, it may be a means of communicating their emotional or mental state to others when using words to do so is difficult.

So forcing kids not to engage in stimming may be unhealthy, ultimately causing more harm than good.

Of course, different people on the spectrum may have different purposes for different stims – and it may even shift from time-to-time in the same individual, depending on what’s happening around them.

In some cases, it can be harmful to themselves or others. For instance, if a repetitive behavior stim involves banging their head against a wall, that can’t continue.

There is also, of course, the potential for social alienation or academic/professional consequences for engaging in stims.

Should I Be Encouraging or Suppressing My Child’s Stimming?

This answer to this question truly comes down to the behavior, the individual, and the setting.

Years ago, the common consensus was to eliminate these behaviors – sometimes in ways that were extreme (and often incredibly harmful) such as powerful antipsychotic drugs or physical interventions.

It’s really important for parents, teachers, Cleveland ABA therapists to come together as a team to discuss whether certain stimming behaviors truly need to be addressed, or whether there’s an opportunity for better education/awareness/accommodations in service of what’s best for the child.

When there is a repetitive behavior stim that appears to be disruptive or if it’s preventing the person from participating in meaningful activities, educational opportunities, or relationships, then we may want to start by analyzing the function of that behavior. From there, we can figure out if there’s a way to help them meet their needs or serve that function without impeding their everyday lives.

For example, let’s say the stim is spinning in circles and it’s preventing a child from participating in their preschool class instruction and it’s disrupting the other students. We study the “why” of the behavior, and determine it’s helping the child to soothe their anxiety when their in the classroom and feeling overstimulated. We may be able to suggest another calming action or behavior that they can engage in that is less disruptive. Sometimes, having regular movement breaks and sensory input can help reduce this anxiety/need for the stim in the first place.

In that scenario, we do not categorize the stim as “bad.” In fact, we recognize it’s serving an important purpose. We respect and meet the needs of the individual with an alternative that helps them to still engage in their daily lives and avoid adverse consequences to their education and peer relationships.

If you have questions about your child’s stimming or how to handle it, our dedicated Cleveland ABA therapists 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:

Understanding Stimming: Repetitive Behaviors with a Purpose, Dec. 7, 2020, American Psychiatric Association

More Blog Entries:

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

Cleveland ABA therapy

Finding the Function of Behavior: Cleveland ABA Therapy Insight

When it comes to the science of behavior, the first question our Cleveland ABA therapy team wants to have answered is: Why?

Every behavior has a function. It is finding out the function of behavior that allows us to formulate effective intervention strategies to help change it. For our Northeast Ohio behavior analysts, determining the function of behavior is – without question – one of the most essential parts of this job.

Parents and caretakers also may benefit a great deal when they understand why a behavior occurs. We teach parents basic strategies on how to do this, allowing them to troubleshoot in the moment. This is important because when we don’t know the true cause of a behavior and our response is reactive, we may in fact end up reinforcing that behavior, unintentionally.

Why is my child face down screaming bloody murder in the grocery store when all I did was take his fingers out of his mouth? Why won’t my child stop throwing his food onto the floor when I’ve begged, coaxed, and even yelled at him not to do that?

It’s key to understand that there is a reason behind all behavior. All behavior has a function. If the goal is a different response or outcome, we must find out why the behavior is occurring in the first place. We must also understand unintentional reinforcements. For example, if the function of a behavior is to gain mom & dad’s attention (which is a pretty common function), then mom & dad yelling or having some big response to a behavior has the exact opposite effect of what they intended. They are unintentionally reinforcing that behavior – and that is going to take some time to undo.

Cleveland ABA Therapy Team IDs Top 4 Behavior Catalysts

When it comes to motivation for behavior, there is no one-size-fits-all. That’s why we are behavior scientists. We use tried & true methods to test our theories and hypotheses. We carefully study the ABC’s of behavior (antecedent, behavior, and consequence). What happened just before the behavior? What was the behavior itself? What happened immediately after? Then we see if tweaking the antecedent and/or consequence has any bearing on the behavior. If it doesn’t, we can keep trying different strategies, or we may have to adjust our initial theory about the function of the behavior (i.e., maybe the goal isn’t attention-seeking, but rather sensory input).

At our Cleveland ABA therapy clinic, we’ve identified the top four behavior motivations that can help provide parents with a good starting point in their own analyses. They are:

Attention. This is probably the most common behavior motivator. Here, a child will engage in a certain behavior because it gains them attention. Young kids are going to be constantly looking to seek parents’ attention, but it might also be teachers, therapists, siblings, peers, etc. And bear in mind: Not all attention-seeking behavior is the same. A child may shout out of turn in preschool. They may kick their parent from the grocery store cart. They may run away (knowing mom or dad will run after them & catch them).

Escape. Children often engage in avoidance behavior as a means of getting out of unwanted situations. “Escape” could mean throwing a tantrum to get out of brushing teeth before bed. It could be throwing non-preferred foods off their plate and onto the floor. It could be bolting out the door and down the street. Parents have to be really careful with this one because a common “punishment” is time-out – but if the motivation is escape, they’re unintentionally reinforcing this behavior.

Access. The child may be engaging in a certain behavior to get access to a desired thing or activity. An example might be if they rip a toy from their sibling’s grip, simply because they wanted it. Doing so gave them access – and immediate gratification.

Automatic. We might also call this “sensory motivation.” The child engages in this behavior mainly because it feels good. For kids with autism, this could mean flapping their hands, banging their head, spinning in circles, etc. These can be some of the toughest behaviors to tackle because there often isn’t a good “consequence” for these. We may need to look closely at whether these are behaviors we truly need to address, or whether it is harmless stimming/self-soothing.

Our ABA therapy team uses evidence-based methods to help determine the child’s motivation, but also use positive reinforcement to help them to find more appropriate responses.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights 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:

Observing Behavior Using A-B-C Data, By Dr. Cathy Pratt, BCBA-D and Melissa Dubie, M.S., Indiana Resource Center for Autism

More Blog Entries:

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