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

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

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

ABA Therapy

ABA Therapy Explainer: What’s a Functional Behavior Assessment?

When your child starts ABA therapy, there are a lot of vocabulary words and acronyms that seem to get thrown around, and it can take some type to truly get a grasp on it all. Functional Behavior Assessment, or FBA, is the one we’re going to focus on here.

A Functional Behavior Assessment is one of the primary ways our behavior therapy team works to identify a certain problem behavior, and then we develop a plan to address them – ultimately eliminating them or at least reducing them to a point they aren’t so prevalent.

Going through the process step-by-step helps our Cleveland ABA therapy team to get to the source of the behaviors so that we can start introducing replacements. The problem with trying to tackle a problem behavior without an FBA is that then you lack the “why.” WHY were they engaging in that behavior in the first place? Every behavior has a function. Trying to effect the extinction of a behavior without first figuring out its function is going to create a gaping opportunity other difficult behaviors to take root in its place. An FBA helps us figure it out first.

FBAs can be used in IEPs or as part of an ABA program. We only initiate them when the behavior has become an impediment. We’ll be looking at it as a team – in collaboration with parents too – to assess whether it’s urgent (is there a risk of harm to self or others?), whether there’s an underlying medical reason, whether it’s cyclical, and if it appears to be new or if this is a long-standing issue that has maybe just gotten worse. Finally, we want to know if this is something that is happening on a consistent basis. If it was a random, one-off reaction to a substantial – and uncommon – change in the environment, we probably don’t need to develop a plan to treat that, though we may note it. In cases where there may be multiple unexpected and detrimental behaviors, we’re likely to target them one at a time, beginning with the one likely to have the most significant adverse outcomes.

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.

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.

Akron ABA therapy

Akron ABA Therapy Insight: Introducing a Child With Autism to New Foods

Some people call it “picky eating.” Others call it “selective eating” and struggling with “food aversions.” Any way you slice it, lots of kids go through it. It’s an especially significant challenge for children with sensory processing issues, as is the case for many on the autism spectrum. Our Akron ABA therapy team (and our occupational therapy team, as well) can offer insight into how to help your child gradually overcome some of their food aversions and incorporate a more varied, healthier diet.

Akron ABA Therapy Tips to Tackle Picky Eating

Selective eating can take a lot of different forms. Every child is going to be different, so it’s best to consult with your child’s ABA therapy and/or occupational therapy team before initiating any of these strategies, particularly for a child on the autism spectrum.

That said, here are a few ways we might advise introducing new foods and/or increasing the variety of foods your child eats at home.

  • Pair non-preferred foods with preferred foods. Try putting the food they won’t eat on the same plate with a food they love. If they’re having a hard time even tolerating that, put a “no thank you” plate or bowl next to their eating plate. This way, they still have the opportunity to see, smell, and touch the food, which is really the first step toward getting it anywhere near their mouth. But continue to encourage them to try it. Let them see you eating – and really enjoying – it.
  • Change up food consistency. If your child consumes lots of liquids but struggles with solids (due to sensory issues and not oral motor function, which is a whole separate issue that should be addressed with feeding/swallowing therapy), try blending some non-preferred foods into liquids. Or if your child loves popsicles, try making them out of certain fruits you would like to see your child eating more of. Offer thin apple slices instead of apple sauce or whole apples. If your child tolerates the different texture, you can slowly experiment with others.
  • Alter the size of the food. Sometimes big pieces can seem visually overwhelming as much as the taste or texture of the food itself. Maybe your child isn’t going to gobble up a huge piece of broccoli, but they might bird-peck at some bite-sized pieces. You can always slowly increase the size as your child eats more of it. (If your child is very picky about the size/shape of the foods they eat, try starting by slowly mixing it up with their preferred foods; get them used to tolerating changes on their plate.)
  • Mix foods together. If your child is super into applesauce but you’d like them to eat yogurt, try mixing the tiniest bit of yogurt into the applesauce. See how it goes. If your child loves pizza but loathes vegetables of any kind, try mixing the tiniest bit of cooked, blended vegetables into the pizza sauce. If they tolerate it, you can slowly (very slowly) change the ratio.
  • Dish up positive reinforcement. Set up a preferred food or positive activity ahead of time. Then encourage your child to take a tiny bite of the non-preferred food. Don’t make it a battle, but if they do it, immediately give them their preferred food/positive activity and heap on a big helping of praise.
  • Model. Don’t underestimate the power of modeling good eating habits. Have the foods you’re hoping your child will eat in the house and regularly available to all family members. Make sure your child sees you and others in the home modeling healthy eating behavior.
  • Take it slowly. Lots of kids take time to get used to certain foods. Consider there were lots of things you couldn’t stomach when you were a kid that you may love now. (And maybe a few that still make you cringe.) Kids on the spectrum and other picky eaters need more time than most to incorporate different foods into their diet. Often, taking a bite is too much to ask to start. Begin by having them play with it, tolerate it on their plate, smell it, lick it. With no pressure and lots of positive reinforcement, you can slowly encourage them to try new foods one morsel at a time.

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:

SOS Approach to Feeding

More Blog Entries:

Sensory Meltdown vs. Tantrum: What’s the Difference? Akron OT Explains, Jan. 20, 2021, Akron ABA Therapy Blog

Brecksville ABA therapists

How Our Brecksville ABA Therapists Teach Flexibility

Flexibility is the quality of bending without being easily broken. Our Brecksville ABA therapists know that for kids on the autism spectrum, being emotionally flexible is an incredibly difficult – but critical – skill for success.

It’s not just kids with autism. Flexibility doesn’t come naturally for lots of people. Many of us are creatures of habit. Flexibility is something that must be learned. But it can be much harder for those on the spectrum to master this. In fact, autism is defined as being characterized by restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. It’s part of the diagnostic criteria for autism, and it’s manifested with insistence on inflexible adherence to routines, sameness, and ritualistic patterns of verbal/nonverbal behavior. Even the smallest changes can trigger a meltdown.

But why is this so important? Because change is a part of life. Realistically, no one can indefinitely eat the exact same thing, watch the exact same show, or be in the exact same place with the exact same people all day every day. And to whatever extent you may be able to help ensure continuity of certain patterns or routines, our ABA therapists recognize that helping kids on the spectrum learn to adjust to change will ultimately lead to them being happier, healthier, and more independent.

How Do Brecksville ABA Therapists Teach Flexibility? 

Because rigidity is a characteristic of autism, intervening and treating it must be done very carefully. We’re not looking here to turn an inflexible person into a flexible one. What we want is to help each child learn to better adapt to a world that is ever-changing. The world is never going to be constant. There will be things outside of their control, and it’s important that they learn to cope when that happens.

Unlike many other life skills, flexibility is a bit more of an abstract concept. As such, it can be a bit tougher to teach. Our ABA therapy team focuses on stretching their tolerance to routine changes and then providing consistent, positive reinforcement where see it.

For instance, a child may love playing a certain game at therapy. We might start with testing their insistence to always play as the same game piece. Anytime they show increased flexibility, we reward that positively. We might eventually move to playing a different game altogether. The goal is for the child to ultimately adjust more easily (and without challenging behaviors) to unexpected changes in their routine. They can maintain a sense of assertiveness about what they like or what they want while still learning to calmly accept other changes. In other words: Greater flexibility.

Our ABA team also works with many of our clients in the real world, to teach them flexibility strategies to better tolerate change where they are most likely to encounter it.

It’s important that we’re not just tearing them away from rituals and patterns. We are first looking at behaviors we want to replace. That often means early on teaching them to request what they want, to wait for what they want, to self-manage big emotions (namely, anger and disappointment) and to problem solve. We do all this by intentionally, systematically introducing change in ways that are controlled – and then teaching them these skills one by one over time.

It’s important that when they are triggered, that we teach them a workable “plan of action.” This is going to highly depend on the individual, but the gist is to empathize (this is important) and then give them tools to help them de-escalate. This could be deep breathing, it could be squeezing a stress ball, it could taking a break. It’s important when we’re teaching flexibility to remind them that even when situations do shift unexpectedly, there are still things that are unchanged or that they can control. Empowering them to focus on those can go a long way toward improving flexibility in tolerating the larger changes occurring.

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:

Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

More Blog Entries:

ABA Therapists: Helping Your Child With Autism Transition Back-to-School, Aug. 12, 2021, Brecksville ABA Therapists Blog

differential reinforcement

ABA Therapy Insight: Differential Reinforcement, Explained

Differential reinforcement is a technique use by our Akron ABA therapy team to reinforce the behavior we want to see while not reinforcing the behavior we want to extinguish. It works well for children on the autism spectrum when applied appropriately and consistently, but it can work well for people of all ages and ability in other ways too.

For instance, let’s say a teacher in an elementary school classroom wants the students to stop shouting out the answers and raise their hands instead. She could admonish every student who calls out, or she might be more effective by not providing those who do with any attention at all. Meanwhile, she reinforces the preferred behavior of raising your hand before speaking by only calling on/praising those students who do so (i.e., “Nice job raising your hand, Tyrone. What’s your answer?”).

A teacher who uses this technique is essentially using the differential reinforcement method that we use in ABA therapy.