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.

Akron ABA therapy

Akron ABA Therapy Tips on Planning for Tough Transitions

Let’s face it: Change is hard for all of us sometimes. But transitions from one thing to the next can be especially challenging for children with conditions like autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, ODD and others. Our Akron ABA therapy team has some tips for helping kids move successfully from one activity to another in various settings throughout the day.

Why are Transitions So Tough for Some Kids? 

Transitions occur naturally – and often – at home, school and on the job. They are any kind of disruption to a person’s activity, setting or routine that requires that person to stop the activity in which they’re engaged, move to another location and start a new task. This is especially difficult if it’s time to move from a preferred task to a non-preferred task.

Akron ABA therapy

What is a Parent’s Role in Akron ABA Therapy?

ABA therapy, short for “applied behavior analysis” and sometimes referred to as “behavior therapy” is considered the gold standard when it comes to treatment of autism and some other conditions. Among the most common questions our Akron ABA therapy providers are asked by parents:

  • “How do I teach my child?”
  • “How can I reduce these behaviors?”
  • “What am I supposed to be doing?”

These are important inquiries, and we’ll start by saying this: Our Akron ABA therapy is immeasurably more successful when parents take an active role. A fairly recent study published in the journal Behavior Analysis in Practice cited numerous examples of research to support the idea that when parents are more involved in their child’s therapy, outcomes are more positive for a wide range of students across social behaviors and academic skills.

Perhaps the most helpful answer is: Learning. You’re supposed to be learning.

ABA therapy

Study: Early Intervention ABA Therapy for Children With Autism is Critical

An extensive clinical report on autism spectrum disorder released by the American Academy of Pediatrics summarizes more than a dozen years of research – and concludes what our Akron ABA therapy team has been preaching for years: Early intervention is key.

The analysis, which lists a huge source of references and clinical findings over the years, also officially scraps the diagnoses of Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder and puts all children with these diagnostic characteristics under the umbrella of “autism spectrum disorder,” or ASD for short. Symptoms (as you may be well aware) include:

  • Difficulties with conversation
  • Trouble with nonverbal communication
  • Challenges reading social cues and relationships
  • Restricted behavior patterns
  • Repetitive movements
  • Sensory differences
  • Fixated interests
  • Rigid routines

The key point made, however, was that we have an increased understanding and awareness of conditions that often occur simultaneously with autism, which has led to more planning and support. Additionally, there has been a greater emphasis on early diagnosis and referral for treatment, such as ABA therapy, even when ASD is suspected but not yet confirmed. The earlier the treatment begins, the better outcomes are recorded.

ABA therapy

ABA Therapy Tips for Thanksgiving for Your Child on the Autism Spectrum

Those of us who work in the ABA therapy field with children on the autism spectrum know that holidays present some special challenges.

Children on the spectrum tend to thrive on sameness and routine. Holidays – new food, new people, new sounds, new routines, new places, traffic congestion – can be wonderful experiences, but they can take children with autism far outside of their comfort zones. This can cause them to become overwhelmed, stressed and even spur meltdowns.

To ensure the holiday festivities go as smoothly as possible, our ABA therapy team complied a few ideas for tips to reduce anxiety and head off a possible crisis.