Friday, October 25, 2013

It touched a nerve!

I always tell my team that it is important to stay professional, not let the things that people do get to us, not to get upset, and to continue offering our help to the best of our ability. Well, against my own advice this week I got upset.
I entered a session and the mother of our client said “I hope he’s OK today, he didn’t sleep from 1 am to 4:30 am.”

“What did he do from 1 to 4:30?” I asked.

“He played,” she replied with a smile on her face. I guess she thought it was funny.
In my head I was shouting “This is not funny. How is it possible that you let him stay awake that whole time?” It’s a good thing she could not hear my thoughts.

It is simply not OK to let a child stay awake in the middle of the night. If he cries and screams, as difficult as it is, you wait until he’s done and take him back to bed. It may seem easier to avoid the power struggle, but in fact it is not.
Yes I recognize that it was 1:00 AM and the mother did not have the energy to fight with the child. But, in allowing him to get away with this, is she really making things easier? For one, she ended up sleep deprived because she was not able to fall asleep again. Second, her son was now sleep deprived too, which in turn leads to behavior problems, difficulty learning, disrupting the classroom, etc. Lastly, it taught him one more time he can get his way. No wonder this child throws tantrums at school, including aggression, when he doesn’t get what he wants. “Why they don’t let me, at home I get everything I want when I want. Perhaps I have to be more assertive,” is what he is probably thinking.

I’ve been working with this family for over two years, educating this mom on behavior management and best practices when it comes to helping children with special needs. So I guess I must be the worst behaviorist ever. I quit! (Just joking, TES).
Children need to learn that there are rules, routines, laws they have to obey, the same way that you and I do on a daily basis. Letting them play instead of sleeping at night is simply not good parenting. Good parenting is setting rules and limits, and teaching children that they can’t always get their way. They are children so they will always try, and always test the limits. You might think it is “easier” now to give in, because you’re tired and don’t want to fight. But it is not. You are just making your life harder.

If the goal is to avoid tantrums and you want to take what you think is the easy route, then I suggest you let your kids stay home, eat junk and play video games when they don’t want to go to school; do not take them to the dentist when they cry; and allow them to skip the daily shower. Would you describe that as good parenting? I didn’t think so.

We discussed all this in previous blogs:

  1. “The Power of Structure and Routines” ( ): “Routines: A predictable and consistent daily schedule (time-space-people in charge). Lack of predictability increases anxiety, which leads to problematic behaviors.”

  1. “Limits and Consequences” ( ):  Limits are set to help your child to understand respect for himself and the world around him.”    
Deal with that tantrum now, even if you are tired. Think that it is an emergency, your child got hurt and you have to help him no matter how tired you are.

Good parenting; that is the easier way.

Daniel Adatto, BCBA

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Autism, there is an app for that!

Developers dive in to create a wealth of autism apps

Parents, therapists and developers are eager to tap into what they view as a powerful tool to reach people with autism (

Andy Shih, senior vice president for scientific affairs at Autism Speaks, a national advocacy organization based in New York, helped organize a "hacking autism" event in San Francisco that drew 135 apps developers. Over the course of 24 hours, teams built prototypes for more than a dozen apps.

Nearly 1,500 autism apps are available in Apple's App Store.

Even as researchers just begin the process of trying to determine how effective such technologies are, parents, therapists and developers are racing ahead in their attempts to tap into what they view as a powerful tool to reach people with autism.

The range of these apps has expanded well beyond the initial focus of helping people with autism communicate and improve social skills to learning about emotions and delivering basic educational lessons in a format that's better suited to autistic learners, Shih said.

Howard Shane, director of the Center for Communication Enhancement and the Autism Language Program at Children's Hospital Boston, said while he's eager to see more studies, his experience with the iPad and autistic children has been so overwhelmingly positive that he's content to push forward with finding new and better ways to use it.

"The clinical evidence is still emerging," Shane said. "But the excitement and interest in these technologies exists because they are working."

Bill Thompson, a school psychologist at the Orange County Department of Education, who wrote some of the first autism apps, said he's trying to find ways to make their use more effective. Many educators and parents, for instance, like the iPad and other mobile gadgets simply because they can be used as a powerful reward to reinforce a desired behavior. Complete a task, get some iPad time.

That's understandable considering that it often can be hard to find rewards that motivate some autistic children. But Thompson said he'd like more of the iPad time used for educational purposes, rather than just getting bonus Angry Birds time. For instance, Thompson has created a system in which a classroom with many kids on the autistic spectrum use iPads that can be beamed onto a large-screen TV using an Apple TV unit to enable them to communicate with each other in ways they might not otherwise.

Finding rewards that motivate autistic children, that’s the challenge, that’s the key. You cannot teach if you cannot motivate. Think about yourself sitting in a boring class, listening to a boring teacher talking about a topic you couldn’t care less about. Your mind will be focused on anything but the class. And you won’t remember anything later. That’s what happens to our kids, in particular those with special needs. And we know that all kind of challenging behaviors emerge when the kids are bored, or worse, when we force them to work on non-preferred activities. That is the challenge and that is the meaning of “special” in “Special Education.”

And it is not only the rewards that motivate. We must find and use powerful tools to reach people with autism. The activity has to be stimulating enough to motivate them. If we know that they can focus and concentrate when they are watching TV or playing video games, we must use the same technology to teach.

There is no time to waste. Every awaking moment in the lives of these kids is precious. They are so behind that it is immoral, I believe, to waste time with ineffective instructional strategies.

Motivate and you’ll get the response you want. McDonalds knows that. Kids TV channels know that. Video games builders know that. When are we, parents, therapists, “special educators” going to know that?

Daniel Adatto, BCBA