Monday, November 16, 2015

Reading to your Kids

Strong language skills are important to success in school and life, and parents are their children first and most important teachers.

Reading is easily defined. But reading with engagement is a different story.

I frequently see parents walking in the park or grocery stores or driving with their kids. But they are talking on the phone, not really engaging their children, stimulating and challenging them.

When reading or just hanging out with your kids, ask them questions, tell them your personal story, tell them they can be anything they want to be, encourage them to imagine the future, make comments, and relate the story to real life situations.
Communication is paramount in the relationship with your children. A lack of communication or deficits in this area can lead to problematic behaviors. Children face a lot of pressure and many emotions. They don’t always know how to express these emotions but the “pressure” has to come out somehow. If they don’t have the right tools to express themselves, problems can arise and it will start to manifest itself in the form of challenging behaviors.

This is even more so when it comes to children with special needs. If children did not learn the necessary skills, they will resort to methods that worked during the time they were babies: crying, screaming, throwing things, etc. As a child gets older and stronger, this can be incredibly problematic.
For this reason teaching and encouraging functional communication should be a key component of any school and parenting program.

An essential component of effective communication is to listen. This helps to make children feel comfortable and secure: you care about their feelings and needs, you respect their point of view, and you are interested in what they have to say.

As teachers and parents we can take important steps to build healthy communication repertoires. Both ways. I mean, you are talking and listening to them and at the same time you are teaching them how to talk and listen. How many times you felt as if they were not listening to you? Well, they felt the same. Every time you feel the other person is not listening to you is because you are not listening as well. Think about the other person as a mirror that reflects your image. So, the best way to get the other to listen, is to start listening.

Listen patiently before disciplining your kids. Instead of asking them to stop, encourage communication, even if they need to scream and cry for a little while. They probably need to vent, let the anger out before they talk about the problem. And do not interrupt or criticize when they are communicating. Keep in mind that communication is not only words. Crying, gestures, facial expressions, breathing patterns are all means of communication as well. 
Encourage your children to express their opinions by just responding “Yes” or “Really?” Ask them open-ended questions such as “How would you feel if that would happened to you?”, or “What is the right thing to do?” If needed provide them with 2-3 choices.

It is important to teach your children that it is okay to disagree or be upset, as long as they express their opinions and feelings in an appropriate manner. Emotions are always okay, behaviors can be problematic. Validate their feelings by saying “You seem very upset”, or “You are mad, and I understand why”, for example.
Healthy and rich communication is paramount.

Oh, your phone is ringing.

Daniel Adatto, BCBA




Monday, November 2, 2015

ABA is not restricted to autism

I recently had a discussion about ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) with a friend. His argument was that ABA can only be applied to children with autism.

In previous blogs I wrote about some of the real life applications of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and specifically its use with autism. I also emphasized that ABA is not synonymous with treatment for autism. In fact, ABA can be applied to any situation where a behavior change is desired. That’s the meaning of “applied” in Applied Behavior Analysis. And of course, the principles and strategies can be implemented when it comes to every day parenting. Picky eating, doing homework, cleaning up their room, doing chores are great examples of this. 

Furthermore, the same systematic techniques can be used to teach skills. Actually when we target a behavior for reduction or elimination we teach appropriate behaviors to replace it. The problematic behavior is functional for the child because it gets his needs and wants met. Just eliminating it is leaving the child in the vacuum, which he will likely fill with another challenging behaviors. The solutions to this problem is teaching the skills that will allow this child to address his wants and needs in functional and socially appropriate ways.

Let’s take the example of a child who screams and cries when he needs something or is denied a request. In this case access to desired objective should not be allowed following the child’s misbehaviors. Once the child is calm and able to listen, acceptable alternatives ways to obtain what he wants should be model to him. He should be rewarded for engaging in those functional ways to obtain access. During the training process ample opportunities to request wants and needs should be provided.  

Another example can be a child who is picky eater. If your child has a severe aversion to a certain food, start with baby steps, breaking down each task into very small reachable goals. For example, you can start by just having the undesired food on the table. Get the child used to having it there next to his other food and seeing other people eat it. Once he accepts the food on the table, you can move on to having him smell it, bringing it closer to his mouth. Remember that every successful step needs to be rewarded with, for example, a bite of a food that the child likes. Possible next steps can be to have the child lick the food, getting him used to the taste. After that, move on to taking a bite. He may not even chew or swallow the food, just take a bite and spit it out. Remember, we are breaking this down into tiny achievable steps. After the child agrees to take a bite, you can move on to swallowing and so on and so forth until the child agrees to eat the new food.

These are just a few examples that show that ABA principles and techniques can be applied at everyday life situations and are not restricted to autism.

However, I’m not quite sure I was able to convince my friend.

 Daniel Adatto, BCBA