CBO Baby

15 Apr

Sometimes the best way to address a behavior is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Antecedent strategies work by adjusting the circumstances or environment in such a way to reduce the likelihood of a problem behavior occurring. For example: to prevent your child from breaking your favorite vase you move it up to a higher shelf out of reach.

I recently came across an antecedent intervention that helps with:

  • Reducing diaper smearing behaviors
  • Minimizing inappropriate touching
  • Preventing undressing behaviors

CBO Baby is a company that creates large size onesies and bodysuits that cater to the autistic community. These are particularly helpful for older kids since typically onesies are not made in their size. CBO Baby sells a variety of different styles and colors ranging from size 2T up to 7.

I have personally used a onesie strategy with a client to help reduce inappropriate touching behaviors and have seen how effective it can be. While antecedent strategies work best as part of a comprehensive approach, this particular intervention can make life a whole lot easier for stressed out parents.

If you visit CBO Baby use my promo code “ONION” to get free shipping or $6.99 off your purchase.

CBO

Dreams with plans

2 Apr

I’ve taken a huge break from blogging as I’ve been adjusting to life as a new mom. My sweet girl is 8 months old now and today, World Autism Awareness Day, seemed like a perfect reason to jump back into The Autism Onion.

 

This year I am more aware than ever of the need for on-going intervention. Autism is life-long so behavior based strategies must be, also.

By nature, we do what works. Rarely do people spontaneously decide to make huge changes in their behavior if what they’re doing gets the results they want. Short of some spiritual awakening, most people don’t just up-and-change the way they have always lived. Similarly, our kiddos with autism are not just suddenly one day going to start taking care of themselves and having conversations with people and making meaningful relationships. These things must be taught. These things must be purposefully targeted and cultivated.

It kills me when families have grandiose daydreams for their special needs loved ones with absolutely no plan of how to get him or her there. “Oh I want him to get married someday!” “I want her to have a job someday!” “He will live independently as an adult!”  My question is simple: How? How are you going to get your child from A to Z? Parents can sometimes get caught up in the utopia without dealing with reality. The devil is in the details, my friend. You cannot project an idealistic lifestyle for your child without taking all the steps to get there. No one magically goes from A to Z. You have to go from A to B, then to C, then to D. And eventually if you work hard enough maybe your child will reach that Z you’ve always dreamed of.

Yes, this year I’m aware of the hollow fantasies families hold for their special needs children without any real plan of how to get them there. On-going intervention is KEY! Pushing them out of their comfort zones is key! Moving them beyond their own universes into the world of others; the world of rules and order and of social norms. (And before people start bashing me for being a “neurotypical” who “hates autistic people” let me just say: for ANYONE to succeed they have to move beyond their comfort zone, work hard to promote growth and change, and do things they don’t necessarily want to do.)

This year I’m aware that we need to offer life-long support to our children and families affected by autism. Autism will not go away or magically “get better”. We must implement appropriate strategies everysingleday to help our kids get where we want them to go. It’s hard work, that’s for sure. But it’s worth it… Is it not?

preparation quote

Autism Tattoos – Part 3

13 Apr

In January 2014 I posted my first “Autism Tattoos” blog to celebrate the artwork people had added to their bodies in support of autism awareness and acceptance. I was originally inspired to share autism themed tattoos because my sister got one for our little brother, Dylan. Later I did a follow up post and got even more submissions of people wanting to share their tattoos and what each meant to them.

It has been over a year since then so I decided it was time for the third installment of this Autism Tattoos series. The response was overwhelming- literally! I almost couldn’t keep up with the number of e-mails and comments I received from people wanting to share their tattoos and their stories. I loved reading through each description and seeing the creativity people had when designing their emblems. This time around the “different, not less” theme seemed to be a popular choice. Whatever the design, one thing is clear… people are passionate about showing their love, acceptance, and hope through their autism tattoos.

(Click to enlarge)

Tat1

Tat2

Tat3

Tat4

Tat5

Tat6

Tat7

Tat8

 

Tat9

 

 

Tat10 Tat11
Tat12 Tat13 Tat14

Tat15 Tat16
Tat17
Tat18 Tat19

Creating versus complaining…

24 Mar

A month or so ago I attended a behavior analysis conference for work. It was a 2 day event with presentations from various researchers, students, professors, scientists, and ABA providers. But my favorite presentation of the whole conference was one by Jodi and Jonathan Murphy of Geek Club Books. Jonathan is an adult with Aspergers who has a successful voice-over career and his mother, Jodi, created Geek Club Books as a way for Jonathan to share his stories. Their presentation focused on employment opportunities for adults with special needs.

What stood out to me about their presentation was their willingness to share their struggles without blaming their hardship on the rest of the world. There is a huge need for more employers to embrace special needs adults and provide well-paying opportunities to them. However, Jodi and Jonathan didn’t focus on the victimization of special needs adults. Rather, they focused on what to do about it. Jodi recognized a talent and a passion her son had and found a way to help make it a career for him.

So many people live with bitterness and resentment towards the world, claiming we “neuro-typicals” need to stop trying to help special needs people fit our mold and instead change our mold to fit them. While the ideals of accommodation and acceptance are perfectly reasonable and fair, I don’t find it realistic or appropriate to suggest a complete adaptation with blind tolerance. There are certain things that will never be acceptable, special needs or not. Aggression, indecent exposure, extremely disruptive or dangerous behavior…. just to name a few.

 

Instead of fighting so hard against “neuro-typicals” to demand complete and utter acceptance, without the intent to “change” people, why not collaborate on ways to make life easier and more pleasurable for those with special needs? The fact of the matter remains, to secure and maintain a job in this culture a person must have certain skills and must be able to refrain from certain behaviors. So I just can’t understand how someone helping a person gain those skills and reduce those behaviors (to help them get a job someday where they can earn a fair living and contribute their gifts to the world) is a bad thing.

And that’s what I loved about Jodi and Jonathan’s presentation. There was a clear recognition that although opportunities are limited, it is not beneficial to point the finger in anger, but rather to examine what can be done about it. Let’s focus on how we can strengthen skills, cultivate passions, and create opportunities, instead of just marinating on an “us” versus “them” mentality.

Uncle Dylan…

9 Jan

This Christmas I announced to my family that I’m pregnant. One of the people I was most excited to tell was my brother, Dylan. I never know what to expect from him, but I love watching his reactions and seeing how he processes things. Watching him understand something new is one of the coolest things.

 

He saw the family shedding tears of joy and pointed to each of us commanding, “Happy! Happy!” We told him we were happy, but the combination of crying and feeling happy doesn’t quite equate in his mind yet.  After the initial shock wore off, my mom yelled to Dylan from across the room “Dylan! There’s a peanut in her tummy! You’re going to be Uncle Dylan!!”

Dylan2

He raised his eyebrows in excitement and gave a sweet smile. I couldn’t help but grab his little face and smile. Then he clapped his hands and muttered something under his breath. Later I told him, “Dylan, there’s a baby in my tummy.” He proceeded to poke my belly and told me, “It’s a peanut.” I laughed and told him it looks like a peanut but it’s actually a baby, and that he was going to be Uncle Dylan. For whatever reason he then protested, “No Uncle Dylan”. I really have no idea why… but that’s just Dyl. I think he’ll warm up to the idea 😉

 

I can’t wait to see how he reacts to my growing baby-bump. And, ultimately, I can’t wait to see how he reacts to my baby. I am so excited for him to be Uncle Dylan.

Learning through play…

12 Oct

Children learn through play. This fact is well researched and supported across multiple disciplines (psychology, education, behavior analysis, etc). With that in mind, it stands to reason that a child’s development can be largely affected by their environment and what items or toys they have available to them. Disclaimer- this isn’t always the case. There are definitely children with access to every toy ever made and they still have significant delays in several areas. And there are also those kids who have next-to-nothing but develop perfectly fine.

But, what I find in my work as a developmental evaluator is that the children I assess often lack skills due to lack of opportunity. They don’t know how to use toys according to their function, they don’t know how to manipulate items, they don’t know how to pretend, they don’t sing along or copy dance motions… because they’ve never been given the chance to. Given exposure to various toys and interactions, many of these kids would easily acquire the skills. Enriching a child’s environment, through toys and through meaningful interactions, gives them the opportunity to learn. The skills they develop early on will have a significant impact on their functioning in other areas as they grow and mature. For example, a child’s ability to match colors helps them later to sort which leads to being able to organize things in their environment (groceries, laundry, dishes, work files, etc). A child being able to imitate simple motor movements leads to being able to imitate sounds and words, and later being able to monitor their social behavior depending on their environment (professional at work, relaxed at home, friendly at church, etc). Point being, there are a million ways that little toddler tasks are actually linked to higher-level thinking and daily living skills.

Here are some toys and activities I recommend to cultivate learning opportunities for little ones, pre-school age or younger.

Toys

  • Shape sorters
  • Ring stackers
  • Large piece board puzzles with shapes, animals, etc.
  • Cause and effects toys that light up, make music, or have ball ramps
  • Train sets or car ramps
  • Pretend kitchen, tool bench, vanity, etc.
  • Baby doll sets
  • Colorful picture books with pictures of everyday items
  • Blocks
  • Markers and crayons

Once you have the tools to promote learning, it’s also important to have a relationship that creates learning opportunities. Sadly, many kids rely on technology for entertainment and companionship, spending hours on end without any real social interaction. Television, iPads, and cell phones are one-sided and don’t allow children to truly interact with their environment or those around them. While cartoons or apps might be an easy distractor, they are generally empty and rob children of true learning opportunities. Parents have an important role in making sure their children engage with their environment. Here are some ways I recommend parents can stimulate their children through meaningful interactions.

  • Read books together– ask your child to point to various pictures, label items you see in the book, have him or her turn the pages
  • Play with toys together– demonstrate how to use toys, take turns, build things, act out daily life routines using pretend items
  • Sing songs together– do hand motions or facial expressions, let your child fill in some of the words (Wheels on the bus, Itsy-bitsy-spider, Head-Shoulders-Knees and Toes)

Combining the right materials with the right interactions sets children up for success. Access to age-appropriate toys and a parent’s ability to engage with their child are the key factors in maximizing a child’s learning opportunities and fostering healthy development. So take these tools and help your child learn though play.

The cool thing- Part 2

6 Oct

When I last left off I was noting how cool my job is for the diversity it exposes me to. Another awesome part of being a behavior analyst is that my job is often FUN!

 

Now, of course I have those days where I’m exhausted from the screaming and crying and blocking a kid from beating me up….Or those days where I feel defeated and inadequate. But, on most days I get to do things that people would DREAM of calling “work” and I get to have fun.

 

I regularly play board games at work.  I regularly go to parks and Chuck E. Cheese for work. I go to bounce-house places and race my clients down the slides. I’ve gotten to have dance parties and play video games at work. I’ve gone to the mall or Target or shoe stores for work. And being a school shadow for 4 1/2 years meant tons of class parties, movie days, and recess!

 

There have been a number of times where, in the middle of my sessions, I stopped and thought “This is my job? I am getting paid to do this right now?” That saying “Do something you love you’ll never have to work a day in your life”… That’s how I feel about being a behavior analyst. Besides the obvious investment I get to make in kids and their families, it’s neat that the day-to-day is actually enjoyable and exciting a lot of the time. Just another benefit of my job! I count myself very blessed to be able to do something fulfilling and also just plain fun.

 

dowhatyoulove

The cool thing- Part 1

12 Jul

There are so many cool things about my job besides, of course, the whole I-get-to-make-a-difference-in-people’s-lives thing. When I’m not enjoying the satisfaction of teaching a kid how to communicate or how to do basic life skills independently, I’m enjoying the little aspects of the job. One cool thing about my job is: it gives me exposure to all sorts of diversity.

diversity

I work with all different ages, races, religions, family structures, and socio-economic statuses. I once worked with a kid at a Jewish temple. I ate my fair share of challah bread every Friday and knew the Ha-Motzi word for word. Then I spent several years shadowing kids at a Catholic elementary school.  I went to Mass every week with my kiddos, and could recite the Hail Mary in my sleep. I’ve worked in Christian households, and Buddhist homes. I’ve worked with families who live in bona fide mansions with home theaters and high-tech security cameras installed everywhere. And I’ve also worked in mobile homes and single bedroom apartments. One of my former families owned half the homes in a well-to-do housing neighborhood while another squeezed 3 people into 1 bed because all they had was a rented room in someone else’s house. Some of the families I’ve worked with have stay- at-home moms (or dads!), while others have both parents working and live in nannies. Some even have both parents at home, or extended family that lives with them. I’ve worked with families struggling so much financially that they kept several rooms without any working light bulbs. And others who were so wealthy they offered to pay me to travel to other continents with them. I’ve worked with married parents, divorced parents, single parents, adoptive parents. I’ve worked in a home where the divorced parents still lived together. I’ve worked with families who are Caucasian, Mexican, Ethiopian, Kenyan, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Greek, and so many more. I’ve worked with parents who share with me their own medical and mental health issues. I’ve worked with families dealing with divorce, unemployment, adoption issues, incarceration… I’ve worked in a home where I had to make multiple child abuse reports. I’ve worked with people from all walks of life, with all different backgrounds.

It’s so crazy the disparity between families that I come across. And, the longer I work with a family, the more I get to learn about them. I learn about their traditions, and holidays, and beliefs, and family dynamics. I learn about their values and their struggles; their faith and their lifestyles. I feel so educated, while at the same time, knowing there is still so much to know and learn. It’s really fascinating, the wide array of people and circumstances my job introduces me to. And, I know many people regularly interact with different cultures, religions, and socio-economic statuses. That’s nothing unique. But, the nature of my profession is to be in people’s private sanctuaries (their homes), working hands-on with what they hold most dear (their children). I’m there with such consistency over such long periods of time, that I believe my job offers me a deeper insight into the diversity so many of us may only see on the surface. So that’s one cool thing about my job… I get the opportunity to learn about others in a profoundly personal way I wouldn’t otherwise get to.

Speak for yourself…

8 Jun

“Autism isn’t a tragedy, ignorance is.”

“I don’t suffer from autism, I enjoy every moment of it.”

“I don’t suffer from autism… I suffer from ignorant people.”

There are countless websites, online groups, and Facebook pages dedicated to these taglines. These sites, run mainly by people who identify as being on the spectrum (and others run by parent advocates) argue that autism is not bad, sad, or unfortunate. It does not cause people to hurt. Autism is a beautiful diversity and should be celebrated. And those who would say otherwise….They are “hate-mongers”. Wishing your child didn’t have autism, or hoping for a “cure” makes you unloving, and unaccepting, according to these sites.

Here’s the fundamental issue I have with these arguments….

Your experience does not give you the right to deny another person’s experience.

Your experience does not negate the experience of another person. Matter of fact, your experience doesn’t actually have anything to do with another’s.

Your experience does not give you the ability to make blanket statements for all people in similar circumstances.

I just can’t fathom that someone could look at a child with autism screaming, crying, bashing his head into a wall until it bleeds and say “That’s not tragic” or “They’re not suffering because of autism.” I can’t wrap my head around someone seeing the news stories of another dead autistic child because he wandered away from home, and say that child, or their family, didn’t suffer at the hands of autism… Instead they would argue that they suffered at the hands of the “ignorant” public. I can’t comprehend that someone could watch a child with autism be unable to get their needs met because they can’t communicate, and say that his inability to communicate is not the tragedy… those around him not being able to read his mind is the tragedy.

Honestly, I’m of the opinion that (while I know there are many great qualities about it) autism causes an enormous amount of pain, struggle, and difficulty for A LOT of people. Those diagnosed, and their families. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it.

And, with that said, I will also make clear that I know not all people affected by autism are of the same opinion… and that’s okay!

Having an opposing view on the “tragedy” or “suffering” related (or not related) to autism does not threaten me, nor does it even bother me… when you are talking about your own experiences. But representing your opinion as fact on behalf of the entire autism community is wrong, unfair, and offensive.

Just how so many of these same spokespeople say “Autism Speaks doesn’t speak for me”…. You “advocates” don’t speak for ME, my brother, or other people, either. NO ONE speaks on behalf of everybody, and the sooner people recognize that, the sooner we can stop waging wars on who is “right”. You speak about your experiences, I’ll speak about mine. You hold opinions based on your experiences, I’ll hold opinions based on mine. And even when our whole-hearted beliefs don’t align, that’s okay. They don’t need to. Let’s respect that our own life experiences don’t override the experiences of another person.

WAAD

2 Apr
WAAD
As most of my readers know…today is “World Autism Awareness Day”. I didn’t even realize it until yesterday when my sister reminded me. And, while it may seem obvious to write about my brother today, given the topic at hand, I’m actually going to write about some other love bugs that have changed my life.
My love for these 2 kids can’t be described through a blog. But they’ve had a remarkable impact on my life, and my story with them is worthy of being shared. For parents that ever wondered if ABA therapists have favorite clients… they do. And these boys were mine.
I had the pleasure, and honor, of going to school with these 2 kids for many years, in addition to working with them both at home. I worked so many hours with them both that I got to know them pretty intimately, and our bonds were unlike any other I’ve ever had with my clients. They became family to me. We had our own inside jokes. We had our own little habits and routines. We had our own special relationships.
Together these boys and I grew. They grew from cute little kids to handsome big boys. I grew from a shy, somewhat green therapist to a confident, experienced BCBA applicant. They pulled me out of my shell. They stretched me to become better, clinically and personally. They gave me an endless supply of funny stories, priceless moments, and hilarious memories. They knew what I expected from them. They knew how I said things, and even how I wrote. They knew my family. They knew my fears, and what made me happy. They knew me. And I knew them… I knew their favorite everything. I knew their hot buttons, and what made them tick. I knew what excited them. I knew how each of them learned material best. I knew how to modify almost anything to be presented in a way they could understand. I knew how to influence their behavior from across the room, with only a glance. But they knew how to melt my heart with only a smile. My hold over them was nothing compared to their hold over me.
In the process of falling in love with these kids, I also grew to love their family. And because we spent so much time together, their family really got to know and love me, too. I was able to share in the life experieces of this family, and they shared in mine. From engagement, to marriage, graduations, first communions, birthdays, surgery, and even family deaths… We lived a lot of life together. I consider it a unique privilege to have been so included in a family that wasn’t my own.
So… on this autism awareness day, I’m reminded of how deeply I love these 2 angels, and always will. No matter how many years go by, or how many new kids I work with, there will never be a repeat of the relationships I created with them. While forming a bond with any child is special, forming a bond with the population I work with is exponentially more precious. So I am “aware” on this day (and everyday) , that to truly connect with those who have autism… that is a blessing beyond compare. And I am “aware” of just how special these 2 boys are, and how lucky I am to have been part of their lives.
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