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Happy Halloween

31 Oct

Happy Halloween!

I’ll be spending this Halloween with 2 teenage clients. I noticed online there are a few public social stories about trick or treating. But I didn’t see anything for kids too old to trick or treat, or those who prefer to stay home and pass out candy. So I made one. It’s short and simple. Feel free to use it or share on your site. Just make sure to link back to me.










20 Oct

Let me set the scene…
2 adults, each fiercely gripping an arm of a little boy who is flailing around on a stranger’s grassy front lawn. The kid, laying there; kicking, crying, writhing. The two women each using all their might to wrestle this power-house of a little boy off the ground. Meanwhile, two bright blue shoes lay in the middle of the street.

To me….this is an obvious scenario. Clearly this child has some special needs- hence the public meltdown on a neighbor’s front lawn; hence 2 adults pulling and straining and fighting and pleading and begging him to please get up.

But to the owner of the house…apparently not an obvious scenario. Instead, his look of horror and disgust said it all… His first thought was not that something must be wrong here. There must be some bigger issues at play here. No, his first thought was “What are these people doing on my lawn!”. As he pulled into his drive way, he raised his hands and shot a look of irritation, aggravation, and anger.

He must have missed it.  All the clues were there, though… How did he not see it? How did he not notice?

He didn’t notice the struggle on my face.

He didn’t notice the pain in the boy’s eyes.

He didn’t notice the fight we were putting up just to move this boy an inch.

He didn’t notice the frustration in our bodies.

He didn’t notice the tension.

He didn’t notice the desperation.

He didn’t notice the strength it took.

He didn’t notice the battle.

He didn’t notice the toil.


No, he didn’t notice any of that.  How did he not notice?


14 Sep

A new study (discussed here) reports that 46% of autistic teens and pre-teens are bullied. This is almost 5 times higher than the national average of typically developing children who fall victim to bullying. Plus, the study indicates that higher functioning kids on the spectrum are targeted more than severely disabled kids.

I guess it makes sense…people, even kids and teens, usually have compassion for those who are clearly disabled. They “feel bad” for the person, and they know it’s wrong to make fun of them. But the kid who walks and talks and goes to the same classes and plays the same sports….well when that kid does something unusual, he’s just a weirdo. It’s almost as though the more a person fits in, the more they stand out. High-functioning autistic kids are on a level playing field with their non-autistic counterparts in so many areas. So the areas they may not be up to par tend to be more noticeable (difficulty with conversation, understanding sarcasm, jokes, or social cues, difficulty relating to others emotions, etc).

So why is this happening? And how can we stop it?

Well this is where education comes in.

Educating kids about diversity, and compassion, and inclusion.

Educating kids on disabilities and how they can be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

Educating kids on acceptance, tolerance, love…

You see, I was bullied as a kid. Junior high was torture for me. I went to school in a very wealthy beach town, but I wasn’t one of the rich kids. I was teased relentlessly for my clothes, my hair, my teeth, my music preferences, where I shopped…..and I was called all sorts of terrible names. Most of my 7th grade year I spent passing periods and lunch breaks roaming the large campus (pretending to be busy going from building to building) so that I wouldn’t have to be seen sitting alone. I would even make pretend phone calls on the on-campus pay phone sometimes to avoid people. It was really miserable. And to this day I still remember the people who bullied me. (Oddly enough, I’m now friends with a few of them on Facebook. ) But those memories haven’t left. They probably never will. Bullying hurts. And it made going to school a nightmare for me. So, I’d like to impart to whoever reads this some words that an old family friend told me when I started high school…

He said, “You never know who is looking up to you and just wishing you’d notice them. So be nice to everybody. You never know if your smile might make somebody’s day.”

I believe it. None of us know just how much our behavior affects other people. So, I think it’s important to teach kids how they can make an impact. And, to talk with them about what type of impact they want to have. Do they want to be that bully that someone remembers 14 years later? Or do they want to be that friendly person that people remember, the one who was also so kind ? What if their kindness inspired others? What if their greeting or smile or invitation to a special needs student meant the world? What if their attitude about diversity meant no one had to sit alone at lunch? What if they could make a difference? (Spoiler alert: THEY CAN!)

It’s so important to empower children and teens, and to encourage loving relationships with people, even if they’re different. And besides, once someone opens up to an autistic peer, they might just realize what a great person he or she is! And most of all, I want to impress that these beliefs and attitudes start at home. If parents foster an appreciation for diversity, rather than make it something scary or bad or wrong, their children are more likely to follow suit.

Last, but not least, here are some excellent resources for more information on how to educate children about peers with special needs:

Person First Language

2 Sep

“Autistic person”…or “person with Autism”?

Many people and parents have strong opinions on this topic. The idea is that calling someone “autistic” is looking at their diagnosis, instead of them as a person. Whereas, saying “person with autism” is looking at the person first, and diagnosis second.

Many autistic people write about their dislike of person-first language. They assert that person-first language suggests you can separate them from the autism, which they believe you can’t. Autism is a part of them, and not a shameful or terrible part that needs to be separated. They are proud of who they are and don’t want their autism carrying a negative connotation.

Other people with Autism are passionate about their preference for person-first language. They don’t want to be defined by, or reduced to, their diagnosis. They feel calling someone “autistic” is dehumanizing the person. People are more than their diagnosis. They prefer people to look at the person, not the disability.

Personally, I vacillate between the two phrases. My own family isn’t particularly emphatic about one or the other, so I find that I interchange them. I have worked with families that use person first language, so when I’m around them, I do too. I have also worked with other families that don’t, so when I’m around them, I don’t either. But overall, my experience has been that people I’m around don’t really care either way.

I feel that the separation of the person and the diagnosis perpetuates the stigma that it’s “bad” or “wrong”; Almost as though Autism is something so terrible or tragic that it needs to be estranged, rather than seen as part of the person. (Now, I am not necessarily saying  “Autism is simply a beautiful, wonderful gift we should embrace!!!” But, I certainly don’t think it helps to overly vilify the diagnosis.) We use descriptors all the time in everyday life; “blonde girl”, “tall guy”, “fast driver”, “loud teacher”, “shy kid”, etc, etc, etc.  And, in using those descriptors, we all realize those things do not define the person. They are just a way to quickly describe or categorize. No one would suggest that calling me a “brunette” is confining me, or reducing me, to a hair color. Everyone knows I am still a whole person, and pointing out my hair color is just looking at one part of me…not denying all my other qualities. So I think it’s the same with “autistic”. It’s used to describe something about a person, not to negate their wholeness as a human being.

With that said, I understand people are going to have strong opinions on both sides of the fence. And, that’s okay. Because I don’t feel extremely zealous one way or the other, I can pretty easily adjust my language based on my audience at any given time.  And interestingly enough, from my research online, it seems most autistic people actually prefer to be called “autistic” and rebuff person first language.

I’d love to know where you stand on this issue.

Here are some excellent blogs on this issue:

Reinforcement: Timing is everything

27 Aug

Research shows that “an imposed delay [in the delivery of reinforcement] will typically render a reinforcer less effective. The more time between the criterion meeting response, and the delivery of the reinforcer, the weaker that reinforcement relation will be.” -Iser DeLeon, PhD BCBA.

What does this mean in plain english?

When reinforcing a behavior, especially at first, it should be immediate. The longer the delay, the less effective the reinforcement. Recall that “reinforcement” is not the same as reward. In order to be a reinforcer, the item/activity/etc. has to increase the future frequency of the behavior. (Read more about reinforcement in my post here).

So when attempting to reinforce a target behavior, the sooner the better. Have the item readily available. If it’s an activity or outing a person is earning, get ready to get up and go as soon as the target behavior occurs. The longer the delay, the weaker the contingency. The child does not associate the reinforcer with the target behavior if the reinforcement is delayed too significantly. Thus, if the child does not associate the target behavior with the attempted reinforcer, they are less likely to repeat that behavior in the future.

A classic example:

Let’s say a child really loves bike rides. Riding his or her bike functions as a reinforcer. But bike rides are an activity; not something you can quickly hand a child, like a piece of candy. If you want to make doing the dishes the target behavior, reinforced by a bike ride, here are some things you’d want to consider:

  • Have the child already in the appropriate shoes, clothing, etc.
  • Have the bike already easily accessible when you go out to the yard
  • Once the last dish is cleaned, immediately take the kid outside, help them get on the bike and go!

If after the last dish was completed you had to help the kid put on socks and shoes, then get the bike out of the garage, then help with the helmet, etc….5 or 10 minutes might pass before the child actually gets on the bike! So the child would not necessarily associate doing the dishes with earning  a bike ride. Additionally, any behavior that occurs between the dish washing and the bike ride may actually be the behavior you end up reinforcing. If the child finishes the dishes, and then during putting on their shoes has a major tantrum, and then they still get the bike ride…you have would have then unwittingly reinforced the tantrum, not the dish washing behavior.

Conclusion: faster is better. The less time between the target behavior and the reinforcement, the less chance you have of mistakenly reinforcing a different behavior. And, the stronger the relationship becomes between the target behavior and the reinforcer.


18 Aug

Reinforcement is a key component, if not the biggest key, to behavior change procedures.  But, reinforcement is often misunderstood. Everyone has the potential to impact behavior, either knowingly or unknowingly. And, parents have an especially influential role.

First, in order to be a “reinforcer”, the item or activity has to increase the future frequency of the behavior it immediately follows. Next, there are two types of reinforcement: Positive and Negative. No, that does not equate to “good and bad”. Don’t let the terms fool you.

Positive Reinforcement is an added consequence of behavior that increases the future frequency of that behavior. (Adding something to strengthen the behavior)

  • Giving a teen $10 for every A earned on his or her report card. (You add the money in order to increase future frequency of earning As.)

Negative Reinforcement is the removal or avoidance of something that increases the future frequency of that behavior. (Removing something to strengthen the behavior)

  • Scratching your arm when it’s itching. (The scratching behavior removes the itch, thereby making you more likely to scratch future itches)

Some more common examples of Negative Reinforcement that many parents encounter:

  1. A child is given a plate of veggies. The child screams and cries, refusing to eat the vegetables. So the parent removes the plate, and the child does not have to eat them.

In this case, the child’s behavior (screaming) was negatively reinforced (via the removal of the vegetables), thereby increasing the future likelihood of screaming when given vegetables.

2. A child asks for a toy at the toy store. The parent says no, and the child begins tantruming.  The parent, tired of the child’s meltdown, gives in and buys the toy.

In this example, the parent’s behavior (buying the toy) was negatively reinforced (The aversive stimulus, the tantrum, stopped). Now, the parent may be more likely to buy the child what they ask for in the future, in order to avoid or escape the tantum.

****Here’s where it gets tricky…in the above example, there is multiple reinforcing events occuring. The child is positively reinforced for screaming (they scream, they get the toy) , while the parent is negatively reinforced for giving the toy (they give the toy, the screaming stops).

I know, it’s confusing. Plus, we are so engrained with other connotations for the words positive and negative. But just remember that positive is adding something, negative is taking something away. And in order to be reinforcement, it MUST increase the future frequency of the behavior. A “reward” is NOT the same as a reinforcer.

For more information on this topic, please visit the links below:

*All pictures found on Google Images, diagram created by me

Siblings- Part 1

6 Aug

In the July/August edition of The Therapist magazine, Dr. Ira Heilveil wrote about the role of a Marriage and Family Therapist in the lives of those affected by autism. He discussed the ways each relationship within the family unit might be impacted.

Dr. Heilveil says siblings may:

-Suffer real or perceived withdrawal of attention from parents

-Engage in maladaptive or excessive “good” behaviors

-Fear that autism is contagious

-Fear that their own children will someday be autistic

-Grieve the brother or sister they wanted to have

-Feel ashamed that their sibling is not like the siblings their friends have

This is one of the many layers within the autism onion: siblings.

For me, there is fear for the future. My parents won’t be around forever, so what then? How will life be for me as a care-taker someday? There is an intense investment in my brother’s progress. The better he does now, the better off things will be then. There is pain, sadness, heartbreak. There is a sense of responsibility; I’m his oldest sibling. I’m trained in ABA. There is confusion. There’s anger when people don’t do right by him. Then there’s anger when his disability overshadows the needs of other family members.  There’s disappointment when others fail him. There’s frustration that I can’t do more to help him. Then there’s frustration when life revolves around him at the expense of other people. There’s pride in his accomplishments. There’s compassion and sensitivity. There’s hope. There’s joy in his affections. There’s just so many things. It’s a complex, tangled ball of emotions.

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