What are the verbal operants and why do they matter?

Verbal behavior seems like the newest buzz word in the world of Autism. Parents ask me almost every day what it is and how it is different from applied behavior analysis (ABA). Truthfully, it is usually used interchangeably. Technically speaking though, it is the part of ABA that teaches children how to use language to communicate.

Verbal behavior was developed by Skinner back in the 1950’s. Contrary to what many people think, it is not a new term. Truthfully in my personal opinion, which is not a popular one, behavior therapists are being forced to reconcile the dark history of applied behavior analysis and are using new words to create new connotations.  Whether that is true or not, verbal is a critical instructional methodology for kids with Autism.

Children who have only a speech delay benefit largely from speech therapy. Speech therapy will help most kids who do not have any developmental delays with talking as long as they are physically able to. However, children with Autism require more than just speech therapy. That’s because children with Autism by definition have delays in all areas of communication. All people with Autism start off with communication delays.  It is important to note that many people with Autism learn to communicate just as well as any neurotypical person. However, without delays in communication a person cannot get a diagnosis in Autism.

At this point, it is very important to understand a delay in communication is not the same as a delay in language. Language is vocal. Most of communication is non vocal. Early stages of communication includes eye contact, especially using eye contact to initiate and respond to joint attention and using gestures such as pointing.  Reaching or grabbing for something or trying or bringing someone to a desired object is typically not considered communication.

Children with Autism do not use eye contact or gestures to communicate unless they are taught to do so in early childhood development. This is where applied behavior analysis comes in. Applied behavior analysis is most commonly known for its ability to address problem behavior. However, the truth is that in its initial applications, it was primarily used to show a person what a correct response is.


Let’s look at a very basic example of how that works.

Let’s say that an adult puts a button on the table in front of a child. The child has no idea what it is for. The child pressed the button and the adult gives the child a cookie. The child may not initially understand that he was awarded the cookie for pressing the button. However, if the same thing happened five times, eventually they will learn that when they press the button, they get a cookie.  Now, whenever the child wants the cookie, they will press the button.

That’s how ABA works. Behaviors that a child does not know or understand are taught using a highly structured approach. A response is given, the child responds either independently or with help and the behavior is reinforced usually by a child getting an object that they desire. Eventually the child will learn to engage in the behavior and the reinforcement can be faded. Then the child can engage in the behavior independently.

Today applied behavior analysis has many practical implications. However, when using applied behavior analysis to conduct what it is commonly called verbal behavior or simply teaching a child to talk, this is the most basic application.

The main reason that parents seek out ABA is because they want their children to learn to talk. While this is not the only purpose of an ABA program, it is often the main component.   Most often children learn language naturally by hearing others speak. But as stated earlier, children with Autism do not. They require language to be taught to them directly. ABA therapist break down language into some very basic components called operants. By teaching these operants or skills individually, ABA therapist can significantly increase a child’s ability to use language to communicate and after reading this section, so can you.

In behavior therapy, the verbal operants are: a mand, an echoic, a tact and an intraverbal. Once you understand each of these terms, it will be easy to tell them apart and you will know what to teach. In typical language development, they are learned in that order. However, from my personal experience, some children with Autism will follow the progression out of order. This is usually depends on what stimulus a child attends to, what lessons a therapist selects to teach first and whether or not they engage in vocal stereotypy.

Some children with Autism are very vocal even at a very young age. They will repeat almost anything an adult says or they will initiate words independently but they are out of context. These are vocalizations but may not be functional language. That’s why is imperative that a person understands verbal operants. The verbal operants provide a way to know if a child is truly communicating. The following section will explore the different types of verbal operants in detail and give examples of them.

A mand is in simple terms a request. The learner wants something, says what they want and gets what they said. It is triggered by a person’s desire for something. The fancy ABA term for that is specific reinforcement. This is the only operant where reinforcement is specific to what is said. Requesting is one of the main components of language. Children constantly ask for things. Requesting is the most motivating type of language and the one children learn first. Think about it, you get what you say. There is very real tangible consequence when you ask for something that is favorable. Therefore, it should be the first operant taught and initially the one that is focused on the most.

The second operant typically learned is an echoic. In this operant, someone says something that the learner repeats and the learner receives something unrelated to what is said. It is triggered by something someone else says. This is called nonspecific reinforcement. At this point, this probably sounds really confusing so let me give you an example to illustrate. A teacher says. “Say blue.” The child says, “blue” and the teacher says. “Great job.”

Sometimes it is hard to differentiate between mands and echoics when children are first learning mands because therapists will assist or prompt a child to give a correct response by telling them what to say. For example, if a child wants an apple and his therapist says, “say apple,” and the child says, “apple.” If the behavior results in specific reinforcement (the child gets the apple), it is a prompted mand, not an echoic.  Echoics are mostly used in ABA to clean up pronunciations or to teach children to build upon their language by speaking in sentences. It can be an important part of an ABA program but it is the operant that occurs least often naturally in language.

The third verbal operant is a tact. A tact is when a person makes a comment about something they see, touch, smell, taste or hear. This operant is triggered by something in the environment. In order to be considered a tact, the comment must be made about something present. For example. “This tastes great.” “I see a yellow bird.” “I can hear a train.” Once again, reinforcement is non specific.  Some tacts that someone may learn in ABA is to identify an object’s color, features, category, attribute or function. When visuals are used to teach this, such as books, puzzles or flashcards, it is a tact.

The final and fourth verbal operant is an intraverbal. This is the most natural conversational tact that is used in conversation. This is when someone makes a comment or asks a question based upon what another person says without the object they are discussing being present. For example, “What’s your name?” “My name is Jessica?” “My favorite color is pink.” “Cool, my favorite color is blue.” Intraverbals are similar to echoics in that another person triggers the behavior. But it is different because with intraverbals reinforcement is non specific.  It is different from a tact in that there is no visual is present.

In order for anyone to have a fluent conversation, they must be able to use all four verbal operants. The next time you have a conversation, think about this final chapter. You will quickly notice yourself using all four operants in conversation.

The following chart will summarize all the info above just to make sure it is really clear:

References

Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L. (1987). Applied Behavior Analysis.





Tips for an Autism Happy Halloween

Halloween is many children’s favorite day of the year. However, for children with Autism it can be more spooky than a treat. They are being forced to communicate with potentially dozens of unknown strangers which can be both challenging and stressful. Children with Autism often like routines, may have sensory preferences that make costumes difficult and may not fully understand why people are dressed in costumes. Many Halloween costumes and decorations can even be scary for neurotypical kids.

The good news is that there are things you can do as a parent to make Halloween a fun and enjoyable experience for any kid, even a kid with Autism. As a parent, you want your child to experience all the joys of childhood and create the same beautiful memories you parents created for you.  For your family, this may include Halloween.

Following these ten steps can help make Halloween a positive experience for your family.  Read this right away, you will want to start a few weeks in advance.

Tip 1: Start having your child try on their costume a few weeks in advance.

Last year, I was working with a four year old child who was very excited for Halloween. He picked out his costume and was talking about going trick or treating for weeks. His mom was very excited since it was the first year he doing well enough to be able to participate.

When Halloween finally came and it was time to put on the costume, he had a complete and total meltdown. He screamed and cried and kicked and absolutely refused to put on the costume. He wouldn’t even try it on.

Mom tried to make it a game,  man handle him in it and bribe him  but it was no use. He was not wearing the costume. Now him and his mother were both frustrated. Hallowen was ruined.

This particular child had a lot of sensory aversions. The costume was a different material and shape of the clothing he was used to wearing. It was more constricting and putting the whole thing on at once was just too much for himl.

Sometimes it takes practice to get your child to try on his costume. I recommend always having your child try on his costume ahead of time so that you can find one that is suitable for your child, especially if they have sensory needs. If you have a hard time having them keep on sunglasses at the beach or hats during the winter, you probably don’t want one with a mask. Keep into account you child’s past preferences with clothing when choosing a costume.  If your child has had any sensory aversions keep it as simple as possible. A shirt with their favorite cartoon character is a perfectly acceptable costume.

If your child wants to dress up in a particular costume but is having difficulty wearing it gradually get them used to it. You may want to start off by simply having the costume out and having them touch it. Then have them put on just part of the costume. You can even have them put in just one arm or leg and then be done for the day. The earlier you start the more time you will have to gradually expose them to the idea.

Some kids will also feel less stressful if other members of your family wear a costume. If you think this would make your more comfortable, have the whole family dress up for dinner for a few days before Halloween! It could be fun!

Tip 2: Practice ahead of time.

Practicing ahead of time is not just for the costume. You should also practice having your child ring a doorbell, wait and say trick or treat. You can rehearse this in your own home. Rehearse it several times a day for at least the week leading up to Halloween.

Initially, give your child a piece of candy,  a new toy or even a penny for a correct response. This will serve as a reinforcer. Anything is fine as long as your child wants it. You will want to continuously reinforce your child’s behavior until they have learned to respond correctly.

Once they have responded correctly at least five times start to practice other  variables such as someone not ringing the door, not having candy or your child getting a candy they don’t want. Let’s face it. Not everyone celebrates Halloween, will answer the door or buys the good candy.

If possible, ask a friend or family member if you can practice at their house too so your child has experience with multiple locations. It is also a good idea to practice with a family that has a dog if you have a friend or family with a dog. Hearing a dog barking and having someone open the door can be stressful for many children that are not used to animals.

The more your child is prepared for what will happen, the more enjoyable Halloween will be.

Tip 3: Use a social story

A great way to convey information to your child about what will happen on Halloween is to use a social story.

A social story is a short story written in a specific way that is designed to provide information to your child about how to respond in a social situations. It is one of the most effective and well researched strategies for teaching children with Autism about new situations.

Here is a social story I have written specifically with your family in mind.

HALLOWEEN SOCIAL STORY

Soon it will be Halloween. Halloween is fun.

On Halloween, people wear costumes. Costumes make people look different. But they are still the same person. Wearing a costume is fun!

I can wear a costume on Halloween too! For one day, I can be anything that I want. That’s awesome.

Sometimes costumes can be a little scary. That’s ok. I will remember, under the costume is a person.  If I get scared by a costume, I can tell a parent and they will help me feel better.

On Halloween, I will go trick or treating. Trick or treating is fun.

I will walk to someone’s door and press the doorbell!. Sometimes they will answer. If they answer, I will say trick or treat and they will give me candy. That’s so cool.

Sometimes people won’t answer. That’s ok. I can go to another house.

Halloween is so much fun but sometimes I will need a break. I may hear loud noises like a dog barking, a person yelling or a Halloween decoration that makes sounds,  When I feel too excited or I get scared I can take a break.

It is important to stay safe on Halloween. Kids need to stay with an adult. I will always stay with a parent on Halloween.

I may get lots of treats on Halloween. I can eat ______ number of treats on Halloween. I will save the rest for later.  My ________________ will let me know when I can eat my treat. 

Halloween is fun

Tip 4: If your child can’t say trick or treat bring cards to distribute

Some kids with Autism will be able to say trick or treat and some will not depending on how much language they have.  Let’s face it, not everyone is necessarily very patient. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what you should do and how you should raise them.  I have taken kids with Autism trick or treating who could not say trick or treat only to have people at the door scold them or judge them.

To avoid this I recommend printing up a card and having your child and them to people in lieu or saying trick or treat if they do not have language or get nervous in new social situations.

Not only will this avoid a potentially uncomfortable situation but using pictures is a valid form of communication and it will allow your child to participate more fully in the experience. You should teach your child to do this ahead of time, ideally when you are rehearsing like previously suggested above. The good news is picture exchange is the most common form of communication that children with Autism learn when they do not have language so this may not be too much of  stretch for your child.

I have created a visual that you are free to print and use.

Tip 5: For safety purposes have your child wear a glow stick especially if they elope.

To some putting a glow stick on your child may be silly. Others may think it’s genius! I go camping all of the time. One rule is that everyone wears a glow stick at night, even the dog!

According to the National Safety Council, children are twice as likely to get hit by a car on Halloween than on any other day.

If your child elopes, make sure you put a glow stick around their neck. If for whatever reason they run away and it is dark at night you will be able to see where they went.

Even if you don’t think your child would run, do it anyway! You can get glow sticks in almost any dollar store!  Children get spooked on Halloween! That’s the point!

If an animatronic startles them and they run back towards the street, a glow stick will make sure that drivers see them even on the darkest street.

Tip 6: Visit houses of familiar people

If your child does not do well with meeting new people, one way to make Halloween easier for them would be to visit the house of familiar people. You may not get as many houses in but the good news is candy goes on sale the day after Halloween! You can always get more candy.

Visiting four to five friends houses and having a really good time will create a lot better memories than visiting fifty houses and your child having an epic meltdown.

Depending on where you live, you may also be able to trick or treat at the mall or you might be able to attend a trunk or treat which more and more schools are hosting each year.

Visiting houses of friends and family is also a good idea when you are practicing for Halloween.

Tip 7: If possible drive instead of walk and take breaks between houses

If you can, bring a car with you when trick or treating instead of walking from house to house. Some kids will need a break after walking to a few houses.

Your child will be doing things that may be challenging for them. After 10 times, they may have had enough.

However, simply taking a break in a familiar place for five minutes may be just what they need to regain their composure and continue on.

It is also a good place to warm up when it gets cold! My mom used to always drive us around and give us hot chocolate between houses. It was generally cold by Halloween in New Jersey where I grew up.

This also leads to Tip 8!

Tip 8: Bring calming sensory toys

Bring calming or sensory toys and activities with you so that your child can use them in between houses. This works especially well when you bring the car with you.

Let’s face it, for better or worse, kids are obsessed with electronics. This can be as simple as letting your child watch the iPad for a few minutes in between houses. Just make sure they won’t get upset when it is time to put the iPad away when it is time to go back to trick or treating, Alternatively, you can bring along calming stuffed animals, blankets or sensory balls.

Do whatever works for your child.  Think about what you bring to entertain them while you are out to dinner and they are waiting for their food to come and bring that!

However, listen to your child. If they are done, they are done. If they are communicating to you either with words or with their behavior that they had enough, end the night before a meltdown occurs.

Tip 9: Expose your child to as many costumes as possible before Halloween

Costumes can be scary for all kids. Expose them to costumes and explain to them what kind of costumes they may see.

My suggestion is to go to your local costume store, buy one of each costume, model them for your child and return them the day after Halloween! JUST KIDDING!  Google is your friend!

Google Halloween costumes and show your child photos of people in costumes. Explain to them that they may see blood, monsters and other scary things but they are not real. I do recommend getting at least one mask and allow your child to take it on and off of you to demonstrate that a mask may look scary but there is a person under the mask. Make it a game and keep it fun.

The more your child understands that Halloween is fun and the scary stuff isn’t real, the more enjoyable that Halloween will be for them.

Trip 10: Bring a visual schedule with you

My final tip is similar to using a social story. Think about it as a our social story cheat sheet. By the time Halloween comes, your child should already be familiar with the steps required to knock on someone’s door, wait, say trick or treat, get candy, say thank you and leave. However, just in case, it is a good idea to have a visual reminder. In all the excitement they may forget.

You can also bring the social story but, it may be more time consuming and your child may be too excited to sit and pay attention to it.   A visual strip with the photos that were used in the social story will likely be enough to quickly go over the necessary steps if they forget.

You can download the photos from this story, put them all into a word document in order and print it up to take with you.

Halloween can be a fun and enjoyable experience even for a child with Autism. It may take some extra work but it is worth it.  Halloween was one of my favorite days of the year as a child. So many parents of kids I work with tell me that they skip Halloween because they are afraid of how their children will react. I am passionate about making sure your family gets to have all the experiences that you dreamed about having with your child.  Autism does not have to take away the memories and events you imagined you would have when you first became a parent. I hope these tips help your family have an amazing Halloween.

If you have any questions about what this blog post says, please comment them below. I will be monitoring this post and will answer any questions you have to help you prepare for Halloween.

References

https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/tools-resources/seasonal-safety/autumn/halloween

http://daddcec.org/Portals/0/CEC/Autism_Disabilities/Research/Publications/Education_Training_Development_Disabilities/Full_Journals/Karal.PDF

Just Freaking Eat It- 5 Steps for Exhausted Parents to get your Sensory Child to Eat!

5 Steps for Frustrated Parents to Get Your Sensory Child to Eat

What is food selectivity disorder?

A child has food selectivity disorder when they have a very limited selection of foods that they are willing to eat. Having food selectivity disorder is not the same as a child being a picky eater. Usually children with food selectivity wind up being underweight and/or malnourished as a result of eating such limited foods.

Food selectivity looks different for all children. Some children will only eat food with specific textures like pureed food or baby food. Other children will avoid textures like wet foods. Some kids will only eat salty foods, some only sweet foods and others only foods of a specific color.

Many times, when kids are presented with new foods, they will become extremely upset and refuse to eat. When you force selective eaters to try something new, they will spit it out or gag and make themselves throw up. Often times, they are unable to express why they are rejecting the food which leaves parents wondering what is going on!  You may be offering them cake, cookies, chips or similar things that it may seem like all kids would want to eat! Either way, it is extremely frustrating and rather than dinner being a fun time for families to spend time together, it becomes one of the most dreaded parts of your day.

Why is my child selective about food?

There is no one answer to why a child is selective about eating particular foods. There is a very high correlation between Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder with food selectivity. The most common reason is that sensory eats avoid specific food textures. Apraxia, a motor speech disorder, also can cause children to reject foods at it makes moving food around the mouth a challenge. The good news is, no matter what the cause of the food selectivity there are five simple steps to overcoming it!

Step 1: Encourage your child to Play with Food Food

Allow your child to play with foods that they do not want to eat without requiring them to eat it. The exposure to the foods without the threat of being required to eat them will create a positive association with the foods and will reduce your child’s stress.

If your child doesn’t like solid foods, you can play with cereals, by dumping them in and out of cups and bowls. You can glue pretzels to paper, string pasta, and even include some of you child’s favorite toys in the games such as putting the food in trucks or feeding the food to stuffed toys or dolls. There are limitless possibilities.  Liquid foods can be a little more messy, but with a little creativity and some rags to clean up the mess, there are also tons of options!

Stay on this step as long as necessary! Feel free to also continue it throughout the rest of the steps.  I would encourage you to use several different foods to help with generalization! No matter what, keep it fun! Remember, the goal is to create a positive association!

Step 2: Require Your Child to Kiss the Food

Children will be reluctant to try new foods. However, if you assure them that they will not have to actually eat the food, they will be far more willing to cooperate. In this step, you have the child kiss the food and then they are done! You can tell them ahead of time how many times they will have to kiss the food but you would never ask them to put the food in their mouth! Praise them for doing a really great job once they kiss the food and give them access to their favorite toy or activity before either having them kiss the food again or to go to the next step.

*You may be able to progress through all five steps in one day or you may stay on each step for days or even weeks. Stay on each step until it becomes effortless for your child. Then, move on!

Step 3: Require Your Child to Lick the Food

Step 3 is almost identical to step 2 with the exception that in step 3, they are licking and kissing the food. Like with step 2, you should end the demand, praise them and give them access to their favorite toy or activity every time they lick the food. Also, like with step 2, stay on the step until it becomes easy for the child. Then, they are ready to move to step 4.

Step 4: Require Your Child to Put the Food in his Mouth but Allow them to Spit it Out

In this step, for the first time, you are requiring the child to put the food in their mouths. For many kids, this will be the most difficult step. Be prepared to give them a major reward for trying the food, especially the first time they do it!

This is also the most difficult step for many parents because it may seem counterintuitive to allow your child to spit out the food. The main reason for this that knowing that they can spit it out makes children much more likely to try them. The good news is that more often than not, they wind up realizing the food actually tastes good and they don’t spit it out!  You don’t want to repeat this step too many times for the same food! This step is meant to be a transition to step 5. You don’t want to spend a lot of time on it. It is just an option the first few times a child tries a new food. Keep in mind, there may be some food your child just doesn’t like!

Step 5: Require Your Child to Eat the Food

Once your child has completed the prior four steps, they are ready to eat the food! If they are still a little bit apprehensive, there are things you can do to make mealtime less stressful. My recommendation is to allow them a bit of a favorite food for every few bites when eating a challenging food. Or, if you are comfortable with it, allow them to bring a toy or watch a video during dinner as long as they are eating or you can use a token board and allow them to watch a video or play with their toys after a few bites. However, typically, the key is getting kids to try foods! Usually, once they try them, they realize they actually like them!

Starting School With Autism

Congratulations! Your child is about to start school. It is exciting, but it can also be scary. Sending any child to school for the first time is hard for any parent, sending a child with special needs to school, especially one that has a difficult time communicating can be even scarier. 

Fortunately, there are things that you can do to make the transition easier for you and your child. Here are my best 10 tips.

Tip 1–Prepare Your Child Ahead of Time 

Many children with Autism fear change.  The good news is that once school starts, the consistent structure and schedule will be wonderful for you child. However, while it is new, the change in routine can be challenging for many kids to cope with. This is compounded by the fact that children who are starting school for the first time might not fully understand what is going on and what to expect.

There are some things you can do to help ease your child’s anxiety by preparing them ahead of time.

  • For a few weeks before school expose them to books and videos about school. Talk to them frequently about starting school using language they can understand. Even if it seems like your child may not fully understand the books or videos, show them to them anyway. At the very least, they will create visual associations that could ease their comfort in a new environment.
  • Use social stories to help prepare your child to understand that he will start school. Social stories are short stories that are designed to teach a child how to act in a social situation. They were researched and developed by Dr. Carol Gray in 1993 and since then, dozens of studies have demonstrated their effectiveness. I use them all the time in my private practice working with families like yours.
  • Countdown the days until school with your child. Cross off the days until school on a calendar to provide a visual countdown for your child. This will help make sure they know exactly what to expect . 

Tip 2–Know the Goals on Your Child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

I am going to be real for a minute. You may not like what I have to say but it is true. Your child’s teacher is being handed a stack of IEPs for each and every one of their students. They are long, lengthy legal documents that generate verbose and confusing text that all sounds the same. It is not likely many teachers will read it and actually use it to develop your child’s education program. The more you as a parent know about your child’s IEP, the better they will do in school.

Know what your child’s goals are. Ask the teacher what they are working on and make sure the lessons they choose, address the goals you agreed upon at your child’s IEP meeting. If you haven’t already, make sure you participate in the creation of those goals! Know what support services your child is supposed to receive. Make sure if your child is supposed to be pulled out of the classroom for services such as speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, that those sessions are actually happening as opposed to the therapists being used as an extra set of hands to pass out snack.

Most often, teachers like myself who work with kids with Autism do it because they are really passionate about helping kids but unfortunately this isn’t always true. You are your child’s best advocate and it is ultimately up to you to make sure their needs are being met. Knowing your child’s IEP will help you to have informed conversations with your child’s teachers and ensure they are aware of his goals.

Tip 3— Take a Tour of The School

Ideally, the first time a child visits their new school and classroom shouldn’t be the first day of school. While every school has different policies, most schools are very accommodating and will let you and your child visit. Sometimes they will even let your child spend part of a day in his future classroom. 

Many times, children with Autism will attend contained classrooms that have children in a fairly broad age range. This means that when they enter school, they will likely see some familiar faces. It will also give your child a chance to get comfortable with their new teacher.

Some people think that children with Autism are not interested in people and as a result, they skip this step. This is simply not true. The fact that children with Autism struggle with knowing how to act in social situations does not mean they don’t desire to create bonds with others. Whether or not they are able to express it, they know the difference between friends and strangers and receive the same comfort we do by seeing a familiar face.

Tip 4— Create a Visual Schedule for Your Child

Children with Autism are visual learners. As a result, schedules are very helpful in knowing what to expect. Most children have difficulty with transitions because they do not know what will happen before or after an activity. Creating a schedule will show them what happens before and after school. This will make them far more comfortable about going to school and will ease their anxiety about coming home. 

Ideally, put something your child enjoys on the schedule right after school such as eating a favorite snack, going to a fun place or time to play with their favorite toy. This will motivate them and give them something fun to think about.

Tip 5— Make Sure Your Teacher is Aware of Your Child’s Sensory Needs and Send in Sensory Toys

Sensory behaviors are part of Autism. These behaviors, technically called stereotypy, can include hand flapping, mouthing objects, spinning car wheels, lining things up, watching parts of a video repetitively, fixating on one toy, holding things in their hands, rubbing their feet on people and countless other behaviors.  Make your teacher aware of what your child’s sensory behaviors are and send in any toys that will help them be more comfortable and focus in school.

For example, if your child uses a chew tube at home because they mouth objects, send it in! It is important your child has it in school. If your child will drink from one specific cup, send it in! If using sensory balls helps your child focus, pack them! Send whatever you think will help your child be more comfortable and successful. Many parents choose not to send things in because they are afraid teachers will judge them or limit access to them. But, most teachers are grateful to have something that works for your child.

Tip 6–Make Sure Teachers and Support Staff Know about Special Accommodations like an Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC) System.

Many children with Autism will have received some type of service such as early intervention, speech or applied behavior analysis before starting school. This almost always includes the development of an AAC system. An AAC system is a way for a child to communicate while they are learning to talk. This could include a picture board, a formal program such as Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) or a voice output system such as a Dynabox or iPad app like Poloquo2go. Make sure to send this in and make sure that you child’s teacher is trained on how to use it.

Insist your child be allowed to have access to his communication system all of the time. This is your child’s way of communicating. Taking it away, even putting it out of your child’s reach for a few moments to make more  room on the table for and art project or snack is equivalent to putting a hand over your child’s mouth so they cannot speak. It is never ok.

Tip 7— Get The Same Toys the School Has Ahead of Time

Do your very best to find out what toys, puzzles and books will be in your child’s classroom. Get the same ones and teach him how to play with them. Most behavior problems occur in school when children do not know how to manage or occupy their downtime. 

There is something to be said about kids liking toys that are new and different. That is true, but kids with Autism usually lack some play skills which means without being taught how to play with new toys, they may not be able to. This will result in them spending more time engaging in sensory behaviors or having tantrums.  It is better to make sure they at least know what to do with the toys that will be in their classroom.

Tip 8— Take Advantage of Community Programs to Practice School Skills 

If your child is new to school they may be new to group activities like circle time and art projects. Do everything you can to make sure your child has lots of practice before school starts and school is not your child’s first exposure. They will likely need a lot of practice before they know how to sit and participate. Almost every public library in the nation has a circle time. Call your town’s library and the library in the towns surrounding you and bring your child to as many of them as possible. This is one of the best ways to prepare your child for school activities.  

Tip 9— Send in Your Child’s Reinforcers

Most children with Autism will receive some form of applied behavior analysis (ABA) in the classroom. ABA works by giving your child reinforcers or rewards when they engage in a desired behavior. It helps to show them what a correct response is and know what is expected of them. 

Many times children with Autism are picky and only like a few things. I don’t need to tell you that! How many times have you bought new foods or toys that your child has rejected? It may be really hard for your teacher to find something your child really enjoys. The more motivating a reinforcer is, the more a child will learn, this is always true. One of the best ways you can help your child learn more effectively at school is to send in what reinforcers have worked at home.

Tip 10— Ensure Your Child Has Identification

Every parent’s  biggest fear is that their child does not talk and that there is a possibility that they will wander out of a classroom. I would love to tell you that could never happen but we are all too keenly aware from watching the news that it does. 

If your child wanders, make sure his teachers know and fight to get him a 1:1 aid. If your child cannot communicate his name, your name and your phone number, make sure they are always wearing an identification bracelet. It should identify that they have Autism, their name, your name and your phone number. 

Some parents fear this will stigmatize their child or that they will have a difficult time keeping them on. These two things may be true but it will help keep them safe and that is the most important thing.

It is my hope and prayer these ten tips ease your fears about sending your child to school.  School will be a fun and safe place for your child. He will learn, grow and explore at a whole new level and you will watch him blossom before your eyes.

As a therapist, I can only imagine what it is like to send a child that can’t speak for themselves to school. But, what I can promise you, is if you follow these ten tips, you can be their voice.

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