Early Learners Archives - Autism Mom, ABA Help for Professionals and Parents
Two Tips to Teach Children With Autism in the Natural Environment

Two Tips to Teach Children With Autism in the Natural Environment

In today’s video, I’m going to teach you 2 tips to teach children with autism in the natural environment.

Tip #1:  Use Toys with Parts

Using toys with parts is important throughout programming so that you, as the adult whether you’re a parent or a professional, can be seen as the “giver,” not the “taker.”

If your child, for instance, really loves cars and you give him a big car, he now has the car. You have nothing else to give your child, and you are no longer able to be the “giver.”  It is much better to have 10 small cars and a garage (a toy with parts) so you can give the cars one at a time enabling you to pair yourself with reinforcement and to be seen as the “giver.”

Even if your child is not yet talking, you can still use the same procedures to pair yourself with reinforcement and to build compliance.  

Tip #2:  Use Books

It’s really important when you select your books to select books with very few words on the page and to ask questions that you’re pretty sure the child will be able to answer.

When you’re choosing books, also remember that it is best to choose books that your child is not familiar with because a child can get very stuck and rigid if you use the same books over and over.  If you use books that the child is familiar with, you probably won’t be able to get as much attention than if you use new books since the child might be used to flipping through the familiar books and going to his favorite parts. I actually encourage you to go to the library every week and get novel books based on your child’s level.

If you’d like more, sign up for my free ebook, More Talking Less Tantrums, here: www.MaryBarbera.com/ebook

Using Mr. Potato Head to Teach Body Parts to Your Child or Client with Autism

Using Mr. Potato Head to Teach Body Parts to Your Child or Client with Autism

One of my favorite teaching tools is Mr. Potato Head. This is a great toy to use for a variety of programs. I particularly like to use Mr. Potato Head to teach body parts. It’s a helpful tool because all the parts come off and you can teach the child to label, to request, and to touch their body parts with this great toy!

Here’s a quick video of how I use Mr. Potato Head:

As both a parent of a son with autism, a Registered Nurse, and a Behavior Analyst, I believe that teaching children body parts is important for many reasons. For instance, being able touch and label body parts is the first step for a child to be able to tell someone he is in pain.

Regardless of a child’s age, consider using Mr. Potato Head to teach your child or client with autism to request, label, and touch body parts!

*Mr Potato Head is a registered trademark of Hasbro.

How a Shoebox Can Help Children with Autism Expand Language and Learning Skills!

Want to get started with ABA or re-vamp an ABA program starting today?   I created a Shoebox Program several years ago for parents and professionals and have used it with all of my clients who have minimal to no language. This is a program that you can start even if you can only commit to working directly with a child once a week for 10 to 15 minutes.

 It’s so easy and powerful, I’m sure you’ll probably see some results.

The first step is to take any box with a lid. Cut a slit in the top of the box lid that’s wide enough for pictures to go in horizontally or vertically. Then, you want to collect some flashcards and pictures to use.

For the pictures, collect pictures of people and/or your child or client’s favorite things. When you’re picking pictures of people, select pictures that only have one person in them. A close up shot where you can see the person’s face is ideal.

For pictures of items, pick things that your child or client will relate to like a picture of an iPad or a picture of a juice cup. Here, focus on pictures with one item. Keep extraneous toys or items out of the pictures so as not to distract or complicate things.

When you’re picking flashcards, you want to keep the same considerations in mind. (If you’re purchasing flashcards, get two sets for use later on!) Go through the flashcards and exclude any words that contain more than 2 syllables.  For example, I would use “elephant,” because it contains 3 syllables. We may want to exclude words like, “kite,” which a child may or may not have common exposure to. You want to pick items like, “ball,” which they are going to have daily exposure to; “cat,” “cake,” and even “turtle,” which is 2 syllables but it’s usually an easy word to say.

You can request a step by step process on this program here.

Once you have your materials gathered, you’re ready to get started.

Even if your child is not saying anything, you can still do the shoebox program to encourage eye contact, to gain attention, to get compliance and to start having your child or client warm up to the idea of learning from you.

I use the shoebox program for all of my clients initially until we can establish them sitting, matching and touching things on a table on our command. Then, as the child progresses, we can sometimes use it to expand language even more!

Want to apply this information immediately to help your child or clients with autism?
Click the button below to download The Shoebox Program cheat sheet so you can get started today!
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What if my Child or Client Can’t Imitate Signs?

What if my Child or Client Can’t Imitate Signs?

By Mary Barbera, PhD, RN, BCBA-D

When my son, Lucas, was diagnosed with autism the day before his third birthday, he was able to speak so we never explored the use of sign language for him. Four years later, In 2003, when I became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and began working with hundreds of children with autism, I needed to learn some sign language quickly to help kids who were not speaking. More importantly I needed to learn how to teach children how to communicate via sign.

Sign language is one of three main augmentative communication systems used to teach children with autism to communicate with others. I usually choose sign language for early learners because it’s portable and we can eventually teach a child (who doesn’t acquire speech) to use signs across the operants (to request/mand, to label/tact, to answer questions/intraverbal, etc.)

Research has shown that, when sign is accompanied by spoken words, it works to improve vocalizations and I have found that most of my clients who I start working with at a young age eventually do acquire some spoken language.

One of the biggest misconceptions about sign language is that a child needs to know how to imitate before we can teach him to communicate via sign. Luckily, this is not the case. Most of my clients with autism who have no ability to speak when I began working with them, also had no ability to echo, match, touch body parts or imitate either. I have found that teaching 3-5 signs very early on helps children accept physical prompts, can reduce problem behaviors and often improves imitation skills.

I believe teaching 3 to 5 signs is an important step in developing language in your child or client with autism. And the good news is that you don’t have to wait for the child to develop imitation before teaching them signs! In fact, it is best to teach these early skills together.

Want to apply this information immediately to help your child or clients with autism?
Click the button below to download my Considerations for Teaching Signs Cheat Sheet so you can get started today!

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Why Teaching Please and Thank You Should Be Avoided Early On

Why Teaching Please and Thank You Should Be Avoided Early On

By Mary Barbera, PhD, RN, BCBA-D

We all want our kids to be polite, but in the case of a child with autism, we need to be mindful of not focusing on words like “please” and “thank you” before he or she can tell us what they want and need.

The problem with teaching manners too early to a child with autism is that instead of using the item name (cookie) and asking for “cookie,” the child might reach for cookie and say “please” instead. A parent or teacher might then give the child a cookie because he used nice manners but the child may not know the name of the item or be able to say it.

The other issue is that when the cookie is out of sight, the child might not have the ability to ask for it. A third issue is when adults try to have the child put “please” on the end of all requests by prompting “cookie please.” This can be a problem for a child who is just learning to speak and may make their language harder to understand.

Here’s what I recommend Instead: It’s much more meaningful and important for a child to be able to request an item, for example “cookie,” than for us to try to make them say “please,” which is really abstract and usually a meaningless word to young, early learners with autism.

Once your child can request items, in this case “cookie,” it would be more useful to work on them being specific with their request. For example, “chocolate chip cookie” or “sugar cookie” are more meaningful and specific than “cookie, please” where “please” isn’t actually adding more information.

What’s Wrong with Describing My Child or Client as “Nonverbal”?

What’s Wrong with Describing My Child or Client as “Nonverbal”?

By Mary Barbera PhD, RN, BCBA-D

In 1998, when my son, Lucas starting showing signs of autism at 21 months of age, my husband, Charles (who is a physician) first mentioned the possibility of autism. I was horrified at the thought of the autism diagnosis and in denial about Lucas’ delays telling my husband, I never, never wanted to hear the word autism again.

Lucas was eventually diagnosed with autism and I went on to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Years later I wrote a best-selling book, The Verbal Behavior Approach, earned a PhD and created an online course for professionals and “gung-ho” parents.

More than 15 years since telling my husband I never wanted to hear the word autism again, it is somewhat ironic that now I see, say, type, and read the word autism hundreds if not thousands of times per day.

Because I’m so entrenched in the autism field as both a parent and professional the one autism term I come across every day is “nonverbal” and every time I hear that word, I cringe. Many parents and professionals describe their children or clients as “nonverbal” and you might be wondering why I don’t prefer to use that term.

As I describe in my book, everyone is verbal including newborn babies who cry to be fed or because they are in need of a diaper change. Yes, verbal behavior includes crying, holding out arms to be picked up, pointing to an item or picture, using sign language, etc. So when parents or professionals describe children as nonverbal, it is not accurate.

All children and adults are verbal, even those who do not speak yet. And, most children with autism who don’t speak and do not have a good augmentative communication system in place to help them communicate exhibit major problem behaviors that complicate programming.

Since we all are verbal, most ABA/VB  practitioners, including me, prefer to use the term “non-vocal” or “minimally vocal” to describe a child who is not yet talking or only using a few words.

Even more important than the terms we select, however, is that we need to learn better ways to teach children with autism to be more verbal and more vocal.  A careful assessment should be your first step.

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