Keeping kids with autism engaged is one of the hardest things to do. Whether you’re enduring a crisis, or even life changes, it’s important to learn how to keep kids busy. Today I’m going to talk about how to make a schedule, how to give choices, and how to keep your kids, whether they’re your children or your clients, engaged for hours a day.
This is a question I answered on a Facebook Live. I am going live every Monday at 1:00 PM Eastern time to answer your questions and present a topic that could help kids with autism or signs of autism.
When keeping kids engaged, people ask how long the kids need to be engaged. Is 20 hours enough, or 40 hours a week? Ideally, kids with autism need to be engaged during most of their waking hours. If you factor in 14 hours a day of truly awake time, that’s 100 hours a week of time when you could potentially be engaging your child.
How to Keep Kids Busy
We just decided this weekend to keep Lucas home. He doesn’t have a schedule right now, but his habilitation worker, Ashley, who has been with him for over five years, knows exactly the kind of things he likes to do. She has been going through his games and the apps on his iPad to see what kinds he enjoys most. She’s figuring out which are more independent activities that we could set up on a schedule and which are two person games where she could engage with him. Ashley is also doing the same thing with apps. She’s writing down the names of the apps for us in case we’d like to use a paid version to get rid of the ads.
I’m also making some plans myself. I just purchased ABC mouse, which is an online forum with reading and math and it goes from preschool to kindergarten and first grade skills. Even though Lucas is 23 years old, his language is that of a small child. He usually does some paper shredding at work, so I ordered online a heavy-duty paper shredder. That’s going to help me too because I’m going to be able to have him shred some old papers I’ve had for years.
Assessment and Data Collection
To help you figure out how to keep kids busy, I recommend using some sort of data collection. We use a form with Lucas that was created by his behavior analyst, Sharon Keppley, who’s been with us since he was nine.
Create a form with 9 columns. On the left-hand column put the date. The next column is job or task you are having them do. Then put the start time, end time, and total duration of the task in the next three columns. Keep track of the number of prompts needed to continue on task as well as the speed of working in two more columns. We rate that fast, medium or slow. Take note of signs of agitation and affect, which is really, “how happy does he look?” when he’s doing a task. You can rate that high, medium, or low.
We use this form because Lucas can’t tell us exactly what he likes, or tell us which game he prefers over other games. We want Lucas doing meaningful work for him. We want him to be happy. And if he’s not happy, then we’ve got a problem. You can adapt this data sheet and make it your own based on the data you need for your child or client. A simple way is to grab a piece of loose-leaf paper, write down the game, the affect, and whether it’s independent or partner play. If it’s an app, write down if you need to buy it and how much it is. Then once you have all this data, you can stop trying to guess at what your child or client likes. You can offer them choices.
The other big thing, with Lucas and with all kids with autism, is we need to give them choices, like holding up two games and saying, which one do you want to try first? That’s a little preference assessment. You can also put all the games you have into a book to help them see the choices visually. We’ve used choice boards with Lucas as well. If you’re not fully conversational, even though you can speak, sometimes visual support is really helpful when the child or client can’t articulate their needs or wants.
Keeping kids with autism engaged is one of the hardest things to do. Today I’m going to talk about how to make a schedule, how to give choices, and how to keep your kids, whether they’re your children or your clients, engaged for hours a day. Hi, I’m Dr. Mary Barbera, autism mom, Board Certified Behavior Analyst, and bestselling author. Each week I provide you with some of my ideas about turning autism around so if you haven’t subscribed to my YouTube channel, you can do that now. This week I am showing you an excerpt from a Facebook live. I am going live every Monday at 1:00 PM Eastern time to, uh, answer your questions, present a topic that could help kids with autism or signs of autism, help both the parents and professionals. So this week I, um, am talking all about how to keep kids engaged during their waking hours. So I hope you enjoy it.
So let me switch gears and anybody live or watching the recording, you can feel free to chime in and chat. But let me switch gears and talk about how to keep kids engaged. Um, people say, well, what do they need 20 hours, 40 hours a week? Um, ideally, kids with autism, uh, need to be engaged during most of their waking hours. And if you factor in 14 hours a day of waking time, um, truly awake time, that’s a hundred hours a week of time when you could potentially be engaging your child. And that’s, that’s a whole lot of time, right? So I know I posted a, you know, some sample schedule that somebody posted and, and you don’t have to get all crazy with a word doc. You know, a full color coded schedule. Um, we just decided this weekend that we were going to keep Lucas home. So he doesn’t have a schedule right now of what he’s going to do.
But his, um, habilitation worker, Ashley has been with him for over five years, so she knows exactly the kind of things he likes. She knows how to, uh, look at the situation, how to tell. Um, so what is she, what she’s doing this morning is, um, she ran out for a few groceries that I didn’t have. Um, and she tried to get Lucas an allergy shot cause he needs an allergy shot every month. So they were closed unfortunately, but they’re going to be open tomorrow so hopefully she’ll be able to take him then. Um, and then when she got back I, she has been going through his games and his apps on his iPad, um, to see what kind of games he enjoys. Um, which kind of games are more independent, like could become independent leisure activities that we could set up on some kind of schedule or which kind of games is it like a two person game that she could engage with him.
Um, a lot of these games he hasn’t seen in years, so we’re just going to go through games. She’s doing the same thing with apps. When I was up there, she was um, having him try an app. She’s also writing down the names of the apps in case we want to purchase any of the apps. Uh, so you don’t get the ads and all that stuff. But she, she was doing this app with them, which looked pretty cool. It was like four pictures and it gave a, a verbal direction, put the circle on top of the soap or something. So he had to drag the circle as opposed to the other three shapes up to uh, the soap and then it gave him good job or whatever. Um, so that looked very appropriate. I just purchased ABC mouse, which is an online forum, um, with reading and math and it goes from preschool to kindergarten and first grade skills.
And even though Lucas is 23 years old, his language, um, is that of a small child. But he is going, he enjoys and he usually does some paper shredding at work. So, um, I ordered online last night, uh, heavy duty paper shredder. That’s going to help me too because I’m going to be able to, uh, undo lots of papers that I have from years ago. So these are just some of the things I, you know, am doing with Lucas. But I am also going to show you a form that we are using with Lucas that was created. This was created by Lucas’s behavior analyst Sharon Keppley who’s been with us since he’s been nine. So you might not be able to see this. Well, but I’m just going to explain to you what, what it says. So on the um, all the way on the left hand column is the date.
Then it says job, when this could say task, you could use it for little kids. This, this form is basically because Lucas can’t tell us exactly what he likes, that he likes that game instead of that game that he’s better at that, that he um, so what we’re looking for with this data sheet and you can, you know, adapt this data sheet, make your own data sheet based on it, but it’s a job or a task. Start time, end time, total duration, prompts, prompts, needed to continue prompts to perform the activity. And then the really important thing is speed of working and we rate that fast, medium or slow signs of agitation, yes or no. And then we have affect that means how happy he looks when he’s doing it. High, medium or low. And the key is down here, so you might be able to see that better on your screen.
And then, um, number completed, uh, at his, at his day program. So we, we actually use use that form, um, every day while he’s doing different tasks and jobs, we use it to measure the number of prompts, his speed and his affect because we want him doing meaningful work for him. We want him to be happy. And if he’s not happy, then we’ve got a problem. Right? Okay. So that’s that form that was developed by Sharon Keppley. Um, you can take that idea and adapt that any way you want, but instead of actually going through each game and writing down, okay, Zingo he had this affect, I mean that’s going to use up a lot of paper. So she’s also this, I’m a big proponent of this. Just grab a piece of loose leaf, write down the game, the affect, whether that’s independent or um in need of a partner to play.
And you know, if it’s an app, whether we need to buy it, how much it is. And then tomorrow and the next day, once we have all this stuff, all this data, basically she’s taking data. Even though it’s not like hard data, it’s just like, let’s just not play games and then be like, did he like that? Do we have that? Was he good at that? Um, and just making a mess. So as you’re assessing, as you’re playing games, as you’re offering choices, uh, take some data, get gather some information. Okay. The other big thing, um, with Lucas and with all kids with autism here is a former client, Jacob, is we need to give them choices, whether that’s holding up Zingo and holding up a matching game and saying, which one do you want to try first? Um, that’s kind of a little preference assessment. You can also put all the games you have into a book with, in this case, these pictures were Velcro, um on here and he could flip through the book and that was his choice book. We can also have choice boards. Here’s a very old one that I just grabbed from Lucas’s room. Now, Lucas and Jacob, both have vocal verbal language, they both can speak a little bit, but if you’re not fully conversational, even though you can speak, like Lucas still doesn’t say I’m hungry. He on here, we have eyes hurt because he used to say that head hurts, eyes hurt, but he used to have self injurious behavior, Um, instead of telling us, um, so here’s a CD player, here’s the iPad, Magna doodle, go downstairs. He could say all these things, but sometimes visual support is really helpful when he doesn’t, um, he can’t, he doesn’t spontaneously mand as well as he needs to for things. So you can make a choice board.
Uh, you can make a choice book like we are with Jacob here. We can also use this book, Activity Schedules for Young Children with Autism, is a very old oldie but goodie. Um, it is about making, um, little books. It’s, it’s 1999, so this was the year the Lucas was diagnosed, so 20 years ago, 21 years ago it was published, but it’s still a very good book, easy with lots of pictures. Um, basically by using this book, we have created, um, little, uh, activity books based on that book where, um, Lucas takes his medicine. We have that pre poured, he takes it in Apple sauce, then he gets cereal and water, he eats Turkey bacon. He gets that out of the package. He puts that a on a paper plate, he punches in two zero, zero start for the microwave. He eats, he cleans up in the dishwasher, he sweeps, he washes, um, sprays and wipes down the counter and that’s his routine.
He knows the routine now, but he still uses the book. He, he likes his little books. And the nice thing about having little books is we can add, say now we want him to wipe down everything or I know at one point he had a, he has a little book for upstairs, you know, the dentist recommended that we start having him floss. So we were able to put that in. Um, I decided that I wanted him to make his bed upon returning from the bathroom instead of after he got dressed. And so we just switched the order of the pictures. So, and he, he follows along. Um, so I really like this idea for chaining tasks together, but as those of you who saw my handwashing video from last week, I actually don’t like using visual schedules to teach a task like hand washing. Um, I don’t like that.
I, I would actually like to prompt from behind and get kids to, um, do tasks only when you chain it together do I like to use pictures. I like to use more, uh, physical prompts or gestural or imitation or video modeling to actually teach the task. And then, like I said to, to put them together into a whole task, I like to use these books. Uh, especially if you have a young child, newly diagnosed or just showing signs of autism, time is precious. We need to make sure somebody said, you know, two and a half year old, should I cancel ABA therapy? He needs to be engaged during his waking hours. So it’s either the parent, you engaging him or a therapist or a mommy’s helper or babysitter, um, to help you. But our kids need engagement. If you liked this video, I would love it if you give me a thumbs up, leave me a comment or share this video with others who may benefit and to learn more about joining our online course and community and for more tips, I would love it if you would attend a free online workshop at marybarbera.com/workshop and I hope to see you right here next week.