High Functioning Autism: Behavioral, Academic, Language Perspectives
Thank you to our moderator, Courtney Evenchik, MA. NCSP and our panelists:
Dr. Arthur Lavin, MD.
Anna Fredman, MS. CCC-SLP
Nikki Jaras, MS., BCBA COBA
Favia Becker, Psy.S., NCSP
In our last 3 posts we spoke about the Pediatrician’s, School Psychologist’s and SLP’s role in helping manage your child’s care. In this article we will discuss what your Behavioral Analyst can do to help if your child is diagnosed with ASD.
Nikki Jaras is A+ Solution’s Behavioral Analyst. Nikki has worked extensively with children diagnosed with ASD.
Nikki, started off by telling us how in her role of Behavioral Analyst, she wears many different hats. Generally, she is called when there are behavioral issues, problems with siblings, poor sleeping habits and difficulties in the classroom. Behavior analysts can also help with skill acquisition and issues that may occur outside of the classroom in home and community environments.
Behavior analysts are well-suited to treat children with ASD because by definition, behavior analysis examines the behavior of the individual and seeks to provide interventions to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree. As Favi Becker, our School Psychologist quoted, “When you meet one child with Autism, you have met one child with Autism”. As we have mentioned, children with autism all share similar diagnostic features, but they are very different from one another.
When Nikki conducts her assessments she gathers information from a variety of sources, parents, teachers, and other therapists and heavily collaborates with all team members. In addition to gathering information, she also spends time in either direct observation or interaction with the student.
When working with an individual who presents with challenging or interfering behaviors, a functional behavior assessment is a useful tool that can help to identify why the behavior is occurring. A functional behavior assessment is a systematic method of assessment procedures that results in the identification and description of the relationships that exist between the unique characteristics of the individual and the contextual variables within the environment that trigger, motivate and reinforce behavior. Information gathered during the FBA process will indicate the purpose or function of the target behavior, which can then guide intervention planning. Once the motivating operations for the behavior can be identified, a behavior analyst can address these challenges by teaching replacement behaviors in a way that builds on a child’s personal strengths and motivations.
Nikki looks to replace the difficult behavior with proactive strategies and reactive strategies. Strategies need to be developed so that they are reasonable and achievable in each setting, home, classroom and community.
Nikki has had a lot of success with Visual Language Systems and video modeling when working with children with ASD. Visual tools can be used for teaching, expression and organization. Visual supports can alieve anxiety by providing predictability, routine and information regarding access to preferred items, people and activities, and also indicate when less preferred options will end. Once a student becomes independent with certain visual systems, this provides the opportunity for parents and teachers to begin to fade themselves and the need for additional prompting. Visual Language System can include: written lists, picture icons, video models and visual schedules.
Some of the questions a Visual Language System should address:
What’s coming next?
What’s the routine?
How long is it going to take?
When am I going to get the thing I want? snack time? free time?
She also suggests teaching children how to escape from a situation before you teach them how to manage the situation.
Niki also teaches children social skills, empathy and even hygiene through videos and TV shows. Children with ASD are often visual learners and the more we can make it observable, the better off they will be.
To teach social skills and empathy he asks” How does that character feel?”
“She looks uncomfortable, how is she going to tell her friend that?”
She teaches hygiene by asking her student, if she would like hair or clothes like the character on TV. She then explains that hair needs to be washed, clothing needs to be cleaned and ironed etc. Some students respond to visual systems to complete hygiene related tasks. Sometimes, motivation is needed to engage in hygiene routines. Niki will offer to help a student straighten their hair like a their favorite character on TV.
Nikki works on imaginative play with children, building on their interests. For example, if a student is engaging with a preferred object, she will join in on that interaction. If the student is lining up toy cars, she will join in the interaction and begin to model more appropriate play, like pushing the car, or asking them to race. Language repertoires can be expanded in the feature, function, class category by asking questions and talking about the parts of the car. For example, a car has a steering wheel, tires, and windows. A car can take you places. The color of the car is red etc.
Nikki feels that praise is an essential tool; every success is celebrated:
“You brought your folder to class!”
“You told me that you did not want to play this game anymore?
“You told your friend you did not want to play this game anymore.”
Nikki wants all parents to teach their children self-advocacy skills, especially teens. They should not be afraid to ask for the accommodations that they need. They should know that yes there brains may be wired differently but everyone has strengths and weaknesses and they can be proud of who they are.
Want to get in touch with Nikki?
Call A+ Solution@ 216-896-0111