Categories
Anger Management Behaviour Management Inclusion parenting

4 Key Questions Before Using Break Cards

Using break cards can be a fantastic strategy if a child is having a true meltdown when faced with work or a situation that they feel is challenging, new or too demanding. The Break Card is a simple, easy-to-use strategy that allows a child to opt-out of a task for a short time before reengaging with the situation afterwards.

Although the concept sounds simple, I have made numerous mistakes over the years trying to implement it successfully. It is easy to fall into the trap of designing an attractive card, laminating and displaying it without ever really putting in the groundwork to ensure it is a success.

To avoid the mistakes I made, here are four questions you need to answer clearly before using a Break Card successfully:

Who will supervise their break?

A fundamental principle of a break card is that the teacher has to honour it as soon as the child asks for it. If the child is opting to take a break, the teacher cannot tell them to wait for five minutes or that they “may” get it later when someone returns to take them. The teacher cannot decide that the child does not need it. Ensure that a break is granted instantly if you are implementing this strategy. If you do not have an extra pair of hands in the room, create an area inside the classroom for taking a break.

What will they do on their break?

Distractions techniques work best as a break. This can be engaging with one of their special interests. It can be breathwork. Their break can entail some light or intense exercise. The idea of the break card is that it is a true break. Make it engaging and take their mind off the task that was agitating them so when they return, they have rid themselves of any negative emotions.

What changes after their break?

This is an area that needs attention also. The work that was presented before the break was a trigger. It will still be a trigger after the break so teachers need to make a change. We can reduce the difficulty of the task. We can reduce the quantity of work. We can change how it is presented. Perhaps a worksheet could be changed to a similar task on an iPad? We can make it look less scary. A good rule to keep in mind is the 80/20 rule for children who find task completion difficult. Keep the first 80% of the task easy and achievable before having the final 20% as the challenge.

How will I implement the Break Card?

Take the time to explicitly teach how to deal with a task or situation that is new, challenging or too demanding. Teach them to:

  1. Try a little.
  2. Ask to watch someone else do it or ask for help.
  3. Take a break.
  4. Try again.
  5. Make a deal or negotiate how much has to be done.

We need to teach this repeatedly. Remind the child of it. Before assigning them a task, ask them how they are going to try it. Reward them when they follow the steps. It is so important to teach this skillset and then constantly remind them and reinforce it before they become stressed at a task. We do not let them tantrum to get their break. We ensure they ask for it calmly. Constantly reinforcing them for attempting difficult tasks despite whether they get the right or wrong answers will help them overcome their trigger point. The break card can be a key step in this process if harnessed correctly.

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Categories
anxiety Inclusion parenting Special Education

Help Children With Autism Return to School

Anyone who sifts through social media will see an abundance of quotes and inspirational photos. I love the area of personal development and can’t get enough of podcasts, videos, articles and anything related to the area. One common thread running through all of them now is;

Control the controllables.”

Its a phrase that looks slick and is easy-to-remember. But what does it mean? How can we apply it at this very moment?

Children with autism are likely to be struggling with all the changes in routine and uncertainty of this pandemic. I wrote an article about the 9 essential questions that children with ASD like to know and as hard as we may have tried, it is impossible to give definitive answers to them as we ourselves can’t predict the future.

One thing we do know, however, is we will return to school. We don’t know when but we know we will. Talking to parents of children with autism, a common concern they have is about trying to get their children to return to school after the long lay off. How we try to smooth this transition is a definite controllable.

I suggest that schools prepare small stories for their children with autism (or any child they feel may struggle with a return to school) and aim to answer as many of the nine questions as possible. These include:

  1. Where do I have to be?
  2. Who will I be with?
  3. Where exactly in the place will I be?
  4. What will be happening there?
  5. How much will I have to do there?
  6. How will I know when I have finished?
  7. What will I be doing next?
  8. What is the expected behaviour?
  9. What if? (questions guided by the child and their concerns)

It should be relatively easy to find out where their classroom will be and who the teacher will be in the next few weeks. Their favourite school activities can be included. The month (or date) of return can be included. The times that school starts at and finishes at can be included. The story can be made in conjunction with the parents to answer questions worrying them and start a conversation about returning to school. With this made and distributed to parents, they can start to read it with their child in the weeks leading up to a return. Each page should contain photographs of the information to increase the impact. This is a controllable.

Although we can’t predict the future, we can prepare for it. This is a strategy to promote inclusion and hopefully, prevent issues arising before they have a chance and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

If you’re a teacher, you can begin this process now and have it ready in lots of time. If you’re a parent or know someone that would benefit from this strategy, you might consider suggesting it to the appropriate person.

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Categories
Inclusion Special Education

9 Essential Questions for Children with Autism

Children with autism need extra support to be included in day-to-day life. The social cues, rules and routines that neurotypical children pick up without explicit teaching do not come as easily to a child with ASD. Without the appropriate support, these children may look to be “misbehaving” or “difficult” when really, they just require a helping hand to get involved and be included.

There are nine key questions when preparing a child with autism for a new event or skill:

  1. Where do I have to be?
  2. Who will I be with?
  3. Where exactly in the place will I be?
  4. What will be happening there?
  5. How much will I have to do there?
  6. How will I know when I have finished?
  7. What will I be doing next?
  8. What is the expected behaviour?
  9. What if? (questions guided by the child and their concerns)

If you are going to a school assembly later in the day, an adult should sit down with the child and move through the nine questions to ensure that the child knows exactly what is going to happen, how it will happen and what is expected of them specifically. This can prevent issues before they arise and prevention is always better than cure.

Visual resources like timetables and social stories benefit children with autism massively as it can reduce their anxieties by providing clarity. Timetables (app recommendation here) are easy to prepare and implement but having every single social story ready is not always possible. A lot of preparation can be required preparing a story about the event or skill you are trying to teach. They are extremely worthwhile but how can you predict every change, social skill and event that will happen in a school year? You can’t and this is where MagnusCards come in.

MagnusCards is an app that has a wealth of scenarios and skills that answer a lot of the generic questions that will occur throughout a school day and home life. 

For example, if you want to teach a child how to come in from lunchtime, there is a 10 picture story on how to do this. Want to teach a child how to engage with pairwork in a class? There is a 7 picture story that can be used.

The events and skills range from school to social skills to personal care and safety along with much more. The pictures and text are not specific to your child’s school or home but the stories are readily accessible at your fingertips if you need them. 

I would recommend this app for three reasons. First of all, having a look through the app will help you predict what stories you could personalise, prepare and print in advance for your child. Secondly, when a change occurs or unforeseen event happens, you have a quick-and-easy visual aid to support the conversation you need to have to support a child with autism. Finally, if you see a child with autism acting inappropriately during lunchtime or somewhere unstructured, you can pull out the app and use a social story to incidentally teach an alternative way to behave in that scenario with clear, visual prompts. MagnusCards is an app that is simple, free and practical. These apps are always welcome in a teacher’s toolkit.

To download MagnusCards:

Android Version here.

Apple Version here.

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Categories
anxiety Behaviour Management Inclusion

How to build your child’s routine in 30 seconds

In a time of so much unknown, controlling the controllable things can have a huge benefit on our young children. I discussed in a previous article how the deterioration of family functioning can lead to anxiety disorders in children and how parents can mitigate the potential damages of the coronavirus on their children’s mental health (article here). Establishing a stable routine is one strategy that we can use to maintain family functioning and reduce the air of uncertainty in the household. Visually representing this timetable and showing it to your child maximises the benefits but how can we do this if we have no time to sit at a computer or lack a printer and laminator to ensure its pretty?

This is where the app picturepath comes to the rescue. This is a predominantly free app and is extremely quick and easy-to-use. You simply set up an account and input your child’s first name and you start to build their routine with the pre-made most common activities and symbols. If you’re missing an activity, you can create your own and add images or icons from the icon library.

Once you have created the routine, you can switch the app to child mode where they can view the timetable in its totality or a “Now and next” mode. The child can then tick off activities as they are completed and start to work their way through the day.

I would highly recommend this for children with autism or younger children who are missing the structure of school. I am an advocate of the phrase that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and when it comes to behaviour, providing routine and structure is certainly a preventative measure.

For those interested, the links are provided below for both android and apple:

Android Version: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.acorn.picapp&hl=en_IE

Apple Version: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/picturepath/id1339643269

Note: I have no relation to or knowledge of the app developers. I just love things that make life easier and promote positive behaviour. This does both so I’m pumped!

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Categories
Special Education Verbal Behaviour

Verbal Behaviour Theory: What is it and How can it help?

Photo Credit: shorturl.at/HMU48

I have attended three workshops over the past few days and committed to making a post on each workshop about the key facts and actionable steps that I considered important having digested the information that was relayed. To give a wider context, I have recently switched roles to teaching in a special class for teaching children with autism. So the three workshops are tied into improving my teaching in topics related to this. I will break down my first workshop on Verbal Behaviour into theory and practice trying to be as simplistic as possible to give you a general sense of what it is and whether you’d like to research it further.

Theory

The cliff notes around the theory were:

  • Language is learned in response to the environment. The elements that influence language learning are motivation, reinforcement, extinction and punishment.

N.B. Punishment is meant in the applied behaviour analysis sense as something which decreases a behaviour.

  • When thinking about language and communication, consider the antecedent, behaviour and consequence.

E.g The child sees a biscuit is the antecedent.

      The child says “biscuit” is the behaviour.

      The child gets the biscuit is the consequence.

In this instance, the behaviour (the child speaking) is likely to increase as they got reinforced through getting the biscuit. Consider the inverse of this, if a child takes your hand and drags you to the biscuit and you give it to them, this is the behaviour that will increase.

  • With language, we can consider form (grammar, syntax) and function (why they are speaking). When working with children with language delay or who are emerging speakers, function is equally – if not more – important than form so they can communicate needs and requests.
  • Skinner defined eight kinds of “verbal operant” which is in layman terms, forms of verbal behaviour, these are:
    1. Echoic – repeating back words, parroting
    2. Imitation – Repeating back actions, very important it is part of any verbal behaviour programme.
    3. Mand – Asking for what you want. Obviously, this is critical.
    4. Tact – Labelling what you see, hear, smell, taste and touch.
    5. Intraverbal – Conversation, finishing off a rhyme or song, giving a description etc.
    6. Receptive by feature, function and class aka RFFC – Allows children to respond to questions like “what has a tail?” or “What can you do with these items?”.
    7. Textual – Reading, this is social when learning and for pleasure when proficient.
    8. Transcription – Writing what is heard.

The key points for me on the theory were thinking about how language and the speed at which it is acquired is affected by motivation and reinforcement. Children will learn when they are motivated to or rewarded for it. This can be done through ensuring they need to speak or by rewarding them with a truly desirably object when they do. If you took nothing else from this post, this would be the one fact to ruminate on.

Practice:

There was so much information given in the workshop today but I boiled it down to four actionable steps which I will be taking with me as I progress:

  1. In a classroom where the goal is to increase the children’s ability to request an item they want using verbal behaviour, consider spending the first half an hour of the day working on this. Have items which the children like out of reach and visible around the room. Give the items to the children for a number of minutes when they use the word/point at the picture in their PECS book/sign the word or however they are communicating. This session starts the day off on a positive note if you are in a special class as the child and adult will find it easier to establish rapport.
  2. Manipulate the classroom environment as there are not enough scenarios in a day to motivate the children to request items. For example, give children a yogurt with no spoon. Start an art task with missing supplies. The idea here is that the children use the language to request the items. It was emphasised that the children are not ignored if they are struggling, they can be prompted to repeat the work after you if that is the level they are at, for example.
  3. Use shaping, reward the child for making successive attempts at getting closer to the desired result. It was recommended to have just a list of ten core words for this. If they want a bottle, for example, the first day they might say “BaBa”. On subsequent days, the child shouldn’t be reinforced by getting the bottle until they get to that same level or to a slight improvement. If they say “Ba”, this should not be reinforced. Prompting the child and encouraging repeating the word will help.
  4. Use the Verbal Behaviour Milestones Assessment and Placement Programme (VB-MAPP) to help assess and guide your teaching of verbal behaviour. This is an extremely comprehensive programme which will help you identify where the child is at and how to get them to the next stage with suggested tasks broken down step-by-step. I couldn’t even start to breakdown this programme in a few words but it is extremely impressive and is something I will definitely be recommending to teachers teaching children with autism or language delays.

Concluding Thoughts

Skinner’s theory on language and verbal behaviour is extremely interesting and easy to grasp. I really think the concepts are worthwhile and intriguing. The actionable steps that are borne from the theory are pretty simple to incorporate in the classroom and I will certainly be using the VB-MAPP to guide me in assessing the children’s current position and planning the way forward as it is so comprehensive.

A really worrying point was made today that language acquisition is being delayed in some children as they don’t get as much motivation and reinforcement for using language in the early developmental stages as children used to years ago.

The reason?

Adults are spending more time on their phones than attending to their child.

The last thing I would suggest reflecting on is if you have a child who is a selective mute or an emerging speaker, have you ever fulfilled the need of the child before they have to speak? When you see them struggle to reach something silently, do you walk over and hand it down? I know I have and with this workshop in mind, perhaps this kind of reaction borne out of kindness is actually hindering the child’s acquisition of language. Lots to consider!