Counting Activity--Fighting Fires


My students loved this counting activity.  As we were preparing for the fire department to come to our school for an assembly we all practiced our firefighter skills.

Thanks to the father of one of my past students and the Salt Lake Fire Department, each one of my students (actually every student in our school) had a fire hat.  I made "fire extinguishers" out of empty water bottles covered in red paper, and I printed out "fires" and hung them throughout the hallway.  Each paper had a different number of flames on it that the kids would have to count.

We did this activity two different days.  The first day I had cards printed out with written numerals.  The kids would be at the "fire station" which was a designated place in the hall, and I would show them the number.  They would then have to go find the corresponding fire and put it out with their "fire extinguishers."  

The second time we did it, I had cards with flames on it, then the kids had to count those flames and find the matching flames in the hall.  That way they had to count more than once.  

Here are a few reasons why I loved this activity
  • It was engaging, the kids loved it
  • Math skills
    • We worked on counting with one to one correspondence
    • We worked on matching objects with written numerals
  • Fine Motor
    • Squeezing the spray bottles
  • Thematic Play
    • The kids were pretending they were fire fighters
  • Teamwork
    • When the kids would find the correct fire, they would call out to the others
  • Turn taking
    • The kids would take turns "spraying" the fire

Show And Tell: Lights Go On

This is just a simple little song to help with cause and effect, and the concepts of on and off.  I like to use the touch lights that you can usually get at the dollar store.  With those you can work on some motor skills as well, like hand strength, bringing hands to midline, thumb opposition, bilateral coordination, etc.

You can use all different kinds of lights when singing this little song, including lamps, flashlights, night lights, christmas lights, lava lamps, bedroom lights, etc.

You could really change this song to introduce a lot of opposite concepts.

Here are the words I made up for the on and off concept:

Lights go on and lights go off
Lights go on
Lights go off
Lights go on and lights go off
On and Off

Joy Mano
Utah PLAY Project Home Consultant
Early Intervention for Kids with Autism




photo credit: DELLipo™ via photopin cc

Behavior and Positive Reinforcement

In my last post I talked about the ABCs of Behavior, which is a great way to collect data on behaviors that may be a concern.  But, what do you do with that data?  First, you look for patterns.

Let's say that the pattern you found was in the 'CONSEQUENCES' column.  Every time that Sara screamed, she would receive attention.  One thing to remember is that attention is attention whether it's positive or negative attention.

Now comes the tricky part, changing the behavior.  I think that an important part of this is first recognizing what you (the adult) needs to change in your own behavior before attempting to change the child's behavior.

When it comes to 'attention', how we react to behaviors becomes very important.  We may need to change how we react to certain situations, and we may need to give more attention whenever we see positive behaviors displayed by a child.  For every correction or negative comment that is given, a child should receive at least 4 positive comments/interactions.

Here are some ideas to help you as you make a plan (I'm sure there's many more ideas that many of you can come up with too)
  • Increase your positive reinforcement during times when the child is acting appropriately (not just following a "tantrum", but throughout the day)
  • Plan times to spend one on one to play, especially if you know that your child is seeking attention.
  • When a child is having a "tantrum" compliment the other kids who are acting appropriately, and be specific about what you like that they are doing.  Then when the child having a hard time does any of those things, immediately compliment him/her, reinforcing the behaviors you do like.  If there are no other kids around, it's fine to compliment the stuffed bear sitting in the chair for sitting quietly.
  • Teach a replacement behavior.  What do you want the child to do instead of screaming?  Help walk them through the steps, then give positive reinforcement (or natural consequences of giving them what they want, if appropriate) when they use the replacement behavior.
  • Ignore the inappropriate behavior (if it's safe), but follow up with positive reinforcement the second they are doing anything appropriate.  If they are screaming, compliment them the second they stop.  Be specific in your compliments though.  Instead of "good job" say "I like how you have a quiet voice and are using your words to tell me what you want."
Something to remember is that there is something called an extinction burst which means that often times the behavior will get worst before it gets better.  Sometimes the limits have to be tried before the child realizes it's not working.  So don't give up, these things take time.  Consistency is the key, and some of the most important times are not when the child is in the middle of the crisis cycle, but when they are calm and happy.  Positive reinforcement can be pretty powerful.

Joy Mano
Utah PLAY Project Home Consultant
Early Intervention for Children with Autism

photo credit: Sebastian Anthony via photopin cc

ABC's of Behavior


I first learned about the ABC's of Behavior when I was a teenager working at a group home for people with developmental disabilities.  The women I worked with had varying ability levels, and a few of them had tendencies towards aggression.  Some days it was very obvious why they were upset, but other times it could be a puzzle.

These ABC's have come to be very important throughout my career of working in various environments, whether I was working in group homes, summer camps, schools, care centers, workshops, or homes.

So, what are the ABC's of Behavior?

A=Antecedent
B=Behavior
C=Consequence

Another important thing to consider are Setting Events, which I wrote about in another post.

If you understand these ABC's, you may be able to gain valuable information that may help reduce some behavioral outbursts.

Antecedent:  What happened right before the behavior.
Behavior:  What did the behavior look like, this should be specific rather than general.  Instead of saying "she had a tantrum", you should describe it "she screamed for 5 minutes."
Consequence: What happened right after the behavior.  This is not necessarily referring to how the child was disciplined.  It is whatever happened directly following the behavior (i.e., peers in the class laughed, the teacher stopped and asked the student to stop, the student was escorted out of the class, etc.)

Using this ABC form can help you start to recognize patterns in an individual's behaviors.  If you are looking to reduce the frequency of a behavior, you will want to be specific on which behavior you are tracking, and be as specific as possible when filling out the form so you have lots of information.

You will want to track the behavior at least 1-2 weeks, and you should take data every time that behavior occurs.  You can track multiple behaviors at a time, but to begin, I would suggest tracking the behavior that is of greatest concern.

Once you have some data, and have some ideas of why the behavior you are tracking is occurring, you can start making a plan.  Check out my next post, as I will discuss some ideas to help you with this.

Joy Mano
Utah PLAY Project Home Consultant
Early Intervention Services For Children With Autism

Show And Tell: Hog Wild Poppers

My sister, who is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist, called me one day to tell me about these awesome toys she just got.  They sounded like fun, so I got on amazon, and bought a couple.  They're called Hog Wild Poppers.

Clear Horizons Academy, the school I am going to start teaching at in Fall 2013, asked if I would come and do a pre-writing activity with some of the kids so that they could see my teaching style.  I decided to use the popper toys as a fun activity.

To get ready for the activity, I made some shapes and put them on manila folders.  You could do letters, numbers, word recognition, nouns, verbs, anything you're working on with receptive language really.  If you fold the back part of the folder up, it makes for a nice little stand.

I showed the kids the folders, and I had them trace the shapes with their fingers.  Then I set them up as targets.  I would tell them what shapes to hit, and they would try to hit them with the poppers.  Some kids needed the activity adapted more than others, but it's easy to do.

There's so many different activities you could do with these, and I think it would be fun for kids that are older than preschool as well.

So here are just some of the reasons why these toys are so awesome, and how they can help with child development.

  • First, who doesn't love shooting balls across the room.  They're engaging and fun, and can keep the kids attention.
  • Color/Shape identification
  • Making choices-I had them choose which color ball they wanted, and which animal they wanted to use
  • Taking Turns-We took turns shooting the balls
  • Fine Motor Strength
    • Squeezing the poppers to strengthen hands
    • Manipulating small objects (balls) 
  • Thumb Opposition
    • Squeezing the poppers
  • Crossing midline
    • Placing objects of the opposite side of the body for them to reach for (some kids had a hard time crossing midline, so I would purposely do a little playful obstruction and make them reach a couple times across midline before I would give them the ball, especially if they would switch hands when I crossed midline)
    • Tracing large shapes
  • Pinser Grasp
    • Picking up the small balls and placing them in the poppers
  • Finger Isolation
    • Tracing shapes with their pointer finger
    • Using one finger to push the ball in place
  • Eye-hand coordination
    • Hitting a target with the ball using the poppers
  • Bilateral Coordination
    • Squeezing the poppers with both hands
    • Holding the popper with one hand while putting the ball in with the other
  • Upper Body Strength
    • Laying on their tummies while playing the game
  • Motor Sequencing
    • Following the sequence of events to hit the targets
      • Getting the ball
      • Putting it in the popper
      • Aiming at a target
      • Squeezing the animal to shoot the popper
Some warnings:  
  • This toy is not meant for kids under 3, it has small parts.  
  • Some kids will look at the toy while squeezing it, it shoots pretty hard, so you'll want to be careful of that.  Especially for kids who don't quite understand cause and effect.
Here's a list of some of the different poppers I found on Amazon.  Hope you have fun!
Utah PLAY Project Home Consultant
Early Childhood Services for Kids With Autism

Creating A Summer Picture Schedule For Your Child With Autism


I can't believe it's June!  The pool is open, kids are getting out of school, and it's time for summer fun.

Most kids seem to love summer, however a lot of kids with special needs have a difficult time during the summer months.  Some of this can be attributed to the fact that their schedule is suddenly thrown out of whack.  They may not understand why the bus stopped picking them up and why suddenly no one is doing what they're supposed to be doing.  They may not understand why those teachers that they see every day and they thought loved them have suddenly disappeared out of their lives.  There's a lot that we just expect our kids to deal with.

I had one student that I found out when we would have school breaks (I was on a year-round schedule), he would sleep with his backpack.  I also found out that at the end of the year and it was summer break he would sleep with a picture of me.  The funny thing is that it was his "no school" sign, so it was a picture of me with an X through it.  The thing that his mom and I loved about this was that he was communicating to us that he loved school.  He was non-verbal, and had very little communication.

Some (not all) kids with autism thrive on having a routine.  Behavior problems may decrease, they may be able to learn better, and a lot of times they appear to be happier.  This can be a good thing because we (the adults) can easily help with that.  At times this can also be a difficult thing if flexibility is not taught and used during these routines.

There are different ways to establish a routine.  One way is through picture schedules.  With pictures, a child is able to predict what is going to happen during their day.  They don't have to be so specific and every minute doesn't have to be planned out, but having some general idea of the day can help immensely.  If your child is at a reading level, doing a picture schedule left to right gives good left to right orientation practice.  Going from top to bottom is another way to do it, and is easier for some kids.

The order that you do things is not important, actually I would encourage you to mix things up every once in a while because it can help with the flexibility.  The thing that is routine and stays the same for them is that they know where the schedule is, and they know that it will show what is going to happen. When you go on outings, you don't necessarily have to have where you are going on the schedule, but just that you're going.  However, it would be good to have a routine built in of explaining where you are going whether it's with a social story, or just explaining it.  This way you can plan new activities without having to create new pictures all the time.  You can also add unexpected events into the schedule this way.

Here is a sample schedule,  you may want less pictures or more, it's really up to you  (I just got a bunch of pictures off of google images)  The best placement for a schedule is at eye level for the child and somewhere that they can go look at it independently when they want to:
Breakfast
Get Dressed
Read


Play

Lunch
Outing
TV Time
Play Outside
Dinner
Family Activity
Get dressed for bed

Brush Teeth
Go To Sleep
Joy Mano
Utah PLAY Project Home Consultant
Early Intervention Services for Kids With Autism

An Amazing Utah School For Kids With Autism


Wow, I did not do well at blogging in May!  Luckily, it's a new month, and I am ready to go.  It's been an interesting month for me, full of change, but exciting changes.  One of those changes will take place in August, but it was this month that I had to make that decision.

At the beginning of the month I was contacted by Clear Horizons Academy and I was asked if I would be interested in coming to their school to help create a preschool program.  Clear Horizons is a private school in Utah County for kids with autism.  They serve all ages, and they are continually growing each year.  I was flattered by this invitation.

It wasn't as easy a decision as it seems like it should have been, partly because it's just another big life change for me and would require some sacrifices in other areas of my life.  Another factor for me was that I don't live in Utah County.  All in all though, I feel like I will be sacrificing very little for a big opportunity in the end.  For years I have wanted to start my own school, and that's still in the works, but I think this opportunity to work in a private school and to help create something I love will help prepare me for future endeavors.  The other thing about Clear Horizons is that they are the only school in Utah that I know of who's foundation is based on DIR/Floortime, which is what PLAY Project is based on.

So for any of you families who are looking for a preschool program for your little ones with autism, come check out Clear Horizons!

I am really excited for this new adventure.  Because of time, it will force me to limit my private clients, however I have some ideas formulating.  I'm hoping to be able to offer some group therapy sessions with families after school, and some parenting classes as well.  Clear Horizons is great, and they are willing to allow me to rent out space in their incredible building.  They built this building just last year, and it was specifically made for kids with autism in mind.  It has a specialized playground, a sensory room, classrooms with swings, and lots of natural light.  I love it.

I'm excited for new opportunities.