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It’s October, the air is crisp, the leaves are turning, and October 31st is approaching. Yes, Halloween is quickly approaching. Nothing strikes fear and confusion into a child with autism more than the confusing events surrounding Halloween. Let’s analyze:
1. That’s not the rule. As parents, we spend all year trying to teach our child the concept of “stranger danger”. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t go to a stranger’s house. Don’t take candy from a stranger. EXCEPT ON OCTOBER 31? Nothing confuses rule-governed individuals more than small deviations from the rules. Before Halloween, read social stories with your child; go over the holiday specific rules; show him/her a calendar and highlight the date to make everything more visual; write the date specific rules on the calendar.
2. Is it real or make believe? Some children on the spectrum can’t separate between fantasy and reality or understand the concept of pretend. Children are people dressed up as ghosts, goblins, dogs, cats, superheros. Go figure! Before Halloween, read books and social stories; work on pretend skills; allow them to dress up as their favorite character or animal; do a dress rehearsal.
3. Sensory overload. Many children with Autism have sensory issues. Some children have olfactory sensitivities and the smells of Halloween can send them into a meltdown. Some children have tactile sensitivities and are asked to wear itchy costumes. The costumes are frequently too hot or too cold. Some children have audio sensitivity and the loud boos, moans, laughter, and voices can also cause a high level of uncomfortability for our children. Plan your route. Only go to homes with small to no crowds and minimal to no blinking lights or loud noises. Allow your child to chose a costume even if it is just a tee shirt or character pajamas. Stay away from masks and makeup if necessary.
4. Makes me sick and makes me angry. Many of our children experience gastrointestinal issues and/or food issues. Introducing them to different foods/candies for just one night could induce stomach issues or allergic reactions. Denying candy could lead to tantrums. Many of our children also have co-morbid diagnosis including seizure disorder. Bright lights or twinkling lights can cause seizures. Stay away from homes and children with blinking lights. Pre-plan your route. Give your trusted neighbors dietary safe food items ahead of time or carry some with you.
5. Let’s deviate from schedule and transition. Many of our children thrive on sameness. Halloween festivities usually occur in the evening when their routine is impacted. Also, think of all the many transitions involved in trick or treating or the more recent safer version, trunk or treat. Allow your child to help plan their route. Utilize first/then or even a list of the order of visits. Limit time out trick or treating. Allow your child to stay home and possibly give out candy to participate yet limit transitions. Watching others do it this year may lead to desire to participate further next year.
6. Social and behavioral nightmare. Many of our children want to socialize but experience language and social skill deficits. Still others experience anxiety when pushed into social situations. Many of our children also have issues with walking with adults, holding hands, or coming when called. Let’s not forget that we have to check their candy so even if the child were to behavior request the candy, as parents, we would have to deny the candy until we can check it for safety. Denied access especially after appropriately requesting or a delay in access could lead to tantrums. Go over rules first including candy safe rules and walking with adults rules. Read/write social stories. Carry candy with you. Allow your child to choose “buddies” to walk with. Teach and practice holding hands and walking with adults before Halloween. Check into/apply for Project Lifesaver.
Here at Paragon, we assist our clients with social skills, cooperation, and communication skills. We also work with parents to develop antecedent and consequence strategies to accommodate and assimilate into holidays and traditions. Some antecedent and consequence strategies are listed in the blocks below.
If you have any questions on Applied Behavior Analysis, Paragon Autism Services, or how we can help your child reach their potential in areas such as: communication, socialization, cooperation, recreation/leisure, or self-help skills, just to name a few, please don’t hesitate to call the office at 540-479-3889 or talk to our staff at any of our free Outreach events. Our Outreach events are open to anyone with a diagnosis of Intellectual Disability, Developmental Delay, and/or Autism and their families.More
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) “stands behind its recommendation that all children be screened for ASD at ages 18 and 24 months” and states that “research shows that early intervention can considerably improve children’s long-term development and social behaviors.” Brain plasticity is higher at early stages in life, which is why early diagnosis and intervention is so vital while the brain is more capable of absorbing information and changing. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development states that “Individuals can learn and benefit from interventions and learning at any age, however, the earlier the better.”
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development lists Applied Behavior Analysis among its recommended treatment methods for Autism Spectrum Disorder, “behavioral therapy is often based on applied behavior analysis (ABA), a widely accepted approach that tracks a child’s progress in improving his or her skills.” ABA is a scientific approach to changing behavior through manipulating environmental factors. ABA increases and teaches socially acceptable behaviors such as: communication and language (length of conversation, requesting, “wh” questions, articulation, etc); social and play skills (initiation, greetings, turn taking, etc.); self-help skills (toileting, feeding, hair and tooth-brushing, etc.); compliance and cooperation (waiting, coming when called, etc.); and adaptive life skills. ABA also works on decreasing socially unacceptable and unsafe behaviors such as: tantrum behaviors, elopement (leaving an area without permission, could include wandering or running from an assigned area or away from parent/caregiver), aggression, and self injurious behaviors (pulling own hair, biting or hitting self, etc.).
For years, researchers have shown that ABA has assisted children diagnosed with Autism in making strides in communication, behavior, cooperation and compliance skills, self-help, and social skills, etc. According to a journal article in Behavior Modification, “Investigators have suggested that, to achieve the best possible outcomes, children with autism should begin intensive behavioral treatment as early as possible, preferably before the age of 4 years” (Green, 1996). In 1985, Franske, Zalenski, Krantz, and McClannahan conducted a study on 9 children with autism who began behavioral treatment prior to age 5 and 9 children with autism who began behavioral treatment after the age of 5 and according to the same article, concluded that “the outcomes of the younger children were more favorable than those of the older children.” The same article stated that “Harris and Handleman (2000) found that children who began treatment prior to the age of 4 years made larger gains than those who began treatment after this age.” (Eikeseth, Smith, Jahr, Eldevik 2002). Aside from neural plasticity, ABA may have greater success with younger children because socially inappropriate and dangerous behaviors in older children may have a longer and stronger reinforcement history than those of younger children. The taught skills are also utilized as replacement behaviors for the socially un-acceptable, dangerous behaviors. ABA also utilizes the individual’s strengths and preferences for skill building and behavior reduction. ABA utilizes differential reinforcement to reinforce the desired and not reinforce the undesired.
Applied Behavior Analysis is what we do here at Paragon Autism Services. We utilize individualized assessments and research driven interventions such as positive reinforcement to increase communication/language skills, social skills and play skills, adaptive life skills, self-help skills, and generalization while working on reducing unsafe behaviors such as aggression, elopement, self-injury, and non-compliance. At Paragon, we pride ourselves on our number of Board Certified and licensed staff (4 BCBA/LBA; 8 BCaBA/LaBA), our hard-earned reputation, our team approach, our parent/caregiver training, our collaboration with other providers and school personnel while providing educational advocacy, and our free monthly outreach programs. If you have any questions about early intervention or how ABA or Paragon can help your child, please feel free to contact our office at 540-479-3889.More