- Posted by Caravel Autism Health
- On August 30, 2018
- 0 Comments
Some believe that children with autism do not get satisfaction from the learning process. Generally speaking, however, people do not like to repeat a behavior that does not yield the desired result. Children with autism are no different in that regard.
As children grow older, they need to develop their problem-solving skills. This requires both interaction and communication with others. One problem-solving exercise we use during in-home Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy involves eye contact. The concept behind the exercise is simple. A parent holds an item that is of interest to the child. We then teach the child that in order to get that item, he or she will need to make eye contact with the parent. As soon as the child does so, the parent gives the item to the child because learning has occurred.
Sounds simple, right? But what do these learning experiences look like as they unfold? Caravel psychologist Eric Lund, Psy.D., ABPP, BCBA-D, has worked with children with autism for 15 years. He provides two real-life examples from home-based ABA therapy sessions:
“One of our senior therapists had been working with a five-year-old boy we’ll call J.D. His therapist was concerned because the boy would frequently throw tantrums. I joined the therapist at the boy’s home and observed him wandering around almost aimlessly. I was able to catch his eye, and I made a funny face. The funny face got him to smile at me, and he began to look more and more in my direction.
From there, I got up and hid behind the couch. J.D. came around the couch to catch me hiding. I withdrew further as if I was intimidated by his approach. From there, his therapist began to work with J.D. on a puzzle. I took a piece out of the puzzle, then handed it to him, saying “Do puzzle.” He put the puzzle piece in. Within minutes, he was doing the whole puzzle.
J.D. had been wandering until he was presented with problems. As I became the focus of his attention, his behavior became more goal-directed. J.D. was beginning to test his control over the world around him.”
“Another boy who had just started in our program was also wandering around aimlessly, only occasionally glancing at the therapists in the room. He showed little interest in doing much of anything else. When his therapists tried to play with him, he allowed it and seemed to enjoy the interaction. When the therapists stopped, however, he simply walked away. The world was acting on him, and he was just a passive recipient.
I took my concerns to the boy’s mother and asked if she had any snacks. She handed me a dish of gummy bears, and her son immediately reached for the treats. For the first time that day, he was showing a clear sign of purposeful behavior. Unfortunately for him, I was in his way. I handed him a single gummy bear to encourage his attempt to satisfy his desire for the treat. I held onto the next gummy until the boy looked up at me. I then let it go without saying anything. I held the next gummy bear out for him. He looked away and tried pulling it, but I wouldn’t release it. He quickly learned that glancing into my eyes was the solution to the problem of how to get the gummy bear out of my hand.
I then walked to the other side of the room. He followed, which demonstrated to me that his attention was now focused on another human being. I rewarded him with some gummies. I patted a chair and waited for him to sit down. At first, he didn’t recognize the prompt. I gave verbal praise and a gummy bear, then walked to another chair and patted it. Within four trials, he was reacting to my prompt and sitting down. Watching him figure out how to get what he wanted was great. Within 30 minutes, he had learned that he could use four different strategies to exert influence over his situation. By looking into my eyes, crossing the room, following my lead, and sitting down, he could figure out how to solve the problem of getting the gummy bears he wanted.”
The keys to success involve finding out what motivates a child and breaking down learning into small steps that help the child understand cause and effect. There is an easy way to tell if something is motivating to a child, explains Dr. Lund. Simply ask yourself, “Does the child seek it out? And does the child care if you take it away?” If the answer to both questions is yes, you have a motivating item. You can then use that motivating item to teach productive behaviors.
“In both of these examples,” explains Dr. Lund, “The child is learning that social contact and communication are productive behaviors. At the same time, the child is learning how to better understand the world and how to engage in behaviors that will yield the desired result from the people around him. Both are important developmental steps that help a child with autism learn how to solve problems.”