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Consistency and High Expectations: Managing and changing behavior with students with ASD

Autism Immersed Podcast, Season 2, Episode 1

On today’s podcast, Behavioral Specialist Sean Hanrahan stops by to talk to us about managing students and children in the home with behavioral issues, the importance of expectation and consistency, and how these methods are vital to the practice of Social Immersion.

Sean is a certified teacher of TCI, therapeutic crisis intervention, and teaches and certifies teachers. He is also one of founders of Oakstone Academy, the school that developed and practices successful Social Immersion.

Sean will be speaking at the Oakstone Institute this fall which you can find out more about at oakstoneacademy.org

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Oakstone Palm Beach comes to Ohio!

Part 1 of 2

Autism Immersed podcast, season 1, episode 5

Oakstone’s initial goals was to not just create a school but methods and tools for any parent or teacher to use. Parents from the Palm Beach area approached Dr. Rebecca Morrison, the school’s founder, about creating their own Social Immersion school in their community.

On our 5th and 6th episodes we will be playing an interview we did a few months back with staff and student leaders from the Oakstone Academy at Palm Beach.

Episode 5: Oakstone Palm Beach
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Autism Immersed podcast, episode 3

Our third episode is an interview with Sean Pruitt, family counselor and a member of the psychology services team at Oakstone Academy. 

We will be discussing his journey, his work at the school, and his work with parents who have found successes through Oakstone’s Academic and Social Immersion Model which puts students with Autism Spectrum Disorders in typical classrooms with typically developing peers. 

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PLAY PICS: Building play skills

With an emphasis on the benefits of inclusion and social immersion, parents and educators of students with autism are seeking effective ways for their children to continue skill acquisition and enhancement, while also exposing their children to typically developing peers.  But what does one do if a child who has access to an immersion environment doesn’t know how to play?

For most children, play is a naturally occurring phenomena that promotes their engagement and learning, independent performance, and social inclusion.  Children who are unable to participate in play experiences are at risk for future deficits and have greater difficulty adjusting to preschool environments where individual instruction is limited.  For children with autism, absent or restricted play skills might prevent opportunities for learning and successful participation in inclusive, general education classrooms.  Play Pics is a teaching tool to help students with autism spectrum disorder learn various basic play actions, expand their play repertoire, learn to self-monitor and recall play skills practiced, to improve initiation, play choice selection, and play variability.

Play Pics uses a research based strategy  formulated from Dr. Rebecca Morrison et al’s study, “Increasing Play Skills of Child With Autism Using Activity Schedules and Correspondence Training.”  (For full citation, see our PUBLICATIONS tab.) In this study, it was found that children with autism spectrum disorders benefit greatly from using picture schedules and visuals to promote independent performance and positive behavior changes when playing with toys.  Play Pics will help children develop play skills, make play choices, access more play areas in a classroom setting, increase their independent performance during playtime, and promote peer engagement. Play Pics also incorporates a self-monitoring card which promotes communication and language skills connected to play.

Play Pics are currently available for 5 common preschool toys: baby doll, ball, blocks, bus, and rocket. This dynamic and engaging strategy has been field tested, both in immersion preschool classrooms and at home. Our teachers and therapists find Play Pics to be a valuable tool to teach play skills. Our parents are experiencing success as well. Check out what a few parents have said about Play Pics:

“My son loves Play Pics [with a Ball]!  He has even started using the skills with his cousins and kids in our community!”

“I am so grateful for Play Pics [with a Bus]! Thank you guys for giving that to me to use with my son.  I have seen it help in many areas. He cleans up better now and follows directions more.”

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Strategy Spotlight: Catch them being good

Many of you familiar with the world of education or behavior management have heard the phrase “catch them being good” in some form or another. The philosophy behind this is simple. If you have behaviors, attitudes, or actions that you want to see more of in class, you identify and positively acknowledge them as you see them happening naturally in the daily life in your classroom. Research in Applied Behavior Analysis shows us that receiving positive reinforcement is the fastest way to promote and increase positive behavior. Receiving that reinforcement from a teacher will cement the skill in a student and encourage others to follow suit.

One of the strengths of the immersion program is the abundance of natural models of academic and social behaviors and skills available for students on the autism spectrum. In our immersion classrooms we often prompt students who ask for help with the phrase “Look at your friends” or with a gesture to their classmates. We may also choose to redirect 1-2 students who are off task by starting to praise or reward those who are on task. Students not receiving any type of reinforcement often will stop and look to see WHY their classmates are being singled out and then adjust their behavior to receive the same reinforcement.  

 

Here are some tips for catching students being good in an immersion classroom

  • Be specific in your reinforcement. Do not simply tell some students “Good job”. In an immersion classroom, you want to make it clear what is being rewarded or reinforced. Phrases like “good looking-eyes” with younger students or “thank you for having your homework ready” with older students serves not only to reward one group, but to remind the students who are still working towards the goal about your expectation or direction.

 

  • Vary your students receiving reinforcement.  If you are always praising the same student, other members of the class or group may believe that the PERSON and not the BEHAVIOR is what is being recognized.
  • Vary how many students you acknowledge. Ideally, you will want to reinforce the first few students to get everyone else moving towards compliance with the expectation or direction. You will not always be able to acknowledge every student who eventually shows the correct behavior, but you do want to make sure that your students who have a long road to go occasionally are being rewarded as well. Remember positive reinforcement builds positive skills, so make sure you are reinforcing those who are still developing the skills!
  • Use proximity. If you have one student in particular who is still developing a skill or behavior, praise and reinforce the students physically nearest that student who is still learning. That draws their attention more quickly.
  • Mix up your reinforcement. The preferred form reinforcement would be verbal praise or a positive gesture, as it is more natural. It is also easier to give, as you always have your smile and voice with you. That being said, don’t discount the power of the occasional sticker, stamp, or even a single M&M, Skittle, or cracker. In my experience, even high school students occasionally like a treat or sticker.
  • Do not engage with students who want to talk about your reinforcement.  Many of our students on the autism spectrum love to argue, look for loopholes, and rationalize things. Don’t allow students to engage you in a debate of your reinforcement choices. Simply reply with something like “I was looking for a couple of people who had their work ready. Now we are moving on. Maybe next time.” This reinforces the direction you were giving, the behavior you wanted to see, and the end of the conversation.
  • Reward good character, not just good academic behavior. Remember teaching good character is the goal of any behavior system. We don’t just want kids to comply with rules, but demonstrate kindness, respect, trustworthiness, and responsibility. Pairing character words with your compliment helps students understand the meaning of these bigger ideas. If you see a student struggling to remain calm in a stressful situation, you can comment, “Nice keeping your hands to yourself” to prompt and reinforce their progress. IF you see a student helping someone else, you can comment what a great citizen that student is being.
  • Catching kids being good benefits adults as well. It feels better to have positive interactions with students. It is more pleasant to compliment, smile, and reward than to reprimand, punish, or take privileges. As someone who works with children who are still learning and developing, it is a joy to be their cheerleader and booster!

Complimenting children on any aspect of play with you, work they are doing, or interactions they engage in should be employed quite a bit. It is easy to fall into playing or doing various other activities with children and forgetting to talk. But at school, we should constantly find ways to give the children positive attention and compliments. Even engaging in some activities is in itself a reason for complimenting the child. These nice, positive interactions with adults are very important to our little learners as well as our oldest students. They sense we are happy. They feel pride in their abilities. They know what is rewarded and what to strive for.  Overall, it engages the children in interactions where they get to feel good just by being there and that more than anything else promotes good behavior.