Employee Spotlight: Emily Taylor

This month we are spotlighting a wonderful team member at Spectrum Autism Services!

Emily Taylor has always had a passion for working with children and helping them reach their potential. In 2016, she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from James Madison University. She then began her career in the field of Autism in the school setting by providing both classroom-based and one-on-one services at a Special Education, Applied Behavior Analysis based school in Maryland.

In 2018, she moved to Fredericksburg where she became a part of the Spectrum family as a Registered Behavior Technician.

It wasn’t until joining Spectrum that Emily truly realized her calling for working in the field of ABA. She is currently enrolled at The University of Southern Maine in pursuit of a Master’s in Educational Psychology and Applied Behavior Analysis.

Emily is extremely excited to continue her education and to inspire others to find passion in working in the field of Autism! We are so lucky to have her on our staff.

Thank you for all that you do, Emily!

Teacher Appreciation Week: A Thank You List

This week we want to celebrate the amazing impact teachers (including paraprofessionals, school speech pathologists, and school occupational therapists) can make on our kiddos lives, especially those who work with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Children with Autism have varying characteristics that, as parents and therapists, can transform us, challenge us, and teach us. We understand the often unrealized desire to put our own needs on the back-burner to dive head first in caring for those with atypical needs. We hope that as you do one of the most important professions, teaching and preparing our youth for social settings and their futures, that you read our thank you list to re-boost your end of the year energy. And hopefully, you will understand a little bit more the incalculable gratitude we have for you that is oh-so-difficult to show on an everyday basis.

One of many fun sensory activities used by educators and therapists!
  • We want to thank the teachers who come in early, leave late, and often have to spend their own money to have adequate supplies, therapeutic/sensory materials, and even allergy friendly foods for their students.
  • We want to thank the teachers in our kiddos lives who take the extra five minutes at the end of an exhausting workday to give our children that extra interaction.
  • We want to thank the teachers who redirect our children with ASD in the classroom with loving grace instead of frustration.
  • We want to thank the teachers who look at our children with ASD and feel an outpouring of empathy that is visible and palpable in your daily interactions with them.
  • We want to thank the teachers that find something in common with our children with ASD and capitalize on it by generating discussions, activities, or feelings of belonging to those that don’t always fit in.
  • We want to thank the teachers who create lessons plans with our differentiated learners in mind, and do so with excitement to help them learn in a way not typical to the traditional classroom.
  • We want to thank the teachers who make it a vital importance to implement IEP accommodations, and do so out of a heartfelt desire to make an often uncomfortable child that much more comfortable in a social setting.
  • We want to thank the teachers that take our children with ASD out of a stressful situation and into a hallway or place of safety while a meltdown occurs, so that our child will not be taunted by peers for an uncontrollable event.
  • We want to thank the teachers who treat the parents of children with ASD with amicable fellowship, and are not irritated by our sometimes fretful emails, but instead take the time to reassure us of situations.
  • We want to thank the teachers of those with ASD for making an impact on our child’s lives in a way we sometimes cannot. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child, and the truth in that is some days you have as much affect on the lives of our children as we do.
  • We want to thank the teachers who remove our children from harmful situations, both social and towards themselves, with the care of a loving guardian.
  • We want to thank the teachers who show up, day in day out, tired or well rested, stressed or relaxed, happy or emotional, and STILL find a way to have an uplifting, impactful, and compassionate school day. Your effort will never go unnoticed, even if our thanks some days goes unsaid.
From the bottom of our hearts and the depths of our souls, we thank you.

Research Finds Children with ASD Cave Less to Peer Pressure

As parents with kids who have autism, we learn early on that a lot of kids with ASD aren’t as in tune with social cues as their neurotypical counterparts. This study hints at an upside to their independent nature.

Dr Kristine Krug of the University of Oxford had a focus group of 155 children aged 6-14. They were asked to play a game where they were told they were pretending to be spaceship pilots. Then, they were given “a turning cylinder with moving black-and-white dots and were instructed that the dots represented black holes. In order to accurately navigate their spaceship around the holes, they needed to determine its direction of spin, which was made difficult by optical illusions.”

This specific game was chosen because research has previously shown that children can be as good at identifying optical illusions as adults.

While playing their game, a chosen person involved in the study – which for half the children was an adult and for the other half a child their age – told them which way the hole was turning.

These advisors often got it wrong.

Dr. Krug’s study showed that “among the 125 neurotypical [children without Autism] children, an unusually clear age pattern emerged. Children under 12 exercised their own judgment, ignoring the advice they received, irrespective of the source. From 12 onwards, neurotypical children were strongly influenced by advice, be it from an adult or peer, even when they were told something contradicting what they could see. Wrong advice both slowed responses and led to incorrect decisions.”

But the results for children with autism had a shocking twist.

“[Those with Autism] who had been matched for age and IQ with the neurotypical sample, were only very slightly influenced by advice, and this didn’t change as they aged. Once past age 12, they did better on the test than neurotypical participants because they were not swayed by the bad advice.”

Dr. Krug’s study indicates that the independence of those with autism who can spot errors in other people’s advice is beneficial to society.

She also highlights that her study fills in the wholes of a previous study dating back to the 1950s, where evidence demonstrated that adults allow others to persuade them even if there is “something in direct contradiction to what their eyes can see.”

Dr. Krug’s work also found that the shift of neurotypical children taking the advice of others occurs sharply at the age of 12.

While Dr. Krug’s study parallels to the fact that children with Autism have a delayed understanding of social cues, it also gives their nonobservance for some social cues a silver lining.

https://www.iflscience.com/brain/children-with-autism-may-not-cave-to-peer-pressure-like-kids-without-disorder-study-finds/

The Zones of Regulation: A Cognitive Behavioral Approach

The Social Thinking® initiative creates differentiated strategies and treatments to increase cognitive development and social skills. Often applied to those with ASD, the Zones of Regulation curriculum is rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy strategies for emotional and sensory self-management. These tools can be applied from the age of four to adolescents and through adulthood to assist in conquering interpersonal social skills.

Available here

The curriculum’s learning activities are designed to help those who struggle with social skills recognize when they are in different states of mind, or “zones”, with each of four zones represented by a different color.

In the activities supplied in the book and often implemented by our ABA therapists, clients also learn how to use strategies or tools to stay in a specific zone or move from one to another. They learn and develop calming techniques, cognitive strategies, and sensory supports to provide them with a toolbox of methods to use to move between zones.

With the goal of assisting those with ASD to better understand why emotions matter and how to self-regulate, the lessons set out to teach clients the following skills:

  • How to read others’ facial expressions and recognize a broader range of emotions
  • Gain perspective about how others see and react to their behavior
  • Develop insight into events that trigger their less regulated states and why they feel the way that they do
  • Understand when and how to use tools and problem-solving skills

The curriculum includes 18 lessons with detailed questions and follow ups, worksheets, other handouts, and visuals to display and share. These can be photocopied from this book or printed from the accompanying USB.

The Red Zone describes extremely heightened states of alertness and intense emotions. A person may be elated, euphoric, or experiencing anger, rage, explosive behavior, devastation, or terror when in the Red Zone.

The Yellow Zone describes a heightened state of alertness and elevated emotions; however, individuals have more control when they are in the Yellow Zone compared to the Red Zone. A person may be experiencing stress, frustration, anxiety, excitement, silliness, the wiggles, or nervousness when in the Yellow Zone. Many individuals with ASD believe the Red Zone is the only option when their emotions begin to heighten, but the Yellow Zone is the in-between, an option to catch themselves before they escalate too far.

The Green Zone is used to describe a calm state of alertness. A person may be described as happy, focused, content, or ready to learn when in the Green Zone. This is the zone where optimal learning occurs and where we would like to come back to after experiencing emotions in another zone.

The Blue Zone is used to describe low states of alertness and down feelings such as when one feels sad, tired, sick, or bored.

The zones themselves each offer a range of emotions to accompany many situations, environmental or otherwise, however, it is entirely plausible that an individual may be in more than one zone at any given time. This could occur when someone is too sick (Blue Zone) and may also feel frustrated (Yellow Zone) that they cannot go to a birthday party. Understanding what these zones mean and how they relate to each other is the optimal understanding of the four zones.

It is important to teach that all of the zones are natural and okay to experience, but the idea of the curriculum focuses on teaching individuals how to recognize and manage the zone they are in based on their situation and the people around them.

Learn more about the Zones of Regulation in the article, All the Zones are OK! Tips for Managing the Zones You’re In.

Teaching to Handle with Care when Working with Children with ASD

Handle with Care provides teaching strategies for those working with the behaviorally challenged population. The goal of Handle with Care is to ensure a safe and nurturing environment.

By teaching and implementing preventative actions that decrease the need for physical restraints, Handle with Care equips parents, ABA professionals, school teachers and many other professionals proper restraining techniques for the event that a restraint is absolutely necessary for the safety of a client or student.

Handle with Care believes that if staff work in fear and do not feel personally safe, then there can be no emotional safety whatsoever as fear will be the controlling emotion. 

Similarly, if the client cannot trust the staff to keep them unharmed and treat them fairly, they will not trust the staff or therapists to teach and provide the therapy they need.

Handle With Care is committed to the emotional and physical safety of behaviorally challenged individuals whose behavior may become harmful to themselves or others and the staff and organizations that support them.

In this video, Faith demonstrates how to responsibly remove yourself from an approach to then calm a client/child.

At Spectrum Autism Services, Faith Martino, one of our Clinical Assistants, and Abby Hawkins, our Office Manager, are trained to teach the employees of our company proper prevention, de-escalation techniques, and also proper restraining techniques.

A Handle with Care course is provided annually at Spectrum Autism Services to re-certify staff as well as certify newly joined staff. We believe that handling our kiddos with respect, despite the difficult emotional behaviors they sometimes exude, is not only morally fair, but paramount to teaching them the successful behavioral therapy they deserve.

Schools and facilities that use Handle With Care see on average a 30-40% reduction in injuries and incidents.

Handle with Care training addresses problematic behavior early in the cycle, thus reducing the number of incidents, injuries, holding times and assaults on staff, teachers, clients, private parties and students.

The following reviews convey the positive impact of implementing Handle with Care (HWC) protocol in professional environments:

For more information about Handle with Care, visit their website at http://www.handlewithcare.com

Learning Opportunities at the Park

Leaving the house with a child who has Autism Spectrum Disorder can be difficult, but we promise, it is worth the countless learning opportunities these outings provide.  New places and people are excellent ways to ensure your child is generalizing all of the amazing new skills you are teaching him from making eye contact to asking another child to join him in play.  

Things to note:

  • Stand in front of your child when he or she is swinging.  This way they can associate you with the fun sensation of being pushed back and forth!
  • Work on language and social skills while simultaneously performing gross motor activities. This builds critical connections between different regions of the brain.
  • Encourage your child to play with many different items at the park.  Make sure you prompt him to move on if his play becomes repetitive in nature (ex: going up the same ladder and down the same slide over and over).

While at the park:

1. Get in your child’s attention spotlight as often as possible (face-to-face within 3-4 feet)

2. Have fun (goofy faces, sing songs, big smiles, play movement games).

3. Imitate his vocalizations and actions.  Trust us children love to see that you are interested in what they are doing. Initially you may need to be careful to bring two of certain items such as balls, toy trucks, etc.  Some children will shut down if they feel like you are taking their toy.

4.  Follow the ONE-UP RULE. If your child is nonverbal label items and actions with one word (e.g. “push,” “swing”) If he is reliably using one word to make requests and communicate table items and actions with two words (“go fast” “kick ball”).

These strategies can increase engagement between you and your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder. We hope you have found them useful.

Feel free to comment with any additional strategies below!

Employee Spotlight: Verna Birch

This month’s Employee Spotlight highlights one of Spectrum’s amazing Clinical Assistants, Verna Birch!

Verna has always had a strong passion to help others and maximize the individual potential of her clients. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of California, Irvine. She has experience working in the medical and human services fields. She has worked as a Registered Behavior Technician since 2015.

She began her career providing one-on-one direct services to children on the spectrum in home, community and clinic settings in San Diego, California. Her family relocated to Virginia in 2017, where she continues her work as an RBT with Spectrum Autism Services. She is a military spouse and has vast experience working with and serving the military community. 

She cherishes each of her clients and their families and constantly seeks to make a meaningful, positive difference in their lives. Currently Verna is pursuing her Masters degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis.

We are grateful for Verna each day for her continual effort and impact on her clients! Thank you for all that you do!