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!

Understanding the VB-MAPP Used in Behavioral Therapy

The VB-MAPP, which stands for The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program, is an assessment we use with early learners. It provides Behavioral Therapists a criterion-referenced tool to approaching skill tracking, behavior, language/learning barriers, and the child’s abilities.

In the explanations below, we will take you through the three different types of assessments included in the VBMAPP and describe how they can be used to identify your child’s strengths and areas of need, and how they can be used to guide individualized treatment.

A sample of Milestones Master Scoring Form:

The Milestones Master Scoring Form (above) is a visual representation of results from the first assessment that takes place when completing the VB-MAPP. There are 170 milestones tested that a neuro-typical child will meet before entering kindergarten. In this assessment the milestones are balanced across 3 chronological periods of typical development (0-18 months; 18-30 months; and 30-48 months). The milestones are quantifiable and measurable and can be used to document baseline skills and skill acquisition. The milestones include 16 main areas such as mand, tact, intraverbal, listener, visual perceptual, play, social, and early academic skills. One of the 16 areas, the echoic, includes the Early Echoic Skills Assessment (EESA) developed by Dr. Barbara Esch, SLP-CCC, BCBA-D

As shown, we color code the chart and use a new color each time skills are assessed. In this case, green, pink and orange are the three colors used in order of three separate assessments. Upon filling in the green after the first assessment, it conveys where the child’s therapy should focus considering his deficits. It also shows relative strengths that can be used to guide us in providing the best form of interventions. Upon doing a reassessment, we use a new color to see if gaps are filled in. This shows where growth has been made and where we need to continue to focus intervention efforts.

The Barriers Scoring Form, exampled above, allows therapists and parents a better understanding of the barriers to learning their child faces. When a child with ASD wakes up and begins each day, we want to better understand what hinders him or her from having a successful day.

Behavior, instructional control, inability to request items, and conversational skills are just a few of the categories listed. We like to explain this assessment as imagining an obstacle course, the flatter the course the easier it is for your child to navigate his or her day. The level of difficulty a child has in a category is colored along the Y axis of the chart. Each category and difficulty level are filled in by color code as well upon reassessment. There are 24 language and learning barriers scored that may be preventing a child from making progress in school or at home.

The Transition Scoring Form has 18 different areas that can assist a parent and IEP team in determining placement and ensuring a smooth transition into a school setting with appropriate accommodations. This form is the opposite of barriers because in this one we ideally want to a child to have all of the skills filled in before entering a classroom. This assessment assists in analyzing if the child can learn in a group environment, perform independent work, learn from their natural environment, retaining new skills, eat independently, go potty solo etc. We consider this chart to represent specific tools the kiddo has, and provides a visual of all the tools we want them to have in their tool belt before sending them to school to learn in a group environment.

The VB-MAPP Guide book has an analysis of the results from each of these areas along with suggestions on how to establish intervention priorities.

We hope you found this breakdown of the VB-MAPP helpful. Feel free to comment with any questions!

February 18th Employee Spotlight: Kristen Martin

Kristen Martin, B.S, RBT

This week we want to celebrate an amazing person who Spectrum feels privileged to call an employee!

Kristen’s career serving individuals with Autism began when her former foster son was diagnosed with Autism in 2013. Her passion was ignited and spurred a career in education.

During her undergraduate studies she served as an in-school tutor for children with cognitive and learning disabilities utilizing social and emotional interventions to improve classroom behavior.

In January 2018, Kristen moved from the school environment to in-home services working as an RBT. Kristen earned a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Liberty University and has completed graduate coursework in School Counseling at NYU as well as Education Policy at American University.

Kristen’s specialties include early intervention, verbal behavior, educational advocacy, social skills training, and community awareness. She is currently enrolled at Pennsylvania State University working towards a Master’s in Education in Applied Behavior Analysis.

Thank you for all that you do for your kiddos and fellow employees, Kristen!

Everyday Learning Opportunities for Toddlers with ASD: Meal Time

Meal time is an important activity for our kiddos. Due to its regularity, it provides the perfect opportunity to enhance engagement and implement ABA therapy.

We understand what it is like to be a parent that chases their toddler around trying to get them to take “just one more bite.”  Many of our kiddos are picky eaters too and resist staying seated at a table.  

Our Recommendation:

  • Limit snacks in between meal times and provide access to their favorite foods only at the table.  

Before you begin meal time, make sure you turn off all electronics.  It is vital that you are the most interesting thing in their environment.  

Position yourself face-to-face with your child. He is less likely to make eye contact and engage if you are standing up and moving around the kitchen. Keep the majority of the food on a plate beside you and place foods on his plate after he provides some indication that he would like more. This may be VERY subtle at first (looking towards plate, small movement of body or hand towards plate, etc.). Eventually, you will work up to having him request more food with eye contact or a gesture, and finally by asking verbally.

We like to provide our kiddos with child-sized silverware and dishes right away.  This provides them with opportunities to imitate others who may be eating at the table and promotes independence.  

Throughout mealtime remember to:

1. Stay in your child’s attention spotlight (face-to-face within 3-4 feet)

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

3. Imitate your child’s vocalizations and actions.  Children love to see that you are interested in what they are doing. Keep in mind that it might be best for you to have your own plate of food when imitating your child’s actions during engagement. We become possessive of our food at a VERY young age!

4.  Follow the ONE-UP RULE. If your child is nonverbal label items and actions with one word (e.g. “cookie,” “yummy”) If he is reliably using one word to make requests and communicate table items and actions with two words (“two cookies” “want chicken”).

You can practice and generalize new meal-time skills by going to a friend’s house or out to eat. These are successful methods of making meal time a learning opportunity that we use here at Spectrum Autism Services and in our homes.   

Some of our go to kids dishes and silverware:



If you have any questions or additional ideas, feel free to comment below!

Gift Guide for Children with ASD

Image may contain: plant and outdoor

During the holidays and before a child’s birthday, parents often ask us what they should get their child with ASD. We decided to create this list of items we use with our own children as well as here at Spectrum.

Simply click the image of the item to be directed to the link.

For the Energizer Bunny Kiddos:

A swivel seat is a fun way for burning off energy in a remote location!


A Bounce ball provides a full body energy outlet!

WALIKI TOYS Hopper Ball For Kids Ages 3-6 (Hippity Hop Ball, Hopping Ball, Bouncy Ball With Handles, Sit & Bounce, Kangaroo Bouncer, Jumping Ball, 18 Inches, Red, Pump Included)

Climbing through a colorful tent activates the senses and prompts creativity in the home.

Pacific Play Tents Kids Peek-A-Boo I See You 6 Foot Crawl Tunnel - Multicolor & Mesh

A great go-to is definitely a good slide! This one was on our Christmas list 🙂

Step2  Naturally Playful Big Folding Slide

Family fun can’t get better than a good old fashioned scooter. Providing a fun way to roam around is an easy outlet for some extra energy.

Gamecraft Safety Guard Scooters (Blue)

For any Harry Potter fans out there, this Snitch Fidget Spinner is a favorite of kids familiar with the famous series.

Snitch Fidget Spinner 2PCS, Hand Spinner Toy Time Killer Copper SNITCH Stainless Steel Metal Fidget Toys Fingertip Gyro Relief Cube Toy Gifts For Adults and Kids (Pack of 2)

For the Artists:

A No Spill Paint Set is a great gift that truly never goes out of style. And also is easy on Mom and Dad.

A Draw & Write Journal is a fun way to promote learning to write!

Lakeshore Draw & Write Journal

We often do Sponge Painting at Spectrum, and find it especially effective when painting hand and footprints!

YGDZ Early Learning Mini Flower Sponge Painting Brushes Craft Brushes Set for Kids Shipping by FBA

A Finger Painting Pad is a great way to get your kiddos hands dirty– in the best way!

Melissa & Doug Finger Paint Paper Pad (12"x18")

Cupcake Crafting is not only adorable, it makes baking even more fun!

For the Sensory Seeker:

An Indoor Therapy Swing is an awesome addition to any living space. Who wouldn’t want to hang in this in their room?

Sensory Body Sock is a fun way to cuddle on the couch– and also be silly!

Orbeez beads are a favorite around here– and provide endless entertainment with the Orbeez collections!

Orbeez Grown Pink Refill for Use with Crush Playset

Suction Cup Builders put a twist on building blocks!

Fat Brain Toys Original Squigz Starter 24 piece set - Suction Construction

Sensory Sand is colorful, engaging, and kids love it.

Sensory Sand Party Pack of Sand with Sea Molds (4 Pack)

For Our Littlest Learners:

Pound a Ball:

Hide n Squeak Eggs:

Bopping Bugs:

Piggy Bank:

Jumbo Wooden Puzzle:

Melissa & Doug Jumbo Knob Wooden Puzzles Set - Shapes and Barn