Homework Completion for Kiddos with Autism Spectrum Disorder

This is one of those topics that really transcends Autism or special needs. The majority of clients who are in school have behavioral difficulties around homework: escape behaviors, noncompliance, aggression, tantrums, etc.

But guess what? So do neuro-typical kiddos!

It isn’t uncommon that we go into homes and clients need help completing homework successfully, and so do their older brother and younger sister. So definitely feel free to apply this information to any child you know of who has difficulty with independent and correct completion of age appropriate homework activities (that is the ultimate goal for homework).

Homework is such a common behavioral issue for families because it tends to combine multiple non-preferred tasks into one: completing academic tasks that may be very difficult, working on a task for an extended period of time, following multiple step instructions, working on a task independently, and working for delayed reinforcement. Add to that a situation that may be JUST as frustrating and non-preferred for the parent, and homework time tends to be bursting with problem behaviors.

So how can ABA therapy help with the bloody battle which is often homework time? ABA therapists approach the task of homework behaviorally. We focus on improving concrete behaviors that will allow the child to be more successful when completing homework, such as listening, attending, reading directions, sitting appropriately in the chair, tuning out noise or stimuli, writing, etc. We will work on homework by targeting problem behaviors the child is exhibiting to get out of, delay/avoid, or reduce homework expectations.

ABA therapists typically do not approach the task of homework academically. That means that the ABA therapist isn’t trying to teach the child how to do long division, their multiplication tables, or history lessons. ABA therapists are not tutors. If the child is an insurance client (the therapy is paid for via insurance) then it actually could be considered insurance fraud for the ABA therapist to spend hours teaching the child what a noun is. Insurance is paying for behavioral interventions, not academic tutoring. This may mean that the ABA therapist helps your child with homework, and all the questions don’t get answered. Or all the problems aren’t done correctly.

ABA therapists can help the child complete the homework for a specified amount of time, and direct the child to give the homework to mom or dad to check while the child and ABA therapist finish the session.

Common Homework Mistakes

Here are some of the most common mistakes parents can commit when trying to get a child with ASD to complete homework. This isn’t about shaming parents; it is about learning more effective strategies and better ways to tackle the problem of homework completion.

  • Arguing/Pleading with the child: Example- “Is that supposed to be a 3? Erase that and do it again that looks like an 8… yes it does… yes it does… yes it does…” Endless power struggles and arguments with the child are really just intended to distract the parent and delay the completion of homework. Arguing with a child is never necessary because as the adult, you are the final word. If your child is trying to pull you into an argument, don’t respond. Restate the demand and use prompting to help the child respond correctly.
  • Lack of transitions and priming: Example- Parent abruptly walks up to child “Okay, time to do your homework, come on.” Priming means you are stating expectations of behavior before the task. This could look like reminding the child to stay on task, that they can ask for help, and what reinforcement they can earn. Successful transitions would include telling the child at specific intervals that it is almost time to do homework, such as “it will be homework time in 5 minutes.” Successful transitions could also include making a visual schedule where homework is set for a specific time of day and the child knows that after a specific activity that it is always time for them to do homework.
  • NO REINFORCEMENT: Example- parents has child working on academic tasks for 40-60 minutes with no reinforcement given or praise. Reinforcement can be tangible, edible, short breaks, etc. With children who are very noncompliant or struggle with completing homework correctly it might be hard to praise or reinforce the child. If you can’t praise the child’s successful completion of the homework, you can praise their effort, or behaviors, such as “You are sitting so nicely!” or “I love how you are trying even though this is hard.”
  • Making Endless/Empty Threats: Example: “We will sit at this table all day until you complete your homework!” This sends a clear message to your child that you are tired and do not mean what you say. Stick to your original demand and avoid using unnecessary exaggerations or threats.
  • Doing Way Too Much Homework at Once: Instead of piling on a seemingly endless and daunting amount of work, break the homework down into sections, with easy tasks interspersed with difficult tasks.
  • “Helicopter” Mom or Dad: Example: when the parent hovers over the child, telling him where to sit, what to erase on his paper, and reading directions for the child. The goal for homework is that the child will complete it independently. In order to achieve that, it is important to not use excessive prompting. Offer the child choices so they feel more control. “What do you want to do first? Math or Writing?”
  • Using Time Out During Homework (PLEASE AVOID): If the child is doing homework (which is highly non-preferred), then sending them to time out is like sending them to Disneyland for a reprieve from their homework. You will likely then find it difficult for the child to come back and complete homework successfully, and problem behaviors will get worse. Instead, set a time limit on homework and set a powerful reinforcer. Tell the child if he or she finishes the homework before the timer, they receive the reinforcer.

We hope you find these helpful in your home and with your child! Feel free to comment with any additional questions!

Grand Opening Extravaganza

What a wonderful last few weeks we have had at Spectrum Autism Services! We are so grateful for the Stafford community for welcoming us with open arms and for supporting the opening of our clinic!

In addition to providing one on one ABA therapy, our clinic, located at 35 Walpole St #204 in Stafford, Virginia, also offers both Full Day and Half Day Programs for children ages 2-5.

Our Board Certified Behavior Analysts, Registered Behavior Therapists, and certified teachers will develop individualized programs for your little one with ASD.

Functions of Behavior

“Why did he do that?”

We hear parents ask this question often regarding behavior functions. When assessed, reasons for the behavior become more apparent. This newfound understanding can assist in creating a systematic and personalized behavior therapy plan for your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

1. Social Attention

A person may engage in a specific type of behavior in order to gain social attention. For example, a child might engage in a behavior to get other people to look at them, laugh at them, play with them, hug them or scold them.

While it may seem strange that a person would engage in a behavior to deliberately have someone scold them, it can occur for because some people it is better to obtain “bad” attention than no attention at all (Cooper, Heron and Heward, 2007).

2. Tangibles or Activities

Some behaviors occur so the person can obtain a tangible item or gain access to a desired activity. For example, someone might scream and shout until their parents buy them a new toy (tangible item) or bring them to the zoo (activity).

3. Escape or Avoidance

Not all behaviors occur so the person can “obtain” something; many behaviors occur because the person wants to get away from something or avoid something altogether (Miltenberger, 2008).

For example, a child might engage in aggressive behavior so his teachers stop running academic tasks with him or another child might engage in self-injury to avoid having to go outside to play with classmates.

4. Sensory Stimulation

The function of some behaviors does not rely on anything external to the person and instead are internally pleasing in some way – they are “self-stimulating” (O’Neill, Horner, Albin, Sprague, Storey, and Newton, 1997).

They function only to give the person some form of internal sensation that is pleasing or to remove and internal sensation that is displeasing (e.g. pain).

For example, a child might rock back and forth because it is enjoyable for them while another child might rub their knee to soothe the pain after accidentally banging it on the corner of the table. In both cases, these children do not engage in either behavior to obtain any attention, any tangible items or to escape any demands placed on them.

Tools For Discovering the Functions of a Behavior- ABC Data

The observer records a descriptive account of the behaviors of interest including what happens before, during and after behaviors are performed.

A- Antecedent

What occurs in the environment immediately before the behavior of interest?

B- Behavior

What the behavior of interest looks like.

Examples of what to record: What the behavior of interest looks like (e.g hitting, kicking, throwing, ripping paper, eating rocks etc) frequency and duration when applicable.

C- Consequence

What occurs in the environment immediately after the behavior of interest? This is the part of the ABC’s that causes the behavior to happen again and again.

Examples of what to record: Who delivered the consequence, what items they were allowed access to pre- and post-consequence, what work they stopped doing as a result of the behavior.


The image above displays the ABCs of functions of behavior but in a helpful chart format.

A tried and true example of the ABCs of functions of behavior in action is the screaming kid in the grocery store. A child in a shopping cart enters the checkout line and sees the shelf full of candy (antecedent), they begin to cry because they want a candy bar (behavior), the parent wants them to stop crying so they buy them the candy bar (consequence). In the child’s mind, they cried once and got the candy bar, most likely they will cry next grocery trip since the behavior worked in the past. Before long, it becomes a perpetual loop of crying and buying. 

By assessing your child’s behaviors based on this technique, you may be able to more accurately understand your child’s behavior and develop a plan that you can implement in your home.

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!

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!

Preparing Your Loved One for Holiday Travel and Company

The holiday season tends to be filled with social engagements, both with friends and family. In order to make your holidays as comfortable and stress-free as possible, we created a check list for preparing your loved one with Autism Spectrum Disorder for the upcoming activities. Hopefully with implementing some of our go-to advice, your travels or visits can go as smoothly as possible.

Traveling with Your Loved One

  • Upon deciding on a destination for the holidays, speak with your host about what they can do to help make your visit a pleasant one– and let them know your child’s daily meal and nap routine incase of any impediments.
  • Prepare your loved one for the form of travel you will take– a long car ride or flight might warrant noise cancelling headphones.
  • Carry documents of your child’s diagnosis in case of airline/airport requests, or make a medical necklace or bracelet.
  • Most airports have an autism program in place. You can call and find out so you can take a security run through with your loved one.
  • You can let your airline know ahead of time that you are flying with a child with autism. Three days before your trip, call TSA’s hotline, TSA Care’s (855-787-2227), which can help you act as an intermediary with customer care at the airport.
  • Make sure your child has food readily available that they can eat, both while traveling and at the destination. Have a plan in place to buy groceries upon arriving if need be.
  • Discuss or even practice the traditions you will partake in ahead of time with your loved one.
  • Home made travel kits, used here at Spectrum, include: crayons/markets and a coloring book, deck of cards, play-dough on the go, stickers, an old wallet with old gift cards and fake money,  a pack of conversation starters to work on the entire family’s communication skills 😉

Screen Shot 2018-11-13 at 2.33.38 PM

When Family/Friends Come to Town

  • Have your child put items they don’t want others playing with away and out of sight.
  • Let guests know your child’s schedule/routines in order to avoid unnecessary upsets.
  • Prepare your child for the guests that are arriving, letting them know who will be visiting and for how long.
  • Discuss and practice the holiday traditions they will partake in.

In either scenario, whether at home away, try not to over schedule your child. Provide them reprieves regularly with breaks and safe spaces to eliminate overstimulation.

We hope you find this informative, and if you have any additional tips, comment below!