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.

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.

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!

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:

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

Enhancing Learning Opportunities: Bath Time

A neuro-typical toddler is learning from his/her environment all day, every day.  At Spectrum Autism Services, LLC. our goal is to ensure that the same can be said for even our earliest learners with ASD.  It is our belief that teaching children to learn and interact with others in their natural environment (home, grocery store, park, library, grocery store, doctor’s office, etc.) is the key to maximizing their success.  As a result, we have created this list of tips for parents to use during bath-time

Tips for making the most of bath-time

  • Stay in your child’s attention spotlight aka position yourself so that you are face to face and at the same level as your little one. Yes…this means the floor : )  This will allow you to capture eye contact and easily participate in your child’s play. (Life hack: get a kneeling mat, your knees/bottom will thank you)
  • Encourage the development of independent life skills.  A typical toddler will often yell “My turn” or “I do” when parents are providing more help than they need.  Children with ASD often need our help learning to perform these tasks independently. When your child is ready to get in the bath provide support but encourage your child to begin undressing/dressing independently.  It may be helpful to partially remove his/her shirt initially and let them attempt to take it the rest of the way off to avoid frustration and make sure the child is successful.  You can also encourage independence by having your child participate in washing himself/herself with soap/bubbles and a washcloth.

Bath-time is a great time to sing/teach sensory social songs with finger movements.  Some of our favorites include:

    1. Itsy Bitsy Spider
    2. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
    3. Five Little Monkeys
    4. I’m a Little Tea Pot
    5. Wheels on the Bus
  • Imitation is one of the most important skills to teach a child with ASD.  Encourage the development of this skill by imitating your child actions both with and without toys.  Don’t forget to praise his efforts to imitate you as well. Encourage speech by labeling toys in the bath tub and the actions of your water baby : )  Use the 1 up rule (if the child is nonverbal label items/actions with one word, if the child is regularly using single words use 2 words to label items/actions, and so on. When possible limit the number of people in the bathroom to you and your child.  This will allow you both to focus on your interactions with each other free of distractions.
  • Bathing is an enjoyable experience for many children.  Capitalize on this! Laughs and smiles are great signs that your child is having fun and realizing what a great playmate (read: teacher) you are!
  • It is never too early to teach cleaning up. Yes… we are moms too : )  When you are letting the water out (or before if water going down a drain scares your little one) have him/her help place bath toys in a bath tub storage basket.  You can also have him/her put his/her clothes in the hamper.