Tag Archives: ABA

Tips for grocery shopping with your child with Autism


Hey parents!  I know grocery shopping with a child on the spectrum can be challenging at times.  Here are a few helpful tips that may help you get your get in and out of the grocery store successfully!

  1. Keep little hands busy from grabbing items outside of the cart by giving your child something to hold onto while in the cart.  It can be a little bag of snacks or a fun toy to play with.


  1. Make shopping a game.  Share the list of items with your child.  You can even make a visual list if it will be more helpful for your child to see the pictures of the items you need to find.


  1. Set rules and stick to them.  If you don’t follow through with the rules you set, your child will learn your rules don’t need to be followed.


  1. Reward good behavior and don’t reward the bad!  If your child is being cooperative, praise your child and deliver other desirable items and activities while you shop.  If your child makes it through the entire shopping trip successfully, reward your child afterwards such as go to the park or get some ice cream.


Start with short trips and work up to keep your child successful if shopping trips have a history of being very difficult.  You may need to start with going to the store to purchase only 1 item so that you can get in and out quickly to begin teaching your child how to behave while in the store so that you can get a chance to reward your child for being successful.  Once your child begins to understand how to behave in the store and learns that being cooperative leads to other desirable and fun things, you can gradually begin to increase the number of items on your list and the length of your shopping trip.


How to get your child to follow directions in 5 easy steps

Mother and daughter playing with ball in the park

Many parents of children with and without disabilities often struggle with getting get their child to listen to them or follow directions. Here are 5 simple steps we’ve compiled  to follow to help teach your child to listen and follow directions.

  1. Get close to your child before you start talking or giving a direction. It is suggested that you are less than 5 feet from your child before giving any directions. If your child can’t hear you or understand you, they can’t follow your directions!
  2. Gain eye contact with your child. This will get their attention and provide a good opening to give a direction. You may need to prompt eye contact by calling their name. For example, “Johnny, look at me” or use physical guidance to move their face toward yours. ALWAYS praise them for looking at you.
  3. Once you are close and have eye contact give a clear and concise direction.  When giving a direction make it a command or statement, do not make it a question. Instead of saying, “Can you get your backpack”, say, “Get your backpack”. At first it might be necessary to use only simple one-step directions in order to avoid confusion.
  4. Praise and reward your child for every direction that is followed and for all attempts to follow directions. If your child attempts to follow the directions but can’t quite get it done, praise them for trying and help them complete it. Praise and rewards should follow immediately. Avoid negative statements like “That’s not what I asked you to do” and “You aren’t listening to me” and ignore mistakes, remember at least they are trying.
  5. ALWAYS follow through. Make sure your child completes what you ask them to do even if physical guidance (i.e., hand over hand) is needed. In order to avoid empty threats or promises, only issue the directions if you are 100% committed to making sure that your child follows through. Don’t allow your child to avoid or escape directions placed upon them, as you want your child to learn that when you give them a direction the expectation is that it will be followed or you will help.

Remember learning should be fun. The more excited you are about it, the more excited your child will be to do it. You can also make a game of learning to follow directions. Hide a quarter (or something the child likes) somewhere in a room. Tell the child that he may have the item if he will listen to your directions and follow them exactly. Remember give the directions only once and if they find the item they get to keep it.


– guest blogger, Chrissy Barosky, MA BCBA

Manager of Clinical Development, Bierman ABA Autism Centers 

Tips for Increasing Appropriate Play Skills

Children on the Autism Spectrum often do not engage in appropriate play.  Play may involve manipulating a toy inappropriately or playing with only one part of a preferred item (the wheels, for example).   They may explore toys but rarely play them according to their function. Pretend play and social play are often limited as well.

When teaching appropriate play, start with simple toys and/or activities. Be aware of the items or activities that the child already finds fun.  Pair new play skills with fun things!  For example, if the child loves a particular movie, play the movie in the background as they explore a new toy.  If they really love chips, give them chips intermittently as they look at the pictures of a new book or turn on their favorite song and give them praise as they explore a new play set.  Pairing new play skills with items or activities that are already fun will make new play behaviors fun as well.  It will then be more likely that the child will want to play appropriately again in the future.

Once they show interest in a new item and/or activity, model appropriate play.  Show them how to push the buttons, drive the car across a track, or turn the pages of a book.  If they spontaneously imitate any of these behaviors, make sure to reinforce with already established fun activities (such as edibles, praise, movies, etc.).

These tips are also beneficial for teaching social and pretend play.  Pair social and pretend play with fun things!  Model these behaviors and be sure to reinforce with established fun activities when the child emits any of these appropriate skills.    Siblings can be an essential part of the modeling process and can help deliver reinforcing items and activities as well.

Allow the child to naturally explore their environment.  Don’t force the child to engage in appropriate play behaviors as this may make new behaviors aversive. Remember to pair, model, and reinforce!

Laura Britton, BCBA

increasing appropriate play skills

increasing appropriate play skills

Key Points to Look for When Selecting an Early Intervention Program

Early detection of autism is essential.  As soon as a diagnosis is made, families should be provided with accurate, up to date information about science-based intervention options.  Often, once a diagnosis is obtained, precious months are wasted as families negotiate the maze of intervention alternatives.  It is important for doctors to direct families to services that are research-based and proven to be effective. Unfortunately, there are many fad treatments, which are also available and claim to be beneficial to children with autism, but have no research to actually support their effectiveness.  In fact, some of these therapies can actually cause more harm than good.

Here are some key things to look for when choosing an appropriate program.

  • There should be plenty of research supporting the effectiveness of the intervention.  Claims and parent testimonials alone does not qualify as research.
  • Therapy should be “data driven” in order to monitor progress and see if an intervention is working.
  • The National Research Council (2001) published recommendations for educating children with autism. They recommend that a child receive intensive behavioral intervention for a minimum of 25 hours per week in a low student-teacher ratio, focusing on a variety of functional skills as well as targeting decreasing challenging behaviors.
  • Parents should be heavily involved in their child’s treatment and receive appropriate parent training.
  • Staff should be well trained and the intervention is directed by a qualified and experienced professional.
  • Pick a provider who has a good reputation within your community


Early intervention services are available for children under the age of 3 and  research indicates that the earlier the child gains access to quality behavioral treatment, the more likely they are to have a better long term outcome.  Check out the latest findings and summaries from the National Autism Center for comparing the effectiveness of different treatments for autism.


What do Non-Competes have to do with Autism and ABA

This blog post is different from our typical writings about Autism and Behavior.  I guess it is about “Behavior” – but a somewhat different angle… 

We feel extremely strongly against non-competes in general.  However, specifically, in our field of working with individuals with autism, a noncompete is downright unethical and abhorrent.  It is akin to preventing a medical practitioner from treating patients (interestingly the American Medical Association has long held that restrictive non-compete covenants are unethical; Opinion 9.021).  Unfortunately several other “large clinics” feel otherwise.  

Our business was established several years ago when a large ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy clinic in town (they often boast in the media about being “100% Not for Profit”) threatened our founder with legal consequences if she didn’t sign a sweeping non-compete for the entire state of Indiana.  They wanted her (back then an employee at that clinic) to sign her life away at the age of 24 and make her an indentured servant.  She decided to call their bluff, and establish her own business.  Her business was founded on the principles of serving children and providing a great, stimulating and fear-free environment for employees.  

From those founding principles, we derive our employment philosophy to NEVER have any non-competes.  In our simple minds, loyalty is not a signature on a legal document.  That is the despicable exploitation of fear, need and naiveté.  We believe, we can inspire and motivate people to be part of and to excel on our team.  

Non-competes are for C-level executives and high level sales individuals carrying a company’s rolodex of contacts.   Employees in our field are typically recently out of school and have a desire to make an impact working with individuals with autism.  Handcuffing them and preventing them from earning a livelihood and helping people, is unconscionable.  Especially when they are typically not versed in the corporate/ legal world nor have the money to defend themselves in legal battles.  In the corporate world, people typically have more business savvy to assess one-sided contractual obligations.  Does the same apply to a twenty-something year old therapist taking their first steps in the world of ABA in an entry-level position?? 

Our simple minds believe that our employees will stay with us because they love working here.  Not because of petty, exploitative legal threats.  If we cannot provide an environment that best fulfills an employee’s aspirations and potential, we’d be happy to see them go establish their careers elsewhere.   

Our beliefs are also shaped by the fact that we are entrepreneurs.  And non-competes are a tax on entrepreneurship and progress.  True entrepreneurship believes in making a dent in the universe… not in profiteering from fear mongering (that’s the domain of smugglers, pirates, mobs etc).  What makes our country great, is the spirit of entrepreneurship.  We believe in fostering that spirit, not stifling it.. especially when it is in a field that is a force for good.  Interestingly, it is states such as California where non-competes are essentially illegal that are thriving hotbeds for entrepereneurship (http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6759.html).

Finally, the biggest question… ethics.  We are in this field because we love working with children and we believe we can make an impact in the lives of children with autism.  And because we are not one of those places that simply pay false lip service to feel-good messages in apocryphal media ads, we believe that preventing any human being from helping a child with special needs is plain unethical.  Our field has more demand for practitioners than available supply.  Legal handcuffs on the precious few is morally bankrupt and an obvious symbol of naked greed and power.  

In summary – here are a few thoughts for the various stakeholders in this field:

  • For Parents:  If your provider has non-competes on their employees, how happy are they?  And if they aren’t happy, how effective are they?   Figure out for yourself what the fundamental motivation for your provider is. Use your own moral compass to judge the owners’ ethics and morality.  
  • For Providers/ Clinics who slap non-competes on young unsuspecting individuals looking to change lives through their work:  What’s truly the mission of your business?  Are you really working to help individuals with autism?  Reassess your purpose and raison d’être.  This is what gives our entire field a bad name.  If you’ve been fortunate to make something out of opportunities provided to you, why do you want to prevent others from doing so?  In Eisenhower’s words, “you don’t lead people by hitting them over the head – that’s assault, not leadership”.
  • For Employees under non-competes as well as potential employees looking for employment in the field of ABA (or elsewhere):  

◦           If you’re already employed by a clinic with a non-compete, do your research about state law.  Seek out your own legal advice… understand the “blue-pencil” test, other relevant scope issues and what that means for your contract and your home state. Ask your employer why its ok to prevent you from earning a livelihood in a field where you’re helping others. 

◦           If you’re a potential employee, a recent graduate or new to the workforce in general, ask why your prospective employer has a practice of non-competes?  Do they own your productive existence?  What trade secrets or patents are you expected to garner providing therapy to children with autism?  

Above all, there are providers out there who do good work and treat their employees well, fairly and without legal entrapments.  Seek them out – and if you can’t find them, do yourself the biggest favor and strike out on your own.  Start your  own practice, become unstoppable and know you’re doing the greatest thing ever.  We encourage and salute you…

PS: We’ve been thinking about this post for a while, but were tipped over the edge when one of the largest ABA clinics in town threatened us with legal action because we hired a brave young employee who stood up, made a choice and refused to be cowered down.  To that clinic we say (you know who you are very well), you’re welcome to contact any/ all of our employees (you know our number, you made several sneak calls already to figure out the employment status of your departed employee).  We believe our employees will independently choose what’s best for them… stay or leave.  And we are confident our leadership, people skills and business ethics trump your “familial legal” connections.  Anyday.