Posted in Autism, Behavior/ ABA, Education and Special Needs, Feeding, Personal Hygiene, Toileting, Tech Stuff/Apps and Video Based Instruction

Blog #52~ Tech Time

geek pic

Blog #52~Tech Time

A few weeks ago at the National Association for Down Syndrome (NADS) Retreat the guest speaker did a presentation on using video based instruction and mobile technologies to support learners with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities.  Toni Van Laarhoven, an associate professor in the Department of Special and Early Education at Northern Illinois University (NIU) gave us some great information on how to implement it.

Video modeling for can be used for teaching a variety of social, academic, and functional skills.  In the April 2012 archives, Blog #5~Ready, Set, Action, I wrote about how effective these have been in teaching Nick a variety of job skills.  He learned how to unload the dishwasher, load the washing machine and how to use the vacuum cleaner.

Nick vacumming_Tabor Hills (5)

Before video modeling we used social stories.  Basically this is like a script that you want the child to follow.  With Nick also having autism, it helps him to see it in picture form so he can better understand.  Nick has a thing for sneezing right in your face on purpose.  His teacher made this social story, here is part of it…….. aaaaachoooooo 🙂

photo (115)

These visual supports were effective, but his interest level when reading social stories was nothing compared to when he started watching the video models.

Here are a few ideas  I came up with for video modeling:

Teach a job skill

Teach a fine motor skill (cutting food, buttoning a shirt, pour milk, handwriting)

Teach a gross motor skill (swimming strokes, riding a bike, yoga positions.)

Grooming routines (brushing teeth, washing face, dressing.)

Bedtime routine

Change in routine (picture day at school, new curriculum unit in P.E., new school)

Visit to doctor, dentist, blood draws, and haircuts

Trip to the zoo, baseball game, mall, movie theater

Appropriate leisure activities to do at home (watch a movie, computer/X-Box)

Teach social skills (playing games with peers, turn taking)

It’s best to choose one behavior or skill to work on at a time.  Have the child watch the movie before engaging in the activity on a consistent basis.  For a job skill, many students have a video on their hand held device (iPod) and can follow the prompts as they work.  Ultimately, using video models can foster greater independence.

Shooting the videos can be done using an adult or peer model going through the sequence.  Simple verbal prompts should be provided.  For example, for pouring milk you can script it like this.

  1. Go to cabinet and get a cup.
  2. Go to the refrigerator and get milk.
  3. Open cap and pour milk in cup.
  4. Put cap on milk.
  5. Put milk container back in the refrigerator.

Another way to use video modeling is to make a video resume.  Toni made one of her sister who has significant disabilities.  This video showed in detail her routine.  The narrator pointed out specific details, likes, dislikes that added clarity to how she navigates her day.  This would be extremely helpful for a new staff, teacher, and direct care provider.  A few years ago, Toni’s NIU students put together a video resume of Nick called Project MY VOICE.  Like Toni’s sister, his showed what he did at school, his likes (music, community outings, etc..) and pointed out things that might upset him (saying “no” to him, changes in schedule, etc…)  Nick was very proud to show the video at his IEP meeting that year. 🙂

There tons of programs and apps that are available for assisting persons with special needs.  Here are just a few that have been recommended to me:

*Follow a schedule with Picture Scheduler:

picture schedule app

*iPrompts- Visual support, schedules, picture prompting for autism and special education.

*Artiks Pics-Vocabulary flashcards, memory games


*First Then Visual Schedule:

first then app

*ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) and educational apps:

fruit app

happy sad app pic

Alphabet Tracing:

alphabet tracing

Sensory Fun, Light Box App:

light box app

Silly Fun, Talking Tom 2 (Nick’s going to love this one. Tom just cut one here, stinky) 🙂

talking tom

The list goes on and on, you get the idea.  There’s an app for just about everything.

Video based instruction, using mobile devices and prompting systems are effective tools in helping our kids navigate their world to become more independent. Put the power in their hands! That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂

Posted in Autism, Behavior/ ABA, Speech and Occupational Therapy

Blog #29~Curious Stims

Blog #29~Curious Stims

Stimming is awesome, admit it we all really enjoy it!

Now that I have your attention I thought I would share a little bit about Nick’s world and what turns him on.

So just what is stimming? When you see someone like Nick who might be rocking and bobbing, tapping and making odd noises you probably look over and think “What the…?”  I dedicate this week’s blog to the need to stim! Here is a good explanation from www. spectrum disorders:

What Is Stimming and Why Is It Common In Autistic People? 

Answer: The term “stimming” is short for self-stimulatory behavior, sometimes also called “stereotypic” behavior. In a person with autism, stimming usually refers to specific behaviors such as flapping, rocking, spinning, or repetition of words and phrases.

Stimming is almost always a symptom of autism, but it’s important to note that stimming is also a part of most people’s behavior patterns. If you’ve ever tapped your pencil, bitten your nails, twirled your hair, or paced, you’ve engaged in stimming.

The biggest differences between autistic and typical stimming are the choice of stim and the quantity of stim. While it’s at least moderately acceptable to bite one’s nails, for example, it’s considered unacceptable to wander around flapping one’s hands. There’s really no good reason why flapping should be less acceptable than nail biting (it’s certainly more hygienic!). But in our world, the hand flappers receive negative attention while the nail biters are tolerated.

Like anyone else, people with autism stim to help them to manage anxiety, fear, anger, and other negative emotions. Like many people, people with autism may stim to help themselves handle overwhelming sensory input (too much noise, light, heat, etc.).

Unlike most people, though, individuals with autism may also self-stimulate constantly, and stimming may stand between them and their ability to interact with others, take part in ordinary activities, or even be included in typical classrooms. A child who regularly needs to pace the floor or slap himself in the head is certain to be a distraction for typical students.

It’s not completely clear why stimming almost always goes with autism, though it’s often called a tool for “self regulation.” As such, it may well be an outgrowth of the sensory processing dysfunction that often goes along with autism. At times, stimming can be a useful accommodation, making it possible for the autistic person to manage challenging situations. When it becomes a distraction or causes physical harm to self or others, though, it must be modified.

Lessening or modifying stims can be tricky, but several approaches may be helpful. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) may help individuals to eliminate or modify some of their stimming. Occupational therapy is another useful tool.

In some cases, stimming can be reduced with medications that address underlying issues of anxiety. Finally, some people with autism can learn through practice and coaching to either change their stims (squeeze a stress ball rather than flap, for example) or engage in excessive stimming only in the privacy of their own homes.

We try to limit the stim activities to home.  But we respect Nick’s need to manage the excess sensory input that comes into his world.  He will always grab up a few things for a car ride but knows that they need to stay in the car once we reach our destination.

Here are some of Nick’s “tappers” that he raps against his mouth.  The foam pieces are much quieter.

The Bloody hand is joining Nick for dinner 🙂

Here Nick enjoys a small music toy that lights up.  Notice the basket filled with more stim toys and guess who that is on the floor in front of Nick’s feet?

That’s right Yukon Cornelius….. “Sil-ver!”

Nothing beats a good time for Nick than a doorbell…..ding dong, ding dong, ding dong…..ha, ha ha!  🙂

At school he is given down time after his work sessions.  Here are some of Nick’s favorite stims at school. The first one is a small baby toy that is totally not age appropriate. But toys such as these are like that stuffed animal or woobie blanket we hold onto for some reason. Nick likes the music and dances with it.  It also serves for tapping.

Here’s another one he enjoys.  The frog sings “Celebrate” and there’s a party going on right here for Nick…….

This is a new acquisition.  The rat wheels across the table and floor when you pull his tail/string.  Nick loves this and enjoys pulling the string and listening to his ear…….

And of course the good ole stand by that has stood the generations of time……

Who doesn’t love a good Whoopee cushion?  🙂 I buy them anytime I see them at Walgreens and now they make them self-inflating!

Last but not least, his favorite go to stim is a can of tennis balls, tap, tap, tap and he is a happy guy 🙂

The need to stim is part of our nature.  A classic example is my brother.  Tom’s legs would rock back and forth while his hand was on the helm during a sailboat race.  The tighter the race, the faster those legs banged together.  My Mom never forgot the Carefree bubblegum otherwise he would chew the inside of his cheeks raw.  Those were his coping mechanisms to stay calm under pressure. What is your stim of choice, whether it is to keep you calm or to rev you up?

I hope this gives you some insight into the sensory world that is complex and fascinating.  Perhaps when you see a person with autism exhibiting these behaviors it will make more sense to you.  That’s what is in my noggin this week. And remember there is nothing wrong with a stim or woobie blanket to help us cope in a world that can be chaotic!  Just ask Nick………

This is how he tunes out the barrage of political ads……

Linus has it figured out too……


******News flash for those of you keeping score at home.  The fire alarm count is now at 26 pulls! Nick decided to put the “trick” in trick or treat on Halloween.  Yes, it’s Nick’s world, the rest of us are just trying to keep up!

Posted in Autism, Behavior/ ABA

Blog #23~ ABA: Down Syndrome and Autism

Blog #23~ ABA: Down syndrome and Autism

Last week I spent some time reading over the blogs I have posted thus far while tagging key words on each of them. I  thought it was time to give you an update on how Nick’s behaviors are going since Blog # 3~ Getting Your Goat,  and Blog #10~ Nano Second, .  In both of these, I run through a multitude of stories of how Nick has been dumping out anything he can get his hand on, pushing buttons, alarms and generally driving us bonkers.  If you have been reading these blogs you know we implemented some changes. If you haven’t then scroll back as they are golden!  Did they work? Verdict is……

Drum roll please…………………

Those negative behaviors diminished significantly. When it comes to dumping out a Costco sized (64 oz. oh my…) of Olive Oil amongst other things, that’s a BIG DEAL!

What works for Nick is Applied Behavioral Analysis, also known as ABA. Quick definition…..According to Wikipedia, “Applied Behavioral Analysis is a psychological approach that uses the theory of behaviorism to modify human behaviors as part of a learning or treatment process. By functionally assessing the relationship between a targeted behavior and the environment, the methods of ABA can be used to change that behavior.”  ABA techniques and principles can bring about meaningful and positive change in behavior.  ABA is used for behavior and skill building in the school and home setting.

I want to spend some time giving concrete information on this as I was lost when this was first brought to me.   Rewind to Pleasanton, California when Nick’s teacher threw out her ideas of behavioral management at a meeting when he was five years old.  It made no sense at the time.  I hope to put a clear lens on it now. This is what I have learned….

 5 Tips for Changing a Behavior:

1. Choose one behavior to increase or decrease and focus on that.

2. Find meaningful reinforces (verbal praise, small edible treat, and preferred toy)

3. Use behavior management techniques consistently in all environments.

4. Encourage positive behaviors and discourage negative behaviors.

5. Use your ABC’s:

A= Antecedent… What usually happens before the behavior that might set it off?

B= Behavior… What actually happens during the behavior?

C= Consequence…What reactions follow from the child and those around after?

So, how did we get the dumping to diminish?  First step was to look at the antecedent. By keeping a log of his behaviors every time he dumped, I began to see a pattern.  Nick usually dumped things out when he was bored or we were trying busy trying to get out the door. This summer there was a lot of down time and Nick took advantage. So, I got him out of the house more on community outings like the park and going out to eat. This helped to occupy his time plus he came home more chilled out.

He is just a swining…. swingin….Oh yes!

At home Nick needed some redirection when we were busy getting ready for work or a tennis match.  I found a hook, a preferred activity.  He loves watching funny cat videos on You Tube.  A highly preferred activity (something he craves) used sparingly captivated him.  In addition, it helped to simply avoid the antecedent.  By putting the child proof locks back on the cabinets this shut a lot of that temptation down. That works unless you leave the cabinet open.  Insert picture of me in the closet shielding in my eyes as Nick comes at me with his finger on a can of hairspray. 

My final suggestion is to use the distraction method. Let’s say Nick goes for a cup of coffee.  I know he is going to dump it.  Immediately I do something funny like bonk my elbow on a chair and he laughs as I scoop up the mug.  Or maybe just say, “Mom’s coffee, give me, thank you.”  The distraction technique works especially well if a behavior is escalating to a possible meltdown, a quick slapstick move or joke can help change the focus quickly.

Secondly, let’s look at the actual behavior.  Nick has that can of hairspray in his hand ready to fire off a round into my eye. I use a hand over hand technique and redirect him to spray my hair.  Or I take his hand and escort him back to the bathroom to put it in the cabinet.  The point is to stay calm and not draw more attention to the behavior because that is EXACTLY what he is yearning for.

Regarding consequences the method is swift and simple.  Dumping equals clean up.  I point to the stack of gym towels and Nick gets one and cleans up the mess.  No words are spoken, no praise is given. No matter what it should be a natural consequence and never a punishment. There is a time for praise and it is given freely and enthusiastically when Nick completes a chore or task that is a preferred activity. There are many more behaviors than just dumping and how to handle them, stay tuned…..I will post more!

The days are running smoother but not without bumps in the road.  Last Friday, my friend KB was over and in a matter of two minutes he grabbed her car keys and tried to push the alarm on the remote. Then he snagged her iPhone and made a beeline laughing as he headed over to try and drop it  into the toilet.  (He was being ignored and wanted us to know it.)  Nick followed up this weekend with giving the cat a special dandruff shampoo treatment.  He found the Head and Shoulders Shampoo hidden behind the towels.

 Plop, plop…..No dandruff for Miss Mellie anytime soon……Poor kitty 😦

“Oh wait ha ha, I think I will plop foamy soap on my head now, this is fun!”…..Says Nick!

By the way the cat is fine…… and flake free

I knew something was up on both occasions with KB and Miss Mellie.  Two words, devilish laugh.  That can only mean one thing; he has been up to no good.  Bottom line we have made strides…..  His behavior plan is always a work in progress, like *painting the Golden Gate Bridge it is never ending.


In the meantime I will  try to stay one step ahead of him.  That’s what is in my noggin this week.  I’d love to hear what you want to know about Nick and how we navigate his world living with Down syndrome and autism.  Until next Monday, take care and enjoy the changes coming as fall greets us.


*Regarding the Painting of the Golden Gate Bridge……There are a couple of misconceptions about how often the Bridge is painted. Some say once every seven years, others say from end to end each year. The truth is that the Bridge is painted continuously. Painting the Bridge is an ongoing task and a primary maintenance job. The paint applied to the Bridge’s steel protects it from the high salt content in the air which can cause the steel to corrode or rust. When I moved out there I wondered why it wasn’t painted Gold but here is the deal…Actually, the term Golden Gate refers to the Golden Gate Strait which is the entrance to the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean. The picture above is one I took when we lived out there. 🙂