Tag Archives: autism

Trick-or-Treat: Teaching Our Kiddos about Halloween

Halloween is really fun holiday that many children look forward to all year long.  However, there can be a number of challenges for our kiddos, who are on the spectrum, during this holiday.  One challenge (usually the biggest one) is wearing the costume.  Costumes feel and look very different from what they usually wear. It is often a struggle to get them to wear a costume – especially if it has a hat or some type of head piece.  Another challenge is learning all of the steps involved in trick-or-treating.  It may seem simple but these steps (knocking on the door/ ringing the door bell, saying “trick-or-treat” or holding out a bag, and selecting one or two pieces of candy) need to be taught and practiced with our kiddos before going trick-or-treating. Walking around the neighborhood may also be a challenge for some kiddos.

In order to prepare for this fun holiday, we should address all of these challenges before Halloween. So, how can we do that? See below for ways to work on each of the challenges:

Wearing a Costume:

The first step for this is to pick a costume. Allow your child to be involved in picking which costume he or she wants. If it is difficult for them to make a choice, give them 2 to 3 choices to pick from. If they are a part of picking the costume and excited about the costume, they will be much more likely to want to wear it.

After you get the costume, allow your child to explore their costume before wearing it on Halloween. This includes playing with the costume, seeing you wear the costume, dressing others in the costume (e.g., sibling, stuffed animal, doll), and putting on small pieces of the costume at a time. Talk about how awesome the costume is while they are exploring it. When they put the costume on make sure to have a mirror available so they can see themselves in the costume. You may see how cute it looks but if they cannot see it, then all they see and feel is a fabric or accessory that they are not used to wearing.

If they are hesitant  wearing the costume (or a piece of the costume), have them wear it for small periods of time. For example, you can say, “You are going to wear the hat for 10 seconds. [Put hat on] Let’s count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.” Then remove the costume/part of costume and provide lots of verbal praise for doing so. Increase the amount of time wearing it as they become more comfortable with it.


We teach our kiddos by breaking larger skills into smaller pieces, so we need to do the same thing with the skill of trick-or-treating – practice all the steps involved one at a time.

  1. First, practice knocking on a door or ringing a door bell. You can take your kiddo outside and have someone inside to answer the door. Prompt them (verbally, by model, physically) to knock on the door or ring the doorbell. Have the person inside open the door immediately upon hearing the knock or the bell and provide lots of reinforcement (e.g., verbal praise, tickles, an edible) for knocking on the door or ringing the doorbell. Practice this multiple times across several days. You also want to keep in mind that practicing this may increase the likelihood that your child will want to knock on the door/ring the door bell a lot more after practicing this and outside of the context of trick-or-treating. Make sure to emphasize that you do this at Halloween and if it becomes an issue with wanting to do so more frequently, please consult your BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) about ways to decrease this behavior.
  2. Next, practice saying “trick-or-treat” or giving another individual a picture that says “trick-or-treat.” You can practice saying this phrase if your child communicates vocally or practice handing a picture to another person that says this phrase, if your child communicates non-vocally. As soon as your child communicates this phrase, provide reinforcement in the form of verbal praise and an edible or other tangible item (e.g., sticker, toy). Practice this multiple times across several days.
  3. Lastly, practice selecting one or two pieces of candy/toys out of a larger set of items. Present your child with a bowl or other container that has a number of items in it and prompt them to pick up one or two of the items. If they select too many, prompt them to put the extra items back. If they select one or two, allow them to have access to those items and provide verbal praise for selecting the items.

Walking in the neighborhood:

Take a walk in your neighborhood (or wherever you will be trick-or-treating) with your child before going trick-or-treating on Halloween. If you do not walk in this area on a regular basis, take the time to do so several times before Halloween so it becomes more of a routine before hand and is not a novel activity. This is also a good time to practice walking on the sidewalk, stopping at Stop signs, and looking both ways before crossing the street!

With all of this practice ahead of time, going trick-or-treating should be a lot easier for our kiddos once they have practiced the full routine and had so much fun in the process! We will be practicing all of these steps before and during our Fall Festival next Tuesday, October 31st and are so excited to see all of the kiddos in their costumes, trick-or-treating successfully, and having fun! 

By Anne Stull, M.A., LPA, BCBA

For more information on The Shafer Center call 410-517-1113

Parent Training at The Shafer Center

In August 2015 at The Shafer Center, a Parent Training Series was created for parents whose children were recently diagnosed with autism. The parent training series was developed to help parents understand the key components of their child’s programming and teach parents ways to carry over these techniques at home and in the community. The series provides a range of topics which include:

  • Helping parents better understand the recent autism diagnosis
  • Assessing different treatments that are available
  • Learning to use the basic principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA) at home and in the community.

The goal of the parent training is to teach parents to understand how their children learn so that they feel empowered to take advantage of learning opportunities in their home and communities.

The trainings are 1 ½ to 2 hours long and are held once a month. For children receiving ABA services through insurance, parent training is a mandatory part of services. Parents attending sign an attendance form and complete a quiz after the training which is used as documentation of their participation for the insurance companies. ABA services can be provided to the children during the trainings and childcare for siblings can also be arranged. These parent trainings are now open to all parents at The Shafer Center.

Please see below for the current list of trainings and an overview of each of the trainings. We welcome you to join us soon. Please refer to the calendar for Parent Trainings scheduled for the 2017-2018 school year. If you are interested in attending a parent training you can RSVP by e-mailing  [email protected].

Diagnosis: Autism – What does that mean?

An overview of the history, symptoms, and prevalence of Autism, early warning signs, and early intervention

Consumer Reports: Autism Services

Training on how to become a savvy, educated consumer when choosing autism services; review of The Shafer Center’s autism treatment checklist to use when evaluating services for your child and practice using the checklist

The ABA Puzzle: Putting the Pieces Together

An overview of the principles of ABA to build an understanding in the areas of behavior, reinforcement, and motivation to promote independence and life long learning in our children

Our ABA Services: To The Shafer Center & Beyond!

An overview of The Shafer Center’s admission and assessment process, the many services offered, and locations of those services

Acquiring Skills: The Inside Look at Teaching Extraordinary Children

Training on the methods that we use to teach skills and an overview of the skills that we teach; overview of discrete trial training, verbal behavior therapy, and natural environment teaching; model of teaching these skills   

Gaining Compliance:  Just do it!

Training on the components of providing effective instructions to increase compliance, teaching guided compliance procedures, modeling and role play of methods taught

Behavior: It’s Not Good or Bad

Training on the four functions of behavior, how to identify the functions of a behavior, and an overview of interventions to decrease inappropriate behaviors 

Tackling Tantrums: One Grocery Store at a Time

Training on the role of the functions of behavior in tantrum behavior, data collection procedures to determine function, and interventions to decrease tantrum behaviors and increase appropriate alternative behavior

Let’s Play: Finding Your Inner Child

Training on what play is and why it is so important, examples of types of play with your child and how play relates to skills being taught every day

ABA: Take it Everywhere!

Training on what generalization is, examples of how we work on generalizing skills at The Shafer Center, and ideas for parents to generalize these skills at home and in the community

Strategies for Siblings

Training on how to support Neurotypical siblings of children on the Autism spectrum, examples of common struggles siblings may face, needs at different developmental levels, and how to help build resiliency and coping skills for all of your children.

 Autism Program Checklist for Parents will help guide you so that you can make an informed decision regarding your child’s programing when visiting The Shafer Center for Early Intervention or any other schools and covers topic relevant to programs, staffing, facilities and parent communication. This checklist does not cover basic health and safety standards that all licensed programs must meet as these vary by state.

For more information on The Shafer Center call 410-517-1113 or email [email protected]

Promoting Successful Transitions

TRANSITION. To parents who have children on the Autism spectrum, this word can bring about an abundance of feelings. From nervousness, to fear, to anger, parents dread the thought of having to encounter this change. When your child is in a placement where you know the teachers and the teachers know your child, the thought of having to readjust at a whole new school can seem very overwhelming. Here are some thoughts and ideas on how to set your next placement up for success.
TRANSITION? What exactly does this mean and where do you even start? As parents, we want what is best for our children and when it comes to new school placements, there are so many questions and concerns that need to be addressed.
Step 1: The first step would be to think about what’s important to you, your child and family and write those things down. Is it the class size, the types of professionals at the school, types of kids, or the curriculum? Once you have an understand of what you are looking for then you can then write down all the questions you have about those different areas. Here at The Shafer Center, we provide parents with an “Autism Program Checklist for Parents” which include questions about everything we think is important to ask and this checklist can be taken to any school or program. On this checklist, you will find questions regarding topics such as:
• General Questions
• Programs
• Curriculum
• Learning tools
• Personalization
• Staff
• Parents and Communication
• Learning Environment & Facility

Having this guide, gives you the opportunity to compare different placements to make an informed decision.

Step 2: The second step is to understand where your child’s current teachers think would be the best next placement for your child. It’s always helpful to have another opinion and that could come from your teacher or SLP or any other person who could make recommendations. At The Shafer Center we use a form called “Transition Recommendations and Essential Components”. This is filled out by the child’s teacher along with input from the whole team, which is a compiled list of essential components for future schools. Meaning what are the top 3-5 things to look for in your next placement. Examples of some program components are:
• Additional adult support
• Academically rigorous
• Behavior component
• Small student to teacher ratio
• SLP integration into classroom
• Applied Behavior Analysis
• Opportunities for movement

These components are important because they are stepping stones to help your child be successful in their future placement. For the school recommendations, there are usually 2-3 and will be based on your child’s needs and keeping in mind the recommended program components. It is also helpful to ask when the last time anyone had visited that program. Schools are always changing and it’s important to have current information.
Another great resource is other parents. It’s always nice to speak with people who have been or are in your situation. Ask around and see if you can find some parents who have kids that go to the school in which you are looking. Parents will always be honest. But you also have to take into account that they have had specific experiences and yours may not be theirs. Talk to people you trust to give you an honest but fair recommendation and don’t feel bad for asking a lot of questions! Knowledge is power!

Step 3: The third step is to visit some potential schools. The only way you can really tell what is happening at a school is to see it for yourself. You can not only get a sense of the educational program and staff but also the feel of the school. Is it rigid or relaxed? Are the students and teachers smiling? What mood do you feel when you walk around? It’s also helpful to get a sense of the facility. Is the cafeteria large – do all the students have lunch at the same time? Is there a break room and what is it used for? All of these questions can be important but the other question to ask is about the administration. Are the supportive of kids with ASD? We have heard back from many Shafer Center families that the way the principal of a school leads the school regarding children with special needs is the best indicator of the school atmosphere as a whole.

Parent sets up tours by calling or emailing the schools administration or admissions director. You can go as a group or as individuals but always make sure to get all your questions answered before you leave!

Step 4: The forth step is a shadow day. Now keep in mind that not all schools require this. A shadow day is when your child goes for a half or full day to “visit” the school you are looking at. The school gets to see how your child will integrate in their classroom programs and you get to see if your child likes the school. Alternatively, sometimes the school you are looking at may send a member of their team to visit and observe your child in their current program. Both of these types of visits are important because you want to know that the next school placement really understands who your child is. The only way to do that is for them to meet or see your child in action.

Step 5: The last step of our recommended process is the team transition meeting or visit. Once your next placement has been decided it is very helpful to have a meeting with the current school and the new school. Both teams come together to discuss and relay important information about your child – strengths, needs, special interests, and any other important facts that will help your child be successful are discussed. We recommend that the parents do not attend this meeting and let it be a professional to professional meeting. However we have seen it done both ways. The most important part of this step is to be honest about expectations and what your child needs.

TRANSITION! It can be a frightening word but if you can follow a process it will be easier because you will have defined what your needs and wants are for your child. Transition doesn’t have to be scary and you as a parent will have the final say in where you child is best suited. And remember you are more nervous about this then your child. They will do well in their next placement because you will be there to watch and evaluate everything. Always remember that you are your child’s best advocate.

By Erin Richmond

BCBA: Why does it matter?

BCBA. It always surprises me that there are so many varied emotions associated with these 4 letters. For those of us who get to write them after our name, that emotion is pride in being affiliated with a field that matters greatly to us. For others there is sometime defensiveness or denial. I hear so often “I am not a BCBA but I know all of the things to be one” or “I have been doing this for 20 years, I just don’t have the letters.” Parents with children on the autism spectrum often ask about the letters. But there is a lot of confusion there as well.

Why do these letters matter so much? What makes them so important? Why should parents care if their provider is a BCBA?

Let’s start with the basics. BCBA stands for Board Certified Behavior Analyst. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board, (BACB), is the governing board that grants the BCBA designation. It describes BCBA’s as “independent practitioners who also may work as employees or independent contractors for an organization. The BCBA conducts descriptive and systematic behavioral assessments, including functional analyses, and provides behavior analytic interpretations of the results.” (BACB, 2014). So what does this mean? And as parents why should you care?

The letters are very important because it means that the person working with you and your child has been through rigorous course work with intensive supervision to be able to demonstrate skills in order to help, in our case, children on the autism spectrum achieve new skills while decreasing problem behaviors. BCBA’s are required to demonstrate a high level of understanding of behavioral principles and concepts that are not limited by our own clinical experience. For example, I have been in the field for 20 years and am lucky enough to work with some amazing kids, but if my expertise only extended as far as the clients I encounter, that would limit my ability to work with new children.

Let’s break down the requirements. In order to become a BCBA we need to have supervision and coursework that teaches us the breadth and depth of the field. BCBA’s must have a minimum of a master’s degree (and a Ph.D. to be a BCBA-D) and have a minimum of 1500 hours of supervision and 225 classroom hours of graduate level coursework in behavior analysis (BACB, 2014). For more information on the specifics of these requirements see http://www.bacb.com. Once this education is completed the professional then has to pass a rigorous national exam.

However, learning does not end once you pass the exam. BCBA’s must keep up their education by attending conferences and gain 32 hours of coursework during every 2 year recertification cycle to maintain their certification (BACB, 2014). Keeping up with the research and continuing to grow your skills are not just requirements but are the heart and soul of the BCBA certification. If this isn’t happening then service will not meet a standard level of excellence.

When a BCBA works with you and your family, they must be able to:

  • Describe the area they are targeting (which can be teaching a new skill or reducing problem behaviors), to increase or decrease,
  • Assess the level of that area
  • Derive an intervention

Our purpose is to look at behavior scientifically and let the data guide our decision making. All of our practice must be evidence based. That sounds very cold when it is spelled out that way, but it really is not. BCBA’s are required to ensure that what they are doing has the most benefit for the client. We measure and question ourselves each day in all we do. If the data shows that our approach is not working, we are required to put that idea aside and re-do the assessment to make sure what we are doing is correct. We get the privilege of working closely with people who need help but also have a strong science behind us which informs what we do. That is the benefit of working with a BCBA.

As the number of children who are diagnosed with autism increases, so has the need and relevance for BCBA’s who specialize specifically in working with children on the spectrum. The high number of problem behaviors and skills which need to be addressed in children with autism makes the field of behavior analysis an essential part of their treatment. As behavior analysts, we break down those skills into small pieces and measure their growth to make sure our teaching is effective. In addition, we look at the function of problem behaviors and work to reduce them so the children are more available for learning.

Not all BCBA’s work with children with autism, but for those of us who do we need to make sure we have the expertise and the training to do so. I am so lucky to be able to work with amazing kids and their families and have the science of behavior analysis to support what I am doing. We get to figure out the pieces of the puzzle for each child while getting to be around the sweetest kids while we are doing it!

In the end what does this all mean for the kids and families with whom we work? It means that having a BCBA or BCaBA (supervised by a BCBA) should be a minimum requirement for those overseeing you in an ABA program. You should make sure you know what to ask them, or any professional: questions about what they are doing and they should easily be able to provide data and clear rational for their treatment. Some questions that are important to ask are:

  • What are the goals that you are working on with my child and why did you pick those? Clearly defined goals can be attained, those that are not clear are almost impossible to achieve!
  • Is the BCBA or practitioner taking data and analyzing it regularly? Make sure the answers are yes and yes – and they should be able to show you that data in a format that is easy to read and understand, such as a graph!
  • Are they using evidence-based practices in all they do? ABA is an evidence based practice, but make sure if they are integrating any non ABA techniques they are identifying those and providing evidence for them.
  • What is their experience and expertise? Do they have supervised experiences working with children with autism? Supervised experience is essential. We all need to grow and learn from others and just having yourself to rely on for feedback does not promote growth or allow for true learning.

If you are working with those without a BCBA and they say “Don’t worry. I know all the same things” please ask them about their coursework, supervised experience, national exam and continuing education. Ask them how they review the science and keep up with what is evolving in the field. Ask about who oversees them? And make sure that they are taking data and constantly evaluating the program they have put into place.

BCBA does matter. When I first began working with children with autism all I wanted to do was help. I had fallen in love with these amazing individuals and knew that I wanted to spend my life working with them and having the honor of being in their lives. I spent the first year researching everything out there that might help to work with kids with autism, trying to decide where I should focus. The day I found ABA was the day I felt I came home. Being able to work with children I loved, and having the data to support what I was doing changed everything. I found a way to make sure I was having an impact, and also joined this amazing community of others who shared these same standards and ideas. It changed my life in more ways than I can describe, and is a field I am honored to be a part of and that is why being a BCBA matters to me.

BACB. (2014). BACB. Retrieved 2015, from http://www.bacb.com/

By Christine Accardo, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LBA, Director of Clinical Programs

To learn more about joining The Shafer Center for Early Intervention family, call us at 410-517-1113 or email us at: [email protected]