Interview with Christine Dodaj as CEO and founder of SpEd Connect

Did you know there are resources and services to help parents navigate special education in school districts throughout the United States?

Meet Christine Dodaj:

Christine Dodaj

Christine Dodaj is the CEO and founder of SpEd Connect. Her missionwith SpEd Connect is to help families of neurodiverse children and adults navigate special education in school districts throughout the United States. To learn more about Christine and her work, check out the guest interview here:

Check out SpEd Connect website here:

Do you have any questions for Christine? Share your questions in the comments section!


IEPs V.S 504 plans

Did you know students with disabilities can either receive an individualized education plan (IEP) or a 504 plan?

There is a big difference between these two education plans, so they must be really be considered based on the student’s individual needs in the education system. I will dive deeper into the differences between these two plans:

Differences between IEPs and 504s

IEP: students need to meet disability criteria in which it impacts their everyday functioning and learning. Also, students receive special education and related services.

504: students have a disability that impacts their everyday functioning and learning, and does not receive special education services. Modifications and accommodations are provided instead.

Which plan do you think works best for your child or student? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section!

Let’s play!

Did you know play incorporates various skills and helps autistic people learn their natural environment?

In fact, there are different types of play:

Credits: Honuintervention

By engaging in play, it helps autistic people out with their friendships. Not only that, play helps autistic people develop social interactions with others cooperatively and competitively; communicate needs and wants; strategize for social situations; interpret intentions of others; taking turns with people; bond with caregivers; increase self-advocacy; develop creativity; and learn to respect and have empathy for others. In addition, play helps alleviate anxiety for autistic people. Now do you want to know ways to help autistic people develop skills through play?

There are a couple of approaches: direct and indirect play

  1. Direct play involves an RBT, behavior analyst, teacher, parent, etc., selecting specific toys and activities ahead of time. Throughout the play session, they will prompt or initiate situations to purposefully attempt to steer your autistic child/student/client to the pre-planned lesson, discussing problems and solutions together.
  2. Indirect play involves a more unstructured type of play and encourages your autistic child/student/client to lead. An RBT, behavior analyst, teacher, parent, etc., remains flexible, leaving your autistic child/student/client to guide themself during playtime. This allows people an in-depth approach at how an autistic handles situations in a natural environment, what challenges they struggles with, and how they works to solve challenges on their own.

Did you know Floortime play has been used in ABA therapy sessions?

This type of play involves the child, parent, and RBT and/or behavior analyst all working and playing together. Since autistic children/students/clients often have difficulty expressing themselves in the world, floor time provides an opportunity for people to join the world on their autistic child/student/client’s level. Floortime consists of both direct and indirect play approaches, allowing your autistic child/student/client to experience the perfect blend of independence and structure during the session. Autistic people are working on various skills, such as functional communication training (FCT), problem-solving by overcoming challenges, self-regulation techniques, social interactions, etc. All in all, play can help autistic grow in various areas of life.

How do you teach an autistic individual to play? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section!

Build and develop rapport

Remember the blog story I wrote earlier this month about the power of friendships?

It all starts from building and developing rapport. No matter if you are an autistic self advocate, a teacher, a parent, a therapist, etc, building a trusting and positive relationship is key for success in life. Trust and empathy can be developed in just minutes within social interactions and situations. So, how do you build and develop rapport with others?

Here are the steps:

1. Check your appearance cause first impressions matter. Dress up as if you are meeting someone for the first time ever.

2. Know the basics of good communication: be culturally appropriate, smile, relax, remember people’s names, hold your head up high and maintain good posture, and listen to people carefully and attentively.

3. Find common ground in regards of special interests. Talk about special interests you have in common. For example, my boyfriend and I talk a lot about music, since we both listen to a ton of common musicians and bands; Our friendship developed from having a common interest. Make sure to talk about common interests because that’s how connection is made.

4. Create shared experiences in order to grow rapport. For example, families who have autistic children want to connect with others who have autistic children. They could attend special education workshops together. That is a way of developing rapport!

5. Be empathic! Empathy is about understanding others from seeing things from their perspective. This is a great emotion for RBTs and behavior analysts to teach autistic clients in their sessions cause it can help with social interactions and help them grow their relationships in life. By being empathic, rapport is developed in a shorter amount of time.

Do you think developing rapport is key for autistic people’s success? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Interview with Alyssa Latham as a behavior analyst and parent coach

Did you know behavior analysts who provide parent training in the ABA field?

Meet Alyssa Latham:

Alyssa Latham

Alyssa Latham has over 10 years of experience working with neurodiverse people of all ages as a behavior analyst. After working with big ABA companies for so long, she made the change and created her own ABA consulting business known as “Ally ABA Consulting”. Want to know more about the services Alyssa provides, such as ABA therapy and parent coaching? Find out in this guest interview with Alyssa here:

Check out her ABA consulting website here:

What questions do you have for Alyssa? Share your questions in the comments section!

Friendships rock!

Personally, it was not easy for me to make friends at first. I didn’t even know how to approach people if I wanted to become friends with them. I thank my middle school speech language pathologist to this day for her social skills program. Her program helped me learn about friendships that I even made my own first group of friends in middle school which is still strong today:

I can’t forget about my camp friends most of all because even after more than ten years of lost contact, we reconnected right in time for my 21st birthday:

My camp friends: Dani (left) and Gabby (right). This was way before I moved to FL.

Back in my camp days, I was put into a group with girls with disabilities. I met Dani and Gabby way back in 2005, when I was 7 years old. I shared in a blog story a while ago about my camp days, but a great friendship just grew on its own beyond camp years. Nowadays, I still spend time with Dani and Gabby over video chat. Gabby visited me in FL once already last year, so I can’t wait for her and Dani to visit me together someday. As you can tell, I’ve learned to create good friendships in my life. All of my friends are supportive and accepting of me, which is why I love them as my best friends.

Based on this, I’ve learned friendships develop from the following skills: realistic and flexibility thinking, play skills, developing special interests, understanding emotions and empathy, creating personal boundaries, conversation skills, sharing, and turn taking skills. Without these pre-requisites, friendships would not occur. I will dive more into these skills and approaches in the next few blog stories.

Parents, teachers, and therapists, how would you teach autistic people to make friends? Autistic self-advocates, how have you learned to navigate friendships? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section!

Battle of tantrums vs meltdowns

I cannot tell you how many times that tantrums and meltdowns get mixed up by parents, professionals, teachers, etc. From my experiences as an autistic, I want to break down the similarities and differences between tantrums and meltdowns:

Tantrums: goal-oriented (function or reason) and can be reduced by teaching communication or replacement behaviors.

Meltdowns: caused by sensory overstimulation or unpredictability and requires support to reduce stimuli in environment and teach coping methods.

Here are some main points to identify tantrums and meltdowns before they occur:

  1. Pay attention to the situation and what occurred before the tantrum or meltdown.
  2. Pay attention to signs of distress before meltdowns occur.
  3. Was there an audience when an autistic person’s behavior occurred?
    • Meltdowns occur from sensory overload and in any situation. They occur when an autistic individual is alone or in new social situations.
    • You can notice an autistic individual stimming nervously or even covering their ears/eyes to reduce distress before a meltdown occurs.

By teaching skills an autistic does not have their repertoire, less tantrums and meltdowns would occur. It is important to focus on teaching communication, social, daily living skills, etc., as replacement behaviors will more likely occur. How would you approach when an autistic person has a tantrum or meltdown? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Reinforcement vs Punishment

Did you know we use reinforcement and punishment all of the time, not just in ABA therapy?

Reinforcement and punishment are used everywhere to shape our own behaviors. In ABA therapy sessions with autistic clients, reinforcement is used more so than punishment because behavior analysts and RBTs (Registered Behavior Technicians) are focused on strengthening behaviors that are beneficial in an autistic individual’s life, such as social, communication, and daily living skills. Punishment teaches what kind of behaviors not to use daily. In the education system, teachers rely on punishment the most because students must follow classroom expectations. Of course, educators provide reinforcement when a student raises their hand to answer a question, but punishment is still relied on for students demonstrating behaviors of property destruction, touching others, etc. As an autistic RBT who graduated last year with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology with concentration in ABA, I will break down the difference between reinforcement and punishment deeper.

There are two types of reinforcement: positive and negative. Positive reinforcement means providing something in order to increase the likelihood of a behavior to occur more often. For example, my parents used to give an allowance after I would complete my chores for the day at home during my middle school years. Negative reinforcement means taking away something to increase likelihood of a behavior occurring more often. For instance, a teacher eliminates homework for the night after students accomplished a lot of work in class today. If this happens from the teacher, then students would be more productive in the classroom. All in all, reinforcement means a behavior increases due to an intervention.

Not only there are two types of reinforcement, but there are also two types of punishment: positive and negative. Positive punishment is adding something to decrease a behavior from occurring. For instance, a parent yelling at their child for bad behavior. Negative punishment is removing something pleasant or desirable from an individual to decrease a behavior from occurring. For example, a child named Kevin got a bad grade on their recent test. As a result, his parents took away his electronics. After this occurrence, Kevin will no longer get bad grades on tests in school. In sum, punishment means a behavior decreases due to an intervention.

Based on these contingencies, they are all followed after a behavior occurs. Now which kind of approach should be used? It depends on the context of the situation and things in the environment that trigger the behavior. Now how does reinforcement and punishment occur in your life everyday? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section!

My autism diagnosis

I wanted to share my story again towards receiving an autism diagnosis, since I gained a lot of new followers on my blog website and tomorrow being my 25th birthday:

I was around the age of 1 in this photo.

I was born in Brooklyn, NY on January 18th, 1998. After I turned one years old, my parents noticed I was not meeting developmental milestones compared to Samantha (my older sister). I was not verbally talking as the main sign, but there were other signs and symptoms. I did not want to play with anyone and was mainly in my own world. I did not react to anyone whenever my name was called. I had really hard times with changes in routine, like when going on different walking paths with my parents. My parents were concerned about me.

My pediatrician advised my parents to seek an audiologist for me. My parents took me to an audiologist because they thought I was deaf. The audiologist told my parents I was not deaf, and I had good hearing. My parents and I went back to my pediatrician, and they recommended my parents to take me to a neurologist. When I more than a year old, my parents took me to an neurologist. The neurologist examined me in Down State Hospital in Brooklyn, NY, where I was observed in a room. After being assessed, my mom received my official autism diagnosis in the mail on her birthday. This was ten days before my 2nd birthday in the year of 2000.

Was the process of getting an autism diagnosis tough for those who are autistic self-advocates? Was the process of getting an autism diagnosis tough for parents who got a diagnosis for their child? Share your experiences in the comments section!

Interview with Marissa Davila as a BCBA in ABA telehealth

Did you know there are ABA therapy companies who mainly use telehealth? Meet my first guest in the new year:

Photo Credits: Marissa Davila (Blanton Behavior Services LLC)

Marissa Davila is a behavior analyst and founder of Blanton Behavioral Services LLC. She is not like most behavior analysts who run their own ABA therapy company because she mainly provides telehealth for clients on the autism spectrum. Want to learn how to provide ABA telehealth therapy for autistic clients? Check out the guest interview I did with Marissa:

Do you have any questions or thoughts for Marissa about ABA telehealth therapy? Share your questions and thoughts in the comments section!

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