Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

What is picture exchange communication system (PECS)?

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Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a functional communication system in which allows children with ASD to express in an alternative way through pictures. PECS are used as an intervention for children with ASD who either have no expressive language or have very limited expressive language. Personally, I had experiences with PECS very young. I recall from my parents that I used to point at pictures through a binder to communicate. Eventually, I would create sentences by placing pictures on top of my binder with velcro tape on it. PECS can be beneficial as an intervention for growing communication skills. 

Here is advice about using PECS for an individual with ASD:

  1. Implement pictures that are very common and functional to use in life for an individual with ASD.
  2. Always reinforce when an individual with ASD expresses through pictures. Reinforcement should be used together with PECS as an intervention.
  3. Arrange the environment for many opportunities of learning with PECS in structured and unstructured environments.

Now that we understand about PECS, here are pros and cons of teaching communication to individuals with ASD using PECS:

ProsCons
Less expensive approach to teach languageRequires a lot of attention from an individual with ASD to learn
No special training is needed because pictures are used with labeled wordsCommunication is limited to pictures with labeled words
Helps increase social communication and interactions in the environment
Pros and Cons of Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

Would you use Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) to teach an individual with ASD to communicate? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2021

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. It is so important to ensure people with disabilities have access to jobs, so they make a living and succeed in life like everyone else in the world. Here are ways employers can hire more people with disabilities and ways to create more inclusive work environments:

  1. Provide job roles geared towards an individual’s strengths. When supervisors and managers provide jobs matching an individual’s strengths, an individual will make more of a contribution to your company.
  2. Think about what an individual can do instead of what they cannot do. Focus on the skills people with disabilities are able to perform in the workplace because people have a lot to bring to the table for a company.
  3. Keep in mind of accommodations and modifications. Everyone has the right to work for a company because of the skills they bring, so make sure to provide accommodations and modifications, based on an individual’s needs. For example, change the lighting in a work environment or creating a schedule that allows an employee with a disability to work during morning hours instead of evening hours. The goal is to keep employees working for a company as long as possible, so accommodate and modify when necessary.
  4. Provide access for all. As mentioned earlier, people with disabilities need to make a living like everyone else. Put the employee with a disability first because companies will make their work culture more diverse. By making the work culture more diverse, it helps companies stand out from others.

These tips can help employers make their work culture more diverse and help people with disabilities make a living and succeed in life. Personally, my career journey has full of ups and downs. I have filled out millions of job applications and have been in many job experiences. It all started at the age of 18, when I worked as a teacher assistant for a before and after care program for Marlboro School District, in which was the school district I attended as a student. Today, I’m 23, and I work multiple jobs while attending college online. I work full time as a paraprofessional for elementary school students with disabilities in a public school district in Florida, and I work with Full Spectrum ABA in various roles: autistic blogger and member of their virtual ABA high needs support team. I do need to give a big thanks to Full Spectrum ABA.

FSBA Logo 2021.png

Full Spectrum ABA hired me because they knew about my blog, and they knew my dream career is to work in the ABA field. I became their autistic blogger, and a member of their virtual ABA high needs support team. Not only that, we have been collaborating on my supervision while working towards certification. I am so excited to grow in the field of ABA with Full Spectrum ABA because I want to make an impact on lives of individuals with ASD. Full Spectrum ABA is an example of an company who has been hiring people with disabilities because they want people to succeed in life. Learn more of the autistic advocates like myself who were hired to work with Full Spectrum ABA:

https://www.fullspectrumaba.com/autisticadvocates

Has your organization or company have been hiring people with disabilities? What would you do to make your workplace more inclusive? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Interview with Sara Bradford on SJ Childs Show and author of children books about Inclusion

What is inclusion?

Inclusion is focusing on needs of every individual and ensuring rights are in place for people to achieve their fullest potential in life. No matter who people are and where they come from, they are respected and accepted in the world. Now allow me to share the next guest of my guest interview series:

Sara Bradford is a wife to a husband with Aspergers and a mother of 3 children on the autism spectrum. Her family experiences with autism have shed a light of inclusion in the world. As a result, Sara created a show known as “SJ Childs”. Also, Sara is an author of 7 children’s books that provide a message about inclusion, accepting differences, and loving people as themselves. Her children books include characters of children with disabilities based on people in her life, which makes her books so real and raw. Check out the interview I did with Sara:

Check out Sara Bradford’s “SJ Childs show” and her published children’s books here: https://sjchilds.org/

Interview with Paul Silver on self-advocacy and college

Did you know self-advocacy is important in life, including in college?

Self-advocacy is a foundation towards success in life. In a college setting, self-advocacy allows students to advocate for their own education needs. For example, a student goes to the disability services in their first year of college to get accommodations and modifications they need to do well in college. Throughout the rest of their college years, they work together with their professors to provide their accommodations and modifications, in order to be successful. Self-advocacy allows people to take charge of their own lives and maximize their strengths, while creating positive changes. Now let me introduce you to a guest I interviewed for my guest interview series:

Paul Silver is an autistic self-advocate who is about to graduate from college! It is a huge milestone for anyone on the autism spectrum to earn a degree from college. Paul and I discussed the importance of self-advocacy and skills needed to succeed in life, including college. We shared strategies and tips from our own college experiences to help students on the autism spectrum get through college. Check out the guest interview I did with Paul:

Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP)

What is a Behavior Intervention Plan? - Nicole Schlechter Advocacy

What is a behavior intervention plan (BIP)?

A behavior intervention plan (BIP) is a written plan for addressing individual needs of students. There are nine components of a behavior intervention plan (BIP). Shepherd and Linn (2014) share the nine components within a behavior intervention plan (BIP): a target behavior definition, attempted interventions, summary of FBA, a behavioral hypothesis, first alternative behavior, intervention strategies for first alternative behavior, second alternative behavior, intervention strategies for second alternative behavior, and evaluation of effectiveness of plan. In the first component, an operational definition of a target behavior is included which tells the target behavior is measurable, observable, and repeatable. In the second component of a BIP, any ineffective interventions are noted. In the third component, an FBA summary is included, along with data collection of the behavior. In the fourth component of an BIP, the behavioral hypothesis represents the function of behavior identified. In the rest of the components, some alternative behaviors and some intervention strategies are created and implemented. The final component of a BIP is continuous evaluation of a behavior intervention plan through many kinds of observations and assessments. A behavior intervention plan (BIP) can change overtime based on individual needs. 

One of the components of a behavior intervention plan (BIP) involves interventions. Positive and negative reinforcement can maintain a student’s behavior. Negative reinforcement is removing or getting rid of something to increase positive target behaviors. Extinction is about eliminating undesired or unwanted behaviors. An interfering behavior in the classroom that can be maintained through negative reinforcement and extinction. For example, Jimmy throws a tantrum when he doesn’t want to eat his food during snack time. The paraprofessional working with Jimmy lets him continue to throw a tantrum while having him eat his food during snack time. The tantrums will increase at first, and then decrease overtime because his actions will no longer provide the desired outcome he wants. This scenario demonstrates negative reinforcement with extinction. On the other hand, positive reinforcement is reinforcing positive target behaviors to occur more likely in the future. Differential reinforcement is reinforcing a specific class of behavior while withholding reinforcement of undesired behaviors. For instance, if the target behavior for Jimmy is to learn to point to the color blue when instructed, he is only reinforced when pointing to the color blue. For any other response, reinforcement is not provided. This scenario demonstrates positive reinforcement with differential reinforcement. Different behavior interventions, from reinforcement to extinction and differential reinforcement, are used to teach new alternative behaviors as part of a behavior intervention plan (BIP). 

Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) are helpful for promoting positive behaviors, but there are barriers to the development and application of BIPs in the classroom. Schools are still following traditional rules and consequences as part of their behavior management in classrooms. For example, schools still use punishment methods as part of their classroom behavior management. A solution to this is providing more training to teach teachers and administrators about many kinds of behavior interventions to use in classroom management while keeping in mind the individual needs of students. Although, lack of training is a barrier as well, especially for teachers who teach in general education classroom settings. The main solution for all of these barriers is for schools to dedicate professional development times throughout the school year to train teachers and administrators, provide them support, and let them practice creating and implementing BIPs. Making behavior management in the classroom is key to helping students be successful in their education.

Cultural influences can impact approaches to behavior modifications. Educators and professionals have to make sure to understand a student’s cultural background within the behavior intervention plan (BIP). For example, some cultures do not believe eye contact is important. Therefore, educators and professionals would have to make sure to learn from a student’s family prior to providing behavior intervention and data collection, involve the family in behavior intervention and data collection, and adapt procedures based on family interactions. Culturally responsive strategies of behavior modifications and culturally sensitive data collection is key for implementing effective behavior intervention plans (BIPs). 

Did you know that an behavior intervention plan (BIP) is used in school classrooms and in therapy sessions? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Reference:

Shepherd, T. L., & Linn, D. (2014). Behavior and Classroom Management in the Multicultural Classroom : Proactive, Active, and Reactive Strategies. SAGE Publications, Inc.

Environment and visual supports for Autistics

Asperger Syndrome and Autism: Strategies for Success

Modifications can be made to create a positive and supportive environment for people with ASD. Environmental and visual supports are modifications used in any school, home, and community setting, in order to help autistics grow and develop.

Environmental supports organize and structure physical spaces in homes, schools, and communities. Some environmental supports used for Autistics include visual boundary settings, labels, and visual schedules. Environmental support strategies can help children with ASD respond and adapt to daily activities in the environment. In a school setting, a visual schedule in the classroom allows students with ASD to learn a classroom routine full of activities they will be participating in for the entire school day. This helps children with ASD understand expectations in the environment and helps them with transitions from one activity to another. Autism society (n.d.) shares that in a home setting, using colored-tape boundaries lets the child with ASD know not to enter into a dangerous area in the environment. This allows the person with ASD to discriminate between off-limit areas and safe areas in the environment. In a community setting, a student with autism puts a puzzle game with a written-label on it away by placing it on the shelf based on the matching written-label while in the waiting area of their pediatrician’s office. Through written-labels, they help an individual with ASD learn more about their environment. Environmental supports help increase an individual’s independence and encourages communication. All in all, environmental supports are effective to help people with ASD in any setting. Another kind of modification in the environment that helps autistics are visual supports.

Visual supports help autistics process information in any setting and encourages communication. Some visual supports for people with ASD include first-then visuals, timers, social narratives, and visual communication cards. Visual supports teaches the child with ASD expectations in any setting, and procedures are consistent across people involved with the child. In a school setting, a one-to-one teacher aide can show a student with ASD a first-then visual that consists of two pictures: the first picture is an activity or main task, and the second picture is a reinforcer. The one-to-one teacher aide uses first-then visuals while explaining to the student with ASD new activities or events, so they understand the activity or task, while learning a consequence or reward follows after completing the activity or task. In a home setting, a parent can use a timer to let their child with ASD know it’s time to move onto a new activity after playing with their toys. In a community setting, if an individual with ASD who is non-verbal needs to use the restroom, they can give the visual restroom card to the person they are with, so the person knows they need to use the restroom. Visual supports increase skills across curriculum areas, from social interactions to communication. Just like environmental supports, visual supports are effective to help autistics in any setting.

In conclusion, any setting can be modified for people with ASD by using environment and visual supports. Modifications made can ensure the safety of autistics by discriminating between safe and unsafe areas in the environment. These two kinds of supports help reduce problematic behaviors, and they help increase social interactions. They encourage communication and promote student independence. Any kind of modification made in a positive and supportive environment helps people with ASD grow and develop in life.

Reference:

Autism Society. (n.d.). Safety in the home. Retrieved from http://www.autism-society.org/living-with-autism/how-the-autism-society-can-help/safe-and-sound/safety-in-the-home/

Instructional Strategies for teaching Autistics

What are some strategies for teaching autistics?

After receiving my ASD diagnosis around the age of two, my parents got me early intervention services. My early intervention services included all kinds of therapies, in which I received seven days a week. Evidence-based practices were applied, which helped me tremendously. Today, I apply evidence-based practices into my work as a paraprofessional for students with disabilities. I make sure to implement instructional strategies that are personalized to the student. There are three instructional strategies I used when working in early childhood with an individual with ASD: task analysis, modeling, and visual supports. 

Task Analysis is an instructional strategy in which a complex skill or behavior is broken down into small, individual steps for a student to complete. Once a student masters one step of a complex skill or behavior, they can move onto the next step of a complex skill or behavior. This approach is effective because it teaches a student to learn through steps. For example, I recall teaching a student with ASD to wash their hands. The first step I taught them was to turn on the water from the faucet. By the last step, I taught them to dry their hands. After the student completes all of the steps, then they could eventually perform that complex skill independently. As demonstrated, task analysis is used to teach any kind of skill, from academic to daily life skills. The goal of task analysis is for a student to complete a complex skill or behavior independently by using the steps they were taught. The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder (n.d) explains that task analysis helps students with ASD become more independent by having a skill or behavior broken down into steps instead. This instructional strategy can be implemented in any setting, thus promoting generalization. In sum, task analysis is a step-by-step process that addresses all kinds of domains: behavior, communication, and social. 

While using task analysis, modeling can be implemented during any of the steps, depending on the student. Modeling is an instructional strategy used to engage a student to perform a skill or behavior. The teacher describes the skill or behavior that is being taught. For instance, when I taught a student with ASD to wash their hands, I had to use modeling sometimes to show them how to perform a step of this complex skill, such as turning on the water by using the faucet. This approach is effective because students with ASD observe the teacher’s thought processes, and learn to imitate behaviors that encourage learning. Through modeling, it helps students apply new skills and behaviors into various environments. This instructional strategy is beneficial in many ways: promotes generalization of a student’s skills and behaviors, increases independence, builds a student’s confidence, and decreases a student’s errors. To sum up, modeling encourages learning through observations of skills and behaviors for students to perform. 

In addition, visual supports is an instructional strategy used to help students process information that they are learning. Visual supports can include schedules, choice boards, checklists/organizers, visual behavior supports, and etc. For example, I worked with a student with ASD who was using a first/then visual, which shows a picture of the task that must be completed first and then another picture of a reward following the task. This visual behavior support teaches a student of what is expected of them to do now and what will happen next. This approach is effective because it teaches students skills across curriculum areas: social, communication, and behavior. Visual supports teaches students social skills, in order to apply them in their own social situations. Visual supports promote students to use alternative communication skills. Visual supports teaches students to cope with changes. All in all, visual supports helps teach a student various skills, from communication to behaviors. 

In conclusion, three instructional strategies can be used to teach early childhood children with ASD: task analysis, visual supports, and modeling. These instructional strategies can be applied together at once or separated, depending on the skill or behavior being taught to the student with ASD. These instructional strategies are important to help a student with ASD grow as life-long learners.

So what kind of strategies have you used for teaching autistics? Share your thoughts in the comment’s section!

Reference:

National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder. (n.d.). What are evidence-based practices? Retrieved from https://autismpdc.fpg.unc.edu/evidence-based-practices

Assessments for ASD

Evaluation process

How does a child or adult get evaluated for ASD? What kind of assessments are involved?

During the age of one, my parents were recommended by a neurologist that I should get evaluated for ASD. My parents wanted to know what was going on with me in regards to my development, so they followed the neurologist’s advice. As a result of my evaluation, I was diagnosed with ASD around the age of two. When it comes to evaluating people for ASD, there are different kinds of assessments implemented: standardized assessments and non-standardized assessments. 

Standardized assessments are assessments with consistent questions, which use the same scoring and administration procedures to measure and compare students from their peers in the class and peers in their grade level. When using this assessment for evaluating people for ASD, it examines an individual’s knowledge and abilities in many domains: cognitive, social, and language. Durand (2014) describes the following forms of this assessment implemented in ASD evaluations: Wechsler Intelligence Scales, Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, and the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales. These forms of assessments are focused on the main domains of human development, which can help determine areas of concern. When evaluating children with ASD, I can use these forms of assessment to find out the child’s development compared to other children in their age group and estimate the severity of a child’s ASD. This is one of the assessments used when evaluating individuals for ASD, so now let’s talk about non-standardized assessments.

Non-standardized assessments are personalized assessments used to measure individual progress of students. When it comes to using this assessment for evaluating individuals for ASD, they examine an individual’s specific performances, skills, and abilities. Durand (2014) shares the following forms of this assessment implemented in ASD evaluations: questionnaires, observation measures, and semistructured interviews. When I got evaluated for ASD, the doctor who evaluated me used a checklist of questions in regards to developmental milestones. Also, the doctor observed my behaviors, and they recorded my behaviors based on their observations. Plus, I had to perform basic tasks based on the doctor’s instructions, such as walking on my tippy toes, responding when someone said hello to me, and etc. The doctor modified the tasks when needed based on my individual needs. This kind of assessment is flexible when evaluating individuals with ASD because it can be modified and accommodated based on their needs. This kind of assessment can be changed as the child develops overtime. When evaluating children with ASD, I can use this kind of assessment to find out the child’s severity of ASD, and any information about the child that will be useful for developmental and evaluation goals. Unlike the other kind of assessment,  individuals participate more in this kind of assessment due to their individual needs. 

All in all, these assessments are used to evaluate individuals for ASD. Standardized assessments can be used to understand the child’s development compared to other children’s development in the same age group and estimate the severity of the child’s ASD. Non-standardized assessments allow people to create development and evaluation goals for the child, and get them interventions and services based on their needs. Both kinds of assessments are beneficial in evaluations for ASD. 

So now do you understand more about assessments used to evaluate people for ASD?

Reference:

Durand, V. M. (2014). Screening, diagnosis, and assessment. In Autism spectrum disorder: A clinical guide for general practitioners (pp. 67–83). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.libauth.purdueglobal.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=pzh&AN=2013-21334-004&site=eds-live

Stimming

A boy showing body movement.

What is stimming?

Wang (n.d.) explains the meaning of stimming as repetitive behaviors, such as movement and/or speech. Stimming is one of the signs/symptoms of Autism. When I was really young, I used to rock back and forth, bang my head against the wall, and spin in circles nonstop. There are many reasons that Autistics stim:

  • Over or under stimulation = sensory input (less or more)
  • pain reduction
  • management of emotions/ self-regulation: negative and positive emotions displayed through movements or sounds

Is stimming an issue? Stimming is not an issue because it can be calming and soothing for Autistic children and adults. Although, if stimming interferes with learning, causes harm to others and/or themselves, or leads to emotionally harmful social reactions, then it should be addressed. Here are ways to handle these kinds of stimming behaviors mentioned:

  1. Safe and peaceful environment! Adjust the environment by creating a peaceful, safe environment filled of sensory toys to maximize comfort for everyone. It is all up to you!
  2. Good relationship with an Autistic child/adult! This means to spend time with an Autistic child/adult. For an example, join in stimming with them through exercising. The benefits are relationship building and creating healthy routines for everyone.
  3. Get medical exams! Sometimes stimming can be due to undetected health issues that an Autistic child/adult is experiencing, such as ear infections or migraines. By having an Autistic child/adult checked up yearly from a doctor, this helps eliminates any health issues.

Did you know Autistic children and adults are not the only ones who stim? Have you experienced stimming yourself? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Reference:

Wang, K. (n.d.). Autism and Stimming. Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/autism-and-stimming/

Eye Contact

Two people face-to-face

Do our eyes tell so much about ourselves?

Eye contact is a form of non-speaking communication between people by demonstrating emotions. Poor or lack of eye contact is one of the signs/symptoms of Autism. My parents shared with me that I lacked eye contact for a very long time. It took me a long time to look at people face to face. The main reason eye contact is hard for Autistic children and adults is due to brain development:

  • Connection of nerves not working together in the brain!
    • Massachusetts General Hospital (2017) explains that imbalance of networks in the brain creates abnormal, delayed development of social interactions, including reaction of eye contact. Therefore, there could be underconnectivity of networks in the brain, which can demonstrate underlying causes of eye-avoidance.
    • Stewart (n.d.) describes sensory, language, and social difficulties of Autistic children and adults due to sources and networks not working together in the brain. For example, it can be difficult for Autistic children and adults to read body language, such as messages conveyed from the eyes. The visual and language networks with sensory input may be not working well together, which explain difficulties of social context.

Eye contact should not be forced and should occur naturally. Eye contact is important for attention and reasons of communication. Here are some ways to teach Autistic children and adults eye contact naturally:

  1. Special interests! Do not tell directly to Autistic children and adults to look at them. This will make them not comfortable. Develop conservations or activities based on the their interests and interests you both have in common. Benefits are relationship building and working on an Autistic child/adult’s skills more naturally.
  2. Be surprising and unexpecting. Give a good reason for an Autistic child or adult to look at you. By doing something surprising or something not right in the environment, this will gain an their attention and eye contact.
  3. Choose the right activity. Activities, such as games, are a great way of developing various skills not just for Autistics, but for anybody. Here are examples of games that focuses on developing eye contact: hide and seek, pass the ball, playing puppets, under the blanket game (great for sensory input!), and etc.

The way to help Autistics develop on their eye contact is by using natural teaching procedures. Everytime you see an Autistic child or adult look at you or others, reinforce them! It is so encouraging for Autistics to hear how well they are doing, and they get attention themselves. Reinforce consistently because it helps in the long run!

So, do you think eye contact should be taught naturally? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

References:

Massachusetts General Hospital. (2017, June 15). Why do those with autism avoid eye contact? Imaging studies reveal overactivation of subcortical brain structures in response to direct gaze. ScienceDaily. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170615213252.htm

Stewart, R. (n.d). Should we insist on eye contact with people who have Autism Spectrum disorders. Indiana Resource Center for Autism. https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/should-we-insist-on-eye-contact-with-people-who-have-autism-spectrum-disorders.html

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