World Autism Awareness Day: A Spotlight on Autism Services offered in partnership with Thames Valley Children’s Centre
Autism Services in Southwestern Ontario are offered under the supervision of Thames Valley Children’s Centre and John McGivney Children’s Centre (JMCC) is a proud partner in helping to support families in our area to access these important services.
Applied Behaviour Analysis Based-Services: Helping kids with ASD reach individual goals
After attending an orientation into the program, families of children with a diagnosis of ASD work together with ABA staff to identify and meet achievable goals. These goals typically focus on communication, social and interpersonal skills, behaviour management, emotional regulation and daily living.
Once a goal is identified, the ABA s, together with the family, will determine the best path to achievement. This can include one-on-one and/or group sessions and always includes practices and strategies to work on at home. This session at JMCC, our ABA staff ran several groups for children and teens looking to meet particular goals.
There was a dyad, a group of two, taking part in a program to get ready for group instruction programs. “It can be challenging for some children to take part in community programs that do not have individualized support,” says Natalie McLellan, ASD Community Consultant, JMCC. “The goal of the dyad was for participants to learn to attend to instructions from peers and respond appropriately.” This was achieved by cooking or baking something together, playing a game together and copying each other trying new yoga poses. While McLellan was facilitating this group, she was not teaching participants how to cook or practice yoga, she was there to teach parents effective data collection techniques and introduce behaviour supports to help group member’s work together to complete the tasks at hand.
Another group this session helped teenage boys understand concepts of appropriate talk, touch and trust throughout relationships in their lives. Through the copyrighted curriculum Circles, the teenagers were taught how to recognize and avoid threatening or potentially abusive situations.
Other groups offered included one to help teens to achieve tasks independently such as cooking a meal or taking public transit, one that helped participants be more open to trying new foods and one where participants use the common interest of LEGO to increase skills in team work and social communication.
“I love seeing the pride in the kids, teens and their parents when they achieve their goals!” says McLellan.
Intensive Behavioural Intervention Program
Ready to learn: Teaching kids with ASD new skills and behaviours
“I notice an incredible difference in most of our students throughout their time in IBI,” says Jenna Tonial, Instructor Therapist, Autism Intervention Program, JMCC. “It might be a small goal or a big goal that we work on for days, weeks or even months, but it is always so rewarding to see the kids achieve each milestone.”
Tonial and her colleagues in the Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI) program work with kids diagnosed with Autism on the more severe end of the spectrum, focusing on specific behaviour changes and helping them to learn new skills.
Children who attend IBI at the Thames Valley Children’s Centre site in Windsor, run in partnership with JMCC, typically attend the program up to four days a week for about six hours each day. Each child is working on his or her own goals and striving to reach their next important milestone to prepare them to transition to attending school full-time.
They work on tasks needed to succeed in the school classroom and these are targeted based on the child’s level and development. For example, at one table in the IBI program one child works with his therapist to practice writing his name, while at another, a child works to grip the pencil while his therapist helps him to trace the letters in his name. Each task that is completed is rewarded with a short break where the child can get up and walk around or play with the toy of his or her choice. These toys are chosen at the beginning of therapy and may change throughout the day. The therapists rank the toys based on level of enjoyment in order to gain an understanding of what ‘reinforcers’ may result in increased occurrences of desired behaviours.
Some children in the program are non-verbal, while some can use their words, some can read, while some use visual prompts and can point to what they want. While all those in the program follow a similar routine with similar activities to school, like circle time, playing outside and arts and crafts, each child is unique and participates in this routine in the way that works best for them.
While these children are learning to follow a routine, it is also important that they gain an understanding of flexibility and how to generalize certain tasks. For example, if a child is working on toileting, it is important that they use more than one toilet so they can learn to generalize this task to the setting in which they are in, be it the IBI classroom, at home, or at school.
Visual schedules help kids understand the flow of the day, so they know what to expect and what activity comes next. These schedules are organized with pictures depicting each task throughout the day. For example, a picture of a book can indicate it is time to read or look at a book. For those in the program who are non-verbal, some use noun boards that have pictures to represent the words that are familiar to them and that come up often in their day. For example, snack time and toilet, and can be even more specified to include something like goldfish crackers etc.
Group play also takes place during the day to help the kids in the program who are ready learn to play games together while making eye contact with their friends, asking them questions and listening.
“It’s amazing to see how the kids can surprise you. That’s my favourite part. I love seeing what kids can do with the materials and the instructions we give them. They are constantly surprising me with how much they learn and develop,” says Tonial.
The patience, dedication and hard work of the staff in the IBI program does not go unnoticed by the parents of the kids they work with on a daily basis.
Parents of an IBI graduate signed their Christmas card: “Ladies, we can’t thank you enough. [Our son] is verbalizing more, spelling like a rock star and just doing fantastic overall. You’d be proud and it’s because of your work and guidance.”