Teaching Kids with Autism to Love Table Time for Learning

A common problem in home and school ABA programs
is kids resisting coming to the table or work area, or leaving the work area. Today, I’m going to talk to you about sanitizing
the environment, and how this can be a critical step to get kids running to the table to learn. Hi. I’m Dr. Mary Barbera, autism mom, board-certified
behavior analyst, and bestselling author. Each week, I provide you with some of my ideas
about turning autism around, so if you haven’t subscribed to my YouTube channel, hit the
subscribe button and notification bell right now. In a previous blog, I talk about how to get
kids with autism to like or love table time, and why I think it’s a very important part
of any verbal behavior program. Today, I’m going to talk about sanitizing
the environment so you can achieve the most learning for your child or clients when they
are at the table. One of the first steps in starting a home
ABA program is selecting a room, or a corner of a room, where we can do intensive teaching. When Lucas was three years old, we used our
basement as his therapy room. At that time, we were doing a Lovaas-type
ABA program, and not a verbal behavior approach program, so we had toys laid around the room. In between tasks at the table, we would tell
Lucas to go play, and since he didn’t really have any play skills, he would essentially
go and stim with a toy while we did our data, and when he went to go play, he was essentially
leaving us and all the learning materials and being on his own. Using a verbal behavior approach is very different. We, as the instructors, want to be the giver
of all good things, and we want to be a part of not only the instruction period, but we
want to be a part of that reinforcement period too. And one of the most important steps in switching
to a verbal behavior approach is to sanitize the environment. So, instead of picking a messy playroom like
we had with my basement situation, we want to choose a room or space with actually limited
distractions. If possible, you may need to gate the room
or close the door to prevent children from going into more distracting play areas where
they could stim. This gate hopefully can be faded out eventually,
but just in the meantime, you may need to use something like a gate. We want to have toys and materials not laid
out around the room. We want them in closed cabinets or in boxes,
plastic boxes work well, or high up on shelves. At the beginning of the session, we want to
bring reinforcement to the table, and we want to bring the activities to the table, either
one at a time from the cabinet, or bring the whole box over, or have a rollie bin with
some of the activities in it, and we want to bring that along to the table. So basically, the only thing in the room are
you, and the toys, and the reinforcements, which are at the table. I also, which I think I talk about in the
other blog, is I don’t like to use the word work for children with autism. Instead, I want to call the table like the
learning table, or I just want to label the activity. “Hey, come on over. We’re going to do some Play-Doh,” and as I
have the Play-Doh out and the child should be coming, because of all the reinforcement
we have at the table. And if the child, for whatever reason, leaves
the table or the learning area, we don’t want to tell them, “No, you have to come back. Sit down.” Actually be a little detective. Watch where they go and see what they gravitate
to. Are they going to pick up a little figurine
that was left out? Are they going to play with string that they
found? Are they going to sit in a rocking chair that
happens to be in the room? If they go to something like a string, or
a figurine, or even a rocking chair, you can bring these items to the table, either right
away or ahead of time next session, but we want to bring things to the table that the
child really likes, and then we can be a part of that reinforcement period too. At school, it may be a little harder to sanitize
the environment, but school staff can work together to identify distractions and highly-reinforcing
items that should be brought to the table before a session if possible, for each individual
student. Overall, if the child is leaving the table,
this typically means that you, the table, and the materials are not paired well enough,
and/or you haven’t sanitized the environment enough. In summary, I believe table time is extremely
important for kids, especially those with moderate to severe autism, and one of the
most critical steps is finding an area of a room that can be sanitized to help you make
table time super fun and reinforcing. To get started turning things around for any
child with autism, download my free three-step guide, which covers three steps you can take
today to help your child or client with autism. Whether you’re a novice parent or a seasoned
autism professional, I know you’ll find some helpful new tools in this guide. Leave me a comment, subscribe to my channel,
and I’ll see you right here next week.

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