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Teaching Life Skills in ABA Therapy

How Behavior Therapists Help Children Learn
 May 26, 2020

People with autism see and experience the world differently. For children with autism, this may make learning in traditional settings more challenging. They may lag behind their peers in meeting important milestones like potty training or speaking.

If you think your child may have autism – or is struggling to learn important early skills – ABA therapy can help!

ABA therapy, or Behavior Therapy, is the only evidence-based treatment for individuals with autism. It’s not a ‘treatment’ in the sense that it cures or changes the individual. Rather, ABA therapists use techniques like discrete trial training, rewards, and play practice to help our kiddos learn new skills in a way that works for them.

Our goal is to help children with autism develop important skills they need to be successful in school, at home, and in their community.

So, what are some of the things that children can learn in ABA therapy? Here are just a few of the important life skills that behavior therapists teach:

 

Potty Training

Most children transition from diapers to using the bathroom between 2-4 years of age. For children with autism, making this transition may be more difficult, frustrating both the child and the parent.

An ABA therapist can help children with autism learn the skills and steps necessary for potty training in ways that work for them.

Like with any child, we need to determine if the child is at a developmental stage appropriate for potty training. To transition out of diapers, children need to be able to: hold their bladder, take pants off and on by themselves, and complete tasks with multiple steps. If your child isn’t at this stage yet, we’ll work with them to develop those skills first.

Then, the ABA therapists will work with the child to set expectations for potty use, help the child gain body awareness (knowing when they have to go), and start learning the steps necessary to potty training.

 

Hand Washing

Hand washing goes right along with potty training! Learning how to wash hands consistently and correctly is an important life skill for all children. There’s also some evidence that children with autism are more likely to have weaker immune systems. Teaching good hand-washing habits early sets your child up for better health later in life.

Some children with autism have sensory sensitivities that make hand washing difficult. They may dislike the feel of hot water or the smell of soap. Others may face challenges understanding hand washing expectations, frustrated when activities have to transition to and from hand washing. Some of our kiddos simply have trouble learning the steps necessary to wash their hands.

An ABA therapist can evaluate your child to determine their primary challenges. We’ll set age-appropriate goals and take steps to meet them.

Using behavior therapy techniques, we can make hand-washing less scary and confusing, set expectations about when hands should be washed, and establish healthy hand washing routines.

  aba behavior therapists teach children with autism how to get dressed

Getting Dressed

Children on the spectrum may have a hard time learning how to get dressed. If they have sensory sensitivities, putting on and taking off clothing with different textures and weights can make the task even more difficult. Sensory overload or the stress of transitioning from play to dressing can cause frustration and meltdowns.

ABA therapists can help children learn this important life skill. First, we might teach the child how to cooperate with a parent/ caregiver while dressing, before graduating to dressing themselves.

We’ll work to decrease sensory sensitivity to different fabrics and clothing types. Your child’s behavior therapist will build routines and expectations around getting dressed in steps. We might start by teaching them to put on and take off simpler clothing items like hats, shoes, and open jackets. As each child progresses and becomes more comfortable with the process, we’ll work on the steps to get dressed independently.

The ABA therapist will also work with you – the family or caregivers – so you can continue to work on dressing habits at home. We can also recommend types of clothing that are sensory friendly, like opting for a loose sweater instead of a jacket with zippers.

 

Safety Awareness

Children with autism may act like they have their head in the clouds, or they may rush out impulsively without thinking. These behaviors can endanger them and those around them.

Behavior therapy improves safety awareness by teaching skills like focus, communication, and self-regulation. However, we can also use ABA therapy techniques to teach children with autism specific safety skills.

A behavior therapist will evaluate your child to determine which skills are appropriate for your child’s developmental stage, and then plan steps to help them learn the safety skill. For instance, the therapist might work with your child to identify strangers versus adults they know and trust. We can also teach them steps to take when crossing the street like: stop, look, listen, or to wait for an adult before crossing.

 

Community Outings

Even everyday community outings can be stressful or overwhelming for children with autism. The loud sounds of a busy street, bright lights of a grocery store, or mumble of voices inside a church can be overwhelming.

ABA therapy helps make community outings less stressful for both the child and the parents/ caregivers.

Therapists teach children how to cope with overwhelming feelings, self-regulate, and communicate feelings of stress without having meltdowns. We use play scenarios and practice to teach kiddos about common types of community outings. By practicing in a safe environment first, new experiences and places become less scary.

ABA therapists also teach parents and caregivers useful tips and tricks to help your child succeed in community outings. Bringing headphones and sunglasses to loud, bright places will save you a lot of headaches!

  aba behavior therapists teach children with autism how to take turns and play with peers

Taking Turns

Learning how to take turns is foundational for many skills. Having a conversation, playing a game, waiting in line, buying something from the store – all these activities require us to know how to take turns!

Children learn taking turns from an early age through watching others and being taught explicitly how by caregivers and teachers. For children with autism, learning this skill may not come easily.

ABA therapists help children with autism learn how to take turns through patience and prompting. We’ll practice different turn-taking scenarios, like playing a block-stacking game or waiting in line for snacks. Our kiddos learn to take turns with their behavior therapist first. Then, we can help them practice taking turns with other children too.

By learning the foundational skills in behavior therapy, the child learns to take turns successfully in other situations like in school, with friends, or at home.

 

Playing with Peers

Many children with autism may have trouble relating to their peers, playing games with children their own age, or making friends. They may tend to spend time alone or prefer the company and attention of adults or older children. Even though children with autism may appear to prefer being alone, they can still feel lonely and long for friends.

Learning how to play with other kids empowers children with autism to develop important social skills, form relationships, and have fun!

ABA therapy can help children with autism gain skills necessary for them to start joining their peers in play. ABA therapists will work on social skills like: reading emotions on other children’s faces, taking turns in games and conversations, and learning appropriate physical boundaries (like avoiding too rough play).

 

Expressing Frustration

All of us feel frustrated and overwhelmed at times. If we don’t know how to express our frustration, we can feel overwhelmed, tired, and even lash out at others. The same is true for children with autism.

An ABA therapist can help a child with autism to learn how to recognize their frustration (emotional regulation) and communicate it. They’ll work with the child to replace harmful behaviors with better communication techniques. Instead of hitting, screaming, or hurting themselves or others, the child will learn to express their frustration through words, pointing at a picture that represents their feelings, or moving to a calm down area.

We also teach parents/ caregivers better ways to detect frustration in their child early. We’ll show you how to prompt your child to communicate their frustration before it gets worse.

 

Can Behavior Therapy Help Your Child?

How can behavior therapy help your child succeed? ABA/ behavior therapists teach young children important life skills. These foundational skills grow as your child grows. The more they learn in behavior therapy, the more they can participate in school, make friends with their peers, do chores at home, and have a successful future.

How do you know if behavior therapy is right for your child? An ABA therapist can evaluate your child to determine if behavior therapy would make a positive difference in your child’s life. We’ll work with you to choose target skills that would help your child the most. Then, we’ll create a plan to teach your child those skills in a way that works for them. Every child with autism is unique, so every ABA treatment plan is equally special!

If you think your child may benefit from behavior therapy, contact us today! Or find a location near you here.

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This notice was published and becomes effective on August l, 2011.