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Frequently Asked Questions

Early Signs of Autism

Emily Frohriep, BCBA

Some children have many early signs, whereas others have only a few. The number of signs varies according to children’s ages and stages of development. Some children may display a disruption in development, while others plateau or regress in development skills. Research states 30% of parents of children with ASD identify concerns prior to 1 year, and 80% identify problems of 2 years of age.
Here are some early signs of ASD that could be noticed by 6 months of age:
  • Limited or no eye contact
  • Lack of smiling and orienting to people
  • Specific interests and fixations (such as lining up toys)
  • Temperament
  • Head circumference growth
  • Impairment in social interactions like:
    • Little to no back and forth sharing of sounds
    • Sharing of smiles or other facial expressions
    • Rarely copy other’s actions
    • Decrease reaction in attempts to interact
    • Lack of interest in other children
  • Impairment in communication like:
    • Little or no babbling also known as delayed sound production
    • Little or no responding to name
    • Lack of communicative gestures such as pointing and responding to pointing
    • Difficulty responding to simple one-step instructions
    • Very few to no words
  • Other behaviors like:
    • Repetitive behaviors such as arch their back, flap hands or arms, repeats sounds
    • Increased mouthing
    • Self-stimulatory behaviors
    • Decreased mobility
    • Abnormal muscle tone
    • Unusual posture
    • Engages in toys in unexpected ways (spinning the wheels of a car, fiddles a toy between fingers)
    • Easily upset in changes of routines
    • Sensitivity to their environment- loud noises, lights, textures
    • Seeks sensory input such as pressure (tight hugs, smell objects, puts items to lips or face)
If you have questions or concerns for your child’s development or think they may have Autism, reach out to your child’s physician to discuss your concerns. Together you can determine the next steps to help your child.

Quick Tips for Play Skills

Emily Frohriep, BCBA

Play skills are important as they provide an avenue for children to learn developmental skills and learn about their natural environment. Play encourages development of new skills such as gross and fine motor, language, and supports the development of social skills, appropriate interactions, and establishes rapport with others. Some quick tips to increase play skills include:
  1. Teach the child to tolerate adults in their space. Here the adult should have their own set of toys, and not take toys away from the child. Let the child take the lead and then copy the child, this is called parallel play. This is a time of placing not too many demands.
  2. Slowly begin to manipulate the play by incorporating short bursts of turn taking. This can be hard for some children, don’t push too hard and be prepared to provide high amounts of reinforcement!
  3. Increase the amount of play sequences with increasing the child’s time engaged with adults for longer periods
  4. Introduce peers, starting out the same way as with adults with parallel  play. Once parallel play is tolerated, start to work in cooperative play where they can do something such as building a block tower together.
  5. Interactive Play with peers, typically this can start once parallel play and cooperative play skills are demonstrated in a child around the age of 4. This is where some conversation skills can start to be incorporated. This can be done by narrating what you’re doing, even something as simple as sound effects! 

What is Reinforcement?

Vikki Cheu, BCBA

Reinforcement is the process by which you add or remove a stimulus immediately after a behavior occurs to increase the likelihood of that behavior occurring again in the future. There are two types of reinforcement in ABA. Positive reinforcement involves adding a stimulus after a behavior occurs to increase the likelihood of the behavior  occurring again. An example of this is if a child says “cookie” and then is given a cookie, the item acts as a positive reinforcer, increasing the likelihood the child uses “cookie” when asking for a cookie in the future. 
Negative reinforcement is the process of removing an aversive or unwanted stimulus after a behavior occurs to increase the likelihood of that behavior occurring again. Although commonly misunderstood, negative does not mean “punishment” when talking about negative reinforcement. An example of negative reinforcement is a child that is sensitive to loud noises and becomes distressed when in a noisy environment. The child puts on noise-canceling headphones. The headphones remove the aversive stimulus, and in the future, the child is more likely to put on headphones when presented with a noisy environment. It is important to understand several key guidelines when delivering reinforcement.  
One of these guidelines is immediacy. It is vital that reinforcement is delivered promptly following the occurrence of a desired behavior. Another key guideline when delivering reinforcement is personal preference. One learner’s reinforcers may not work for another. Since reinforcers are not universally effective, it is important for us to understand our learners and tailor to their unique likes and interests.
Another crucial guideline is consistency when delivering reinforcement. When initially trying to establish a behavior, it is important that reinforcement is delivered each and every time that it occurs. When you are teaching a child new skills, it is important to provide lots of praise and reinforcement when they do it on their own. Once a child has mastered a skill you don’t have to give reinforcement each time as the behavior itself becomes its own reinforcer. Reinforcement is not the same as bribery. The use of reinforcement to help teach skills that allow for more independence is empowering the child and improving their quality of life.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Penny Ligon, BCBA

Autism Spectrum Disorder, otherwise known as ASD, is NOT
  • caused by bad parenting 
  • a mental illness 
  • a result of bad parenting 
  • an unruly individual who chooses to misbehave not a mental illness 
  • caused by psychological factors 
  • caused by bad parenting
  •  unruly individuals who choose to misbehave
  • caused by psychological in a developing brain.

ASD is a complex life-long developmental disability that typically shows during the first three years of a person’s life, and lasts throughout their lifetime. 

Autism can be defined by 3 central areas of impairment: 
  • social interaction
  • language and communication
  • restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior
ASD characteristics can vary greatly from person to person depending on the severity of the D/O. These characteristics affect one’s cognition (how someone thinks) and learning. FULL SCREEN Learning is defined as the process of acquiring a skill or knowledge. Cognition is the processes involved in gaining skills or knowledge and may include thinking, remembering, and problem solving.
ASD IS a complex life-long developmental disability that typically shows during the first three years of a person’s life, and lasts throughout their lifetime. ASD is a “spectrum disorder” meaning that although symptoms are shared, each individual is affected in different ways. Symptoms can occur in any combination and can range from mild to severe. The individual could display uneven or scattered skill development, display strengths that include being able to learn in detail and remember information for long periods of time, complete complex mental calculations, and could be strong visual and auditory learners.

In short, ASD impacts normal brain development, education/occupation/community performance in an adverse manner (negatively affects day-to-day life), and impacts each individual differently and to various degrees. ASD typically causes difficulty in: expressive and receptive communication, social interaction, and leisure, recreational and play activities. In short the prevalence of ASD affects all racial, ethnic, and socio-economic groups. Family income, lifestyle, and educational levels do not affect the chance of ASDs occurrence. Symptoms of autism can range from mild to moderate to severe.

Understanding ASD and its characteristics, causes, implications, and best practices will better prepare all that work closely with the individuals with ASD to help provide supports that are uniquely suited for those with ASD that can in turn ensure a better quality of life. 

Proactive Strategies

Amanda Hemann, BCBA

I am here to talk about a few proactive strategies that can benefit you and your child. I want to focus on five proactive strategies: schedules, offering choices, following through with demands, providing alternative options, and reinforcement.


Children with Autism thrive on predictability, hey we all do! Creating a schedule for your child is beneficial for children to understand 1. What is happening next 2. Expectations on what activity/behavior they need to do. Schedule can promote smoother transitions to the next activity. (The schedule indicates it’s time to go to grandma’s- the learner knows I have to leave my house to get in car).

Offering Choices

Offering choices can decrease the probability of challenging behavior like tantrums. This could look different depending on what level of support your child needs. For example, if your child struggles with cleaning up, use choice to your advantage. Do you want to clean up your books or blocks? Have child clean up one and you can help with other

Follow through with Demands

Following through with demands is essential for young learners and sets expectations. Which brings me to my next point. If the answer is no, provide an alternative option. This can promote and develop frustration tolerance. For example, if your child wants to go outside and the option is unavailable, follow through with your “no” but provide an alternative option. Remember we can’t go outside right now. But we can play with cars or we can sing songs.

Last but not least, is reinforcement, you can use a first then statement to promote compliance. You can also take reinforcement to the next level by saving a really powerful reinforcement for something the child is in the process of learning. An example could be potty training. Save their most favorite piece of candy only if they void in the toilet.

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