Moving Beyond Black and White Thinking and Learning to Live in the Gray Area:

Using Floortime as ABA Tactic

Once a child is becomes more competent in his or her ability to think multi-causally, the next focus of higher level social-emotional thinking is the capacity to understand the gray areas of life. Adolescents and young adults with Aspergers or HFA are especially prone to hitting an emotional rut when speaking in terms of “never” and “always”—hallmark terms associated with “black and white” thinking.

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“He never calls on me during class” or “She always gets to play the game first” are common phrases that parents or peers hear when the speaker’s ability to think and feel in more varied degrees is constricted. Not only is this harder to negotiate socially for the partner, but it’s not a very fun state for the black and white thinker either. Such polarized patterns of thinking can lead to social isolation brought on by the extremity of the speaker’s emotional response.

Getting unstuck can be supported through Floortime, where the parent or the therapist can spotlight the child or adolescent’s black and white ideation.

For example, Jason is a young teen with Aspergers who states that he never gets to play his media after school. Jason becomes agitated when discussing this with his mother and his therapist, flooded by feelings of anger and sadness that he has difficulty modulating.

The role of Floortime therapist or supported parent in this dynamic might be to:

Understanding Crisis Behavior in People with Aspergers

Some individuals with Aspergers or HFA may engage in crisis behavior that interferes with their learning, puts themselves or others at risk, prevents them from participating in various activities, or impedes the development of relationships. Crisis behavior can range in severity from low productivity to meltdowns that involve aggression, self-injury, or property destruction. Many individuals unfamiliar with Aspergers may believe these types of behaviors are intentional and malicious. However, it has become well known that problem behaviors often serve a function for the individual engaging in the behaviors. Additionally, deficits in the areas characterized by Aspergers may impact behavior.

Stressed teen girl screaming, shouting

Characteristics associated with Aspergers and how it may lead to crisis behavior:

Cognition

Asperger’s Syndrome is a neurological disorder that impacts the way that individuals think, feel, and react. Individuals with Aspergers are believed to react “emotionally” rather than “logically” during stressful situations and are unable to maintain self-control.

Generalization

Some individuals with Aspergers or HFA may have difficulty applying information and skills across settings, individuals, materials, and situations. Even though socially appropriate alternative strategies have been learned, the individual may be unable to “recall” the strategies while stressed.

How to Deal with Sensory Processing Difficulties in School

Many children with sensory processing disorder or related issues can have difficulties in the school setting. Problems can arise anywhere: in the classroom, cafeteria, gymnasium, hallway, playground, and even the bus. Some of these issues can be as subtle as not eating lunch, or as difficult as destroying a classroom.

Knowing what causes these problems and how to prevent them is important for both the school and the child. This is where parents can be the best advocate for their child with Aspergers or HFA and sensory issues.

Preparing a child for school is important, but it is equally important to prepare the school for the child.

Sharing their sensory concerns with the teachers, para-professionals, principals, and others is imperative to limiting sensory difficulties in the classroom.

A typical plan should include setting up a sensory-friendly classroom with a place for the student to “get away” if necessary, providing sensory activities throughout the day to help prevent problems that may arise, catering to sensory diets, and preparing the student for changes or surprises that may come up.

A school occupational therapist can help make all of this easier, if they get involved. The occupational therapist can help teachers discover problem areas and learning differences, while providing suggestions to improve success.  Some ideas they may implement include setting up lunch bunches to relieve lunchtime stresses, providing sensory activities to use throughout the day that support the student’s ongoing needs, or modifying instruction for classroom success.

Together, the parents, teachers, and occupational therapists can develop a program that is individualized for the student with sensory issues and make this year both successful and rewarding.

For more information on sensory friendly classrooms and teacher resources, go to Future Horizons Inc. There are multiple books and other resources to help the teacher prepare for these students.

by Dr. Gayla A. Aguilar, OTR, OTD

Punishment in ABA for Individuals with ASD

While the word “punish” often conjures up bad thoughts for parents and professionals, punishment and reinforcement are key when looking at behavior change through ABA. Punishment in ABA decreases the chances that a particular behavior will occur again, as opposed to reinforcement which increases the likelihood of behavior.

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Let’s look at the behavior analytic definitions of punishment specifically:

Positive Punisher

  • Positive punishers may occur naturally in one’s environment. A child pets a strange dog and gets bit on the finger causing pain. After this occurs, the child does not pet strange dogs. That is considered a positive punisher because the bite/pain (presented stimulus) decreased petting strange dogs (outcome).
  • A parent can use positive punishment as well: siblings are fighting; mom yells “stop it right now!” and the kid’s reaction is to end the fighting. Mom provides the stimulus of yelling, which decreases future occurrence of fighting.

Negative Punisher

  • A negative punisher would be when the removal of a toy ends the fighting between two children. This removal decreases chance of it happening in future.
  • “Time out” is also considered a negative punishment. When used correctly, it removes all reinforcement from the immediate environment resulting in a decrease in future occurrence of the punished behavior.