There are many services we need to access in the community. Going to the doctor when ill, getting our teeth cleaned by a dentist, and getting our haircut, just to name a few. Participating in these activities may be problematic for people with an autism diagnosis due to the many skills and uncertainties involved. Just going to the doctor requires attending to an unfamiliar person in a different environment where they need to follow directions and cooperate with the use of instruments they do not typically encounter on a daily basis.
ABA can help!
Regardless of whether your child is of early intervention age or adult age, these skills can be taught using Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Using specific teaching and generalization strategies developed from ABA principles, your child can be successful in the community.
- First, we plan. Using a generalization strategy called programming common stimuli we include materials, tools, and language commonly used in the community into our teaching. We figure out exactly what is expected of your child. What directions will they have to follow? What language will they hear and need to correctly respond to? It may be sitting still while getting their haircut and following directions from a hairdresser or barber. Next we gather materials commonly used in the community setting. This way we can teach appropriate responding when these items are used. This may be a stethoscope and otoscope for doctor practice, and scissors, comb, and mirror for a hairdresser.
- A written plan or program can teach your child step by step what to expect and how to respond correctly. It typically helps to start slow and focus on small steps toward the ultimate goal. When practicing for a doctor visit, the first goal may be to sit still while the instructor manipulates tools near the child. Then the next goal may be to hold the stethoscope near the child, followed by touching the stethoscope to his back to listen to his lungs.
- We provide multiple opportunities to practice the skill, and collect data to ensure our teaching is effective and to make changes when necessary. Practice opportunities are continued and systematically increased until they mirror the community experience.
- A motivational system can be used to reward appropriate behavior during teaching, then brought to the community to help aid in the
generalization process. This generalization strategy is called mediating generalization. The idea is that the system services as a signal to engage in the same appropriate behavior that was taught in the generalization setting. It is also important that you as the caregiver practice implementing the system so that you are proficient in the community.
- Depending on the skill you are teaching, you and a member of the ABA team may want to gauge how the child does in the community throughout the teaching process to make sure you are seeing generalization of skills from the teaching setting to the actual setting. This should only be done if safe, and may not be possible for skills such as cooperating during a doctor or dentist appointment. Alternatively, the ABA therapist may be able to attend an appointment to aid in the generalization process after the community skills are mastered in the teaching setting.
Keep in mind, community skill instruction should always be individualized for your child, but should include key components: specific step by step teaching strategies, incorporating generalization strategies during teaching to promote the likelihood your child will display the skills they learned in the community, and teaching the skills in the community if needed to obtain success. Community skills can be taught to anyone of any age, early intervention through adulthood. One’s history with the activity plays a role in the outlining of the steps used in teaching and are modified along the training process until mastery is achieved. If you are interested in having an ABA team teach community skills to your child, contact us here!