By Angie Robbins, MA, BCBA
These unprecedented times during COVID-19 can be scary and uncertain for many, but working with your child at home doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips and tricks to help you, and your child, get through this to prevent regression and to continue your child’s growth while at home.
Set a schedule and stick to it:
Everyone’s schedules are different right now, and changes are already challenging for many children with autism, but setting a schedule that works for your family is a perfect start. Creating a routine that everyone can stick to can help create consistency, for you and your family, as well as bring a sense of reassurance. Setting a schedule that you do every day in place of your child going to school or an ABA center will help keep them on track for when they are able to go back. You can plan out daily schedules, or weekly schedules, but most importantly, keep it simple and consistent for familiarity and regularity.
Have your child ask for everything:
Communication is one the most important skills we work on at Cornerstone. The necessary and crucial ability to ask for wants and needs is fundamental for all humans. In the world of ABA, we call this mand training, and it can easily be done at home during all times of day! Throughout the typical therapy day at the center, therapists require children to ask for everything, whether that be through eye contact, pointing, one word requests, American Sign Language (ASL), Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) (check out our webinar here), or even full sentences. Each child is different, and the same goes for their mode of communication. However your child communicates, practice it every single day, with every item they are wanting. This may be having them ask for a snack, Legos, the bathroom, your attention, or even expressing their feelings such as upset or frustrated. Modeling the language you want your child to use and then teaching, or prompting, them to do it is a perfect—and necessary—skill to work on while at home.
Follow your child’s motivation and make learning fun:
Follow your child’s interests and motivation in what they want to play with, and then play together. In therapy, based on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) principles, we call this pairing—where the child is learning that they can ask you for things they love and that you will provide them to him or her. Over time, they then associate you with their favorite things, helping to build better rapport. Building rapport and a great foundation with your child helps learning occur naturally and in a more relaxed and fun state. Allow them to choose something they are interested in, and use that as a learning opportunity. Let your child lead activities! This helps to create an environment where the child can increase their communication, learning opportunities naturally occur, and learning is engaging! Be creative, get excited and have fun!
Reinforce and praise constantly:
Praising children when they are displaying appropriate behavior is crucial for not only their self-esteem but also the likelihood of them doing that appropriate behavior again. We call this reinforcement. Reinforcement can come in all sorts of forms, but most importantly it should be something that the child enjoys and is only given after a desired behavior occurs: for example, their favorite toy after they get dressed, a snack that they love after cleaning up all of their toys, hugs and tickles when they ask for them, or when they have done something you asked right away, etc. Reinforcement directly helps the child understand that they should do that behavior again because the results are enjoyable for them. Reinforce and praise your child when they communicate, when they display appropriate behavior, when they are working hard on something new, even when they are appropriately playing and eating. This helps these behaviors occur again in the future and helps continue your child’s growth.
Free play and quiet time are also important:
Although we want our children to continue their learning and sustain the skills they already have, free play and quiet time are just as important. As you build a schedule that works for you and work on skills that are available within your home, don’t forget to build in down times and times to relax. Whether that is together as a family, or independently by themselves, free and quiet times are always great. Create a cozy corner where kids can look and engage in something free of directions. Let them run around in the backyard—or in the living room. Let them be loud and get their wiggles out for a moment. Let them be kids! After all, recess and play time still occur in schools and at centers, too. These moments have just as much value as learning time, in moderation of course.
The best skills to work on from home are skills that naturally occur in your everyday life. Here are some examples of daily routines and daily living skills that can not only help you stay on track, but also create opportunities for your child to work on and maintain their skills while building more independence.
• Morning Routine
o Make bed, get dressed, make breakfast together, eat breakfast, brush teeth, comb/brush hair, etc.
• Play Time Together
o Play with your child! Do whatever they want to do: Legos, living room fort, pots and pans drum set, piggy back rides, etc. Have fun and play together.
• Lunch Routine
o Make lunch together, eat lunch at the table, throw trash away, put dishes in sink, wash dishes, dry dishes, put items away, etc.
• Natural Environment Skills
o Laundry – Sorting by colors, fill washer, measure soap and pour it in, push buttons, move clothes to dryer, throw away lint, match socks, sort by clothing, fold clothes/towels, put items away, etc.
o Dishes – find spoons/forks, sort utensils, count and stack cups, match plates, tact (identify) kitchenware, match by color, match by type, etc.
You can find additional self-care and daily living skills to work on from the VB-MAPP Supplement Self Care Checklist. This is an assessment we use often here at Cornerstone, and it’s a great guide to appropriate activities your child can work on at home in a systematic order. Start small, and work up!
No one knows your child better than you do, and no child is more comfortable than in their own home. What a perfect opportunity to work on naturally occurring skills during this time.
Be safe, have fun, and enjoy your time with your loved ones!
March 25, 2020, Angie Robbins, MA, BCBA