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What’s in your IEP? (Individual Education Plan)

Most children with a diagnosis of any kind are provided an
Individualized Education Plan or IEP to help with school.

So what exactly is an IEP?
How do you read it?
And what input can you provide as a parent?

To start, an IEP is a formal education plan written by school professionals that outline how your child will receive support during their school day.

There are 6 major sections included: 

1. Present Levels: The child’s current skill levels in multiple areas are explained in this section. This is also where assessment data is reviewed.
These assessments can get very technical and are mainly for other professionals to read. The most important information to understand is the age equivalences and where the child is compared to the “average” score. This is where “below average”, “average”, or “above average” is determined. 

2. Parent/Student Input: Parental insights are recorded in this section. It is important to review this section carefully before it becomes an official document. Parents must make sure to communicate any concerns or requirements they wish to be considered. This may include behavior tendencies, coping skills or preferred activities!

3. Annual Goals: Here, the goals for each professional working with the child are listed. Teachers, psychologists, speech, OT, ABA, and other therapists should all be included.

Typically there are a couple of goals from each person working with the child. These goals must be specific and feasible to achieve throughout the year. 

A good goal will have a measurable skill to be learned within a specified time. Our good example gives us very specific criteria for determining a mastered task.

A bad goal will have a broad skill with no mention of when the goal should be achieved. Our bad example is too broad and does not provide an outline for the necessary consistency with the skill of addition.

4. Accommodations and Modifications: In this section, all the in-classroom tools the child needs should be listed. These cannot get too detailed, but you do want to make sure each one is listed. When the team trains the next classroom, they can detail the accommodations for them outside of the IEP.

5. State and District Assessments: Most children will not need to participate in state testing. For those who are eligible, necessary accommodations should be listed here.

6. Service Delivery Statement: In this section, each person who works with the child will indicate how many minutes in a set time period they will provide services. Many times speech and OT services have limited time slots and recommend 30-60 minutes per week. 

Most importantly, we always recommend having the IEP reviewed by a professional on the child’s team before signing. It is not required to sign the IEP on the spot.

Colorado ABA Therapy is always available to help with these revisions! Take the necessary time to review it and get feedback from other professionals before making it a legal document. 

We recommend reaching out to your BCBA if you have any questions or concerns about your current or future IEP. 

The ABC’s of Behavior

Why?

This is the number one question parents ask in the field of ABA.

Why is she acting this way? 

Why is he hitting his friends? 

Why won’t he stop screaming?

All behavior follows a predictable pattern when using the right roadmap. Our roadmap in ABA is written using the acronym ABC: 

Identifying the ABCs in our everyday lives:

1. Antecedent

These are the triggers that cause behaviors. Parents can usually pick out this part of the roadmap pretty easily: 

Every time my child is asked to share he…
Every time I tell her to clean her room she…

More often than not, antecedents can be observed right before the behavior occurs. Understanding this section of the ABCs will help us better identify when behaviors happen.

2. Behavior

This may be the easiest one to identify. This is the stand out action and main focus of what we want to influence in the child. Behaviors include crying, screaming, punching, and fidgeting. It is also important to identify appropriate behaviors that we wish to encourage. This can include following directions, sharing, kind words, and manners.

3. Consequences

Consequences can take a little bit of self-awareness to recognize. This happens directly after the behavior. When a child is screaming, crying, or hitting, what is our natural response? How we react to behaviors can show us the consequences we impose.

Consequences can also tell us what the child wants from engaging in the behavior. This could be attention from you, access to an item, escape from an activity or person, or simply because it feels good.

When looking at this roadmap, you may be surprised at what you find!

Let’s look at a few examples!

In this scenario, Julia is alone and wants her mother’s attention. Since Julia does not have her mother’s attention, she decides to implement a behavior (throwing her toy) as a response to her lonely play time. Julia’s mother then comes over to play with her. Julia now has her mother’s attention and will no longer throw the toy.

But here’s the catch!

We know that consequences will either encourage or discourage certain behaviors in the future. In this example, the consequence (Julia’s mother coming over to play) encouraged the behavior (Julia throwing the toy) to occur again!

Next time Julia wants attention, she will be more likely to throw a toy again in order to receive it, since this method has worked for her in the past.

So, what do we do?

In general terms, we prompt! Every case is unique and will have their own intricacies pertaining to behavior severity and the child’s skill level. But with all else being neutral, we can prompt Julia to appropriately ask her mother to play with her. Once Julia asks appropriately, her mother can honor her request by playing with her.

Our new ABC chart will add the prompt component, and look like this:

By prompting this behavior, we are reinforcing appropriate requests for play rather than the throwing of a toy. This will increase the likelihood of appropriate behavior in the future!

Let’s look at another example!

In this instance we see the antecedent, behavior, and consequence working together in a positive way! Mike is asked to do his homework and his appropriate response is to complete it. The consequence for his behavior is access to video games for 45 minutes.

Assuming Mike loves video games, we can infer that the consequence (45 minutes of video games) will encourage the behavior (completing his homework) in the future!

In summary, understanding behaviors will help us identify the antecedents (triggers) and consequences (how we responded) in our everyday actions. We encourage you to take notes on the ABCs of behavior for your child!

Once you find the patterns, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Can I prepare my child for triggers that are about to happen?
  • Can I prevent/change the triggers in any way to reduce behaviors?
  • Can I help my child get what they want in another way? 
  • How are my own behaviors contributing to my child’s behaviors?

6 Steps for Teaching Imitation

Imitation is such an important skill for our learners, especially young learners. 

Most people, without realizing it, learn the majority of their skills simply through observation. As a child, your parents, siblings, and friends were models for learning. Your mom or dad may have cooked, cleaned, or done other activities around the house. This improved your understanding of the appropriate way to live in a home. You watched how other kids played on the playground and were able to pick up on what you should do to join in. Through imitation you understood the rules, strategies, and how to play fairly without upsetting the other kids.

Learning Behaviors

For many of our children, learning by observation may not occur naturally. This is why building strong imitation skills is so important. 

It is impossible to teach every single skill a person could ever learn, but we can start by teaching “learning behaviors” such as imitating others. Learning behaviors help our kids acquire skills on their own. You’ve heard the old saying “give someone a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach someone to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.” Rather than giving our kids a fish (teaching a specific skill), we want to teach them to fish on their own (provide learning behaviors). By practicing simple imitations, we can generalize this learning behavior to more easily learn many complex and difficult skills.

But how do we go about teaching imitation?

Here are a 6 simple steps that we use to get started:

1. Identify a reinforcer:

In order to motivate your kid to learn imitation, we must control access to a preferred item or food. This can be as simple as a pretzel, their favorite toy car, or even some tickles! Keep this item handy during this exercise. Because preferred items may change, it is important that the item is currently reinforcing to your kiddo!

If you are having a difficult time finding a reinforcing object for your kiddo, it is sometimes helpful to place them in an array like this.

Providing options gives the child the opportunity to choose for themselves. This is one of many preference assessment strategies that can be used.

2. Gain attention:

This one may be tricky, but definitely important.

In order for the next step to be effective, we must have the attention of your child. The attention does not have to be for too long, but just long enough for the direction to be given.

If you are having trouble, the reinforcer may be shown to your kiddo in order to gain their attention!

3. Provide verbal instruction and model to imitate:

Once attention is gained, it’s show time!

First, give a verbal direction to your child to imitate. This may be something simple such as “do this!” or “copy me!” Then provide the model you wish for them to imitate.

Depending on the child’s skill level, the model may be something as simple as raising their hands, or a more complicated activity such as cleaning up.

Verbal models may also be given! First, give a direction to imitate speech such as “say this” or “say….” Then provide the verbal model. Similar to the physical imitation, this may vary from simple sounds (ex. “ahhhh” “mmmm”), single words (ex. “mom” “dad”), or sentences (ex. “I want food” “Give me toy”). Of course, this is depending on the ability of the child.

4. Provide physical prompt (with another person present if possible):

Because we are teaching this new skill, the child will more than likely not know how to respond to the direction. Not to worry! This is where prompting comes in.

Gently physically move the child’s hands to complete the imitation. Ideally, during this exercise we will have a third person available to initiate the prompting. This allows the parent or therapist teaching the imitation to continue modeling the desired action. The child will then be able to see the action to imitate at the same time as being prompted. This reduces the chance of confusion and helps create a better connection between the model and the prompt.

Prompting with Third Person
Prompting with One Person

5. Reward!

At this point, your child has just witnessed you make a pose or model and felt themselves prompted to do the same. So how do we tie it all together? Reward it!

Tickles can be a very easy to provide and enjoyable reinforcer!

Once the child has been prompted to properly imitate an action, give them access to the reinforcer that we identified in step one. Imitation is great and we want your child to think it’s great! So by pairing the action of imitating with their preferred item, we are teaching your child to associate feelings of joy with imitation. In order to make this connection, it is extremely important that the reward is presented IMMEDIATELY after your child performs the appropriate imitation behavior.

Some kids prefer a more gentle approach, and of course, a little bit of iPad time!

6. Do it again!

So you’ve completed steps 1 – 5 with your child. Awesome! Imitation has now been completely mastered and there is no need to ever do it again…

If only, right? Nobody learns by doing things just one time, and like anything else in life, these skills take practice.

But again, as we all know, things are not always as simple as articles on the internet make them out to be. What happens if we follow all of these steps and still see no improvement?

BCBAs at Colorado ABA Therapy are especially trained to handle the challenges of learning. They ensure the proper prompt fading procedure is incorporated. They look out for certain setbacks like prompt dependencies. They can even develop alternative prompt strategies to better accommodate your child’s learning. Every strategy is research based and data backed to support the growth and progress of your child.

Next time you are with your child, think about what you are teaching and how imitation plays an important role either directly, or as a foundation skill to your targets.  We encourage every parent to practice these skills with their child, but if ever there is a bump in the road, feel free to contact your BCBA for extra help and information!

Questions for your consideration:

1. Is my child able to learn through observation?
2. How can imitation skills be incorporated into my daily routine?
3. What are long term and broad benefits of my child learning imitation skills?

Interview with Ms. Gonzalez

In the beginning of Colorado ABA Therapy, there was one (well….. technically two).

With a desire to serve, Ms. Gonzalez has helped build Colorado ABA Therapy from the successes and frustrations that laced her experiences in the field.

She began by doing it all!

Providing consultations, program development, direct therapy, and even insurance billing. She credits her opportunities and growth to the guidance of Mr. Washington, Colorado ABA Therapy’s cofounder.

Now, as the Clinical Director, Ms. Gonzalez oversees the therapy services of over 100 families in the greater Denver area!

In this interview, Ms. Gonzalez gives us a little insight into her inspirations and outlook for Colorado ABA Therapy.

What inspired you to work with special needs children?

Ms. Gonzalez

I have always been involved with children in some way throughout my life. I started babysitting very young and then had various childcare positions in daycares and preschools. I didn’t work with the special needs population until I was well into my undergraduate program when I started as an ABA therapist in Hawaii. Shortly after, I went on a mission trip with a non-profit organization to Uganda. We were the first young women’s group to attend and our job was to visit the local schools that the organization sponsored.

After we visited the schools that were established, we went around to the villages to see some of the children the organization is helping who did not attend school. These were the children with special needs that the school did not have the resources to support. It was such a moving experience that I was determined to find a way to help these children. When I returned from Uganda, I started to see how much help our own children needed here and it was important to me to find the best way to do this.

How did your experience in ABA shape your vision for Colorado ABA Therapy?

Ms. Gonzalez

I think that my experience in ABA has had a big impact on what I see for Colorado ABA Therapy. I also think that my vision has changed over time as the company has developed with the guidance of our founder, Mr. Washington.

Initially, I had a combination of great and not so great clinical experiences in ABA. I have been able to take everything good that I learned and put it towards our vision. I also was able to do my best to eliminate and avoid parts of ABA that I felt I did not connect with. Now with Colorado ABA, I have been able to experience the creation of a higher level of services that we envision which has been something I have never experienced. When Mr. Washington and I set out to create this practice, it was very important to us that with whatever direction we went, it was always for the greater good for everybody we serviced which also includes our staff.

Our service to our clients and staff is the heart of what we do. Many people do not understand the inner workings of our day to day when our intention is to do the best for everybody.

What is something about you that others might be surprised to know?

Ms. Gonzalez

I have been an athlete my entire life. Starting in t-ball up to the boys rec league, then I was a cheerleader for many years, a Latin dancer, a competitive weightlifter, and a mud runner.

how do you reflect on the beginnings of this organization compared to where we are now?

Ms. Gonzalez

When Mr. Washington and I first started Colorado ABA Therapy, my “final goal” was to have a center. It really did not occur to me at that time that we would be here today with center-based services and in-home services and still be at the beginning of our journey.

I am amazed at where we have been, what we have accomplished, and how many more families are out there that we have the opportunity to help. It is much greater than myself and much greater than I initially even imagined. I am grateful and humbled everyday by the work that we are doing for others.

What is one thing you’d like every parent of special needs children to know?

Ms. Gonzalez

I want you to know that there are people out there who love you and your children as much as you do. I see and love every child that comes our way as if they were my own.

History of ASD

The word “Autism” first originated from a psychiatrist named Eugen Bleuler in 1911. He believed it to be an aspect of schizophrenia to describe how his patients withdrew from the outside world into themselves. 

It wasn’t until 1952 that the DSM-I and DSM-II included autism-related behaviors as a diagnosis classification of childhood schizophrenic reaction. 

Throughout the 1960s, Autism Spectrum Disorder started to get a lot of media attention not only in books and published articles, but also in television. At this time, several national organizations were formed such as the National Society for Autistic Children, now known as the Autism Society. 

In 1975, Congress passes the first education bill called Education for All Handicapped (EHA). This would later be called IDEA, or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. IDEA set the stage for the requirement of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and 504s for all disabilities. 

In the 1980s, the school system put in place adopted ASD as an official diagnosis criteria for IEPs.

In 1987, ABA finally comes into the scene after Dr. Lovaas’ work in ABA and increasing IQ scores for students on the spectrum is published. 

In 2009, estimated rates of ASD are at a staggering 1 out of 150 children.

Since the 80s, ABA has come great lengths in helping students with ASD become more successful in their environment. With continued and applied research, ABA continues to push the boundaries of our children’s potential with research based interventions for both behavior reduction and increasing functional skills. 

Even though Dr. Lovaas began the awareness of ABA and its treatment of ASD, there are still a large number of both individuals and medical providers who have never heard of ABA. In addition, there are many individuals who remain undiagnosed or diagnosed much later in life. Unfortunately, these individuals can miss vital early intervention years of treatment. 

What you can do to help?

1. Spread the word about ASD, talk about it openly with friends and family.

2. Support by attending events around ASD.

3. Join a support group to help others in their journey with ASD.

Pairing

So what is pairing, and why is it so important?

When we first start an ABA program with a new family, we often talk about pairing as our first objective. 

Pairing is the process we therapists go through in order to:

1. Build rapport with the child.

2. “Pair” ourselves with what the child already finds reinforcing.

This allows the therapist to become reinforcing by transferring the reinforcement of the activity or item onto ourselves. 

This is extremely important for several reasons:

1. We get to become the child’s new best friend!

2. We get to learn about all the things the child likes. Knowing what they like might allow us to use those item/activities as reinforcers for desired behaviors.

3. We start therapy in a positive place. The more reinforcing we become, the more progress we can make over the course of therapy. 

You may also see our therapists pairing not only when they first meet your child, but periodically throughout the course of therapy as well. Over time, the reinforcing value of items, activities, or people can change. A child’s preferences are continuously changing and evolving. We always do our best to remain a positive person for the child which will allow our relationship to maintain throughout all of the behavioral challenges we encounter. 

Here’s a short useful video about pairing!