Behavioral Therapy Activities For Autism

Behavior therapy activities for autism

The autism spectrum represents a wide range of symptoms and traits, and every child on the spectrum is unique, with their own strengths and abilities, and sometimes needs and challenges.

It's important to identify your child's unique abilities and specific challenges, and work with your therapy team to target treatments that address the “symptoms” not the “self.” Whether your child struggles with regulation, problematic behaviors, motor skills, anxiety, or has more profound behavioral challenges resulting from the inability to communicate, you'll want a comprehensive care plan unique to them.

What Is The Goal Of Behavioral Therapy Activities For Autism?

Fundamental to all behavioral therapy activities is focusing on the relationship between a behavior and the environment. The overall goal is to increase socially significant behaviors while decreasing behaviors that are harmful or impede upon learning, independence, and social interactions.

Behavioral therapy should always be individualized to meet each client's needs and should only use positive reinforcement as an intervention for teaching. This means that when a child demonstrates a positive behavior, it is rewarded with a preferred item or activity. This encourages behavior change over time.

Many of the activities used in behavioral therapy are particularly helpful when it comes to managing behavioral challenges in the home. Most providers strongly encourage parent training, coaching and consultation to ensure that parents can provide the consistency necessary to foster positive change.

How Parent Involvement Can Support Positive Therapeutic Outcomes

Studies show that when parents are involved in the therapy process, outcomes improve. With sufficient training, parents can learn strategies to help their child build social and communication skills, function more independently at home, and reduce anxiety and frustration.

Parents can build on skills learned in therapy and help generalize those skills across the child's day-to-day life. Another benefit? Parents can foster the skills learned in therapy but do it in a way that's more natural and fun.

At Home Behavior Therapy Techniques For Autism Spectrum Disorder

How can parents get involved? By learning many of the same techniques commonly used to develop skills and regulate specific behaviors in behavioral therapy.

1. Positive reinforcement

Any time your child demonstrates new skills or positive behaviors, provide lots of praise and love. Instead of looking for things your child is doing wrong, actively notice what they're doing right. For example, if your child is waiting calmly in the check-out line, say “I love how calm you are keeping your body right now. It's not always easy to wait.” And don't forget toys and treats as other tools that can encourage your child to improve skills or reward their positive behaviors.

2. Conversation and cognition

Work on language skills, social engagement and attention by asking your child questions while playing and doing daily tasks. For example, ask them to name the color of the fruit they are eating, or what is the color playdough they're rolling.

3. Visual schedules and task charts

Particularly for children who have trouble with transitions or anxiety around change, use a visual schedule at home to show them what's happening and when. Build consistency with bedtime routines by creating and following a schedule. If getting ready for school is a challenge every morning, consider having a chart that shows the steps that need to happen in order to be ready to go to school. And make sure to use positive reinforcement along the way!

4. Modeling

One of the best ways to show a child how to do something is to model it. Parents do this every day, whether it's hanging up your coat when you walk into the house or rinsing off your dish before you put it in the dishwasher. Often therapists will use a hand-over-hand technique with a child to “walk through” and model the task.

5. Prompting

Prompts are a good way to help your child develop a new skill or behavior. Prompts can be verbal or gestural, like reminding them to put toothpaste on their toothbrush first, before starting to brush. They can also be physical or modeled, like using hand-over-hand to show them how to turn on the vacuum and move it around.

  • Remember, while parents play a critical role in the therapeutic process, it doesn't all fall on you.

    My best advice is to be consistent, have compassion for yourself and your child, and allow the process to unfold.

    Michelle Zube, BCBA and HYM Behavioral Therapy Lead.
Do children need special toys for behavioral therapy?

Do Children Need Special Toys For Behavioral Therapy?

Children don't need special toys for behavioral therapy activities, and you don't have to spend a lot of money on expensive sensory toys. There are many websites selling "therapy toys," that charge more than you should have to pay for some pretty basic items. Unless your child requires adaptive toys due to a physical impairment, they can learn and have plenty of fun by manipulating everyday items and playing with the same toys as peers.

Parents can also build techniques into playtime, but you don't necessarily need to have special toys.

Children can use toys that can be bought anywhere for behavioral therapy activities - like puzzles, blocks, dolls, toy cars, toy trains, or even Mr. Potato Head.™

Fill a plastic bin with dried beans and let your kid sink their hands and arms into the beans, or smear shaving cream on a mirror.

What are good toys for behavioral therapy activities?

What Are Good Toys For Behavioral Therapy Activities?

The most important thing about toys for therapy is to make sure they capitalize on your child's particular interests.

Examples Of Using Toys In Behavioral Therapy

  • If your child loves trains, ask them to name the car colors. Talk about where trains go and what things people put on trains.
  • If your child likes dolls, have them choose an outfit by color. Talk about what a doll does when meeting someone new – smiling, saying hello, shaking hands, etc.
  • Make simple games out of sorting toys by color or shape, lace beads, complete puzzles, have fun together creating art with your child.
  • Get physical with movement games like freeze dance or hokey pokey.

Don't Stress

By exploring behavioral therapy activities and techniques at home, you can foster skill building, better manage problematic or challenging behaviors, and spend more time appreciating your child.

Written by Dr. Cari Whitlock

Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Neuropsychologist at Healthy Young Minds

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