Wednesday, 25 May 2011

ABA Therapy within the Classroom Environment

At MM our primary instructional philosophy is Applied Behaviour Analysis.

All  therapist/teacher have been trained in the successful application of ABA for visual and hands-on learners. We possess a thorough understanding of special education in addition to an in depth understanding the characteristics of Autism and other DDs.

We have done lots research, and found that there is tons of evidence to support the application of principles of ABA within the classroom environment; children as young as 2.5 can, and often should, begin some kind of ABA program as soon as possible.  We believe in using motivation and reinforcement successfully to demonstrate an increase in on-task behaviour as early as pre-school.Our staff are trained in our ABA teaching philosophies, and are skilled at using positive reinforcement to motivate learning. Understanding the function of each behaviour allows our teachers to maximum possible learning, while minimizing behaviours which distract and/or deter learning.

Within the classroom setting, children learn in a variety of instructional methods including through 1:1 Discrete Trial Training (i.e. what is typically thought of at the table work), group instruction, sing-a-longs, fill in the blanks, interactive games, and other activities which correspond to various domains including in the ABA curriculum. Our classroom programs are a great way to enhance existing ABA therapy, while generalizing and maintaining skills; our classrooms may also be a suitable option for a child currently enrolled just beginning or just finishing an ABA program , and whose next goal is full or partial integration. Maintaining and generalizing skills is an essential part of a successful intervention for children with Autism; it has to be actively planned for...train & hope just won't cut it.

At Magnificent Minds, ABA manifests in behavioural policies, where evidence-based tactics like response-cost, token systems and level systems (see stop light) are used to provide visual indicators of behaviour change, while providing visual reminders of expectation. Using most to least prompting is one way to ensure maximum learner confidence on a daily basis.

On a tour through out facility, you will notice systematically placed visual aides to support successful and independent transitions; some of these include PECS which represent hall way rules. Images are meant as a way to systematically fade 1:1 support, increase independence and overall readiness for a larger school environment.

Using the Ministry mandated curriculum, in combination with the ABLLS-R ABA Curriculum, it is easy to track progress within our students, monitor success and account for behaviour change.

Thoughts? Let me know!

Save the Date: Sunday June 26th

Save the Date: Sunday June 26th, 2011!

Toronto's Walk Now for Autism Speaks Event.

We will be hosting a table at the resource fair (8am-12pm), and walking in the annual walk!

Join us with your family, purchase a Magnificent Minds Team T-shirt, and show your support for the Autism/PDD community.

Sponsor us online, donate the day of the walk, or join us in person on the day to show your support!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Why choose MM for School Age learning?

Staff that "GETS IT"
At MM our staff believe that children thrive when individualization and creativity work together. Our teachers and therapists are skilled at eliciting student confidence, while capitalizing on student's personal interests, as a motivational factor in achievement. We work hard to pair students with other class mates with whom social development is possible; by pairing like-minded children, we increase their overall ability to establish common ground.

With a sophisticated system for checks and balances, we ensure that teachers are constantly working to achieve professional development, and always striving to surpass your needs.
Individualized Curriculum Application
In our school-age class, you can expect to see the "standard" Ministry mandated curriculum goals, kicked up a notch with a bit of behavioural know-how and a lot of flexibility to adapt to our learners. With choice as a central component of the school-age program, our learners develop academic, life and social skills to carry forward into larger school settings.

The Family Component
At MM we spend a lot of time getting to know our students; and we spend the rest of our time getting to know the parents. By understanding each family, we are able to provide a high standard of service for all of our families. We understand that it takes an entire family to raise a child; we support sibling integration in social skill programs and summer camp! We support at home play dates between siblings, and foster development of relationships and social skills.

We work with our families to create consistency across all learning environments, and give parents the tools to make the post out of every learning opportunity, be it speech pathology, occupational therapy, play skill building or extra curricular activity.

The "Family Involvement Starts Here" (FISH) program is an integral part of facilitating discussion between parents and teachers; though the kitsch-ey name itself was borrowed from an online educational website, the idea of a communication journal that travels with the student is something that has stood the test of time. All parents want to know what their child achieved at school that day. The FISH book allows teachers and one to one therapists to communicate anecdotes, moods, and/or other relevant information to parents and/or caregivers. School-age students take special care in bringing the FISH books back and forth from home to school; often as a first step towards independence, students delight in the idea of responsibility.

Understanding Anxiety, ADD and Autism

Understanding the variables that impact learning, means understanding each diagnosis for its ability to enhance the learning process. With a behavioural perspective, we support the development of functional coping strategies, which our students carry-forward for the rest of their lives. With a solid understanding of each child in his or her variables, we are skilled at eliciting academic success and most importantly, are skilled at increasing confidence and decreasing frustration.

A Hands-On Learning Environment
All activities and assignments are designed with our children's interests in mind. We take fixation, and turn it into functional learning learning; we take obsession, and turn it into an opportunity for growth and development. 

We plan activities with all 5 senses in mind, keeping in mind that many of our students are visual learners. By scheduling daily academic rotations, based on monthly units, all of our learners get the 1:1 support needed for academic tasks. Using visual schedules, interactive learning (fill in the blanks and intraverbals) we teach lessons using errorless learning; skills targeting during group learning include answering as a group, sharing physical space, and following group learning conventions (like raising your hand to speak and sitting "criss cross apple sauce").

We believe that every child has to potential to flourish when he or she is met at his or her own level. We believe that children with additional needs will thrive, when all of the variables are accounted for and we are looking forward to supporting your journey towards meaningful change!

As always all images are courtesy of

Friday, 6 May 2011

Tackling Eating Issues in our Kids

Eating issues are a concern of the western world! Many parts, including the East, find food allergies and intolerances to be a non-issue. In fact, on a semi-recent trip to the Middle East, I spoke with an Israeli mother who was shocked to hear that children could be allergic to something as natural as a peanut. With the increased prevalence of allergies in our kids, I can't help but wonder, "what gives?" Are we super-sensitive in "this part" of the world, or is something going on environmentally which makes us more at risk!? As someone with plenty of allergies, this is a subject matter which holds special interest for me.

Moving beyond allergies, there seems also to be a prevalence in the number of children with textural intolerance. It is certainly more common to encounter this challenge with children on the Autism spectrum, but given that the spectrum itself is so wide, there is potential for many individuals to possess textural intolerance (whether or not they are recognized as on the spectrum). Just the other day, I sat in a "typical classroom" at snack time and watched a little guy, let's call him "Owen", struggle with the texture of the banana before him. He clearly liked the taste, but could not figure out a way to get into his mouth in a way that was not aversive to him. Even with a toothpick, he struggled to manipulate to banana into his hungry little mouth.

Part of a successful and holistic program, ought to include some aspect of programming which is exclusively tailored to developing healthy eating habits. For some, this may mean overcoming textural intolerance, while for others, it will be a battle to overcome the will (i.e. the will not to eat vegetables, cheese, fruit, or what have you). It is important to view eating as a behaviour; obviously, the consequence which follows the act of eating has a direct relationship with whether the behaviour (that is, eating) is likely or unlikely to occur again with the particular item (be it pasta, pizza, salad, or egg salad). Making eating a reinforcing experience is just one way you can increase your child's chances of developing healthy eating habits,

Think of it this way.... I don't want to eat vegetables, so every time I eat vegetable I will start to gag. When I gag, my teacher or parents react. If my teacher or parents react to the gagging by taking the food away and saying "Oh your poor kid, you hate your lunch" and offering me something much more palatable I am MUCH more likely to use this method of escape again. If on the other hand, the gag is ignored and the child continues to go on eating (at which point he or she is praised tremendously for his or her healthy appetite) the behaviour of eating is much more likely to happen again and the behaviour of gaging is much less likely to happen again. When you render a behaviour ineffective at achieving its purposes, it slowly fades away without the need for serious or prolonged intervention.

Many daycare and childcare centers serve a hot lunch family-style; family-style is when everyone sits around the tables together, and we all take turns scooping, pouring and distributing. Eating family-style helps children learn how to develop healthy and balanced eating habits. With one choice for lunch, children learn to expand food repertoire beyond the traditional foods made within their home-environment. This kind of exposure is especially important for children on the spectrum, for whom rigidity and the need for sameness may be an ongoing struggle to overcome.

In a post that addresses allergies, I cannot help but address the issue of gluten-intolerance in children with Autism. It should be made explicitly clear, there is no scientific evidence to support the removal of gluten and/or casein from the diet of individuals with Autism, as a course of treatment for the symptoms of Autism.

BUT....As children prone to allergies, all children on the spectrum should certainly be tested for food and environmental allergies;but really, this is a procedure all children (special needs or otherwise) should undergo periodically. There is an increased trend in gluten-intolerance in the population at large; if you suspect your Autistic child may be gluten-intolerant, do not rule it out just because there is no science to support that removing gluten "cures" Autism or its symptoms. On a separate note, be weary of anything that claims to "cure" a neurological impairment. Also be aware that underlying food intolerance may cause an array of behaviours (including self-stimulatory behaviours and/or tantrums).

Questions or comments?

*images courtesy of free digital