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Episode Notes


On this episode of the All About Kids podcast Zach welcomes Sandi Lebenns-Mosher, who has spent 25 years learning about and developing Applied Behavior Analysis strategies. As supervisor of this popular program at AAK, she brings the kind of intuitive approach that only years of experience and thoughtful observation afford. Learn about what ABA is and how its data-driven methodology brings gentle – but remarkable – change to behaviors that might otherwise feel out of control. She explains the impacts various stimuli have on kids on the spectrum and a step-by-step model for proactively reinforcing positive behavior (rather than defensively rewarding a tantrum) at the supermarket. You’ll learn about why visual aids can make such a difference and how Sandi has taught parents to be “detectives,” helping their children navigate feelings of overstimulation, fear and anxiety one clue at a time.

Episode Notes

  1. Sandi shares how she came to ABA and what it is.
    1. 1:57 Sandi started as a teaching assistant 25 years ago and has trained in multiple settings, agencies and families over the years. 
    2. 2:53 When she started her career only about one in 1,000 kids were being diagnosed on the spectrum. Today it’s one in 54. 
    3. 3:27 She had no idea what she was getting into, but the job’s flexibility made a good fit personally for Sandi, who at the time was raising children of her own. 
    4. 3:36 Over the years she has developed her own methodology and approach.
    5. 4:13 Sandi defines ABA as a scientific means of assessing and processing behavior, using the principles of positive reinforcement, data collection, the application of skills for socialization and behavioral adjustments.
    6. 5:53 “With whatever skill I’m trying to teach, I embed myself into their day … I try to embed myself more as whatever they’re motivated by. You’re going to get better results that way.”
    7. 7:52 “Motivation is key. If you don’t have motivation you’re not going to get far … When you walk into the home you want that child running towards you.”
    8. 8:55 Movement and music is a huge part of Sandi’s approach because it’s so engaging.
  2. How Sandi teaches parents to be “detectives” decoding their own children.
    1. 10:40 The best outcomes come out of a synergistic approach in which parents are mirroring Sandi’s efforts to ferret out how their child most readily engages.
    2. 12:00 She teaches parents about alternative ways of communicating – recognizing how a child’s behavior might map to something they are trying to express. 
    3. 12:32 “There are four functions to behavior. Trying to help (parents) analyze behavior and knowing where it’s coming from helps us to know how to intervene properly.”
    4. 13:38 Sandi uses ABA to help classroom teachers understand what’s behind the behavior of a child acting out; what’s at the root?
  3. Sandi shares real-world strategies.
    1. 15:00 Sandi’s strategy for dealing with tantrums over candy at the grocery store checkout line. You can’t reward the behavior with the quick fix, which only reinforces connections in the brain. The child may escalate, but it’s important to hold firm and not communicate the message that it works. 
    2. 19:38 “If we are consistent in just holding back and not buying (a treat) for the child they will eventually realize that they’re not going to get the candy bar.”
    3. 19:57 An alternative is to flip the scenario and use proactive behavioral goals (like being calm throughout the shopping trip) to incentivize the child, who may then be treated to a candy bar afterwards in the car.
    4. 20:40 It’s very important to be clear about the distinction between positive reinforcement and bribery. The former means offering the option before the behavior emerges, while the latter comes across as a reward under duress.
    5. 23:05 “Once a behavior has started, then that’s really not the time to be talking them out of the behavior. You would give them the directive of what would be expected in that moment.” 
    6. 24:32 “When a behavior starts you really want to limit all that attention you’re giving them, the verbalization, the direct eye contact … When they’re doing the right thing, that’s when we want to give praise and communication and eye contact, so they can see the difference.”
  4. About the power of three deep breaths.
    1. 28:00 Sandi explains how, in a moment of calm and receptivity, she uses visual tools to interactively teach kids a breathing practice. When they understand the strategy, it becomes a reference point the next time the child is feeling angry, overwhelmed or out of control.
    2. 29:21 “(Deep breathing) really does help decompress them in that moment and sometimes when they’ve learned it really well they’ll come to me and say, ‘I need to take three deep breaths right now!’ ”
  5. Why kids on the spectrum are so often visual learners.
    1. 29:49 Most people in general are visual learners for reasons that are unclear.
    2. 30:45 Visual schedules, cues, apps and other tools are extremely effective. 
    3. 31:13 “Kids on the spectrum really like sameness and order. They can be a little rigid sometimes. So (visual aids) brings them comfort. Knowing what to expect brings them comfort. When they don’t know what to expect sometimes they can become very anxious.”
    4. 32:45 Information given auditorily (spoken) can be hard to assimilate and remember; visual cues can make a big difference.
  6. How setting and sensory environments affect behavioral responses.
    1. 35:50 It’s important to press pause and understand where you are/were when an outburst occurs. Clues lie within the circumstance.
    2. 36:20 The sensory systems of kids on the spectrum often do not work efficiently to protect them from over-stimulation.
    3. 36:50 Factors to consider: Are they too hot, are they hungry, are there too many stimuli, are there any medical issues?
    4. 38:35 “By just observing to see what a setting event could be, and by manipulating and doing something different, that could affect the outcome.”
    5. 38:49 ABA is data-driven and is most effective when logs are kept. It’s possible to pick up patterns of behavior through the data, which can be analyzed and used as a tool to “tell you where you need to go.”

About All About Kids:

AAK provides diagnostic evaluations as well as direct and consultative behavioral intervention services to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. After comprehensive assessment, each child has a portfolio or program book designed specifically to meet his or her individualized needs. The quality of our ABA services are closely monitored through program and field supervision as well as ongoing consultation by BCBA’s/BCaBA’s, and Experienced Team Leaders. 

Click here for a link to comprehensive educational and support resources. Previous podcast episodes and more information about All About Kids is available here.


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