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Help your child on the autism spectrum lead an independent life

Everyone deserves to be in an environment that helps them actualize their dreams and aspirations. When we teach children on the autism spectrum a skill, the final goal is to ensure that they can independently perform the same.

We will be talking about:

  1. Prompt fading
  2. Sabotaging
  3. Inclusion
  4. Active participation

My child is too dependent on me. He does not do any activity without my help and hence independence is not achieved.”

Do you feel the same? This may be because of consistently providing too many prompts in a typical manner or because your involvement has become a part of their routine as the prompts haven’t faded progressively.

For this, we need a greater understanding of prompting.

Types of prompts-

  • Full physical prompt — hand over hand guidance
  • Partial Physical prompt — guiding through a part of the task
  • Verbal prompt — saying the starting sound/telling the answer
  • Gestural prompt — pointing/reaching/nodding towards the answer
  • Visual prompt — placing schedules/pictures/drawings
  • Positional prompt — the correct answer is placed closest to the prompt/organising in sequence
  1. Prompt fading
  • Least to most-

A method where we begin with minimal prompting and progress to more prompting to give the child the time and space to act according to his understanding.

  • Most to least

A method where we gradually decrease the extent of prompting to help the child gain confidence and independence.

How do we fade prompts?

  • Once the child gains mastery, shift to a less intrusive prompt.
  • Give appropriate processing time.
  • Fade very slowly and gradually
  • Go from full physical prompting >partial physical>verbal>gestural> only cues
  • If a reasonable amount of responses are not correct, move to the previous prompt level.
  • Do not let the child fail repeatedly.
  • Highly reinforce any and all attempts.
  • Redirect the attempts made in the wrong direction.

Criterion

  1. Force (full physical prompting to only guiding)
  2. Time (immediate prompting to delayed prompting )
  3. Distance (standing behind/in front to standing away)

Along with proper prompting, make sure to structure the activity and create an independent workstation as we have discussed before!

“My child has learnt turn-taking at school while playing sports. Why doesn’t he do the same while playing card games with me at home?”

Here, skill generalization comes into play.

Generalization refers to being able to apply a skill with different people, at different times and under different conditions. It also entails being able to maintain a learnt skill.

After the child gets reasonably comfortable with a skill, you can introduce variety in the following factors-

  • Setting- Practising skills at home, in school, outside
  • Materials- Using different sizes, colours or forms of the same material (like buttons)
  • Words- Using a variety of words, phrases and language
  • Reinforcers
  • Tone
  • Person- Involving mother, teacher, grandparents etc
  • Time of instruction

Train them to tolerate changes so that they learn to apply a skill in different circumstances.

Train your child with common stimuli. Before transferring to a new setting, ensure sufficient and repeated exposure to the same activity and identify and include the critical elements in the other settings.

2. Sabotaging to create independence

We may need to create and craft situations where a child faces a problem and learns to solve it, helping us generalize problem-solving skills to different situations. Teaching communication is of paramount importance because it enables children to seek help and express distress.

Here are some ways to encourage them to speak up:

  • Don’t give them all of the required materials for a task and see if they use expressive language to request a needed item.
  • Keep electronics password protected so they may have to approach you.
  • Give them work that is slightly hard to do to see if they ask for help, say “I don’t know” or resort to cheating.
  • Give them something they don’t like to eat to see if they can decline politely or learn to say no in a socially acceptable manner.
  • Give them something that belongs to someone else to see if they can advocate.

Teaching and using time concepts to foster independence.

  • Using timer/sand timer/traditional clock/digital clock etc to tie a task.
  • Teaching children about a task’s time limit, beginning and end.

This helps in becoming more patient and eases the transition. It is also an important pre-vocational skill.

Always attempt to build independence in a community setting, like, pressing the elevator buttons when out.

3. INCLUSION

Always remember that if a child is unable to perform all steps of an activity at a stage, it does not mean we cannot teach the particular skill. You can-

  • Find out their preferences, goals, dreams, desires and use them to strengthen skills and keep up motivation.
  • Customise the skill as per the person’s needs, interests and capabilities.
  • Actively engage them and make them participate in activities and events around them.

Their limitation should never lead to exclusion in any form. Inclusion in events and activities will breed independence!

4. ACTIVE PARTICIPATION

Your aim should be to actively engage your child in all routine life events.

~Gauge their preferences and interests to customize activities to suit them.

~Find opportunities to make them actively and gradually independently participative.

~Provide the right support(visuals, routines, structure) and assistance to fill in the gaps.

Seek these answers-

  • Which steps can the child complete independently?
  • Which steps need some support and assistance for completion?
  • Which steps are fully supported/ assisted by you?
  • Why is participation difficult for your child? Find out the barriers!

Based on these observations, make necessary modifications with physical/ sensory/ supports.

Don’t waste time on skills that can be achieved easily with modification (like typing in place of writing if your child is not able to make progress in writing.)

Does your child just need more practice? Consistency is key!

Sam is a 17-year-old and wishes to go to a departmental store to buy some things. But he faces barriers as he does not know how to calculate change, he gets overwhelmed in large departmental stores and often forgets what to buy.

These barriers can be overcome!

  • We can teach and train Sam to use alternates like using a calculator to estimate the change.
  • Giving a written list or pictures to help remember the items to be bought.
  • We could begin with sending Sam to a smaller and nearby store if large stores create anxiety.

All of you must wonder from time to time, will your child be able to live independently?

While one cannot predict the answer to this, we can maximise our possibilities by overcoming these barriers:

  • Limited expectations from a child- Believe in your child’s potential and work towards helping him/her achieve their goals.
  • Method of teaching- choose the right methods and ways and be prepared to modify and adapt.
  • Not starting now- Start off as early as you can! Do not wait and let time pass by. Teaching independence is a process.

Remember to teach by doing and engage them in experiential learning.

Fully support your child in this process and consistently work to achieve your goals. Be a partner and help your child tide over the challenges they face.

Thank you for Reading.

If you resonate with this article, we recommend you to check out this article too WELCOME TO AUTISM LAND.

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