Little Leaps Group Therapy transitioning to year-round school: What you should know
March 28, 2017
Teaching Functional Skills with Community Outings
July 15, 2015
We still have several more weeks of summer left, and this means more opportunities to take your kids outside and into the community!
As therapists, we tend to see a majority of our kids in typical "learning environments" that can range anywhere from a small therapy room in a house to a school setting. We even see a few of our kids at the Leap Ahead clinic! These places may be limited in space, yet invaluable in many ways: so many important skills and milestones are often taught to our kids in these spaces!
However, when you think about all the other skills your child may still be in need of learning, such as waiting patiently at a restaurant, paying for items in a grocery store, or remaining calm at the dentist, let's face it: those small therapy spaces suddenly just got even smaller. Your child's life extends to more than a cubic 200-500 square feet in which they learn to point to various pictures or express new forms of language. A large part of your child's life will entail functional skills that range beyond the typical therapy setting, and there is a long list of places that we can start with to help them learn to adapt appropriate behavior and skills in the natural environment.
Let's consider the grocery store as an example. This seems like a harmless-enough place... right? However, we hear countless parents tell us how their child has uncontrollable tantrums when denied their favorite snacks in the dessert aisle, or that their child elopes as soon as they are exposed to the many sights and sounds one tends to encounter in a large shopping center.
What does this mean for your child? Will they forever be plagued by behaviors and sensory issues whenever they step foot inside a local Giant?
The answer is simply, NO! However, your child's abilities to be successful in the community do not depend on them- they depend on us!
As therapists, we are trained to help work on behaviors and increase functional skills in the natural environment. We love having the chance to help our kids become more independent and successful in the community. Here are some two common places your family and team of therapists can address these issues:
In the Grocery or Convenience Store
Why do we take our kids here?
-to learn how to behave in general public areas
-to learn how to identify items we want or need
-to understand how to pay for items at check-out
-to teach independent skills for the future
What we can work on:
1. Teach your child to accompany you while staying close while you are in the vicinity of the store. Often, kids have multiple behaviors as parents deny them items they want throughout the shopping process. Your child may be throwing a fit loud enough for the entire store to watch, but this is a skill that is likely to persist unless you take action. Please remember that if you leave a store because your child is having a meltdown, your child has just learned that screaming and crying let's them get out of "unpleasant demands." Instead, try other interventions before giving up and giving in.
Here is one method that could help (***please discuss any intervention with your team of therapists to ensure it is appropriate for your child's program):
1.Pick out a small reinforcer prior to the shopping experience in which your child can earn ONLY if they have appropriate behavior during the entire shopping experience.
2.Make sure to explain what types of "good behavior" you are expecting of your child- the clearer the better.
3. Give your child lots of praise while you are out shopping when they behave appropriately. You can put tokens on a board every so often to make a point that they are showing appropriate behavior. This will also help remind them of the reinforcer they will receive after shopping!
4.Use a timer to show your child the exact amount of time you will be shopping, and let it go off to signal that the shopping time has finished.
5. If your child received all their tokens or behaved appropriately, they should receive the reinforcer that had been picked out prior to shopping.
At the end of the day, it is never too early to begin teaching your child the appropriate behaviors to exhibit in a store, and typically kids have better success when they learn these skills at a young age...Practice makes perfect!
***please note that many children on the spectrum engage in other behaviors that risk their safety in public places. Behaviors such as elopement or aggressive behaviors towards others can severely put your child at risk. If your child engages in these behaviors in public, please speak to your therapy team to ensure this skill will be worked on.
2. Help your child participate in learning the "basics of shopping" by helping then make a pre-shopping list. You can have them write or type a list, but if they don't yet have these skills, you can orally discuss what you will purchase at the store. For kids who can read, help them identify each item on the list as you search for them in the store. Teach your child the different types of aisles and what types of items belong in each one. Increase your child's listening skills by asking them to retrieve items off the list. You can also increase your child's verbal skills by having your child identify the items you walk by as you discuss the function of each one.
3. Reinforce the concept of money by allowing your child to choose an item from the store that they will pay for. You can start small by guiding them through the motions of counting the money. Teaching them to use a calculator on your phone to find out if they have enough money to pay for the items is another useful technique. Teach them to count out the amount they will need and anticipate how much change back they will receive. The point is that early introduction of the concept of money will make a bigger impact in your child's life...the sooner you start, the better!
At the playground
Why do we take our kids here?
- to learn how to play with playground equipment and increase play skills
- to learn how to behave appropriately in the vicinity of other peers
- to help socialize with other peers
- to increase language by requesting for things they want to do while playing
Things we can work on:
1. Helping your child understand how to use the playground equipment is a great first step to introduce this setting. Our kids often have difficulty pumping while sitting on a swing or climbing structures by themselves. Teaching kids to use these structures not only helps their motor skills, but also increases their play skills as well.
2. Typically, our kids tend to be unaware of how to behave in the mix of other children. This means that while several kids may be waiting patiently in line to go down the slide, your child might be the one elbowing their way to the front of the line without a care in the world.....No matter that parents are beginning to give you those "you've got to be kidding me" looks as your child starts to scream for others to get out of their way. If this sounds like your child, it is recommended to have a therapist shadow your child to help teach them the appropriate behaviors of taking turns and using communicative language to express their wants or needs. If your therapist can't attend the playground, ask them to help teach you strategies you can use to help your child learn appropriate playground skills. Interventions through role play, social stories, token systems, and timers, are all great ways we can teach our kids better playground behaviors.
3. For some parents, you will take your child to the playground and he or she knows exactly how to use all the equipment without a problem. Your child waits patiently in line for their turn on the structures, and he or she barely makes a sound if someone cuts in front of them. However, a complete disinterest in peers is clearly still hindering their social skills. Our kids often disregard peers as "objects in their way" and will walk around them as if they were simply just another extension of the playground equipment. Getting your child interested in their peers is important, and a great way to begin initiating this step at the playground is by showing your child that peers can give them the things they want or may be in need of. For example, a peer can help push your child on a swing. This will lead your child to find the other peer reinforcing, and you can promote the appropriate language they will need to ask for that peers help again. Another method is to have your child request a peer to push them down the slide or be a helper on the teeter totter. There are countless ways we can inspire our kids to seek peer attention, especially when your child is on the "receiving" end of the attention!
*****Let us know what other types of skills you are struggling to teach your child out in the community. We would be happy to address them in our blog! Check back soon for more updates on functional skills****