Autism Resource blog:
Skill Building

Parent Support University: Week 21

Aug 9, 2020
skill building
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Speaker 1 (00:02):

Hello AnswersNow, family and friends, Adam Dreyfus here, chief science officer of AnswersNow doing our weekly parent support university cast. The topic this week is going to be social skills training. I'm going to have three big tips takeaways for you. A couple of you might seem like I already knew that, but hopefully there might be one or two that you hadn't thought about before. I am one of the co-founders of AnswersNow. What exactly is AnswersNow? We are a mobile platform that supports parents and caregivers of individuals diagnosed with autism and kind of a wide variety of a disability categories. We do take insurance. Now, that's kind of our newest thing. You can go to your app store and download us whether it's the Apple store or your Google play store, just type in AnswersNow, all one word, no space.

Speaker 1 (00:50):

And you'll see the little purple butterfly check out our articles sign up. What is signing up gets you, it gets you connected directly to your own BCBA. Master's level BCBA. One thing that Jeff and who's the other co founder and I the reason we started this company, it was really frustrating for us, how isolated, overwhelmed and under-supported parents felt. And so AnswersNow is designed to put a BCBA in your pocket. So you don't have to wait once a month or you might not have any BCBA, and you might not know what a BCBA is, a board certified behavior analyst, sort of the autism jedies that are out there. They're not all of them. You want to definitely find one that specializes in autism. What are we doing here now? Well, we've been doing this a series over the last few months of the pandemic where we're trying to demystify some of the terms and jargon that you hear in ABA circles.

Speaker 1 (01:45):

That BCBA is used here. I am like jargon, jargon, jargon, ABA, applied behavior analysis. The CDC recommends it as the best intervention for individuals diagnosed with autism. It's really a whole series of interventions. And that's what we're talking about here at the parent support university. And again, reminder today, we're talking about social skills training which kind of connects to, we'll be talking about a bunch of the ones that we've already done social narratives and things like that. Reinforcement. those are topics that we've covered as we talk about social skills training. But we also want to make sure that you have an opportunity to learn a little bit about AnswersNow. So you can go to That's our website. You can contact us through there. You can check out our articles, you can look at our platform.

Speaker 1 (02:33):

You can find out if you qualify if your insurance covers AnswersNow as a intervention for you. And like we said, you know, the whole point is to put a BCBA in your pocket. So the list that we're going off of, I always like to mention this because a lot of times people will say, well, that's just that guy's opinion. Well, nothing or very little that you're going to hear on these casts is my opinion. As, as a good board certified behavior analyst I only use evidence based practices. I only discuss evidence based practices in these kinds of forums. If you, if I deviate from that, you'll hear me say it very explicitly that this is Adam's opinion. And I'm evidence based practice. So evidence based practice sounds like why does he keep repeating that?

Speaker 1 (03:19):

Because a board certified behavior analyst very strictly adhere to the ethical guidelines and we only use interventions that have been proven to be effective. Nobody's making anything up out there. And so there's always new stuff coming down the pipe, Holy Smoley, especially in the world of autism. There's lots of quackery as they say. It seems like almost every six to 12 months, there's some new magical cure that comes along, that the parents have to sort of navigate through and learn more about the vast majority of them are nonsense. So about 10 years ago, a little bit more a bunch of universities got together formed the National Professional Development Center, and they were like, well, what do we know works? What's a list of stuff that we could say to parents, like, if it's on this menu, you know, that it works and it's been proven.

Speaker 1 (04:10):

And so those are the, the list of evidence based practices and you can find them at National, the National Professional Development Center website they're no longer a kind of an operation or even better. They have afirm of modules, A F I R M just like the regular word of afirm, but just with one F and it's there that they take these, they have little training modules that are about an hour and a half to two hours each. So if you did them all, you know, it'd be 50 or 60 hours worth of stuff. It's a lot. And that's one of the reasons why AnswersNow was born. All of the stuff that can help you help your kid exists out there for free. The national professional development center has all of their modules. The Iris modules at Vanderbilt university are fantastic.

Speaker 1 (04:53):

Virginia Commonwealth university VCU has a bunch of parent trainings that are free there's fairly low cost stuff that's not too expensive. And then it, you know, you can, it gets as crazy as it gets out there. So today the evidence based practice that we're talking about is social skills training. One of the things that is a challenge for social skills. So there's the three main categories not main categories, main sort of pieces that delineate an autism diagnosis deficits in communication deficits in social skills and repetitive behaviors. Not sort of the behaviors that we usually associate with autism, like yelling, screaming tantrums. That's not what they mean. They mean sort of interfering repetitive behaviors, lining things up, having to touch things a lot, rocking, you know things like that.

Speaker 1 (05:49):

So today we're talking about social skills and it's, we totally, well, we largely understand how language develops. So it's a good BCBA when they do an evaluation can figure out where your child or adult is at from a language standpoint and then custom design the intervention to meet them there and try to build the language from there. So even it's from nonverbal, kind of verbal to even kind of hyper verbal, like the kids who talk quite a bit and are very fluent. We have a really good understanding of that. And even from the behavioral standpoint, like the repetitive behaviors, we've got a really good understanding of how behaviors operate how to make behaviors go up, how to make behaviors go down. So even some of like the most sort of problematic behaviors that you can imagine have been successfully remediated using applied behavior analysis.

Speaker 1 (06:39):

One that is a little jarring but is a, is one that sometimes comes up or like people who chew their fingers like through, through the skin. That's a really scary behavior. It's very damaging but there's a ton of successful interventions, social skills. We don't exactly understand like how social skills develop. That mechanism is not fully understood. What we mostly do is we're just really social, right? You put a bunch of kids together and they get social. But we have learned we knew before, but we've certainly learned through a lot of research that, that doesn't work for a lot of kids diagnosed with autism. You can't just take a kid and then came around other kids or her around other kids, and then they acquire social skills. There's something that's preventing that sort of natural acquisition of social skills, cause you drop a kid anywhere in any culture on any planet.

Speaker 1 (07:36):

And they'll just acquire the social skills of their people, their tribes, their countries, their whatever, wherever they are. So, and we don't really understand, what's, there's a lot of sort of theoretical stuff, but we don't have a really clear understanding. So that's one of the challenging things where a lot of people say, Oh, we do a social skills group. We'll pull like, you know, five, 10 kids who have autism and put them in a group and they'll learn social skills. Well, that's like pulling five or 10 people together who don't know a language. And assuming that they're going to learn a language, it just doesn't work. That is not a good plan, like a bunch of autistic kids without anybody else is not going to result in social skills. So I'm going to talk a little bit more about that.

Speaker 1 (08:19):

I want to touch just a reminder. I'm Adam Dreyfus, I'm the chief science officer and co-founder of AnswersNow you can find out more about us at We are a company that connects parents and individuals caregivers of individuals diagnosed with autism and other disability categories with their very own clinician through a web based platform. So essentially you get a BCBA in your pocket. So we're going to go now into kind of my three tips. I've got some friends here who are going to help us out a little bit. One of the things I did want to mention there's one very popular intervention package called the pers model. Exactly what it sounds like, like friends, pers, P E R S that if you, if that, if that is in operation around you, or if you're in a school you can recommend to them that they implement it.

Speaker 1 (09:16):

It's a really good structured way of integrating typically developing kids and kids with disabilities in a very structured social skills program. You usually see it in like middle schools and high schools. But it's a great program the pers program, P E R S so my first tip, my first tip is we tend to approach individuals with autism to have like, to try to foment some kind of social opportunity where they can learn to say hello. So it's very passive on their part, a lot of the interventions, right? Like, cause you have to kind of enter their world. Well, most people don't want you to enter their world when they're doing something that they really want to do. And by and large, if someone diagnosed with autism is by themselves, I would presume that whatever's happening inside of them is something they're choosing, right? It's like, they're there. Maybe they're singing a song. Maybe they're thinking of something. Maybe they're thinking of nothing, but it think of it like you're watching TV and like I'm a big sports fan. Maybe I'm watching the Cowboys or my Giants, baseball team, and someone comes and steps in front of the TV and it's like, Hey, what's your name?

Speaker 2 (10:24):

I'm not happy. This is not a happy moment.

Speaker 1 (10:26):

This is not a good social opportunity. Like, Hey, you just inter you're interfering with this thing that I'm doing. I presume that that's happening with folks on the spectrum at any time I'm sort of vectoring in to get their attention. I'm interfering with something. So I want to do, I want to do it in a way that's kind of gentle and dignified, but more importantly, if I can get them moving towards me, it makes it way easier for me to manufacturer opportunities to learn social skills. So one of the ways that I do this, either by myself and if I'm in a classroom, like I'll do this is I will randomly give the student, the child, even an adult, something they like. So I use the Skittles a lot. It's a fairly ubiquitously people like Skittles. So maybe I walk into class when I just walked by the kid and I just hand him or her one Skittle. And then I do that throughout the day. And if I can, I get other kids to do that.

Speaker 2 (11:25):

And it doesn't have to be a Skittle. It can be anything.

Speaker 1 (11:27):

They like anything they prefer. So maybe there's a book they like, so I'll say, Hey max, can you just go hand Adam that book? So max just walks over and hands out the book, doesn't say anything. It doesn't do anything. All that happens is that the child or adult diagnosed with autism starts having the experience that these people out here like provide things, right? Like good things happen just out of nowhere. So what you'll see at first is they'll be very much in their world, but you do this for a little while and they'll looking up and looking around, like they're waiting for the next Skittle or their book or their iPad or whatever it is that you're giving them. So that's the first part. Right? They start paying attention to other people. So and then what'll happen if you keep doing it is they'll start seeking them out.

Speaker 1 (12:10):

Right. They'll be like, well, I don't, I don't have to sit here and wait for something good to happen. I know that that guy over there randomly makes good things happen. Let me go move, let me go over there and see what he's doing. This is perfect. Now I have the opportunity to manufacture a social opportunities, right? Whether they're greetings or whatever, cause they're coming towards me and they're doing so in a way that they're seeking something. Right. So it's a great, great, great way to naturally it's probably not the right word. Manufacturer social opportunities works, especially well in great schools. But it works in your house too. You can do it with siblings. You can do it with like, Oh, he never wants to be around his siblings. I'm like, well, just start having the siblings, I call it Pez dispenser. You want to be kind of like a Pez dispenser.

Speaker 1 (12:54):

You want to, like, somebody comes by something good happens. So that's tip number one. The second one is affinities, right? Affinities are just, what are they like? And a lot of parents and caregivers are like, Oh my God, all they do is Minecraft. I'm like, fantastic, fantastic. Cause there's a lot of people that like Minecraft. And so you want to put them in a situation where they're not just online. But they're like for a lot of these kids, the kind of things that they're into, you can find in local game rooms, like look up comic book stores or like card rooms where people come together and they play elaborate sort of board games or Minecraft or video games they'll have tournaments. And it's a great way to meet other people. I guarantee there's very rarely is there a kid who doesn't have something.

Speaker 1 (13:40):

Another one that I came across like trains, right? Trains are frequently very common affinity for folks on the spectrum. And I didn't know this before I was hanging out with this one kid, but there are folks who will go to specific intersections, train intersections, and try to take pictures of specific trains at specific times. That's what they collect like the, the Northwestern 231 at 4:50 on Tuesday, the 15th, there's a whole community people to do that. And there's the whole community people that support them. So if your son or daughter, or whoever has an affinity for trains and is interested in the times, I guarantee you, you can go on to Reddit or Facebook groups and find other people that are going to go be at a little intersection. And so you're all there for the same reason.

Speaker 1 (14:27):

It's really important that when you try these social things, you don't just drop them into like a soccer. Hey, I mean, he's gonna learn social skills. I'm gonna put them on a soccer team. That requires a really, really high level of social skills. That is probably not a great place to start activities that don't require teams bowling, cross country, bike, riding, tennis, golf, archery things that an individual can do kayaking. And there's just always groups that do that. So your affinities and then my favorite anthropomorphic play. So we've got our duck friends back again, but this is not probably the best example of anthropomorphic play. Why are you sharing that? Well, it's because you guys look exactly the same. Oh, we don't. We look totally different. Look, he's, he's an inch taller than I am. Well, for most people's perspective, you guys look exactly the same, not even close.

Speaker 1 (15:22):

And if there's one thing we know about autism is that there's no two people that have expressed the same way. So we're going to put our little duck friends down. We're gonna introduce a couple of our other friends, Hey, what's up? I am Ironman. So this is much closer to affinities, right? There's a lot of folks on the spectrum that love the Marvel and DC comics and liked to get out of here, dressed up. And so you want to use dolls to teach social skills. So how's it going? Pretty good. Your shields are pretty cool. Oh, thanks. Thanks. Thanks. Thanks. It's a, it's a, it's a pretty amazing shield. I appreciate that. What's what's, what's your yellow and a red thing. Oh, this I'm iron man. This is my outfit. Oh, that's that's, that's pretty cool. Well your hat looks kind of silly.

Speaker 1 (16:16):

That's not a very nice thing to say. So you can model through and think about, especially if you've got girls, I've got a four year old daughter, they spend hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours playing with anthropomorphic play, where they're going, they're playing through and what are they doing? They're learning social skills. They're modeling out interactions, things that you say. So when they are actually in a social situation, they've got, they've got things in the bank, things to say in the bank. And so I would just like, if you're starting with someone who's, I'm pretty far removed, right? Not very social. I would just get a couple of things that they like and do it near them, and it will interest them. They might not pay attention to at first, but in a second, they'll be like, I want to see what captain Americans up to Oh, iron man's way cooler.

Speaker 1 (17:03):

So we've got three tips now. And what, let me start at the top, have peers or adults or whoever randomly give kids stuff so that they start moving in your direction, which will help with social skills, opportunities to affinities run with the affinities, run with their likes find groups that share similar likes. And that's a great place to go. And three anthropomorphic play. And I don't care how old you are. If you have really severely impacted social skills, you might be 25, but you might have the social skills of two year old. So anthropomorphic play is a great, it's a great way to model appropriate social skills. Hopefully this helps I've gone a little bit long. So I apologize for that. But this is a really important topic make sure to check us out at I am Adam Dreyfus and I appreciate the time. Hope you and yours are doing well. And I wish you the best in these very challenging times.

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