Autism Resource blog:
Skill Building

Parent Support University: Week 22

Aug 26, 2020
structured playgroups
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Speaker 1 (00:01):

Hello AnswersNow, family and friends. It is time for our weekly parent support university. Today. We're going to be talking about structured play groups, which is going to have a lot of overlap with things that we've talked about so far reinforcement, social narratives yeah, all kinds of stuff, because what we're talking about is the toolkit, right? The ABA toolkit. So now we've got a lot of the tools out you'll find that they all kind of lock together and that's really what a BCBA does. A board certified behavior analyst is they've got all these tools and it looks kind of like magic sometimes. But what they're doing is they're just using interventions to help your son and or daughter develop skills that make the world bigger for them. That's really the key is how do we make the world big for these kids?

Speaker 1 (00:54):

Because a lot of the times the fact that they can't communicate or struggle with communication, struggle with social skills and have interfering behaviors makes the world small. And so we're working in the other direction. I am Adam Dreyfus, I'm the chief science officer and co-founder of AnswersNow, what is AnswersNow? We are a mobile platform. But you can also access this on the web. I do encourage you. You can go to our website, Learn a lot more about us, sign up. If you would like you can go to your app store, Google play store or app store, and just type in AnswersNow, all one word, just don't put a space between the answers and the now, and we should be the first or the second thing that comes up a little purple butterfly and just download the app for free check it out.

Speaker 1 (01:40):

What is it exactly that we do? Well, we connect you directly to a BCBA board certified behavior analyst. The centers for disease control are really clear on that applied behavior analysis ABA is the most effective treatment for individuals diagnosed with autism. Treatments, probably not the exact best word intervention package, education would probably be a better cause there's no pills, there's no needles. ABA is entirely teaching is what it is. It's teaching new skills. People say, Oh, well, I don't, I don't need new skills. What I need my kid to do is less of this other behavior. And that's a great point and that's frequently why we get phone calls. But the key point there is that you can't just swap, well, that's not true. Let me say you can swap out behaviors, but you can't just take a behavior and take it away.

Speaker 1 (02:37):

It generally doesn't work very well like that as you have probably found out trying to get these behaviors to go away whether they're just sort of socially challenging, right? Like kids who flap their arms or make noises or things like that. They're not hurting themselves, not hurting somebody else, but it kinda makes the world a little small, makes it difficult for them to make friends. A lot of the times the families can get a little bit embarrassed out in public, like whether you're in a restaurant or a church or something like that. And they go, can you get him or her to stop doing that? And the truth is that they're doing it for a reason. And we talked about this several weeks ago with functional behavioral assessments. Like how do you figure out what it is that behavior is what, what need it is meeting for the child and then a really good BCBA, a really good educator, teacher, whoever, parent swaps it out.

Speaker 1 (03:31):

You, you take a more socially appropriate behavior, something that kind of expands their world out a little bit. And you teach that and then hopefully what happens is the other behavior kind of drops away. Drops away is not the exact right word. But it's pretty close. Today. we'll be talking about structured playgroups, which most families are pretty familiar with. If you get involved in any kind of interventions for your son or your daughter is not always what happens though, when you get a lot of ABA services, cause most ABA services are either in the home where one person is coming in and working with your son or daughter in your house by themselves. Sometimes they'll bring in the brothers and the sisters to kind of help out depending on the skillset of the clinician.

Speaker 1 (04:21):

But there's usually not a whole lot of social opportunities. Not a whole lot of structured play groups inside someone's home. Or you go to a clinic and the clinics like to say, Oh, we do all these kinds of groups. But the problem is they're always, almost always groups of other children with disabilities. And that is not what a structured play group should be. Structured playgroups should have, typically the developing kids who have good social skills, right, they call them Confederates not in a, not in that sort of the negative connotation, but in the good one, like, Hey, these are friends of yours that are gonna come in and help out. Ideally you're going to, well here, let me back up just a second. I'm going to give you four tips today for structure playgroups and how you can make them as effective as possible.

Speaker 1 (05:10):

So some of it is a little bit of planning. Some of it's just a little bit what happens when it's going on, but you're gonna walk away from here with four tips. I do want to remind you that where we're getting these, this is not Adam just coming up with stuff. Although sometimes I get accused of that. Is this just you making stuff up? No, I don't make any of this stuff up. About 10 years ago, yeah, roughly 10 years ago the national professional development center, you can look it up NPDC national professional development center came together and basically pause on what is it that we know works for children and adults diagnosed with autism, not what's the sort of the fat of the week or the newest kind of thing, but what do we know after 30 years of success?

Speaker 1 (05:57):

And so they pulled together a list you will sometimes hear people talk about evidence-based well, these are all evidence-based practices. So this is a list of evidence-based practices, things we know that work. And on the website, they'll tell you what evidence like how old the kids are. Sometimes the evidence is for middle-schoolers. Sometimes the evidence is for kind of all age ranges. Sometimes it's just for little kids, but they've got it all on their national professional development center and what they did with this information. They ran some pilots around the country to sort of prove that these things that we already knew worked, worked all over the place. And then they put together AFIRM modules, the A F I R M modules, and you can go sign up for free. It's a great resource. And so what we're doing with our professional parent support unit is just going through each one of these evidence-based practices, explaining them a little bit, giving some tips and tricks, and hopefully connecting you as a caregiver a little bit more to this body of knowledge that's out there, because that's really what AnswersNow is all about is reducing your barrier of entry to all of this expert knowledge.

Speaker 1 (06:59):

It's crazy-making for Jeff and I, who founded this company that there's all this great knowledge out there. But only a few practitioners. So we, you know, connect you to a BCBA there's only 35,000 or so maybe 40,000 at this point BCBAs on earth, like the whole planet. There's some States that have more teachers than that. There's millions of teachers so, very small pool. But that's what AnswersNow it does. Is it connects you directly to some of them. We've got some great BCBAs on the platform. Definitely encourage you to go to, check it out. You can see some of them. I will say that BCBAs really like this platform because it lets them connect to them or people and do what they do. These were all people who just really love what it is they do.

Speaker 1 (07:46):

And it's but it's a lot of, yeah, it's so that's what we do. So we're going to talk about structured play groups right now. One of the first things I want to say about structured playgroups is to the degree that you can find an activity that the child already likes. So taking a kid who is super into Mario brothers to a Lego convention, because you've heard that lots of kids with autism, like Legos, but your kid has never shown any affinity or desire to play with Legos, but you're like, Oh, there's lots of kids with autism. There I'll be able to do a structured playgroup there. Okay. Recipe for disaster. That is not a good way to go. You definitely want to try to find something that your son or daughter already engages in. I would highly recommend getting them used to people, interfering with their play a little bit, because a structured play group is going to be you're, you're interfering with their play to try to get them to learn new skills.

Speaker 1 (08:44):

That's one of the challenges of structure playgroups is like, say it is Legos. You really like Legos. Your kid's super into language. Like this is awesome. I heard Adam say, find something they like, I'm going to go to a Lego club and put them in a room, and everything's going to be great. Probably not, probably not. Why, because I'm positive that your son or daughter likes playing with Legos in a very specific way, their way. And they are probably not very open to somebody coming along and playing with it in a different way. So you'll want to take the edge off that a little bit start with some parallel play where you're just kind of playing next to them. So they get used to somebody in their proximity, playing with things. See if you can practice a couple of the things that you would want to see in a structured playgroup.

Speaker 1 (09:28):

Turn-Taking having somebody else play with you. Having somebody play a little differently than you'd like to this is you would definitely want to do this in the comfort of your home and not in the middle of an auditorium full of kids playing Legos. So you want to practice when you do kind of pull it together, the structure played pray group play group. [inaudible] You've got your kids lined up. You've got your kid, maybe one other, do you want to keep the groups very small? And have only like one or two goals or you're working on the goal should not be like, hey, my kid who doesn't play is going to go to this group and learn how to play. There's about 40 things that you need to do really well to play very well. Some of them are social skills.

Speaker 1 (10:11):

Some are their communication skills. Some of them are behaviors. A lot of them are doing things that our kids generally don't do great. And certainly around their play stuff is let other people interfere. So you want to practice. You want to keep it short, so we're going to go through them. You definitely wanna practice before you go. Keep it short, you don't plan to go there for six hours. Right. You know, your kid better than anybody. So whatever time you think that they could do cut that in half. So if you're like, Oh, I think they could do an hour, do half an hour. You want, if at all possible to end on a positive note, we're having a good time. You're having a good time. All right, it's time to go. Let's do this. You don't want to wait for an upset or a meltdown.

Speaker 1 (10:55):

That is not the sort of the bookend that you want on that. So practice, keep it short, only work on one or two things, and then key, key, key, key, having escape plan for that. I mean, get ready to pull the plug and walk out. If it starts to go South, you do, I don't want to have a bad experience. You don't want to end on a really sour note. I want to force them kind of through this. And I'm one of those like, Hey, you got to push these kids. You got to push them through their, you know, uncomfortability, but you don't want to do that in the first time. The first few times you definitely want to kind of build up their resilience a little bit to where you, you feel like you can kind of push them. So having an escape plan it's crucial.

Speaker 1 (11:37):

And by that, like frequently say you're a family of five, right? And you've got Adam who's on the spectrum. Who's like eight years old and you take them to the Lego place. And what you definitely want to make sure that you do, you don't want to, kind of hijack the whole day for the whole family. So somebody is assigned mom or dad or grandma, or somebody is like, Hey, if this goes South, you go with the kid and the rest of us kind of keep it to keep doing it. But just having a plan, it'll reduce your anxiety. It'll reduce their anxiety because you'll be less anxious and it will greatly increase the chances that you'll have some success. So what are four things you want to practice, check on my notes over here? Have one or two goals, nothing too crazy.

Speaker 1 (12:26):

Do you want to keep it short and have an exit plan. And there you hopefully will have a successful structured playgroup. So I definitely encourage you to check it out at the afirm modules, A F I R M modules structured play groups. It's a, it takes you by a, probably an hour and a half to two hours to get through the module, and it will show you exactly how to do it. It's painted by numbers. It's how to set it up. How to, if you want to take data and I kind of go that route it shows you how to do that. I highly encourage you to check out the national professional development center. They've got all kinds of great resources. They have a wonderful COVID resource for parents.

Speaker 1 (13:07):

That's got all kinds of visuals and it's fantastic. We share it on our site. But it’s theirs. So we don't like to take credit where someone else has done the work. I want to thank you for listening to us again for our parent support university structured playgroups. I am Adam Dreyfus and the chief science officer, and co-founder for AnswersNow you can find out more about us at and we look forward to seeing you next week, feel free to check us out, feel free to contact us. And hopefully you and yours are staying safe.

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