Many children with autism have difficulty going to sleep in their own beds. It’s not uncommon for children to sleep in the same bed as their parents—it provides comfort to be right next to those who provide love and care. However, as they grow older, it’s more appropriate for children to eventually learn to sleep in their own bed.
Getting your child to sleep in his own bed involves making some specific adjustments to his evening routine in order to reduce his activity level. If possible, food should not be consumed for at least an hour prior to bedtime. The evening routine should be consistent, which includes asking the child to lie in his own bed at a certain time each night. When the child gets into bed, close or dim the light and make sure that the room is quiet. For instance, the TV, tablet, etc. should now be powered off.
Once the conditions for falling asleep are in place, it’s likely that the child will want the adult to remain next to him or even to lie beside him in his bed. We strongly caution parents against lying in his bed with him—if he falls asleep, it will be very difficult to get out of his bed without waking him up. If he were to wake up, you would have to start all over! To avoid this outcome, we recommend sitting on the floor, directly next to his bed.
Once the child is lying in bed with you beside him (on the floor), tell him it’s time to go to sleep and that you want him to close his eyes and lie still. You want him to lie calmly in his bed and reinforce him for doing so. This might include rubbing his head or chest while saying, “Thank you for lying down” every few seconds. As the child lies down and stays calm for longer periods of time, the rate of giving feedback and rubbing his chest or head can be decreased. This process should be implemented until the child falls asleep.
Teaching this skill rarely goes smoothly at first. Sometimes the child will sit up and/or try to get out of bed. When this happens, gently prevent him from sitting or getting up and instruct him to lie down and remain still. For example, you can say, “It’s time to go to sleep, you need to lie down and be still.” Be sure that when he complies, you praise his behavior and rub his chest/head (if that helps to keep him lying still) at a higher rate. As he lies calmly in bed, the rate can be decreased until he falls asleep.
While this process can take a lot of time, depending on how long it takes the child to fall asleep, implementing these procedures consistently can help to improve the likelihood that the child will be able to sleep in his bed each night. Over time, as the child becomes better with falling asleep with the parent right next to him, the parent should try moving slightly away from the child’s bed. The parent can occasionally go over to the bed and provide words of praise and maybe the occasional head rub or chest rub.
As the child displays comfort with the parent being close by, but not directly next to him (and is able to fall asleep easily and consistently), the parent can systematically begin to move farther and farther away until he or she is able to sit in the doorway as the child attempts to fall asleep. The last step is to crack the door and sit outside of the child’s room.
The goal of the above procedure is to strengthen the targeted behaviors of lying still and closing his eyes and to gradually fade out, so that the adult no longer has to remain right next to the child as he attempts to fall asleep.
This is a basic strategy that may prove helpful for this specific situation. For a more elaborative explanation of this procedure, or for addressing problem behaviors that may arise, we recommend the book, Success on the Spectrum: How to Teach Skills to Individuals with Autism.
Do you want to teach your child new skills, but find it difficult to get him to participate in learning activities? Those who find the most success with getting the child to consistently go along with their instructions will have taught the child, through their previous interactions, that there are payoffs for listening to them and engaging in activities with them (e.g., structured learning activities).
What do we mean by “payoffs” for going along with the instructor? We need to teach the child that good things will happen for the child when he follows directions and engages with the adult. Perhaps the parent delivers words of praise to the child. Maybe there is a fun interaction between the adult and the child (e.g., tickling the child, pushing the child higher on the swing, etc.). Maybe the adult provides the child with his favorite toy or lets the child watch TV for a few minutes. If the child consistently sees that interacting with the adult leads to these “good things,” the child will be more likely to comply with the adult when the child is asked to do something. Thus, it’s always beneficial to establish yourself as someone that is “fun” and as one who can give the child things that he seeks.
Before attempting to place a lot of demands on your child, spend some time playing with him—have fun together and allow the child to see that his interactions with you are fun and not work. When the child consistently enjoys his interactions with the adult, the child is likely to seek out the adult for continued, positive interactions in the future. Building this type of positive relationship will increase the likelihood that the child will be more willing to engage with you, even if you are teaching him new skills. Once the child is consistently approaching you and seeking you out, consider some of the following pointers as you begin the process of teaching new skills during daily routines and within more structured learning environments.
- Make fun activities or desired objects available to the learner immediately after he completes a couple of easy tasks.
- Initially, tasks should be easy, minimal, and ones that the child can quickly complete.
- Work your way up! After the child is consistently responding to a couple of simple demands, carefully increase the amount of responses required to get the thing he wants. Don’t increase the workload too quickly or the child may lose his motivation to continue responding for you!
- Occasionally see if the child wants to earn something different for his continued, active participation—if he shows signs of that he is losing interest in getting tickled or receiving bubbles, he will make it obvious (e.g., his attention will waiver, might appear disinterested, or leave the instructional session). In these situations, the adult should consider changing the activity (or desired object) to a new and more exciting one. Always make sure that you have something that the child wants to play with or earn access to at that moment in time.
- End the learning activity on a good note. Stop while you are ahead and don’t push the child too far. If the child views learning as fun and not stressful, and that it’s linked to the things that he enjoys, he is likely to be more motivated to participate in learning activities again in the future.
Take the time to build a positive relationship with your child, it will go a long way toward developing his motivation to interact with you. As Dr. Partington always says, “We want the children to run to us, not from us!”
For more information and for a description of highly effective strategies on how to motivate your child to respond to you during both structured and typical daily routines, check back in early February of 2018 for the release of our newest book from the Teach Your Children Well® series—Learning to Motivate, Motivated to Learn.
Your child has a lot to gain from having a well-structured, individualized education program (IEP). An effective IEP can be the difference between your child acquiring a few skills versus several, very impactful ones. This blog will focus on aspects that will help you to select the most appropriate teaching objectives for your child.
The learner’s age should be considered when developing or evaluating a set of IEP objectives. Specifically, goals should include skills that are both age appropriate and functional for the learner. For example, a young child with autism would benefit from ensuring that his language and social interaction skills are developed. An IEP for older aged children, teenagers, or adults with autism might include a combination of social interaction skills, language skills, and functional living skills—skills that will enable them to better care for themselves, interact with others, and carryout a more independent lifestyle.
The goals selected should also be functional for the learner. As a rule of thumb, goals should always include skills that will make a positive impact on the child’s immediate life, on a regular basis. It is important that a young child knows how to label common objects and ask for things that he needs before teaching the child to label letters or perform basic math skills. It would be better to teach him skills that would allow him to better communicate with and learn from others (e.g., requesting, labeling, receptive language skills, imitation, etc.). Likewise, teenagers or adults might be better served by including goals that target their ability to live more independently and allow for improved social interactions with others.
As a final consideration, one should know exactly what the learner knows and doesn’t know prior to developing any IEP goals. While some skill deficits are very obvious to parents or professionals (for example, the learner never makes verbal requests for his preferred toys), there are other, less-obvious skills that a learner may lack, that are essential for future skill development as well. For example, these could include imitation of specific motor actions using objects or repeating specific sounds on request. Thus, it is important to use an evidence-based, comprehensive skills assessment to identify the exact skills that the individual has mastered and those that he still needs to develop. To thoroughly measure the skills of the individual learner, we highly recommend the ABLLS-R—an evidence-based assessment that contains over 544 different skills that measures skills from specific skill areas such as language, social interactions, academics, self-help, and motor skills. For older learners (teens or adults) or for those who want to thoroughly assess the functional living skills of a learner, we recommend the Assessment of Functional Living Skills or the AFLS.
Educational programming requires several factors to be considered. This blog scratches the surface on what parents should look for and why they should attend to specific variables when developing or evaluating an IEP. For more information on educational programming for younger learners or those with minimal skills, we refer the reader to the book, Getting started: Developing Critical Learning Skills for Children on the Autism Spectrum. For those who want a more general, but powerful guide to walk you through the process of developing an effective educational program for your child, we refer the reader to the book, Success on the Spectrum: How to Teach Skills to Individuals with Autism for more details and information. All of the noted products are reader friendly and will leave you better equipped to develop and evaluate IEP objectives.
Dr. Partington tells his clients, “Whatever you don’t teach him, long term, you will have to either do it for him or pay somebody else to do it for him.” Take a second to think about the implications of this quote. This could include financial dependency and also a major time commitment from the parent. Regardless of whether or not an individual has an autism diagnosis, it is important to teach him basic, functional living skills that will allow him to take care of himself. Some of these skills may include the ability to independently brush his teeth, get dressed, take a shower, prepare basic meals, and maintain a clean living space or household. The more you teach him now, the less you’ll have to do to support him later!
While teaching methods may be different based on the existing skills of the learner, parents or instructors can either teach these skills as they naturally occur (such as getting dressed in the morning after waking up or brushing teeth after eating breakfast) or they can carve out time during the day to work on a specific skill.
When teaching a functional living skill (such as brushing one’s teeth), there are a few helpful hints to remember during the teaching process:
- Simplifying the task: Break down complex skills (such as brushing teeth) into smaller, individual skills that the learner can be taught. These could include putting toothpaste onto the toothbrush, brushing a specific area in the mouth, spitting in the sink, rinsing mouth, rinsing the toothbrush and putting it away, etc. It is also helpful to identify the steps that the learner can perform on his own. Let the learner perform those steps independently. Then, teach him to perform the other steps in the sequence.
- Prompting: The learner will likely require some assistance as he learns to independently carryout each step of a complex task. For example, parents or instructors can provide physical guidance, use gestures, verbally state what to do, or write down step-by-step instructions for the learner to follow. As the learner develops the ability to consistently carryout each step, the level of assistance provided (i.e., prompting) should be reduced and eventually, eliminated.
- Capture the learner’s motivation: A motivated learner is more likely to attend to the task and successfully use the skill. One strategy that can be used to increase his motivation is to withhold a highly preferred item or activity and only make it available after the learner completes the task. For example, tell the learner, “First, let’s brush our teeth, then we can go outside and play on the swing!”
- Strengthen the response: To increase the chances that the learner will use the skill again in the future, he will need to see that there is a “payoff” for using it. If the parent or instructor shows the learner that “good things” happen when he uses the skill (praise is given, the learner gets to use a preferred toy or go to the park, etc.), he is more likely to use it again in the future.
This blog briefly touches on a few very important concepts that are needed when teaching functional living skills to an individual with autism. For a more comprehensive overview of these concepts, we recommend the book Success on the Spectrum: How to Teach Skills to Individuals with Autism. This resource is written in easy to understand language and will walk you through the teaching process.