Giving the Gift of Happiness during the Holidays, with Applied Behavior Analysis

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

COLUMBIA, MD, December 13, 2017 — The holidays can be stressful. Visiting with extended family, shopping for last minute gifts, and cooking once-a-year dishes for a large group means life can get a bit hectic.  However, for parents of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, the holidays can be downright painful.

For these parents, ordinary holiday activities become chores.  A child who refuses to eat at the dinner table can turn a nice Christmas dinner into an event marked by constant interruptions. A child whose severe social deficits confine them to the house can hamper shopping or caroling.

And a child with sensory sensitivities might make you think twice about having anyone over at all because of the potential for outbursts.

The good news is that the holidays don’t have to be that way.  Verbal Beginnings utilizes the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis to help prepare families months in advance for the holiday season.  Their therapists work with children and families to target skill sets that are critical determinants of an enjoyable holiday season.

Below are six ways the company has worked to give the gift of happiness to families this holiday season:

Finding highly motivating toys to recommend to parents

Aubrey Daniels once said “behavior goes where reinforcement flows.”  But there’s a catch –  something that is reinforcing for one child may not be for another, and a child’s own reinforcers are always evolving.  Ensuring effective reinforcers are just as important for parents as it is for therapists in order to maintain effective programming in the home.  The therapists at Verbal Beginnings work to continually assess the reinforcer preferences for each child and use the information to recommend toys to parents that they can use as reinforcers for skill building at home.

Teaching safety skills for when going to the mall during the holiday season

The mall is a busy place, but over the holidays it borders on “chaotic”.  During the holidays, hordes of people are scrambling to finish their holiday shopping, and to get in the all-too-important sit on Santa’s lap.  As a parent, your child’s safety is at the forefront of your mind in such situations, as it is for the team at Verbal Beginnings.  For example, if your child is lost, he/she should know how to call you, locate a predetermined meeting place, or contact mall security for help.  If your child is alone and approached by a stranger, he/she should have appropriate “stranger danger” skills to prevent abduction.

Teaching client how to follow a recipe so that he can participate in baking with family members  

The holidays are all about family, and nothing brings family together quite like food.  For parents, cooking presents a rich opportunity to practice a variety of adaptive skills with their kids.  The process of cooking entails following a sequence of behaviors and associated motor skills towards an end goal.  Moreover, you can capitalize on a myriad of opportunities to practice social and language skills inherent in cooking with other people.


Introducing a client to holiday food months in advance so that he/she can eat at the dinner table with family during the holidays

The holidays come with food – holiday specific food that children likely wouldn’t contact at other times of the year.  Many such foods come with new flavors and textures that your child might have never previously experienced.  Experiencing the combination of textures inherent in a pecan pie, for instance, can present challenges if not practiced in advance.  Working to expand a child’s food selection can mean he/she can now sit at the table and enjoy the same meal with everyone, instead of eating the same peanut butter and jelly sandwich each holiday season.

Taking turns when siblings open their gifts during Christmas

Most children spend all year looking forward to Christmas morning — that magical morning filled with presents, excitement, and lots and lots of wrapping paper.  But as your children’s eyes brighten with joy looking at Santa’s handiwork, the fun and excitement of Christmas morning could quickly turn into mayhem.  If steps aren’t taken to help your children pace themselves and take turns, tantrums can erupt and some of that “magic” might be lost for parents and siblings alike.  Behaviorally, this means taking time to build listening, waiting, and social skills to help ensure a manageable morning – skills that can readily generalize to birthdays and other similar events in the new year.

Learning holiday songs to participate in caroling with family members

Perhaps one of the most complex holiday skills of all is Christmas caroling.  Think about it – caroling requires a complex behavior chain and component skills that all must come together for a successful musical trip around the neighborhood.  Aside from the safety skills demanded of night-time travel, caroling requires an advanced verbal and perceptual repertoire.  Not only must the child be able to intelligibly recite the words to each song, but he/she should do it according to a melody, and coordinated with other carolers.

The team at Verbal Beginnings wants to give you the gift of happiness this holiday season. For them, happiness is found in the therapy implemented on a daily basis with their clients.  When the holidays come around, the families served by Verbal Beginnings can take comfort in knowing their holiday experience will be a little easier and their children will enjoy the experience as an integrated member of the family.

How have you helped prepare children for the holidays?  Let us know your experiences in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!




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