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When parents begin the ABA journey with their therapist, they often become confused and even frustrated when it appears that their therapist is veering way off the original goals set for their child. Other times, it may seem like the focus is entirely unrelated to what was discussed up front, and there appears to be no improvement.
But rest assured, your BCBA and ABA therapists have discovered the secret to mastering skills and achieving goals. The trick is to break a complex task into a series of more specific skills that need to come together to complete the whole complex task.
It’s widely acknowledged that we learn to crawl before we can walk. And while some babies develop a novel way of doing so – like scooting, leopard crawling,t or moving backward – the act of crawling is an essential step towards the next stage. So while you are focusing on the goal (walking), your child’s therapist is paving the way by focusing on all the skills that are necessary to achieve it (lifting their neck, rolling over, crawling, standing, and then – at last – walking).
Most of our development happens this way. You have to develop the prerequisite skills before you can master anything – whether it is something simple, like brushing your teeth, or more complex tasks like driving a car. Children with autism often struggle with the natural development of life skills and require support. Therapeutic approaches, including Applied Behavior Analysis, apply this concept by teaching several skills, which are then combined to complete a more complex one.
Understanding Prerequisite Skills
If you consider many toys designed for babies and young children, there is a lot of focus on fine motor skill development. This is because fine motor skills are a prerequisite for many things we do daily and take for granted.
Your fine motor skills develop through working the small muscles in the hands and fingers and practicing low-level skills like pinching, poking, pulling, and twisting. These are essential for developing higher-level skills such as holding a pencil, buttoning up a shirt, and tying shoelaces.
Developing adequate communication and social skills is often very challenging for children on the autism spectrum. But if you can identify the fundamental prerequisite skills, it serves as a platform to build on. For example, your child may not yet manage to socialize with peers, but they can communicate their needs and wants to you. This necessary low-level skill can lead to requesting things from kids their age. Once they have mastered this step, it can lead to the next – asking their peers for assistance. Eventually, they progress to high-level social skills such as initiating play or managing to maintain a conversation. It can be challenging for a child with ASD to stand up for themselves if they are taunted. This is because they are lacking the low-level prerequisite skills such as understanding or being able to name the way the provocation makes them feel. If they can master this step, it will lead them to ask the person to stop taunting them, or even interpret their intent, separating a playful gesture from an act of malice.
When you want your child to complete a task that may seem overwhelming or complex, you can think about what skills are needed to meet your expectations. You will find that when you teach the more basic skills that are needed to complete this task, the child will soon learn to complete a complex task that they otherwise would have struggled with.
Building Skills with ABA
The Applied Behavior Analysis approach provides therapeutic interventions that will establish key skills. These skills serve as prerequisites for communication, social, adaptive, behavioral, and other life skills. These skills are essential for laying the groundwork and making the learning process far less overwhelming and stressful. With positive reinforcement, children develop more confidence and are more likely to carry their newfound skills into other environments. The skills mastered using ABA therapy open doors for children with autism because they are the components that make up higher-level achievement and more meaningful relationships.
So if it seems like your therapist is veering way off the original goals set for their child or focusing on skills unrelated to what was discussed up front, think about whether the therapist is addressing lower-level skills. Also, when there seems to be no apparent progress, it can certainly be because parents with an untrained eye aren’t noticing the micro progress. This means the child may be mastering prerequisite skills needed to reach the outlined goal. Once parents or caregivers appreciate how this works, they are likely to begin noticing the subtle changes that will build up and lead to great growth.
Get The Support You Need!
Circle Care Services in New Jersey and Massachusetts is here to help if you need support in building your child’s skills. We can help determine the prerequisite skills that your child already possesses and establish key goals that will support and facilitate their development of higher-level success. In addition, our staff is equipped to help your child and your family with communication, social skills, behavior concerns, and parent training.
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