Toilet Training Tips for Kids with Autism

toilet training and autism

Toilet training is a fundamental skill to teach all kids. But it can be a tricky skill for children with autism to master. Some parents may find toilet training a smooth process, while others find it a huge battle. Many parents try to start the process and feel discouraged, then decide to take a break. Wherever you are in your child’s journey to using the toilet independently, know that success is definitely possible.

Is Your Child Ready for Toilet Training?

The first step in helping your child with autism use the toilet? Determine if they’re ready. Our Director of Clinical Standards, Dr. Jennifer Thomas, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LBA, suggests a list of pre-requisites to consider before starting the toilet training process.

Can your child…

  • sit on the toilet or potty chair for a few minutes?
  • pull pants up or down?
  • hold urine for at least 30 minutes?
  • imitate skills such as sitting and wiping?
  • find the bathroom or potty chair in the house?

Your child doesn’t need to be proficient in each of these steps all at once to start toilet training. However, keep in mind that the process will be easier and more successful if your child can complete most steps first. If your child struggles with fine motor strength and control, consider occupational therapy (OT). OT can help with skills such as pulling pants up and down, wiping, etc. Additionally, there should be minimal behaviors occurring with bathroom use. If behaviors arise often, be sure to address them prior to starting the toilet training process.

Reinforcement and Encouragement

It’s important to utilize reinforcement and encouragement when working on toilet training your child with autism. You can reinforce their success in using the toilet in a variety of ways, including:

  • Food, such as candy or a small treat
  • A sticker chart
  • A highly preferred activity such as tablet time, a game or favorite toy

Along with reinforcers, use lots of verbal encouragement. Make sure it’s specific and descriptive: “I love how you asked to go to the potty.” Or “You did an amazing job sitting on the toilet for x amount of time!” etc.

Barriers to Toilet Training

Toilet training kids with autism can definitely have its setbacks. You might encounter challenging behaviors from your child, such as fear of using the toilet, refusing to use it, misusing toilet paper or other materials, or tantrums when encouraged to use the toilet.

Some children with autism might be hesitant to use the toilet due to sensory issues. If this is the case for your child, identify the sensory issue. It could be that the toilet seat is uncomfortable, they may feel cold, or feel afraid of the loud flushing sound. Perhaps utilize a toilet seat and let your child hold a stuffed animal or toy while sitting to help them feel safe and comforted.

Another barrier to toilet training is constipation. Kids with autism can be prone to constipation due to selective eating. If you notice your child struggling to void with bowel movements, consult your pediatrician.

General Tips for Toilet Training Kids with Autism

  1. Take toilet training one step at a time! While many parents are eager for their child to gain independence in the bathroom, try not to rush through the process.
  2. Have your child use pull ups or underwear as they transition from diapers.
  3. Use visuals in the bathroom such as a step-by-step laminated sheet with photos to help your child remember the toilet use process.
  4. When starting toilet training, plan a time to be at home with your child (Ideally, a week).
  5. Take data. You could create a chart, take notes in a notebook, or find a data sheet that works for you through an online search. For each toilet session, list the date, time, accident, success, location, and any independent requests.
  6. Make the experience fun and rewarding! Ensure your child is comfortable on the toilet by having them pick out a preferred toilet seat. Keep toys and books in the bathroom and even play music. The more enjoyable the experience is for your child, the more likely they will pick up skills and move towards independence.

If your child receives ABA therapy, check in with your child’s BCBA. They can give suggestions specific to your child as well as general support throughout toilet training.

Toilet training, though necessary, is a huge task to undertake as a parent. While it can be discouraging at times, remember to celebrate the successes. And with encouragement and consistent reinforcement, your child will learn in his or her own time.

Applying and Interviewing at Healing Haven: What to Expect

applying and interviewing at Healing Haven

Applying and interviewing for jobs often involves a lot of unknown and nerves. As we continue to hire to meet the demand for our therapy services, read some helpful info on our hiring process.

Applying at Healing Haven

Applying at Healing Haven is incredibly easy. Simply fill out the form on our Careers page and a recruiter will contact you!

For the Behavior Technician position at Healing Haven, we look for candidates who meet the following qualifications:

  • Experience with children or teens—not required, only preferred. Maybe you’re a parent, or grew up with siblings and cousins. That counts as experience with kids! It’s a bonus if you’ve worked with kids with special needs as well. But again, not required.
  • Friendly, positive attitude
  • Strong communication and listening skills
  • Flexibility with change
  • Reliable / Dependable
  • Ability to work in a fast-paced environment
  • Patience
  • A passion to work with children

Everything else can be taught!

There is not a single moment in these buildings where I do not feel like I am supported, and there is always a team member providing help.” -Aaron, Behavior Technician

Interviewing at Healing Haven

Interviewing at Healing Haven starts with a phone call with one of our Recruiters. This initial interview serves as a two-way meeting to learn as much as we can about you. Additionally, you’ll learn about our company culture and day-to-day operations.

During the interview, we review the history of our company and provide an overview of the programs offered. The goal of this is to give you a well-rounded understanding of the Behavior Technician’s role and how each department contributes to the client’s progress. Our recruiters review both the highlights and challenges of the position to help you understand what the role is like. This process helps identify if someone will truly be a good fit for the position.

If both parties show interest in moving forward, we schedule an in-person tour of the facility within days of the initial meeting. During the tour, you’ll see how a typical day runs during our hours of operation and observes the one-on-one interactions between the clients and Behavior Technicians. Our Recruiters are looking for interactions initiated, observations made, and questions asked by you during this meeting. You’ll also observe a few ABA sessions, as well as Speech or Occupational therapy sessions.

Finally, prior to a position offer, you need to provide two professional references and must complete a background check.

child and Healing Haven ABA Therapist

I admire the clinic’s emphasis on a more naturalist approach to teaching ABA, and I believe that we try our best to create a fun, engaging and safe environment for our children. – Halee, Behavior Technician

Our Advice for Interviewing

For the Interview:

  • Plan enough time to allow for traffic and finding the correct building for your interview so you arrive on time.
  • Turn off your phone to eliminate possible distractions during the interview.
  • Conduct yourself in a friendly and professional manner
  • Prepare by reading over the company website to understand the organization and the position for which you are applying
  • Show your interest by preparing clarifying questions
  • Be honest and clear about your expectations! Our recruiters want to make sure this is a good fit on both sides. If you are uncomfortable with one or more of the requirements discussed, it’s important to identify them early on to be sure this is the best fit for you!

For the In-person Tour:

  • Ask questions or make observations that show your interest
  • Take the time to say hello to staff and clients when possible
  • Show interest in the observed client’s activities – If a client asks you to throw a ball or clap for them when they get something right, show you are willing to have fun and get involved!

“One of my favorite things about being an RBT is seeing the progress that the kids I work with make. This position is extremely rewarding, and I truly love seeing how much these children can grow. I also love seeing the intelligence from every one of them.” –Melissa, Registered Behavior Technician

Job Training at Healing Haven

Our hands-on, in-person training process for the Behavior Technician position lasts roughly 2-3 weeks, depending on how quickly the new employee picks up on the material learned. We mostly hire applicants without experience, so the training process is very gradual easing them in. During the first few days as a new hire, you will observe a session with an experienced RBT and a client. You’ll see how a typical day is run and acclimate to the new environment.

The next step is a process called “pairing” where you start positively connecting with a client, building rapport and instructional control. Once you and the client have begun building a relationship, you’ll start running goals with support from trainers until the trainer fades themselves out of the session completely.

child with ABA Therapist at Healing Haven

In addition to the hands-on training, new employees complete a 40-hour online RBT training to become certified as a Registered Behavior Technician®. Healing Haven helps certify all new employees as RBTs within their first few months of employment.

There is so much to learn in the field of ABA – there is no way to learn it all in two to three weeks! During their first 90 days, new staff receive ongoing training and heavy support from the training department. It is important that you feel both confident in the skills you teach and comfortable asking questions along the way.

“When you get to witness the kiddos reach new milestones and you know that you helped contribute to that, it is a feeling that you won’t find in your ordinary work place.” -Akerria, Behavior Technician

child painting with Healing Haven ABA Therapist

Looks like you’ve made it this far, so you’re probably intrigued in applying and interviewing at Healing Haven! If so, you can learn more about us and easily apply in just minutes. We’re looking forward to meeting you and hope you will be part of our team.  

6 Ways to Build a Positive Relationship With Your Child’s Teacher

positive relationship with child's teacher

As a parent of a child with autism, you want to know your child will be cared for at school. You want to send them to a quality learning environment and for their educators to know and understand your child. In order for your child to be successful, a positive relationship with your child’s teacher is a must. And establishing that relationship can also help alleviate stress on you. (This is a foundation of who we are at Healing Haven – providing strategies for parents to help manage their stress when you’re parenting a child with special needs.)

Here are some ways to foster positive teamwork between you and your child’s teacher to ensure a good school experience for your child.

1. Communicate well

This one is intentionally listed at the top- good communication is key to any healthy relationship! It is the foundation to how the school year will play out, how you will work through concerns, and greatly influences your child’s degree of success.

When communicating, especially for the first time, address your child’s teacher by their professional title and use a friendly tone. Remember to keep communication with your child’s teacher ongoing throughout the year rather than confined to only IEP meetings and parent/teacher conferences.

2. Start communication early

If you haven’t already, now is a good time to reach out to your child’s teacher. Though the beginning of the school year is typically very hectic for teachers, they highly appreciate this. Teachers often reach out first to parents, but you proactively reaching out shows the teacher you want to be on the same team. Establishing a positive relationship early can help ease solving problems later, as previously established trust provides a common foundation. Ask any and all questions you might have for your child’s teacher to solidify expectations. This keeps you in-the-know about what will happen in the classroom. And if your child has both a general education and a special education teacher, make sure to communicate with both of them.

3. Respect and trust

A trusting relationship between parent and teacher is almost guaranteed to help the teacher better understand the child. Likewise, practicing empathy strengthens relationships. Teachers, just like you in your role as a parent, are doing their best amidst many challenges. Even though it may be hard at first, err on the side of trust with the teacher. Most teachers would not be in their job if they did not want to put their students first and work for their best. Ally with your child’s teacher on the premise that you both want what is best for your child.

4. Go to the teacher first

Another way to build a positive relationship with your child’s teacher is to communicate concerns with the teacher first. It can be off-putting to the teacher when parents skip over communicating with them and go right to the principal to address issues or concerns. If no resolution is reached with the teacher, then consider bringing your concerns to administration.

5. Share about your child

You are the one who knows your child best, so communicate that with their teacher. Share helpful info that might not be included in your child’s IEP, such as likes/dislikes and strengths/weaknesses. IEP meetings often take place only once a year, so share any new info on your child with their teacher in the time between those meetings. Teachers want to know more about their students to better understand and serve them. A great habit to establish is creating an “About Me” sheet introducing your child to their new teacher at the beginning of the school year. This can be especially helpful if your child has limited verbal communication skills.

6. Show appreciation

Showing appreciation is incredibly impactful in building a positive relationship with your child’s teacher. Teachers often hear about the things they are doing wrong, which is very wearisome. Show your appreciation for your child’s teacher throughout the year in small ways, such as sending notes of encouragement and thanks. When the teacher does something you appreciate or value, tell them. Little acts of appreciation mean a lot to teachers as they manage so many pieces.  

BONUS Tip: Be a participative parent

We have added this one since we first published this post, so this is our bonus seventh tip: participate in your child’s classroom activities and events, if possible! Not only does participating give you a chance to experience your child’s classroom atmosphere, it shows the teacher that you care and want to be involved. Doing this can also be a great way of meeting other parents and building a community.

A note if your child also does ABA Therapy

Another important person to be brought into this parent/teacher relationship is your child’s BCBA. As teachers become more familiar with ABA therapy and how it benefits their students with autism, introducing them to your child’s BCBA can lead to a collaborative relationship between school and ABA.

Some of our BCBAs attend their client’s IEP meetings. They are another expert voice that can help ensure the proper supports are in place at school so your child can be as successful as possible.  BCBAs may also share with a client’s teacher strategies they use in the clinic. By bringing together all professionals working with your child, you can help create a more cohesive learning and therapy experience for your child.

All in all, cooperation between yourself and your child’s teacher not only benefits your child, but can also benefit you in reducing the potential stress of school, IEPs and supports. Remember that teachers want the best for their students and you want the best for your child. Unite on this premise and your child is likely to thrive!

The Transition to Summer for Kids with Autism

5 Tips for a Fun-Packed Summer for Kids on the Spectrum

As summer break approaches, it’s normal to feel anxious about the transition to summer for your child with autism. You may wonder how your child might handle and adjust to schedule changes, barbeques, fireworks, large gatherings, and all the other eventful things summer brings. To ease some of the anxiety, we compiled five tips and tricks to consider using in the transition to summer for kids with autism.   

1. Create a Schedule

Some kids with autism hold rigidly to schedules and plans. It is helpful to be aware of any potential triggers when it comes to plans, such as things happening suddenly and surprisingly. To avoid this and ease your child’s mind, create a summer schedule to review with them. Visual schedules are a fantastic way to keep your child informed of new routines. Let them know that things might change with this new season and that change is ok. Communicate to your child any change of plans as soon as possible to avoid catching them off-guard. 

2. Prepare Ahead of Time

Just like with any change, it is important to maintain a routine for your child when summer rolls around. Think through what could cause frustrations in your child with certain changes and activities. One idea is to introduce novel places and activities to your child ahead of time. For example, if they’re starting swimming lessons, take them to the pool before their first lesson for some exposure to the environment and to meet their instructor, if possible. Or if your child is starting a day camp, familiarize them by visiting the site and talking with some of their leaders. Tell your child what to expect so they won’t be blindsided by these new experiences. 

Another good way to prepare ahead of time is by looking into sensory-friendly options for some activities and places, such as the museum or theatre. Planning to go to places at non-peak hours is also a good practice for sensory-sensitive children.  

3. Set Expectations and Rewards

Keep your child updated on where you are going, when you are going there and what will take place. Utilizing timers is a wonderful way to remind your child when things will happen, such as leaving the house for an event. For example, if you set the timer for 10 minutes, your child will know that when it goes off it’s time to leave. 

Another way to help kids with autism adjust to summer changes is to set rewards. Ask your child what they prefer to “work” for and use reinforcers or surprise them with a treat or activity after they handle an event well. Preferred items or activities will keep them motivated to demonstrate positive behavior. 

4. Coping with Loud Events

With summer comes celebratory holidays, such as the 4th of July and Juneteenth, and events like concerts and fairs. Fireworks and large crowds often accompany these events, which can be overwhelming for kids with autism. Prepare your child as much as possible before the event. Perhaps show them a video of a firework show or concert beforehand to get a sense of how your child might react. To be prepared, bring noise cancelling headphones and sunglasses in the event your child becomes overstimulated. “Distractors,” such preferred activities, fidgets, or items that comfort them are also great to have on hand. 

5. Go Slow

You don’t need to introduce change all at once. Talk with your child about some exciting activities planned for the summer to paint the coming change in a positive light. Explain that things might be different from how they’ve been throughout the school year.   

Practice adding in change in small ways, such as asking your child to stop a preferred activity and move to a different preferred activity. With this model, you can have them gradually move to non-preferred activities to increase their compliance with change. For example, if your child is playing with their toys, say “You have two minutes left of play time and then we’re going to play a game/watch a video.” Give lots of praise when your child copes well, and focus on the effort rather than the outcome (i.e., “I love how you put your toys down right away when I asked you to. Great listening!”)   

The transition to summer for kids with autism may sound stressful, but with some planning ahead of time, you can help your child thrive.  And as always, remember to stay safe, particularly when outdoors or near water. Here’s to a relaxing, adventurous, and safe summer!  

Great Gift Ideas for Autistic Children

With holiday season fast approaching, it’s time to scheme gift ideas! But finding useful and entertaining gifts for kids with autism can be tricky. For the past few years, we’ve compiled lists of gift ideas for autistic children. These categorized suggestions come from experts at our clinics as well as popular preferences from our clients.

A few things to note: Remember to consider the child’s interests and developmental stage. If they love a certain character or sport for example, find something that includes that. Or if they are intrigued by a certain sensory experience, such as fluffy or smooth items, gift from those categories. Their developmental stage also might not match age-appropriate toys and activities, so keep in mind what they might enjoy based on their abilities and interests.

Here is your guide with great gift ideas for an autistic child (or teen)!

Gifts that encourage movement

Many kids with autism often need to incorporate lots of movement into their day to counteract sensory issues. Try an anti-burst peanut exercise ball for core strength development and calming deep pressure, or a balance board for balance and coordination.

Additionally, according to one of our Occupational Therapists, jumping is an excellent way for kids to get sensory input. She suggests a monkey jump, where small children can engage in a game of Five Little Monkeys. A mini trampoline is another fantastic go-to option for kids who need to get energy out.

Sensory gift ideas

Water beads are a huge favorite of our clients. After expanding in water, put them in a bin and let kids run their hands through them for some mesmerizing sensory fun.

Sometimes a child with autism finds solace with alone time. Make a peaceful haven in a tent that you can fill with pillows, stuffed animals, or any other objects that help your child experience calm.

Poke-A-Dot books offer interactive sensory input while enjoying a story. Children can pop the dots on each page, which is a great opportunity for fine motor skills.

If your child often gets overstimulated and likes body pressure, try a weighted vest, blanket, or neck wrap. The added weight can aid in focus and help kids feel safe and secure.

Toys that support fine motor skills

Kinetic sand is a perfect gift for kids that like to squish, mold, and create—another favorite of our clients. As opposed to real sand, kinetic sand prevents big messes as it sticks together. Scoop into molds or build little creatures and sandcastles for fine motor practice.

Do you have a child who loves taking things apart and putting back together? Check out this take-apart car, complete with a drill. Our OTs utilize these cars during sessions to encourage fine motor skills. The car can also go for a drive when construction is completed, offering an enticing reward at the end of a task.

Do.A.Dot markers help kids work on fine motor skills through learning to hold and control something in their hand. With a sponge tip applicator, they are also mess-free! These markers are a great option for quick art projects.

Gifts for tweens and teens

Many of these gifts work for younger children, but may not satisfy needs of older kids and teens with autism. Finding gifts for teens can be difficult, but we suggest fidget-friendly items than can ease stress. As kids get older, they need to concentrate longer on tasks. Gifting a fidget spinner, a Kinekt gear ring, or finger fidget pencils can therapeutically relieve extra energy and stress when trying to focus.

Stocking stuffers

Try these smaller items to stick in a stocking. “Pop-its” are all the rage right now, for both neurotypical and autistic children—we see many around our clinics! Therapy putty often comes in a small container for easy transport to pull out and squish when needed. Our clients also enjoy stretchy tubes that pop and bend. For kiddos who like to mouth items, try packs of fun-shaped chewies such as these shark teeth. An anti-stress toy like this cool fidget or a liquid timer can simultaneously entertain and ease sensory induced anxiety.

Gift ideas to treat parents

If you’re planning to give to a child with autism, it’s a nice gesture to gift their parents as well. Parents of kids with special needs often endure a lot of stress. Self-care and fun experiences are excellent options, such as a manicure/pedicure, a massage, restaurant gift cards, or movie gift certificates. A relaxing night out is often a wonderful gift for parents, given all they balance!

We hope we’ve helped take some of the stress out of your holiday shopping this year with these great gift ideas for autistic children. For even more gift suggestions, be sure to check out all our holiday gift guides.

Building Skills For Your Autistic Teen’s Future

building skills autistic teens

ABA therapy programs often focus on younger children through establishing communication and social skills, as well as managing behavior. While early intervention is incredibly important for young kids with autism, not many ABA providers serve tweens and teens with autism. However, it’s critical to provide environments where teens with autism can build skills for their future. Moreover, so many individuals with autism are often underestimated in professional and social settings when in fact, they have amazing gifts that positively impact companies and our world.

As a result, we at Healing Haven believe in teaching our middle and high school age clients valuable life skills. We want to empower them to contribute to society and share all they have to offer. To do this, we’ve re-launched some foundational skill-building programs in our Life Skills clinic and are expanding on new opportunities.  

Life Skills Clinic Programs

Café and Grocery Store

Before the pandemic, we operated an internal Café where our clients learned how to bake cookies and brownies and make coffee. The program involved  learning how to take orders from parents and staff, operate a cash register, practicing taking money and making change. This program was paused over the past two years, and we are excited to bring it back.

In addition to the Café return, we are creating a mock grocery store, coming later in the summer. Some clients will have the chance to operate the cash register to practice job skills. Other clients might use the grocery store to learn how to independently shop for groceries. After practicing paying  for their groceries, clients can make a tasty treat by following a recipe in the Life Skills kitchen. To further acquire social and vocational skills, clients can also serve the treats to peers, staff and parents at the Café.

Motor Room

Our Motor Room will feature crafting projects, such as building different toys from scratch or by following instructions from a kit. Clients will have the opportunity to create bird houses, garden boxes and more. We plan to eventually establish a room where the items made in the Motor Room can be jazzed up through painting and decorating.

Computer Lab

We are creating a computer lab where teens with autism can learn technology skills. They’ll practice checking and writing emails, creating documents and slideshows, entering data into Excel, etc.

We also want our clients to have an active role in stock management of building and grocery store materials. Computer use comes in handy for this as well!

Gardening Room             

In the Gardening Room, clients can practice planting, arranging, and caring for their own flowers and vegetables. We will expand our current outdoor garden as well.              


Another feature of our Life Skills clinic is our Classroom. It’s set up like a school classroom with desks, a whiteboard, and a smart board. Clients socialize and interact with their peers and learn to take instructions from the group leader. The group leader plans and implements activities for the clients that incorporate social and living skills. It’s a blast in the Classroom! Teens and tweens participate in chat time, games to practice turn taking, crafts to work on following instructions, and even karaoke as a self-expression and performance opportunity. The Classroom serves as a place for teens with autism to practice the skills they need in school, jobs, and life altogether.

We are beyond excited to re-open these Life Skills building programs and continue to develop new ones. It’s incredible to watch our older kids thrive in an environment that helps set them up for success. And if you are interested in your teen or tween receiving therapy services, please reach out to us here.

What Is Chaining in ABA Therapy?

Chaining in ABA Therapy
chaining ABA therapy

Have you ever felt overwhelmed learning something that requires multiple steps? Maybe it’s taken you multiple tries to learn how to change a flat tire. Or maybe you still need to follow all the steps to make your grandma’s Thanksgiving gravy recipe, while she knows it by heart. In short, it’s hard to master multi-step processes all at once.

For a child with autism, even daily tasks we deem as second-nature may take a lot of work to learn. Not to mention, it can be hard for you as the parent to teach your child these everyday functions. Perhaps you want to teach your child more independence. This is why breaking down complex tasks into steps can be incredibly helpful. In ABA therapy, we call this “chaining.”

The process of chaining provides a smooth path for learning multi-step tasks. But chaining isn’t just meant for ABA therapy. Parents like you, as well as teachers or any other caregivers, find chaining effective in helping kids acquire daily skills.

What is chaining?

Chaining is the active process of stringing together a series of skills in time. When we consider how to teach a skill, the first step is to look at how it can be broken down into smaller components. This is called a task analysis. The components are then linked or “chained” together in a particular order. Research proves chaining is highly efficient for children learning multi-step tasks.

Breaking down tasks, can make learning more rewarding and easy for children with autism. For example, when brushing your teeth, you need to put toothpaste on the toothbrush. But a child with autism might need specific details on how to do that step, such as “Take cap off of toothpaste and squeeze on toothbrush.”

For example, here is a step-by-step task analysis for brushing teeth to be linked through chaining:

  1. Take cap off toothpaste.
  2. Squeeze toothpaste onto toothbrush.
  3. Turn on water and get toothbrush wet.
  4. Brush top teeth.
  5. Brush bottom teeth.
  6. Spit into sink.
  7. Sip water and rinse mouth.
  8. Spit water into sink.
  9. Put away toothbrush and toothpaste.

Types of chaining in ABA therapy


Forward chaining in ABA therapy teaches behavior in chronological order. Each step is reinforced one at a time until that step is mastered.

For example, when teaching a child to dress themselves, start with the step, “Put on underwear,” or whichever piece of clothing goes on first. Praise the child for their effort, even if it takes them a while or it’s a struggle. Then assist them with all the following steps and identify each of them (“Now we’re going to put on pants/shirt/shoes”).  Once they have mastered putting on underwear independently, focus on high praise for the next step until mastered and so on until the child can perform each step without assistance.


Backward chaining is the opposite of forward chaining. Instead of reinforcing the child for the first step completed independently, a caregiver reinforces the very last step.  

In the same example of a child getting dressed, the caregiver helps the child put on underwear, pants, shirt, and socks. The final step is putting on shoes. When the child can get their shoes on independently, give them lots of praise just as in forward chaining. Once shoes are mastered, work on socks, and so on backwards through the task analysis. Teaching in a backwards order ensures you always end the task on a positive.

Visuals for Task Analysis and Chaining

Visual aids are helpful for chaining and following task analysis. They’re a reference for kids to use as they work on mastering skills. If you went into the bathroom in our clinics, you’d see laminated task analysis visuals for brushing teeth and washing hands posted on the mirrors in the bathroom that look like this:

brushing teeth task analysis

You can create your own colorful, fun visuals such as this one to motivate your child!

In conclusion, chaining in ABA therapy helps both children and caregivers by establishing the child’s independence in daily tasks. Chaining can be used in a child’s ABA program, but also at home, school, or any other place they might spend time. Be sure to reach out to your child’s BCBA if you need help creating a visual or need modeling on how to incorporate chaining into your child’s daily routines.

Click here for more information on our ABA therapy programs.

Eating Issues and Autism: 5 Tips to Help

eating issues and autism

Parents of children with autism know eating issues all too well. From mealtime tantrums to picky food preferences, dealing with the eating issues that come with ASD can be a major stressor. However, rest assured that these issues can be addressed by seeking support, establishing routine, and lots of patience.

Food selectivity

Children with autism often have selective food preferences. According to our Director of Clinical Standards, Jennifer Thomas, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LBA, these preferences can occur due to learning, tactile, and/or olfactory sensitivities. Children might prefer soft foods like yogurt or soup, or crunchy textures like snack crackers. Another common preference of children on the spectrum are foods with high starch and sugar content such as snack foods. “Sometimes, the way a food tastes or feels in the mouth, or the way it smells is aversive to kids and therefore physically challenging to try new things,” Dr. Thomas explains.  

Not eating enough

Sitting through a meal and finishing food can be a challenge for kids with autism. As a result, kids may not receive the calories and nutrients they need to maintain health. Chronic malnutrition can lead to physical, emotional and cognitive decline.

Inflexibility in trying new foods

Autistic children may avoid entire food groups such as fruits and vegetables. When parents attempt to introduce non-preferred foods, challenging behaviors often occur. This can make mealtimes difficult for the whole family and eating out undesirable.

From these eating issues come behavioral and health issues such as:

Challenging behaviors

Parents often experience behaviors at mealtimes, such as their child consistently getting up from the table, crying, or throwing food or utensils.

Nutrient deficiencies

Lack of nutrients can cause several health issues, such as difficulties in cognition, iron deficiency, constricted physical growth, and an increased probability of obesity and heart disease. Dr. Thomas also points out that kids are more likely to get sick and take longer to recover because the immune system isn’t as strong without nutrients.

GI issues such as constipation

The struggle to help your child eat well is hard enough. In addition, parents may try to accommodate to their child’s eating issues, such as packing preferred food during restaurant outings or gatherings. Accommodating to eating issues may cause increased stress and relationship strain in parents.

Parents often find it easier to simply give their child preferred foods rather than battling behaviors to change eating habits. But it’s important to know that the longer these issues become ingrained the harder they are to address in the long term.

5 Tips to Address Eating Issues

1. Make mealtimes routine

Kids with autism often thrive with routine. Help them know what to expect by serving meals at the same daily time. You could give your child reminders 30 minutes to 5 minutes before meals to prepare for the transition. It’s great to involve your child in meal preparation, such as having them set the table or help cook if they enjoy it. Give your child choices during mealtimes by letting them select a food to serve or choose where they sit at the table.

2. Keep introducing non-preferred foods

Continue to offer non-preferred foods in small amounts. It’s tempting to simply remove them altogether in order to avoid behaviors. But it’s important to continually give your child opportunities to try the new foods. Shape behaviors by starting small. For example, have your child try one grape or half a carrot. Give lots of praise for their effort of trying and remember it’s ok if they don’t like it right away. “It’s also okay if they don’t eat the new food right away,” Dr. Thomas adds. “Even if they touch the food, or smell it, it’s a step closer to the goal. It’s important to be gentle about the process so food avoidance doesn’t increase.” For example, the novel food can be placed on a separate plate near your child throughout the meal, though they do not need to eat it. Having a special reward for trying something new, or even just tolerating something new nearby, can help move things along faster.

3. Keep reasonable expectations for mealtime

Changing behaviors and your child’s food preferences will take time and patience. Try not to expect big changes all at once. In the meantime, model your expectations for your child. Perhaps you’d like them to sit at the table for a minimum length of time and gradually increase that time. Keep phones and toys away from the table to demonstrate focus at mealtimes. Ignore non-desired behaviors as long as they are safe.

4. Give LOTS of specific praise!

Praise your child consistently for anything they are doing (or not doing) to increase desired behavior. Give specific praise such as “I love how you are sitting so calmly at the table,” “Way to go trying that bite of food!”, or “I’m proud of you for eating those two more bites.” There is most likely always something for which to praise your child!

5. Consult your child’s pediatrician

Eating issues and autism aren’t always preference based. Medical issues are often a culprit, such as acid reflux or allergies. Be sure to consult your child’s pediatrician if you suspect health issues.

Though navigating eating issues in children with autism can be tricky, you are not alone in the journey. And it doesn’t have to be so difficult—the trajectory can change! Seek out resources and support for not only your child but for yourself as well.

Receiving an Autism Diagnosis: What To Do Next

autism diagnosis what to do next

You’ve just received an autism diagnosis for your child. You may be feeling a mix of emotions, from shock, fear, guilt, overwhelm, confusion, or perhaps relief and clarity. Whatever may be going through your mind, know that you are not alone in this journey. You are one of thousands of parents navigating the reality of having a child with autism. This journey brings both joy and struggle, and we are here to help you through it.

In the meantime, here are some helpful steps to take.

Learn about ASD

According to recent 2021 findings by the CDC, 1 in 44 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD can cause social, communication, and behavioral challenges. Yet symptoms of autism greatly differ from person to person.


Social challenges within ASD may include making eye contact, lack of recognition of nonverbal cues, lack of emotional facial expressions and obsessive interests.


Communication challenges may include difficulty developing language skills, understanding others, slower tempo of speech, and making appropriate facial expressions.


Behavioral challenges may include repetitive behaviors such as hand flapping or rocking, sensory processing issues, aversion to touch, rigidities in routines, emotional meltdowns, refusal to follow demands, and self-injurious behavior.

In addition to the above, children diagnosed with autism may also struggle with fine and gross motor skills, such as balance and grasping objects. This can also lead to difficulty acquiring daily living skills like dressing, brushing teeth, writing and more.

If you are just learning about autism or want to continue educating yourself, check out these autism education and awareness organizations:

Autism Alliance of Michigan

National Autism Association

Find support for yourself

Receiving an autism diagnosis can cause stress and worry in parents. It’s crucial to get support for yourself and your partner if you are going through this journey together.

Some ways to ensure you have support include:

  • Reach out to other parents of children with ASD to hear how they have navigated their journey
  • Taking time to process for yourself or with your partner. Maybe have someone watch your child(ren) so you can have space to take in the news of the diagnosis, sift through any information you’ve received, and formulate questions for medical professionals and autism specialists.
  • Seek counseling to help you process. At Healing Haven, we help parents process their child’s diagnosis through our counseling program. In counseling, parents identify triggers for stress, develop goals to manage stress, and learn to navigate relationships. Additionally, we have an ABA Parent Training program, created by our director, Jamie McGillivary. In this program, parents acquire stress management techniques while learning principles of ABA to help support their child’s development.

Seek therapeutic help for your child

Once a child is diagnosed, the evaluation team will often recommend various therapies to support the child’s development. It is important to check with your insurance plan to see what coverage your plan has for an autism diagnosis. The most common therapies recommended include the following:

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy

ABA focuses on developing social, communication, play and learning skills through positive reinforcement. ABA is one of the most common therapies used in autism treatment and is backed by 50 years of research. At Healing Haven, we provide high quality ABA therapy in our clinics. We believe in a more natural and holistic approach to help the child carry over what they are learning into other settings. We also leverage incidental teaching, utilizing the child’s natural interests and motivations.

Occupational Therapy (OT)

The goal of Occupational Therapy is to increase skills in daily living and the use of everyday objects (such as eating and drinking, dressing, writing, etc.) Benefits of OT for individuals with autism include sensory processing, focus, emotional expression, and independence in everyday tasks.

Speech Therapy

Speech Therapy treats speech and communication disorders. It is incredibly beneficial for those with autism, as ASD contains a wide range of communication abilities, from nonverbal to extremely verbal and talkative. Speech Therapy helps individuals communicate through picture icons, electronic talking devices, reading body language, asking and answering questions, and grammatically correct sentences.


Some children and teens diagnosed with autism do not require more intensive ABA Therapy. However, they could benefit from individual counseling. This provides a space for those with ASD to process life challenges. In counseling, individuals with autism meet with a certified therapist specially trained in ASD issues. ASD clients learn coping strategies for frustration or anxiety, manage sensory processing issues, and developing social skills.

Create structure for your child

Individuals with autism function well within structured environments. If you haven’t already done so, start creating predictability for your child’s day.

Make a visual schedule for your child to refer to if they are anxious about what will come next in their day. You could fill it out together the night before or in the morning, for instance. There are hundreds of ideas and templates for creating fun, kid-appealing visual schedules. (Try these free printables!)

Another way to help your child with structure is giving time warnings before an activity ends. For example, if your child is engaging in play with a preferred toy or activity, give 15, 10, and/or 5 minute warnings. Setting timers might be helpful as well. This helps your child be aware that change is coming. They will also learn to emotionally regulate better with a heads-up, especially if sudden change can trigger meltdowns.

As mentioned before, you are not alone in this journey of raising a child with autism. Above all, the most important thing you can do is make sure both you and your child get the support needed. And it’s our team’s mission at Healing Haven to provide you that support. We are in your corner.

For more information, be sure to check out these blogs!

6 Ideas for Practicing Social Skills with Autistic Children

Communication and Autism: 4 Resources to Help

The Benefits of Organized Space for Individuals With Autism

Supporting Siblings of Children With Autism

Teacher Burnout? 4 Reasons to Consider the Field of ABA

I left teaching just weeks before the lockdown in February 2020. Though left for reasons unrelated to the pandemic, I know I would have said goodbye to teaching sooner or later with the way COVID has impacted education. Increased demands on teachers and school staff, major conflict over mask mandates and safety concerns, and a lack of resources are just a few of the challenges educators have faced, leading to unprecedented teacher burnout. Consequently, a recent survey reports that one in four teachers expect to leave the classroom by the end of 2021.

To leave or not to leave?

Making the decision to leave teaching is not an easy one. One of our exceptional Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) and former special education teacher, Julie McGregor, M.Ed., BCBA, LBA, knows the difficulty in deciding to leave teaching. “The decision to leave the schools is a tough one. We went into it because we love kids and want to make positive changes in their lives,” Julie explains. “But there is truly no harder job. There is so much pressure.” That pressure often leads to teacher burnout.

For a job field that was already underfunded, under-resourced, and under-supported, it’s no wonder so many teachers have called it quits. But many former teachers are seeking new careers in fields where they can still utilize their leadership and planning skills. These fields include but are not limited to, writing positions, project management, academic advising, and human resources.

Why consider the field of ABA

If you’re a teacher who recently left your position or are toying with the idea of a career change, you might feel inhibited by uncertainty of where to go next. Julie knows this uncertainty all too well. “If I wasn’t going to be a teacher forever, what was I going to do next?”  We might be biased, but jobs in Applied Behavior Analysis are an excellent option for teachers experiencing burnout.

As one of those burned-out educators, I found my new position as an ABA therapist very manageable and much less stressful. Additionally, I still get to make a difference in young lives. If you’ve left teaching, your experience and skills are not lost. Consider these four reasons for why ABA therapy might be the perfect post-teaching career for you.

1. Utilize similar skills

As teachers, we do so much and wear too many different hats. More than most people realize. Yet, in turn, we develop invaluable skills that are not just limited to life in the classroom. These include patience, creative thinking, and excellent communication skills. Put these refined skills to use in ABA therapy as an ABA Therapist/Behavior Technician or Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Both positions require close communication with parents and alert attention to detail when taking data on behaviors. Because ABA is evidence based, it requires the precise organizational skills and attention to detail that teachers acquire. Additionally, thinking outside the box is helpful in ABA when analyzing and creating behavior intervention plans. Teachers experience a range of behaviors in the classroom so they bring valuable insight when understanding motives for behavior in their clients.

2. One-on-one work versus overpacked classrooms

In ABA therapy, working with kids with high behaviors can be difficult at times. However, ABA therapists work one-on-one with a client and receive supervision from the client’s BCBA. BCBAs often work with 7-10 clients total but not all at the same time; they schedule times to be with each client individually. As teachers, we’ve basically championed managing behavior in classrooms of 20+ kids. So picture the ease of only having to worry about one of those kids at a time—you got it in the bag!

3. Continue making a difference

Teachers quite often choose their jobs because they want to make a difference in lives. Good news—you don’t have to leave that behind in ABA therapy. Our own Healing Haven ABA Therapists very often speak to the fulfillment of helping kids and families, as well as seeing kids’ quality of life improve drastically. When Julie went back to school to become a BCBA, she knew she wasn’t sacrificing making a difference in kids’ lives. “[ABA] was perfect. I still got to work with kids, help them grow and learn, and watch them make such huge gains. But I got to do it in a different setting,” she explains. And as a former teacher, working as an ABA Therapist at Healing Haven is a more supportive and less stressful setting at that! Working in ABA therapy means every day you are actively working toward the purpose of changing someone(s) life for the better.

4. Comparable and/or better compensation

Making a difference in lives is the ultimate fulfillment in being a teacher. Yet, it’s realistic to want respectable compensation for your work. Unfortunately, and as well all know too well, most teachers are extremely underpaid. According to the National Education Association’s 2019 annual teacher salary analysis, the average salary of a teacher in the U.S. was $60,477. In comparison, BCBAs make around $63,000 a year while Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) (also called ABA therapists) average $39,000. Since the BCBA position requires a master’s degree and licensing, and the ABA Therapist position does not, this is a justifiable discrepancy.

Though ABA Therapists don’t make quite the same amount as BCBAs, I personally became an ABA Therapist for a similar salary I made as a teacher  because I knew I would have more support, resources, and respect. ABA career salaries line up as comparable and even better compensation to that of teaching. Think of it as making the same amount of money or more as when you taught with much less overwhelm—a commensurate trade-off.

“Teaching is a different mindset. You have to make a lot of adjustments to get into ABA, but it really is worth it. It’s a life changing decision but can be so wonderful.”

Ready for change?

The intensifying issues educators face today are understandably enough to cause teacher burnout. However, the decision to leave teaching and try a whole new career is not made lightly. “I know it’s scary for people that have been teachers for a long time to make a switch, but it can be really amazing,” Julie notes. “Teaching is a different mindset. You have to make a lot of adjustments to get into ABA. But it really is worth it. It’s a life changing decision but can be so wonderful.”

Are you experiencing teacher burnout? If so, take a look at ABA Therapist opportunities as a possible new career path. Still have questions? Head over to the Join our Team page to learn more and apply for a position today! We are more than ready to welcome you to the world of ABA and Healing Haven!

About the Author

Originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, Cara Motzkus earned her B.A. from Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. She spent a year as an elementary classroom paraprofessional in Utah and was a 2nd grade teacher for another year before re-locating to Michigan for her husband’s PhD program. After a rough teaching experience in a 2nd grade classroom in Michigan, Cara left teaching and became an ABA therapist at Healing Haven in March 2020. She took on the Marketing Assistant position in April 2021 and continues to work with clients part time. An intuitive creative and intellectual, Cara is also a trained singer, an avid yoga practitioner, guitar dabbler, and lover of excellent food. Her passions include travel, the mountains, adventuring with her husband, and cooking too much. Give her a good mockumentary or period drama and some ice cream and she’s a pretty happy camper.