The Vital Role of Self-Care for ABA Professionals

Self-Care for ABA Professionals

Self-Care for ABA Professionals

When it comes to understanding the importance of self-care for professionals in the field of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) Therapy, let’s first explain what ABA is and what ABA professionals do.

What is ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis)?

ABA Therapy aims to teach individuals with autism pivotal skills like communication, social and life skills that can improve their quality of life. It also works to decrease interfering behaviors such as self-harm and aggression. 

What Do ABA Professionals Do?

Many Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) professionals dedicate their lives to supporting individuals with autism and other developmental needs. ABA professionals typically fall into one of two roles: Behavior Technician (also known as BT or RBT if they are a Registered Behavior Technician) or Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). 

The primary difference between an RBT and a BCBA is with their education and certifications. Additionally, an RBT works under the supervision of a BCBA. The BCBA creates client learning goals based on the needs and priorities of each client and their family. The technician implements and teaches these programs to the client. One must typically be an RBT first as part of the educational training to become a BCBA. It is also important to note that there are BCBAs that don’t work with children with autism, but in this blog we will focus on the professionals that do.

Why Self-Care Matters

An ABA professional’s work is deeply rewarding, but it can also come with noticeable challenges. The intensity of the job can lead to stress, burnout, and even compassion fatigue if not properly managed. Self-care is not just a luxury, but a necessity for ABA professionals to maintain their well-being and continue to provide the best care for their clients. We spoke with our own Healing Haven leadership team to gather practical strategies for incorporating self-care into the lives of ABA professionals!

1. Prevention of Burnout

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. ABA professionals are particularly susceptible due to the demanding nature of their work. A 2021 study published by the National Library of Medicine found that 72 percent of 826 ABA practitioners “reported medium to high levels of burnout.” Fortunately, self-care practices can help mitigate the risks of burnout by providing regular opportunities for rest and rejuvenation.

2. Enhanced Professional Performance

When ABA professionals take care of themselves, they are better equipped to take care of others. Self-care enhances focus, creativity, and problem-solving abilities, which are critical in developing effective behavior intervention plans. A well-rested and mentally sharp professional can provide higher quality services and make more significant strides in their clients’ progress.

3. Emotional Resilience

Working with individuals who have complex needs can be emotionally taxing. Self-care helps build emotional resilience, allowing ABA professionals to manage their emotions better and stay empathetic and compassionate. This resilience is crucial for maintaining a positive therapeutic relationship with clients and their families.

4. Modeling Healthy Behaviors

At Healing Haven, ABA professionals teach all clients coping and calming strategies to help work through emotions. By practicing self-care, they model these behaviors, demonstrating their importance and effectiveness. This can indirectly encourage clients and their families, as well as the ABA professionals themselves, to prioritize their own self-care.

Practical Self-Care Strategies for ABA Professionals

1. The Basics

Let’s start with the foundational self-care strategies for ABA professionals: exercise, good nutrition habits, and adequate sleep and rest. While these aspects are essential for anyone’s self-care, the importance of them is magnified in the physically and mentally taxing field of ABA. 

Exercise is a powerful stress reliever and mood booster. Whether it’s a daily walk, yoga, or a more intensive workout, incorporating physical activity into your routine can significantly improve your physical and mental health.

Good nutrition and eating habits can be easily overlooked in the realm of self-care. But for ABA professionals, who are required to have increased energy levels daily, it’s a must. Consuming nourishing food creates energy: think energy bars, fruit, vegetables, and plenty of water. Try reducing your intake of packaged, processed foods and maybe even throw some meal-prepping in there occasionally.

Lastly, being sleep-deprived simply won’t cut it for the energy needed to do ABA work. Therefore, it’s important to prioritize adequate sleep and rest schedules. Aim to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night and listen to your body when it needs to rest and recharge.

2. Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

Mindfulness, in short, is the ability to live in the moment. According to Youmatter, it means “being (intentionally) more aware and awake to each moment and being fully engaged in what is happening in one’s surroundings – with acceptance and without judgement.” Healing Haven’s Director of Clinical Standards and expert on the topic of mindfulness, Dr. Jennifer Thomas, suggests trying to identify what type of technician or BCBA you want to be at work and then “live in the moment” with those attributes in mind. 

Practices such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation can also help reduce stress and increase mindfulness. Dr. Thomas recommends practicing breath exercises, such as this one, or engaging in guided meditation sessions like this one. Even a few minutes of dedicated mindfulness or relaxation time a day can make a big difference in managing stress levels.

At Healing Haven, we emphasize self-care and mental well-being for our employees by hosting special events such as our Employee Wellness Week. Our Employee Engagement Committee hosted a daily wellness activity including guided meditation, healthy eating, a prayer group, and a mindfulness seminar, available to all employees to attend each day. It was a wonderful opportunity to incorporate these skills in an intentional way together as a team. 

3. Professional Support

In the ABA Therapy workplace, it’s extremely important to seek support through supervision and peer networks when needed. Unfortunately, not all providers offer multiple layers of support for their BCBAs or behavior technicians. This is an essential element to consider when interviewing for these positions. Looking for a position that provides a supportive work environment is crucial. Connecting with colleagues who understand your experiences can be incredibly validating and helpful.

Our President & Founder, Jamie McGillivary, spoke about the importance of integrating stress management techniques and resources into BCBA training programs. “It’s a hard job – it’s a super rewarding job – but right out of the gate, you should be learning about these techniques,” McGillivary said. At Healing Haven, we prioritize and highlight mindfulness and stress management information within our practicum program for students studying to become BCBAs.

4. Setting Boundaries

When you’re invested in the work you do, it’s easy to allow it to take over and encroach on your time outside of work. Many careers entail long hours and times of stress. So it’s important to find an organization that sets realistic expectations for your work load and hours. Having open communication with your supervisors is key to ensure a balanced caseload or schedule. Additionally, staying organized, as well as knowing when to unplug can help mitigate stress and preserve your mental health. 

5. Pursuing Hobbies and Interests

Engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfillment outside of work is crucial. Whether it’s reading, gardening, golfing or other sports, having hobbies allows for a mental break and provides a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Jamie suggests being cognizant of “how we can keep our buckets full so that we can pour into others’.” Everyone’s “bucket” looks different, but identifying what’s needed to fill your bucket and then working to prioritize those things is essential.

6. Seeking Professional Help

If feelings of stress or burnout become overwhelming, seeking support from a mental health professional is a proactive step that should not be overlooked. Therapy or counseling can provide strategies and support to manage stress effectively. This article lists some resources, support groups, and mental health advocacy organizations specific to ABA professionals seeking mental health support. 

Important Reminders

Self-care is not a one-size-fits-all approach; it requires intentionality and a commitment to finding what works best for you. For ABA professionals, the practice of self-care is fundamental to sustaining a long, fulfilling career. By prioritizing their own well-being, ABA professionals can continue to make a profound impact on the lives of those they serve while maintaining their own health and happiness. Remember, taking care of yourself is taking care of your clients. If you’re an ABA professional, let us know what you do to practice self-care!

Addressing Common ABA Therapy Myths 

Child in aba therapy
Child in aba therapy

Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy (ABA) is considered the “gold standard” for autism treatment. So why are there myths of ABA therapy and online opinions that contradict this?

Though ABA is backed by scientific research, misinformation or misunderstandings still surround the practice. You may be considering ABA therapy for your child but have concerns. You might also simply want to know more about it before choosing it as a treatment option. Here we debunk common ABA myths to ease any lingering worries and to give accurate information so parents like you can make informed decisions.

1. ABA is only for children with profound impairments

ABA therapy treats individuals with autism across the spectrum, not just those who have an intellectual disability, or those without functional language. Likewise, therapy will be different depending on the person. 

For example, a verbal person may work on conversing with peers while a non-verbal person may focus on basic communication through a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) book or an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device. ABA providers assess the child and discuss working toward goals that are most socially significant to the child, like communication, socialization, play and daily living skills. 

2. ABA doesn’t work for older kids

Though many parents begin ABA early when their children with autism are young, ABA helps individuals of all ages. We know learning doesn’t stop in young childhood. Many older kids and teens on the spectrum struggle with socialization and communication. Therefore, ABA has much to offer kids in its wide variety of approaches. Whatever the age of the individual, progress and success are achievable and are worthy of celebration.

3. ABA can create robotic responses

This is a common ABA myth. ABA is the most efficacious intervention for children on the autism spectrum when implemented properly. When careful consideration is given to ensure the skills that are taught are useful and meaningful, “robotic” responses are avoided.   Children engaged in highly repetitive teaching programs with little opportunities to carry over skills to the real world, are at a higher risk of exhibiting this behavior.

Parents should look for ABA programming that targets skills and behaviors that are relevant to the child’s life. They should also provide opportunities for their child to practice the skills in a natural setting. When done properly, children receiving ABA therapy acquire skills that are functional for their everyday activities.

4. ABA uses punishment

The misunderstanding regarding punishment in ABA therapy is caused by the terminology used in everyday language versus how it is used in the field of ABA.

In ABA terms, a “punishment” is defined as anything that decreases the chances of a behavior occurring again because of an event that directly followed the behavior.  In contrast, in everyday use, many people equate the term “punishment” with something angry or mean, which is never the case in our ABA therapy in our clinics.

For example, if a child throws their toy against a glass window, a caregiver may decrease the likelihood that this would happen again in the future by taking the toy away after they throw it. Taking the toy away is considered a “punishment” if it decreased the behavior in the future. ABA therapy recognizes the world is made up of natural punishment and reinforcement.

5. ABA is all the same

ABA is tailored to the child’s needs and goals. What may work for one individual might hinder another. Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) utilize a vast array of approaches including positive reinforcement, prompting and shaping to help a child learn and thrive. Research demonstrates that ABA helps more than just one type of child. If ABA used the same approach for all, it would not hold the effectiveness it has garnered over the past 50 years.

6. ABA therapy is only used to address problematic behaviors

It is true that ABA therapy is effective for eliminating problematic or dangerous behaviors. However, it is also just great teaching. As such, it is extremely helpful to build up skills such as communication, socialization and play.   ABA works to improve these various areas to collectively better the individual’s life experience. 

7. ABA is a cure for autism

Autism spectrum disorder is not a curable condition. Of the many existing approaches there are to help children navigate life with autism, ABA therapy is the only scientifically backed method of treatment. ABA is not meant to take away the autistic experience, but to make the hard parts manageable with the main goal of improving quality of life for the individual.

We hope this helped clarify some common ABA therapy myths or misconceptions you may have had. Head over to What is ABA Therapy: Your Questions Answered for more information on what ABA therapy looks like here at Healing Haven. And our ABA Therapy Programs page has details on all the various ABA therapy services we provide.

Autism Acceptance and Finding Community

autism acceptance and finding community
parents meeting for coffee

April is here again, which means it is time to celebrate and honor Autism Acceptance Month. Previously called Autism Awareness Month, the recognized period was started in 1972 by the Autism Society as National Autistic Children’s Week. It evolved from that into an entire month of recognition. In 2021, it was renamed from Autism Awareness Month to Autism Acceptance Month.  

The Difference Between Awareness and Acceptance 

The evolution of this nationally celebrated month’s name is due to the need to move beyond “awareness”. Today, many people are already “aware” of autism, and have been for some time. This elevated awareness has led to an increase in autism diagnoses since the disorder’s discovery. Currently, autism is prevalent in 1 in 36 children aged 8 years old, according to the CDC. With that said, being aware of autism is vastly different than accepting individuals with autism. This month, we emphasize the ability to accept individuals with autism. One way this can be done is through meaningful action with a focus on parents of individuals with autism.  

Taking Action by Finding Community

Something that many people do not consider when they think of a child receiving an autism diagnosis is the toll it can have on the child’s parents and family. The impact of an autism diagnosis is that it can feel isolating. And that feeling of “being alone” can make it challenging for parents to find the support and community they need. In addition, support is not always readily available. That is why for this Autism Acceptance Month, we want to focus on the importance of finding community for people with autism and their families.  

How Support Groups Can Help

Support groups are wonderful because they can serve multiple different purposes at once. But helping people connect with others who share similar experiences is what makes them essential for families impacted by autism. Support groups provide an abundance of resources. They also are filled with people who can relate to what you may be feeling. The people in these groups can help give advice for managing the unique ups and downs that come with raising a child on the spectrum. You, in turn, can help others who may have questions. Support groups also provide a wonderful place to share accomplishments along with challenges and create friendships for both you and your child.  

Where to Find Support

In Michigan:  

Michigan Alliance for Families has many resources for families impacted by autism. Parents can search for local events, get information on ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) services, educational services, and other supports. Their Navigators are available by phone to help families find autism assistance throughout Michigan.  

If your child is receiving therapy services, other parents are a great place to start to find those who are understanding of your situation. Ask your child’s BCBA or Therapist if there are some parents you can connect with. Or, stop and strike up a conversation with another parent when you are at the clinic. You never know what kind of friendship may develop! 

In All States and Online: 

Parents Helping Parents offers an online support group that meets once a month to discuss autism resources and stories. As the website explains, this can be a terrific way to connect and learn from parents who may share a similar story to your own. In addition to parents, anyone who works with children on the spectrum is encouraged to check it out.  

Healthline has an abundance of autism resources, ranging from general information to education and government benefit resources. They also specify resources for specific age groups and list multiple support groups and organizations for autistic individuals and their allies.  

Facebook is a place where you can find a group page for about anything. And that does not exclude support groups for parents of autistic children! This can be a wonderful place to meet other parents and discuss ideas, struggles, and accomplishments. Facebook groups are a place you can learn more about the autism community. Healing Haven even has their own private group specially created for parents of clients only. 

The Benefits of Autism Acceptance

An important thing to remember is that an autism diagnosis does not define a child or their family. Additionally, those with autism should never be underestimated. No one knows what the future holds.  

The more parents find a community and the support they need, the more likely they are to accept their new circumstances, which helps communicate autism acceptance to our broader communities. Through acceptance of our personal situations and finding others who understand, we can reduce our stress levels and bring richness to our lives. Additionally, it is important to note that acceptance applies to everyone. Parents who accept their child’s diagnosis can be fully present to support them. In addition, all of us learning to accept our neighbor, nephew, child’s classmate, who has autism, will set an example to others. And simultaneously, we will help create a community for that family to feel included. Through acceptance we help spread empathy and kindness of others’ differences. By living out acceptance we can make an impact far beyond the autism community. 

We hope you have found these resources to be helpful and we encourage you to share any information discovered here with your friends and family. Please feel free to leave a comment if this impacted you in a significant way. Happy Autism Acceptance Month! 

Uncovering Interests and Talents Through ABA Therapy

Two people playing the piano together.

When people think about ABA Therapy, they typically envision an environment rich in opportunities to promote communication, social skills and play skills. But what many people may not consider is that ABA Therapy can also help develop an individual’s vocational interests and jumpstart hobbies, which is especially important for individuals with autism. This post shares the story of one client who turned an interest into a new skill.  

The client, who will not be named for privacy purposes, found himself paired up with Healing Haven Registered Behavior Technician, Alex Levy, in fall of 2022. During their daily therapy sessions, the duo uncovered that they had a shared interest in music. With this, they both gravitated toward playing the piano in our music room. 

Many clients, employees, and parents alike have heard the floating, peaceful melodies of the piano filling the air in our clinic throughout the past year. Alex can often be heard practicing outside of his ABA Therapy hours. If heard during therapy hours, however, it is likely Alex playing piano with his client or his client playing solo. 

The power of music

Alex said his interest in learning to play the piano began when he saw a coworker playing it. “It just sounded very serene and peaceful,” said Alex. He has been taking advantage of the in-clinic piano, practicing on it for nearly a year. 

When Alex began working with his client, neither of them knew much about playing the piano. But once Alex started experimenting with tunes and sounds, his client began to gravitate toward it, too.  

The client’s Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), Amanda, said that Alex and his client’s bond is an amazing and beautiful one to see. “Alex has been able to connect with him and engage with him on a whole new level,” she said. “I am still in shock whenever I do a supervision session and hear [the client] play a new song or show me a new skill he has learned on the piano. They both make me want to learn to play too!”

Recognizing your child’s interests

The mother of Alex’s client reports that her son has had a noticeable interest in music since he was a toddler. “We have pictures of him trying to play different instruments,” she said. “We also have pictures of him from a few years ago also trying to play the piano at Costco.” 

She said that, considering her son’s past interest in music and the piano, she wasn’t surprised to hear he was toying around with the piano at Healing Haven. What was surprising was the level to which her son was learning and developing musically.  

The magnitude of his talent became apparent one day when she took her son to get a haircut. She explained that the establishment she takes him to has a bounce house and a piano in the back to be enjoyed by the clients afterwards as a reward.  

“He just sat down at the piano and started to play something and I was so surprised and excited to hear him,” exclaimed the client’s mom. “I recorded him and showed my husband and family. I mentioned it to Alex later and he said, ‘yeah, he’s actually really good and is picking it up.’ We were so happy to hear that!”  

A flourishing talent

A tune Alex began learning early on in his piano journey is Viva La Vida by Coldplay. The catchy, repetitive, and uplifting chords captured his client’s attention immediately. This became a song heard regularly around the clinic. After a short amount of time, it was indistinguishable if it was Alex or his young client playing.  

Aside from Viva La Vida, Alex said his client likes to practice Beethoven tunes as well as various other classic melodies. “Usually when we play the piano together, my client likes to mimic whatever I play. However, he does add a lot of different variations to the things that I play or have shown him,” Alex said.  

The client’s mom is unsure if her son can read music notes or if he relies on sounds and visuals he receives from Alex’s playing. Alex believes it is the latter, which isn’t an unusual special ability for individuals on the autism spectrum.  

Alex can relate to this skill, as he is also on the spectrum. “Being on the spectrum definitely has helped me increase pattern recognition when it comes to learning to play instruments, but I do like to think I have a little bit of talent,” Alex joked.  

The benefits of music

There are many benefits of playing music for those on the autism spectrum. The client’s mom thinks her son’s newfound hobby and passion has made a positive impact on his behavior. “I think he goes to play when he needs to relax and sort of unwind from the day,” she said. “I would also say it has given him some extra confidence. He loves when we clap and cheer him on while he plays. He gets a big smile on his face and seems to stand taller when he gets up.”  

Amanda can attest to this. She said she has noticed that her client loves having others listen to and watch him play the piano and that he has even allowed peers to play alongside him. “Usually, he only wants his therapists and familiar people around him, but this has allowed him to let other people into his world,” Amanda said.

Alex has noticed a difference in his client’s behavior in the clinic as he’s gotten more involved in playing the piano as well. “It’s kind of given him more of a sense of entertainment and joy,” Alex said.  

Last November, another Healing Haven parent gifted a piano to the client’s family after hearing him play in the clinic and learning that the family was seeking an in-home piano for him.  The family is hoping to start piano lessons at home soon. Alex’s plans for playing the piano include getting an in-home piano and making more time to practice. 

Helping your child with autism find their passion

“The interest in music has always been there for him [her son], but ABA and his therapist provided the opportunity for him to learn and explore playing the piano,” said the client’s mom. “We wouldn’t have known that he has the passion and talent for piano if not for his exposure and opportunity during his therapy sessions.” 

At Healing Haven, we love to help children discover their interests and passions through our ABA Therapy. If you’re looking for potential hobbies to try out with your child, check out this list of ideas.

Winter Activities for Kids with Autism

boy plays outside in snow.

We can all probably agree—winter is often hard to get through. Cold, icy days nix the option for frequent outdoor play. If your child needs some cabin fever relief, we’ve compiled some DIY winter activities for kids with autism. These projects are ridiculously easy to assemble and extremely cost-effective—it really doesn’t take much for kids to have fun! Many of these activities require similar materials that you can buy in bulk and have on hand. Additionally, these winter activities for kids with autism promote sensory input, social interaction, and fine and gross motor skills.  

Indoor Winter Activities

Create fake snow

This is a sensory activity that incorporates textures. It’s great for kids who seek tactile sensory experiences. All you need is some shaving cream and baking soda for some fun with fake snow. Squirt some shaken shaving cream into a bowl or plastic bin. Add baking soda until the mixture reaches a moldable consistency. Kids will love squishing their hands in the “snow,” building mini snow people, and creating little winter wonderland worlds. 

Our expert team of Occupational Therapists (OT’s) share the importance of sensory activities like this one. “The combination of soft, squishy textures with the coarseness of the baking soda provides a variety of input to the tactile system that is both alerting and regulating,” said one of our OT’s. They also suggest having your child create the snow with you, which increases processing and executive functioning skills. “For example, have your child measure and/or pour out the ingredients with you and stir them together to combine. This is a great naturalistic opportunity to incorporate fine motor skills, tool use, and bilateral integration as your child stirs while stabilizing the bowl.” 

Materials Required:

  • Plastic bowl or bin
  • Shaving cream
  • Baking soda

Frozen treasure hunt

This winter activity only requires a little bit of prep! If your child loves “heavy work,” or activities that involve applying and/or receiving pressure, be sure to have them try this. According to our OT Team, “heavy work is organizing for the proprioceptive system, helps your child integrate new information about their body’s position in space to develop body awareness, and incorporates pressure regulation skills.” 

To create, fill a plastic tub with water and place items in it such as toys, plastic snowflakes, pinecones, or other winter-themed objects. Place the bin in the freezer overnight until it’s frozen solid. The next day, remove the ice block from the bin by running warm water over the bottom. Place the block in a larger container and have kids “dig” around for the items. Digging tools can be silverware, toy hammers, or any other child-safe item. Picking at ice keeps kids engaged and motivated to find the treasures! For safer tool options, we suggest having your child use basters or eyedroppers to dispense warm water across the ice to melt it.

Our OT’s like activities like this, as they provide excellent natural opportunities to develop fine motor skills, pincher grasp and finger strengthening as well as visual motor skills. Using motivating characters, figures or toys will be more likely to hold your child’s attention. 

Materials Required:

  • Plastic tub
  • Plastic toys, snowflakes, foam cut outs, pinecones, berries, anything winter-themed
  • Silverware, toy hammers, eyedroppers, basters

Make snow ice cream

There’s no better way to utilize fresh snow than making it into a tasty treat. Collect 8 to 12 cups of clean snow. Add vanilla extract and condensed milk and stir into snow. Add more snow if needed to reach an ice cream-like consistency. Scoop into bowls or cones and add toppings! 

Materials Required:

  • 8-12 cups clean snow
  • Vanilla extract (or other flavorings, like chocolate syrup)
  • Condensed milk
  • Toppings such as candy, sprinkles, crushed cookies, etc.

Build an Indoor Fort

Gather some comfy pillows and blankets to help your child build a relaxing space of their own. You can even create a special bin/area full of your child’s favorite comforting items for this specific purpose. Incorporate reading, pajamas, a movie or even a nap into this- everything is better in a fort! 

Sensory Winter Activities

Squish bags

Sensory squish bags are a hit for children who love squishy things. And fortunately, they’re super easy and cheap to make—a perfect winter activity idea for kids with autism. Fill a sealable plastic bag with hair gel and add snowflake glitter, beads, confetti, water beads, buttons, beans, or anything else that would entertain your child. You can also seal the edges of the bag with patterned packing tape to ensure the bag won’t open. Check out this snowman sensory bag to stick with the winter theme. 

Materials needed:

  • Sealable plastic bag, any size desired
  • Glitter, beads, confetti, water beads, buttons, beans
  • Clear hair gel
  • Food coloring (just a drop or two)
  • Patterned packing tape

Sensory bin 

Sensory bins are great for fine motor skill practice. Fill a bin with cotton balls, foam snowflakes and snow people. Give your child fine motor tools such as plastic tweezers and ball scoopers and let them practice picking up items. Or they can just use their hands!

Materials needed:

  • Plastic bin
  • Cotton balls
  • Foam snowflakes, snow people, other winter themed shapes
  • Plastic tweezers, ball scoopers, anything that promotes fine motor skills (such as this tool kit)

Sensory bottle

Many kids with autism are entertained by just watching sensory-pleasing items with color, texture, and shine. Sensory bottles are yet another winter activity for kids with autism with very simple assemblage required. Find a clear water bottle with a screw-on cap. Next, put wintery glitter and snowflake confetti in the bottle. Use a drop or two of blue food coloring if desired, fill with water, screw the cap on, and shake it up. (Sealing the cap with glue is a good idea for children who might be tempted to open it.) 

Materials needed:

  • Clear water bottle
  • Glitter, snowflake confetti, etc.
  • Food coloring
  • Glue

Outdoor Winter Activities

Snow maze

After a big snow, there’s often lots of sledding or the building of snow people. But have you ever tried making a snow maze? Create a twisty path in the snow with your feet (or use a shovel) and pack the snow down. You can make one big maze or multiple small ones to keep kids entertained and active for a while. 

Tic Tac Toe in snow

Use rocks, leaves, sticks, paint, or pinecones to create a Tic Tac Toe board in the snow. Maybe organize a family tournament!

Paint snow

In the midst of a white wonderland, color is pleasing to the eye. Have kids create their own colorful outdoor artwork by creating a frame with sticks and painting within it. Be sure to use non-toxic, water-based paint to avoid clothing stains. Using jars to hold the paint works well, as you can sturdily plant them in the snow. 

Materials needed:

  • Non-toxic, water-based paint
  • Jars
  • Sticks or rocks
  • Paintbrushes

Kindness rocks

Based off The Kindness Rocks movement, this activity is a fantastic way for kids to create messages of kindness. And with all the negativity in the world, we need all the kindness we can get. On winter days with less or no snow, have kids collect smooth rocks. Clean the rocks. On the back of the rock, write or paint #TheKindnessRocks project. Then decorate and help kids write kind messages on the front. Seal with an outdoor sealant spray to prevent fading. 

Materials needed:

Social Activities

Parallel Play

Encouraging your child to give or share a toy with a playmate can be an effective play technique, if appropriate. If this is not something easily attainable for your child, even inviting a peer over and having them sit next to your child in the same room while engaging in a separate activity can benefit your child’s social skill development.   


Any type of game, whether it be a simple game of Simon Says or a board game that promotes imitation, turn-taking and cooperation can be a great way to get social with your child. Remember, it doesn’t matter so much if the game is played correctly- it’s all about participation and fun!  

Be Mindful of Screen Time

While it may be challenging to reduce your child’s electronics use, it is important to monitor and be aware of how much time they are spending “plugged in”, especially during the winter when it is easy for them (and you!) to lose track of time while being indoors. Instead, encourage other activities like reading a book or putting together a puzzle.  For more ideas on managing screen time, check out this post

We hope these winter activities for kids with autism provide some fun during these long cold days, while also providing sensory and fine motor input. We’d love to hear about your experiences as well. Please comment below!

Autism-Friendly Activities Around Metro Detroit 

autism-friendly activities in metro detroit

‘Tis the season, which means winter break is upon us! For many, this equates to extra down time to relax and play. But for children on the autism spectrum, this “down time” is out of their routine. A change in routine can cause anxiety or trigger behaviors. That’s why, for parents and caretakers of children with autism, it is helpful to have some autism-friendly activities in mind. Doing so helps to ensure an active and enjoyable holiday break for everyone.  

An amazing BCBA on our team, Megan Tucci, MA, BCBA, LBA, compiled a list of autism-friendly activities and events in Metro Detroit to share with her clients. And we thought it would be awesome to share it with all of you, as well!  

Sensory-Friendly Events and Activities Around Metro Detroit:

  1. AMC Sensory Friendly Film Showing : These sensory film-showings feature lowered sound and dim lighting. Patrons are able to bring their own dietary-friendly snacks and kids are free to “dance, walk, shout or sing” or move about the aisles. There are no previews or advertisements before the movies. The movies are geared toward children ages 5 & up and showings begin at 10 am on Saturdays. Wednesday evening movie showings, which may be geared toward an older audience, begin at 7 pm. The participating locations in southeast Michigan are Sterling Heights, Clinton Township, and Livonia.  If you do this, we suggest calling the location to get information about available showtimes.
  2. The Henry Ford : Many areas of The Henry Ford in Dearborn offer sensory-friendly kits that include noise-cancelling headphones, quiet spaces, and sensory-friendly maps. Staff members have also received special training from the Autism Alliance of Michigan.  
  3. Michigan Science Center : This fun and uniquely cool educational space offers “sensory backpacks”. They contain headphones, sunglasses, laminated maps, and fidget toys. The backpacks also have various sensory-friendly interactives.
  4. Detroit Zoo: At all times, the Detroit Zoo offers sensory bags equipped with noise-cancelling headphones, fidget toys, verbal cue cards and weighted lap pads to guests who are prone to feeling overwhelmed by new environments. Additionally, staff receive training through the Michigan Autism Safety Training to recognize and handle sensory needs. For children who love lights, check out Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo this holiday season. They have dates available through early January! 

Other Autism-Friendly Events and Activities  

  1. Urban Air : This large trampoline park offers the chance for kids of all ages to jump, fly, climb, and participate in a variety of attractions and activities! 
  2. Legoland Discovery Center: This center, located inside Great Lakes Crossing Mall, contains several attractions inspired by – you guessed it – Legos! Experience a 4D Theater, have fun on rides, and of course, build some legos! 
  3. Outdoor Adventure Center: This unique interactive “outdoor” museum is indoors yet has all of the exciting features the great outdoors brings. The Center includes some awesome exhibits to enjoy. Sensory-friendly options have ended for the year, but keep your eyes peeled for the center’s 2024 schedule of specialized sensory-friendly days!  
  4. iFly Detroit: This fun, indoor skydiving experience is well suited for older, braver kids who are ready for an adventure! iFly Detroit is located in Novi and offers an “All Abilities” program specifically designed for those with physical or cognitive special needs.  
  5. MetroParks Holiday Lights/Events: It’s too late for this year but take note for next December. Each MetroPark hosts a different seasonal event. Events include Lights on the Trails, crafts, Holiday Lights at the Farm, Snacks with Santa, and much more! 

NOTE: We are not making specific recommendations for readers to participate in these autism-friendly activities. That is up to the discretion of parents in choosing activities they and their children participate in. 

AAC: What It Is and Why It’s Important for Children with Autism

There are many means of communication used in our world. The most common ones used today are spoken words, gestures, eye gaze, facial expressions, print, sign language, and even GIFs. When it comes to individuals with speech and language delays, it is possible to augment and provide alternative options for them to efficiently communicate with others. Children with autism, Down syndrome, and other speech and language struggles benefit from access to additional communication tools. In this post we will explain what AAC is and why it’s important for children with autism. 

AAC stands for Augmented Alternative Communication. What does augmentative mean, you might be wondering? Augmentative simply means to make something greater by adding to it, and alternative, as we know, is to have multiple options or possibilities available in a situation. So, when thought about it in literal terms, AAC is something every person uses to communicate. 

Types of AAC

There are two different types of AAC. The first type is what most people use in addition to or instead of verbal communication, which includes some of the examples we listed above. However, many children (and adults) with an autism diagnosis utilize aided AAC, which can be “high tech” or “low tech”. Low tech AAC can be anything that involves using pictures or icons to communicate. High tech describes communication apps on an iPad or tablet, such as TouchChat or LAMP Words for Life. Any type of computer with a voice, or even large buttons that talk, would also be considered high-tech AAC.  

Myths Surrounding AAC

When it comes to AAC, many people, including parents and professionals, are misled by the myths that have historically surrounded it. The most common myth is that AAC will hinder speech development. While this may seem easily believable, we have seen many examples in our clinic and elsewhere of children who build more speech due to having another opportunity as a bridge to spoken language.  

Another popular myth regarding AAC is that it’s not necessary so long as the child or person can communicate their basic wants and needs. At Healing Haven, we support not just the very basics of communication, but each individual’s growth and independence. This means making friends, expressing ideas, showing interest in hobbies and activities, showing love, and much more. Everyone deserves the opportunity to do these things.  

Effective Use of AAC

While AAC, whether high tech or low tech, is a bountiful means of communication, there are reasons it may not be effective, which can be discouraging to families.  

AAC is most successful when parents, caregivers, and school staff have been educated to personalize the device and present models appropriately. Presenting models “appropriately” may look different for different children based on their language level, processing time and interests. When these factors are not taken into account, ineffectiveness and inefficiency can result.  

It is important that families who are adjusting to a new form of AAC have the resources and support they need to effectively integrate the form of communication into their child’s life. At Healing Haven, this is a large part of the parent training we offer to each individual and their family. 

Teaching AAC with Spoken Word Communication

One must remember that AAC is just another avenue to communication for those with language and speech processing challenges. The autistic community themselves say they need more than one avenue to communicate. Many times, speech and language professionals teach an individual AAC and spoken word communication simultaneously. Through the therapy we provide at our clinic, the two will always go hand in hand. It is important to us that every child has more than one option in their modes of communication. 

It is important to understand your child’s style of language processing to personalize the vocabulary and provide appropriate models. Please reference the “User Tips for AAC” section below to learn more and see the link to our blog detailing Analytical Language Processing and Gestalt Language Processing. The Speech and Language Pathologists at our clinic are highly skilled in helping parents and children personalize AAC based on the child’s style of language processing. 

Setting Your Child Up for Success with their AAC Device

There are many steps you can take to ensure your child with autism has a pleasant and successful AAC experience. While some of these may be easily overlooked, they are vital in encouraging and teaching your child to communicate. Some of these steps are:  

  • Ensure the AAC device is always readily available. This includes having necessary AAC accessories such as cases with handles and straps.  
  • Learn how to edit and add new content to your child’s AAC device.  
  • Allow your child to explore the device as much as they please. Even if it seems like the child is just playing or “stimming” with the device, this interaction is still helping to familiarize the child with the AAC and its functions.  
  • Model consistently and often on the AAC device.  
  • Ensure everyone involved with helping your child communicate (family members, school staff, caregivers, etc.) knows how to effectively and comfortably model language on the device. This includes knowing and educating yourself on your child’s style of language processing. 
  • Do as much as you can to encourage your child’s use of the device. This could look like modeling on the device to talk about your child’s favorite cartoon character, food, or activity, or creating communication opportunities that are appealing to your child and their interest.  
  • Always ask your child’s SLP for help when needed. These individuals are AAC experts and should be able to help with whatever you may need to be as fluent as possible with AAC communication! At our clinic, the SLPs and BCBAS collaborate and work seamlessly to support the child’s communication. You have a team of resources. 
  • Lastly, ensure the form of AAC is consistent across all professionals and/or providers (the child’s entire team should be using the same type and same brand of high or low tech AAC). 

User Tips for AAC

When it comes to children with speech-language deficits, communication is most effective when it is used naturally. With that, we encourage you to follow your child’s lead with their communication attempts and always react with praise at any attempt they make to communicate. It is best to simply model alternative ways to communicate, as opposed to requiring a response from your child before giving them what they want.  

Many children with autism are Gestalt Language Processors (GLPs). For GLPs, there are four stages of language development. What stage your child is at determines the setup of their AAC device. If your child is at a stage 3 or higher, or once they get to that point, they are working on the freeing of single words and the combining of 2-3 words. This is where it’s important to know the difference between core vocabulary and fringe words.  

Many AAC devices have a core board, which is a page on the device, typically the main page when opening the app, that includes both “core” words and phrases and “fringe” words. The exact configuration of these words depends on the device and app being used. You can then use these words and phrases to help your child build their vocabulary and customize it to fit their wants and needs. Alternatively, if your child uses lower-tech AAC, such as Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), you and your child’s speech team can customize the words based off of the child’s interests and needs.

AAC Resources

If your child has an assigned Speech Language Pathologist, they will be your best AAC resource. Additionally, the internet is abundant with resources that can help you navigate and utilize your child’s AAC device. Here are some of the top websites we recommend to parents of AAC users:  

And of course, learn more about AAC by connecting with our speech team at Healing Haven, operated by Gigi’s Kids Speech and Language Therapy, which the information in this post comes from.  

We hope this post has helped enrich your knowledge of AAC and answered some questions you may have had surrounding it. If your child has benefited from the use of AAC, please feel free to share in the comments. Let’s continue to make communication all-inclusive! 

6 Fall Activities for Kids with Autism

Fall has arrived! It’s time for cozy warm drinks, choosing Halloween costumes, and visiting pumpkin patches. Fall is also a season with lots of change as kids return to school and adjust to new schedules. With all these changes, it’s important to make time for some fun. And as you know, kids with autism often need sensory experiences to regulate well. Here are six DIY fall activities for kids with autism that are easy on the budget and engage the senses. 

1. Sensory bin activities

Fill a small plastic bin with dried corn, chestnuts, pinecones, or any other dry fall goods. Kids with sensory needs are sure to love running their hands through the corn and feel the smooth or rough textures. Include items that help promote fine motor skill practice. This could be items like cups, spoons, or tweezers. Encourage your child to use these items to grab, scoop, and pour the colorful contents. Visit here for more sensory bin ideas. 

2. Bake treats

Baking is a step-by-step process with a yummy result at the end. It’s a great activity for older kids working on following instructions and taking turns. Whip up pumpkin muffins, Halloween cut-out cookies, or a seasonal fruit crisp and see your child enjoy the tasty reinforcement of creating! 

Fall is also the perfect time to roast some marshmallows over a fire. Enjoy time with your child outside in the crisp air, while helping them practice motor skills used to hold a marshmallow over a fire. Or, if being near an open flame with your child makes you nervous, you can alternatively use a grill or even the oven to get the marshmallows to the proper gooey state. The combination of different senses activated with this activity can be super stimulating for your child with autism.  

3. Create fall-themed crafts

There are so many creative and fun fall-themed crafts you can experiment with to see what interests your child with autism. Two great options involve items that fall often brings an abundance of: apples and leaves!  

If you’re tired of baking apples into pies and breads, or if you just have too many to eat, this season try utilizing them for a fun craft. Cut an apple in half, dip it into paint and press onto paper for cute, seasonal home-made stamps! 

As for leaves, collect some of the many variations covering your yard and turn them into a sensory craft. Cover a fresh or dried leaf with a piece of paper and rub crayons or oil pastels over the paper. Consider using tracing or parchment paper and a light hand. While you do this activity, discuss with your child the unique shapes and patterns each leaf exposes through the paper. For more fall craft ideas, visit this list from The Everymom.  

4. Make a corn squish bag

There are so many fall activities you can design with corn, but here’s a fun one for kids with autism who love squishy things. Fill a Ziploc bag with clear hair gel, corn kernels, and food coloring. You could also use permanent markers to draw a fall-themed design on the bag! Having your child assist with this activity can be a fun way to practice following directions and working together, especially if it yields a satisfying outcome for them. 

5. Spend time outdoors

Here in Michigan, we are lucky to have a very profound change within seasons. Colors come out, leaves fall to the ground, and the air turns crisp around us. If you are fortunate enough to live here or somewhere else the change of seasons is evident and exciting, just being outdoors can be incredibly enjoyable for your child with autism. 

Find a nearby trail, or even just take a walk through the neighborhood and enjoy observing and talking about the changes fall brings to the outdoors. Alternatively, you could spend some time in the yard helping your child create a leaf pile to jump into. The motor skills of collecting leaves by hand or rake combined with the sensory input of the texture, sound, and color of the leaves can create a lovely experience for you and your child to share. 

6. Carve pumpkins

It’s a classic fall activity but carving pumpkins is full of sensory experiences, from feeling the smooth outside of the pumpkin to smelling (and feeling) the slimy, squishy seeds and membranes as you clean out the inside. You could even extend the activity by baking and tasting the pumpkin seeds or another pumpkin flavored treat! And as always, it’s fun for kids to choose a design, work with an adult to carve it, and then see the pumpkin light up with a candle inside. 

Prepare for Halloween

In addition to all these fun fall activities for kids with autism, you may also want to start preparing them for Halloween. If this is their first time dressing up, going trick-or-treating, or they’ve struggled with these holiday traditions in the past, we have some ideas to help you prepare them. Head over to our blog post Halloween and Autism: 6 Tips to Prepare Your Child. 

Autumn is filled with opportunities to add some sensory fun for your child and work on important skills in a fun way. Whether at home with these fall activities, or out in the community with cider mills, apple picking, pumpkin patches and hayrides, we’d love to hear your family’s favorite fall activities. Let us know in the comments! 

The Power of Collaborative Autism Therapy

collaborative autism therapy

Individuals with autism can present with many complex challenges and behaviors. As such, a one size fits all therapeutic approach is not usually effective for them. This is why collaborative autism therapy services can have a greater impact.  

Research tells us that evidence-based treatment options are the best place to start. While Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy is the most effective intervention for children with autism, there are many other evidenced-based treatments that should be considered therapeutically as well. Different therapies often complement each other and are most impactful when performed in a collaborative nature.  

What Collaborative Autism Therapy Looks Like

At Healing Haven, we offer a comprehensive approach to autism therapy. In other words, we offer more than just ABA Therapy at our clinic. In addition to our ABA Therapy team of Board Certified Behavior Analysts and Registered Behavior Technicians, we have a wonderful team of Occupational Therapists, Speech Therapists, and Counselors, who support the needs and development of our clients. This collaborative autism therapy approach allows a family to get everything they need under one roof. Our interdisciplinary team works together to create and execute each unique therapy plan. 

How Collaborative Autism Therapy Works

An interdisciplinary approach ensures that all clinicians involved in a child’s care have the chance to meet and discuss the mutual children they serve. They collectively brainstorm techniques that will and will not work for each specific child, and strategically plan methods of generalization across therapy providers and environments. At Healing Haven, every professional is automatically on the same page when it comes to you and your child’s history and progress.  

The Benefits of Collaboration

There are many benefits to professionals working collaboratively when it comes to your child with autism’s developmental needs. All therapy providers being in a shared physical space is just one of them. When all professionals work together they get to witness and learn from each other’s work. Conversely, when we get a report from a client’s outside occupational or speech therapist, we can communicate about the goals in place, but we may not have the luxury of observing how the goals are being taught. 

Additionally, when parents don’t have to schedule therapies at multiple locations, it can help reduce their stress. The benefit of having an interdisciplinary team also eliminates the need to repeat the same thing to multiple professionals. This can lessen the likelihood of confusion and miscommunication between parent(s) and professionals. 

What Sets Our Collaborative Autism Therapy Apart

Healing Haven’s collaborative autism therapy approach is unique in that it encourages parent involvement in each type of therapy, as opposed to only requiring it in the autism therapy portion. Parents are active members of their child’s team, as they bring essential information to the table. Parents are essential to help their child generalize skills to the real world.  

It is our goal at Healing Haven for each child to gain the skills they need to move to a lesser level of care. And the best way to experience that is to make sure what we do in the clinic continues to carry over into the home.  

To get your child started with services, contact us today!