Some Tips for Successful In-Home Teaching

Posted: January 17, 2013 in Autism

Now, before I begin this post, I must state my disclaimer:  I am not an ABA therapist or developmental teacher, however, while attending the University of Wyatt I’ve learned many tricks that give me an edge to teaching him more effectively.  I want to share some of these things so that others might benefit.  I also have a friend that’s unable to obtain ABA services like we have available in California, so this is a great way for me to share suggestions for her, while reaching out to even more parents searching for places to start.  I hope you’ll receive the information with the open-arms manner I wish to express it.  I don’t claim to be an expert of each child on the spectrum – I’m only knowledgeable about my own son – and this knowledge ebbs and flows like the tide.  If it helps, please pass it along.  I wish all the best on your journey.



Getting Ready for Your Own In-Home Program


Create a treasure chest of reinforcersreinforcerbin

A common trait for most children with Autism is the lack of motivation to please others, just because.  They don’t always possess the social desire to please others and are often more comfortable doing their own things in their own ways.  Some of this is acknowledged in their lack of joint attention, eye contact, and desire to perform difficult tasks.  A primary example of this motivation disconnect is apparent in the desire of a typically developing four-year-old to go potty and be a big boy.  This motivation is absent in many spectrum kids and takes loads of patience and time to develop and nurture through repetitive and routine practice of relevant steps.  Because of motivational challenges, every parent, teacher, and therapist that works with a child on the spectrum must be a good detective in order to effectively determine a child’s M.O., also referred to as Motivating Operations.

Now, just like anyone, there are some motivators that really make you want to work harder than others.  I mean, there’s only so much I’d do for a Skittle or cupcake, but if you taunt me with a luxurious nap or a sugary-sweet latte you’d be surprised what I will accomplish.  Additionally, these motivations may differ depending on time of day, mood, and familiarity.  That’s why it’s also very important to understand how to manipulate E.O., better known as Establishing Operations.  When you create your treasure chest of rewards, or reinforcers, you’ll want to limit access to these items and only use them as rewards when working through sessions with your child.  You’ll also have to stay on top of their interests to keep these reinforcers in continuous rotation to maintain high motivation as you work through various programs.  Children will grow tired of the same reinforcers and their motivation and working performance will suffer accordingly.  I’m always on the lookout for new additions and often these items are very inexpensive.

Some ABA therapists recommend the use of favorite foods or candy in the beginning, I advise much caution here.  We chose not to use candy or food treats as reinforcers, and believe that was the best path for us.  Besides, my son is still mystified by blowing bubbles, light-up toys, and any form of electronic device.  Trust me, save the Skittles for potty training.  You may need that kind of leverage to manipulate your E.O. to teach pottying skills.  I save candy and treats for anything that requires my big guns; like difficult medical procedures including blood tests, allergy scratch tests, potty training, etc.  You’ll be glad to have access to this type of leverage if you find yourself along a similar path one day.

So, start by watching your child to see what they’re most interested in.  Take a trip to Toys R’Us or the Dollar Store and let your child show you what they gravitate toward.  By observing your child with a variety of different toys, you’ll quickly get ideas for a great arsenal of reinforcing rewards.  Another trick that flies a little in the face of some ABA practices is to use your child’s stimming behaviors as a reinforcer.  In our home, we did not believe that our son should never be allowed to let loose and enjoy a bit of stimming from time to time.  I don’t aim to extinguish these behaviors. I only wish to teach appropriate timing and places.  It’s my son’s nature to carry plastic letters in his hand.  It’s in his nature to spin and jump and crash.  He enjoys visual stimulation and loves to smash his face up against brightly patterned and colored books, peer through the hole in his letter “B” as he runs around the house, and dangle a string in a beam of sunlight shining through the window.  He loves to start a banter back and forth scripting his favorite phrases or scenes from Disney movies.  In fact, he loves these things so much, he will often “work” harder for this type of play.

Here’s a run-down of effective reinforcers from our treasure chest:

  • Flashlight
  • Shaving cream on a tray
  • Plastic magnetic letters & numbers
  • States magnets
  • Strips of ribbon, yarn, and string
  • Clear plastic bottle filled with colored water – to look through
  • Mini Simon Says game
  • Bubbles
  • Short neighborhood walks
  • Water play on front porch in the summertime
  • Drawing with sidewalk chalk
  • Duck, Duck, Goose
  • Few minutes of game on smart phone, Kindle, or iPod
  • Cars with sound effects
  • Light-up toys – nearly any kind
  • Squishy balls
  • Giant Tupperware container of navy beans with scoops and bowls
  • Wind-up toys
  • Roughhousing:  Hang child upside down by ankles and gently swing back-and-forth, ride up on shoulders, making a burrito with a      blanket, etc.
  • Jumping on mini trampoline or exercise ball – with assistance
  • Water colors
  • Stickers
  • Spinning wheels on toy cars


Once you’ve got a great selection of reinforcers, store them together in a plastic bin.  Get on the floor and play with your child to experiment and see which items really capture their attention.  Watch their facial expression – are they all smiles, did their eyes widen?  Do they get stingy with an item and turn their back to you while they play with it?  Don’t worry if they are not necessarily playing with each item appropriately. Do they try to pry it out of your hand before you even give it to them?  Do they cry when it’s time to put the item away?  These are great signs that an item is extremely appealing to a child.

At this stage in the game, you’re just evaluating potential rewards for teaching sessions and you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a bunch of things that spark their interest – and enough interest that they’re willing to do a small amount of work to earn playtime with the desired objects.

Give Praise, with HUGE Enthusiasm!!!

Praise is so important for children – and this is especially the case for children on the spectrum.  Even if they don’t show you they want such enthusiastic praise, you’ll notice their eyes widen just a little bit and perhaps they even crack a bit of a smirk or smile as a result.  In our house, we celebrate the little things every day.  If my son cleans up toys we clap and tell him how proud we are.  We cheer when he throws his juice box in the garbage can and a couple years ago, we nearly had a party for every word he uttered.  It’s amazing how such consistent praise for positive behavior can impact a child’s desire to please – even if they seem more withdrawn.  Some, even seem to blossom through this continuous action, gaining increased momentum with each cheer and hurrah.

Don’t hold back on your enthusiasm!  Make the little things count; if you look carefully, you’ll find small miracles each day to be grateful for.  When your child graces you with good eye contact – even if it’s fleeting or momentary – cheer them on for this!  Clap and dance to make it worth their while.  They catch on to this pretty fast and you may start capturing more and more of this the harder you work to deliver excitement, enthusiasm, and praise.


Generate Interest and Excitement in Teaching Sessions

Carry your enthusiasm for praise into any teaching sessions you do.  Our PLAY therapist has taught me so much in creating appealing interactions.  We join in our son’s favorite activities to engage him.  Then, we try to introduce increasing circles of communication through whatever manner he’s most comfortable.  We work at levels that he’s comfortable with and capable of succeeding. In the early days of this therapy, we enticed him to play with rough-housing (his favorite), but waited for him to ask for the activity in simple one-word requests.  As his language improved, we continued to draw this out – kinda like pulling taffy – extending a single word into 2, or 3, and up.

In our playtime, there’s lots of repeated scripting, loads of running around to regulate sensory overload, and plenty of incorporation of favorite toys and subjects.  Use your imagination, find your inner child, and let loose!  Weave this all together, and you end up with carefully crafted, educational play sessions that help to increase communication, interest, and interaction with others.

We have not used the Son-Rise Program to teach our son, but they have some excellent videos that demonstrate how to use your child’s interests to generate interaction and increased trust.  I must say there’s a lot that I like about their program and I think it’s important to combine PLAY therapy with ABA if Applied Behavioral Analysis is the chosen path.  Many of today’s newest ABA curricula incorporate successful principles for learning through play and not just discrete trials to provide a greater variety of learning opportunities.

Here’s a great overview of tips to help increase eye contact: A lot of the Son-Rise principles are similar to the PLAY techniques we’ve been taught to increase our child’s desire to interact with us.  Here’s another clip to help increase attention span for play activities – especially for children craving sensory input:  Ideas for conversation games:  Although everyone’s child is different, there’s much to learn from the excitement and zest these therapists deliver in their video tutorials.


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