Look for opportunities & occasions to teach your loved one or student with an ASD new skills and practice these skills within different settings and among different people. Generalizing skills (using the skills outside of the instructional area) can be difficult for individuals with autism. Naturalistic/Milieu teaching strategies emphasize the importance of obtaining opportunities to teach skills by piquing the individual's interest (Webber, J. & Scheuermann, B., 2008). Individuals do not learn without learning opportunities. Create and/or schedule in these opportunities.
Incidental Teaching is a strategy which optimizes on opportunities or occasions within the individual's environment. It capitalizes on teaching moments by creating an engaging setting, wait for the individual to initiate an action, prompt the individual for a full request and then provide the desired outcome.
Webber, J. and Scheuermann, B. (2008), stressed that providing a student with autism many opportunities to make choices through either verbal requests, sign language, vocal output devices or picture choice boards are instrumental in stimulating a student's interest in learning.
Examples of Opportunities and Occasions Optimized
Improve a child's motivation
Procedures to improve a child's motivation include
Use of child choice
Frequent task variation
Interspersing previously learned tasks with new acquisition tasks
Using less intrusive prompting
Reinforcing the child's attempts
Incorporating turn taking within the interventions
(Koegel, et. al).
Smith, T. (2001) also stressed this importance and stated that service providers have a critical and difficult task trying to discover ways to increase learning opportunities for children with autism and enhance their motivation to learn.
Practice making choices
Choosing preferred items on a choice board or choice chart. Ensure these are items or activities preferred by the individual vs. your or someone's opinion of what is preferred. Use choice in game play to increase language skills and interactive behaviors. (Carter, C.M., 2001)
Interact with peers safely
In a structured group situation, assign the individual a task tied to his/her strength. Provide guidelines and prompts.
Teach non-verbal and verbal communication skills
55% of communication is nonverbal communication such as facial expressions, eye contact, appearance, etc.
Practice a skill mastered
Example: Waiting when in a different environment or for a different activity.
Example: Helping others by handing out napkins. Set up social scenarios by prompting a child to purposefully drop a toy then teach the child with autism to respond by handing the toy to the one who drops it.
Use and practice communication skills
Example: Set up an environment where the child must use his/her communication system to gain access to a preferred item such as a preferred book, but it is on the top shelf. The individual needs to request the book through verbal language, picture exchange system, etc. The book can then be received as immediate reinforcement for using communication skills.
Teach and practice critical skills
Accept "no" for an answer. If this is not practiced, then it will not happen. Be sure to teach this skill before practicing in different areas and with different people.
Request a break. Instead of acting out to gain a break or escape from a difficult task or situation, learning when to take a break and how to gain a break is necessary to create greater independence.
Transition to next task. Use discrete trial training various ways to do this, forewarn the child/adult there will be a change to his/her schedule. You can place the red, universal 'not' symbol on the schedule to assist with this or can teach how to leave a preferred task by interrupting a preferred task with a more preferred task. This gradually changes to a non-preferred task to assist with transitions and changes.
Self-regulate emotions. Example: Naming emotions can help. This means that an individual will need to know about emotions and how they feel. It may help to have a chart of various emotions available. The Incredible 5-Point Scale can be used for this. For an individual to self-regulate, it may be helpful to have a choice of safe responses the individual can choose from for various emotions.
Practice transitions throughout the day
Knowing when to change directions or end a task is not always easy. This is an ongoing task however, there are different expectations for different environments. Therefore, help the individual know what to do to end a task, where to go and how to go.
What indicators or cues may be helpful so the individual can perform the task independently?
What cues can be faded?
Prepare for major transitions
Knowing that a major change is going to occur can help alleviate some anxiety for caretakers and individuals with ASDs if there is a plan. Examples can be:
Calendars marking down to the time period of the major transition.
Video of the new environment or expectations in the environment.
Pictures tied to the major transition.
A visit to the new environment.
A trial or practice session could also help.
It's important to note to avoid surprising a child/individual with a major change without some preparation.
Interventions/strategies which can be used when opportunities or occasions occur
Pivotal Response Training
Sigafoos (1998) indicated that making use of the occasions that arise naturally within an individual's daily routine may increase the functional benefits of choice - a pivotal skill. Pivotal skills include responsivity to multiple cues, motivation to initiate and respond appropriately to social and environmental stimuli and self-regulation of behavior, including self-management and self-initiations. Choice making - providing and encouraging options available (Koegel, et. al).
Therefore, recognize the learning opportunities around the individual with an ASD. Avoid waiting until the perfect moment to teach or practice a necessary skill which can encourage greater independence for the individual.