ABA therapy Fort Myers kids

The Importance of Pairing in ABA Therapy

Those trained to provide ABA Therapy will understand well the concept of “pairing.” Play and pairing is the foundation of instructional control in any behavioral therapy session. Simply put, pairing is a way for ABA therapists and technicians to help build a rapport with a child by finding out what interests them and then linking whoever is working with the child to that interest/activity/object so that we can facilitate positive reinforcements in each session. It’s a means of letting the child guide us to what motivates them. When we know what that is, we use it as a positive reinforcer for expected behaviors.

So for example, a child who is new to ABA therapy will begin with a few “pairing” sessions with their ABA therapist/RBT (registered behavior technician). This is a time when we simply play together, we’ll let the child lead, allowing free access to toys, games, songs, and other stimuli. It may look like we’re just “playing,” but remember two things:

  • Play is how kids learn.
  • By discovering what they love to play with, we can help motivate them to learn important skills and promote helpful behaviors.

Let’s say the child falls in love with a toy train set. We then restrict play with that train set to only our sessions. The child earns play with the trains as a positive reinforcer for expected behaviors.

Speech therapy uses a similar technique in motivating kids to talk. Such toys are so-called “communication temptations,” something we’ve written about extensively in prior speech therapy blog posts.

Pairing is also important because it lets the child and therapist establish a positive, trusting relationship where they come to understand that even when learning can be challenging at times, it’s also fun and ultimately benefits them (by giving them what they want). Parent input during pairing is very important too! We will spend time interviewing caregivers about what their child is really into, and we can then build on those ideas.

From there, we’ll work on trying to teach mands/requests. (Think of a mand as short for “demand.” It’s how a person requests something. For example, we may hold a piece of that toy trainset or car until he/she asks for it or a turn with it.

FOCUS Therapy child development

Boost Child Development While Playing in Nature

As the weather cools in Southwest Florida, it’s the perfect time to get outside and play with your child! It’s not just about enjoying the day and making some memories (though these are worth it in itself). Our speech, occupational, physical, and ABA therapists know that spending time outdoors is great way to boost child development.

Being in nature has been proven to boost kids’ academic achievement, physical health, mental health, and overall well-being. One analysis of hundreds of studies on the subject found that nature boosts learning in eight distinct ways. Those include:

  • Improves attention.
  • Relieves stress.
  • Boosts self-discipline.
  • Increases physical activity and fitness.
  • Promotes self-motivation.
  • Increases enjoyment.
  • Improves engagement.

As pediatric therapists dedicated to helping disabilities and delays make strides, we have found that nature provides a calmer, quieter, and safer setting for learning. It can also help with:

  • Motor skills
  • Communication
  • Social-emotional skills
  • Speech and language skills
  • Executive function
  • Sensory integration
  • Relaxation and emotional regulation

Spending time outdoors creates opportunity for more creative, exploratory forms of play – and play is how children learn best!

telling your child he has autism

My Son Has Autism… When – and How – Should I Tell Him?

Your child has autism. You know it. The rest of the family knows it. His teachers and therapists know it. Maybe even a few of his classmates know it. But when should HE know it? And how should you tell him?

It’s something many of our FOCUS Therapy families grapple with at some point, and answers really depend on the individual. Some parents opt to tell their child when they’re very young, hoping an early understanding of why they struggle more with certain things might make it all less confusing. Other parents wait until their child becomes aware of their differences and starts asking questions. A few parents wait until their child is older with a better ability to fully grasp what their diagnosis means. Our FOCUS speech, occupational and ABA therapists know there isn’t a singular right answer, but we’re here to support our patients and help guide families in these discussions.

Recently, a patient’s mother asked about the best way to handle some of the questions her 7-year-old son on the spectrum was asking. Christie Lawrence, a registered behavior technician (RBT) with our Fort Myers ABA therapy team and herself the mother of a teenager with autism, offered her thoughts.

“I would say the most important part of informing your child of their autism diagnosis is to empower them,” Lawrence said. “Autism can bring many gifts, and it’s so important to teach our children to find and focus on their strengths and build confidence from their success.”

Fort Myers ABA therapy

Finding the Function of Behavior: ABA Therapy Insight

In the field of behavior science, we commonly use the phrase “function of behavior.” As behavior analysts at the Fort Myers ABA therapy team at FOCUS, figuring out the “function” of a child’s behavior is hands-down one of the most mission critical parts of the job.

As parents or caretakers, it will be so helpful for you and your child too if you’re able to determine why a behavior occurs. When we don’t know what truly causes a behavior and respond reactively, we may be unintentionally reinforcing that behavior. Why is my child facedown on the floor screaming when I told him we were eating tacos tonight? Why is he nonstop kicking the back of his sister’s car seat even though I’ve begged, cajoled and yelled at him to stop?

All behavior has a reason. A function. If you’re looking for a different outcome or response, it’s imperative to find out why it’s happening in the first place. And understand that, for example, if the answer is attention (a common incentive), yelling or having an otherwise big response to it may be having the opposite effect.

ABA therapy

Benefits of Clinic-Based ABA Therapy vs. In-Home Treatment

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA therapy) is considered the most effective, early-intervention treatment for kids on the autism spectrum. It can take place in several settings: Clinic, home or some combination of the two. At FOCUS, we have chosen the clinic-based model for a number of reasons that benefit our patients.

One of the primary reasons is that we believe children benefit from being in a multi-disciplinary setting. It’s not just that it’s convenient for parents of children who need multiple therapies to have a single, physical location for all of them. (Families in Southwest Florida may find it very difficult to arrange all of the therapies their child needs in a home-based setting.) It’s the fact that in a clinic-based setting, supervisors are more available to provide additional direct observation and guidance compared to in-home services.

This point was underscored in a recent study published by the National Institute of Health. In that analysis, researchers controlled for individual differences by comparing and contrasting at-home and clinic-based ABA therapy treatment for the same kids. What they found was that kids demonstrated far higher rates of learning during treatment provided in-clinic compared to in the patient’s home. In fact, they mastered 100 percent more skills per hour while receiving in-clinic treatment compared to home-based treatment.

FOCUS Offers ABA Therapy at Our Fort Myers Clinic

Our clinic-based ABA therapy at FOCUS is designed to optimize your child’s growth in numerous areas of development, including:

  • Social interactions.
  • Play skills.
  • Adaptive skills.
  • Communication.
Fort Myers ABA therapy

FOCUS ABA Therapy Tips to Tackle Problem Behaviors

All parents struggle with problem behaviors with their children at some point. This is especially true for families with children diagnosed with Autism, ADHD, behavior challenges or related disorders. FOCUS ABA therapy promotes “expected behaviors” (and discourages “unexpected behaviors”) through consistent, positive reinforcement over a period of months or years. These methods are most effective when we have consistent parent carryover of our strategies.

We understand that lack of compliance, transition trouble and meltdowns can be incredibly frustrating for parents. Although we work on self-regulation and other skills in behavior sessions, our Fort Myers ABA therapy team have some helpful tips for how to handle these situations at home to reduce unexpected behaviors and increase positive behaviors.

FOCUS Therapy

Join FOCUS Therapy for FOCUS POCUS Trunk-or-Treat!

FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers is hosting its first ever FOCUS POCUS Trunk-or-Treat event of socially-distanced Halloween fun for all our patients & families!

We’re welcoming everyone to dress up, bring a treat bag and join us for games, candy, prizes and more!

Our Southwest Florida speech, occupational, physical and ABA therapists are committed to providing enriching experiences for our young patients while encouraging the kind of inclusion we want to see at all events. That’s why we’re opening our FOCUS POCUS Trunk-or-Treat fun to our patients as well as their siblings and family.

From 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 29th, FOCUS Therapy staffers and therapists will park their decorated vehicles a full vehicle-length apart in the parking lot outside our clinic, 4997 Royal Gulf Circle, Fort Myers, FL 33996. Parents will be encouraged to park to the west end of the office plaza, and we’ll have a carefully directed flow of trunk-or-treaters, with only one family allowed in front of a vehicle at a time.

FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers
One family per trunk: Map of foot traffic flow for safe social distancing at FOCUS POCUS Trunk-or-Treat.

“Halloween and trick-or-treat are such special events that kids look forward to all year long,” said FOCUS Therapy owner/founder Jennifer Voltz-Ronco. “We know a lot of families this year may be wary of the traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating, but we don’t want anyone to miss out on the fun. It’s also great for our kiddos with disabilities and delays who could use some practice before venturing out door-to-door over the weekend.”

Some of our therapists will have fun, engaging activities and games at their “trunk stop” for children to play and engage, while still remaining socially-distanced.

“For many of our patients, traditional trick-or-treat can be tough anyway, whether because of sensory issues, language deficits or physical challenges,” Voltz-Ronco explained. “Trunk-or-treat events in general have sort of always been the perfect opportunity to allow for both tradition and accessibility. And now this year, as families with children of all abilities in our community are expressing concern about safe trick-or-treating, our team is excited to be involved in making that happen for them.”

For more information, contact FOCUS Therapy at (239) 313-5049 or e-mail Jennifer.Voltz@FOCUSFlorida.com. 

occupational therapy

Therapy Isn’t a Quick-Fix – Why You Should Still Follow Our Course Until Successful

Parents of children disabilities can quickly find themselves immersed in a dizzying world of various doctors, therapies, medications and treatment. The thought of their child spending several days a week – for years – in speech, occupational, physical and ABA therapies is frankly overwhelming. So we do understand the temptation of quick-fix, non-medical services that promise to “get your child talking” or “catch your child up” with just a month or so of intensive programming.

Call them hype or scams – but they don’t work.

In fact, some do more harm than good. They waste precious time and valuable resources – which can be especially damaging when you’re encouraged to interrupt or leave the routine of traditional, physician-recommended therapies.

“Parents of children with special needs will go to the ends of the Earth to get their child the additional help they need,” said Jennifer Voltz-Ronco, owner and founder of FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers. What we don’t want to see is parents being taken advantage of. In fact, we care so much about these kids that we will even help parents investigate other treatment options and share information about and with other medical providers if that’s the direction parents want to go. But it pains us to see parents blindly signing up for ‘treatment’ from centers that make big promises, but objectively just don’t compare to what we’re offering in terms of quality and effectiveness.”

occupational therapy autism safety

ABA, Occupational Therapy Helps Address Safety Concerns for Florida Children With Autism

Worrying about your child’s safety is something with which all parents are familiar. If your child is typically-developing, these concerns usually lessen as he or she gets older, becomes more mature and gains better judgment and safety intuition. However, children with autism and other special needs may be delayed in acquiring the skills necessary to navigate unsafe situations – if they are able to acquire them at all. That doesn’t mean there is nothing we can do. There are many ways that parents, caretakers, teachers and public safety officials can work together to create safer environments for children and adults with autism – both for individuals and on a broader scale. It is also something we can work on with our young patients in occupational therapy and ABA therapy at FOCUS.

Safety skills are life skills – and they are important. However, there is no single approach to safety that is going to work for every single child on the autism spectrum – because every person on the spectrum is different. Plus, some safety issues might be present throughout a person’s life, some might build over time, some may fade and others could become more complex. Like any other life skill, safety skills will take time, effort and different approaches to master. That’s why we advise early intervention with therapy and frequent practice.

We also recommend parents look into community resources like swimming lessons/ISR, The Big Red Safety Toolkit and the various products/services highlighted by Autism Speaks.

ABA therapy

ABA Therapy Tips for Autism-Friendly Holidays

Thanksgiving Day is coming up fast, and many of us are feeling a keen sense of gratitude for all the unique people in our lives. That includes those of us fortunate enough to know and love one of the 2.5 percent of children ages 3 to 17 diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. With increasing autism awareness and a growing desire for greater inclusion, our FOCUS ABA therapy team has several tips for hosts to make the next holiday gathering more autism-friendly.

Any good host wants to ensure all guests are safe and comfortable, but may not be certain how to do that when it comes to a child with autism. Go easy on yourself there. The truth is that discovering the complexities of autism in general – let alone the broad variation from one person to the next – can be challenging for parents and therapists too. Puzzlement is totally understandable for someone who doesn’t live with a person on the spectrum or know their routines, triggers, interests or abilities.

If you’re looking for practical ways to be proactive in welcoming a child with autism who will be visiting you this holiday season, consider these few tips from our FOCUS ABA therapy team.