play based therapy FOCUS

All Therapy at FOCUS is Play-Based Therapy

At FOCUS, all of our Fort Myers therapies are play-based therapy.

Of course, play can be a lot of fun for as adults too – but the real reason we use a play-based therapy model in our speech, occupational, physical, and ABA therapy sessions is simply because: It works.

Study after study shows that when we engage kids in a play-based model of therapy, they’re going to be more engaged, excited about therapy – and they’re going to better remember the skills we’re trying to teach them.

“We never say, ‘Ok let’s go back and do some therapy,'” explains FOCUS Therapy Owner/Founder Jennifer Voltz-Ronco. “No, we say, ‘Hey, are you ready to go play?’ Kids don’t even realize they’re doing ‘work’ – and that makes it more enjoyable – and ultimately more effective.”

FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy, feeding/swallowing therapy, occupational therapy, behavior therapy, and physical therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Planning a Play-Based Therapy Session, Sept. 2, 2013, By Meredith Poore Harold, ASHA Wire

More Blog Entries:

FOCUS Therapy Take on New CDC Developmental Milestones Guidelines, Aug. 1, 2022, Fort Myers Play-Based Therapy Blog

Southwest Florida ABA therapy

5 Steps to ABA Therapy in South Florida

ABA therapy is considered the gold standard treatment for kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). But the process of starting this therapy is not as simple as calling and setting an appointment. There are several steps that must be taken to initiate the process.

It begins by recognizing the early signs of autism, and sharing these concerns with your child’s pediatrician. Doctors should screen all children at 18 months for risk of autism as a matter of routine – but parents absolutely can bring concerns to their doctors at any point. Signs of autism can be clearly identified as early as 12-months-old.

The doctor will then initiate a referral for a full assessment, known as ADOS testing. This test must be administered by a qualified provider. FOCUS Therapy does provide ADOS testing for children in Southwest Florida. The results of the ADOS test are then shared with a pediatric specialist, who ultimately makes the diagnosis and then issues a referral for early intervention services – such as ABA therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy.

If your child is under the age of 3 in Florida, they may qualify for early intervention services through a state program called Early Steps. This can serve as an important stop-gap, given that many private therapy clinics that offer Applied Behavioral Analysis in Southwest Florida have waitlists.

Our ABA therapy services at FOCUS Therapy are conducted one-on-one, in-clinic with experienced professionals called RBTs (registered behavior technicians), with oversight from a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) and physician specialist.

If you have questions about autism screening, ADOS testing, or ABA therapy in Southwest Florida, our trusted team of therapists, coordinators, and insurance billing professionals can help.

FOCUS offers ABA Therapy and ADOS testing in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

What Are the Early Signs of Autism? HealthyChildren.org, American Academy of Pediatrics

More Blog Entries:

5 Fort Myers ABA Therapy Techniques, May 24, 2022, Fort Myers ABA Therapy Blog

Fort Myers ABA therapy

5 Fort Myers ABA Therapy Techniques

Behavior therapy – specifically, applied behavioral analysis, begins with understanding the science of behavior. At our Fort Myers ABA therapy clinics, we use this understanding to employ specific strategies proven to help children with autism and other conditions achieve their goals – ultimately allowing them to gain greater independence and engage more fully with the world around them and people in it.

As explained by the American Psychological Association, ABA therapy is an evidence-based practice, meaning it’s supported by peer-reviewed literature. It identifies the motivation behind the behavior before addressing it with one or more proven strategies.

Each Fort Myers ABA therapy plan of care must reflect what reinforcements are most effective with that specific child, with clear goals we want to see them meet within a set time frame. Our ABA therapy team then works with kids one-on-one with them – day after day, week after week, and month after month, and sometimes year after year. We want to see them thriving in all environments – from home to school to play dates to community events – to the fullest extent of their capabilities.

Most all strategies involve some use of the ABC’s of behavior. That is, we study the Antecedent, then the Behavior itself, then the Consequence. By studying each element, we can determine what is the motive or what’s being communicated by that behavior – and then change either the antecedent or the consequence with the goal of altering the behavior.

Top Fort Myers ABA Therapy Techniques

Fort Myers ABA therapy
ABA Therapy Fort Myers

Understanding ABA Therapy

Understanding ABA therapy is critical for anyone whose child has been recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD.

As our Fort Myers ABA therapy team can explain, ABA is short for “applied behavioral analysis,” and it involves utilizing the science of behavior to help children with autism in producing socially significant improvements in behavior. We apply proven behavioral science principles to increase or decrease targeted behaviors, with the ultimate goal of bringing about meaningful change to the child.

We work to identify behaviors that are observable and measurable, and then use empirically-validated, research-based strategies to help them make strides in overcoming challenging behaviors and increasing those that are helpful in daily life. We also teach and and help them practice critical life skills, such as social communication, emotional regulation, sensory integration, and executive functioning.

At FOCUS Therapy, we have two Fort Myers clinics where we provide both ADOS testing and ABA therapy for children in Southwest Florida.

FOCUS offers pediatric ABA therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

What is Applied Behavior Analysis? June 23, 2021, Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, WebMD

More Blog Entries:

Top 4 Benefits of In-Clinic ABA Therapy, April 4, 2022, Fort Myers ABA Therapy Blog

FOCUS Therapy evaluations

Why FOCUS Asks Parents to Stay in the Waiting Room During Evals, Sessions

FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers conducts a range of in-depth evaluations for children who have been referred for speech, occupational, physical, or ABA therapies as well as ADOS testing. During our evaluations and therapy sessions, we rarely allow families to directly participate – but we have evidence-based reasons for our position.

During evaluations, we want to ensure every child receives an assessment that is as accurate as possible because that is what is going to allow us to:

  • Determine whether the child needs therapy.
  • Calculate the frequency/level of therapy that might be recommended.
  • Make a strong case to the relevant insurer(s) about the medical necessity of the therapy.

Parents, when present in the room during FOCUS evaluations, can unwittingly stand in the way of those goals. Why? Mainly because children rely on their caregivers when things get tough – to help them, to comfort them, to make it better. When a child is struggling in a certain area, such as communication or independence with self-care skills, our clinicians need to independently observe the particulars.

Parent input is a key aspect of our evaluations, but we need to see for ourselves, too. Jennifer Voltz-Ronco, MS-CCC/SLP and FOCUS Therapy Owner/Founder, explained that when a child is accompanied by a parent during the direct observation portion of the assessment, parents often interfere without intending to do so or even realizing it.FOCUS Therapy

“For example, in speech evaluations, parents might talk to the child or give clues to help their child ‘get the right answer’,” Voltz-Ronco explained. “We might ask the child to point to an object out of an array of 3-4 items by saying, ‘Show me the cup.’ Standardized testing requires that we be very specific in how we present these items – and with the requirement that we wait. And while we wait, we’re looking to see how long it takes them to process the directive and what they do. Will they look at us to see if we’re looking at the object? Will they point to it or make a face if they’re unsure? They might associate a cup to mealtime and instead point to a cookie. If the child looks to our face to get a clue, that would indicate social awareness and joint attention – key pre-linguistic communication skills. If there is a delay in their response, there may be an auditory processing issue. If they grab the first thing in reach, they may have impulsivity issues. Watching a child while they’re thinking tells us so much. But parents in the room might think the evaluator presumes the child doesn’t know the answer, so they interject. They say to the child, ‘You know what a cup is, like the blue sippie cup you have at home.’ Unfortunately, what that does is give the child numerous opportunities to hear the word, ‘cup,’ and in many standardized tests, we aren’t allowed to repeat the word or give a description or synonym. So with that, we lose the opportunity to see what we needed to see, and must in turn score the response incorrectly – which impacts the overall results.”

She went on to explain that often the key responses FOCUS therapists are looking for aren’t necessarily what an untrained observer may presume.

What’s more, some children can become what we call “prompt dependent.” That means the child looks to the parent to prompt them (to take an action, answer a question, etc.) – even if they don’t necessarily need the prompt. Many of our team members are parents ourselves, so we wholeheartedly understand how difficult it is to wait for your child to “do it themselves.” It is actually instinctual to intervene when we see or sense our child needs help. But during these evaluations, this intervention – however slight – can actually prove more of a hindrance when what we’re seeking are accurate results.

We DO Want Parents Involved in Their Child’s Therapy Journey

Although it is important for parents to remain outside the room during evaluations, this does not mean we lack transparency or that we don’t want parents involved at all in the therapy process. In fact, we get the best results from therapy when parents are fully engaged!

But we discourage direct engagement during the evaluation process and therapy sessions because we want to ensure our findings are accurate and that your child gets the true level of support they need.

While we want parents to be involved in consultation, goal-setting, education, and carryover, we strongly advise parents against sitting in during therapy sessions for the following reasons:

ABA Therapy

Top 4 Benefits of In-Clinic ABA Therapy

There’s more than one way to do ABA. Also known as Applied Behavior Analysis or behavior therapy, ABA therapy involves the study of behavior and the use of positive reinforcements to fade out unexpected/unhelpful behaviors and promote expected/helpful behaviors.

At FOCUS Therapy, we’re strong proponents of in-clinic ABA. There are many reasons for this, but it really boils down to the fact that: It works.

In fact, as we reported previously on our blog, a study published by the National Institute of Health revealed that when controlling for individual differences by analyzing the progress of the same kids but in different settings, those who received ABA therapy in-clinic demonstrated far higher rates of learning during treatment compared to in-home therapy services. The kids who received ABA therapy in-clinic mastered 100 percent more skills per hour than those who received home-based treatments.

Contact us online or by calling (239) 313-5049. FOCUS offers ABA therapy to kids at two clinics in Fort Myers, Florida.

 

 

ABA therapy

How Behavior Chaining Works in ABA Therapy

ABA therapy, short for applied behavior analysis or behavior therapy, focuses on studying behaviors – understanding them – and then incorporating techniques that promote expected behaviors and modify unexpected behaviors. One of the strategies our Fort Myers ABA therapy team employs is called “chaining.”

Chaining is a type of evidence-based technique that we can use to teach kids basic skills like handwashing or waiting their turn to more independent life skills.

The basic idea is that you’re breaking down each task into a series of mini-tasks. Many of us take for granted that skills like using the restroom or engaging in a conversation require numerous steps. We don’t give a second thought to every single step needed to complete everyday tasks – but there are, in fact, many. It takes some kids with developmental delays and disorders lots of practice to master each individual step.

Let’s take handwashing, for instance. It’s considered a single, simple task. But in ABA therapy, we recognize that there are many smaller steps to it. We break it down into little, teachable bits. These include:

  • Turning on the sink.
  • Adjusting the water temperature.
  • Getting your hands wet.
  • Pressing the soap dispenser (or grabbing the soap).
  • Moving the soap around in your hands.
  • Scrubbing your hands.
  • Rinsing off the soap.
  • Turning off the water.
  • Drying your hands.

We teach this series of tasks as one “behavior chain.” Once they have the first step down, we move onto the next step in the behavior chain. As the child gets comfortable with each “mini-task,” we add or “chain” new behaviors/tasks that are linked to it, so that it all becomes synched. The child learns what is expected – and what is not expected – as they move through the steps of each task.

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.”