Florida's First Choice for Autism Support

Posts tagged ‘development’

Positive vs. Negative Reinforcement

This is a topic I’ve always found quite fascinating; which behavioral adjustment method is most effective? To alleviate any confusion for those who may not be familiar with the terminology: positive reinforcement (PR) is learning a behavior in order to get rewarded for it, whereas negative reinforcement (NR) is the opposite: learning a behavior in order to avoid a negative outcome. Together, they are one half of what is known as “Operant Conditioning” in psychology, the others being positive and negative punishment. Note that NR is completely different from punishment. NR is supposed to strengthen good behaviors, while punishments are intended to discourage bad behavior.

To paint a clearer picture, here is an example related to a child’s performance in school that showcases the differences between the four.

PR: doing well in school results in a reward; i.e. getting a new video game. NR: doing well in school means not getting grounded. Positive punishment: doing poorly in school results in getting grounded. Negative punishment: doing poorly in school results in having your video games taken away from you.

Now it would appear to anyone reading that the obvious answer would be PR. I mean, everyone loves being praised and receiving awards when they do good, right? However, the answer is not so simple. Like many things in life, we need to take a deeper look to come to an understanding.

Before I get into the meat of the issue, let me give a bit of background on myself in regards to it. I need PR; for a while during my teenage years, all my parents knew was NR, and our relationship suffered greatly because of it. In addition to constant punishments, both negative and positive, all I was ever told was what would happen to me if I didn’t do what they wanted me to. Not only did this backfire immensely, but it made me want to rebel even further because I felt terribly victimized. Once they changed their approach, my entire disposition changed almost overnight. It was invigorating. I wanted to succeed and do well now, because I sought the pleasure doing so would accrue to me. But that’s only my story; not everyone is the same.

Which method is best depends on the individual. For some, PR will result in complacency and laziness, while that same person will be brought in line by, and respect, the more unforgiving nature of NR. Others, like myself, will see PR as giving us the motivation to work towards a goal (or just generally good behavior), and live in unhealthy terror of the boogey-man that is NR.

Through my many hours of study on the topic, perusing forums and articles, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are 2 main factors to consider when you’re pondering which method to apply to your children. First: their mental/emotional maturity; i.e. age, mental health, disabilities, etc., and second: how far along in the process you are of replacing the bad behavior with the good. When you first set out to eliminate a bad habit, associating unsavory outcomes with said action is a good way to train yourself not to do it, hence why NR is a good starting point.

Eventually, however, the seeds of rebellion will be planted. You’ll start resenting the constant threat of punishment looming over your head if you don’t perform the behavior. From the previous example, if a child comes to associate doing well in school with not being grounded, eventually they’re going to get fed up with never having any tangible rewards and rebel against you out of spite. They may not necessarily want to fail in school, but it’s their only way of showing that they need some sort of recognition for their good deeds.

This is where PR comes into play. Once the child has been conditioned to believe that doing well in school is generally a good thing, then change your approach a bit to help him/her maintain that behavior. Start taking your kid out for ice cream whenever they get an A on their test or something similar. Then they’ll come to associate success in school (and eventually, work) with success in life.

Once again, every child is different, and PR and NR don’t just apply to them. We’re constantly readjusting our own behaviors in life well into adulthood. I hope that this little piece has helped you gain a better understanding of the pros and cons of both approaches, and that you can make a more informed decision while choosing which to pursue.

Gage Sosso


Writer’s Bio

Why Would I Have my Child “Tested”?

I’m sure over the years you have been asked by either professionals, doctors or even the school if your child has ever been ‘tested’? What does this mean anyway and why would you want to have your child tested?
In the mental health world, undergoing testing usually refers to psychological testing or evaluations. These tests can be very comprehensive and can be a road map for treatment. Many therapists can give screeners, questionnaires and other types of evaluations but a psychologist is the doctor of choice to perform psychological testing.

Here are some reasons why psychological testing may benefit your child:
1. You have been in counseling for some time and little progress is being made.
2. You are not quite sure exactly what is going on with your child but you know something is just not right.
3. You have been given so many different diagnoses and just want to know, once and for all, what you and your child are dealing with.
4. You would like to formulate a treatment plan based specifically on your child’s needs and the areas that they are struggling.
5. You want to rule out a learning disability or uncover why your child is struggling in school.
6. Medication is not working and you are concerned that doctors are “missing something”.
7. You are curious if your child has an underlying disability or area of difficulty that has not been identified.
8. You are looking for an official diagnosis.
9. You would like to know how your child learns best.
10. You would like to rule out any areas of concern that may run in your family.

Psychological testing is able to assess many areas, some of which include:
*IQ testing/Cognitive delays
*Processing speed
*Short and long term memory
*Word Retrieval
*Personality features and types
*Learning styles/learning disabilities
*Mental health

In addition to psychological testing, the ADOS test is also a formal evaluation that can be given to people of all ages to diagnosis Autism. This very comprehensive test is considered the gold standard for diagnosing Autism and uses different modules to determine if a person is on the spectrum.

After testing, of any type, is completed, you should be provided a very detailed report with graphs and charts to show testing results as well as a detailed summary of what the testing reveals. A good psychological report should include:
*Background information
*Testing procedures and results
*Detailed summary
*Detailed recommendations

Written by Erica DuPont, LCSW


Early Childhood Training Series

We have had great success with our “Early Childhood Training Series”. We originally geared this training for new parents of children diagnosed with autism, but we have had numerous professionals and parents join us. Participants joined us from CARD-USF’s 14-county region as well as from various other regions in Florida and even from other states! Our topics have included
“Positive Collaborations with Schools”, “Addressing Challenging Behavior”, and “Enhancing Communication”. Coming up next on our list of topics are “Creating Visuals”, “Addressing Feeding Issues”, “Addressing Sleep Issues”, and “Preparing for Summer”.
These trainings run on the first Tuesday of every month from 6:00pm to 7:00pm. To participate online via adobe connect visit http://usf.adobeconnect.com/card_ect at 5:45pm on the night of the training. Or you can join us in person. Please RSVP beverlyking@usf.edu one week before the date of the training as space is limited. We look forward to keeping this project an ongoing opportunity and welcome all feedback. If there are other topics of interest that you would like to see in the future please let us know.
Your Early Childhood Team

B Vitamins and Autism Spectrum Disorders

By: Dr. David Berger, MD, FAAP
Wholistic Pediatrics and Family Care

One of the more frequent questions that I am asked about by parents of children with autism spectrum disorders is about the use of B vitamins. This is a family of vitamins that include Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3) Pantothenic acid (B5), Pyridoxine (B6), Biotin (B7), folic acid/folate (B9,, “folic acid” and ” folate” are often used interchangeably) and cobalamin (B12). Each of these nutrients are vital to everyone’s health, but some of them take on a important role in the treatments that we do to help children on the spectrum optimize their development and behaviors. While textbooks can be written on each of these vitamins, I would like to share some of the newer research and how they can be applied to help our children.
Many families have heard about the use of “B-12 shots” and folic acid as a therapy for Autism. About 10 years ago, groundbreaking research was done at Arkansas Children’s Hospital by Dr. Jill James that documented low blood levels of chemicals such as methionine, cysteine and glutathione, which significantly improved when given certain forms of B vitamins. These chemicals are very important for detoxification and the body’s production of anti-oxidants. They keep the immune system strong and reduce allergies and inflammation. They are involved in the metabolism of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.
We have learned that there are alterations in genes that activate folic acid (MTHFR is needed to make methylfolate) and B12 (MTRR is needed to make Methyl B12). These DNA switches, which can now be tested for at commercial labs, can result in significant slowing of the enzymes that activate these B vitamins.
Especially if there is a double switch present (we all get 1 copy of these genes from our mom and 1 from our dad), a person may particularly benefit from taking the activated forms of these B vitamins.
Higher doses of activated folate (folinic acid and methylfolate) are also being used in patients that have been identified with having auto-antibodies that are blocking or binding the receptors for folate that are located in the brain. If these antibodies are present, the high doses are therapeutically used to try and bypass the receptor that is being blocked. Improvements in reducing seizures, improving behaviors, and improving communication skills have all been noted with treatment for those with the auto-antibodies. A great review article has been written on this by 2 colleagues, Dan Rossignol, MD and Richard Frye, MD (http://tinyurl.com/folate-receptor-antibodies)
There are many caveats with the use of B vitamins, in terms of the doses, the way they are taken (such as by injection or under the tongue) and how/when they are introduced. B vitamins can be a safe and effective way to treat children with neurodevelopmental disorders, but as with all medical treatments, it is best for these to be done under the supervision of a knowledgeable physician or nurse practitioner.


Transition Planning: It’s Never Too Early To Start


This is the third in a series of articles about transition planning. This article focuses on students in middle school. It is never too early to plan for transition to adult life. Preparing a young person for transition to adulthood is a gradual process stretching over several years. You may find the “transition roadmap” for middle school helpful in starting the journey: http://flfcic.fmhi.usf.edu/docs/FCIC_Employment_Roadmap.pdf

Involve your child in activities that foster self-respect and self-esteem, and enable gradually increasing independence. This may include participating in extracurricular activities that build on your child’s strengths and interests, such as playing an instrument in the band, auditioning for a play, or getting involved in 4-H. Assign specific tasks at home, and require that the tasks are done thoroughly and on time. Have your child join you in community activities that help others, such as cutting coupons for an elderly neighbor, cheering on friends competing in a marathon, or reading to a young child.

Take your child into the community, and point out occupations and the tasks and responsibilities of the persons doing those jobs. Encourage your child to talk about the occupation he/she might like to do as an adult. Highlight your child’s strengths and gifts. Expose your child to experts with similar strengths and gifts, such as attending a symphony concert for a budding musician.

In middle school, your child should become more involved in developing the goals on his/her IEP, and in self-assessing progress over time. Creating personal ownership of the IEP is a foundational base in developing your child’s self-determination skills. By the time your child is a 9th grader, he/she should be attending his/her IEP meeting, and possibly even chairing the meeting by grade 11 or 12. Did you know that a diploma option must be chosen in 9th grade (as per the new state statute)? Your child should be an active participant in making this important decision. More about that in the next article about transition…..

CARD & HIPPY Program To Be Featured on News Channel 8

The Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at USF partners with the Florida HIPPY program (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters)

The HIPPY program offers a structured home based model focusing on parent-child centered learning. This international parent involvement school readiness program uses an evidence based curriculum for children 3-5 years old. Parents, as the first teachers, are provided with the developmentally appropriate materials and books to help teach and strengthen their child’s cognitive, literacy and social/emotional skills.

Four years ago, CARD approached HIPPY about the idea of expanding the use of their curriculum to children with disabilities, specifically children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. This had not been tried before and we felt that CARD constituents would greatly benefit from this opportunity. After HIPPY successfully received a grant from the Children’s Board in Hillsborough County, we were off and running to find 16 children for our pilot group. We have been tracking the data on the enhancements that CARD has offered to the HIPPY curriculum as well as child outcomes. Our goal is to have our participants school ready to attend the least restrictive classroom environment.

We had the honor of having Gayle Guyardo from Channel 8 news join us for a session with a local family that CARD and HIPPY serves. This story will be featured on September 23 on the evening news. I hope you can take a moment to watch and if you know a family in Hillsborough County with a child aged 3 or 4 who can benefit from this program, please have them contact Beverly King at beverlyking@usf.edu.

Jossie3                             (Jossie, a HIPPY graduate, with Gayle Guyardo)

Guest Blog: Art as a Tool for Creative and Mental Growth and Development

Art as a tool for creative and mental growth and development
Christine Rollins, MA, MSW, Art Therapist & Social Worker at ProTherapyPlus-Carrollwood Grove

As the school year begins, children return to many core subjects like math and science. But does your child engage in the arts during or outside of school?

Art-making is a natural, innate activity that we all are born with. Art and play are the natural language of children. The process of art-making can be an essential part of child development. There is a strong link between the use of arts and cognitive development such as: thinking and problem solving; improving language development and motor skills; and developing visual-spatial skills. Studies have shown that engaging in art can be an essential part of a child’s creative and mental growth. While we may think of creativity as specific to drawing a picture or writing a story – it also plays a large role in problem solving, resilience, and developing effective coping skills.

Engaging in art can be helpful in the early treatment of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The use of art can be an interesting crossroads for children with ASD because it is an activity in which their strengths (such as visual learners and sensory interests) and deficits (such as imagination and need for sensory control) merge. Among the above benefits of using the arts—it can also provide an opportunity to improve imagination and symbolic thinking, help manage and integrate sensory issues, improve motor skills, and increase self-esteem. Additionally, working on art together with another can help with social development and allow you to address social skills.

If you would like to engage with your child at home using the arts, here are some great ways to get started:

• Art making does not need to be costly. Take a walk outside with your child and find “treasures” in nature. Children use these materials most productively and imaginatively when they themselves help select and sort them. Make collages with the collections by gluing to paper, cardboard, or wood. Make leaf rubbings using paper and the side of a peeled crayon over different shape and size leaf.

• Use recycled everyday items in your home. These materials can include brown paper bags, different size boxes, cleaned empty food containers, writing and drawing tools, and little things such as buttons, shells, beans, beads, socks, popsicle sticks. These items can be used to create things such as rattles, puppets, small “houses” for little toys, and robots.
• Use sculpting materials, such as playdoh and model magic. Many recipes to make these can be found online.
          – Gluten free playdoh recipe:parents.com/fun/activities/indoor/gluten-free-play-dough-recipe/
         –  Model magic recipe: kidcreatestudio.com/homemade-model-magic/
• Drawing with bath paints or shaving cream on a tub or wall can be fun and easy to clean up.

• The emphasis on the process of creating the art is often more important than the final product created. The emphasis should not be on right or wrong, or a predetermined way the final product should look. Sometimes there may not even be a final product, and that is okay. It is in the creative process that children learn, explore, and create.

There are also Art Therapists, who are master’s level mental health professionals, that are trained in the use of arts and the creative process to improve and enhance the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages.

To read more about Art Therapy and its benefits with children with autism, please read this article published by the Autism Society. http://www.art-therapy.us/images/art-therapy.pdf



Betts, D.J. (2005). “The art of art therapy: Drawing individuals out in creative ways. Advocate: Magazine of the Autism Society of America, 26-27.
Emery, M. (2004). Art Therapy as an intervention for autism. Art Therapy Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, p143-147.

Martin, N. (2009). Art as an Early Intervention Tool for Children with Autism. New York: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

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