Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

February 07

Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

Making the Most of Mealtime

Family involvement has always been a critical component of the Lovaas Model of Applied Behavior Analysis. So what is a common request from many parents who want to be more involved? "Give me more ideas for how I can incorporate what my child is learning into everyday life." Following are a number of strategies you may find helpful when it comes to making the most of mealtime. In future newsletters, we will give ideas during other common family activities and routines such as: bedtime, bath time, and during chores.

"sometimes it's the little things that mean the most."

The following list was developed by both parents and consultants at the Lovaas Institute. The ideas are not necessarily groundbreaking, nor are they always grand in scale. But as one parent put it, "sometimes it's the little things that mean the most."

Setting the table

Setting the table can be simplified into a matching routine. Make a set of placemats with an outline for a plate, a cup, and one or more pieces of silverware. Your son or daughter can then be given plates, cups or silverware to match to the appropriate spaces.

Withhold one (or some) piece(s) so that your son or daughter will have to make a request for them. Prompt by showing them the whole or part of the piece they need to complete the place setting. Provide cups and/or plates with pictures of favorite characters such as Dora the Explorer, Spider-man, etc. and teach your son or daughter to request the plate, cup or even the silverware they want.

Helping with the meal

For cereal or oatmeal: instead of pouring milk or water in your son or daughter's bowl, pour a little in a separate cup so that your child can pour it over the cereal or oatmeal him- or herself. When making pancakes (or using other recipes) ask your child to get the ingredients one by one and place them on the table (prompt as needed either by pointing, using words or pictures). If necessary, portion out the ingredients into cups which makes it easier for your child to pour the contents into a bowl. If your child needs more help, divide the ingredients into sets of cups, one set for you and one for the child, and teach your child to imitate you when you pick up a cup and pour the contents into the bowl.

Rather than just asking for the items, make the interaction more like a conversation by having your son or daughter fill in the blank. "We need eggs. Eggs are in the..." If you child is nonverbal but can read and write you may also make this interaction more like a conversation by using written words. For example, write "We need eggs, they are in the........." and teach your child to fill in the blank either by writing the correct word by hand or by finding the correct word card among several.

If your son or daughter has little experience with certain cooking actions, demonstrate them so that your child can imitate you (e.g., pour in some of the water, your child pours in the rest; stir the bowl, then have your child stir in the bowl).

Use cooking as an opportunity to practice sequencing procedures. For example, place the cups with the ingredients in the correct sequence on the table and teach your child to name what to do first, second, third, etc. (e.g., "First we pour the oatmeal, then we pour the water, then we put it in the microwave). Or, again, use pictures, and teach your child to place them in the correct sequence for the cooking procedure.

Cleaning up

Once finished eating, teach your child to put her or his cup and dish up on the counter or in the sink. Or, you could start just with the silverware. If necessary, use imitation and model the procedure for your child.

Rewarding your child

At first, it might be necessary to reward your child immediately after completing some of these new activities. You may need to use reinforcers that are quick and easy to administer, such as a favorite food or a token system. As your child becomes familiar with the activities, you should attempt to increase the length of time between reinforcers and/or gradually take advantage of reinforcers that may be already available in the natural environment (such as the meal that will be eaten at mealtime or the attention from you).

Do you have other ideas of skills to incorporate during meal time? Share them with us here

The names of all children in this newsletter have been changed in respect for family confidentiality.

From the Editor

In 1995 when I was asked to help a family whose son had recently been diagnosed with autism, additional information on behavioral treatment was hard to come by. Fast-forward eleven years and the amount of information now available to families is incredible. Still, from the number of emails the Lovaas Institute receives every day, one thing is apparent: families want more! Therefore, I've been given the opportunity to supervise the publication of what the Lovaas Institute hopes is new and relevant information for you and your family. I'd love to hear any feedback you have.

Vincent J. LaMarca
Editor
Lovaas Institute Newsletter

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