Spring is here and, this year, it feels more welcoming than ever following a year of social distancing, mask wearing, and virtual ABA sessions. If outdoor restrictions have relaxed, take advantage of those opportunities to enrich home and community ABA sessions for clients. Video Modeling Video modeling can be utilized for teaching any number of skills, and has been shown to be an effective intervention. Why not use video modeling (or prerecorded videos) to pre-teach expectations for a new location? Pool safety, social greetings, and turn-taking on the playground can all be taught using video modeling. A quick search of local locations may turn up a video that would be appropriate, or therapists can create a video using easily available technology such as a cell phone. For any private establishment, such as a local restaurant or indoor trampoline park, clear the video with management first. Explaining that the video will help an individual who wants to visit, but needs to know what to expect first, and ensuring that no other individuals (adults or children) are captured without consent is the first step in successfully creating a personal library for individual use. Peer Interactions Take advantage of the time outside to target peer interactions and prosocial communication. This might be informal, such as a group of neighborhood peers riding scooters around the block, or more contrived, such as a trip to a local playground with a goal of waving hello to 3 people.
A change in environment is a great opportunity to target generalization and natural environment teaching, while still providing a focus to each session. For clients who respond positively to a schedule during sessions, tasks can be presented in a less-linear method, such as a bingo card or scavenger hunt. Tasks can also be presented by outcome target (“wave to three people,” “take 2 turns on the slide,” etc.). While peer interactions can also be targeted during more structured social events, such as a pool party or picnic, be aware of the limitations of instructional control and the environmental expectations. If all other children are in the pool, finding a quiet, low-distraction, place to complete a few rehearsal trials may be nearly impossible. Safety Awareness Training The extra daylight that comes with spring and summer can be a great opportunity to practice safety skills outdoors and in the natural environment, even during the afterschool hours. Many individuals with Autism may benefit from directly teaching safety targets such as following crosswalk indicators or navigating a busy sidewalk.
Additional time outside can allow time to prompt these targets and complete teaching trials. Other outdoor targets may include identifying community helpers in familiar locations, or identifying neighborhood landmarks (i.e., the fire station, grandma’s house, post office). Challenges to Consider While outdoor sessions can bring a host of new opportunities and potential reinforcers, there are some challenges to keep in mind for outdoor sessions. Be mindful of potential temperature changes and sensitivities for clients. It may be wise to keep an extra blanket, bug spray, and spray sunscreen handy during time outside. Be sure to have extra water, or a refillable water bottle, as well as some snacks that can be kept safely in a vehicle or backpack (i.e., apple sauce pouches, crackers, etc.). This can help maintain safety in the event that a session lasts longer than expected, stores in the location are not open, or traffic causes unexpected delays. Be aware of any supervision or safety concerns. For example, if a client has challenges with elopement, it may be wise to start community sessions in a fenced in yard or fenced playground.
In planning for safety, additional team members may also be helpful. In the example of a client who may elope, planning an initial session in a fenced backyard with a parent, RBT, and BCBA may be a strong first step to addressing these concerns. Additionally, when planning for this client to go out into the community, make plans for the parent or caregiver to be able to benefit from the session. Maybe the parent meets the client and provider out in the community, so that the client can work toward independently following a bus schedule, or maybe they stay a few picnic tables over where they are unnoticed to observe interventions that can be implemented in a local park. Overall, spring can be an excellent time to plan outdoor activities for reinforcement, skill acquisition, or generalization. Be mindful of safety concerns and identify ways to support clients while enjoying the extra daylight!