As families look to the year ahead, it is natural to ask yourself how you can better ensure a more productive and positive year for your loved one on the spectrum. Teen and Adult Coordinator Haley Dunn knows the feeling, and has answered some common questions she gets this time of year as parents assess their goals for the new year.
1) How do I write a new goal? Think about goals for yourself or your loved one in multiple settings- home, school, career and personal. Pick a few things you would like to work on in each setting. Set goals that are short and long-term to help you feel accomplished as you progress through your list.
If you are a student writing academic goals or social goals, it can be helpful for you to focus on something personal. Goals that you really want to accomplish are more likely to come to fruition versus a goal someone sets for you.
Academic goal examples:
– Improving math test scores by studying an extra hour per week
– Improving spelling ability by writing the word an extra 3 times more than the homework states
Social goal examples: – I will sit with a new person this month and ask them a question about their interests
– I will go out to a school social event this year.
2) Why is it important to write down my goals?
If you are seeing your goals on a regular basis you are more likely to continue to work towards them. So write them down and put them somewhere where you can see them! Type out the goals and post them in common areas of your home. Use a journal that you carry with you. Make a dream board that you put in your room with pictures and quotes that inspire you as you work toward your goal.
How you write the goal is equally important in setting an encouraging tone and putting yourself in the right mind set to start working. Use phrases such as, “I will improve” versus “Stop making mistakes.”
3) What else can I do to stay on track? Now that you have your goals, it is important to check in with your progress on a set time schedule. Consider purchasing a planner or using an app on your phone to keep track. Breaking down large goals into smaller tasks with easier deadlines will give you a sense of pride and keep you focused.
4) What if I have a really big goal? Set goals that are short and long term to help you feel accomplished as you progress through your list on your way to a big goal. Think about the smaller steps it will take to reach the final goal. Make sure the goal is SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.
When you have a really big goal, such as, “I want to go to college,” you need to break it down in to small steps. You may want to start with focusing on grades or thinking about future careers- begin to narrow down what it means to go to college and what you need to accomplish in high school to get there. A guidance counselor or family member are good supports for a big goal like this.
5) I have a lot of goals. Where do I even begin? If you have several goals, give each a priority. This helps avoid feeling overwhelmed and helps you focus attention to the most important goals. Writing out “first, then” statements can help sort out what steps take priority in reaching a goal. Setting priorities will help create the road map to where you want to go and how you plan to get there.
6) People tell me I should find an accountability partner. What will this person need to do? Firstly, you must spell out your goals and confirm that they are clear on what you need to accomplish. Agree on a schedule together for how often you want them to check in with you and stick to it. Secondly, ask them to hold you to your word, celebrate the small victories with you, and to ask questions when they aren’t sure of how to help in a situation.
7) What do we do if we don’t meet our goal by the deadline we set? Whether you make a mistake or encounter an obstacle along the way, you can overcome it! Reevaluate what you have accomplished, how you want to move forward and if you need to break down the steps even smaller. Remember, goals take time and as long as you are working as a team and learning from mistakes, a brighter future is ahead.
8) What do I do when my child reaches a goal we have worked on together? CELEBRATE! And then write another one! Having something to continually work for improves overall positive feelings about oneself- especially when a goal has been accomplished.
Need help creating goals for yourself or your loved one? Need resources to help you meet those goals? Message our team through Facebook, or call Milestones’ free Helpdesk at (216) 464-7600.
Haley Dunn works with individuals with ASD to help them transition to adulthood. She has experience working with individuals with developmental disabilities and ASD to transition from school to work, as well as providing mental health counseling services. Haley has a deep passion for connecting people to their community, whether it is through employment, volunteering, or life enrichment activities.
As long as Donna Yanowitz can remember, her family was always involved in organizations that worked to better the lives of those in need.
Throughout her adult life, Donna has continued living by these family values, devoting herself to philanthropy and mentoring others in the Cleveland Jewish community.
Upon discovering her personal connection to autism, Donna knew she wanted to become a part of the Milestones mission.
“When I became aware of and familiar with autism, I realized that at least half a dozen members of my family are on the autism spectrum,” Donna said. “Because of the work the founders of Milestones have done and continue to do, I knew it was something in which I would like to become involved.”
In 2016, Donna found a particularly meaningful way to do just that. She began funding the Milestones Internship Program, a program wherein individuals on the spectrum can gain valuable work experience with the Milestones staff.
As an internship that can be completely customized to meet the goals and abilities of each individual, the program has since served as a great social and educational experience for multiple high school students in the past few years.
Past intern Lucas Estafanous credits the program for preparing him for college.
“I wouldn’t have been able to handle college as well as I have if I hadn’t done my internship with Milestones,” Lucas said. “I feel more confident at college and looking ahead to my career, knowing I’ve already had professional work experience and have learned skills to help me succeed, like organization and time management.”
“The Milestones Internship Program has brought extraordinary results,” Donna said. “It requires tremendous planning and training of all those involved, including employers who join in.”
Like Milestones, Donna understands the importance of local business owners considering the ways in which they can employ individuals on the spectrum and strive to create more inclusive work environments.
“I would encourage businesses and organizations to investigate the possibility of participating in an internship program like this. Those that do so are to be lauded for giving interns the opportunity to become contributing members of the community.”
If your organization wishes to learn more about how it can create job or internship opportunities for individuals on the spectrum, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 216-464-7600.
As I consider making goals, whether for the whole year of 2018 or just for upcoming situations I know will be challenging, I utilize a pattern I learned in my first semester of college. This strategy may be familiar to you too. It’s called making “SMART” goals, which is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.
Using this strategy has helped me find success in areas where I truly want to make changes or grow personally. In the past when I was not realistic, I would make goals that were far too grandiose which resulted in my giving up easily, and being unable to actually see any progress. Now I concentrate on smaller but attainable changes, and once I reach them I push the goals out further. I also set only one or two goals at a time in order to keep my focus.
For example, I struggle with asking repetitive, anxiety-provoked questions of others. Instead of setting a goal like, “I will stop asking repetitive questions,” I set a SMART goal. Applying the SMART strategy to the goal would look like this:
S (specific): I will reduce my repetitive, anxiety-provoked questions at home. I will enlist the help of a family member to give me cues when needed and keep me accountable to my goal. I will reduce the questions to two times each.
M (measurable): Because I am using a family member to keep me gently accountable, it will be easy to see if I am actually restricting my repetitive questions to two times each. This means “check-ins” are automatically built into this particular goal.
A (attainable): This goal should be attainable for me because I have set it up for success. As long as I continue to be open to my accountability partner’s cues and respond appropriately, I will find success in reducing the number of times I repeat a question, even when I am anxious.
R (realistic): My goal is realistic because I have been working on this particular behavior for some time. Engaging another person to work on it with me will also keep me on task.
T (timely): I will set this goal to be accomplished in 30 days. I review the results of my strategies with my accountability partner at that time. If I am consistently reducing my repetitive, anxiety-provoked questions to two times each or less I will consider the goal achieved, and set a new goal. If I have not achieved the goal as set, then I will modify the goal at that time or lengthen the time frame in which to attain it.
Each person knows what works best for him or her. This is the kind of goal setting that works for me. One thing to keep in mind is that goals can always be modified to ensure success. I stay positive knowing that I can modify a goal as necessary rather than give in to defeat.
Grace Blatt is a Good Life Ambassador for the Cuyahoga County Board of Development Disabilities where she presents to schools, legislators, families, and provider agencies advocating for those with special needs. She is also a past Milestones Trailblazer Award recipient and is currently pursuing a degree in music therapy.
The New Year is here and with it comes those New Year’s resolutions. Resolutions are the goals we set for ourselves for the upcoming year – try to eat healthier, save more money, make time to get to the gym.
This might also be a good time for families to reflect on what goals they may have for their children with autism. I frequently get asked the question, “Do you see this as something my child can do within one year?” Your child’s educational team also has to make this determination when writing goals for the Individualized Education Program.
In thinking about setting goals, take a page from the IEP guidelines and try to make them SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented, and time-bound. Instead of, “I want my child to communicate more with me,” think about what is the most important thing they learn to communicate. Instead of “I want my child to read”, maybe “I want my child to read 10 words, or 20 words,” or whatever makes the most sense.
As with any goal, in order to get somewhere, you have to know where you are at. It’s difficult to measure progress if you don’t have a baseline measurement to know what you are comparing to. Additionally, it’s hard to know whether the teaching you are doing is having the impact you want, without occasionally measuring the progress. That’s why data-driven decisions are so crucial. If you have an idea in your mind about what kind of goal you want to work towards achieving with your son or daughter, stop and take a measurement of what their current skill is in this area.
Moreover, in determining what goal you want to achieve, you likely need to think about the environment and what changes are going to need to be made. Who is going to be involved – the daycare, the school, the rest of the family? Collaboration with others is going to be very important, because consistency is key. Teaching a new skill to anyone, requires the environment, including the people in it who will be reinforcing the behavior, to be consistent and to provide opportunities for your child to engage in the new skill.
If you realize months in that progress toward the goal set for your child is slower than you thought, call a team meeting! In other words, touch base with everyone involved in your child’s goal and see if you can figure out the potential barriers. Perhaps your child needs more instruction on a prerequisite skill, or he or she isn’t getting enough repeated practice of the skill. You can always recalibrate that goal into something that is going to be more achievable, and if you blow past it – even better!
For the rest of us, when thinking about those New Year’s resolutions that we made last year? How many of them did we achieve? Meeting even the goals we set for ourselves entails constant work and almost always the support of family and friends. Your goals for your children will most likely entail the same. But the feeling that comes after a lot of hard work and visible progress? That can’t be measured.
Monica Fisher, M.Ed., BCBA, COBA has over 14 years of experience working with children on the autism spectrum in home, school, and residential settings. A former Intervention Specialist, she is now a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and the Director of the Behavior Department at Monarch Center for Autism, where she is responsible for managing a team of behavior specialists and BCBAs. Monica also works for ABA Outreach, providing in-home consultative services for families in the Cleveland area.
Wondering how to get through the holidays? You’re not alone. Many families with a loved one on the spectrum feel overwhelmed this time of year and contact Milestones for some extra support. Below, Program Director Beth Thompson answers some of the most common questions we hear during the holiday season.
What can I do to make traveling easier for my loved one?
Milestones has compiled tips for you to ensure that your travel for a vacation or family gathering starts and ends on a positive note. Read the Milestones Travel Tips Toolkit for ways to make your flights successful! When possible, have your loved one visit the airport and go through a “mock run”. Also, check to see if there are school groups or organizations like Wings for Autism in your area who can help your family with this.
How do I make my home welcoming for loved ones with autism?
Reference our “How to Make a Place Welcoming” quick tips! Don’t be afraid to the teen or adult or their parent how to make gatherings better for them. They will be grateful you asked instead of assumed.
How do I encourage my child to come out of their room to spend time with family?
Make a contract with them and negotiate when and how long you would like them to participate with the family. Assure them you are not trying to take away all their downtime or screen time. The pleasantries and increased social expectations of the holidays may be lost to our loved one or may not matter to them at all. That’s okay – use what does matter to them (another ten minutes on their video game) to motivate them to join you at the dinner table.
There is so much to do this month – how will my family juggle it all?
Take time to prioritize what’s really important to you and your family during the holiday season. If getting a picture with Santa is important enough to struggle through a possible meltdown, make that the goal and support your child with visual supports, reinforcements, and social stories to help them reach that goal. If having your child sit down as part of the family meal or service is the top priority, make a plan to help your child understand the schedule and provide their favorite reinforcers through the activity.
How do I ensure my child’s caregiver enjoys their holiday season?
Make sure you are planning a break for everyone, including YOU! Your child’s teacher and therapist get a winter break – do you or your child’s other supports, like your partner or their siblings, get a break too? Even if it’s 20 minutes of secluded ice cream time after dinner, make sure you are taking breaks for yourself. If you need more in-home support to get your break, reach out to Milestones to get referrals for respite providers or aides. Remember, you do not have to go it alone.
I am worried my child will get restless during downtime. How do I help my child enjoy their winter break? Make a plan to keep your loved one engaged while on break. Schedule a few specific activities that they will enjoy – a trip to see sensory-friendly Santa, a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley train, a trip to the zoo – these activities will help your child remain excited and motivated to work towards their desired activities (find autism friendly events here).
How should I deal with friends or relatives who don’t know my loved one is on the spectrum?
People may have questions about how to best interact with them. Relieve their concerns and give them this Milestones cheat-sheet on how to be a friend or relative to someone on the spectrum.
As always, you can email, message our team through Facebook, or call Milestones’ free Helpdesk at (216) 464-7600 if you need further guidance.
On the forefront of transition and adult services, Beth Thompson is Milestones’ Program Director. Beth has a Master’s degree coupled with extensive hands-on experience working with high school students with autism. Whether students are college or career bound, Beth is instrumental in helping teens successfully transition to adulthood.
This website was made possible by the generosity of Lois Joan Davis and grants from the William J. & Dorothy K. O'Neill Foundation and the David and Robert Stein Family Foundation, a supporting foundation of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.