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.
If your family is anything like ours, the holidays can be a stressful time of year. After the novelty of winter break wears off, my boys quickly become bored and irritable. Unfortunately, this happy time of year can be stressful for many children and adults diagnosed with autism. Whether it is caused by a change in routine or deficits in leisure skills, extended breaks from school can be anything but joyful.
Last year, our family decided to break the cycle of the winter break blues. I had a simple plan in mind: we do just ONE family activity per day. I picked a variety of fun things to do and created a picture checklist to guide each activity. Using this method, our son participated in so many activities that he would have previously tried to escape. What really blew me away was after painting a picture (an activity that typically evoked his most cunning escape tactics), he smiled and said “painting.” Then an hour later, he looked at the picture and said, “paint a picture.” He was so proud of his work! I then realized that this was a strategy we needed to use as often as possible.
For other parents who are looking for new tools to assist them this holiday season, I highly recommend activity schedules. Activity schedules are sets of pictures that show each of the steps needed to complete a task. They help ease the stress that novel activities sometime bring by showing a concrete beginning and end for each task. They are a great way to promote independence while also decreasing the stress parents can feel during family activities. Click here to see an example of a simple activity schedule for a fun, snowman craft.
While there is a plethora of pre-made activity schedules online, I found that looking for what I needed simply took too much time. If there is one thing that most parents of children with autism share, it is limited free time. Since there are many low-cost apps available in the iTunes store, I found that the cost was well worth the time saved. Some activity schedule applications even include daily, weekly, or monthly
visual schedule options.
My favorite apps for making activity schedules include: First Then Visual Schedule HD, Choiceworks, and iPrompts. Visual Schedule is another app that I cannot live without. It allows the user to place either pictures or short video clips right in the activity schedule, which makes it a fantastic option for visual learners. For non-tablet users, Boardmaker Online is a fantastic option. Users can use picture symbols or online photos to create schedules. Users may also obtain a free trial for 30 days without any strings attached, great for a family trying to navigate the holidays on a budget.
Using simple tools and a little prep work can help you navigate the holiday season with a little less stress. The time spent planning upfront will allow you and your loved one with autism to experience the joy and love that truly represents the holiday season. You may just have a little fun along the way too!
Sarah Glass, BA, BCaBA, is the owner and operator of Oh, Hi Social Skills and Innovative Behavioral Consulting. She returned to college and became a behavior analyst after her oldest son was diagnosed with autism at the age of three and a half. She is a mentor and Skill Corps Leader for the Global Autism Project.
Some of my greatest memories are holiday-related. For example, the Christmas of 1982 when Santa placed under our tree a stuffed prairie dog—Prairie Pup. My new special interest quickly became prairie dogs for the next eight years. Prairie Pup and I were inseparable, until I began middle school and Prairie Pup became the first prairie dog to be expelled from the Oakland County Schools. The special education teachers informed my parents, “Your son is too old to be carrying a love-worn prairie dog, desperately needing Rogaine.”
During the holidays, I have experienced meltdowns and stress. When I was seven years old, my Christmas gift was an army outfit, equipped with a toy machine gun, walkie-talkies, and binoculars. After a few days, the trigger on the machine gun broke. My parents did not send it back to the North Pole for repairs but instead returned it to Sears for a new set. The new army set was complete except for one small detail —the binoculars were a different style, a 1940’s design compared to modern. When I saw the new binoculars in the box—the former ones missing—my emotions erupted. I began hitting my head relentlessly, smashing everything in my path. My meltdown lasted ten straight hours; it only ceased after my parents went back to Sears and found my original binoculars.
Luckily for my family and friends I have learned five survival techniques for the holidays I think all individuals on the spectrum should consider trying.
1.) Reduce stress by dressing comfortably for holiday events. During the holidays, I enjoy wearing my Frosty the Snowman pajamas and Star Wars T-shirts. These clothes help my sensory issues stay balanced and cause me to feel calm.
2.) Be prepared for the environment of holiday events. My dad has severe asthma. If the family hosting an event has a dog or cat, my dad will politely ask them to keep the pet in another room to prevent him from having an asthma attack. I have sensory issues to smoke, so like my father, I have to plan ahead to avoid what could affect me. So I won’t attend any holiday events where people will be smoking.
3.) Know who to avoid at holiday events. Certain family members can be annoying and rude especially for us on the spectrum. The aunt who has a funky body odor and loves to give you a big hug. Your uncle who asks more questions than an inquisition. These family members can add stress to your holiday so minimize your time with them if you need to.
4.) Bring a fun bag that helps relieve anxiety. My fun backpack contains books and toys. When I become bored or overwhelmed by the noise of the nieces and nephews playing, I sneak off and read a book.
5.) Always have an escape route. At my parents’ house, I have a man cave with over 4,000 books and a Calico Critter collection. When I feel stressed out, I hide in my cave. The escape route for you could be going for a walk outside or a room away from the guests.
Ron Sandison is the founder of Spectrum Inclusion and is employed in the mental health field. He is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom, published by Charisma House. Sandison speaks at over 70 events a year including 20 conferences. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a daughter, Makayla.
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.