Meet Dr Wagner – Expert in Educational Leadership and Trauma Responsive Care

“About 20 years ago, I had the amazing opportunity to watch Applied Behaviour Analysis therapy with a small child. Within five minutes of watching her learn to talk and play through the science of behaviour analysis, I identified making an impact for children with varying abilities and their families through behavioural intervention as my purpose and calling.”

The Aspire team is thrilled to announce the talented and passionate Dr Leaora L. Wagner as our new Clinical Director. Dr Wagner will be bringing over 20 years of experience to Aspire families, along with her unique specialisation in Organisational Behaviour Management & Educational Leadership and ABA Through a Trauma Responsive Lens.


Organisational Behaviour Management & Educational Leadership

Soon after beginning in the field of ABA, Dr Wagner quickly understood that her ‘ripple’ spanned further than just her caseload, reaching families and their wider communities. Seeing this impact inspired Dr Wagner to further serve individuals and their families by helping other professionals make the same meaningful impact.


Through Organisational Behaviour Management and Educational Leadership, Dr Wagner is able to apply staff and organisational development tools to improve the long-term outcomes of treatment by building diverse teams using evidence-based practices.


Applied Behaviour Analysis Through a Trauma Responsive Lens

Trauma during childhood can lead to a lifetime of complex mental health and physical health needs. However, having one caring adult as a guide through difficult moments can change the outcome.

Through her experiences at a young age, Dr Wagner learned the value of having one caring and connected person during these critical moments. As a result, Dr Wagner became immensely passionate about and drawn to understanding how trauma impacts what we do and how vital kindness and relationships are to making meaningful change through Applied Behaviour Analysis.


“At Aspire, I am committed to helping children, teens and their families learn, grow, play, and communicate through the science of contemporary Applied Behaviour Analysis. We will reduce barriers to learning for the children and teens that we are serving while designing and implementing personalised skill-building programs that promote dignity, choice, and independence.


We trust you will join us in welcoming Dr Wagner into the Aspire family. If you have any questions for Dr Wagner regarding her areas of expertise, please feel free to direct them to

4 Waitlist-Free Ways We Can Help Unlock your Child Full Learning Potential

For the first time in a long time, we’re waitlist-free! At Aspire Early Intervention, our focus is unlocking your child’s full learning potential and giving you powerful strategies when they are most effective – early.

First Steps program

A solid introduction to early intervention, this 12-week program (LINK) offers one-on-one sessions for your child and includes extensive parent/carer training. First Steps is the perfect way to begin early intervention and give your child the best possible start to learning.


Early Intensive Behaviour Intervention (LINK) is an extensive program based on the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis. EIBI programs are run in-clinic, at home or in preschool with a team of qualified technicians and an overseeing program manager.


Speech pathology

Speech pathology (LINK)  helps your child understand the foundations of language critical to learning and perception. Access tailored assessment and intervention programs for children with literacy difficulties or language difficulties related to developmental delays.


Consultation service

From setting up your child’s initial program to assistance with toilet training, adaptive skills or communication, our consultation service offers high quality support with parent coaching, school consultation and regular team meetings with your behaviour support practitioner.


Keen to take advantage of our waitlist-free period? Get in touch for a free discovery consultation here.

We say YES to Marriage Equality!

We, at Aspire Early Intervention, express our support for Marriage Equality. We are proud to announce that we have joined over 755 Corporations to pledge our support to the Australian Marriage Equality Campaign.

We support diversity in the workforce and recognise the rights of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and asexual (LBTIQA+) employees and clients, to live and work free of prejudice and discrimination, with all the essential freedoms enjoyed by other members of our organisation and the broader community.

The rights and liberties of all individuals are vital to uphold, and essential for creating a healthy, harmonious and open society.

An equitable society, free of discrimination, also allows all employees to function at their best. Australia is a robust democracy, however, we support seeing it treat all its citizens equally.

Legalised discrimination in one area allows discrimination to flourish in all areas.

Australians are increasingly supportive of marriage equality, with a recent Crosby Textor survey showing seventy-two percent, believe same sex couples should be allowed to marry. We agree. Of the remaining twenty-eight percent only fourteen percent strongly opposed the proposition.

Globally, over twenty countries have passed laws to allow same sex marriage, including countries that are culturally similar to ours like New Zealand, the United States of America, Canada, and Great Britain. These countries did so with lower support for marriage equality than Australia is seeing right now.

On 22 May 2015, the Republic of Ireland held a referendum to sanction same sex marriage. A Yes vote was supported by the Government, all major political parties and the voters themselves.
On 26 June 2015, the U.S. Supreme court returned a judgement in favour of legalising same sex marriage across all 50 states.

These two events see Australia isolated amongst countries with English as a first language.

Not only is marriage equality the only truly fair option, it is also a sound economic option given, that a happy workforce is a productive one. To remain competitive and to attract top talent globally, organisations – and nations – must create a fair and respectful environment for all.

Equality in the workplace works; Discrimination does not.

We support the right for all our employees, and the many families we work with, to have equal opportunities in life. We therefore support marriage equality. For more information, go to the Equality Campaign here and pledge your support.

Introducing the Girls Social Skills Group!

We are very excited to announce that our Girls Social Skills Group will be starting in Term 4 2017!

To register your expression of interest and hold your child’s place in the group, please complete and return this form via email to as soon as possible. Get in quick and secure your place!

If you have any questions or queries please feel free to email Maddy or call our centre on (02) 9648 4442.

You can also see our page here for our other Social Skill Group options.

A more inclusive space

We are proud to support the movement for gender-neutral bathrooms, to foster a more inclusive space, and to create a safe space for trans, gender-fluid, and intersex clients and families who attend our services.

At Aspire, our core values include respect for difference, and inclusivity. We encourage families who come from diverse backgrounds. Our clients and our employees sit on a spectrum of different races, genders, cultures, religions and identities.

We recognize that families come in different shapes and sizes. A child may be raised by a single parent, or two parents, or more. A child may be raised by a biological or non-biological parent or guardian. A child may have two mums, or two dads. Many siblings, or none.

The children who we work with are equally diverse, and at Aspire, our goal is to work with that diversity, and encourage it.

We recognize that every child has their own unique contribution to bring to the world, and the people dear to them. It is a child who sets the direction, we can only place contours around them to keep them moving forward.

We recognize that children have the right to choose their own gender identity, and that this is not always determined by their sex. We work with your child, not your child’s assumed sex, to bring creativity and acceptance into all of our spaces. 

We recognise that the extraordinary children who we see at Aspire, are not always welcomed in other spaces. We strive to create a supportive and open environment, where it is safe to explore, and to learn. Where it is safe to make mistakes, and to keep going.

We welcome any feedback to make our spaces more inclusive, or how to better represent your family in our services.

We welcome all genders, all races, all cultures, and all families into our centre.

Thank you for being part of the growing Aspire family.

A New Partnership with Hivetec Australia

Hivetec Australia enter a new partnership with Aspire Early Intervention

Aspire Early Intervention can now enjoy peace of mind knowing that their service delivery is optimised through the utilisation of Bridge Care.

Care provider Aspire Early Intervention provide highly individualised programs for children with special needs, and pride themselves on their ability to focus on the care and treatment they provide without needing to spend an unnecessary amount of time on administrative tasks and funding package management.

The announcement came earlier this week that they will be partnering with Hivetec Australia to deliver improved services to their clients through the use of Bridge Care. The ability to complete online assessments and deliver dynamic care plans to their clients is key to helping them deliver the best possible therapies.

Dianne Verstappen, owner and clinical director of Aspire Early Intervention commented ‘’Bridge Care’s scheduling strength, and clock on/clock off with GPS for technician in the field is what won us over. It is also the simplicity of the application’’. This enables Aspire staff to work effectively without the distraction of complicated technologies.

The partnership will enable Hivetec Australia to continue to develop Bridge Care in the ways most appropriate for these types of essential service providers. The feedback that will be acquired from the workers at the NDIS and HaCWA accredited organisation will be put back into further expansion of the solution.

About Hivetec Australia
Hivetec have been building enterprise software solutions that support Australian Government programmes since 2008. In more recent times they have developed Bridge Care, a solution developed specifically to benefit care providers post reforms. Hivetec have created solutions that at a feature level compete globally, but at a solution level solve local Australian service provider challenges including NDIS and consumer directed care.

About Aspire Early Intervention
Aspire delivers high quality intervention services for children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), related disorders, and children experiencing difficulty with specific developmental delays. They believe in providing comprehensive intervention services that suit the individual child and their family as a whole. Their programs are guided by evidence-based contemporary Applied Behaviour Analysis techniques.

No more “More” : A Response to “In Defence of More”

No More “More:” A response to In Defense of “More”—10 Reasons I Still Teach the Sign More First 

By Tracy Vail, MS, CCC-SLP, Autism Consultant and Heather Forbes, MA, CCC-SLP, BCBA


There is currently a great deal of debate in the field of speech-language pathology about the kinds of words that should be taught first to nonverbal (or minimally verbal) individuals with communication impairments. This debate mainly surrounds whether interventionists should first teach a broad range of specific, concrete words or a small set of abstract words that can be used across items and environments. Clinical decisions like choosing first words should not be made randomly or based on practitioner preference. Important factors to consider include the values of the learner, his/her family, and community as well as and evidence from high quality research. A third critical factor to consider is the nature of the communication disorder itself. What are the baseline skills (and missing skills) of the individual we are trying to teach? No diagnosis highlights the importance of this third factor more than autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As a well-known saying jests: “If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.” ASD presents with high variability both across children and within children, as children with autism may not develop skill sets in the same sequences as peers (Sundberg, Galbraith, & Miklos, 2007). However, the paramount deficits across children diagnosed with ASD are in social communication and social interaction—what SLPs would typically call pragmatic language (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). For instance, a child with autism may learn to say many things, but those utterances may simply be scripted from a favorite TV show and have no communicative purpose at all. Or a child with autism might learn to label many things in his/her environment, but the child might not know how to ask for those same items when he/she wants them. Therefore, when analyzing factor three, we cannot simply look at the forms of the skills missing in a child’s repertoire—especially for children with ASD. We must also observe whether or not the child has all of the foundational skills necessary to use the target skill effectively across all relevant social contexts. Laura Mize, a pediatric speech-language pathologist, wrote a blog entitled In Defense of More—10 Reasons I Still Teach the Sign “More” First. The purpose of the blog was to support the continued teaching of the sign “more” as a first word to children receiving speech and language intervention. To that end, we will consider each point highlighted in Ms. Mize’s blog and specify why her rationale may not be validated by research or applicable to many children with communication impairments, especially those with ASD. This response is not meant as a personal attack against Ms. Mize, as we have read her blogs and feel that she has made important contributions to the field of speech-language pathology. Rather, this response is one way—in the age of “electronic conversations”—for offering a different viewpoint.

1. “The sign for ‘more’ is easy.” Ms. Mize claimed that the sign for “more” (i.e., signing “o” with both hands converging at midline) is a relatively easy motor movement and relatively easy for the clinician to physically prompt. While the sign “more” may be easy in comparison to more complex signs, research does not support “more” being the easiest sign to emit. In fact, there are earlier-developing motor movements than those required by the sign “more.” Bonvillian and Siedlecki (1998) noted that movements involving hands on either side of the body occur before converging hands together, bringing hands in contact with a broad surface (e.g., torso, leg) occurs before bringing hands in contact with a narrow surface (e.g., fingertips), and the hand movements involved in holding up five fingers, pointing with the index finger, and signing “b” or “a” all occur before the hand movements involved in signing “o.” In other words, there are many other signs available to clinicians that may both be easier to prompt and easier for children to physically produce than “more.” Furthermore, given that many early signs in typically-developing infants and toddlers are approximations (Bonvillian & Siedlecki, 1998), it seems feasible that clinicians can teach modified forms of even complex signs initially, and shape complexity as the child’s motor skills improve. All-in-all, the sign for “more” might be easy, but research does not support that it is by any means the easiest.

2. “The sign for ‘more’ is fast.” Here, Ms. Mize was referring to both speed of acquisition and speed of emission of the sign. Her argument for rate of acquisition was related to her first point—easily prompted and easily produced motor movements will be acquired faster. Because she relates those arguments, we encourage the reader to please see the response above negating the relative simplicity of “more” in comparison to other signs. Regarding the ability to emit “more” quickly, we would argue the relevance of this point. We could find no research to support that “more” is the speediest sign to emit. Nearly all signs can be emitted equally as quickly. Furthermore, let us consider what might be the advantages of emitting a sign quickly. Ms. Mize (correctly) pointed out that the quicker the sign is emitted, the quicker the child gets what he/she wants. This is exactly where a sign for “more” fails— particularly in the ASD population. When the average person says or signs “more,” it is only under the conditions in which he/she already had something and the listener knows what, in fact, he/she wants more of. The irony (and danger) of teaching the sign for “more” first is that the child has not been taught to request the original item he/she desires! Most typically- developing children who use “more” have other skills such as leading, pointing, and even speech—all of which they can use to communicate desired items to their listeners (Bates et al., 1994; Tardif, Fletcher, Liang, Zhang, & Kaciroti, 2008). But some studies show that early social communication skills such as “pointing” are lacking more often in the ASD population when compared to both typically-developing children (Osterling & Dawson, 1994) and children with developmental delays and language impairments (Stone, Ousley, Yoder, Hogan, & Hepburn, 1997). When these and other skills are lacking, teaching the sign “more” first can actually slow access to reinforcement, since signing “more” does not indicate to caregivers exactly what the child wants. Even when the child can lead and point, reinforcement is often more delayed than if the child said or signed the name for the specific item right away, since pointing alone is not always effective. (Consider if a desired item is in a high or well-stocked cabinet.) For these reasons, research demonstrates that training a child to ask for specific items actually reduces problem behavior better than generalized signs like “more” (Kahng, Hedrickson, & Vu, 2000).

3. “The sign for more is popular.” While many listeners might know the sign for “more,” as indicated above, knowing that a child wants something does not specify to that listener exactly what the child wants. Furthermore, this point is only relevant if it is conversely difficult to teach listeners other signs at the rate in which the child is learning them. This is almost never the case. It typically takes little more effort than telling listeners what to do one time before they learn how to appropriately respond to specific signs of early communicators. Certainly, competent adults should be able to learn a sign just as quickly if not quicker than the learners we are trying to teach. Even siblings and peers can learn signs fairly quickly and easily. In fact, typically-developing infants as young as 8.5 months have learned to sign and respond to sign without explicit teaching (Bonvillian, Orlansky, & Novack, 1983). If clinicians cannot speak to family members and members of the community in-person, it is also quite easy nowadays to snap a picture or video of a child’s sign and send it via an e-mail/text, or print it out to hang on a ring. Given the downfalls explained above of teaching the sign for “more” first, clinicians are cautioned about making decisions about best practice based mainly on what is easiest for the clinician. Program decisions should by and large be based on what is best for the child.

4. “The sign for ‘more’ is functional” Ms. Mize defined the term “functional” as “[enabling] you to ‘function’ better and more consistently in everyday life.” Given this definition, in our 43 years of combined practice, we have not encountered a less functional word to teach first than “more”—particularly for a child with ASD. Yes, many toddlers say “more juice” or “more cookie.” Some might even just say “more.” However, as indicated above, typically-developing and even some language delayed children have existing communication skills that allow them to discriminate that they only use “more” when they have already had some of something (and their listeners know exactly what they want). Tardif et al. (2008) analyzed the first 20 words to develop in a sample of 865 children in the United States (n=264), Bejing (n=367), and Hong Kong (n=336). “More” did not show up on any of the lists for any of the languages studied. Bates et al. (1994) analyzed language development in 1,803 infants. They found that “closed-class words” (including quantifiers like “more”) did not appear in the children’s vocabularies until they developed at least a 50-word vocabulary of specific nouns and verbs. It appears to be conceptually, developmentally, and functionally problematic to teach a child to ask for “more” of something before he/she can ask for the thing itself. Let’s consider an example in which an interventionist taught a child to sign “more” in a therapy session in order to be bounced on the therapist’s knee, to receive a snack of crackers, to get a drink of water, to be rolled on a scooter, and to get the therapist to blow bubbles. Let’s say that interventionist even communicated to the child’s parent what the child was taught that day (as a good interventionist should). What happens when the child goes home and spontaneously signs “more” to his/her parent without any other clues? Will the parent immediately know what the child wants? Is the sign really enabling the child to “’function’ better and more consistently in everyday life?” For communication to be functional, it has to be clear to both the speaker and the listener. This is often not the case with “more.”

5. “The sign for ‘more’ is multi-purpose.” In her blog, Ms. Mize encouraged that the sign for “more” be introduced “for lots of things the child might want—snacks, toys, activities.” She indicated that introducing “more” in this way makes the sign “multi-purpose.” However, when the sign for “more” is taught to access everything a child might want, we would argue that it only has one purpose: to inform adults that the child wants something. Teaching “more” as a single-purpose request like this can be a problem—and not just because it can lead to problem behavior as indicated above (Kahng et al., 2000). Ms. Mize encouraged parents to begin fading in new signs only after the child has learned to use the sign “more” “in many contexts, for many reasons throughout the child’s day.” Unfortunately, research shows that behaviors become more resistant to change if they are strongly practiced initially, followed by variable practice later (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). In other words, evidence shows it may be more difficult to introduce specific signs if a single- purpose sign like “more” is taught first than if specific signs were taught from the beginning. Ms. Mize acknowledged that children sometimes “get stuck” if they are taught the sign for “more,” but she implied the reason for “getting stuck” was the failure of adults to “move the child along to other signs after learning the sign for ‘more.’” We would argue that a child “getting stuck” has less to do with the failure of adults to move on and more to do with the nature of teaching a single-purpose sign like “more” first. Children “get stuck” because the laws of behavior take effect, whether or not adults are aware of them. A second problem with teaching a single-purpose sign like “more” first is the child does not receive the benefits that research shows come with teaching specific signs. In fact, evidence shows that teaching specific signs to request specific things can actually support the development of other skills, including using those signs in other appropriate social- communicative contexts (Arntzen & Almaz, 2002; Drash, High, & Tudor, 1999).

6. “The word ‘more’ is easy to say.” We agree with Ms. Mize that a spoken approximation of “more” is easy for early communicators to say. However, for that matter, any combination of early developing sounds (e.g., “bah” for ball) is going to be just as easy for a child to say as “more.” The problem is, if the clinician or parent is just teaching one sound combination, he/she has missed out on the opportunity to teach many other sound and syllable combinations. Research shows that sign training combined with speech training can increase vocalizations better than speech training alone (Barrera, Lobato-Barrera, & Sulzer-Azaroff, 1980; Barrera & Sulzer-Azaroff, 1983; Carbone et al., 2006; Carbone & Sweeny-Kerwin, 2010). Sundberg and Partington (1998) offered an explanation for this advantage of sign-plus-speech training: “Once the motor movements are learned, specific vocalizations can be matched with [specific] signs. This sign-vocalization prompt can help…a child to prompt his own vocalizations (p. 77).” In other words, when the specific motor movements of signs are matched with the specific motor movements of speech, the sign acts as a “built-in” prompt for speech. This unique process can only occur if the clinician is teaching more than one sign at a time.

7. “The word ‘more’ is evidence based.” Ms. Mize referenced a 2011 study at Bryn Mawr College that listed 25 words that 2-year-olds should know—one of which was “more.” While a list of words known by most typically- developing 2-year-olds may be interesting, this kind of list in no way supports teaching the sign for “more” first. Typically-developing 2-year-olds have many, many more communication skills than simply saying or signing the word “more,” including a minimum of a 50-word vocabulary (Bates et al., 1994). It does not seem to be sound clinical judgement to imply that a child with communication skills of a nonverbal infant should immediately start working on skills at the level of a typically-developing 2-year-old, especially when research shows that words like “more” are likely not among the first to develop in the general population (Bates et al., 1994; Tardif et al., 2008).

8. “AAC experts include ‘more’ as a first option for pictures systems and speech-generating devices too.” A child learning to push a button that says “more” for everything he/she wants can have the same detrimental effects as saying or signing “more.” In addition, if the practitioner is not careful to teach the child with an AAC device to approach a listener, the end result may be a child sitting in the corner by himself/herself pushing many buttons, including “more.” We have seen such situations in action, and instead of analyzing problems with teaching procedures, the “AAC experts” claimed these children were not “ready” for an AAC device. Being titled an “expert” does not inherently make a professional correct in his/her clinical decisions. An argument from authority tends to be an empty argument if that “expert” cannot back his/her claims with sound evidence and analysis.

9. “Asking for ‘more’ is an early form of requesting and requesting is one of the earliest pragmatic functions to develop.” Here we wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Mize that requesting is one of the earliest (and most important) functions of communication to develop. Early language training should be filled with teaching the child to request! We also wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Mize’s statement that “signing is more complex and more purposeful than other less-mature forms of requesting such as when a younger baby uses crying or reaching.” But where we strongly disagree with Ms. Mize is in her decision to teach “more” as a first signed request—particularly in the ASD population. In fact, we do not believe that “more” should be taught at any point in the single word stage until the child can request many specific things (through sign and/or speech). Research does not only link the practices we recommend with fewer problem behaviors, but these practices also more closely follow the developmental sequences of typically-developing children. Some of the evidence supporting our clinical decision-making has already been elaborated above (e.g., Arntzen & Almaz, 2002; Barrera et al., 1980; Barrera & Sulzer-Azaroff, 1983; Bates et al., 1994; Carbone et al., 2006; Carbone & Sweeny-Kerwin, 2010; Drash et al., 1999; Kahng et al., 2000; Sundberg & Partington; 1998; Tardif et al., 2008).

10. “I’ve seen success with the sign.” We have no doubt that this is true. If one were to work only in early intervention, we are sure it would be easy to assume that the teaching of abstract vocabulary is working because the child using it. The problem is that we often see these same children when they are 5, 6, 7, 8 years old and beyond—when they are banging their heads against the wall, pounding their knees to their heads, and falling on the floor because they have no functional way of getting their specific needs met. Their parents often report to us that they “tried signs” and that signs “don’t work” for their child. When probed, we have come to find that the signs they “tried” were single- purpose signs like “more, please, and want.” The literature shows these signs were likely ineffective because they never resulted in the child immediately getting the specific things he/she wanted. On the topic of overgeneralization: We do not feel that it is fair or accurate to equate teaching a child “more” in the way that Ms. Mize described with overgeneralization seen in the typically-developing population. First, when we traditionally talk about overgeneralization, we are typically referring to a process that occurs when a child erroneously emits a previously-learned (specific) word in the context of an item that shares a similar physical property/use. Hence, as Ms. Mize noted, “many babies call every man they see ‘Daddy,’ every round object ‘ball,’ and all four-legged animals ‘doggie.’” But, past the crying and reaching stage, we have never heard of any typically-developing child call everything he/she wanted by the same name—solely based on the property of “wanting.” This likely does not happen because science shows “wanting” does not affect our communication and other behaviors in the same ways as physical properties (Cooperet al., 2007). Second, when typical children erroneously overgeneralize, they are often immediately corrected by an adult. If a toddler sees a cow and shouts “Doggie!,” his/her parent is likely to say something like, “I see! It’s a cow!” You cannot compare this process to an instructor deliberately choosing to teach a child only one name for a countless number items he/she might want. In the latter case, the clinician has purposely instructed a child to use “more” erroneously under a context in which typically-developing children do not error, and then (rather than gently correcting the child) the clinician reinforces the error. Teaching the sign “more” is not an accidental mishap; it is calculated. The lack of clarity from the adults in the environment, the ensuing maladaptive behaviors, the difficulties of teaching new signs after teaching “more,” and the total breakdown in communication can all be avoided by teaching clear, concrete requests for a child’s favorite things right away. Abstract language such as “more, please, yes/no, want” makes it difficult for a child to communicate independently and a challenge for those in the environment to reinforce. Teaching effective communication is the least we can do for these children who already have so many struggles to overcome.



American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5 th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. Arntzen, E., & Almas, I. K. (2002). Effects of mand-tact versus tact-only training in the acquisition of tacts. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 35, 419-422. Barrera, L. D., Lobato-Barrera, D, & Sulzer-Azaroff, B. (1980). A simultaneous treatment comparison of three expressive language training programs with a mute autistic child. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 10, 21-37. Barrera, L. D., & Sulzer-Azaroff, B. (1983). An alternating treatment comparison of oral and total communication training programs with echolalic autistic children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 16, 379-394 Bates, E., Marchman, V., Thal, D., Fenson, L., Dale, P., Reznick, J. S., Reilly, J., & Harting, J. (1994). Developmental and stylistic variation in the composition of early vocabulary. Journal of Child Language, 21, 85-123. Bonvillian, J. D., & Siedlecki, T. (1998). Young children’s acquisition of the movement aspects in American Sign Language. JSLHR, 41, 588-602. Bonvillian, J. D., Orlansky, M. D., & Novak, L. L. (1983). Developmental milestones: Sign acquisition and motor development. Child Development, 54, 1435-1445. Carbone, V. J., Lewis, L., Sweeny-Kerwin, E. J., Dixon, J., Louden, R., & Quinn, S. (2006). A comparison of two approaches for teaching VB functions: Total communication vs. vocal-alone. SLP-ABA, 1, 181-192. Carbone, V. J., & Sweeny-Kerwin, E. J. (2010). Increasing the vocal responses of children with autism and developmental disabilities using manual sign mand training and prompt delay. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 43, 705-709. Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2 nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc. Drash, P. W., High, R. L., & Tudor, R. M. (1999). Using mand training to establish an echoic repertoire in young children with autism. The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, 16, 29-44. Kahng, S. W., Hendrickson, D. J., & Vu, C. P. (2000). Comparison of single and multiple functional communication training responses for the treatment of problem behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 33, 321-324. Mize, L. (2014, September 2). In defense of “more”—10 reasons I still teach the sign more first. Retrieved from first/. Osterling, J., & Dawson, G. (1994). Early recognition of children with autism: A study of first birthday home videotapes. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24, 247-257. Stone, W. L., Ousley, O. Y., Yoder, P. J., Hogan, K. L., & Hepburn, S. L. (1997). Nonverbal communication in two- and three-year-old children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 27, 677-696. Sundberg, M. L., Galbraith, W. A, & Miklos, M. (2007). The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Programm (VB-MAPP) [PowerPoint slides]. Sundberg, M. L., & Partington, J. W. (1998). Teaching language to children with autism or other developmental disabilities. Pleasant Hills, CA: Behavior Analysts, Inc. Tardif, T., Fletcher, P., Liang, W., Zhang, Z., & Kaciroti, N. (2008). Baby’s first 10 words. Developmental Psychology, 44, 929-938

What is Parent Training?

Parent training refers to involving the parents or caregivers in their child’s learning of new skills. At Aspire parent training is a cornerstone of our intervention programs. Not only in our early intensive programs but also our consultancy programs once children go to school

Some parents think that the cost of parent training would be better spent on more intensive therapy or providing more hours for your child. The evidence actually shows the opposite. As you will be your child’s parents forever it is crucial for you to know;

  • What we do
  • How we do it
  • And most importantly why we do things

As you receive services from us or other providers for a few years, it is important for me as a behaviour analyst that I teach you the skills to not only teach your child new skills but for many children with ASD to prevent problem behaviours occurring in the first place and if they do start occurring for you to figure out as soon as possible why they occur so we can nip them in the bud before those problematic behaviours become habitual.

Parent training doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming. As a parent you can ask your behaviour technician at the end of each session to go through some data and behavioural concerns with you. If you’re a program manager, BCaBA or BCBA you could schedule weekly meetings or telephone consultations with the families to discuss their child’s programs. When it comes to ABA, parental involvement is key.

Research has consistently shown that when parents are involved in the ABA therapy process, and understand what, how and why a skill is taught and are shown how to do this yourself, the outcomes are more positive. ABA just isn’t as effective without a team approach. If the new skills that behaviour technicians teach your child are not reinforced, maintained and generalized by the family, then one of two things will happen; your child may lose the skill, OR your child will only display the skill for the therapist. For example, a child who uses PECS or vocal requests with a behaviour technician, but leads their dad by the arm and grunts. Or a child who is toilet trained at school, but wets their underwear when they are at home or at their grandparents. Partial success only when the therapist is around isn’t real success at all.

Parents and primary caregivers need to know and understand the therapy goals, behaviour reduction plans, and strategies so well that in the absence of therapeutic intervention you could independently work on and generalise these skills and manage problem behaviours. That is the degree of involvement we are shooting for.

Empirical support for parent training

A recent study by the Chicago Children’s Clinic found that providing parents with training in established treatments is a necessary component and essential component for children with autism to make and maintain skills. Parents in the Chicago study received 25 hours of training and in one case only 6 hours learning key skills to help their children with autism made significant improvement.

With permission I share a video of one of our little boys (6 years) who at intake presented with no functional communication though had some echoic skills. He had poor attending and concentration skills, he was unable to sit down and complete simple tasks (puzzle or other simple close ended activities) unless presented with highly preferred items such as food or ipad.

The parent (who you see in the video) received a total of 9 hours training in basic behavioural principles. Aside from attending a classroom for children with special needs (10:2) he did not receive any other form of intervention or therapy. This video was taped about 10 weeks after the 8 hours of parent training were delivered.

Processing a diagnosis

Starting a program for your child can feel like a daunting and intimidating process, on top of coming to terms with the fact your child has been given a diagnosis. Every parent as part of a natural process will experience the stages of grief – shock, denial, anger, depression, bargaining and at some point, in an ideal world acceptance. Every family we meet is at a different stage in their journey of processing their response to their child’s diagnosis. We aim to walk alongside parents, meet them where they are at but equip and empower them to feel strong enough to support their child in meeting their goals, and working towards their success.

Ultimately if our parents are showing signs of stress, not coping, or burn out we aim to provide more intensive support as if our parents burns out, then everything breaks down!

Signs you might need further support

  • Feeling consistently low over a prolonged period of time
  • Feeling consistently irritable and liable to snap
  • Uncontrolled crying
  • Changes in appetite and sleeping pattern
  • Anger towards your child or others for no particular reason
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless

If a parent identifies with 2 or more of these indicators, it might be time to seek some additional support. Having a space for yourself to be able to talk about how you feel, process your emotions and develop your own coping strategies can go a long way in improving life.

Factors that help parents to thrive in a time of challenge

  • Having a strong support network
  • Using self care strategies, eg, consistent exercise and sleep routine
  • A ‘can do’ attitude – parents who are able to in the face of a challenge grit their teeth, and say, let’s do this are those who can jump on board with us and collaborate with their child’s therapist which leads to better outcomes for our children
  • Sense of mastery in their own life – As integral as having children is in the life of parents, having additional interests and commitment that help to foster fulfillment and mastery in a parents life can help to provide balance and purpose in a world that can often feel unbalanced.
  • Asking for help – parents who are able to ask for help and accept it are those who go on to thrive. None of us were created to be islands, and it is our parents who can access the supports that they need in times of challenge who go on to survive and thrive in the future.

Behavioural Skills Training

What is Behavioural Skills Training (BST)?

Behavioural skills training is a 4 step approach we use in almost every session we have with our parents and therapists. It is a simple sequential tool that can teach skills in bitesize pieces and as immediate feedback is provided it can help to teach and shape behaviour very quickly and practically through modeling and rehearsal.

Dr. Miltenberger defines BST as “a procedure consisting of instruction, modeling, behavioral rehearsal, and feedback that is used to teach new behaviors or skills” (2004, p. 558). And that’s exactly what it is, a 4-step teaching strategy that works!

BST teaches a person what to do in a given situation via a series of simple steps.

1.Trainer provides instruction:

The trainer provides initial instruction on how to do something. In the case of parent training, this might be explaining to parents what a skill is, why we teach it how to teach it. We would verbally describe this as well as providing a written guideline as a back up tool for parents to refer back to.

Example: Describe what a mand is, when a child would mand, and how you would teach a mand.

2. Trainer Models:

Following instruction a trainer would then model for a parent how to teach the skill.

Example: In the case of training a parent to teach their child to mand, the therapist would contrive or capture a situation where the child has to mand for something that they want.

3.Parent Rehearses:

The trainer would then hand over to the parent to practice the skill that the trained has instructed and modelled for them. This stage often requires lots of practice to get used to teaching the skill and feeling confident in applying it in everyday life. The trainer will record data on correct and incorrect responding during this step.

4.Trainer provides Feedback and models again if necessary

The trainer should provide positive praise for correct responding and some form of corrective feedback for incorrect responses.

Example: Provide any feedback to parent on method of teaching the mand. Try to use mainly positive reinforcement and constructive feedback. The trainer will return to earlier steps if a parent continues to struggle.

In summary, parents are the ultimate teachers for their children and it is incredibly important that they are involved and understand how to implement procedures to give their child the best outcome possible. The advantage of also having behaviour technicians come to your home is twofold, parents receive respite and they see how others implement the same procedures and behaviour replacement procedures.

Our Aspire team are here to support you in feeling confident in teaching your child the skills they need to flourish.

A big thank you to Melissa for giving us permission to share this video. Well done on making this amazing progress in a short space of time!

Download Video from Dropbox


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