Person-Centered: What does this really mean?

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Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA  10.30.19

Let’s think about what we envision when it comes to planning out our lives. How do we make big decisions?  What supports have we had to help us get to where we want to be, or what supports could we have used that we didn’t have?  For people who don’t have unique needs, finding the right path can be a challenge.  But for people who do have some extra needs, finding the right path can be daunting.

Imagine if, during the early phases of your adult life, you had a bunch of people who cared about you sit down for coffee and cake to just talk about you and how they could help you accomplish your goals and dreams for the future.  That is what Person-Centered Planning (PCP) is all about.  For people who have different sets of needs and require more support, the goal of PCP is to gather others who care into a group to discuss what the goals are and who will be able to help.  Ideally, this gathering occurs in a comfortable place with people who are friends, family, community members, and paid staff to help put together ideas and visions with an individual who has unique needs.  This is done by creating visual maps to guide the planning process.

There was a time not long ago when students with special needs were placed on a path by professionals who deemed what would be best for those students.  For many this may have included sheltered workshops, large residential facilities, and limited opportunity for true social inclusion.  With the movement toward person-centered rather than system-centered planning, we have seen tremendous growth in our communities for providing opportunities and acceptance for those with different abilities.

If you are seeking PCP for yourself or someone in your life, make sure you are fully engaged in the process.  To make sure the process is working to provide optimal outcomes, consider these 5 Essential Outcomes for Person-Centered Planning (from Kincaid 1996):

  1.  Community Membership:  To be a member of the community through involvement in various organized activities, especially those that occur on a regular basis.
  2. Relationships:  That relationships with others occur not only in settings with paid staff members but also in the community, with friends, with family, and with other acquaintances.
  3. Choice:  That the individual is at the core of the decision-making process when it comes to his or her life, including friendships, activities, jobs and other community involvement.
  4. Respected roles:  To be able to have roles and responsibilities that will be respected by others.
  5. Skills:  To provide opportunities to learn and foster skills that are needed for a high quality of life.

While many of these outcomes may seem self-evident, for many people who need support there is a process to helping them find and follow this path.  Even with the major advances in our society for people with different needs, there are still thousands of young adults who don’t have direction or support to go after they life they want.

How can you help someone you care about come up with a a plan for life that is person centered?

For people who are still in school, most schools do some form of this as part of transition planning, but they may not always include actual visual maps as part of the process.  If you want to use a broader, more visual process, you may need to look locally to find an outside facilitator.

First, check out local supports that may be available to give you services or provide guidance. Each community has different resources, and the resources available will depend on the needs of the person seeking help.  For example, for people who have autism, there are numerous support groups across the country, some that are independent and some that are part of a bigger national organization, such as the Autism Society of America.  There are also organizations to support other disabilities. The National Down Syndrome Society has independent, local support chapters throughout the country.  The ARC is another national organization with chapters in hundreds of communities.  These resources can help you and your family find out more about what’s available in your own community for building support.  For additional resources and support, try the National Parent Center on Transition and Employment.

Also, connect with other local families who have been through this process and have found some support and success.  Sometimes it can be difficult to navigate the educational and service worlds.  Other families may have valuable insights and experiences to share with you.  You may find it easier to connect with other families by engaging with the organizations noted above, or you may meet them through schools or extracurricular activities.

No matter how you approach the person-centered design the outcome of finding the right path will be worth the effort you put into the process.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more posts!



What about when my child has an outburst in public?

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Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA.      10.2.19

Most parents of young children have been there at least once. You’re in a shop or a restaurant and your child decides to get upset about something.  You have firmly, rightly and innocently said “No” to something, or you have told them it’s time to put their shoe back on their foot.  All of a sudden, the sky is falling and your child is crying and yelling, you are trying to retain some sense of dignity while you debate between coercing your child or dragging him or her out of the restaurant kicking and screaming, with the irrational fear that someone is about to call the authorities on you for being a bad parent. You may also be thinking about how other people are basically judging both you and your child, scornfully looking at you and wondering what you did wrong, why your child is such a terror.

First of all, you are not a bad parent.  This happens with children no matter how great you are at parenting.  Secondly, unless you are physically harming your child, chances are that no one is calling the authorities.  And finally, while other people might get irritated or even alarmed by a child having a tantrum in public, many will not judge you and those who do judge are not your problem.

What can be done about the situation?  The very best thing is to develop some proactive tricks to try to prevent these things from happening.  If you know your child is tired and grumpy and won’t be able to handle the weekly trip to the grocery store, you may consider postponing the trip, making it a shorter trip this time, offering a reward for good behavior in the store (before they have a tantrum, not during or after), or providing your child with plenty of distraction, snacks, and interaction while you’re shopping.  Depending on the situation and your own child, there are things you can do to help prepare kids for what to expect and how to behave in public situations.

Say you’re going out to eat, and you kind of know your child doesn’t love restaurants where you have to wait for your food.  Yet you hope every time that this will be the night that everything goes well, you have this nice relaxing meal with your child sitting there coloring while you chat and sip a drink before your food comes to the table.  To try to help make sure that you will get to have this experience, be prepared. Before you even go into the restaurant, go over expectations for good behavior and remind your child of things he or she can do to enjoy the time more.  You may consider using rewards, such as letting kids have dessert after dinner if they meet certain behavioral expectations during the meal. Choose family friendly restaurants with quick service.  Bring things to distract and entertain.  And if your child has sensory processing issues, choose a quieter restaurant with comfortable lighting and corner booths or tables that are tucked away from the crowd.

But you don’t always know when there *might* be a problem, and you aren’t necessarily always going to be as proactive as possible.  So when the meltdown starts, what can you do?

  • Stay focused on your response.  Notice how you feel when you first hear or see the starting of a meltdown, especially in public.  Are you getting tense?  Can you feel yourself frowning, or gritting your teeth?  Are you noticing changes with your breathing or your heart starting to pound?  What are you thinking about?
  • Use your own simple calming techniques for yourself. Pause, take a few deep breaths, count to 10.
  • Once you are aware of your immediate natural response, focus on what the best outcome can be in that moment.  Think about what power you have to try to get that outcome.  What tone of voice works with your child?  What calming strategies have been helpful in the past?  What is it your child wants in that moment?  Is it worth the battle?  For example, if your child is starting to meltdown over not wearing shoes in the store while sitting in a grocery cart or stroller, that battle might not be worth continuing – you can encourage him or her to just ask nicely.  But if your child has asked for a toy or treat and you said no, don’t give in to the tantrum.  You don’t want them to think they can always get things they want for acting out.
  • If you happen to have a child with autism or other special needs who has a more difficult time in public, consider carrying around some disability awareness information cards about the special need.  These can be great for helping other people understand that what is happening and can reduce their tendency to judge.  This by itself may ease your ind as well as possibly give you extra support when things don’t go well.
  • In situations where your child just continues with the meltdown no matter what techniques you try to prevent it or turn it around, there is never shame in leaving the situation, even if it means carrying your child out of the environment.
  • If you are experiencing repeated outbursts in public, you may consider speaking to a behavior therapist to get some individualized strategies to help meet the needs of yourself and your child.


Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more posts soon!

Trouble sleeping?

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Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA   9.18.19

Ahhhh, sleep.  This is one of the most basic needs for all living creatures, and often is seen as a preferred activity.  Not only does it feel good to fall asleep, and to get a good amount if sleep, it is actually critical to our biological, cognitive and emotional functioning.

There are many people who have a hard time with sleeping.  Sleep problems can range from having a hard time falling asleep, waking up during the night, and sleeping too much.  All sleep issues can impact well-being.

Research shows that people need a certain amount of sleep each night.  The amount you need depends largely on your age group.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the following guidelines should be followed regarding sleep:


Age Group Recommended Hours of Sleep Per Day
Newborn 0–3 months 14–17 hours (National Sleep Foundation)
No recommendation (American Academy of Sleep Medicine)
Infant 4–12 months 12–16 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
Toddler 1–2 years 11–14 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
Preschool 3–5 years 10–13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
School Age 6–12 years 9–12 hours per 24 hours
Teen 13–18 years 8–10 hours per 24 hours
Adult 18–60 years 7 or more hours per night
61–64 years 7–9 hours
65 years and older 7–8 hours

When people don’t get enough sleep, they don’t feel as good.  Studies have consistently shown that inadequate sleep can lead to poor cognitive functioning,  depressed mood, anxiety, and ADHD.  For some of these issues, there may be a connection where the symptoms of the disorder lead to decreased sleep, and then decreased sleep can exaggerate the problem further. * Poor sleep can also cause physical ailments.  Diabetes and obesity have both been linked to insufficient sleep.  Sleep apnea can also be connected to poor cardiovascular health.

Improving sleep is important for anyone who is struggling with getting a good amount of sleep.  This holds true for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities as well.  So how can we address it when we our someone we care for is having sleep issues?

  1.  Look at evening routines.  What is going on to help you or someone else wind down in the evening?  For kids, it is important to have a bedtime routine.  This will help establish a pattern to help bodies and minds quiet down in preparation for falling asleep.  A common and healthy bedtime routine for kids may include a small snack, a bath or shower, quiet reading time, and soft music.  For adults, it is important to slow down at the end of the day also.  Cardio exercise or housework right before bed might not work well if you are having a hard time sleeping.
  2. Try to go to bed at about the same time every night, and to wake up at about the same time every morning.  Your body will get used to this routine and this can help sleep quite a bit.
  3. Eating and drinking before bed.  A small snack or sip of water is ok, but avoid eating or drinking things with sugar or caffeine, and eating too much of anything can keep you awake.  Try not to drink too much liquid before bed as this may cause you to wake up in the night (and possibly have a hard time falling asleep).
  4. Screens.  We just can’t say enough about how screens affect our sleep.  All studies point to poor effects of screens on sleep cycles.  Not only can it make it harder to fall asleep if you have been looking at a device or a laptop right before bed, the blue light from these devices can actually affect your sleep cycles during the night even after you’ve fallen asleep.  On top of that, looking at screens is kind of addictive.  If you are watching something on your device, it’s easy to keep watching or just watch a few minutes of the next show, or the next thing that pops up on YouTube.  Experts recommend turning off screens at least an hour before bed to help your brain get ready to sleep.  By the way, plain e-readers without the blue light are fine before bed.
  5. Use relaxation techniques.  This can include things like slow, deep breaths and progressive muscle relaxation.
  6. Try slowing your mind down with meditation.  There are numerous meditation apps that will guide you through a relaxing meditation that will help slow your thoughts down and let you fall asleep. • I know!  I just said to turn off screens before bed!  For meditation apps you would only be listening, not looking.  Turn off the screen while you listen.  It’s the blue light from the screens that affects sleep.•
  7. Environmental support.  Make sure your room is as dark as you like it and a good temperature for sleeping.  Also, some people like to listen to soft music or use nature sounds/white noise machines to help with sleep.  Further enhance relaxation with a lavender eye pillow or an essential oil diffuser.
  8. Supplements.  There are some studies showing that melatonin and valerian root MAY help with insomnia, although the research is limited and some studies are inconclusive.  Seek medical advice before starting any supplement.
  9. Finally, if you or someone you are caring for continues to struggle with insomnia, consider a sleep study.  These interventions look at sleep patterns throughout the night to help determine potential factors affecting sleep, including more significant sleep disorders.


*There has been some attention lately to controlled sleep deprivation as a treatment for depression.  This post is not meant to address sleep deprivation as a treatment but to look at ways to help improve sleep.

Coping skills for anxiety

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Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA. 7.30.19

Anxiety and issues related to anxiety can overlap with many other different needs, including autism.  What exactly is anxiety?  And what can you do when it happens to you or someone you love?

Anxiety and worry are part of every day life for most people.  We can all identify things that cause us stress on a daily basis, and most people have things they worry about on a regular basis.  Most people are able to keep these stresses and worries under control on their own, but there are many who need extra support for managing anxiety.

Anxiety becomes more of a problem when it begins to interfere with daily life, having a significant impact on work, leisure and personal relationships.  We all have things that cause anxiety, but we are able to process, cope, and carry on with our days regardless.  With more significant anxiety, this is not possible.

People with autism often have features of anxiety, some of which are more prevalent with autism spectrum disorders.  For example, many individual with autism become highly anxious when there is a change in routine or when things don’t go as planned.  To figure out when anxiety has reached a point needing extra support for someone with autism, ask the following questions:

  • Does the anxiety stop me or someone I love from doing things we enjoy?
  • Does the anxiety interfere with relationships?
  • Does the anxiety lead to more difficult behaviors, such as verbal or physical outbursts?
  • Does the anxiety lead to other maladaptive behaviors, such as self-injury?
  • Does the anxiety lead to misuse of substances, such as alcohol?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you or your loved one may be able to benefit from some strategies to help cope more effectively with anxiety.  There are plenty of tools available to support people with difficulty managing stress and anxiety.  Here are a few of the tops:

  • Stress ball
  • Squishy
  • Fidget items (Fidget cube, Koosh ball, Infinity Cube, Thinking Putty)
  • Talk to a trusted individual.
  • Take a break from the situation.
  • Classic and effective!  Taking slow, deep breaths (in through the nose, out through the mouth).
  • Progressive relaxation.
  • Physical exercise.
  • Distraction techniques – anything from reading to watching a show to playing a video game to drawing or coloring – each person should have a list of effective distractions to help reduce anxiety.

For some people, a skilled therapist who understands autism and anxiety can provide more individualized ideas and supports for coping with stress.  Most importantly, make sure you remain positive and optimistic about dealing with anxiety.

Thanks for reading and check back in soon for more posts!

What about parents?

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Dr. Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA.      6-19-19

Making Time for Yourself This Summer!

We have so many options for things our kids can do over the summer.  As I wrote about in my last post, there are activities in every community, for kids both with and without different needs.  These activities can include things for all ages, interests and budgets.  Setting up these activities, and managing the logistics of them, is a lot of work.  Put this together with the regular daily demands of work, home care, and making sure everyone eats and you may find that there is no time or energy left for yourself at the end of the day.

Although it might not be something parents pay as much attention to while they are raising kids in a busy world, there are many things available in our communities to help adults with their work-family-self balancing act.  Before we get into some of those ideas, let’s spend a minute to consider why it is important to fit time for yourself into the agenda.

We have all heard that you can’t take care of other people unless you take care of yourself.  As common-sense as this is, often busy parents put this on the back burner or ignore this logic.  Think about going on an airplane.  One of the first things they say to you during the essential safety lesson is that if the oxygen masks are needed the adult needs to put on his or her oxygen before helping a child with the mask.  Why?  Because if you run out of oxygen, you can’t help your child.  In daily life it isn’t as dramatic or critical, but it is the same concept.  If you run yourself ragged, you aren’t going to be the parent you want to be.  By taking time for yourself,  you may essentially reduce your own stress so you can be more effective in your parenting, you may be more likely to take better care of your health by doing things for yourself, and you are being a good role model for your kids by showing them a positive work-family-self balance.  If you think about your kids 20 years down the road, do you want them to continue to make time for themselves?  Show them how to do that by doing it yourself.

Here are 10 ideas to help you make time for yourselves. You may choose solo activities, doing things with friends, or sharing time out as a couple.  If you have a hard time finding child care to make time for yourself, consider a babysitter, respite service, a family member, or a mother’s helper to give you a break.  In some cases you may need to take some time to yourself only at the end of the day when the kids are in bed, but even on these days it is important to make the most of the little bit of quiet time in the evening.

  1.  Treat yourself to a coffee, meal, or glass of wine with a friend.  A little bit of adult conversation can go a long way!
  2. Exercise.  Go for walks or hikes, take a run, go to the gym, sign up for a yoga class.  Any physical activity will benefit your body, mind and spirit.
  3. Look for adult classes in the community.  There are numerous free or low-cost classes, including art classes, cooking classes, and library programs to meet every interest.
  4. Take some time just for yourself.  Read a book for 30 minutes a day, or watch an episode of your favorite show, or just enjoy the sunshine with a few minutes outside.
  5. Plan a date night to help both parents rejuvenate and reconnect.
  6. Plan a game night or cookout with another family.  This will give your kids time to interact with peers while you socialize with your friends.
  7. Consider something to pamper yourself – a manicure/pedicure, a facial or a massage.  These types of activities can reduce stress and help you re-energize.
  8. Join a parent group, especially if you have kids with difficult behaviors or special needs.  Connecting with other parents who have similar challenges can be affirming and helpful.
  9. Indulge in one of your favorite treats – some nice chocolate, ice cream. or other special item you don’t normally let yourself enjoy.
  10. Journal.  Sometimes writing down the things that happen during the day can be a therapeutic tool for processing everything that happens in our busy lives.  For some people, journaling can help plan and organize thoughts for the upcoming days and can also let off steam about frustrating events or situations.  Journaling can also be used to help us remember the things that have gone well, the things we are thankful for, and the things our kids have done to give us joy.

Summer Social

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Dr. Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA.     6.5.19

Summer is here!!!

Many students and parents look forward to the summer break from school and routine.  Each family has its own approach to summer planning.  Some kids go to camps or programs throughout the summer, maintaining structure and schedules similar to the school year but without all the homework.  Other families have very little structure during the summer, allowing for easy days, sleeping in, and making spontaneous plans.  Still others may adopt a combination of these, with some weeks in camps or programs and other weeks set aside for relaxation and leisure.

For families who have less structure in the summer, there tends to be a mixed bag of feelings about the summer months.  While the increase in leisure time can be relaxing, it can also lead to challenges for kids who thrive on more structure and activity.  It can also lead to frustration when kids start to act bored, stop socializing, or become immersed in screen time and video games instead of spending time being active, social and productive. This frustration can become even more pronounced for families who have kids with social challenges, who are not readily able to stay involved socially over the summer.

There are plenty of fun, easy, and even free things kids can do over the summer to stay involved socially.  These ideas apply to kids with and without social challenges, so the information here is useful for any parent who struggles with how to make the most of summer days with their kids.

  1.  Make sure you and/or your child have contact information about peers who would be good to see over the summer.  For kids with social challenges, anxiety, or autism this may involve asking the teacher for feedback about good peers for your child.  Once you have the contact information, you can help set up opportunities for social time together in the summer.
  2. Look for organized summer activities for kids.
    1. The local library is a great place to start, where they often have special programs in the summer as well as reading clubs and prizes for kids who stay involved with reading over the summer.  Library programs for kids are usually free of charge (some programs require a materials fee).
    2. Local community park recreation programs often have summer activities, day camps, and classes for kids, teens and adults.  These programs tend to have reasonable costs for residents of the area, and in some cases financial assistance or fee waivers are available for families in need.
    3. Shops and galleries frequently host summer activities for kids and teens, which may include art classes, cooking classes, or other special interest activities.  Some larger stores, such as JoAnn Fabrics, hold regular classes for different interest areas and age groups.  Look for schedules on the local store websites.  Special interest classes are a fantastic way for kids to meet peers with similar likes in an organized setting!
    4. If your child is athletically inclined, there are many summer programs for athletics, including sports, running clubs and events (themed 5K runs), yoga, karate, and fitness classes for youth.  This is another wonderful way to meet peers with similar interests!
    5. Swimming lessons.  This is something that will benefit every child for safety purposes.  It may also be a good way to meet friends, especially if you take lessons in a setting that has opportunities for recreational swim time outside of the lessons.
    6. Volunteer opportunities for youth.  Most communities have charity organizations to fill a variety of needs, including soup kitchens, food pantries, animal shelters, and park clean-ups.  Helping your child get involved in these activities benefits the community, teaches good skills, and also provides – you guessed it – a way to meet friends over the summer.
    7. Local museums host special events and activities in the summer.  Prices for these will vary by community and type of museum.  Activities like this promote interaction and as the other ideas listed above, they usually focus on a certain interest area that will appeal to kids who share this interest.
    8. Religious groups and camps.  For those who are involved in religious organizations, there are usually summer activities including full-week camps, vacation Bible school, missions, youth conventions, and small youth activities such as movie nights or field trips.
  3. For kids who love to read, consider starting a summer book club with a few friends.  This can be a great experience for kids and their parents, and besides taking the time to read the book it can be easy to arrange by meeting at a park with snacks or at a favorite ice cream shop.  Book clubs can be great for parents and kids to do together, and can be as simple as having snacks and talking about the book, or can be more involved and include activities for kids to do based on the theme of the book.  Whatever you decide to do, a summer (or school year!) book club is a great way for kids to interact, find common interests, and have a semi-structured activity that meets regularly.
  4.  Take care of your own social needs!  In doing so, you provide a good model for positive social relationships and interaction for your kids.  Equally importantly, you will find that when you maintain positive social relationships and spend time with your own friends, it helps you with your life-work-family-self balance and will help you feel more positively energized to help your kids with their social needs.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more posts this month!




Social Inclusion for Young Adults


Kaarin Anderson Ryan 1.31.19

Friendship. For many people, friendship is one of the most important things in life.  Why does friendship carry such weight for us?  What exactly does it mean to have a friend?  What does it mean to be a friend?  What are the different kinds of friends?

Friendship is a complex concept.  We start to see signs of interest in friendship early in life, as studies show social interest during the first year of life.  As we develop, the concept of friendship changes with us.  We go from simple interaction and play skills to intricate and complicated social relationships.  Navigating the world of friendship is not necessarily easy, and most of us do not go through life without some bumps in the road regarding friendship and social interaction.

How then, do people with autism and other social anxiety issues manage to form and maintain friendships?  Sadly, there are still people with autism at all age levels who don’t have friends.  Today I am going to focus on young adults.

Young adults with autism and other unique abilities often struggle socially when they leave the school system.  Some of these young adults goon to attend college while others go into the workplace.  Some attend training programs, and there are still some who end up with limited support and direction for their future.  Whatever path they have taken, social interaction and friendship can be a challenge.

Take, for example, a young adult who attended the same school system from kindergarten through high school.  He or she may have developed friendships and social connections within that school setting, but while the high school peers move on to college or work they will often branch out to meet new people while maintaining some connection with a few close high school friends.  Unfortunately, people with disabilities don’t always stay in that loop.  Meanwhile, finding friends in college or in the workplace for a young adult with autism is far more challenging than it is for their high school peers who don’t have autism.  Other college students or coworkers don’t understand them, might find them difficult to interact with or seem awkward in other ways.  Without that life history the young adult had with school-age peers, finding acceptance might not be as easy.

What can we do to better support young adults with autism in college and in the community?

  • Just like with our younger kids with autism (see earlier blogpost from 11-16-18), we can look into joining social groups with common interests.  College campuses offer a wide variety of groups, and most colleges are willing to facilitate new groups fairly easily.  I have known young adults with autism who have successfully been able to start a social interest group on a college campus in order to meet others with similar interests.  Start with what already exists, and if there isn’t a good group for your student encourage him or her to work on starting group.
  • Look into colleges who have extra support for people with autism and other needs.  Most colleges have disability services to help with academic accommodations and many have support services such as counseling.  Some colleges have started implementing peer mentor programs specifically to help students with autism adjust to life on campus.  This website provides more detailed information on colleges who have amazing programs specifically to support students with ASD on campus.
  • Look for community resources to provide job support for students with ASD.  There are many local, county, and state programs designed to help people with different needs find and keep jobs.  These organizations will often offer job coaching and mentoring.
  • Inquire locally about businesses that are more friendly to hiring and supporting people with different needs.
  • Look into local organizations who support people with autism and other different needs, as they may have resources to help connect young adults with opportunities for social inclusion.  Some organizations that have local chapters include Autism Society of America, The Arc, and The National Down Syndrome Society.

Thanks for reading and join us again next time!

Resource Review 1: Social Skills Tools

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With so many great resources available to help kids and adults on the autism spectrum with social skills, it is very difficult to decide which things to try.  It is also difficult not to get a little overwhelmed with the choices.

We have spent a lot of time working with people who have social challenges and have tried many different tools, books, and structured lessons.  We have yet to find The Perfect Tool for Everyone, and we are not sure if this exists (yet).  Some things to keep in mind when you’re looking for resources:

  1. Who will be using the book or resource.  A child or teen with social challenges?  A parent?  A teacher?  A clinical professional?  Search for materials that will be fitting for the person who will actually be looking through them the most.  Social skills picture books, cue cards, strongly visual tools will work well when given to a child or teen with challenges.  Teachers might look for resources they can use naturally throughout the day in the classroom, while social workers and other clinicians might look for curriculum-based resources.
  2. What is the context for the use of the book or resource.   A group?  Individual sessions?  Home-based teaching?  In-vivo learning with peers present? Some of the resources available are specifically designed for leading social skills groups.  Others provide information and guidance for individualized teaching fo social skills.
  3. What are the needs of the person who will be learning social skills. Addressing social anxiety?  Conversational skills?  Basic manners?  Community social skills?  While many of the books and resources available have comprehensive skills lists, some are more focused on specific skills.  If an individual really only needs to focus on conversation with peers, search for materials with an emphasis on conversation rather than larger books that cover multiple skill deficits.
  4. Where will the resource be used.  In clinical or school settings, some of the curriculum-based materials will be useful and will provide good guidance and structure.  For home and community-based learning, simple visual tools and cards may be a good choice to work on specific skills in the natural context.

Here are three great resources to consider:

1. Jed Baker has a number of books on the market to help with social skills and behavior.  We would like to highlight his book Social Skills Training: For Children and Adolescents with Asperger Syndrome and Social-Communication Problems  (2003).

What we like about this book:

  • Baker has created a curriculum for teaching social skills to groups of kids.  This book includes a basic assessment in the form of a social skills checklist. The list is broken down into groupings of social skills, such as conversation and empathy.  Prior to the first session, the parents complete the assessment, and then the group facilitator can choose which skills to spend the most time on based on the needs of the group.
  • The book provides suggestions and guidelines for how to structure the sessions, including setting up group rules and implementing a reward system for skills and behavior.
  • Each individual skill has a chapter with guidelines, allowing the group leader to use activities to teach that skill.
  • Each individual skill has a take-home handout for practicing the skill at home.

What we find challenging about this book:

  • This book is thorough and provides a great framework for teaching social skills to a group.  Some of the activities can be adapted to use in individual sessions with kids as well.  The only thing about this book that could possibly be improved would be to include handouts for parents.  Baker provides suggestions for parents to practice at home, but these are general guidelines for the whole course of study.  Parent handouts for particular skills would be a helpful addition to this book.

2.  Specifically designed for teens, we would like to highlight The Social Success Workbook for Teens by Barbara Cooper and Nancy Widdows (2008).  This book is  an easy-to-follow an manageable workbook to use individually with teens who are struggling with a number of social skills difficulties.

What we like about this book:

  • The user-friendly format.  Each chapter provides brief vignettes related to a specific skill, along with activities to work on practicing that skill.
  • Inclusion of multiple factors that lead to social difficulties, including activities to help teens understand themselves and their own responses in social situations so that they can learn to identify and overcome obstacles.
  • Easy activities to encourage skill development.
  • Nice, simple visuals with each chapter.
  • The book is designed for individual use, and is presented in a way that makes it easy to use for parents, teens, or therapists.

What we find challenging about this book:

  • Some of the activities have an emphasis on drawing, which does not work well with all teens.
  • Some teens with social difficulties will need assistance using this book effectively.  We would like to see some basic guidelines included at the beginning of the book to help guide families and professionals to ensure that the right amount of support is available to the teens using the book.

3.  There are many conversation-starter tools available, including card decks, games, and conversation balls.  We would like to highlight the Chat Pack for Kids as a resource for helping with conversations in the home and practicing for improved conversation with peers.  The Chat Pack for Kids is one of several Chat Pack card decks with fun questions to spark conversation.

What we like about these cards:

  • They are small and easy to keep in a drawer, purse, or glove compartment.
  • They have fun and thought-provoking questions for kids.
  • They can be used in many ways to start and practice conversation.  Each little card has one question.  Families, teachers or clinicians can use these cards by (1) Having each person answer their own question cards in turn, helping people get to know each other in a group; (2) Having everyone in the group or conversation answer their own question cards as well as the other participants’ question cards; (3) Using the question cards to encourage further conversation about that topic with follow-up questions and comments.
  • The cards can be used for short or longer durations.  Leaders and participants can decide to do 5 cards each or 20 cards each, allowing for flexibility in many settings and circumstances (car rides, dinner table, social skills groups).

What we find challenging about these cards:

  • We would like to see a Chat Pack specifically for teens.

We have a lot of additional resources we use for social skills and may provide more reviews in the future.  In the meantime, check out these great tools, and send us your own feedback or questions!

Kaarin Anderson Ryan 12-15-18


Our next journey begins.

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA; Darlene Magito-McLaughlin, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA; Christopher Smith, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA


Thanks for joining us!

Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping it will transform into a door. ~ Coco Chanel

We are a group of experienced psychologists and behavior analysts who have been working together for over 20 years.  We have actively worked in our communities to help all kinds of people with different needs, including individuals with autism, their families, and the professionals who support them.  Much of our work has been through consultation and therapy services, as well as community involvement and the establishment of a local community foundation on Long Island to provide social opportunities for people with unique needs.

So why start this blog?

Although we have been able to help many families in New York and in Michigan, where our offices are located, we still hear about a lot of unmet needs and unanswered questions when it comes to supporting people in homes, schools, and community settings.  We decided it was time to share some of our experience, resources, and insights with a larger audience.  Our goal is to give you tools, resources and insights to help you deal with everyday challenges.  We will be posting weekly to give people the best information we have to help with a huge variety of problems that come up when you are navigating the world of special needs, behavior management, and community supports.

Today, we’d like to start our series on friendship.  All too often, people who have different needs are granted so many resources to help them with academic skills, with daily living skills, with behavior management issues, but are not given as many resources to help them with a basic skill that can promote life satisfaction and happiness.  The skill of making friends.

How many of you have seen someone with different needs struggle to find and keep friends? How many of you have watched as someone you love blunders in social situations, time after time?  Have you ever had to bite your tongue to not offer support and help to a teenager with autism as they muddle their way through a conversation with a peer?

We have seen this time and again. And while there are lots of programs and books out there to help people build these skills, some of these are overwhelming, expensive, and yet one more thing to have to worry about.  Often for families and other support givers, these social needs can fall to the back burner in favor of more pressing needs, like passing a class or learning how to get ready for school in the morning.

What to do?

  • Start with practicing basic conversation at home or in class.  Try using conversation starters, like a Chat Pack or a Thumball .
  • Help kids, teens and young adults by letting them role-play and rehearse with you for different types of conversations they might have trouble with on a regular basis.
  • Invite family or friends who have kids around the same age for *brief* playdates:  An hour or less to start.  After the playdate make note of what went well and what seemed to be a challenge.  Give your child a lot of positive feedback for the things that went well.  Before the next playdate, practice some solutions for the things that were difficult.
  • Look into local groups or gatherings that might be of interest.  For younger kids this might include library groups or activities, for teens there might be clubs and organizations at school.  Check the website for your community   Search “Upcoming events for kids in (name of your town/city )to find upcoming events that might provide opportunities for social inclusion.  Champaign, IL has a great example with chambanamoms, and Colorado Springs offers mykidsweek.
  • Make sure you have a good system to communicate between home and school about how things are going socially in both settings.  Work together to tackle challenges and exchange information about things that are going well so you can build on them together.  If your student seems to be spending some time with any particular kids, share that information with the family soon, don’t wait for the next IEP meeting!
  • If your child is really struggling to gain skills, seek support from a therapist who specializes in autism to unique needs, or look into ABA therapy for more intensive skill development support.
  • Follow the lead of the individual you support. Some people will do better with less social interaction and pressure.  The important thing is for the person to be getting what he or she wants socially, not what other people think he or she should want.

Most importantly, do not give up on the person you are supporting, whether it is your child, your student, or someone you are supporting in a community setting.

Join us again next week, when we will be going into more depth about resources for friendship and social skills, with our own review on several products.