Autism success: Devastated to Inspired.

Kathy with Starbuck's card from RobKathy’s work as an SLP/BCBA in our local high school provides nightly stories. Sharing vicariously in the triumphs she celebrates with her students each and every day is a treat. The successes range from tiny steps to huge breakthroughs. What they have in common, though, is making a difference.


Hopefully sharing these stories with a wider audience will inspire…


“Rob” is a young man on the ASD spectrum. The roots of this story are familiar to anyone who lives and works with individuals with autism: Melt downs, anxiety, frustration, empathy, difficulty finding friends, etc. Rob’s team has dealt with all of these issues over the years.



This particular story starts a month ago, after many hours of coordinated team work and coaching. Rob stands in line with a five dollar bill clenched tightly in his fist. He has made the giant step of asking two friends to go with him to the high school football game that upcoming Friday. This is no ordinary game, however. It is “The Game.” It pits Rob’s high school against their biggest rival, includes several days of activities, and is circled months in advance on everyone’s calendar. 


You know what’s coming, don’t you? The student directly in front of Rob buys her ticket. As she walks away, the ticket vendor looks up at Rob and says, “Sorry, Buddy, she just bought the last one- we’re sold out.” Rob somehow manages to hold it together, by falling back on hours of role playing. As his aide told Kathy soon afterwards, though, Rob was clearly devastated.


And that’s when Kathy and Rob’s aide decided to turn this into a life lesson. Kathy pulled some strings (no surprise to anyone that knows her) by explaining the situation to the admin team, and was able to purchase a ticket.


The next day Rob was in a group session with several of his peers. Kathy steered the conversation: How do we deal with disappointment? What strategies can we use to get what we want? How could you help a friend with a problem? Towards the end of the session, Rob was thanked for sharing his story from the previous day. Rob’s aide reminded him to check Miss Kathy’s calendar for the date of their next session.


Rob was startled, because there was an envelope with his name taped to the calendar. “What’s this?,” he asked. “Open it up and see,” was the response. Inside, of course, was the ticket. The ticket to not only the game, but to a night of promise. 


The very first thing Rob did, was pull yesterday’s five dollar bill out of his pocket. As he passed it to Kathy, Rob’s aide said his smile was the biggest he’d seen. You know the kind- that surprised smile from something unexpected. And here is where the story gets interesting, because Rob’s two fans weren’t finished yet.


Kathy thanked Rob for paying her back. She told him the reason for the ticket was because of how well he had handled himself yesterday, and how he had shared about his disappointment today. Kathy then added that she had something else. She asked Rob to remember what they’d talked about over the previous hour, especially about helping others.


Kathy handed Rob a five dollar Starbuck’s gift card, and told him that she had an assignment for him. She asked Rob to give the card to someone he knew. But not randomly, she explained. Kathy wanted Rob to give the card to someone in return for doing something nice. And lastly, to make sure that his gift was as unexpected as the ticket that he had received.


Fast forward to five weeks later- yesterday. Kathy has just finished a group session that rocked. Four students were interacting with each other in ways she would not have believed possible when the school year started. As one of those students, Rob, was walking out the door, he turned back into her classroom. “Miss Kathy, I want to tell you something. I want you to know how much you’ve helped me, and how you really help lots of people. I like coming to your classes.” And then, as Rob left, he handed his gift card to Miss Kathy. 

Valentine’s Day- a time to teach empathy

Kathy and her Three C's prepare for Valentine's DayValentine’s Day is not quite here, but Kathy has been working towards it for several weeks. Why? Because Valentine’s Day is a natural tie-in to empathy, a skill that many with autism have difficulty grasping. Kathy stresses to her students that what they learn is not just for one day, but all year round.


Empathetic words show that you care. She creates opportunities for her students to practice empathy with words using her “Three C’s.” Here are some examples that Kathy elicits by modeling, role playing, observing, and practicing:


Compliment: I like your shirt. You sure read well. Your smile makes me happy.


Comfort: Are you OK? Do you need help? Would you like a hug? Let’s do something together.


Cheer: Hey, you can do it. Keep going- yay! That looks great- can I join in?


Happy Valentine’s Day! A good excuse to share the ideas behind the Three C’s- Compliment, Comfort & Cheer- with others.

SLP + ABA = !!!

Kathys-day-of-revelation-with-lightbulb-300x300Ever had a day when everything seemed crystal clear? Well, Kathy just had one. The trigger? Realizing how helpful ABA (applied behavior analysis) knowledge is to her work. Especially when layered onto her speech- language background. Since Kathy takes Me almost everywhere during her school day, here’s a report:


The essence of an SLP is establishing human connections through conversation. Giving teenage students words is powerful for them in the real world. One of Kathy’s most impacted students is a favorite, because of his amazing responses to learning words. Having more of a voice has resulted in seemingly unrelated behavior improvements. She pushes him, and all of her students, to work hard, but knows when to celebrate small successes. They respond well to these behavior principles.


Writing meaningful, functional goals is extremely important. This leads to maximizing what they can do. As does collaborating with teachers, aides, and other therapists to run lessons together. Teaching students to see the world using varied stimulus types helps to break rigid ways of thinking and rote responding.


What a day! Thanks, Kathy, for letting Me eavesdrop. Maybe sharing these thoughts will help others. That would make both of our days.

Miss Tara flips sad upside down

Sad-to-happy-snack-face-token-300x300This story from Miss Tara was emotional for Me: “When one of my students is having a difficult day (not following directions, crying, tantrums) we use the sad happy snack face token. It helps in turning her frowns upside down. We make a big deal when all of her sad faces are smiling. 123TokenMe is an awesome motivator!”

From seconds to minutes in weeks

From-just-seconds-of-calm-sitting-to-minutes-using-123TokenMe-and-classroom-collaboration-300x300A special ed teacher shared this experience with Me: “A student with autism joined my class several weeks ago. She was unable to sit still for more than a few seconds. Her language was very limited, but growing. We set her up on 123TokenMe, and targeted “Calm Sitting.” She started with three tokens on a five second interval- a total of just 15 seconds. Now? Our classroom team has been gradually increasing both her number of tokens and her interval time. She is currently sitting for several minutes. Today, she was in circle with 123TokenMe in front of her when she exclaimed, “Nice calm sitting” and gave herself a token! It was so exciting. Her growth in this short period of time has been amazing to watch. Thank You for this app!”


This illustrates how 123TokenMe is used at its most basic level:A token economy system that is an effective and efficient strategy for teaching and managing behaviors. The ultimate outcome is for students to perform these skills “on their own” in the real world.


While the teacher that shared this story works in the USA, look for stories involving Me coming in from all over. This past weekend’s release of “Me for Free” saw downloads in seventeen new countries. Lebanon, Poland, Columbia, and fourteen more. Frequent flyer miles are part of my future!


If you’ll share this story, it might lead to benefiting other learners. Thanks.

I Love You Mom

Kathy-Marie-with-123TokenMe-on-the-SmartBoard-300x300I love you, Mom.” Imagine a mother who has never heard those words from her child? Or been hugged in years? When Kathy asked Marie what social skills she would like to tackle this month in her class of teens significantly impacted by autism, it was an easy decision for Marie. It would be a tough task, so Kathy invited Me to be part of the team. If successful, they knew these new skills would make incredibly memorable Mother’s Day gifts. 


“Where’s Mom?” Photos of families were used to develop an awareness of this very special group- mothers. Lots of pointing, smiling, and “Can you find the mom?” Gradually each student recognized the special attributes in mothers. 


Three magical words: “I love you. With a mixture of verbal and nonverbal students, this was a unique lesson. Simple social stories about why their mothers are special added meaning. Makes me dinner. Takes me places. Watches movies. With support from visuals and shaping words and hands, “I love you” was a mission accomplished.


Hugging was tougher than many would expect. Being touched and so close to others is not easy for these teens. With lots of reinforcement and encouragement, the teens practiced the simple steps in giving hugs: stand up, walk close to the person, circle arms around the person, and squeeze. Kathy said that being hugged by this favorite group of students was a highlight of her school year. 


My part?? The teens were familiar with 123TokenMe, but this was a treat. By connecting Me to the SmartBoard’s projector, everyone shared in the excitement when the whole group earned a token for practicing “I love you” and giving big bear hugs. Woohoo- we rock! Before long the avoidance and protests disappeared. Thanks to an incredible classroom staff, Marie’s students not only learned challenging new skills but had some fun.


And… Mother’s Day. Hopefully these “I Love You’s” and big hugs are celebrated with their mothers this Sunday. Our entire team wishes a very happy Mother’s Day to mothers everywhere. You are loved. And hugged.


Please share with the mothers in your life!

“B” is for Bakersfield

Summer-and-123TokenMe-visit-autism-classrooms-in-Bakersfield-to-help-with-transitions-300x300If you could visit any city in the world that began with a “B,” where would you choose? Barcelona? Beijing? Buenos Aires? Not Me. Bakersfield. And, thanks to Summer, my 123TokenMe dreams came true. Just returned from a visit to several autism classrooms in Bakersfield. The two of us were enlisted to collaborate on improving classroom transitions.


Transitions can be extremely stressful for both teachers and students. Since they happen throughout the school day (Center to center, small group to outside, going to bathroom, etc.) it is important for teachers to have a plan and share it with the class. Some of the ideas we demonstrated were the use of a bell, transition cards (Colors, shapes, animals, etc.), and a song to signal transitions. We also showed how to set up 123TokenMe to award tokens when students transitioned calmly. Smoother transitions? They lead to less stress and more learning. Bakersfield? When can we return? 

An exciting weekend for Kathy & 123TokenMe

123TokenMe-at-the-Cal-State-Fullerton-conference-on-autism-300x300The attendees at the Cal State Fullerton Conference on Autism were not the only ones excited by 123TokenMe. As can be seen, Kathy also had her share of “Oh Wow” moments. One example was discovering a new use for Me with Rosa and Alejandro.


Alejandro mentioned a student on his caseload that should be requesting bathroom breaks throughout the day. This led to a discussion about setting Me up with six tokens and a reminder timer of one hour. Thus, this request will be initially addressed on an hourly basis. As time goes on, the behavior can be shaped by adjusting the number of tokens and/or the reminder time period.


Alejandro plans to have this behavior “running in the background” while he actively works on other target behaviors with his students. Both he and Rosa are jazzed to work with 123TokenMe. The excitement is mutual. After introducing myself to therapists, teachers, and parents all weekend, they, in turn, will be using Me in their classrooms and homes starting today.


A big thanks to Cal State Fullerton for letting Me be a part of their autism and special education conference.