Sibling interaction between typically developing children & those with additional struggles
20th January, 2010
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior. Some individuals may display more of a struggle in one area and hardly any struggles in another area. Autistic disorder, sometimes called autism or classical ASD, is the most severe form of ASD, while other conditions along the spectrum include a milder form known as Asperger syndrome, the rare condition called Rett’s syndrome, and childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS).
A common myth about people on the spectrum is that they prefer to spend their time alone. This is not always the case. Many individuals on the spectrum are motivated to interact and build relationships with family members and friends. Due to their struggles with social interactions and communication, this can prove to be difficult for them. These impairments may cause them to not initiate conversation, not engage in as much play, be unable to imitate, have difficulty responding to the emotions of others, and impair their ability to take turns among other issues such as imaginative play. In the home, these deficits may interfere with a child's ability to form relationships with their siblings. While some siblings may spend a lot of time together, it may not always be appropriate or functional. However, appropriate interacting can be taught. Other individuals on the spectrum may not seem to have any motivation to interact with their family members or friends. In these instances, motivation to play with family members can be taught.
A trained Behaviour Analyst can program to increase and maximize sibling socialisation through pairing and manding. Your programme will be designed and tailored to your child’s and your family’s need. This individually designed programme will teach you how to teach your children to interact and develop these important relationships.
If your child is not approaching their sibling to receive items and engage in activities which they enjoy regularly, you will need to use a technique called pairing. Keep in mind this process may take hours, days, or even weeks but it is essential for laying a strong foundation for future interaction.
First, find items that your child finds reinforcing and have the sibling approach and give them one item at a time for free. This means your child with autism does not have to do anything to get the item. This is teaching your child that their sibling is a giver who makes their world better when they are a part of it.
To maximize the chances that your child will want the item the sibling is offering, it is important to sanitize the environment. This means that you will keep the area clean of competing reinforcers so the focus is on the item the sibling is giving to them. Also, make sure items are given in small amounts. If you are using food, break it up into little pieces or if you are using items such as blocks or cars, have the sibling give one at a time. By giving only small amounts you keep motivation for items high.
The goal of pairing is to show your child that their world gets better when the sibling is present, compared to when they are alone.
Once your child is accepting items and beginning to approach their sibling it is time to move on to manding. Keep in mind that it is beneficial to reserve time for pairing on a regular basis even after the initial pairing stage. It is always good to have time that is fun and with low demand to keep playing together as reinforcing as possible.
Now that your child is accepting reinforcers and approaching their sibling it is time to have your child ask their sibling for an item or activity before they gain access to it. Remember that in pairing they were given the item for free; in manding we are increasing the demand by having them ask.
Explain to the sibling that they are going to give items but not until their sibling asks for the item. If your child does not ask, they will require a prompt. Instruct the sibling to say something like, “If you want the X you can ask me”. It is important to have the sibling give the prompt as we want this to be as child directed as possible. Some children require a different level of prompting to this. They will require you to actually prompt the whole question, “I want the marble” or just “marble”. The way you prompt the question, the prompt level you use and the amount of reinforcement you give should all be guided by your behaviour analyst.
Again, make sure to only give reinforcers in small amounts to increase the number of times your child will have to request from their sibling. Remember to continue to pair. Every once and a while it is ok to give an item for free to keep things enjoyable for everybody.
Once your child has paired and is requesting from their sibling you should see an increase in interactions and motivation. Once this foundation has been build, your Behaviour Analyst can program further for following receptive instructions, manding for attention, interactive and pretend play.
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