Social Emotional Support should be practical, and fit into a child’s family routine or team involvement.
How does Social Emotional Support work with other therapies? Does it replace Speech Therapy?
Social Emotional Support can complement, but does not usually replace, therapy by an experienced, licensed and trained speech therapist, especially if the child is diagnosed with an issue that would benefit from Speech Therapy. Instead, S/E can facilitate other therapies the child is already receiving, and brings a therapeutic perspective that can enhance the benefit of Speech, Occupational, Physical, or other supports. For example, some children may use dangerous or unsafe behaviors, or escape from unbearable or undesirable situations after inappropriate behavior. Other children benefit from learning how to “turn down” or “turn up” sensory stimulation, without using unsafe behavior. They can learn safe ways to express that there is too much, too little, or uncomfortable stimulation. We can help other therapists to integrate behavioral wellness into their sessions, and how to incorporate motivation and timing and behavior techniques into their strategies. Note: Some of the most powerful technologies in teaching children with autism (and diverse learners worldwide) have been generated by behavior analysts who collaborate with, or have backgrounds in, speech and language therapy. (PECS, or the Picture Exchange Communication System, is a good example of this.)
How do we do it?
Step 1: Assessment
A behavior analyst as S/E provider can assess a child’s strengths, challenging behavior, and family’s concerns, then generate individualized strategies to support the child’s growth. Often an assessment called an FBA, or Functional Behavior Assessment, is conducted over a couple of weeks to understand the reasons and ways that the environment is contributing to the child’s challenges. We learn what situations are most difficult and how to address them by strengthening more appropriate and successful alternative ways for learners to meet their needs.
Step 2: Collaborate
Next, we team with the child’s family and other providers or community members. We use a collaborative strength-based service model to determine measurable goals the child will meet by learning new skills, behaviors, and new ways to use their strengths. Then we discuss ways (strategies) that will be used to get there.
Step 3: Teach family and therapists to use consistent strategies; monitor strategy effectiveness
Collaboration results in setting measurable goals and developing a plan listing specific strategies families will use to meet the goal.
Families often ask whether we use individualized strategies or apply the same kind of support to every child.
We use individualized support. There are also many core “evidence-based” strategies that we use because research and practical application consistently shows they benefit children with autism and related challenges. Read more about the EI Colorado recommended strategies here.
Step 4: Support the child’s transition out of early intervention.
This step involves thoughtful planning for how the child and family will move to the next steps and environments as needed. Local agencies partner with schools to provide families with options for continued therapies in preschool if needed. Social emotional support providers can work with families to put the currently effective strategies in writing to share with important new people in the child’s life. Some families benefit from continued consultation from a BCBA, who can help teach preschool teachers and therapists how to keep making progress by providing continued individualized support based on the child’s needs. (Check out a previous related post on supporting a child’s transition).
Social Emotional Support and Intensity of Behavior Analytic Intervention
Although intensive intervention is recommended and effective for building skills and relationships with children with autism, the intensive aspect of intervention is not characteristic of the time-limited S/E support under Early Intervention Colorado’s guidelines. Instead, this model provides a brief assessment as needed followed by an hour or so of weekly therapy with the child that consistently includes caregiver education. By focusing on engineering change in families and team members, we set caregivers up to learn preventative successful techniques to support their child’s speech, motor, play, self-help and social skills.