Cooperatives Week 2

This morning we had our cooperative group with Z and J. We set up some fun games for them. We had bowling with empty water bottles as our first game. It helped put J at ease when he first arrived to have some time to play before Z arrived. We were practicing using reinforcement this week and the behavior we were reinforcing for both Z and J was sharing toys and cooperative play. Both Z and J’s mothers practiced taking ABC data while the teachers each played with Z and J and gave positive praise and chocolates for each instance of sharing and each instance of cooperative play.
Next, we played duck-duck-goose. Z was very excited to play and J was hesitant. Z was “it” several times and tagged J to chase him but J didn’t want to. We cheered and cheered and finally J chased him and everyone praised both boys.

When we transitioned away from duck-duck-goose, Z began exhibiting behaviors (kicking the wall and throwing toys) so we prompted him to use his language to ask for more duck-duck-goose and when he did, we were happy to play another round with him.

After duck-duck goose, Z and J and their peer buddies all sat in the paddling pool (without water, of course) and played with blocks. There were some excellent examples of sharing and cooperation that both parents and teachers recognized and reinforced with praise and chocolates. Z started having some behaviors because he wanted all the chocolates, not just one piece. Z’s mother let us know that it was possible that Z was very hungry because he had not yet eaten that morning. We prompted both boys to ask for a break and we all had a break to eat a snack.

After snack, the mothers took over all reinforcement and sat at the table with both boys and the peer buddies and everyone colored and practiced writing. Z and J both a wonderful job sharing crayons and markers. J’s mom knows a lot of English so she was able to quiz both boys on English vocabulary of colors, shapes, and letters. Both boys did an amazing job, and demonstrated such great language. We are so excited to see what Z and J will do with us in the coming weeks.




Applying Reinforcement

On Sunday the families and teachers learned about reinforcement and the application of reinforcement. Today we had the families and teachers apply what they learnt and deliver reinforcement to the children when a desired behavior was observed. It was a busy day! We had each family bring their child’s favorite snack to use as a reinforcer. Each parent and teacher was given instructions on the application of reinforcement.

Abdallah, the teacher from the morning cooperative group, showed great support to the families. He gave detailed examples that helped the parents apply ABC data collection. He told Mazen’s mother the best way to remember how the ABC data sheet works is thinking of a child’s behavior as crying at the store, the antecedent is the event that happened before the behavior which is the child walking into the store, and the consequence is the mother buying the toy for her child. Seeing the teacher highly motivated in learning and then teaching the parents is a reinforcer to us.

Mazen showed great play skills with his community buddies today; he took turns in playing bowling with his peers. We asked his sister to reinforce Mazen for every time he played with his peers in an appropriate way. His mother and the teacher were asked to observe Mazen and take ABC data on the behaviors. It was great to see Mazen’s mother happy that her son is interacting and playing with his peer buddies.

Mazen bowling with his peer buddies.


Habib’s sisters also joined us today for the cooperative session where they showed great support to their brother. We asked them to reinforce him every time he would point to the desired object instead of screaming. The teacher did a great job prompting him to use his index finger to point to the desired object.

We also had a visit from a representative at our partner Rotary club who came to show support to our cooperative groups during his visit to the training center today. We look forward to their upcoming visits.




What Motivates YOU?

Today’s cooperative training was on reinforcement. Reinforcement is defined as anything that increases the future likelihood of a behavior. Reinforcement is the backbone of the evidence-based practices we utilize. B.F. Skinner taught that behavior can be strengthened or diminished be controlling the consequences of that behavior. As we defined reinforcement, we asked parents and teachers what some reinforcers might be for any child and they responded, “Money, stickers, and candies.” This is an excellent response and true for many children we have met.
Next we asked the group what is their reinforcement for coming to training? Some of the responses included-
“To learn how to teach my brother and all children.”
“To get more information and knowledge.”
“To learn new strategies for her child.”
“Enhance my career and move up.”
These are all awesome answers and we believe that they are powerful reinforcers for these families and teachers since they keep coming to training and are so excited to learn.
Some of the families asked us what our reinforcers are for giving the training and doing all the work that we do. What a wonderful question! Dana’s reinforcement is seeing the people smile.
My reinforcement is seeing children do things that amaze their parents. Melissa’s reinforcement is watching parents and teachers take ownership of children’s learning outcomes.
Habib’s sister participating in a demonstration about why reinforcement is more effective than punishment.
As we worked through the principles of reinforcement, we asked the families to hypothesize some reinforcement for their children in our program. We got so many great answers-
Playing with sister, chocolate, snacks, PE class, playing soccer, cake, playing with siblings, coloring, bicycling , suiting relatives house, chips, marbles, ice cream, biscuits, water play.
Those are all fantastic ideas and we can’t wait to try out some of them at the center.
We talked about the need for immediate reinforcement of good behavior and Issa’s dad summed it up perfectly for us when he said, “If we don’t reinforce immediately, he might forget why he is being reinforced”
We look forward to practicing reinforcement in the center this week and adding more skills in the coming weeks.

Candy, Rice, Beans and a Teddy Bear

Our first family support group went really well! We had sisters and brothers join us with their parents and show support to their siblings and others in the group.
First as the families were getting together and settling in, we asked each one of them to make their own name tags. We had some creative ones made by the little ones and some liked to add a personal touch with a drawing.
Siblings become fast friends in our sibling support group.
We all gathered in a circle for the first activity. This activity required for each member to have 5 wrapped colored candies, each color had a corresponding question. My favorite question was “what’s one thing you love about your sibling or child with autism ?” This brought up many discussions and showed us how the child with autism is being loved at home.
The second activity required a stuffed animal to be tossed around the group. Each person holding the teddy bear was asked to say a statement, and each person from the group would raise their hand if they would feel the same regarding the statement. We noticed how most of us shared common interests and felt the same way.
The third activity required some socks, beans, and rice (not cooked), this activity made some hungry but it was great to hear that most of them knew the motive of the activity once it was done. The group was asked to wear a sock on one hand and try to pick out the beans out of the rice. Some were able to pick out around 40 beans in 30 seconds and some were able to pick out 7 beans. They all expressed how it was difficult, frustrating, and complicated to use their hand while having a sock on their hand. However, it was easier picking out the beans from the rice when they did not have a sock on. It was great to see how they were able to relate to the child with autism and how they feel when they can not communicate or interact with others.
How many beans do you think you can pick out of a bowl of rice with a sock on your hand in 30 seconds?
This afternoon the teachers came on time for the support group, they were all excited to get started in the activities. We had the teachers do similar activities that we did earlier with the families. The teachers expressed the concerns they had and difficulties they went through last year with some of their students. It was great to hear their stories and we did our best to help them by giving them strategies to use in the following school year.
We keep telling families and teachers “ everything you learn you can use on all of your students/children” and Christina assured them that not only on children but these strategies can also be used on their spouse. They were very excited about that as many of our parents and teachers want to change their spouses’ behavior!

Community Buddies-Social Skills for Inclusion

While we’ve run a number of parent and teacher training programs through A Global Voice for Autism, at this program, for the first time, we’ve added a “peer buddies” component. In other words, we are bringing kids from the local community to join us in every session so that the children we support can develop their social skills and make friends in the community.

In this morning’s session we had G and R, two young girls from the village, who came to play with Zain and Jaffar. At first, Jaffar was hesitant to enter the center and hid in the courtyard. We brought all the toys out to him and played outside until he felt more comfortable coming inside to play. Zain and Jaffar both loved playing with the building blocks but neither wanted to share the building blocks so we had to work on sharing with both boys and their community buddies.

Zain, Jaffar, their teachers and mothers playing together while others work on collecting ABC data.

In the afternoon session, H and B, two other girls from the community joined Oli to complete a math obstacle course, to play with blocks, jump rope and color. Whenever Oli got tired of an activity or went off to do his own thing, the girls were quick to come up with a new activity. They would run over, grab his hand, and say “Come on, Oli. Let’s go do this!”

Oli was smiling and laughing throughout the session. Unlike last time, when he told his mom he was bored and begged to leave, this time, when the session ended, he didn’t want to go. Oli does very well academically, and we are going to focus on his social skills so that he can have any job he wants and achieve his goals in the future. Right now, he says he wants to be a soldier.




Cooperative Groups Day 1-Pairing, Pairing, Pairing

With all the sleepless nights from the bombings across the border, the team still managed to get to the training center for an early start, excited to begin the cooperative groups with the families and teachers. Today the families and teachers were asked to play with the children and to make the session all about having a great time. Moussa walked in this morning wishing he would still be in bed instead, but shortly after, he joined his parents to play with a spinning top and a Mr. Potato Head toy. The families and teachers did a great job collecting some data and pairing with the children. Seeing the families and teachers work together to help the children motivated us and showed us the importance of having the cooperative group.

Another child in Moussa’s group exploring the ball tent during the session

Our second group was highly motivated; the teachers had the children engage in several activities. I thought it was great seeing Issa’s father guiding the teacher to some of Issa’s favorite toys. Issa’s father was proud of his son for interacting with the teachers in the group; he kept expressing how Issa wouldn’t play with others and specially someone he just met for the first time. Tala enjoyed dancing with a peer from the community; she did a great job learning some new dance moves. For our last group session Melissa invited some children from the community, it was great having the child interact and play with Hassan.

Issa blowing bubbles and playing with blocks with the teachers in his cooperative group.

Families and teachers were asked to analyze the behavior by writing down the behavior each child exhibit, the antecedent (what happens before the behavior), and the consequence (what happens after the behavior). Families and teachers took turn in pairing with the chid while the other would collect data.

Seeing everyone smiling and having a good time playing with the children today was my positive reinforcement. Having the families and teachers understand and be able to collect data is also rewarding because this shows that they were attentive during our session on Sunday.

We are all excited for our second cooperative session tomorrow! Hopefully the little ones won’t be sleepy.



Adventures at Irbid Souk

Today the team got up early to work on paperwork while we ate breakfast and drank the very last bit of coffee in the house. Today is a work day so our first order of business was riding the bus to Irbid to visit the Souk and the mall for toys, games, and supplies for the center.

We started at the Souk and went to roughly twenty five different stores and no less than eighty different stands looking for the exact toys we hoped would entice the kids we are working with to learn and play.


Buying rice and beans in Irbid souk for a family support group activity

We bought so many fun toys! I am most excited about the ball tent and plastic balls to play with. We also got craft supplies galore, cars, trucks, dolls, blocks, spinning tops, stickers, alphabet puzzles, alphabet posters and cards, mathematical blocks, and pinwheels.
We think we have something to appeal to all the kids who come to our center but we are always open to suggestions!

Ball tent and some of the other toys purchased for our training center

After the Souk, we went to the mall to look at other toy options and get some food (and coffee!) for the week. It took a little longer to grocery shop than normal because we were getting tired and sore. Shopping all day is hard work!

After we got home, we reviewed our schedule and to-do list for the week. There’s still quite a lot to do, but we are going to try to go to bed early tonight because tomorrow we have our first small cooperative groups and we want to be fresh and ready to discuss ABC data collection as well as pairing with the children.


Children are like Fingers-Each One is Different

Today, our focus was on the functions of behavior and on helping teachers and families understand children’s behavior.

Parents did an excellent job of identifying challenging behaviors and discussing how to address them. Tala’s mother shared that when her daughter wants to get out of a situation, she will break things. When hearing that the function of this behavior is to escape, Oli’s mother told Tala’s mother that she should make Tala pick everything up when she breaks things so that she learns that she can’t break things when she wants to get out of something. When other parents mentioned that their children also break things sometimes, but for different reasons, Oli’s mother responded by saying: “Children are like our fingers. Just like our fingers are all different from one another, our children are all different. They have different behaviors and the reasons they do them can be different too.”

One common behavior that we have seen in Hartha is that children cry when they want money from their parents to buy things at the store. The parents get annoyed and give them the money. While our teachers and parents all said that they do not do this (one said she lets her child cry until she falls asleep or forgets and another stays firm saying that “you bought something already and can’t buy anything else,” they were quick to identify that giving the child who was crying the money they wanted would teach them to cry the next time they wanted money.

During the conversation, the group started discussing the strengths of people with autism. One mother shared that she believes that children with autism are very smart and another teacher noted that some children with autism have special talents. We were excited to see parents taking pride in their children’s skills and to see teachers’ supportive affirmations of the parents’ observations.

After discussing behaviors, we taught the group about the ABC data collection method, which can be used to help parents and teachers identify the functions of behaviors. This strategy focuses on a particular behavior and has the observer take data on the antecedent (what happens right before) and the consequence (what happens right after) that particular behavior. We went over an example for a child yelling and screaming. One mother identified that a possible antecedent could be: The child’s siblings went to buy something at the supermarket but he was forced to stay home. Another mother noted that the consequence in this situation might be the mother telling the child that she will take the child to the supermarket later.

A: Other kids went to the supermarket and left one child behind

B: Child who was left behind yells and screams

C: Mother tells the child who was left behind that she will take him to the supermarket later

Can you tell us what this child might do next time he wants to go to the supermarket?

Later in the training, we discussed scripting behavior. One mother (OAO) shared that her son always used to script (repeat) the things he heard on CNN. Her husband addressed this by engaging her son in a conversation and redirecting him from the scripting behavior. Dana offered some additional examples of ways that a parent could intervene when this behavior is preventing learning or social engagement.

When discussing antecedents to behaviors, we discussed changes to the environment that can decrease the likelihood that a behavior occurs. Oli’s mother mentioned switching schools, traveling and moving houses as some ways that changes in environment can affect behavior. We have a number of families who have had significant changes in their lives recently and hope that reflecting on some of these changes might lend some insights into their children’s behaviors.

We look forward to starting cooperative sessions later this week.




Hide and Seek and Seeking Support Priorities

Another day full of intakes. The team saw five children for assessments today! We are having so much fun during play assessments that it hardly feels like we are working. Our wonderful center is large enough to accommodate several families at a time. At one point, there was a big game of hide-n-seek happening with team members, children, and parents involved.

After work today we came home to eat a quick dinner of vegetable rice and to work some more on preparations for our first cooperative training for parents and teachers tomorrow morning. We reviewed our “What is Autism?” Training and made sure it was up to date and relevant for both parents and teachers in our audience tomorrow.

After work, we were invited to visit a community member’s house to meet the family and have some juice and coffee. We were treated to some delicious strawberry juice and a breathtaking view. The family lives on a hill at the edge of town and they can see both Syria and Jordan in the distance. As the sun set, you could see that the left half of the sky (Jordan) was lit up and twinkling with electric lights while the right side of the horizon (Syria) was completely dark. The lights and villages that used to be there are gone.

Now we are back at the team house and headed to sleep.


Training Day 1-What Is Autism?

We had a wonderful day today at our first parent and teacher cooperative training. We had a great turn-out and our audience was very engaged and asked thoughtful and astute questions. As we reviewed a slide talking about the hypothesized causes of autism, our parents and educators asked many questions about things they have heard that cause autism and things they have heard that cure autism.

Parents and teachers learning about the causes of autism at our first parent and teacher training.

We at AGVFA want to make it clear for them and for you, dear reader, AUTISM IS NOT THE PARENT’S FAULT. Autism is a complex diagnosis. Research suggests that there is a combination of genetic and environmental factors at play. Research has shown that television doesn’t cause autism. Research has shown that vaccines don’t cause autism. Research has shown that eating a diet containing gluten does not cause autism.


We loved discussing these misconceptions with our participants today. We hope that as we dispel these rumors, parents and teachers can move forward and stop searching for something to blame for an autism diagnosis and focus on their child/student’s strengths and talents. We believe every child is a gift with great potential to learn and grow and change the world for the better. We think our participants agree with us!


To better help our participants understand how it might feel to have a speech delay, we played a game during our training. People were split in to groups of two and asked to convey a message to their partner without writing or speaking. Messages ranged from simple, “I am hungry” to more complex, “I want to go to the park and swing and on the way home I want to buy a chocolate ice cream”. The frustration and confusion people felt while trying to understand messages gives us a small insight in to what people with autism or speech delay may feel all day every day.
This weekend we are working hard to prepare for our next training on Sunday. Have a great weekend everyone!