Program Blog


Collecting Data, Tracking Change, and Honing our Acting Skills

Today, our teachers came together for a training on data collection and how it can be used in the classroom. This is a skill that will be useful to them, not only when they are working with children with autism, but also when they are managing their classrooms, where they at times support children who display challenging behaviors or children who struggle to learn according to the ways they teach.

Our teachers teach 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 10th grade boys and girls and have students with a diversity of needs in their classrooms. While they are creative and entrepreneurial in their approaches to teaching, they all acknowledge that their are gaps in the knowledge and training they need to meet their students’ learning needs. Teachers can use data collection to identify their students’ needs and to measure their students’ progress in the classroom.

We started our session with a review of expressive and receptive communication. For those of you unfamiliar with these concepts, expressive communication is known as speaker behavior, but it doesn’t have to involve speaking. Some people point, sign, use gestures or exchange pictures to communicate expressively.

Receptive communication is also known as “listener behavior,” or, when people respond expressive communication. Some examples of receptive communication include:

-Bending down to tie your shoes when someone says “tie your shoes”

-Opening the door when being told to open the door

-Picking up a phone and handing it to a child who points to it

After reviewing these concepts, we also talked about strategies for teaching expressive and receptive communication and the importance of using prompts that can be easily faded so that children do not learn to rely on a prompt to complete an action, and can become independent in their skills. To assess children’s progress in receptive and expressive communication, data collection strategies are very valuable.

A teacher and parent perform an example of non-verbally prompting a child’s behavior. Our teacher, Taghreed, took on the role of A’s Father’s mother and prompted him to hand her the beanbag without verbally telling him to do so.

We reviewed how to take partial interval, frequency and percentage data and then went on to practice defining behaviors in ways that are specific, observable and measurable so that consistent data can be collected. We had the teachers write down behaviors and practiced acting out throwing food, opening the door and hitting a peer, while challenging the teachers to make these behaviors more and more specific until they all agreed on the number of times the behavior was displayed during each example.

Teachers cheer each other on as they perform and take data on different “specific, observable and measurable” behaviors.

At the end of the session, we gave our teachers a homework assignment to collect partial interval or frequency data on a behavior displayed in their classrooms. The teachers all agreed that they want to reduce the behavior of students calling out in class “me, me, me” or “teacher, teacher, teacher” and to replace this behavior with students raising their hands quietly. We’ve promised them that we can help them reduce this behavior and look forward to getting their data sheets back next Sunday.

We shared lots of laughter, movement and games in our session today (we are proud of our teachers’ theater skills!) and look forward to more engaging sessions like this one in the coming month!



Pictures from our Sibling Social Skills Group

On Thursday afternoon, our siblings and children with autism came together for a social skills group with our team and the teachers in our program. We started by sharing about our weeks in a blanket fort, then played catch and practiced passing a ball around the circle as quickly as possible inside our fort. Families then got together to draw pictures of their families, with all family members participating in the completion of the drawing, while teachers came up with games that they could use to help children learn to pay attention and follow directions.

After primary school learning difficulties teacher Abdelhameed led a game of “stand up, sit down” to help kids work on following directions and got feedback from his peers on how he could make the game more engaging for students, first grade teacher Kholoud led a game of “catch” to help kids work on paying attention. Next week, each of the teachers will have 15 minutes to teach a lesson to their “classroom” of students with and without autism so that they can develop their classroom management skills while the kids continue to have fun.

Blanket fort for our sibling social skills group.
Siblings share about their weeks during sibling social skills group.
Families worked together to draw pictures of their families in sibling social skills group.
Kholoud’s game of “catch” to teach children to pay attention.

Talent+Hard Work=Recipe for Success

Stephen King once said, “Talent is cheaper than salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” The kids we are supporting in this community are some of the most talented kids I’ve ever met and they are working hard to achieve the weekly goals we set for them. Some of the tasks we are teaching, like communication and play skills, take more work for our kids than for kids without autism, but with their hard work and the dedication of our families, we are certain they will succeed.

A resting after an activity filled session Wednesday afternoon.

Today we had a great session with A. It was one of the most challenging sessions yet for him and his father, but we know that the strategies practiced today will be helpful in the long term. A has learned that he can get the things he wants by screaming, kicking and throwing objects and one of our goals is to stop reinforcing these behaviors and reinforce him for asking for the things he wants. This is something important for his father as well as these behaviors can cause him headaches and even lead to physical injuries. In the session today, we worked on teaching A’s father not to let him use these behaviors to escape from tasks, and instead to ignore these behaviors and find opportunities to prompt him to complete the requests made of him and to reinforce when he does so. As we do this, it is also important that we teach A to ask for a break so that he can communicate his needs.

We also gave the teacher who participated in A’s session the opportunity to work with him on the questions we were teaching him to answer. After watching his father work with him on community safety questions like “What is your name?” “How old are you?,” “Where do you live?” and “What is your address?” the teacher learned quickly and was able to jump in and work with A.

As A learns that kicking and screaming will no longer allow him to escape from tasks he doesn’t want to do, we explained to A’s dad that these behaviors might get worse before they get better. Since this is what has worked for A before, he may try to do more of it than he used to so that he can get what he wants. Once he sees that this doesn’t work anymore, he will start using his new replacement behavior (asking for a break) during situations like these. We know that today was a challenging one for both A and his father, but A’s father found the day valuable and knows that anything is possible if he persists and stays dedicated to his son’s progress.

For me, the most beautiful thing about working in this village in northern Jordan is all the love they have to share. Today, one of the families in the community was celebrating their daughter’s first birthday, and invited us to join. As we joined them in this wonderful celebration, we were reminded that no matter how daunting the future seems or how challenging things get, you can still enjoy the special things you have in the present moment. We hope that our families will always remember to enjoy the present as they work toward their futures.




New Friends and Social Skills

Our parents and team members agreed that today was the best day of the program so far. At the end of the session, Issa’s father said: “Today was the most useful session for me because I really got an understanding of how to do these things with my son. Last week, I learned some great concepts, but today I really felt that the day was all about my son.”

Why was today special?

Today we held a social skills session for Issa and Hamza. Both boys are working on expressive communication with pointing and vocal approximations as well as engaging in new activities and following directions, so we played games that focused on these skills. Since the boys like the spinning top, we started by having them play with the top with Issa’s dad. When Hamza went to grab the bubbles, we switched to having the boys request bubbles by pointing/saying part of the word for bubbles. Issa is just starting to point with help, but in the past two weeks Hamza has started pointing independently to ask for things he wants.

We then played catch with Hamza’s siblings and Issa’s father and then, seeing how Issa loved to hide in the corner, decided to try a game of hide and seek.

Both boys loved hiding, counting and finding their friends and wanted to continue the game. We played 6 rounds of hide and seek before switching to a jumprope game.

Staff, parents and siblings had a great time acting out animals like snakes and bears and by the end of the session, everyone was laughing and no one could believe a full hour had passed.

Siblings and parents alike were ecstatic to see their children playing together and are looking forward to more social skills sessions next week.





School Visits, Community Responsive Programming and Violent and Self-Injurious Behaviors

This morning, we started our day with a visit to a local kindergarten class. Seeing the teacher in action helped us develop a greater understanding of the techniques used and by teachers and the challenges they may face in integrating children with autism into their classrooms.

Later this afternoon, we had a training for our teachers and families that was hosted virtually by an A Global Voice for Autism BCBA and BCaBA who specialize in addressing violent and self-injurious behaviors. Families enjoyed hearing from some new voices and asked important questions about their children’s own challenging behaviors.

One parent asked about the best way to address his son frequently hitting him, both when he’s happy and when he’s angry. Another parent shared that her son often cries and becomes aggressive when she takes her phone from him and asked what she should do about this. The parents also started offering suggestions to each other like “intercept the hitting and ask him for a high-5.” They offered support to one another and empathized with each other’s experiences.

In addition to our typical session today, we hosted a feedback session for program participants to see how we can adjust the program to better meet their needs. One common theme that emerged was that parents want more community events and spaces where their children can go and play safely as there are few free spaces for their children to play. We brainstormed ideas for community events and are going to start by hosting an inclusive carnival for the community next week.



Expressive Communication

Today we had a guest lecture on expressive communication by visiting BCBA, Dr. Susan Ainsleigh. Our partners from Rotary visited us from Amman today and we enjoyed giving them some insights into our typical weekly trainings.

After gaining an understanding of the differences between expressive and receptive communication, parents and teachers practiced setting up communication opportunities by modeling these opportunities with one another. We also spoke with them about the importance of identifying what a child is motivated to request in order to increase requesting behavior. For example, if a child just drank juice, it is much more difficult to get him to request water than if he is thirsty and has not had anything to drink recently. We had parents think about reinforcers that can be used for requesting activities [ie. a whole bottle of water is a difficult reinforcer because it’s hard to take it away from the child to get them to ask for more, whereas a water bottle with a small amount of water in it is a better item to use because the child will drink the water and then has to ask for more.]

Can you think of some reinforcers that can be used to work on requesting?






More than just Shawarma: The Importance of Community Connections

In honor of Susan’s arrival last Tuesday, we took the team to get dinner at a local shawarma restaurant in the village. As we were waiting for our very complicated (gluten-free/vegetarian) order, a group of young men started to ask us questions about what we were doing in Hartha. When we told them about the program, they joked that they wanted to come join us at the center.

This morning, a new family arrived at the center for an intake. When we asked about how they heard about the program, the mother told us that her husband’s uncle told him about it after meeting our team at the shawarma shop.

Clearly, the moral of the story is that our team needs to go out for shawarma more often!




Alternative Communication Strategies

Today was a busy, active day in the center. I am at the program this week as a visiting BCBA. Two Today, we ran two support groups; the first with parents and siblings, and then second with teachers.

During each group, activities were completed in teams that involved solving a problem or completing a task where various members of the team could not speak. Follow-up discussions centered around the challenge of remaining engaged when communication challenges are presented. Additionally, assisting team members in engaging and participating who are not communicating can also present challenges. The teams shared strategies they used to facilitate non-vocal communication (pointing, modeling, gesturing, nodding, etc…)

Following these activities, team members shared examples of the use of reinforcement in their natural settings, and gave examples of specific targets they will focus on reinforcing this week. As a team, we discussed some strategies to assure reinforcement is effective, and to manage unwanted effects – like when a child asks for the reinforcer (aka a phone or electronic toy) too much.

Today ended a successful week at the project.



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.