Intensive ABA Services News and advice on Autism treatments - The Lovaas Institute

Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

Spring 2008

Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

Incorporating Learning at the Grocery Store

By Keri Spence
Lovaas Institute - San Diego

A frequent comment I hear from parents is that there is just not enough time in the day to set aside for learning. So, how can parents incorporate learning opportunities into their busy daily schedules? A trip to the grocery store is a routine family chore that may provide an opportunity. The following suggestions would be appropriate for a child who can follow simple instructions and has shown his parents that he can handle a short trip to the store. It would also be important that he has learned ahead of time to follow visual instructions.

Learning to use a grocery list:

Create a visual grocery list for your child as follows.

  • In preparation for your trip, select and cut out 3-5 items from your local grocery store advertisement that would be appropriate for your child to get at the store.
    1. Write or type up a short shopping list. Then paste the pictures from the advertisement next to each written item on the list. To capture your child's motivation, choose familiar or preferred items, for example paper plates and pretzels.
    2. Repetition is often an important component of learning. Therefore, your child may benefit from practicing the same list or getting some of the same items during repeat trips, so you may want to make copies of the first few lists.
    3. Make the shopping trip more reinforcing by listing a snack your child really likes (e.g., candy, juice) as the last item on the list.
    4. The items on the list may also be presented in the order in which they are located in the store.
  • Help your child find each item on the list and place it in the shopping cart.
    1. Determine when and how you will use the list. Consider the following three strategies: you may allow your child to find all the items at the beginning of the trip, or all the items at the end of the trip, or allow him to find them throughout the shopping trip, as you reach the relevant aisle.
    2. Each time your child finds the correct item, profusely reward him with praise.
    3. Initially, lead your child to the correct location in the store and ask that he place the object in the cart. Gradually over the next trips, decrease the amount of guidance you provide.
  • As your child becomes more successful following his list, gradually increase your expectations but remember to praise him for his effort; show him how proud you are.
    1. Over trips, also add new items to the list.
    2. Later, grocery shopping may also become a turn-taking activity with your child's siblings as they can practice "my turn" and "your turn."

Waiting in Line:

  • When entering the checkout line, provide a verbal reminder to wait. You can also present a visual prompt such as an icon or the word "wait" printed on an index card.
  • If your child understands the contingency of "First X, then Y," utilize this tool when waiting in line. A visual prompt may be used by presenting a laminated piece of paper consisting of two columns. The "wait" icon or word card can be displayed in the "first" column and a symbol for a reinforcement item can be displayed in the "then" column.
  • Bring along a few small toys (e.g., squeeze balls, light toys, or hand-held games) in order to help engage your child while waiting. This may also help prevent him from reaching for the ever-so-tempting candy! If your child needs a more directed activity, utilize what's available in your grocery cart or the check out line.
    1. Select a magazine from the counter display. Ask your child to identify objects in the magazine. You can also ask him to identify the actions or emotions of the people in the pictures.
    2. Take the opportunity to practice letters, by instructing your child to "Point to A," or asking, "What letter is it?"
    3. If you select a cooking magazine, ask your child to name a food in the picture, and start a simple conversation about food (for example ask, "What is your favorite food?").
  • Involve your child in putting the groceries on the counter.
  • Upon successfully waiting in line, immediately provide reinforcement.
    1. The reinforcement item may be a portion of an item purchased at the store.
    2. Reinforcement may have to be delivered more frequently at first (e.g., every 1-2 minutes while waiting) or immediately after waiting in line (rather than waiting until you get to the car).

Money and Purchasing:

  • Practice money skills while waiting in line.
    1. Ask your child to identify or imitate the names of the coins and dollars.
    2. Ask your child to identify the values of each coin.
    3. Count the coins/dollars.
  • Select one or two items for your child to purchase.
    1. For early learners, a first step is to simply hand the money to the grocery clerk. You are providing an opportunity for an interaction with another person as well as teaching the value of money. The child receives a preferred item after buying it with the money.
    2. If your child has already learned the money skills listed above, request that he count out the money needed to purchase his item(s).

Setting aside a specific time for teaching can be nearly impossible in a parent's hectic day. With a little practice, systematic teaching can be incorporated into everyday routines such as grocery shopping. This is just one way that the family can be involved and feel successful using a behavioral approach.

Please share your experiences about running every day errands in the community with your child. Do you have a strategy that helped you meet your needs and the needs of your child?

Do you have other ideas for other extracurricular activities? Share them with us here

The names of all children in this newsletter have been changed in respect for family confidentiality.

On the Lighter Side...
...5 outrageous reinforcers sure to add fun in therapy

We're So Quiet! Sit close to the child and whisper gently next to his ear. Keep it up until he talks back in a whisper. Get a simple conversation going, or just echo each other's whispers.

Sock Imitation! Put socks on the child's hands and say, "Do this" while clapping or making wacky movements.


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