Using Incidental Teaching to Engage Children in Summer Learning


Mom utilizing and incidental teaching opportunity with her daughter.

Take Advantage of Teachable Moments with Incidental Teaching

Whether you are a parent or a teacher, you probably worry about summer learning loss, which frequently occurs when children are out of school for extended breaks. And while learning loss over the summer is common, the good news is that learning isn’t seasonal. There are things you can do to ensure that children remain engaged in learning over the summer.

Life is full of learning opportunities. As parents and teachers, we just need to know how to take advantage of them.

Last week, Rethink’s very own Stephanie Whitley hosted a webinar discussing an ABA teaching strategy called “Incidental Teaching.”  Incidental Teaching is a strategy that can be used anytime and anywhere and can help families and educators of children with disabilities take advantage of teachable moments to ensure that learning continues, no matter what time of year it is.

During the webinar, Stephanie discussed what ncidental teaching actually is, how it differes from other evidence-based teaching strategies, and took a look at specific examples in which parents and educators can use incidental teaching to support learning.

What is Incidental Teaching?

In layman’s terms, Incidental Teaching is the process of taking advantage of teaching opportunities as they arise in daily life in order to teach a new skill to an individual or help them maintain or generalize a previously learned skill. Incidental Teaching evolved from Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and can be used to teach new skills for which it might be difficult to simulate or role play (ie. teaching a child to stand up to bullying) or to generalize or maintain previously learned skills (ie. making eye contact or shaking hands).

When people think of ABA they often think of Discrete Trial Teaching. In Discrete Trial Teaching a child is often situated in a 1:1 setting with a teacher or a therapist and being tested, prompted and reinforced in a highly structured way.  Incidental Teaching relies upon the same principals of prompting and reinforcement, but takes place in a more natural setting.

While Discrete Trial Teaching is adult initiated in a highly structured environment utilizing specific teaching materials, Incidental Teaching is child initiated, takes place in a low-structured or play-based environment, and typically utilizes objects naturally occurring in this environment.

Why Use Incidental Teaching?

You can choose to use Incidental Teaching for a variety of reasons.  Incidental Teaching can support language expansion, can help children generalize skills, and can support them in building relationships and developing social skills.

How Does Incidental Teaching Work?

Incidental Teaching can be broken down into 4 easy-to-follow steps.

    1. Seize the Moment or Contrive Opportunity: Incidental teaching can be initiated by either seizing the moment – that is, waiting for a child to show interest in something and taking advantage of it — or by contriving an opportunity –setting up a situation or activity in which you think the child will demonstrate interest.Seize the Moment:  Look for cues that the child is interested in an item or an activity.  Are they pointing, reaching for, looking at, or asking questions/making comments about an object? If so, this is a learning opportunity!Contrive Opportunity:  If the child is not immediately or independently taking interest in items, you can contrive opportunities.Some ways you can contrive opportunity are:
      • Start and  stop:  Start a fun activity and then stop activity once interest is shown or engage the child in play until they begin to show interest. The use this as an opportunity to have the child.  This can be a great chance to encourage language
      • Engage in play:  Elicit interest in items or toys so that the child will then ask to play.  When the child does ask to play, request for the child to complete a skill.  For instance, if a child asks to play with their toys with you, ask them first to count the toy.
      • Engage and Entice:  Put out some snacks.  When the child asks for a task, ask them to complete a task first and then reinforce with the desired snack.
      • Arrange the child’s environment: put desireable items on shelf or in containers that are difficult to open.  The more access a child has to something, the more satiated they will be and the less opportunities you will have for contriving interest.  If a child needs to ask for an item, this can be an opportunity for Incidental Teaching.
      • Incorporate High Interest Topics:  Use materials a child is interested in – cartoon characters,
      • Offer Choices:  Offering choices allows a child to remain in charge of their own motivation and interest.
      • Engage in everyday activities:  Common events that a child particiaptes in regularly are excellent opportunities for learning. Grocery shopping, getting ready for school, setting the table, or going on a family walk all have built-in learning opportunities.  Read more about some of these teachable moments here!Seize the Moment or Contrive Opportunity: Incidental teaching can be initiated by either seizing the moment – that is, waiting for a child to show interest in something and taking advantage of it — or by contriving an opportunity –setting up a situation or activity in which you think the child will demonstrate interest.


    2. Wait!  Once you have seized the moment or contrived an opportunity, the next step is to wait for the child to respond. 3-7 seconds is a good amount of time to wait for a response.
    3. Support: If the child does not respond within 3-7 seconds, they may need a prompt. It’s important to have a plan for this step so you can give the child the right level of support.  Prompts should only be used to support the child when necessary, not to fill in quiet space when a child is processing.There is a hierarchy to prompting, and it is important to have a plan for fading prompts when they are no longer necessary.Physical prompting, as in guiding your child’s hand to perform the requested task, is the most intensive form of prompting.  Verbal prompting, such as reminding the child how to ask for the cookie, is the next level of prompting. And non-verbal prompting, such as pointing, gesturing, or nodding, is the least intensive form of prompting.  Be sure to give the child the correct level of prompting and fade or eliminate the prompting as it is no longer needed.
    4. Prompting Hierarchy for Incidental Teaching


  •  Confirm:  The last step to Incidental Teaching is the fun part: positive reinforcement. Providing the child confirmation that they performed the skill correctly is key to ensuring that the child engages in the skill again.  Reinforcement can come in the form of a high five, a hug, any kind of verbal praise, or even access to an item or activity of interest!


For practical examples of situations in which Incidental Teaching might be appropriate, check out the slides below or the recorded webinar here!

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Arkansas Administrators Gather Around SEAS Conference to Explore Best Practices

Arkansas Administrators Explore Best Practices

How Arkansas Administrators are Empowering Educators and Improving Outcomes

The work of an educator never stops. This is especially the case when it comes to school administrators, who use the summer as a time to plan and strategize for the upcoming year, attend conferences for training sessions, and network with other administrators.

This week, administrators from across Arkansas gathered in Hot Springs, AR to attend the annual SEAS Conference.  The conference is hosted by SEAS, a company specializing in education plan management software for schools, and one of the state’s IEP most popular management systems.

The conference is a wonderful place for Rethink to connect with districts across the state who use both Rethink and SEAS.  These users benefit from an integration that allows them to develop and customize IEP goals and objectives in Rethink and seamlessly pull them into SEAS at the click of a button.

Professional Learning Communities

Arkansas administrators utilizing Rethink in their district met as a professional learning community to share best practices, discuss successes and challenges in special education, and strategize for the upcoming year.

The Challenges and the Solutions

One of the most valuable aspects of the event was the opportunity for administrators to openly discuss the challenges they have faced in implementing new technology and come up with constructive solutions. “It’s so good to know that we are not alone and that other people are struggling with some of the same issues that we are,” said Brigid Bright from Harrison Public Schools

As with any new technology, teachers and administrators had to get over some initial hurdles. “One of the biggest challenges teachers face is time,” said one administrator.  “The teachers go into the Rethink training and see that it is going to work, but with all the other demands on their time,  they feel like they don’t have the time to get all of their students set up.”

Several members of the group were able to share how they had been able to support teachers in investing time into Rethink.

Nancy Rahn from Cabot Public Schools (CPS) in Arkansas explained how in their district, they have a week of professional development at the beginning of the year, some of which is not always relevant to their special education teachers. To encourage teachers to utilize Rethink, they designated one day to training them on the platform, at least part of which was set aside for teachers to assess their students and set up student profiles on Rethink.

A teacher from Clinton School District (CSD) in Arkansas explained how she builds the time needed for data collection into her classroom rotations.  “Our paraprofessionals rotate from student to student in 15-20 minute rotations,” she explained. “We designate most of that time to teaching a specific skill, and then a few minutes at the end to inputting data so I’m not having to spend hours catching up on it at the end of the week.”

Another related challenge districts discussed was securing teacher buy-in.  Because teachers are not always involved in purchasing decisions, the group agreed that a part of the reason some teachers don’t invest time into Rethink is because they don’t immediately understand how it will impact them and their students in a positive way.

One administrator explained how she addressed this issue by encouraging the teachers in her district to start by setting a small portion of their students.  “They start a few students at a time, begin to see the value in it for them, and then teachers start wanting to use it with more students.”

Rahn at Cabot Public Schools is having one of her most successful teachers present alongside Rethink at the staff training because, as she explained, “sometimes teachers will be more receptive to their peers than administrators.”

She also offered her staff incentives.  To encourage her teachers to collect data regularly, she had them compete for IPads.  The district gave away 3 IPads last year to the teachers who had taken up the challenge. They also provide regular “shout outs” to teachers to acknowledge their hard work and provide positive reinforcement.  “They are really beginning to come up to speed with our expectations,” she said.

Arkansas Administrators Lunch and Learn

The Success Stories

While all districts faced their own set of unique challenges, each also had their own success stories to share, large and small.

Siloam Springs School District (SSSD),  who began implementing Rethink this past January were able to train their entire paraprofessional staff using the Rethink Training Center, which features 11 video modules reviewing the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis.  “One of our main goals for the district was to ensure that everyone was educated in ABA research-based strategies,” said Doris Henderson, Special Education Supervisor at the district.

Henderson described how impactful the Training Center was for the district’s paras. “Watching the modules really made a difference for our paras.  It was like a light came on.  It was really hitting home with them,” She explained. “You can tell someone something several times before they really get it, but with these videos, the paras were watching them just once and they were hitting home right away.”  The paras also had the opportunity to engage in collaborative groups where they were able to discuss the videos with one another and share ideas about how they might apply to specific students.

Because paraprofessionals are typically paid per diem, it can be difficult to find the time to train them without taking them out of the classroom and disrupting student routines. SSSD decided to offer to pay their paraprofessional staff an hourly rate if they wanted to come in for a few hours on specific days set aside for monthly meetings. “I paid a few people overtime for 2 months” she said, “but most of them voluntarily did it on their own time. I feel so much more confident in them having the knowledge base that Rethink’s Training Center provided.”

One of CPS’s most surprising successes was how they were able to engage school principals in the work their special education staff are doing with Rethink. Julie Ward from CPS explained how the district began sharing Rethink reports with the school principals at monthly meetings.

“Seeing that data was an ‘aha’ moment for principals,” she said.  “They realized that Rethink provides the classroom curriculum for our teachers, tracks student’s progress and the reports prove to the state that kids are making progress. That’s helped us get buy in from the principals and make the teachers feel more supported.”

Arkansas Administrators from Cabot Public Schools Share Best-Practices for Implementing Technology

Administrators from Cabot Public Schools Share Best-Practices for Implementing Technology

What’s Next?

The new school year brings new goals and initiatives for all the districts involved in the Arkansas Professional Learning Community.  As the event wrapped up, districts looked at their current implementation plans to ensure that they included solid expectations, clear outcome measures, and incentive plans for encouraging best practices for staff.

Some of the goals for the upcoming year for the districts involved include expanding the program to paraprofessionals, using data to make decisions and inform instruction, and exploring ways to get general education teachers and administration involved.

At Harrison Public Schools (HPS), Brigid Bright sees Rethink’s potential for all special education students. “It’s easy to see the connection between Rethink and self-contained, but there’s so much more that Rethink can do. In our district, we want every special education teacher to be using Rethink for data collection so we can more objectively measure student outcomes for everyone.”

In SSSD the goal is to not just to collect data, but to use it. “One of our weaknesses has been using the data to make decision about teaching,” said Henderson.  “Going forward, we are going to be monitored by the state not just on compliance, but on student outcomes. I don’t want to start paying attention to student outcomes because we have to, but because it is the right thing to do. We need to know where students are so that we can set appropriate goals for them and ensure that they are learning.”

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Rethink Spotlight: Ernie Els Center for Autism

Earnie Els center for Autism Team Photo

The Els for Autism Foundation was established in 2009 by the world class pro-golfer Ernie Els and his wife Liezl several years after discovering that their son Ben was profoundly impacted by autism.  The foundation now runs two entities: The Els Learning Center in Florida and Ernie Els Center for Autism in South Africa (EEC), founded in 2011.


Ernie and Liezl Els started EEC with the goal of creating a service that would allow lower-resourced families of children on the spectrum in South Africa with free access to effective treatment. The EEC recognizes that every parent and family member plays an important role in helping their child reach his or her fullest potential and that every child deserves access to best-practice treatment. EEC does this by offering families comprehensive guidance on how to implement best practices in education and autism treatment through Rethink.

The EEC trained facilitators use Rethink to provide customized interventions for each family. They are a small team of 3, but currently serve over 110 families across the country.

Ernie Els and Ernie Els Center for Autism

“Through working with Rethink we can truly say we are empowering families and communities!” 

-Shani Lits, Director of Ernie Els Center for Autism, South Africa

Of the many families EEC serves, the story of one young boy and his family stands out for EEC Director, Shani Lits who told us the story of Siqhamo.  Siqhamo was 7 years old when he first began using Rethink through EEC in 2012.  Siqhamo’s entire family-brother, sister, mom and dad-would drive over 4 hours to attend training sessions at EEC.  At the time Siqhamo was non-verbal and demonstrating a great degree of non-compliance. Using Rethink’s library of lessons, the team at EEC worked closely with the family to develop an individualized program that would support Siqhamo and their needs as a family.

Siqhamo has made amazing progress since he first came to the center in 2012.  Using Rethink lesson plans to teach Siqhamo, EEC and Siqhamo’s family have been able to teach him such skills as following instructions and making eye contact, and have even seen him expand his communication skills. “We have come a long way,” said Siqhamo’s mother. “Ernie Els and the Rethink program have empowered us in many ways.”

For Shani, one of the most amazing things about Siqhamo’s story is how the tools, resources, and training made available through EEC and Rethink have empowered his family.  “We recently received a home video with mom getting Siqhamo to match foam letters to refrigerator magnets, along with pasta letters!  Toward the end of the video we could hear that Siqhamo was ready for his final big reinforcement, as he told his mom: I want popcorn! This family has come through some difficult times and emerged so successfully, and we could not be prouder.”

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5 Tips for Transforming Your Teaching Practice with Active Listening

Male High School Student Talking To Teacher By Lockers

How Active Listening Can Make You a More Effective Communicator

by Jennifer Wilkens

With the new school year just around the corner, many opportunities will arise for conversations with students, parents and colleagues.

Collaboration is an essential part of teaching. Active Listening is a skill that can improve these interactions. Active Listening builds rapport, trust and understanding. This technique requires the listener to feed back what they hear, through restating or paraphrasing, to confirm what they have heard and moreover, to confirm the understanding of both parties.

When someone actively listens to us, particularly with empathy—understanding and sharing our feelings—we feel validated. We feel acknowledged and recognized. We feel that the listener has connected with us and seen us. It’s a powerful experience that connects us to one another.

Below are some helpful strategies to support your Active Listening skills:

  1. Validation: Acknowledge the speaker’s key points, pain points and feelings. Listen openly and with empathy, and respond in an interested way — for example, “I appreciate your willingness to talk about such a difficult issue. . .” or “I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me…”
  2. Restating: Repeat the speaker’s communication— by paraphrasing not parroting, what you heard in your own words. For example, “Let’s see if I’m clear about this…” or “What I hear you saying is…” or “To clarify, you feel…”
  3. Summarizing: Summarize the facts and key points of the conversation for understanding and clarity — for example, “So it sounds to me as if . . .” or “… is that it?”
  4. Reflecting: Instead of just repeating, reflect the speaker’s words in terms of feelings — for example, “This seems really important to you. . .” “I can see that this makes you feel…”
  5. Silence: Allow for comfortable silences and slow down the exchange. Give a person time to think as well as talk. Silence can be helpful in diffusing or redirecting unproductive interactions.

What are the benefits of Active Listening?

The benefits of Active Listening are endless. Active Listening provides structure for listening attentively to others. It also supports the speaker and listener in actively working through misunderstandings as they have to restate and confirm what the speaker is talking about.

Finally, people tend to share more and ‘open up’ when they feel they are being heard. If a person feels that their listener is really attuned to their concerns and wants to listen, they are likely to explain in detail what they feel and why.

Communication Blockers

In the same way that Active Listening strategies allow for more open and meaningful communication, there are also some things you can say that may inadvertently block communication.

As you work to improve your Active Listening skills, here are a few common communication mistakes to avoid.

  • “Why” questions. They tend to make people defensive.
  • Advising: “I think the best thing for you is to…”
  • Prying for information and forcing someone to talk about something they would rather not talk about.
  • Patronizing: “You poor thing, I know just how you feel.”
  • Preaching: “You should. . .” Or, “You shouldn’t. . .”Interrupting: shows you aren’t interested in what someone is saying.

As you prepare for the new school year, think about every conversation as an opportunity to engage in Active Listening.  Collaboration with our colleagues facilitated by Active Listening will improve our success as educators and facilitate student learning. Feel free to share your stories of how you have engaged your active listening skills and the positive outcomes it produced for you and the speaker.


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TCASE Interactive 2015 at a Glance

TCASE Interactive

The Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education’s (TCASE) semi-annual conference kickoffs today, July 14th, in Austin, Texas.

TCASE is a 3 day special education conference in Texas and a wonderful opportunity to connect with our customers and learn how districts across Texas are implementing best-practices in their special education programs. Rethink is excited to be exhibiting but even more excited to check out some of the awesome sessions taking place during tomorrow’s Learning Labs.

These are the 3 Learning Labs we are excited about:

1.  18th Year of 18+: Lesson Learned
      10:30-11:45 am
      Nancy Neugebauer, North East ISD

Recent research documented the dire job prospects for individuals with disabilities in the job force: the jobless rate for Americans with disabilities in 2014 being 2.5 percent compared to 5.9 percent for those who are typically developing.

One way to improve unemployment rates for individuals with disabilities is to create more effective transition planning. In this presentation, Nancy Neugebauer will discuss how North East ISD has built a robust transition program that includes everything from transportation training and social skills instruction to volunteer work and employment opportunities with local businesses.

Also check out how North East ISD has partnered with Rethink to support comprehensive data collection and district-wide behavior intervention programming.

2.  Special Ed Administrator’s Perceptions of Responsibilities and Challenges
      1:15-2:30 pm
      Juanell Isaac & Teresa Starett, Texas Women’s University

Strong leadership is crucial to the success of any special education program. Remaining compliant with IDEA, retaining highly-qualified teachers, and improving outcomes for students with disabilities, all within the limitations of an ever-changing budget, requires special education to perform a difficult balancing act year after year.

In this session, Juanell Isaac and Teresa Starett from Texas Women’s University will discuss the leadership qualities and skills administrator’s need to promote quality special education programs as well as the programs needed to develop, support, and nurture high quality special education administrators.

3.  Autism Support and Intervention Program
      3:00-4:15 pm
      Audrey Bivens $ Sally Schwartzel, Katy ISD

Many districts provide special programming specifically for students with autism.  Much of this programming takes place in self-contained settings. For students who possess the functional skills to access grade-level academic content but may have other issues that make the general education classroom challenging, this is not ideal.

In this presentation, Audrey Bivens and Sally Schwartzel, both from Katy ISD (another Rethink customer), will discuss how their district has developed specialized programming for students with autism who have significant behavior and social needs that keep them in the general education classroom.


Rethink at TCASE Interactive 2015TCASE is an amazing place to learn and connect with vendors and other special educators across the state. If you are attending the conference, be sure to stop by booth #9 and say hello to the Rethink team!


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Rethink’s Patricia Wright Talks Transition and Employment on Sirius XM’s Doctor Radio

Patricia Wright of Rethink and David Kearon of Autism Speaks discuss how to support transition and employment for young adults with autsim

How to support successful transition and employment for adults with autism

Last week Patricia Wright, Rethink’s Vice President of Professional Services, appeared on Sirius XM’s Doctor Radio with Autism Speaks‘ Director of Adult Services, David Kearon, to discuss how to better support successful employment for adults with autism.

According to the most recent studies, about 50,000 young adults with autism enter adulthood every year, with this number expected to grow. 80-90% of  these adults are either unemployed or underemployed.

During this broadcast, Wright and Kearon discussed some of the reasons behind why adults with autism experience such extreme underemployment and talked about how educators, families, communities, and employers can better support them.

Wright pointed out that while it can be extremely difficult for a person with autism to find successful employment, with the right supports and accommodations every adult with autism can be employed. One thing Wright believes we could do a better job of is beginning transition planning earlier.  “It’s never too early to start transition planning,” she said. While by federal law transition planning must begin by age 16, only 58% of students with autism have a transition plan by the federally mandated age.

Patricia introduced listeners to Rethink’s Transition Curriculum, a part of its comprehensive online solution for special educators, which supplies teachers with lesson plans, task analyses, and printable materials to prepare their students for the life skills they will need for successful employment and independence once they leave high school.

While it is important to prepare people with autism for the workplace, employers also need to prepare for them. Both Wright and Kearon urged employers to consider autism, and the social/emotional deficits that often come along with it, like any other physical disability: In the same way that you wouldn’t ask a person in a wheelchair to stand during a meeting, a person with autism should not be expected to perform tasks or behave in ways made impossible by their disability.

They stressed that one of the greatest tasks for those of us working in the field is to educate employers and promote programming that will support people with autism in the workplace.

A recent program launched by Autism Speaks in collaboration with Rangam Consultants Inc., is Spectrum Careers. Spectrum Careers is new jobs portal designed to connect individuals with autism with employers. Kearon shared with listeners how the portal supports employees by helping them find jobs that will specifically suit their skill sets but also accommodate their unique needs as employees. For instance, for an individual who may have sensory issues, the site provides photos of employer’s office environments and workspaces to help them determine if the company would be a right fit for them.

Listen to the Broadcast On DemandRethink_SiriusXm_Doctor_Radio (1) You can listen to the entire conversation on Sirius XM Channel 81.  The show is now available On Demand for subscribers.  If you do not have a subscription, you can sign up for a free trial here!


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Rethink is On Doctor Radio- Real Doctors Helping Real People

Join Rethink’s Dr. Patricia Wright tomorrow on Doctor Radio at 3pm ET for a discussion on preparing young adults with autism for success in the workplace

Doctor RadioAccording to a recent report, two thirds of students with autism had no job or educational plans within two years of graduating from high school. Considering that 1 in 68 children are now diagnosed with autism, the number of young adults leaving high school and looking for education and meaningful work will continue to grow.

On Thursday, July 8, 2015 from 3-4pm ET Rethink’s VP of Professional Services, Patricia Wright, will speak live on Serius XM’s “Doctor Radio” (channel 81) with host Perri Peltz. Doctor Radio is a groundbreaking national radio channel featuring live, call-in shows on a wide variety of medical topics.  All shows are hosted by leading NYU Langone Medical Center doctors.

Patricia will discuss current data regarding employment and adult success and how educators, families, communities and employers can support young adults with autism for success in the workplace.

It is crucial that educators and families do everything they can to prepare young adults with autism with the skills they will need for success in the workplace. It is also important that employers and communities invest in concerted efforts to create jobs for and recruit young adults with autism who are looking for employment.

Rethink, an online solution used in special education classrooms across the country, is a content expert in the field of Transition planning for young adults with autism and other disabilities. For more information on how educators can prepare students for success in the workplace, watch Rethink’s recent webinar, “May the Workforce be with You” and check out the slides below:

150x150_patriciaPatricia Wright, PhD, MPH, BCBA-D is the Vice President of Professional Services at Rethink. Patricia works to ensure Rethink solutions are implemented effectively, promoting quality outcomes for individuals living with disabilities. Prior to joining Rethink Patricia was the National Director of Autism Services for Easter Seals one of the largest social service providers to those living with autism.

Patricia has a passion for education and advocacy and has dedicated her career to ensuring that individuals with disabilities are fully-included in society. Her personal mission is to offer the support that makes it possible for people with disabilities to lead meaningful, happy and productive lives.

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Posted in Buzzworthy

4 Ways to Support Neuro-Diversity in the Workplace

Supporting Neuro-diversity in the Workplace

Two thought leaders discuss how businesses can better support neuro-diversity in the workplace

An inclusive workplace is not only a commitment to a diverse workforce, but to a culture in which differences are respected and everyone, regardless of their differences or disabilities, can thrive.

To create a truly inclusive workplace, companies must not only put resources into recruiting a diverse workforce, but into things like providing company-wide training on inclusive practices, advocacy programs, and accommodations for individuals with disabilities.

In efforts to create more inclusive workplaces and acquire top talent, companies of all sizes and industries are embracing neuro-diversity. They are looking to adopt programming and best-practice approaches to support employees with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Rethink recently hosted a webinar with two thought leaders who have made important strides for individuals with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Jim Hogan is a successful entrepreneur and consultant with autism working in the tech industry. Barry Janzen, a software engineer for the past 25 yeas, has fostered diversity in the workplace with great success through recruitment, advocacy and training of individuals with autism.

These are some of the important lessons we learned from them about supporting neuro-diversity in the workplace:

Ways to Support Neuro-diversity in the Workplace

  1. Create unique work environments to provide value to a neuro-diverse community.
  2. In order to attract diverse talent, creating unique programming that will engage a neuro-diverse community in the work your company is doing can go a long way.

    Barry Janzen’s company, Trimble, for instance, collaborates with the University of Utah to provide courses on various topics that students with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders might find interesting.  For one of these courses, the man who designed the 3d world of the Harry Potter was invited to teach the students to use SketchUp, the 3d design software he used for Harry Potter.  By providing a course on an interesting topic taught by an interesting person in the industry, Trimble is able to engage a community of neurodiverse learners in a way that helps them hone their skills for future employment.

    The same students that attend these courses are sometimes invited to return and teach courses. ”One of the greatest ways to learn a subject is to teach a subject,” said Janzen. By attending and then teaching these courses, many of these students have the technical skills necessary to then go on and acquire jobs.  Trimble is now developing an internship program to create a clear path for these students into the workplace.

    Inviting interesting speakers and organizing events at your company is another way of providing programming to engage a neuro-diverse community. Janzen’s company, Trimble, recently had Temple Grandin, a renowned author and speaker with autism, to give a talk.  Not only did this event engage a neuro-diverse community in the work Trimble is doing, but also provided awareness to other Trimble employees about autism.

  3. Expand your idea of normal
  4. Normal is in the eye of the beholder. While creating programming for individuals with autism or other nuerodevelopmental disorders can help your company recruit a diverse workforce, attitudes in the workplace need to adjust to support these individuals so they can thrive.

    Thinking of everyone as a unique individual with unique behaviors and needs rather than as “normal” or “not normal” can help your company retain diverse talent.

    Jim Hogan, who has autism and has worked at such companies as Accenture, Verizon, and now Kaiser Permanente, described how because of his autism, he sometimes has trouble with navigation and can get lost in his own office.  He was once asked by a colleague if he could take a pill that would make him normal. Hogan says that it is important for companies to think of everybody as an individual, and that using the word normal is always dangerous, whether describing a person or a behavior.

    It is especially important to remember that neurodiversity manifests itself in unique ways.  It is not always as obvious as it may be for someone with a physical disability. You never know what is going on in the brain of someone who is neuro-diverse. “Asking someone not to fidget in a meeting may be like asking someone to leave their wheelchair outside the door,” he said.

  5. Create systems of support
  6. Because employees who with neurodevelopment disorders may behave in ways that are outside their colleagues’ definitions of normal, it is important to be proactive in building in systems of advocacy and support to prevent and deescalate potential conflicts or misunderstandings.

    One of the first things Hogan will do at a job is identify people on his team (typically younger less advanced employees)  who can support him in his unique needs, like helping him navigate the office and find his ways to meetings. He calls these people his “cognitive seeing eye dogs.”

    When at Google, Barry Janzen attempted to create a program for what he calls “Autism Ombudsman,” employees who know the unique needs of the individuals with autism and can support them as they navigate difficult social or professional situations.

  7. Communicate clearly and encourage self-advocacy
  8. In a corporate environment where email is often the primary mode of communication, misunderstandings can abound. It is difficult for anyone to pick up on sarcasm and emotion when communicating by email, but can be particularly challenging for individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders. The same problems can arise in in-person interactions, where reading facial expressions or tones of voice can be challenging. One way to support employees with neuro-diversity and avoid unnecessary conflict is to communicate clearly and non-ambiguosly.

    Janzen describes an instance where in a conversation, a woman with ASD raised her hand, and asked the speaker to explain what had just been said in a “non-ambiguous manner.”  For Janzen, it was a great reminder that, “different people can take what I just said in seven different ways.”  He explained that, “it’s not a bad habit for any of us as professionals to speak clearly and exactly to the points we are hoping to get across.”

    This was also a reminder to Janzen of the importance of self-advocacy. Letting employees know that it’s ok to speak up and communicate what they are feeling or what they need can go along way in preventing conflict and misunderstandings.

As the 1 and 68 children now being diagnosed with autism grow up and join the workforce, developing systematic and creative ways to support them and their success at work will undoubtedly become a priority of all HR departments.

For businesses looking to create a more diverse workplace now, there are companies out there already doing excellent work and it is crucial that we learn from their success and set a precedence for future employers.

Watch the full recording or check out the webinar slides below:

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The ABCs of ABA Billing

Best Practices for Successful ABA Billing


based upon a webinar with Yvonne McNamee

July 2014 was a historic month. Medicaid programs across the country are now required to offer ABA therapy as a benefit for children with autism. One year later, as Medicaid programs continue to expand to implement this required benefit, it is important that providers become efficient in ABA billing practices.  The more efficient providers are at  billing, the more quickly they can get reimbursed for their services.

ABA claims are unique compared to other claims submitted to insurance companies.  Insurance companies do not always understand the nuances of how ABA services are delivered.  By following a strict protocol for billing, providers can increase the likelihood that their claims will be accepted and reimbursed on the first attempt.

Earlier this month, Rethink hosted a webinar in collaboration with Yvonne McNamee.  Yvonne is an independent consultant providing consultation around coding, billing, claims and appeals, which are essential components in obtaining health insurance coverage for the treatment of physical conditions and biologically based mental illnesses such as Autism Spectrum Disorder.

During the webinar, she offered the following “ABCs of ABA Billing” to support providers in submitting claims in an efficient fashion that ensures timely acceptance and reimbursement.

Below are the key 4 main takeaways from the webinar:

A is For Authorization in ABA BillingA is for Authorization

If you do not authorize you will receive 1 of 2 denials:  either a full denial of service or a request for every service not for each date of service bill. The second can be a time consuming logistical nightmare that can be easily avoidable by ensuring that your first step in submitting a claim is seeking authorization.

ABA is different than other services covered by insurance companies. It is particularly important that when calling the insurance company, you speak with the right person. Be sure to specify that you need ABA authorization for autism, as there are often different authorization department for different kinds of claims.


B is for Benefits in ABA BillingB is for Benefits

Confirming benefits requires a separate phone call from authorization.  This is where things can get a little sticky.  One thing that can save you a headache is checking to make sure that the provider name and tax id match. It is important that your tax id is registered to whoever is doing the billing.  If you are an individual provider, this would be our personal tax id, if you are agency this would belong to the agency.

The most important thing on this phone call, however, is that you ask the right questions. For more specific information, check out our top 10 questions for confirming ABA benefits.


C is for Coding in ABA BillingC is for Coding (and Claims Submittal)

Codes are ever-changing with every carrier, and they are currently in the process of changing.  Make sure you go over each and every code and check that the code is recognized by the carrier in the way that you intend to use it.  Pay particular attention to diagnosis coding, which is also in the process of changing.  Note on October 15, 2015, the autism diagnosis code will be changing.  It’s important to stay up-to-date with coding, as it will likely change again in the future.

When submitting the actual claim, the process is different depending on whether you are in or out-of-network.  If you are in network, determine whether you need to submit electronically or in paper. If you are not in network, you can collect fees directly from the parents.  You will most likely want to invoice the parent using proper coding with a clear description of services. This will help parents get reimbursed when they submit the claim to their insurance company.


D is for Documentation in ABA BillingD is for Documentation

Documentation is imperative to receiving reimbursement for services. Insurance companies demand it and often hold claims based upon receipts of it. Only recently did insurance companies begin requesting it from ABA providers. Reimbursement can be denied if services are not properly documented, so ensure that your documentation is clear, concise, and describes what services you deliver. ABA documentation must also be compliant with the insurance carrier guidelines, so be sure to look into this before developing your treatment plan.

For more information on exactly what your documentation should include, check out our basic documentation requirements checklist.

If you’d like to learn more about industry best-practices for ABA Billing, check out the full recording plus the slides below.


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Spotlight Teachers: Dmitry Libman and Kara O’Donnell

Rethink's Spotlight Teachers, Dmitry and Kara

Rethink’s Spotlight Teachers, Dmitry and Kara

School District: Yonkers Public Schools
Positions:  Physical and Occupational Therapists, respectively

At the beginning of the 2014/15 school year the Autism Program for high school-aged students in Yonkers Public Schools moved to Roosevelt High School, situated in a more urban neighborhood in Yonkers than the program’s previous site, in order to give the students in the program more opportunities to engage with the community.

Dmitry Libman and Kara O’Donnell are therapists in Yonkers Public Schools who work with the students in the Autism Program at Roosevelt. The program is focused on empowering the students with the skills they need to be successful in life beyond school. Their goal is to provide each student who graduates from the program with a resume or portfolio of the skills they have learned in high school in order to help them transition to a job or a day program when they graduate. Dmitry and Kara have worked with other teachers in the school to give the students as many opportunities to learn the life skills they will need for success.  Within the school the students run a recycling program, work at the school store, manage the homeless closet where donations are made, and work in the garden.  Outside of school the students have opportunities to work in the community, with weekly visits to Dunkin’ Donuts, CVS, the local pizzeria, and the Salvation Army, where they can practice real-life job skills.

a2705be9-1d32-4826-87d4-aa4abcb79d8c“Rethink has given us a way to see the growth of our students”

Earlier this year, they began using Rethink’s Transition Curriculum to teach the students Transition skills and used Rethink’s task analysis sheets to collect data on the tasks the students perform. They plan to use the collected data to compile portfolios for the students so that they can demonstrate their skills to potential employers or day programs they apply to.

1041Using the tools and curriculum on Rethink, Dmitry and Kara have seen their students progress. One student, George, came to the program as a freshman and had difficulty navigating the hallways and interacting with his peers. By participating in the various programs Roosevelt has to offer, he has developed an outgoing personality and is known by staff and peers as “the mayor” of the school, greeting people in the hallway and out in the community. With the help of his teachers, therapists, and Rethink, George has built up a repertoire of social and life skills that will support him as he transitions out of high school next year.

Keep up the amazing work, Dmitry and Kara!

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