Happy Oak Behavioural Consulting

Why do we love ABA music lessons?


At Happy Oak we love seeing our kids take up learning a musical instrument because there are so many benefits, especially before the age of  seven. So what do the children gain from playing an instrument aside from the joy of music itself?

  • Improvement in academic skills
  • social opportunities in orchestras and bands (during school and beyond)
  • increases patience and discipline
  • playing is a great de-stressor and eases anxiety
  • strengthens physical skills and co-ordination
  • the corpus callosum (part of the brain) is actually larger and more developed in musicians who play piano (this may help social skills)
  • boosts self-esteem.

Competence and being good at something is a key building block for healthy self esteem. Self esteem equates to happiness. This is one of our our main goals for our children isn’t it? The good news is that many people with autism are gifted musically and so this plays to their strengths (as well as helping their maths and second language skills for the tiger mums out there!)

Check out this recent article newspaper article on some new research which has looked at the effects of learning music in childhood on auditory and visual skills and why learning an instrument is great for children in general.

And remember, if instrument practise is becoming a little tricky with your little one, apply the principles of applied behaviour analysis. Is it too hard? Maybe you need to make what is being learnt easier to achieve success? Do you need to break the piece or skills down further? Do you need to increase the reinforcement? Do you need to reinforce sitting at the piano or standing still? Encourage asking for a break (to replace a meltdown). For older and more independent children we can teach them good practice skills such as a check list of scales, playing the harder bits more than the whole piece. How to be organised before a lesson and how to prepare for exams if they take them.

Even if our kids don’t end up the next Amadeus Mozart (who was most probably on the spectrum) I think you will agree taking up an instrument in childhood is well worth it!




ABA Misconceptions

At Happy Oak, we are often asked questions about ABA which come up again and again. Some of the most common questions have been “Does it turn our kids into robots?”, “Is it no fun and totally boring?! (NO! high quality ABA includes finding out what our kids are really into – we call these “reinforcers”. Reinforcers help to teach our kids lots of skills and how to enjoy new things they weren’t open to before. If the reinforcer is a vacuum cleaner we can use it! Another concerned question is; “Do the kids have to sit at a table for 40 hours each week?” and “Do the kids get lots of sweets in every session?” At Happy Oak we actually try to avoid food reinforcers (when possible). Whilst there is some table top learning, especially for our learners getting ready for school, lots of the teaching is Natural Environment Teaching (NET). This can be a trip to the park, making sandcastles at the beach, having a babycino in a cafe and ordering, practising “school sports races”, story telling, playing doctors and nurses, What’s the Time Mr Wolf, playing sports, sandpit fun, zombie tag or any game or everyday activity kids do!  The list is endless. And Fun!

We understand why you have these questions when you are looking into starting your child’s ABA program. Actually, I had the same questions (and concerns) myself. Starting ABA is a huge decision for many reasons. One of those is that we want to do the best for our little people and never cause them any harm. We know that ABA is the most evidence based treatment for ASD. So let’s look further at some of the common misconceptions of ABA with one of our favourites Behaviorbabe – see the link below.

Sarah Foote, Director




No More Nagging!

“Go and put your shoes on darling….”
“Put your shoes on please….”

“Shoes on pleeeease….”



Do you ever find yourself repeating instructions over and over to your young child or the children you work with? In my work with children on the spectrum, often parents explain that they feel like a broken record and their kids feel nagged. Everyone is frustrated. This is often one of the first things parents and teachers raise when I start working with them.

When you find yourself asking a child to do something more than twice, it’s time to stop and rethink.

 1. Is your request reasonable?

Are they able to do this skill independently? If not, why are you asking? If someone asked me to recode a website I wouldn’t be able to do it just because I’d been asked to. No, I would get help. So, take the shoes example, ask yourself, is it age appropriate? Does the child have the prerequisite skills (telling right from left, tying up shoe laces)? Is the request reasonable?

Some of you are no doubt thinking; my child does know how to put on their shoes, get in the car, get dressed, come to the table, but they simply will not do it. What other option do you have other than to repeat yourself? Here is the funny thing about verbal instructions; the kids become overly dependent on them. They are very difficult to fade out. If you don’t change what you’re doing, chances are you will be doing the same thing in the future. If we ask a child ten times to do something and then finally on the eleventh time they do it, what did we just teach them? We’ve taught them to put their shoes on after being asked eleven times! They’ve just practiced doing the exact thing we don’t want them to do.

2. Change the environment

Can we make some little changes to the environment to make it easier for the child? What kind of shoes do they have?  Why not try the slip-on shoes or those with Velcro or curly laces. This way, we are making it easier to do the task and it may also have the added bonus of making it all a little more fun!

When are we asking them to follow our instructions? Is the TV on? Are they playing on the iPad? Will they need to walk past the TV to get their shoes? Do they know where their shoes are? Simple tasks can be big jobs, especially for toddlers and young children. Try turning off the TV first, then saying ‘it’s time to put on your shoes’ .

 3. Set them up for success

Once you’ve given a clear instruction, physically help them as much as needed but as little as necessary. You know this has been difficult in the past, so let’s not wait for the child to get distracted, find a fun toy on the way to their bedroom or ask their sibling if they want to play outside. Guide them to their bedroom, point to the shoes, wait until they have the shoes on. Over time, fade out your help gradually until the child can do the skill independently.

4. Reward good behaviour

Give them praise for doing some of the steps of the task independently. Be explicit, ‘wow, I love how you got your foot in the shoe by yourself!’. Give them a party for doing the task  quickly! Not an actual party but a praise party “Wow, you were so fast!” “That was amazing, Mum only had to tell you once to put on your shoes”. Perhaps they can have something tangible for doing it so quickly, a sticker or a game on the iPad. Maybe they get a spin or a tickle with Mum. It is important that whatever the item is it makes them tick.

Be careful….. Don’t make the mistake of giving a reward when they comply with an instruction after it has been given many times. Only reward those responses we want to see again. Teach your child through the way you respond to their behaviour.

It is time to give up nagging!  For one,  it doesn’t make you feel good. It doesn’t help kids to learn to follow their teacher’s instructions and most of all, it is contriving opportunities for our kids to practice something we don’t want them to do.

Steps to re-think nagging

1. Is this a reasonable request?

2. Set up the environment for success

3. Help as much as needed but as little as necessary

4. Promptly praise and reward when they do what you want them to do.




Tin’s Top Tips are written by Tineke Sibbel, M. Ed. BCBA, Happy Oak Behavioural Consulting’s Clinical Director. She writes Tin’s Top Tips to provide free, simple and effective behavioural strategies to help all parents, carers and educators and of course the wonderful children in their lives.