Fein, D., Helt, M., Brennan, L., & Barton, M. (2016). The activity kit for babies and toddlers at risk: How to use everyday routines to build social and communication skills. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

 

Reviewed by
Alana Vogl, MEd, BCBA
Daniela Fazzio, PhD, BCBA-D

As we read this book, we were overwhelmed with the thought “where has this book been all my professional life?” We have worked with so many parents of children with autism with whom we would have shared this accessible and practical resource. This book is written for parents whose children are “at risk” for a developmental delay or disorder. The authors describe two risk categories: children who are displaying delays or behaviors of concern and children who do not have any observable delays, but have other risk factors such as a sibling with a developmental delay or another diagnosis. They advise parents of children already receiving ABA treatment to consult with the treatment team before introducing any additional activities.

Unless they have spent a lot of time around many babies, parents typically aren’t intrinsically knowledgeable about typical child development. This book describes the milestones that typically developing children will reach within their first three years using clear and descriptive examples. From our experience working with families in which the first born is diagnosed with ASD, parents have many questions about typical child development when it comes to their younger children. It is important for all parents to have a basic understanding of child development, especially when there is a concern that a child may demonstrate a delay.

The activities throughout the book follow the authors’ “12 rules to play by,” namely:

  1. Start early.
  2. Use fun activities to distract a self-absorbed child.
  3. Use naturally occurring interactions and routines.
  4. Change routines in a funny way.
  5. Leave off endings.
  6. Help the child include others in play.
  7. Get your child’s attention by using what he/she likes.
  8. Have theme days.
  9. Teach skills at or just above your child’s current level.
  10. Do not encourage independence too soon.
  11. Involve other family members.
  12. Don’t forget the behavioral principles you just learned.

The activities illustrate fun and interactive ways to engage with any child to promote positive social interactions and language development. Organized by age range, the activities are developmentally appropriate and create learning opportunities for children, regardless of their risk factors for ASD.

The section for toddlers is a little more structured and broken down to target six learning objectives: social engagement, eye contact, nonverbal communication, language, imitation, and pretend play. Across all age groups the activities are easy for parents or caregivers to access as they are organized by daily routines (i.e., bath time, meal time, errands, chores, dressing, undressing and diaper changing, waking up and going to sleep, indoor play and outdoor play). There is a range of “intensity” of the activities from those that require no materials or preparation such as the simple routine of saying goodnight to objects in a baby’s room before putting her to sleep, to making personalized books for a toddler that illustrate favorite foods, common clothing items, or family members. Most the descriptions of activities are concise and lend themselves to being copied and placed around the house as a reminder of ways to engage your child when changing a diaper or doing the laundry.

The authors conclude with chapters specifically targeting communication and preventing problem behavior. Throughout the book there are text boxes with highlighted content and none is more appropriate than the caution given to teaching a child to sign “more” on page 192. Behavior analysts understand the problem with overgeneralization that comes from teaching a request like “more” and this rationale and alternative strategies are clearly explained. Likewise, the authors present easy to implement strategies for preventing problem behavior with a strong focus on teaching functionally equivalent communication to replace communication that may be happening through behaviors such as “screaming, hitting, kicking, or throwing things.”

This book is a valuable resource for parents and caregivers who are concerned about promoting language and social interactions with their young children. It is also a valuable resource for BCBAs and treatment providers working with families with young children with ASD. We know how important it is to increase learning opportunities for children who are not learning at the expected pace, and this book provides over 100 activities to target social and communication skills throughout the day, embedded in already existing routines, in addition to great generalization activities. The book is easy to read and explains essential behavioral principles in friendly language. As professionals with a lot of experience training behavior technicians, parents and teachers, we started dreaming about a natural extension of this book as a series of videos illustrating some of the activities described in the book. While the activities are described in very clear and descriptive language, it could be helpful for caregivers to see a model implementing the strategies. Until then, we will recommend this book far and wide to parents with recently diagnosed toddlers, parents with an older child with ASD and younger children at risk, and all new parents looking for ways to better engage with their babies.

Citation for this article:

Vogl, A., & Fazzio, D. (2017). Book review: The activity kit for babies and toddlers at risk: How to use everyday routines to build social and communication skills. Science in Autism Treatment, 14(3), 10-11.

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