Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What is the right environment for my child?

I always recommend that parents ensure their children are in classrooms with children who are either at their same functioning level or higher. If your child is the brightest, most well-behaved child in his special-ed classroom, his peers can learn from him but who will he learn from? Chances are he will pick up on the not-so-great behaviors exhibited by his classmates! If you realize this is the current situation for your child, submit a written request to your child's principal expressing your concern and your interest in exploring other options for your child. Good luck!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

To "Stim" or Not to "Stim?"

Parents and Teachers are often concerned with their kiddos' self-stim (self-stimulatory or stereotypical) behavior. They ask me if it is okay to allow the kiddos to stim or to stop the stimming. There is some contradicting information out their regarding stereotypical behaviors. I have heard some researchers believe that to interfere with a child's stereotypical behavior is to deprive that child's brain of necessary input and can even result in brain damage. I've also met professionals who believe that one must "get down to the child's level" by engaging in the same stereotypical behavior in order to establish a relationship with the child. What I recommend to parents and teachers alike is to comment on the activity the child is engaged in and then redirect the child to a more appropriate behavior or activity.
For example, many of my little ones enjoy turning toy cars upside-down and spinning the wheels. We comment on the activity: "You are spinning the wheel" or "Watch the wheel go round and round" and then show the child (model) how to more "appropriately" play with the car by rolling it on the ground. If it is a bit more difficult to find an appropriate counterpart to the stereotypical behavior such as flicking the lights on and off or repeatedly flapping a hand in front of the face, we comment on the behavior (label the action) and then redirect the child in something completely different to engage him so he cannot continue the behavior. Try it!
However, sometimes it is important to have something highly rewarding like when you are teaching the child something new. Allowing the child to engage in the stereotypical behavior is often more reinforcing than food rewards.

PECS -A Helpful Hint

If your child is not benefiting from PECS training, there are two things to consider. Make sure the person training your child has been professionally trained in PECS (NOT "self-trained" from the manual or a book) . -It is scary, but I have come across many professionals who teach children the PECS incorrectly. If your consultant is following the PECS protocol and your child is still not picking up on the process, the second thing to consider is whether your child is really understanding the icons he is using. I personally prefer photos with most of my kiddos over the cartoon-ish depictions of many computer programs out there. Remember! Our unique kiddos are concrete thinkers! Realistic depictions will probably have more meaning to them. You can always work toward the vague cartoon representations once your child masters the process.

Missing "The Window"

Parents often ask me, "Have I missed 'the window?' Is it too late for my child to benefit from one-on-one educational services?" I respond with a resounding, "NO!"
While the research up to this point has shown the most success in the shortest amount of time has occurred with the younger population, this does not mean older children on the Spectrum are incapable of learning. It simply means it may take a bit longer to acquire such skills at a later age. Consider the theory of the Language Acquisition Device. The LAD is considered a "window"in which the language of children explodes at a high rate. If you immerse a young child within another country, he can more easily learn the native language than you would if you began studying it now. Educating an older child on the Spectrum is very similar. He will still learn, but it just may take a bit longer than if he had started at a much younger age. It is never too late, but the earlier the better. So get started now!

Why Seek Private Services?

Consider the general differences between public and private schools. Public and private services for children on the Spectrum exhibit similar differences. Private services provide more individualized one-on-one attention and address the unique needs/goals of each child. Public service providers are often overworked and under-paid. While some of them have the best intentions at heart, they are often simply incapable of providing the services necessary to help their client reach his utmost potential. -And others are just doing a job rather than pursuing their passion of helping families.
Also, there are political entanglements within the public system that often interfere with the services provided to families (within schools districts as well as public agencies). We all want *the best* for our children. If you have the resources, get your little one the quality services he deserves as early as possible.


Sometimes I hear professionals misinform parents about what ABA consists of by telling them it is "basically Discrete Trial Teaching." ABA does not equal DTT. While DTT is based on the principles of ABA, this does not mean that that the only teaching method utilized in ABA programs is DTT. Unfortunately there are a lot of service providers and agencies out there that design their programs completely around table-time type DTT. A more solid program consists of other tools based on the principles of ABA such as Play Therapy and Natural Environment Teaching. Also, although classic programs from years ago used a variety of aversives, it is not common practice today. Unless your child exhibits serious behaviors and all other options have been exhausted, aversives are not necessary. Real ABA programs do not utilize screaming techniques or restraints. Be weary of anyone who promotes such tools and definitely seek a second opinion before moving forward.