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.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Longest IEP in History

I recently accompanied a family to an IEP meeting in a small town that has never before had parents question the services their children receive. I come from San Diego, where services for children on the Autism Spectrum are fairly abundant in comparison. A typical IEP meeting for me is at least three hours long and includes an average of five additional team members. I was prepared for a long fight for what my client needed in order to make meaningful progress toward his goals, especially since this was his first real IEP meeting. (Every meeting for him up to this point was 20 minutes maximum!) Not surprisingly, the meeting lasted well over three hours and is now known as "The longest IEP in the history of the school district." -I think it is important to point out that my client received everything his parents requested, all of which was reasonable.
I wanted to share this experience because I know there are many parents used to showing up to their child's IEP for a brief meeting that turns into a simple conversational review of the progress made (or lack of). When the school district is held accountable for the education they are supposed to provide and the IEP is dissected line-by-line, the meeting will certainly last longer than 20 minutes. I know parents can be exhausted by the terminology and sometimes condescending attitude of school officials, which is why I often recommend bringing someone along to be your voice. I understand that I do not make many friends in school districts by advocating for parents, but frankly I don't care. I simply want our children to receive the services they are entitled. Fight the good fight!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Remember the Squeaky Wheel!

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that you, as parents, badger your service providers to follow through with the services they claim to provide. If your regional center, school district, etc. talks to you about setting up a home program, school support, or other service, ask them when. Make them commit to a time-frame. Do not allow them to throw your child on the back-burner for when they are ready to get to you. Remember that "the squeaky wheel gets the oil?" Squeak as loud and as often as you can until your child is getting what he/she needs!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


There has been quite a bit of discussion as to whether ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) programs are better than AVB (Applied Verbal Behavior) programs and which program design is best for what type of child. It is important to understand that Verbal Behavior programs are designed based on the principles of ABA. Some people are under the impression that ABA programs only utilize Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) and do not focus on Verbal Behavior. While there are (unfortunately) consultants and agencies which mostly utilize DTT in their programs, DTT is not interchangeable with ABA. Again, DTT was designed based on the principles of ABA. DTT can be utilized to teach a variety of skills, including Verbal Behavior. I know the alphabet-soup associated with the treatments for educating individuals with developmental delays can be very confusing. I hope this short explanation can help to shed some light as to what a few of the terms mean. All the methodologies discussed are based on the work of Skinner. The procedures of instruction have been altered and improved slightly since he published "Verbal Behavior," but the concepts are all traced back to his work.



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