Tuesday, March 24, 2009

PECS or Sign Language?

The debate over whether to use the Picture Exchange Communication System or sign language with non-verbal children with ASDs continues today. The end goal is for our children to effectively communicate, right? So there are a few things to consider:
-How good are your child's fine motor skills? Would he have the ability to manipulate his hands and fingers to form signs?
-How good are your child's imitation skills? Does your child imitate actions when asked to do so? This is the way you would teach your child to sign... To imitate the sign as you show it to him.
-Do you live in an area of the country that has a signing community? While communities that sign are typically small, they do exist. If your child's only way to communicate is to sign and the only other people in his world that can communicate with him are his parents, is that fair? What happens when he gets older and wants to socialize with others but none of his peers know how to sign?
I believe sign language is beautiful and enables the individual to have strong and meaningful relationships with others. The icons for the PECS can limit language and communication, to an extent.
BUT, the majority of young, non-verbal children with Autism I have worked with picked up more easily on the PECS, mainly because the icons are more concrete representations of the learning-labels than the sign and the format of the system can be altered to suit the needs of the child (bigger photos, representative objects, etc.). And, while parents and family members will learn sign language to communicate with their loved one, if no one else in the community can understand him, he can become frustrated. But most everyone can understand a photo of a hamburger or a voice-output device requesting a hamburger (which is what the PECS will ultimately lead to).
It ultimately comes down to the ability of your child and the preference of the family. These are simply some important things to consider.

Monday, March 23, 2009

What is the standard pay rate for a Behavior Analyst?

This is a difficult question to answer. The pay rate depends on educational and real-life experience as well as the Behavior Analyst's ability to think on his/her feet and be effective with your child. I have worked with PhD's who didn't have a clue how to educate children with Autism or reduce their inappropriate behaviors because the graduates spent all their time reading books for school rather than working with kids. I have worked with people who had BA's in something completely unrelated to Autism and were great because they had great mentors and gained wonderful, hands-on, experience.
Today there is a Certification program for Behavior Analysis. The programs are typically costly and require a specific amount of experience, similar to the "practicum hours" of a psychologist, so you can count on rates similar to those of psychologists for those who are going through or have completed the BCBA/BCBA program.
A Behavior Analyst is typically not a tutor. If you hire a Behavior Analyst to work directly with your child, you can count on a hefty associated fee because the hourly is probably high. However, if you find someone you trust with your child and you can see progress in a reasonable amount of time, would you really sacrifice the teacher or program supervisor in order to save some money? Just as not all teachers are created equal, not all Behavior Analysts are created equal. Some people simply have the "it" factor that allows them to really connect with our kids.
When people are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for dog grooming and thousands of dollars on "snake oil" treatments to reduce wrinkles and cellulite, I would think investing in your child's education is pretty reasonable.
Temple Grandin once said that her success is in large part due to the great teachers she had when she was young and "a good teacher is worth her weight in gold."

Clicker Training for Kids with Autism?

Apparently there are "professionals" out there who are attempting to "clicker train" our unique kids. BUYER BEWARE! Clicker training is for animals, not children. There are other, more natural, signals we can give our kiddos rather than following them around with a clicker. Unless the original founder of the clicker training program is teaching your child, there is a very good chance they are not doing it right. The supporting evidence for the clicker training is not strong enough anyhow.