Friday, June 11. 2010
I recently came across a picture from 1990 of the UCLA Young Autism Project staff. I immediately shared it with my friends and colleagues from those days. We had a great time reminiscing about how young we were, those funky fashions, and how hard we worked for Dr. Lovaas. It was a wonderful time that I will never forget.
Providing intensive home-based behavioral therapy was so difficult in those days. We still needed to receive research grants, use student interns, and generally scrape up enough funds to provide 35+ hours a week for each child. This was prior to any school, state, or insurance funding. The fact it was so difficult to make happen made it all that more rewarding. We learned from, and were inspired by, Ivar and Nina Lovaas in celebrating the victories both large and small with the children we served. We became addicted to success in teaching and learned to dream of previously unimaginable outcomes for our clients. We learned that when what we were doing wasn't working, to quickly change to another teaching strategy. We knew that Dr. Lovaas would never accept that a child just couldn't learn something we were trying to teach. Rather, he always told us we were just failing in imagination of how to teach. He both encouraged and reinforced (loudly and boldly at that) imaginative thinking.
Besides learning the Lovaas Model of Applied Behavior Analysis, I learned some very important lessons from Dr. Lovaas that I still use in my work. They include, in no particular order:
- Concentrate on positive reinforcement. If it isn't working, you are not thinking or sweating enough.
- Students do not fail to learn. We fail to teach.
- Have fun! If the teacher is not having fun, imagine how the student feels.
- Step outside the box sooner rather than later. Keep moving and changing your strategies. Good therapy should never feel comfortable. The therapists/instructors should always feel challenged to do better. "Good" is never good enough!
There are many, many more things I learned, but these are the things that are always at the front of my brain when explaining exactly what makes up the Lovaas Model of Applied Behavior Analysis.
In 1992 I was given the challenge of starting the first replication site of our program away from UCLA. I moved to New Jersey and started the Bancroft Young Autism Project. I felt a little like what it must have felt like for Dr. Lovaas to pioneer the treatment of autism back in the 60's and 70's. When I arrived, I was one person with almost no funds and no trained instructors. All I had were the lessons I learned from Dr. Lovaas. I immediately stepped outside the box I landed in, tried to have fun, and found individuals who liked breaking a sweat while they worked. Mostly, I found persons to work with who weren't afraid to challenge what was possible for their clients or themselves. I will forever be grateful to Dr. Stephen Luce who brought me to Bancroft. I learned so much from him about working within a large system and still providing the best program possible for each child. He was challenging and liked to be challenged. Mostly he was acutely interested in replicating Dr. Lovaas' work and extremely supportive of doing things differently than the rest of the organization in which we worked.
There was still no funding through 1994 for home-based behavioral treatment. Despite support from a large institution, we had to scrape by and be extremely imaginative in coming up with enough quality therapy hours for each child we served. It all worked. We managed to grow the Bancroft Young Autism Project into a highly effective program serving over 100 children. This was also the time that the burden of funding services was being lifted off of the parents' shoulders and was beginning to be covered by state-funded agencies.
In 1995, with funding becoming more readily available, Dr. Lovaas opened the Lovaas Institute for Early Intervention. In 1997, I started the New Jersey Institute for Early Intervention, an arm of the Lovaas Institute. Finally, in 1999, the two organizations were merged into one.
I was absolutely thrilled to be officially back in Dr. Lovaas' "family." I came to greatly appreciate working for and with professionals who all have experience doing our therapy. I no longer needed to justify my drive to maintain the intensity and quality of the program. Everybody above me just got it, and in fact, continued to challenge me to do better. It was during this time that I realized that for an organization like ours to succeed over time, the officers and directors needed to have thousands of hours doing therapy and consultations with the clients themselves. Whatever else an individual brought to the table, this experience was key in making important decisions about the direction of the company and the quality of services it provides.
In 2007 came the biggest challenge yet. Ivar and Nina Lovaas sold the Lovaas Institute to my wife, Linda, and me. The Lovaases were not interested in making as much money as they could from the sale of the company, but rather in making sure that the company continued to provide the best behavioral therapy on the planet. They didn't want the company to end up being bought by a large corporation with the usual corporate interests. Linda and I promised them that we would carry the company forward and make them proud of where we took it. To that end, we are a company with every last one of its owners, directors, and officers having extensive experience sitting in a little chair across from a child, breaking a sweat, being challenged, and having a blast all the while.
—Scott Wright, CEO, Lovaas Institute