One of the highlights of my summer was a get-together on a particular evening during the International Association for Behavior Analysis Conference in San Diego. Most of the site directors affiliated with the UCLA Young Autism Project had come from across the country and around the world. They assembled at an informal dinner, this time with the mission of honoring Dr. Lovaas. The meal reunited old friends and colleagues many of whom had also brought their spouses and children, quite a few children in fact.
It was a wonderful surprise to watch how easily these children from different countries interacted and to see the extent to which socialization occurred free from any constraints of language. Our own children's delight at playing with each other emphasized to everyone in the room the importance of social skills (including the restaurant staff who with smiles and great patience dodged the multi-language marathon chase game they engaged in). The acquisition of social skills is a particularly demanding learning process for children with autism as well as for the instructors and parents involved and I know that everyone around the "Lovaas table" felt inspired to further strengthen our collaboration and our effort to improve and advance social skills programs for children with autism. Dr. Lovaas always says," No one can do this alone, - several brains are better than one!"
It was important to be reminded of how essential collaboration amongst the far-reaching clinicians and researchers is to our intervention and to the families we serve. I have come to rely on this network of professionals for dissemination of the latest intervention innovations, pre-publication data presentations, and a collegial atmosphere that spurs future developments and research within our field. The network of professional support has been and continues to be one of the aspects contributing to the achievements of the Lovaas Model.
It is our desire at the Lovaas Institute to create a similar network via our newsletter and website to improve the exchange of information between us, families, and professionals. I have received initial feedback indicating that we are on the right track in this mission. Parents and professionals alike have commented on the utility of the information we have presented so far for ideas, suggestions, troubleshooting assistance, encouragement and even presentation of research findings to funding agencies. There is an old proverb something akin to "while one strand is weak, two are stronger and a chord of three strands is not easily broken". At the Lovaas Institute we will continue our efforts of being an added and strong strand in your network for information, innovation, and inspiration.
As explained on our website, the Lovaas Model of Applied Behavior Analysis provides two general types of treatment: clinic-based services and consultation services. In either service, a thoroughly trained senior staff member is assigned to a family as their consultant/supervisor.
Teaching social skills to children with autism is an area of behavioral treatment that is continuously evolving, perhaps more than any other area. The Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis alone frequently includes articles discussing the teaching of interactive play skills, the development of creativity and spontaneity, and the development of conversational skills.
Today, inclusion of students with autism in general education classrooms is not unusual and increased efforts are made to facilitate peer interactions. These peer interactions seldom occur without careful planning usually accomplished by a one-on-one aide, a speech/language pathologist, or a social worker who often donates extra time to make it work.
As a consultant I have observed many parents, teachers, and other professionals in teaching situations with children with autism, and I am sometimes struck by how some may say they disagree with discrete trial teaching while at the same time teach in a fashion that is quite similar. To a certain extent this makes sense as discrete trial teaching is based on common sense.
As a team we were working hard to increase Christa's verbal skills, including requesting. Our focus was to improve appropriate speed and clarity. One day, Christa requested "fingerines" (meaning figurines). She was waiting very patiently as I worked on forward chaining the correct word to help her. Finally, she took my hand and slowly said, "I want FINGER-INES please" while shaking my pointer finger. I laughed, gave her the figurines, and decided to work on the correct pronunciation a little bit later.
Brian's mom asked, "Where does wood come from?" Brian responded, "Lowe's."
Shawn is an 11 year-old boy who attends a general education fourth grade classroom with a full-time aide. The student teacher decided to implement a token economy for his entire class. A master of token economies, Shawn was extremely motivated and raised his hand frequently to earn points. One time, his teacher called on him, and before he could respond, put a tally mark next to his name. Shawn got a confused look on his face and said, "I didn't even answer yet. You're not supposed to give me a point until I get it right!" He obviously had a better concept of contingencies than the student teacher.
Trevor loves to go shopping at the grocery store. He frequently requests that we buy him one or two different foods and drinks when there. The apparent random nature of his requests took on a whole new meaning when one day he kept requesting lots of blue things – blueberries, blue popsicles, Blue's Clues fruit snacks. He then pointed to his shirt and said, "Mommy, blue popsicle, blue shirt." Sure enough he was wearing a blue shirt, and on further recollection it appears he often chose the color of his food or drink this way. Red shirt at a ball game? He wants a red Gatorade! Trevor might need to be careful, though. If the right people get hold of this idea, I can see a fad sweeping the nation that requires color coordination between what you wear and what you eat!
The names of all children in this newsletter have been changed in respect for family confidentiality.
Here again are some of the letters to the editor we have received recently. We will continue to take your requests into consideration when planning future articles. If you have insight into any of the requests, based on your own experience, feel free to forward your comments to us as well. I look forward to continuing our discussion next month.
Foot Flying! The child sits on your foot and you fly him high. Then say, "it's Barney's turn" and make Barney fly on your foot, then the child again.
Silly Telephone Calls! Make a ringing noise and pick up the telephone and say, "It's for you, (child)!" Add silly praise dialog. Alternatively, say that you've got to call Mickey Mouse and when talking to him praise the child's performance.
In March 2007, four days after his second birthday, Trent, who had been diagnosed at a very early age with Pervasive Developmental Disability, Not Otherwise Specified, PDD(NOS), began receiving Family-directed services supervised by Jennifer, a consultant at the Lovaas Institute.