Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

Spring 2008

Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

Individualized Treatment - Moving from Theory to Practice

At the 2002 ABA convention, Dr. Tristram Smith, an invited guest who has worked closely with Dr. Lovaas over the years, noted that the division of behavior analysts into camps (e.g., Lovaas, Verbal Behavior, traditional ABA, etc.) is harmful, divisive, pulls attention away from the technological and research aspects of our profession, and is in stark contrast to the systematic and collaborative nature on which research knowledge is built. On one hand, branding, particularly of a specific group or agency, is natural. After all, a group will earn a reputation based on the quality of their training, supervision, and research. On the other hand, statements such as "Verbal Behavior is better than traditional ABA" or "The Lovaas Method is the only ABA treatment backed by research" are often imprecise and possibly inaccurate.

While such broad statements are not helpful, can we conclude if certain procedures are more effective that others? Following are two examples of recent research trying to answer such questions.

Smith, Mruzek, et al. (2006) studied the effects of error correction procedures on rates of acquisition. Six children with autism participated in the study. Upon making an error, the child either received a vocal "no," a model prompt, or no feedback. Based upon the variability in children with autism, the results are not surprising: two children acquired skills equally as well with no feedback versus an error correction procedure; two acquired skills more readily with an error correction strategy; one learned most readily when an error statement was used; one learned best when model was provided. There was no difference in acquisition between these two strategies. One child acquired skills more readily with the modeling strategy, and one acquired skills more readily with the use of "no". The authors concluded that no single error correction procedure was identified as superior.

After attending a talk by Vince Carbone in 2000, Scott Cross, at the time a consultant from the Lovaas Institute, asked Dr. Carbone about the concepts of serial and concurrent instruction (i.e., within each skill acquisition program, teaching one objective at a time until acquisition criteria are met [serial] or teaching multiple objectives at a time [concurrent]). His reply was, "That would make a good dissertation for you, Scott" and then directed him to the research of Douglas Carnine as a starting point. Scott took him up on his recommendation and after meeting him at his Florida verbal behavior clinic, started out the process of conducting some research. After reviewing the research methodologies previously used, Scott designed a methodology standard for this study and applicable to all future comparisons. To make a long dissertation short, the results for acquisition of skills in three areas - receptive, tact, and intraverbal programming - were similar to the Smith et al. 2006 study. For one child, there was no difference in acquisition rate between the two types of instruction. For two children, serial instruction was 40% or more efficient in terms of trials to mastery. For two children, the reverse was true. Click here for a link to Scott Cross' dissertation: (http://etd.lib.fsu.edu/theses/available/etd-04272007-232547/)

A number of teaching procedures, such as using serial instruction or error statements ("no") , have been abandoned by some ABA programs in favor of other alternatives, despite their demonstrated effectiveness with large numbers of children, including children participating in the most recent published research on Lovaas treatment programs. When these procedures have been tested and compared with each other, the results were as any experienced clinician would have predicted. Effectiveness of any one procedure really depends on the child. We should not be asking if A or B is more effective for all children with autism nor making statements about the superiority of one procedure over another. Statements like these in regards to skill acquisition procedures are usually overly reductive and likely to be in error some if not most of the time. There is uniqueness, individuality, and variability within the population of autism to the extent that we must refine our research questions.

This coming year, the Lovaas Institute is excited to be involved in a number of projects that contribute to a better understanding of behavioral techniques. In February, Dr. Scott Cross and other behavior analysts from the Lovaas Institute's Los Angeles office presented at the California ABA conference (http://www.lovaas.com/files/CalABA2008.pdf). Their presentation shared creative teaching strategies that have worked when other instructional procedures have failed. These strategies are a result of consultants at the Lovaas Institute using the methodology and the data to make intervention recommendations. The presentation also reviewed a refined methodology for making comparisons of two instructional procedures to ensure instruction is both effective and efficient. At the end of March, East Coast Clinical Director, Linda Wright, participated in a symposium at the Bucks County Autism Coalition that included brief reviews of several available ABA-based interventions and a discussion of how to better understand similarities and differences between those approaches.

The Lovaas Institute will continue to proudly proclaim who we are, what services we provide, how we ensure quality control, and the importance of data and research. At the same time, we are keenly aware that the techniques we use come from a broader field, the science of applied behavior analysis. As members of this field, we are working toward a common goal: finding the interventions that are most effective for each individual child with autism.

Would you like more information on other issues that often arise at school? Let us know here

The names of all children in this newsletter have been changed in respect for family confidentiality.

On the Lighter Side...
...5 outrageous reinforcers sure to add fun in therapy

We're So Quiet! Sit close to the child and whisper gently next to his ear. Keep it up until he talks back in a whisper. Get a simple conversation going, or just echo each other's whispers.

Sock Imitation! Put socks on the child's hands and say, "Do this" while clapping or making wacky movements.

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