Intensive ABA Services News and advice on Autism treatments - The Lovaas Institute

Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

Winter 2009

Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas


By Mariko Okano
Lovaas Institute – Los Angeles

Motivation and good time management skills are keys for success, but many of us still struggle with these traits, even as adults. Parents and teachers try to impart upon children from an early age the importance of working hard and being a good friend. Children with autism, who may demonstrate impairments in language, communication, and socialization, often have a difficult time self-monitoring their own motivation and time, simply due to the characteristics of their diagnosis. Parents, teachers, and professionals who work with children with autism are always on the look out for tools and techniques to help in these areas. Upon hearing of The MotivAider, the Lovaas Institute sought to try out this little vibrating timer to determine if it could be used to "MotivAte" our clients with autism. We found several extremely helpful and effective uses for clients of various ages and skill levels.


When Jason was in second-grade, his general education teacher noticed that during work periods, he often stared out the window or placed his head on his desk. His one-to-one shadow aide providing continual prompts for him to sit up and get back to work. Jason's behavioral team wanted to "catch him being good," but it was difficult to know how often that needed to happen in order to keep him successful. They collected data on his on-task behavior, and noted how often he became off-task and stopped doing his work. They found that Jason was able to remain on-task for an average of a little over one minute. The team began using the MotivAider by having Jason's one-to-one aide clip the timer to her waistband. The timer was set to 1 minute, since that was the interval with which Jason demonstrated success. Each time the MotivAider vibrated on an interval of 1 minute, Jason's aide would observe him; if he was on-task, she would approach him and provide reinforcement in the form of verbal praise or a pat on the back. If he was off-task, she would prompt him to re-engage and wait for the MotivAider's next signal as an opportunity to observe and reinforce his on-task behavior. As Jason was receiving consistent and frequent rates of reinforcement for appropriate behavior, his on-task behavior increased, and over time, the MotivAider was set to longer intervals (1 minute, 30 seconds; 2 minutes; 2 minutes, 30 seconds; and so on). By the end of the school year, Jason was able to remain engaged and on-task at his desk for up to 7 minutes without requiring prompts from his aide. At this rate, his teacher was able to take over reinforcement for his on-task behavior during work periods.


When Sara got home from school each day, her favorite thing to do was to go into her bedroom and play with her toys. A common symptom of autism, Sara did not play with toys appropriately. Instead of having her dolls play "dress up" or "tea party," Sara preferred to toss them in the air over and over. Sara's parents didn't want her to spend all of her free time tossing objects, so with the help of her behavioral intervention team, they implemented a plan to teach Sara to self-monitor and follow a schedule to structure her free time. When she was alone in her bedroom, Sara wore the MotivAider, which her parents set for varying durations coinciding with their own schedules. When the MotivAider vibrated, Sara learned to stop tossing her toys and transition to a visual schedule that hung on her bedroom wall. She selected a picture of an activity and a picture of a family member with whom she would ask to play. Once Sara learned what the vibration of the MotivAider indicated, her parents felt comfortable allowing her to "play" in her room independently because they were confident that after a few minutes, she would disengage from tossing her toys and find someone with whom to play. The MotivAider helped Sara become more independent, and she and her family were able to spend structured, quality time together.


Danny was always a very active little boy. From the time he could walk, he was constantly running around the house, playing with toys, and jumping on couches. Danny's mother reported that he didn't even sit while eating. When Danny began an in-home behavioral program, his consultant recommended that his parents interact with him as often as they could, in order to reinforce increased eye contact, cooperation, and attention to others. With her husband working long hours and two other young children to care for, Danny's mother felt overwhelmed with the task of engaging him at all times. Danny's behavioral consultant suggested that his mother wear a MotivAider to help manage her interactions with Danny. They agreed on a workable interval – 20 minutes – and when the MotivAider vibrated, it prompted Danny's mother to approach Danny and engage with him for a few minutes: doing a puzzle, reading a book, or having him sit down for a snack. The MotivAider was helpful for Danny and his mother to structure their free time and provide opportunities for successful interactions.


As far as his parents were concerned, Ben was an autism success story. Starting an intensive, in-home behavioral program at the age of 2 years, and transitioning into a general education first-grade placement without support, Ben was virtually indistinguishable from his peers. He was a happy, social, inquisitive child, and for the most part, he enjoyed school. The only concern his teacher had was that occasionally Ben would become off-task during work periods, and not be able to finish his work. Ben's parents wanted to ensure their child maintained all of the gains he had made within his behavioral program, so they contacted Ben's former case supervisor and asked for suggestions on how to keep him focused at school. The supervisor suggested purchasing a MotivAider for Ben's teacher to wear, so that she could be prompted to observe Ben, and provide reinforcement when he was doing his work. Initially, the teacher set the MotivAider for 3 minutes, and if she was able to do so when it vibrated, she either gave Ben a pat on the back or a happy face on his paper if he was on-task. Within a few weeks, the MotivAider interval was increased to 4, 5, and 6 minutes. After a month, Ben's teacher stopped wearing the MotivAider, but continued to ensure she checked in with Ben during long work periods, providing praise to him and his peers for working so hard. Sure enough, Ben continued to remain on task. The MotivAider helped the teacher identify situations in which Ben was working appropriately, and, as a result, providing reinforcement for those instances increased Ben's on-task behavior. Ben's teacher was so happy with the results, she started a system for the entire class, in which they could earn class points for working quietly.


Lucy was independent and self-sufficient at school, participating during group lessons and playing with her friends during recess. The only time of day when Lucy struggled was during writing periods. Each day, Lucy's third-grade class was required to practice writing in cursive for 30 minutes. Lucy often worked slowly and placed her head on her desk. Her teacher expressed concern to her parents and asked them to think of a plan to increase her attention during writing tasks. Lucy's father purchased a MotivAider and showed it to her. Lucy wore the MotivAider around the house to become familiar with the vibrations. Lucy's parents told her that when she was sitting at her desk at school, she needed to wear the MotivAider. If she was doing what she was supposed to be doing when it vibrated, Lucy could draw a star on a paper placed at the top of her desk. If she had 10 stars by the end of the school day, she could show her teacher and get a ticket for the class's weekly prize drawing. Lucy was excited about earning extra tickets and her parents hoped that this system would motivate her to stay focused. Over the next few days, Lucy earned all of her stars. When Lucy's teacher and parents met the following week to discuss her progress, her teacher mentioned that Lucy was more on-task than before, but that instead of being on task and giving herself a star when the MotivAider vibrated, Lucy was sometimes off-task, and the MotivAider's vibrating prompted her to re-engage and continue working. Though the MotivAider was working differently than they had intended, they all agreed that it was indeed helping Lucy stay focused.

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.

Get the Maid! Try to pick up toys while bending from the waist. Let the child push you over whenever you try to bend over.

Chair Rides! "Fasten your seatbelt! Hold on to the chair!" Begin to lift chair off ground slowly. Then take off like a racecar!

Magic Tricks! Pull a candy out of the child's ear. Transfer a reinforcer magically from one hand to another closed fist (the child doesn't know you had it there already), or even into a sealed container (where it already was).

Chattering Teeth! Get chattering mechanical teeth and throw them on the table by surprise.

What's So Funny! Find a suction toy that will stick to your forehead.

Paul is a 7-year-old. He was telling his instructor Mary that he would be going to Legoland during his spring break and invited her to go with him. When she told him she couldn't go because she was going to hang out with another instructor, Anna, he said Anna could come too. Paul then told Mary the travel arrangements would include his mom, his little sister, Anna, Mary, Lucy, and Karen (all instructors) in one car and his dad, him, and Tracy (his most preferred instructor) in the other car.
- California

Tasha had recently learned to continue a conversation by staying on topic and making a statement similar to a statement that was just made. For example, if someone said, "I like Blues Clues," Tasha would add, "I like Dora the Explorer." With the start of football season, one of Tasha's instructors offhandedly remarked "I like the Colts and the Jets." Tasha chimed in, "I like the helicopters!"
- Indianapolis

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