Thinking Ahead: Self-Determination in the Elementary Years

Though I typically work with elementary-aged children, I’m consistently thinking about what skills the child needs in order to be independent and ready to transition out of the school setting as an adult.  Sometimes, it may seem that it is too early to be thinking about adulthood when the child is only 8 or 9, but there are things we can, and should, be doing to prepare our students from an early age.

One of my favorite articles addressing this issue is a 2015 article from Teaching Exceptional Children by Papay, Unger, Williams-Diehm, and Mitchell.  (The entire issue is about transition and is a fantastic read. You can view that issue here: http://journals.sagepub.com/toc/tcxa/47/6.) While the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires transition planning to begin at age 16, and some states require it to begin at age 14, if we want to provide more successful outcomes for individuals with special needs, we must begin thinking about the transition into adulthood at a younger age.

Papay et al., suggest focusing on self-determination. “Individuals who are self-determined have better knowledge of their own interests, strengths, and needs, and they carry out their own desires. Self-determined individuals make decisions, set goals, and carry out the necessary steps to ensure their goals are accomplished” (Papay, et al., p. 311, 2016). The authors then go on to suggest activities for incorporating self-determination at the elementary level, such as understanding grades, using responsibility charts, making choices, and problem solving. In the push to get students up to speed with academic skills, we may be leaving out these core skills that provide success in adulthood. And these skills, such as goal-setting and problem-solving are skills that typically developing children need years of practice to develop.

            So, how do you get started? Here are a few suggestions:

  • First, read the full article here: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0040059915587901
  • Call a meeting of the adults in the child’s life and the child to talk about appropriate goals around these specific skill sets.
  • Write down the ways in which you can incorporate self-determination activities in your student’s daily life.
  • Identify short-term outcomes you would like to see in relation to the activities you’ve identified.
  • Share with your colleagues and other students what you are doing in relation to self-determination to help normalize this conversation on the elementary level.

In recent decades, we have come a long way in providing services for youth with special needs. At this point in time, it is becoming more and more clear that we need to be doing more for adults with special needs, but we can’t wait until the individual is well into their teenage years to begin thinking about it.

Papay, C., Unger, D. D., Williams-Diehm, K., & Mitchell, V. (2015). Begin With the End in Mind Infusing Transition Planning and Instruction Into Elementary Classrooms. Teaching Exceptional Children, 47(6), 310-318.

Focus on Reinforcement

Focus on Reinforcement

Teaching can be incredibly overwhelming, especially in a special education classroom. Between paperwork, lesson planning, updating bulletin boards, and actually teaching, the day can get pretty hairy. Sometimes, that stress leads to a short temper, which can lead to a punitive classroom environment.

If things seem to be going in the wrong direction in your classroom, the first thing you should do is focus on reinforcement. Here are a few steps to consider:

  1. Identify 1-3 behaviors you would like to see your students exhibiting. For instance, maybe you’d like to see an increase in hand-raising (as opposed to calling out.) Clearly define the behaviors you want to see.
  2. Set up a contingency for increasing those behaviors. Maybe you’ll wear a MotivAider to give yourself a reminder throughout the day to provide verbal praise to students exhibiting the target behavior. Maybe you’ll have students earn points that they can exchange for other things, such as a homework pass or lunch with the teacher. Maybe you’ll encourage students to recognize each other when they engage in the target behavior.
  3. Teach the students about the target behavior(s). Introduce the goals to the students. It’s helpful to create a sign or other visual to remind students about the new goals.

While these are simple steps, providing more verbal praise and other reinforcement can turn around a classroom with too much time spent on reprimands and punishments.

It’s also helpful to remember (especially for new teachers) that you can make changes at any time. One of my mentors in my first year of teaching told me to tell my class we had gotten off track, so we were having a brand new first day of school. (I was teaching fourth and fifth grade students with emotional behavioral disorders.) It was shocking how well that new first day of school went over. The students were excited about the idea of a “fresh start” in the middle of the school year, and it helped me get back on track with creating a more positive learning environment.

Ultimately, the goal is to teach students about appropriate behavior by spending more time showing them what they’re doing right than focusing on what they’re doing wrong.

 

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, BCBA

Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for twelve years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College. She is also a lecturer in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

 

Autism and the Peer Review Process

Autism peer review process

If one wanted to market a scientifically-unproven intervention, device, or pill as a valid autism treatment to families affected by autism, how would one go about it? Glossy pictures? Glowing testimonials? Miracle claims? Hyped social media pitches? Charming infomercials? Answer: All of the above.

And, here’s another marketing strategy: portraying one’s product as having scientific validation when, in fact, such validation does not exist. To do this, one might make references to “scientific evidence” in material that, upon systematic inspection, is less than convincing.

I was reminded of this when I recently reviewed a web page that boldly claims, “SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH Verifies The Son-Rise Program® WORKS!” Findings support the efficacy of parent-delivered SRP intervention for promoting social-communicative behavior in children with autism spectrum disorders.”

What are these findings? On the website, the Son-Rise marketers provide a link to a key source of their “verification” – a paper entitled “Training Parents to Promote Communication and Social Behavior in Children with Autism: The Son-Rise Program”. This paper, written by a trio of Northwestern University researchers, presents a study of the purported benefits of intervention delivered by 35 parents of children with autism who participated in a five-day parent-training course on Son-Rise Program methods, as well as an advanced follow-up course 3-12 months later. Parents completed The Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC), a rating scale that contains items on communication, sociability, cognition, physical status and behavior.

The authors divided the 35 parents into three groups based on how many hours of intervention the parents reported giving their child each week during the interval between their first and second Son-Rise trainings (i.e., no intervention [11 parents], 1–19 hours [13 parents], 20 or more hours [11 parents]). The authors present results reflecting statistically significant higher ATEC scores at second ATEC completion relative to the first, and they suggest that these higher scores reflect real improvements in communication, social skills, and sensory and cognitive awareness. They go on to point out that children with greater gains were more likely to have had more hours of parent-administered SRP.

As linked on the Son Rise web-site, this study is typeset like a published research article, prompting me to try to determine which peer-reviewed journal had published it. Through email correspondence, the third author, Cynthia K. Thompson, reported that the study had not been published because the team had decided to collect additional data prior to submission for peer review. In other words, this study is a “work in progress” and certainly not a verification of treatment effectiveness. In fact, this practice of repeatedly analyzing results prior to the close of data collection is, in itself, problematic from a scientific standpoint, as the process involves conducting many analyses that often yield varying results but are never reported (see Simmons, Nelson, & Simonsohn, 2011).

One of the mechanisms that make science such a powerful engine for progress is the reliance on the peer review process. The scientific method requires that, when a scientist makes an assertion (e.g., “This treatment works!”), (s)he knows that there exists a responsibility to show other scientists how they arrived at their conclusions with enough specificity that others can replicate the study. It is through this process of peer review that faulty assertions about the data are challenged and, hopefully, rejected in short order.

Typically, in the peer review process, an editor reviews a manuscript and, if deemed appropriate, shares the manuscript with a team of reviewers with demonstrated expertise in the relevant subject area. In many cases, these reviewers are “blind” to the identity of the authors and vice-versa, so as to minimize personal biases (e.g., affiliations, personal grudges). The reviewers are charged with the task of evaluating the contents of the manuscript on the basis of scientific merit, including the methodology, statistical analyses of the data and logic of the authors’ conclusions. The reviewers then describe, in writing, their opinions regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the study and make a recommendation regarding publication. The editor synthesizes this feedback and provides a summary to the author(s). In many cases, the editor will reject the manuscript for publication altogether. In other cases, he or she may require revisions, acknowledge limitations, temper conclusions or make other substantive changes prior to publication.

In the case of the manuscript written by Thompson and her colleagues, I suspect that, if it were submitted to a journal with a legitimate peer review process, a multitude of questions would be raised about it, including:

  • participant recruitment (35 self-selected parents out of a pool of 430 parents, many of whom participated in the first training but apparently did not return for more)
  • group distribution (non-random group assignment)
  • the outcome measure (one brief checklist completed by parents)
  • treatment fidelity (no way of verifying the quality or quantity of actual treatment), and
  • control for placebo effect, expectancy bias or any number of potential threats to the validity of responses.

And, despite some effort on the part of the authors to control for this, there is no real way of knowing what other interventions the child was engaged in during the interval between their parents’ first and second Son Rise training.

Of course, scientists who make up peer review committees are vulnerable to the same kinds of human frailties as the rest of humanity (i.e., jealousy, ego, bias, profit motive); however, the communal nature of the process, as well as another scientific safeguard- replication of results by others- helps to minimize the degree to which these frailties impact decisions regarding the quality of a study and our confidence in the results. The scientific method is far from perfect, but it is probably the best game in town for vetting new interventions.

Parents and other consumers of product pitches can watch for treatment claims that look like they have been established through the scientific process but in actuality fall short. Discuss potential treatment options with licensed and/or board certified experts whom you trust. Practice skepticism, especially when fantastical claims are made. Use resources, such as ASAT’s Treatment Summaries for quick reference. Families affected by autism deserve honest, direct communication about the state of the science for treatment options. Accept nothing less.

References

Simmons, J. P., Nelson, L. D., & Simonsohn, U. (2011). False positive psychology: Undisclosed flexibility in data collection and analysis allows presenting anything as significant. Psychological Science, 22, 1359–1366.

Cite This:

Mruzek, D. W. (2012). Focus on science: “Verification” and the peer review process. Science in Autism Treatment, 9(3), 18-19.

About The Author

Daniel W. Mruzek, Ph.D., BCBA-D is an Associate Professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), Division of Neurodevelopmental and Behavioral Pediatrics in western New York. He received his doctoral training in Psychology at the Ohio State University and is a former Program Director at the Groden Center in Providence, Rhode Island. Currently, he is an associate professor and serves as a clinician and consultant, training school teams and supporting families of children with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Mruzek coordinates his division’s psychology postdoctoral fellowship program in developmental disabilities and is an adjunct faculty member in the University of Rochester Warner School of Education. He is actively involved as a researcher on several externally funded autism intervention research studies and has authored and co-authored more than 20 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on autism and other developmental disabilities. Dr. Mruzek is on the editorial board for the journals Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, Behavior Analysis in Practice, Journal of Mental Health Research in Developmental Disabilities, and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Dr. Mruzek is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Association for Science in Autism Treatment.

To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

Who’s Most Qualified To Work With Your Child.txt

Parents of children with autism are faced with a wide range of choices when it comes to the education and support of their children. The most important question of all is who’s most qualified to work with your child? Although a great deal of research supports Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) as the only effective treatment for autism, there are still many other interventions that are touted as potentially helpful. Research shows that combining ABA with other interventions is less effective than implementing it alone, with high fidelity and intensity (Howard, 2005).

Who's Most Qualified To Work With Your Child? Not all behavioral professionals are created equal. There is little control over the use of terms like “behavior specialist,” “behavior therapist,” and “behaviorist.” Just about anyone can claim to be one of these, often on the basis of very limited training and virtually no on-going supervision.  Consumers are often not aware that these are uncontrolled titles, and may put their trust in untrained, unsupervised practitioners. 

The problem of lack of quality control in behavior analysis was addressed by the development of state certifications for behavior analysts, and eventually the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) was formed. 

BACB credentials allow consumers some degree of confidence in the education, training, and supervision of the professionals they entrust their children to.  If someone claims to have one of these credentials, consumers should be able to find them on the BACB registries, easily accessed online at www.bacb.com

What does the BACB mean for consumers?  Those seeking behavioral interventions for themselves or others can look for professionals who have met the standards of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board with the confidence that that they have a minimum level of education, experience, and supervision and that they are obligated to follow an ethical and professional code.  Whether looking for a school program, privately hiring a professional, or seeking insurance coverage of services, the BACB designations can help consumers to determine if professionals and staff members providing services are well-qualified. They are also not at all easy to accomplish, so it is safe to say that someone with one of these credentials has achieved a high level of understanding of the science of behavior and the practice of behavior analysis.

Some states now license and certify behavioral professionals, and the standards for state licensure and/or certification may be more or less than those required by the BACB.  Having a BACB credential in addition to state licensure ensures that the professional also meets the BACB’s high standards. 

Credential Minimum education requirement Type of work Supervision
Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) High school diploma or equivalent Direct implementation of behavioral interventions (paraprofessionals) Ongoing by a BCaBA, BCBA, or BCBA-D
BCaBA Bachelor’s degree Practice under supervision, supervise RBTs Ongoing by a BCBA or BCBA-D
BCBA Master’s degree Independent practice, supervision of BCaBAs and RBTs None
BCBA-D Doctoral degree Independent practice, supervision of BCaBAs and RBTs None

 

Guest post written by Dana Reinecke, PhD, BCBA-D.

 

References

www.bacb.com, retrieved January 28, 2017

Howard, J. S., Sparkman, C. R., Cohen, H. G., Green, G., & Stanislaw, H.  (2005).  A comparison of intensive behavior analytic and eclectic treatments for young children with autism.  Research in Developmental Disabilities, 26, 359-383.

National Autism Center.  (2015). Findings and conclusions: National standards project, phase 2. Randolph, MA: Author.

Spotting The Difference Between Fake and Real News

Spotting The Difference Between Fake and Real News

The decisions of many consumers are influenced by what they read in the newspaper or on the Internet and hear about on television or radio. It is our belief that access to effective treatment for the autism community is enhanced by accurate representations of autism treatment by these media outlets. Unfortunately, many media representations are fraught with inaccuracies. Here’s what you need to know about spotting the difference between fake and real news.  

Effective treatments typically receive less press attention because their providers are often focusing on maximizing outcomes in an accountable manner rather than on soliciting media attention. They are also limited by ethics codes on how they can promote their treatment and services.

Many of you may be familiar with the Latin phrase, “Caveat Emptor,” which means “the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before a purchase is made.” With scores of “miracle cures” and “breakthroughs” for autism receiving widespread media attention well before they have been shown to be beneficial through credible, peer-reviewed research, “Caveat Lector: Let the Reader Beware” seems to be a very suitable guiding principle across all media platforms (e.g., print, radio, television, Internet) particularly at a time when “fake news” is becoming commonplace. In other words, the reader is put in the position of being him/herself responsible for evaluating the quality and suitability of information being presented to him or her.

As a consumer, you bear a responsibility to scrutinize sensational claims related to various autism treatments and to be knowledgeable enough to consider such stories through a skeptical lens. We wish you did not need to work so hard to differentiate good information from bad, but that is the sad reality of autism treatment today, with 500+ treatments being touted. Unfortunately, many writers and journalists are not well versed in research methods, unless they specifically write about science, which is a very small portion of all individuals writing about autism out there.  With all this in mind, when reading or hearing about an autism story in the media, please consider the following questions:

About the Intervention

  • Does the article or story describe how the intervention actually helps individuals with autism? In what ways?
  • Are those ways observable and measurable? Substantial? Meaningful?
  • Does the article or story report the costs of the intervention? Are these costs reasonable, both in monetary and human resource terms?
  • Is there any report of harm imposed by this intervention? What are the risks? What are the side effects? Does the article or story appear balanced between these?
  • Who can carry out this intervention? What kind of education, training and supervision do individuals need to have before implementing the intervention?

About the Experts

  • Whom did the author interview for this story and what are this person’s qualifications? Is he/she presented as an expert?
  • Is the interviewee making claims of efficacy/effectiveness that are supported by scientific data? What does the interviewee/expert stand to gain from this story? Who may benefit financially from this particular media exposure? How would they benefit?

About the Underlying Scientific Support

  • Did the article or story mention the existence of research articles published in peer-reviewed journals documenting the efficacy of the intervention method discussed? If not, could it mean that no such research exists?
  • If so, did the writer comment on whether these studies were well designed? Are any limitations to the studies revealed?
  • Is this study or studies presented as an extension of existing work, or rather sensationalized as a “breakthrough,” keeping in mind that often interventions are pitched as a “breakthrough” when indeed, they are not?
  • On the other hand, does the author acknowledge the absence of underlying research?  Is this acknowledgement rightly framed as a concern or rather just potentially baseless but encouraging statements suggesting that “groundbreaking research” is coming soon?

Some Final Questions to Consider

  • Are other media outlets reporting on this story or topic? If yes, favorably or unfavorably? Did they consider research data in their articles?
  • Has ASAT responded to this article via its Media Watch efforts? Please visit this page to peruse our library of archived media watch letters.
  • Has the author consulted with an unbiased and knowledgeable individual for his/her input about the intervention described (e.g., someone who is not personally benefitting from the story or someone with a strong grasp of research)?

 

Sadly, inaccurate and biased portrayals of autism treatments in the media are abundant.  In our experiences, inaccurate portrayals often fall within the following themes:

  • Exaggerating the research support for an intervention for which little or no research exists;
  • Ignoring the research basis that may already exist for the treatment in focus;
  • Disregarding the relevance of science;
  • Disregarding position statements from various professional organizations that may warn against or discourage the use of a particular treatment; and
  • Failing to acknowledge research that does NOT support a particular intervention.

Being mindful of these themes will enable you to truly embody the principle of “Caveat Lector.”  Please consider liking our Facebook page as we routinely showcase our Media Watch efforts. ASAT’s Media Watch responds to both accurate and inaccurate media portrayals of autism treatment in an effort to increase access to effective treatment for the autism community.

Citation:

Celiberti, D., & Wozniak, R. (2016). Caveat Lector: Let the reader beware. Science in Autism Treatment, 13(1), 8-9.

Author Biographies:

David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D, is the part time Executive Director of ASAT and Past-President, a role he served from 2006 and 2012. He is the Co-Editor of ASAT’s newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from Rutgers University in 1993. Dr. Celiberti has served on a number of advisory boards and special interest groups in the field of autism, applied behavior analysis, and early childhood education, and been an active participant in local fundraising initiatives to support after school programming for economically disadvantaged children. He works in private practice and provides consultation to public and private schools and agencies in underserved areas. He has authored several articles in professional journals and presents frequently at regional, national, and international conferences. In prior positions, Dr. Celiberti taught courses related to applied behavior analysis (ABA) at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, supervised individuals pursuing BCBA certifications, and conducted research in the areas of ABA, family intervention, and autism.

Renee Wozniak, PhD, BCBA-D, joined the ASAT Board of Directors in 2016. Prior to serving as a Board Member, Renée was a part of ASAT’s Externship, where she assumed the roles of Media Watch Co-Coordinator and Media Watch Lead. Renée received her Ph.D. in Special Education, focusing on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), from Arizona State University. She has worked in the fields of ASD and ABA in a variety of capacities since 1998, serving in public schools as a special education teacher, behavior intervention teacher specialist and district-wide autism trainer, and in clinical and home-based ABA programs as a research assistant, clinical/behavior interventionist, and program supervisor. Renée has trained families, therapists, teachers, teacher candidates, paraprofessionals, administrators, and others working with individuals with autism, and has instructed master’s level ABA, ASD, research and special education courses. She continues to stay involved in the field as a home-based ABA program supervisor, and as an instructor in ABA and ASD master’s degree programs. Renée is passionate about helping individuals with autism and their families by supporting and disseminating scientific research in autism treatment.