The Pitfalls of Testimonials

When searching for a great restaurant or choosing a movie to go see, often we consider the personal reports of neighbors, work associates and friends. Why not? Their “testimonies” give us a quick method for judging the probability that a particular restaurant or movie will be a good investment. Of course, our friends and associates are not always right, but their testimonials serve as either shortcuts or as corroboration of other sources of information (e.g., restaurant or movie reviews). As such, they contribute to efficient decision-making about relatively low-stakes events. Here’s what you need to know about the pitfalls of testimonials.

the pitfalls of testimonials

We commonly see testimonials made by happy consumers presented by marketers of autism treatments. Indeed, testimonials are a standard feature on for pills, exercises, devices, interventions and therapies to potentially unwary consumers. Many testimonials take the form of simple, quoted statements (e.g., “The [marketed treatment] has had an amazing effect on my son!”). On the internet, video testimonials may be particularly compelling. Marketers know that the testimonials of some people, including attractive people, familiar celebrities, and people who may remind the potential consumer of him — or herself may be particularly effective. Adding pleasant theme music and using artful filming may complete the effect and increase the probability that families separate from their hard-earned money.

But, how should we use testimonial evidence in selecting potential autism treatments? When confronted with testimonials about possible autism treatments, it is recommended that families be especially cautious, particularly when the testimonials are the only source of support for the intervention. Marketers can find a few individuals who provide testimony that their product is effective, even when the product is wholly ineffective. This is because, as consumers, our opinions about the quality of a product — including perceived effectiveness — are colored by our previous experience, what we have been told by others, and our expectations. Furthermore, because human behavior — including the behavior of individuals with autism — is variable (i.e., changes across time), a treatment benefit may appear to exist, even when it does not exist at all.

For example, imagine that a marketer sold a “special” trampoline to 100 parents with the guarantee that daily use of the trampoline by their child would “open learning channels” and “promote language acquisition”. Of those 100 parents, it is reasonable to expect that at least a small number of them — perhaps 5 or 10% — may report that the product “seems to help”, even if the trampoline is not at all effective as an intervention in the way described by the marketer. A savvy marketer is watching for members of this small subgroup of consumers as their source of new testimonials!

And, how about all of the parents who purchased the trampoline and, subsequently recognized that it did not “open learning channels” and “promote language acquisition”? You can be assured that their opinions will not grace the marketer’s website, social media or glossy print advertisement. As a result, the marketers promote an illusion of product effectiveness where one may not exist at all.

It is for these reasons that parents and other consumers of autism “treatments” are cautioned to view testimonials skeptically. Testimonials are a wonderful way for business people to market merchandise but a poor way for families to determine true effectiveness of a treatment, device or intervention. Decisions regarding autism treatment are best guided by the scientific record, as supplied by trusted sources (e.g., a competent physician, psychologist or other autism expert). When it comes to making decisions about expensive autism interventions and the allocation of precious resources, persons with autism — and their families — deserve nothing less.

Cite This:

Mruzek, D. W. (2012). The pitfalls of testimonials. Science in Autism Treatment, 9(2), 12

 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!

 

 

Overcoming 3 Barriers To Earning Your BCBA

Working toward a BCBA or BCaBA is hard work – attending classes, getting experience hours and, working, often full time, and for many, doing all this while raising a family. The good news is that all of this hard work will someday pay off. After all, the ultimate goal of this is to be qualified to provide help to individuals who desperately need it. Working in the field as a BCBA is a noble cause and many families will be grateful for your support.

But along this path there are many details to manage, details which can easily slow, or derail your path, if not properly managed. You know the details I’m referring to – direct supervision hours, indirect supervision hours, correct ratios of experience to supervision, weekly forms to be signed, tracking hours for each of these and sorting through the multiple supervisors who have provided fractions of the needed hours to you this month. This can get confusing and quickly create barriers – but it doesn’t have to.

Overcoming 3 Barriers To Earning Your BCBA

Learn more about overcoming 3 big barriers to earning your BCBA, and read along for our tips on how to maneuver past them.

Barrier #1 – Lack of a plan.

It is easy to get carried away with the busyness of your life and forget to take some time to create a plan for meeting your requirements. 2 years often gets tossed around as the time it takes to earn your BCBA. This is a fine time frame to aim for, but without a concrete 2-year plan, it is easy for life to get in the way, and fall short on that goal.

Taking an hour to plan your course of action now can save you months later. Identify some concrete, measurable goals and create a plan. The BACB website has the information you need to get started. Find the requirements – course sequence, experience hours, supervision hours, etc., and create your goals based on those. For example, if you are doing supervised independent fieldwork to reach your experience hours, you will need to accumulate 1,500 total hours to qualify for the exam. This can now be your basis for your experience plan.

Once you have figured out how many experience hours you need, grab that 2 year time frame and calculate how many hours per week you need to acquire in order to reach your goal in time. If we use our 1,500 number, and you are able to work 50 weeks a year, that comes out to 15 hours per week. This weekly goal of 15 experience hours is much more manageable and accomplishable than a goal of 1,500 in 2 years. With this weekly goal too you can begin to plan how you will get your 15 hours per week.

Barrier #2 – No control over experience and supervision.

This is a barrier that is a little bit harder to overcome, depending on how you are acquiring your hours. If you have set your weekly goal at 15 hours of experience per week, but you don’t currently receive 15 hours of work per week, then something needs to change. Either lower your hours to a number you do currently receive on the regular, and adjust your timeframe accordingly, or talk to your practicum site to see if you can arrange for more hours.

Be cautious about tightly planning around the number of hours you are promised to work each week, especially if you don’t already work this much. It is more difficult to provide those hours than some practicum sites would like to admit. One strategy is to request 10% to 20% more hours than you need, to account for cancellations. After you agree on a weekly goal of experience hours with your practicum site, add that number along with the corresponding supervision hours required into your supervision contract. While you have responsibilities as a supervisee, your supervisor also has responsibilities to provide you with the training you need. Both of these contingencies should be in writing in your signed contract.

Barrier #3 – Disorganization.

Now that you have overcome the first 2 barriers to earning your BCBA it is time to actually accumulate those hours. This is where the responsibility truly falls on your shoulders. Make sure you stay organized from the start.

A great way to keep yourself organized is to write down your your goals for experience and supervision and track your progress each week. You can track this information in any form that is easy for you. Some people use Excel, others use Google Calendar, but I like to use my Self Management Planner for things like this, because it incorporates an appointment book with a place to write weekly goals and track progress toward that goal every day of the week. Whatever you use, make sure your tracking system is easy to use and portable. Write down your progress every day, and include the number of experience hours and the number of supervision hours you logged.

Write down your supervisor name next to your hours too. This way you won’t forget who provided supervision and when. The experience forms you need to fill out from the BACB have a section to write in your experience hours for the supervision period along with the supervision you acquired during that period. But if you wait to write down your supervision when you are filling out these forms every week or two, it will be very difficult to remember all the hours you got. This is especially hard when your experience is broken up over 5 different clients at 6 different locations and 2 different supervisors. Logging this daily in your planner, or whatever system you use will help immensely. Staying up to date with this will pay off 2 years from now when you are filling out your forms to take your exam.

Earning your BCBA is hard enough, with the challenging courses, rigorous exam, and complex nature of learning about behavior analysis. But planning for and tracking experience hours does not have to add to these difficulties. By removing these three barriers, you will remove a big stressor, and get yourself one step closer to successfully earning your BCBA in the time you want.

Daniel Sundberg is the founder of Self Management Solutions, an organization that operates on the idea of helping people better manage their time. Towards this end, he created the Self Management Planner, which is based on an earlier edition created by Mark Sundberg in the 1970s. Daniel received his PhD from Western Michigan University and currently consults with organizations on performance improvement.

Lisa Sickman supports Self Management Solutions with ongoing content and product development. She received her Masters degree in behavior analysis from Western Michigan University, and then worked for several years as a BCBA at an autism center. Lisa currently teaches future BCBAs and BCaBAs as a co-instructor for ABA Technologies.

To All Autism Parents

This is for all autism parents who’ve once heard “your child has autism.”

This comment from my experiences has came with different emotions for different people. Sadness of the uncertainty…Happiness about finally knowing what the diagnosis was… And often a neutral look where I cannot see any expression.

To All Autism Parents

Over the years I’ve been contacted by thousands of parents asking for advice about their child’s autism diagnosis based on my experiences navigating the world growing up on the autism spectrum. During those times there have been many of these emotions I’ve seen from parent.

I was thinking about this recently when a mom reached out to me online telling me that her child was just diagnosed with autism. I asked her some preliminary questions such as “When were they diagnosed” and the follow up hit me when she said “my 2-year-old was diagnosed with autism today.”

This was one of the first times I ever talked to a parent the actual day of their child’s diagnosis. She told me more about how she was feeling right now. How her heart was breaking for her child. How she had seen signs for so long and how it had finally become confirmed.

Then she said I inspired her and I honestly didn’t know what to say. For her to contact me had left me at a loss for words. I took a few minutes to compose myself before following up. I than wrote this letter to the mom saying…

“Thank you for your kind words. Remember that you are never alone in this community and there are so many people who you can rely on. Many of them will have already walked similar roads to yours. Lean on these people. Listen to their stories and most importantly, cherish each and every single day that you have with your child. We are learning more about autism everyday to provide them with supports to see them progress.

I know today may have left you with so many different emotions. My parents had those same feelings when I was diagnosed with autism when I was 4. But my parents were able to get through that day and so will you. You will become a champion for your child and their greatest advocate they will ever have. I wish you nothing but the best for you and your child in the future.

Your friend, Kerry 

 

She followed up hours later with gratitude and saying that she would look into the Tool Kit. To this day I’ve been thankful to this mom for sharing her story with me. Stories like hers is why I’m an advocate today. For those other parents out there whose child is diagnosed I hope this message I shared will be helpful for you as well. If I can ever be a resource you can message me on my Facebook Fan Page here.

My hope by sharing my successes and challenges on the spectrum is that I can provide our community with resources that they can use to help their children. That’s one of my hopes that won’t be changing anytime soon.

Kerry Magro is an award winning national speaker and best-selling author. Kerry has become a rolemodel in the disabled community. Non-verbal at 2.5 and diagnosed with autism at 4, Kerry has overcame countless obstacles to get to where he is today. A recent Masters graduate from Seton Hall University, he currently is CEO and Founder of KFM Making a Difference, a non-profit corporation focused on disability advocacy and housing.

 Today Kerry travels the country sharing his story and telling our society to define their lives and their dreams in the best way they can. Of his highlights include publishing 2 best-selling books (Defining Autism From The Heart and Autism and Falling in Love) and working on the 2012 Motion Picture Joyful Noise. Kerry currently resides in New Jersey and works in New York as the Social Media Coordinator for Autism Speaks.

Educating for Inclusion

I am a special education teacher interested in learning more about educating for inclusion. How can I set up my small groups to target skills that will serve my students well in the classroom?  

Answered by Renita Paranjape, M.Ed., BCBA, Director, Intake, IBI and Group and Transition Services, Geneva Centre for Autism

Presenting a special guest post by Renita Paranjape from ASAT.  

Preparing students for group instruction in inclusion classrooms requires careful consideration of the responses required in that setting as well as the strengths and needs of the child with autism. What follows are some considerations that may ease the transition of students from one-to-one instruction to group-based instruction within inclusion classrooms.

Educating for Inclusion

Investigate the next setting

Take time to visit and observe group instruction in the inclusion classroom. There are a few questions to keep in mind when observing the inclusion setting, including:

  • What is the content of the group instruction?
  • How large are the groups?
  • How does the teacher engage the students (e.g., visual stimuli, choral responding)?
  • How long are the group activities?
  • How often are students required to respond during group?
  • Are there reinforcement systems in place within the group lessons?
  • What are the teacher’s general behavioral and learning expectations of the students during group instruction?

Once you have a clear idea of what transpires during group instruction, attempt to replicate, as closely as possible, the activities observed in the inclusion environment during small-group lessons.

Setting up the group

Here are some pointers for setting up group instruction:

  1. Group children according to their skill level so that those who require skill building in more foundational skills are grouped together, while the students with more advanced skills are placed together.
  2. Alternatively, you may want to consider mixing students by skill level, so that students with more advanced skills can serve as a model for students who require models of responses during the lesson.
  3. All students should have a clear view of the teacher and the instructional material, with distracting items kept to a minimum.
  4. One adult should be the “teacher,” delivering all instructions in front of the group and providing the reinforcers to the students.
  5. Position other adults behind the group to serve as “prompters” of responses. These adults should stand, not sit, behind the students, fading their proximity to the students as independence increases. These adults should only prompt if necessary, and the students should be expected to follow the instructions provided by the teacher who is leading the group.
  6. Have available the student’s individualized motivation system in view of the student. The teacher leading the lesson should provide the reinforcers to the students based on the student’s individualized program.
  7. The other adult or “prompter” can also record data on the responses of the learners during group instruction.
  8. The teacher of the group and the prompters should communicate regularly before and after the group lessons to identify roles and student goals. Discussion should not occur during the lesson.

Readiness skills for small group instruction

The following are a few examples of what learners may benefit from in order to participate in group instruction, but they are not necessarily prerequisites. Some of these goals require group instruction in order for the goals to be taught, whereas other goals can be introduced in smaller groups or in one-to-one instruction.

  1. Attending to the teacher with peers present. In most ABA programs, attending is one of the first foundational skills that is taught. This is accomplished either by teaching students to provide eye contact or teaching them to orient toward the communicative partner. Once this skill is established, the next step for group instruction would be to teach attending even when there are peers present and when the teacher is standing and moving around the classroom.
  2. Tolerating the presence of peers. Since small-group instruction requires the presence of other students, it is important to assess whether the student can sit alongside a peer without being distracted.
  3. Sitting for longer periods of time without frequent breaks. Group instruction will require the student to sit for longer periods of time. Collect baseline data on how long the student will sit appropriately before accessing a reinforcer; then systematically increase that time so that the student can sit for longer periods of time to earn access to a bigger reinforcer (e.g., recess).
  4. Remaining on task for longer periods of time. This may seem similar to number 3 above, but it is not only important to consider how long your students can sit appropriately, but also how long your students will work efficiently before becoming off task and or requiring breaks. In small group settings, students are typically required to complete independent seatwork for upwards of 15 minutes or more. As a readiness skill, assess how long your students can remain on task and systematically increase how long they are required to work independently.
  5. Preparing the student for thinner schedules of reinforcement. Consider your students’ current schedule of reinforcement and develop a plan to thin that schedule. This would apply primarily to appropriate behaviour, such as attending and sitting appropriately, as correct responses in group would likely be reinforced on a continuous schedule initially.
  6. Responding to name and following distal instructions. Can your students respond to their names from varying distances and in different contexts? Can they follow directions given from afar? In addition to being able respond to their name in a classroom setting, students must also learn to not respond in certain situations. Distinguishing between, and responding to, instructions such as “everybody,” “[student’s name]” and “[other student’s name]” are key foundational skills for small-group instruction.
  7. Following complex instructions. Your students should not only be able to complete one-step directions (e.g., “Get a pencil”), and two-step directions (“Get a pencil and write your name”), but they should also be taught to follow even more complex directions (e.g., “Get a pencil, turn to page 5 of your workbook, and write your name at the top”).
  8. Waiting for attention and instructions. When a student makes the transition from one-to-one instruction to a group setting, the teacher’s focus is no longer solely on one student, but he or she is balancing his/her attention from one student to another. It is important to teach the student how to occupy his or her time without engaging in stereotypic, or other challenging behavior, as the teacher’s attention is diverted.
  9. Hand raising. Hand raising is a skill that requires attending, performing a gross motor action, inhibition of responding until cued by teacher, and discrimination of instructions. Initially, students can learn to raise their hands to access a preferred item with an embedded prompt in the instruction (e.g., “Raise your hand if you want candy!”). The instructions can then become increasingly more complex and students can learn to raise their hands to answer questions, to refrain from raising their hands when they are not able to answer a particular question, to request an item they might need for a task, and to volunteer to participate in an activity.
  10. Observational Learning. One of the benefits of small-group instruction is the abundance of opportunities to learn appropriate responses by attending to the responses of other members of the group. Often times, students with autism need explicit instruction in attending to the responses of others, in differentiating whether those responses were appropriate based on teacher feedback, and in being able to repeat those correct responses when directed by the teacher.
  11. Choral Responding. Another key response of small-group instruction is being able to say responses aloud and in unison with other students. For example, the teacher may say, “Everyone tell me what is two times two,” and all of the students would be expected to say, “Four.” This skill can first be introduced in one-to-one instruction.

Effective teaching strategies to include in small-group instruction

The research in small-group instruction has identified specific strategies that have been found to be particularly effective for learners to acquire skills in a group setting (e.g., Heward & Wood, 1989; Kamps et. al, 1991).

  1. Creating many opportunities for learners to respond: Given that the density of instructions will likely be less in a group situation than in a one-to-one teaching interaction, it is important to create as many opportunities as possible for your students to practice responding, and, in turn, acquire skills. Ensure that there are many instructions delivered for each student.
  2. Frequent rotation of materials: This is a necessary strategy to help alleviate boredom with the content of the curriculum, and it also helps to promote generalization of responding across various stimuli.
  3. Interspersing known targets with unknown targets: This strategy creates a momentum for responding fluently, provides the opportunity for reinforcement to occur, and also ensures that mastered targets are maintained.
  4. Choral responding: Having your students respond in unison is a useful strategy, and is important to target, because it occurs frequently in most general education settings. It is beneficial for learners, as it allows them to have more opportunities to respond, as well as allows them to be cued by their fellow classmates rather than their teacher.
  5. Random responding: Random responding refers to presenting instructions in an unpredictable format so that students are not aware of when they might be called upon. This method can improve attention and motivation, as students will not be able to predict when it is their turn to respond.
  6. Repeating peer responses: Requesting that students repeat the correct responses of their classmates can help further observational learning skills by requiring students to attend to and assimilate the responses of others.
  7. Student-to-student interaction: Another effective teaching strategy is to promote interaction among students. Specifically, students can learn to listen and repeat each other’s responses to general curriculum-related questions, ask peers to clarify if an instruction was missed, or ask peers for items needed for a task.

Small-group instruction can be a highly effective way to prepare students for less restrictive settings. With appropriate environmental manipulations, as well as effective teaching strategies, students who participate in group instruction can acquire skills needed for fuller inclusion.

References

Carnahan, C., Musti-Rao, S., & Bailey, J. (2009). Promoting active engagement in small group learning experiences for students with autism and significant learning needs. Education and Treatment of Children, 32(1), 37-61.

Harrower, J. K., & Dunlap, G. (2001). Including children with autism in general education classrooms: A review of effective strategies. Behavior Modification, 25(5), 762-784.

Heward, W. L., Gardner, R., Cavanaugh, R. A., Courson, F. H., Grossi, T. A., & Barbetta, P. M.(1996). Everyone participates in class: Using response cards to increase active student response. Teaching Exceptional Children, 28(2), 4-10.

Heward, W. L., & Wood, C. L. (2009). Let’s make some noise! Using choral responding to improve the effectiveness of group instruction. In W. L. Heward, Exceptional children: An introduction to special education (9th edition) (pp 158-159). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Merrill-Pearson Education.

Kamps, D. M., Walker, D., Dugan, E. P., Leonard, B. R., Thibadeau, S. F., Marshall, K., & Grossnickle, L. (1991). Small group instruction for school-aged students with autism and developmental disabilities. Focus on Autism and other Developmental Disabilities, 6(4), 1-18.

Ledford, J. R., Gast, D. L., Luscre, D., & Ayres, K. M. (2008). Observational and incidental learning by children with autism during small group instruction. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 86-103.

Rotholz, D. A. (1990). Current considerations on the use of one-to-one instruction with autistic students: Review and recommendations. Focus on Autism and other Developmental Disabilities, 5(3), 1-5.

 

Renita Paranjape, MEd, BCBA, is a Board Member of ASAT. Renita joined the ASAT Board of Directors in 2015. Prior to serving as a Board Member, Renita served as ASAT’s Social Media Coordinator. Renita received her Master’s degree in Developmental Psychology and Education from the University of Toronto, and completed courses in Behavior Analysis from the University of North Texas, in 2009. Since 2002, Renita has worked in the fields of ABA and ASD in several capacities, including supervising an ABA program in a private school, supervising ASD consultants in public schools, and managing an ABA program in group homes serving adults with severe behavior disorders. In her current role, Renita has been fulfilling the role of Director of Intake, IBI Services, and Group and Transition Services at Geneva Centre for Autism in Toronto. Renita is passionate about the dissemination of science based treatments for autism, and working with families to access those resources.

 

The Truth About Having A Sibling With Autism

Here’s the truth about having a sibling with autism. When we were younger, I tried so hard to reach out to my brother, but he seemed to reject me. I would try to play with him, and he would either push me away or run away. It was frustrating. I knew my brother had a disability, but I didn’t really understand the different characteristics of autism. I couldn’t understand why if I showed him how to catch a ball, he would just let it hit him or drop to the floor. He wouldn’t look at me when I called his name. He wouldn’t even stay in one place to figure out how to play the game. Whatever was going on in his own head was much more fun than his big sister, and it ticked me off.

Things are really different now. I’m much more educated about autism. I understand that individuals with ASD have communication deficits. The disability also makes it difficult for people to learn social skills. Observational learning is something that isn’t instinctive, but has to be taught. There’s also a piece to the disability where people are really rigid in their behaviors. They might engage in repetitive behaviors and that’s much more motivating for them to do than interact with others. It’s just the disability. Everyone has different manifestations of these traits, and to varying degrees with different combinations. They often say, “If you met one person with autism, you met one person with autism.” It’s so true.

The Truth About Having A Sibling With Autism

The Truth About Having A Sibling With Autism

Deborah with her brother and worship band.

In our mid and late twenties, my brother and I hang out much more. We even hang out with other people. This took over twenty years to develop. I don’t want to paint a picture that my brother and I had only painful memories in our childhood, because we didn’t. It’s just now, we have a much more interactive relationship. Not only with me, but with others. As you can see in the pictures above, my brother is just one of the gang.

This is us hanging out at a cafe after a band practice. My boyfriend and I are part of a church worship band. My brother comes to our practices and listens to us. He loves music, and live music amplifies the experience. He often paces the room, and listens to us sing. Afterwards, we often all go out to eat and hang. When we hang, my brother is just part of the gang. He’s just as much a goofball as our friends are, and fortunately, they all treat him like one of the gang. I can’t say how much it means to me that we can hang out with friends together. It’s not always picture perfect, but this night definitely was.

How did we get here?

  1. On my end, the more I understood about the disability, it made me realize he wasn’t being a jerk. There are things you have to teach him, such as looking at your eyes. Now he does that really well.
  2. It helps being a practitioner in the special education field. I’ve encountered some learners who never learn a new skill and some learn really fast. Everyone is different. It’s not lessening your expectations, but understanding that he may or may not acquire the new skill you just taught him. For example, even after 26 years, the man still does not catch a ball outside of his periphery. At this point, as long as he doesn’t let a ball hit him in the face, I’m OK with him and his hand eye coordination. That doesn’t mean I don’t play catch with him or try, but it just doesn’t discourage me or bum me out.
  3. I realized real quick that my attitude towards my brother affects how everyone else treats him. I’ve had strangers and acquaintances give weird or concerned looks towards us. Even now, I get that from time to time. Whatever. I love this man, who is my brother. Just let the love shine!

To any families out there… Be brave! Have hope! Press on!

 

We’re incredibly honored to publish this guest post by Deborah Chang, an autism blogger. Visit Deborah’s blog here. If you’re interested in submitting a guest post for our blog, please email elizabeth@difflearn.com for more info. 

Ecological Assessment For Successful School Inclusion Settings

School learning communities are dynamic and complex, and meeting the challenge requires a detailed understanding of how such communities work, a task that is ideally suited to Ecological Assessment. Ecological Assessment for successful school inclusion settings can be a vital part of the structure of maintaining scientifically-grounded, evidence-based practices in schools. Like functional assessment, Ecological Assessment uses the tools of Applied Behavior Analysis – behavioral definitions, direct observation and data collection, task analysis, simple statistical analysis, structured interviews – and applies them to the ecosystem of the classroom and other settings in schools.

ecological assessment for successful school inclusion settings

In 2007, Cooper, Heron, & Heward wrote: “An ecological approach to assessment recognizes the complex interrelationships between environment and behavior. In an ecological assessment a great deal of information is gathered about the person and the various environments in which that person lives and works. Among the many factors that can affect a person’s behavior are physiological conditions, physical aspects of the environment (e.g., lighting, seating arrangements, noise level), interactions with others, home environment, and past reinforcement history. Each of these factors represents a potential area for assessment.” (p. 55)

Ecological Assessment has been discussed in behavior analysis for at least the past 45 years. Wallace and Larson (1978) described Ecological Assessment as referring to the analysis of an individual’s learning environment and his/her interactions within and across these settings. In stressing the importance of ecological assessment, Hardin (1978) said that “appropriate and effective intervention cannot occur without an adequate understanding of the child and his or her environment.” Heron and Heward (1988) pointed out that sometimes students’ situations warrant comprehensive study, saying, “…some students’ learning/behavior difficulties are subtle and complex and, thus, necessitate a more global assessment to ensure the most appropriate instructional approach.”  They suggested that Ecological Assessment should be based on various sources of information such as student records, interviews, formal and informal tests, and direct observation, and include an examination of specific influences within a setting such as:

  • Spatial Density
  • Seating Arrangement
  • Noise
  • Student-Student Interaction
  • Classroom Lighting
  • Teacher-Student Interaction
  • Home Environment
  • Reinforcement History

According to Carroll (1974) a model of Ecological Assessment consists of six steps:

  1. “Delineation of the assessment goals (i.e., identify the data to be collected and how they will be used)
  2. Formation of a conceptual framework within which to assess the learner and the environment (i.e., identify the relative importance of learner and environmental factors)
  3. Implementation of the assessment plan (i.e., conduct direct observations, inspect work samples or products)
  4. Evaluation of assessment results
  5. Development of a set of hypotheses (i.e., relationships between student behavior and identified learner characteristics and environmental factors)
  6. Development of a learning plan (i.e., an intervention strategy designed to match learner characteristics with appropriate environmental settings).”

Like functional assessment, Ecological Assessment is part of an analysis involving students and the environment. While functional assessment identifies specific behaviors (usually problem behaviors) exhibited by a student as the target of the assessment, Ecological Assessments have both a setting focus and a student focus. Ecological Assessments study the nature of all behaviors required to be reinforced in a particular setting and the specific circumstances under which those behaviors must occur. It then compares these requirements to the abilities and experiences of the student. The central question in an Ecological Assessment is, “What does the student need to do to succeed?”


Why Conduct an Ecological Assessment?

There are many reasons to conduct an Ecological Assessment:

  • With students making transitions between programs, Ecological Assessments can supplement the typical discussions between sending and receiving teams, providing formal observations, data-taking, setting inventories, and structured interviews that allow for a smoother transition
  • For students who are less-than-engaged in class and exhibit off-task behavior, Ecological Assessments help teachers identify and eliminate the barriers to on-task behavior and, as efforts are made to resolve issues, provide both a baseline and a convenient on-going monitoring vehicle for both the student’s behavior and any continued existence of the barriers
  • When evaluating student readiness, Ecological Assessments identify the key skills actually reinforced in target environments, so that specific, concrete, realistic preparations can be implemented


The Future of Ecological Assessment

Educational teams in schools tackle problems encountered in inclusion settings every day, both from the assessment side and the student preparation side. While Ecological Assessment has been frequently discussed as a valuable tool and would seem to be ideal for gaining a detailed understanding of environmental barriers and challenges in classrooms and other inclusion settings, there is little established structure to guide clinical implementation.

At this point, one Ecological Assessment is very likely to look completely different from another. Like functional assessment, Ecological Assessment in the future must take on recognized and validated structure that is data-based, reliable, and highly descriptive of setting characteristics and related student abilities. Insights into how to provide meaningful student inclusion experiences depend on well-developed tools that synthesize and easily communicate information about complex challenges.

Well-structured Ecological Assessments will provide a vital means of approaching inclusion that, in addition to providing a detailed analysis, will create a structure that can extend well beyond the initial decision-making phase of programming, and, without a doubt, promises to contribute enormously to student program development.

 


For more on Ecological Assessment, check out our newest product by Fovel, the SEAT!

seat

This innovative new protocol and manual provides essential structure to facilitate ecological assessment of inclusion settings that is systematic with ABA principles and straightforward to implement. This assessment tool is a must for practitioners and educational teams at all levels and grades, who need to design, and evaluate student inclusion experiences using evidence-based methodologies.

This week only, get the SEAT for 15% off with promo code SEATNEW.

 

WRITTEN BY J. TYLER FOVEL, M.A., BCBA

Tyler Fovel has worked in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis for over 40 years, with all ages of students and with dozens of educational teams. He has published manuals on educating students with autism and related developmental disabilities: The ABA Program Companion and The New ABA Program Companion (DRL Books). He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Jan, and their golden retriever, Lucy. 

 

How To Have A Successful School Experience

Every parent wants their child to succeed in school. The definition of success may differ from parent to parent, but most would agree that they want their child to get good grades, demonstrate good behavior and make friends. These desires are no different for parents who have children with developmental disabilities. So, how do you know if your child is ready and are there ways to predict how well they will do? Tools like the Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP), which is one of the primary assessment tools used at the Behavior Analysis Center for Autism (BACA), can assist parents and professionals alike in assessing their child’s skills and providing them with valuable information as to what areas they can support their child to increase the chances of them doing well in whatever educational setting they may enter.

How To Have A Successful School Experience

General skill deficits will likely determine the educational placement of your child, but may not be the biggest issue at hand.

Behavior problems and problems with instructional control can cause significant barriers to achievement with grades, developing friendships and avoiding expulsion. Learned prompt dependency may make developing independence and responsibility more difficult. Failure to generalize already existing knowledge across multiple examples, people and environments will require more teaching time and may manifest inconsistent performance on tests and classroom work. If your child likes very few things, seemingly peculiar things, or has strong motivation for some things, but is unwilling to work to attain them, it may make it more difficult to motivate them to learn material that is presented. If your child is reliant on getting something for responding every time in order for learning to occur, the teaching process will likely remain a tedious one and decrease the likelihood that they will be able to maintain those responses when those incentives are not provided as frequently. Many children with developmental disabilities will rely on providing themselves with reinforcement in the form of self-stimulation when such dense access to preferred items or activities is not provided.

Overall skill level will undoubtedly increase the odds that your child will be able to manage good grades. However, their ability to acquire new material quickly and then retain that information for later use may play a more critical role in their long term accomplishment. Adapting to change quickly or ‘going with the flow’ will be critical when faced with day to day schedule changes that occur in classrooms or other instructional environments. General independence with functional skills such as toileting, eating and managing their personal items such as backpacks, folders, etc., will decrease the amount of time their teachers may need to focus on teaching these skills and allow more time for teaching other critical skills.

All of these things taken together can seem daunting, even for parents of typically developing children. The good news is that there are things that every parent can do to help. Perfect parenting is unattainable, but valiant and consistent attempts with certain things can go a long way. Allowing your child to experience the consequences of their behavior can be tough, but is central to ensuring that they will behave well when it counts. Having your child try things on their own before helping them and then only helping them as much as needed to get the job done whenever possible will foster independence. Exposing your child to new or different things within fun activities can increase the things they are interested in. Those things can then be used to motivate them to learn. Setting up opportunities for them to experience even small changes, modeling a calm demeanor and praising them for doing the same when unexpected things happen can also help.

Your child’s teacher or other professionals like Board Certified Behavior Analysts can aid you in thinking of other ways to enhance what you are already doing and assist in developing an individualized treatment plan to support you and your child.

WRITTEN BY MELANY SHAMPO, MA, BCBA

Melany Shampo is a clinical director at the Behavior Analysis Center for Autism in Fishers, IN.

This post first appeared on Indy’s Special Child. 

Teaching Social Skills to Teens on the Spectrum

This week, we’re pleased to share a piece from Kirt Manecke, author of one of our newest additions Smile & Succeed for Teenswho offers his advice and take on how to teach teens and tweens very important social skills such as handshaking and saying “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.”

Please, Thank You, and You’re Welcome:
Teaching Social Skills to Teens on the Spectrum

by Kirt Manecke

Saying “please”, “thank you”, and “you’re welcome” are extremely important for social and job interactions. Why then is it so rare to hear these words spoken by teens and tweens? I recently had breakfast with my friend and his two kids, who are 12 and 16, at a restaurant. Both kids frequently failed to say please, thank you or you’re welcome to the waitress. I found myself saying thank you to the waitress for them! Their father did not seem to notice their lack of manners.

Research from Harvard University (Deming, 2015) says social skills are the top factor for getting a job. In my former life, when hiring teens for my specialty retail business, I looked for friendly teens with good social skills. Teens who smiled and said “please” and “thank you” were often the ones I hired. I knew they could engage customers and keep them happy and coming back. Often, we are drawn to making friends with people who have these same good social skills.

Teaching Social Skills to Teens on the Spectrum

Social skills are especially difficult for teens on the autism spectrum, but many of these skills can be learned, and with practice, can become habit. Social skills are critical to make friends, get a job, and to live a fulfilling life.

Recently I helped some teens and tweens with autism prepare to sell products at a local farmers’ market. I acted as the customer in the initial role playing scenarios and found that the kids did not say “please”, “thank you” or “you’re welcome”. I then used information from my book Smile & Succeed for Teens: Must-Know People Skills for Today’s Wired World to teach them these skills. We took turns being the customer and the employee while role-playing how to say “please”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome”. Using their new social skills, the kids were able to sell chips and salsa at the local farmers’ market the next day.

You can do the same type of role playing with your kids. To improve their social skills, role play the skill with them. For example, have your teen or tween read the section, “Shake Hands Firmly.” Then, practice shaking hands with them, being sure to show them how “Too Tight”, “Too Loose” and “Just Right” feels.

I spent nine months meeting with teens to get their input for the book, and that’s a big reason teens and tweens find it appealing and are reading it. The font is large enough to make reading easy, plus there are fun, informative illustrations with educational captions every few pages.

Since, the book has received praise from teachers and school administrators, as well as Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures, and The Autistic Brain, who called me one evening after reading Smile & Succeed for Teens. She urged me to use her testimonial, “Smile & Succeed for Teens is a fantastic resource to help teens be successful at work”, to get the book out to all teens and tweens.

A firm grasp on social skills is key to maneuvering through all stages of life. Mastering these skills boosts teens’ confidence and gives them the skills they need to succeed in school, work and relationships. Please share the following book excerpt with your teen or tween to give them a head start in mastering these important social skills.

REFERENCES

Deming, D.J. (2015). The growing importance of social skills in the labor market (Working Paper No. 21473). Retrieved from National Bureau of Economic Research website: http://www.nber.org/papers/w21473.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kirt Manecke is a an award-winning author and sales, marketing, fundraising, and business development specialist with over 30 years of experience surprising and delighting customers. Kirt’s books have won 11 awards. Quick-easy social skills for teens! He spent nine months meeting with teens for his award-winning book on social skills for teens. Kirt is currently at work on two children’s books. For more information, contact Kirt at Kirtm@SmiletheBook.com.

The Social Problem-Solving Model: Promoting Greater Social Independence – Part II

In continuing our exclusive social problem-solving series, Drs. Gordon and Selbst, developers of the new POWER-Solving® Curriculum, have addressed the importance of social information processing as a framework for understanding how children and adolescents get along with their peers and adults.

The Social Problem-Solving Model: Promoting Greater Independence – Part II
Steven B. Gordon, PhD, ABPP & Michael C. Selbst, PhD, BCBA-D

Social Information Processing (SIP) is a widely studied framework for understanding why some children and adolescents have difficulty getting along with their peers and adults.

A well-known SIP model developed by Crick and Dodge (1994) describes six stages of information processing that individuals cycle through when responding to a particular social situation:

  1. encoding (attending to and encoding the relevant cues);
  2. interpreting (making a judgment about what is going on);
  3. clarifying goals (deciding what their goal is in the particular situation);
  4. generating responses (identifying different behavioral strategies for attaining the decided upon goal);
  5. deciding on the response (evaluating the likelihood that each potential strategy will help reach their goal, and choosing which strategy to implement);
  6. and performing the response (doing the chosen response).

These steps operate in real time and frequently outside of conscious awareness. Many studies have demonstrated that children and adolescents have deficits at multiple stages of the SIP model which impact their development of appropriate peer interactions and the development of aggressive behaviors (Lansford, Malone, Dodge, Crozier, Pettit and Bates, 2006).

As a result, they have difficulty attending to and interpreting social cues, adopting pro-social goals and utilizing safe, effective and non-aggressive strategies to handle conflict situations. The development of strong social skills has been shown to contribute to the initiation and maintenance of positive relationships with others.

POWER-Solving BooksThe POWER-Solving® Curriculum (Selbst and Gordon, 2012) is heavily influenced by the components of the SIP model as seen in the five steps of POWER-Solving, easily learned in the acronym POWER:

  • Put the problem into words;
  • Observe your feelings;
  • Work out your goal;
  • Explore possible solutions;
  • Review your plan

The curriculum is comprised of several modules, each with their own materials for facilitators and students. While it is critical for the student to learn the POWER-Solving® Steps first (i.e., the “toolbox”), the facilitator can determine the sequence of the subsequent modules. For example, one may prefer to move to the Anger Management module after the introduction. Alternatively, one may decide to move to Social Conversation or Developing Friendships. The goal is for students to learn valuable POWER-Solving skills that they can apply to an infinite number of social situations throughout their lives.

REFERENCES

Crick, N.R., & Dodge, K.A. (1994). A review and reformulation of social information-processing mechanisms in children’s social adjustment. Psychological Bulletin, 115(1), 74–101. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.115.1.74.

Lansford, J.E., Malone, P.S., Dodge, K.A., Crozier, J.C., Pettit, G.S., & Bates, J.E. (2006). A 12-year prospective study of patterns of social information processing problems and externalizing behaviors. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 34, 715-724.

Selbst, M.C. and Gordon, S.B. (2012). POWER-Solving: Stepping stones to solving life’s everyday social problems. Somerset, NJ: Behavior Therapy Associates.

ABOUT STEVEN B. GORDON, PHD, ABPP

Steven B. Gordon, PhD, ABPP is the Founder and Executive Director of Behavior Therapy Associates, P.A. He is a clinical psychologist and is licensed in New Jersey. Dr. Gordon is also Board Certified in Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology and is a Diplomate in Behavior Therapy from the American Board of Behavioral Psychology. Dr. Gordon has co-authored three books, published numerous articles, presented papers at local and national conferences, and served on editorial boards of professional journals. Most recently, Dr. Gordon and Dr. Selbst have co-authored the new social-emotional skills program POWER-Solving: Stepping Stones to Solving Life’s Everyday Social Problems. Dr. Gordon’s professional interests range from providing assessment and treatment for individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders, AD/HD and other disruptive behavior disorders associated with childhood and adolescence. He has co-founded and is the Executive Director of HI-STEP® Summer Program, which is an intensive five-week day program for children to improve their social skills and problem solving ability. In addition, Dr. Gordon has had extensive experience providing clinical services not only for children diagnosed with phobias, stress, selective mutism, obsessive compulsive disorders and depression, but also with adults coping with anxiety,depression and relationship difficulties. Dr. Gordon is a member of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, and the New Jersey Psychological Association.

ABOUT MICHAEL C. SELBST, PHD, BCBA-D

Michael C. Selbst, PhD, BCBA-D is Director of Behavior Therapy Associates, P.A. He is a Licensed Psychologist and a Certified School Psychologist in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He is also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst at the Doctoral level. Dr. Selbst has co-founded and is the Executive Director of HI-STEP® Summer Program, which is an intensive five-week day program for children to improve their social skills and problem solving ability, and the Director of the Weekend to Improve Social Effectiveness (W.I.S.E.). He has extensive experience working with pre-school aged children through adults, including individuals who have social skills deficits, emotional and behavioral difficulties, learning disabilities, gifted, and children with developmental delays, including those with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Dr. Selbst consults to numerous public and private schools, assisting parents, teachers, and mental health professionals, and presents workshops on all topics highlighted above, as well as Parenting Strategies, Depression, and Suicide Prevention. Dr. Selbst and Dr. Gordon have co-authored the new social-emotional skills program POWER-Solving: Stepping Stones to Solving Life’s Everyday Social Problems. Dr. Selbst is a member of the following professional organizations: American Psychological Association; National Association of School Psychologists; Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies; Association for Behavior Analysis International; Association for Contextual Behavioral Science; New Jersey Psychological Association; and New Jersey Association of School Psychologists.

The Social Problem-Solving Model: Promoting Greater Social Independence – Part I

This week, in continuing the spirit of Autism Awareness, we’re excited to feature a two-part expert article on a social problem-solving intervention method by Steven Gordon, PhD, ABPP, and Michael Selbst, PhD, BCBA-D, who are the founder and directors of Behavior Therapy Associates, P.A.  Here in Part I, Drs. Gordon and Selbst have addressed the outcomes of different types of social skills training and what an effective social skills teaching program encompasses in order to promote independence in learners.

The Social Problem-Solving Model: Promoting Greater Independence – Part I
Steven B. Gordon, PhD, ABPP & Michael C. Selbst, PhD, BCBA-D

Students with social skills deficits often have difficulty in many of the following areas: sharing, handling frustration, controlling their temper, ending arguments, responding to bullying and teasing, making friends, and complying with requests.

These impairments require direct instruction to address the deficits. In addition, these impairments are exacerbated for those with a mental health diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Nonverbal Learning Disorder.

A large body of research indicates that social skills training produces short and long term positive outcomes. The improvement in social skills has many benefits: an increase in students’ positive behavior, reduction in negative behavior, improvements in academic performance, more positive attitudes toward school, and increase preparation for success in adulthood.

Children Hanging Together

Social skills learning programs have yielded significant benefits in many studies conducted to date. “The ultimate goal of a social skills program is to teach the interpersonal, problem-solving, and conflict resolution skills that students need relative to interpersonal, problem-solving, and conflict resolution interactions. In a generic sense, then, students with good social skills are unlikely to engage in inappropriate internalizing or externalizing behaviors” (Knoff, 2014). In one important meta-analysis by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), it was concluded that social and emotional programs are effective in both school and after-school settings, for students with and without behavioral and emotional problems, for racially and ethnically diverse students from urban, rural, and suburban settings across the K-12 grade range.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) interventions improve students’ social-emotional skills, attitudes about self and others, connection to school, and increase positive social behavior while reducing conduct problems and emotional distress. CASEL’s review also indicates that school-based programs are most effectively conducted by school staff (e.g., teachers, student support staff) and suggest that they can be effectively incorporated into routine educational practice. In light of CASEL’s positive findings, it has recommend that federal, state, and local policies and practices encourage the broad implementation of well-designed, evidence-based social and emotional programs in schools. Continue reading