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!

 

 

Pick of the Week: 20% Off Self Management Planners!

Find a better way to manage your time and check more things off your to-do list this school year! Created with ABA principles by Dan Sundberg, PhD, the Self Management Planner is perfect for those who have busy and frequently changing schedules and want something that will do more than schedule time in the day. This week, you can save 20% on the Self Management Planners and get a head start on organizing your schedule for the school year! (Use promo code PLANNER20 at check-out!)

Self Management Planner Sale

Not only is this planner perfect for effective time management and organizing your activities, but it also allows to set and track your goals (it even includes graph paper so you can watch your progress!).

The Self Management Planner includes:

  • Full 18.5-hour days and 7-day weeks
  • Tutorial on using the planner, appointment book, and measuring your success
  • Guide to setting long term goals and figuring out ways to accomplish those goals
  • System of selecting and tracking daily activities. (People have used this section to track a huge variety of important things like spending, hours billed, driving mileage, activity goals, and more.)
  • Graphs for visualizing and tracking progress on goal
  • Lined note paper
  • Blank date periods
  • Weekly and daily to-do lists
  • Space to make note of all day events

Available in two sizes: Full (11.5″ x 8.5″) and Compact (8.5″ x 5.5″).

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.

Pick of the Week: 20% Off Puttys!

Happy Tuesday, Different Roads family!

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We’re incredibly excited to announce our newest product, a collection of puttys that can help strengthen fine motor skills and provide tactile exploration. Each of our puttys are gluten, latex and casein free.

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Pictured above are two of our two featured products, the DISCOVERY PUTTY™ School Tools (X-Soft Resistance) and the EMOTIONS – ENERGIZING putty.

Discovery Putty is the playful way to strengthen hands. You can even play hide-and-seek with this therapy putty! Stretch, mold and pull the putty until you find all the hidden objects–and then hide the pieces all over again! For ages 5+.

The Emotions – Energizing putty has color-changing properties that provide hours of fun! Great for kids with low tone, “”gorilla grips”” and fidgety fingers, this soft-resistance putty can be pulled, twisted, rolled, stretched and manipulated for hours. For ages 3+.

Posted in ABA

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.

 

Pick of the Week: 20% Off Select Social Skills Games!

Check out our last sale in November before Black Friday! This week only, take 20% off select social skills games with promo code SOCGAME20.

Social Skills Games POW 11.14

Many kids, especially those with ADHD, autism or Asperger’s, have trouble comprehending the socially accepted physical boundaries that many take for granted. These games pictured above will help enhance social skills and make your child more comfortable in social settings.