Friday, July 17, 2009

Rethink Autism's Web-Based Program -- Rethinking ABA

On July 14, 2009, Jamie Pagliaro, the Executive Vice President of the Rethink Autism ( presented his company’s innovative new web-based educational program for children and young adults on the autism spectrum to a group of parents and professionals at our monthly Parent Network Exchange Meeting.

Rethink Autism’s program offers Applied Behavior Analysis-based teaching modules to parents, caregivers, and professionals wherever they may be located (and also licenses the program to schools and other providers with more than 3 children). For parents who are located in areas with few, if any, service providers, or who simply -- for whatever reason -- cannot get the ABA hours their child needs, this site offers an alternative that makes ABA available to virtually anyone.

The site is easy to use so that subscribers can log on and jump right in (training modules are available for those who need or want help getting started). Subscribers can set up password-protected access for themselves as well as others who work with the child. Subscription details and pricing, along with sample videos, are on the website. Once registered, you complete an assessment of your child, developed by Rethink Autism’s team of professionals. Based on that assessment, the site presents a recommended curriculum and sequence of teaching modules. There is flexibility to adapt the curriculum to your child’s changing needs -- for example, to add modules for additional skills you want to target or to delete modules of goals you have already met (or, if you use a different assessment tool from the on-line assessment, you can manage your curriculum by matching modules to that assessment). As new video modules are added to the site, they will appear in your curriculum if they match your child’s assessment profile.

Since the program is web-based, there is no limit on how often you can use the videos. Videos are not meant to be shown to the child being taught, but are, rather, a tool to teach the subscriber how to teach the child. The lessons are broken down into easy to understand segments and feature actual children on the spectrum being taught. Each module also provides helpful hints and strategies to help individualize the lesson.

Mr. Pagliaro showed our eager group a several sample videos, including videos of peer imitation, using assistive technology to communicate, how to complete a chore chart, and how to help others. The company already has added over 400 video lessons on a wide range of skills, including everything from pre-academic/academic skills to social interaction, to skills of daily living. New videos will frequently be added, based on feedback from users and the company’s professional advisory board.

Each lesson also includes a printable program plan and an on-line assessment tool and tracking mechanism. The program offers additional user-friendly features to help incorporate professionals or others working with your child and to create a comprehensive program.

Rethink Autism recommends that parents work with an ABA professional if one is available but the site is also a great resource for parents who may not have a trained professional in their area or may have limited access to professional services. Subscribers to the service can choose to add access to a Rethink Autism professional for questions, but this feature is not meant to replace professional guidance from someone who knows your child.

NAA - NY Metro is pleased to announce that Rethink Autism is offering our members and readers a 20% discount for the first month to try the program. Simply enter the discount code RA2009NAA when you subscribe. This offer expires on August 31, 2009.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

DIR/Floortime has been one of the most effective interventions for my son

Gil Tippy with Susan Roberts and Sujata Setya

Dr. Gil Tippy, the Clinical Director of the Rebecca School, spoke to our group on June 16th. He did a fantastic job of explaining DIR/Floortime. He was witty and persuasive. He talked about his journey from ABA to DIR, which was not dissimilar to mine. He showed us videos of interactions with kids who initially appeared pretty unrelated but quickly began interacting with the therapist using the Floortime technique. He discussed his work with Dr. Stanley Greenspan, who is a consultant to the Rebecca School, and the book Dr. Tippy is writing about his research. The most striking thing Dr. Tippy mentioned was that the kids who have been at Rebecca School for 3 years no longer have the diagnostic criteria to be classified as autistic.

For my son, Floortime has been a fantastic intervention. When my son was diagnosed with the catch-all we all know and love, PDD-NOS, it was recommended that he receive 40 hours of ABA. He was not yet 2 and that sounded like a lot of structure for a 19 month-old child to me. We signed him up and he pretty quickly figured out that if he got all his “programs” done, his therapist would play with him. She walked in, he reeled them off as fast as possible. It always felt uncomfortable but I pushed aside my gut instinct because this is what our expert said he needed. At one point, one ABA therapist said my son could read 50 words. As a test, I rewrote them in different ink on different color paper. He couldn’t read any of the words – they were meaningless to him. Another therapist thought it would be a good idea to reward this 2 YO kid with pennies. Well, once he had two pennies, one for each hand, he was satisfied. On top of all that, we were instructed to stop him from doing any stim. Anyone with a stimmy kid knows that this job is a full-time one! Instead of having fun with your kid, you spend all your time as an adversary trying to stop them from doing something that, in all likelihood, they are doing because they need to.

What was the problem with this approach? The things that motivated my son were not being respected and enjoyed. The words the therapist chose were the words she thought he should know – not words that symbolized anything he was interested in or that got him anything he wanted. The pennies, he could care less about them. Plus, because I was always saying stuff like “hands down” and “stop spinning”, he was avoiding me and our relationship was suffering.

My epiphany came when I went to a SonRise training session. The first thing they said was join your child in their stims. I got home from that week, sat down next to my son and started spinning cars with him. He gave me the biggest smile I had seen in probably a year and within seconds was telling me how to spin the car, which car to spin and just like that we were interacting. The other important principle was to harness the things your child enjoys and build on them. My son quickly began to be happier and more related. It was very exciting.

When Rebecca School opened, we were thrilled. At last a school that used the same kind of principles we were applying at home with such success! DIR/Floortime is very similar to SonRise – respect your child and what they love, make the interaction the reward, the relationship is paramount. My son has attended the school for 3 years and continues to make huge strides socially and emotionally and academically. He loves to go to school. He is so much happier and so much more connected to family, friends, teachers and therapists. My son and I are no longer adversaries; we are on the same team now.

The bottom line is that ABA can teach a child rote skills but can’t really teach natural emotional and social behavior. You want your child to be motivated to relate to others because they want to, not because they are following a rule. In life, if a person can’t have social relationships, they will have extreme difficulty having a job or a lover, no matter how good they are at quantum physics.