Monday, April 18, 2016

Random Thoughts and Anomalies

This is a post about some random things I have been thinking/reading, leading me to have questions.

 One blog I occasionally read is "Age of Autism", which is typically about the vaccine controversy, which they continue to promote even after several studies have disproved the link. But the national Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, as of 2011, has awarded compensation to 88 families who 'proved' that their child's autism (Or encephalopathy and seizure disorder) was caused by vaccines. Contradiction?

But there is another 'anomaly' mentioned in this blog which I find very interesting: an apparent lack of autism among the Amish in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.


This article suggests, but does not prove, that vaccines are a culprit as are environmental toxins (Since the Amish don't use products as often as middle America does). At any rate, this non-scientific study did not find the rate of autism in Amish communities that the CDC estimates in the general population.

And on a different note:

There's a blogger out there who calls ABA "coercive" and then transitions to the Judge Rotenberg Center, which uses harsh electro-shocks for behaviors and has been a controversial program for years.

It is a stretch to link all ABA directly to aversives and painful punishers, but I was stumped by his assertion that ABA is "coercive". Hmmm.....the definition of "coercive" is:

"Using force to persuade people to do things that they are unwilling to do", according to the Cambridge Dictionaries online.

I maintain that most of ABA does not use 'force', and by the BACB's position statements, 'force' is never used. Reinforcers, defined by ABA as "elements which increase behaviors', are usually chosen based on a child's preferences. Yes, the curriculum is decided by the Common Core or state standards, are not chosen by the child, nor is the methodology of instruction. But "force"? I don't think so.

And there are alternatives to ABA, and certainly the majority of people involved in education and treating children on the autism spectrum do not use shocks or other aversives. Even the CDC offers alternatives:

You can make up your own mind about the Judge Rotenberg Center.

Here's a thought: When a program is based on aversives, the people who are hired learn aversives, are trained in using them, and probably are not trained in positive alternatves. So they use punishers, more and more, until that is all they know how to do.

So, a review: The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program,  apparent reduced numbers of children with ASD among the Amish, and ABA as "coercive".

Monday, January 25, 2016

Article Worth Reading

This is a terrific article and well worth the read. It offers some insights into the historical (and contemporary) struggles for parents as well as into the thinking of Donald.

The authors have also recently published an excellent history of autism, entitled "In a Different Key".

It's well worth a read.

PS: I wish I had written it! (Both the article and the book!).

Monday, January 4, 2016

It's Been a Very Long Time, and I Apologize

Well, beyond saying I've been very busy, there's not much more to explain. I have had a photography show, a fabric art show, participated in a holiday craft fair, and I also have been teaching two professional development courses on ASD in my school district.

Some examples here:

These activities were, however, unrelated to my work with children with ASD. (except for the two courses I am teaching).

However, the major question I have been repeating to myself since September is this:

How is it possible that the majority of parents and teachers I know in the field of ASD believe that academics are more important than connection for our children? 

Yes, I know children need a solid grounding in academics. However, this isn't an either/or question (academics or connection). So many of the children I see are so much involved "in their own heads", replaying movie scripts, story lines from television, video games, and other electronic activities that they are really challenged to pay attention to academics. So the kids have to work to 'earn' something that they like (often, time spent on the iPad or computer, looking at repeated images of these scripted thoughts) and even then it it hugely difficult to get them to pay attention.  

And often their preferred activities are emotionally charged : Kung-fu Panda is powerful, Mario is funny, Mindcraft is (whatever it is). And the school-based academics are not. 

And for many of our students aren't going to make a career out of their academic skills. The majority will not go to college and many will never read for pleasure or to learn new things.

What they need is to pay attention to their environment, to notice things, to engage in conversation, and to be taught to their strengths rather than to remediate their deficits.

But academics and tests are what matter now in public education. Everyone has to learn the same skills, in the same manner, as everyone else. Social skills, playtime, and problem-solving are not tested, and therefore, their importance ranks lower.

I often feel I am fighting a losing battle.

Teaching is not telling; teaching is providing the environment in which children learn best.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Random Thoughts In August

Well, for this week and a little bit of next week I am still on vacation. I use this time to reflect, revise, create, and read whatever I can about autism. For those of you who read me here, you already know that my reading is pretty eclectic. I love hearing (reading) the voices of people on the spectrum, the DIR and ABA groups, and any news that might help.My reading list on, however, seems to weigh heavily on the vaccines-cause-autism controversy (still hard for me to believe that it still exists in 2015, but it does).

However, I do enjoy more neutral venues, such as the National Autism Network. Here is the link:

They comment on a renewed effort to study the environmental causes/precursors to autism. While it is clear there is an genetic link, it is also clear to me that environmental toxins play a part. Take a look at the article listed on the Network.

And here is another interesting story. Ten years ago and article was published about Donald. T., the first child diagnosed by Kanner in the US. Following up on his ten years alter, apparently he was 'cured' by 'gold salts', which eliminate mercury.


Research? None. Gold salts reduce mercury? Mercury causes autism? Take a look:

Are we limiting our construction of what is autism by science, or are we saving children from the harmful effects of unsubstantiated interventions?


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Expanding Our Understanding of Attention Seeking Behaviors

This is adapted from a blog post by the It expands the way we understand "Attention seeking".

Story: a young child, possibly in preschool, had kept it together for the entire day. She seemed to be an energetic child. By the end of the day, when all the others were gathering their belongings to go home, she was lying n the floor, hiding her face, indicating "no" to her teachers when she was told togged her things. Ignoring the adults for attention? I think not. I think she was too tired and needed help. In this situation, she needed proprioceptive input to her arms and legs to give her the strength to end the school day.

In our schools we do this a lot. We give the child the benefit of the doubt, even though the strict behaviorists do not. (There is no science behind "giving the child the benefit of the doubt", and thus it is a 'mentalism'.). "Tired" is a  behavior that can be measured, observed and defined for that individual child. Giving a child the benefit of the doubt is a more caring and thoughtful way to apply ABA. We have to keep in mind that there children are in school for 6-8 hours a day, and may have been awake since 5:30 or 6:00 AM. Sleeping through the night and keeping a sleep schedule is uncommon for children on the spectrum; they often can't fall asleep, or fall asleep too early and wake up too early. Thus, being fatigued at school is very common. Many teachers with whom I work recognize this and adjust accordingly. However, this is an interpersonal decision, and not one that is prescribed in the ABA canon.

So let's be flexible in our thinking; defiance may be an attempt at humor (playfulness), a way to run around the room and be chased. "Refusing to comply" may be fatigue, sensory, or auditory processing delay. In my experience, educators talk about 'defiance' depending on the quality of the behavior. Is he not doing the task with a smile on his face? Is he looking for a reaction? This child might need to be taught to ask for and enjoy 'play', or 'tag', or 'run'. If a child is tense, angry, and/or sobbing, "refusing to comply" might be sensory overload, too much too fast, or we missed a cue to offer the child a break.

Melding the science of ABA with our human intuition is a wonderful way to meet the child's social and emotional needs. These students depend on us to decipher the meaning of their behavior and to have compassion and an open mind.

Thankfully, most of the educators with whom I have worked come by this naturally, but certainly not all of them.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"The Hidden Costs of Planned Ignoring": Well done!

This is just a quick post to alert the readers about an excellent essay written by Mona Delahunt on the neurodevelopmental costs of planned ignoring, which is an approach often used in ABA.

We should be nurturing communication.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Does Inclusion Have To Mean....

That the included students need to learn the same strategies (for example, in math or reading) that the typical kids do? I admit to speculating here.

An example I am thinking of is to "show your work" when solving a math problem. So each child must come up with not only an answer, the right one, but they must also show how they arrived at that answer. At least that is what I think is happening in local math curricula.

Handwriting for most of the students on the spectrum is slow and often a significant challenge; teachers often teach older students to use a keyboard to bypass handwriting.

So, if the students on the spectrum also have to show their work, that could mean out of a 45-minute math block, they spend more time laboring to manage the handwriting portion of the math block and less time actually doing math.

What is wrong with memorizing? That's how I learned math. And just knowing the answer? Does 'showing your work' benefit everyone? Or anyone?

Here's what I am thinking: that in some places, and some classrooms, the students on the spectrum are being taught in the same way as the neurotypical peers. Perhaps they are required to complete fewer equations, with more time.

But what if those strategies do not fit the specific learning profile of a student? In fact, how often in public schools do we ever talk about the specific learning style(s) of a student? We may mention at an IEP meeting that a particular student is a visual learner, but what does that actually mean in terms of how we instruct that student in math?

When do we decide that a particular strategy is or is not working for a child?

I imagine that there are many talented teachers out there who drive home at night wondering if a challenge a child is facing in class is due to his/her autism, learning style, or the match between learning style and instructional strategy. And I am guessing that there are just as many who don't.

I am not thinking here about particular teachers or teaching styles, but I am wondering about the bigger question: how do we know whether the learning challenge a student is facing is not because of his/her ASD diagnosis but a mismatch with the instructional strategies we are using?

Thoughts, please?