Friday, June 02, 2006

ABA--the baby and the bath water

I used Catherine Maurice's (editor) ABA book to teach Ben language. It was phenominal in it's breadth. We worked for about an hour or two a day for a year, with NO behavioral aspects (sit here, look at me, do this...), only the language component. Ever since I found out Janna had onced worked the ABA circuit, I've been dying to find out a little of her opinion of it.

So, I just asked her. And she answered, bless her heart! Thank you, "Miss" Janna !(Southern term of respect, y'all...)

Forget Lovaas, or the JRC guy. They can rot, for all I care. But there is something else there that the teacher in me can't throw out.

My questions are in bold, Janna's answers in regular type--hope that's kosher! I wanted to get this out, although I will be asking a couple of other people Janna suggested, just to get a feel for the "good" side of ABA, as I see it, if there is one.

I remember when I graduated from college with my special Ed degree...the hardest thing to understand was kids who were wired visually or kinesthetically to learn...YET, they end up being 90% of the kids in special ed, according to my friend who is a speech pathologist, often the first "professional" to see our kids. Any way I, as a teacher/mom can wrap my head around it makes me happy. Any way I can help improve best practices makes my life worth living...( can you say D_R_A_M_A- Queen ?)

1) When Ben was young, I used the language component of Catherine Maurice's edited book about "Behavioral Intervention for Young Children with Autism," To your knowledge, was the ABA you used based on this or any similar book or particular practice?

Yes, it was. Catherine Maurice's book was based on the Lovaas-style ABA that I was initially trained to use, back in August 1999. Many of the programs we taught were straight out of her book, in fact, for many of the children I've worked with.

2) What do you feel was the primary educational component of the ABA you used--language or behavior? Was one more difficult to teach than the other?

Language through behaviour. I don't distinguish between the two. I know some people do, but honestly, I consider language to be a type of behaviour. (Meanwhile, not all behaviour is communication.) But the programs I worked in were (thankfully) not focussed on controlling unwanted behaviours.

3) Some teaching is by nature directed to the needs of the child, and some is directed toward helping the child to pass pre-established criteria. Criticism of the first is that it is not structured, and of the second that it is teacher-centered. Which do you feel the ABA teaching standards you used fell under?

By and large, the programs I worked in were specifically geared towards teaching the child to "pass as normal" - meet specific goals, etc. I think there is a middle ground that nobody has quite managed to find just yet. I have in my head a way to do it, but haven't been able to make it happen, and may never choose to do it, either.

4) Were any aversives used, and if so, what were they?

When potty-training, we had a child wash out his underwear in cold water when he soiled himself.
Over-correction was used in another program, on a 2yo boy. Horrible, horrible, horrible. I regret to report that I was very good at this.
Tx: Do this. (Stand up, turn around, sit down. Count to three slowly to see if child will comply.)
St: (Sitting in chair, gazing at ceiling. Probably smiling.)
Tx: No. Do this. (Stand up, turn around, sit down, grab child, stand him up, spin him around really fast three times in a row, sit him down.)
St: (Not smiling anymore.)
**Repeat the above until you get the following**
Tx: Do this. (Stand up, turn around, sit down. Count to three slowly to see if child will comply.)
St: (Crying at this point, stands up very slowly and turns around slowly, making vocalisations.)
Tx: Good for you! Go play!
I think there were probably others, but they were very mild and mostly in the form of a mild "no".

Were any rewards used, and if so, what were they?

Constantly. Toys, tickles, songs, candies, piggyback rides, sparkly things, Silly Putty, books... if the kid likes it, I use it.

5) Were you a part of a taxpayer covered program, or did you teach in a private school? If private, were the fees for entering children exorbitant or reasonable?

I taught in people's homes. Mostly a base hourly pay from the government (which is never enough to actually live on unless you're an actual consultant); parents use their respite money to pay for ABA, and they will often top up the pay so they can keep you if they like you enough and can afford it.

6) What did you enjoy the most about teaching ABA to children with autism? What did you enjoy the least? (If this is too personal, leave it out.)

I loved the children. Getting to know them, their families. Spending time with them. Seeing them learn. Playing with them. Finding ways to make them laugh. Coming up with new ways to teach them things. Devising programs. Designing data sheets.

I hated being stuck within methodologies that didn't recognise that these kids were *children*, not machines. I hated the two-facedness of the consultants. I didn't like working for cure-oriented parents. I hated the "production-oriented" mentality of the whole thing.

THERE...I think that is about everything I could possibly want to ask. Thanks for even considering it. I enjoy your posts and artwork quite a bit!
Thanks for the compliment and the opportunity. I look forwards to more dialog!

Perhaps others in the Hub would like to engage me in such discourse...Janna


Kristina Chew said...

Thanks for posting this, Rose. Our home program is run by the Lovaas agency and it could not be more fun for Charlie, and for us to see him smile when the therapists drive up and to hear him laughing at his desk.

MothersVox said...

I guess there is something wrong with me -- repressive tolerance or something else -- but I cannot bear to hear about the use of aversives.

The overcorrection sounds awful -- as Janna herself points out -- but what's the deal with the cold water and the underwear? You had them put on cold wet underwear? Or just wash out the underwear? Sorry for not understanding, but it seems vague.

I guess I just don't like aversives. I don't like punishing kids who are already struggling, even if it can elicit a particular behavior.

Is there ABA without aversives?

r.b. said...

Mothersvox... I thought the same. Two is awfully young to be punishing in a less than sanitary way to begin with. And physically moving a kid through the motions, rather than guiding like a coach would...

Kristina, has ABA outgrown the punishment phase in some cases? Is it more child oriented?

Jannalou said...

Re: the underwear thing.

The child in question was 4, not 2. And he just had to wash them, not wear them afterwards (ew, gross!) - it was chosen because he hated washing his hands, especially in cold water. That was the first kidlet I ever worked with. And since then I've learned lots of other (better) ways of potty-training children, my favourite being to give encouragement and opportunity and just wait until the child is actually ready, willing, and able, all at once.

Is there ABA without aversives?

Supposedly, but I was working in one last fall and it wasn't what it claimed to be. I saw aversives all over the place, mostly in the form of not actually recognising the child's communication attempts as valid if he wasn't using one of the methods we were teaching. Ignore communication enough and eventually it all shuts down.

I've done ABA without aversives with kids I was working with, but that was with kids who didn't have anyone but me designing their programs. It's a lot easier to be child-oriented and child-friendly when the person designing the program knows the child well and is willing to give a little on some points when the child needs some leniency. Traditional (Lovaas-style) ABA programs don't give that to anybody - not the students and not the therapists - and neither do Verbal Behaviour type ABA programs. (Here I wrote the beginning of a bitter rant, but that's probably best saved for my own blog's ABA posts.)

Okay. Maybe I just had the misfortune of being involved in crappy programs, but that's been my experience, and the consultants were people who are well-respected in the field (in the region they work in).

r.b. said...


I have an isatiable curiousity about the teaching aspects of ABA, how they teach particularly to the wiring of visual/kinesthetic learners. When I graduated years ago the methods for atypical learners were woefully inadequate.

And I know all of us who aren't directly involved are curious about adversives. Basically, a lot of mistreatment has come about in the name of helping.

I look forward to your blog. I knew you were a good teacher when I saw you would do anything to make the kids laugh...

I talked with Interverbal...I thought he received ABA, but he STUDIES it (Duh!). He said he disagreed with aspects of it. Things are dramatically better than they were in the past, and I imagine they can be much, much better in the future.

Thanks so much for helping out here. Many of us are curious, and I know Kristina sees many good aspects for Charlie.

The bad in anything never disappears but under the light of scrutiny.

Again, thanks.

not my blg said...

We have been running a Verbal Behavior program since June 2005 with our son (now 39 months old). Both he and we have learned a lot since then. In the beginning, it was all about getting my son to use language to request things he wanted instead of tantruming or pulling our hands. It moved on to interverbals and imitation. I don't like the interverbals as they don't make much sense to me but the imitation programs have been very good. After about 3 months, I began to question some of the programs our consultant was recommending, specifically appropriate play skills. She recommended getting him to use imaginary themes in play. I thought they were aversive because I wouldn't have been interested in playing that way as a child either so I squashed that idea from the start. We have never used physical aversives, although we have used the ignoring tantrums, but I don't think that is different from how you teach a nt child. Our first consultant took a job in another state (we were already close to firing her anyway because we felt she was trying to make our child fit into her program rather than tailoring the program to him which is the key to good Verbal Behavior). We disagreed with a lot of what they were doing for reinforcement such as using videos to reinforce him answering questions. Our 2nd consultant was a mother with two autistic children herself. We thought she could bring some sensitivity to the situation and would be helpful because both of her children were mainstreamed. After our first meeting with her I felt uneasy. When I saw how she interacted with him I became even more uneasy. Luckily, we monitor his program with a CCTV from another room. After a couple of her sessions with our therapist, we decided that she was abusive and promptly fired her. We now have a consultant who we believe takes into consideration our son's strengths and teaches him in a more reinforcing manner (she also happens to be the same consultant that worked for Katie McCarron's mother). This consultant sees the child in our son and truly tries to tailor the teaching to his strengths. We're very happy at present. The bottom line is that ABA/VB is controlled by the parents and that you should go with what you think is right for your child. Don't go for trying to cure your child because you won't. Strive to help him learn to ask questions, think independently, and think flexibly. My son is now starting to ask questions, speak in 5 word sentences (39 mos. old) and learning from his natural environment. He is more patient with things and he can outperform any NT'er his age in reading sight words or spelling.

r.b. said...

Ben's first really effective speech teacher told us we needed to "build a bridge". We never forgot.

I am glad you are happy with your present ABA/VB program. As with teachers later on, it makes SO much difference if the child's needs are considered. The kids naturally work hard for someone who they know cares for them. There is no reward needed.

As for that play thing, our kids do play if you listen...there just is little verbal behavior going on, but that mind is going 100 miles an hour... In the old days, they used to call it imagination.

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