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Archive for April, 2006

The National Standards Project

Friday, April 28th, 2006

I’m currently attending the AEN conference in San Jose, CA. The primary focus of the project is on a “National Standards Project” which will focus on the urgent need for universally accepted standards that promote evidence-based treatment approaches for autism.

This is exciting stuff! I’ll follow-up in the next week with additional information. Here’s some information pulled from the National Autism Center web site:

The National Standards Project is an unprecedented effort to produce a set of peer reviewed standards for evidence-based education and behavioral intervention for children with autism. The standards will also give policy-makers the tools they need to ensure that effective, scientifically sound treatment programs receive crucial funding.

The technical manual will be the basis for the development of additional materials targeted for specific audiences and uses. Projects presently scheduled include:

1) A handbook for families providing criteria for selecting evidence-based services.

2) A handbook for public school systems outling specific evidence-based program components, procedures, and implementation strategies.

3) Published recommendations for physicians on how to counsel families to identify effective services for their children with autism.

4) Professional training in how to implement the national standards.

5) Practical web-based material to help families and practitioners learn about the standards and their implementation.

Participants in the project include nationally recognized experts.

The need for standards is well established in the field. In 2001 the National Research Council (NRC) assembled a multi-disciplinary subcommittee to integrate the scientific, theoretical, and policy literature pertaining to the education and treatment of children with autism and to disseminate a preliminary set of recommendations. Although the NRC Report summarized the components of evidence-based approaches to education, it did not provide details explicit enough for standards implementation. An National Institute of Health (NIH) sponsored Autism Summit in 2003 further confirmed the need for standards.

Virtual Touchscreen

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

Mom and son.jpgHelping a young child, or a child with motor-skill issues use the computer may not require the purchase of an expensive touch-screen monitor.

TeachTown has been undergoing field testing at the San Diego Unified School District for about 6 months. About a dozen of their “mentor” teachers are using TeachTown: Basics in their classrooms.
The teachers there told us about a simple but clever method of helping out a child who does not know how to use the mouse. It requires that the teacher or parent sit with the child (which is typical when working with a young child or a child that has OT issues.) Essentially, you can let the child touch the screen of a regular monitor. The facilitator (teacher or parent) moves the mouse to the position where the child touched and clicks the mouse. [You can of course use this method with any other software or interactive web-site.]
Once your child gets used to the contingent reinforcement of interacting with the computer, you can eventually work on transitioning them to a mouse or other assistive technology device. I also found a good website that sells computers and mice for little kids: http://www.kid-computers.com/. If anyone tries out one of these mice for younger kids, please feel free to send me a review of your experiences!

Association for Behavior Analysis Conference, Atlanta, GA

Friday, April 21st, 2006

When: May 26-30, 2006
Where: Hyatt Regency Atlanta

atlanta_image01_sm.gifWhat’s the latest in behavioral research?
Since 1974, ABA has been the primary professional organization for behavior analysts, dedicated to the enhancement and development of research, education, and practice, of behavior analysis. This conference is for those interested in the philosophy, science, education, and teaching of behavior analysis including researchers, speech pathologists, behavioral consultants, teachers, and parents.

TeachTown is very excited about our participation in the ABA conference this year. In addition to having an exhibit where we will hand out copies of our research paper, evaluation software, and give demonstrations to conference participants, we are also giving two presentations. We are particularly excited about the symposium with fellow researchers and clinicians from University of Washington and ASTAR.

Here are the presentations in which we’re involved:

#64a Symposium 
3:00 PM - 4:20 PM
Regency VII
AUT/EDC; Service Delivery
BACB CE (CE Instructor: Christina Whalen, Ph.D., BCBA)
TeachTown: A Comprehensive Computer-Assisted ABA Treatment Program for Children with Autism
Chair: Christina Whalen (TeachTown)
Discussant: Ilene S. Schwartz (University of Washington)
 Facilitating Language and Social Behaviors Using the TeachTown program. CHRISTINA WHALEN (TeachTown), Lars H. Liden (TeachTown), Brooke Ingersoll (Lewis & Clark College), Eric Dallaire (TeachTown), and Sven Liden (TeachTown)
 Abstract: Children with autism spectrum disorders often respond well to treatment programs that incorporate visual learning including pictures and videos. Recently, researchers have begun to study the effects of using computers to teach children with autism and have demonstrated some effectiveness. One of the biggest criticisms of using computers with this population is that it may impede two of the most critical learning areas for children with autism – language and social interaction. In a recent study, language and social behaviors of 4 children with autism and 4 children with other developmental disorders were measured in play and computer sessions with their parents. For the children with autism, inappropriate language and social behaviors decreased and appropriate language and social behaviors increased while on the computer compared to play sessions with the parent. A demonstration of the software will be presented along with research data.
 Comparing Teacher-Implemented Discrete Trials to Teach Town: Rate of Acquisition and Generalization. NANCY ROSENBERG (University of Washington ), Bonnie McBride (University of Washington), and Ilene S. Schwartz (University of Washington)
 Abstract: Four young children with ASD participated in this intervention. The purpose of this intervention was to compare the rate of acquisition and generalization of receptive vocabulary items taught using teacher-implemented discrete trials and a computer-generated discrete-trial program (i.e., Teach Town). The primary research questions were: (a) which intervention resulted in children learning the vocabulary items more quickly, (b) which intervention resulted in more generalization, and (c) during which intervention did children display more positive affect and behavior. A parallel treatment design was used to answer these questions. Results will be discussed in terms of trials to acquisition and percent of generalized responding. Social validity data will also be presented.
 Incorporating TeachTown into a Comprehensive Behavior Analytic Program for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. ELIZABETH J. WYMAN (ASTAR Center) and Susan K. Malmquist (ASTAR Center)
 Abstract: Empirical evidence supports the need for 25-40 hours per week of intensive behavioral intervention, for children with autism, most effectively begun at the age of diagnosis. Families often struggle with locating direct service providers to supply these hours, wait lists with ABA providers, and funding these services. Providing this intense number of behavioral therapy hours is a challenge. The utilization of a computer software program to provide discrete trials or to supplement an existing therapy program is one option for families. However there are some pre-requisite skills that must be in place before the computer software can be used as an effective teaching tool (e.g. the ability to remain seated in a chair, isolated pointing, visual scanning, attending). We examined and compared the skills required to utilize the TeachTown software effectively with children who demonstrated the basic prerequisite skills and those who demonstrated few or none. An analysis of these skills as well as the children’s skill acquisition and generalization rates were also considered and analyzed.
Workshop #90 BACB Continuing Education
8:00 AM - 11:00 AM
Regency VII
CE Instructor: Christina Whalen , Ph.D., BCBA
TeachTown: Incorporating ABA Best-Practices Into Computer-Assisted Treatment for Children with Autism
CHRISTINA WHALEN (TeachTown), Brad Mcguire (TeachTown ), and Manya Vaupel (TeachTown)
Description: The use of computers with children with autism is becoming increasingly prevalent yet this technology still seems relatively untapped with its potential. In this workshop, all of the essential elements of ABA for children with autism will be discussed including Sd’s, prompting, discrimination, aquisition, reinforcement, generalization, data-collection, information sharing, and research. These topics will be discussed in terms of how to incorporate the best-practices of ABA into computer technology. One example of a program that attempts to incorporate all of these essential elements, the TeachTown program, will be presented and attendees will receive free demo copies of the software. It is suggested that attendees bring laptop computers for a more hands-on experience.
1) What are ABA best-practices and how will we know when we are doing it?
2) How can we use computers to improve existing ABA practices?
3) How can we better manage data from ABA programs?
4) How important is generalization? What is the best approach for incorporating generalization into treatment? How can we measure generalization in ABA programs?
5) What research has been done on using computers with children with autism and what research still needs to be done?
6) What is the TeachTown program? How does this program incorporate ABA best-practices?
Activities: Review of ABA therapies available for children with autism; review of “best-practices” in ABA therapy; review of studies using computers for children with autism; discussion of advantages & disadvantages of using computers for children with autism; review and hands-on demonstration of TeachTown program along with discussion of “best-practices” in ABA; discussion of generalization and ideas for incorporating generalization into computer-assisted programs.
Audience: Parents, teachers, professionals, and researchers specializing in autism, language delays, or other special needs. Basic understanding of ABA and ABA principles (e.g. reinforcement, prompting, discrimination, etc.) - these terms will be reviewed briefly but workshop is ideal for those with basic understanding of these principles.
Level: Intermediate
Member: $75 Non-member: $90
After 3/10 Member: $100 Non-member: $115
If you are planning to attend the conference, Atlanta offers plenty of fun things for you and your family to do as well:


Early Detection of Autism

Friday, April 21st, 2006

MCHATWhat are the early signs of autism?

If you have ever had concerns about a child’s development, you are not alone. Having occasional concerns is a natural part of parenting and care-giving. But when these concerns persist, it’s time to take the next step.

Whether you’re worried about a child’s language, how the child relates to the people in his life, how he plays with toys, or any other developmental concerns, young children rely on those who can help. Early detection of autism is critical to the future of young children who may be at risk for autism spectrum disorders. The M-CHAT questionnaire is a screening tool used to facilitate early detection of autism. Pediatricians and family doctors often use this questionnaire during a child’s 18 or 24-month developmental check-up.

The Checklist of Autism in Toddlers (CHAT) is a screening tool commonly used by pediatricians and family doctors during a child’s 18-month developmental check-up. The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) is a modified version of the screening questionnaire that can be used by parents and early childhood educators. These screening tools can be used to alert parents and health professionals for the potential need of a diagnostic evaluation performed by pediatric neurologists and psychologists trained in autism assessment measures.

We’ve put links to these tools on the teachtown web site at www.teachtown.com/mchat.

Autism Education Network Conference, San Jose, CA (April 27-30, 2006)

Thursday, April 13th, 2006

Autism Education NetworkThe purpose of this conference is to increase awareness with parents, teachers, and professionals about “evidence-based practices” (EBP). What this means is interventions which are founded on research studies and which have data demonstrating efficacy. One of the strongest evidence-based practices is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which has over 20 years of research showing effectiveness for children with autism.It is important to note that when I say “ABA”, I am not speaking exclusively about Discrete Trial Training (DTT). Rather, I am talking about a very large field of science which focus on using the principles of behavior analysis to change behavior in order to make society a better place. This field is not specific to autism, in fact, many parenting books, marriage books, and addiction books focus on the principles of behavior analysis to help people. In autism, DTT is one type of ABA that has shown effectiveness. Other types of ABA, such as Pivotal Response Training (PRT) use more naturalistic teaching strategies and have also shown effectiveness for remediating certain symptoms of autism.

In developing new treatment approaches, or in implementing more established ones, it is essential that we look at the research, and incorporate information from those studies into our approaches. Schools are now mandating that teachers choose EBP and are increasing efforts to properly train staff in implementing these procedures.

The AEN conference brings in autism researchers, professionals, and parents, to share their knowledge with others about what is EBP, why are EBP important, what are some examples of EBP, how do we increase knowledge of EBP, and what are the gold standards for EBP. Some of the people that I am excited to see there are Ilene Schwartz (University of Washington), Bob & Lynn Koegel (UC Santa Barbara), Robert Putnam (May Institute), Deborah Ross-Swain (Swain Center), Jane Carlson (May Center), and many other excellent speakers. There will also be several informative panels such as multidisciplinary teams, transitions, etc.

I will be speaking there on Sunday, April 30th. I also plan to attend the entire conference to see some of these talks, which I always look forward to and learn so much from. TeachTown will also have an exhibit there if people want more information or a personalized demonstration of the software.

If you are interested in learning more about the conference, check out their website: Autism Education Network. Their site is also a good place to find information and resources on autism.