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Dr. Chris’ Autism Journal
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June 18th, 2009

The Importance of Generalization


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main1.jpgIn our teaching and learning endeavors with children, we often are driven by the ultimate outcome and functionality of a skill without even realizing it. Behind this motivation for teaching is the value and importance of generalization, we want our students to be able to learn something in an instructional setting and apply it in a functional setting. Think back to the days when you learned the alphabet. Now think of how easily you were able to learn that A is A, no matter what color it is, how tall it is, what kind of paper it is on, if it was on the fridge or in a book, or who might be asking you about it. And notice how you did not forget that A is A once you mastered the skill. This is generalization.

            Difficulties with generalization of skills are well-known in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and to those who work with them. These difficulties often will mean that generalization will not just occur, but rather will need to be explicitly programmed and planned for in educational and therapeutic settings.  Thus, it is important to think of generalization issues as being the responsibility of the teacher, rather than as a deficit in the child.   Individuals with ASD frequently cannot functionally use what they have learned in a structured teaching situation and be able to apply it to other similar settings or with different materials and people. Often times children with ASD will need specific planning for maintenance of a skill and programming that can naturally embed learned skills into functional activities so that the skill is constantly and systematically reinforced over time.  It is absolutely essential to program and plan for generalization, the “train and hope” approach (just teaching the skill and hoping it will generalize), is not sufficient.

            If you are interested in more information on generalization, start with this article: Stokes, T. F., & Baer, D. M. (1977)Gen Webinar Photo 15.JPG. An implicit technology of generalization. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 10, 349-367, available for purchase at http://seab.envmed.rochester.edu/jaba/. Please note that this website has lots of full text articles available as well as abstracts for their articles going as far back as 1968. They have a great search feature so that you can get right to the information you are looking for. For example if you search for autism, you will get a list of links to abstracts and full text articles having to do with studies conducted relating to autism all the way back to 1968.  Here are some strategies for programming for generalization from the Stokes & Baer article:
1) Use naturally reinforcing and occurring materials - Seek to change behaviors that receive reinforcement in the student’s natural environment. For example - learning colors because the child has a favorite color of Popsicle, M&Ms, and ice cream flavor is likely to be more maintained and generalized than learning colors by sorting colored blocks into color bowls.
2) Train Loosely - Adding variety to skills being taught. This will include using a variety of materials in a variety of ways and in a variety of situations. Ideas and approaches used in incidental teaching or naturalistic ABA tend to foster better generalization because these instructional environments more closely resemble the ultimate outcome. Studies have shown that the more naturalistic instructions and presentations of SDs tend to have better learning outcomes to intensive instruction.
Gen Webinar Photo 11.JPG3) Train Sufficient Exemplars - Providing many examples of the target response. An example of this is the computer-assisted instructional program, TeachTown: Basics , which has many examples incorporated into every lesson.  You will notice many examples of one particular vocabulary word. You will also notice that pictures used in the pretest and posttest are different from the pictures used in the training lessons. Additionally, in the off computer activities there are many ideas that include the use of materials found around the house or classroom.
4) General Case Programming – Use many examples of stimuli, use many teachers, try different settings, and lots of materials.
-Using a vending machine at local community center, using similar vending machine at school, using another similar one at the grocery store…
-When teaching car, you would consider pictures of cars, different cars, toy cars, riding in family’s cars, labeling cars on the street, etc.
-When teaching social skills like saying hi, saying hi to people where you know a name for them, saying hi to people when you don’t have a name for them, pretending to say hi to stuffed animals, pretending to say hi to pictures of friends, having dolls say hi to each other, etc.
 

            Generalization should not only be planned for in the teaching situation, but measurement of generalization is critical so plans should be made up front for how to assess it.  This can be 31212475_thb.jpgdone by taking a skill that was taught and try it with new materials, go on an outing into the community (the zoo, park, beach, grocery store, etc.), and most importantly try it with mom, dad, and/or siblings. It is critical that generalization is assessed everyday with each newly acquired skill. If the child isn’t showing functional use of the skill in naturally occurring activities and routines, stop adding new programs and goals and focus planning and programming for generalization for his/her recently acquired skills.  If the skill has not generalized, the skill cannot be considered truly mastered!

            Although the term “generalization” is often heard in the ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) literature, there is no intervention in which generalization is not important, regardless of the philosophy.  In seeking interventions for a particular child, it is essential to ask the treatment providers how they will program for and measure generalization, or real outcome.  Regardless of the impressive statistics of a treatment program, if the children do not demonstrate generalization in the real world, the results of the treatment program may not be as impressive as they seem.  A good resource for learning more about generalization, the research, and strategies for various interventions is Real Life, Real Progress for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Strategies for Successful Generalization in Natural Environments (Whalen, 2009). 

June 16th, 2009

Early Results of National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) Study with TeachTown Efficacy in Pre-1st ASD Classrooms


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Boy at chalkboardThe following is a summary of our results to date in a study in progress.  This is a collaborative research effort with Jigsaw Learning (TeachTown), Los Angeles Unified School District, and Cal State University, Los Angeles.  The study will conclude in June, 2009 and final results will be posted this summer.  In addition, the results will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal this fall.
To address the increasing need for solutions for serving children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in the schools, it is important to consider options that are more accessible and affordable such as Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI).  However, it is even more essential that these solutions are effective and research is needed to address this issue.  In this collaborative study with TeachTown, Los Angeles Unified School District, and California State University, Los Angeles, a CAI program which targets language, cognitive, academic, social, and life skills will be assessed in a large public school system.  Approximately 50 preschool and kindergarten-1sTeachTown Mapt grade children with ASD are participating with 25 children in a treatment group and 25 children in a control group.  Children in the treatment group received 50-100 minutes per week of CAI and 50-100 minutes per week of supplementary off-computer activities designed to enhance generalization to the natural environment.  The CAI and off-computer activities were provided through TeachTown: Basics, which is currently being used in many schools across the United States, but which has not yet been tested in a randomized research study.  In addition to the automatic data collection provided by the software, students were assessed using behavioral and standardized outcome measures.  It was anticipated that the classrooms using the TeachTown: Basics program would demonstrate significantly higher rates of acquisition across learning areas and would also show more improvement in their spontaneous language and social interaction.  It was also expected that children in the treatment group would exhibit less inappropriate behaviors following treatment than their peers in the control group. Following this Gen Webinar study, it is also anticipated that teachers and parents involved in the Children at computertreatment group will show higher satisfaction ratings with their child’s program than those parents and teachers associated with the control group.  The results of this research will help demonstrate to school districts the effectiveness and social validity of implementing CAI, and will help districts such as LAUSD secure funding for these types of programs by having data to demonstrate the effectiveness.  The behavioral observation data is currently being coded by graduate students at California State University, Los Angeles, and children in both groups will use TeachTown: Basics through the rest of the school year to assess effectiveness between groups and within the control group.

About LAUSD Population
District Population: 688,138
Special Education Students: 82,326
English Language Learners (ELL) Students: 39,455
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) students: 8,516

  • Primary eligibility
  • Additional 55 with ASD as secondary eligibility

LAUSD Autism Programs
Preschool Autism Special Day Programs (SDPs) - 1/2 day
Intensive Comprehensive Autism Program (ICAP) (ages 3-6)
Autism SDP (primary – high school)
Autism SDP for students with High Functioning Autism (HFA) /Asperger
Any/all other options

Issues in Autism Programs

  • Staff-student ratios
  • Funding
  • Staff training and implementation
  • Accountability
  • Behavior problems of students
  • Access to general curriculum
  • Rapid increases in ASD
  • Access to evidence-based interventions
  • Paucity of appropriate staff (have to contract out)

Potential Benefits of TeachTown: Basics for LAUSD Students
Evidenced-based intervention with built-in data collection
Differential instruction
Collaboration with parents
Curricular guidance for teachers
Motivation for “hard to teach” students
Flexibility as students transition to different settings

Treatment Procedure

  • TeachTown: Basics Curriculum (Dev Ages 2-7 years)
    • Academic/Cognitive Skills
    • Social UnderstandingPicture3.jpg
    • Receptive Language
    • Life & Community Skill Understanding
  • Daily computer sessions on school days for 20 minutes/day (can be done in 2
  • 10-minute sessions)
  • Daily off-computer activities on school days for 20 minutes/day (1:1, small group or circle activity)
  • 3 months of intervention

Purpose and Design of Research

  • Purpose: To assess the efficacy of the TeachTown: Basics program in self-contained special education classrooms in a large, urban school district.
  • Design: Between and Within-Subjects Group Design, 4 schools – each randomly assigned in the fall to Treatment or Control, in spring, Control classrooms begin treatment.

About the TeachTown: Basics Program (the Intervention)

Vacuum Reward.pngCheck out the website for information about the program: www.teachtown.com

TeachTown: Basics includes the following:

  1. ABC Screenshot.PNGOn-computer lessons where the child gets on the computer and completes lessons in an ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) format with engaging reward games to keep them motivated;
  2. Off-computer activities to work on skills that are not targeted on the computer (e.g. Expressive Language, Play, Imitation, Social Interaction, Motor Skills) and to enhance generalization of skills learned on the computer to the natural environment;
  3. Automated data collection and tracking to assess the child’s progress as they move through the computer program and for school staff to use to assess the effectiveness of the intervention and to determine which skills may need more work off the computer;
  4. Note taking system for school staff to jot down anecdotal information about the child’s performance or any other relevant information to the child’s success with the program; and
  5. Synchronization and updating of data which allows the teacher to eventually share information with the families (not in this study) and for the child to be able to use the program at home (not in this study).  In addition, this feature allows the research team to look at data on a regular basis to determine how the study is progressing and to conduct final data analysis.

Participants Results: TeachTown: Basics Software Program
LAUSD Feb Melvin Dontell Computer_0001.jpgFifteen of the 22 students mastered lessons using the TeachTown:Basics software program.  This does not mean that the other students did not make progress on the program, it just means that some of the children are still working toward mastery on their lessons, which will likely result in some mastered lessons by the end of the school year for most students.  It is not unusual for students to not master lessons in only 3 months time.  Students not meeting mastery are those with more severe cognitive delays, and those that were unable to complete 20 minute sessions.  Data below is shown for the 15 students who did master lessons in 3 months time.  There was statistical significance at the p>0001 level from the Pre tests to the Post tests, which are a part of the TeachTown: Basics program and test the child’s knowledge of concepts using a different set of stimuli from the training to ensure that the children are learning the concepts (i.e. targets) and not just memorizing pictures. In 3 months, students, on average, mastered lessons in about 43 minutes (Preschool) to 52 minutes (K-1) and mastered 5-6 lessons (20-24 concepts/targets).

Results: Language Changes on the Brigance Assessment from Pre (November, 2008) to Mid-Treatment (Feb, 2009)
The Brigance is a standardized developmental assessment that is frequently LAUSD Feb Parthenia Isaah Computer_0001.jpgused to identify deficits and track progress in various developmental areas including language, cognition, social skills, and motor skills.  LAUSD uses the
measure in their ICAP and other autism programs to asess the progress of the children enrolled in their programs.  This measure aligns well with the TeachTown: Basics curriculum and was used in this study to measure progress for students
in the Treatment and the Control groups.  Body Parts measures the knowledge of body parts; Receptive Language measures comprehension and vocabulary; and Expressive Language measures labeling and expressive communication.
All classrooms demonstrated improvement in language areas on the Brigance, but
–         The TeachTown Treatment Group showed much bigger changes in Body Image (i.e. identification of body parts) and Expressive Language.
–          The students in the preschool groups performed similarly on Receptive Language, but,
–         the K-1 students in the TeachTown Treatment group showed greater change than the Control K-1 students

NCTI- Brigance2.bmp

Results: Cognitive and Social Skill Changes on the Brigance Assessment from Pre (November, 2008) to Mid-Treatment (Feb, 2009)
The Preschool students had similar improvements in Matching on the Brigance, but TTB students (Tx Grp) made bigger gains than the Control group in Auditory Memory, General Concepts, and Social Skills.
The K-1 Students had similar improvements in General Concepts and Social Skills, but the TTB students (Tx Grp) made bigger gains in Matching and Auditory Memory.
Matching measures the child’s ability to match objects and categorize, Auditory Memory measures the child’s ability to understand and follow directions and to remember information that was presented to them, General Concepts measure the child’s basic early academic abilities (e.g. letters, numbers, etc.), and Social Skills measure the child’s knowledge of social situations (e.g. emotions, friendship, etc.).

Results: Language Changes on the PPVT-III and EVT Assessments from Pre (November, 2008) to Mid-Treatment (Feb, 2009)
The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-III) and the Expressive Vocabulary Test (EVT) were used to further measures changes in Receptive and Expressive Language skills.  Age-Equivalents are not shown because many students did not establish basal in Oct.  In Feb, there was a larger increase in the number of Preschool students establishing basal in the TeachTown group (4 additional students on PPVT, 5 additional students on EVT) compared to the Control group (1 additional student on PPVT & EVT).  The TeachTown (Tx) group also had slightly more students establishing basal in Feb (2 additional students on PPVT & EVT) compared to the Control group (1 additional student on PPVT & EVT).

Summary of Results

  • The Treatment group demonstrated much bigger increases in
    • Receptive and Expressive language using the PPVT-4, EVT-2, and the Brigance
    • Auditory Memory, General Concepts, and Social Skills for the Preschool students using the Brigan000_94_Bill_throwing1.pngce
    • Matching and Auditory Memory for the K-1 students using the Brigance
  • They also showed slightly larger increases in
    • Matching for the Preschool students using the Brigance
    • General Concepts and Social Skills for K-1 students using the Brigance
  • After 3 months of using the TeachTown: Basics program, students in the Treatment group:
    • Made significant gains from Pre to Post Tests in the TeachTown: Basics software
    • Learned 34-39 target concepts (on average) in the TeachTown: Basics software with the largest gains in Receptive Vocabulary

This is a summary of our results to date in a study in progress.  This is a collaborative research effort with Jigsaw Learning (TeachTown), Los Angeles Unified School District, and Cal State University, Los Angeles.  The study will conclude this summer and final results will be posted later this summer. 

May 12th, 2009

Call for Participants - Research Opportunity


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cute airplane 

Greetings from Jigsaw Learning!

Jigsaw Learning researchers will be conducting a third study (funded in part by the Department of Education) that seeks to identify usability, enjoyment, and potential effectiveness of a computer assisted instructional K-5th curriculum. Each participant will participate in an IQ measure (Woodcock Johnson), a language assessment (TOLD), and an ASD rating scale (CARS). Additionally, each participant will work on a sample version of TeachTown: Avenue, as well as an interview in regards to his or her experience working on the curriculum. The study will likely require 3 two hour sessions of which the child needs to be present and participating. Results of the evaluations and interviews will be shared with the Jigsaw Learning research staff and grant committees and will also be available to parents and/or guardians and the participant’s school with a release of information agreement (parent/guardian’s permission).

Participation Criteria:

Have had a formal diagnosis of ASD, Asperger’s Syndrome, or other related diagnoses

Ages Kindergarten through 5th grade

Average or above cognitive abilities

Verbal skills

__________________________________________________________________  

If you are interested in participating in this study,
please contact: Manya Vaupel, MEd, BCBA: manya@jigsawlearning.com
All participants will receive results from evaluations and a beta membership for TeachTown: Avenue upon availability.
The study will take place in at the Jigsaw Learning office
in the Eastlake neighborhood of Seattle.
  

Thank you!!
We would like to thank you all in advance for your interest in our services
and for participating in our efforts to expand education and treatment
for children with autism spectrum disorders.
www.jigsawlearning.com 
   

April 28th, 2009

Real Life, Real Progress for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders Strategies for Successful Generalization in Natural Environments


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Real Life, Real Progress for Children with ASDReal Life, Real Progress for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. A book edited by our own Christina Whalen, Ph.D., BCBA has been released this month. To order your copy today click on the book icon.

“The best hands-on guide to the most important part of intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders: helping the children take the skills they learn in intervention and use them whenever and wherever they need them.” —Tristram Smith, Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities, University of Rochester Medical Center

Generalization is the key to effective autism intervention—when children can apply new skills across settings, they’ll make broad, long-term improvements in behavior and social communication. The first how-to guide to generalization is finally here! Practical and reader-friendly, this is the book that helps professionals take today’s most popular autism interventions to the next level by making generalization an integral part of them.

Pre-K–Grade 8 special educators, early interventionists, SLPs, and other professionals will

  • enhance 6 widely used autism intervention models with specific, evidence-based generalization strategies
  • get dozens of easy activities that really help children use new skills consistently—no matter where they are or who they’re with
  • learn about generalization from the experts who know best, with contributions from top autism authorities like Ilene Schwartz, Carol Gray, Andy Bondy, Laura Schriebman, and Bryna Siegel
  • provide positive, supportive parent education so they can be active partners in promoting their children’s generalization of skills
  • weave generalization strategies into every phase of intervention planning, not just at the end after skills have already been learned
  • modify generalization strategies for different settings, so children can achieve their ultimate goal: applying their skills successfully in school, at home, and in the community
  • assess the effectiveness of generalization strategies at multiple stages of instruction

Case studies and vivid examples bring the strategies to life in every chapter, and forms and checklists help professionals plan interventions, track children’s goals, and monitor their progress toward generalization. With this urgently needed guide to one of the most important facets of autism intervention, readers will help children generalize social behaviors and communication skills—and ensure better lives and brighter futures.

Make generalization strategies a part of these popular interventions:

  • Pivotal Response Training
  • Discrete Trial Instruction
  • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
  • Social Stories™
  • Computer-Assisted Intervention
  • JumpStart Learning-to-Learn

February 23rd, 2009

Association for Positive Behavior Support


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The Association for Positive Behavior Support (APBS) promotes and disseminates information on
applied behavior analysis and biomedical science. The focus is on person-centered values and systems change to increase quality of life and decrease problem behaviors using research-based approaches. APBS is beneficial for professionals, family members, trainers, consumers, researchers, and administrators who are involved and interested in positive behavior support.
APBS is hosting their 6th Annual Conference on Positive Behavior Suppjacksonville1.jpgort in Jacksonville, FL this coming March 26-28.  Here is the schedule of events:

Schedule of Events

Please note: This is a preliminary agenda and it is subject to change.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009
5:00 pm - 7:00 pm Registration/Information
5:00 pm – 6:00 pm Family Orientation

Thursday, March 26, 2009
7:00 am - 6:00 pm Registration/Information
7:00 am - 8:00 am Family Orientation
7:30 am – 5:00 pm Exhibits Open
8:00 am - 9:10 am Welcome/Opening/Keynote
9:30 am – 5:45 pm Breakout Sessions
12:15 pm – 1:30 pm Lunch on Your Own
6:30 pm - 8:00 pm Reception/Poster Session

Friday, March 27, 2009
8:00 am - 5:00 pm Registration/Information
8:00 am – 4:00 pm Exhibits Open
8:30 am – 4:45 pm Breakout Sessions
12:45 pm- 2:00 pm Lunch on Your Own

Saturday, March 28, 2009
8:00 am – 4:30 pm Registration/Information
8:30 am – 12:30 pm Morning Workshops
8:30 am – 4:30 pm Full day Workshops
1:00 pm – 5:00 pm Afternoon Workshops

 

Jigsaw Learning Presentation

32279552_thb.jpgI will be presenting a poster at the Thursday evening reception showing data from over 1,000 users of TeachTown Basics.  Results from this research have shown interesting usage patterns including how often the program is typically used, how many lessons and which types of lessons the students are learning, ages of users, geography of users, and other valuable information about how the program is currently being used by subscribers.  Future directions for this product and others will be discussed, along with suggestions for generalization and maximizing benefits when using this program.  

About Dr. Chris

Chris is a licensed psychologist and board certified behavior analyst specializing in autism and related disorders. She received her PhD at U.C. San Diego and did her post-doctoral fellowship at U.C.L.A. Chris is a Founder and Chief Science Officer at TeachTown.

Read more about Chris and our other authors.

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