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Dr. Chris’ Autism Journal
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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). 

Exciting News in Medical Care


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 NEW YORK, NY (Dec 12, 2007) – Autism Speaks, the nation’s leading autism advocacy organization, today announced its Autism Treatment Network (ATN) would triple in size, expanding from five sites to fifteen sites across the United States and Canada. The ATN is a group of hospitals and medical centers dedicated to improving medical care for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and to standardizing the care those individuals receive.

The ATN’s multi-disciplinary approach includes collaboration among specialists in areas including, but not limited to, neurology, developmental pediatrics, child psychiatry, psychology, gastroenterology, genetics, metabolic disorders, and sleep disorders. The network aims to develop common clinical standards for medical care for individuals with ASD and to increase the pool of autism medical specialists through trainee mentorship and outreach to community-based physicians. As part of this effort, families receiving care at the sites can participate in a data registry that tracks children and adolescents receiving ongoing care at participating sites. The information in the database is a crucial part of developing the evidence to create and substantiate these clinical consensus standards.

“It is imperative that all children, no matter where they live, have access to excellent, evidence-based medicine,” said Autism Speaks President Mark Roithmayr. “The continuing expansion and funding of the ATN is a significant step in that direction.”

“This dramatic expansion of the Autism Treatment Network provides real opportunity to improve the quality of health care that children and youth with autism receive, and for more children to receive that care,” said Dr. James Perrin, Director, Clinical Coordinating Center, ATN, and Director, General Pediatrics, Massachusetts General Hospital for Children. “Developing common standards of medical care across fifteen sites will allow us to get answers to the questions parents ask about their children’s care much more quickly.”

The participating ATN sites are: University of Arkansas and Arkansas Children’s Hospital (Little Rock, AR); Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program Northern California (San Jose, CA); University of Colorado Denver, School of Medicine and The Children’s Hospital (Denver, CO); Kennedy Krieger Institute and Marcus Institute (Baltimore, MD/Atlanta, GA); LADDERS/Mass General Hospital (Boston, MA); University of Missouri (Columbia, MO); Columbia University Medical Center (New York, NY); University of Rochester (Rochester, NY); Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (Cincinnati, OH); Bloorview Kids Rehab, Surrey Place Centre and The Hospital for Sick Children (Toronto, ON, Canada); Oregon Health & Science University (Portland, OR); University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA); Vanderbilt University Medical School (Nashville, TN); Baylor College of Medicine (Houston, TX); University of Washington (Seattle, WA).

The ATN began as a collaboration between the Northwest Autism Foundation in Oregon and Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston. In 2005, the network was established with five founding sites that came together to establish multi-disciplinary practices for the evaluation and treatment of the underlying medical conditions associated with ASD. These sites currently provide services to approximately 2,000 new cases of ASD each year, and all have taken critical steps to broaden the services available to all children in these centers. The Autism Treatment Network merged with Cure Autism Now in 2006. In February 2007, Cure Autism Now merged with Autism Speaks.

To find out more about the Autism Treatment Network, or to get connected to a site in your area, visit www.autismspeaks.org/science/programs/atn/index.php or email: atn@autismspeaks.org.

The above article is reprinted with permission and can be found in its entirety at http://www.autismspeaks.org/press/atn_network_expanded.php

Meet Timo!


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timo.jpgTimo is a friendly animated tutor who helps children with autism, hearing impairments, developmental delays and other language problems to learn communication, conversation and reading in fun computer programs.  Animated Speech’s software is designed to give speech pathologists, educators and parents who work with these children an important new tool to build comprehension and vocabulary skills.

baldi.jpgThe initial concept for Timo was developed by Dr. Dom Massaro and Dr. Michael Cohen with a grant from the National Science Foundation.  Originally, Timo was called Baldi, and the once university lab project soon became a commercially available product.  Dan Feschbach, the company’s CEO, has grown the company and they now have 3 products available for varying levels of language learning. 

Team Up With Timo: Vocabulary teaches identification, comprehension, and expression of more than 650 woridScreenSection.jpgds including animals, human body, weather and much more.  The program offers pre and post tests for assessing progress and has 6 other levels of learning to teach the vocabulary.  The unique aspect of this program is Timo, who engages the child in conversation using the child’s own name!  The child’s voice can also be recorded so that the child’s parents and other team members can review it after the child’s session.  Rewards are given in response to correct answers and include a large variety of brief animations.  This program has many options for customization and is best for early language learners through about 4th grade vocabulary.

library.pngIf you are looking for more customization, ASC also offers Team Up With Timo: Lesson Creator.  In this program, teachers and professionals and create custom vocabulary and language lessons for the child to do on the computer.  You can use any pictures you want including the ones in the Timo vault, or upload your own.  This is an excellent way to build individualized, personalized lessons for your child.  index5_04.png

For older children or for children who have more language skills, they have Team Up With Timo: Stories, designed by Dr. Lauren Franke and Pamela Connors, speech-language experts.  This program teaches listening skills, comprehension, vocabulary, retelling stories, and reading skills.  Research has shown that being able to retell a story at age 4 is predictive of later success in school.  Storytelling also helps children participate in daily life with friends, family and school.  This program is based on research in language development and uses the Narrative-based language intervention (NBLI) approach that combines storytelling with skill-based activities.   

Timo products are available online and a free trial is provided.

 

 

TeachTown Receives Federal Funding for Autism Software Development


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teachtown cloud background.JPGWith the success of our first program, TeachTown: Basics, we were getting very antsy to start our next product to help school-age children with autism.  We are thrilled to announce that we have received a Department of Education Stepping Stones Technology grant to develop our next product and to do the initial research to help make this product effective, appropriate, and of the highest quality.  Stayed tuned for further updates about this upcoming product, we are anticipating using the new program with children starting in 2008!

To read more about our exciting news, check out the press release at: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=69034

Continue checking back to this site and the TeachTown website for announcements and opportunities to participate in our research and development process.

Do you live in Wisconsin?


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000_52_Eric_reading.pngThe cost of treatment for children with autism is so high, and even if you are lucky enough to find a good intervention for your child, it is hard to get the money. 

LOGO2_Sm.pngIn case you were thinking that nobody out there wants to help, check out this organization, Angel, Inc., who provides grants to individual families who have children with autism to get help with treatment!

I thought this was such a great thing to offer families, but you have to live in Wisconsin.  Funding is for up to $500 and you can apply quarterly!

For those of you who think TeachTown might be a good fit for your child, this is more than enough to cover an annual subscription!

They also provide education and networking for families who have children with autism.

000_25_Abby_smiling2.pngYou can help with this great cause by buying your Avon products through www.youravon.com/jmongillo and 20% will be donated to Angels, Inc. to help more families. 

If you know about other organizations like this in other states, please post here to let others know!

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