Thursday, August 13, 2009

School year 2009-10

I will attempt to make 2 posts per month across the school year...Sept-June. Let's see how I do!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Applied Behavior Analysis [the field of] 1

As a teacher for high schoolers with severe & profound disabilities, the best tool kit I have comes from the field of applied behavior analysis. This field was defined by Baer, Wolf, and Risley in the first publication of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.

"Applied" defines the field as socially relevant and leading to functional individual and socially significant benefits. Remember that previous to this new field, B. Fred Skinner, his students, and a few others were developing its basic principles by observing the patterns in choice-making behavior of pigeons, rats, and other lab animals. Though it ended up, luckily, that the principles developed by Skinner & others were applicable to people, this was not at all a foregone conclusion. The transfer of Behaviorist principles derived from the observations of some animal choice-making under controlled conditions turns out to be universally applicable across animals [including, of course, people]. And this stroke of luck allowed for the harvesting of a half-decade's worth of research for application to choice-making animals.
"Behavior" refers to the observations of real behavior and the systematic evaluations of that behavior.

I think the original article, though 40 years old, is a must read for anyone interested in the history of science as well as anybody who works with the shaping of behavior [such as teachers, doctors, judges, etc...].

I want to take the next series of blogs to develop the interplay of teaching and Applied Behavior Analysis [ABA]. Partially, I am motivated to do so because the field is very broad and the assessments, remediation, and techniques that flow from this bountiful field are applicable to any training model. But at this historical moment, the field of teaching is focusing the term "ABA" to the Lovaas/UCLA remediation attempts directed toward young children with autism.

I am afraid that a name of an entire field ["Applied Behavior Analysis"] will have its definition reduced to a particular remedial program. In fact, the Lovaas method flows directly from the ABA field and Lovaas himself is one of the most well known researchers in ABA. So I have absolutely no qualms with using the ABA description for his method. I just want that moniker to keep its wider meaning.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

GenEd Class for Kids with Severe/Profound Disabilities #1

The first time I heard of training students with severe/profound disabilities in a standard GenEd class I was learning from Carol Ann Davis at the University of Washington. []Now,Dr. Davis was not about just popping some kid in a GenEd class and then abandoning him/her with an aide. She wanted us to figure out what functional activity the student could either perform or learn while in that class. I remember being unable to imagine what she had in mind and asked if there was some school where I could go to observe such an approach. Frustrated, she said that she didn't know of any place that did it around here [that was 5 years ago]. But she pointed us to research that seemed to bear out the premise that it was an advantage to have kids with severe/profound disabilities in GenEd classes.

First of all, the most important benefit was one that was not expected. It ended up that when these kids needed to do things in the, leisure activities...the parents of the kids in the GenEd classes were the most helpful. It ended up that parents try to help the kids that their kids know. So more kids were able to get jobs through the GenEd class inclusion due to CONNECTIONS than due to any skills they may pick-up. Now THAT'S interesting...and compelling.

A nice summary of other benefits are included in this short paper by Jennifer Katz & Pat Mirenda:
How Do I feel about this? I'll write in later blogs under the same title.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Who is Responsible for Autism?

The November/December 2007 edition of The Skeptical Inquirer contains 3 excellent articles that talk common sense about autism. The central article, from my point of view, is by my favorite blogger who is also a professor, neurologist, podcaster, and president of the New England Skeptical Society...Steven Novella.
His point is that there is strong evidence AGAINST the hypothesis that thimerosal or the vaccinations that contain them are responsible for the prevelance of autism. Of all the diseases....Autism has perhaps the most bizarre claims of etiology in the last 65 years.

I first will refer Dr. Bruno Bettleheim who, in the 70's perpetrated faked research and fraudulant cures for autism. He expounded upon Leo Kanner's 1940's idea of cool, unfeeling mothers from whom children withdraw and never return to the world. He went wild with anger over the Lovaas/UCLA methodology that ended up having about a 50% success rate in getting youngsters who were exhaustively trained into elementary schools without any labels. [Note: that was a huge step forward as all those youngsters were probably going to be labeled with autism which, at that time, was considered a form of schizophrenia.]

But, over time, the Lovaas method [called ABA after the field of Applied Behavior Analysis from which the tools and methodologies emerged] has won the day. And it was thought by one of my professors [whose expertise was autism] that parents were clamoring for an "autism" diagnosis for their children because the ABA methodology gave them extra hope that their children could be substantially helped. Many have.

With the same "timing" logic as Kanner's hypothesis, the MMR vaccination became suspect. It's not a bad reason to suspect something. But, you've got to give it up when the evidence shows no causation. And, indeed, that's what has been repeatedly shown.

The heart wrenching whining must stop before it inflicts harm upon the vaccination producing companies. This would be a great harm to all of us because it is only through overwhelming percentages of vaccinated people that regular plagues of polio, whooping cough, tetnus, mumps, rubella, and so on that we lower our exposure to these contagious germs.

Children show signs of autism from earlier ages though the behavioral reversals of the 18 month olds are usually the attention grabber that gets the motivation for finding a diagnosis.

Behavior of parents is not causal for autism. Nothing in the vaccination is causal. How many lives Bettleheim destroyed nobody knows. But his victims' stories have been documented and his tragic effect upon them is public record. It is important to keep the anti-vaccinators from destroying the lives of our families and decendants by unnecessarily exposing them to danger.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Gotcha [thanks to Richard Wiseman]

This post was prompted by the following video link.
Please watch it before reading:

This video demonstrates the reality of people overlooking environmental changes...even changes that we would consider fairly obvious.

One of the favorite games that is played in the US these days is "Gotcha!". The place where "Gotcha!" is most valued is in the legal system. Side "A" tries to impress some monied party that Side "B" didn't notice something and therefore "B" should pay "A" money. Often, side 'B' pays because either they can't prove the negative...that something WASN'T overlooked...or the effort to fight a suit will take significantly more resources than proving that oversight did not rise to the level of endangerment or negligence.

In Wiseman's video, we see a demonstration of how we overlook matters while focusing on an involved but different targets. A good ambulance-chasing lawyer would impress these obvious oversights on his/her potential client & will probably sell a case to the client. Whether or not a judge would buy the ambulance-chaser's argument would be a matter of chance. Most of us, judges included, do not understand how easily we're fooled...especially by unethical lawyers.

I think this video would be a good "required watch" for any judge or jury member.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Coddle Model Part I: Nursing versus Teaching

There are far too few great nurses. But, I need to say, I have met some of these fabulous nurses. They have worked for students who are medically fragile. I'll tell you what a great nurse can do. She [they've all been female so far] can figure out, ahead of the event, what will cause any level of discomfort or disequalibrium to her patient. She then arranges the environment or environmental conditions so that the predicted event is avoided by her patient. The result? The patient is not disrupted from his/her state of being. No stress is placed upon him/her. The environment has been arranged so the patient warmly purrs across smooth interactions and transitions. Desires are filled before a lack of anything is noticed. Routines are run. Roles are played.

There are far too few great teachers. But, I need to say, I have met some of these fabulous teachers. I'll tell you what a great teacher can do. S/he can figure out, ahead of the event, what will cause any level of discomfort or disequalibrium in his/her student. S/he then arranges the environment or environmental conditions so that the predicted event takes place and impacts his/her student. The student becomes aware of a desire to overcome an obstacle. S/he either uses a tool that the teacher has taught or uses critical thought to solve the conundrum. By the end of the experience, the student is no longer the same. S/he has learned something.

Great nursing cancels great teaching. They are reciprocols. In the classroom, nursing is sometimes absolutely necessary. In those cases, the health of the child takes precedence over the learning rate. And, in those cases, the nurse takes [justifiable] professional pride that her patient has avoided any stressors & will be able to save his/her energy to fight off health concerns that will come up in seconds, minutes, or hours.

The student is a recipient of the coddle model [named by the great Conan Thornhill presently of Kentwood High in Kent, Washington]. Under the coddle model, an unstressed & coddled student can expect to have few, if any, challenges. Think about how damaging this is to the learning process. There is, really, no reason to learn anything. The student learns that there is always someone around dedicated to making his/her life smooth & eliminating stressors wherever possible.

I have a saying: "My students may be retarded but they aren't stupid". That is to say, they use the knowledge & experiences they have to determine what is in their best interests. Then they act in what they believe to be their best interests. These students have learned that they will not often be faced with challenges and added stressors from their environment. So they learn that they don't need to learn.

Life is good. Don't rock the boat.

The End

.......or is it?

Monday, November 19, 2007

On Being Compassionate & Insensitive

When people find out that I work with students who have severe/profound disabilities, a common response is to tell me that I must be very patient. Sometimes I am patient and sometimes I'm not. But, for me, patience is not a key to interactions with my students.
If you have compassion, you don't need patience. But the compassion cannot be confused with "coddling". & the best way to avoid coddling is to cultivate a certain quality of insensitivity.

Every teacher needs to understand what his/her student lacks in order to make an appropriate intervention. One needs to combine his/her compassion....the emotion that moves one to accept the student and help the student benefit him/herself...with an insensitivity that will allow a student to reach the motivating state of disequalibrium. Upon reaching disequalibrium, the student is motivated to learn specific skills to "right" him/herself. Self-correction for regaining equalibrium comes through the learned intervention.

So, I think, good teaching, at least for students with significant disabilities, is about balancing compassion and insensitivity for the benefit of the student.

What do you think?