10.20.2009

Dr. Bridget Taylor: Interview, Webinars on Autism & Problem Behaviors

The amazing behavioralist Supervisor M has been leading Leo's ABA therapy team since he was two, but not every child with autism has my son's luck. ABA therapy can be expensive, school districts can be resistant, and qualified therapists can be elusive.

How lovely that Dr. Bridget Taylor has become the senior clinical advisor for Rethink Autism, the online ABA Therapy curriculum resource. I know am not the only parent who, upon hearing that ABA therapy could actually make a difference for my child, daydreamed about having Dr. Taylor on his ABA therapy team. Dr. Taylor is the ABA therapist and researcher who helped Let Me Hear Your Voice author Catherine Maurice's children lose their autism diagnoses. She also co-founded New Jersey's center for learners with autism, the Alpine Learning Group. Thanks to Rethink Autism, she can now be part of any ABA therapy team with internet access.

The Rethink Autism team is aware that not everyone can afford their monthly subscription rate, so they have engaged Dr. Taylor to conduct free webinars, both tomorrow, Wednesday, October 20, and Monday, October 26, in which participants can discuss autism and behavioral problems with her, via live chat. Here is Rethink Autism's summary of the webinars:

For many parents and families with children on the autism spectrum problem behavior can be challenging. That's why this month's free live webinar focuses on the best problem behavior treatment and prevention strategies available. You'll learn how to begin immediately applying these techniques with your child and have a chance to ask questions via live chat with autism expert Dr. Bridget Taylor, a leader in the field of autism treatment and research, and rethink autism's senior clinical adviser.

Register for a webinar session now by clicking a date below:

For those who can't participate in the webinars, read on -- Dr. Taylor agreed to answer a few of my and Supervisor M's questions about autism, managing problem behaviors, the role of the internet in the autism community, and the most important things parents should be focusing on at various stages in their children's lives:

What has drawn you, personally, to the Rethink Autism online and webinar model?

As a clinician working in the field of autism treatment for over twenty years, I am very excited about being involved in an innovative company that has the potential to reach many families of children with autism. I have always been committed to translating complex concepts and teaching techniques for families so that they can be empowered to teach their children. Rethink Autism’s video-based curriculum presents teaching techniques in a simple step-by-step manner so that families can see how to teach their children.

Do you plan to have your Rethink Autism curriculum contributions about managing problem behaviors at home, etc., evolve with your research findings at the Alpine Learning Group, for example reducing too-rapid eating by use of a pager prompt?

All of the Rethink Autism’s teaching techniques and procedures are based on research that has been conducted in the field of applied behavior analysis. The techniques that I will discuss about managing challenging behavior are based on general principles of learning, and how challenging behavior is usually a result of the interaction between environment and behavior. That is, behavior occurs in relationship to certain events occurring in the environment. If we can identify those events and determine the reason for the challenging behavior, we can change behavior for the better. The pager prompt study is one example of how you can teach an individual with autism to attend to specific cues in the environment in order to reduce a behavior of concern. In this case eating too quickly.

Some children with autism engage in problem behaviors due to skill deficits and; a general lack of self-management skills; they do not yet have a rich repertoire of independent play, leisure, and self-care skills (and so must always be engaged by an adult). In addition to teaching independence, what are some ways school staff and families can manage these problems without promoting problem behaviors (e.g. excessive repetetive/stimulatory behaviors, prolonged dependence on adults?

Yes, many children engage in behavior because they lack skills in specific areas. So, teaching children with autism play and leisure skills can replace some repetitive behavior. Teaching children with autism for example to follow photographic activity schedules can help to keep children stay engaged without constant prompts from adults. Research in the use of activity schedules has shown that children can sustain engagement by attending to photo cues that serve as prompts to engage in play and leisure activities. In addition, teaching other functional skills such as how to ask for a break when demands are too difficult or how to wait for a preferred activity can be helpful to reduce challenging behavior associated with these contexts.

What are some suggestions to include the family member with autism in general family activities? Day to day living?

Make activities very predictable and start with short realistic activities. For example, if you are going to a restaurant, begin with one that does not require a long wait (e.g., a fast food restaurant), and bring your child’s preferred activities to engage in during the waiting period. In general, help the child with autism know what is expected of him / her in during the activity (e.g., first we are going to the store and then we are going to Grandma’s house). Pictures can serve as cues for children as to what will take place during the activity and the general sequence of the activities.

In terms of general family routines such as eating at the dinner table together, start with a short duration of sitting and use timers to help the child know how long he will have to sit. For other family activities the child may need an incentive or a reward to participate. For example, if you want the child to sit and watch a TV show with his sibling, intermittent rewards such as access to a preferred snack while he is watching the show, may motivate him to participate in the activity the next time. Over time, you can fade the snack out. In general, the more you practice family activities and make these activities very predictable, the more the child will learn about what is expected and it will become easier over time.

How can parents assist the teams they collaborate with? 

Parents are clinicians' best allies. They can assist in many ways. For example, they can help clinicians identify important goals to work on (e.g., cooperating in haircuts, attending religious services, playing with siblings), they can help in transferring skills learned during teaching sessions to every day, real-life activities, and they can support the intervention by implementing the interventions in daily life. In addition, since they truly know their child best, they can provide essential information to team members about the child (e.g., likes, dislikes, general patterns of behavior, etc).

What is the one suggestion that you would make to a parent of a newly diagnosed child? 

Access interventions based on applied behavior analysis as soon as you can.

What would be your one suggestion to a parent whose child is ten years old? 

This is a good time to reevaluate the goals you are working on. Ask yourself, “will he need this skill when he is twenty years old?” How often will this skill be needed in daily life? How is this skill going to help him be as independent as possible?

How about for a parent of a child who is transition age? 

Identify agencies and supports in the community that your child can be part of for the long term. Identify agencies that have multiple program components such as career planning, residential planning, and recreation and leisure activities.

What is one piece of advice you would give all parents? 

No one knows your child better than you – you will be your child’s strongest and most passionate advocate. You are after all the architect of your child’s future and as you collaborate with professionals help them to learn as much as they can about your child and your vision for your child’s future.

What is one thing you would suggest that parents avoid? 

Avoid interventions that are not grounded in sound scientific research.

What are your thoughts with regards to the internet and the role it plays in the autism community? 

The internet can be a great resource to families in terms of learning about treatment, accessing services, and gaining support from other families. Unfortunately, it can also lead families down the wrong path to a treatment that does not have a lot of research supporting it. When parents google “autism and treatment” they are confronted with hundreds of options, this can be daunting for families. But, the internet allows families to learn about effective, science-based interventions such as applied behavior analysis. Rethink autism’s innovate web-based curriculum is one such example of how the internet can potentially change lives.

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