Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

February 07

Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

5 Common Mistakes Made by the School Aide

When Tyler entered first grade, his parents and teachers had high hopes that he would be able to participate in the classroom with little intervention. However, his parents insisted that a 1:1 aide initially accompany him and then gradually be faded. The school staff opposed the idea on the grounds that a 1:1 aide made the environment more restrictive and they wanted to use the least restrictive environment possible. His parents countered that while it may be reasonable to expect him to be independent over time, they couldn't just throw him into a new school situation without any support. That would be setting him up for failure. A compromise was finally reached in which he would be provided with a 1:1 aide, but the school would use one of it's existing aides rather than hire an instructor who had worked with Tyler in his behavioral treatment program utilizing the Lovaas Model of Applied Behavior Analysis.

After two months, school staff were concerned that Tyler was becoming prompt dependent on the aide. He did not follow directions from the teacher, only made requests to the aide, and was demonstrating difficulty interacting with his classmates. Rather than proving that an aide shouldn't have been sent in the first place, Tyler's situation shows that even for children who are likely do well in school, the aide must be competent in critical strategies to help a child be both successful and independent. Five common errors that often lead to prompt dependency or less success in the classroom were found during subsequent observations from Tyler's behavior consultant. Collaboration between Tyler's school and his behavior consultant from the Lovaas Institute resulted in additional training for his aide in these areas.

Mistake 1: The aide provides verbal prompts in situations where a child should learn to respond to cues in the natural environment.

Example: In circle time, the teacher would tell all the children to return to their seats. When Tyler did not move, the aide would tell him to go back to his seat. Recommendation: The aide should prompt in such a way that they are seen and heard from as little as possible, especially when learning to respond to cues in the natural environment. The aide is attempting to act more like a mime than a tutor.

Example: In circle time, the teacher tells all the children to return to their seats. The aide immediately guides Tyler from behind to start standing up and points to where the other children are going.

Mistake 2: The aide waits to prompt in situations where a child has already shown difficulty.

Example: The teacher tells everyone to get out their math books. The aide waits to see if Tyler will get his book out (which he typically does not). After the other children have gotten their book out and he has not, she points to the inside of his desk.

Recommendation: Unless the aide is 80-100% certain a child will respond correctly, she should immediately prompt him. Waiting to prompt teaches a child that, "if I do nothing, I'll be given help." Immediate prompts allow other environmental cues (like other children getting their books out) to take over as the aide's prompt is faded.

Example: The teacher tells everyone to get out their math books. The aide immediately taps the child on the back, points to what the other children are doing, and then guides the child's hand toward his own desk. Prompts are faded so that the aide taps the child on the back and then only points to what the other children are doing. Then, prompts are faded so that the aide simply taps the child on the back. Finally, the aide sometimes waits to see if the child will simply respond on his own, but goes back to some level of immediate prompting before the child is unsuccessful more than 20% of the time.

Mistake 3: The aide prompts a child to interact with his peers without ever prompting other children in practical, specific ways to interact with the child.

Example: On the playground, Tyler immediately runs to the swings. The aide prompts him to go play chase with his peers for a few minutes. Tyler then returns to the swings.

Recommendation: Solicit the help of peers at school who demonstrate interest in the child. In some instances, a carefully planned talk with students can open a child's classmates up to how they can help him be more a part of the class. In other circumstances, specific suggestions from the aide may be enough to increase successful peer interactions at school. When peers learn how to successfully interact with a child, they often go out of their way to keep trying to interact on their own. And, when a child has found that he can successfully interact with his peers in an activity he also enjoys, he often starts to seek out and respond to those peers more frequently.

Example: On the playground, Tyler immediately runs to the swings. The aide goes over to two children who have shown interest in Tyler and tell them, "I think Tyler might want to play chase too, but I don't think he knows exactly what to do. Can you go ask if he wants to play and help him run away from the person who is it?" The aide may give more specific suggestions during play such as, "Take his hand if he's not following you."

Mistake 4: The aide fails to systematically use available reinforcers.

Example: Tyler often spent too long completing all of his worksheets. He would immediately complete any coloring activity but then drift off while completing the other worksheets. The aide would allow him to get started, since he was independently initiating the independent work, but always ended sitting next to him after he completed any coloring activities.

Recommendation: Preferred activities should be used as reinforcers for less preferred activities. The aide should constantly evaluate, "What does this child like about school?" "What does this child not like about school?" "How can I use the things he likes to help motivate him through the things he currently doesn't like?"

Example: When Tyler is given three worksheets to complete, the aide immediately goes over to him and puts the coloring worksheet under another worksheet. She explains that he must complete the first worksheet (or perhaps a portion of it) and then he can do the coloring worksheet. She prompts him when necessary to keep working on the first worksheet and then he is rewarded with the coloring activity. Over time, the aide fades any help she has been giving Tyler and increases how much work he must complete before he can do the coloring activity.

Mistake 5: The aide keeps too much, imprecise data rather than a little, accurate data.

Example: Tyler's aide was required to fill out a sheet of paper at the end of the day that said how Tyler did in each subject at school. Generally, she would make comments such as, "He did great today," "This was difficult for him," or "He wasn't paying attention today." In addition, she had to fill in a spreadsheet that had all of his IEP objectives and say whether or not he was successful (by filling in "yes" or "no" for each objective). However, figuring out if he was or was not making progress toward objectives in which he demonstrated difficulty (e.g., "Tyler will respond to a teacher's individual instructions at least 80% of opportunities) was hard when the aide only had to write "yes" or "no" at the end of each day.

Recommendation: Choose approximately 3 measurable behaviors in which a child should make progress and immediately record the information so that trends can be established and difficulties immediately addressed.

Example: Tyler's aide was asked to keep a note card in her pocket that had "follow teacher's individual instructions" written on it as well as "respond to comment or question from a peer." There was a column for "independent" and a column for "aide prompt." Whenever the teacher gave him an individual instruction or a peer talked to him, the aide would make a tally mark in the appropriate column (depending on whether she had to help him or not). At the end of the day, she would transfer the numbers (number of independent marks and number of prompted marks) to an Excel spreadsheet. This information could then quickly be turned into a variety of different graphs or tables to show whether or not he was truly making progress.

Would you like more information on other issues that often arise at school? Let us know here

The names of all children in this newsletter have been changed in respect for family confidentiality.

From the Editor

In 1995 when I was asked to help a family whose son had recently been diagnosed with autism, additional information on behavioral treatment was hard to come by. Fast-forward eleven years and the amount of information now available to families is incredible. Still, from the number of emails the Lovaas Institute receives every day, one thing is apparent: families want more! Therefore, I've been given the opportunity to supervise the publication of what the Lovaas Institute hopes is new and relevant information for you and your family. I'd love to hear any feedback you have.

Vincent J. LaMarca
Lovaas Institute Newsletter

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Squirt Gun Attack! Let the child squirt you with a squirt gun. Be sure to act up like you don't want them to get you. Let them chase you around the room.


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"When our daughter was diagnosed with autism," says Bronwyn's mother, "it was not the diagnosis itself, but what happened afterwards that was the first real disappointment for us.

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