Keeping up-to-date!

There is a lot of information to take in, particularly in regards to Autism and theories about development and potential new treatment methods. I have found a few sources from the internet that have been particularly informative, and can at least point me in the right direction.

Keep in mind, my main area of interest are people providing information about Applied Behaviour Analysis and Verbal Behaviour, but these sources can link me to other areas as well.

So below, are a selection of resources I go to, when wanting to find out the latest information, or just clarify terminology.

Tricia-Lee Keller (BehaviourAtPlay)

Tricia is really great at providing everyday examples of ABA terms. Recently, she was studying for the BCBA exam via Twitter, providing handy study tips in 140 characters or less! Congrats on passing!

Dr. Amanda Kelly (Behavior Babe)

Hailing from the land of sunshine and aloha! Dr.Amanda Kelly again provides clear-cut explanations of ABA terms for everyone. I often refer to her website when explaining terms and concepts to families. Also great to see her passion for supporting families in trying to get insurance for families receiving ABA services. It was great to catch up with her last month.

Emily Wormald

Emily always asks some good questions on twitter in regards to ABA, and provides links to interesting articles, resources and some cute animals when the weekend comes around.

ABA International

This is my go to source for a) up coming conferences and b) a wealth of information about all the different applications of ABA

The Conversation – Education

Very thought-provoking discussions related to education in Australia. Lots of points of view, and the comments are usually good to get a few different sides and opinions.

Autism Advisory and Support Service

This place always has useful information for families in Sydney who are looking for services and support.

Association for Science in Autism Treatment

This is a great go-to website for the latest information about science and evidence based treatments

Raising Children Network

I think this website is a fantastic resource. Not just for Autism information, but any information about raising a child. The specific Autism section actually provides details about the differnent types of treatments, evidence behind treatments, cost and time involved. I always point newly diagnosed families in the direction of this website.

Mark Sundberg

When I want to get information about Verbal Behaviour, I always visit Mark Sundberg’s website to see some of his uploaded presentations.

The Project

I feel that this show is like BTN (Behind the News) for young adults. I remember having to watch BTN in primary school and hating it, having to write articles about it afterwards, but I find this show really great to watch, just to get general information about what is happening in the world. Occasionally there are segments that are particularly relevant to my interests, but on the whole, it usually has some good pieces.

Autism Spectrum Australia – Positive Behaviour Support

This website contains more *free* resources to help with creating an individual behaviour support plan for people on the Autism Spectrum. There are how-to guides fr filling in, and checklists for parents about Positive Behaviour Support services.

MultiLit

I mainly use this website when I need to figure out what workshops I am presenting! But it provides some information about literacy interventions, as well as information about where to find further research and references.

Musec Briefings

These are short, 1-page summaries on a current topic of interest in the special education world. The researchers look at the research available, and summarise it, and the provide a ‘verdict’ on whether or not it is recommended to be implemented.

These are just a few of my preferred sources of information. I find Twitter and Facebook are great places to connect with people and have discussions about a whole range of different topics.

Around the world with 80 Behaviour Analysts …

Part 1, Hawaii!

Although that would be quite cool to travel the world, chatting to behaviour analysts and seeing how they work in different parts of the world, I’m not quite sure how manageable that would be. So I’ll start with a short meeting in Hawaii.

I recently spent a few nights in Hawaii, celebrating some milestone birthdays with friends, but because I can’t seem to be able to sit still, I organised to catch up with Behavior Babe – Amanda Kelly!

hawaii

We chatted over dinner about the way funding is organised in the US vs Australia (and the differences between the states within the US) and just in general about the quality of programs and educational opportunities for Behaviour Analysis at universities and colleges.

It was great to catch up and just gain another perspective on ABA and the whole BCBA thing I have been aiming towards for many years.

And I have since come back very motivated and refreshed, and ready to keep going!

So thank you Amanda for meeting with me, and I will hopefully see you again, on future trips to Hawaii … potentially for conferences :D

I would lose my head if it weren’t screwed on.

I say this, and “I wish I were an octopus” at least twice a day. The first one, because I can’t believe I remember half the things I need to do. And the second one, because I live up four flights of stairs, and I am only going to make one trip up from my car, so I carry all my bags in one go. And if I had eight arms, it wouldn’t be as much of an issue :)

In regards to remembering everything I need to do, I do have a few little tips and tricks that make things easier.

I live with one of my best friends (or at least, I think I still do – we haven’t crossed paths in a few weeks!) and it is always hard to keep track of where each other is and when we will be back. Fortunately 3M Post-It’s have provided us with a solution ;)

Helps keep track of what is happening during the week

Helps keep track of what is happening during the week

This weekly schedule sticks right on the fridge or wall, and can be wiped clean at the end of the week, ready for the next. I can see when my roomie will be home, or when she will be paddling across the Pacific Ocean :o , and we can keep track of when the rent is due, or the cleaner is coming. Very easy to use and it can help me know when she will be home so we can catch up!

Another prompt that has been extremely helpful, has been a visual prompt on the door, again, courtesy of 3M Post-It’s ;)

My lovely roomie has been training hard, waking up at 4am most mornings to do ocean paddling training, and not that I ever have been up at 4am, but I would definitely agree that some sort of stimulation would be needed i.e. coffee.

More often than not, I would wake up at a more reasonable hour to make my coffee, only to find a shot of coffee sitting in a cup on the coffee machine. At first I thought my roomie was being very kind and leaving me a pre-made (cold) coffee … and then I realised the more likely conclusion was, my roomie would make her coffee, and then forget to take it with her!

A visual reminder near the keys (needed to leave the apartment) has been successful.

A visual reminder near the keys (needed to leave the apartment) has been successful.

Since this visual has been in place, I haven’t found one cup of coffee left on the machine! I am tempted to withdraw the visual prompt to see if it is now something my roomie can remember without the need of a visual, but she did say it has been helpful (if it were me getting up at 4am, I think I would need two coffees!)

I have many other ways of helping me remember everything I need to do during the day or week.

My calendar on my phone – with reminders – tells me where I need to be and what bills I need to pay. Facebook alerts me to people’s birthdays (and this week it has been going crazy with birthday alerts!) I write post-it note lists and stick them to the back of my door to remind me what to pack, or take take medication.

These slightly unobtrusive, but in my line of sight prompts, help keep me on track. I like to point these things out to the families and workers I am working with to indicate we all use visuals, to varying degrees, to help us get through the day.

Another 3M Post-It product, that I think is rather clever, though I haven’t used it yet, are reminders for your bag, seat belt or steering wheel!

Small, handy reminders that are portable.

Small, handy reminders that are portable.

These would be great for if you need to stop by somewhere on the way home, take something with you or even to make a call. They stand out and remind you that you need to do something.

Visuals can be helpful for us to remember what we need to do, or plan ahead and know what is coming up, as long as they make sense, and are meaningful to us.

Check out 3M Post-It’s Home collection, available at Officeworks in Australia

The 7 Dimensions of ABA

This is one of the first things I came across in my more formal study of ABA, however I didn’t really pay too much attention until I did a little bit more further study for my BCBA.

The entire article is from quite a while ago, and is cited at the bottom of this article, however I have found this link to be quite useful in surmising the information.

In this blog today, I just want to discuss a little bit about each dimension and why I feel it is important in the work that I do. I think this is particularly relevant, and good timing for me to revise, as I am aiming to complete another subject towards my BCBA next month.

Study tip # 1 – I use the mnemonic ‘GET A CAB’ to label the 7 items :D

Applied - the work we do, needs to be of socially, significant importance. That is, it needs to be relevant to the individual and make a change that will impact and make their life, and the people surrounding them lives, better. This is were person centered planning, family centered planning, quality of life, and individualised programs come into play. Not to mention, ideas related to inclusion and accessing the local community, and in Australia, the NDIS, having an effect. It is a nice aspect of ABA, and provides the underpinning for meaningful services and interventions.

Behavioural - we are concerned with the observable. All behaviour is observable and measurable (until we get to private events, which I am not even going to begin to try and understand on here)! However, if we have clear, objective, observable and measurable behaviour, we can collect meaningful data, create interventions and test to see whether those interventions make a difference, and prove the effectiveness of what we have done.

Analytical - this is the part I feel I have the least experience in. I think, indirectly, I can be quite analytical in the work I do, however, I often struggle to have the time, or correct guidance to implement potential treatment plans and validate their analytical value. It requires manipulating antecedents and consequences to bring about (or decrease) a particular behaviour. I think I do a lot of the manipulating to decrease and then once the behaviour is decreased, we are all pretty happy so it is all good, however I wonder if we were able to control and manipulate further, and produce some sort of experimental design, we may gather further information about the behaviour and what is mantaining it over longer periods of time? Anyway … food for thought for another day.

Generality – this is such an important dimension. What is the point of doing what we do, if it only works in one place? Or with one person? Or with one material? Or only at a certain time of day? We need to ensure that was we do in one particular set up, can be generalised and maintained to another environment, person, object etc. This is definitely an area where I find it is often very hard to generalise and replicate educational based research and interventions from research, to classroom practice. I don’t really have any great ideas for how to go about making this easier, I just want it to be easier :)

Conceptual – This dimension focuses on the need for techniques and interventions being related to some sort of theoretical base, and with applied behaviour analysis, that is definitely the case with a lot of the strategies used. In regards to the way this is used in ABA, it makes for more meaningful and effective interventions – they are not just being pulled out of nowhere, there is already some semblance of reasoning there.

Technological – this notion is similar to generality, in the sense of we want things to be expanded on, however it directly relates to specific components of ABA being replicable, particularly with research. If what you have done, has worked so well, then I should be able to a) understand how you did it, through your extremely detailed research and b) replicate your study and achieve similar results. This is something I hope to be able to do one day soon, and I apologise to all those poster presenters at conferences, whom I judged harshly and thought “Pft, I already knew that, do something new!” But this is an important aspect as it builds on research already about there, and provides first time researchers, a starting point :P

Effective – save the best for last! Of course, why would we do all this, if it wasn’t effective. We constantly take data on what we are doing, and this is something I have stressed to many people I have worked with over the years, so we can see if what we are doing, is working. And if it is not working, then we can review and see what we need to change, and where, so that we can ensure we are not spending time, money and resources on something that is not working. Although, by using strategies and techniques with many, many years research behind them, we should hopefully be on the right track to start with … but as it will be evidenced in my soon to come science post, we need to constantly be checking in on ourselves and evaluating what we are doing.

This was actually a really good refresher for getting back into study!


 

References

Cooper, J., Heron, E., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied Behaviour Analysis Second Edition

Baer, D.M., Wolf, M.M., & Risley, T.R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 91-97.

Behavior Analysis Association of Michigan – Seven Dimensions of Applied Behavior Analysis

The importance of being evidence-based.

Not necessarily earnest though.

Many years ago, when I was studying my Special Ed course, I remember having a very brief discussion with one of my lecturers in regards to “harmful” treatments. We were discussing the fact that there are some promising interventions out there (in regards to Autism interventions) however there just wasn’t as much research to support these treatments as there is in regards to behavioural interventions.

Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely all in favour of behavioural based treatments. There is a long history and evidence base of behavioural interventions being highly effective in many different aspects. However I was just interested to see what the deal was with other interventions, and how could we really discount something, if it hadn’t been tested yet (another relevant blog post coming soon – I’m a Scientist!)

Her response was quite informative and I really learned something about science and research. In my mind, I was only considering ‘harmful’ interventions to be the ones that cause physical harm e.g. Students being rolled up into blankets and then suffocating. However she explained that ‘harmful’ interventions also could be interventions that were taking the time, money and place of proven interventions, and providing ineffective treatments, wasting the time and money that could have been spent on effective, evidenced-based treatments.

It was like a light switch. It made sense to me, and explained to me why some ABA providers were perhaps extremely vocal and adamant about the effectiveness of ABA.

I have been doing this for many, many years, and I am still learning to this day. By continuing my study towards becoming a BCBA, I am actually linking things together and things are falling into place even more. But this particular conversation has always stood out in my mind, and I take it with me in my work.

I wanted families to understand the importance of evidence-based treatments. And understand their rights and the types of questions they should ask when engaging with a service provider e.g. What are our goals? When do you review our goals? What measurement tools do you use to check the effectiveness of what you are doing?

I can completely empathise with families wanting to try anything and everything. And a lot of families have friends who may have tried different interventions, and have anecdotal reports about its effectiveness. I imagine I would be in the same boat as families, and want to try everything, and do everything in my power to help my children. Personally, I just want to be able to support families, and share with them the information I have learned over my time in this field, and hopefully provide them with good information.

I was always happy to be a consultant for families who had recently received a diagnosis, because I wanted to share with them the importance of evidence-based interventions, and the types of questions they should be asking service providers, and how if you aren’t happy with a service, you can move on to a different service (particularly if you are paying for a service).

I feel this type of information will be even more relevant in the future once the National Disability Insurance Scheme comes into play, and hope families can utilise the tools available to help them make informed decisions.

I’m always ready for Summer!

Thinking back to some of the different things I have done over the years, I have been pretty lucky to be able to have a lot of fun in my work – particularly in sessions!

One thing I love to do, particularly on extremely hot, Australian Summer days, is do sessions outside, preferably near water. And one of my favourite things to use, are water balloons!

I don’t think I have used these since I was a kid. And even then, I don’t remember using them that often. But I was in Woolworths one day, walking past the party items, and thought “That would be an awesome idea!”

It was.

I cannot think of one child who did not want to give water balloons a go. I have one who was a little scared, but he was interested and watched me (hiding behind the wall, with his hands covering his ears) as I filled up water balloons and then proceeded to pop them all over his garden (I clearly had a great time!)

They have been an invaluable asset to my little reinforcer kit. And they surpassed their original use as a nice reinforcer for a hot day, to being a part of many different programs I was teaching.

Initially, I used water balloons as reinforcement e.g. “First we have to get all our tokens, then we can do water balloons outside!”

The I started realising there was a whole lot more we could be doing with water balloons.

I introduced waiting to three brothers who all wanted water balloons at once, but there was only one tap to fill it up!

I used it to teach accepting and tolerating change, at a very, very basic level i.e. I would say “What colour balloon do you want?” and whatever he would answer, I would say “Hmmm, nah, what about this colour instead?” and he would happily take it because at that point in time, he didn’t care about the controlling the colour, he just wanted a water balloon!

I used it to teach a brother and sister to follow more complex instructions e.g. “I want you to pop the balloon next to the small, green plant in the garden.”

It is great for even discrimination tasks – colours, attributes (big/little, full/empty, wet/dry).

And of course, requesting/manding! Getting signs/gestures/picture/vocalisations/mands for water balloons is always an exciting thing, especially with kids who are just beginning to learn to request, and then you get the added bonus of fun water balloons once the balloon has been requested for :)

Of course, there are a few rules discussed before the use of water balloons. I always check with the parents that it is an OK thing to use with their kids. And then the rule for the kids is once a balloon is popped, pick up all the pieces and put it in the bin, and then you can get a new one.

So even though we have had a mild winter here in Australia, I suggest stocking up on water balloons, because if you are anywhere near me, I’m going to buy out all the local supplies ;)

Resources

Water Balloon Pump

Can you name the 7 dwarves?

I am pretty sure I can’t.

I can, however, name the five key components of an effective literacy program.

To be fair, I should probably know both of those, because they both could be relevant in my work. Although I think knowing Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends names would be more relevant … I haven’t come across a kid who loved Snow White and the Seven Dwarves yet.

Anyway, I want to provide a little overview of yet another area I am passionate about. Literacy. This is at the front of my mind because I delivered some fantastic Literacy workshops this week in regional NSW.

I have worked with hundreds of children over the years who are struggling with their reading, and have used very specific programs, that are underpinned by scientific research, to ensure their success, and it is that scientific research I will be discussing today.

Three independent inquiries into the components needed in an effective literacy program were conducted between the 2000 and 2006, in Australia (The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy), The US (The National Reading Panel), and the UK (The Rose Report). Each of these independent reviews looked at all the research on teaching reading available and gathered information about what the research indicated worked. They all found that the same key five components that need to be present for a reading program to be effective. Those five key components are:

  1. Phonemic awareness – oral manipulation of sounds/words e.g. rhyming, syllables, oral blending & segmenting, breaking words into the smallest units of sound (phonemes)
  2. Phonics – linking the letter sounds to their written form e.g. knowing that when we see the letter “m” it makes the sound /mmmmmm/
  3. Fluency – the ability to read quickly and accurately
  4. Comprehension – the ability to understand what you are reading
  5. Vocabulary – understanding the meaning of the words you are reading

These five components, along with explicit and systematic instruction in phonics skills, as well as opportunity to practice these component skills in reading real text, will help to provide the best intervention for teaching students to read.

I find it is (relatively) easy to teach kids the foundational skills needed to be able to decode sounds and blend words and provide repeated practice so they remember them!

However teaching them how to remember what they have read, understand what they have read and make sense of it, is quite difficult. Looking back at the five key components, there is a kind of progression, moving down the list in regards to the skills. You need to be able to read accurately before you can read fluently, and once you start to read fluently, you can then spend more time and energy understanding what you are reading (comprehension), and trying to make sense of what you are reading, which ultimately, is the goal of reading.

It isn’t easy. Teaching students to read fluently to help with comprehending what they are reading, and then teaching students how to understand what they are reading, and increasing their vocabulary to help with comprehension, takes a lot of practice and repetition. There are a lot of different things you can do to help students learn different strategies to make sense of what they are reading. Reading aloud to students, or having them read aloud to you, and asking questions to check for meaning is one of the easiest ways to do this.

There are also Direct Instruction programs that teach comprehension explicitly. I have used theses programs with a few students over the years, and they are highly effective, teaching specific skills and giving students strategies to take meaning from what they are reading.

There is a whole lot more I can talk about on this topic, but I will probably make individual blog posts on those down the track. So I’ll leave you with the things I find are really helpful when teaching students who are struggling to read:

  • a clear progression of teaching individual phonic sounds and skills,
  • building on previously learned/mastered skills,
  • explicit teaching of reading strategies, and
  • opportunities to practice those skills in a supported situation while asking questions to check for meaning and understanding i.e. having them read aloud to practice.

Resources

Direct Instruction Reading – Douglas Carnine

National Institute for Direct Instruction

MultiLit – Making Up Lost Time in Literacy

National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy

National Reading Panel

The Rose Report