Thursday, May 19, 2016

Guiding our children HOW to grow...and how some classrooms miss the mark

We know what children need to grow and learn, right?  The environment should be happy, nurturing, loving, and filled with many opportunities to learn and explore.  The people in a child’s world should be warm, caring, loving, and supportive, right?  If you walk into any preschool or elementary level classroom, there are lots of toys, colors, positive images, and opportunities to explore. 

What happens when you walk into the majority of “ABA” classrooms?
There is very little on the walls…”children get over-stimulated and can’t focus” they are not encouraged to explore, they are reinforced to ignore.

If a child turns toward the sound of someone entering the room, they are immediately corrected by having their face physically turned back toward the teacher.
If a child jumps out of their seat with curiosity and excitement about the book a teacher is reading, they are “punished” for getting up and corrected.

They must EARN their play time…and are most often left alone during that time, because they “earned” that time.  Think about that!  One of the most important parts of healthy development for every child is relationship development through play.  Many programs NEVER have that between a “therapist” and the child they are working with.  They don’t play!  This means there is never imagination, exploration, working together and enjoying each other!  Children with autism need to earn the right to play.   When they do finally earn that privilege, no one interacts with them.  Most times their play is cut short because their “therapist” says, “they don’t really play, they only stim.”  Back to the table for more trials…

When most children are encouraged to look at books, a child with autism must earn their right to see the same book.

When they want to play with their blocks in a different way than what they are taught…they are not encouraged to try and see what happens.  They are typically redirected to the script they were taught at the table.

The very essentials for positive healthy development are ripped away in this environment.  Their basic needs to establish trust, emotion, curiosity, and confidence are no longer present.

Are we teaching them to be autistic? We can control their behavior by using behavior modification. 

We can control what they know and how they use what they know.  They are only taught what we CHOOSE to teach them.  Is this really what society thinks is best for children with autism?  We take a science which has been proven through lab testing and hundreds of research articles which show we can control behavior…and we turned it into a therapy.   Is it really therapeutic? What is therapeutic about it?  

Are we encouraging relationships, independence, growth, exploration, learning how to learn?  Are we forcing children to do what we think they should be doing?  Shouldn’t we be teaching, nurturing, loving, and guiding them on how to grow?

-Stephanie Hicks, M. S., BCaBA                                    

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Working on the child's skills from the INSIDE out

Welcome...Guest blogger, Colleague and Friend Stephanie.  She is willing to say the hard things when it comes to helping our kids...truly helping our kids!!  Its these types of conversations,  which may be hard to hear for some,  crucial in moving forward to help students become independent mindful, reflective Adults.

I attended yet another IEP meeting today trying to put together a plan for a student.  My little guy, let’s call him Henry, has ADHD and was having a difficult time learning successfully in the classroom.  The behavior consultant brought forth her plethora of behavior plans which she had attempted to use with Henry.  She then presented the graphs (insert beams of light glowing from beneath the graph as she spoke).  The first behavior plan didn’t work because Henry ripped up the self-monitoring check sheet.  The second one didn’t work because Henry said, “I don’t like this, I’m not doing it” and proceeded to crumple up that version of a self-monitoring check sheet.  The third behavior plan which included yet another self- monitoring check list which Henry was supposed to draw happy and sad faces then give it to his mother also failed because he never showed them to his mother.  Unbelievable, right?  I mean the part where the consultant kept trying to use the plan over and over again saying it failed because Henry didn’t like it.  He didn’t like it….wait, a child doesn’t want to report on how he had a hard time at school, highlight those moments, then share them with his parent….this is all crazy talk!

The consultant finally shared a graph which showed the target behavior decreasing with the use of her new magic plan.  In this plan, the teachers and the other students were to give Henry a big “X” and say “Waaa Waaa” whenever he engaged in the target behavior.  It didn’t matter that Henry was not yet able to choose a more appropriate behavior or that he had an even more elaborate plan to actually teach him what he should be doing.  So now Henry doesn’t want to record his own downfalls and share them, so we are going to just point them out for him and publicly humiliate him.  The consultant’s graphs showed his behaviors decreased immensely!  It was a miracle plan and everyone was so excited.  So what behavior was he engaged in that his graphs were so stunning?  Oh that’s right….sitting with his head down on the desk.  Not participating.  Not feeling good about himself. 
Shame on you behavior consulant!!!!  Any behaviorist….a true behaviorist could look at a child’s posture, eye gazes, movements, and listen to their silence and know nurturing, positive, development is not occurring. 

I took data  the same as the districts consultant.  She saw a student not engaged in target behaviors and that was a good thing for her.  What she missed was seeing the child engaged in low self-esteem, low confidence behaviors.  So ashamed that he put his head down on his desk and completely disengaged from the rest of the class.   Is the graph a positive one?  Does the behavior actually work for the reasons we want it to?  Did this consultant have any background in child development or education?  Sadly, no she did not.  She has a degree in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and a certificate as a BCBA.  Was her training helping her to focus on developing a well-balanced child?  Did she know anything about nurturing a child to help them feel confident in the skills they do well?  How about guiding and supporting him through difficult things?  Nope.  Her only goal was to be able to show a downward trend.

When I told her I didn’t need to see anymore of her graphs and we didn’t need to waste anymore time reviewing them, she simply said, “the data is how I make decisions about his program.”  Really?  The data?  So pieces of paper that come to you on a weekly basis are the only way you help to positively impact this child’s development and education?  Hmm…because I kind of think you need to meet a child, know a child, watch a child and most importantly, know what you’re looking for!!!!
Everyone around that table looked to the almighty consultant who had a plan which showed a decrease in behavior. Because you see, a child with a behavior problem no longer falls under the umbrella of “Child.”  They become a plan with black and white data on a graph which shows how we got them to do what we wanted them to do. 
I know all of you behavior analyst out there will say the plan was unethical and she was a “bad” example.  I have been to hundreds of IEPs and advocated for kids and their families.  I have yet to find another behavior consultant who wants to work on a child’s skills from the inside out.  They want to work on teaching words, flashcards, non-functional imitation skills, non-functional receptive commands…never developing trust and guidance to the point of mastery.  Analyzing milestones is never done.  Analyzing skills is done all the time.  Why is skill development more important than milestone development?  How can we be so blind to think we are doing a good thing for kids to skip over the most precious stages of development?  Does it sound like a good plan to teach them to do things because we said so and if they do, they will get something they want?  Think about it, how many years of that type of therapy and then we turn and say….well he is still not social.  He only talks if you talk to him.  He doesn’t have his own personal goals and is prompt dependent.  Don’t even get me started on prompt dependency, that is a blog for another time but I will leave you with this little diddy….prompt dependency requires two people.  The student and the teacher, guess who causes prompt dependency?  So the next time you want to blame a student for prompt dependency just remember, “it takes two to tango.”

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we looked at every child who has autism or any child with a behavior problem and saw them as a child who is still developing?  How about running back to the pediatricians and child development experts and say, “where do we go from here?” Behavior consultants are not the answser.  Especially the ones who have zero experience teaching or studying stages of development.  I get it, everyone has worked long and hard on these studies and assessments and yes, we can show improvement in skills for children. 
Dare I ask has anyone ever considered what we are NOT teaching?

Stephanie Hicks M.S., BCaBA