What the Meredith Autism Program Does
Our Basic Teaching Philosophies
MAP adheres to several key philosophies:
- It is possible for a child with autism to make significant gains in development using appropriate teaching strategies and intensive one-on-one intervention.
- The foundation of all teaching is in the basic Applied Behavior Analysis techniques of showing the child what to do (prompting) and encouraging the child when appropriate (reinforcement).
- A child with autism will learn optimally when skills are broken down, taught in isolation and then put together again in a comprehensive teaching program. MAP uses mostly discrete trial teaching but also incorporates errorless learning techniques and child directed play strategies.
- Interventions should teach across all areas of functioning, focusing on areas of deficit and utilizing areas of strength.
- The intervention should make all attempts to teach expressive language as the primary means of communication. However, other systems, such as sign language, a picture exchange communication system or reading and writing should be implemented if the child does not master verbal imitation in a timely fashion.
- A child with autism must be taught and encouraged how to interact with the world around him/her- the surrounding world cannot adapt for the child. This is why MAP utilizes the diversity of college students taking a practicum course for teaching as well as provides training for all involved family members.
- ABA and DTT
What is ABA?
ABA or Applied Behavior Analysis is a branch of Behavioral Psychology that focuses of the analyzing and possible changing of human behaviors. This field of psychology adheres to the principles that most behaviors are extrinsically controlled and therefore can be changed. Meaning, that if we examine what the specific behavior is, what happens just before and after it, we can change unwanted behaviors and teach new ones. The majority of research in the field of ABA supports the principles of reinforcement and extinction to change and teach behaviors. There are numerous research studies across many principles of Behavior Modification, so programs that advertise themselves as “ABA” can vary greatly as to how they are working with children.
What is DTT?
DTT or Discrete Trial Teaching is a specific method to teach a variety of skills that individuals with disabilities may not pick up from their natural environment because they have difficulty processing too much information at once. The basic principles of DTT, break a concept into its smallest possible parts and teach each part separately before putting all the mastered parts back together to demonstrate the concept. For example, the concept of body parts would be initially taught by having the individual touch each body part on self in isolation only working on one body part at a time. Then the isolated body parts could be put together into the concept of washing all body parts when bathing.
DTT has three distinct, or discrete, parts: an instruction (which is simple and consistent), a response and a consequence. When teaching an unknown item, a prompt (or assistance) is given directly after the instruction to ensure success and mastery. Once the individual demonstrates independent correct responses (without prompts) then DTT follows a “no,” “no” “prompt” format of teaching where the individual has two chances to respond correctly before receiving any help. All responses are followed with either reinforcement (to encourage the behaviors that you want) or lack of reinforcement (called extinction) followed by the informational “no” to discourage the behaviors you do not want and let them know the response was incorrect.
The theory behind the successful teaching of DTT is that a child with autism has difficulty processing all the stimuli of the surrounding world. DTT begins teaching in an environment with reduced stimuli, very simple instructions and high repetition. This better enables the child with autism to understand the surrounding typical environment and process simple visual and auditory instructions. High repetition and breaking skills down ensures the highest success rate for a child with autism in the teaching situation.
How is MAP different from other services?
- Specific behavior plans (using ABA techniques) are developed by the assigned Behavior Consultant with the parents that work on: upset behaviors when demands are placed or when the child is leaving something highly desirable; sitting at the table appropriately for all snacks and meals; walking appropriately when transitioning; and behaving appropriately for small group interactions.
- Full-time year-round services are offered starting at age of intake.
- The utilization of undergraduate students taking a course keeps costs down while offering a natural generalization to a variety of people and personalities.
- Unlike a full-time staff center, having a teaching team of students promotes a continuous flow of directed teaching for the child with no "free play" breaks.
- Early, intensive, full-time, highly repetitive teaching is the optimum strategy to change the way a child with autism's brain processes and acquires information to help them understand how to learn like a typical child would.
- Full-time fees include all parent meetings and trainings which are at a minimum of 6 hours a month. These meetings and trainings include all areas of need such as dealing with trips to the grocery store and putting a child to sleep at night.
- Acknowledging the lack of typical peer role models, MAP offers a summer "practice preschool" program incorporating typical children as well as taking children on community outings during the summer months.
- MAP also utilizes occasional 2:1 teaching by experienced students or staff to help children better transition from the highly structured 1:1 teaching to small group settings, like typical classrooms.
How We Teach
- The intervention focuses on those skills that are developmentally appropriate.
- MAP uses ABA methods to work on decreasing all inappropriate behaviors and prompting and reinforcement to work on increasing all appropriate behavior. This is utilized across the day throughout teaching, daily routines and breaks.
- MAP uses DTT to break down any unknown skills into the smallest teachable part and teach in a quiet isolated setting. These skills are then put together into age appropriate concepts in the generalized or natural setting to become functional for the child.
- The first few weeks that a child begins services with MAP, students and staff spend most of the time playing with the child to develop a reinforcement history. This sets the foundation for future teaching because as the team begins to teach new skills, they know how to reinforce the child and how to reduce tasks when the child becomes non-compliant or upset.
- All concepts taught are first mastered in the more isolated work room at the table and child and then generalized to other areas with a variety of instructions and people.
- MAP uses the Meredith College lab setting for the majority of teaching hours to provide optimum quality control of the intervention. This enables the assigned Behavior Consultant to observe the child and make needed changes immediately.
- MAP transitions a child into services with minimal teaching hours and increases to 35 hours per week and quickly as possible. MAP begins a child’s program with minimal directed play and develops the “demand- reinforcement” relationship so that the child is most comfortable in the MAP lab setting and the instructor knows what the child can do and what the child finds reinforcing.
What We Teach
When developing a teaching curriculum for a child enrolled in MAP, Behavior Consultants follow this skeleton of developmental skills for initial teaching:
- Following the simple instructions of Come Here (coming to the table) and Go Play (leaving the table to find a toy to play with)
- Imitation of Gross Motor movements
- Imitation of Objects- which leads to simple toy play with 12-24 month-old toys
- Imitation of Fine Motor movements- which later leads to pointing to objects and counting on fingers
- Imitation of Oral Motor movements- which leads to sound production and putting sounds together to say words
- Following Instructions- one-step then two-step, then three-step to age appropriate complex instructions
- Verbal Imitation of words and phrases- this imitation leads to the future responses in expressive programs
- Self Help Skills such as potty training, hand washing, dressing, following daily routines and self feeding
- Name call – where the child turns his/her head and engages in eye contact in response to hearing name
- Appropriate play outside, including climbing, running, sandbox play and ball play
Once this foundation of skills is mastered, the Behavior Consultant will develop a learning plan that can be built upon those fundamental skills. If the child is struggling with verbal language, the Behavior Consultant examines the child’s primary method of communication. The Behavior Consultant may incorporate non-oral communication methods such as a picture exchange, sign language or typing while continuing to work on spoken language. The Behavior Consultant will also prioritize the child’s teaching plan on those skills most important for the child’s future- for independence and participation in his or her community.
MAP also works on children’s social skills through summer community outings as a group to places such as Kinder Music, Monkey Joe’s and parks; as well as the incorporation of typical peers in the summer “Practice Preschool.” Practice Preschool is held twice per week for three hours each day for about 10 weeks with the participation of three and four year old typical developing children. The “preschool” activities include simple art projects, songs, weather, calendar, water play, nature walks and introduction to school themes.