Results for Children with Autsim
Tuesday, Apr 14, 2009
The Day School at The Children’s Institute Makes Breakthroughs
Educators and therapists at The Day School at The Children’s Institute are seeing positive, measurable results in the treatment and education of children with autism through a special program known as the Verbal Behavior Project. Now in the second year of their highly individualized and state-of-the-science approach to education for students with autism, professionals at The Day School are noticing outstanding improvements.
The Day School’s success can be attributed to their participation in the Pennsylvania Verbal Behavior Project. The project is dedicated to implementing Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) approach to promote better communication and behaviors in children with autism. ABA provides a systematic, highly structured delivery of instruction and reinforcement. Dona Alvino, MEd, BCBA, The Day School’s program specialist for students with autism, says, “By focusing on functional language, we are seeing improvements for all of our students in the program, and in some cases the change is dramatic.”
One such case is a young girl named Hannah who came to the program with very little communication skills. Janet Tallerico, her teacher, explains, “All of Hannah’s language was based on echoing another person; all of her requests were prompted. Now she makes on average 16 independent and 4 prompted requests using her assistive communication device, the DynaVox V. This is a huge gain.”
The Verbal Behavior Project started six years ago as an initiative of a support group for parents of children with autism. It has since grown through education grants administered through Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Special Education. The Day School is the only approved private school in Pennsylvania to participate in the Department of Education’s ongoing Verbal Behavior Project.
Through an assessment called Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills (ABLLS), professionals are able to measure improvements in basic language, academics, self-help and motor skills. As in Hannah’s case, her increase in communication skills is measured using this widely recognized scale. The staff at The Day School at The Children’s Institute meticulously documents each student’s progress daily, compiling the data and charting the results from year to year in the program. “Overall, we have observed and recorded a decrease in behavioral problems and a measurable increase in language skills,” explains Alvino.
Alvino and her staff work with children on their communication skills, with a goal of getting them to express their needs or wants in any way that a child is able, using positive behavioral reinforcement as a reward, which can be as simple as a high-five or a pat on the shoulder. In some cases an exercise as basic as asking for a cookie is very difficult for a child with autism. By consistent and systematic application of ABA techniques, Day School professionals and families work together to gradually increase the child’s ability to verbalize his desire for that cookie, at first looking at what the child wants (a cookie), and then teaching the child how to make the request. Initially that may involve only the child reaching for the cookie to indicate interest, and once he engages in “verbal behavior,” in this case reaching to indicate interest in the cookie, he gets what he wants. By introducing new ways to make the request such as signing, saying what things are, answering questions, following directions and imitating, professionals are able to expand a child’s communication. The goal is to work toward meaningful interaction and verbal behavior, increasing the skill level as aggressively as possible.
The hard work often continues at home for each student. In Hannah’s case, she works with her communication device at home letting her mom, Robie, know what she wants. “We work with her to ask for what she wants whenever possible, and I see that she initiates communication at mealtime more than ever, letting us know what she would like,” says Robie.
Tallerico, her teacher, explains, “This year for the first time she is beginning to echo her device. This means she presses the button to ask for a snack and then she will immediately echo using her own voice. This is a huge gain because in the end we want to see Hannah use her voice all the time rather than the device.”
Robie is most excited about Hannah’s increased social interaction. “She is quicker to respond to people who greet her. Hannah will say ‘Hi,’ which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a big deal for us!”
The state monitors the progress of each participating classroom, performing regular monthly site reviews and instruction. The Day School staff in the Sheila and Milton Fine Classrooms for Students with Autism receives training offered by Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN), the education component of the state’s Department of Special Education.
Autism statistics are staggering. One child in 150 is born with the spectrum disorder; a new case is diagnosed nearly every 20 minutes. To meet this increased need, The Day School at The Children’s Institute created the Sheila and Milton Fine Classrooms for Students with Autism two years ago and added three classrooms last year to continue to provide services for children in need. The state-of-the-science classrooms and equipment offer subdued lighting, noise-reducing tiles, a multi-sensory room and a student-to-teacher ratio of 2:1.
The Day School hopes to increase the number of classrooms in the coming academic year in order to provide more hope for children with autism and their families.