Thursday, July 17, 2014

Upturning The Tables in the Autism World

Are established autism intervention organizations and centers the best pathway to creating 'successful' development in individuals with autism? What is the mainstream autism intervention approach these days? Why is that te main one? Has that approach 'cornered the market,' as far as providing the MOST successful intervention? Is it possible that a great number of innovative approaches are yet to be discovered? What is the goal with interventions? Do marketing dollars drive in propective families and individuals with autism into these centers, more so than actual success rates?

In an age when the mainstream approach to autism intervention sits squarely on the use of ABA, or applied behavioral analysis, the idea of innovating as a Special Educator working for an established center can, in my professional opinion, hinder the professionalism of the professional. What is more, I posit that professionals, such as Special Educators, or what is known loosely as 'Autism Therapists' are greatly constrained by the dictates of their employers, the dictates of school boards, and the established autism intervention philosphies.

In this post I explore, and attempt to smash this thought process, and lay out the values and benefits of being an innovative Special Educator not beholden to instructional approaches which limit the modalities being used in the intervention. Moreover, I will deconstruct the notion that ABA is the best approach for autism intervention. In fact, I aim to unmask the impracticality and utter failure of this 'inside the box,' cookie cutter instructional approach. At the same time, after I have knocked the wind out of the sails of ABA as the best method of instruction, I will rescue core concepts of it that can and are refashioned by me, and scores of private Special Educators. I believe that we are entering into an 'open source' age of information which has already begun to 'upturn the money tables' that prevail across the country when it comes to the best autism pedagogy.

For starters, their is a great deal of individual, governmental, and commercial vested interest in ABA being the chief modality in the overall development of individuals with autism. This fact alone demands that this approach continue, even as it fails to produce 'breakaway velocity' success. Why? Well, scores of professional therapists, not necessarily Special Educators, but counselors, and related service professionals have invested time and money into being at the forefront of 'ABA Therapy' thinking that they have struck gold. This does not imply that those professionals are useless. Those professionals are real people who care, who sweat and labor and have a genuine interest in the success of their students. But this does imply that the metacognitive process by which they are laboring needs to be nailed unto the wall, observed for what it is, dissected, and re-fashioned. ABA is not useless, but strict adherence to it is. 

In practice, the idea of reinforcing desired actions, responses, and behaviors using discrete trial training is not bad at all. It is a great idea! We reward what we want to see, and become mute, or gloss over behaviors and responses which are not desired while providing a low-stimulation environment which limits distraction. In essence, we are putting horse blinders on the student with the mission of training them into being proficient or mastering goals. But is this what life is like?  No. Life can be unpredicatable. Life is full of curve balls and 'ups and downs,' Many professionals in the industry know this and I see even those that 'say' they do strict ABA, actually squeezing in innovation, flare and multiple approaches, yet parents are told that strict ABA is being employed. Why train a certain way on an 'official level' to then shift gears and get them ready for the real world with a ramped-up approaches later on. How much time is lost like this? Also, how does this lack of transparency empower parents with children and child-adults? 

Instead I offer something new. I did not recreate the wheel here. Scores of Special Educators and related service professionals use integrate multiple approaches, think outside the box, or have gotten rid of the box altogether. These are the trailblazers, and their ranks are growing. If I may, I call it the 'Bruce Lee Effect.' Bruce Lee mastered all the martial art approaches in his time to then create his own new style, taking what he deemed useful and discrarding the rest. He fwas trained within various 'boxes' first, then he began to train 'outside the box,' and finally he get rid of the box. One of his movies outlined this will. Mr. Lee had to fight his up a dojo building whereupon on each level was a master martial artist with his specific martial art. Mr. Lee, having practiced and mastered each form used Sun Tzu-style thinking to defeat his enemies, eventually rising to the top and being victorious over all the masters in the dojo. I believe that he used an 'open source' approach. He wasn't just 'open' to different modalities, but he mastered each then stepped back and innovated with a hybrid that he then transcended with.

I think that time is of the essence, and the development of executive function skills trumps ABA therapy, leaving it in the dust. Executive function skills development is not a modality but recognized skill abilities that are mostly initiating out of the frontal lobe (your forehead and upper forehead). Different instructional approaches can develop these EF skills. Thus, EF skills can be refined across various contexts, such as playing chess, having structured talk time, or even kitesurfing.

In conclusion, I stand side by side with fellow private Special Educators and related service professionals to question everything. To be artists and scientists, experimenting and having the professional courage to tell an employer, a school board, or organization to stop treading on our professionalism. Helping people on the autism spectrum, or with any other disability should not be beholden to the dictates of anyone but the individual being trained, the parents, and the professional. I can't tell you how fast I move with children who are on the spectrum and low-functioning.  I am a man on fire for the empowerment of people on the spectrum. I see the potential of what can be today for them. I see kids and adults with autism long board surfing. I see them meditating. I see them scuba diving. I see them sailing boats. I see them kicking my derriere in chess. I see them practicing archery. I see them playing tennis. I see them being active members of the community. I see them being entrepreneurs, poets and writers, and I see myself moving towards coming up with new ideas, and new contexts by which they can strengthen their executive function skills. 

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