Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Applied Autism Research & Education - ABA Most Effective for Teaching Autistic Individuals

There is a real explosion in research taking place today; an Autism Knowledge Revolution is happening as we type our blogs and read our daily news. Much of the research is directed towards causes and cures and some of the promising recent developments offer hope for treatments and cures for autism. In the meantime though autistic children need interventions that work, that will help them learn and grow. Applied research is the term used by Alan Harchik to describe research into effective autism interventions. Alan Harchik Ph.D., is senior vice president of the May Institute, which operates schools for children and adolescents with autism and other developmental disabilities in Arlington, Braintree, Chatham and West Springfield. Mr. Harchik comments on the current state of applied autism research in an article in The Republican.

We already know that the principles and procedures of applied behavior analysis provide us with the most effective and most evidence-based methods for teaching individuals with autism. However, there is still much for us to learn about behavior analysis, and a great deal of research is being conducted in this area that looks at the intricacies of an instructional session. It is the type of research that has caught the attention of U.S. senators Hillary Clinton and Wayne Allard. Their "Expanding the Promise for Individuals with Autism Act" focuses on treatment provision and determining the most effective interventions.

Similarly, the Organization for Autism Research is a group that provides funding solely for the conduct of "applied" research that examines, in a scientific manner, effective interventions for children with autism. Applied research means that the procedures and findings are directly applied to real-world situations. Typically, the research is conducted in natural settings and includes children who directly benefit from their participation in the research.

One line of applied research has examined the details of discrete-trial, one-to-one teaching during which the instructor works on simple tasks, such as imitation of movements or verbal sounds, matching pictures, identifying common everyday objects, making requests, or following simple instructions. In these interactions, the instructor establishes attention and eye contact with the child, gives the instruction, and provides praise and a reward for a correct answer. If an incorrect answer occurs, the instructor provides some sort of assistance. This assistance is called a "prompt."

Applied research is being conducted all over the country to explore the best ways to provide a prompt when a child needs assistance. For example, my colleagues at the May Center in West Springfield and in Kansas, Texas, and Wisconsin are examining the differences that occur when we provide a prompt (a) immediately as compared to waiting a few seconds; (b) before as compared to after a child answers; and (c) paired with saying "no."

Typically, we present a child with the different types of prompts during instruction on different skills and then make comparisons. We are finding that all of these methods are usually effective, but that some children learn better with one type of prompt compared to another.

A next task for us is to determine which method is most effective for each child. This example of intervention research shows the importance of examining even the smallest aspects of instruction. It is research that builds our knowledge over time and can be used today by parents and teachers who work with children and adults with autism.

Mr. Harchik's expertise and authority to speak about autism, aba and applied autism research is not based on an ideological perspective or on obsessive deconstruction of one or two leading ABA studies. His knowledge and opinions are solidly rooted in an impressive clinical and professional background as set out in his profile on the May Institute web site:

Clinical Leadership

Alan Harchik, Ph.D., BCBA
Chief Operating Officer

Alan Harchik, Ph.D., BCBA, is Chief Operating Officer of May Institute. He is responsible for the operation of the Institute’s service programs in autism, mental retardation, brain injury, and mental health. Dr. Harchik is a licensed psychologist, a board certified behavior analyst, and a certified teacher of children with moderate and severe special needs.

Dr. Harchik’s experience at the May Institute began in 1983 when he was a live-in group home parent and residential direct-care staff member. As May’s Senior Vice-President for Autism and Developmental Disabilities Services in Western Massachusetts and Connecticut, he later developed and managed programs for children and adults with disabilities, including a specialized day school, home-based early intervention services, outreach consultation to public schools, community group homes and apartments, and employment services.

Dr. Harchik has expertise in the areas of autism and developmental disabilities, applied behavior analysis, organizational behavior management, staff training and supervision, severe challenging behavior, choice making, self-management, and skill development.

Dr. Harchik earned his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Kansas after graduating magna cum laude from Boston University with a degree in special education. He holds active teaching appointments at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Westfield State College, and is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Kansas, Northeastern University, and Fitchburg State College.

He has published in a variety of professional journals and presented at numerous conferences across the United States. He writes a monthly column on autism and disabilities for the Springfield Republican newspaper and serves as an expert consultant for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.

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