Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Eek. Stage Fright.

I started this post this weekend, and am now finishing it as I am home on a sick-day....so, if some thoughts are not fully developed I apologize.

When I first saw "Autism the Musical" I knew somehow it would impact my career; I wasn't sure at that point exactly how, or when, but I knew at some point it would become obvious to me. When I was a kid I lived for my drama programs and I have always known that I wanted to somehow recreate that for other kids. I don't think I would be where I am today if it wasn't for the confidence I developed on stage.

Recently in my career, as many of you know, I have considered the characteristics of Autism as barriers to be overcome, and have been coming up proactive and stress free ways of practicing these skills on a regular basis in my therapy-based school programs. My thoughts are...if you practice overcoming barriers, you obviously get better at it. That is always the goal.

As a centre-based practice that incorporates a lot of arts by our approach, I have seen what the arts can do to bring a child with Autism out of his or her own head and into the active world. After giving it some thought, I realized that drama is used in my programs more than I realized; rehearsal is a natural part of learning for children with Autism, we do it every day (5 to 10 times).

After a recent meeting with our clinical supervisor, and assistant, I found myself drawing ties between what was said about performance anxiety related to speech deficit and the programming I am doing for our new Drama Kids program. Essentially, the main point was that no matter how well-rehearsed a child is (or how rote for that matter), he or she may still suffer from performance anxiety when it comes to actual functional interaction. I think he meant that I should be playful in my programming and avoid rote learning, but also...I think...that I try to break down that barrier and increase the overall occurrence of comfortable language use, and make it reinforcing so its likely to occur again.

As I plan for our new drama kids program, I am struggling a bit to find ways to elicit and practice communication skills within a  group dynamic... without eliciting the dreaded performance anxiety. I know that as the kids get to know each other and us as teachers, it will become easier. Now how do I tell them that? 

One strategy I will use is breaking the group into small fragments (dyads or triads); meeting too many new friends all at once, is overwhelming even for me. Of course, we will meet to warm up and cool down as a group, but most activities will happen with just a handful of kids, so everyone is super involved.  Hopefully, this will help ease the little actors into their new friendships. With so many different learner profiles in the class, it will be interesting to see how the dynamic plays out. I have developed a whole curriculum's worth of materials and am certain that at the very least, we will produce happy and confident learners. Though I know social skills will always be the focus, and will always be incorporated to rules and expectations, there will be limited demands at first, allowing for true self-expression.

Any tips and/or advice is always appreciated.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

ABA/IBI and ABLLS-R Assessments

You know it has been a busy month when you visit your own blog and realize it has been just about a month since your last post. Sigh. I am one of those people! I apologize, life got busy...really busy!
Needless to say, things have been getting hectic at MM and new staff is just the beginning.

We are excited to be taking on IBI clients funded by TPAS and are looking forward to meeting their strict requirements for delivery. Working with a registered psychologist, and under our fabulous BCBA , we are lucky to be learning, growing and programming a lot.

We have also been busy transitioning new kids into MM. With new clients comes more ABLLS assessments, which seem to be taking up a whole lot of my attention lately. ABLLS Assessments are the only part of my ABA world that makes me feel like a drill Sargent; it can be painful. You barely know the child, and you have to get through a whole kit of material.  If I were the child, I would not want to answer me either; I imagine if my kids had the ability, they would say ENOUGH ALREADY or WHY ARE YOU MAKING ME DO ALL THIS STUFF?! But, since the assessment is vital to the program I am constantly trying to find fun, hands on and almost-sneaky ways to test knowledge without putting pressure; might I add that it is so incredibly hard to stop myself from prompting some times. I am so used to most-to-least prompting, which really eliminates the whole frustrated child element; now I remember why we use that philosophy!

It seems like over the past month, I have really made a dive into the world of IBI. I love being able to create such comprehensive programs; the ABLLS-R allows me to ensure development across all domains in a really systematic way. The only time I get to target every single domain, every single day, is when the child is receiving somewhere between 20-40 hours per week (i.e. IBI). It's dreamy to create those programs.

Even though in the past, I was doing TONS of ABA Therapy (1:1, Dyads, Tryads, you name it), it has always been less than 20 hours per week per child  (way less, more in the area of 3-8 hours in general for most of my kids and with much more of a ...dare I say....almost-floor time approach (but all the while having my behavioral principles in my back pocket). Getting busy on the IBI side of things means room for more staff; we are always looking for additional professionals to join our team. There has been tons of inquiry lately, but I do stress that applicants ought to have a minimum of post-graduate training in a related field; if you know a dedicated professional that works with the exceptional population, and has formal training in ABA, Education, Psychology or Disability Studies give us a shout!

These days, I have both ABA and IBI going on in-centre daily; I get to see the results of  traditional IBI (20 or more hours), the results of ABA Therapy and Enriched Group Learning at MM, and the results of ABA Therapy and public school; it certainly is interesting to have first-hand experience analyzing the benefits and risks of each learning situation, for each child. Parents always want to know what path will produce the best outcome, of course it is always relative to the child, but that is not to say that having insight into the types of learners that thrive in various scenarios will not be valuable to us as professionals and you as parents.

On top of all of that, we are already somehow gearing into summer as we seek accreditation from various boards in Ontario and let's not forget Winter Break Camp, which is just around the corner.