January 28, 2011

Dr. James Ball, Ed.D., BCBA-D


Last night, Thom and I attended our first Autism related presentation.  It was hosted by the Autism Society-Acadiana Chapter (ASAC) and featured Dr. James Ball, Ed.D., BCBA-D as the speaker. (For those that aren't up on this kind of thing--Ed.D. is Doctor of Education, BCBA-D is Board Certified Behavior Analyst Doctorate -- I had to look up that last one!).

The presentation was titled "Techniques for Systematic Teaching and Reducing Behavior Challenges in Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder - A Positive Behavioral Support Approach".  It was geared more towards teachers although there was plenty of info for parents to use at home as well.  Here are the goal and objectives of the presentation as laid forth by ASAC:

Goal: Understanding systematic techniques for teaching students on the autism spectrum

Objectives:
  • Participants will be able to identify 3 reinforcement techniques to assist an individual on the autism spectrum in the learning process
  • Participants will be able to implement 3 specific teaching techniques that will assist an individual on the autism spectrum in the learning process
  • Participants will be able to design an individualized teaching program that will assist an individual on the autism spectrum in the learning process
  • Participants will be able to design an individualized behavior plan program that will assist an individual on the autism spectrum in reducing problem behavior through a Positive Behavior Support Plan.  
 Dr. Jim was a fabulous speaker.  He has been working in the field for around 25 years and has worked with the whole gamut--from 0-3 years, young school age children, tweens, teens, he currently has 3 he works with who are in college, and his oldest autistic client is now 65!  He has dealt with all ranges of abilities from non-verbal children, including one he has seen since he was 3 and is now 19 and still is unable to communicate verbally, to high-functioning children, some of whom are now in the workforce, married and starting families of their own.  He has lectured nationally and internationally, published in a variety of areas from early intervention to trauma, and has served on a plethora of boards and panels in autism related organizations, and is currently the Chair of the Autism Society of America Board of Directors.  His list of oragnizational work is impressive. 

He also happens to be president and CEO of JB Autism Consulting, which offers private consulting to organizations, families and schools in the areas of behavior, classroom management, curriculum development, social skills development and parent training, to name just a few.  His philosophy, as set forth on his website, is 

It's all about people and relationships...
In order to be effective with any person, on the spectrum or not, you must first treat them with respect.  Show them you are there to help, not to change who they are.  Let them see and understand their strengths while shaping their challenges, which may be holding them back from being successful.
No matter whom it is I am working with, a person with autism, a family, an administrator, or a staff person, the bottom line is: It's all about team work, and getting everyone on the same page.  Making sure every one is headed in the right direction on the same track.

...and, follow up is always the KEY

I've added his book, Early Intervention & Autism: Real-Life Questions, Real-Life Answers, to my Wish List and will look at some of the articles he's written for Autism Aspeger's Digest.

Obviously from the title of his presentation, Dr. Jim talked a lot about behavior and stressed the importance of getting to the cause of the behavior and pointed out the common mistake of just treating the symptoms.  Often, if you're just treating the symptom and the root cause is not being addressed, all you're going to accomplish is stopping one negative behavior and transferring it to another.  Example: Little Toby leaves his seat and goes up to the teacher when she's trying to lecture during classtime.  He gets punished for this by having to sit in time out.  He stops getting out of his seat, but now he is knocking things off his desk instead.  The original negative behavior has stopped, but it has transferred to another negative behavior.  The teacher did not look at why Toby was doing what he was doing...she was looking for a way to stop the behavior she didn't like--getting up from his desk during classtime.  If she had looked at the cause of his behavior--Toby was seeking attention--she could have redirected him into a less disruptive behavior such as raising his hand when he needed attention.  This still might not be ideal in a classroom situation, but it is less disruptive and can be built on from there.

[Side Note:  Without knowing it, Thom and I had started to do this with Emerson.  When Thom and I are talking, Emerson will frequesntly come up and demand our attention.  Thom's solution was to stop our conversation and turn to Emerson; my solution was to ignore Emerson and continue speaking or to tell him, "Go play. Mommy and Daddy are busy."  Both were ineffective and the wrong way to handle the situation.  Thom was teaching Emerson that it was socoially acceptable to come up, interrupt a conversation and expect undivided attention; I was teaching him that what he had to say didn't matter and that we were too busy for him.  During our session with Jessica, Emerson came up and started talking.  Jessica turned to him and said, "Emerson, when Mommy's talking to someone and you want to tell her something, maybe you can say, May I have a turn talking, Mommy?"  So, when I went home that night, I told Thom we were going to start trying it.  Now, when we're talking, Emerson comes up and says, "Can I have a turn talking, Mommy/Daddy?" and we tell him, "Yes" or "Wait until Mommy/Daddy is done and then you can have your turn" and he will stand and wait until we've finished our sentence at least and then we'll turn to him and say, "What did you want to tell us, honey?"  It's a step in the right direction.  He's still coming up and interrupting us, but he no longer expects us to stop and pay attention to just him.  He'll wait until we've finished the point we were making/sentence we were in the middle of uttering or whatever, before he speaks.  We'll slowly stretch out the time he has to wait for his turn and, eventually, we hope that he won't interrupt at all, but will come up and wait for us to finish...knowing that he will get his turn, he just has to wait.]

Dr. Ball listed 4 Functions of Behavior:  Communication, Self-stimulation, Attention Seeking, Escape/Avoidance.  All behavior can be classified into one of these areas.  Our job as parents and educators is to define the behavior as specifically as possible, collect data, do a Functional Behavioral Assessment, establish a hypothesis, test that hypothesis, and review the data for effectiveness.  These are the Behavioral Treatment Guidelines that Dr. Ball uses.  (I'm not going in depth into any of this...just giving you a brief overview of what he discussed) 

It is important to keep in mind that there are no quick fixes when trying to change negative behavior.  Especially with autistic kids when routines are key, it can take several months to over a year to change some behaviors.  It is also important to stop yourself from kicking back and relaxing if you find something that works; these kids are ever-changing...you need to stay 2 to 3 steps ahead of them to ensure the program will continue to work.  you need to alter it as they grow and change.

I'm really glad we were able to go listen to Dr. Jim.  It's a shame we were unable to stay after to meet some of the other parents, some of the teachers present, and speak with Dr. Ball himself.  I did meet Vickie, however, who is the Admin Asst at the ASAC and whom I've talked with on the phone several times.  She is very bubbly and nice, and I can't wait to get more involved with the local chapter of the Autism Society!

9 comments:

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