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Better Hearing and Speech Month

Identify the Signs of Communication Disorders: A Critical Tool

A new, nationwide effort to educate the public about communication disorders was recently launched by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)—a professional association of which I am a member. Called Identify the Signs, this campaign specifically aims to help people recognize the early warning signs of communication disorders. This topic couldn’t be timelier—or more important.
An estimated 40 million Americans have trouble speaking or hearing due to a communication disorder. Millions more family members and friends are also impacted. Here in Cleveland there are parents reading this whose children are struggling to speak or understand language; spouses living with partners whose hearing is deteriorating; and co-workers, neighbors and others who see someone who needs help but don’t know what to do. Identify the Signs offers tools to change that, and I couldn’t support the campaign more.
With years of experience working in the field of communication disorders, I have seen the debilitating effects that these issues can have when left unaddressed. Too often, people wrestle with these challenges for years because they fail to receive proper, timely treatment. Early detection of speech, language, and hearing issues is absolutely critical to improving academic, social, and career outcomes—and improving one’s quality of life at any age.
For people with communication disorders, those closest to them are often their biggest asset. Unfortunately, many parents and caregivers are unable to identify the warning signs or dismiss them too readily. A recent poll of speech-language pathologists and audiologists by ASHA reported significant parental delays in getting help for children with communication difficulties. This is just one example of the missed opportunities that commonly occur with communication disorders.
Through a series of TV, radio, print, digital public service announcements, and the campaign website, the public can learn about the warning signs and be connected to professional help. I encourage you to visit the website, and share the information and resources you find there. Above all, though, I hope you will seek help if you suspect that you or a loved one shows signs of having a disorder.
Every day, I see in my work that untreated communication disorders often lead to larger academic, social, and developmental issues. Early diagnosis is the most powerful way to reduce or even reverse their impact and can give your loved ones the opportunity to lead the fullest lives possible.

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How does speech therapy relate to ABA?

this is an interesting description of ABA from an SLP

The ABCs of ABA in the SLP World
We speech-language therapists have a lot of acronyms in our little speechy world. We are SLPs (speech-language pathologists) who have our CCCs (Certificates of Clinical Competence) from ASHA (the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association). When I graduated with my M.S. (okay, you all know that one) in speech-language pathology, I was pretty sure I’d mastered the alphabet soup of our profession.

Until I fell in love with kids with autism, that is. That’s when I was introduced to the world of ABA. If you’ve loved a child with autism, you’ve no doubt run smack into this term, too, and probably very early along the journey you took. Despite the fact that this word swirls around the autism world with great furiosity, it is often misused and a bit misunderstood. Some people love it with a passion; others hate it with the same intensity. Me? I think it both extremely valuable and sometimes overused.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. My goal today is to begin to define the term for those who don’t know it well. Later, when I’ve laid the groundwork just a bit, we’ll delve into the true complexities that exist with what appears, at first glance, to be a very simple concept.

ABA stands for Applied Behavioral Analysis. It’s based on the work of B.F. Skinner, a psychologist who focused on operant conditioning, or the study of observable behaviors and the events that cause and reinforce those behaviors. The applied part of ABA means that we take this system of looking at the way behaviors are shaped and apply it to everyday life; we use it to shape behaviors that are important to the lives we lead. When we peer at the world through the eyes of ABA, we find ourselves looking at three main things.

The Antecedent: What happened in the environment before the behavior occurred?

The Behavior: This part involves describing the overt behavior that you see or want to see. Not the motives, not the intent, not the feelings behind the behavior. Simply the behavior as you can observe it in front of you. Those who study and use the principles of ABA believe in describing the behavior as clearly and objectively as possible. For example, instead of saying “Sally got mad,” a behavior analyst would say “Sally screamed and hit the door with her fist.”

Consequence: What happens after the behavior? Does this thing that occurs after the behavior (the consequence) increase the chances the behavior will occur again, making it a reinforcement? Or does it decrease the chances the behavior will occur again, making it a punishment?

To help explain, let me share a couple examples.

Say you are teaching a child to say “cookie.” The steps behind teaching the word might go a little something like this:

Antecedent: You hold up a cookie and say, “cookie”
Behavior: The child imitates “cookie”
Consequence: You give the child the cookie. (This would be positive reinforcement, assuming that giving the child the cookie increases the chances he will say the word again in the presence of the the cookie. Or, in plain English, assuming the child actually wants the cookie–although behavior analysts would probably shy away from describing it this way, as it reflects the child’s internal state, rather than his behavior).

Or, perhaps you are teaching your child to walk.

Antecedent: You hold out your hands and say “come here!”
Behavior: Your child takes his first step toward you.
Consequence: You cheer and throw your child in the air as he giggles. (Again, this is only reinforcement if it actually increases the chances your child will take a step toward you the next time you hold out your hands and say, “come here!” It wouldn’t be a reinforcement if he hated being thrown in the air- in this case, it might decrease the chances that he’d come to you and would, then, become a punishment*. Consequences are different for different people- the exact same action that is a reinforcement for one person can be a punishment for another).

These three things- the antecedent, behavior and consequence (Or ABCs of ABA, if you will…yes, another acronym), make up the core of ABA. Those who live in the world of ABA focus very carefully on the ABCs behind any and all behaviors. They graph and chart and study these elements of life and plan interactions around them.

ABA is much more complex than this, of course; I took four full graduate level classes about ABA when I completed my graduate certificate in Behavioral Intervention in Autism. There are those that study ABA all their life and still don’t have all the answers, and there are entire, complex, and well-graphed treatments for autism that are based the concepts behind ABA. It is not nearly as simple as I am making it at the moment. And yet, if you understand the ABCs behind ABA, you can begin to understand the world through the eyes of an applied behavior analyst.

How, then, does ABA fit into the world of SLP? As an experienced applied behavior analyst once told me, we all (parents, teachers, speech-therapists, all of us) use ABA in one form or another. SLPs are no exception. We use the principles of ABA to teach children first words (Antecedent: “Say, Ball!” Child’s Behavior: “Ball!” Consequence: Child is rolled the ball). We use ABA methods to teach children how to behave and understand language (Antecedent: “Sit down please.” Child’s behavior: sits down. Consequence: “Here’s your snack.”). We call on ABA to help us figure why children behave in certain ways, so that we might help them find a better response and eliminate challenging behavior. For example, we might look at what comes just before a child hits another child (the antecedent), discover that it happens whenever another child obstructs the way, and then give the child a new behavior (saying, “move please”) by teaching and reinforcing this new behavior.

So yes, we all use the concepts behind ABA, intuitively and frequently, to teach, motivate, and shape our children’s behaviors. And yet, controversy behind these methods exists. Why so? Because there are significant differences in how and when we apply these methods, in how stringently we define the behaviors we expect, in how we select and apply consequences, and in how strongly we believe that the ABA lens is the only one through which we can view the world.

That’s a post for a different day though. For now, we’ll just be happy that we’ve learned our ABCs.

(This post originally appeared on Child Talk)

Becca Jarzynski, M.S., CCC-SLP is a pediatric speech-language pathologist in Wisconsin. Her blog, Child Talk, can be found at www.talkingkids.org and on facebook at facebook.com/ChildTalk.

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The federal Government To Fund Tracking Devices For Children With Autism.

After the tragic loss of Avonte Oquendo, who went missing after he was last seen on security cameras bolting from his Long Island City School, Senator Charles Schumer started to advocate for necessary government-funded supports to be put in place to prevent such terrible incidents from happening again. Senator Schumer announced on January 29 that the U.S. Department of Justice will immediately allow existing grant funds to be used to for voluntary tracking devices for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities.

The DOJ already funds devices for Alzheimer’s patients. The GPS tracking service ranges from $5 to $50 a month.  It would be a voluntary program, overseen by police departments.  The funding will be made available through the Justice Department’s Byrne grant program, an existing program that law enforcement agencies use to pay for various programs, equipment, trainings, etc.  This new announcement does not mean any additional funding, it just means that the funds awarded through this grant program can now be used for tracking devices for those at risk of wandering. In 2013, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance approved nearly $280 million in funding through the Byrne program.  It has not been disclosed how much funding will go towards wandering prevention education and prevention services.

Families, organizations and schools should go directly to their local law enforcement agency to encourage them to apply for funding if they have not already. The devices and wandering education will come directly from that local agency.

If you are concerned with your child wandering and think they may benefit from a tracking device check this site out to learn what type would work best for your child: awaare.org

 

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