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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Writer/Curator/Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project. Contributing Author to Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood, and Concepts of Normality by Wendy Lawson, and soon to be published Gravity Pulls You In. Writing my own book. Lecturer on autism and the media and parenting. Current graduate student Critical Disability Studies and most importantly, mother of Adam -- a new and emerging writer.

“There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope.” -- Baruch Spinoza

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


The Unsettled Path to Acceptance

This is a most unsettled state I’m in tonight. Adam is frustrated – trying to talk, not being understood (he slurs his sentences). Also, he’s turning four next week and I am finding a new desire for independence – a desire to do everything on his own, pretty much. He resists my care of him – brushing teeth, brushing hair, getting ready for school. In some ways, he reminds me so much of my youngest stepdaughter when she was four. I remember a lot of whining, tantrums, and lots of hitting. While I remember her being much more articulate than Adam, I do see similarities in behaviour. So that should make me feel okay, right?

But it doesn’t. Adam is growing up, and I find myself nervous. I want to teach him how to use the computer – he is already typing his own words, but in the same way that he labels things. My team of therapists suggest it is “too early” to teach Adam the computer for communication purposes, and that baffles me. If Adam has a skill that he’s inclined to use and benefit by, then why is it too early just because the other kids aren’t doing it?

At school, Adam’s teacher notes that despite his words going down, his skills are going up – again that time of acquisition, of processing and for me, of waiting. I wrote before that I find these transitional times difficult. Logically, I know that these periods are necessary, but I wonder if I’ll ever stop worrying.

I find extracurricular programs so difficult to find, as the music class I had enrolled him in became very “verbal,” entrenched in pretend play. Long diatribes of being a pirate on a ship bored him, and he eventually got up and wandered around the room. So many “teachers” really don’t know a thing about autism. Adam is expected to sit and respond.

There is a lot of talk about these ideas of acceptance and just wanting one’s child to “function” in the world and “have all doors open.” Today, I wanted to pack this all in, all this blogging, learning about science, this struggle with friends, my lonliness in this struggle as there seem to be no more friends out there who really care about me, or want to understand what this is all about. No parent thinks they will be engulfed in controversy about autism. No parent has any idea that they will have to advocate for their child every single day from schools, to the doctor’s office to a nice little music class. No parent realizes that all privacy is lost with therapists coming and going from the home every afternoon. No parent has a clue that there are people who want to tell you how to raise your autistic child at every turn – that they think they know better. No parent banks on getting involved in autism so deeply in order to improve their child’s future, that it becomes their new career.

But I know of many.

No, acceptance is not easy, friends. It is not standing idle.

It is about recreation. It is about creating new friends, and new communities who will teach and support us and our children. It is about creating a new awareness what difference, autistic difference means, and supporting it, and supporting success. It is about investigating our notions of well-being and happiness.

If this is rebirth, I think I’m in labour.


Blogger Jannalou said...

What kind of a music class was it?

And no, most teachers - most people - don't know what to do with an autistic child.

I have always been very aware of the challenges you list, though I am not an "autism parent" myself. I wish this were not so, and I hope that it can change.

Would you like some ice to chew on?

11:55 PM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

I prefer bags of salt and vinegar potato chips, a couch and a bunch of movies when I'm frustrated...thanks.

Music started out fine. Adam did all right, enjoyed the kids, even did a little imitation. As the weeks progressed, it became very verbal with pretend/imaginings. The class is from a group called 88 Keys. I've tried Adam at the Royal Conservatory, but I'm going to have to keep searching. He loves music and takes himself to the piano sometimes, but will only sit for five minutes.

12:07 AM  
Blogger SquareGirl said...

I know of many as well. And here, it is Spring, the time of rebirth...I feel and see it all around me.

Do they have "Music Together" in Canada? It is an amazing class...I have seen many of the little guys I am working with flourish in that class. It's philosphy seems to strongly emphasize acceptance and diversity. If they have that in Canada, I highly encourage it for any child.

I think Adam's skills should be encouraged. There is no developmental timeline in regards to technology...I am always impressed with what children on the spectrum are able to intuitively understand in regards to technology.

By the way, I spent time with an amazing fifteen year old autistic girl today who I will be spending more time with in the future...she plans to start a blog soon, and I can't wait to give you the link once she does.

12:43 AM  
Blogger Kassiane said...

I don't know where they got the idea that 4 year olds don't play on the computer...if he wants to communicate that way, so be it. *has fond memories of typing out words, beautiful WORDS, on her mother's old typewriter at about that age*

Adam has all the doors open. All of them. They're the doors built especially for him.

12:57 AM  
Blogger abfh said...

Pass the potato chips... this is not how I expected my life would be, either. I was foolish enough to think that once I grew up and got a good job, life would be easy, and I would never have to worry about anything more serious than where to go on vacation.

But instead of being on a nice relaxing spring break somewhere, I'm blogging to try to stop my own damn government from using my tax money to fund eugenics research to commit a genocide against millions of people like me.

I guess the European Jews of the 1930s must have had a hard time believing what was happening to their world, too.

Sometimes I seriously wonder if I went to sleep one night and woke up in the wrong universe.

I wish I could pack it all in, too, but there is nowhere else to go. We just have to move forward and fight our way out of the corner as best we can.

1:06 AM  
Anonymous zilari said...

I don't see how it could possibly be "too early" for Adam to start trying to use the computer for communication...on what basis could this claim possibly be made?

Adam sounds like a visual learner...his interest in letters, computers, typing, etc. coupled with his lack of attention to "verbal" music classes / pirate stories seems to indicate this. Taking advantage of that seems like a good thing. If information is obviously getting in through some channel, why not utilize that channel as best as possible?

1:20 AM  
Anonymous Camille said...

If Adam got bored with the piano after 5 minutes, could he then be attracted by a xylophone? windchimes? bells? harmonica? I wonder if you had several musical intstruments together if he'd be interested in comparing the sounds. I love these kinds of sounds, but I'm really lousy at making music. You have a piano at home, don't you? I'm just thinking that you could accumulate some more instruments that he can manipulate by himself.

My kids only had a few toy instruments, we listened to music, but I didn't try to teach them, since I didn't have any talent. Eventually, the mostly NT kid took up acoustic guitar for a few months as a teen. I was surprised that s/he had the ability since I sure don't.

MY ASD kid listens to music alot, but has no particular desire to make music.

3:16 AM  
Blogger Kristina Chew said...

You have probably already indicated this, but has Adam been diagnosed with apraxia? Hypotonia? PT for muscle-strengthening can really help with clearer articulation.


7:04 AM  
Blogger Lisa/Jedi said...

I had a serious gut reaction to your being told to hold-off on computer communication, Estee. It sounds very much like someone is ascribing to the theory that your child will become too "one-sided" & not try to develop the verbal skills once he's allowed to use the computer, which strikes me as utter bull. (grrrr) My experience with B is that once he's found a fluency in the skill he needs, he catches-up in the areas he has difficulty with. We innocently got B going on the computer when he was 18 months old, with Reader Rabbit Toddler (following the instructions not to let him play for more than 15 minutes at a time) & it's led to B becoming very comfortable & competent with computers. Last year B's consultant teachers came back from a conference on autism/aspergers all fired-up about the latest research showing that direct computer interface is best for kids on the spectrum. They tossed-out plans to teach him cursive writing (with our & his OT's blessings) and got him some great typing software. A little over a year later he's pretty much touch-typing & producing reams of written material on his Alpha Smart. Not co-incidentally, his handwriting has improved amazingly & he's developed an interest in drawing & art that he never had before. I think it's because typing most of his work took the pressure off & now he can enjoy the process of using a pencil much more...

Music-wise, we also had B in early-learning music classes at the music conservatory in our city. Their curriculum for music education in young children is wonderful- & was very accomodating of the many ways that young children behave. This was one of the first venues where we noticed the learning differences between boys & girls, since B was not the only wandering boy :) Unfortunately, their focus after about age 6 is instrument-based learning, which B wasn't interested in. We have found that individual lessons tailored to B's needs have worked best since then, & we just had to choose between music lessons as as social opportunity & music lessons to learn music. We're fortunate to have a large population of talented people in town so it's not hard to find teachers for him.

7:26 AM  
Blogger Brett said...


I agree with Lisa. Z is very adept at computer and video game consoles, etc. Where some kids are fascinated with firemen, soldiers, airplanes, bikes, whatever, technology is Z's strongpoint. I can't tell you how many people told us, "You shouldn't let him focus so much on that, you should work on his weaknesses." Needless to say, we ignored them.

Now that Z is 14, he is still a techno-fiend. But it has allowed us to build other skills. He can read very well, but doesn't enjoy fiction (I don't think he quite understands it, since it is basically all pretend.) So we have him read things related to technology - video game magazines, technology magazines that talk about how things can be used to accomplish goals, etc.

And you know what, he is able to use this as a way, an excuse if you will, to communicate. The sentences that come out of this kid who is usually quiet with not much to say are, to say the least, incredible.

Not one to give advice (but I will here), do what you know is best for Adam.

A couple of my previous posts that are kind of on this subject:

* Freaks, Geeks, and Asperger's Syndrome
* The unreasonable man
* Work to your kid's strengths

Hang in there.

Autism for Parents

8:05 AM  
Blogger Wendy said...

I recently posted about a similar experience with C's therapists (Stim or Strength). His ABA therapists told me to take away his alphabet and number puzzles because they're worried that children will find him odd one day on the playground when he can spell so many words. I'm not teaching him how to spell - he's somehow learning it all by himself. And if being able to spell will one day help him to communicate with me, how can that be a bad thing?

Computer skills are a must in this society. If Adam wants to learn how to use a computer at such a young age, wonderful! I know an ASD child who taught his father how to use Power Point when he was just six!

8:40 AM  
Blogger Jannalou said...

Re: Music

Get him into a Suzuki program. I am so serious. My mom teaches Suzuki piano, and (maybe it's just the way she is) she's had several kids with special needs over the years. Their philosophies are so great... the main one I love is "Every child can learn".

I won't go on and on about it. You can e-mail me if you like. I have many contacts in various realms, especially out East. I actually know the woman who started & developed the Suzuki Early Child program (in London, ON!) - what Mom and I call "baby music classes". I've done some of the training... now that I'm not working 60h/w I might do the rest of the training and get a class or two going. We'll see. :)

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Bonnie Ventura said...

Estee, my son has been allowed to use the computer since he was a baby, and I mean that literally. Although he was a somewhat destructive toddler who thought it was great fun to throw things on the floor and watch them break, he was always very careful with the computer.

When he was three years old, he overheard his grandmother saying that she did not understand how to use Windows, and he offered to teach her.

Playing computer games didn't isolate him from other kids. Sometimes they came over to our house to play the games with him. Now he is a teenager and very well adjusted socially.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Thanks everyone for your supportive comments.
I've never been one to cower at other's wrong opinions, and luckily do what I feel needs to be done. However, it would be nice to have my team on the same page. This is always a challenge in coordinating Adam's team on my own, and also with my strong views.

I am always welcoming suggestions, though.


Adam has never been diagnosed with apraxia, although it is pretty evident. He also has low muscle tone which is really improving with OT. We haven't found a good SLP for a while who fits with Adam's schedule, so this has also been a problem.


Yes, give me the names you know of appropriate Suzuki teachers in Toronto. Adam took one Suzuki class with RCM but the women spoke too fast for Adam and didn't have a daytime slot for him.

Can you tell I'm frustrated these days?

11:53 AM  
Blogger Jannalou said...


I'll see what I can find and I'll e-mail you with the information. I'll talk to Mom and I'll e-mail the woman I mentioned above.

Do you care what instrument? They do piano or strings (violin, viola, cello, guitar) for kidlets. Might luck out and find a recorder teacher.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...


Thanks so much...piano would be good for him -- he likes the keys.

6:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When an autistic child "wanders around the room" away from pretend play it is typically because they do not have the prerequisite skills to understand this type of play, not boredom. Good ABA will teach him how to play independently and then with typical children. This does not come naturally. Additionally, speech therapy and good programs for verbal imitation and articulation are usually part of a child's programming. You can check with his therapists to have this added to his programming. Also, has he had a good evaluation by a speech pathologist? They can rule out(or in)dyspraxia and they can really be a great addition to an intensive ABA program.

6:58 AM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Adam is advancing his social skills. I do not believe in "intensive ABA programming" for him because we've tried it and we've reaped no results. RDI and watered down methods derived from ABA, incidental teaching, have worked well. Further, you can not teach an apple to be an orange.

I haven't seen one child yet who can "socialize" doing an "intensive ABA program." Not one. An apple will remain an apple.

As for his circle time skills, they're terrific. Adam was getting ill, and all this verbal stuff was difficult for a couple of weeks and he needed extra support.

Nice try, though, anon. If it works for your child (if in fact you have one), great. It doesn't work for us.

7:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well then you haven't seen too many children or good programming, because knocking intensive ABA is quite ignorant.

7:43 AM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

No, it isn't. I've taken the time to visit hundreds of autistic children. I've taken to the time to research all the options. I've taken the time to try ABA intensively. What is ignorant is to plant seeds of doubt for parents who are inclined to jump into ineffective therapies for their child because people like you are selling one product.

ABA does not work for everyone.

Did I mention that the NT boys of the group often get out of circle at that music class quite often as well?

I find it offensive that you've taken this opportunity to pick up on a point and sell ABA. If you've seen it work for someone, do you mind telling us where we can find the people it worked for? Can we see them?

It is so incredibly CHEAP to compare children the way you are.

Further, if you are brave enough to tell us who you are, and where you are coming from, then you might garner a little more respect.

8:20 AM  
Blogger not my blg said...


My son is in an intensive ABA branch called Applied Verbal Behavior (in my opinion its superior to Lovaas style DTT). ABA does not teach social skills, period, end of sentence. I'm as well versed in the science as any Board Certified Behaviorist. I don't know Adam, but pretend play is not necessarily developmentally appropriate for a child until verbal skills are present and even then, pretend play is not something every single boy does, especially at 4. I didn't do pretend play until I was around 10 and even then, my pretend play was often by myself. My three year old son does not want to play "tea" with dolls, does not want to play weeble town and so forth.

Anon, comments such as yours is the real ignorant comment because it would leave me to believe that what you believe is that you should fit the child to the program and not the program to the child, that is when ABA can become a form of abuse. If you want a model of good ABA/AVB here it is:

A lot of talk exists in the world of autism services about different methodologies, different approaches, and different theories of what works. Most noticeably, there have recently been many discussions about particular behavioral interventions and their differences. The acronyms relevant to this site that are most often discussed are "ABA," "AVB," "DTT," and "NET." So what is AVB? In actuality, there is no such thing, not if having its own acronym implies that it is something separate from the science of behavior analysis. The term "AVB" has apparently become a shorthand for a program of applied behavior analysis that focuses on teaching verbal behavior through a collection of highly effective teaching procedures taken from the science of behavior analysis. In that case, AVB is ABA, plain and simple. Most, if not all, good ABA programs incorporate most, if not all, of the effective teaching procedures described elsewhere on this site. While it is important to specify that there are ABA programs that do and do not incorporate the teaching of verbal behavior based on Skinner's analysis of language, it would be unfortunate if people thought of teaching VB as anything other than ABA. So if you come across the term "AVB," know that it probably refers to ABA with a focus on teaching verbal behavior, but is truly simply ABA.

That said, what is ABA and what is verbal behavior? In 1938, Skinner published The Behavior Of Organisms, which described operant conditioning, or the process by which learning occurs as the result of selection by consequences of behavior. Skinner also discussed how antecedent stimuli, when correlated with the function altering effects of consequences, also alter future occurrences of that behavior. This is known as a three-term contingency (A-B-C), the basic unit of analysis of behavior, and was the first description of the discrete trial. In addition to describing the instructional trial, Skinner detailed the basic experimental methodology that led to his findings, which he termed the experimental analysis of behavior (EAB). Later applications of this science to education, and to other matters of socially significant behavior, by behavior analysts led to what is now known as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

In 1957, as applied behavior analysis was developing and research on ABA was being published, Skinner published Verbal Behavior, which detailed a functional analysis of verbal behavior. What Skinner's text did was to extend operant conditioning to verbal behavior in order to fully account for the range of human behavior. Since the publication of Verbal Behavior, many applied behavior analysts, including Jack Michael, Mark Sundberg, Jim Partington, and Vince Carbone, have conducted and published research on verbal behavior, much of which can be found in The Analysis of Verbal Behavior journal. This body of research serves as the basic and applied foundation of teaching VB as part of an ABA program, or what is now sometimes referred to as AVB, as discussed above. The science of applied behavior analysis now has a solid empirical foundation to support it, due largely in part to Skinner and Ivar Lovaas.

In Verbal Behavior, Skinner outlined his analysis of VB, which describes a group of verbal operants, or functional units of language. Skinner explained that language could be analyzed into a set of functional units, with each type of operant serving a different function. He coined terms that didn't exist (to separate these operants from anything described by traditional linguistics) for these operants. AVB is ABA with a focus on Skinner's analysis of verbal behavior; it is the application of the science of behavior analysis to teaching verbal behavior. While there is some debate among behavior analysts as to the merits of the "AVB" acronym, most of the concern revolves around the potential for an artificial distinction between ABA in general and VB in particular. To me, as long as it's understood that they are the same science, it's reasonable, though unnecessary, to discuss the application of Skinner's functional analysis of VB as "AVB," much the way we discuss the application of Skinner's science of behavior analysis as ABA. Whatever it's called, this application can look quite different from that of language instruction through discrete trial teaching (DTT). The primary verbal operants, which are most often initially discussed in relation to teaching children with autism, are echoics, mands, tacts, and intraverbals. Here I will briefly explain the functions of these operants and how they may be taught. I also want to touch on the establishing operation and how it relates to teaching language.

In order to learn any skill, a child must have an imitation repertoire. Without imitation it is nearly impossible to teach anything. This is especially true for teaching language. To learn to sign, for example, a child needs to develop a good motor imitation (mimetic) repertoire; to learn to speak, the child needs a strong vocal imitation (echoic) repertoire. The echoic is the verbal operant that relates to vocal imitation. An echoic is verbal behavior whose form is controlled by someone else's verbal behavior with point-to-point (1:1) correspondence. What this means is that the child echoes exactly the speech of the teacher. For example, the teacher says, "Cookie" and the child says, "Cookie." In order for speech to be reinforced, it must occur. The echoic provides us with a mechanism for evoking speech such that we may reinforce it. If, for example, we wish to teach the child to say, "Mommy," but there is no echoic repertoire, we would have to wait until the child said, "Mommy" on his own and then reinforce it strongly. If instead we teach the child to develop a strong echoic repertoire, we can repeatedly say, "Mommy," the child can echo, "Mommy," and we can reinforce it many times, thus increasing the probability of the behavior (the word Mommy) in the future. Thus, you can see how a strong echoic repertoire is critical in teaching new language, since the child's ability to imitate vocally allows the teacher to create many opportunities for the child to use and be reinforced for speech. Echoics are key in teaching the other verbal operants as well.

The mand is verbal behavior whose form is controlled by states of deprivation and aversion; it is often said to "specify its own reinforcer." What this means loosely is that the function of a mand is to request or to obtain what is wanted. So if a child says "Cookie," and it is functioning as a mand, that means the child is requesting the cookie. Think of mand as short for "demand" or "command." The way to reinforce a mand is to deliver the item manded for. So if a child says "Cookie," you'd give him a cookie. This positive consequence (reinforcement) of the mand will make it more likely that the behavior will occur in the future, i.e., that the next time the child wants a cookie, he will say cookie. So you can equate a mand with a request. We mand for a great many things every day without really thinking of them as mands: Desired items ("I want pizza for dinner"); information ("What time is it?"); assistance ("Can you help me"); missing items (given a bowl filled with cereal and milk, the child says "I need a spoon"); actions ("Play with me"); attention ("Mommy, look what I did"); negative reinforcement (removing something undesired/aversive) ("Turn off that loud music!"), etc., etc., etc. Manding is typically a first step in teaching language because it's based in the child's motivation. Manding typically increases language in general because, through the positive reinforcement delivered as a consequence for the mand, the child comes to associate the sound of his/her own voice with positive consequences.

Tied inextricably to the mand is the motivative/establishing operation (MO/EO). Technically, the MO/EO (as per Jack Michael, 1982) is a set of environmental events that temporarily alter the value of other stimuli/events as reinforcers and therefore evoke all behaviors that have produced these events in the past. The MO/EO relates to conditions of deprivation and aversion. When the child is deprived of something, the MO/EO for the item is high because the "not having" makes the item more attractive. However, once the child has access to the item, he becomes satiated and the MO/EO is low. For example, if a child who loves cookies has not had any for weeks, the MO/EO (desire) for cookies is probably very high. If you take a platter of cookies and offer one to the child, you could likely teach the mand for cookie fairly easily. You would hold up a cookie and say, "Cookie." If the child has a strong echoic repertoire, he will probably echo, "Cookie," which you then reinforce by giving the child the cookie. Once this has transpired several times, the child will begin to mand "Cookie" in the presence of the cookie when the MO/EO for it is strong because saying, "Cookie" has historically led to access to cookies. However, after the child has eaten the platter of cookies, the MO/EO is gone and the mand will probably not occur. Thus, as you can see, MOs/EOs are dynamic, not static, and are temporary. When teaching mands, you want to teach in a condition of deprivation, when the MO/EO for the stimulus is high. In mand training, there is an MO/EO for the target stimulus, which is also the reinforcer that will be delivered. The MO/EO is probably the single most important motivative variable in teaching children language, although it is typically not discussed outside the circles of verbal behavior.

Once the child has an echoic repertoire and has acquired a number of consistent mands, you can begin to teach the tact. The tact is verbal behavior that is under the control of the nonverbal environment and includes nouns, actions, adjectives, pronouns, relations, and others. This one you can think of as a label of something in the environment or vocabulary. The word tact, another of Skinner's intentionally "nonsense" words, comes from the notion of the child's making "conTACT" with the nonverbal environment. Tacting is functionally very different from manding. If a child sees a cookie and says "Cookie," but maybe has just had dinner or a bunch of cookies and is satiated (there is no or a weak MO/EO), his saying, "Cookie" is not functioning as a mand, but as a tact. He could just as easily say "Hey, there's a cookie." We also do this all the time, in so many ways it's hard to enumerate, but think of it essentially as labeling. The way to reinforce a tact is NOT by delivery of the item named, because a tact does NOT specify its own reinforcer, as a mand does. You reinforce tacts with generalized reinforcers, essentially anything other than the item named. Naturally, praise or confirmation are typical means of reinforcement (i.e., to the child labeling "Airplane!" the mother says "You're right, it IS an airplane" and maybe ruffles the kid's hair). You can also reinforce with a primary/tangible reinforcer: "You're right, it's an airplane. Here's a cookie." Tacting is, in a way, most of vocabulary and makes up a huge portion of everyday language. It is usually the focus of many DTT programs, although echoics and mands are arguably far more important, especially when first teaching language. When teaching tacts, you want to teach in a condition of satiation, when the MO/EO for the stimulus is low. This is the exact opposite of mand teaching. To teach a tact, you would choose a stimulus for which there is no or a weak MO/EO and give the echoic, "Cookie" (after he's had his fill). When the child echoes, "Cookie," you could say, "Right, it's a cookie!" and reinforce with chips, or something else for which there's an MO/EO. In tact training, there is no MO/EO for the target stimulus, but there still must be a strong MO/EO for the reinforcer that will be delivered. Thus, the MO/EO is still critical in tact training, although it relates to the reinforcer that is now different from the target stimulus.

Requests and vocabulary are obviously very important in language acquisition. Equally important is another operant, the intraverbal. The intraverbal is verbal behavior that is under the control of other verbal behavior and is strengthened by social reinforcement. Intraverbals are typically thought of in terms of conversational language because they are responses to the language of another person, usually answers to "wh-" questions. There are two classes of intraverbals, fill-ins and wh- questions. So if you say to the child "I'm baking..." and the child finishes the sentence with "Cookies," that's an intraverbal fill-in. Also, if you say, "What's something you bake?" (with no cookie present) and the child says, "Cookies," that's an intraverbal (wh- question). Intraverbals allow children to discuss stimuli that aren't present, which describes most conversation. With an intraverbal, what the child says in response to the adult's/peer's language does not match what the adult or peer originally said. Intraverbals can be reinforced in a number of ways, with praise, generalized reinforcers, or, naturally, with a continuation of the conversational exchange, i.e., "Wow, cookies! They smell great!" (to which the intraverbal response could be "Thanks" or "You can have some when they're done."). To teach an intraverbal, you would ask a question and prompt the response with an echoic, reinforcing based on the MO/EO when the child echoed the correct response. Obviously, it's unnecessary to explain why teaching conversation is important.

Hopefully, it is clear how all of these verbal operants, along with the MO/EO, come together in language teaching. Once the child has a strong echoic repertoire (or mimetic/motor imitation repertoire for sign) you can teach across all the functions of language by prompting echoically and reinforcing differently. We target these operants and teaches them through errorless learning (prompting and immediately fading prompts/transfer trials), mixing and varying targets, interspersing easy and hard tasks, and teaching to fluency. This combination of curriculum and teaching procedures has led to great success for many children with autism. It is important to point out that teaching VB can be effective for any student whose language is delayed or disordered, whether they will speak, sign, or use PECS (or other forms of augmentative communication), and whether they are early, intermediate, or advanced learners. The examples above are mostly for early learners, but all learners who need language instruction can benefit from ABA with a focus on teaching VB.

8:21 AM  
Blogger Wendy said...

Estee - I'm not "anom" this time! haha! :) Wendy

Oh, and Anonymous - My son gets 21 hours of ABA a week. It has worked very well for him and we've seen a lot of progress. Every child is different though and since parents know what's best for their particular child, perhaps you should let them make their own informed decisions.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

We have been able to teach Adam all of these things without intensive ABA. That said, we do a "watered down" version of it sometimes.

I agree with Wendy that each parent must find what works for their child best. Further I do strongly advocate that the intent should never be to:

"make a child indistinguishable from one's peers" or;
make someone into something that they are not.

Teaching must be based on respect of the person. Yes, life is tough. Yes, people are prejudice. Yes, oru children will have to learn how to do some socially appropriate things.

More importantly, the onus is not entirely on the autistic person -- it must be on society as well to respect people's differences with autism. Read above post on what can happen with the incident in Sudbury.

8:59 AM  
Blogger Jannalou said...

*points to self*

I used to be an ABA therapist. I was a damn good one, too. I would probably still be a good one, if I could stomach the principles behind the work.

Anon, get over it. There are many different ways to teach, and most of them can be described behaviourally anyhow. I could probably take a description of one of Adam's days and break it all down into ABA terms. Easily.

10:07 AM  
Anonymous jparker624 said...

Estee, I say KUDOs to you for your Labour. What I mean by that is to me, struggle defines growth. I learned that from my son. As I watch him grow, despite having this "A" label, I see him defy contentment for the sake of independence. For him, grasping for words, staying in regular ed, joining the track team, learning to drive, getting to the bathroom on time, sleeping alone - all these things require(d)struggle, fatigue, anger, defiance and fight to gain them. As I sit and watch my child struggle to gain milestones I try to find the balance of when to sit back and watch his fight and when to step in and help. My son's QOL is so dependent on reaching his milestones and I see that you and your son struggle with similar issues. CONGRATULATIONS that you choose this exhausting, lonely, frustrating, couragous life challenge called growth. This is regardless of any label or any way one is built. This is life essence that all children of all types show us as we watch them struggle for their level and desire for independence.
Also; Many ABA advocates have always frustrated me with language that touts it as the only proven method and being the only scientifcally sound therapy. I think this is a cheap shot and disrespectful and preys on frightend parents and it just isn't true. Many of the ABA families I have talked to are incorporating many other types of therapies, so how can that be a pure ABA program that is scientifcally correct.
Thanks for your great, compelling blog.

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A good ABA program WILL incorporate methods of floor time, RDI, discrete trial training, NET, VB and also work closely with very good speech pathologists and OT's. The goal is, of course, to hopefully full integrate children with typically developing peers. Additionally, there are some excellent social skills groups that many children participate in to teach them the skills of socialzation and pretend play using ABA and RDI methodologies. That is what is meant as good programming. And if you expect the world to change to accept every autistic child (which would be lovely) you may be disappointed.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Jannalou said...

"If you don't like the way the world is, you change it. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time. You really can change the world if you care enough." Marian Wright Edelman

"I want to remake the world; anything less is not worth the trouble." Karen Cushman

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

3:28 PM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Yes, Jannalou. There are still anti-semites even though we live in a world where crimes against humanity is illegal.

Anon, read my comment above. Advocating is life-long, not a quick fix. Eyes are wide open around here. Are yours?

3:33 PM  
Blogger Julia said...

Estee -

I can't be of help to you where you are, but in Austin, TX there is a woman who gives "music classes" to children, and the idea is to get them hearing music and moving to it, and if they want to take it beyond that, there are some rhythm instruments. If they don't want to do anything but sit in the corner and watch and listen, that's fine with her.

Ask around and find out if anyone is doing anything like that anywhere near where you are. It might be that she's unique (she was trained as an opera singer and her son has delays that sound a lot like autism spectrum -- but music got through to him when nothing else would, so she used music, and whatever else is going on, he's a happy kid, and she decided she ought to share this with other kids), or it may be that there's someone conducting music-based activities appropriate for Adam's needs somewhere near you.

And if there isn't, invest in a "band in a box" set or something similar, and at least encourage him to make noise with different children's instruments. (A harmonica may be difficult, but it can be a lot of fun if he understands how to use it. You may end up having to buy replacement harmonicas if he blows really hard -- the reeds inside wear out, and a cheap harmonica is easy enough to replace. I highly recommend harmonica, maracas, and something with bells to it. Anything else is good, as well, but those are the three my kids get the most out of. Well, they make me play the harmonica. But it's all good, right?)

9:23 PM  
Blogger Jannalou said...


"Coincidences" abound in this world of autism.

My friend will definitely call you. She is regularly in your area of the city...!

I hope you like each other. :)

9:19 AM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Thanks guys! Yes, I have the music instruments and Adam likes them. He loves to sing songs, despite his limited language -- he soars where songs are concerned, singing happily and he enjoys sharing them with me. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all just break into song with a smile everyday, anytime.

Have we forgotten how to LIVE?

10:56 AM  
Blogger Jannalou said...


This is why I listen to music all day at work.

I'm here alone a lot of the time, so I break into song when doing menial tasks like moving things around on the computer screen or doing filing.

Then again, I love to sing. :)

1:05 PM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Doing filing? Ugh. You've reminded me of what I have to do next week.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Jannalou said...


Sorry. ;) I try not to think about it much, either. I have lots of other things I can do at work, so I can put it off a bit longer. ;)

9:32 AM  
Blogger so much for mercury said...

Hi Estee,

I'm a little late catching up with your last few posts. But from another parent deeply involved in "the struggle," please don't stop blogging and doing everything you're doing for autistics and acceptance. Your blog is pretty much my favorite now, and is a big part of what gives me the daily dose of stength and resolve I need to not give in to the doubts...

11:15 PM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

so much for mercury,

Thanks for your words of encouragement. No, I don't plan to stop. I may get a little "winded" at times, but I never give up.

Quality of life issues for persons with autism is something I'm researching now.

7:00 AM  

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