Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Positive Vibration

As mentioned in recent columns we’ve had issues in the past with Konner in the classroom. We’ve had a behavior analysis done by a psychometrist and though there are some ideas of what to do for disciplinary actions there was little in the way of prevention. When we had our Parents of Autism meeting Thursday night it was interesting to hear about a therapy called Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT).

As parents we are always looking for ways to help our children, when Janissa Jackson, Ph.D. at Clinical Psychology of Fort Smith, addressed the group about a treatment that she uses, I was intrigued. So I’ve done a little research.

Let me begin by sharing a little about Jackson. According to her biography on the Clinical Psychology of Fort Smith webpage:

Dr. Janissa Jackson is a licensed clinical psychologist with five years experience in the clinical assessment and treatment of children and adolescents as well as adults. Dr. Jackson joined Clinical Psychology of Ft. Smith after five years of private practice in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She has extensive experience in cognitive behavioral treatment and conducting developmental and psychological evaluations. In particular, she specializes in problems of childhood including: Pervasive Developmental Disorders (Autism and Asperger’s Disorder), working with children with chronic illness, aggression and behavior problems, parenting skills, school problems, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, anxiety and depression. Degrees: Ph.D., University of Arkansas.

Just listening to her Thursday night I got the feeling that her passion was working with children with autism. You could feel that she loved what she was doing, and offered great advice to everyone there. She said that she has patients with autism that range in age from two-years old to their thirties. I know that her case load is pretty full, but I would recommend contacting her if you are in need of treatment or answers.

Her work with PRT is what interested me. So I (with help from my wife) found some information that I would like to share because I feel this is a very positive way to work with children.

According to the website Positively Autism, “PRT aims to increase a child’s motivation to learn, monitoring of his/her own behavior, and initiations of communication with others. These changes are described as pivotal because they are viewed as helping the child learn a wide range of other skills. For example, if a child is motivated to get access to colorful toys, he or she may quickly learn color names in order to use them when requesting the toys.”

We’ve used a positive reinforcement approach to discipline lately with Konner. We buy a train of his choice at the beginning of the week and if he has a good week at school he earns the train, but if he doesn’t he knows he will not receive the toy. This is a technique that was brought to our attention by another parent. While this is what I first thought of when she began talking about PRT, it is not exactly what the treatment is about.

This is actually used more to teach other things to children with Autism. It is focused more on using toys, or things that the children are interested in to increase other aspects where they are deficient. For example, in a recent article we talked about how Thomas the Train was used to help children understand emotions. Another example would be to use the trains to help children learn colors, numbers, letters, etc. Anything they do with the help of the child’s favorite toy is positive.

This therapy has been proven clinically to help children with Autism. According to the PA website, “studies have indicated that PRT may improve academic performance, increase language and play skills, and reduce disruptive behavior in individuals with autism.”

I found it interesting that they are actually using this treatment for children as young as nine-months old. They can because you don’t have to use verbal responses. A physical response will work, such as pointing to the red train. An example of this was given on a video shared on the PA website. A psychologist working with a young child said that the patient looked at her and raised her hand. When she did the psychologist raised her hand too and responded positively. This exchange went on, and, as anyone with an autistic child knows, was a positive sign when you can see eye contact.

We were told early on by a speech therapist that anytime Konner makes eye contact we should acknowledge it and talk to him. Just the other night Konner came up to me and said, “Dad, I want to talk to you.” This is such a great thing, and you better believe that I stopped what I was doing to say, “What do you want to talk about?”

I highly recommend looking into this style of treatment. I don’t feel like it’s exactly new, although it is the first time I’ve heard it referred to as PRT. It is used by his occupational therapists as well as his speech therapist.

I want to close by saying thank you to Janissa Jackson for attending our meeting. Jennifer left there saying, “I want to know what she knows.” I think all parents would like to know these answers, and she was gracious to help share a small part of her wisdom. I hope to see her at another meeting.

A couple of websites my wife found to help out with this article. I hope they are helpful to you as well.

Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column.

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