Saturday, November 03, 2007

Pre-School Visit

Owen and Will's preschool is very unique. We chose this particular preschool because it incorporates the ABA philosophy/discrete trial teaching.

What is Discrete Trial Training?
Discrete trial teaching is a specific methodology used to maximize learning. It is a teaching process used to develop most skills, including cognitive, communication, play, social and self-help skills. Additionally, it is a strategy that can be used for all ages and populations.
The technique involves: 1) breaking a skill into smaller parts; 2) teaching one sub-skill at a time until mastery; 3) providing concentrated teaching; 4) providing prompting and prompt fading as necessary; 5) using reinforcement procedures.

A teaching session involves many trials, with each trial having a distinct beginning and end, hence the name, “discrete”. Each part of the skill is mastered before more information is presented.

In discrete trial teaching, a very small unit of information is presented and the student’s response is immediately sought. This contrasts with continuous trial or more traditional teaching methods which present large amount of information with no clearly defined target response on the student’s part.

Discrete trial teaching ensures that learning is an active process. We cannot rely on autistic children to simply absorb information through passive exposure.

There are at least one or two aides to two children, while running the class in a typical school/class setting. There are only five boys in this class and all of them have varying degrees of autism. The staff are exceptional and all of them come to work with our kids with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, compassion and loads of talent and patience. There is no "babysitting" mentality here. Targets and goals are set high for the boys, but every single aspect of their school day is set up for the boys to achieve success. Speech, life skills, socialisation, imitation, independent play and even physio and occupational therapy skills are all incorporated into their programs within their three hours every morning. The boys' teacher, Erin, and her current team of Sherri, Melanie and Tara.. all take precious care to adapt songs, stories, games, crafts and toys to the boys' abilities so that they achieve success and encourage their active participation.

I had my first full preschool visit on Friday with Owen and Will. I am always impressed by how creative the staff is in finding new ways to keep the easily-distracted boys involved.

Minor, yet significant attention to detail is what makes this program such a success for Owen and Will. For example, you might notice a 'cushion' that Owen is sitting on in his chair. Owen is really challenged with his body awareness and in keeping himself upright and focused when in the sitting position. The staff are using a 'wedge' cushion, that helps keep Owen's posture and it stabilizes him so that he can focus on circle-time and not fall or flop out of his seat.

Erin's got her hands full. I don't know how the teacher manages to keep track of all the individual goals set for each boy. The discrete trial teaching technique uses reinforcements to reinforce positive behaviour. Reinforcements will differ based on what motivates that particular child. In Erin's class, Zachary's reinforcement is a toy car that is made up of five pieces that need to be put together; our Owen is using M&M's; Eric gets to choose between preferred toys; Owen M. has a magnetic bracelet and he earns 5 'charms' to add to it in a token system; and Will uses a token board where he is rewarded with 5 velcroed tokens, after which he gets to choose his reinforcer (a preferred toy). Confused? Well, you can imagine how much concentration is required on the teacher's part to keep it all straight. As she sings her songs, reads the books and leads different activities at circle-time, she is constantly reinforcing the boys as she observes them demonstrating their targetted skills such as sitting quietly, paying attention, responding appropriately, waiting their turn, etc. While singing or reading, she quietly slips the boy his reinforcer as he works toward his target.

As is it stands now, I think the boys are exactly where they should be. I'm not sure what the future holds for them, because you can't stay in preschool forever. And that's what scares me. Where will we ever find a school for the boys, where the teachers and staff care so very much about them. Where the boys' success is their number one goal. Where the staff are sensitive to, and experienced with the behaviours and challenges that Owen and Will deal with everyday. I am not just scared, I'm terrified that we won't find a place for them. But I've been terrified before. In Ontario. When we had no options and no support. But through that bleak time, we found an option that we didn't know existed. So I'll hold on to that and keep on working towards that hope. In the meantime, we'll continue to be thankful that we met Erin and Julide (the agency director) back in February 2006, when they introduced me to this school as an option for the boys.


stephf76 said...

I love all the videos!!!

stephf76 said...

I love all the videos!!!

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