Sunday, June 6, 2010

Video Modeling

I am becoming a big fan of video modeling for kids with behaviors. The idea is to show a child a video of himself or someone else successfully performing a behavior that he has difficulty doing. Over time, the child will start to mimic the behavior.

I see a boy who is afraid to ask his teacher for help. When he is given something that he can't figure out or feels is too difficult, he'll stare at it for a few minutes, become frustrated and then move into a meltdown. His mom told me about this while I was putting together some video footage for a lecture. I asked for and got permission to use the boy as a guinea pig for my video taping.

We set up a date, and he did a variety of videos with me: an obstacle course, IM, and headphones. Finally, it was time for the video modeling piece. I asked him if he would do some acting for me in a short film about asking for help. He said okay. This was the script: He was to sit at a table, open his book to a page and start working. Then he would decide that he needed help, raise his hand and say, "I need help". We practiced it one time and then as chance would have it, a real teacher, a friend of mine, happened to come into the room. I told the boy "What luck, we have a real teacher for our video, Ms. Smith can be the teacher while I shoot the video". To my surprise, he got up from the table and ran and hid under some pillows in the clinic. It took me a while to coax him out and then I had to promise him that Ms. Smith would hold the camera while I played the teacher. We shot the video a couple of times and got a good video.

Later, I showed it to him, then showed it to his parents. He was very proud of it.

Typically, you show a video to a child every morning for a week or so until they start mimicking their own behavior, but this one worked quickly. Without additional viewings, the boy self-advocated for himself in a difficult situation that happened soon after taping. His teacher moved desks around in the classroom and he was given a spot in which he couldn't see the chalkboard. He tried out his new desk, and instead of having a melt-down, he raised his hand and said, "I can't see the chalkboard". His seat was reassigned. Later when he got home from school, he advocated for himself with his mother, as well, something that he had not done before. A real success for him.

I certainly got lucky in my first attempt, but research shows that this is a good therapy for kids on the spectrum. I am hoping to explore video modeling in conjuction with self-management techniques in the near future to see if the combined methods help to address multiple (and more serious) behaviors.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Landfills and Autism

Driving back today from an errand, I passed a garbage hauler headed for the landfill 4 miles away. It reminded me that our landfill not only serves the S.E. Michigan area (including Detroit), but garbage from the city of Toronto is also hauled there. This arrangement has been in place for about 10 years. That's a big landfill.

It appears to me that the rate and severity of autism are higher in my area than in other areas where I've lived and worked. If so, is the proximity of this landfill a coincidence? It will be a while before epidemiologists are able to answer my question. But I did find one preliminary study addressing the topic. When I googled "autism" and "landfills," this article appeared first:
Autism Spectrum Disorders and Identified Toxic Land Fills: Co-Occurrence Across States, by Xue Ming, Michael Brimacombe, Joanne H. Malek, Nisha Jani and George C. Wagner in Environmental Health Insights 2008:2. It was dated Aug 20, 2008. In their words:
We hypothesize that ASD are associated with early and repeated exposures to any of a number of toxicants or mixtures of toxicants. It is the cumulative effects of these repeated exposures acting upon genetically susceptible individuals that lead to the phenotypes of ASD.
In a nutshell, the authors found that the occurrence of autism is higher near Superfund landfill sites than in areas without landfills. They go on to give results of a simple first look at the situation.
The residence of 495 ASD patients in New Jersey by zip code and the toxic landfill sites were plotted on a map of Northern New Jersey. The area of highest ASD cases coincides with the highest density of toxic landfill sites while the area with lowest ASD cases has the lowest density of toxic landfill sites. Furthermore, the number of toxic Superfund sites and autism rate across 49 of the 50 states shows a statistically significant correlation...

There is a superfund site within 20 miles of where I live (in addition to the big landfill down the road). It's quite a complex situation and I'm not sure that we want to wait for the epidemiologists. Last week, the health advocate, Dr. Weil (, wrote:
Environmental toxins such as lead, mercury and dioxin are serious hazards to human health. Fortunately, there are ways to both minimize your exposure to and lower the quantity of toxins in your body ... Avoid living or working near hazardous sites such as reclaimed landfills or toxic waste dumps.
In my opinion future parents should truly think about where they work, what they do and where they live in order to decrease their likelihood for genetic mutation and the risk of autism in their children.