Autism Therapist Little Rock AR

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Autism and Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)

Disorders - Autism
Written by Gary Brown, PhD   

Ideally, children with autism and other neuropsychological disorders need to be under the care of a pediatrician experienced in the treatment of neuropsychological disorders and also need to be evaluated and followed by a pediatric neurologist. Additional evaluations and treatment by occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech language pathologists, and psychologists are usually necessary as well. (Many kids with autism and other neuropsychological disorders do not make eye contact or follow directions.) Parents often wonder if there is something wrong with their child's hearing. Usually, this is not the case, but children with autism do need a hearing evaluation just to make sure.

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and a handful of drugs are the most effective ways to manage behavior problems in children with autism and other neuropsychological disorders. Parents can contact an ABA therapist in their area for help. (Visit the Association for Advancement of Behavior Therapy website to locate ABA therapists.)

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) programs begin with a behavioral assessment. This insures the right match between the behavioral intervention and the specific behavioral problems. In the behavioral assessment we want to accomplish four things:

  1. Define the behavioral problem in behavioral terms.
  2. Take a baseline of how often or long the behavioral problem occurs.
  3. Note the antecedents of the behavioral problem.
  4. Note the consequences of the behavioral problem.

Defining the behavioral problem in behavioral terms simply means that we are going to find a way to count the frequency or time the occurrence of the behavioral problem whenever we observe it. For example, if a parent says a child is aggressive, this is not a behavioral term. We cannot see or measure the aggression. However, if a parent says a child hits a sibling, then this is a behavioral term. We can see the child hit a sibling and count the frequency that the child hits a sibling.

A baseline is a representative sample of the behavioral problem over a short period of time-for example, the number of tantrums the child has each day or how long the child stays on task. Once we have a baseline we will begin our behavioral intervention and continue to monitor the frequency with which the behavioral problem occurs. After a reasonable period of time, we can then compare changes in the frequency of the behavioral problem to the baseline to see if our behavioral intervention is working. Obviously, if the behavioral intervention is not working for some reason, then we will try something else.

Noting the antecedents of the behavioral problem: Keep a diary of what happens immediately before the behavioral problem occurs. For example, if a child tantrums after a parent says "no," then the parent saying "no" is an antecedent condition.

Noting the consequences of the ...

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Autistic Savant - The brain's right hemisphere

The brain's right hemisphere

Autistic savant behaviour is so far unexplained. However, researchers think it might have something to do with the right hemisphere of the brain.

The brain is divided into two hemispheres, left and right, bridged by a thick band of nerve fibres called the corpus callosum. While left hemisphere skills are involved with symbolism and interpretation (such as understanding words and body language), the skills of the right hemisphere are much more concrete and direct (such as memory).

CT and MRI scans of the brains of autistic savants suggest that the right hemisphere is compensating for damage in the left hemisphere. It seems that the right hemisphere of an autistic savant focuses its attention on one of the five senses - for example, if it concentrates on hearing, then the autistic savant may have a special skill in music. Research is ongoing.

Their skills may be reinforced

It is thought that habitual memory centres of the brain take over from higher memory centres, which helps to explain why some autistic savants are like obsessive hobbyists who do the same thing over and over. Apart from habitual memory, other factors that may help an autistic savant to hone their special skill could include:

  • The ability to focus and concentrate
  • The desire to practice endlessly
  • Positive reinforcement by family, friends and caregivers.
  • Every brain may have untapped savant skills

San Franciscan neurologist Dr Bruce Miller recently discovered new savant skills in some of his patients who were undergoing a certain type of dementia. These patients had a type of dementia that affected the left temporal region of their brains (located over the left ear).

When the patients were given brain function tests, their results were similar to those of a young autistic savant. Researchers from the Flinders University in Adelaide were able to provoke new savant skills in volunteers by using transcranial magnetic stimulation to temporarily 'disable' the frontal temporal lobe. (Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a type of treatment for depression .) During the test, five of the 17 volunteers showed new and remarkable skills like calendar calculation. These studies suggest that amazing savant abilities may be lying dormant in all of us.

Things to remember

Autistic savant means a person with autism who has a special skill. Around 10 per cent of people with autism show special or even remarkable skills. Savant skills can be occasionally found in people with other types of intellectual disability and in the non-disabled population

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  • autistic savant

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What Horses Tell Us About Autism

Disorders - Autism
Written by Gary Brown, PhD   

Thirty years ago, when I first came in contact with a child with autism I thought that some autistic behavior looked horse-like--unbroken horse-like. I grew up in Texas and in high school my life was horses and rodeo. Of course, there are many differences between the misbehavior of horses and the behavior of the child with autism and I'm certainly not an expert on horse behavior by any means. But taking into account the similarities often makes working with these kids easier.

Many unbroken horses and many children with autism will become uneasy and run away or engage in aggressive behavior if you try to approach them head on, move too rapidly, or make too much noise. In order to keep the horse or the child calm you have to approach them from behind or at a forty-five degree angle and move slowly and quietly.

And when you get there you will find that that unbroken horses and children with autism often respond differently to touch. Temple Grandin, who successfully managed her autism and earned a Ph.D. in animal science, says that children with autism, like cattle, respond to a firm touch but find a light touch aversive and pull away. She built a "hug" machine, similar to a squeeze chute for cattle, to calm her down whenever she became anxious. See

Horses and kids with autism also seem to know by your body language, tone of voice, and touch who can ride/manage them and who they can take advantage of. I wrote Monty Roberts, the man the movie "The Horse Whisperer" was based on. He told me several clinicians had already recognized the similarities between children with autism and horse misbehavior and were applying his horse training techniques in their work with kids with autism. (See

For example, if a horse balks and won't go up a hill or cross a ditch the rider may guide the horse around in a circle several times and then try again. The same behavioral principle applies to the body parts drill we often use with children with autism. Whenever the child with autism is non-compliant-- the body parts drill--asking the child to point repeatedly to different areas of his body is used to establish or re-establish compliance. The trainer takes the child's hand and guides it to different body parts several times while giving a verbal prompt. Once the child is compliant on the body parts drill the trainer returns to what was originally being worked on and the child is usually compliant. If not then It's back and forth to the body part drill until compliance is established. So non-compliance results in more work--not a time out break and therapy progresses.

Horses and kids with autism also seem to learn better visually. Temple Grandin's latest book is titled Thinking in Pictures. She says she thinks in pictures and believes the same is true for other people with autism, as well as the cattle she works ...

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