Letter from Nicole Dibra, mother of child with autism
May 10 2006
To The Editor in Chief of Time Magazine
Re: A Tale of Two Schools
I would like to express my disheartened review of the article featured in the May edition of Time Magazine, written by Claudia Wallis, entitled A Tale of Two Schools. The article’s agenda was apparently written to compare two different methodologies utilized for children with autism.
As a parent of a child with autism and someone familiar with the vast array of intervention offered for our children, I was appalled by the inaccurate portrayal of the science based treatment model of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), the methodology used at the Alpine Learning Group(ALG) that was featured in the article.
It was an irresponsible stance that was taken by your highly influential magazine, to sway your readers into believing that Applied Behavior Analysis is an impersonalized, dispassionate and inhumane treatment model. The writing suggested that the children who attend the Alpine Learning Group, in comparison to students who attend the Celebrate the Children School (CTC) were missing out on an affectionate and sympathetic learning environment. The article implied that the students at ALG were being deprived of social praise, shouts of encouragement and human interaction. It further implied that teachers at the ALG or similar schools do not contrive situations of motivation to achieve skills such as spontaneous communication and eye contact. It left the clear impression that the school does not have any “agenda “ to teach children to learn how to learn under reinforcing and motivational circumstances - which by the way is one of the core principles of ABA.
The article was, at best, an uneducated description of Applied Behavior Analysis as well as a denigration of the work of Dr. Taylor, her associates and others – people who have devoted their lives to providing accountable, effective, scientifically validated and individualized education for children living with autism.
As a side note, the CTC school services children with disabilities other than autism. The ALG primarily serves children with severe behavioral issues who have experienced failure in the available public special education settings – children who require a high degree of individualized attention and intervention; children who engage in face-slapping, head-banging, spine-slamming and other self-injurious behaviors; children who need a carefully-monitored, highly-individualized type of intervention. On an educated guess, crepe paper and imaginary pools of water would not constitute and effective first mode of addressing such behaviors.
It was a reckless decision to disseminate a poor characterization of the only science based treatment endorsed by the U. S. Surgeon General and the New York State Department of Health, which conveniently was NOT mentioned in your article. TIME apparently does not understand the devastation that you may have inadvertently caused to families of children with autism, who will be persuaded by your article to not seek a scientifically-based treatment because of the distorted view of a school that utilizes Applied Behavior Analysis.
My son, who is now 8, would have never learned to ask for his morning waffle, never have mastered have the ability to sit with us during family dinners, learned how to independently bathe himself, or learned how to tell me he needs a “bandaid” when he gets a stub on his toe. He was also toilet trained by the age of 3, is now in a self-contained ABA class in a public school, can do basic math problems and read simple sentences. ABA has improved our family’s quality of life. Does he still have autism? - absolutely, and it is life long. Will I continue to use ABA to teach him skills he will need as he grows into a young man? - yes. ABA is a way of life. It is 24 hours. It is NOT a related service. ABA is responsible for shaping behaviors in a multitude of fields, not only in the treatment of individuals with Autism. It has and will continue to improve my son’s chances of living an independent life.
This article was insulting and defeating to all parents, professionals and even the children with autism themselves who have achieved great victories utilizing the science of ABA. Out of respect to our community, we ask that in the future, you use due diligence before heedlessly dispersing such defamatory information on a science that has so beautifully helped the lives of individuals with autism and their families. “Beautiful” is not a word that is commonly used in the same sentence as “science”, however there are no other words that I can use to explain, what I see on a day to day basis on the achievements of my son.
Nicole T. Dibra
Mother of a child with autism
Co Founder of The Elija Foundation , an educational organization in Long Island NY
Co Founder of Effective Interventions Inc, A clinic for children with autism
Founders of The ELIJA School
516 433 4321
Guidelines for Submissions to the ASAT Forum
There are a number of internet forums that enable members of the public, both parents and professionals, to share their experiences surrounding the diagnosis, treatment and ongoing progress of a child with autism. The ASAT forum is another such venue; however, this forum will host contributions that reflect ASAT’s mission and guiding values:
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