Ivar Lovas - Discrete Trial Training

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The basis of behavior modification lies within learning theory (Lovaas & Bechner). Behavior modification is defined as the use of rewards or punishments to reduce or eliminate problematic behavior, or to teach an individual new responses to environmental stimuli. The goal of a behavior modification program is to change and adjust behavior that is inappropriate or considerable. There are many characteristics to behavior modification. The most important is “its strong emphasis on defining problems in terms of behavior that can be measured in some way, and using changes in the behavioral measure of the problem as the best indicator of the extent to which the problem is being helped”. (Martin & Pear, p6)

B.F. Skinners first book “The behavior of Organisms was published in 1938. This book was a landmark in the experiment of analysis of behavior. It presented Skinner’s novel and controversial research method, data and analysis of the behavior and conditioning of the male white rat. Through powerful experimental procedures he developed the theory of “Operant Conditioning”, the idea that we behave the way we do because this kind of behavior has had certain consequences in the past (Martin & Pear, p.388). In order for an organism to receive some type of reinforcement, the organism must behave in a specific manner and reinforcement is dependent on the organisms’ behavior. Skinner called attention to the type of conditioning in which reinforcement is associated with the response rather than with any stimulus providing the response. This includes three components, “First, a response must have some consequence. Second, the response must increase probability. Third is the increase in probability must occur because the response has this consequence”. (Kymiss & Poulson, 1990).

Professor Ivar Lovaas of UCLA, who is a well known autism expert, spent many years designing programs to help challenged children develop language, improve their play and social interactions and learn other necessary life skills and self help skills. He based much of his work on B.F. Skinners. He was very adamant and dedicated to bring about changes with these kids which included an intense 40 hour work week teaching regime. “Over 40 years of research has shown that Lovaas’s model in particular is an effective treatment….. 1. with progress due to the treatment and not some other variable, 2. With effects that last as children grow older & 3. With replication data from other studies. (Lovaas.com). Social interaction and cooperative play as well as imitation and learning to express and understand vocal language is all a part of the program. Parent involvement is crucial in his program and parents are encouraged to receive training so that there is consistency throughout the child’s daily life. Motivation is encouraged through the use of reinforcers and positive interactions are developed. (Lovaas.com)

Discrete trial training is associated with the work of Ivaar Lovaas. It is based upon the principle of applied behavior analysis (ABA). Applied behavior analysis was first used to treat autism in the 1960’s using the Lovaas technique. In ABA approach the focus is on the rewards or reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors and the reduction of unwanted behaviors by removing their positive consequences by means of time out, extinction, or punishment. One must be very careful in observing and identifying the triggers of problem behavior. Lovaas approach focuses strictly on specific behaviors.

Discrete trial training consists of a series of distinct repeated lessons or trials taught one on one. (Lovaas, 2003). It is the primary teaching method used for a variety of behavioral – based interventions used in teaching children with autism. (Polyxo.com). It takes a task that a child needs to learn and breaks it down into the smallest units and is presented in a series. It is conducted using...
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