One in 68 Children has Autism

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QSAC 5K 2011

January 28, 2011 8:24 pm Published by

Where: Astoria Park
When: Saturday, April 16, 2011

  • 9:00 am registration tables open
  • 9:45 am fun/sponsored warm up session
  • 10:00 am runners begin, walkers immediately follow
  • 11:00 am recognition ceremony begins
  • 11:15 am entertainment and lunch
  • 1:00 pm wrap up

NOTE: Food sold from 10 am – 1:00 pm

Team up with QSAC as we work together for the autism community – one step at a time! Grab your family and friends for a day of fun, exercise, entertainment, refreshments, a family expo, and much, much more. Walkers and runners, teams and individuals – join us for this spectacular QSAC 5K!

Part 1: How PECS helped condition a better token.

January 24, 2011 3:01 pm Published by

Token economies are one of the most common techniques used in behavioral interventions. A literature search using the term, “token economy” will result in over a thousand hits. Talk to practitioners about tokens and most, if not all, will speak with familiarity. In behavioral vernacular, the term “token” is used that implies a specific procedure – e.g., “Let’s starts tokens” implying, let’s begin a token conditioning procedure. Often, there might not be further discussion – that implementing a token economy is so common that all practitioners are qualified to begin these protocols. Alternatively, the assumption might be that a token economy is such a simplistic intervention that simple variations in the protocol are not obstacles to effectiveness.

A conversation with the school’s Clinical Supervisors begged the simple question, how should we start. We discussed several procedural alternatives for how a neutral item, such as a poker chip, or penny, or sticker might acquire reinforcing properties and quickly realized we were not sure why one procedure would be better than any other. So, as good behavior analysts, we looked to the published literature. And, as stated before, found a list of articles numbering over a thousand. Surprisingly, we could not, however, find articles that would help us with our question: What are the factors that influence conditioning of a secondary/generalized reinforcer (with people with autism)? Despite the numerous articles, studies typically focused on some other behavior change as a function of token reinforcement. We were hard-pressed to find those articles that actually described the conditioning process of the token itself. So, we looked elsewhere.

We asked, what kind of behavior do we want to see when using an effective secondary/generalized reinforcer? We thought of the typical example – $$.

1. We exchange money for other things: If we had an endless supply of money, we would exchange it a lot!

2. We like money: Under normal circumstances, most of us would choose money over other tangible items if given a choice.

3. We don’t mistreat our money: It’s valuable, we collect it, and save it for future use.

We felt that these observations matched results another procedure where a conditioning process occurred quickly and effectively – the Picture Exchange Communication System (aka PECS). For the non-communicating person, the initial picture exchange training protocol quickly leads to exchange behavior – giving a picture to gain preferred or reinforcing items. Typically, the initial training protocol is so effective that independent exchanges can occur within one or a few training sessions. Quickly, exchange behavior occurs at such a high-frequency that some practitioners even consider this high-rate, early communication behavior as a problematic!

The picture exchange training protocol was the perfect model for a token-conditioning protocol. Would it work? The short answer – Yes, as demonstrated by Weppler, Pichardo, Fennell, & Lee in a poster presented at the 2009 ABAI convention in Phoenix. Procedures and results in next month’s blog.

Anita Smith Memorial Scholarship Winner!

January 24, 2011 3:01 pm Published by

Congratulations to Meckesha Dones, Behavior Evaluator at the Whitestone Day School, who has been awarded the 2010 Anita Smith Scholarship. The $1,000 Anita Smith Memorial Scholarship is awarded yearly to an individual who is a New York area resident, is pursuing a degree in a Human Services field, and is working in an agency that serves individuals with autism. Ten years ago, our colleague, Anita Smith, lost her life. She was 22 when she was brutally murdered along with four others at Wendy’s in Queens. Anita was training for a career working with children with autism and about to start college. The Anita Smith Memorial Scholarship Fund allows Anita’s good will and determination to live on in perpetuity.

Good News for QSAC

January 24, 2011 2:52 pm Published by

More than 85% of all monies QSAC receives go directly to the services we provide. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, this classifies us as an “A” rated charity.

QSAC is now included on the Top-Rated Disability Nonprofits List which will give us significant exposure to donors and volunteers in the media and through the site’s campaign partners. Click on the following link to read the reviews and add your own if you wish:More than 85% of all monies QSAC receives go directly to the services we provide. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, this classifies us as an “A” rated charity.

QSAC is now included on the Top-Rated Disability Nonprofits List which will give us significant exposure to donors and volunteers in the media and through the site’s campaign partners. Click on the following link to read the reviews and add your own if you wish: Great Non-Profits

NYPD and FDNY Members to Participate in Stand up Comedy Benefit for our Children

January 24, 2011 2:48 pm Published by

On March 12, 2011, members of the NYC Police Department and Fire Department will join forces for The Guns & Hoses Comedy Event to Benefit Autism Education at The Jeanne Rimsky Theater in Port Washington, NY. The event is underwritten by QSAC Day School parents, Tim and Maria Dwyer and by Genesis School parent, Suzanne Reek and all proceeds will benefit both schools. The event will be hosted by Bill Bingo, retired in 2001 after a 20 year career with the FDNY and who now serves the ranks as a full time stand-up comedian. The Italian Chicks, a comedy troupe of women will join him for what promises to be a fun evening. The evening starts at 7 pm with a reception followed by the show at 8 pm. Tickets are $35; 10 for $300 and include the reception and the show; VIP tickets are $75; 10 for $600 and include the reception, the show and a VIP gift bag.

Please help us make this event successful and help with sponsorship, cash donation and raffle item donation solicitations. Please click on this link to download the documents and sample letters.
For more information, please visit or call/write Danièle Favre-Panayotatos, Director of Community Relations, 212-244-5560 ext. 2016 or

A Junior Board for QSAC

January 24, 2011 2:46 pm Published by

QSAC is pleased to announce the creation of a new Junior Board to support the overall mission and activities of the organization, especially its fundraising and development efforts. Comprising eight members to date, the junior board was formed in order to reach a younger population of community members to engage them in servicing the autism community. The Junior Board will continue to grow and attract young professionals who are ready to partake in important community service while gaining a sense of philanthropy and developing leadership skills. The QSAC Junior Board initial focus is to raise funds for the QSAC Day School.
On December 9, the Junior Board was introduced to QSAC staff, director, parents and friends during its first event, a successful Food and Wine Pairing Dinner at Philip Marie in Manhattan. For more information, please contact Danièle Favre-Panayotatos, Director of Community Relations, 212-244-5560 ext. 2016 or

Santa Project

January 24, 2011 2:39 pm Published by

Many of the QSAC families were able to enjoy the holidays, thanks to generous gifts from a number of donors. The Long Island-Astoria Kiwanis Club, Theodore and Angelos Katrakazos of Teddy’s Development Corp. and a number of QSAC employees organized a toy drive for our neediest families. Quad Capital LLC and its entire staff adopted the after-school children of Fresh Meadows, Manhattan and Hollis. The students of Mt. Sinai Medical Schools adopted the children of the pre-school. Help was provided by SEOM as well as CMCA (Center for Multicultural Office and Community Affairs). The medical students that helped were from the Class of 2013 and Class of 2014.
The children had written a “Dear Santa” or similar letter and everyone of them received what was on the list! In addition, Quad Capital donated 50 new hard-cover picture books to our Early Intervention program. There is no way to express our gratitude to these generous donors except a simple but heartfelt THANK YOU.

Best Practice Strategies You Can Use With Your Child With ASD

January 7, 2011 8:57 pm Published by

Parents can learn to increase independence, language and communication and compliance with some simple yet tried and true strategies. The goal is to reinforce and thereby increase the frequency of appropriate behavior. Following appropriate behavior delivering reinforcement – something the child likes, like praise tickles or a tangible item – will increase that behavior in the future. Often times and unintentionally, parents and caregivers inadvertently reinforce behaviors they do not want to increase to get their child to stop exhibiting a behavior. For example, to get a child to stop screaming for their toy, a parent might give the child the toy, and the child stops screaming. Although the behavior stopped in the moment, it will most likely be strengthened in the future. The child will learn screaming long enough and loud enough gets him the toy. Some of the strategies we teach the parents we work with are below:
1. Deliver reinforcement contingent on appropriate behavior:
• Compliance to instructions.
• Whenever you make a request that is followed through on, or ask a question that is answered independently and appropriately, reinforcement should be delivered.
• Appropriate behavior
• Provide reinforcement contingent on responses such as eye contact, appropriate sitting, appropriate and independent play, independent communication, independent walking, etc.
2. Behavior-specific praise: Label your praise to let your child know what is being reinforced.
3. Deliver reinforcement immediately: Don’t wait to give reinforcement or else another response may be reinforced.
4. Make praise discriminable: Say it differently from instructions.
5. Don’t repeat instructions. How you state an instruction may influence whether it is followed or not. If a child is paying attention, hears the instruction, and it is within his/her abilities, he/she is more likely to comply. Prior to giving an instruction, make sure you have the child’s attention and you have potential reinforcers available. Instructions should be clear, concise, phrased as a statement, and given only once. If the instruction contains too many words, the child may not attend to the key words. Here is an example of a poor instruction, “Evelyn, can you stop running around and sit down over here so that Mommy can put your shoes on?” In contrast, a good instruction would be, “Evelyn, sit down.”
6. Follow behavior you want with reinforcement. Do not follow inappropriate behavior with reinforcement or it will increase.
7. Some children need extra help to perform a desired skill or behavior so that you can reinforce it. Prompting is an instructional technique that helps the student to make the correct response. There are several types of prompts such as: Verbal, Physical Modeling, Gestural and Pictorial cues.
These are some of the strategies that can be used to increase more of the behaviors you want. For more information you can contact Anne Denning at

How much do you like your tokens?

January 3, 2011 8:04 pm Published by

Over the past 2 years, a good amount of attention has been given to a clinical issue that has received very little attention in people with autism – conditioned reinforcement. In short, a conditioned reinforcer (aka secondary reinforcer) is a stimulus (an item, event, comment, person, etc.) that has reinforcing properties as a result of having been paired with other reinforcers in the past. It is a process that has far-reaching and critical applications in educating and treating people with autism. It is commonly cited (either directly or indirectly) as an important component in addressing important issues such as learning readiness, general skills acquisition & academic performance, long-term maintenance of performance, independence in complex sequences of behavior, social behavior, and leisure and recreational skills. For example, in the person with autism who exhibits a narrow range of interests and a high-rate of repetitive behavior, intervention would consist of exposure to and training in a variety of recreational activities with a variety of materials. Embedded within the intervention are procedures designed to establish these skills and materials as conditioned reinforcers. Unfortunately, beyond the acquisition of new skills, little is done to ensure that these activities or skills become preferred or reinforcing. That is, the person with autism may learn to comply with instructions or cues to engage in new sequences of behavior that we call “play” or “recreational”, but it is often unclear that these activities would be chosen in assessment of preferred activities. More importantly, it is not clear that these activities or materials would in fact function as a reinforcer and increase behavior if access were delivered contingent on desired and appropriate behavior.

Another (not uncommon) example of neglect of conditioned reinforcement is seen in the application of tokens (such as poker chips, pennies, check marks, or some other item that is given as a positive reinforcer for appropriate behavior). The token should function as a generalized reinforcer in that they are paired with a wide variety of other reinforcers (e.g., trading in poker chips to purchase treats, time on the computer, free time). It is often stated that the token functions like money. After implementation, many students learn the “rule” of earning tokens before trading them in for other commodities. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to hear about or see a student that will discard of or refuse tokens when upset. This would be analogous to you or I throwing away our money when upset – something that, although perhaps possible, would be very unlikely. Unfortunately, such observations lead some parents or practitioners to assume that “the token system won’t work with my child” or that teaching learners with autism to enjoy new activities is not possible and that at best, the learner only learns to comply with rules. Although this behavior might be due to various factors, at least one important factor to consider is a deficit in the value of the token. And the value of a token can be modified. Also, it’s safe to say that the value of any activity or material can change – How many of us still enjoy the same activities that we did 10 years ago? How many of us catch ourselves saying, “I never thought I’d like X but I really do”?

The processes involved are natural – they occur without intent. It is this fact that lead some to believe that it cannot be influenced nor controlled. However, with careful design and evaluation, we can apply what we know about these processes to resolve the problems associated with conditioned reinforcement. I’ll be discussing some of the findings of investigations conducted at the QSAC Day School over the past 2 years as well as possible future directions in future entries.

Researchers Develop Model To Help Find How A Gene Mutation Leads To Autism

January 3, 2011 3:59 pm Published by

Previous research has shown that gene mutation in SHANK3 is associated with delayed language abilities, learning disability, and ASDs. A team of researchers at the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute of Mental Health wanted to better understand the connection between the SHANK3 mutation and subsequent brain and behavioral difficulties. They examined mice genetically engineered to lack one copy of SHANK3, similar to patients who have a mutation in one copy of SHANK3, and compared the nerve cell activity of these mice with that of mice in a control group that did not have the mutation. They also examined social behaviors in these mice.

“We know that SHANK3 mutation plays a central, causative role in some forms of autism spectrum disorders, but wanted to learn more about how it does this,” said Joseph Buxbaum, PhD, Director of the Seaver Autism Center and Professor of Psychiatry, Neuroscience and Genetics and Genomic Sciences at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “These data provide critical insight into the mechanism behind the development of the cognitive and social changes associated with autism.”
Scientists looked at brain activity in vitro to evaluate behavioral differences in the two groups of mice. The research team observed impaired communication between nerve cells in the mice with the SHANK3 mutation. “These results have helped us determine a pathological mechanism behind neurodevelopmental disorders like autism,” said Dr. Buxbaum. “Currently, the only therapeutic options for people with ASDs are to treat the symptoms of the disease, like anxiety or aggression. Armed with this breakthrough, we can begin testing drug compounds that treat the disease at its root cause, improving nerve cell communication. We hope and expect that, like other developmental disorders such as Fragile X syndrome, the use of mouse models will lead directly to clinical trials that can benefit patients.”

The research is currently published in Molecular Autism,


QSAC is a New York City and Long Island based nonprofit that supports children and adults with autism, together with their families, in achieving greater independence, realizing their future potential, and contributing to their communities in a meaningful way by offering person-centered services.

QSAC pursues this mission through direct services that provide a supportive and individualized setting for children and adults with autism to improve their communication, socialization, academic, and functional skills.