Through One Televised Family, a Chance to Help Many Lyn Kern Koegel, PhD, CCC-SLP Three-year-old Tristin had such severe autism that he’d never spoken a word. He roamed the house, spinning, seeking ways to escape into the backyard. Often he succeeded, swinging unsupervised, just yards from a busy road. His parents felt him slipping from their grasp as ... In the Limelight
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In the Limelight  |   November 01, 2011
Through One Televised Family, a Chance to Help Many
Author Notes
  • Bridget Murray Law, managing editor for The ASHA Leader, can be reached at bmurraylaw@asha.org.
    Bridget Murray Law, managing editor for The ASHA Leader, can be reached at bmurraylaw@asha.org.×
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Balance & Balance Disorders / Special Populations / Autism Spectrum / Professional Issues & Training / Speech, Voice & Prosody / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   November 01, 2011
Through One Televised Family, a Chance to Help Many
The ASHA Leader, November 2011, Vol. 16, 22. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.16142011.22
The ASHA Leader, November 2011, Vol. 16, 22. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.16142011.22
Lyn Kern Koegel, PhD, CCC-SLP
Three-year-old Tristin had such severe autism that he’d never spoken a word. He roamed the house, spinning, seeking ways to escape into the backyard. Often he succeeded, swinging unsupervised, just yards from a busy road.
His parents felt him slipping from their grasp as they simultaneously struggled to raise twin 4-year-old girls and run a household. The negative emotions were overwhelming: Frustration. Despair. Perceived ineptitude.
It took speech-language pathologist Lynn Kern Koegel to help turn things around. But the way she delivered her services was far from conventional.
Koegel’s involvement began with a 2005 phone call from the producers of the ABC show “Supernanny.” They’d recently been slammed with requests for assistance with autism spectrum disorders, and—after hearing about Koegel through publicity for her book “Overcoming Autism”—wanted her on Season Five.
She agreed to work with Tristin’s family, and was set to fly to their home in Florida, when, suddenly, the producers balked.
“Tristin had 100% repetitive behaviors and zero verbalization, so they just didn’t see how this was going to work,” Koegel said. “I had to convince them it could be done.”
She made it clear, however, that she couldn’t guarantee results. Her main job would be to educate the parents, to give them strategies to work more effectively with Tristin. More broadly, Koegel saw a chance to educate the public.
“Most of the time SLPs don’t have the time to get the word out about intervening with children who are nonsocial and disruptive, and this was an opportunity to do that in a practical way,” she said. But dozens of faxes, e-mails, and phone calls later—when shooting finally started—it was Koegel’s turn for doubts.
“We got there at 8 in the morning and worked nonstop until 8 at night,” she said. “They’d be filming us driving up and down the driveway, walking up and knocking on the door 20 times—not what I’m used to and definitely not direct service.”
Tristin also appeared frustrated with constant prompts to use words. “At first he just cried and screamed and made no word attempts,” said Koegel.
So she went to work enacting positive reinforcement and family involvement strategies based on research conducted with her husband, Robert Koegel, co-director of the Koegel Autism Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her first priority was motivating Tristin to talk, so she targeted activities he liked—swinging, eating, being tickled—and urged him to say the word to make the activity happen.
Several sessions later, Tristin had a breakthrough: He said “Tickle,” his first word ever. Next, Koegel and the show’s nanny introduced an illustrated schedule of daily routines to help integrate him into family life. They also gathered the family for singing sessions to help Tristin with socialization and communication. To combat his wandering tendency, they taught the family to reward Tristin with potato chips or other treats if he came when called.
Over the week he said 19 more words and ultimately learned to set the table and help with the laundry, among other household chores.
“I was grateful that the treatment worked so quickly and well, especially because he hadn’t received any consistent early intervention services,” said Koegel, who continued consulting to “Supernanny” behind the scenes and recently appeared on the Discovery Channel series “Ingenious Minds.”
Why does she keep doing it? Because reaching 8 million people through a show such as “Supernanny” speeds translation of research into practice, Koegel said: “It’s a way to show hundreds of families how these evidence-based techniques work.”Contact Lynn Koegel at lynnk@education.ucsb.edu. Watch her “Supernanny” video online at the University of California Santa Barbarbara’s website.
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November 2011
Volume 16, Issue 14