Change requested in autism
By Deanna Sheffield
Daily Cougar Staff
UH's Texas Young Autism Project is struggling
to regain the "official blessing" of the University of California-Los Angeles
after losing its official
affiliation with UCLA's autism project
late last year.
Gerald Harris, director of the UH project,
said TYAP would like to comply with a list of 14 criteria for improvement
suggested in a May 2 letter from
Ivar Lovaas, a UCLA clinical psychologist
and the creator of that school's program.
If the UH program staff is able to meet
UCLA's criteria, it will be able to claim the local program is consistent
with the UCLA model, Lovaas wrote. UH
was given six months to meet the criteria.
Lovaas' letter also touched on parent complaints
about UH's $60,000-a-year program.
"Parents from TYAP have written and called
me regarding their concerns about the treatment their children are receiving,"
he wrote. "Their concerns
are many and serious and reflect unfavorably
on both TYAP and the UCLA project, since TYAP is described as being a UCLA-approved
The TYAP is undergoing an exhaustive review
based on the parental complaints.
Autism is a neurological disorder that
impairs language, social interaction and communication. Patients are smart,
but do not respond to cues, and
are described as "being in a world of
their own," said John Vincent, chairman of UH's psychology department.
Steven Minchen, who removed his son from
the UH program in April, said the program was expensive, but his son wasn't
receiving the services
Minchen and other parents claim student
therapists were often late, and that instead of receiving the intensive
40-hour-a-week program that they
were promised, their children received
less than 30 hours of service a week. Furthermore, although Minchen and
other parents continually
requested speech instruction and parent
training, he said they received neither.
"We wanted parent training and we requested
it, but (Harris) never responded," he said. "We requested that our nanny
be trained, and she (was not).
He never really answered why. It's not
an adequate program."
When Minchen asked Harris whether the program
had lost its affiliation with UCLA, he said the director denied that had
occurred. Although the
affiliation was lost in December, Minchen
said parents didn't find out about it until March, after months of phone
calls and letters.
The program was removed from the UCLA study
because too few children were enrolled, Vincent said, but "it's the same
program we've always had."
Although it is not affiliated with Lovaas'
program, Harris said TYAP still runs in a way consistent with the UCLA
Lovaas confirmed that UH is attempting
to meet his criteria.
"I have no animosity with the program in
Texas. I just think they have some problems," he said. "I think one of
the reasons they had such few numbers
in the program is because they didn't
have the staff. It's an administrative problem, not a treatment problem."
The changes Lovaas called for at UH include
forming a parent advisory committee, providing parents with informed consent
and evaluation forms,
ensuring that therapists show up at their
scheduled times, and setting a schedule for assessment of the children
at intake, six months, one year and
two years. Vincent said he thinks Lovaas'
suggestions will help the UH program.
"He has a good sense of how the programs
run best," Vincent said.
Minchen said he did not understand how
the program could fail to enroll enough children. He claimed at the time
his son was enrolled, the program
had a two-year waiting list.
Lovaas said the UH program may simply have
been experiencing growing pains.
"Some parents are very pleased with the
program; some are very upset," he said. "A lot of sites stumble in the
beginning. I think they're going to get
their act together."