Monday, July 9, 2001 Volume 66, Issue 151


Change requested in autism program

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 clinical

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 model.

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."

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