How We Develop Goals and Programs

© David Sponder, L.E.P., BCBA, RDI CC, Floortime C2c
Executive Director Sponderworks Children’s Services

Programs always start with a thorough assessment of your child and family’s needs and strengths.  From this assessment, we develop goals for imporvement in your child’s development and behavior.

We always do a “Face Time Inventory” to determine the impacted person’s quality of life; the quality of life of their family and; their level of participation and welcome in family, social and community life (or “citizenship).”

In most cases, we start with a Functional Assessment of your child or Student’s behavior and development.  This provides us with vital information on your child’s abilities and needs in the following areas:

Emotional Development: This always comes first and foremost.

A person may possess skills at high levels in many areas.  But the “person” we interact with is a representation of their emotional development.  We are our emotional age.  We may be brilliant – but it is our emotional presence that people interact with and experience.  Emotional development is most key to a person’s quality of living and the quality of their relationships with others.

Emotions organize the brain and behavior.  They set thresholds for toleration of negative feelings and stress.  They determine whether a person is rigid or flexible, whether a person approaches life with openness, curiousity and positive expectations, or responds to the uncertainty of life by closing down, withdrawing or by coercing and controlling.  Emotions and emotional development matter.  They are not the same things as behavior, but they are intimately tied.

Social Skills: We take a different approach than most, both in the assessment of social skills and in the teaching of them.  The research on methods that teach scripts and rules for social behavior is dismal.  Scripts can only lead to participation in further scripted conversations, because as we all know, any conversation we “rehearse” lasts only until someone inevitably goes off script – and that happens usually wihin the first few seconds of a conversation or social interaction.  We look at the components of social thinking: nonverbal understanding and the ability to share one’s experience with others.

Communication: We look at the full range of a person’s verbal and nonverbal communication.  We understand that nonverbal communication is key to the ability to the development of fluid communi9cation and language, so we pay special attention to that.  In programming, we place special emphasis on a person’s ability to interpret the nonverbal communication of others as that is the key to understand what people really mean by what they do and say, their intentions, and what one can anticipate in their behavior and communication.  Fluid understanding of spoken language is of course essential, but fluid understanding of nonverbal communication is how we really surviuve in spontaneous, fluid and quickly paced social interaction.

Thinking: Thinking has many aspects.  We look at the most pivotal, foundation thinking skills, because these ultimately become targets for intervention.

  • Exploration: How a person explores his or her world determines what they know and what they can know.  We look at how a person goes about exploring and what they learn from it.  We often find that behaviors – usually thought of as problems, really represent static or atypical patterns of exploring the physical and social world.A key concept in child development is that children do not explore their world alone – they learn how to do it in social contexts with more able explorers.  In atypical development, usually for neurological and/or emotional reasons, there is breakdown, delay and static patterns of exploration, or outright withdrawal from exploration and descent into meaningless repetition.  With proper stimulation, children/Students can learn more profitable means of exploration.  Teaching exploration is a different approach than teaching individual skills.  Teaching individual skills gives a fish, while teaching exploration teaches a person how to fish.
  • Pattern Recognition: Patterns of the behavior of objects in the physical world, as well as the behaviors of people are where we we develop mastery and a sense of competence.  Recognizing patterns helps us know what to expect, what to do and what is possible.  Here again, teaching responses is like giving fish, while teaching aperson to recognize patterns is like teaching a person how to fish.
  • Self-Help and Independence Skills: We look at all routines and give independence skills their proper due.  Whereas there is an over-emphasis on independence in our field (we stress the value of interdependence), we recognize that skills such as hygiene, dressing, eating, toileting are extremely important in the quality of life for individuals and their families.
  • Behavior: Behavior is the expression of skills and personal goals.  It is a means to an end.We look at a much bigger picture.  We look at what is behind behavior.  We don’t assume that the consequences a behavior produces is the whole reason why behavior occurs.  We recognize that deficits in skills is as much of a reason why problem behavior occurs than the production of desired consequences.And for the same reason, we don’t use the vast technological and methodological resources at our disposal merely to make behaviors go up or down, or to appear or disappear.  We teaching thinking, not just behavior.

How We Develop Goals at Sponderworks

How We Choose Teaching Techniques and Methods of Intervention

Further reading on our use of developmental information in assessment and program development


[1]     MacDonald, James; 2004; Communicating Partners: 30 Years of Building Responsive Relationships with Late-Talking Children including Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome (ASD), Down Syndrome, and Typical Development; http://www.jamesdmacdonald.org/

[2]     Greenspan, S.I., Lewis, D.; 2005; Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders

[3]     For ABA language programs, we typically use: Leaf, R., et al; 1999; A Work in Progress: Behavior Management Strategies & A Curriculum for Intensive Behavioral Treatment of Autism;  D R L Book, LLC

[4]     Kandel, E.; 2007; In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind; W.W. Norton

Fuster, J.; Memory in the Cerebral Cortex: An Empirical Approach to Neural Networks in the Human and Nonhuman Primate; MIT Press

[5]   Essay: Essay: ‘Is autism a deficit in higher-order context information processing?’ By John R. Skoyles; http://cogprints.org/788/00/autism1.htm

[6]     The word “developmental” is used to describe the progression of skills only within the individual, or along the curriculum.  While skills outlined in most DTT programs follow a developmentally hierarchical order (from simple to complex), they often do not match natural developmental sequences as observed in typical child development.  This leaves serious questions about whether the Lovaas developmental sequence is “neurologically-” or “emotionally correct.”  That is, if skills are taught outside of the way builds structures naturally, a skill is likely to be created that can only be used rotely or when prompted.

[7]     Lovaas, I.; 1981; Teaching Developmentally Disabled Children: The Me Book; Pro-Ed

[8]     The most popular include:

Maurice, C.; (Reprint edition) 1994; Let Me Hear Your Voice: A Family’s Triumph over Autism; Ballantine Books.

Leaf, R., McEachin, J., Harsh, J.; 1999; A Work in Progress: Behavior Management Strategies & A Curriculum for Intensive Behavioral Treatment of Autism; D R L Book, LLC

[9]     “Emotion-sharing” follows an emotion usually.  It occurs when an individual experiences an emotion and then turns towards others to show (or share) the facial expression that accompanies it.  Social referencing is the act of seeking information from another person in order to use that information to appraise what goes on and to help know how to change one’s actions accordingly.

[10]    University of California, Santa Barbara, Koegel Autism Center:  http://www.education.ucsb.edu/autism/gradstudentresearch2.html

[11]    Koegel, L.K., and R.L. Koegel; 1999; Pivotal response intervention I: Overview of approach. Journal of the Association for the Severely handicapped, 24:174-185. [148]

[12]    These are merely examples.  It is far from an exhaustive list.