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Dr. Megan Miller is a thought leader in the field of behavior analysis and special education. In this interview, she and I discussed the Early Start Denver Model and its importance to early learners. Play is such a critical piece to communication and this model sets up parents and providers to build joint attention skills. 

Imitation is such an important skill, many individuals  look to this as a way to learn things and copy skills. However, it is so much more, it is a skill in which communication begins. If we are missing that piece, higher level communication is not going to take place. Where does imitation most naturally occur? Social interaction. Joint attention activities are often child led activities and this is where the most AHA moments occur. 

If natural social interaction isn’t developing, parents often don’t initiate unintentionally, they instead substitute their interactions with “formal” language practice. It’s really critical that parents learn to be silly and have fun engaging in a social or play format. It can sometimes be difficult, and it definitely requires a certain element or attitude, but when you’re really into it the kid responds.

Many parents may be intimidated by play based social activity. What is great about the Early Start Denver Model, provides a framework for joint activity routines. The first part is to observe the child to find out what they are interested in. The second is developing the routine, early on this involves imitating the child’s play. The third part is creating variety in the routine, so once you’re engaged in an activity the child has started, the adult changes it up. This might mean throwing a ball instead of rolling it, or even just rolling it fast instead of slow. Just small little changes in the play the child is already interested in, which opens up so many opportunities for language and communication for the child to direct the activity. The last part is the closing, preparing to end the activity with a child and move on to the next thing. 

Whether it’s birth-3 or older, professionals and parents alike have to set aside our intentions or vision for the interaction with the kids. Dr. Miller brings up a great point about how aversive it can be if kids are always redirected to play the way the adult wants, because communication really begins with the child’s preference and slowly teaches flexibility. Oftentimes we miss the obscure playful interactions non-neurotypical students may be showing us because we have these ideas of what “fun” should look like, and with that we miss great opportunities for communication with the child. 

There is so much information online, as well as providers who practice very differently, which can be a good thing but also has some negatives. Parents have certain ideas about structured, table centered activities and can at times not understand the purpose of play based interactions in therapy. Dr. Miller drives home that  research is there for naturalistic communication and that it comes from spontaneous play. The Early Start Denver Model book backs up the need and importance of social activity and this can be used to help parents and even providers understand the need and importance of play. 

Dr. Miller’s advice is for more people to understand that students who are not neurotypical do not have to communicate the same way as neurotypical individuals. She says, “We are more comfortable, learn better, and are less stressed when we are accepted”.  My wish is that we can all spontaneously communicate in a way that makes sense to us, so I find that so profound! Be sure to check out Dr. Megan Miller and all her work with the Do Better Movement!

#autism #speechtherapy

Today's Guest:

Dr. Megan Miller is the creator of the Do Better Movement and founder of the Do Better Collective. Megan earned her Ph.D. in Special Education and Behavior Analysis at The Ohio State University in 2015. Dr. Miller’s early training in behavior analysis occurred at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Autism as a volunteer/intern in 2003. Dr. Miller has taught courses in behavior analysis and special education as an adjunct professor for several universities. She has co-authored journal articles published in the Journal of Developmental Physical Disability, Behavior Analysis in Practice, and Teaching Exceptional Children. She also co-authored “The 7 Steps to Earning Instructional Control” with Robert Schramm, BCBA. Megan regularly presents to professional organizations around the globe as an invited speaker. In 2018, Dr. Miller started the #dobetter professional development movement to improve access to training in best practices in the field of behavior analysis via an online community, webinars, and a podcast. 

What's Inside:

  • The Early Start Denver Model. 
  • How important the Early Start Denver Model is to early learners.
  • Where imitation mostly occurs.
  • How aversive it can be if kids are always redirected to play the way the adult wants.
  • The need and importance of social activity.
  • Dr. Miller’s advice to parents and professionals.

Mentioned In This Episode

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