Lost & Found

This last Thursday, we had the opportunity to hang out with ex-CARD client Peter at Magic Mountain.

Just a few years ago Peter was participating in a new study headed up by what is now the founders of the Autism Research Group (ARG), a non-profit autism research organization.

The study Peter was involved in was published in the Spring, 2012 edition of the peer-reviewed Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3297342/



Some parents of clients were expressing concerns about their child getting lost when they are out shopping.  So we scheduled times to meet the family at a retail store so that we could determine if the child knew what to do if he/she got lost.  were always 2-3 researchers watching the child at the store.  The child didn’t know us and so we would just pretend to be shoppers and keep an eye on him/her.  We were in constant communication w/ the parent via cell phone and once we were ready, we would tell the parent to get the child distracted by looking at something and then walk away.  Once the child noticed his/her parent missing, we would follow him around and record what he did.  After no more than 5 minutes, we would have the parent return and reunite with the child.

After determining the child did not have the appropriate skills if he/she got lost, we began training.  For training, we would go to various stores (different ones from where we tested them before training) and we would explain the rules on what to do if lost. 1. Yell for mom or dad  2. Find an employee 3. Tell the employee you are lost.  After going over the rules, the parent would walk away and the therapist would role play being lost with the child.  The therapist would exclaim, “oh no! We’re lost! What should you do?”  If the child did not begin engaging in the 3 things, the therapist would prompt him/her (e.g. ”Should you just stand here quietly?” “You should yell for mom.”). Once the child was responding 100% correct on his own (i.e. no therapist with him to help) training was complete.

2 of the 3 children demonstrated these skills in the stores where we did not train them and the 3rd participant required a few more training sessions before he finally demonstrated the skills in untrained locations.  In conclusion, the use of rules and role playing in the natural environment (i.e. the places you want the behavior to occur) was effective in teaching 3 boys with autism appropriate safety skills on what to do if they get lost in a store.


Peter is one of the children that benefited from this teaching protocol just over 4 years ago.  Since then, he has progressed and learned so much!  And so, it was great seeing Peter in his element, doing what he loves most: riding rollercoasters.  Peter’s mother is grateful for this training because she can now allow Peter freedom to enjoy his passion of riding roller coasters without having to subject herself to all the loops, turns, and drops which she says she is getting too old to handle.