Another first today! We welcome Dr. Lee A. Wilkinson to our Author Interview Series and he wrote our first guest post about his book for our Special Needs Book Review site. Dr. Wilkinson’s book, A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools, was published in 2010 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. His book was named the Winner in the Education/Academic category of the 2011 Next Generation Indie Book Awards and honored as an Award-Winning Finalist in the Education/Academic category of the “Best Books 2010 Awards” sponsored by USA Book News.
Lorna: Thank you so much for being our first guest reviewer and congratulations on the success of your book. Your LinkedIn profile describes you as an, “Award-Winning Author, Applied Researcher, and School Psychologist at BestPracticeAutism.com” Please tell us more about yourself and the work you are doing presently.
Dr. Lee A. Wilkinson >> Thank you for opportunity to be your first guest reviewer. I’m honored and happy to share some information about myself and my work. I’m a nationally certified school psychologist, chartered educational psychologist, chartered scientist, and certified cognitive-behavioral therapist. My special interest is in the area of developmental psychopathology. Currently, I’m a practicing school psychologist here in South Florida where I provide diagnostic and consultation services for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their families. I’m also an adjunct professor and teach graduate courses in psychological assessment, clinical intervention, and child and adolescent psychopathology. My family, grandkids, and writing round out a sometimes hectic yet highly rewarding schedule.
Lorna: Your career spans over 26 years and you have accomplished so many things, could you narrow down what prepared you most to write your book and why you felt such a book was needed?
Dr. Lee A. Wilkinson >> My early career experiences with young children with developmental disabilities served as the foundation for my professional interests and writing. Working with parents, teachers, and children on the “developmental spectrum” over a span of two decades provided the inspiration and impetus for sharing my experiences with ASD. While there is certainly no shortage of books describing the controversies and challenges associated with the diagnosis and treatment of ASD, I felt strongly that there was a need for an up-to-date text that would provide educators, support professionals, and parents with a scientifically-based, yet practical guide to screening, assessment, and intervention. The book is written from a real-world perspective based on my experience as both an applied researcher and psychology practitioner. Unlike many books which focus on theory, my objective was to provide the reader with a balance of conceptual, practical, and empirical information in order to bridge the research-to-practice gap in providing effective services to children on the spectrum. I hope that the book has made a contribution towards this goal.
Lorna: What do you answer when you are asked, “What is your book about? Who is your target audience?”
Dr. Lee A. Wilkinson >> My book is guided by a fundamental premise that autistic traits are continuously distributed in the general population and exist along a spectrum of severity. We now recognize that even mild autistic-like traits in some children can be associated with teacher-reported problems in socialization and a wide range of behavioral and academic difficulties. As a result, social skills deficits that fall below the threshold for a clinical diagnosis of ASD can still result in functional impairment. In fact, there is some research to suggest that students with higher-functioning autism are underidentified and underserved in our schools. Consequently, I felt that it was important to focus on those children whose differences in social and communication functioning might indicate a need for support and intervention services. The book includes chapters on screening, assessment, intervention and treatment, and special education. Two case vignettes are also presented to illustrate the application of best practice techniques in a real-world setting.
In terms of the book’s audience, it was primarily written as a resource for practitioners in educational and school psychology, child and adolescent clinical psychology, general and special education, counseling, educational administration, social work, and for graduate and pre-service students. I designed it as a guide to help school professionals (teachers, counselors, speech and language pathologists, psychologists, case managers, and many others) make informed decisions regarding the assessment, identification, and treatment of autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). Parents, advocates, and attorneys will also find the content informative and the book useful as a reference guide to developing educationally and legally appropriate programs for children on the spectrum.
Dr. Lee A. Wilkinson >> The book features a series of over 20 commonly asked questions and answers. Although I’m often asked “What causes autism?” and “How do I know if my child has autism?” the question (and concern) voiced most frequently by parents involves what happens after their child has received a diagnosis of ASD. More specifically, “What can I expect from my child?” and “What are the long term outcomes for children with ASD?” It is my experience that when families receive a diagnosis of autism, a period of anxiety, insecurity, and confusion often follow. This includes anxiety related to the child’s deficits in social relatedness and long-term care concerns. Studies indicate that parents and siblings of children with ASD experience more stress and depression than those of children who are typically developing or even those who have other disabilities. Some autism specialists even suggest that parents go through stages of grief and mourning similar to the stages experienced with a loss of a loved one ( e.g., fear, denial, anger, bargaining/guilt, depression and acceptance). I respond to parental concerns by explaining that there is no known cure for autism and that a diagnosis of ASD remains fairly stable throughout adolescence and adulthood. I also inform families that recent research indicates a trend toward improved outcomes for individuals with ASD in general and that early intervention, effective educational programs and services, and parent and family support substantially increase the possibility of a more favorable outcome. On a more personal level, I attempt to give parents a realistic interpretation of ASD and help them to understand their child’s level of cognitive and adaptive functioning. I also find it important to communicate the child’s strengths and weaknesses and assure parents that they are not responsible for their child’s social-communication deficits. I always encourage parents to play an active role in developing and implementing intervention plans and IEPs and to strongly advocate for their child.
Lorna: Chapter 5 of your book focuses on intervention practices and describes current scientifically-based interventions and treatments for ASD. What are some of the interventions you find work well with young children diagnosed with autism?
Dr. Lee A. Wilkinson >> At the present time there is no single approach, intervention strategy, or treatment that is effective for all children with ASD. Educational programs, behavioral techniques, cognitive approaches, social-learning approaches, and pharmacological interventions all have their place in the management of ASD. The success of the intervention will depend to large extent on the interaction between the age of the child, his or her developmental level and individual characteristics, the strength of the treatment, and competency of the interventionalist. Successful programs are those that incorporate a variety of empirically supported practices and designed to address and support the unique needs of individual students and families. The most effective treatment appears to be a comprehensive and intensive program consisting of educational interventions, developmental therapies, and behavior management with a focus on reducing symptom severity and improving the development course of the child. Although there is considerable overlap between the many different treatment approaches, I have found that strategies involving social skills training, visual schedules, self-management, and positive behavior support implemented within a nurturing, inclusive setting to be helpful in increasing the adaptive skills of many children on the spectru
Lorna: Thank you so much for making the time to write about your book and now for this interview. What is on your To-Do list for the coming months? Please give us your links so we can follow you and profit from your wise counsel. Where can we buy your book?
Dr. Lee A. Wilkinson >> This next year promises to be a very busy one. I am in the process of editing a volume in the APA Division 16 (School Psychology) Book Series, Autism Spectrum Disorders in Children and Adolescents: Evidence-Based Assessment and Intervention in Schools, scheduled to be published in conjunction with American Psychological Association Press in early 2013. I am especially pleased to report that I have also begun work on a self-help book for adults on the spectrum that will be published by Jessica Kingsley late next year.
A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools is available from the publisher, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, and major book sellers such as Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, as well as many other online vendors. Interested parties are also invited to visit my author’s blog at http://bestpracticeautism.com. Thanks again for providing this opportunity to share my work and perspectives with your readers.