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Korean Parents’ Accounts of Behavioral Intervention Services
By Sungho Park, California State University, Los Angeles
Every year, increasing numbers of children in Korea are diagnosed as having autism spectrum disorder. With more children diagnosed with autism, there are more demands for behavioral therapy. I had opportunities to interview several Korean parents who have children with autism and received behavioral intervention services. Interestingly, it seems that Korean parents did not like some of the behavioral intervention strategies. In the following article, I would like to share some of the lessons that I learned from interviewing the parents.
Korean parents did not like to provide primary reinforcement, such as giving candy for their children engaging in an appropriate behavior. This is because children seemed to follow directions only when they were given a candy or something to eat. The appropriate behaviors disappeared as therapists stopped providing the candy. Also, some of the parents reported that providing primary reinforcement seems very similar to the way animals were trained. One parent stated that it was like animals that got meat for their performances, as seen in the zoos.
Also, most of Korean parents with whom I spoke were opposed to using timeout. There were various reasons behind this. A few parents stated that it seemed that the therapists suggested this method for many children with autism who would easily find timeout as rewarding rather than punishing. There was even a therapist who locked 5 year-old-boy in a garage. The child was very scared in the dark and cried. Finally, he had to be let out for safety reasons. It seems that there are behavior therapists who are not very well trained and apply behavioral intervention strategies in inappropriate ways.
Another behavioral intervention strategy that did not seem to be very effective with Korean children with autism and their parents is redirecting. Redirecting refers to a method that can be used in a situation where an individual displays inappropriate behaviors and needs to be directed to pay attention to something else so that the inappropriate behavior could be replaced by a more appropriate one. A mother reported that when her child was requesting food, the therapist instructed her not to give food. As a result, the child started to hit himself. Still, the therapist did not allow her to give food. Instead, the therapist instructed her to redirect the child’s attention to something else. In the end, the parent had to give food to the child because they could not keep the child from hitting himself and redirecting did not work.
One behavioral intervention strategy that Korean reported as very positive was providing praise when children engaged in appropriate behaviors. Parents stated that after using this strategy, they were able to learn to recognize many appropriate behaviors that they did not notice before.
Before interviewing these parents, I perceived behavioral interventions as effective ways of dealing with problem behaviors of individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities, regardless of cultural backgrounds. This is be, due to the research that shows behavioral intervention is an effective strategy in reducing problem behaviors and teaching
appropriate behaviors. However, it seems that Korean parents did not believe some of the behavioral intervention strategies were very effective. The implication of this result is that behavioral intervention strategies need to be customized when they are applied to individuals with diverse cultural backgrounds.