Flying Dragon Therapy

Very often I heard a news, amplified through media and parents’ internet lists, about a new and exciting  therapy for autism.  Equally often, I heard members of scientifically oriented groups vehemently protesting the fact that some sort of activity has been called a “therapy” without any rigorous research to support such claim. On one side we have emotional, strong testimonials of alternative “therapies’ ” believers on the other side we have cold and sobering calls for proofs that expensive treatments deliver on their promise.

I never participated in such discussions because I  was not able to form a strong opinion on those issues that wouldn’t include many  conditionally tainted words such as  “if” , “but”, and “however”. Moreover, it  often happens that the things are not what they seem or what they are called.

Flying Dragon Therapy

When Robert was four years old, he didn’t know any receptive labels and used less than five expressive words to ask for juice, bubbles, and something else.  For his fourth birthday he got  a windup toy which I will call “Dragonfly” , as I had forgotten its name long ago.  It was a plastic dragon standing on a plastic rock. When you pulled energetically the string, whose end was sticking out of the rock, the dragon lifted its wings and flew across the room.    How fascinating!

Robert was hooked.  He wanted Dragon to fly over, and over, and over.  Yet he was not able to pull the string strongly and/or quickly enough to make it fly.  It is possible, that he was also afraid that the Dragon  might fly in the wrong direction and hurt him. He kept on bringing the toy to me so I would make it fly.  I did, but not before Robert said the word “fly” or his approximations of that sound. Robert kept saying “fly” louder and clearer and I kept on releasing the Dragon into the air.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Flying Dragon was improving Robert’s speech.  But of course it was the fact that  the dragon was used by me as a powerful reinforcer motivating Robert to “talk” that caused this development.  On the other hand, it might be that Robert  used the word “fly” as a strong reinforcer to motivate me to make the Dragon fly.  After all, he controlled this event. He prompted me into action by handing me the toy. He rewarded me with a word “fly” every time I properly pulled the string.

Of course, I would call it ABA therapy, but there are people who would keep on calling this ” Flying Dragon Therapy”  and for a good reason.

I wonder if some of the alternative therapies – like horseback therapy or sensory integration therapy do not use similar mechanism to the Flying Dragon Therapy.  And if so, how to interpret or evaluate them?

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