FIT Learning Center is a worldwide program founded by Dr. Kimberly Berens. The focus of her center is rooted in using behavior science for direct instruction and precision teaching for rapid growth in students with learning challenges, disabilities, and delays. Students in her center have shown to make a year of growth with just 40 hours of instruction. If students with diagnoses are making this incredible improvement, what is the cause for these delays in learning in the first place?
Dr. Kimberly finds that most of the students she sees and helps through her centers are plagued by deep problems in the schools. Teachers are not being trained effectively and schools are not bridging the gap. Students with autism, other common learning disabilities, or even neurotypical children with mild delays come to FIT learning and because of the focus on direct instruction can succeed in ways they were not in a typical school environment. Dr. Kimberly, like myself, finds that the importance lies in teaching in the right order.
The Turn Autism Around approach is highly reliant on the right steps in the right order. For the FIT learning center, they also have a first things-first mentality. Whether it be basic functional skills, language, behavioral, or the first rungs of academia, teaching and mastering the smallest base steps instead of advancing to more advanced concepts before a child is ready is a major key to success. FIT learning works with kids as young as 3 years old for early intervention where mastering the baseline skills begins.
Many children with autism have language delays, and may not be conversational; FIT learning because of the nature of their work, requires some language skills. There are many prerequisites necessary for becoming a learner at FIT. Dr. Kimberly says their most notable work with students with Autism is the move into abstract thinking as preparation for concept learning. Students who have behavioral or functioning issues have to handle those , especially in the case of virtual learning.
Amid their presence in many states and several countries, FIT learning transitions seamlessly into the world of virtual education during COVID. Dr. Kimberly says they’ve been working on virtual platforms since 2016 and have had great success virtually using Zoom since the start of the pandemic. She notes students must qualify for virtual learning and if they don’t meet the requirements, they work the family to best fit their needs. She also notes that the younger students between 3 and 5 as well as students with behavior barriers typically need live instruction.
Much like the dedication in my book Turn Autism Around, Dr. Kimberley shares her advice that there is no such thing as normal. Parents often struggle with comparisons between other children, parents, and the idea of what their child should be doing. The perfect normal child does not exist. She challenges parents to only compare themselves and their child to the version of themselves the day before. Are you doing your best? Is the only question you should be asking. When you realize normal is nonexistent, you can be at peace with yourself and your child, how they are!
FIT learning utilizes a scientifically proven method to get real results with real kids. Be sure to check out the information provided today in the podcast and how to find access to FIT learning near you!
Kimberly Nix Berens, Ph.D., is a scientist-educator and Founder of Fit Learning. She co-created a powerful system of instruction based on behavioral science and the Technology of Teaching, which has transformed the learning abilities of thousands of children worldwide, including those who are struggling, average, gifted, or learning disabled. For more than 20 years, her system of instruction has produced one year’s worth of academic growth in only 40 hours of training. Her learning programs effectively target such essential areas as early learning skills, basic classroom readiness, phonemic awareness, reading fluency, comprehension, inferential language, basic and advanced mathematics, logical problem solving, grammar, and expressive writing. From her early beginnings in a broom closet at the University of Nevada –Reno, Dr. Berens Has helped grow Fit Learning to an organization with more than 30 locations worldwide. She’s A frequent invited speaker anda regular contributor to many popular press publications such as Thrive Global, 74 Million, and Medium. Her first book Blind Spots: Why students fail and the science that can save them was released in October of 2020. Dr. Berens currently lives in Long Island with her husband and two children, where she oversees Fit Learning locations in Long Island and New York City.
- What is FIT learning?
- How can behavior science and precision teaching improve your child’s education?
- Teaching Issues Vs. Diagnoses.
- Teaching the right steps in the right order.
Transcript for Podcast Episode: 143
Using Behavior Science to Support Children with Learning Challenges with Dr. Kim Berens
Hosted by:Dr. Mary Barbera
Guest: Dr. Kim Berens
Mary: You're listening to the Turn Autism Around podcast episode number one hundred and forty three, I'm Your host, Dr. Mary Barbera. And today I get to talk to a really interesting person. Her name is Dr. Kimberly Nixs Berens, who has a Ph.D. and she is a scientist and educator. She's the founder of FIT Learning, which has thirty seven locations around the world. And it's a a powerful system where she helps transform learning for kids who are struggling, for average kids, for gifted kids, and for kids that have learning disabilities, including those on the spectrum. She mostly serves kids who are fully conversational and having academic problems. But we talk about kids on the spectrum, whether they should get diagnosed with learning disabilities, how much we should push reading and other academics. And we talk about her book called Blind Spots and really how we can move the educational process for all kids forward so that everybody can learn easier and more efficiently. So let's get to this important episode with Dr. Kimberly Berens.
Narrator: Welcome to The Turn Autism Around podcast. For both parents and professionals in the autism world who want to turn things around, be less stressed and lead happier lives. And now your host, autism mom, behavior analyst and bestselling author, Dr. Mary Barbera.
Mary: OK, thanks so much for joining us today. It's been a pleasure just to talk to you for a couple of minutes to plan this podcast interview. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Dr. Kim: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Mary: So I followed your work a little bit way back when. So why don't you tell our listeners how you got into this whole ABA world? You're not really in the autism world, per say, but how you got involved with ABA?
Dr. Kimberly Berens' Introduction into the Field: Dr. Kim: Well, so I did start with the autism world. That was my whole that's how I got into the field. I went I was at Rollins College, which is a small liberal arts college in Florida, and was lucky enough to meet my mentor, my undergraduate mentor, Marie-Louise. And she was a behavior scientist and was more basic and theoretical work, which she kind of guided me to my clinical mentor that my sophomore year in college started working in a treatment center for adults with profound disabilities as a sophomore in college. Ed Blakely, was his name, Dr. Blakely. And so I worked with him for several years and had the opportunity to open a school for kids with autism with him. And this was back in the 90s when there wasn't a lot of ABA programs, especially early intervention programs for children on the spectrum. So that was a really amazing opportunity. So I started in that whole world and actually went to UNR, University of Nevada, Reno for my Ph.D. and ran their autism program for several years. So so I did start in that whole realm. And then I eventually expanded beyond autism into really mainstream education areas. And I was always amazed by the impact that behavior science could make on children's lives, who did have profound disabilities. But then I was always dismayed that it wasn't the way school goes for all kids and it wasn't the way teachers are trained. And behavior science applies to all human learning, not just children with disabilities. So I, I wanted to expand my work into more populations. And so that's how FIT Learning came to be.
Mary: Yeah. And I've done some additional training withmy mentor, Dr. Rick Kubina. And we've had Janet Twyman on the show. And I know these people are very familiar to you. And you've worked hand in hand with them. You were very big and are very big in precision teaching, literacy based instruction. And you're really out in the general population. And also there's a whole lot of kids with learning disabilities that are labeled or unlabeled, but that is the population that you serve in terms of where you're at right now. So you founded the Fit Learning Organization, so why don't you tell us what that is? Because I don't know anything about that. I've heard about it. Why don't you tell us and tell us what it is and where it's at?
What is FIT Learning and How Did it Get Started?: Dr. Kim: Yes. So I started learning as a graduate student, a doctoral student, at UNR are just like I mentioned, in the 1990s in a actually in a janitor's closet. Like the only space that UNR had available for you to turn into a makeshift session room, so, yeah, I just started working with mainly children of UNR faculty, and I started, we started it in the math area. So we started applying behavioral science to instruction in mathematics. And then we gradually every year got more and more interest expanded beyond just faculty. With just kids of faculty and into the community. More people were interested and we developed a reading program and so on and so forth. But eventually we had gotten to the point where we were in competition with an after school tutoring program that the College of Education provided to the community. And the unfortunately, there was a little bit of a contentious thing there where the folks over the Education Department thought that people in behavioral science didn't have any business working with kids in academic areas. So we were actually and they had a lot of money, the College of Ed was very, very powerful program that you get a lot of grant money. And unfortunately, as usual, the behavior analysis programs a little smaller, a little less influential. So we got voted off campus, unfortunately, which was sad. So at that point, I was devastated because I had I wasn't getting paid anything and I had just volunteered. I was actually still doing my autism work, but I was doing this on the side. So that's when my husband and I, Nick Berens, who's also a co-founder of that, we decided to approach the university and request that we were able to privatize the program off campus and maintain a university affiliation, which they allowed us to do. So that's actually how FIT became FIT. And we started as just one little center in Reno. And now we have a formal certification in our method of instruction. And we have thirty seven locations around and around nationally and in other parts of the world. And we currently move children a year in 40 hours of instruction. So regardless of their classification, regardless of the type of learner they are, we move kids that rapidly because we apply behavioral science to instruction.
Mary: Let me just explain in case somebody is out there and they don't understand that. So basically, if if Johnny is technically in fifth grade, but he's reading at a second grade level and I bring Johnny to you to one of your FIT locations, you are seeing on average in 40 hours of instruction, he will move from a second grade reading level to a third grade reading level in 40 hour. And you you can do that with reading. With math.
Dr. Kim: So we target yes. We target core. So we don't do content courses like science or social studies. We train all the core competencies that kids have to have to be able to acquire academic skills in any area. So we have a FIT reading program, a FIT math program, we do training in writing and composition, grammar. And then we also have something called Fit Logic, which is really training critical thinking, inferencing comprehension, advanced language skills. So we have all those main core areas and again, we work with every kind of kid. So I have kids who have an actual real neurological learning disability and then I have kids who've been classified with one. And it's not real. They've just been instructionaly failed by their school. And then I have kids who are no label at all. They're just average or struggling a little bit. And they're, again, average and struggling because their school is not providing the right kind of instruction. And I have also have high aptitude, kind of accelerated kids who who have who need more more of a challenge and more acceleration. So I have the whole range of learners we have enrolled at FIT.
Mary: So you have thirty seven locations. And are these tutoring centers or are they just one person, are they a whole team at all thirty seven locations?
Dr. Kim: Yeah. So, so this is how it works. So we don't own all those locations. I mean or else I'd be in the grave with gray hair. I already have gray here. I'd have more gray hair than I already have. So we have a licensing and certification model. So people who are, who are interested in pursuing this work, more often than not, they're BCBAs, they're people in the behavioral analysis world. Sometimes they're not. I mean, we have an occupational PhD level occupational therapist who runs our Chicago and London locations. We have some school psychologists who got involved with us, regardless of your background. More often than not, they're in our field, but they may be in a field of education or related field and they find out about us. They find out about this work and this is what they want to do with their lives. They approach us. And then there's a whole vetting process. And if they get through the vetting process. And they can begin a training and certification program, so that's really a first phase. So they go through intensive training and certification in our model. And once they achieve that, which is actually based on a measurable level of proficiency, it's not just time, it's not finishing modules. It's actually audited measured proficiencies and competencies that are achieved and production of a year's growth in 40 hours of training with a learner. They have to meet that requirement in order to achieve certification because that's our minimum standard of gain. Then a they are certified and then they can open a location in their area and they license our brand and all of our intellectual property. And then in order to maintain their license, they have to meet our quality assurance standards, which is to continue producing that level of growth with their kids enrolled. And then there is different levels of certification. So they may become certified eventually as trainers so they can train their own teams. And so most of our established locations have teams that they have certified learning coaches, which is what our initial kind of our first level, our first rung providers are people who run sessions and they're called learning coaches. And so they can certify their own teams of learning coaches, their own case managers, their own case sizers. So they build their own teams and they're just licensed with us. So it's not a franchise. Franchising is very hard to control quality inside up when you're in service provision. If you're talking about flipping hamburgers, that's one thing. But when you're talking about implementing a science based method of instruction, that's very different. So we're it's a life is not a not a franchise. So that's how we've grown. So I you know, I own.. My husband. I own and operate all the ones in the tri state area. But then our partners operate the Reno office. Dr. Donny and Kendra Newsome and the rest of these are owned by affiliates and they're their own businesses. But they pay licensing fees and they pay to become trained and certified in our model.
Mary: Yeah, wow, yeah, know I know a lot of our listeners here are parents or professionals that work with kids where my specialty and my books are focusing on kids with one to five year old level of language, whether they are a toddler or preschooler with some delays, whether they are a older child or a teen or even an adult. My son, for instance, Lucas is twenty five years old and he's functioning at a one to five year old level in terms of language. So we had talked a little bit before we hit record and you do work with kids who are at a certain communication level that do they need to be conversational? Do they need to how much language? Because and we can talk about like what to do for the population, that is probably the parents and professionals are listening, which is different than the population that you are going to target. So what is the baseline cutoff for the kids you serve in terms of language?
Baseline Requirements for FIT Learning: Dr. Kim: So we definitely work with kids who have various language disabilities or classifications of language disabilities, including those kids on the autism spectrum. However, those kids who come to FIT, they really have to have some prerequisite skills. Most of the time they're already somewhat conversational. They can answer social questions, they can ask social questions, but they may not be able to expand on social questions. And they definitely are engaging in inference. So I would say that what were the most known for and actually what we're uniquely contributing in the space of of working with children with autism is moving kids into that realm of abstraction, that abstract thinking realm where we're actually we actually have a curriculum for training concept learning, because that's one of the biggest issues with kids who have preexisting language issues, language disabilities. It is their ability to really learn a concept versus rotely perform a skill like you can. You can teach a lot of kids to memorize a math fact. Right. But it's different to have them understand the process of adding and subtracting at a conceptual level. So there's actually a core skill set required for kids to actually be able to learn concepts of that sort. And so one of the kids who come into our program that are kind of just they're just transitioning into a school placement. They've transitioned out of an early, intensive early intervention program. They are starting to engage in some social skills with those that type of thinking, has it been established. So those kids come in and do a lot of work just around how to learn concepts and they receive training in that way. So, again, just being able to be a concept learner is a skill in and of itself. And then once we've established that, then we can use concept instruction to expand their language repertoire, expand their understanding of concepts so that there is generativity, which is really the goal. So whatever you're interested in teaching like I am or direct, I use precision teaching and direct instruction in everything I do. The whole premise of that type of instruction is, is generative instruction. And what we mean by that and I'm sure your other guests, like Rick and Janet Twyman mentioned this as well. But that's the hallmark of an approach like ours is is not having to rotely one by one train every single skill in a child's repertoire. It's identifying the critical skills that if you train those well, meaning you train those to fluency and true mastery, you get a lot of things for free. So you get these emerging skills that happen in an untrained manner and just rapidly expands the repertoire. And so we have an entire curriculum for that. Inside of concept learning, we have a descriptive describing curriculum that again massively expands descriptive language repertoire as beyond naming and answering questions about a picture. It's putting a picture in front of a child and having them being able to describe it in detail on their own without having to be prompted with questions, something that we call a behavioral science, not to use a weird term. It's something called a free operant or they're the kid is guiding that description rather than the teacher. So one of the hallmarks of the FIT learning approach with respect to children on the spectrum is is moving it outside of teacher guided more into the context of the world occasions responding? Because that's one of the biggest differences between an early intervention program and then jumping into a classroom is an early intervention. It's so much teacher guided explicit instruction. That's teacher guided. And then but what you want to have happen is that that instructional control being transferred to the context so that the context of occasions, language, the context, occasion's, talking, asking questions, answering questions, initiating conversations. So we have our program is designed in a way to rapidly expand language repertoire in those kinds of kids.
Mary: Yeah, when you brought up direct instruction, I was thinking, I know your kids, the students that you see are past early intervention and they're past the VB-MAPP. So they're on the other side of the map, which if kids get to level three of the VB-MAPP and they're in my verbal behavior bundle of courses, I mean, I do have a lesson on language for learning and language for thing. Right. And do you use those curriculum or is your curriculum kind of beyond that or something else that kind of sort of that but different?
Dr. Kim: So we definitely don't we we don't use those curricula. So our Fit Logic program is based on all of things that we've designed for the last 20 years. And it's based on a branch of behavior analysis that's called relational frame theory, which I don't want to, again, scare people off because that sounds really scary. But it's basically the behavior analysis of language and cognition that is that is more delving into really inferential abstracted language skills. And so we've developed all of those things. So when you talk about direct instruction, which is number one most effective way to teach concepts with learners as we know it, but you have to have a child with the ability to do that. So, for example, the bottom rung of our concept learning curriculum is which you'll probably be familiar with, but bidirectional responding. So, for instance, like an X, Y or turn definition relationship. And one of the first things we teach is for a child to be able to say, like if I said, oh, if I said a hammer is a tool, if I just gave them some simple definition, a hammer is a tool. I presented that to them and I said, So what is a hammer? And the child could say a tool. But then what is very important is for me to be able to say, so what's the type of tool and the child to say a hammer? So I know this sounds really silly, but the flexibility of a child to be able to hear a term say the definition or the definition, say the term that's really like and we call that bidirectional responding. And there's another really weird, crazy term that I won't use that's actually from FIT. It's called mutual entailment, whatever. We're not going to go there. Bidirectional or spontaneous ways. You understand that alone is something that a lot of children can't do, not just kids on the spectrum, but there are a lot of like we work with a lot of little learners, three to five years old, that we start this early with them. So they become really good concept learners at an early age. So being able to hear and be able to flexibly respond to those kinds of questions, we also have a whole curriculum around question answering. So, for instance, in one interaction I could say, so what's a hammer? A tool. and what's the type of tool? A hammer. And so that I could say I could point to something unrelated, like a square, and I could say, so is this a tool, yes or no? No. And I could point to a hammer. Is this a tool? Yes. Or I could or I could say so. A hammer is a.... Tool. Good. And a type of tool is a....hammer. So there's a lot of ways to train the flexibility around interacting with a concept that when you get that and then you trade it in one way and then you test a bunch of novel term definition relationships and we get a generative way, which means that kids can do it with untrain things. Then I know now I can use that to teach concepts kids really need to know as part of their instruction. So we actually train children to be able to be part of a direct instruction sequence, because if you can't do flexible question answering, we can't use direct instruction. And if we can't use direct instruction, then we can't train kids concepts as well as we could if we were able to use those kinds of that kind of strategy. So that's just an example of what I mean about training kids to learn the concepts
Mary: And with like language for learning a language which is I mean, it's available in many schools. There is a lot of the hammer is a tool and types of tools. And for many of the people listening, this is well past what their typical clients can do. So kids with autism have very high levels of learning disabilities and learning differences. And I would propose that a lot of it is based on the fact that if the language is so delayed and we can't even get to this point so you kind of have to step back. But let's talk about the kids that do have almost conversational language, do have pretty good a language base. And then would you say if they have autism, how important is it for them to get a learning disability like dyslexia diagnosed or a math disability? Or do you think it in general is just a teaching issue? Not really a diagnosis issue?
Teaching Issues Vs Learning Disability, How Dr. Kimberly Berens' Book Relates: Dr. Kim: So I recently published a book back in October of twenty twenty and I deal with this a lot. In the book.
Mary: Let's talk about that. What's the book and subtitle?
Dr. Kim: So it's Blind Spots: Why Students Fail and the Science that Can Save Them as the title of the book.
Mary: We will link them in the show notes.
Dr. Kim: Great. So in the book I deal a lot with the myth that whenever a child struggles to learn a skill, then if they struggle significantly, then there must be a learning disability. There must be something wrong with their ability to learn. And one of the primary dangers of that, when you're talking about in the mainstream world, is a majority of kids fail academically because school doesn't work for most kids. I mean, we have a majority of children in the United States below proficiency, more than 60 percent are below proficiency. And when you're talking about mathematics, that rises to more than 70 percent. And when you're talking about children of color or those living in poverty, that rises to more than 80 percent. So to be honest with you, school doesn't work for a majority of kids because school is a design based on the science behind a learning process. It's just not how it works. And unfortunately, teachers aren't trained in that either. Colleges of education don't train teachers and behavioral science. And so, unfortunately, teachers are trained in traditions and beliefs that oftentimes don't work and is again, not to the fault of the teacher. That's how they're trained. So schools are designed in a way that almost all the ensures that a majority of students don't master skills. So I'm a very big proponent of bringing awareness to parents about this epidemic of overclassifying children, because when we classify kids with a learning problem, it absolves the educational context. It absolves the the school of the responsibility of changing practices so that they work better. Because when you can say, oh, this kid failed because they have a learning problem, they don't have to reevaluate. No, actually, it's because we're not teaching reading the right way or we're not allowing kids the opportunity to truly master basic math skills before we move them to advanced ones, which is really what the problem is. So to be honest with you, we could solve a lot of this by just being pragmatic in the way we design schools and train our teachers. So I think it's really important for parents to understand that now when you have a child who has an actual neurological impairment that impacts their ability to learn across the board, which is what autism entails most of the time. You know what I'm talking about as a child who's learned everything easily in their lives except for one area that the school is responsible for. So when you talk about kids who met all the developmental milestones on time and they taught themselves to do a bunch of cool stuff in their home environment and they become proficient at video games and they are playing sports and a musical instrument and there but yet they're still struggling to learn to read. That's a red flag that it's the reading instruction because learning disabilities actually aren't selective in that way. And that's a big myth. Our brains don't just are like somehow not wired to learn to read, but we can learn all these other complex skills. It's not true. So when kids struggle to learn to read, but have learned to do a lot of other things, well, what parents should ask themselves is why is it the thing the schools required to teach my kid the thing they struggle with rather than everything they are doing outside of school? They do really well. So that's when, you know, it's probably mythological. But when you're talking about a child who struggle to learn to talk, struggle to learn adaptive skills, you struggle to learn social skills, then that is a true learning issue because they struggle to learn anything in their world. And a lot of the roles had to be designed intentionally for them to learn it. Then you're dealing with something that is a real neurological learning issue. However, that still doesn't mean that autism, for instance, explains everything they struggle to learn. Right. Like, why doesn't your child read? Oh, they have autism. Is that an explanation? So why doesn't your child read? Well, they may have autism, but they may also have been failed. And structurally, they may also may not have been given the opportunity to learn their phonics sounds and learn how to decode words properly and learn how to identify sight words, and then even beyond that, be trained in the language skills required for comprehension. So what I don't love is when real disabilities like Downs Syndrome or autism or some of these actual impairments that are true and absolutely impact their child's ability to learn when those become the scapegoat for everything. That's also really detrimental for a child, because it's like rather than saying, oh, you're not reading because of your autism, it's you're not reading because you've never been properly instructed in phonics. And we need to fix that. It doesn't lend itself to effective action when everything becomes about a diagnosis is the point I'm trying to make.
Mary: Yeah. And some of it too is funding because I have a nephew that has struggled with dyslexia and before he was diagnosed with dyslexia before him, independent evaluation which I helped push for. You know, they were doing fluency, math facts, and they were suggesting to add Cheerios, to count the Cheerios for the math facts. I'm like OK, as I'm working on my dissertation on fluency based instruction, knowing that, you know, what do you suggest and counting on your fingers or somebody suggesting adding curios so that you can go for a really a typically developing kid who is not reading or to put them in one to one extra help time with a mom volunteer who is practicing bad techniques. So it's. I mean, how do you change systems like we've been working on for two decades? We both have been working on this. I've been working on trying to work and change how autism is detected and treated. It's like for your FIT learning center, like if I did have a child that qualified, which my typically developing son would have when he was young, because he had full language. But, you know, is that is that all private pay? If you have a learning disability, if they've already failed by the system, can they get that education, money? It's like a lot of this is funding.
Dr. Kim: It is. And that's the thing I will say for a kid to be classified, it does give them access to certain access to services. But here's another thing. Another horrifying statistic I will tell you is that 90 percent of children classified with learning disabilities graduate below proficiency. So what that tells you is that all those special services, a majority more often than not, are ineffective because although it might be smaller class size, even one on one, in some instances, modified curriculum. Unfortunately, even in the special education world, a majority of the time, they're not using precision teaching direct instruction, they're not individualized instruction, they're not measuring skills on an individual basis, not on evaluating fluency. So, you know, even if kids do do get classified and qualify for services, trust me, I mean, that's. Seventy five percent of my enrollment are kids who have been classified for special ed and have made zero progress in special ed. And then they will in FIT and they move a year and 40 hours, which is pretty indicative that they don't have a learning problem. So it's just that what you're saying is absolutely true. It's that the system has to change. Teachers need better training. Teachers need the ability. They need the opportunity to be trained in the science of learning and be given the freedom to apply that in their classrooms. That's the only way any of this is ever really going to change. But so it is privately funded more often than not. But we also have kids like I have day placements at FIT learning in tri state where kids come to fit for school instead of going to school. And most of those kids are funded by the DOE. And it's that the Department of Education.
Where Can You Find FIT Learning Centers?: Mary: And when you say tri state, what states are you talking about?
Dr. Kim: Oh, sorry. Yeah, when I say Tri-strate, New York and Connecticut, those are my two areas.
Mary: When I say tri state, it's Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.
Dr. Kim: That's hilarious, that's your tri-state.
Mary: I have people listening from all over the world. So, you know, and you said you do have a couple FIT learning in other countries.
Dr. Kim: Yes. So we have some learning locations in Canada, Australia. There's one in London, Ireland..Am I forgetting any I think those are most of those are international education. So, yeah, Canada, Ireland, the UK and Australia.
Mary: Can people do FIT learning online?
Dr. Kim: Yeah. So we actually made the transition to virtual instruction quite easily because we've been providing that since 2014. So we've expanded massively over the last five years. But before we expanded this way, it was very hard for a lot of families to access location because we didn't have that many. So we started doing virtual instruction on Skype years ago. And of course, obviously we switched to Zoom because it was way better. But so when it hit, we were already set up for this. We've been doing this for a long time. So we have lots of kids who who never walk in a lab like we call them learning labs, but who never walk into a center because they don't get access when they're too far away. So we have a lot of virtual enrollments at FIT. Absolutely. Now, you have to qualify for that. If you have kids who are behavioral barriers, noncompliance, those kids don't work as well on Zoom. And so they would have to they qualify for virtual renrollment based on an assessment that we we implement virtually. And so if they don't qualify for virtual, then we try to find the closest location and see what we can make work for a family. But I'll be honest with you, more often than not, kids do really well on virtual instruction.
Mary: And what age chronologically do kids have to be? Do they have to be school age? You talked about that..
Dr. Kim: Three. So we start kids three years old now. We don't have many. We have a couple little, we call them little bits. We have a couple of them on virtual instruction. But more often than not, those little guys, they need to be live. So we have especially our three to four year olds, but we have a lot of five year olds on virtual. They're great. But three or four year olds, you know they have to learn how to be learner. Yet they're trying, they're learning how to follow instructions and attend. And so those kids need live moments most of the time. So we started three years old. We have an early literacy and early numeracy programs for little guys. We do a lot of language work with little kids. We get them kind of school proof, I guess you could say get them ready to go into a school environment and succeed regardless of the teacher they have that year, the school they might be in so like prevention, a lot of prevention work.
First Things First, Teaching in Important Steps: Mary: Yeah. And I've even recommended for four year olds with autism. Yeah. Teach them to read while we have them at home, you know that are doing pretty well that have some language. And there's one book called Teach Your Child to Read in a Hundred Easy Lessons. Which is a Fifteen dollar book or there's programs like Head Sprout and that can assist with scientifically proven strategies. What we're talking about direct instruction and precision teaching. All in embedded with that. But at the same time I'm saying that I also have seen where you have an eight year old with severe autism and behavioral issues and the school or the parent are pushing, reading and writing, and it's like, I think that's putting the cart before the horse. I think our main focus should be on language and reducing problem behaviors so that they can get potty trained and do functional skills. And if they're very obsessed with letters or want to write, you know, that's one thing I'm not saying like hide that from them, but it can also be a problem when people are pushing academics when the language isn't there. Do you agree?
Dr. Kim: I do. I will say, obviously, when you when you do the work that we do, I'm all about component skills. So I'm first things first person. I'm a prerequisite, but I'm going to..ultimately I am an instructional designer. So I spend my career studying complex repertoires and breaking them down into component essential pieces. So obviously, if you have an eight year old who isn't potty trained, is engaging in severe problem behavior, your primary focus should be life's adaptive skills and functional communication so that the child has something to do as an alternative to tantrumming and aggressing and things of that sort. On the other side, I will say that is particularly reading. Know reading can open up a lot of doors for kids who are on the spectrum in such a way that they they may have difficulty acquiring higher level language skills. They may never, that may never happen. But what I have found is reading it can be a really powerful reinforcer for kids on the spectrum, even if they never move past very simple books. But it's also something that they can do in free time to give them a variety of free time activities in their in their daily lives that can be really enriching and reinforcing. So on that side, I would say, reading plays that role for those kids. I also I find it again from my early days when I was working with very low functioning kids on the spectrum or very early, very young kids on the spectrum who just started intervention. I find textual prompts to be one of the most powerful tools for rapidly fading prompts and training complex repertoires. So another reason I would recommend if it works, to get the basic decoding and reading skills going with kids on the spectrum is so that textural prompting can be used as a really effective prompting strategy that can easily be fadeed. I find textural prompts to be unbelievably effective, so it gives you access to another type of teaching tool when a child can read. Again, I'm not saying they're going to be comprehending and reading at a fourth grade level, but they could they could be reading basic words and then that could give access to free time activities into different types of teaching strategies that the that their therapist can use. But I do agree with you in a large way that you've got to focus on first things first with kids.
Mary: And I know that many children with autism, including my son, are hyperlexic. They actually really like letters and numbers and can read and I just did a podcast a few weeks ago. We can link in the show notes about hyperlexia and how we can use it, their pretextual prompts. And I developed this book program which are in my courses and it's basically taking books and making really powerful natural environment teaching sessions not to have to like pre plan everything so rotely but to get children, even if they can't read the text to to use very simple books and to build in language comprehension. And during covid, because part of my book program is to go to the library once a week and then get five books and to swap them out. And that's that's an activity. So of course libraries were closed. So during covid somebody suggested this app called Epic, E-P-I-C. And it's, um, it's a monthly fee, but you can have a wide range of books. And I know that that's a leisure activity for Lucas' is to read these little books like first grade books and you might think well is twenty five..Hey it's, it's fine. He's happy he is engaged, he can answer simple questions and it can't hurt the situation. And then if you have like a new activity, like you're going on a plane or you're going to the dentist, you can get a first grade reader about his activities. And it will also help the children kind of anticipate what's coming.
Dr. Kim: And getting off those iPads and. Those electronic devices have become like the primary free time activity, and I'm not saying we don't need those reinforcers to build other skills, but it's so nice to have something that's not electronic, that doesn't involve all of that stuff that can really evoke more stereotopy, more echolalia, more ritualistic behavior. Books can be a really nice break.
Mary: And bringing back to the libraries. In some sense, it is a good a good thing to think about. So, OK, so I really appreciate you coming on and just telling us that there are alternatives when kids are kind of stuck not doing well, failing. Want to go to places like that, learning where they can improve skills. You know, it's scientifically based, behavioral and proven. I mean, make one whole year of a leap forward in 40 hours of instruction. And I've seen it. I've seen it in when you really focus on the right things in the right order, you can make really, really amazing progress. And I think your students are very lucky that you and your husband and others have freed the way. And hopefully I'm sure this is part of your mission, but I'm sure it's already happening when Johnny goes to visit learning and makes those games. And then especially if the Department of Education is funding, it will be like, whoa, what is happening? And like the goal is really to make all of instruction be like that.
Dr. Kim: Yes.
Mary: Yes, positive. To make it productive, to get kids proficient or above. And it hasn't been happening. But hopefully with the efforts like you are showing us, it can move in the right direction. So thank you for all of your work in in this field.
Dr. Kim: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate that.
How to Find Dr. Kimberly Berens and Her Parting Advice: Mary: Yeah. So we're going to put your the name of your book.. How can they find out about Fit Learning? Is there a website for me to say.
Dr. Kim: Yeah. So if you can go to www.FITlearning.com, thats the easy one. So that's all there. You'll find links to all about our program, to all our different locations. It's easy to be able to reach out to a specific location that's in your area for more information. And then I have a website. So that's www.drkimberlyberens.com. And that's where you'll find information on my book or other op ed. I've written a bunch of stuff, a popular press on some of these things. I've had a bunch of interviews and other podcasts. So all all my stuff is on the Dr. Kimberly Berens website.
Mary: OK, DrKimberlyBerens.com, and FITlearning.com we'll put that in the show notes along with your book called Blind Spots. And all of that will be in the show notes at MaryBarbera.com/143. so one more question before I let you go. Part of my goals are for parents and professionals to be less stressed and lead happier lives. So what kind of stress reduction techniques or self care tools do you suggest for our listeners?
Dr. Kim: Wow, that's a big question. Well, I think first, one of my biggest, one of the things I find to be the most rewarding inside of my career is creating a distinction for a parent. And one of the most important distinctions that I've gotten this from Pat Fryman is one another one of my mentors, Dr. Fryman, who's in the field, is debunking the myth of normal. I think that one of the things we tend to do as parents especially is compare our kids to other kids and constantly beat ourselves up when we do those comparisons. And this could be whether or not we have a neurotypical kid or a child on the autism spectrum or a child with another type of disability. And so I always say catching ourselves, doing that and being aware that normal is actually a lie. There is no normal, like there is no kid who gets up in the morning and gets themselves dressed perfectly and cleans up after themselves, eats everything for breakfast that they're supposed to do and all the Gerber baby, like that's not real. So I think it's I think what I find to be helpful for myself as a mother and I've found helpful with my clients that I work with is really being present to that every day, that there is no normal kid, that individual differences define human beings. We're more different than we are similar in so many ways, the way how quickly we learn a skill, what it takes to learn that skill, that that's actually normal, that it's different across all kids and the rate of the rate of progress is different across all kids. And so my recommendation is stop comparing your child to other kids and focus on the personal best. This is what I teach my learners. This is what I teach my parents, that rather than comparing yourself to someone else, it's like compare yourself to your self yesterday, you compare your you'll have your child practiced comparing themselves to who they were yesterday. So did I make a personal best today? Did I do a few more minutes of my homework assignment without having to be reminded? Did I pick something up off the floor without being asked? Did I, whatever it might be, did I fight a little harder in my hockey game and persevere through a tough moment? in a moment with a friend? So it's all learning. We're all about the personal best and also for ourselves as parents, like, was I a little more patient today than I was yesterday? Was I a little more accepting and generous today than I was yesterday rather than am I as patient as my friend Laura is with her kids? Or so I think that the frame of comparison we all tend to automatically engage in, it can be toxic. So my biggest device is stop doing that, compare yourself to yourself and set goals for yourself, whether it be parents as a parent or a friend or whatever it may be, and and then focus on your personal best goals and compare yourself to those. And then also, if you don't meet it, then guess what? You have the opportunity to try again the next day. And it doesn't mean anything. So that's my advice.
Mary: I totally agree. In fact, my new book. Right, Dedicate my book to my sons " who taught me there is no such thing as normal." Yes. There we go. So we totally are on the same page with that. And we just do the best we can every day and we try to do better tomorrow with the information. So thanks so much for your time today. I really enjoyed meeting you and chatting with you. I know my listeners are going to too. So all the show notes. MaryBarbera.com/143 and I'll see you right here next week.
Dr. Kim: Thanks so much.
Mary: If you're a parent or professional and have benefited from the information you learn from me on this podcast or from my Turn Autism Around Book or from my online courses, I would love to hear about your success. Please go to MaryBarbera.com/success and fill out a very short survey. On the survey you could upload your book or podcast review or you can share a picture or video and tell me how your life has been impacted. I will personally review everything submitted and I would love to hear from you. I'm on a mission to turn autism around for millions of children around the world so that each child can be as safe, as independent and as happy as possible by writing a Turn Autism Around, Amazon or a podcast review. And by sharing your story with me, you'll be able to help others find out about the Turn Autism Around resources so they can start turning things around, too. I can't wait to hear all about your success at MaryBarbera.com/success. Thanks so much.
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