Program for children with problems of Autism


For over 27 years, members of Los Horcones community (1), have worked in special education, mainly the education of children with problems of autism.

In 1971, some of the people who founded Los Horcones, opened a center for special education, in the city of Hermosillo,Sonora México. It was known as “Center for Children with Behavioral Deficits.(2)” The support we received at that time from Dr. Sidney W. Bijou (3); Dr. Ivar Lovaas(4),Dr. Francisco and Dr. Maria Montes(5)to establish and develop this center, was essential.

(1). Los Horcones, is a community of teachers and psychologists. (“Horcon” is a tree trunk used as pillars in the buildings. At Los Horcones we use “horcones” in our buildings.)

The members of Los Horcones community have a cooperative lifestyle based in the common good. One of their main activities is the education of children with autistic behaviors. Los Horcones functions as an educational or therapeutic community for children with diverse behavioral deficits. The school is the whole community and their teachers are all the members.

(2). At an international level, this center was the first private center with a totally behavioral approach to the education of children with behavioral problems. Before 1971, there were already other schools for children with autistic behavior, but they applied other psychological approaches other than behavioral. At that time the few existing centers with a behavioral approach to autism operated only within universities.For example, the one conducted by Dr. Ivar Lovaas, at UCLA.

(3). Dr. Sidney W. Bijou is the pioneer in the application of the science of behavior to child development. See S.W. Bijou

(4). Dr. Ivar Lovaas is the pioneer in the application of behavioral principles to the education of autistic children. His contribution to the understanding of autism is outstanding. You can see Dr. Ivar Lovaas page on the web. See Ivar Lovaas

(5). Dr. Francisco Montes y Dr. Maria Montes were pioneers in the application of behavior analysis to special education in Mexico.

Center for Children with problems of Autism .

Los Horcones Community, Sonora Mexico.

Autism is not an illness, it is a behavior problem. Children who have this problem have behavioral excesses and deficits, they need to learn appropriate behaviors and unlearn the inappropriate.

Teaching Community Model

Throughout the 27 years of Comunidad Los Horcones, we have designed a model to educate children with behavior problems. This model includes the program for children with problems of autism. We call this special education model: Teaching Community Model. In a few words, this model consists of providing the children with a supportive (therapeutic community) where they can learn appropriate behaviors and unlearn inappropriate behaviors not only at school or at the clinic but also in their daily lives.

The teaching community model emphasizes the learning of appropriate behaviors in the natural environment (physical and social).Thus, children included in the autism program interact in their daily life with community members which have been trained to educate children with problems of autism. These therapeutic interactions will occur in various settings such as the dinning room, living room, play yard, in a car, in a building, at a store, a park, etc.

During these interactions which take place in the natural setting, community’ members prompt and reinforce (teach) the children’s desirable behaviors; extinguish (stop reinforcing) or correct their undesirable behaviors. For example:when a member is taking a walk with a child, the member asks the child questions and reinforce appropriate answers or appropriate approximations. At meal time, the children learn to eat appropriately because they are accompanied by someone who shape and reinforce their appropriate behaviors and corrects the inappropriate.

In a Teaching Community Model, children with behavior problems are not isolated from the social life in the community as it happens in institutions where therapists, teachers or psychologists do not live constantly with the children. Children with autistic behaviors are not regarded as ill people but as people who need to learn some behaviors.

In a teaching community model, all community members relate in friendly and educational ways to the children and and adolescents included in the program. In this way, Los Horcones is a therapeutic community.

Individual session in pictures identification.

Learning to play with peers.

A behavioral analytical approach to autism is optimistic. It states that all children with problems of autism can learn appropriate behaviors.

Instructional session in the natural setting.

Reading session

Whatever are the causes of autism, we need to teach appropriate behaviors to people with autistic behaviors. It is a pity that many parents devote so much time to get a diagnose before including their child in an educational program.

Let’s suppose that a professional diagnoses your child as “autistic” and tells you that the cause is genetic. Will such diagnose teach your child to obey instructions, to play appropriately with his siblings or to behave like most children his age?

Let’s suppose that a professional prescribe medication to your child. Is there a medication that will teach a child to speak or to read?

A child learning to teach another child.

Playing during free time.

Features of the Teaching Community Model.
Some of the main features of a Teaching Community Model are:

1) Only behavior analytic principles are applied.

Behavioral principles have been successfully applied in the education of children with autistic behavior. Some of these principle and procedures applied are: positive reinforcement, extinction, shaping, modeling, prompting, fading, over correction, etc.

The application of these principles involves educating children with affection and in humanitarian ways.*

*Sadly, many people misunderstand the science of behavior analysis. Those psychologists who disagree with a science of behavior, continue to present it in a wrong way arguing that behavioral analytic treatments do not take into consideration feelings and cognitive processes of the children, that they are focused only in behaviors observable to others.

Behavioral analytic programs include the teaching of intellectual and affective kills (emotions and feelings). For example, to teach a child to identify his own thoughts, beliefs or feelings also to realize what others think and feel, to take them into consideration-to understand others. (Theory of the mind).

The behavior analytic approach to the education of children with autistic behavior, involves teaching them affective skills (feelings, emotions) and cognitive skills (reasoning, logical and critical thinking, memorization, comprehension, etc.).

The behavioral approach is humanistic, it doe snot only deals with motor behaviors.

2) Only therapeutic procedures or strategies (programs) that have proved to be effective are applied.

Fortunately there are therapeutic programs which have demonstrated to be effective to shape and maintain appropriate behaviors and reduce or eliminate inappropriate ones. These programs are applied in a Teaching Community Model. One of the areas of research in Los Horcones is about autistic behavior.

3) Behavior analytical procedures are applied to establishing and maintaining all the behaviors that makes an individual to develop as a whole person.

Educational programs are directed to a wide variety of behaviors in a wide variety of physical and social settings. Self-care, pre-academic and academic (intellectual) behaviors, verbal behavior (language), affective behavior (emotional) are taught.

Note. The behavioral-analytical approach to “autism” is misinterpreted when people say that this approach is not effective to teach social and personal skills.

The education or treatment of children with autistic behavior involves achieving through formal educational techniques what children without autistic behaviors learn in normal settings (intentional or explicit learning).
4) It is based on an individualized and personalizing system.

Every child is unique, thus each requires an individualized educational (therapeutic) program, this is adapted to its own needs. The respect to the dignity of a person with problems of autistic behavior includes treating him/her as a unique person, not as another member of a group (“autistic person”).

The teaching community model is personalizing in the sense that treats the individual as person not as an anonymous patient or client. Also in the sense that it seeks the development of the individual as a person.

5) Labels are not used.

It does not use labels such as “autistic,” “schizophrenic”, “Asperger syndrome” retarded” or others diagnostic label to refer to people with problems of autistic behavior.

Children are children. Some may have behavioral problems(autistic behaviors) but they do not have inside something called “mental retardation”, “schizophrenia”, “attentional deficit” or “autism”.

Note. Not to label a child is not the same as not to label his or her behavior. Of course autistic behavior is inappropriate and requires a label for its study.

6) Diagnosis is based on behavioral observation and assessment.

All diagnosis of “autism” is based on behavior. But autistic behavior is not the manifestation of a symptom or a psichological or biological problem.

Children are not retarded or autistic, it is their behavior which we label as autistic. Self-stimulating (stereotyped) behaviors, social withdrawal, echolalic behaviors and tantrums, insistence in order(inflexibility, resistance to change), deficits in language comprehension, not obeying instructions are generally considered autistic behaviors.

By directly observing the behavior of a child, we can evaluate his/her repertoire of autistic behavior. Diagnosis is made based on these observations, not on mental tests or subjective appreciations (saying: “I believe this child is autistic”).

Note. But topography or amount of behavior are the only criteria to label it as autistic. Behavioral evaluation or diagnosis also considers the variables that maintain such behaviors. Depending of these variables we can label a behavior as autistic or not.

7) It has an optimistic approach.

All children with problems of autism can learn appropriate behaviors. Even if we believe that the origin of autism is biological, we need to do our best to educate them. It is necessary to teach them more appropriate behaviors. Children with autistic behaviors can benefit from education, independently from having or not having a biological problem identified by professionals as the cause of autism.

Parents of children with autistic behaviors, devote a lot of time and money in diagnosis and medical tests.They, along with professionals wish to discover the biological causes fort heir children´s “autism”. Despite the results they obtain from expensive tests, their children will need to be educated and as soon as possible is better. This is why,we recommend that parents that as soon as they observe their children behaving in “estrange ways”, for example that he or she seems not listen and does not obey instructions, that he or she avoids other people and devote a lot of time to the same activities; parents should start to educate them without waiting for a diagnosis . Autistic behaviors are inappropriate independently from the child being diagnosed as autistic or not.

8) Each community member acts for the child as a teacher (professor or instructor).

In a Teaching Community Model, all people who integrate the community, give appropriate consequences to the child’s behavior (they reinforce the appropriate behaviors and extinguish or correct the inappropriate behaviors in the child’s daily life). This practice has quite positive results in the education of a child with autistic behaviors, compared to those obtained only when professionals or parents act as therapists.

Imagine a social setting where all the people agree on what behaviors are necessary to teach (reinforce) the child and and which not to teach (extinguish correct). The child learns faster and happier.

The Teaching Community Model, requires a communitarian setting where the child can live and interact with many different people including peers. At Los Horcones even the children (from community members) participate as therapists. Community children are very important in the establishing and maintenance of appropriate behaviors in children with autistic behaviors.

Of course, children who are enrolled in the “Teaching Community Model”, are not permanently separated from their biological family. If parents wish, the child can live temporarily in the community so they can rapidly learn a repertoire of basic behaviors. The acquisition of appropriate repertoires facilitate their parents to later apply educational programs in their own family setting. Parents can visit their children frequently and in some cases they can even live in the community while the program is applied.

Note. We believe that parents generally have many responsibilities to embark in the project of educating by themselves their children with problems of autism. They go to work and have other children to care for. A Teaching Community Model, helps parents to educate their own children by establishing a basic repertoire in their children so they can further maintain it and develop it at home. Thus this model promotes cooperation between the professional and family.

9) It is a de-institutionalized model of education.

It promotes the education of the child in the natural environment and not just in a classroom or cubicle. It takes advantage of daily life to initiate and maintain educational (therapeutic) interactions between the child and his/her environment. It also promotes the participation of more people in the educational process besides professionals (teachers or therapists).

Educational sessions are conducted (as much as possible) in the child’s natural environment. Although, of course there are some programs which are only applied in a cubicle or classroom like “direct trial” (sessions which are very structured sessions divided in educational segments).

10) Autism is not an illness.

Autism is not something that a child has. It is a way of behaving. Children learn autistic behaviors.

The causes of these behaviors are not in the genes. Autism is not an organic problem. The causes of autistic behavior are in the interaction the child has with his or her environment, mainly with the social environment.In some cases, organic factors can participate as dispositional events.This is like events which facilitate or interfere (but not determine) that certain environmental conditions could shape or model autistic behavior.

Autistic behavior is maintained as a product of the child’s interaction with his/her environment, mainly with his/her social environment.

11) Do not blames anybody for the autistic behaviors.

No one is guilty for the autistic behaviors of a child.However, those who are part of the child’s social environment, can do a lot to help him/her learn appropriate behaviors.

Neither you as a parent nor other people is guilty for the autistic behavior of your child. But you, like other people, can significantly help our child to learn appropriate behaviors.
We need to help the child with autistic behaviors, he/she will progress with our help.

12) There are degrees of autistic repertoires.

Some children have more autistic behaviors in their behavioral repertories than others. The Teaching Community Model refers to “levels or degrees of autistic behavior” not just to “autism”. In this way, the autistic repertoire of some children can be broader than others. No single problem is alike. Every child is unique and special this is why it requires a personal educational program.

13) It does not deny the importance of medical research.

It is important to learn about the biological fundamentals of autistic behavior. To know what happens in the brain of a person with autistic behaviors is important but it is even more important to know how to educate this person.

There is a problem when people use biological factors to explain autistic behavior. Like when they say that a child does not obeys instructions or does not speak because he/she has a frail X chromosome. When autistic behavior is explained in such terms, parents believe there is little to do to teach him/her appropriate behaviors because the problem is genetic.

The explanation of autistic behavior is in the interaction of the child with his/her environment* in the consequences (results) his/her autistic and not-autistic behaviors receives. By changing these consequences the behavior changes.

* Environment involves any physical, chemical, biological event or social event (the behavior of other people).

Children with autistic behaviors can learn appropriate behaviors

like playing with other people.

Autism is not something a child has, it is a way of behaving.

Learning to identify objects and people from a book.

Learning to write on the blackboard.

Most doctors and psychologists consider autism as a problem caused by organic factors (genetic, chemical, etc.). This is why they tell the parents of children with autistic behaviors that their child is sick and will always be autistic.

The child is not sick and it is not true that he or she will be “autistic” all his/her life. It is not the same a child diagnosed as “autistic”, who can follow instructions, has learned self-care, shows and receives affection, talks, reads, writes, plays with peers, expresses his/her feelings and likes, than a child who spends most of his time self-stimulating, isolated from other people, who does not talk, or relate with others. Diagnosis little matters, what matters the most is behavior.

From left to right: Juan Robinson, Lena and Ivar Lovaas, Mireya Robinson,Javier, Linda and Esteban Armendariz, and Mireya Bustamante (members of Los Horcones) at UCLA.
Some members of the community have studied directly with Dr. Ivar Lovaas* at U.C.L.A. All members are strongly committed to the science behavior analysis and its philosophy radical behaviorism.

Los Horcones was the recipient of the 1999 Award from the Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis. The award was given to Los Horcones for the work its members have done in the education of children with autistic behavior problems, for our work in behavioral research and for our work on behavioral research and for disseminating behavior analysis at an international level for over 27 years.

Workshops, conferences and consulting.

Members of Los Horcones offer workshops and conferences in Mexico and in other countries about the Teaching Community Model (Application of behavior principles to special education in community setting).

We give advice (consulting) to parents and professionals in the application of behavior principles in the education of children with autistic behavior.

If you are interested in consulting, conference or workshop,please contact us.

Tel: (52 country) (662 state) 213-13-56 in Hermosillo or (52 country) (662 state) 263-83-08