A UCSB expert on autism will make her reality television debut tomorrow on the hit parenting show “Supernanny,” by helping a family reach their autistic child.
Tomorrow’s episode of the show, airing at 8 p.m. on ABC Television, features UCSB autism expert Lynn Koegel as a special guest, aiding a family with their three-year-old autistic son, Tristin. The reality show “Supernanny” centers on British nanny Jo Frost helping families to control their uncooperative children.
Koegel said Friday’s episode of “Supernanny” is the first to feature a child with a disability. The episode gives suggestions to parents of autistic children, helping them deal with daily struggles, she said. Because the filming occurred within a short span of time, Koegel said, she was originally concerned with how much she would be able to actually help the parents on the show.
“I warned [the producers] that with autism there isn’t a solution that comes overnight, and they may not even see anything,” Koegel said. “But what I loved about the show was that they didn’t care, as long as the parents could see how to help their children.”
The family requested the help of “Supernanny” because they were having difficulty connecting with their son, Tristin, Koegel said.
“Tristin is nonverbal, meaning he would say some words but nothing consistent,” Koegel said. “He wasn’t very involved with the family, would often run away, and performed repetitive behavior like spinning, swinging and even taking off his clothes and jumping on the bed.”
Despite her apprehension, Koegel said, Tristin made tremendous improvement in a short amount of time. She used music sessions, family involved activities such as setting the table, and a simple reward system to encourage the boy to open up.
“I had to oversimplify our usual techniques for television, but basically we found things he liked and really focused around them,” Koegel said. “For example, we’d have a cookie, hold it up, have him say ‘cookie’ and then give it to him. Now he asks for things on his own and works with his family.”
Koegel said she wasn’t alone through the process of helping Tristin and his family. She said she worked with Frost, the Supernanny herself.
“She is so dedicated and works very long days, from about 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. at night,” Koegel said. “If she doesn’t feel the day is complete with a child, she’ll stay. She is just so devoted and dedicated to help the kids.”
Koegel recently co-authored the book, Pivotal Response Treatments for Autism, with her husband, Dr. Robert Koegel.
Last week, UCSB received $2.35 million from Santa Barbara residents Brian and Patricia Kelly to help found the new Koegel Autism Center at Gevirtz Graduate School of Education. The center is named after Koegel and her husband, who is the facility’s longtime director, a press release said.
The gift will be used to help build physical facilities for the UCSB Autism Research and Training Center, widely recognized as one of the nation’s leading centers for the diagnosis, evaluation and treatment of autism.
The Koegel Autism Center will be located in the yet-to-be-built Social Sciences and Education Building on campus. Construction of the building is slated for completion in Spring 2008.