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022. Marc Gold: Unsung hero

Try another way.

"For a century now, those of us working with the retarded have described their limitations. We worked with the retarded, operating with these expectancies and ‘proved' we were right. Sure enough, they did only as much as we said they would. We taught our successors these limiting expectancies, and they in turn proved that we were right. Since us normal folks can do things the retarded cannot do we have assumed that those things must require intelligence, therefore the retarded cannot be expected to do them. And the cycle goes on."
An End to the Concept of Mental Retardation: Oh, What a Beautiful Mourning.
Marc W. Gold; Illinois Association for the Mentally Retarded; April 1973

Logically speaking, our next subject in the behaviorist evolutionary tree should be O. Ivar Lovaas (Thorndike > Watson > Skinner > Lovaas). Before getting to Lovaas, however, I want to take at least a moment to express my admiration for Marc Gold. Marc Gold's name is not often spoken in the autism community, yet Dr. Gold's contributions equal those of Watson, Skinner and Lovaas.

Marc Gold began his professional career in the 1960s as a Special Education teacher, and went on to earn a doctorate in experimental child psychology and special education from the University of Illinois in 1969. From then until his untimely death from cancer in 1982, Dr. Gold developed and pioneered a revolutionary approach to working with persons with disabilities, that incorporated behaviorist principles within a humanistic and cultural framework.

Dr. Gold's technique involved many of the same tools used by behavioral psychologists, including task analysis (breaking a task down into its smallest components) and physical prompting (hand over hand guidance), coupled with the single verbal promp: "Try another way." His landmark research involved enabling persons with profound disabities to master a complex task (assembling a bicycle brake), through the combined use of these methods. You can see the film here:

In watching the film, observe how Dr. Gold redirects the subjects using physical prompts (in some cases, hand-over-hand, and sometimes by gently turning the subject's body in the desired direction), plus the verbal prompt "Try another way." He also uses brief verbal praise as a positive reinforcer. It is easy to see how Dr. Gold's methods mesh with behaviorist principles. (In conrast to behaviorism, the "Try another way" method did not use aversives, at a time when hitting or yelling at the trainee were commonplace in behaviorist circles.)

Dr. Gold also tackled society's tendency to marginalize persons with special needs: "Even the lowest performing group exceeded the expectancies" of the sheltered workshop staff. At a time when public schools were free to reject children with disabilities (the Education for All Handicapped act, which required public schools to provide an education for all children, regardless of disability, did not come into effect until 1975), Dr. Gold took the position that "It is not good enough to merely elevate expectancies for persons who are retarded. Procedures must be developed and implemented to realize and challenge those expectancies." This is the language of full inclusion.

So, even though you may be hiring a Board Certified Behavior Analyst who was brought up in the Lovaas mould, give a silent tip of the hat to Marc Gold, and all that he accomplished in his short lifetime and even shorter career, on behalf of children with special needs. The prompt "Try another way" is both his memorial, and his gift to parents and teachers everywhere, and for all time.


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