Sunday, December 29, 2013

The architectural legacy of George Barton

n.b. ongoing series related to a study of George Barton, founder of the Occupational Therapy Profession. 

George Barton was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1901 (Reed and Sanderson, 1999) and he traveled to Colorado some time after that.  I could not confirm the exact dates of his travel but an educated guess would be sometime around 1907, because his architecture practice with Sturgis was listed as  being active up until that approximate time (AIA, 1914).

It is difficult to know exactly what brought George Barton to Colorado - it could have been his own "chase" for a tuberculosis cure or it could have been that he had political connections with the Colorado governor, John Shafroth who was a member on the Committee on the Philippines in the 65th Congress and prior to that was a Colorado representative and frequently involved in US-Filipino relations. Reed and Sanderson document that the Governor commissioned Barton to investigate factors related to famine along the Kansas Border (p. 423).  It is possible that Barton was acquainted with Shafroth prior to his move to Colorado because in 1906 Barton's architectural firm in Boston designed the St. Mary and St. John Cathedral in Manila (Far Eastern Review, 1906).  Here are some pictures of the beautiful St. Mary and St. John Cathedral in Manila:

And here it is following the Battle of Manila in 1945:

Barton had several health setbacks during his early working years.  Tuberculosis was a major public health concern at the turn of the century.  Antibiotics like streptomycin were still 50 years away from discovery - so people used a variety of other methods to find a cure for their condition.  'Climactic therapy' was a popular approach and reading scientific papers of that time period provides fascinating perspectives and insights on what drove the social behavior of 'chasing the cure' (Hinsdale, 1913).  During this time, a diagnosis of tuberculosis caused people to move themselves into sanatoriums where they could convalesce.  The high incidence of tuberculosis spurred travel to places like Saranac Lake, NY, and Colorado Springs, CO.  Below is a video that shows a treatment facility (in 1933) that was near Colorado Springs and gives a pretty good idea of how this treatment was conducted at that time.

At the turn of the century, tuberculosis treatment was a primary economic driver for the Colorado Springs community (Vail, 2012).  It is possible that George Barton went to Colorado Springs directly related to his 'chase' of a cure, just as many people at that time did.

At some time in 1912 he had convalesced sufficiently that he was again practicing as an architect.  He is listed in the Colorado State Business Directory listings as an architect from 1912-1914 (Architects of Colorado, 2006).

George Barton left a measurable impact on Colorado architecture.  Winfield Scott Stratton was a philanthropist who became rich in mining and prospecting.  When he died he made arrangements for his fortune to be used to establish and maintain a home for poor people. That home was named in memory of his father, Myron Stratton, and was designed by George Barton.  Below is a video that explains the founding and legacy of the Myron Stratton Home:

Framing Community, Exposing Identity: Myron Stratton Home from PPLD TV on Vimeo.

Here is an original print of the home as it was in 1916 near the time that it was opened:

And here is a closer view of the main building, although this picture was taken in 1930:

Following his work on the Myron Stratton Home, George Barton was asked to redesign Cragmor Sanitorium, a major tuberculosis treatment facility (UCCS, Cragmor, n.d.).  In January 1913 it was apparently determined that Barton's design was too costly, and so another famous architect, Thomas MacLaren, re-worked Barton's designs (UCCS, Building History, n.d.).  The Cragmor Sanitorium still stands, in some measure reflecting Barton's design, but is now the Main Hall of University of Colorado Colorado Springs. 

Barton's architectural work was notable and he contributed to important and beautiful buildings that were constructed in places including the Philippines, Colorado, and of course in his native Boston.  His designs were intricately related to his own illness, his own chase for a cure, and his own recovery.


American Institute of Architects (January, 1914). R. Clipston Sturgis, President of the Institute.  Journal of the American Institute of Architects, v.2, 5.

Architects of Colorado (2006). Database of State Business Directory Listings 1875-1950 compiled by J. Palmer and I. Bergsmann.  Retrieved online at

Far Eastern Review (1906). Reinforced concrete in the cathedral church of St. Mary and St. John, Manila, V.3, No.6.  Retrieved from

Hinsdale, G. (1913).  Atmospheric air in relation to tuberculosis. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 63(1).

Reed, K.L., Sanderson, S.N. (1999). Concepts of Occupational Therapy. (4th ed). Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins.

University of Colorado, Colorado Springs (UCCS), Cragmor.  Building History of Cragmor, retrieved from

University of Colorado, Colorado Springs (UCCS) Cragmor.  Edwin Solly, retrieved from

Vail, N. (2012, July 15).  A healing past: Tuberculosis sanitoriums were Springs' 1st major economic drive.  Retrieved online at

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

On Pygmalion and sensory integration research

Occupational therapists have been attempting to improve research on sensory integration by adopting more strict fidelity standards and by using Goal Attainment Scaling as an outcome measure.  Three years ago I blogged about an SI effectiveness study and expressed some concerns on the research design - you can read about that at

A new study has been published by Schaaf et al (2013) and can be accessed online in full text at  However, one major difference is that in the new study the researchers used an intervention and a 'usual care' group.

Use of control groups in this manner can help to correct for potential Hawthorne effects - but only if the study is designed properly.  In the previous study there was an OT/SI group and a fine motor training group.  The fine motor group in the first study was probably not exactly a 'sham intervention' but at least offered a parallel point of comparison because it controlled for some Hawthorne effects.  Both groups made progress but the OT/SI group made more progress.  It was difficult to know if the progress was due to the intervention or the attention (since both groups made progress) or expectancy bias because there was inadequate blinding with measurements.

In the new study the researchers added a 'usual care' research design which actually is quite different from a sham design.  'Usual care' designs are valuable if you are using psychometrically sound measurements but you run into potential problems with Hawthorne effects again if you fail to adequately match the treatment experiences.  So, the new study substituted the sham intervention with a 'usual care' approach when the most appropriate design would have been to do a three-group study of sham and usual care and intervention groups.  That would have left the only potential point of weakness the nature of the 'usual care' group and what therapies they were receiving. 

I don't understand why this study had a usual care (non OT/SI)  group and used GAS as a primary measure. From a design perspective that is confusing.  The concept of GAS is that you are developing meaningful outcome measures based on parent input - so they developed goals for both groups but then only one group got the intervention and the other did not. Hawthorne effects would dictate that the parent's expectations for the intervention group could have influenced their GAS outcome reporting. After all, if you take a group of families who have children with autism, ask them to develop goals, and then do nothing it is not likely they will connect a 'no treatment' condition to any kind of goal attainment! The fact that the evaluators are 'blinded' is a design canard and really does not address this important issue.  I am also not sure that 'usual care' mitigates the design flaw.

If you are asking the 'treatment' families to participate in a high intensity 3 day per week program - of course they will have a lot of sunk cost bias in reporting positive treatment outcomes. In order to equalize for this effect you have to have the non-treatment group equally investing in some other activity, and then you would more fully control for Hawthorne effect and see if the intervention itself accomplished the GAS objectives.

This is why a three group design would be most appropriate, particularly in the case where you can't possibly blind the families who are self-reporting on progress with GAS.

This new study also measured adaptive behavior and autism behaviors; there were no differences between the intervention and usual care groups.  Actually, this is the most concerning finding in the whole study.  So, the only potentially interesting findings were in the parent-reported GAS measures.

For those who are more interested in statistics, there is also the issue of using parametric statistics on GAS measures - which may or may not be interval level data. It looks like the researchers took pains to use "equally spaced probability intervals" and they did this with indirect time measures (in the example they gave).  However, given the large number of goals we don't really know how they operationalized this overall.

I understand that they probably tried to address the issue about use of parametric statistics with the way they scaled the goals but there are some big questions about whether this is an appropriate measurement strategy for these kinds of goals that are notoriously difficult to scale.  As an example, just because you scale the amount of time to complete a toothbrushing task does that mean that the difference hypothesized to be caused by intervention is equivalently distributed across the scaling of time expectation to complete a task?  In order to validate the findings there would first need to be a validation of the scaling - and this is something that needs more description and scrutiny in order to understand the findings.

It appears that there are both research design and statistical questions about this study. Given the small sample sizes, the lack of difference on adaptive behavior scales and autism behaviors, and the questions listed above re: GAS designs and measurement concerns, this study will probably not be accepted as game changing. It is disappointing that this study substituted one limited design for another, and in addition to the lack of functional progress on true gold standard testing like the Vineland, this will be the basis for criticism regarding these findings.

I believe that we need to carefully reflect on GAS designs, because if I attempt to take an outside view it appears as though multiple research studies failed accepted measures of significance, and now we are like Pygmalion asking Venus (played by self report of parents) to breathe life into our sensory integration statue.

There are even larger issues, of course, and these were mentioned in my blog post three years ago.   Specifically, a three time per week intensity is often not feasible (either given insurance restrictions or school district authorizations). In many localities, the ship sailed on this kind of high intensity direct intervention model years ago.

Three years ago I thought that the Pfeiffer study was a good step forward and it gave us a lot of useful information on how to design future studies.  Some of those issues were addressed in this new study but many were not and in fact new problems were introduced.

If there are true differences to be measured because of sensory integration treatment we will find them after we design studies that are not so vulnerable to criticism.


Kerckhofs, E. (2010). Letter to the editor: Ordinal goal attainment scores are not suited to arithmetic operations or parametric statistics.  Comment on GAS in rehabilitation: A practical guide.  Clinical Rehabilitation, 24, p. 479.

Pfeiffer, B.A., Koenig, K., (2011) Effectiveness of sensory integration interventions in children with autism spectrum disorders: A pilot study. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 65, 76-85.

 Schaaf, R. et al (2013). An intervention for sensory difficulties in children with autism: A randomized trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disabilities, published online at

Tennant, A. (2007). Goal attainment scaling: Current methodological challenges. Disability Rehabilitation, 29, 1583-1588.