Simplifying the Science: Using SAFMEDS in Applied Behavior Analysis

When I first heard about SAFMEDS, I wondered how they were different from standard use of flashcards. What I learned, in fact, is that the process is quite different, and it’s evidence-based! SAFMEDS is actually an acronym that means “Say All Fast Minute Each Day Shuffled.” (I know, I know…it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.) Created by Ogden Lindsley, SAFMEDS are focused specifically on fluency, or, in other words, speed and accuracy.

While there are some things that don’t require fluency, there are many things that do: such as simple multiplication or letter recognition. This means that some tasks I teach my students will require the use of fluency training, which is often completed through the use of SAFMEDS. Lindsley outlined results of his experiments using SAFMEDS with students and demonstrated that this process of instruction resulted in faster acquisition of fluency than other, similar flashcard procedures (Lindsley, 1996) with his work having been replicated many times over.Using SAFMEDS in Applied Behavior Analysis

So, how do you implement SAFMEDS?

First, get your materials together. Create your flashcards. (I typically use index cards where I’ve written the problem on one side and the correct response on the back.) Be sure to get a timer.

From there, the procedure is pretty straight forward:

  • You will have ALL the flashcards available and the student will respond to as many as he/she can in one minute.
  • The student can run the activity on their own, and will likely go much faster if they are the one turning the cards (Lindsley, 1996). The student looks at the card, provides the response, then puts the card in the correct or incorrect pile.
  • The cards should be shuffled between each fluency drill so that the student won’t learn the answers in order.

I’ve used actual flashcards, but also created SAFMEDS sets using different apps and websites. If you’re interested in learning more about implementing this simple strategy for building fluency, you should take a look here for more information.


Lindsley, O. R. (1996). The four free-operant freedoms. The Behavior Analyst, 19(2), 199.


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for twelve years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College. She is also a lecturer in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

Regulating Sleep in Children with Autism

With the new school year in session, it’s especially important to regulate sleep in students. In this month’s ASAT feature, Lauren Schnell, MA, BCBA, offers insight on a variety of approaches parents can take to address sleep disturbances in their kids with autism. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

I am a home program coordinator who works with a six-year old child diagnosed with autism. The parents are concerned because their child struggles at bedtime and will often wake up in the middle of the night to come into their room. The parents want their child to stay asleep and have tried everything to get him to stay in bed all night. What can I suggest they do to treat their child’s sleep behavior?

Answered by Lauren Schnell, MA, BCBA

Sleep disturbances in children with autism are a common concern for many parents. It has been estimated that approximately 25% of typical children between the ages of one and four struggle with nighttime wakings (Lozoff, Wolf, & Davis, 1985). For children with special needs, the number increases dramatically with upwards of 80% experiencing some type of sleep problems (Lamberg, 1994). Of those who frequently wake at night, the majority end up sleeping in their parent’s bed and the sleep problems often persist over time.

Regulating Sleep in Children with Autism

The good news is there are a variety of behavior analytic approaches found to be effective in addressing sleep disturbances in children with autism. An underlying premise of these approaches is that poor sleep patterns are learned, and, as such, can be unlearned.

Prior to implementing a behavioral sleep program, it is important to first rule out any medical reasons for the sleep disturbance, such as physical discomfort related to an illness. Discussions with a pediatrician should help to determine if the sleep issues may be associated with an underlying medical issue and if further testing or evaluation is warranted.

If the sleep issues are thought to be behavioral, the first step is to complete a sleep log to determine the extent of the problem and potential environmental factors that may be adversely affecting the child’s sleep. A sleep log outlines the time the individual is put into bed, the actual time he/she falls asleep, frequency of night wakings, and the duration of those awakenings. Additional information may be collected on any other behaviors which are observed during bedtime, such as tantrums during the bedtime routine or disruptive behavior during the night. Baseline data collection should continue until a consistent pattern of sleep (or lack thereof) or challenging behavior is apparent. This information can later be used to assess the effectiveness of the sleep intervention.

Some questions which may be helpful for parents in completing the sleep log are:

  • What time does the child go to bed?
  • What does the child do leading up to bedtime?
  • What else is going on in the home while the child is in bed which could be influencing his/her sleep?
  • What activities does the child engage in prior to falling asleep?
  • What time does the child awaken during the night as well as in the morning?
  • Does the child take naps during the day?

Based upon the results of the baseline data collected in the sleep log, a number of interventions may be considered. Below are several practical strategies which may be helpful to improve the sleep behavior of the child with autism.

Bedtime Routines
A bedtime routine can be helpful for the child, as it creates predictability in the sequence of activities leading up to bedtime. A written or visual schedule may be helpful in ensuring the routine is consistently followed. The schedule should outline activities preceding bedtime; for example, brushing teeth, changing into pajamas, saying goodnight to loved ones, and reading a bedtime story. The routine should begin at least 30-60 minutes prior to bed time. It is also recommended that parents eliminate all foods and drinks containing caffeine at least six hours prior to bed, and avoid rigorous activities during the later evening hours.

Initially, the child may need a high rate of positive reinforcement for following the routine. Eventually, the parent may consider providing the child with positive reinforcement the following morning if he/she successfully follows the nighttime activity schedule and remains in bed throughout the night. Such reinforcement might include earning access to a favorite breakfast cereal, a toy, or getting a sticker to put on a special chart upon waking (Mindell & Durand, 1993). Continue reading

Tip of the Week: Measure Group Behavior in the Classroom

Measure Group Behavior in the ClassroomMany classroom teachers are required to take data on the behavior of their students. However, this can feel like a daunting task given the many things teachers are trying to do simultaneously throughout the day! PLACHECK is a simple way to measure group behavior in the classroom for engagement or attention.

PLACHECK is short for Planned Activity Check. Let’s say that Ms. Esterman is using a partner activity for a math lesson for the first time in her fourth grade classroom. She wants to see if the kids remain engaged with the content during the partner activity. Here is how she can implement PLACHECK to collect data on engagement.

  1. Measure Group Behavior in the ClassroomSet a MotivAider for a predetermined interval (learn more about the MotivAider). The partner activity Ms. Esterman has organized will take a total of ten minutes. She decides to set the MotivAider for 2 minute intervals.
  2. At the start of the lesson, set the MotivAider to run and clip it to your waistband. For Ms. Esterman, the MotivAider will vibrate every two minutes to signal her to observe her students.
  3. When the MotivAider vibrates, collect tally data. Ms. Esterman feels the MotivAider vibrate, then quickly counts the number of students who are engaged in the partner activity.
  4. Continue to do this for each interval.
  5. Graph your data.

Ms. Esterman’s graph looks like this for her 24 students:


The next day, Ms. Esterman does a similar activity with her students, but uses an independent activity instead of a partner activity. She uses the same 5 steps to use PLACHECK to measure student engagement in the independent activity. Now she can easily compare engagement between the two types of activities. You can see both days graphed below:


When she compares the two days, she finds these results, and it allows her to make better decisions about what types of activities might work best for the individuals in her classroom. Here, it is clear that between these two activities, her students were more likely to be on task during partner work. However, Ms. Esterman would attain better results by taking more data.

PLACHECK is simple to implement. Ms. Esterman is able to collect this data in less than two minutes each day and can learn a lot from just that brief time.


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for twelve years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College. She is also a lecturer in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

Pick of the Week: The NEW ABA Program Companion — Take 20% Off!

New ABA Program Companion Cover.inddJ. Tyler Fovel, MA, BCBA’s essential manual for creating professional and effective ABA programs blends clear explanations of scientifically-based concepts and methodology, clinical examples and advice, and suggested implementation strategies. This revised edition presents information on:

  • qualities of an effective ABA program
  • transdisciplinary teamwork
  • curriculum selection and development
  • program writing and revision
  • strategies for attention and engagement
  • prompts
  • error- correction
  • reinforcement
  • progress evaluation
  • data-based decision-making

TAKE 20% OFF The NEW ABA Program Companion this week with our promo code NEWABA at check-out, and get a head start on designing an efficient ABA program for your students this year.

The NEW ABA Program Companion also comes with training packages for implementers, forms, and a 6-month subscription to the online program development and management software, ABA Program Companion 3.0.

Productive Meetings in Home ABA Programs

Creating effective meetings with your child’s BCBA and other service providers can be difficult. In this month’s ASAT feature, Preeti Chojar, Board Member of the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT), shares some valuable tips about how parents can make the most out of these meetings. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

I am a parent who has a home-based ABA program.  We have monthly meetings with all of the providers that work with my child.  I am looking for some ideas on how to make the most of these meetings.  Any suggestions?

Answered by Preeti Chojar, Mother and ASAT Board Member

It is terrific that your team meets monthly! Collaboration and consistency amongst members of the professional team is the hallmark of a successful home program. I have found that a great way to build teamwork is to have regular meetings to keep the whole team on the same page. Here are some suggestions to help you use this time effectively and efficiently. In our particular case, we meet monthly, but keep in mind that some teams may need to meet more frequently (depending on the composition of the team, level of oversight required, and needs of the child).

Meeting composition
Ideally, a time should be scheduled when the entire team can be present. A supervisor like a behavior consultant (e.g., BCBA) or a family trainer should be present as well. It could also include any related service providers, such as the speech pathologist, occupational therapist, or physical therapist. Assembling the entire team can be difficult but try your best, as the benefits will make it worthwhile.

Productive Meetings in Home ABA ProgramsDevelop the agenda
Always create an agenda well before a team meeting. Please note that this agenda should not side-step any other communication that should be occurring (e.g., the consultant may want to know right away if a new skill-acquisition program is not going well).

  • Start by writing down any new behaviors, both positive and negative. Also note if there is evidence of lost skills or discrepancies in skill levels across settings, situations or people.
  • Any data taken by instructors should be summarized and analyzed before the meeting.
  • Add anything that the supervisor or the collective wisdom of the group could help resolve.
  • One of the agenda items should always be to review last month’s meeting notes paying close attention to any open or unfinished items.
  • If the child is also receiving services in a school or center-based environment, it is beneficial to seek input from those providers as well. Any observations made by people in the community that highlight some skill or skill deficit which had gone unnoticed can be brought to the table too.
  • Finally, make sure the agenda is well balanced and addresses everyone’s concerns. Prioritize agenda items and if necessary suggest some time limits.

Circulate the agenda

  • Make sure to circulate the agenda to everyone attending the meeting, ideally a few days before the meeting.
  • Ask all team members to notify you ahead of time of any other agenda items they might have that were not added yet.

Continue reading

Tip of the Week: How to Maintain a Fast Pace of Instruction

How to Maintain a Fast Pace of InstructionThere is a common misconception that individuals with special needs require a slower pace of instruction. While they may require a slower pace through a curriculum, this does not mean that individual lessons should be taught at a slower pace. In fact, slowing the pace of instruction not only wastes precious instructional time, it may increase the occurrence of problem behaviors.

Higbee (2009) writes that “appropriately paced instruction helps students to maintain attention to the instructor and instructional materials. Though student attention can be lost when instruction is happening too rapidly, it is most often lost when the pace of instruction is not rapid enough” (p. 20).

So how can you maintain a fast pace of instruction that is appropriate for your student? Here are some things to consider:

  1. Prepare! Set out your materials in such a way that they are easy to access quickly. I keep all the mastered skills on index cards so I can easily add maintenance questions into instruction. Organization is often the simplest way to increase efficiency in your session.
  2. Take data. You want to increase attention and decrease problem behaviors. Try different paces of instruction and measure the behaviors you are wanting to change. For instance, if I have a student who is often grabbing for my shirt during a session, I may try a pace of instruction that includes 15 questions each minute, then try a pace of 20 questions per minute, another of 25 per minute. Next, I will compare the rates of grabbing for my shirt with each pace of instruction. Remember, these aren’t 15 questions for the target skill; some mastered skills will be intermixed.
  3. Record a session. By taking video of yourself working with a child, you may see opportunities for increasing efficiency on your own. You may also observe specific times at which problem behaviors tend to increase, then be able to target those specifically. For instance, perhaps problem behaviors occur when you turn to write data in a binder, but didn’t recognize that pattern until you watched a recording later.
  4. Use reinforcement effectively. Usually, pace of instruction in and of itself will not change behavior. Instead, pair it with reinforcement and be systematic with how you implement reinforcement. We’ve talked about reinforcement here on the blog a lot, so you can read about that in more detail here.
  5. If possible, get input from supervisors or the individual you are working with. Supervisors may be able to observe your session and provide insight on how to increase your pace of instruction. And the individual you are working with may be communicating that they are bored through misbehavior, stating “I’m bored,” or nonvocal behaviors such as yawning. This may be an indication that you need to provide more challenging material or increase the pace of instruction.


Higbee, T. (2009). Establishing the prerequisites for normal language. In R. A. Rehfeldt, Y. Barnes-Holmes, & S.C. Hayes (Eds.), Derived relational responding applications for learners with autism and other developmental disabilities: A progressive guide to change (7-24). Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.

Pick of the Week: Power Pen & Learning Cards — Reinforce active learning with immediate feedback

New to our catalog, the Power Pen and accompanying Sight Word Sentences Learning Cards will reinforce active learning and reading practice with immediate feedback through an audio and visual response. The Power Pen sends positive responses to correct answers and encourages redirection for wrong answers, keeping students motivated and on track.

This week, take 15% off the Power Pen and the accompanying Sight Word Sentences Learning Cards — just use our promo code POWERPEN at check-out!

The Power Pen Sight Word Sentences Learning Cards will build reading fluency in young readers by providing practice in recognizing the first 100 sight words, as well as color words, and some common nouns. Picture clues on each card help students decode the nouns. The goal is to choose the correct sight word to complete each sentence! The set comes with 53 double-sided cards.


*Promotion is valid until July 26, 2016 at 11:59pm ET. Offer cannot be applied to previous purchases, combined with any other offers, transferred, refunded, or redeemed and/or exchanged for cash or credit. Different Roads to Learning reserves the right to change or cancel this promotion at any time. To redeem offer at, enter promo code POWERPEN at checkout.

Science, Pseudoscience and Antiscience Theories In Autism

Finding effective treatments for their children with autism is one of the most difficult challenges parents face. In this month’s ASAT feature, Gina Green, PhD, BCBA-D and Lora Perry, MS, BCBA share insights about the many pseudoscience and antiscience theories and claims that are made about treatments for autism, and suggest some questions parents can ask to help them decide which treatments are most likely to help. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

Science, Pseudoscience and Antiscience Theories in Autism:
Gina Green, PhD, BCBA-D and Lora Perry, MS, BCBA

The Importance of Informed Treatment Decisions
“Your child has autism.” With those words, a parent’s world comes crashing down. What to do? Choosing a treatment is one of the most important decisions the parents of a person with autism will ever have to make. How do parents find truly effective treatment for their child? In an ideal world, the person who dropped the autism diagnosis on a family would provide the answer. But the unfortunate fact is that many who make this diagnosis are not well informed about the wide array of autism treatments, and the degree to which these treatments have proven effective (or not). So until the day comes when parents can count on data based professional guidance, they will need to become very discerning about the various treatments, therapies, and programs that are claimed to be effective for autism. The same applies to those who are concerned with helping families get effective services. There is a need to do a lot of homework, and to do it quickly. Why the urgency? Because the stakes are high, and every moment is precious.

Pseudoscience and antiscience theories in autism

Children and adults with autism can learn, and there are effective methods for helping them develop useful skills and lead happy, productive lives. At the same time, research has shown that many currently available interventions for autism are ineffective, even harmful, while others have simply not been tested adequately. Every moment spent on one of those therapies instead of effective intervention is a moment lost forever. Besides, common sense suggests that it is wise for parents and professionals alike to invest in interventions that can be reasonably calculated to produce lasting, meaningful benefits for people with autism—that is, interventions that have withstood scientific testing.
As parents and professionals seek information about autism treatments, they discover a long and perplexing list of “options,” many of them promoted by sincere, well-meaning, persuasive people. Everyone claims that their favorite treatment works, and parents and practitioners are often encouraged to try a little bit of everything. This can be very appealing to people who are seeking anything that might help. How does one choose wisely? To quote the late Carl Sagan, “The issue comes down to the quality of the evidence.” So the first step is to find out exactly what evidence is available to support claims about autism treatments. But all evidence is not created equal. How does one sort pure hype from solid proof, wishful thinking from rigorous testing?
Science, Pseudoscience, and Antiscience in Autism
Approaches to answering fundamental questions about how the world works can be grouped into three broad categories: science, pseudoscience, and antiscience. Science uses specific, time-honored tools to put hunches or hypotheses to logical and empirical tests. Some of those tools include operational definitions of the phenomena of interest; direct, accurate, reliable, and objective measurement; controlled experiments; reliance on objective data for drawing conclusions and making predictions; and independent verification of effects.
Science does not take assertions or observations at face value, but seeks proof. Good scientists differentiate opinions, beliefs, and speculations from demonstrated facts; they don’t make claims without supporting objective data.

Continue reading

Teaching Social Skills to Teens on the Spectrum

This week, we’re pleased to share a piece from Kirt Manecke, author of one of our newest additions Smile & Succeed for Teenswho offers his advice and take on how to teach teens and tweens very important social skills such as handshaking and saying “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.”

Please, Thank You, and You’re Welcome:
Teaching Social Skills to Teens on the Spectrum

by Kirt Manecke

Saying “please”, “thank you”, and “you’re welcome” are extremely important for social and job interactions. Why then is it so rare to hear these words spoken by teens and tweens? I recently had breakfast with my friend and his two kids, who are 12 and 16, at a restaurant. Both kids frequently failed to say please, thank you or you’re welcome to the waitress. I found myself saying thank you to the waitress for them! Their father did not seem to notice their lack of manners.

Research from Harvard University (Deming, 2015) says social skills are the top factor for getting a job. In my former life, when hiring teens for my specialty retail business, I looked for friendly teens with good social skills. Teens who smiled and said “please” and “thank you” were often the ones I hired. I knew they could engage customers and keep them happy and coming back. Often, we are drawn to making friends with people who have these same good social skills.

Teaching Social Skills to Teens on the Spectrum

Social skills are especially difficult for teens on the autism spectrum, but many of these skills can be learned, and with practice, can become habit. Social skills are critical to make friends, get a job, and to live a fulfilling life.

Recently I helped some teens and tweens with autism prepare to sell products at a local farmers’ market. I acted as the customer in the initial role playing scenarios and found that the kids did not say “please”, “thank you” or “you’re welcome”. I then used information from my book Smile & Succeed for Teens: Must-Know People Skills for Today’s Wired World to teach them these skills. We took turns being the customer and the employee while role-playing how to say “please”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome”. Using their new social skills, the kids were able to sell chips and salsa at the local farmers’ market the next day.

You can do the same type of role playing with your kids. To improve their social skills, role play the skill with them. For example, have your teen or tween read the section, “Shake Hands Firmly.” Then, practice shaking hands with them, being sure to show them how “Too Tight”, “Too Loose” and “Just Right” feels.

I spent nine months meeting with teens to get their input for the book, and that’s a big reason teens and tweens find it appealing and are reading it. The font is large enough to make reading easy, plus there are fun, informative illustrations with educational captions every few pages.

Since, the book has received praise from teachers and school administrators, as well as Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures, and The Autistic Brain, who called me one evening after reading Smile & Succeed for Teens. She urged me to use her testimonial, “Smile & Succeed for Teens is a fantastic resource to help teens be successful at work”, to get the book out to all teens and tweens.

A firm grasp on social skills is key to maneuvering through all stages of life. Mastering these skills boosts teens’ confidence and gives them the skills they need to succeed in school, work and relationships. Please share the following book excerpt with your teen or tween to give them a head start in mastering these important social skills.


Deming, D.J. (2015). The growing importance of social skills in the labor market (Working Paper No. 21473). Retrieved from National Bureau of Economic Research website:


Kirt Manecke is a an award-winning author and sales, marketing, fundraising, and business development specialist with over 30 years of experience surprising and delighting customers. Kirt’s books have won 11 awards. Quick-easy social skills for teens! He spent nine months meeting with teens for his award-winning book on social skills for teens. Kirt is currently at work on two children’s books. For more information, contact Kirt at

Tip of the Week: Your Child’s Autism Diagnosis Long Term

In the years immediately after a parent learns of a diagnosis of autism, it can be especially challenging to think of your child’s autism diagnosis long term. But as parents advocate for their child, and as practitioners work with the family to create goals for that child, the long term must be considered. Your Child's Autism Diagnosis Long TermHere are a few suggestions to help with considering the long term, while focusing on short-term goals:

  • Create a vision statement. One of my favorite books is From Emotions to Advocacy: The Special Education Survival Guide by Pam Wright and Pete Wright. This book covers everything parents need to know about advocating for a child with special needs. One of the first things they suggest is creating a vision statement. They describe this as “a visual picture that describes your child in the future.” While this exercise may be challenging, it can help hone in on what is important to you, your family, and your child with special needs in the long term.
  • Look at your child’s behaviors, then try to imagine what it might look like if your child is still engaging in that behavior in five or ten years. Often, behaviors that are not problematic at three are highly problematic at 8 or 13 years old. Such behaviors might include hugging people unexpectedly or (for boys) dropping their pants all the way to the ground when urinating (which could result in bullying at older ages). While it is easy to prioritize other behaviors ahead of these, it’s important to remember that the longer a child has engaged in a behavior, the more difficult it may be to change.
  • Talk to practitioners who work with older students. Many practitioners only work with a certain age group of children. While they may be an expert for the age group they work with, it may be helpful to speak with a practitioner who works with older kids and ask what skill deficits they often see, what recommendations they may make, and what skills are essential for independence at older ages.
  • Talk with other parents. Speaking with other parents of children with special needs can be hugely beneficial. Over the years, I’ve worked with hundreds of parents who are spending countless hours focusing on providing the best possible outcomes for their children. And while it’s impossible to prepare for everything that will come in your child’s life, it may be helpful to find out what has blindsided other parents as their children with special needs have grown up.


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.