ABA Journal Club #2: A Response from Dr. Amanda Kelly

One of the tenets of ABA is to provide evidence-based practice. The best way to help us do this is to keep up with the literature! Each month, Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA will select one journal article and provide discussion questions for professionals working within the ABA community. 

Read this month’s discussion questions here!

It is important in our field to maintain an open conversation about ethics. The Professional and Ethical Compliance Code outlines how behavior analysts are expected to conduct themselves, but sometimes situations are not so black and white. And as the world changes, so do the expectations for ethical conduct. In recent years, issues related to social media have been especially relevant. This month, I’ve selected the following article which addresses the special concerns that come up with the use of social media.


The article reviews the codes of ethics for other professions. Why is this valuable for us to do as a profession? Did you learn anything surprising or interesting form this portion of the article?

Any profession runs the risk of becoming too insular if we are not actively pushing ourselves to learn about others and the places where we overlap and intersect. It was interesting to see the parallels, as well as the vast differences, in the ethical codes across professions. It is important to look at the publication dates of each professions ethical code. Codes which were published earlier did not reference social media, for example. This could simply be a reflection of the prevalence of such platforms at the time the codes were written. Some codes were significantly shorter than others and others were substantially longer. The ethical code for Behavior Analysts, as created by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) was more elaborate and offered more detail than other professional code of ethics, which were reviewed for the original article. In some ways, it is not surprising given that behavior analysts as scientists and practitioners pride ourselves on being detail-driven; offering clear, observable and measurable operational definitions for the interventions we design, and the behaviors we measure, and aim to change. It is also important to note that our own ethical code was based on codes and ethical guidance issued by other professions. As noted on the BACB website:

In the original version of the Guidelines for Professional Conduct for Behavior Analysts, the authors acknowledged ethics codes from the following organizations: American Anthropological Association, American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, American Sociological Association, California Association for Behavior Analysis, Florida Association for Behavior Analysis, National Association of Social Workers, National Association of School Psychologists, and Texas Association for Behavior Analysis. We acknowledge and thank these professional organizations that have provided substantial guidance and clear models from which the Code has evolved.

“A search on an internet search engine for information related to a procedure or scientific concept may yield results as to what that procedure or concept is. The same search on a social media outlet may yield results as to whether or not that procedure or concept should be used (p. 47.) Discuss this difference.

As human beings we are influenced by the opinions of others. This is not specific to behavior analysts, though we are also no exception. The difference between an inquiry in an online journal search engine and a social media platform, is scientific journals will yield factual information, whereas an inquiry on a social media platform is likely to result in access to the opinions and impressions of others. When investigating punishment procedures for example on research platforms, one will find information about procedures, which lead to a reduction in a behavior. That same search on a social media platform may result in a discussion about the potential harmful effects of punishment and condemnation against the use of all punishment procedures. That is not to say that opinions and perspectives of others do not matter, they certainly do. The point here is that opinions are opinions, and an opinion is no replacement for an objective investigation.

Behavior analysts and others interested in the topic may turn to social media to get answers to their questions due to the low response effort involved and the speed of reinforcement. How can we decrease response effort and increase reinforcement for referring to the scientific literature to answer our questions?

Information needs to be accessible for people to come into contact with it. ResearchGate is an excellent way for the scientific community to disseminate their findings to the larger community. On this free site, authors can either public post or privately host publications they have written, without being in violation of any copyright laws. Definitely check it out, if you have not already. You will find access to all of my previous publications, as well as the work of many amazing professionals, at your fingertips, without any paywalls.

This is also where social media can really help disseminate science. There are ways to produce scientifically-sound tidbits of information, which can then be shared in online social media platforms. To those who are creating content, include citations, references, and links to the original publication in your posts. For consumers, be critical of the information that is being provided to you, look for the original source. Some professional organizations (Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis [JABA]) are encouraging authors to create short videos (e.g., YouTube) and to host live discussions (e.g., Facebook Live) about their research. Once you are drawn in, read the publications referenced in the posts. You can also consider reaching out to the researcher. If that is something which interests you, social media has given us access to one another like never before. Consider using social media sites to connect with others, who might have otherwise been inaccessible to you. We are no longer limited by snail mail, geographic barriers, or even time zones. The online world allows us to share information in real-time, or at least much more quickly than in the past. We have a fantastic opportunity, possibly even a responsibility, to use this to our advantage.

The authors provide suggestions for how behavior analysts should behave on social media. Are there any suggestions you might add? Are there ways you can increase the likelihood of other behavior analysts following these suggestions?

Behave like your mother is watching (she probably is). Think of potential employers, clients, and colleagues and what they may think. When we engage online we open ourselves up to a larger audience, which is both exciting and anxiety provoking, when you really think about it. It can be exhausting to have to be “professionally appropriate” in what feels like a personal space. There are certainly protections you can put in place: creating a separate professional page, using privacy features, avoid “friending” co-workers, employees, and clients, etc. However, the best piece of information I can give is to think of the online world as one large coffee shop. Would you speak the things you type? Would you say it the same way? Could your words be misunderstood? Have you actively listened, or was it a one-side soliloquy?


Amanda N. Kelly, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA obtained her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, her masters of science in Behavioral Education, and her doctorate in Behavior Analysis. Dr. Kelly has experience working as a paraprofessional, a licensed teacher, a school counselor, and behavior analyst. Over the past two decades, Dr. Kelly has worked in-home settings, public and private schools, residential placements, and community settings for children and adolescents who have social-emotional, cognitive, or behavioral needs.

Dr. Kelly has been recognized for her dissemination and advocacy efforts. In 2012, she was awarded the “Jerry Shook Practitioner of the Year” from the Berkshire Association for Behavior Analysis and Therapy (BABAT) and in 2015, she accepted the “Advocacy Group of the Year” award from Autism Speaks, on behalf of the Hawai’i Association for Behavior Analysis (HABA). In 2016, Dr. Kelly became the first behavior analyst licensed in the state of Hawai’i. Dr. Kelly has served on numerous boards and committees and is currently serving as Legislative Chair for the HABA board and as Secretary on the board of the Hawai’i Disability Rights Center (HDRC).

Dr. Kelly’s dedication and commitment in improving access to educational and medical services has resulted in numerous invited speaking engagements throughout the world, including talks in Canada, Japan, London, and and the Philippines. In addition to her expertise helping families and schools, Dr. Kelly’s interests in behavior analysis extend to dissemination, organizational management, public policy, and sustainable behavior change.

ABA Journal Club #2: Ethics and Social Media

One of the tenets of ABA is to provide evidence-based practice. The best way to help us do this is to keep up with the literature! Each month, Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA will select one journal article and provide discussion questions for professionals working within the ABA community. The following week another ABA professional will respond to Sam’s questions and provide further insight and a different perspective on the piece.

Head to our Facebook page to join the discussion and let us know your thoughts!

It is important in our field to maintain an open conversation about ethics. The Professional and Ethical Compliance Code outlines how behavior analysts are expected to conduct themselves, but sometimes situations are not so black and white. And as the world changes, so do the expectations for ethical conduct. In recent years, issues related to social media have been especially relevant. This month, I’ve selected the following article which addresses the special concerns that come up with the use of social media.

O’Leary, P. N., Miller, M. M., Olive, M. L., & Kelly, A. N. (2017). Blurred lines: Ethical implications of social media for behavior analysts. Behavior Analysis in Practice10(1), 45-51 .


  1. The article reviews the codes of ethics for other professions. Why is this valuable for us to do as a profession? Did you learn anything surprising or interesting form this portion of the article?
  1. Since this article was written, our field has a new Professional and Ethical Compliance Code. How does this code differ from the previously used Guidelines for Responsible Conduct? What aspects of the code directly apply to ethical situations related to social media?
  1. “A search on an internet search engine for information related to a procedure or scientific concept may yield results as to what that procedure or concept is. The same search on a social media outlet may yield results as to whether or not that procedure or concept should be used (p. 47.) Discuss this difference.
  1. Behavior analysts and others interested in the topic may turn to social media to get answers to their questions due to the low response effort involved and the speed of reinforcement. How can we decrease response effort and increase reinforcement for referring to the scientific literature to answer our questions?
  1. The authors provide suggestions for how behavior analysts should behave on social media. Are there any suggestions you might add? Are there ways you can increase the likelihood of other behavior analysts following these suggestions?
  1. Consider your own behavior on social media. Based on recommendations from the article, what is one change you can make to increase your own ethical behavior in this context?

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

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. She is also an assistant professor in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

The Salad Shoppe: Changing the Landscape of Vocational Training

Unemployment rates in the autism community are alarming, but the number of individuals entering the workforce only continues to grow. This presents an overwhelming challenge for special educators tasked with preparing learners for what is often an uncertain future. Vocational training is essential as learners with autism approach the transition to adulthood.  With this in mind, Nassau Suffolk Services for Autism (NSSA) introduced The Salad Shoppe in the fall of 2017.

The curriculum was developed by Kathryn Reres and Rebecca Chi, devoted special educators determined to ensure dignified and purposeful futures for the eight young adult students in their classroom. The focus was to create a program that would provide functional tasks for each learner based on their individual skills, interests and IEP goals. The result was an innovative vocational training curriculum that highlights the strengths of each participant, introduces new skills into their everyday lives and serves as a profitable social enterprise. 

The Salad Shoppe model requires multiple steps to be taken over the course of two days, including: Tracking and counting money, taking inventory, creating shopping lists, purchasing, food preparation, converting a customer’s order form to food assembly, delivery and clean up. This comprehensive list ensures that every learner has the opportunity to perform a task that is meaningful and functional to them. (The staff at NSSA are reaping the benefits too! Fresh, healthy, personally-delivered lunches each week have been a huge hit.)

In partnership with Different Roads to Learning, the creative teachers who designed The Salad Shoppe for NSSA are sharing their expertise with special educators everywhere. The published curriculum will allow teachers to implement The Salad Shoppe in a way that will best function for the learners they serve. Now more than ever, there is a crucial need to provide young adults with autism with the tools they will need to take on the competitive workforce. The Salad Shoppe is a cutting-edge curriculum that has opened new doors for educators, learners and parents and will continue to change the landscape of vocational training.

Ready to bring The Salad Shoppe to your school? You can save 15% on this incredible program now through February 18th!

Pick of the Week: The Salad Shoppe!

This week, save 15% on our brand new vocational curriculum! Click on the graphic for more details!

ABA Journal Club #1

            For January, I have selected not one, but two texts. The first is a foundational article that every behavior analyst has probably read more than once. However it’s an important one to revisit, and one that I gain more insight from with each read. The second is a follow-up to the original article.

Article One: Baer, D. M., Wolf, M. M., & Risley, T. R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis1(1), 91-97.

Article Two: Baer, D. M., Wolf, M. M., & Risley, T. R. (1987). Some still‐current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis20(4), 313-327.

Discussion Questions for Baer, Wolf, Risley (1968):

The tone of the 1968 article is hopeful. The authors express a belief that behavior analytic procedures will become more prevalent as people understand the technology. Do you think they were accurate in this belief? What has been your experience with people accepting the principles of ABA?

Among the seven dimensions discussed in this article, what did you find most interesting?

The authors state that the term applied is defined by the interest society shows in the problem being studied. Is this how you have thought of the term applied in the past? How does your current work fit into this description? And how do we know society is interested?

In their discussion of analytic, the authors explain two designs commonly used to demonstrate reliable control of behavior change. Do you use these designs in your every day practice? Why or why not?

Do you think all seven of these dimensions hold equal importance? Why or why not?

How do the seven dimensions make ABA different from other fields?

Discussion Questions for Baer, Wolf, Risley (1987):

Compare and contrast the descriptions of each of the seven dimensions across the two articles.

The authors identify social validity as a good measure of effectiveness. However, they also identify issues with the assessment of social validity. How do you think that has changed since they wrote this article? How do you assess social validity in your own work?

What do you think of the discussion of high-quality failures?

In what ways do you follow the seven dimensions in your current work?

Can you identify a way to improve your own work based on the seven dimensions?

If you were to identify an eighth dimension that is not currently represented in these articles, what might you add?


SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA 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. She is also an assistant professor in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

How Do We Measure Effectiveness?

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Dr. Daniel W. Mruzek, PhD, BCBA-D, Associate Professor, University of Rochester Medical Center. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

Marketers of purported interventions for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), whether they are pills, devices, or exercises, claim that their products are effective. As proof, they point to any number of measures some valid, some questionable, and some potentially misleading. Given that many of these “treatments” may be costly, ineffective and even dangerous, it is good to consider what constitutes legitimate measures of therapeutic benefit. How will we know if the intervention actually works?


A first step when presented with a potential treatment option is to investigate its scientific record. One can certainly ask the marketer (or therapist, interventionist, clinician, etc.) for examples of peer-reviewed studies examining the effectiveness of their recommended intervention. Indeed, this can be a great first step. An honest marketer will be glad to give you what they have in this regard or freely disclose that none exist. A good second step is to consult with a trusted professional (e.g., physician, psychologist, or behavior analyst who knows your family member), in order to get an objective appraisal of the intervention. If, after this first level of investigation is completed, a decision is made to pursue a particular intervention for a family member there are additional questions that one can ask the marketer prior to implementation that may prove very helpful in determining effectiveness after the intervention has been employed. These include the following:


Question 1: “What behaviors should change as a result of the intervention?”
Virtually any ASD intervention that is truly effective will result in observable change in behavior. For example, a speech intervention may very well result in increased spoken language (e.g., novel words, greater rate of utterances). An academic intervention should result in specific new academic skills (e.g., greater independent proficiency with particular math operations). An exercise purported to decrease the occurrence of challenging behavior will, if effective, result in a lower rate of specific challenging behaviors (e.g., tantrums, self-injury). As “consumers” of ASD interventions, you and your family member have every right to expect that the marketer will identify specific, objective, and measurable changes in behaviors that indicate treatment efficacy. Scientists refer to such definitions as “operational definitions” – these are definitions that are written using observable and measurable terms. If the marketer insists on using ill-defined, “fuzzy” descriptions of treatment benefit (e.g., “increased sense of well-being”, “greater focus and intentionality”, an increased “inner balance” or “regulation”), then “Buyer Beware!” These kinds of outcome goals will leave you guessing about treatment effect. Insist that operational definitions of target behaviors be agreed upon prior to start of intervention.

Question 2: “How will these behavior changes be measured?”
Behavior change is often gradual and variable. Behavior change often occurs in “fits and starts” (i.e., the change is variable). Also, our perception of behavior change can be impacted by any number of events (e.g., the co-occurrence of other therapies, our expectations for change). Therefore, it is the marketer’s responsibility to offer up a plan for collecting data regarding any change in the identified “target” behaviors. Usually, it is best to record numerical data (e.g., number of new words spoken by the individual, duration [in minutes] of tantrums, etc.) The use of numerical data to measure the change of operationally defined target behaviors is one of the best ways for a treatment team to elevate their discussion above opinion, conjecture and misrepresentation. If a pill, therapy or gadget is helpful, there is almost assuredly a change in behavior. And, that change is almost always quantifiable. Setting up a system to collect these numerical data prior to the initiation of the new intervention is a key to objective evaluation of intervention. Don’t do intervention without it.


Question 3: “When will we look at these intervention data and how will they be presented?”
Of course, it is not enough to collect data; these data need to be regularly reviewed by the team! One of the best ways to organize data is “graphically”, such as plotting points on a graph, so that they can be inspected visually. This gives the team a chance to monitor overall rates or levels of target behaviors, as well as identify possible trends (i.e., the “direction” of the data over time, such as decreasing or increasing rates) and look for change that may occur after the start of the new intervention. Note that the review of treatment data is generally a team process, meaning that relevant members of the team, including the clinicians (or educators), parents, the individual with ASD (as appropriate) often should look at these data together. Science is a communal process, and this is one of the things that makes it a powerful agent of change.


An interventionist with background in behavior analysis can set up strategies for evaluating a possible treatment effect. For example, in order to gage the effectiveness of a new intervention, a team may elect to use a “reversal design”, in which the target behaviors are monitored with and without the intervention in place. If, for example, a team wishes to assess the helpfulness of a weighted blanket in promoting a child’s healthful sleep through the night, data regarding duration of sleep and number of times out of bed might be looked at during a week with the blanket available at bedtime and week without the blanket available. Another strategy is to use the intervention on “odd” days and not use it on “even” days. Data from both “odd” and “even” days can be graphed for visual inspection, and, if the intervention is helpful, a “gap” will appear between the data sets representing the two conditions. These strategies are not complex, but they give the team an opportunity to objectively appraise whether or not a specific intervention is helpful that is much better than informal observation. Few things are as clarifying in a team discussion as plotted data placed on the table of a team meeting.


If the marketer does not answer these questions directly and satisfactorily, consider turning to a trusted professional (e.g., psychologist, physician or behavior analyst) for help. Families have a right to know whether their hard-earned money, as well as their time and energy, are being spent wisely. Asking these questions “up front” when confronted with a new intervention idea will help. Marketers have a responsibility to present their evidence – both the “state-of-the-science” as reflected in peer-reviewed research, as well as their plans to measure the potential effectiveness of their intervention for the individual whom they are serving.


Speaking of measuring treatment effectiveness, fellow ASAT board member Eric Larsson offers his considerations regarding the use of standardized measures (e.g., IQ) as outcome measures in treatment research (next article; page 20). Though this might be a little out of context for some of our readers, for those of us who rely on direct interpretations of peer-reviewed studies in our work (e.g., researchers, clinicians), Dr. Larsson describes the limitations of sole reliance on change in standardized measures is assessing the scientific validation of an intervention.


Please use the following format to cite this article:
Mruzek, D.W. (2014). ASD intervention: How do we measure effectiveness? Science in Autism Treatment, 11(3), 20-21


About The Author
Daniel W. Mruzek, Ph.D., BCBA-D is an Associate Professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), Division of Neurodevelopmental and Behavioral Pediatrics in western New York. He received his doctoral training in Psychology at the Ohio State University and is a former Program Director at the Groden Center in Providence, Rhode Island. Currently, he is an associate professor and serves as a clinician and consultant, training school teams and supporting families of children with autism and other developmental disabilities.


Mruzek coordinates his division’s psychology postdoctoral fellowship program in developmental disabilities and is an adjunct faculty member in the University of Rochester Warner School of Education. He is actively involved as a researcher on several externally funded autism intervention research studies and has authored and co-authored more than 20 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on autism and other developmental disabilities. Dr. Mruzek is on the editorial board for the journals Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, Behavior Analysis in Practice, Journal of Mental Health Research in Developmental Disabilities, and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Dr. Mruzek is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Association for Science in Autism Treatment.

Common errors with token systems

I love token systems and use them frequently with my clients. Sometimes I use Velcro stars or stickers, or the Token Towers (which are great because you can hear the token going in the plastic tube.) It’s easy to vary the token system to fit the interests and age of a client I am working with. However, I see several errors in their use. Below are a few of the common ones:

• Inconsistent Use – The use of a token system should be predictable. When I am doing an ABA session, the token system is usually available throughout the session. But token systems may be specific to certain activities or certain environments. Using them only some of the time though doesn’t improve their effectiveness.
• Lack of Clarity – You should know what behavior you are focusing on for the token system. For example, I will write down for myself that I am providing tokens for a few specific behaviors (such as whenever a client responds correctly to a current learning target, when they remain in their seats for a period of five minutes, and when they greet a person who comes into the room.) It should be clear for you, as the person implementing the token system, what behaviors you are attempting to increase so you can provide tokens when those behaviors are exhibited.
• Lack of Differentiation – One of the things I love about token systems is that it allows me to easily differentiate reinforcement. For example, let’s say I’m working with a child to teach them to name items from different categories. Usually, when I ask them to name an animal, they name one animal and I provide a token for a correct response. But on this particular day, they name three animals. I can provide more than one token for the higher quality response.
• Not Allowing the Token System to Grow with the Child – Another benefit of token systems is that they can grow with the child. Once a child has mastered a certain behavior, I no longer include it in the token system. The child is always earning tokens for behaviors or responses that are difficult. If you have a client who has been receiving tokens for the same behavior for several months, then one of the two things is happening: (1) the client has mastered the behavior and you aren’t providing reinforcement for more challenging behaviors OR (2) the client has not mastered the behavior and for some reason your token system is not working. Either way, a change needs to be made.
• Fail to Provide a Motivating Reward – I have had some experiences in which the token was supposedly reinforcing on its own. In rare cases, this might just work. However, the tokens should be used to earn a known reinforcer for that particular client.
• Fail to Provide Choices in Rewards – There’s a great body of research on how choice improves motivation. Unfortunately, many children with developmental disabilities have fewer choices in their day-to-day lives than their typically developing counterparts. Allowing your client to choose from a selection of activities or toys for reinforcement will likely improve the quality of your token system.


WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

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. She is also an assistant professor in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

How to Maintain a Fast Pace of Instruction

There 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.

REFERENCES

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.


WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

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. She is also an assistant professor in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

Technology Do’s (and one Don’t!)

Technology can be a great addition to an educational or behaviorally supportive program for individuals with autism. It may be used as a powerful reinforcer for some, can facilitate language and communication, and help to organize and present visual and auditory cues efficiently. Items like tablets and smart phones also tend to be highly acceptable to learners, parents, and society as a whole. We have come a long way from the days of Velcro, laminate, and tackle boxes full of reinforcers! In some cases, the entire array of tools needed to support and teach may be included in a single device.

As great as technology may be for learners with autism, their families, and their teachers, however, there are some cautions that need to be observed. Here are some suggestions to make sure that technology is used effectively and does not have any detrimental effects.

1. Do carefully evaluate the functionality of the technology for the individual. Like any behavioral intervention, technology is not one-size-fits-all, and may not be appropriate for every use for every learner. Choose the type and application of technology that works best for the individual. Collect data on the success of the technology intervention, and make adjustments as needed.

2. Do teach alternative strategies that don’t rely on technology, to prepare for times when technology may be unavailable, broken, or inappropriate. Practice occasionally not using technology, so that when the inevitable happens (e.g., power outage, broken tablet, etc.), the individual is prepared and has some coping strategies.

3. Do monitor for safety and appropriate usage. Many apps are so easy for learners to use that they can easily connect with other people, make purchases, or share personal information without parents or teachers noticing. Devices that connect to the internet via wi-fi or data plans must be carefully monitored for such activity.

4. Do teach learners to manage their devices independently. Learners should know how to charge devices, set alarms and reminders, and use other apps for self-management. Technology isn’t just for fun; it’s become a part of life for most of us, and learners can benefit the same as anyone else.

5. Don’t use technology for technology’s sake. If it doesn’t serve a real purpose for teaching or behavioral support, it should not be in use. Any application of technology in teaching or behavioral interventions should be clearly defined, conceptually systematic, and precisely planned.


About The Author

Dana Reinecke, PhD, BCBA-D is a doctoral level Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA-D) and a New York State Licensed Behavior Analyst (LBA).   Dana is a Core Faculty member in the Applied Behavior Analysis department at Capella University.  She is also co-owner of SupervisorABA, an online platform for BACB supervision curriculum, forms, and hours tracking.  Dana provides training and consultation to school districts, private schools, agencies, and families for individuals with disabilities.  She has presented original research and workshops on the treatment of autism and applications of ABA at regional, national, and international conferences.  She has published her research in peer-reviewed journals, written chapters in published books, and co-edited books on ABA and autism.  Current areas of research include use of technology to support students with and without disabilities, self-management training of college students with disabilities, and online teaching strategies for effective college and graduate education.  Dana is actively involved in the New York State Association for Behavior Analysis (NYSABA), and is currently serving as President (2017-2018).

Beyond Light Up Toys

There are many things that I would love to change about the treatment of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. One of them is the notion that all kids with ASD are motivated by the same things. Certainly, some kids with autism love light up toys, squeezes, or music, but that’s true of the population at large. After all, I am mesmerized by Christmas lights, love a good head massage, and have songs I listen to on repeat.
The issue with the assumption that all kids with ASD are motivated by these small number of things is that it can lead to some very specific problems, such as practitioners trying out a smaller number of toys or activities with the child, practitioners depending solely on “sensory toys” for reinforcers instead of working to expand the number of reinforcers a child responds to, or the larger community making assumptions about the preferences of the child. Furthermore, there is evidence that the broader the range of reinforcers is for a child, the better the learning outcomes (Klintwall & Eikeseth, 2012.) Failing to think beyond the stereotypes about the interests of kids with ASD impedes their ability to learn and develop new skills.

The children I’ve worked with over the years have varied interests, ranging from dinosaurs and maps to bean bag toss and board games. And while some of the kids I work with love light up toys or trains, it’s important that we don’t take a whole swath of the population and decide that they all have similar interests. It doesn’t serve their skill development or our potential to develop real relationships with people with ASD.
As a practitioner, here are some important questions to ask yourself in relation to reinforcers and developing interests:

• Have you conducted a preference assessment? This should be one of the first things you do whenever you start a new case, and something you should continue to do informally.

• Have you talked to the client and/or the parents about what interests they would like to develop? If the client is able to discuss goals and interests with you, you should definitely be having that conversation with them. You should also talk to the parents about their goals. Perhaps they have seen some interest in one area that they would like to further develop. It’s also possible that there are specific family activities or traditions they would like their child to enjoy with the family.

• Have you read about this topic? A great place to start is Chapter 3 of the book A Work in Progress. It clearly explains how to use reinforcers and expand the reinforcer repertoire. There is also a ton of research out there about reinforcement. Take the time to search journals such as Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis and Journal of Developmental Disabilities.

Klintwall, L., & Eikeseth, S. (2012). Number and controllability of reinforcers as predictors of individual outcome for children with autism receiving early and intensive behavioral intervention: A preliminary study. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6(1), 493-499.
McEachin, J. & Leaf, R. B. (1999). A work in progress: Behavior management strategies and a curriculum for intensive behavioral treatment of autism. New York: DRL Books.


WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

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. She is also an assistant professor in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.