Tip of the Week: Build Desirable Behaviors

One of my favorite textbooks about ABA is Focus on Behavior Analysis in Education: Achievements, Challenges, and Opportunities. And one of my favorite chapters in that book is called “Building Behaviors versus Suppressing Behaviors,” which focuses on school-wide positive behavior change This is an often-overlooked key concept in behavior analysis that can have a huge impact on the school environment. Furthermore, when we think of ABA, we often think about individual interventions, but the principles of ABA can be highly effective when applied to large environments, such as an entire school.

The chapter references several studies about school-wide behavior change and offers evidence-based practices for achieving such change. It also outlines social behaviors that should be taught, such as how to apologize or how to make a request, then discusses strategies for rewarding the desirable behaviors. I appreciate that it focuses on getting students involved in making such changes.

Teaching these desirable behaviors can often feel challenging with the additional stresses of a special education classroom. One curriculum I have found effective in addressing this problem is Skillstreaming. I often use Skillstreaming in Early Childhood with young learners, and love that it clearly defines desirable behaviors, such as how to listen or how to offer help (see image below), but provides those definitions in simple terms with visual prompts that help our young learners. It also incorporates positive reinforcement for learners who are engaging in those desirable behaviors.

Listening Skill

In summary, there is lots of evidence out there that focusing on what kids should be rather than what they should not be doing is beneficial for the learner and the general culture of the classroom. Providing clearly defined desirable behavior and building instruction in those behaviors throughout the day is essential. And that instruction may need to be more frequent and more detailed for our learners with developmental disabilities.

References

Heron, T. E., Neef, N. A., Peterson, S. M., Sainato, D. M., Cartledge, G., Gardner, R., … & Dardig, J. C. (2005). Focus on behavior analysis in education: Achievements, challenges, and opportunities. Pearson/Merrill/Prentice Hall.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, BCBA

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: Save 30% on “A Work in Progress” Companion Booklets & DVDs!

Building on the popular guide and curriculum A Work In Progress, this companion series of booklets and DVDs synthesizes information on various teaching strategies with demonstrations of actual sessions with students on video. The Work in Progress Companion Series aims to blend a natural, child-friendly approach to teaching while remaining determinedly systematic. This series offers viewers the unique opportunity to see these approaches implemented in actual teaching environments.

This week, we’re offering the entire Set of 6 Work in Progress Companion Booklets & DVDs for only $99.00 (a $150 value)! Or get one (1) Companion Set for $24.95 only $17.50!  Just use our promo code AWIPSET at check-out to redeem these great savings. View our entire sale here.

AWIP_Companion_Booklets_and_DVDs

Parents and teachers will find this series to be a helpful companion and extension to A Work in Progress. All author proceeds from the Work in Progress Companion Series will go directly to the Autism Partnership Family Foundation which was developed to provide services to families with limited resources, fund research that will investigate new strategies and programs that truly make a difference in the lives of children and families, and disseminate information about evidence-based treatment and provide resources for training parents and professionals.

Volume 1: “Cool” versus “Not Cool” teaches students foundational as well as advanced social skills in the difference between behaviors that are socially appropriate (i.e. cool) and those that are inappropriate (i.e. not cool). In later stages, they go on to actually practice the appropriate form of the behavior and receive feedback on their efforts. Research confirms the clinical experience that “Cool” versus “Not Cool” is effective in teaching social skills and enabling students to monitor their own behavior.

Volume 2: Learning How to Learn teaches and demonstrates programs that researchers have found helpful in teaching students how to learn.

Volume 3: Teaching Interactions offers a conversation-style of teaching which adds the all important element of leading students to understand rationales for why they might want to change their behavior and learn new skills. This booklet and DVD teaches students how to develop understanding and insight that help form their internal motivation.

Volume 4: Token Economy provides step-by-step instructions on how to ensure there is a strong connection between the target behavior and the reward that follows. Token economies have a number of advantages and can be very flexible in adapting to the age of the student, the types of rewards used, and the skills and behavioral targets you are seeking to improve.

Volume 5: Developing Reinforcers shows parents and teachers how to be creative in developing new sources of reinforcement, which is especially useful for students who have limited interests.

Volume 6: Bullying & ASD – The Perfect Storm focuses on the tools needed to help children with autism combat bullying. Students with ASD are particularly at risk because of their behavior issues and their vulnerability. This volume provides practical suggestions that help prevent the devastation of bullying.

Buy one (1) volume for only $17.50* this week using promo code AWIPSET at check-out! View our entire sale here!

*Offer is valid for one-time use only through January 26, 2015. Promotion does not apply to past purchases. Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in your code AWIPSET at check-out!

 

Tip of the Week: The Importance of Identifying the Function of a Behavior

As a BCBA, I am often asked to address problematic behaviors. One of the most common errors I see in addressing such behaviors is that the adults working with child have not identified the function (or purpose) of the problematic behavior. Decades of research have shown that there are only four functions for any behavior: attention, escape/avoidance, access to a tangible, and automatic reinforcement (or something that just feels good internally, but cannot be observed by outsiders).

The function of the behavior is whatever happens immediately after the behavior, and increases the likelihood that the behavior will occur again in the future. Here are a few examples of the functions, based on the same behavior:

  1. The therapist tells Lisa it’s time to practice tying shoes. Lisa starts biting her own hand. The therapist look shocked and calls in Lisa’s mother, who rubs her back lightly while Lisa ties her shoes then gives her a lot of verbal praise. This is likely an example of a behavior that functions for attention, because the mother comes in and provides both verbal and physical attention while she ties her shoes. Or it could be an example of a behavior that functions for escape or avoidance, since Lisa did not have to tie her shoes immediately once she began biting her hand.
  2. The therapist tells Lisa it’s time to practice tying shoes. Lisa starts biting her own hand. The therapist gently pushes Lisa’s hand down and then introduces a new task. This is an example of a behavior that functions as escape because Lisa does not have to tie her shoes once she begins biting her hand.
  3. The therapist tells Lisa it’s time to practice tying shoes. Lisa starts biting her own hand. The therapist says, “Oh, don’t stress, we’ll take a sensory break,” and gives Lisa a ball to squeeze. This is an example of a behavior maintained by tangible reinforcement. When Lisa began biting her hand she was immediately given access to a preferred item.

You’ll notice that I left out the automatic reinforcement. This is intentional because often, with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, people assume that a behavior is automatically reinforced instead of exploring these three potential functions described above. One way to recognize if a behavior is automatically reinforced is to note if the behavior happens when the child is alone and/or when no demands have been placed on the child. If it’s only happening around other people or when demands are placed, then it is highly unlikely that the behavior is automatically reinforced. For now, we’ll save automatic reinforcement for another blog post.

Identifying which of these functions is maintaining a problem behavior is essential to putting in an effective intervention. But how do you go about doing this?

The first thing you should do is assess! You can do an informal assessment, such as using the Functional Assessment Screening Tool (FAST) which is comprised of 16 questions that can help you quickly determine the function. If this does not provide conclusive results, you can have a BCBA do a formal functional assessment. Once you have identified the function of the behavior, you can change the environment so that not only does the child no longer receive that reinforcement for a problematic behavior, but there are appropriate replacement behaviors they can engage in to access that reinforcement. For more on that, you can look back at the Importance of Replacement Behaviors.

It may be difficult at first to think in terms of “function of behavior,” rather than assigning a reason for the behavior that is based on the child’s diagnosis or based on something happening internally inside the child’s brain that we can’t see (such as, “she’s just frustrated so she’s biting her hand,” or “she doesn’t know how to control herself”). However, once you try it out and experience some success with addressing the true function of behavior, you’ll likely see the beauty of a simple explanation for why we behave.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, BCBA

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.

Tip of the Week: The Importance of Replacement Behaviors

Recently I’ve written several posts about the importance of reinforcement, but now I want to turn my attention to another important concept: replacement behaviors. It can be very easy to slip into the habit of telling kids what NOT to do. “Don’t touch that! Don’t pick your nose! Don’t run!” However, if we can turn it around and tell kids what to do instead we often see higher rates of compliance.

Cute little girl isolated, holding a stop sign

Here are a few examples of replacement behaviors you can teach:

  • A student refuses to speak when he/she does not understand a question. You can teach the student what to say, such as “I don’t understand” or “Can I get help?” Teach through modeling and role playing in one-to-one settings, then generalize it to the classroom or other environments in which the skill is necessary.
  • When you begin a math lesson, one student frequently attempts to run out of the room. Introduce a signal or symbol (such as a holding up a stop sign) to request a break. Initially, you might give the break each time the student uses the sign correctly, then begin to require more and more math work before a break is received. This allows for appropriate and safe breaks without disrupting the rest of the class.
  • When your learner is done with dinner, he pushes his plate into the middle of the table. Teach your learner to instead put items in the sink. You might start with just placing the fork in the sink, then add more and more items until he/she is clearing the table independently. Another replacement behavior may be to use a symbol or signal as in the previous example to request to leave the table, or to teach the learner to say “May I go?”

Replacement behaviors should be simple to implement, should be taught one-on-one with multiple opportunities to practice and be reinforced, and should, if possible, be functionally equivalent to the undesirable behavior. (For example, if a child is engaging in one behavior to escape, the replacement behavior should teach a more appropriate way to escape.)

Sometimes, simply instructing the learner on a replacement behavior makes a huge change, but often you need to combine teaching a replacement behavior with other strategies (such as differential reinforcement). What I do know is that identifying and teaching a replacement behavior is a necessary part of almost any intervention and should not be overlooked.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, BCBA

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.

“Guided Playdates” by Caitlin Reilly & Carole Deitchman

This week, we’re proud to partner with ASAT – Association for Science in Autism Treatment – to bring you this practical article on Guided Playdates. We will be periodically showcasing articles from our colleagues at the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT). 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!  In this piece, authors Caitlin Reilly, MA and Carole Deitchman, MA, BCBA discuss the importance of play dates while offering accessible information on planning an effective play date and selecting peers, as well as on data collection.

My child with autism is doing well in his academic programming, but I’d like to help him develop social skills with peers. He participates in play dates, but I often worry that we are not making the most of these opportunities. How can I help him learn to play with a friend?

Answered by Caitlin Reilly, MA, BCBA and Carole Deitchman, MA, BCBA

The importance of play dates

Fostering the development of play and social skills should be an essential component of any educational or home program for children with autism. Possessing these skills not only improves a child’s overall quality of life and ability to sustain relationships, but also enhances his or her ability to learn from others. Many children with autism often need direct and systematic instruction to learn these skills.
Girls Holding Hands

Parent-guided play dates can provide the structure and practice needed to help a child improve peer social skills and make friends (Koegel, Werner, Vismara, & Koegel, 2005). Play dates may be a more effective and rewarding social activity for your child if the following foundation skills are already in the child’s repertoire or are being currently targeted:

  • knowing how to tolerate, attend to, and imitate other children;
  • being able to communicate his or her wants and needs;
  • understanding simple directions;
  • taking turns; and
  • playing with a few age-appropriate toys and one or two simple games (Smith, 2001).

As you think about the types of activities that may occur during the play dates, make a list of the skills that your child will need to successfully play with a friend. It is often very helpful to teach these important skills with adults first (Leaf & McEachin, 1999), as an adult is more likely to reliably and favorably respond to your child than a peer might be. Many of the above listed skills are likely ones that your child is also working on in school, and your addition of practice opportunities at home will help your child generalize learning to other people and situations.

Planning an effective play date

In addition to empowering your child with an array of foundational skills, it is important to guide his play dates using evidence-based methods. These methods incorporate techniques that have been repeatedly shown to be effective through controlled, scientific research. For your child’s play dates, such methods include the use of motivational systems, the strategic use of reinforcement, and the use of systematically faded prompts. While the first few play dates may require a close adult shadow and contrived reinforcement for desired behavior (e.g. chips or candy), the goal is to systematically fade the adult’s proximity and prompts and foster the child’s contact with naturally occurring reinforcement (e.g. the enjoyment of playing a game or talking to a peer). Evidence-based methods also call for the collection of objective data to monitor progress.

In order to increase motivation during the play date, use toys and activities that are especially enjoyable for your child and his friend (Koegel et al., 2005). Motivation is essential for keeping both children engaged, and for maximizing your child’s learning. Your child will be more likely to ask his friend to play a game if he enjoys that game. Similarly, the peer may be less likely to engage with your child if he does not enjoy the play date activity. Taking turns in selecting activities or using a choice schedule of activities may help in this regard.

It is also important to identify specific skills that you want to teach your child during his play dates. These may include such skills as greeting friends, initiating an activity, or asking questions. For example, the first several play dates may focus on saying “Hi” and “Bye” to the peer and playing catch. As with other types of skill instruction, consider pre-teaching these play and social skills with adults or at home with a sibling. Your child may require significant prompting initially, so think about how you can fade those prompts as your child’s skills improve and how to provide plenty of practice opportunities across settings, activities and individuals. Once your child greets his friend with ease and independence, focus on teaching him more complex play skills such as asking questions (e.g. “How are you?” and “Do you want to play?”) and making comments while interacting with the peer (e.g. “This is fun!” or “This is my favorite game.”). Start with teaching simpler skills, and then build on those your child has already accomplished.

If your child has difficult behavior, make a plan for how to manage it and follow through during play dates. Your plan may include “preventative” strategies, such as limiting the duration of the play date, using visual supports (e.g., activity board), providing a break, or minimizing activities that are a source of obsession or possible angst. Do not be concerned so much about embarrassing your child as giving him the support and repeated practice opportunities that he needs to be successful (e.g., repeating an interaction in which eye contact was not exhibited). Consistent consequences are essential in order to decrease disruptive behaviors and to help your child successfully relate to his peers (Maurice, Green, & Luce, 1996).

Selecting peers

Potential play date peers should include boys and girls of different ages (Smith, 2001). The best peers for play dates are often open and responsive. That is, they provide ample opportunity for your child to learn; they ask questions, they respond with enthusiasm, and they exhibit patience as your child practices socializing. From a behavior analytic standpoint, we might view a peer’s response as reinforcement for your child’s response. So, if his peer is unresponsive, your child may be less likely to initiate with that peer again during future opportunities. Ask your child’s teacher or other school staff for peer suggestions, or ask the parents of neighborhood children whom you know. Peers that your child naturally comes into contact with on a regular basis, such as family members, are ideal for practicing social skills (Oppenheim-Leaf et al., 2012). It is important that your child’s peer and his or her parents know about your child’s unique behaviors and needs (Baker, 2003). Prepare them for what to expect, and ask the other parent for permission to give rewards during or after the play date. For example, the peer might be rewarded for asking your child a question or waiting patiently while your child responds. Reinforcing the peer for interacting with your child will motivate him to interact with your child more in the future.

Data collection

Taking data on your child’s progress is essential to ensuring effective teaching strategies. This process will help you set goals, monitor changes objectively, and alter your teaching methods if progress has stalled or declined. For example, if your child is not learning to say, “Hi” to his or her peer, you may need to increase motivation to learn, increase your level of assistance (such as providing a verbal model of the greeting), or consult with a qualified therapist for other suggestions.

The following is an example of a basic data sheet that can be created to track your child’s progress during each play date. The skills that you teach and the data you collect will vary depending upon your child’s individual needs and abilities.

Tommy’s Play Date Data Sheet

Date: 10/25/12
Peer: Kyle

  1. Says “Hi” to peer when prompted +
  2. Initiates activity with peer using photo prompt in activity schedule. – / + / + / + / +
  3. Instances of problem behavior (tally): 1
Tommy’s Play Date Data Sheet

Date: 11/2/12
Peer: Kyle

  1. Says “Hi” to peer when prompted +
  2. Initiates activity with peer using photo prompt in activity schedule – / + / + / + / +
  3. Instances of problem behavior (tally): 0

Conducting an effective play date

Set aside favorite snacks to use as rewards for your child during his play dates (Leaf & McEachin, 1999). It is best to save these special snacks for play dates only, as this will make your child more eager to earn them. During the play date, “shadow” your child by positioning yourself behind him in order to prompt initiations with and responses to his peer (Krantz & McClannahan, 1993). When your child demonstrates target behaviors (e.g., making eye contact with his peer) or is successful in relating to his peer (e.g., making eye contact and saying “Hi, Kyle.”), praise him (e.g., “Great job saying ‘Hi’ to Kyle!”), and give him a small piece of his favorite snack. As your child’s learning progresses and he demonstrates these skills independently, you should fade use of this shadowing technique, including use of your prompts and instruction, as well as reducing the delivery of snacks and social praise as rewards. Ultimately, your child’s behavior will be rewarded by playing and talking with his friend, rather than your delivery of verbal and edible praise. It may also be necessary to reinforce the efforts of the peer, particularly if your child is not cooperating.

Many children with autism learn new things by using activity schedules (Krantz & McClannahan, 1998). Therefore, it may be worthwhile to make a “play date schedule” that your child and his friend can follow. This might include pictures of the activities and/or peer. As your child learns, you can gradually fade out the schedule so that the play date becomes more natural. You might also arrange materials so that the children must work together to complete an activity (Koegel et al., 2005). For example, if making cookies, have one child hold the measuring cup while the other pours the ingredients.

When starting out, keep the play dates short rather than stretching them out as long as the child seems comfortable or until something goes awry (Smith, 2001). A five-minute-long successful peer interaction is better than a 30-minute one that ends in a disruptive outburst. It may take several play dates for your child to become comfortable with his peer, and it will take time for him to learn new skills. It may be helpful for your child to have play dates with one particular child until he demonstrates mastery (i.e., independence) of specific skills; then try teaching those play skills with another child.

Since the pioneering work of Dr. Ivar Lovaas (1981), who demonstrated how parents could teach important skills to their children with autism, we have learned many effective ways to teach social and play skills (Leaf & McEachin, 1999; Lydon, Healy, & Leader, 2011; Koegel, Werner, Vismara, & Koegel, 2005; Smith, 2001; Krantz & McClannahan, 1993; Krantz & McClannahan, 1998; Maurice, Green, & Luce, 1996). Consulting with a qualified specialist may be helpful for planning and implementing effective play dates, but remember, you are your child’s first teacher. By using these techniques during guided play dates you are not only teaching your child essential social and play skills, you are teaching him how to have more fun!

References

Baker, J. E. (2003). Social skills training for children and adolescents with Asperger Syndrome and social communication problems. Shawnee, MI, Kansas: Asperger Publishing Company.

Freeman, S., & Dake, L., (1997). Teach me language: A language manual for children with autism, Asperger’s syndrome and related disorders. Langley, BC: SKF Books.

Koegel, R. L., Werner, G. A., Vismara, L. A., & Koegel, L. K. (2005). The effectiveness of contextually supported play date interactions between children with autism and typically developing peers. Research & Practice with Severe Disabilities, 30, 93-102.

Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E. (1993). Teaching children with autism to initiate to peers: Effects of a script fading procedure. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26, 121-132.

Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E. (1998). Activity schedules for children: Teaching independent behavior. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.

Leaf, R., & McEachin, J. (1999). A work in progress: Behavior management strategies and a curriculum for intensive behavioral treatment of autism. New York: DRL Books.
Lovaas, O. I. (1981). Teaching developmentally disabled children: The me book. Austin, TX: Proed.

Lydon, H., Healy, O., & Leader, G. (2011). A comparison of video modeling and pivotal response training to teach pretend play skills to children with ASD. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5(2), 872-884.

Maurice, C. Green, G., & Luce, C. (1996). Behavioral intervention for young children with autism: A manual for parents and professionals. Austin, TX: Proed.

Oppenheim-Leaf, M. L., Leaf, J. B., Dozier, C., Sheldon, J. B., & Sherman, J. A. (2012). Teaching typically developing children to promote social play with their siblings with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6(2), 777-791.

Smith, M. J. (2001). Teaching play skills to children with autism spectrum disorder: A practical guide. New York: DRL Books.

CITE THIS

Reilly, C., & Deltchman, C. (2013). Guided play dates. Science in Autism Treatment, 10(2), 18-20.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Caitlin Reilly, MA, BCBA currently works as a behaviorist for the Summit Public School District, and is concurrently working toward her PsyD in School Psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She also serves as the Sponsorship Coordinator and is a media watch contributor for the Association for Science in Autism Treatment.

Carole Deitchman, MA, BCBA consults for families and school districts to help children with autism. She is completing her PhD research in applied behavior analysis by teaching children with interfering rituals and routines to self-manage their behavior.

ABOUT the Association for Science in Autism Treatment

We promote safe, effective, science-based treatments for people with autism by disseminating accurate, timely, and scientifically sound information; advocating for the use of scientific methods to guide treatment; and combating unsubstantiated, inaccurate and false information about autism and its treatment. Since autism was first identified, there has been a long history of failed treatment fads, levied on vulnerable individuals and their families. Many of these treatments have been too hastily adopted by professionals, sensationalized by the media, and embraced by consumers before evidence existed for their effectiveness or safety. Visit our website at www.asatonline.org and subscribe to our free quarterly newsletter at www.asatonline.org/newsletter/. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ASATonline and on Twitter at @asatonline.

Tip of the Week: Using Differential Reinforcement of High Rates of Behavior to Increase Preferred Behaviors

Differential Reinforcement of High Rates of Behavior (DRH) is “reinforcing only after several responses occur at or above a pre-established rate” (Mayer, Sulzer-Azaroff, & Wallace, 2013). There are times when a behavior is already in a student’s repertoire, but you may want to increase the rate of the behavior.

Mother Waking SonFor example, let’s say Harold frequently won’t get up independently on weekdays before school. It’s driving his parents crazy, because they have to drag him out of bed several days a week. You may set up a DRH to increase the rate of him getting up independently. Since Harold currently gets up independently at least one time per week, you would set the goal for two times per week. (You don’t want to set the goal too high, because then Harold might not ever come into contact with reinforcement, and his behavior will likely remain unchanged.) Let Harold know that if he gets up independently two days in a row, you will make his favorite breakfast on the second day. Once Harold has met this goal a few time, increase the requirement for reinforcement. You would move from two days in a row to three days in a row in order to receive his favorite breakfast.

You would continue this until you had reached a pre-arranged goal. It’s important to be realistic in our expectations. You don’t want to change the goal to quickly or make it unreachable. You also don’t want to place higher demands on an individual with disabilities than you do the general population (as discussed in our previous Simplifying the Science article). Many people, for instance, hit the snooze button several times before they actually get up, so it may not be necessary to require an individual with disabilities to wake up the very first time the alarm clock rings 100% of the time.

You may discover that your intervention with Harold is working quite well for a couple weeks, then suddenly stops working. You may need to backtrack a bit, and require fewer consecutive days of independently waking up. Or, you may need to vary the reinforcement. It’s possible that having his favorite breakfast has lost some of its power as a reinforcer.

Finally, after the behavior has reached your goal rate, you should begin to fade the reinforcement entirely. Of course, Harold should still have access to his favorite breakfast, but you should not continue to give it to him on the fifth consecutive day of waking up independently for years to come!

DRH is yet another variation of differential reinforcement that can be very useful for you. It’s also provides an opportunity for a much more positive interaction than introducing punishment to Harold for not waking up independently, and can decrease everyone’s stress levels at the beginning of the day.

References

Mayer, G. Roy, Sulzer-Azaroff-B. & Wallace, M. (2013). Behavior Analysis for Lasting Change-3rd ed. Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY: Sloan Publishing.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, BCBA

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: Fidgets Kit – Smooshy, squishy, twisty, bouncy and more!

Created in conjunction with our behavioral consultant Stacy Asay, LMSW, our Fidgets Kit includes an array of items that can provide a variety of sensory experiences: stretchy, chewy, spiky, twisty, bumpy, twisty, clicky, bouncy and smooshy! This week, get the Fidgets Kit for 15% off* the normal price – just use our promo code FIDGETS at check-out!

Fidget toys can be a great and socially acceptable replacement for stereotypic or repetitive behavior in the classroom or community. Some students find the repetitive action of “fidgeting” to be calming and are then better able to focus on the task at hand. Additionally, some students who have a difficult time staying still are able to sustain sitting behavior for longer periods with less support or prompting when they are manipulating something repeatedly in their hands. We’ve included a variety of items that vary in texture or are manipulated in different ways so that they can be rotated regularly. The components have also been chosen so that they can be worn on the wrist, clipped to a belt, handheld or attached to a piece of clothing.

Use promo code FIDGETS at check-out to save 15%* on the Fidgets Kit this week and start helping your students focus better on their tasks!

*Offer is valid until 11:59pm EST on November 17th, 2015. Not compatible with any other offers. Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in your code at checkout!

Tip of the Week: Differential Reinforcement of Low Rates of Behavior

Differential Reinforcement of Low Rates of behavior (DRL) is “a schedule of reinforcement in which reinforcement: (a) follows each occurrence of the target behavior that is separated from the previous response by a minimum interresponse time, or (b) is contingent on the number of responses within a period of time not exceeding a predetermined criterion” (Cooper, Heron & Heward, 2007).

There may be times when you want to greatly reduce a behavior, but don’t want to eliminate it altogether. Researchers have used DRL to decrease many behaviors, including: stereotypic responding (Singh, Dawson, & Manning, 1981), talking out in class (Dietz & Repp, 1973), and rate of taking bites while eating (Lennox, Miltenberger, and Donelly, 1987).

There are a few different ways to implement DRL. You might select a target number of times the behavior can be exhibited within a full session, then deliver reinforcement to the individual if they exhibit the behavior that number of times or less within the session. For example, Gina teaches in a preschool where they have a 5-minute circle time each morning. During circle time, a boy named Luke raises his hand constantly. Gina wants to reduce the number of times he raises his hand during circle time, but she does not want to eliminate the behavior altogether. She took some baseline data and discovered that he raised his hand approximately 12 times during each circle time. Gina decided that Luke would be allowed to go to the water table, (his favorite activity,) if he raised his hand 10 times or less during circle time. This is called a criterion limit. As his behavior decreased, she would decrease the number of times he was able to raise his hand in order to access reinforcement. Her goal was to get him down to 3 instances of raising his hand during the circle time activity. This procedure for DRL is useful in a classroom setting, because it does not require the teacher to take a lot of data or keep track of intervals, though that might be appropriate in other situations.

Another possibility for implementing DRL is to use an interval schedule of reinforcement. As in the previous procedure, you would set a criterion limit (like Gina did with the limit of 10 instances of hand-raising). However, for this procedure, you would divide the session into intervals and set a criterion limit for each interval. If the number of times the behavior is emitted meets the criterion limit or is less than the criterion limit, then the individual receives reinforcement at the end of the interval. So, Gina could use an interval DRL for addressing Luke’s behavior. In this instance, she might divide the 5-minute circle time into 10 30-second intervals. (I would suggest wearing a VibraLite watch or an interval app such as the ABA Interval Recording App to track the intervals.) Gina decides that the criterion limit will start at 2 instances of hand-raising each interval. If Luke raises his hand 2 times or less in an interval, then at the end of the interval she gives him a little bit of individualized attention, such as a pat on the shoulder or verbal praise.

A third way to implement a DRL is called spaced-responding DRL. In this procedure, you will measure interresponse time (or IRT… behavior analysts love their abbreviations, don’t they?!). So, in Gina’s intervention with Luke, this means that she would measure the amount of time from one instance of hand-raising to the next instance of hand-raising, or “the duration of time between two responses” (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). The goal here would be to increase the amount of time between instance of hand-raising, which would mean that Luke was raising his hand less frequently. Gina discovers that Luke is raising his hand about once every 25 seconds. She will begin by providing social reinforcement when he has gone 30 seconds without raising his hand. Over time, she will systematically increase the IRT until Luke is raising his hand approximately once every 2 minutes during circle time.

When designing an intervention using DRL there are a few things you should consider:

  • You do not want to use DRL with self-injurious or dangerous behaviors.
  • DRl usually produces a slow change in the behavior, so if it necessary to quickly decrease the rate of a behavior, you should select a different form of differential reinforcement.
  • There are several ways to implement DRL, and you should select the procedure that makes the most sense for the behavior you are addressing and the environment you are in.
  • Plan ahead so you are systematically decreasing the number of responses the individual is engaging in.
  • Be sure to take baseline data to determine your criterion limits! DRL will not be successful if you set them too low for your child or client to come into contact with reinforcement.
  • Get help when implementing DRL. Talk to a BCBA about the best way to implement it for your learner.

REFERENCES

Cooper J.O, Heron T.E, Heward W.L. Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson; 2007

Dietz, S. M., & Repp, A. C. (1973). Decreasing classroom misbehavior through the use of DRL schedules of reinforcement. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 6(3), 457.

Lennox, D. B., Miltenberger, R. G., & Donnelly, D. R. (1987). Response interruption and DRL for the reduction of rapid eating. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 20(3), 279-284.

Singh, N. N., Dawson, M. J., & Manning, P. (1981). Effects of spaced responding DRL on the stereotyped behavior of profoundly retarded persons. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 14(4), 521-526.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, BCBA

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.

“From Panic to Progress: Supporting Students with Autism Who Escalate” by Patrick Mulick, BCBA, NBCT

In this week’s guest article, Patrick Mulick, BCBA, NBCT explains the escalation cycle by which educators and caregivers can evaluate what to expect in their students’ behaviors and how to intervene in the most effective and least intrusive ways. We’ve also included FREE downloadable data sheets so you can try incorporating Patrick’s Escalation Cycle into your program!

From Panic to Progress: Supporting Students with Autism Who Escalate
by Patrick Mulick, BCBA, NBCT

As critical as it is to change the behaviors of those who escalate, it can be particularly hard to do so in those with autism. The antecedent (trigger) can range greatly from observable events, such as a puzzle piece not fitting properly to a private event that is difficult to predict (such as a strong discomfort from flickering lights in a room). The learner often will exhibit behaviors in attempt to escape the overwhelming experience that they have entered, but those behaviors are often uncoordinated, lack reasoning, and are unsafe. It is here that students may break windows, chase after staff, or hit themselves. And it is here where educators need to be at the top of their game to support a safe de-escalation.

This entails knowing the student, knowing their escalation cycle, and having a system by which one can continually evaluate the de-escalation strategies being used. Ten years ago I created the cycle below to help do just that. In many cases, it has been the starting point to great gains for my students who were prone to escalate.

Breaking down the cycle into five levels of observable behaviors allows for a much clearer understanding of what to expect. Identifying the appropriate interventions for each level allows for the actions of staff to be the least intrusive and the most effective. It is easy to be reactive in a moment of crisis, yet the moment calls for everyone involved to act in a prescribed manner. Whether it be dimming the lights, providing a break area, or clearing the room of other students, every intervention is with good purpose and good timing.

Visually representing all of this for an entire school team, from parents to principals, allows for a better common understanding of the plan and greater fidelity in its implementation. Any issues with ineffective supports used at the wrong times can be quickly weeded out, and any staffs’ fears who interact with the learner can be eased. To allow the school team more depth or specifics, this overlay can be used to spell out more details.

Escalation Cycle-2

Knowing that a plan is being implemented with higher fidelity, we can then begin to look at data. A standard A-B-C data sheet for specific incidents should suffice in tracking the plan’s effectiveness.

Where the above tools can help most significantly is in the coding of behavior clusters, which can then be tracked in the student’s day, such as on a chart similar to the below.

Escalation Cycle-3

As the student progresses through their tasks and activities, staff indicate the highest escalation cycle level the student reached, even if only for a moment (think partial interval recording). This tracking done all day, every day, provides teams with data that can inform the effectiveness of the de-escalation techniques being used. For example, learners with a tendency to become aggressive are generally perceived as escalating with high frequency. Utilizing objective data tracking can substantiate such subjective perceptions, more clearly showing the frequency of escalation behaviors and if they are improving week to week. Working from a place that is measurable and observable can help move your team from being reactive to proactive, fearful to confident, and from helpless to equipped.

WRITTEN BY PATRICK MULICK, BCBA, NBCT

Patrick is the Autism Specialist of the Auburn School District in Washington State. Over his twelve years as a teacher and consultant, he has grown to have a particular passion for equipping school teams that support students with autism. Patrick enjoys engaging educators through his hybrid of inspirational and instructional speaking. He is currently working toward becoming a certified member of the John C. Maxwell Leadership program. To learn more, visit his website at www.patrickmulick.com.

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