Tip of the Week: Could Your Teaching Environment Affect How You Solve Problem Behaviors?

A few years ago, I went in to observe an ABA therapist I was supervising. She was working with a ten-year-old girl with Aspergers. One of her goals was to increase eye contact during conversation, but her student wasn’t making much progress in this area. She had consulted the research and was considering a new behavior intervention plan, and wanted my input before doing so.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in to observe was that she did her entire session at a long wooden table, sitting side-by-side with her student. After watching for about ten minutes, I asked if we could change the seating arrangement. We moved her student to the end of the table, then had the therapist sit next to her, but on the perpendicular side. This way, eye contact was much easier as they were able to face each other. The student’s eye contact improved instantly with a small environmental change. (Of course, once we made the environmental change, we worked together to address other changes that could be made to encourage eye contact.)

Environmental changes can be a quick and simple solution to some problem behaviors. Here are some questions to consider in order to alter the environment effectively:

Is it possible that a change in furnishings could change the behavior? For example, moving a child’s locker closer to the classroom door may decrease tardiness, putting a child’s desk in the furthest corner from the door may decrease opportunities for elopement, or giving your child a shorter chair that allows them to put their feet on the ground may decrease the amount of times they kick their sibling from across the table. You may also want to consider partitions that allow for personal space, clearly-marked spaces for organizing materials, proximity to students and distractions (such as windows or the hallway).

Can you add something to the environment to change the behavior? For example, your student may be able to focus better on independent work if you provide noise-cancelling headphones, line up correctly if a square for him/her to stand is taped to the floor, or your child may be more efficient with completing chores if they’re allowed to listen to their favorite music while doing so. I’ve also seen some cases in which the teacher wears a microphone that wirelessly links to a student’s headphones, increasing that student’s ability to attend to the teacher’s instruction.

Will decreasing access to materials impact the behavior? For example, removing visuals such as posters and student work may increase your student’s ability to attend or locking materials in a closet when not in use may decrease your student’s ability to destroy or damage materials.

Will increasing access to materials impact the behavior? For example, making a box of pre-sharpened pencils may decrease the behavior of getting up frequently to sharpen pencils. (I recently visited a classroom in which the teacher put pre-sharpened pencils in a straw dispenser on her desk, and each week one student was assigned the job of sharpening pencils at the end of the day).

Whenever you do make changes to the environment, you may want to consider if the changes require fading. For example, if I make a square on the floor out of tape to teach my student where to stand in the line, I will want to fade that out of over time to increase their independence.

A final consideration is that whatever impact you expect the environmental change to have should be clearly defined and measured. Take data to ensure that the intervention is working so you can make adjustments as necessary.

For more detailed information on modifying environments, there is a great article from the Council for Exceptional Children by Caroline A. Guardino and Elizabeth Fullerton entitled “Changing Behaviors by Changing the Classroom Environment.” Click here for the article.

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: A Few Notes on Reinforcement…

Sometimes, people hear about ABA and equate reinforcement with bribery. But the two are quite different, and it’s important to understand those differences. First, let’s look at bribery. The definition of bribery is “to persuade someone to act in one’s favor by a gift of money or other inducement.” The first thing to note is that bribery helps the person persuading, not the person completing the action. The second thing to note is that when we consider bribery with children, it’s often implemented when the child is already engaging in an inappropriate behavior. For instance, you might see a child throw himself on the floor in the grocery store and begin kicking and screaming. If the father says, “If you get up, I’ll buy the candy bar,” that would be considered bribery.

So what is reinforcement, then? Reinforcement is anything that occurs immediately after the behavior that increases the future likelihood of the behavior. And reinforcement occurs all the time in real life! If I turn on a new radio station and it happens to be playing by favorite song, I am more likely to turn to that radio station again in the future. If I send a text to a friend and she responds immediately, I am more likely to text her again in the future. If my stomach is upset, then I drink a seltzer and it calms my stomach, I am more likely to drink seltzer in the future when my stomach hurts.

Where confusion often sets in is when we plan reinforcement to increase the behavior of an individual. It’s important to understand that the goal in ABA teaching should always be to move from planned reinforcement to unplanned or natural reinforcement. Think of it as jumpstarting a behavior that will benefit the individual. For instance, I have a student that would run into the street if you let go of his hand. Part of teaching procedure was to teach him to stop at the curb. This behavior is obviously a benefit to him and helps increase his safety. When he stopped at the curb, he earned a token. When he had earned five tokens, he earned access to the iPad. After he was successfully stopping at the curb, we taught him the next step was to reach for the adult’s hand. He no longer earned tokens for stopping at the curb, but he did earn tokens for completing both steps. We continued in this way until he was appropriately stopping at the curb, reaching for the adult’s hand, then waiting for the sign to say “Walk,” looking both ways, then walking into the street. It was a lengthy process, but planned reinforcement in the form of tokens was the best method for teaching him to be safe on the street.

A final note about reinforcement: it varies by individual. Some individuals are highly reinforced by chocolate or books or access to music. Others are highly reinforced by playing with a ball or going for a walk. In ABA, we don’t just walk in and give a kid M&M after M&M and hope their behavior magically changes. The first step is to conduct a preference assessment. A common one I use can be found here. This tool will help guide you to the most effective reinforcers for your learner and make your intervention more efficient.

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: Toilet Training Books – Save 20% this week!

Toilet training can be easier! Toilet Training for Individuals with Autism by Maria Wheeler, MEd, and Toilet Training Success by Frank Cicero, PhD, BCBA, offer toilet training tips and strategies for parents and professionals to implement into their programs using the methods and principles of Applied Behavior Analysis.

Toilet Training for Individuals with Autism presents clear solutions for transitioning children from diapers to underpants, covering how to:

  • gauge readiness
  • identify and reduce sensory challenges
  • overcome anxiety
  • develop habits and routine
  • teach proper use of toilet, sink, toilet paper
  • and more!

 

Toilet Training Success introduces the reader to effective toilet training interventions for individuals with developmental disabilities, including urination training, bowel training, increasing requesting, and overnight training. The manual also addresses when to begin toilet training and how to use positive reinforcement, collect data, and conduct necessary assessments prior to training.

Use our promotional code POTTY20 at check-out this week to redeem your savings on either or both of these manuals!

* Promotion is valid until May 17, 2016 at 11:59pm EST. 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 differentroads.com, enter promo code POTTY20 at checkout.

Autism Awareness Month: Free Social Circles Program

Help teach your students on the spectrum about social distance and intimacy using this free Circles Program from the Geneva Centre for Autism! The program is based on six concentric circles that represent varying degrees of closeness, from the relationship one has with oneself to strangers.

circles 1

The program includes:

  • A reminder card that details the meaning of each concentric circle
  • Six individual circle cards that identify common behaviors, feelings and actions appropriate to each circle
  • As well as a tip sheet to help instructors use the visuals effectively

To download the reminder card, circle cards and tip sheet, click here and don’t forget to share what activities and visuals have helped your students’ social learning by leaving a comment below!

 

Tip of the Week: Maintaining Procedural Fidelity for Successful Interventions

It is not uncommon for parents or practitioners to implement a new intervention that appears to be working well, then after a few weeks or months report that the intervention has stopped working. Often, the change in behavior in feels like a mystery and leaves people scrambling for a new intervention. But before searching for a new intervention, you should consider the possibility of problems with procedural fidelity, which “refers to the accuracy with which the intervention or treatment is implemented” (Mayer, Sulzer-Azaroff, & Wallace, 2014).

Problems with procedural fidelity are common, and you will experience more success with your interventions if you take steps to address fidelity at the outset. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Post the steps in a visible spot. Clearly list the steps of the procedure and put them in a spot where you will see them often. This might be on the actual data collection sheet or on the wall. One parent I worked with had a Post-it® note with the steps for our intervention attached to her computer screen. Another parent kept the steps inside the ID part of his wallet, where they were protected and visible each time he opened his wallet.
  • Plan meetings to go over the steps. As part of your intervention, set brief monthly or quarterly meetings to go over the steps of the intervention and be sure everyone is maintaining procedural fidelity.
  • Assess for procedural fidelity. Schedule observations to ensure that each step of the intervention is implemented as described. If you do not have someone who can supervise you, take video of yourself implementing the intervention, watch it and compare your actions to the steps outlined in the intervention plan.
  • Outline steps for systematic fading of the intervention. When implementing an intervention, the goal is to have the learner eventually exhibiting the desirable behavior without prompts or planned reinforcement. Sometimes when a parent or practitioner sees the learner’s behavior improving, they begin to remove the prompts or planned reinforcement before the learner is quite ready for it. By writing a plan for fading the intervention into the plan, you make it clear to everyone involved what the requirements are for each step towards mastery.

REFERENCES

Mayer, G.R., Sulzer-Azaroff, B., & Wallace, M. (2014). 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.

Product Highlight: POWER-Solving® – A new social skills curriculum

POWER-Solving-Feature_01

Available in child and adolescent levels, this new social skills curriculum teaches students how to become independent problem-solvers via a hands-on and interactive approach through visual cues and supports.

We offer class kits including 5 or 10 sets of Student Workbooks and Facilitator Guides to accommodate larger groups.

This social skills curriculum teaches students to problem-solve first using their “toolbox” (i.e., the five steps of POWER-Solving®) and then to apply this “toolbox” to various social situations, allowing them to develop and enhance their social-emotional skills. Child and Adolescent Student Workbook Sets when paired with their corresponding Facilitator Guides will help students successfully solve problems in various social situations at school, home, and in the community.

Each Student Workbook Set and Facilitator’s Guide Set covers 4 areas of everyday social situations:

  1. Introduction (recommended that students complete this first)
  2. Social Conversation
  3. Developing Friendships
  4. Anger Management

Learn more about the curriculum here.

Pick of the Week: NEW! Visual Schedule Boards for the Classroom and On the Go

Help students stay on task throughout their day with these newly added visual schedule boards. This week, we’re offering 15% off the Visual Schedule Board and the Small Travel Schedule Board, so you can hang them up in the home or classroom, or take them with you on the go! Use our promo code VISUAL15 at the check-out to redeem your savings!

The Visual Schedule Board measures 36″ long and 6″ wide and comes with Velcro strips for easy attachment, as well as a pocket to hold completed tasks.

 

 

The Small Travel Schedule Board measures 15″ long and 4″ wide and comes with a detachable pocket to hold completed tasks. Available in blue and yellow.

 

 

 

Promotion is valid until April 19, 2016 at 11:59pm EST. 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 differentroads.com, enter promo code VISUAL15 at checkout.

Interview with Alicia Allgood, MSEd, BCBA – Facilitating Social Groups for Students with Autism

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we’re pleased to highlight an NYC-based agency called East Side Social this week! Alicia Allgood is a BCBA and co-founder of East Side Social. With her co-founder Kimia Tehrani, BCBA, they organize social groups and also provide a wealth of additional services for both parents and practitioners in the field of autism. Alicia was kind enough to provide some very comprehensive answers to our BCBA consultant Sam Blanco’s questions about facilitating social groups for learners with autism. You can learn more about East Side Social here.


Autism Awareness Highlights: Interview with Alicia Allgood, MSEd, BCBA
Co-founder of East Side Social, New York, NY

East Side Social LogoSam: What prompted you to begin East Side Social?

Alicia: I co-facilitated social groups in San Diego in the early 2000’s with an amazing group, Comprehensive Autism Services and Education. They provided a number of other services, but the social group was the directing psychologists’ pet project, and you could really tell for the quality. It was wonderful to see these quirky, amazing kids that were struggling socially come into this group and make friends. They engaged with one another in significant ways that impacted their sense of well-being and confidence, all the while learning how to be more and more socially appropriate. I was inspired. When I met Kimia in New York, she and I found we worked very well together. I mentioned my interest in starting such a group in New York, and Kimia held me to it. We both saw a need for these services here, but there really wasn’t much being offered at the time, and that which was being offered didn’t have a behavior analytic approach. In our mind, this suggested they weren’t objectively verifying the effect of their programs, nor were they necessarily using evidence-based practiced to teach the skills these kids needed to learn. We saw a need, we were inspired, and so made the necessary movements to begin East Side Social.

Sam: What is the primary challenge to organizing social skills groups? How have you addressed it?

Alicia: We were both private practitioners prior to starting this social group. Starting a business is a whole other beast in its own right, and being a good technician doesn’t necessarily mean you’re prepared to grow that skill into an actual business. We were caught a bit by surprise by all that would be necessary on the back end. From marketing to balancing the budget and handling insurance billing, we were not prepared to take all of that on while maintaining our private clients and actually preparing for and leading the social group. Realizing our deficits along the way, we’ve hired consultants and people to support the back end, and that is what has really made this possible. We couldn’t do what we do without the support of a small group of really wonderful people. It’s also been extremely challenging to find a way to collect data on target behavior during our groups. We’re suddenly extremely sympathetic to classroom teachers who are asked to collect data on their students. We have tried data collection systems into our token economies. We’ve also used time sampling data, and once when feeling highly ambitious and having approval of all parents, we video-taped all groups and spent hours upon hours watching and re-watching these videos, tracking target group behavior and individual learner behavior. This is a continuous work in progress that we feel dedicated to on account of our commitment to ethical behavior analytic practice. It’s also a bit fun to solve this puzzle. Continue reading

Tip of the Week: How to Avoid Over-Pathologizing Behaviors in Kids with Autism

A diagnosis of autism can be very challenging for a child and for his or her family. But one of the most difficult aspects of autism is that it is not clear cut what behaviors are related to autism, and what behaviors are related to just being a kid. Every child tantrums sometimes. Every child talks back sometimes. Every child engages in dangerous behavior sometimes.

When I look back on my own childhood, I think of several behaviors I exhibited: in third grade I cut my own hair while my teacher’s back was turned, in fourth grade I got mad at my brother and threw an alarm clock at him, and in seventh grade I loved Agatha Christie books so much that I frequently refused to go outside and sat in my room reading by myself for hours on end. If I had autism, any one of these behaviors may have been pathologized instead of being considered as just a part of growing up.

So how do you parse through all the behaviors your learner is exhibiting and figure out which ones you should actually be worried about? Here are a few questions to ask yourself in determining behaviors to address:

  1. Is the behavior dangerous?
  2. How often and for how long does your learner engage in the behavior?
  3. How different is this behavior from the learner’s same-age peers? For example, does your three year old cry for a couple minutes when told that she can’t have her favorite toy, or does she cry for two hours and refuse to engage with any other toys for the rest of the day?
  4. How is this behavior interfering with the learner’s ability to learn?
  5. How is this behavior interfering with the learner’s ability to engage with peers and family members?
  6. Is the behavior related to a skill? For example, pacing the room and flapping your arms is typically not related to a skill, but building Lego models can be related to a skill. If it is related to a skill, think about ways to provide opportunities for expanding that skill.

The answers to these questions should be able to inform the decisions that you make in intervening with behaviors. And we should remember that above all else, kids with autism are still just kids.

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: Improving Time-Out Procedures

Time Out ChairTime-out is often a hotly-debated topic. Is it too punishing? Where should it take place? How long should it last? There are not easy answers to many of these questions. But there are some evidence-based suggestions that may improve a time out procedure should you decide to use one.

  • First, know the function of the behavior! If the child is engaging in the undesirable behavior for escape, then providing “time out” will likely increase the behavior. For instance, if a child gets sent out of the classroom each time he curses, this is effectively a time out from classwork. He may curse because in the past, cursing resulted in escaping from classwork. This is an instance when you would not want to use time out. A time-out may prove to be effective for behaviors that function for attention or access to tangibles. More on that next…
  • Consider a nonexclusion time-out procedure. In the past, we’ve discussed the time-out ribbon here. This is a useful tool for signaling to a learner that they have access to social or tangible reinforcers. If they engage in an inappropriate behavior, the ribbon is removed and they do not have access to social or tangible reinforcers, however they are still able to participate in the lesson or activity you have organized. It also allows them to practice more appropriate behaviors to earn the ribbon back. If the ribbon isn’t the best visual cue for your learner, you could make it anything this is visible for them and clearly delineates when they do and do not have access to reinforcement.
  • Consider the use of a release contingency. This means that a learner is unable to leave time out until a predetermined amount of time has passed without problem behavior. Perhaps if you’re working with a preschool child who has been kicking other children, the release contingency might be that they must sit with “quiet feet” or “feet on the floor” for one full minute before they can go back to play. Your other option is to put in a fixed time contingency, which is best done by setting some sort of timer so the learner can see how much time is remaining in time-out.
  • Combine time out with positive reinforcement procedures. Time-out by itself may result in decreases in behavior only when time out is a possibility. For instance, you may see a decrease in the problem behavior only when the child’s mother is at home, because the father doesn’t use time out. The goal is to decrease the problem behavior across all settings and activities. To that end, it’s helpful to teach appropriate replacement behaviors and reinforce the learner for engaging in those behaviors.

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.