Flashcards: Prompting for Success

by Kate Connell, Owner of Picture My Picture

My own introduction to prompting and fading

I was first introduced to the idea of prompting and fading when I co-ordinated a home based early learning program for my eldest son, Christopher, who is on the autism spectrum. I soon came to appreciate how important these strategies were and are in supporting his learning. We are now into his teenage years and whilst the skills he is learning are far more complex compared with those early years, the use and importance of prompting and fading remains unchanged.

About prompting

A prompt is a cue (or hint) given to a student to encourage them to learn a new skill. There is extensive evidence to support my own experience that prompting is a highly effective way of teaching. An example of this evidence is noted at the end of this article.

Flashcards and prompting

A lot of the work we did around prompting with Christopher in the early years of his life related to the use of flashcards. We used them to expand his vocabulary, articulate words clearly and put together sentences. We also used them to build his academic skills in literacy and numeracy and his capacity for problem solving.

The different types of prompts

There are five different types of prompts and we used all of them in our flashcard based activities. These prompts are ranked accordingly to the level of support they offer, with 1 being the most supportive and five the least.

  1. Full physical
    Example: I placed my hand over Christopher’s hand and guided him to place the flashcard he was holding over the associated one on the table – so the image of the sock was placed on top of the shoe, rather than on the image of the bed or the bowl
  2. Partial physical
    Example: I gently touched Christopher’s shoulder – to indicate it was time for him to respond to my request of naming the flashcard I was showing him.
  3. Modelling
    Example: I sorted the flashcards on the table into groups – animal, transport and instrument. I then shuffled the cards and asked Christopher to sort them in the same way
  4. Gestural
    Example: I nodded as he started to place the letter A next to the image of the apple. It provided him with the encouragement and confidence to continue with B and C.
  5. Positional
    Example: I placed two associated cards on the table next to one another so that Christopher could connect the two – so the picture of the fork was next to the picture of the person eating and the picture of the bed was next to the picture of the person sleeping

The goal is to select the type of prompt that is the least intrusive and results in the student providing the correct response. So, if a modelling prompt is not working then a partial or full physical prompt should be tried.

Why prompts need to be faded

Whilst prompts are a great teaching strategy, it is equally important that they be faded over time. You might ask why. The answer is so that the student doesn’t become dependent on the prompt. We were mindful of this in Christopher’s early learning program. There were instances where we started with a full hand over hand prompt. We then faded to a gestural prompt (by pointing at the flashcard) before omitting the prompt all together.

I like to think of prompting and fading as stepping stones on the way to independence with a new skill. Christopher and I have trod on those stones for a number of years now and going forward I know there will be more. I hope there will be more, As I’m so appreciative of the opportunities for learning they ultimately afford my son.


1 Hayes, D., (2013) The Use of Prompting as an Evidence Based Strategy to Support children with ASD in School Settings in New Zealand. ERIC 1-5

About The Author 

Kate is the owner of Picture My Picture, an international business which specializes in educational flashcards. She is the mother of three boys, Christopher, Louis and Tom. Christopher is on the spectrum of Autism. The flashcard based teaching program she oversaw in the early years of his life was the inspiration for the business she owns today. 

This article was originally posted on November 17, 2021 by Different Roads to Learning.

Posted in ABA

Behind the Scenes with Socially Savvy: A Note from the Authors

by James T. Ellis, Ph.D., BCBA-D and Christine Almeida, Ms.Ed., Ed.S., BCBA

Since first publishing Socially Savvy, there has been so much progress in the way that we approach, assess, and support students with learning differences. Because we are not only the writers of Socially Savvy, but also users of it, we have also learned so much over the past decade as we have used the assessment and intervention strategies with the children that we have supported. Our belief that there is not a “one size fits all” approach has strengthened. The social skills that we identified in Socially Savvy as important for young children are skills that might be important for some children in some settings, may not be important for other children, and there may be other skills that we have not identified that might be important for other children. We continue to want to make sure that Socially Savvy is used as a guide to help therapists, educators, and parents determine what skills are important to target for the children who they are supporting.

Being a good educator requires us to grow and learn along with the children that we teach. That is why we have released the Socially Savvy Assessment Protocol with Extended Objectives. In addition to adding a second objective for each skill, we have also freshened up some of the initial objectives. A greater understanding of neurodiversity has developed over the past decade, and we want to make sure that we are carefully considering that when we are making decisions about what social behaviors to target for change, which behaviors to accommodate through environmental changes, and which behaviors to embrace and encourage from children. Part of our reason for updating the objectives is to make sure that we are being conscientious about the diverse ways that children act, think, learn, respond to sensory input, and process the world around them.

Additionally, we have realized that it is helpful to have more objectives for the skills that are part of the Socially Savvy Checklist because children are working on objectives in multiple settings and need to apply the skills in a variety of environments – school, home, community, clinic, etc. What might be an appropriate objective in one setting may not fit the environmental expectations of another setting. We have provided an additional objective for each targeted skill, in the hope that one of the objectives might be a fit for the child with whom you are working, or that the objectives might provide inspiration for developing an objective that matches the needs and environment of the child. 

Being a good educator requires us to be creative in how we teach and motivate children to learn. This is especially true when we are teaching social skills, which are complex and often difficult to break down into steps that are achievable for the child and manageable for staff to teach. We want children to learn in a way that is fun, exciting, and continues their growth and curiosity. We also want staff to have fun while they are teaching. By providing an additional objective, we are trying to spark that creativity and help educators make teaching the targeted skills more fun, both for the child and for the teacher. If the objective is clear to staff, appropriate for the setting, and taught in a more fun way, staff are going to work on that skill more. The more targeted social skills can be embedded in simple games and throughout the natural environment, the more fun it should be for staff to run.  Consequently, the child is going to have more teaching opportunities embedded in a fun context and is hopefully going to learn more quickly. This then has the added benefit of staff being reinforced by seeing the child learn at a faster rate. If we are having fun, it’s easier for staff to teach and the child to learn!

We also acknowledge and recognize that educators and professionals supporting the social growth of children, whether in a school setting, a family’s home, the community, or a clinic are busy and often overwhelmed. We hope that refining and adding to the objectives will make your work a bit easier. We respect the great work that you all do in helping children grow to their fullest potential. As always, we appreciate hearing from all Socially Savvy users, whether parents, special educators, behavior analysts, or other professionals. Your thoughts and comments have been invaluable. The idea that you find the curriculum useful has been humbling.  

About the Authors

James T. Ellis, PhD, BCBA-D earned his PhD in Clinical Psychology from West Virginia University and is a licensed psychologist and board certified behavior analyst. For over 20 years, Dr. Ellis has provided services for children with autism spectrum disorders and their families. In 2008, he helped found the Step by Step School for Children with Autism in Guyana, South America and in 2012, he founded Step by Step Behavioral Solutions, through which he continues to provide consultation and therapeutic support to individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their families.

Christine Almeida, MSEd, EdS, BCBA earned her MSEd in Special Education and EdS in Behavioral Education from Simmons College in Boston, MA. Ms. Almeida is a practicing board certified behavior analyst in the Boston area who has worked in both private and public schools. She currently provides oversight of services for young children with autism spectrum disorders for a public school. Ms. Almeida has presented workshops at the local, regional, and national levels on the subjects of educational assessment, play intervention, and social skills.

Posted in ABA

A Better Way to Say “No”

By Morgan van Diepen, M.Ed., BCBA, Co-owner of ABA Visualized

Hearing “no” or “wait” can be challenging for kids of all ages! In fact, as a BCBA, this is one of the most common requests for support that I hear from families. Luckily, researchers have tested out three ways to say “no” when something is unavailable, and the results show how slightly changing our response can actually prevent challenging behaviors! Let’s look at the scenario of a child asking to play a computer game, but the parent is currently using it for work. Which of the three methods do you think was the most effective? 

  1. “No” + Explanation. In this common approach, the parent says it’s not available and gives the honest reasoning: “Not right now. I’m working on the computer.” 
  2. “No” + Explanation + Alternative. Now, we’ve added an extra suggestion of something that is available: “Not right now. I’m working on the computer, but you can play basketball outside with your brother.” 
  3. “Yes” + Contingency. Here, even though our answer is “no,” we’re actually saying “yes!” This can be described as a “yes, when…” statement, where you are describing when the requested item or activity will be available: “Yes, you can use the computer when I’m finished with this meeting at 2:00.” It can also be used to set expectations of what they need to accomplish before the request is available: “Yes, you can use the computer when you finish your homework.” 

So, which do you think resulted in the fewest challenging behaviors?

In this research study, the 2nd and 3rd approaches were equally successful at almost completely preventing vocal protests, aggression, and threats! By just changing the way we say “no,” we can help our learners accept this answer more easily. Little changes that create big results! Strategies like these are perfect for parent training sessions during ABA. Here’s a template parent training goal you could use with families who would like more support in this area:

When (client name) requests for something that is unavailable (provide examples specific to the client), parents will either respond with “No” + Explanation + Alternative (provide example specific to the client) or with “Yes” + Contingency (provide example specific to the client) in attempts to prevent challenging behaviors relating to tolerating “no,” in at least 80% of opportunities across 2 consecutive weeks. 

Looking for a more engaging way to lead parent training sessions and teach effective strategies like this one? Check out our 2nd edition ABA Visualized Guidebook, where we’ve visualized 27 evidence-based strategies (including this one!) as step-by-step illustrations, making behavior strategies easy! 

Article reference: Mace, F. C., Pratt, J. L., Prager, K. L., & Pritchard, D. (2011). An evaluation of three methods of saying “no” to avoid an escalating response class hierarchy. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 44(1), 83–94.

Teaching Language: Focus on the Stage, Not the Age

by Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA

Teaching language skills is one of the most frequent needs for children with autism, but also one of the most misunderstood skillsets amongst both parents and practitioners. The desire to hear your learner speak in full sentences can be overwhelming, making it especially difficult to take a step back and consider what it means to communicate and how communication skills develop in neurotypical children. Many times we get hung up on what a child should be capable of communicating at a certain age, rather than focusing on what they are capable of communicating at this stage of development.

Many practitioners and curricula utilize Brown’s Stages of Language Development.* Brown described the first five stages of language development in terms of the child’s “mean length of utterance” (or MLU) as well as the structure of their utterances.


From aacinstitute.org

Sometimes it is necessary to compare a child to his or her same-age peers in order to receive services or measure progress, but it can be detrimental to focus on what a child should be doing at a specific age instead of supporting them and reinforcing them for progress within their current stage.

Research has suggested that teaching beyond the child’s current stage results in errors, lack of comprehension, and difficulty with retention. Here are some common errors you may have witnessed:

  • The child learns the phrase “I want _____ please.” This phrase is fine for “I want juice, please” or “I want Brobee, please,” but it loses meaning when overgeneralized to “I want jump, please” or “I want play, please.” It’s better to allow your learner to acquire hundreds of 1-2 word mands (or requests) before expecting them to speak in simple noun+verb mands.
  • The child learns to imitate only when the word “say” is used. Then the child makes statements such as “say how are you today,” as a greeting or “say I’m sorry,” when they bump into someone accidentally. Here, the child clearly has some understanding of when the phrases should be used without understanding the meanings of the individual words within each phrase.
  • The child learns easily overgeneralized words such as “more.” This is useful at times, but the child can start using it for everything. Instead of saying “cookie” he’ll say “more.” Instead of saying “train,” he’ll say “more.” And he may say “more” when the desired item is not present, leaving the caregiver frustrated as he/she tries to guess what the child is requesting. Moreover, as language begins to develop, he may misuse it by saying things such as “more up, please.”
  • The child learns to say “Hello, how are you today?” upon seeing a person entering a room. A child comes into the classroom and the learner looks up, says “Hello, how are you today?” The child responds, “Great! Look at the cool sticker I got!” Your learner then doesn’t respond at all, or may say “fine,” as he has practiced conversations of greeting.

These are only a few of the common language errors you may see. While you may want your learner to speak in longer sentences, your goal should be to have them communicate effectively. With this goal in mind, it becomes essential to support them at their current stage, which means it’s essential to assess them and understand how to help them make progress.

This is why I always use the VB-MAPP to assess each child and make decisions about language instruction. I need to have a full understanding of how the learner is using language, and then move them through each stage in a clear progression. I may want the child to say “Hello, how are you today?” But when I teach them that, do they understand those individual words? Do they comprehend what today means as opposed to yesterday or tomorrow? Do they generalize the use of “how” to other questions?

As you make treatment decisions for your learner, think about their current stage and talk about how to support your child with both a Speech Language Pathologist and an ABA therapist.

*Brown, R. (1973). A first language: The early stages. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

About the Author

Sam is an ABA provider for school-aged students in Brooklyn, New York. Working in education for over 15 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 and the Senior Clinical Strategist at Encore Support Services.

Originally published by Different Roads to Learning on July 10, 2014.

Posted in ABA

7 Tips for Using Token Economies with Children with Autism

By Ashleigh Evans, MS, BCBA

Token economies are structured reinforcement systems used with people across many different populations. They can be particularly useful for reinforcing behaviors and skills in children with autism and other neurodevelopmental differences.

A token economy works similarly to our world economy. A child earns tokens for demonstrating various skills and behaviors, which can then be cashed in for preferred items or activities. Token economies have a significant degree of individualization, making them highly effective at modifying behaviors.

Getting Started

Let’s consider the following tips for using token economies with children with autism.

  1. Focus on one or two skills or behaviors at first

    Well-meaning therapists, teachers, and caregivers might create a token economy with several different behaviors targeted. However, when introducing a token economy, you should start with only 1-2 behaviors or skills. This is necessary to help your learner associate earning tokens with specified behaviors. If they receive tokens for many different behaviors throughout the day, it may be more difficult for them to grasp why they are receiving the tokens. To help them make this association, identify the behaviors that are of the highest priority and start with those. As the learner advances and makes progress with their current goals, you can begin incorporating additional behaviors into the token economy.

  2. Individualize the tokens

    Tokens can be anything–tallies, stars, poker chips, stickers, or coins, for example. Individualizing the tokens to something the child enjoys can add an extra layer of reinforcement. For example, if you’re using a token board, you might use stickers of objects or characters that your learner enjoys such as vehicles, animals, or cartoon characters. You don’t want your learner to get distracted by and fixated on the tokens either though, so it’s important to consider that when choosing tokens.

  3. Start with continuous reinforcement

    Every aspect of your token economy should be individualized, however, it is often most beneficial to start a token economy with continuous reinforcement, then fade to intermittent. This is especially true for children with more limited language skills. As they begin to pair the behavior with the token, you can shift to providing tokens on an intermittent schedule, depending on an assessment of their unique needs.

  4. Provide immediate reinforcement

    Reinforcement should immediately follow the target behavior. When the learner demonstrates the target behavior, immediately provide the token and pair it with social praise. Praise should be behavior-specific, labeling exactly what they did to earn the token.

  5. Don’t forget your backup reinforcers!

    This one might seem obvious, but backup reinforcers are a common missing piece of token economies. Children may earn tokens throughout the day or week, with no plan built in for cashing them in for something else. Earning the tokens is only one part of a token economy. Make sure prior to implementation that you have a back-up reinforcer menu ready to go, with plans outlined for how many tokens are needed for each item or activity. Incorporate your learner into the planning of this to ensure the backup reinforcers are motivating to them.

  6. Avoid token economies for behaviors that the learner is already motivated to complete

    There is much concern and debate on whether token economies and external rewards in general reduce intrinsic motivation. Research has found that external rewards actually increase intrinsic motivation, but only when the person was not already intrinsically motivated to engage in the behavior (LeBlanc, 2004). For example, imagine a child who enjoys sweeping the floor. She willingly sweeps every day, without external reinforcement. Her mother decides to begin paying her for completing this chore. Adding external rewards to a task that she was previously intrinsically motivated by could actually decrease her intrinsic motivation to complete that task. However, if the same child is not intrinsically motivated to brush her teeth, adding external rewards can increase her intrinsic motivation to brush her teeth. Therefore, only target behaviors that the child is not already motivated to engage in.

  7. Monitor success and adjust

    Token economies should be continuously evaluated. Monitor your learner’s progress and make adjustments when necessary to ensure continued progress through their personalized goals. With a well-planned and executed token economy, your learner can make socially significant gains in skills and behaviors.


Dalphonse, A. (2022, October 12). Token economy: Examples and applications in Aba. Master
            ABA. Retrieved May 1st, 2023, from https://masteraba.com/token-economy-2/

Kazdin A. E. (1982). The token economy: a decade later. Journal of applied behavior analysis,
            15(3), 431–445. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.1982.15-431

LeBlanc, G., 2004. Enhancing Intrinsic Motivation Through The Use of a Token Economy.

About the Author

Ashleigh Evans, MS, is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She has been practicing in the behavior analysis field for over 13 years and opened her own independent practice in early 2022. Her experience has been vast across different age groups, diagnoses, and needs. She is passionate about improving the field through education, reformative action, and better supervisory practices, leading her to create content and resources for families and ABA professionals which can be found on her website, www.evansbehavioralservices.com/.

Posted in ABA

A Look Inside The Clinician’s Toolbox: Rediscovering Compassionate ABA

Take a look inside the newest book from Autism Partnership. Reprinted with permission from the authors.


By Dr. Ron Leaf

I was sure that Clinical Judgement would be my last book. It was intended to help the new generation of behaviorists learn about some of ABA’s pioneers that seemed to have been forgotten. Those that inspired us. How could I “retire” without people knowing about Joseph Wolpe, Sandra Harris and Don Baer? Recently, however, it became painfully clear that there is another area that has been sadly neglected.

Social media has been abuzz about a new movement: “compassionate behaviorism.” I was perplexed! First, this group of social media bullies were discussing “compassion.” Moreover, this small group of practitioners was acting as if old concepts such as “therapeutic alliance” and being “curious listeners” were new. They seemed unaware that Carl Rodgers discussed this in 1957 and, in 1999, Richard Fox shared his deep concern that behaviorists seemed to be neglecting the crucial need for becoming “behavioral artists.”

If the agenda was to rekindle this neglected area, I would have been thrilled. But it seems there is far more to their movement and that their agenda is creating tremendous collateral damage. For example, they argue that true “compassionate behaviorists” should not give corrective, or sometimes even positive, feedback. In their view, all feedback is coercion. Of course, when providing corrective feedback, one should be sensitive and thoughtful. But to avoid corrective feedback completely is absurd, and ironically, not compassionate. I wouldn’t be an effective baseball coach if I didn’t tell a baseball player that he needs to track the pitch and stop pulling his head. I wouldn’t be an effective teacher if I didn’t provide corrective feedback regarding class presentations. And I wouldn’t be a good partner if I resisted listening to my wife’s feedback.

These practitioners also suggest that behaviorists should completely acquiesce to the agenda of their clients. That is, only work on those issues that the clients feel are important to work on. Obviously, we need to carefully listen to our clients, but often it is necessary to help our clients understand that only focusing on their top priority is not in their best interests. For example, a client may want to fix a toxic relationship, even when it’s not possible and clearly not in their best interest. Or, a client may want you to help them convince their partner that it’s okay for them to continue with their heavy drinking! Or that it’s preferable for them not to have friends, even though the research shows this can lead to isolation, depression, suicidal ideation and suicide.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this movement is that these “compassionate behaviorists” are providing guidance on how to treat trauma. In order to treat trauma, one must have extensive education, training and testing to ensure that one has the necessary skill set. Otherwise, treating someone with depression or post-traumatic stress disorder can lead to catastrophic consequences. Essentially, they are encouraging folks to practice psychology without a license which is not only a misdemeanor in many States, but it is extremely dangerous!

For me and my colleagues, it was imperative to write The Clinician’s Toolbox: Rediscovering Compassionate ABA, not only to set the record straight about behaviorist history, but to learn from the clinical pioneers, and most importantly, to share the skills necessary to become effective behaviorists. Our goal is to inspire the new generation of behaviorists to receive the necessary education and training so they can truly become talented clinicians. Our ultimate hope is for the leaders in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis to understand that clinical training must become part of educational curricula, credentialling task lists and testing. Otherwise, we are not being “compassionate behaviorists”!

About the Book

Compassion is the cornerstone of effective ABA therapy, especially for patients with autism spectrum disorder. Compassionate care, however, is a skill set that has dwindled from the field of ABA in recent years. The Clinician’s Toolbox: Rediscovering Compassionate ABA reminds practitioners just how important compassion is to their practice.

With tools for navigating the landscape of ABA as it exists today, The Clinician’s Toolbox explores the range of skill sets that make up compassionate care—with patients, parents, and other practitioners. Making compassion clear and actionable, The Clinician’s Toolbox is
a valuable guide for practitioners at any stage in their career seeking to expand their understanding and practice of compassionate care.

About the Authors

Dr. Ronald Leaf is a licensed psychologist with over 45 years of experience in the field of autism. Dr. Leaf began his career working with Professor Ivar Lovaas, while receiving his undergraduate degree at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Subsequently, he received his doctorate under the direction of Prof. Lovaas. During his years at UCLA, he served as Clinic Supervisor, Research Psychologist, Lecturer and Interim Director of the Young Autism Project. He was extensively involved in several research investigations, contributed to The Me Book, and is a co-author of The Me Book Videotapes. Dr. Leaf has consulted to families, schools, and agencies on a national and international basis. He is the Co-founder and Director of Autism Partnership, which offers comprehensive services for families with children and adolescents diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder  (ASD). With offices in 10 countries, Ron and his team have developed the Autism Partnership Method, a progressive approach to implementing Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) treatment.  He is co-author of A Work in Progress, Time for School, It Has to Be Said, Crafting Connections, A Work in Progress Companion Series, Clinical Judgment and Autism Partnership Method: Social Skill Group. He has co-authored over 75 articles in research journals and presented over 100 times at professional conferences. Dr. Leaf is also the co-founder of the Autism Partnership Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to advancing professional standards and treatment of individuals with autism through research and training.

Jamison Dayharsh is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  Ms. Dayharsh began working with children with autism spectrum disorder  in the late 1970s at UCLA on the Young Autism Project, where she served as a Senior Therapist, Research Assistant, and Teaching Assistant. She earned her master’s degree in counseling psychology at Loyola Marymount University in 1983. Ms. Dayharsh is the Executive Director of Behavior Therapy and Learning Center.  Her work has included parent training and consulting nationally and internationally to parents, schools and mental health agencies. Ms. Dayharsh is an author of A Work in Progress, a book on behavioral treatment and a contributor to research publications. Ms. Dayharsh’s expertise includes counseling families of children with disabilities as well as providing psychotherapy to children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders.

Jonathan Rafuse is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst who graduated from UCLA in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. In 1991, he received his master’s degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University. He furthered his graduate studies in 2017, completing coursework at the University of North Texas. During his master’s coursework he was the Clinical Director for 1736 Family Crisis Center’s Youth Shelter, overseeing the intense therapy and treatment provided to runaway and abused adolescents. In 1992, he began work at the May Institute running an off-campus group home serving students dramatically impacted with ASD. In 1995, he joined Autism Partnership, which offers comprehensive services for families with children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and where he is a Clinical Director. He oversees the clinical and programmatic direction of therapy teams providing treatment to this highly individualized population. His responsibilities further include advanced training, mentoring, and consultation to ABA-service providers and teaching staff within school districts and private agencies across the country. He has presented both nationally and internationally at conferences on Applied Behavior Analysis, and consults throughout the United States, Australia and Asia. He wrote chapters in Crafting Connections and The Autism Partnership Method: Social Skills Groups and contributed to the video companion series to A Work in Progress.

John McEachin, a Licensed Psychologist, Licensed Behavior Analyst, and Progressive Behavior Analyst-Autism Professional, has been providing behavioral services and conducting research on autism for five decades. He received his graduate training under Professor Ivar Lovaas at UCLA on the Young Autism Project. During his 11 years at UCLA, Dr. McEachin served in various roles including Clinic Supervisor, Research and Teaching Assistant, and Instructor. His research has included the long-term follow-up study of young autistic children who received intensive behavioral treatment, which was published in 1993. In 1994 he joined with Ron Leaf in forming Autism Partnership, which they co-direct. In 1999 they published A Work in Progress, a widely used behavioral treatment manual and curriculum for children with ASD. Dr. McEachin has lectured throughout the world and co-authored several books and more than 100 research articles published in peer reviewed journals. Besides his clinical and research work, he is currently President of the Progressive Behavior Analyst Autism Council and an instructor in the Psychology department at Long Beach State University.

Justin Leaf, Ph.D., is the Executive Director for Autism Partnership Foundation and the Progressive Behavior Analyst Autism Council, the Associate Director for ABA Doctoral Studies at Endicott College, and the Executive Director for Contemporary Behavior Consultants. Dr. Leaf received his doctorate degree in Behavioral Psychology from the Department of Applied Behavioral Science at the University of Kansas. His research interests include Progressive ABA, improving behavioral intervention, social behavior, and methodologies to improve the lives of autistic/individuals diagnosed with ASD. He has over 140 publications in either peer reviewed journals, books, or book chapters and has presented at both national and international professional conferences and invited events. He has served on numerous editorial boards for behavior analytic and autism journals. Justin career has been dedicated to improving the field of Applied Behavior Analysis and lives of individuals with autism.

Posted in ABA

Promoting Autism Acceptance and Awareness in School Settings

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Simon Celiberti-Byam and Julia Weiss, High School Externs with the Association for Science in Autism Treatment. 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!

Increasingly, individuals with autism are included in regular educational settings. This is a huge improvement, as many were formerly taught in segregated settings and had reduced access to social, recreational, and educational activities. Still, these students may have visible and invisible challenges that make their school experience difficult or unpleasant. As peers in these settings, fellow students can do much to improve their experience and to lessen their challenges. As allies, peers can take the time to get to know autistic students, and to understand how to best connect with and support them. It is not just a positive experience for your autistic classmates; getting to know someone with autism expands our understanding of difference, exposes us to their unique qualities, and enriches our lives with friendship.

It is our hope that these reflections and suggestions can raise awareness of autism, increase acceptance of autistic individuals, and make our environments more inclusive and comfortable for all. We want to share some quick advice based on some things we have learned from this writing project about autism awareness and acceptance and from our own experiences getting to know some autistic classmates. There are probably more things, but we are still learning too!

Promoting Awareness

  1. One thing that our parents have taught us over the years is that, “If you know one kid with autism, you really only know one kid with autism.” Even if you know a kid with autism, it does not mean you understand all kids with autism. Kids with autism vary a lot in their abilities, challenges, likes, and dislikes. Don’t ever forget that!
  2. You will see kids with autism in classes throughout the school. Some may be in regular education, some in special education, and some may be in both. Keep in mind that some kids with autism may be in your classes, some may be in school with you but primarily are in special education classes. Still other kids with autism may require a lot more help and attend special schools altogether. There may also be classmates who are autistic, and you and the rest of your class may not know. This is why they say autism falls along a spectrum.
  3. Many kids with autism may express themselves or act in different ways than what you might be used to – and that is ok. You can still adapt and learn strategies to interact with them better. For example, you can avoid things that may upset them, learn more about what they like to talk about, or you can learn to not take things personally if they don’t respond to you when you strike up a conversation.
  4. Some people think it is better to say “kid with autism” than “autistic kid” because when you say it the second way it suggests that being autistic is the most important thing about them because you say it first. Many people with autism prefer to be called autistic and we should respect that preference. The good news is that you can just call your classmate by their first names and leave the differing views to other people to sort out.
  5. It is OK to respectfully ask questions about autism. There is a difference between being nosey and really wanting to understand more, and learn how to be a better friend to a kid with autism.
  6. If you want to learn more about autism or develop a deeper understanding, encourage administrators or teachers to invite a special presenter/speaker who can speak about autism. This could be a person with autism, a family member with autism, or someone working in the field.
  7. Consider holding a fundraiser for an autism organization. Some students in years past have hosted a fundraiser for ASAT. What follows are two examples showcasing a class effort (Calvary Christian School) and an individual’s effort (See page 42 for a story about Vaugh, age 13).

Promoting Acceptance

  1. Be a role model. For kids with autism, you can model what the right thing to do is – from shooting a basket to using better words when expressing yourself, and everything in between.
  2. For the rest of your classmates, don’t forget that you can be a role model of acceptance, patience, and kindness too!
  3. There are many things that kids can do to help classmates with autism feel welcomed in school (like sitting with them during lunch, helping them if they get stuck, or picking them to be on your team in PE). Do those things! Do them often!
  4. Find ways to include autistic classmates in extracurricular activities or outside experiences that match their areas of strength and interest (e.g., a school sport, robotics, or the performing arts). Perhaps they would be more willing to check it out if they had a buddy to help them feel welcomed.
  5. Be patient because it may take kids with autism a little longer to respond.
  6. Taking the time to get to know them is worth it and you will see their gifts and strengths. You may learn that you have a lot of things in common.
  7. Also appreciate the unique qualities of your autistic classmates. They are likely much better than you are at a bunch of things; it is good to notice and appreciate that.
  8. We have learned that kids with autism may be more likely to be teased, harassed, and bullied. If you see something, speak up or say something to a teacher or another adult. We know this can be hard but, in the end, you may be helping the bully learn from his or her mistakes.
  9. There are a couple of initiatives that are occurring nationally that show how to include kids with autism in a fun and meaningful way. Here are a few examples: Best Buddies International,Unified Sports and Lunch Bunch.
    • Best Buddies International is a nonprofit organization committed to creating a global volunteer team that aims to create opportunities for one-on-one friendships, employment, leadership, and inclusive living for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Many schools have created opportunities in schools for classmates to come together. This may involve matching up classmates who can then participate in activities inside and/or outside of school.
    • It’s too often that young people with disabilities do not get a chance to play on their school sports teams. More and more U.S. states are adopting the Unified Sports approach that the Special Olympics pioneered. Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® programming is in more than 8,300 schools across the United States at the time of this article, with a goal of existing in 10,000 schools by 2024.
    • A Lunch Bunch is program where a group of kids come together regularly with one or more classmates with special needs, often over lunch. Simply Special Ed offers some tips on how to start a Lunch Bunch on their website.
  10. If none of these programs exist in your school, perhaps you can be the one to help make it happen! In the meantime, talk to your principal or guidance counselor about how you may be able to help a classmate through reverse mainstreaming. Simply, reverse mainstreaming is a concept where kids can visit the classrooms of kids with special needs and join in on activities (such as playing a game or practicing social skills). There may be a few ways you use these experiences toward your service learning. If not, it would still be a great thing to do!
  11. One final note about promoting acceptance is to simply accept your classmates with autism. It sounds simple, but you do not need to always think of ways to help them to be different, or better, or fit in. Simply accepting them for who they are as you want others to accept you for who you are with all of your skills, deficits, strengths, weaknesses, quirks, interests, etc. is important for all individuals we come into contact with – regardless of whether they have autism or not!

Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” We end with this quote to encourage young people to help their schools become a more inclusive and kind setting for students with autism and other special needs. Every small step you take, can go a long way in changing the climate of your school and making school a better experience for classmates with autism.

Citation for this article

Celiberti-Byam, S., & Weiss, J. (2023). Promoting autism acceptance and awareness in school settings. Science in Autism Treatment, 20(4).

About the Authors

Simon Celiberti-Byam and Julia Weiss are High School Externs with the Association for Science in Autism Treatment

How to Teach Children to Wait

Reposted with permission from How To ABA

All kids have trouble waiting for things that they want. They even have trouble waiting in line at the grocery store. Waiting is a huge skill. So once our learners have mastered some early instructions, like come here or sit down, then we typically start working on the skill of responding to waiting. Today’s topic is all about how to teach children to wait. 

When my children were young and they started learning how to ride their bikes, they felt a huge sense of independence. I stayed way behind them while they rode their bikes so fast that they were about 20-30 feet in front of me. I needed them to stop at the curb because they were too young to cross the street safely. So something that we worked on was my kids listening to me saying “wait” from 20 feet behind them. They knew to wait for me and stop at the curb before crossing. 

How to Teach a Child with Autism to Wait

Waiting is a huge safety skill and a huge life skill. You don’t always get what you want right away. Being able to wait a little bit of time to get what you want is really important. We also want our learners to stay safe and not run and dart away from adults. So we developed a program about teaching kids to respond to the verbal instruction of “wait,” with the response of waiting quietly.

We want to start really small and with an amount of time that the student can be successful doing. Don’t expect a student to wait for 5 or 10 minutes when they’re used to not waiting at all. Start by having a preferred item that you know that this student wants and then support them in being able to wait. 

Possibly initially say the word “wait” and also hold up your hands and count aloud with the student. Starting with three seconds is a great amount of time and it’s highly supported. Be there with them and help them wait. If they could do that successfully, then you can fade the hands up, and then eventually not count with them. Do all of this while sticking with three seconds. 

Once you fade the signal, you fade the counting, and you’re just saying “wait,” then you would start to slowly increase the amount of time that the student is expected to wait before accessing the preferred item. 

Waiting Program for an Early Learner

Here is an example of the program that we would use for a very early learner. This is a learner who has really only started mastering some basic one-step instructions. Start by teaching the highly supported “wait” with your hands up and counting. You can make it really fun. Sometimes we’ll play red light green light or have a race and tell the student to stop and wait. It doesn’t have to be done just at the table. 

Do 10 trials of the first teaching step and graph it. They can be in a row or they can be spread out over time. They can also be done naturally. As soon as they are able to show mastery (80% over two consecutive sessions) you increase the amount of time the learner waits and so on. 

Waiting Program for an Older Student

A waiting program for an older student who needs to learn to wait before accessing something that they really, really want isn’t as highly supported. 

The first step would be to have the learner sit and wait for something that they want. We’d start with five seconds before giving them the reinforcement. As soon as they’re successful for two intervals in a row over two days, then we increase the time. 

Go at the pace of the student and if the student shows that 10 seconds is too long, go back to five seconds. 

Check out the How To ABA website for additional resources and free downloads.

About the Authors

Shayna Gaunt, MA, BCBA | With over 20 years in the field of ABA, Shayna is a master program developer. She has a unique knack for finding the practical application of ABA to real-life so that the interventions are doable and successful!

Shayna has been practicing Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) since 1997. In 2005, after graduating with a Masters Degree in ABA from the University of Nevada Reno (UNR), she was one of the first in Ontario, Canada to obtain her BCBA. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Kid Mechanix, Inc. in Toronto, Canada, where she met Shira Karpel.

Shayna also has international experience, providing clinical expertise and training workshops to clients in Canada, United States, Costa Rica, England, Egypt and Qatar.

Because of her extensive training in a wide variety of interventions over the years, Shayna has a knack for developing unique, practical programs that teach across operants. She seriously thinks in data sheets!!!!

Shayna’s super-power is her ability to explain complex ABA principles in practical, relatable terms. She is a master program-developer and most of what you see in The Bx Resource is her ABA-mind put down on paper.  As a member of The Bx Resource, you get the privilege of learning from her and leveraging all that ABA knowledge for your own practice!

Shira Karpel, M.ED, BCBA | As a former teacher, Shira is passionate about spreading the benefits of ABA to more children.  She envisions a world where ABA is the go-to, accepted intervention in classrooms and homes everywhere!  She is the co-founder of How to ABA which was started to create a community where all BCBAs and ABA professionals can get support and resources so that clients can get the best treatment possible.

Shira has a Masters in Special Education and then went on to pursue her BCBA.  With extensive supervision and training (ahem, thanks Shayna!!), she has been working in the field of ABA since 2011.  Together with Shayna, they trained, and taught many therapists, clients, and parents and collected a massive bank of ABA programs and resources.  One day, the light bulb went off and Shira said, “We should be sharing all of this!” Hence, How to ABA was born!

Her passion is in creating positive, comprehensive learning environments for all students.  She loves that with her knowledge in ABA, she can now support teachers in their classrooms.  She is the Director of Behavioural Services at a private school in Toronto and is loving getting to make a difference in the lives of children and families daily. She is passionate about making the principles of ABA practical and doable and relevant to every child in any situation.

6 Green Flags in ABA Providers

Reposted with permission from Ashleigh Evans, MS, BCBA, www.evansbehavioralservices.com/.

My article on red flags in ABA providers generated a great deal of interest from caregivers and clinicians in the ABA field. Those red flags include potentially harmful practices that parents, caregivers, and providers should be aware of.

Through my 13 years in the field, I have seen firsthand the tremendous things that ABA can do for the clients we serve. Even more in the last few years, as clinicians have listened to the voices of those we serve and subsequently made changes in their practices. ABA has incredible potential for positive change. As such, I want to highlight the amazing work many practitioners in the field are doing.

As you pursue an ABA provider for your child or for employment, consider these GREEN flags! These signs indicate ethical and effective practices.

1. Individualization

Each individual we work with is unique in their strengths, needs, and interests. Programming straight from an assessment or based on a cookie-cutter curriculum does not benefit the learner. To teach socially significant skills, we should be creating each goal unique to exactly what the learner needs. If a provider values individualization, that’s a green flag in my book!

2. Honoring Assent Withdrawl

Since our learners typically are not able to provide consent, we gain consent from parents and caregivers. However, we should still be ensuring that our learners are providing assent for therapy. I encourage everyone to seek employment or therapy with providers who understand assent and honor assent withdrawal. Does the provider force follow through or allow modifications when assent is withdrawn? Furthermore, does the agency train its employees on assent and assent withdrawal? If so, green flag!

3. Balanced BCBA Caseloads

The size of a BCBAs caseload is likely to depend on many factors including the number of direct hours they’re supervising for each case, the complexity of each case, and other responsibilities. BCBAs who have caseloads that are well balanced may be more likely to provide effective case oversight. BCBAs who are overworked with high caseloads are more likely to become burnt out and unable to provide adequate supervision, thus resulting in poor outcomes for both clients and RBTs whom they supervise.

I can’t necessarily provide an exact “acceptable” caseload size for everyone, as it will greatly depend on the BCBAs experience, other non-billable responsibilities, the complexity of cases, hours, and more. My recommendation, however, is to ask a potential provider what the BCBA caseload is like and consider the overall expectations of the position to determine if the BCBA is likely to provide adequate supervision and oversight with the caseload size.

Consider that funding sources often require 10-20% BCBA oversight, so if a child is receiving 30 hours/week, a BCBA needs to provide 3-6 hours of supervision. This does not include parent training or re-assessment. Providers who ensure appropriately sized caseloads are a definite green flag!

4. Parent Training and Support

ABA is most effective when skills and behaviors generalize to the people that matter most for the individual-Family! Teaching caregivers to implement strategies that have proven effective during therapy sessions is vital in a child’s ongoing improvement. Providers who value parent training and support their staff in the development of training caregivers are another green flag!

5. Naturalistic Teaching

There is nothing innately wrong with sessions that are DTT-based, especially when provided with children who thrive in that setup. However, naturalistic teaching provides so many opportunities for generalization and facilitates an enriched and enjoyable therapeutic setting. For that reason, providers who prioritize naturalistic teaching strategies are a green flag! This goes back to point #1 though-Individualization! There should never be a one-size-fits-all approach. If a child learns better through discrete-trial training, that is a-okay!

6. BCBA-Owned

I consider BCBA-owned agencies a green flag! BCBAs are ethically obligated to abide by the Code of Ethics set forth by the BACB. Therefore, the policies they create and enforce should (in a perfect world) align with ethical and effective practices. I don’t intend to claim that ABA companies not owned by BCBAs are unethical or less likely to provide effective care. However, I do believe that an agency owned by a BCBA is more likely to advocate for and train their employees on best practices, with a stronger focus on quality of care, as opposed to increasing revenue.

This is not an all-exhaustive list. There are so many amazing clinicians out there doing great work in the ABA world. Keep advocating for effective and ethical care!

About the Author

Ashleigh Evans, MS, is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She has been practicing in the behavior analysis field for over 13 years and opened her own independent practice in early 2022. Her experience has been vast across different age groups, diagnoses, and needs. She is passionate about improving the field through education, reformative action, and better supervisory practices, leading her to create content and resources for families and ABA professionals which can be found on her website, www.evansbehavioralservices.com/.

Posted in ABA

A Guide to Approachable, Engaging Parent Training

By: Morgan van Diepen, M.Ed., BCBA, Author of ABA Visualized

Many providers feel intimidated by or uncomfortable with the parent training component of ABA services. When I first started in this field, I personally felt extremely out of place giving parents advice on supporting their children, not yet being a parent myself. Over time, I have realized that parent training is not about teaching how to be a better parent but how to incorporate ABA strategies into their daily lives to help them reach their family’s goals. Yet, even with our field’s understanding of how essential parent involvement is in creating positive outcomes and long-lasting change, I often hear providers feel under-prepared to lead effective and engaging parent training. That’s why at ABA Visualized, our books aim to give you the tools you need to lead approachable, engaging parent trainings!

Initial Consult

First impressions are everything! For many families, even having access to a BCBA is a luxury. Some have to navigate through waitlists, limited providers, and insurance barriers, so their first meeting with you is often a sign of hope! To help make that first meeting meaningful, here are our top questions to ask to learn about the family’s values and priorities:

  • What do you hope to achieve by receiving behavioral supports?
  • Describe what a typical day looks like for you and your child.
  • What is the hardest part of your day?
  • What strategies are you currently using that are working/helping?
  • What specific activities would you like more support with?
  • What activities would you like your child to be more independent in? When you imagine them being independent in this, what does it look like?

Choosing Parent Training Goals

Did you know that the average time a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) is implemented correctly is only 7-10 days?! When we ask parents and caregivers to utilize behavior strategies daily, we should be informed of common barriers to prevent them proactively. Research shows that behavior jargon, lack of collaboration with other service providers, limited time, and a lack of agreement between the recommendations and the family’s goals and values are the most significant barriers to effective parent training. How can we improve? By choosing parent training goals that focus on their priority concerns and can easily be embedded into their daily lives! When recommending goals, return to your initial consult notes to ensure that the skills you chose to teach directly align with their reported priorities. Here are some of our favorite parent training goals, as they have the most versatility and impact:

  • Parent will engage in 10 minutes of child-led play per day (ABA jargon: “Pairing”)
  • Parent will recognize and reward every occurrence of (replacement behavior) (ABA jargon: “DRA”)
  • Prior to (common trigger), parent will set their child up for success by (proactive strategy)
  • Parent will create opportunities to model functional communication of (specific skill) at least x times per day (SLP jargon: “Aided-language input”)

Leading a Parent Training Session

Now that you have chosen meaningful goals to make an impact, it’s time to teach the skills! Follow these steps to leading an approachable, engaging parent training session:

  1. Start with celebrating success! Ask the family to share a recent situation in which their child had a behavioral success & ask them to share something they did recently to support their child’s growth that they feel proud of.
  2. Ask about current challenges/concerns. Yes, ask this every session! Priorities change!
  3. Choose a parent training skill that relates to their current needs. Be flexible! You may need to change your plan on what you intended to go over in that session.
  4. Explain the rationale behind the strategy in the context of how it will help with their current concerns.
  5. Teach the skill using various methods until you learn which teaching style works best for that family.
    • Visuals: Many people learn best from visuals! By utilizing step-by-step visuals of how to do the skill, you eliminate language barriers and provide them with a resource they can refer back to between your sessions. In our ABA Visualized Guidebook, we have visualized all of the essential evidence-based ABA strategies!
    • Modeling: Demonstrate how to do the skill in a situation/context that is related to their current concern (e.g., instead of just modeling a standard example of how to use Providing Choices, show how they can offer choices during bedtime routine if that is the trickiest part of their day).
    • Video modeling: Cultural differences impact families’ comfort level in asking clarifying questions. Try recording a video of you demonstrating the skill so they can review and practice it outside of session.

Whichever teaching method you choose, be sure to use approachable, jargon-free language. For example, in our ABA Visualized Guidebook, we’ve renamed Behavior Momentum as “Easy, Easy, Hard” and 3 Step Prompting as “Tell, Show, Help,” making these strategies easier for families to remember, ultimately leading to more success for your clients! Check out our Guidebook for more tips on leading engaging, approachable parent trainings!

About the Author

Our mission at ABA Visualized is to make behavioral expertise approachable, accessible, and relatable. This has been our mission since our first publication in 2018 and continues to guide decisions in everything we do.

As a BCBA working abroad and then with the vibrant international community in Los Angeles, Morgan quickly developed a passion for supporting under-serviced families. She realized the recurring barriers affecting these communities and limiting their access to effective behavioral expertise: long waitlists to learn from expert service providers and an abundance of technical jargon-filled texts. Morgan began to refine her approach to better disseminate behavior strategies to those who truly need it: families and educators.

As an infographic designer, Morgan’s husband, Boudewijn (Bou), naturally understands how visual storytelling can make the unclear, clear and the unknown, known. In a true collaboration between Morgan and Bou’s skillset, their flagship product, the ABA Visualized Guidebook, was created utilizing step-by-step visuals and approachable language to accomplish that sought-after accessible behavior expertise.

Since this publication, ABA Visualized as a company has grown to offer a collection of books and trainings available worldwide. We aim to continue empowering others through approachable education on strategies that can make truly meaningful impacts on individuals’ lives.

Posted in ABA