Simple Evidence-based Strategies for Teaching Emotion Regulation

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Shira Karpel, MEd, BCBA and Shayna Gaunt, MA, BCBA, How to ABA. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

I’m a newly certified behavior analyst working in a school-age program. Many of my students struggle with emotion regulation. However, my coursework and supervision were primarily focused on easily measurable, observable behaviors. While I was taught that behavior analysis doesn’t discredit private events, I just don’t know where to start. A few initial topics or tools for teaching emotion regulation would be helpful to get me started.

A Brief Review of Emotion Regulation

We cannot ignore that children have emotions. As behavior analysts, we are trained to study behavior that is observable and measurable – not private events like thoughts and emotions. But how can we ignore that some of the students we work with are struggling with managing how they are feeling? We need to allow our students to have these emotions, but it is also important to teach them coping strategies and emotion regulation techniques. In terms of social significance, this is a big one!

Individuals with ASD have more emotion regulation difficulties and consistently demonstrate less adaptive regulation strategies, as well as internalizing problems such as anxiety and externalizing problems such aggression (Cai et al., 2018). Emotion regulation is the ability to do hard things despite some uncomfortable feelings. It’s the ability to use strategies in dealing with emotions like disappointment, frustration, and anger – and being able to recover. It’s a form of resilience that many of our learners would benefit from learning.

Yes! As behavior analysts, we only implement strategies and programs to address emotion regulation that are evidence-based.

Yes! We need to be able to describe these behaviors in ways that are observable and measurable.

Yes! We need to continuously take data and analyze the data to make any necessary changes.

According to Skinner (Verbal Behavior, 1957), private events are considered behaviors that are under the control of environmental stimuli and can be defined in behavioral terms. Skinner noted that radical behaviorism “does not insist upon truth by agreement and can therefore consider events taking place in the private world within the skin. It does not call these events unobservable” (Skinner, 1974, p. 16).

In line with Skinner’s definition, emotions, and emotion regulation are private events. They are under the control of environmental stimuli, but they can be defined and measured. Let’s take ‘anxious’ for instance. ‘Anxious’ should be individually defined for each person, including observable and measurable events like flushed cheeks, red ears, and ringing of one’s hands in a particular way. Likewise, emotion regulation could be defined as using strategies like counting backward or taking three deep breaths.

So, how can we talk about feelings and teach emotion regulation strategies in a behavior-analytic way? Before we review 7 of our favorite strategies, it is very important to collect some baseline data on common triggers and setting events as these situations will inform your practice sessions and your efforts to promote generalization of the regulation skills being targeted.

7 Strategies for Emotion Regulation

The strategies for emotion regulation are best taught when a student is calm, and supported and modeled while their emotion experience is occurring. Then, it can be generalized to times when the student is more dysregulated. We don’t know about you, but when we are very upset, it only makes us feel worse when someone tells us to “calm down” or “relax.” During the heat of the moment, we’re not thinking straight. Find a moment when the student is calm and make learning into a positive experience. Here are some teaching techniques:

  1. Identify and Teach Prerequisite Skills: Teaching emotion regulation in ABA requires foundational skills such as basic communication (i.e., the ability to get one’s needs met), understanding reinforcement (i.e., the first/then contingency), impulse control, self-awareness, and the ability to recognize emotions in oneself (Conallen & Reed, 2016). Building these prerequisite skills is necessary to ensure that learners can understand more complex concepts when you begin to teach emotion regulation strategies.
  2. Teach Using Visuals: Visual supports, like photographs, icons, text, and video, are an evidenced-based strategy used to teach children with ASD new skills by providing cues (Hume et al., 2014). We can’t assume that a child knows what “anxious” or “frustrated” means. When teaching abstract concepts such as feelings, it is important to use visuals. Using visuals while teaching enhances understanding, supports communication, facilitates memory and recall, and increases engagement, making learning more effective and less anxiety-inducing (Beaumont & Sofronoff, 2008).There are different ways to do this depending on the age and skill of the learner. For example, you can show videos of people who are angry, anxious, and frustrated and label those videos. You can have students identify and match emotions to various situations (Conallen & Reed, 2016). Hint – for maximum success, start with emotion words that the student has already learned. Then, build in other target words that may be more accurate or nuanced from there.The stop light visual depicted in Figure 1 is an example of something that you can use to support teaching. Red, yellow, and green correspond to different emotional states. If the student can read, calming strategies can be written right beside the colors. Be sure to pair this visual with evidenced-based teaching such as prompting, modeling, and differential reinforcement.
    For younger students, we have used a simple flip book with small circles corresponding to different emotional states. On the front of the circles is a picture of the emotion and on the back are pictures of different calming strategies. With prompting and fading, the student can learn to flip to the color that they are feeling and then engage in calming activities. (See Figure 2 for a visual example.) 
  3. Model Labeling Behaviors: Modelling has long been used as an effective prompt in applied behavior analysis (Brody et al., 1978). Model labeling your behavior and your student’s behavior. When something happens to frustrate you, say something like, “I’m feeling so frustrated, I need to take some deep breaths to calm down.” If a student sits calmly, say, “I like how calmly you’re sitting. You look like you’re feeling green and calm,” while also pointing to the green circle. Or, if they are upset, say, “Your shoulders are raised, it seems like you’re heading towards yellow and feeling upset,” and casually flip their circle to yellow. At this point, there is no demand on the student other than to tolerate you making the comments.
  4. Discrete Trial Teaching: In addition to labeling emotions in situ (in natural settings versus “tabletop”) using visual supports, formal teaching may need to happen. Using discrete trial teaching, teach the student to receptively identify the different colors and corresponding feelings. For example, for receptive identification, you can put out all 3 circles and say, “Show me the angry circle.” For expressive identification, you ask the student to label the emotion depicted in your materials. For example, follow up by asking, “What is this circle?”. You’ll also be asking them to label how they are feeling. “You look like you are yellow. How are you feeling?” For more on the efficacy of discrete trial teaching and some current guidelines, refer to Leaf et al. (2017). Use evidenced-based practices such as prompting, prompt fading, and differential reinforcement to teach this. With proper shaping and prompt fading, the student should eventually be able to identify and label their behavior receptively, and then expressively. To learn more about teaching receptive skills, please check out the blog on receptive labels.
  5. Behavior Skills Training (BST): When the student is calm, use behavior skills training (Sarokoff & Sturmey, 2004) to teach positive replacement behaviors that will help regulate their emotions. BST involves four components: Instruction, Modeling, Rehearsal, and Feedback.
    a) Instruction: Give a brief explanation of why these calming strategies are important. If a student doesn’t understand the language, skip the wordy explanation.
    b) Model: Then model some calming strategies.
    c) Rehearsal: Practice by role playing behaviors together, such as “taking deep breaths,” “counting to 5,” “going for a walk.” etc. These may need to be individualized to the learner as you figure out what calms the student. Incorporate choice. Which techniques does your student like best?
    d) Feedback: Give the student lots of positive feedback, and only one piece of corrective feedback to work on. Do this a lot in practice sessions and slowly start helping the student use these strategies when they are beginning to get heightened. Initially, this task will be teacher-directed (i.e., the instructor may have to prompt the student to respond). However, the ultimate goal is to have the student demonstrate this response independently.
  6. Give Feedback: Give the student feedback on how they’re doing. Reinforce behaviors such as “using calming strategies” or “letting others know how you feel.” It is important that praise is not given for being calm. The message should be that it is okay to feel those other emotions, it is just not okay to engage in challenging behavior when you have those feelings. If there is an episode of negative behavior where the regulation strategies were not used, debrief on that too. When the student is calm, review the incident and talk about how they can make it better next time. Use visuals for these conversations. And remember – they don’t need to be fancy. Draw it out in the moment, using stick figures and chicken scratch printing. You can visually depict the result of using the strategies and calming down versus not using the strategies. Then, you can role-play the scenario to practice how they can make it better next time.
  7. Promote Generalization of the Skills to the Environment: Set up practice situations in novel environments and with novel people so that the student can practice using the strategies and accessing reinforcement for the behaviors they are displaying. Make sure you have visuals while you’re practicing. Look back at the common triggers that you noted during your baseline assessment. Are these new skills being used in those situations? If not, layer in practice using the above strategies so that generalization is more likely to be observed.

Measuring Progress

Data collection is also an important component of teaching emotion regulation. You should take data on things like:

  • Frequency of challenging behavior (it should decrease as the learner gets more proficient with self-regulation)
  • Duration of peak challenging behaviors from onset until offset (or until calming strategies are used)
  • Antecedent triggers to challenging behavior (knowing this information can guide how you teach generalization of regulation skills)
  • Level of independence with identifying their emotional state (i.e., how much prompting was needed, if any)
  • Level of independence by engaging in a calming down routine
  • Ability to generalize to novel environments and people

In Summary

When teaching emotions and emotion regulation, we want to first define these private events using observable and measurable terms. Then, it’s important to use evidenced-based teaching practices such as the use of visual supports, modeling, prompting, prompt fading, differential reinforcement, and behavioral skills training. Once our students have a better understanding of emotions, we want to teach our students that it’s okay to have these feelings. We want to help them understand them, express them, and then manage them. The goal is that they will use replacement behaviors such as calming techniques when they are feeling anxious, angry, etc. instead of engaging in challenging behavior. With successful teaching and practice, students can become masters of their own behavior! As a new behavior analyst, we wish you all the best!

References cited above:

Beaumont, R., & Sofronoff, K. (2008). A multi-component social skills intervention for children with Asperger syndrome: The Junior Detective Training Program. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49(7), 743-753.

Brody, G. H., Lahey, B. B., & Combs, M. L. (1978). Effects of intermittent modelling on observational learning. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 11(1), 87-90.

Cai, R. Y., Richdale, A. L., Uljarević, M., Dissanayake, C., & Samson, A. C. (2018). Emotion regulation in autism spectrum disorder: Where we are and where we need to go. Autism Research11(7), 962-978.

Conallen, K., & Reed, P. (2016). A teaching procedure to help children with autistic spectrum disorder to label emotions. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 23, 63-72.

Hume, K., Wong, C., Plavnick, J., Schultz, T. (2014). Use of Visual Supports with Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. In: J. Tarbox, D. Dixon, P. Sturmey, & J.Matson, J. (Eds). Handbook of Early Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Autism and Child Psychopathology Series. Springer, New York, NY.

Leaf, J. B., Cihon, J. H., Leaf, R., McEachin, J., & Taubman, M. (2017). A progressive approach to discrete trial teaching: Some current guidelines. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 9(2), 361-372. Retrieved from

Sarokoff, R. A., & Sturmey, P. (2004). The effects of behavioral skills training on staff implementation of discrete trial teaching. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37, 535-538.

Skinner, B. F. (1957). Verbal behavior. Appleton-Century-Crofts.

About the Authors:

Shira Karpel, MEd, R.B.A (Ont), BCBA is the co-founder and director of How to ABA, an online resource and community for ABA professionals. Shira has a Masters in Special Education and has been in the field of ABA since 2011, receiving her BCBA in 2014. Together with Shayna, they trained and taught many therapists, clients, and parents and collected a massive bank of ABA programs and resources. In an effort to give back to the field, Shira and Shayna decided to create How to ABA as a way of sharing our collection of resources with others.  As a former teacher, her passion is in using ABA in classrooms in order to create positive and comprehensive learning environments for all students. She is the Clinical Director 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, doable and relevant to every child in any situation.

Shayna Gaunt, MA, R.B.A (Ont), BCBA is a dedicated professional in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and co-founder of How to ABA, an online resource and community supporting ABA professionals. With over two decades in the field, a Master’s Degree in ABA from the University of Nevada Reno, and extensive international experience, Shayna brings a vast expertise across diverse settings.  She emphasizes collaborative excellence in direct therapy, supervision, and training, striving to deliver high-quality services and resources to clients and fellow ABA practitioners. Through How to ABA, Shayna aims to make ABA principles accessible and practical, fostering a community where professionals can share, learn, and grow together. 

Posted in ABA

Considerations for BCBAs for the Summertime

By Nahoma Presberg, MS, BCBA, NYS-LBA

It’s summertime! If you’re anything like me, you’re excited for a poolside lounge or trip to the beach, or you’re probably busy planning a family vacation or some time away from work.

The buzz of summertime can be overwhelming. Remember that it can be overwhelming for the kids we work with, too! Here are some important things to keep in mind as a BCBA during the summertime.

  1. Transitions are hard! Summer can be a very stressful time for students with lots of big changes and routine adjustments, like day trips, vacations, and summer camps. Think about focusing specifically on transition-specific goals during this time. It is ok to take a pause on regularly scheduled programming and focus on seasonal skills. This can be a great time to work on social/emotional goals like talking about their experiences, reflecting on memories, and connecting with friends. Learning how to cope with big transitions is a huge life skill and something that a lot of people struggle with. Be gentle with your clients and remember to validate that change is hard. They might not recognize that the feelings they’re having are related to these changes so it can be extra disorienting and upsetting for them. By helping frame change and transition as a reason for feeling distress, you can help them learn to channel those feelings and process them more effectively.
  2. Summertime goals might also look different. Think about the social skills that your client will need over the summer and focus on that! Will your client be attending summer camp? Does your client need support preparing for a family vacation? Are there other special events coming up to prepare for (weddings, graduation parties, etc.)? Collaborating with the family can help you identify immediate stressors and ways that you can help target programming to address some of the immediate concerns related to summer activities.
  3. Remember to check in with families early in the summer. Get a sense of their summer plans. What changes in the schedule might be necessary? Planning ahead is important logistically (you need to know when you’re prepared to be at work) but is also important for helping clients prepare for what’s to come. Also, if there are staffing changes due to summer schedules, clients may need help adjusting to new providers.
  4. Summertime comes with a lot of environmental changes. Think about your client’s sensory profile and the new sensitivities that might be popping up. Work with them to identify what is going on with their body’s and how they can work with the new environment and stay comfortable. These things include thinking about what kinds of clothing will help them stay cool and comfortable, making sure they’re staying hydrated and protected from the sun. The more you’re able to help your client identify their own discomfort and make adjustments, the more they will be able to generalize these skills across a variety of contexts.
  5. And lastly, remember to have fun! Mid-summer can still be a time to decompress and take things a little bit more slowly, but also remember that there is so much valuable learning that comes from having fun. This is a great time of year to lean into naturalistic teaching strategies and get a little messy.

About the Author

Nahoma Presberg, MS BCBA NYS-LBA, is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Nahoma obtained their master’s degree at the University of Rochester in Human Development. They have been working with clients in their homes for the past 6 years but has over a decade of experience supporting children with developmental disabilities. Nahoma is passionate about neurodiversity affirming care and thoughtful programming that helps every client thrive.

For more information about Nahoma, you can visit their website at

Posted in ABA

The VB-MAPP and the ABLLS-R: What’s the Difference?

By Sam Blanco, BCBA

Assessment is the cornerstone of creating appropriate and effective interventions. Two common assessments used for youngsters with autism are the Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills-Revised (ABLLS-R) and the Verbal Behavior – Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP). You’ve likely heard of both the ABLLS-R and the VB-MAPP. While these two assessments are similar in many ways, there are also some big differences that might make one more appropriate for you than the other.


The ABLLS-R is made up of two components: the ABLLS™-R  Protocol and the ABLLS™-R Guide. The protocol is comprised of a skill-tracking system, assessing items ranging from listening and language skills to academic and ADL skills. The scoring system is simple, in that each specific skill is broken down into 2-4 levels. You simply mark the level that matches your client’s current skill. The simple organization allows for you to easily track your learner’s progress.

It is important to recognize that the ABLLS-R is more than just the protocol. It also includes the ABLLS-R Guide, which provides instructions for scoring as well as strategies for using the information to develop appropriate goals. Over the years, I have seen many practitioners simply using the protocol without referring to the guide. This is an error that should be corrected, as the guide is a useful resource for parents, teachers, and practitioners. Finally, the ABLLS-R assessed skills that typically develop between approximately ages 2-6.


The VB-MAPP is composed of five components.

The Milestones Assessment is comprised of 170 measurable milestones, all based in B.F. Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior. It focuses primarily on language and social skills, but does include some skills related to academics.

The Barriers Assessment provides a way to assess and measure common barriers to learning experienced by children with language delays. These include barriers such as prompt dependence, impaired social skills, and failure to generalize.

The Transition Assessment provides a way to assess and measure progress towards the child’s ability to move to a less restrictive environment. This portion of the VB-MAPP includes items such as the rate of acquisition for new skills, adaptability to change, and ability to learn from the natural environment.

The fourth component of the VB-MAPP is the Task Analysis and Supporting Skills. This portion goes hand-in-hand with the Milestones Assessment. It is comprised of hundreds of skills that are often directly related to the milestones. It shows the skills that should be taught prior to each milestone and can provide additional information into the child’s current skill level.

The final portion is the VB-MAPP Placement and IEP Goals. This is an in-depth guide for developing IEP goals and identifying interventions based on the results of the other portions of the assessments.  As with the ABLLS-R, I’ve seen many practitioners utilizing the VB-MAPP without referring to the Placement and IEP Goals in the VB-MAPP Guide. This is an error that should be corrected to best use the assessment. The VB-MAPP assesses language skills that typically develop by age 48 months.


It is valuable to receive training in both of these assessments. They are important tools for assessment, especially if you are working with young children.

No matter what assessment you choose, we’ve got you covered! Head to our website and check out our full line of ABLLS-R and VB-MAPP supports, including our exclusive full assessment kits!

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. You can read more of Sam’s posts for Different Roads To Learning when you click here!

Posted in ABA

What is Discrete Trial Training?

Reposted with permission from the Applied Behavioral Science Institution in Michigan

According to the CDC, as many as one in 44 children fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. Receiving a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder can be frightening and cause uncertainty when it comes to treatment. Fortunately, several time-tested behavioral therapy methods have been used to help children with autism socialize, take perspectives of others, and learn new skills with less frustration. Learn more about discrete trial training, which is a specialized subset of applied behavior analysis, below.

What Is DTT?

Discrete trial training uses several steps to teach a child a new skill. By breaking up a larger or more complicated task into specific, smaller steps, the child can focus on learning one at a time and building up to the full concept. Each step can be considered a “trial” or a teaching attempt. When the child masters one, they may move to the next.

What Are The Five Steps of DTT? 

DTT uses bite-sized steps that allow the child to master smaller skills before moving on to larger ones. Below are the five steps typically involved in a DTT session. 

1. Discriminative Stimulus

This step involves the teacher showing the child the task they will be completing. The teacher may place cards on the table, ask a question about an object in her hand, or say another phrase that will help the child discern what their part in the activity should be.

2. Prompt 

The prompt may be used to help direct the child toward the correct response. For example, a teacher may ask, “where is the blue card?” and place their hand near the blue card on the table to guide a child who has trouble responding.

3. Child Response

The child will answer the question or complete the task assigned in the discriminative stimulus. Remember, these tasks are small and should allow the child to respond with correct or incorrect answers. Responses do not have to be verbal.

4. Consequence

If the child responds with the correct answer, the teacher responds positively. This can include praise, candy, a sticker, or anything else the child sees as desirable. The child can know of the reward ahead of time. If the child responds incorrectly, it’s very important not to “punish” the wrong answer. Simply focus on correcting without negative emotion and move forward to the next trial.

5. Inter-Trial Interval

This interval refers to the short period of time between the consequence and the next trial. It is often extremely short (under five seconds).

Who Can Benefit From DTT?

Children with autism who are around two to six years old often see the most benefit from DTT, but people of any age can learn new skills in a controlled, calm environment with this method. The possibilities are wide-ranging: Children on the autism spectrum can learn social skills, increase their communication with others, and practice habits used in daily living activities such as getting dressed independently, following directions at school, and eating at the dinner table.

About The Applied Behavioral Science Institution

Building a better world through applied behavioral science

Our mission is to provide applied behavior analysis therapeutic interventions in the home environment of West Michigan residents. Applied behavior analysis uses best practice approaches as developed by peer reviewed literature to improve language and social skills, and curb problem behaviors for children with autism. Learn more at

Posted in ABA

Building Rapport with Students using Specific Strategies to Promote Pairing

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Juliana Oliveira, PhD, BCBA-D, and Alice Shillingsburg, PhD, BCBA-D (University of Nebraska Medical Center – Munroe Meyer Institute). To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

I am a newly minted BCBA consulting for a team in a public-school setting for an 8-year-old boy with ASD. He has a history of escape-motivated behavior (e.g., refusal to do his homework) which appears to have progressed to engaging in avoidant behaviors as soon as he is approached by several of his providers. I am familiar with the importance of pairing to enhance rapport with a student but am looking for ways to best address this with his team. Do you have any suggestions for framing the need as well as specific strategies?

This is an interesting and timely question, and you are most certainly not the only provider to go through situations related to escaped-motivated behavior. There are a variety of evidence-based procedures that could be helpful in this situation, but you are right that emphasizing rapport between teachers and students is an important element to consider.

Escape-motivated behavior in the classroom?

Some behaviors demonstrated by students occur in order to avoid or escape aversive situations. Through our life history, we learn to identify and predict when unpleasant events are about to occur and act in ways to avoid or escape those impending unpleasant situations. For example, a student may have learned over time that when their teacher gets up from their desk and approaches with a bin of materials or a folder of worksheets, that they are going to be asked to put preferred toys away and begin working on tasks. Initially, the student may begin to engage in behaviors such as running away from their desk and/or shouting, to get out of doing work tasks. Over time, the student may start to engage in those same behaviors, just at the sight of the teacher approaching with materials. In extreme examples, students may sometimes avoid going into their classrooms at all. Of course, this cycle of behavior poses significant barriers to learning and teachers can often find themselves wondering how to teach students who won’t come to the classroom or to their desk, who refuse to engage with educational materials, or who engage in disruptive or dangerous behaviors when presented with learning tasks.

What can we do about it?

Functional communication training (FCT) is a commonly used and effective intervention strategy to teach students to use communication skills rather than engaging in avoidant behaviors in the classroom (e.g., Shawler & Celiberti, 2019). However, another important strategy to resolve situations like the one described above, or to prevent the situation from happening at all, is to prioritize rapport-building strategies in the classroom between the student and the teachers.

Developing a good relationship between the teacher and the student can be viewed as an antecedent intervention, something we do before challenging behaviors arise, that sets the stage for ongoing productive learning in the classroom. For many students, developing a strong relationship will happen easily and quickly. For others, more specific and intentional strategies may be needed, and the process may take longer. In either case, a strong relationship between the teacher and student will come in handy as learning tasks become more difficult over time.

Therapeutic procedures aimed at building a strong relationship have been called pairing or pre-session pairing (Kelly, et al., 2015; Shillingsburg, et al., 2014; Shillingsburg, et al., 2019), rapport-building (McLaughlin & Carr, 2005; Weiss, 2001), and relationship-building interventions (Parsons, et al. 2016). Although these are different terms, they all describe interventions that include pairing the teacher with the presentation of strong, positive reinforcers to the student throughout their interaction. Through this process, the instructor, setting, and materials become associated with, or conditioned as, positive and reinforcing as well. Although the pairing procedure is often highlighted in the beginning of instruction, it is not limited to these sessions. Pairing, or rapport-building, is an ongoing effort of the teacher, to make sure that the teacher-student relationship remains strong, particularly given the intensity and duration of many of these relationships with students with autism.

Based on our previous experiences and observations, it can often happen that a previously good relationship between teacher and student deteriorates over time. Some reports such as “In the last few sessions, the student started to run from me every time he saw me”, or “The student is not cooperating with my instructions as much as he used to” are not unusual. However, escaping or avoiding teachers is not a lost battle. It is possible to rebuild trust and rapport by conducting the pairing procedure again.

What are the specific strategies?

The pairing procedure can sound like a very general concept but is much more strategic and intentional than simply providing reinforcers and refraining from instructions. Here are some guidelines and strategies that teachers – including the entire multi-disciplinary team that provides services to the student – can follow to effectively pair themselves with preferred activities, objects, and events and eventually work toward an effective teaching session with an engaged student.

No demands at first. – When establishing rapport, we try to avoid placing demands on the student or requiring participating in non-preferred activities. This might be difficult to envision in a classroom setting where teaching is what we are supposed to be doing. But rest assured, the pairing process sets the stage for high quality teaching with a student who has chosen to participate and is the soil in which good teaching can take root!! If you can find a way to structure the day to limit non-essential demands in the first days with your student, your long-term interactions will benefit. As discussed earlier, the goal of these first sessions is to pair the instructor, setting, and materials with strong positive reinforcers. This is always the first goal and first step in teaching.

Select preferred items to use. – Be intentional about the items you will use during the pairing sessions. You can use preference assessments, reinforcer inventories, and observations of the student to determine what items could be used as reinforcers – this can include toys, activities, food, drinks, and favorite conversation topics. It is also important to ensure you have numerous preferred items and activities, so you can rotate them throughout the sessions. For example, if the student likes musical toys, having multiple musical toys (e.g., keyboard, drum, cymbals) might be more effective than having only one musical toy. Make note of the student’s responsivity to different items (e.g., item appeared very motivating, interest was sustained over several minutes, seemed powerful one session but not the next).

Setting up. – Sit at the table or on a specific area on the floor with all the student’s preferred items. You will be constantly presenting items to the student, so you want these materials within YOUR arms’ reach so that you can deliver the items as the student shows interest. For example, if the student is playing with a musical toy, but starts to look at a Play-Doh, indicating interest, you can immediately deliver the Play-Doh to the student.

The items that you set up should always be in your possession and under your control. This is because the pairing process entails you, the teacher, as the giver of great things. If the items are within the student’s reach and not in your possession, you become less relevant and won’t necessarily be paired with the preferred items. The key here is that engaging in fun and preferred things happens with you. You can use strategic solutions to make sure that the items are in your control, such as putting the items in plastic bins, on shelves, in plastic bags, in your pocket, etc. At every instance that the student shows interest in a new item or activity, you provide it.

Capture and contrive motivation to engage with the instructor. – At the start of the pairing process, observe what seems to interest your student. If you identify that specific items and activities are preferred by your student, keep giving those things to them. Additionally, throughout the session, it is important to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there a way for me to have the student continue coming back to me to get more of this item?
  • Can I change the activity in such a way that it is more fun with me than without me?
  • Can I make myself a critical component of engagement in this activity?

For example, let’s say the provider and the student are playing with a highly preferred puzzle. The student could have all the pieces of the puzzle for himself, and there would be no need to interact with the provider. However, to try to favorably answer the previous three questions, the provider could first present the box of the puzzle to the student. If the student engages in a response indicating interest, such as reaching to the box, looking, or smiling at the box, the provider could open the box and provide a few puzzle pieces for the student (question 3). Then, the provider could keep delivering the pieces “for free” or after indicating responses from the student (questions 1 and 3). For every delivery, the provider could engage in silly sound effects, or could label the piece (“Wow! We found the eye!”), and so on (question 2). Overall, the instructor is actively trying to capture and contrive motivation.

Follow their lead to play and engage. Be a good “reader” of your student. – Play and engage with what your student wants to play with. If their motivation changes throughout the play, you will follow along with what they want to do. For example, the student may lose interest in the current activity and indicate, verbally or nonverbally, for a different activity. When this happens, be quick and attentive to respond to subtle cues of your student’s changing or diminishing interests as missing these cues may lead to problematic behavior. For example, if you are playing with the puzzle and you notice that your student is not engaging in indicating responses to do more of the puzzle, but rather, starts looking around the room for another toy, be responsive to those early indicators. You can offer other activities until signs of interest occur and then follow their lead.

As you introduce items, don’t persist if there is no interest. When presenting a new activity or item, initially you can simply model how to engage with the activity and monitor if interest increases. If that is the case, keep providing more of that item. If you notice that interest is starting to decrease, try other things. For example, if the student is interested in building a block tower, you can 1) provide more blocks to him; 2) give the student some blocks and you can both build a tower together); or 3) build a block tower next to theirs. If the student starts to lose interest in the tower, you can model other structures to build, or you can engage in a different activity.

Use sensory-social play. – For some students, sensory-social play is highly engaging. When engaging with the student, add big movements, exaggerated facial expressions, and a sensory element to songs or play routines (e.g., doing wiggle arms, tickle spiders, ups and downs). During those play routines, make sure to build anticipation: Repeat the same words or sequence of movements over and over in the same manner and then pause (e.g., “I’m going to get . . .you”, “Ready, set . . . go!”, “1, 2, ….3”). Another important tip is to engage on the same level and face-to-face with your student, as this might increase the chances that your face and voice become paired with preferred activities. However, an important note about physical proximity is to know what your student feels comfortable or uncomfortable with. Some learners will enjoy tickles and loud voices, while other learners will prefer quieter interactions. These suggestions should also consider the student’s age and other individualized considerations.

Talk to your student. – Throughout your pairing sessions, pair words/sounds with what the student is doing (e.g., while the student is bouncing on a ball say, “bounce, bounce, bounce.”). Also, pair words/sounds with what the student is attending to (e.g., while the student is looking at the orange tiger on the pop-up toy, say “orange!”). You can also reflect on what they say (e.g., after the student says, “Crash!” as they crash their truck, you say, “Crash!”), and with a minimally verbal student, this can mean just imitating his vocalizations (e.g., while the student is looking at the ball and says “bah”, say “bah! Ball!”).

Listen to your student. – Be the best conversation partner they’ve ever had (i.e., nod, smile, agree, ask follow-up questions about their topic). Questions that sound like demands should be avoided (as discussed in the first strategy – no demands at first).

Plan how to fade in the demands. – After several sessions of pairing, you can start planning to introduce demands. Initially, it is crucial to add demands that the learner already knows how to answer, and that are easy for the student. After a while, you can gradually increase the level of difficulty or the rate of responding during the session. Instructional fading is an evidence-based approach to preventing escape/avoidant behaviors during instructional settings. We generally start with low frequency, low effort instructions, and gradually fade in more (Pace et al., 1993). It is also important to ensure the things we are asking students to do are meaningful and engaging. Curriculum revision, where aversive, non-essential tasks are replaced, is also an evidence-based approach to reducing escape behaviors (Geiger et al., 2010). It is not a great approach to teach students to tolerate poor instruction that involves meaningless objectives. As you fade in more learning opportunities and as these learning opportunities get more difficult, you should monitor engagement, choice to come to the teaching setting, and whether avoidant behaviors are absent. For a more detailed description of how demands can be gradually incorporated during the session, see Shillingsburg et al. (2019).

Putting it all together

Overall, children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder receive a large amount of intervention hours per week, with different professionals, in different settings. Additionally, instructional sessions for students with autism are often long in duration. Our engagement with students may wane at times, necessitating one or more members of the team to revisit the suggestions above. The instructional sessions have the goal to teach a variety of social and academic acquisition targets, often in a discrete trial teaching arrangement, which can lead to escape-motivated behaviors. The pairing procedure is an antecedent intervention that focuses on building strong therapeutic rapport. As compassionate providers, our hope is that our students genuinely want to participate in therapeutic and instructional settings and want to engage with the different providers. In this way, we might decrease the chances of escape-motivated problem behaviors, while increasing learning and happiness.


Geiger, K. B., Carr, J. E., & LeBlanc, L. A. (2010). Function-based treatments for escape-maintained problem behavior: A treatment-selection model for practicing behavior analysts. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 3, 22-32.

Kelly, A. N., Axe, J. B., Allen, R. F., & Maguire, R. W. (2015). Effects of presession pairing on the challenging behavior and academic responding of children with autism. Behavioral Interventions, 30, 135-156.

McLaughlin, D. M., & Carr, E. G. (2005). Quality of rapport as a setting event for problem behavior: Assessment and intervention. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 7, 68-91.

Pace, G. M., Iwata, B. A., Cowdery, G. E., Andree, P. J., & McIntyre, T. (1993). Stimulus (instructional) fading during extinction of self-injurious escape behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26, 205-212.

Parsons, M. B., Bentley, E., Solari, T., & Reid, D. H. (2016). Familiarizing new staff for working with adults with severe disabilities: A case for relationship building. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 9, 211-222.

Shawler, L., & Celiberti, D. (2019). Clinical corner: What is functional communication training? Science in Autism Treatment16(12).

Shillingsburg, M. A., Bowen, C. N., & Shapiro, S. K. (2014). Increasing social approach and decreasing social avoidance in children with autism spectrum disorder during discrete trial training. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 8, 1443-1453.

Shillingsburg, M. A., Hansen, B., & Wright, M. (2019). Rapport building and instructional fading prior to Discrete Trial Instruction: Moving from child-led play to intensive teaching. Behavior Modification, 43(2), 288-306.

Weiss, M. J. (2001). Expanding ABA intervention in intensive programs for children with autism: The inclusion of natural environment training and fluency-based instruction. The Behavior Analyst Today, 2, 182-186.

Citation for this article:

Oliveira, J., & Shillingsburg, A. (2023). Clinical Corner: Building rapport with students using specific strategies to promote pairing. Science in Autism Treatment, 20(12).

About the Authors

Juliana Oliveira, PhD, BCBA-D, is a postdoctoral fellow at the Integrated Center for autism spectrum disorders (iCASD), at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) Munroe-Meyer Institute (MMI). She obtained her bachelor’s degree in psychology at the Federal University of Para (UFPA) in Brazil, and her M.S. degree in Experimental Behavior Analysis also at UFPA. Juliana conducted research on conditional discriminations with Cebus apella monkeys,stimulus-stimulus pairing procedures to induce vocalization with children diagnosed with autism, and caregiver training for toddlers and children diagnosed with autism. Later, she moved to Texas and obtained her doctorate at Texas Christian University (TCU). During that time, Juliana worked on a series of studies that evaluated the efficiency and other potential benefits of equivalence-based instruction, while remotely consulting families back in Brazil. In her current position, Juliana is providing ABA services to dyads and small groups of children diagnosed with autism. She is also interested in assessing different teaching procedures to teach verbal behavior and to assess the emergence of different verbal operants. She is addicted to shrimp (any kind of shrimp!) and loves to go to the beach.

Alice Shillingsburg, PhD, BCBA-D, LP is the Yale Family Endowed Professor and Director of the integrated Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Munroe-Meyer Institute. She received her PhD in child clinical psychology at Auburn University and completed her APA Accredited doctoral Internship at the Marcus Institute in Atlanta, GA. In prior roles, she has served as Sr. Vice President of Children’s Clinical Services and Training at May Institute, Director of the Language and Learning Clinic at Marcus Autism Center, and held an appointment as Associate Professor at Emory University School of Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics.

Dr. Shillingsburg’s research and clinical interests involve the development and implementation of comprehensive and focused interventions to promote robust, meaningful skill development for children and adolescents diagnosed with autism. Dr. Shillingsburg has published over 60 empirical research articles and book chapters, is current Editor-in-Chief of Operants Magazine, and is past Associate Editor for the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis and The Analysis of Verbal Behavior.

Posted in ABA

Supporting Your Student with Visual Timers

By Ashleigh Evans, MS, BCBA

Time is a challenging concept for children to grasp. It is even more difficult for concrete thinkers, as many neurodiverse children are. Children with autism tend to understand concrete concepts better than abstract ones, like time. Visual timers and other supports can help bridge the gap, giving children a better understanding of time. 

What is a visual timer?

Visual timers allow you to observe the passage of time through visual cues. There are different types of visual timers. The type you choose will depend on a number of factors, such as your child’s preference and your intended use of the timer.

Here are a few options

The Time Timer demonstrates the passage of time with a colored disk that fades away as time passes. With this timer, your child can easily observe the color closing in as the time passes.

Time Timers are great for longer activities, as you can set them for up to one hour.

Sand timers are another great option to demonstrate the passage of time. Each sand timer has a different duration. They come in durations of 1 minute, 2 minutes, 5 minutes, and 10 minutes. Simply flip it over and watch the sand flow down. When the minutes are up, the sand will be entirely at the bottom.

The Time Tracker is a unique and customizable visual timer. The green, yellow, and red sections light up to serve as warnings for the amount of time left for an activity. You can program the time each section lights up, making it customizable to your needs.

How can visual timers be used at home?

Visual timers are great for helping with transitions, whether big or small.

Here are a few ideas for using visual timers with your child at home

  • To show the remaining time in an activity. Transitioning away from a favorite activity like screen time or playing outside can cause distress for many children. A visual timer can make these transitions easier by providing a visual cue before the activity is over.

  • To help your child wait for an upcoming activity. Waiting is not easy. For children with a limited understanding of time, being told to wait may feel the same as being told “no.” To help your child understand what “wait” means, set your visual timer to allow them to observe the amount of time they need to wait.

  • For morning and bedtime routines. A Time Timer with a dry-erase board can be beneficial to help your child work through morning, bedtime, or any other routines. Set the timer for each task and check each off as you go through the routine.

  • To teach your child how long to engage in an activity. If your child tends to rush through activities they should be spending more time on, set a visual timer to help them identify how long to spend in that activity. Brushing teeth, for example, is a daily task that many children tend to rush through. A visual timer is a great way to help them learn how long to spend brushing.

Review the visual timer with your child and set expectations before using it. This will help things run more smoothly when you begin using it. Don’t worry if it doesn’t click right away. It may take time for your child to understand how the visual relates to the activity. With consistency, your child should be able to understand the concept of time better.

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,

Posted in ABA

Picking the Right Social Skills Assessment

By Nahoma Presberg, MS BCBA NYS-LBA

You’ve probably heard that ABA is a tool to teach social skills. You’ve probably also heard that one of the characteristics of autism is difficulty with social interactions. But what does that mean exactly? Does that mean that conversations with friends are hard? Knowing if someone is flirting with you? Taking turns at a board game? Interviewing for a job? The answer is, it could mean all of those things and a whole lot of other things too.

Social skills is a hugely broad category used to describe so much to do with the world around us. Young children begin to learn social skills starting with early play skills. Babies learn that making sounds from their mouth can often get an enthusiastic response from a caregiver. Preschoolers learn to share their toys with their friends. Every stage of development includes the expansion of a child’s social world.

For children with developmental disabilities, social skills may not develop in the same ways. ABA therapy can often be a useful tool to help children understand about social contingencies and engage more appropriately with the world around them. But this is a hugely complicated concept. How do we decide which social skills to teach? Assessments are hugely important tools for helping identify strengths and challenges of learners. But it’s important to pick the right assessment. For example, you wouldn’t give an assessment that focuses on pre-school play skills to someone getting ready to apply to jobs.

So how do you pick a social skills assessment? There are number of elements that you’ll want to consider. Picking a good social skills assessment is just the beginning of the process. You’ll also want to consider factors like your client’s age, current social environment, motivations and interests, and feedback from parents and caregivers about where that child might be struggling. Just because someone doesn’t have a skill listed on an assessment tool doesn’t mean that it should be the therapeutic priority because it may not be relevant for their current environment or won’t significantly enhance their quality of life. You may also want to consider using a mix-and-match approach with assessments to most accurately meet the needs of your client.

Let me tell you a little bit about some of my favorite assessment tools and what they’re used for:

Socially Savvy: The Socially Savvy is a curriculum designed to help students learn skills to prepare for kindergarten. They address the following domains: joint attention, social play, self-regulation, social/emotional, social language, classroom/group behavior, and nonverbal communication

PEAK: PEAK is a more comprehensive language and social skills curriculum. It was developed based on teaching advanced relational responding. Relational responding is what contributes to our ability to engage with abstract language and generalize information to broader contexts. PEAK was created to target skills for children as young as 18-months old all the way through teenage years. This is a great choice for a more comprehensive curriculum.

AFLS: The Assessment of Functional Living Skills may sometimes be conceptualized as a functional skills curriculum as opposed to a social skills curriculum. However, for some learners, it may be more appropriate to focus on functional elements of socializing (interacting with community helpers, navigating the community appropriately, etc). The AFLS has a number of different curriculum (daily living skills, community skills, vocational skills, etc.) which can be a great way to really get specific about what is most important for your learner.

Early Start Denver Model: This curriculum is also focused on social skills of younger learners. It covers the following domains: receptive and expressive communication, social skills, imitation, cognition, play, fine motor, gross motor, (challenging) behavior, and personal independence.

Social Skills Improvement System: This tool includes a child self-report form and a parent report form. The assessment looks at social skills and problem behaviors. This assessment is rated for children ages 8-12 years old. While this is certainly not a strict age range, it gives a sense of the level of social skills that this tool assesses for. 

Social Skills Checklist: There are two checklists in this assessment. One is for younger learners and focuses on the following categories: beginning play behaviors, intermediate play behaviors, advanced play behaviors, understanding emotions, self-regulation, flexibility, problem solving, conversation skills, nonverbal conversation skills, and compliments. The checklist for older learners focuses on conversational skills, problem solving, understanding emotions, compliments and flexibility.

Remember, there is no one right way to address social skills. It’s always important to come back to the question: What is going to most benefit my client right now? If you’re able to answer that question, there’s a good chance you’re on your way to effective treatment planning!

About the Author

Nahoma Presberg, MS BCBA NYS-LBA, is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Nahoma obtained their master’s degree at the University of Rochester in Human Development. They have been working with clients in their homes for the past 6 years but has over a decade of experience supporting children with developmental disabilities. Nahoma is passionate about neurodiversity affirming care and thoughtful programming that helps every client thrive.

For more information about Nahoma, you can visit their website at

Posted in ABA

Build Desirable Behaviors

By Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA

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.


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.

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.

Easy Data Collection for the Classroom

Get a preview of the helpful tips found in ABA Tools of the Trade by Sam Blanco, PHD, LBA, BCBA.

From the beginning of my career, I have loved data collection. Not only does it help me track what interventions are working and how quickly my students are learning, it also provides excellent structure and organization of what needs to be done on a daily basis. Much of this love of data collection was influenced by my colleague Val Demiri. While Val and I both looked at data as a way to make our lives easier, for many of our colleagues, data appeared to be more of an obstacle than a useful tool. So we set out to change that.

We’re both so thrilled about the release of ABA Tools of the Trade: Easy Data Collection for the Classroom. Our goal is to make data collection easier, more useful, and possible considering the many tasks a teacher is already doing on a daily basis in their classroom. Here are few things we’re really excited to have in the book:

  • An overview of some of our favorite tools for data collection, including why we love them and when they might be useful for you
  • An easy-to-use guide based on the specific behavior challenges you are currently facing, with suggestions for data collection and recommended readings
  • A task analysis of the data collection process that breaks down each step for pre-data collection phase, data collection phase, and post-data collection phase
  • A wealth of strategies to use to address problem behavior before they occur
  • An entire section devoted to BCBA Supervision that not only aligns with Task List 5 but also contains lesson plans and rubrics for assessing supervisees

We hope that by making data collection methods more accessible, we can motivate you to appreciate tools for data collection as much as we do!

About the Author

Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA, is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for twelve years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. She is also an assistant professor in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

Best Practices in BT/RBT Supervision

By Ashleigh Evans, MS, BCBA

Behavior Technicians (BTs) and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) are vital for the success of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy programs. When opening a new ABA clinic or beginning a new supervisory relationship, it’s important to establish an environment with supervision dynamics that allow clients to make progress while behavior technicians grow and thrive. Let’s explore some essential BT and RBT supervision practices that will set you up for success.

Establish Clear Expectations

When developing a new supervisory relationship, the first step is to clearly define expectations for your supervisee and yourself. Outline the technician’s roles, responsibilities, and performance expectations, and detail your responsibilities as the supervisor. Clear expectations set the foundation for a mutually beneficial working relationship.

You can establish clear expectations with your behavior technicians by:

  • Writing detailed job descriptions
  • Conducting comprehensive orientation and training for new hires
  • Creating an employee handbook with written policies and procedures
  • Holding 1:1 meetings to set goals collaboratively

Setting clear expectations reduces the likelihood of mishaps as time passes. If challenges arise later, take them as an opportunity to reflect on whether performance expectations were clearly delineated.

Provide Ongoing Feedback

Ongoing feedback is necessary for an RBT’s professional growth and development. Feedback is also vital for ensuring treatment fidelity and promoting high-quality care. Feedback can sometimes be uncomfortable for both the person giving the feedback and the one receiving it. Establishing clear expectations from the start can help prepare technicians for receiving feedback. During orientation, explain the importance of feedback and discuss how they can expect to receive both positive and constructive feedback. During onboarding, you can also take the time to ask staff how they most prefer feedback. For example, some people like company-wide shout-outs, while others find that quite aversive and prefer 1:1 feedback instead.

Also, take your time to develop rapport with new BTs. A strong rapport may ease their nerves and make them more receptive to feedback.

Create a plan for providing behavior technicians with feedback across areas such as:

  • Professionalism
  • Communication
  • Accuracy and reliability of data
  • Following procedures as written
  • Writing objective session notes
  • Recognizing and honoring assent withdrawal.

Maintain Channels of Open Communication

Ensure there are open and transparent channels of communication. Encourage all staff to feel comfortable coming to you with questions and concerns. Inform them of the best ways to reach you and your general availability.

Also, establish opportunities for RBTs to provide anonymous feedback. Feedback should always go both ways. While staff should be encouraged to offer feedback, they are often less likely to do so directly due to the power dynamics. Instead, provide a channel for anonymous feedback. Creating a Google Form that allows anonymous feedback is one easy way to set this up. Send the link to new staff upon hire and include it in your email signature for easy access when needed. 

Support Professional Development

It is natural to crave growth. While many technicians are comfortable staying in their roles, others will likely want to experience career growth. By investing in professional development, you can show your staff that you value their career growth and contributions to your organization.

Some ways you can support your RBT’s professional development include:

  • Offer ongoing training, workshops, and continuing education opportunities
  • Allow staff to pursue their interests and passions within the field by systematically developing new roles
  • Implement RBT leveling systems with additional training and responsibilities at each higher level
  • Hold roundtable discussions with technicians taking turns running them
  • Offer fieldwork supervision for staff who wish to pursue BCaBA or BCBA certification
  • Create professional development plans to outline staff’s career goals and action steps for achieving them

Reflect on your Own Supervision Practices

Section 4.10 of the BCBA Ethics Code for Behavior Analysts requires BCBAs to actively and continuously evaluate their own supervisory practices. Develop plans to self-evaluate your supervision. You can do this by seeking and reflecting on feedback from your staff and clients. You can also self-assess your supervisory practices by evaluating the progress your clients and staff are making toward their individualized goals. Through self-evaluations, you can identify whether your supervisory practices are having a positive impact and develop plans for modification if they are not.

Cultivate a Culture of Support

To run a successful ABA organization, you must foster a culture of support and collaboration where staff feel valued, respected, and empowered. Without the dedication of behavior technicians, your learners would not make progress, and your organization would not thrive. You can create a positive, empowering environment by establishing clear expectations, providing and accepting feedback, ensuring open communication, and supporting professional development. Take care of your staff first. Then, they will take care of your clients.


Sellers, T. P., Valentino, A. L., & LeBlanc, L. A. (2016). Recommended Practices for Individual Supervision of Aspiring Behavior Analysts. Behavior analysis in practice, 9(4), 274–286.

Sellers, T. P., Alai-Rosales, S., & MacDonald, R. P. (2016). Taking Full Responsibility: the Ethics of Supervision in Behavior Analytic Practice. Behavior analysis in practice, 9(4), 299–308.

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,

Posted in ABA