Flashcards: Prompting for Success

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 spectrum of autism. 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. 

Posted in ABA

5 Tips to Creating and Maintaining Classroom Expectations

The First Step of Teaching Self-Monitoring and
Implementation of The Self & Match System

Educators have long known the wide-range of variables that impact the behavioral success of our students.  Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of students were educated in-person; learning classwide expectations from their teachers and peers from a young age. During virtual instruction throughout the pandemic, some of our “tried and true” classroom strategies to help students learn how to be successful were derailed in numerous ways due to the sudden and extreme shift in our instructional modalities and the necessity to quickly pivot to a virtual format.  

As we return to brick & mortar learning, it is clear that the behaviors displayed in many classrooms has become even greater, given that student experiences ranged  dramatically throughout their time in distance learning.  Without a doubt, behavioral expectations throughout distance learning varied greatly in homes given each family’s unique circumstances. As a result, children have returned to “in-person” instruction demonstrating a variety of social, behavioral, and academic skills/needs.  Not to mention, the majority of students who are currently enrolled in grades K-2 have never experienced a full “typical” year of elementary school. Many of them had their preschool experience flipped upside down! Preschool and early elementary is a developmental time where students often learn school readiness and behavioral/social group interactions. Yet many children missed that opportunity due to the necessity to learn at home.  As a result of these various factors,  many classrooms around the globe are experiencing higher rates of behavioral challenges than pre-pandemic levels (1). 

One simple way to support our student’s behavioral success as they return to in-class learning is to prioritize setting clear expectations and then systematically teaching our students the tools needed to self-monitor their behavior(s) to match these expectations using Self & Match.  All students thrive on having expectations and the value of setting clear classroom expectations has been researched for over 70 years (2).  So, let’s take a look at some key tips to setting up effective classroom expectations as well as tools to teach self-monitoring as we go back to the basics and prepare our students to be successful, lifelong learners. 

5 Tips to Consider As You Set Expectations With Your Students and Develop your Self & Match Systems:

1) Create 3-5 clear/explicit class expectations that are stated positively.  

Set expectations of what you would like your student to do (i.e. “Be Responsible by coming to class on time”) rather than what you don’t want your student to do (i.e. “Don’t Come to Class Late”).  (3) 

2) Make the expectations easy to remember, simple to understand, age-appropriate, and enforceable.  

Ensure that all students can identify the class expectations and, if possible, explain them in their own words.  Consider incorporating visuals and teach examples and non-examples that align with each expectation.  Remember to use language that is familiar to your students, make it fun, tied to your classroom themes, school-wide PBIS culture, and (if applicable) your Self & Match Questions!  For example, if you have a space themed classroom, using terms like “Out of this world!” might be language to reinforce the expectations and connect for your students.   (4)

3) If possible, co-construct the expectations with your students and allow them to have a voice in the process of creating and setting expectations.

If a class expectation is to “Be Kind”, ask your students what “Being Kind” means to them and include the student definitions on the clearly posted expectations within the classroom.  Allow students to develop clear examples and non-examples of the class expectations and remember that the examples can be added to or modified throughout the year.  Including example(s) and non-examples increases the rate at which students follow through with classroom expectations (5).  

4) Promote fluency by explicitly teaching and practicing the expectations.

Go further than simply posting the expectations in a visible location by referencing them frequently, make it a part of your daily schedule, and (if applicable) review at each Self & Match check-in opportunity.  Infuse the language of the expectations throughout your school day by catching students engaging in the class expectation and reinforcing/labelling it (i.e. – “Kai, I love the way you are Following Directions by starting your classwork”). 

5) Empower students to take ownership and responsibility for their own behavior.  Recognizing expectations is the first step of teaching self-monitoring within an educational setting.

In its simplest terms, self-management involves the personal/self-application of behavior-change procedures that supports goal achievement.  How can we expect students to accurately reflect on their behavior, if they do not have a clear understanding of the expectations?  This is why it is critical that the first step you take is establishing classroom expectations with your students. 

Taking it a step further… 

HOW CAN I SET-UP A SELF & MATCH SYSTEM TO FURTHER ENHANCE SELF- AWARENESS OF CLASS EXPECTATIONS 

As we are returning to our physical classrooms amidst the pandemic, teachers are looking to add additional user-friendly tools to their toolkit in order to promote the behavioral success of our students.  The Self & Match System is a tool that many educators and practitioners have turned to to implement individually or class-wide.

The Self & Match System is a self-management and motivational system firmly grounded in principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).  This manualized behavioral intervention encourages a collaborative approach to promoting systematic behavioral success for children and young adults using self-monitoring with an accountability/match component.  Systematic planning before beginning an intervention makes a world of difference and is a fundamental element of the Self & Match system. Each system is individually developed using a comprehensive “considerations guide” that is included in the Self & Match manual. 

Self & Match has been implemented internationally across a variety of settings including: special and general education classrooms; homes; sports programs; camps; clinics; as well as public, private, parochial schools, post-secondary education. 

The 6th edition of The Self & Match System: Systematic Use of Self-Monitoring as a Behavior Intervention includes all the materials necessary to guide the development and implementation of individualized Self & Match Systems. Included in the manual is a forward by a trailblazer in the ABA world, Dr. Saul Axelrod; an introduction that provides a review of the literature supporting self-monitoring; a “Considerations Prior to Implementation Guide”; 20 sample Self & Match forms, five reproducible Self & Match forms; and an assortment of supplemental materials.  The manual also includes access to an online portal of customizable digital forms and a PDF form creator called the “Self & Match Maker”.

Our ultimate goal is to provide you with practical tools to help students monitor and reflect on their own behavior so that they can become more independent and self-determined, resulting in an improved quality of life! 

Want to learn even more about the Who’s, What’s Where’s, Why’s, When’s, and How’s of Self-Monitoring interventions?  Check out our 2018 DRL blog here

About The Authors 

Jamie Salter, Ed.S., BCBA

Jamie S. Salter, Ed.S., BCBA co-authored the Self & Match System; an evidence-based self-monitoring intervention that is grounded in principles of Applied Behavior Analysis. Jamie consults with teams around the globe in the development and implementation of Self & Match interventions as a Tier 1, 2, or 3 behavioral tool within the school, clinic, and home settings.

Previously, Jamie served for a decade as a Senior Program Specialist at the San Diego County Office of Education. In her role, she trained educators on writing effective and legally-defensible Behavior Intervention Plans, provided leadership and guidance to special educators, consulted with teams utilizing the Self & Match system, and supported students, families, and IEP teams in determining appropriate programs for students in their least-restrictive environment. Jamie has been actively involved in supporting children with autism for over 20 years. These experiences include serving as Supervisor of an U.S. Department of Education Training Grant (focused on inclusion of students with low incidence disabilities) and presenter at multiple International Conferences. She has also operated a school-based clinic that provided an emphasis on Intensive Behavioral Interventions, led social skills groups, sibling support groups, and provided in-home behavioral intervention. She has served on the state-wide PENT Cadre Leadership team since 2016.  Jamie received her Masters of Education, Educational Specialist degree, Nationally Certified School Psychologist status, and BCBA certification through Lehigh University. 

Katharine Croce, Ed.D., BCBA

Dr. Katharine Croce is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral (BCBA-D).  Dr. Croce received her Doctorate in Educational Leadership at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.  Dr. Croce earned a MS. Ed., in Applied Behavior Analysis from Temple University, a BA in Psychology and Criminal Justice from La Salle University, and an Autism Certificate from Pennsylvania State University.  

Dr. Croce is an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at Felician University teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in Applied Behavior Analysis. Previously, Dr. Croce was the Director of the ASERT Collaborative Eastern Region at Drexel University. ASERT (Autism Services, Education, Resources and Training) and brings together autism resources (locally, regionally, and statewide) to improve access to quality services and information, provide support to individuals with autism and caregivers, train professionals in best practices and facilitate the connection between individuals, families, professionals and providers. 

Dr. Croce has worked as a Special Education Coordinator and behavior analyst in public/private schools, home settings, and an in-patient hospital for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other developmental disabilities.  Dr. Croce has also worked in a clinic setting developing programs for individuals with ASD, a support program for college students with ASD, and training undergraduate and graduate education and psychology majors who wanted to work in the field of ASD.  

Contact Jamie or Katie at selfandmatch@gmail.com

  1. National Association of School Psychologists. (2020). Providing effective social–emotional and behavioral supports after COVID-19 closures: Universal screening and Tier 1 interventions [handout]. 
  1. Zimmerman, E. H., & Zimmerman, J. (1962). The alteration of behavior in an elementary classroom. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 5, 50-60.
  1. Burden, P. (2006). Classroom management: Creating a successful K-12 learning community. (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
  1. Grossman, H. (2004). Classroom behavior management for diverse and inclusive schools. (3rd ed.). New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Kerr, M. M., & Nelson, C. M. (2010). Strategies for addressing behavior problems in the classroom. (6th Ed.). Columbus OH: Merrill.

Burden, P. (2006). Classroom management: Creating a successful K-12 learning community. (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

  1. Neef, N. A., Shafer, M. S., Egel, A. L., Cataldo, M. F., & Parrish, J. M. (1983). The class specific effects of compliance training with ―do‖ and ―don’t‖ requests; analogue analysis and class-room application. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 16(1), 81-99.
Posted in ABA

Raising Expectations for the Treatment of Children With ASD

On November 6th 2021 in NYC, Dr. Ronald Leaf will describe the Autism Partnership Method (APM) in a free seminar at St Monica’s Church from 2-4pm. Free CEUs will be available! 

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have amazing potential that can and should result in a high quality of life. However, this is highly dependent on the treatment received. Unfortunately, the current standard of care—Conventional Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)—is quite rigid and formulaic in its approach, yielding treatment that is not tailored to the unique needs of the children and their families. Typically, treatment only addresses limited areas such as behavior and communication deficits. Although children may receive some benefits from Conventional, protocol-based ABA, the results usually do not endure over time, nor do they translate to more natural settings that are essential for self-sufficient adulthood.

Autism Partnership Method is an extremely individualized approach to ASD that yields lifelong benefits.  Rather than follow a “one size fits all” treatment recipe. Progressive ABA training is not time based, but performance based — no less rigorous or precise than the training regimens of surgeons or civil engineers. Quality treatment focuses on the entire child, thereby addressing the child’s foundational behaviors, including communication, socialization, play, and independent living skills — as opposed to addressing a more limited set of behavioral or communication needs. Progressive ABA treatment is designed so that children can succeed in mainstream settings, such as regular education classes, and can thrive in extracurricular activities. Children who receive progressive treatment, have been shown to make the progress their parents dream of, such as playing with their sibling and developing meaningful friendships.

In 2011, the journal Education and Treatment of Children published A Program Description of a Community-Based Intensive Behavioral Intervention for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This study evaluated the progress of 64 children at Autism Partnership agencies in Seal Beach, California; Hong Kong; Leeds, United Kingdom; and Melbourne, Australia. The results found that 70.3% of children achieved best outcomes when individualized ABA services were provided early (i.e., before the age of 9), and intensively (i.e., 10–40 hours a week), by quality therapists.

At Autism Partnership we are deeply concerned about the expectations regarding the outcomes for children diagnosed with ASD!  Simply put, we feel that the expectations are too low. Children with ASD have a far more favorable prognosis than believed achievable decades ago, yet there still seems to be a lack of understanding regarding children’s’ actual potential. Children with ASD have amazing potential! The majority of children can become conversational, achieve success in school, develop meaningful friendships and most importantly, experience a high quality of life!  However, achieving this requires high quality intervention with highly trained staff. 

Register for the Autism Partnership seminar here! 

About The Author

Ronald Leaf, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist who began his career working with Ivar Lovaas in 1973 while receiving his undergraduate degree at UCLA.  Subsequently he received his doctorate under the direction of Dr. Lovaas.  During his years at UCLA he served as Clinic Supervisor, Research Psychologist, Interim Director of the Autism Project and Lecturer.  He was extensively involved in several research investigations, contributed to the Me Book and is a co-author of the Me Book Videotapes, a series of instructional tapes for teaching autistic children.  Dr. Leaf has consulted to families, schools, day programs and residential facilities on a national and international basis.  Ron is a Director of Autism Partnership.  Dr. Leaf has published extensively in research journals.  Dr. Leaf is the co-author of: A Work in ProgressTime for SchoolIt Has to Be Said!Crafting ConnectionsA Work in Progress Companion Series and Clinical Judgement.

In The Event Of Crisis

When it comes to the treatment or reduction of challenging, disruptive, dangerous problem behaviors, regardless of the setting or populations served, this will often be referred to as “Crisis Intervention”.

This concept is far broader than ABA, as many institutions and facilities will create, monitor, and implement crisis interventions whether anyone on site has received ABA training, credentialing, or licensure, or not (examples: police, schools, daycares, residential settings, prisons, etc.).

Being such a broad topic, that can look about 10,000 different ways depending on the setting and availability of highly trained specialists, it should come as no surprise that crisis behavior scenarios frequently result in injury or even death. If you do some online searches for news stories related to seclusion and restraint, regardless of the setting, you will see what I mean.

This issue is also larger than disability.

Yes, most of the horror stories we see on the news where someone was seriously injured during a restraint DO involve people with disabilities (whether it was known at the time, or not). But in the absence of disability or mental health issues, crisis management can still lead to serious injury or death. That could be for the person(s) responding to the crisis, or to the person(s) having the crisis.

This is a very weighty and complex topic, and I can’t possibly cover everything anyone should know about crisis intervention. However, due to the seriousness of crisis scenarios and the increased risk of harm (again, for the person intervening, the person or having a crisis, or even both of those people), I very much want to share some resources and information about managing behavioral crises.

First, some terms. Here is my favorite definition of a crisis:

A time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger; a time when a difficult or important decision must be made.

During a behavioral crisis, the individual is having intense difficulty or trouble. They are having a hard time (not giving you a hard time). Decisions must be made, not just regarding what to do RIGHT NOW, but in the future, in case this happens again. Which, without the proper supports in place, the crisis event is highly likely to happen again.

Viewing a crisis through this lens takes the responsibility off of the individual having the crisis, and onto the supports in place (or lack thereof). When a crisis event occurs, ask yourself these questions:

     1. Does this individual know how to safely de-escalate during a crisis event?

     2. If yes, then why are they not using that tool?

Truly individualized and effective de-escalation tools are best understood as the means by which an individual in a crisis state can identify they are approaching a crisis state, select a de-escalation method, implement the method, and lastly evaluate how well the method worked once they are calm again.

Depending on the setting, availability of support help, and the understanding of de-escalation (or lack thereof), this “returning to neutral” process can take minutes, hours, days, or may not occur at all. It may involve a team of people, a caregiver or support person, or happen independently. When it doesn’t occur at all, that typically results in emergency room visits or admittance into an inpatient facility.

I do not know your work setting, the populations you serve, or your job title, but if you are reading this post I have to assume you have either experienced a crisis event with a client/student/etc. or want to be equipped if it should happen.

Right here I have to point out a very common myth, that can be quite dangerous when people believe it: In the field of ABA, clients who exhibit (or have a history of exhibiting) highly violent or dangerous problem behaviors may be classified as exhibiting “severe behavior”. It is a myth that only severe behavior clients can have crisis events. That is not true at all. Clients with non-violent or less disruptive problem behaviors, under the right set of combined circumstances, could have a behavioral crisis. For example, what if their home routine is significantly disrupted, they are ill, dealing with a change of medication, and also recently started puberty? These setting events when combined, could trigger a crisis event. For this reason, it is important for professionals and practitioners to be properly trained and equipped for crisis conditions, far before they are needed.

Now I want to speak specifically to ABA implementers (RBT’s, paraprofessionals, etc.) who work directly with clients: If you are working with clients where you are regularly responding to crisis events or working with clients with a known history of crisis events, you should be following the policies of the physical management training you received. If you have not received any physical management training, then you should not be working with those clients. It is dangerous for you, and dangerous for them.

Again, crisis events could potentially happen at any time, with any client/student/etc. It would be unwise to think “Oh I don’t work with severe behavior individuals, so this doesn’t apply to me”. For ANY of us (disabled or not, mental health issues or not) the right set of circumstances could trigger a crisis event.

If you were in the midst of a crisis event, who would you want helping you? Someone reacting on impulse or instinct, or someone who has been thoroughly and properly trained on safe de-escalation?

So what can be done? Glad you asked.

There are many, many crisis intervention and de-escalation resources readily available. If you are not in the position to set policy or choose employee trainings, you can still request additional training from your employer and send them recommendations of evidence-based methodologies. You can also always communicate when you feel ill-equipped or prepared to work with a specific student/client/etc. or feel unsafe.

Research shows that in the absence of individualized, evidence- based crisis interventions, individuals will contact injury to self and others (Burke, Hagan-Burke, & Sugai, 2003), receipt of medications with serious side-effects that rarely correct the causes of the behaviors (Frazier et al, 2011), receipt of intrusive, ineffective interventions that are punishment-led (Brown et al, 2008), and increased negative interactions (Lawson & O’Brien, 1994).

In ‘Effects of Function-Based Crisis Intervention on theSevere Challenging Behavior of Students with Autism ‘, the following procedures are recommended for crisis intervention planning-

Be cognizant of crisis needs and function when designing a behavior plan for students with crisis behaviors, and operationally describe steps to be taken for each phase of escalation. When describing these steps, be aware of the behavioral function. Change the quality of reinforcement delivered between appropriate and inappropriate behavior, and prompt appropriate behavior before providing access to calming activities. Train staff to competence on the intervention strategies (which most often includes role play scenarios during training, not just discussion/lecture). 

*Recommended Resources (please share!):

~Find the number for the mental health crisis/emergency support services in your state, and save it in your cell phone

~For caregivers, if your child is on medication the Physician/Psychiatrist will likely have an after-hours or emergency help desk. Save that number in your cell phone

https://www.pcmasolutions.com/

https://www.marcus.org/autism-training/crisis-prevention-program

Crisis Intervention Strategies

Prevention of Crisis Behavior

Crisis Help in Georgia

ASD & Crisis Behaviors

Handbook of Crisis Intervention and Developmental Disabilities

ASD & De-Escalation 

Crisis Prevention Institute 

ASD & Stages of Behavioral Escalation

Nationally Certified Crisis Training Providers

About The Author: Tameika Meadows, BCBA

“I’ve been providing ABA therapy services to young children with Autism since early 2003. My career in ABA began when I stumbled upon a flyer on my college campus for what I assumed was a babysitting job. The job turned out to be an entry level ABA therapy position working with an adorable little boy with Autism. This would prove to be the unplanned beginning of a passionate career for me.

From those early days in the field, I am now an author, blogger, Consultant/Supervisor, and I regularly lead intensive training sessions for ABA staff and parents. If you are interested in my consultation services, or just have questions about the blog: contact me here.”

This piece originally appeared at www.iloveaba.com

Focus on Generalization and Maintenance

On more than one occasion, I’ve been in the situation that a student will only demonstrate a skill in my presence. And I’ve heard from other colleagues that they have had similar experiences. This is highly problematic. When it happens with one of my students, there is only one person I can blame: myself.  A skill that a student can only demonstrate in my presence is a pretty useless skill and does nothing to promote independence.

So what do you do when you find yourself in this situation? You reteach, with a focus on generalization. This means that, from the very beginning, you are teaching with a wide variety of materials, varying your instructions, asking other adults to help teach the skill, and demonstrating its use in a variety of environments. Preparing activities takes more time on the front-end for the teacher, but saves a ton of time later because your student is more likely to actually master the skill. (Generalization, after all, does show true mastery.)

Hopefully, you don’t have to do this, though. Hopefully, you’ve focused on generalization from the first time you taught the skill. You may see generalization built into materials you already use.

Another commonly cited issue teachers of children with autism encounter is failure to maintain a skill. In my mind, generalization and maintenance go hand-in-hand, in that they require you to plan ahead and consider how, when, and where you will practice acquired skills. Here are a few tips that may help you with maintenance of skills:

  1. Create notecards of all mastered skills. During the course of a session, go through the notecards and set aside any missed questions or activities. You might need to do booster sessions on these. (This can also be an opportunity for extending generalization by presenting the questions with different materials, phrases, environments, or people.)
  2. Set an alert on your phone to remind you to do a maintenance test two weeks, four weeks, and eight weeks after the student has mastered the skill.
  3. Create a space on your data sheets for maintenance tasks to help you remember not only to build maintenance into your programs, but also to take data on maintenance.

Considering generalization and maintenance from the outset of any teaching procedure is incredibly important. Often, when working with students with special needs, we are working with students who are already one or more grade levels behind their typically developing peers. Failing to teach generalization and maintenance, then having to reteach, is a waste of your students’ time.

Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for sixteen 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 she is the Senior Clinical Strategist at Chorus Software Solutions.

How ASAT Supports Special Education and General Education Teachers

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D, Kaitlyn Evoy, BA, Sarah Cummins, MA, BCBA, and Kate McKenna, MEd, MSEd, BCBA, LBA. 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!

The Association for Science in Autism Treatment strives to promote evidence-based practices for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in all aspects of their life, including in the classroom. The reality is, of all the professionals and specialists in the field of education, teachers have the largest amount of time with children with ASD over the course of their formative years. Despite this fact, teachers often have the least amount of formal training in the area of autism.

Most special education programs prepare teacher candidates for a wide variety of positions, working with students with an array of needs, abilities, and required accommodations. The reasoning is simple: only a relatively smaller percentage of candidates in the program will work with students who require substantial levels of support. This reality molds their training programs to prepare future teachers for their more likely positions, working with students with high-incidence disabilities. This begs two questions: Are university students who exit special education training programs truly trained to educate learners with complex needs? And, do employers (e.g., schools) have the expectation that new teachers should come with this education and training?

Legislation has aimed at holding special education teachers to high standards, with specific wording calling for the necessity for “highly qualified” teachers. This performance expectation is hard to reach. While people in power (e.g., legislators, politicians, administrators) want schools to hire teachers who have high qualifications, the reality is that it is challenging for teachers to achieve this status. Special education teachers often lack support in the form of staffing, curriculum, administration backing, supplies, and the planning time needed to prepare and provide for what their students need. In order to successfully teach their students, special education teachers often use their own time to seek professional development, support, and advice. The array of information on treatments, approaches, and therapies is overwhelming. The resources are often lacking in evidence, difficult to understand, or simply do not exist. Combine these truths with the stress and burnout this career brings, and teachers are set up to struggle daily. Yet, the pressure on teachers to be “highly qualified” remains.

We acknowledge that students with autism are educated in a variety of settings, and that teachers are subsequently expected to work in a variety of settings. General education teachers may have students with autism in their classrooms, with and without paraprofessionals for support. Special education teachers could be working in a more supportive role in a general education classroom or pulling students out to work in a resource room. Another scenario is working in self-contained special education classrooms with no paraprofessional support, or they may have to supervise a team of support staff. Teachers in classrooms with paraprofessionals may be responsible for educating classroom staff about autism and training them in specific intervention strategies. This is despite a lack of substantial training about autism and limited training in supervising and working with support staff. Furthermore, many teachers are directing large numbers of paraprofessionals while still retaining direct teaching responsibilities, not to mention that staff shortages may require daily triaging to ensure that students are adequately covered.

Additionally, teachers in both general and special education settings may find themselves facing challenges that were not addressed in their college or university coursework or their student teaching experience. For example, snack and lunch time may be complicated by issues of feeding disorders or food refusal. Families may require school support with teaching toileting skills or addressing school refusal. Challenging behavior may disrupt lessons and cause problems during transitions. Teachers can be expected to incorporate the use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices into the curriculum and daily routines of the classroom.

ASAT can be a bright light in a landscape of confusion. With explicit aim to offer resources for a wide variety of professions, including teachers, our information is comprehensive, easily organized, and backed by science. Gone are the days when teachers had to rely solely on advice from colleagues, blogs, or Pinterest to find intervention strategies and techniques. ASAT gathers and creates information about evidence-based practices that are easy to read on a platform that is easy to navigate – and it is all free.

It is our hope that this article serves to provide a comprehensive list of resources offered to teachers of students with autism. The links presented here focus on solutions to a variety of challenges including increasing independence, developing skills, augmenting inclusion opportunities, increasing community integration, preparing for adulthood, as well as other topics of interest to family members and other service providers who work with this population. We anticipate this list of offerings will continue to grow. In the future, we very much look forward to sharing new, innovative articles that are currently in development.

Prior to sharing many of our offerings that are well suited for teachers, we would first like to highlight three broader initiatives:

  1. ASAT publishes a monthly newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, containing reviews of published research, books, and consumer resources (e.g., training videos, websites, or resource lists like this one on promoting success at the dentist), interviews with leaders in the field of autism treatment for older children and adults, as well as parent advocates, answers to questions about important clinical issues related to education and treatment, tips to differentiate evidence-based options from others marketed as panaceas, and more. In addition, you can find links to the current newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, as well as past issues in the Archived Newsletters section. You can read more about Science in Autism Treatment and its diverse content and features here and also subscribe for free.
  2. ASAT’s website (www.asatonline.org) offers resources for teachers and other educational personnel (e.g., lists of apps to use in the classroom, bullying prevention resources, as well as lists of print resources like this one that helps classmates learn about autism). We also provide resources geared towards parents and medical professionals. As part of our vision to provide accurate information, we update our content to reflect up-to-date research and evaluations of new treatments. Our website also has interviews that reflect the perspectives of different stakeholders, including parents. We are pleased to share that we have launched a special page for teachers that lists articles topically.
  3. ASAT also has a 150-hour Externship program for students, professionals, and family members to gain experience in a not-for-profit organization while increasing their knowledge within the field of autism. Many of our past and current Externs are teachers or hold degrees in education (which include the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th authors of this article). Furthermore, many members of our Board of Directors and Professional Advisory Board possess teaching degrees and certificates.

In the remainder of this article, we describe many of our resources in greater detail as they relate to teachers and individuals with autism in school settings.

Science Corner

Science Corner offers user-friendly knowledge about scientific concepts to help our readers become savvier consumers. Recent published installments include topics such as making sense of the evidenceretraction of published researchpitfalls of circular reasoning, and conducting a comprehensive literature search. In order to evaluate research, claims, and educational interventions for students with autism spectrum disorders, it is crucial to understand and recognize the differences between science and pseudoscience. There is also a group of articles that evaluates whether or not specific treatments or fads are evidence-based (i.e., “Is There Science Behind That?”). Some of the topics teachers may encounter in their careers or be asked about by their students’ parents include Facilitated Communicationsensory dietsservice dogs, and gluten-free/casein free diets.

Research Synopses

Research Synopses, as its name implies, contains reviews of relevant studies related to autism. There, teachers can find quick summaries of complex research, helping them to save time in their review of literature on their journey to use evidence-based practices in the classroom. There is a growing list of specific psychological, educational, and therapeutic interventions. Some interventions have multiple studies referenced and reviewed. If teachers are looking for more information on specific interventions, including the evidence or lack thereof, they can find those as well. Applied behavior analysis has dozens of studies linked given the tremendous body of literature, including classroom applications of functional analysisa meta-analysis on TEACCHsupporting appropriate transitions, and early intervention in public preschool and kindergarten to name a few. A section on effective procedures for teaching specific skills to individuals with autism covers studies ranging from the challenges and possibilities of teaching reading skills to students with autism, to communication interventions for minimally verbal children with autism. Because teachers often encounter stakeholders interested in non-evidence based, therapeutic, or biomedical treatments, ASAT addresses issues like the persistence of fad interventions such as facilitated communicationthe lack of evidence supporting the rapid prompting method, and the results of a controlled trial regarding hyperbaric treatment for children with autism. Find the full gamut of research synopses available here.

Clinical Corner

Clinical Corner provides responses to frequently asked questions about autism treatment. This is a particularly content-rich area of the ASAT website which spans many critical issues related to teaching, such as use of reinforcement, effective interventions, behavior management, and issues impacting families. Examples of specific questions answered are related to topics such as the importance of early diagnosissetting up an evidence-based program, and teaching children social skills. Questions posed by teachers working in the field are included within this section. Some of these cover subjects including, but not limited to, teaching WH questionspreparing students for fuller inclusion, and safety skills. See the full array of our Clinical Corner installments here.

Book and Resource Reviews

On our website you will find reviews of several useful books related to teaching and behavior management. In addition, you will find summaries of some available resources listed below topically. Many of these reviews are for books and resources that are available free of charge.
Autism Educational and Treatment Considerations

  1. A review of The complete guide to autism treatments 2nd Edition
  2. A review of Countering evidence denial and the promotion of pseudoscience in autism spectrum disorder
  3. A review of The persistence of fad interventions in the face of negative scientific evidence
  4. A review of Autism for public school administrators: What you need to know

Early Intervention

  1. A review of The activity kit for babies and toddlers at risk
  2. A review of Autism: Start here, what families need to know (3rd Edition)

Parenting and Family Resources

  1. A review of Autism 24/7: A family guide to learning at home and in the community
  2. A review of Autism and the family: Understanding and supporting parents and siblings
  3. A review of Life as an autism sibling
  4. A review of Life Journey Through Autism: A parent’s guide to research
  5. A review of Blessed with autism: A parent’s guide to securing financial support for the treatment of children with autism
  6. A review of Broccoli Boot Camp: Basic training for parents of selective eaters
  7. A review of The power of positive parenting

Skill Acquisition

  1. A review of Teaching social skills to people with autism: Best practices in individualizing interventions
  2. A review of Discrete-trials teaching with children with autism: A self-instruction manual
  3. A review of Focus on behavior analysis in education: Achievements, challenges, and opportunities
  4. A review of Activity schedules for children with autism: Teaching independent behavior
  5. A review of Applied behavior analysis and autism: An introduction

Behavioral Intervention

  1. A review of The function wheels
  2. A review of Elopement of children with autism: What we know, successful interventions, and practical tips for parents and caregivers
  3. An overview of ABA Ultimate Showdown Podcasts for Round 1 (IISCA vs. Traditional FA)
  4. A review of Punishment on trial
  5. A review of ABA tools of the trade: Easy data collection for the classroom
  6. A review of Compassionate care in behavior analytic treatment

Transition

  1. A review of Journey to community housing with supports
  2. A review of Finding your way: A college guide for students on the spectrum
  3. A review of Life Journey Through Autism: A guide for transition to adulthood
  4. A review of Working in the community: A guide for employers of individuals with autism spectrum disorders

Media Watch

ASAT’s Media Watch monitors mainstream media to identify published information about autism and autism treatments. Understanding that every media contribution has the potential to reach thousands of consumers and service providers, we support accurate media depictions of empirically-sound interventions. We also respond to inaccurate information about proposed treatments reported and, at times, promulgated by news outlets. You can review our 200+ published letters. Many of our letters focus on topics related to schools and teacher preparation. We have compiled a list of a few dozen letters written over the last 10 years that teachers may find interesting. These are organized topically below:

Early Intervention

  1. ASAT responds to The New York Times’ Early treatment for autism is critical, new report says
  2. ASAT responds to news.com.au’s Mum Julia Coorey on surviving an autism diagnosis and importance of early diagnosis
  3. ASAT responds to NBC News’ Brain scans detect signs of autism in high-risk babies before age 1

Supporting Students

  1. ASAT responds to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Children with autism spectrum disorder need more support during the pandemic (02/19/21)
  2. ASAT responds to The Conversation’s Report sparks concern about how schools support students with disabilities (6/12/17)
  3. ASAT responds to New Zealand Herald’s Opinion: Teach all teachers strategies for autistic children, Urges Autism NZ (4/12/17)

Family Experiences

  1. ASAT responds to Autism Parenting Magazine’s, Simple ways you can Help strengthen the ASD sibling relationship (2/15/2017)
  2. ASAP Responds to kswo.com’s How autism affects the whole family (01/14/2016)
  3. ASAT responds to TheAtlantic.com’s The economic impact of autism on families 07/13/2012)
  4. ASAT responds to Examiner.com’s Reshaping public misconceptions of parenting a child with autism

Outcomes

  1. ASAT responds to abc.news.go.com’s How a child with autism became ‘His own man’ after treatment (02/08/2016)
  2. ASAT responds to ABC.net.au’s Hope for autistic teens: How applied behaviour analysis helped Ian Rogerson’s son overturn bleak prognosis (1/08/2015)
  3. ASAT responds to Bangor Daily News’ Old Town Athlete Honor Student shares story of overcoming ‘bleak diagnosis’ of autism (05/17/2014)
  4. ASAT responds to FoxPhilly.com’s Parents of autistic children worry what life will bring when they’re adults (04/01/2013)

Employment

  1. ASAT responds to Click on Detroit’s Ford aims to boost hiring of employees with autism (10/15/20)
  2. ASAT responds to lohud’s Spectrum Designs will provide opportunities for those on the autism spectrum (01/13/20)
  1. ASAT responds to ABC News’ (AU) Workers with autism recognized for unique skill set, ANZ recruiting nine new employees (3/5/2018)
  2. ASAT responds to Triblive.com’s Autism services hope to make inroads in workplace (04/24/2013)
  3. ASAT responds to MSNBC’s 1 in 3 autistic young adults lack jobs, education (04/07/2012)

Community Opportunities and Needs

  1. ASAT responds to Good Housekeeping’s Costco is hosting sensory-friendly shopping hours for people with autism (03/04/2017)
  2. ASAT responds to CNN’s Helping patients with autism navigate the stressful ER (05/22/2016)

Transition Concerns from School to Adulthood

  1. ASAT responds to The Inquirer’s Falling off the cliff (12/27/2017).
  2. ASAT responds to Psychologytoday.com’s Making severe autism visible (12/29/2015)
  3. ASAT responds to Portland Press-Herald’s Graduating to an uncertain fate (06/15/2011)

Please take a moment to explore other sections of our dedicated pages for teachers including our topical list of resources.

Citation for this article:

Celiberti, D. A., Evoy, K., Cummins, S, & McKenna, K. (2021). How ASAT supports special education and regular education teachers. Science in Autism Treatment, 18(5).

About The Authors

David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D, is the Executive Director of ASAT and Past-President, a role he served from 2006 to 2012. He is the Editor of ASAT’s monthly publication, Science in Autism Treatment. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from Rutgers University in 1993 and his certification in behavior analysis in 2000. Dr. Celiberti has served on a number of advisory boards and special interest groups in the field of autism, applied behavior analysis (ABA), and early childhood education. He works in private practice and provides consultation to public and private schools and agencies in underserved areas. He has authored several articles in professional journals and presents frequently at regional, national, and international conferences. In prior positions, Dr. Celiberti taught courses related to ABA at both undergraduate and graduate levels, supervised individuals pursuing BCBA certifications, and conducted research in the areas of ABA, family intervention, and autism.

Kaitlyn Evoy, BA is a special education teacher with a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education, and she holds a Learning Behavior Specialist-1 Certification in Illinois. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree from Lewis University in 2014, and she is currently studying Autism and Other Pervasive Developmental Disorders at Johns Hopkins University. Kaitlyn is drawn towards the study of evidence-based practices and their execution in classroom environments. She is an Extern at the Association of Science in Autism Treatment focusing on dissemination to teachers and other educational support staff. 

Sarah Cummins, MA, BCBA is a special education teacher and BCBA with a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education and a Masters’s degree in Special Education with a Concentration in Applied Behavior Analysis. She obtained both her Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree from Seton Hall University in 2016 and 2020 respectively.  Sarah currently works as a teacher in a self-contained public special education classroom with students between the grades of K and 2 as well as a BCBA in the private sector.  Sarah has experience in developing content for ASAT’s social media account, as well as material geared toward teachers and teaching staff. She has been an Extern at the Association of Science in Autism Treatment since May of 2020. 

Kate McKenna, MEd, MSEd, BCBA, LBA, received a Masters in Child Study from the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study at Tufts University and a Masters in Special Education from Pace University.  In addition to New York state certifications in general and special education from Birth to Grade 2 and Grades 1-6, she holds a New York State Annotated Certification in Severe/Multiple Disabilities. Kate is currently completing a Masters degree in ABA from Hunter College. She was an extern at the Association for Science in Autism Treatment before joining the Board of Directors in 2020.

Posted in ABA

“What goes into teaching children to answer WH questions?”

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Alan Schnee, PhD, BCBA-D.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!

I’ve been teaching children with ASD for many years. Often my attempts to teach WH questions are unsuccessful. While children learn some rote responses, once I attempt to generalize to new situations, children seem to confuse questions. For example, if I ask a child, “Where did you eat?” the child might say, “Pizza.” Do you have any idea why the child gets confused, and do you have any suggestions to address this?

Answered by Alan Schnee, PhD, BCBA-D
Nexus Autism Intervention Services, Cherry Hill, NJ

This is an excellent question. Children with autism often confuse WH questions. They often respond to a given WH question as though a different question were asked. For example, a child may answer a, “what” question when a, “where” question is asked. It is sometimes suggested that children confuse WH questions because of an auditory “discrimination problem,” which is to say that children don’t differentiate the words. However, it’s been our experience that children who can match words in verbal imitation still confuse WH questions. So, what else can it be? It is important to consider that children simply don’t know what these terms mean. To say that someone knows the meaning of a word is based on behavioral criteria and what a word means is determined by convention. To say that someone doesn’t know what a word means is to say they do not use and respond to it according to the rules for its use (Hacker 2013, p. 115).

So, what does this mean for us? It means we need to consider what it would take for children to learn how to use and respond to given words. This means that children need to learn what a word is used for. It means that we need to consider how to engineer intervention so that children learn compatible words to which target words are linked. It means that we need to contrive circumstances, situations and transactions in which progressive mastery is achieved within a normative structure and ultimately, it means that much more goes into teaching children to answer WH questions than relying exclusively on rote responses to long lists of arbitrary WH questions.

Considerations for preparing children to answer, “where” questions:

When we ask a, “where” question, our uncertainty concerns locations and destinations. Thus, to ask, “where” is to ask, “At which place or from which place.” To such questions we expect answers that reference some place in conjunction with a preposition (e.g., from the kitchen, on the table). Therefore, in order to be able to answer rudimentary, “where” questions, children need to learn the names of things (couch, table, rooms, stores, etc.) and prepositions (close, to, at, near, from, under, on, beside, etc.) used in relation to a place, as well as non-specific spatial referents (here, there) – which requires that children are able to follow/use a point, eye gaze, or other gestures.

When we begin teaching children to answer, “where” questions, it is common to start with basic ‘table-top’ spatial relations. For example, when we arrange on a table, a red block on a cup and a green block next to a cup we might ask, “Where is the red block?” (Frazier, 2018; Leaf & McEachin,1999; Lund & Schnee, 2018; Taylor & McDonough, 1996). Once these rudimentary relations are in place, children will need to go places and report on where they went, came from, and where they are going (declaring destinations). They will need to be stationed in places (self-positioned) and report where they are so to be able to learn and link destinations and locations using “at,” “to,” ”from,” “in,” etc.

Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that uses of, “where’’ extend beyond spatial relations. Thus, to ask, “Where are you?” can in one sense be used to ask for an opinion, or in another to ask about progress within a process (e.g., “I’m in the middle.” “I’m at the beginning.”) or to ask about a state of attention (e.g., “Sorry, I was in ‘In La-La Land”). These examples also illustrate that responses to, “where” questions may rely on metaphoric or idiomatic uses of prepositional terms, as when we say we are standing, “on line,” even though we are not standing on anything.

It should also be pointed out, when answering, “where” questions, pragmatic considerations come into play (Lund, 2015). So, when asked, “Where are my keys?” answering factually that, “They are in New Jersey” may not be particularly helpful if both the person asking and the person answering are in the same kitchen in New Jersey. However, if the same question were asked in Chicago, that same answer would be suitable. Similarly, history needs to be taken into account. Thus, if I’m in Chicago, and my wife is in our kitchen in New Jersey and she asks where the keys are and I say “In the can.” then our shared history makes my response both understandable and useful. However, the same answer would not be suitable to a new guest staying in our house who asks the same question. Given these considerations, hopefully this section illustrates some different ways the word, “where” is used, what it would take for children to respond appropriately to, “where” questions and how learning to memorize responses from item lists cannot prepare children for such a task.

Considerations for preparing children to answer, “why” questions:

When teaching children to answer, “why” questions, there is also a tendency to teach children rote responses from item lists. This section should clarify why doing so will not advance children’s abilities in this area. In language, to ask a, “why” question is to say, “Give me a reason.” In the, “why” language game, any number of reasons could be offered to a question. For example, to the question, “Why did you wash your hands?” there is an indeterminate number of appropriate answers:

  • “Mommy told me to.”
  • “My M&M melted in my hand.”
  • “We always wash before prayer.”
  • “I hate when my hands are dirty.”

The possible reasons follow from an unpredictable number of factors and situations. One may state their reason/s for why they did or didn’t do something, say or didn’t say something, felt one way or another, believed, desired, needed or hoped for something, etc. based on whim, preference, need, demands, fear, shame, misinformation, new information, etc.

Before we begin to teach children to answer or use, “why,” it is important that other abilities are in place. Children need to learn to do things, make things, go places, give and get things, look for things, etc. The use of, “why” and responding to, “why” questions often hangs on circumstances which often fall out of activity. Once children are doing things, they should be able to (at a minimum) report on what they are doing, using, or where they are going. We find it especially helpful, before we introduce, “why” questions, that children learn to use tools (for making art, eating, building things, cleaning or cooking, etc.) and to ask for things they need.

One early strategy we employ for introducing, “why” questions is ‘piggybacking’ off of interrupted chains; sabotaging an activity so that it can’t be completed without the child seeking assistance in some way. For example, once a child can make things using tools (e.g., in order to make a face, a child can use tape or some other tool to attach googly eyes to the paper), we make sure the tool is unavailable. This assumes the child has learned to ask for things she needs in order to complete a task. Thus, when a needed tool is unavailable (by design) and when the child asks for it, we can ask the child, “Why do you need it?” to which we prompt the child to say something like, “I need it to attach the eyes to the paper.” Working like this has the added benefit of providing a platform for introducing or strengthening concepts such as, in this case, “attach.” Additionally, arranging things in this way is important for teaching ‘functions’ since in such scenarios, children are actually learning to use the tools they need, to ask for them when it’s appropriate and to explain why they need them, all in real time. We do this as opposed to teaching children to answer rote questions out of context. Working this way addresses several dimensions of skill acquisition simultaneously and illustrates considerations related to careful planning for the construction of ‘advanced’ abilities.

Considerations for preparing children to answer, “when” questions:

The concept, “when” denotes time. To ask a, “when” question is to ask, “At which time?” Answers to when questions take the form, “When x,” such as to the question, “When are you coming for dinner?” to which the answer has the form, “When I finish work.” The answers also take a form combined with prepositions so the answers could look like, “At 5:00,” “On Tuesday,” or, “In a minute.” Thus, the word, “when” is bound up with prepositions (before, after, on, in, at, next, etc.) in relation to standard time markers such as calendar events (days, weeks, months, years, holidays, seasons), or clocked times (minutes, hours, seconds). “When” is also linked to commonly used, non-specific time related concepts, “soon,” “later,” and, “now.”

We need to be mindful of the fact that prepositional terms (before, after, on, in, at, next, etc.) used to mark time are also used to refer to spatial relations. Teaching children to use them when learning to answer one WH question (e.g., when) will not likely translate or ‘generalize’ to use in others (e.g., where). For example, saying, “In a minute.” and, “In the cup.” each require different teaching arrangements if children are to learn their varied applications.

Finally, it is important to point out that the concept, “when” is bound up with rule following. While ‘when rules’ may be based on standard time markers, it is probably more common in everyday linguistic practice that they do not. Rather, rules for some future event are often linked to arbitrary, idiosyncratic events such as, “You start running when the gun sounds.” or, “You can watch your video when Mommy comes home.” Hopefully, pointing out these considerations illustrates that more needs to be considered than teaching children only rote responses if they are to be able to answer, “when” questions.

Considerations for preparing children to answer, “who” questions:

The concept, “who” is a pronoun that is used to stand in for persons or personified objects such as dolls or play animals. When a “who” question is asked, we are asking, “Which person?” Thus, “who” is linked to persons’ names, personal pronouns (I, you, my, your, me, my, mine, we, they, us, his, her, etc.) and to things personified.

We often introduce the concept, “who” by asking children to identify persons in pictures (e.g., “Who is it?”). Once this basic ability is in place, we will combine, “who” questions with other concepts:

  1. Actions (Who is acting?)
  2. Prepositions (Who is under, on, in etc.?)
  3. Possession (Who has ‘x’ ?)
  4. Gender (Who is that boy?)
  5. Role (Who is that teacher?)
  6. Attribute (Who is that tall person?)

The difficulty in responding to, “who” questions increases significantly as the requirement to answer them involves using other subject pronouns (e.g., I, you, he, she, we, they) or objective pronouns (e.g., me, him, her, us, them).

Considerations for preparing children to answer, “what” questions:

When we ask, “what,” we expect answers that point to things, actions, events/experiences. Early in intervention, children learn to answer, “what” questions related to colors, shapes, functions, actions, size, naming objects, etc. (Frazier, 2018, Leaf & McEachin,1999: Lund & Schnee, 2018; Taylor & McDonough,1996). Learning to respond to, “what” questions as addressed in introductory manuals also includes learning to answer rudimentary ‘what-action’ questions such as, “What are you doing?” or “What did you do?” This offers a good start, but more than naming current or past actions is required when considering ‘what-action’ questions. For example, when teaching progressive actions, children’s answers are based on the intended outcome (Lund & Schnee, 2018). So, if children are building a tower with colored blocks, the response to the question, “What are you doing?” is not, “Putting the red square on top of the green cylinder.” but “Building a tower.” Therefore, teaching children to state their intentions related to future activities also needs to be considered.

There will be times when it is important to teach children to memorize responses to factually based WH questions, as long as there are good reasons for doing so. Very often, memorized responses will be needed for the construction of other abilities. For example, being able to answer questions like, “What color is an apple?” and “What are the parts of a car?” will later be needed for teaching children to make comparisons (similarities and differences). Beyond this, children will need to learn to answer non-factual, “what” questions for which memorized answers are not possible. Such questions include queries about emotional, sensory or perceptual experiences, as well as questions involving psychological predicates, “thinking,” “believing,” “wishing,” etc.

Solidifying rules for answering WH questions:

Once basic abilities are in place concerning WH terms, a next step is vital and requires that we systematically intersperse WH terms. When doing so, children will have to pay close attention, as there are more moving parts, more possible moves since several ‘games’ are rotated in and out of play, in quick succession. Interspersing terms should help solidify the rules for responding to these terms (when/time, where/place, what/ things-actions, who/persons, why/reasons), at least at a rudimentary level. Below is a example, modified from Lund and Schnee, (2018, p.107) which intersperses, “who” in the context of, “where” and, “what.”

In this exercise, two-to-three (or more) persons are situated around a room or are seated in a circle. Familiar objects are placed around the room and questions are randomized. For example:(a) “What is over there?”

(b) “Where is the [object]?”

(c) “Where is [person]?” followed by, “What does (person) have?”

(d) “Who has the [object]?” followed by, “Where is she?”

(e) Add the question: “Where is the [object]?” when someone is holding the object. The child should answer, “[person] has [it]” rather than, “over there.” Randomize questions about objects in someone’s possession (“[person] has it”) and not in someone’s possession (“over there”).

Introducing use of WH terms:

A final note:

I hope I was able to shed light on some of what is involved in preparing children to be able to answer WH questions. I further hope that I was able to illustrate why it is important to move beyond the practice of only teaching children to memorize responses to WH questions and why doing so may help children learn to answer them masterfully. While there are times it is useful to teach children to memorize responses (for constructional considerations), the general practice of teaching children to memorize responses does not inform what we, as teachers, need to consider as we begin to support children in developing abilities related to answering or asking WH questions. Teaching children to memorize responses to different WH questions ignores considerations involving compatibilities and combinatorial possibilities between terms and the complicated engineering required to link them in use. It ignores the different uses of some of the terms. It ignores the need to ensure that prerequisite abilities are reliably demonstrated and ready for uploading into the many possible situations, circumstances or transactions in which they may be put to use. Ultimately, it ignores the considerations that will prepare children to participate in the practices, activities, actions and reactions in characteristic contexts in which the rule-governed use of these words is integrated (Hacker, 1999). There is much to consider (not all of which could possibly be accounted for here) as intervention is developed toward progressive mastery of these terms within a normative structure.

References

Frazier, T. J. (2018). ABBLLS-R skill acquisition program manual set. DRL Books.

Hacker, P. M. S. (1999). Wittgenstein (the great philosophers series). Rutledge.

Leaf, R. B., & McEachin, J. (1999). A work in progress: Behavior management strategies and curriculum for intensive behavioral treatment of autism. DRL Books.

Lund, S. K. (2015). Untitled. Unpublished manuscript.

Lund, S. K., & Schnee, A. (2018). Early intervention for children with ASD: Considerations. Infinity.

Taylor B. A., & McDonough, K. A. (1996). Selecting teaching programs. In C. Maurice, G. Green, & S. C. Luce (Eds.), Behavioral intervention for young children with autism: A manual for parents and professionals. (pp. 63–177). Pro Ed.

Citation for this article:

Schnee, A. (2020). Clinical corner: What goes into teaching WH questions?, Science in Autism Treatment, 17(5).

About The Author 

Alan Schnee, Ph.D., BCBA-D consults domestically and internationally to families, agencies and schools that are committed to providing Early Intensive Behavior Intervention. He has been involved in autism intervention for almost 30 years. He is the founder of Nexus Language Builders, a center-based, full-day, intensive learning program for school age children, formally in Verona, NJ. Dr. Schnee is the co-author of the book, Early Intervention for Children with ASD: Considerations and he continues to lecture and write on topics related to the intricacies of teaching language and the conceptual foundations of language. He has also written on topics concerning the enhancement of memory, attention, executive function, social awareness and social acuity in children with ASD. Dr. Schnee earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Georgia State University and has been board certified as a behavior analyst, doctoral level since 2010. He is based in New Jersey.

Posted in ABA

Supporting Parents and Families

In the ideal world, every child would have parents and other loving family members who are engaged in their education, social activities, health and wellness, and leisure time.  This engagement provides protection for the child, emotional bonding for the family, and opportunities for parents to pass along their wisdom and values.  Caretakers explicitly and implicitly teach their children through modeling, conversation, and interaction every day. 

For families that include individuals on the autism spectrum, sometimes parents and caretakers may benefit from additional support to engage with and help their children.  Additionally, when children are receiving ABA services it is essential for caretakers to be included in planning and delivery of programming. 

One important reason for including parents and other family members in ABA intervention is because they are key sources of information and guidance for behavior analysts.  No one knows children better than the people who love them.  Exploring the functions of behavior and then developing plans for the most effective teaching and behavior support strategies requires collaboration with parents or closest caregivers.  If a behavior analyst wants to know about a client’s reinforcers and motivators, they should speak to the client.  If the client is unable to communicate with the behavior analyst, the people close to the client are the next best source of information.  Parents or other close caregivers can provide a wealth of knowledge about their children who may not yet be able to speak for themselves. 

Next, parents or guardians are the providers of consent for their child’s assessment and treatment.  They should be actively engaged in deciding what goals should be set, how behavior should be assessed, and how interventions should be implemented.  Goals and interventions should be based on the values and culture of the family, not the behavior analyst.  The only way to do this authentically is to connect in a meaningful way with the family and engage in respectful conversation about their needs and their preferences.  Next to the client, parents and/or caregivers as the most essential members of the team.

Another reason to engage caregivers in behavioral intervention planning and implementation is simply that they have almost continuous access to their child and therefore can have the most impact.  If a caregiver who is with the child for most of the day has a good understanding of how to implement behavioral interventions, including antecedent-based strategies, language interventions, and natural environment teaching, the power of the intervention is magnified tremendously.  Not only does the child benefit from opportunities for learning and positive support throughout the day, but generalization and maintenance of skills learned in more formal therapy are dramatically improved. 

Following are some thoughts about how to facilitate this collaboration but remember that every parent or caregiver is different and should be approached and addressed in the way that works best for them. 

  1. First, let’s look at the term “parent training.” While the term means “training parents about ABA,” it also implies that parents need to be trained to be parents.  Not only is this inaccurate, but it may come across as hurtful or arrogant.  Also, remember that not everyone who comes to parent training is a parent, and not everyone who comes to parent training needs to learn the same things.  Some parents or caregivers are very new to participating in their child’s programming, and others have been deeply involved for a long time, but we all can benefit from collaboration.  Funding sources often refer to the service as “parent training” so we may be stuck with the term, but it can be very helpful to explain to parents and caregivers from the beginning that they are not going to be told what to do, they are not going to be judged, and everyone is here for the same reason – to work together to help their child.
  2. As mentioned above, not everyone who receives parent training is a parent. Remember that families may have very different configurations, and sometimes children are cared for by those other than their parents.  Sometimes grandparents, aunts, uncles, or older siblings are involved in raising children.  For a variety of reasons, sometimes paid caregivers are involved.  Whoever is part of the child’s world on a day-to-day basis may benefit from collaborating with the child’s behavioral programming team.
  3. Remember that although the individual receiving the behavioral intervention is technically the client, everyone who is affected by the child’s services should be treated according to the same principles as the client. Take the time to assess the caregiver’s wants, needs, and motivators, and not just in direct relation to their child.  Caregivers will usually readily describe what they want for their child to get out of therapy, but we can also ask what caregivers want for themselves.  We can and should also ask how caregivers prefer to learn, receive feedback, review progress, and interact with us.  Some caregivers will prefer a highly technical experience and will appreciate graphs and journal articles, while others would rather have practical advice.  Some caregivers will want to proceed slowly and step-by-step, and others will want to have a big-picture plan.
  4. As noted above, this will depend on the individual parent or caregiver, but for the most part it is advisable to start by using approachable language, introducing jargon only if needed or wanted. Most caregivers need to know how to help their child today and tomorrow and do not need to know about complicated schedules of reinforcement or technical terminology that may be off-putting or upsetting.  Of course, if a parent prefers technical terminology, it is totally appropriate to use it and to introduce them to books, websites, and other resources to provide any background and theory they may be interested in.
  5. Be clear and kind in setting boundaries. Collaboration with caregivers usually means getting involved in their family on a deeper and more compassionate level than other professionals.  They may be close to their dentist or pediatrician, but most will likely only see those professionals a few times per year, and not in their homes.  The members of the ABA team, by contrast, are usually involved in family life many times in a week, often in the family’s home, and it is not unusual or problematic to develop concern for each other.  Ethical guidelines against developing dual relationships can be respected with kindness, within the greater context, and should be consistent and not unexpected for the family.
  6. Be respectful of competing demands. Remember that as a professional your interaction with the caregiver is mostly in relation to the child who is receiving services, but caregivers often have other responsibilities to be balanced.  These may include other children and family members, work, and their own physical and mental health needs.  If a caregiver is not as responsive as we would like, assume good intentions and try to analyze how they could be better supported to participate.  Sometimes this means changing the expectations for what they can do, and other times it means providing additional resources or different suggestions that are more consistent with their situation.
  7. It is important to remember to show interest and compassion for the whole family. Remember that the client is part of a unit, and the people who are important to them can be important to the team, too.  Not only does this level of consideration lead to better outcomes for the child because the family will be more engaged with the professionals, but it will also result in a more fulfilling experience for the professionals.  We all entered this field to help people; working within the context of the family allows us to help many people at one time.

References Consulted

Behavior Analyst Certification Board. (2014). Professional and ethical compliance code for behavior analysts. Author.

Callahan, K., Foxx, R. M., Swierczynski, A., Aerts, X., Mehta, S., McComb, M. E., Nichols, S. M., Segal, G., Donald, A., & Sharma, R. (2019). Behavioral artistry: Examining the relationship between the interpersonal skills and effective practice repertoires of applied behavior analysis practitioners. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 49(9), 3557-3570.

LeBlanc, L. A., Taylor, B. A., & Marchese, N. V. (2019). The training experiences of behavior analysts: Compassionate care and therapeutic relationships with caregivers. Behavior Analysis in Practice13, 1-7.

Taylor, B. A., LeBlanc, L. A., & Nosik, M. R. (2018). Compassionate care in behavior analytic treatment: Can outcomes be enhanced by attending to relationships with caregivers?  Behavior Analysis in Practice, 12(3), 654–666.

About The Authors

Dana Reinecke is a doctoral level Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA-D) and a New York State Licensed Behavior Analyst (LBA). Dana is a Core Faculty member and Associate Chair in the Applied Behavior Analysis department at Capella University. She is also co-owner of SupervisorABA, an online platform for BACB supervision curriculum and documentation. Dana provides training and consultation to school districts, private schools, agencies, and families for individuals with disabilities. She has presented original research and workshops on the treatment of autism and applications of ABA at regional, national, and international conferences. She has published her research in peer-reviewed journals, written chapters in published books, and co-edited books on ABA and autism. Current areas of research include use of technology to support students with and without disabilities and online teaching strategies for effective college and graduate education. Dana is actively involved in the New York State Association for Behavior Analysis (NYSABA), and is currently serving as Past President (2019-2020).

Dr. Cheryl Davis: I am a licensed and board certified behavior analyst as well as a special education teacher who received my doctoral degree from Endicott College in Applied Behavior Analysis.  I am an Assistant Professor at The Sage Colleges, as well as owner of 7 Dimensions Consulting, LLC. I received a Master’s of Science Degree in Intensive Special Education from Simmons College in Boston, MA after attending The University of Connecticut where I received a bachelor’s degree in Human Development.  I then pursued my BCBA, while working in a world renown ABA school.  With over 25 years of experience working with children and families with autism, developmental disabilities, and related disorders, I specialize in effective supervision for upcoming BCBA/BCaBA candidates.  I have a passion for supervision, in both providing it to people who are in locations with limited access to behavior analysis and working with other supervisors to develop best supervision practices.  I also specialize in skill acquisition programming for clients in need, online teaching, and active student responding. I have had experience as a supervisor, teacher, job coach, home therapist, residential supervisor, public school consultant, staff trainer and professor. I have extensive experience in developing training topics for both parents and teaching staff.  I am a self-describe radical behavior analyst with one worldview!

Posted in ABA

Your Child’s Autism Diagnosis Long Term

In the years immediately after a parent learns of a diagnosis of autism, it can be especially challenging to think of your child’s autism diagnosis long-term. But as parents advocate for their child, and as practitioners work with the family to create goals for that child, the long term must be considered. Here are a few suggestions to help with considering the long term, while focusing on short-term goals:

  1. Create a vision statement. One of my favorite books is From Emotions to Advocacy: The Special Education Survival Guide by Pam Wright and Pete Wright. This book covers everything parents need to know about advocating for a child with special needs. One of the first things they suggest is creating a vision statement. They describe this as “a visual picture that describes your child in the future.” While this exercise may be challenging, it can help hone in on what is important to you, your family, and your child with special needs in the long term.
  2. Look at your child’s behaviors, then try to imagine what it might look like if your child is still engaging in that behavior in five or ten years. Often, behaviors that are not problematic at three are highly problematic at 8 or 13 years old. Such behaviors might include hugging people unexpectedly or (for boys) dropping their pants all the way to the ground when urinating (which could result in bullying at older ages). While it is easy to prioritize other behaviors ahead of these, it’s important to remember that the longer a child has engaged in a behavior, the more difficult it may be to change.
  3. Talk to practitioners who work with older students. Many practitioners only work with a certain age group of children. While they may be an expert for the age group they work with, it may be helpful to speak with a practitioner who works with older kids and ask what skill deficits they often see, what recommendations they may make, and what skills are essential for independence at older ages.
  4. Talk with other parents. Speaking with other parents of children with special needs can be hugely beneficial. Over the years, I’ve worked with hundreds of parents who are spending countless hours focusing on providing the best possible outcomes for their children. And while it’s impossible to prepare for everything that will come in your child’s life, it may be helpful to find out what has blindsided other parents as their children with special needs have grown up.

Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for sixteen 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 she is the Senior Clinical Strategist at Chorus Software Solutions.

Posted in ABA

Using Token Economies In Autism Classrooms

Token economies are used in many different environments. They’re typically simple to implement and achieve desired results for behavior change, especially in autism classrooms. Furthermore, there are tons of research on how to best use them. If you want to get the best results while simultaneously promoting independence in your learners, it is not as simple as just putting some stars on a chart.

  1. Use a preference assessment. This will help you identify reinforcers your learner may want to earn. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I often use the Reinforcer Assessment for Individuals with Severe Disability (Fisher, Piazza, Bowman, & Amari, 1996). 
  2. Define the target behavior. What behaviors do you want to increase? And how can you define them so they are clearly observable and measurable. For instance, your learner could earn tokens for raising his or her hand in class or responding to a question within 3 to 5 seconds. It is important the behavior is clear and everyone using the token economy agrees on what each behavior looks like.
  3. Choose your tokens. When I was a classroom teacher, I had a class-wide token economy in which my students earned paperclips. The paperclips had no value initially, but once the students understood the system, I could put paperclips in the bags of the students who were sitting quietly while still continuing to teach my lesson. It allowed them to reinforce the appropriate behaviors and make the most of instructional time. For other students, I’ve used things such as Blue’s Clues stickers, smiley faces I drew on a piece of paper, and even tally marks on an index card.
  4. Choose when and how tokens will be exchanged. With the paperclip system in my classroom, exchanges occurred at the end of the day. After everyone had their bags packed and were sitting at their desk, we did the “paperclip count” and students could decide whether to spend or save. There was a menu of options ranging in price from 10–100 paperclips. It was also a great way to reinforce some basic math skills (such as counting by fives and tens and completing basic operations). For other students, they might be able to exchange tokens after earning a set amount. Depending on their level of ability, that set amount may be very small (such as 2 to 3) or much larger (such as 25). Sometimes, students have a choice of items or activities, while at other times they earn a pre-selected item or activity.
  5. Keep it individualized. Conducting a preference assessment helps to make sure it’s individualized to your learner’s preferred items. With my students, the menu of items/activities they could earn was generated through a conversation with them.
  6. Decide if you will implement a response cost. For my students, I have never used a system in which they could lose tokens they had already earned. But you may find that utilizing it may help. It all depends on your particular learner, which makes the next point all the more important.
  7. Take data. You need to take data so you will know if your token economy is helping you achieve your goal with the target behaviors you have set.
  8. Thin the reinforcement over time or change the target behaviors. I do not want any of my learners to be using a token economy for one behavior for all eternity! Let’s say I start with a young learner who is not sitting down for instruction. I may start the token economy by having my student earn a token for every instance in which they are seated correctly for a specified period of time. As my student masters that, I will increase the amount of time required before a token will be earned. Once they’ve achieved the goal I set, I can either fade out the token economy, or keep the token economy but use it for a new behavior.

Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for sixteen 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 she is the Senior Clinical Strategist at Chorus Software Solutions.

Posted in ABA