ABA Journal Club: A Response from Dana Reinecke

A quote from this week's ABA Journal Club response from Dana Renecke

Welcome back to ABA Journal Club! One of the tenets of ABA is to provide evidence-based practice. The best way to help us do this is to keep up with the literature! Each month, Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA will select one journal article and provide discussion questions for professionals working within the ABA community. The following week another ABA professional will respond to Sam’s questions and provide further insight and a different perspective on the piece.

Check out last week’s discussion questions here!

Behavior analysts engage in many different professional activities, many of which are more or less likely given specific clinical or research settings. For example, some behavior analysts who work with individuals with disabilities are likely to conduct preference assessments and use token economies, while those who work with organizations are less likely to use these technologies. One part of the behavior analyst’s repertoire that is always important, however, is the careful and accurate collection of data. This skill set is necessary for understanding and assessing behavior, as well as for ongoing monitoring of the effectiveness of behavioral interventions. 

It is important to understand not just how to measure behavior, but when to use each type of measure.  LeBlanc, Raetz, Sellers, and Carr (2016) describe some of the critical questions that should be considered when choosing a measurement procedure and offer a clinical decision-making model to guide behavior analysts in making these choices.  This article is useful for helping trainees to practice choosing measurement procedures, and reminding more experienced behavior analysts about the considerations involved in measurement. 

LeBlanc, L. A., Raetz, P. B., Sellers, T. P., & Carr, J. E. (2016). A proposed model for selecting measurement procedures for the assessment and treatment of problem behavior. Behavior analysis in practice9(1), 77-83.

Why is this article important for practitioners to read?

Measurement of behavior is one of the most important activities that a behavior analyst engages in.  Without accurate, meaningful measurement, assessment of both behavior and intervention effectiveness is impossible.  Trainees should read this article to learn about the important variables involved in choosing appropriate measurement systems, and more seasoned behavior analysts should read it to remind themselves about those variables.  Even though the article is focused on the measurement of problem behavior, the same principles can be applied to the measurement of behavior targeted for increase.

The model proposed by the authors incorporates several variables (such as observability of behavior and personnel resources.) Are there any other variables you might consider when selecting a measurement procedure?

Length of observation period might be a relevant factor in choosing a measurement procedure.  Consideration of the availability of resources may be influenced by the goal for how much observation is desired.  To use the case example provided by the authors, Joey’s teacher and aide might not be able to continuously record his work engagement throughout the day, but one of them might be able to do so for a limited sample of each day.  They could choose to conduct continuous measurement during a sample interval, and compare it to the longer period of discontinuous measurement to ensure that the discontinuous measure does not result in an over- or under-estimate of behavior. 

Table 1 clearly outlines each form of measurement along with strengths and limitations. Discuss the forms of measurement you frequently use and the limitations to incorporating other forms into your current practice.

As a consultant, I need to measure behavior based on limited samples when I can observe, and I also need to design data collection plans for the staff who are there for the rest of the week.  Staff are often responsible for more than one student, and may not have the resources to conduct continuous event recording.  Behavior is also often not discrete (e.g., crying) or occurs too frequently to count (e.g., stereotypy).  I often use partial-interval recording when I consult in school programs.  This allows for a very easy, non-intrusive overview of the pattern of behavior across the school day.  Another common measure is duration of behavior, because it is also relatively easy to start a timer when behavior begins, and stop it when it ends.  Frequency data are pretty rare in my practice, and reserved for low-frequency behavior that only occurs under specific circumstances.

In Figure 1, the authors provide a flow chart for easily selecting the most appropriate form of measurement. Many of the questions are directly related to observer resources. In this article, the term “resources” relates directly to the ability of personnel to continuously monitor the behavior. Are there any other factors you would consider in relation to personnel? If yes, how do you typically address those factors?

When training staff to collect data, it’s important to acknowledge any unintended bias.  Depending on the staff member’s level of experience, I will conduct more or less frequent IOA to reduce the risk of observer drift, and will also regularly review behavioral definitions to ensure that we are still talking about the same thing.

In discussing the behavior being measured, the authors write: “If the behavior can occur at any time, consider all dimensions of the response and select the ones that are most critically important to fully capture the important features of the behavior and the potential change in the behavior that may occur due to intervention” (p. 81).  How do you determine which dimensions of the response are the most critically important? Can you think of an example?

The importance of each dimension of the behavior will depend on the situation, the behavior, and the target or goal for the behavior.  For example, if a student is able to answer social questions but only does so after a delay, we would want to target, and therefore measure, latency to respond instead of frequency.  Or, a learner might engage in several very brief tantrums throughout the day.  In that case, I would expect that duration would be less important, and frequency a more meaningful measure.  By contrast, if a learner engages in one or two very long tantrums per week, we would want to measure duration and possibly intensity, rather than highlighting frequency.

One of the limitations of this paper is that the model it presents has not been empirically tested. What might such an empirical study look like?

One possible way to validate this model would be to provide several experienced behavior analysts with some case studies, and ask them to use the model to recommend measurement procedures for each case study.  High levels of agreement between the behavior analysts might indicate some validity for the model.  Further validity could be achieved by using the model to select measures, and then conducting those measures and comparing them to true values (e.g., permanent products or continuously-collected event recording).


About The Author

Dana Reinecke, Ph.D., BCBA-D 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 in the Applied Behavior Analysis department at Capella University.  She is also co-owner of SupervisorABA, an online platform for BACB supervision curriculum, forms, and hours tracking.  Dana provides training and consultation to school districts, private schools, agencies, and families for individuals with disabilities. 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, self-management training of college students with 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).

ABA Journal Club: Clinical Decision Making

Welcome back to ABA Journal Club! One of the tenets of ABA is to provide evidence-based practice. The best way to help us do this is to keep up with the literature! Each month, Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA will select one journal article and provide discussion questions for professionals working within the ABA community. Next week, another ABA professional will respond to Sam’s questions and provide further insight and a different perspective on the piece.

One of my favorite parts of my job is training people who are working to become BCBAs. There is an immense amount of content for my supervisees to learn, and one of the key aspects of this is to understand how to implement all of the new concepts they’re learning within the context of an actual case. This is often far more challenging than it might appear at first blush. I frequently supervise students pursuing their BCBA, and I require each one of them to read LeBlanc, Raetz, Sellers, & Carr (2016) because it provides a clear model for clinical decision-making.

This month’s article:

LeBlanc, L. A., Raetz, P. B., Sellers, T. P., & Carr, J. E. (2016). A proposed model for selecting measurement procedures for the assessment and treatment of problem behavior. Behavior analysis in practice9(1), 77-83

This month’s questions:

  • Why is this article important for practitioners to read?
  • The model proposed by the authors incorporates several variables (such as observability of behavior and personnel resources.) Are there any other variables you might consider when selecting a measurement procedure?
  • Table 1 clearly outlines each form of measurement along with strengths and limitations. Discuss the forms of measurement you frequently use and the limitations to incorporating other forms into your current practice.
  • In Figure 1, the authors provide a flow chart for easily selecting the most appropriate form of measurement. Many of the questions are directly related to observer resources. In this article, the term “resources” relates directly to the ability of personnel to continuously monitor the behavior. Are there any other factors you would consider in relation to personnel? If yes, how do you typically address those factors?
  • In discussing the behavior being measured, the authors write: “If the behavior can occur at any time, consider all dimensions of the response and select the ones that are most critically important to fully capture the important features of the behavior and the potential change in the behavior that may occur due to intervention” (p. 81).  How do you determine which dimensions of the response are the most critically important? Can you think of an example?
  • One of the limitations of this paper is that the model it presents has not been empirically tested. What might such an empirical study look like?

Check back next week for our ABA Journal Club response post from Dana Reinecke. Let us know what your thoughts are on Facebook and Instagram!


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.

Posted in ABA

VB-MAPP vs ABLLS-R: Understanding The Differences

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.

ABLLS-R

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.

VB-MAPP

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.

VB-MAPP vs ABLLS-R?

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!

How To Use Contingency Contracts in the Classroom

As adults, we’re fairly accustomed to contracts for car loans, new employment, or updates to our smartphones. But contracts can also be beneficial in the classroom setting. A contingency contract is defined as “a mutually agreed-upon document between parties (e.g., parent and child) that specifies a contingent relationship between the completion of specified behavior(s) and access to specified reinforcer(s)” (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). There are several studies that indicate using a contingency classroom can be beneficial in the classroom setting.

Cantrell, Cantrell, Huddleston, & Wooldridge (1969) identified steps in creating contingency contracts:

Interview the parent or guardian of the student.

This allows you to work together to identify problem behaviors to be addressed, identify the contingencies currently maintaining these behaviors, determine the child’s current reinforcers, and establish what reinforcement or punishment procedures will be used.

Use this information to create a clear, complete, and simple contract.

The authors provide examples of how these contracts might look. You can vary the contract based upon the behaviors you are addressing with your student and the student’s ability to comprehend such contracts.

Build data collection into the contract itself.

You can see an example from the article below. For this example, it is clear how points are earned and how the child can utilize those points, and the contract itself is a record of both the points and the child’s behaviors.

An example of a classroom contingency contract from Cantrell, Cantrell, Huddleston, & Wooldridge (1969)

There are clear benefits to utilizing such contingency contracting: building relationships across different environments in which the student lives and works, addressing one or more challenging behaviors simultaneously, and providing opportunities for students to come into contact with reinforcement. You can read the entire article here:

Cantrell, R. P., Cantrell, M. L., Huddleston, C. M., & Wooldridge, R. L. (1969). Contingency contracting with school problems. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 2(3), 215-220.

And much more has been written about contingency contracting. If you’d like to learn more, we suggest taking a look at one or more of the following:

Bailey, J. S., Wolf, M. M., & Phillips, E. L. (1970). Home-based reinforcement and the modification of pre-delinquent’s classroom behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 3(3), 223-233.

Barth, R. (1979). Home-based reinforcement of school behavior: A review and analysis. Review of Educational Research, 49(3), 436-458.

Broughton, S. F., Barton, E. S., & Owen, P. R. (1981). Home based contingency systems for school problems. School Psychology Review, 10(1), 26-36.

Miller, D. L., & Kelley, M. L. (1991). Interventions for improving homework performance: A critical review. School Psychology Quarterly, 6(3), 174.

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WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

Sam 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. You can read more of Sam’s posts for Different Roads To Learning by clicking here!

ABA Journal Club: A response from Dr. Bryan J. Blair

This month’s response comes from Dr. Bryan J. Blair. The original discussion questions can be found in last week’s post. Don’t forget to let us know your thoughts on our Facebook page!

One of my early applied behavior analysis (ABA) supervisors used to say that the hardest part of his job was changing direct care staff behavior so that the staff would comply with administrative policies and to ensure the consistent implementation of treatment plans.  He certainly did not mean to imply that developing effective interventions for severely challenging and dangerous behavior, such as aggression and self-injury, was easy or formulaic.  But he rightly noted how challenging it can be to train and supervise staff using the same behavior analytic principles that we use directly with clients in clinical settings.  The article for the ABA Journal Club, An Assessment-Based Solution to a Human-Service Employee Performance Problem (Carr, Wilder, Majdalany, Mathisen, & Strain, 2013), tackles this supremely relevant issue by providing us with an empirical analysis of a tool that can be used in the process of improving staff performance.

One of the defining features of interventions based on applied behavior analysis is that the procedures and protocols rely on objective operational definitions of the world around us and that the natural world is continually empirically analyzed to ensure that treatments are relevant and effective.  As ABA practitioners, we have realized great success in this approach for developing and implementing treatments and interventions for a vast array of skill deficits and challenging behaviors.  However, far too often we fail to use these same guiding and controlling principles when training and supervising the professionals who directly implement ABA technologies.  As Dr. Blanco noted, the vast majority of trained Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) have received little formal training in the management and supervision of direct care professionals, so it is ultimately not overly surprising that many BCBAs struggle with using the principles of ABA to develop staff skillsets.

However, that will soon change!  As of January 2022, the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s (BACB) 5th Edition Task List (BACB, 2017b) and Verified Course Sequence Coursework Requirements (BACB, 2017b) will include content related to staff supervision and training.  Graduate programs will be required to develop academic content that targets supervisory skills and strategies associated with training direct care professionals and BCBA supervisors will need to address these areas in supervised fieldwork settings.  This is certainly a welcome development and I am optimistic that these new requirements will lead to practicing behavior analysts who are better equipped with skills that can be applied to staff supervision and performance management.

Early in my career, along with several colleagues, I developed a new direct staff observation and feedback protocol using a partial-interval observation and data collection system that allowed for empirical analysis of the performance of an individual staff person over time.  Prior to the development of the system, we relied on more subjective and anecdotal observational strategies that limited our ability to provide meaningful, timely, accurate, valid, and relevant feedback to staff in order to develop their clinical and administrative skills.  The new tool allowed us to graph staff performance data over time and visually analyze the data to determine objective performance levels across a variety of defined skills, and this visual presentation of behavior was shared with the staff themselves so that they could see their own behavioral changes over time as well.  The summarized data were included in staff evaluations and referenced during supervision and mentoring meetings.  The PDC-HS provides behavior analysts with an opportunity to screen for deficits in strategic and systemic supervision practices (as opposed to more tactical procedures such as directly observing the implementation of a discrete trial training protocol) and I feel that such a tool is essential when developing staff observation and feedback systems.  Had we used such a tool in conjunction with our more direct observation tool, we may have identified agency-level holes in training, mentoring, and supervisory practices that resulted in staff performance that didn’t meet the expected clinical standards.  In essence, by using the PDC-HS, we might have identified other contributing factors to poor performance that might not have been easily identified by direct in-vivo observations.

In addition, the PDC-HS provides behavior analysts who supervise staff with directly applicable empirical references that can be used to further support the development of staff supervision and feedback systems.  BCBAs are well aware of the fact that we must always use evidence-based interventions for clients of ABA interventions and services (BACB, 2014); however, given the fact that many practicing behavior analysts have received little formal training on staff supervision, it is imperative to provide the field of ABA with tools to help facilitate the process of staff performance management.

Coincidentally (or perhaps because of the pervasiveness of this skill deficit), when I supervised a team of ABA therapists who shared an office space, I too needed to address cleanliness and orderliness of the shared space with a simple behavior analytic intervention (i.e., a gamified group reinforcement system).  Again, however, had I used the PDC-HS tool, the intervention would most likely have better reflected the setting events, training and supervision deficits, and functions of the skill deficit (or motivative deficit).  Given the rapid expansion of direct ABA therapy in a variety of unstructured settings where supervision from a BCBA might occur less frequently than in a clinic (e.g., in a general education classroom or in the client’s home), I agree that systematic replications can and should address the fidelity of the implementation of teaching protocols and behavioral interventions.  Such replications would provide supervisors with much-needed clarification regarding the conditions and systems that control certain behaviors that interfere with the effective implementation of behavior analytic interventions.

As Dr. Blanco noted in her remarks about the article and the PDC-HS, BCBAs must be well-versed in effective and individualized staff supervision and performance management strategies and tactics.  BCBAs are highly encouraged to develop their own tools to facilitate the consistent application of principles of ABA to such supervision, and tools like the PDC-HS can be used to help frame staff skill and performance deficits that might otherwise be difficult to analyze.

References

Behavior Analyst Certification Board. (2017a).  BCBA/BCaBA coursework requirements based on the BCBA/BCaBA Task List (5th ed.). Retrieved from: https://www.bacb.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/170113-BCBA-BCaBA-coursework-requirements-5th-ed.pdf

Behavior Analyst Certification Board. (2017b).  BCBA/BCaBA task list (5th ed.). Littleton, CO: Author. Retrieved from:  https://www.bacb.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/170113-BCBA-BCaBA-task-list-5th-ed-.pdf

Behavior Analyst Certification Board. (2014). Professional and ethical compliance code for behavior analysts. Littleton, CO: Author.  Retrieved from: https://www.bacb.com/wp-content/uploads/BACB-Compliance-Code-english_190318.pdf

Carr, J. E., Wilder, D. A., Majdalany, L., Mathisen, D., & Strain, L. A. (2013). An assessment-based solution to a human-service employee performance problem. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 6(1), 16-32.  doi: 10.1007/BF03391789


About The Author

Dr. Bryan J. Blair is a licensed behavior analyst (MA), Board Certified Behavior Analyst, and is currently an Assistant Professor at Long Island University – Brooklyn where he is also the coordinator of the Applied Behavior Analysis graduate certificate and supervised fieldwork programs.  He has worked with children and adults with developmental disabilities and other clinical disorders for over 15 years in a variety of settings.  For more information or to contact Dr. Blair please see his website:  https://ww.bryanjblair.com.

Posted in ABA

ABA Journal Club #8: Performance Diagnostic Checklist

One of the tenets of ABA is to provide evidence-based practice. The best way to help us do this is to keep up with the literature! Each month, Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA will select one journal article and provide discussion questions for professionals working within the ABA community. The following week another ABA professional will respond to Sam’s questions and provide further insight and a different perspective on the piece.

For many BCBAs, a large part of their role is supervising others in implementing ABA treatment.  In the course of my week I typically supervise 12 different paraprofessionals. Their training needs are highly variable, my time with them is minimal, and in my BCBA coursework I did not receive formal training on how to be an effective supervisor. This is an issue within the field of ABA, and can have a big impact on the services individuals with autism receive.

When I first came across the Performance Diagnostic Checklist – Human Services (PDC-HS) I was ecstatic. It is an easy-to-complete assessment of employee training, and provides clarity for next steps in addressing issues related to employee performance. The article for this month’s ABA Journal Club explains how the PDC-HS was utilized to evaluate training in an early intervention setting.

Carr, J. E., Wilder, D. A., Majdalany, L., Mathisen, D., & Strain, L. A. (2013). An assessment-based solution to a human-service employee performance problem. Behavior Analysis in Practice6(1), 16-32.

  1. The PDC-HS is a tool “designed to be used by a behavior analyst during an interview with the employee’s direct supervisor or manager” (p. 20). Is this a reasonable format for your work environment?  
  2. Have you or your organization used the PDC-HS or a different formal tool to evaluate training of staff? What has been your experience with such formal evaluation?
  3. Part of the procedure for this study was to show employees graphed feedback. Is this a strategy you have utilized in the past? If not, how could you utilize it for current skills you are teaching employees?
  4. The dependent measure in this study was cleanliness of the treatment room. This is an important workplace skill, especially if materials for instruction or lost or damaged, if problem behaviors of clients increase while the practitioner is looking for materials, or if the messiness of a room interferes with efficient use of session time. The authors note that systematic replications of their study should include other aspects of training, such as appropriate prompting. If you were to complete a study on the PDC-HS, what training skill would you address? Why?
  5. What are some obstacles in your current setting to implementing the PDC-HS? How can you address those obstacles?
  6. Reread Appendix B, which contains the full PDC-HS. What do you think about the questions they ask? Why are those specific questions asked? Is there anything you would add?
  7. My favorite part of this article is the Intervention Planning portion on pages 30-31. It provides clear direction on what interventions may be appropriate for different training issues along with citations. Why is this an important resource for supervisors?

 [SB1]Link to: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3680147/pdf/i1998-1929-6-1-16.pdf

One of the tenets of ABA is to provide evidence-based practice. The best way to help us do this is to keep up with the literature! Each month, Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA will select one journal article and provide discussion questions for professionals working within the ABA community. The following week another ABA professional will respond to Sam’s questions and provide further insight and a different perspective on the piece.

One of my favorite parts of my job is training people who are working to become BCBAs. There is an immense amount of content for my supervisees to learn, and one of the key aspects of this is to understand how to implement all of the new concepts their learning within the context of an actual case. This is often far more challenging than it might appear at first blush. I frequently supervise students pursuing their BCBA, and I require each one of them to read LeBlanc, Raetz, Sellers, & Carr (2016) because it provides a clear model for clinical decision-making.

LeBlanc, L. A., Raetz, P. B., Sellers, T. P., & Carr, J. E. (2016). A proposed model for selecting measurement procedures for the assessment and treatment of problem behavior. Behavior analysis in practice9(1), 77-83

  • Why is this article important for practitioners to read?
  • The model proposed by the authors incorporates several variables (such as observability of behavior and personnel resources.) Are there any other variables you might consider when selecting a measurement procedure?
  • Table 1 clearly outlines each form of measurement along with strengths and limitations. Discuss the forms of measurement you frequently use and the limitations to incorporating other forms into your current practice.
  • In Figure 1, the authors provide a flow chart for easily selecting the most appropriate form of measurement. Many of the questions are directly related to observer resources. In this article, the term “resources” relates directly to the ability of personnel to continuously monitor the behavior. Are there any other factors you would consider in relation to personnel? If yes, how do you typically address those factors?
  • In discussing the behavior being measured, the authors write: “If the behavior can occur at any time, consider all dimensions of the response and select the ones that are most critically important to fully capture the important features of the behavior and the potential change in the behavior that may occur due to intervention” (p. 81). How do you determine which dimensions of the response are the most critically important? Can you think of an example?
  • One of the limitations of this paper is that the model it presents has not been empirically tested. What might such an empirical study look like?

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

Sam 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.

How do self-injurious behaviors develop?

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Ennio Cipani, Ph.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! You can read more of our ASAT featured posts here.

I am a new teacher who will have a student with some self-injurious behavior entering my classroom next year. Although his behavioral intervention will be overseen by a board-certified behavior analyst, I would like a general understanding of how certain behaviors develop into self-injury.

Like yourself, many teachers will have contact with students with autism and/or intellectual disabilities who engage in severe and intense forms of self-injury. Indeed, these self-destructive acts seem to defy any reasonable explanation. Common explanations for a student who engages in self-injury have often disregarded an environmental analysis of antecedents (i.e., the events that take place right before the behavior occurs). In some cases, statements are made such as “It comes out of nowhere,” or “She does it because she has autism/intellectual disabilities.”

A behavior analytic model shows us that challenging behavior is functional (i.e., serves a purpose) for the individual and can indeed explain even cases where self-injury has reached such dangerous intensity that it results in soft tissue damage, concussions, etc. But, as you asked, how do such dangerous behaviors develop? Research and anecdotal reports from families have demonstrated that mild forms of self-injurious behavior can start innocuously, and over time, become dangerous in terms of their effect on the person’s health and welfare.

Let’s consider a hypothetical student to demonstrate how events in the student’s environment can reinforce and shape severe self-injurious behavior. Initially, tantrum and screaming behaviors are effective (functional) in producing a desired outcome. These behaviors can result in access to desired items and events, such as candy or a preferred activity or in escape from aversive conditions, suchn this mont as demands to turn off electronics or complete a non-preferred task. In other words, the tantrum and screaming are effective in producing access to reinforcement.

Although the adult responding to such behaviors may feel uncomfortable about “giving in”, tantrum behaviors produce a very uncomfortable and aversive condition for the adult, who then relents in order to get the student to stop the behavior. In what can quickly become a vicious cycle, the student engages in challenging behavior to obtain a desired result. That behavior creates discomfort for the adult. The adult gives the student what he/she wants and the challenging behavior ceases.

How then does an extreme exacerbation of intensity develop and/or the form of the initial challenging behavior change? One scenario is that during one of these tantrums where the desired result has not yet been delivered, the student slaps him or herself. After a brief amount of attention, e.g., “Stop doing that, you are hurting yourself,” the desired outcome also is produced. As you can see, hitting oneself has now become more adaptive than a tantrum of long duration. As the milder forms of behavior fail to result in the desired outcome, behavior intended to obtain reinforcement can become more varied. Regrettably, the teacher now responds to a more intense variation of challenging behavior. The form that achieved the student’s desired result is the increased intensity of self-injury. What was previously a slap to the leg could now transform to multiple slaps to multiple areas of one’s body.

You may have observed that the self-injury often involves hits/slaps to the face/head. Why would this be the case? Ask yourself this: Are you more likely to intervene if the hitting occurs to one’s thigh area or the face? This could result in adults providing reinforcement more quickly or ceasing to place a particular demand on the child when the self-injury is directed at the face or head. If a more dangerous form of self-injury becomes more efficient than milder forms of the behavior at accessing the reinforcer, the probability that the child will engage in the extreme form of the behavior to access that particular reinforcer increases.

In summary, self-injurious behaviors, like other forms of behaviors, can serve a variety of environmental functions, involving both access (to something) and escape/avoidance (from something). The Cipani Behavioral Classification System (BCS) is a pioneering function-based classification system for categorizing problem target behaviors for education and mental health settings (Cipani & Cipani, 2017). It provides a standard framework for identifying functions of problem behavior. This unique diagnostic classification system identifies the four basic (operant) behavior functions (originally specified in Cipani,1990,1994). It then derives 13 different function-based categories within those four functions.

A functional perspective of self-injurious behaviors can lead to a more effective and efficient treatment. It is important to examine the environmental variables that occur at the time of the self-injurious behavior to determine the function of the behavior. If that function can be determined, then the student can be taught safer, socially acceptable ways to get his or her needs met. Your board-certified behavior analyst should be able to assist you in developing a comprehensive set of strategies based on the underlying function that the self-injury serves for your student.

References

Cipani, E. (1990). The communicative function hypothesis: An operant behavior perspective. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 21, 239-247.
Cipani, E. (1994). Treating children’s severe behavior disorders: A behavioral diagnostic system. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 25, 293-300.
Cipani, E., & Cipani, A. (2017). A behavioral classification system for problem behaviors in schools: Diagnostic manual (1st edition). New York: Springer Publishing.

Editor’s Note: This article has been adapted and shortened with permission from Behavior Development Solutions and the author. Please see the “Ask Cipani” column to read more articles authored by Dr. Cipani. For more information about functional analysis, please see a previously published Clinical Corner article authored by Dr. Robert LaRue.


About The Author

Ennio Cipani, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist since 1983 in California. Dr. Cipani has been doing in-home and in-school behavioral consultation for families facing child problem behaviors since 1982. He has published numerous articles, chapters, books and software in the areas of child behavior management and parent and teacher behavioral consultation. His most recent book (Cipani & Cipani, 2019); Cipani Behavioral Classification System for Children and Adolescents: Diagnostic Manual (2nd edition) can be obtained for free in pdf form by emailing him at ennioc26@hotmail.com

Posted in ABA

Misconceptions About Reinforcement

ABA often gets a bad rap due to misunderstandings about reinforcement. In my career alone, I’ve had people tell me that people are not like rats and pigeons, that reinforcement harms intrinsic motivation, and that when I do produce behavior change, it has nothing to do with ABA but with my abilities as a teacher. Today, I’d like to clear up some misconceptions about reinforcement.

Reinforcement is not equivalent to rewards.

Reinforcement is anything that occurs immediately following a behavior that increases the future likelihood of that behavior. For instance, I am more likely to say hello to my neighbor down the street because in the past he has responded by saying “hello” back to me. However, I do not say hello to my next-door neighbor because she has never responded to my greeting. My history of reinforcement with the neighbor down the street increases the likelihood that I will greet him upon seeing him.

Reinforcement occurs in the natural environment all the time, whether we are conscious of it or not.

We are reinforced by paychecks for going to work, by our favorite dessert for visiting a restaurant 30 minutes out of our way, by compliments when we get a new haircut and more. ABA utilizes reinforcement when an individual is not acquiring skills in order to help them learn. And when ABA is implemented correctly, reinforcement should be as close to naturally occurring reinforcers as possible and should be reduced systematically over time to levels that would naturally occur in their environment.

Reinforcement works for dogs and for humans.

The previous two points illustrate that humans do respond to reinforcement, and decades of scientific research back that up. Comparing the work behavior analysts do with humans to the work behavior analysts do with other animals is not far off base. What is off base is using such a comparison to imply that behavior analysts treat people with disabilities like dogs. As with other professionals who work with individuals with disabilities, (such as speech therapists, physical therapists, nurses, etc.) most behavior analysts are professionals who put a lot of time, care, and love into their work.

Reinforcement is individualized.

Everything we do in ABA is individualized because human beings are wonderfully complex creatures that cannot be characterized by statistics, averages, or norms. One of my students may find stickers reinforcing; another may show no interest. One student may find listening to music reinforcing; another may cover his ears and ask me to turn it off. In ABA, we seek to find the items and activities that are motivating for individuals; then use those as tools not only for reinforcement but for increasing skills and broadening interests and opportunities. In an ideal ABA session, my students spend a lot of time engaging with items and activities that they enjoy while also learning and growing.

It’s easy to fall prey to misconceptions about reinforcement, but such misconceptions can make it impossible for us to understand how to alter the environment in order to provide the best possible outcomes for our students. As Skinner put it, “The ideal of behaviorism is to eliminate coercion: to apply controls by changing the environment in such a way as to reinforce the kind of behavior that benefits everyone.”

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WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

Sam 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. You can read more of Sam’s posts for DRTL here!

ABA Journal Club #7: A Response from Dr. Val Demiri PhD, BCBA-D, LBA

If you have ever walked into a restaurant and looked at a menu of food options, you more than likely understand what it is like to be presented with a choice of food reinforcers such as the burger with cheese and pickles vs. the burger with no cheese or the burger with no pickles or cheese. The July journal club article selected by Dr. Blanco and written by Sran and Borrero (2010), highlights an important concept – that even when rules about choice options are not presented, such as what the experimenters did with typical preschoolers, choices were found to be reinforcing and led to increased academic behaviors. That is, having the opportunity to make choices can make a difference in both the behaviors you target to increase or decrease as well as the rewards that function as reinforcement. In general, there is no doubt that choices are a good thing. 

To dig a little deeper, the idea of varied choice vs. no choice is an interesting one.  Anecdotally and from the research available on choice, having choices is typically viewed as a good circumstance to be in. Research has found that choice opportunities can decrease problem behaviors (Foxx & Garito, 2007; Vaughn & Horner, 1995), increase participation (Harding, Wacker, Berg, Baretto & Rankin, 2002) and increase performance (Moes, 1998) across a variety of tasks.   

As I read through Sran and Borrero (2010) I also reflected on some clinical observations I have noticed over the years and came up with this question: Is there ever too much to choose from and is this condition aversive for some? That is, can choices be overwhelming? I have wondered if choice making is on a continuum of some sort in which there may be an optimum or ideal number of choices before the pendulum swings in an undesired direction causing anxiety, fear, and indecision? The experience of “too many choices” can be overwhelming for some and not desirable at all. For example, please do not ask me to go choose some shade of blue for the living room walls! There are too many, I cannot choose. Can having too many choices lead to indecision? Skinner, in his seminal book, Science and Human Behavior (1953) discussed the idea of “indecision” as being an aversive condition that we want to escape by engaging in making a decision.  Briefly, Skinner (1953) indicated that once a decision is made, one commits to choosing and we are no longer struggling with indecision, thus the behavior of deciding is reinforced, but getting there can be tumultuous. 

Getting back to ABA and our work with individuals who benefit from choices, we must remember that we need to provide choice regularly and it is likely that too many options are probably not helpful. When working with individuals in special education and other settings, providing choices for the following have been known to be exceptionally helpful:

  1. work order
  2. tasks to be performed,
  3. foods to be eaten,
  4. type of work to be completed,
  5. amount of work to be completed and
  6. choice of where one can work,

Also important to understand is that choices can be presented via visual picture presentations, text and other selection mechanisms such as through Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices (AAC). If you are going to provide choices, definitely consider preference assessments as these too are essentially choices of some sort that are likely to increase the overall satisfaction of the individuals you work with.   

Carter, C. M. (2001). Using choice with game play to increase language skills and interactive behaviors in children with autism. Journal of Positive Behavioral Interventions, 3(3), 131‐151.

Foxx, R. M., & Garito, J. (2007). The long‐term successful treatment of the very severe behaviors of a preadolescent with autism. Behavioral Interventions: Special Issue: The Treatment and Assessment of the Severe Behavior of Individuals with Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 22, 69‐82.

Harding, J. W., Wacker, D. P., Berg, W. K., Barretto, A., & Rankin, B. (2002). Assessment and treatment of severe behavior problems using choice‐making procedures. Education & Treatment of Children, 25, 26‐46.

Moes, D. R. (1998). Integrating choice‐making opportunities within teacher‐assigned academic tasks to facilitate the performance of children with autism. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 23, 319‐328.

Skinner, B.F. (1953).  Science and human behavior. New York: The Macmillan Company. ISBN 0029290406

Vaughn, B., & Horner, R. H. (1995). Effects of concrete versus verbal choice systems on problem behavior. AAC: Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 11,


About The Author

Dr. Demiri received her doctorate in Clinical and School Psychology from Hofstra University in 2004 and her Board Certification in Behavior Analysis (BCBA) from Rutgers University in 2005. She currently serves as an adjunct professor at Endicott College in the Van Loan School of Graduate & Professional Studies and she is the district-wide behavior specialist at Hopewell Valley Regional School District in New Jersey. Previously she served as the Assistant Director of Outreach Services at the Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, where she spearheaded the Early Intervention Program. Her professional interests include diagnostic assessments, language and social skills development in individuals with autism spectrum disorders as well as international dissemination of Applied Behavior Analysis. She has presented on Applied Behavior Analysis and autism locally, nationally and internationally. Val is the co-author of the book, Jumpstarting Communication Skills in Children with Autism: A Parent’s Guide to Applied Verbal Behavior: Woodbine House.

ABA Journal Club #7: Choice Within Token Systems

One of the tenets of ABA is to provide evidence-based practice. The best way to help us do this is to keep up with the literature! Each month, Sam Blanco, PhD, LBA, BCBA will select one journal article and provide discussion questions for professionals working within the ABA community. The following week another ABA professional will respond to Sam’s questions and provide further insight and a different perspective on the piece.

I frequently use the Functional Assessment Interview (O’Neill, Albin, Storey, Horner, & Sprague, 2015) when beginning to assess the function of problem behaviors. One of my favorite questions in this assessment relates to how frequently the individual has choice during the day. Many of the individuals I work with are provided very few, if any, choices during the day. This is one of the first things I often work to change.

The article for July’s ABA Journal Club assesses choice within token systems. This is only one way that choice can be implemented throughout the day, but it’s a nice jumping-off point for discussions of how to increase choice for your clients or students.

Sran, S. K., & Borrero, J. C. (2010). Assessing the value of choice in a token system. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis43(3), 553-557

  1. Why did the authors select to focus on choice within token systems? How is this relevant to your current work environment?
  2. Discuss the procedure used in this research. How could you replicate these procedures with your own clients?
  3. The preference for the opportunity to make choices within the token system varied across individuals. How does this impact treatment decisions you would make for your clients?
  4. How do you currently incorporate choice with the individuals you work with?
  5. What changes can you make in incorporating choice with the individuals you work with?
  6. This article discusses the use of ABA strategies for individuals who do not have autism. Why is this important for us to consider?

O’Neill, R. E., Albin, R. W., Storey, K., Horner, R. H., & Sprague, J. R. (2015). Functional assessment and program development. Nelson Education.


WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

Sam 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.