By: Nicole Gorden, M.S., BCBA, LBA 

This blog post is part 2 of 2. Read part 1 HERE


Autism spectrum disorder occurs in individuals from many different cultures and backgrounds. Therefore, cultural competency and sensitivity is imperative for effective delivery of services. To work with autistic learners, is to respect that they are the product of many environments that have shaped them and will continue to shape them throughout their life.

As stated in the most updated ethical code from the BACB, behavior analysts are responsible for incorporating and addressing diversity in practice. For example, the BACB ethical code states that behavior analysts must practice within our scope of competence, maintain competence including cultural responsiveness and diversity. Specifically, providers must “evaluate their own biases and ability to address the needs of individuals with diverse needs/backgrounds” (Ethical Code, 2022, 1.07).

However, what are the practical implementations to culturally sensitive treatment? What does this actually look like in practice? As providers, we are obligated to offer exceptional service delivery with individualized treatment goals. Considering our learner’s cultural background and the impact of their community’s beliefs and attitudes is essential to effective treatment. The following will provide guidance on how providers can apply cultural sensitivity to their clinical decisions in treatment.

Priorities in Treatment Goals

Overlooking the cultural impact can also create conflict and disparity within the stakeholders’ involvement and commitment to treatment. In contrast, “when these values and expectations align with those of the family receiving the intervention, positive outcomes are likely, including high levels of participation and response to treatment” (Dubay, Watson, & Zhang, 2018). Thus, we must also consider how we prioritize goals for culturally sensitive treatment.

For instance, I recently worked on a sleep intervention to desensitize my client to sleeping in his own bed. When discussing the intervention, and more importantly, when to introduce the treatment goal, the cultural sleeping norms had a significant impact. In some urban and minority cultures, co-sleeping is common. Yet, if a provider may think it is significant for the client to start sleeping in their own bed by the age of six, but it is common in the culture to continue co-sleeping even until the child is ten, culturally sensitive conversations can play an important role.

In another example, Filipino cultures find it respectful for younger family members to “bless” elder members by bowing towards the hand of the elder family member and placing their forehead on their hand. Thus, although the provider may find it significant for the client to learn to wave to greet others, by prioritizing cultural norms, it may have a greater influence on the client receiving natural reinforcers by working on blessing their family members, first.

The contradiction between parents following therapy targets that will be supported by their community compared to the skills that might benefit their child in the long term may prove to be challenging and demanding on the family (Dubay, Watson, & Zhang, 2018). Thus, culturally sensitive treatment is prioritizing treatment goals with the best outcome and secures family commitment.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration

By creating culturally sensitive treatments, providers will build better relationships with stakeholders and in turn, reduce the social stress that may come from raising and teaching an autistic child within various cultures. This idea does not only apply to parents, but even extends to the interdisciplinary team that could be influenced by the learner’s culture.

Within Russian communities, it is common to eat soup for lunch. When I provided services in a primarily Russian daycare, I had to consider my client’s aversion to eating these traditional meals as well as the importance of this target behavior to the daycare providers. Rather than dismiss this potential goal, despite my own perspective on the client’s needs, I modified my treatment goals to effectively collaborate with the daycare providers. By understanding the cultural impact and importance of certain behaviors to any stakeholder, the provider can often address unmet needs, gain support for treatment, and keep open communication if other issues arise (Fong et. al, 2017). We must be culturally sensitive towards the beliefs and attitudes that are different than those in the US, and not assume that the learner’s culture does not affect how they or their community respond to treatment.

Educate Ourselves. Stay Cultured. It is not required to culturally match your clients to provide adequate care and treatment. However, providers should strive to acquire knowledge and skills related to cultural responsiveness and diversity. Although we may be the experts in our particular discipline, remember that the parents are the experts on your learner. Culturally sensitive providers should strive to learn about the cultural norms of their diverse clientele. Constant dialogue, keeping an open perspective, and asking questions about cultural norms can make all the difference.


About the Author: 

Nicole Gorden, M.S., BCBA, LBA has over 14 years of experience implementing Applied Behavior Analysis principles with the Autism Population. She currently works for Comprehensive Behavior Supports in Brooklyn, NY.


References:

Behavior Analyst Certification Board. (2020). Ethics code for behavior analysts. Littleton, CO: Author.

DuBay, M., Watson, L. R., & Zhang, W. (2018). In Search of Culturally Appropriate Autism Interventions: Perspectives of Latino Caregivers. Journal of autism and developmental disorders48(5), 1623–1639.

Fong, E. H., Catagnus, R. M., Brodhead, M. T., Quigley, S., & Field, S. (2016). Developing the Cultural Awareness Skills of Behavior Analysts. Behavior analysis in practice9(1), 84–94.

Fong, E. H., Ficklin, S., & Lee, H. Y. (2017). Increasing cultural understanding and diversity in applied behavior analysis. Behavior Analysis: Research and Practice, 17(2), 103-113.

Patton, S. (2017, April). Corporal punishment in black communities: Not an intrinsic cultural tradition but racial trauma. CYF News. http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/newsletter/2017/04/racial-trauma

Practical Applications to Culturally Sensitive Treatment – Part I

By: Nicole Gorden, M.S., BCBA, LBA 


Autism spectrum disorder occurs in individuals from many different cultures and backgrounds. Therefore, cultural competency and sensitivity is imperative for effective delivery of services. To work with autistic learners, is to respect that they are the product of many environments that have shaped them and will continue to shape them throughout their life.

As stated in the most updated ethical code from the BACB, behavior analysts are responsible for incorporating and addressing diversity in practice. For example, the BACB ethical code states that behavior analysts must practice within our scope of competence, maintain competence including cultural responsiveness and diversity. Specifically, providers must “evaluate their own biases and ability to address the needs of individuals with diverse needs/backgrounds” (Ethical Code, 2022, 1.07).

However, what are the practical implementations to culturally sensitive treatment? What does this actually look like in practice? As providers, we are obligated to offer exceptional service delivery with individualized treatment goals. Considering our learner’s cultural background and the impact of their community’s beliefs and attitudes is essential to effective treatment. The following will provide guidance on how providers can apply cultural sensitivity to their clinical decisions in treatment.

Awareness of Own Cultural Biases

Cultural awareness is the first step to providing culturally ethical treatment. Providers should concurrently and habitually engage in practices in which they remain aware of their own predetermined perceptions and acknowledge their own limitations to cultural competency. As mentioned in Fong et. al (2016), “cultural awareness may be important because behavioral patterns that are viewed as problematic in our own culture may be the norm in other cultures”. Due to limitations in diversity within most helping professions, a learner’s provider is often from a different cultural background.

Thus, it is essential to understand the traditions of that culture. As an example, physical punishment may be common practice in some black communities which has been perceived to be deeply rooted in racial trauma (Patton, 2017). It would be insensitive for a provider from a different cultural background to ignore that this practice is a cultural tradition, and thus blame or stigmatize black parents for their choices. Rather, “professionals can offer information about why the practice is harmful but have been told it is necessary, and offer healthier alternatives that produce better outcomes for children, families and communities” (Patton, 2017). Cultural sensitivity is facilitating the development of our programs by checking our own biases and how they may affect our choices in treatment.

Selection of Target Behaviors and Programmatic Materials

A few years ago, a client from Asian descent was transferred to me from another behavior analyst. When assessing the barriers to treatment, my client made minimal progress when asked to identify a fork. Believing that an object, rather than a picture might help, I asked the client’s parents for a fork. When obtaining the fork, the parents expressed that they do not use forks to eat. In their culture, hands and chopsticks are typical eating utensils. Thus, when considering cultural sensitivity, this includes selecting programmatic targets that are common in the client’s environment and the cultural norms.

The teaching materials should be as individualized as the treatment plan too. We should rely on diverse representation in the resources we use in treatment. Providers should use materials that represent the individual’s environment, which is typically a blend of many different ethnicities. When providing resources like visual schedules, do your cartoons or pictures represent the racial identity of your learner? If you are teaching body parts on a doll, do you provide toys that look like your learner? To be a culturally sensitive professional, one should give precedence to ethnic representation to allow the learner to feel validated and treat them with dignity.

The cultural assessment process should be used to inform treatment, specifically when designing the program for validity and selecting targets for skill acquisition (Fong et. al, 2016). When beginning a new lesson or treatment program, it is essential that providers select socially meaningful and significant target goals. However, in selecting these goals for treatment, professionals must consider the cultural norms and needs of the client.


About the Author: 

Nicole Gorden, M.S., BCBA, LBA has over 14 years of experience implementing Applied Behavior Analysis principles with the Autism Population. She currently works for Comprehensive Behavior Supports in Brooklyn, NY.


References:

Behavior Analyst Certification Board. (2020). Ethics code for behavior analysts. Littleton, CO: Author.

DuBay, M., Watson, L. R., & Zhang, W. (2018). In Search of Culturally Appropriate Autism Interventions: Perspectives of Latino Caregivers. Journal of autism and developmental disorders48(5), 1623–1639.

Fong, E. H., Catagnus, R. M., Brodhead, M. T., Quigley, S., & Field, S. (2016). Developing the Cultural Awareness Skills of Behavior Analysts. Behavior analysis in practice9(1), 84–94.

Fong, E. H., Ficklin, S., & Lee, H. Y. (2017). Increasing cultural understanding and diversity in applied behavior analysis. Behavior Analysis: Research and Practice, 17(2), 103-113.

Patton, S. (2017, April). Corporal punishment in black communities: Not an intrinsic cultural tradition but racial trauma. CYF News. http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/newsletter/2017/04/racial-trauma

Do You Want to be the Bringer of the Grins or the Bringer of the Power Struggles?

This week’s blog comes from Parenting with ABA by Leanne Page.

Do you know what one of my favorite parenting tools is?

You guessed positive reinforcement, didn’t you? Close- but today I’m going with HUMOR!

When things are tense- can we help ourselves and our kids to crack a smile to defuse the situation?

When my kids are in a bad mood, it’s easy for me to slip into traditional kneejerk parenting reactions. It’s easy to become overly firm and frustrated. This is when voices rise. Tempers rise. Power struggles begin. Who exactly is winning here? I’m not happy with my own behavior following a tense interaction let alone my kids’ behavior.

What if instead of getting firm we got silly? Can we salvage the situation, the morning, the day? I say HECK YES!Mornings can be hard for so many families- mine included. Getting up on time to get out the door by 7:30am for elementary school is not easy for my oldest. After a few rough days of trying all kinds of different things to just get my girl out of her funk, I hit the jackpot. Instead of being firm in the form of “You do it or I’ll help you do it” through the morning routine, I opted for humor. My girl was grunting and moaning and making all kinds of unpleasant noises instead of doing her morning routine. I asked our smart home thingie “Hey google, can you translate cave man talk?” and “What does (insert grunting noises here) mean in English?” I communicated back to my daughter in cave man grunting noises. She cracked a smile. I turned up the silly drama with noises and gestures to communicate to her what she needed to do next in her morning routine. And guess what! It worked! Not only did it work that day but as soon as I started pantomiming things or making silly noises the next day- a grin! Mornings got smoother for several weeks without me even needing to help her do her routine. Then one day, she had a hard time again. Instead of kneejerk over firm parenting tactics, I tried humor. And it worked like a charm!

When else have you heard me sharing about being silly? In getting our kids’ attention before giving an instruction. Try talking in a silly voice, singing, whispering, or rapping. Try silly faces and hand gestures to act out what you need them to do. Get their attention before giving an instruction but also get a smile as you are interacting with your kids!

Get that grin and helping your kids follow through is a million times easier!

And the best part of all- laughing together helps that highly desired true connection with your kids. Not only does it defuse a situation or help them follow instructions- it strengthens your relationship. It helps your kids to feel safe and secure with you- you are the bringer of the smiles, not the bringer of the threats of punishment or the bringer of rasied voices and power struggles.Next time you feel your own temperature rising because your child is not listening, pause. Try hard to use some humor. The first time or two it really is HARD because your instincts are to be firm and stand your ground no matter what. But breathe and consider the big picture. Do you want your kids to think of you as the bringer of the smiles or the power struggles. Be silly. Get the smiles. Then the instruction following is easier. Save the situation and also strengthen your relationship.

Embrace the silly!


Leanne Page, MEd, BCBA, is the author of Parenting with Science: Behavior Analysis Saves Mom’s Sanity. As a Behavior Analyst and a mom of two little girls, she wanted to share behavior analysis with a population who could really use it- parents!

Leanne’s writing can be found in Parenting with Science and Parenting with ABA as well as a few other sites. She is a monthly contributor to bSci21.com, guest host for the Dr. Kim Live show, and has contributed to other websites as well.

Leanne has worked with children with disabilities for over 10 years. She earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Texas A&M University. She also completed ABA coursework through the University of North Texas before earning her BCBA certification in 2011. Leanne has worked as a special educator of both elementary and high school self-contained, inclusion, general education, and resource settings.

Leanne also has managed a center providing ABA services to children in 1:1 and small group settings. She has extensive experience in school and teacher training, therapist training, parent training, and providing direct services to children and families in a center-based or in-home therapy setting.

Leanne is now located in Dallas, Texas and is available for: distance BCBA and BCaBA supervision, parent training, speaking opportunities, and consultation. She can be reached via Facebook or at Lpagebcba@gmail.com.

A Spotlight On: “Executive Function in the Early Childhood Classroom”

By: Stephanny Freeman, PhD and Kristen Hayashida, MEd, BCBA. Their new book: “Executive Function in the Early Childhood Classroom” can be purchased HERE

When kindergarten teachers are asked what skills they would like their students to have the beginning of the year, their answers might be surprising!  Parents and caregivers are often concerned with making sure their children can say their ABC’s, count to 10, and know their colors. Some may believe that their children should be reading by the time they start kindergarten.  However, kindergarten teachers often have a different set of priorities, and instead are looking for skills such as:

  • The ability to listen to and follow directions
  • Follow classroom routines
  • Control impulses
  • Resolve a conflict or solve a problem calmly with another child

Kindergarten teachers value these skills because they are critical for school readiness, paving the way for children to be academically and socially successful.  Moreover, children who are behind in these skills can require disproportionate amounts of teachers’ attention, derail classroom activities and routines, and interfere with other children’s learning.

Underlying these school readiness skills are a set of higher order thinking skills collectively referred to as Executive Functions (EFs). EFs are the cognitive control functions that help us inhibit our initial impulses and think before acting.

But while most teachers agree that EF skills are very important, they are not explicitly taught in most early education settings (or at any point in most children’s educational experiences).

What skills are part of executive functioning?

Three key skills are generally agreed upon as the core of EF:

  1. Working memory: holding information in mind to manipulate, work with, or act on at a later time.
  2. Inhibitory control: the ability to regulate one’s attention, behavior, thinking, and emotion particularly in response to distractions or temptations.
  3. Cognitive flexibility: the capacity to shift one’s thinking, such as changing one’s approach to solving a problem if the previous approach is not working or recognizing and responding when the demands of that task have changed.

Seven additional skills are also considered to fall under the umbrella of EF, often relying and building on the three foundational EF skills:

  1. Initiation: the ability to begin a task or activity or to generate ideas independently in order to answer questions, solve problems, or respond to environmental demands.
  2. Fluency: how fluidly one can access and use relevant knowledge or skills.
  3. Planning: the ability to identify and sequence all the different steps needed to achieve a specific goal.
  4. Organization: the capacity to prioritize and make decisions about which tasks to undertake, and the needed resources to complete those tasks.
  5. Problem solving: carrying out the steps to achieve a desired goal, while monitoring progress making necessary adjustments.
  6. Time awareness: part of the broader skill of Time Management, which includes to the ability to anticipate how long tasks might take, to be aware of time constraints, track one’s progress, and adjust one’s behavior in order to complete tasks efficiently.
  7. Emotion regulation: skills including identifying one’s own emotion states and responding appropriately to emotional experiences.

Why do executive function skills matter?

Executive function skills predict a host of short-term and long-term outcomes!

  • They are a stronger predictor of school readiness than IQ.
  • They are also associated with higher achievement in both reading and math throughout children’s schooling.
  • EF skills, when tested in early childhood predict outcomes later in childhood and adolescence, including psychological and physical health.

Because EF skills are so predictive of later outcomes, they are being increasingly recognized as a critically important focus of intervention. 


“Early EF training is … an excellent candidate for leveling the playing field and reducing the achievement gap between more- and less-advantaged children.”

Diamond and Lee (2011, p. 6)


Can executive function skills improve?

Yes! All young children (typically developing and those with difficulties) can benefit greatly from instruction in EF!  Frequent practice of these skills and gradually raising the difficulty benefits children most in generalization and increasing gains. Practitioners and parents should consider:

  • Providing focused instruction in EF skills.
  • Combining explicit targeted instruction in EF skills with other activities in which they can then apply and practice those skills.
  • Building targeted EF skills into daily routines.
  • Providing multiple opportunities every day, particularly for children with disabilities, to test out and practice EF skills.

“Most experts consider the development of self-regulation skills, of which executive functions are the crown jewel, to be the most important objective of high quality preschool—to help children focus attention, be emotionally expressive, not be impulsive, and to engage in purposeful and meaningful interactions with caregivers and other children”  

Blair (2017, p.4)


 


About The Authors

Dr. Stephanny Freeman is a clinical professor at UCLA, a licensed clinical psychologist, and Co-Directs the Early Childhood Partial Hospitalization Program (ECPHP).  For 20 years, she has educated children with ASD and other exceptionalities as a teacher, studied interventions for social emotional development, and designed curriculum and behavior plans in school and clinic settings.

Kristen Hayashida is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst at the UCLA Early Childhood Partial Hospitalization Program (ECPHP).  For the last 10 years she has served as a therapist, researcher and educator of children and families living with autism spectrum disorder through the treatment of problem behavior.

A Parent’s Guide to ABA Facilities

When a child first gets diagnosed with Autism, parents are often overwhelmed. A good doctor will give a prescription for ABA therapy as well as other necessary therapies such as Speech, OT,  PT, Feeding, etc. However, of those therapies, the one that is usually not familiar is ABA. A simple Google search or, even worse, joining a Facebook group is going to lead a parent down a path full of controversy, fear mongering, and misinformation. This will often leave parents very leery of any ABA facility they meet with, or completely turned off from the best medically-proved therapy for young Autistic children.

So I created a list of questions for parents to ask potential ABA facilities to find the best match for their family. After all, they’re entrusting you with their child for hours upon hours. The child is often non-verbal and unable to tell you how their day was. So a parent must trust the facility completely. In writing this list, I also kept in mind the warnings/worries of abuse touted by certain internet groups, in hopes to appease them should they come across this list. Parents can use this list in their ABA search and clinics can have this list on hand for parents, and their potential answers ready.

1) Do you force eye contact or stop unharmful stims? This is one of the top citations of “abuse” from certain internet groups. Some parents don’t want to force eye contact and view their child’s non-harmful, non-disruptive stims as a beautiful part of their personality.

2) How do you avoid meltdowns? Knowing that you are going to avoid meltdowns will help parents feel far more comfortable about sending their child.

3) Do you ever withhold food? Even neurotypical kids are picky. Us “Autism Parents” are usually self-conscious about the fact that our kids survive on pretzels and Pediasure. Telling a child “No chicken nuggets until you’ve finished your green beans” will probably mean a hungry child, and an unhappy parent.

4) How do you handle naps? With the diagnostic age of Autism getting increasingly lower, children are starting ABA before they are ready to phase out of naps. Having a plan in place for nap time will make a parent know their child is getting their needs met.

5) What are your parent training session requirements? ABA is a fantastic therapy, but without the parents upholding it at home, it’s pretty hard to fully instill the methodology and give the child all the help they deserve Parent training lets parents feel more involved in their child’s therapy which is essential!

6) What are the requirements of your staff? Parents researching ABA are shocked to hear you only need a high school diploma to be an RBT. If you have a higher standard for your staff of any sort, parents will feel more comfortable sending their children to your facility.

7) What will my child’s daily schedule look like? Knowing what a child does throughout the day helps a parent make the decision for what works best for their child.

8) How do you incorporate academics? Many parents are choosing between ABA and Preschool. Being able to tell parents your ABA facilitates some sort of Academics (We focus on writing, the alphabet, etc) will make the decision far easier!

9) How do you prevent harmful stims? Parents recoil at the thought of their child being restrained. What are your rules around touching kids? How do you keep our child from harming themselves, or anyone else?

10) How do you communicate with me? My child can’t tell me about his day. So I need his therapists to do so. What are you doing to tell me about his day? What he ate? Did he name? Diaper changes? Injuries? The more communication, the better!

This list isn’t comprehensive. It won’t work for every facility. However, these are the questions I have found most parents want the answers to in order to find the best facility for their kids. And to feel they aren’t sending their children to an “abusive” environment.

About the Author:

Cassie Hauschildt is the mother of her Autistic son, Percival, who was diagnosed at 20 months old. Since his diagnosis, she has become an advocate for autistic children. She dedicates her time to mentoring parents of autistic kids through the tough first few months post-diagnosis. She also is trying to get rid of the negativity surrounding ABA therapy. She does this through humor, while using real talk, on her TikTok @AnotherAutismMom. She also runs “The Dino and Nuggets Corner” Facebook Group.

Posted in ABA

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.