Improving Time-Out Procedures

Time-out is often a hotly-debated topic. Is it too punishing? Where should it take place? How long should it last? There are not easy answers to many of these questions. But there are some evidence-based suggestions that may improve a time out procedure should you decide to use one.

  • First, know the function of the behavior! If the child is engaging in the undesirable behavior for escape, then providing “time out” will likely increase the behavior. For instance, if a child gets sent out of the classroom each time he curses, this is effectively a time out from classwork. He may curse because in the past, cursing resulted in escaping from classwork. This is an instance when you would not want to use time out. A time-out may prove to be effective for behaviors that function for attention or access to tangibles. More on that next…
  • Consider a nonexclusion time-out procedure. In the past, we’ve discussed the time-out ribbon here. This is a useful tool for signaling to a learner that they have access to social or tangible reinforcers. If they engage in an inappropriate behavior, the ribbon is removed and they do not have access to social or tangible reinforcers, however they are still able to participate in the lesson or activity you have organized. It also allows them to practice more appropriate behaviors to earn the ribbon back. If the ribbon isn’t the best visual cue for your learner, you could make it anything this is visible for them and clearly delineates when they do and do not have access to reinforcement.
  • Consider the use of a release contingency. This means that a learner is unable to leave time out until a predetermined amount of time has passed without problem behavior. Perhaps if you’re working with a preschool child who has been kicking other children, the release contingency might be that they must sit with “quiet feet” or “feet on the floor” for one full minute before they can go back to play. Your other option is to put in a fixed time contingency, which is best done by setting some sort of timer so the learner can see how much time is remaining in time-out.
  • Combine time out with positive reinforcement procedures. Time-out by itself may result in decreases in behavior only when time out is a possibility. For instance, you may see a decrease in the problem behavior only when the child’s mother is at home, because the father doesn’t use time out. The goal is to decrease the problem behavior across all settings and activities. To that end, it’s helpful to teach appropriate replacement behaviors and reinforce the learner for engaging in those behaviors.

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.

Running behaviors? Tips for Making Your Class & School Safe

If you have a runner in your classroom, you don’t need a gym membership and have long ago put away those cute wedges. Every time the door opens you head jerks around to make sure it isn’t your little guy. The starbucks barista has your venti triple shot ready for you every morning before you get there. A lot of us have been there. From our kid’s perspective, running is effective. Whether it’s to get attention, escape a task, or find that keyboard in the music teachers room – it works most of the time. When looking at these behaviors, we of course want to analyze the function (or the why) behind the behavior when developing interventions. Interventions will definitely include teaching some type of replacement behavior. Today let’s also look at what else you can be doing while these interventions start to take shape.

Running is a scary behavior and potentially dangerous behavior because your student could get outside of the school. He could get lost, hit by a car, or walk into a stranger’s home. If your child or student has these types of behaviors, your mind has definitely gone to these worst case scenarios. I remember losing sleep regularly thinking about a student who had high frequency running behavior and stressing like crazy over what would happen if he ever got out of the school.

Keep them in your class. This is really the golden rule when it comes to runners. Do whatever you can to keep them in your room. Once that foot gets one inch outside your door, all bets are off. Once they are outside your room, you are chasing them and they are loving it. You’ve completely reinforced the inappropriate behavior but you had no choice. You had to keep them safe. Some schools may have systems set up with different staff at different spots in the hallway or building so you can avoid that. But unfortunately many of our classrooms don’t have that much staff to do that. The number one goal is keeping them safe, so do whatever you have to do to get them once they leave your room. But the goal is avoiding that. The goal is keeping them in your room where you can be teaching replacement behaviors.

In the effort to keep them in your room, think obstacles. Go through your student’s schedule and make sure that at every single point of the day there is not a direct pathway to the door. When I do behavior consults, the teacher and I literally do this together. We walk around the room and go to every single spot the student will be at. Sometimes you forget about a specific center or time of day when the student is very close to the door. You classroom may look like a maze. That’s okay. That’s actually good. A maze means it will take your student 4 seconds instead of 2 seconds to get to the door and the extra 2 seconds may be enough to prevent that escape. Use furniture and dividers to create zig zag pathways around your room. I know it’s tempting to do something potentially unsafe like put a lock on the door – but it’s majorly breaking fire code so steer clear of that. If you have two doors in your room, block one up completely so you only have to worry about one.

Have a super clear and straightforward schedule of who is in charge of this student at all times of day. Make sure the transition handoff is clear. Clarify with staff what they should do if they need to go to the bathroom or get up to get a pencil when working with this student. Make sure the goal is clear to everyone – keep him in the room.

If they do get out – minimize the attention component. Sometimes we are doing everything right, working on analyzing the function of the behavior, teaching a replacement response, added in loads of preventative interventions keep the student in your classroom – and life happens and you blink and your student is halfway down the hallway. As we talked about, yes you are going to run after him to get him because above everything safety is important. But minimize the attention that goes into this. Picture two scenarios: 1 – Johnny runs down the hallway. Three adults start running after him, one of them yelling. They catch up to him. One adult yells to the other, “got him.” Another adult, starts lecturing Johnny on we he shouldn’t be running. The three adults walk him back together talking amongst themselves about how fast they are getting. They re-enter the classroom and announce to everyone in the room loudly, “he one got to the end of the hallway.” Basically it’s a circus. I see this ALL the time. And it’s unintentional. None of those adults wake up thinking let’s turn Johnny’s behaviors into a parade today, but it happens. We get scared, adrenaline is rushing, and we don’t have a clear plan in place. Let’s rework this scenario. Johnny runs. One adult makes eye contact with another adult in the classroom and says, “I’m on it.” One adult runs after him, another waits in the doorway of the classroom to watch. When the adult gets him, she says nothing and walks him back to the classroom. He goes back to the exact task he was doing before without any eye contact or talking/lecturing. Attention was minimal. Attention may be a function for many of these behaviors so even though we have to give attention by chasing we can minimize the magnitude of the attention. 

Know where all the school exits are. Seems obvious but I worked in a school for ten years and honestly still didn’t know where all of the exits are. Really old buildings have a seemingly endless amount of hidden doors to the outside. I finally had the school engineer walk me around the basement so I could find them all. Once you know where the main exits are, you can divide and conquer with staff. If your student is running the direction of an exit, one staff member can run ahead to that door or go meet him where the door opens outside. #themoreyouknow

Have a plan with the security guards for the worst case scenario. You guys know I’m all about having an emergency plan in place and you likely already have one with your classroom staff (if you don’t – make one!). But take that emergency plan beyond just your classroom staff. Work with your school’s security guards to get them in the loop. If that horrible worst case scenario happens and your student does somehow get out of the building, what is the plan? We tend to avoid making a plan for this because we think it never will happen. Agreed, plan for it never happening. But just in case at the rare, rare, rare chance it does – you will be much better off with a plan in place.

Use Walkie Talkies with key people through the school. Walkie talkies can be your saving grace here. Many schools already have a system of walkie talkies in place and if you aren’t part of – get part of it. If you student has left the classroom, you will be much more efficient getting him back to the class if you can alert 8 people throughout the building of it versus doing it yourself. If you school doesn’t use walkie talkies, approach your admin about getting a set for your classroom staff and a few key people through the building (security guards, secretary, etc.).

This piece was originally posted at The Autism Helper


About The Author

Sasha Long, BCBA, M.A., is the founder and president of The Autism Helper, Inc. She is a board certified behavior analyst and certified special education teacher. After ten years of teaching in a self-contained special education classroom, Sasha now works full time as a consultant, writer, and behavior analyst. Sasha manages and writes The Autism Helper Blog, as a way to share easy to use and ready to implement strategies and ideas. Sasha also travels internationally as a speaker and consultant providing individualized training and feedback to parents, educators, therapists and administrators in the world of autism. She is currently an adjunct professor in the school of Applied Behavior Analysis at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Sasha received her undergraduate degree in Special Education from Miami University and has a Masters Degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Contact Sasha at sasha.theautismhelper@gmail.com.

Pairing auditory stimuli in your reinforcement

            Using a consistent, auditory stimulus as part of your reinforcement strategy can be a powerful addition for improving behaviors. It allows for students to be reinforced without necessarily looking at you, which can be great if you are providing reinforcement for remaining on task or independently completing a task. Here are a few examples of auditory stimuli you may consider pairing with your reinforcement.

            Token Towers – If you are using some sort of a token system, the Token Tower might be a great option. As opposed to token systems that require the use of Velcro tokens (such as stars or happy faces) or a written system, the token tower is plastic. When a token is earned, your student hears it hitting the bottom of the tube.

            ClassDojo – There are a lot of great features in ClassDojo. Not only does ClassDojo have a specific sound associated with earning points for various tasks, it also has a different sound for losing a point. You can communicate a lot without interrupting the class, and students understand what is happening simply from a brief auditory stimulus.

            TAGTeach – This is a neutral auditory stimulus that is paired with reinforcement so the student can learn that the stimulus means “you did a great job” or “nice work!” The auditory stimulus can then be used on it’s own as a reinforcer. It allows you to reinforce at the very moment the behavior happens, which is incredibly important because positive behaviors increase when they are reinforced immediately.

            What types of auditory stimuli do you use in your reinforcement strategies?


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.

The ABA Tools Of The Trade Kit!

While data collection is a cornerstone of ABA, and essential for providing effective interventions, there are many obstacles to collecting accurate data. My colleague Val Demiri and I have focused a lot of time and attention to addressing these obstacles and working to make the data collection process easier.

The new ABA Tools of the Trade Kit includes some of our most-used tools, from low-tech tools such as the abacus bracelet to high-tech such as the GymBoss. The tools included here allow you to take a variety of types of data. Here’s a peek at what’s inside:

Tally counters: This is one of the simplest tools available, but incredibly useful. Put it on a lanyard around your neck or keep it in hands-reach to easily tally the number of instances of a target behavior.

Time Timer: I use this tool all the time with my clients. It provides a great visual for them to see time as it is elapsing. I use it for teaching children to wait for a preferred item/activity and to remain on task while the “red bar” is showing.

GymBoss: This interval timer is one of my favorite and most-used tools. I’ve used it and similar items in a variety of ways, for helping parents and teachers provide more positive reinforcement, teaching clients self-management skills, and keeping track of interval schedules of reinforcement when I’m implementing an intervention.

Audible Timer: While this is a basic tool, having something with an auditory stimulus is invaluable!

Token Tower: Speaking of auditory stimuli, this is one of my favorite token systems simply because the plastic token makes a sound when it drops into the tower. I also love that I can move the ring up and down the tower to indicate how many tokens the client must earn.

Abacus Bracelet: This is one of the best low-tech tools around. It’s especially great for classroom teachers who are trying to count a target behavior while teaching. Simply move a bead from one side of the bracelet to the other, and then at the end of the lesson count how many beads were moved. I love technology, but sometimes you can’t beat simplicity.

ABA Tools of the Trade: The book is also included in the kit, which provides much more information about these and other tools, as well as dozens of examples of real-life scenarios.


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.

Growing Up: Supporting Teens On The Autism Spectrum

Growing up is exciting and challenging for kids and parents alike.  Teens on the autism spectrum may face difficulties in socializing, planning for their futures, and enjoying independence.  Parents may find it hard to know how to support their children through the rites of passage of adolescence and adulthood, but there are some things to keep in mind to make this time a little easier and more enjoyable for everyone.

First, just like any teen, every teen with autism is an individual and should be treated as such.  There are no one-size-fits all solutions at any age, including adolescence.  Parents and teachers should be aware of the strategies and supports that helped their child in the past as possible sources of information for the present and future.  For example, a child who did really well learning from video models may grow up into a teenager who can learn quite a lot from YouTube videos (under the appropriate supervision, of course).  It’s important to make sure that supports are thoughtfully updated to be age-appropriate, too.  Individuals with autism do not need to be stigmatized by being associated with materials and activities that are typically seen as more child-like.  For example, a teenager with autism who requires a reinforcement system would hopefully be able to use a system that is age-appropriate like actual money, or discreet enough like points awarded in a phone app or on an index card, instead of a colorful token economy with stickers or pennies.  Many children with autism benefit from activity schedules, which can be updated for older children using the same organizational strategies that other teenagers may use, including smartphone-based apps for scheduling, reminders, and to-do lists.

Another important consideration in supporting teenagers with autism is that their goals may need to be updated as they get older.  Hopefully, the “5-year rule” has been observed, in which goals are carefully selected according to what the individual will need to be able to do in the next 5 years.  This means not waiting until the child is in the midst of puberty to teach the self-care routines associated with that time, and not waiting until the child has become an adult who is interested in having a romantic relationship to teach some of the social skills associated with that part of life, in addition to many other examples.  If not, then it’s never too late to work on these skills, but it’s definitely easier and less stressful to address them earlier rather than later.  Keeping this in mind, teens with autism may need to be thinking further ahead than typical teens.  For example, if college is going to be a goal, it’s helpful for parents and school supports to know and be preparing for this from the beginning of high school.  Similarly, if the young person is aiming more towards a career path, the skill set needed for work should be addressed well in advance of the time that he or she is expected to start to work. 

Finally, adolescence is a time to celebrate and enjoy independence.  For teens with autism, independence should be approached as a goal for every area of life, with the careful assessment of safety and readiness.  Independence can be achieved at the right level for each individual, given the appropriate goals and supports.  For example, many teenagers enjoy learning to travel independently, from taking public transportation to eventually driving independently.  If a teen with autism is able to safely navigate these skills, that can be a great achievement.  For teens who may not be ready for this level of independence, alternatives can be focused on, such as learning to map out public transportation routes that will be traveled with a parent or support person, or being responsible for one’s own money when traveling with supports.  For individuals with autism at any age, there are always new levels of independence to strive for.


About The Author

Dana Reinecke, PhD, 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 presented original research and workshops on the treatment of autism and applications of ABA at regional, national, and international conferences.  She has published her research in peer-reviewed journals, written chapters in published books, and co-edited books on ABA and autism.  Current areas of research include use of technology to support students with and without disabilities, 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), and is currently serving as President (2017-2018).

Sticking to Clear Sds and Planning Error Correction Procedures

Recently I was supervising a session in which the current goal was for the child to identify cards by category. The teacher was placing three cards in a messy array, and asking “Where’s the animal?” or “Point to the food.”

When the child got it right, the teacher did a great job of providing reinforcement. However, if the student didn’t respond correctly, the conversation might look like this:

TEACHER: What is this? (Pointing to zebra)

STUDENT: No response.

TEACHER: Come on. You know this one.

STUDENT: Horse?

TEACHER: No. You know this one. Remember we did a puzzle earlier with this animal.

STUDENT: Animal?

TEACHER: What animal? Remember the puzzle?

While the intention of the teacher is understandable, this is not an evidence-based error correction procedure. We don’t want our student practicing errors. Often, you might see your student is making the same error over and over. This means there has been in error in our teaching, and we need to make adjustments. Many times, the error is in how we correct errors.

The example described above is one that I commonly see when supervising. Many of our students don’t have strong listening comprehension skills, so continuing to give clues isn’t teaching our student to respond to “What is this?” but is actually teaching them to respond to some other stimulus. The very first recommendation I had as this teacher’s supervisor was to be clear with the discriminative stimulus.

But how should we correct the student’s initial error? There are several commonly used, evidence-based error correction procedures, but the most effective procedures vary from individual to individual. It’s valuable to assess the evidence-based procedure that is most effective for you individual student prior to beginning teaching procedures. This will make your teaching more effective and efficient.

There is a lot of research about error correction procedures for individuals with autism. Carroll, Joachim, St. Peter, & Robinson (2015) clearly outline four commonly used procedures and explain how to assess an individual’s response to each procedure. Carroll, Owsiany, & Cheatham (2018) utilized a short assessment for determining which of five commonly used procedures may work best for a specific individual. Starting with these two articles can clarify how to best move forward with your students or clients.


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.

Autism Awareness Month Is Over…Unless You’re A Parent

Autism Awareness Month is over, but for many parents of children with autism, awareness is a daily battle. You would think that after decades of research, awareness of what autism  would be more prevalent. But I still talk with parents who are struggling with relatives, friends, or strangers on the street being unaware, (and often incredibly rude,) about Autism.

             One parent I work with recently asked me if I had a stock response for such rude responses. The truth is that even after seventeen years of working with people with autism, I am often at a loss for words when I encounter statements such as “I don’t even think your child has autism. This seems like a discipline issue.” OR “Why aren’t you working on _______ since you’re spending so much time on all of these other behaviors.” So, I turned to some of my colleagues for help.

            Below is a list of some “stock responses” to help out in these awkward, and possibly offensive, conversations.

Response to statements like “Autism isn’t a real thing.”

“Autism is a real thing in our house. We’d be happy to have you come over and see first hand what it is and how it effects our family. In many ways, we need to live differently than we expected, but we have all learned to grow in ways we never expected. “

I think the best answer is probably to refer the person to a resource like Autism Speaks or ASAT. “Thanks for expressing an interest in what we’re doing.  Our strategies are based on scientific principles and are supported by trained professionals.  If you’d like to learn more about what it means, here’s a website you can look at.”  

“Autism is a tricky disorder because sometimes people who have it have strengths in some areas but weaknesses in others.  I know my child may seem just like any other kid, but he’s worked hard to get to this point, and he’s still working hard.”

“It may seem to you like my child is crying/tantrumming/etc. because he’s spoiled or just wants to get his way, but his ability to communicate with others is really impaired, so he gets easily frustrated.  Thanks for your concern, but we’re working on helping him to overcome this.”

I think my response would depend on the day and my mood.  On a BAD day, I might tell (yell at) the person to be thankful they are not faced with the same challenges in their children.  On a more level day, I would attempt to use it as a learning experience and provide a logical response that Autism is a genetic disorder recognized by the Surgeon General and defined in the DSM-V.  That it generally impacts the child’s social and communication skills and can often result in stereotypic motor movements like hand-flapping.  I would go on to tell them about ABA and that there is no known cure.

“Autism is a neurological disorder so his brain works differently than other people. I can send you some info through email if you would like.” (Or end it after the 1st sentence and walk away)

“Thank you for your concern. It really takes a supportive community for us to manage each day.  We prefer to not discuss this with people who don’t understand autism as our time is best spend with our child, rather than explaining ASD to others.”

“Autism isn’t a ‘thing’ – Well, it really is, but it’s a wide spectrum so almost every person with autism is different from any other one you’ve met. That’s why it can be hard to diagnose and treat, because of the wide range of the disability and variability across it.”

“Thanks, but I’d rather not discuss this with you” can go a long way, too!

 

Response to statements like “Why aren’t you working on _______ since you’re spending so much time on all of these other behaviors?”

“We are working tirelessly everyday to improve social behavior, we target the most interfering behaviors first and will systematically work through the list. “

“While _________ is important, there are other things that are more important at this time- _________ won’t matter if the child can’t tell you what he wants or needs. We’ll get to it eventually but only once it shows to be important and interfering with other things. “

“Or, we ARE working on it, but it takes a long time to change behaviors.” (maybe even insert a “You could help us by…”  line)

“Yes we are working on that too. We still have work to do. And how is your…”

 

Response to statements like “What’s his problem anyway?”

“He just learns some things differently and a bit slower than others; but you should see how smart he is in (describe an area of strength).”

“There are some things that really get him mad, but he is getting better and is learning to tell us what the problem is.”

 

Responses to “I’m sorry, but I don’t think my kids can be around your kid. I’m worried about them picking up some of his problem behaviors.”

“I’d say that’s too bad, he’s a great kid and really helps other people in ways that he can; he’s never had a problem with anyone.”

I tried to think of something good and positive, refine to say/write…but you know me…I would give them the middle finger :)”

 

More general advice:

I have worked with a parent who had business cards printed that had 2-3 websites listed on it. When the person started up, the parent handed the card to them and just said something like: “That is a big question that would take too much time to answer here so here are some resources for you to check out.” This allowed them to shut it down but in a way that was not confrontational. 

Remember that you don’t have to say anything, especially when it’s to a stranger. It is perfectly okay not to share personal details about your child’s diagnosis.

So you can see I try to not directly contradict someone saying something; I downplay the concern, reflect back, gently push back, and then stop talking and redirect the conversation if I can.

 

Thank you to Cheryl Davis, Michael Dorsey, Kari Dunlop, Dana Reinecke, Krishna Ruano, Sarah Russell, Erin Stone, and Tom Zane.


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 to Avoid Over-Pathologizing Behaviors in Kids with Autism

A diagnosis of autism can be very challenging for a child and for his or her family. But one of the most difficult aspects of autism is that it is not clear cut what behaviors are related to autism, and what behaviors are related to just being a kid. Every child tantrums sometimes. Every child talks back sometimes. Every child engages in dangerous behavior sometimes.

When I look back on my own childhood, I think of several behaviors I exhibited: in third grade I cut my own hair while my teacher’s back was turned, in fourth grade I got mad at my brother and threw an alarm clock at him, and in seventh grade I loved Agatha Christie books so much that I frequently refused to go outside and sat in my room reading by myself for hours on end. If I had autism, any one of these behaviors may have been pathologized instead of being considered as just a part of growing up.

So how do you parse through all the behaviors your learner is exhibiting and figure out which ones you should actually be worried about? Here are a few questions to ask yourself in determining behaviors to address:

  1. Is the behavior dangerous?
  2. How often and for how long does your learner engage in the behavior?
  3. How different is this behavior from the learner’s same-age peers? For example, does your three year old cry for a couple minutes when told that she can’t have her favorite toy, or does she cry for two hours and refuse to engage with any other toys for the rest of the day?
  4. How is this behavior interfering with the learner’s ability to learn?
  5. How is this behavior interfering with the learner’s ability to engage with peers and family members?
  6. Is the behavior related to a skill? For example, pacing the room and flapping your arms is typically not related to a skill, but building Lego models can be related to a skill. If it is related to a skill, think about ways to provide opportunities for expanding that skill.

The answers to these questions should be able to inform the decisions that you make in intervening with behaviors. And we should remember that above all else, kids with autism are still just kids.


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.

The Function Wheels

This month’s ASAT feature is a review of the Function Wheels, one of our Different Roads exclusives! 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!

Reviewed by
Jen Cote, M.Ed.
David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D

Individuals with autism often demonstrate challenging behaviors in home, school, and community settings and, as a result, their service providers develop behavioral interventions to address these challenges. The effectiveness of behavioral interventions is predicated on consistency across people and settings. Aside from inconsistent implementation, one of the primary reasons for the failure of interventions targeting the reduction of challenging behavior is that the intervention does not adequately address the underlying function of the behavior. Behavior intervention plans can be conceptualized in one of three ways:

  • Functionally relevant in which the intervention reflects the underlying function of the challenging behavior;
  • Functionally irrelevant in which the intervention does notreflect the underlying function of the challenging behavior; and
  • Functionally contraindicated in which the intervention includes components that may actually serve to reinforce the challenging behavior (e.g., a time out procedure for a behavior maintained by escape).

Function Wheels is a quick, easy-to-use resource that enables individuals working with students to better understand the underlying function of a student’s behavior and its direct implications for behavioral intervention. Function Wheels is a systematic approach that sequentially guides users through the process of identifying the function of a problem behavior, collecting data on the occurrences of problem behavior, developing a hypothesis based on the pattern of data collected, and implementing research-based interventions for each function. The purpose of the guide is to offer assistance when writing behavior intervention plans, with specific examples laid out in a step-by-step format.

Prior to providing a summary of the contents of this guide, we wanted to share a few cautionary statements with our readers. The Function Wheels is not intended to replace a more in-depth Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) or Functional Analysis (FA) (Amerson, 2014). According to the author, “While Function Wheels is a handy and useful behavioral tool in the management of behavior, careful considerations should also be given when a more-in-depth and formal FBA or FA is warranted. In such cases, information using Function Wheels can be incorporated into the FBA or FA descriptive information”. (A Guide to Behavioral Interventions, pg. 8). Though this guide provides conceptually systematic interventions, the author further recommends that if a multi-variable treatment package is used, which may be required for certain individuals, multiple treatments should be implemented in consultation with a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or licensed professional who possesses the clinical experience to design, implement, monitor, and/or modify the treatment package accordingly (Amerson, 2014).

As with any tool, the effectiveness is directly connected to the integrity and consistency demonstrated during implementation by the user. For this reason, users must be able to objectively assess their own ability and others’ ability to follow each component of the intervention, and determine if they or the other persons have the skills necessary to effectively implement the intervention techniques. All users should be prepared to seek additional support and training if needed, or request consultation with a Board Certified Behavior Analyst or a licensed professional who possesses the clinical experience to train and support others in the implementation of intervention.

Function Wheels Components

The Function Wheels system consists of separate components, meant to work as a whole, to help teachers proactively identify why problem behavior occurs so they can then follow the research-based interventions and strategies provided. The Function Wheels kit includes:

Guide to Behavioral Interventions:

Provides research-based interventions and features conceptually systematic interventions that can be adapted and used as a resource to help identify specific management strategies. The first four sections of the Guide to Behavioral Interventions focus on the four main behavioral functions; behaviors with the function used to obtain attention, behaviors with the function to escape, behaviors with the function to gain access to preferred items, and behaviors maintained by automatic reinforcement. In addition to providing the user with a general knowledge of what the behaviors may look like, the authors also provide examples of how the behaviors may be displayed during specific environmental conditions or situations for different age ranges. When developing a behavior intervention plan, it is critical to match the intervention to the function of the behavior, or reason the behavior is being exhibited. If the function of the behavior is not determined, the intervention implemented could be ineffective or counterproductive.

This guide provides the user with intervention strategies for each function of problem behavior. Each intervention discussed throughout the guide has a brief overview of the history of the intervention and examples of the interventions being implemented. Intervention strategies for the four function areas include, but are not limited to: non-contingent reinforcement/attention, time-out, behavior contract/ contingency contracting, reinforcement of successive approximations, contingent sensory access/breaks, sensory extinction, non-contingent reinforcement, and differential reinforcement of other behaviors. Research provided for the interventions ranges from 1969 to 2013. As the author mentioned, this guide is not intended to list all possible interventions, only to provide a sample of interventions available. As research in this field continues to grow, the research basis for the underlying techniques can be expanded upon to reflect the advancements that have been made in the field.

Procedural steps are written out under the intervention. The procedural steps provide the reader with the sequence in which the intervention should be implemented. These procedures include data collection, environmental setup, and reinforcement and consequence dependent on behavioral response. In addition, the author also includes a Key Notes section, which provides the user with additional knowledge of directions/instructions to be considered when implementing the particular intervention.

User Guide:
The User Guide describes how to use the Function Wheels system, step-by-step. Before determining any functions or implementing any interventions, it is essential for the user to feel comfortable with their abilities, and have a solid understanding of all the pieces to this kit. As mentioned previously, it is noted that when looking at the User Guide, the sequence of the steps would lead one to believe that Writing Descriptive Notes (step 5) would take place after the function has been calculated (step 4). In order to determine the function of a behavior, one must fully evaluate the description of the behavior, the antecedent (triggering event) and the consequence (maintaining event). This would be followed by the identification of the function.

Function Wheel:
A double-sided wheel feature eight research-based conditions. One side of the wheel displays antecedent conditions and the other side displays consequent conditions. Turning the wheel allows each user to align an environmental event with the function(s) of the behavior. The smaller, inner wheel represents the presence of a behavior (attention, escape, tangible, automatic), while the larger, outer wheel represents the environmental event, or condition, that triggered and/or maintained the behavior. The function wheel is designed to be a straightforward way of determining the function behind a problem behavior; however, in order to prevent any confusion, it would be helpful to differentiate the side of the wheel designed to help identify the trigger from the side designed to help identify the maintaining event.

Student Screening Sheet: 
Provides a template for tracking each incident of the problem behavior. The Student Screening Sheet allows for up to 15 behavioral events to be recorded. Fifteen recordings across at least three observations are recommended to provide an adequate sample to help identify the function of the problem behavior. The Student Screening Sheet has three distinct sections: Description of Observable Behavior, Functional Categories, and Descriptive Notes (detailed information about the antecedent and consequent condition for each observable behavior recorded). Though the Student Screening Sheet offers its user a simplistic way to track data on behavior, the arrangement of the screening tool could mislead one to believe the function of the behavior is determined prior to examining antecedent variable and consequent/maintaining variable. When in fact, the function of a behavior should not be determined prior to the examination of all variables.

Intervention Wheels:
The four Intervention Wheels are Attention, Escape, Tangible, and Automatic. The specific Intervention Wheeldirectly related to the identified function provides recommended research-based treatments across 6 intervention areas. In addition to providing the user with research-based treatments across the intervention areas, the authors have placed ‘Facts to Remember’ on the front of each Intervention Wheel. The facts offer broad tips that are beneficial when working with any behavior despite the function, but it may be more beneficial to connect function. Although this guide provides conceptually systematic interventions, the author further recommends that if a multi-variable treatment package is used, which may be required for certain individuals, multiple treatments are implemented in consultation with a Board Certified Behavior Analyst or licensed professional who possesses the clinical experience to design, implement, monitor, and/or modify the treatment package accordingly (Amerson, 2014).

Utilizing the Function Wheels System

The Function Wheels system can be used two ways, the Function Wheels Brief Method or the Function Wheels Extended Method. Both methods can be utilized by any individual working with students. The Function Wheels Brief Method includes collecting data using the Student Screening Sheet to capture functions of behaviors as they occur, then based on the information obtained, proceeding to the corresponding Intervention Wheel to read about interventions which could minimize the occurrence of problem behavior and reduce any unwanted, inadvertent, or unintentional reinforcement of the problem behavior. A limitation of the Brief Method noted by the author, involves careful consideration of the tentative hypothesis formed about the function as it is not verified prior to intervention when the Brief Method is employed.

The second method, Function Wheels Extended Method utilizes the same framework but with more detail. Time is taken to meet as a team to define the target behavior and discuss data collection. Following the data collection process, the team meets again to discuss and analyze the variables associated with the unwanted problem behavior, determine the behavior’s function, and what potential interventions can be employed. The difference between the two methods is the time spent collecting data, which during the Extended Method takes place over several sessions or days. This will allow for confirmation or provide the team with an opportunity to test the hypothesis regarding the function(s) of the student’s challenging behavior and more importantly, to engage in a validation process prior to the start of any intervention.

Conclusion

The Function Wheels kit is an easy-to-use resource that provides service providers who have a basic knowledge of learning principles and the communicative intent of challenging behavior and its functions with a way to quickly determine appropriate interventions for problem behaviors based on the function of the behavior. For effective implementation of behavior intervention plans, it is essential for the user to have clinical knowledge and experience, or access to working directly with a more qualified professional. A concern with the utilization of this kit with those who are less experienced or knowledgeable would be the counterproductive effects it can have on students who are already struggling. Secondly, the research basis underlying techniques includes many citations from decades ago, which may give the reader the impression that no other research has been published related to that intervention and that the field has not advanced. Nonetheless, the responsible use of the Function Wheels kit may aide in the quick and effective identification of functions and a comprehensive array of interventions that would benefit many students. We applaud the author for compiling this resource in such an innovative and meaningful manner. For more information, please visit the website for Different Roads to Learning.

 

Please use the following format to cite this article:

Cote, J., & Celiberti, D. (2016). Resource reviews: Review of “The Function Wheels” Science in Autism Treatment, 13(4), 34-37.


About The Authors

Jennifer Cote, M.Ed.

Jennifer received an undergraduate degree in Mental Health and Human Services from the University of Maine Augusta in 2010. Working at a residential facility with adolescents diagnosed with autism sparked an interest in this population. In 2011 she switched her field to Special Education and earned her teaching certification, and completed a Master’s Degree through University of Southern Maine in Special Education in 2017.  After becoming interested in Applied Behavior Analysis Jennifer is currently working toward completing the requirements to sit for the BCBA exam. She enjoys enjoy working with children and watching them grow and develop. She continues to teach Special Education.

David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D

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