The Absolute Authority Of The SD

The Discriminative Stimulus is defined as a stimulus in the presence of which a particular response will be reinforced (Malott, 2007, Principles of Behavior).

SD is just ABA speak for the demand, instruction, or the event/stimulus that serves as a signal to someone that there is something they need to respond to. Now, that response can also include a non-response. Not responding is always a possible choice, that comes with its own possible consequences.

For example, if my cell phone rings and it is someone I do not want to talk to I have choices:
-answer the phone
-don’t answer the phone

The phone ringing is a SD because when it rings, there is a specific response that in the past has led me to contact different consequences. Some pleasant, and some not so pleasant.
When my cell phone rings, I am not confused about what I should do. I know what my choices are, and depending on who is calling (or if I recognize who is calling) I then make a choice based on my history of reinforcement with that person.

SD’s can vary in how they are delivered, the specific reinforcement that they make available, as well as the specific expected response.

In ABA therapy sessions, sometimes hundreds of SD’s can be delivered throughout the session, and each one of those SD’s has a specific expected response, as well as specific consequences available for each possible response.

The SD has an authority based on the history of consequences being delivered.
I’ll say that another way: Let’s say I state the SD “give me blue” to a child, and I then provide a consequence of playing on an iPad if the child gives me yellow. Assuming playing on the iPad is a reinforcer, over time I am going to see the child consistently respond to my SD by giving me yellow. Is yellow in this example actually correct? No. But it does not matter: I gave my SD, I followed the child’s response with a reinforcer, and I have super-glued this particular response to the SD.

And this explains why your kids don’t listen.

Reinforcement is like the most powerful superglue on the market. It binds things together, as can be seen in the example below:
(SD) “Clean up the toys” —-> (Response) child cleans up the toys —> (Consequence) “Thanks so much, you can go outside now”

Assuming in the above example that going outside is a reinforcer, over time the child will learn the expected response to the SD of “clean up the toys”, AND they will learn that good things happen after they demonstrate the expected response. In other words, you just taught your child that when they clean up their toys, they might get to go outside.

If I flip this scenario on its head, I can show you how SD’s (and their absolute authority) can sometimes cause you to teach things you did not mean to teach:
(SD) “Clean up your toys” —> (Response) child cries/child screams “no!”/child does not respond to the SD —> (Consequence) “Ugh! Fine, I’ll clean the toys up. Just go outside while I clean up this mess”

Assuming in the above example that going outside is a reinforcer, over time what will the child learn? A few things actually:

-child will learn that problem behavior or not responding is a response
-child will learn that escape/avoidance behaviors work
-child will learn that cleaning up the toys is not a requirement to be able to go outside

Did you mean to teach that? I am nearly positive you did not. Unfortunately, the absolute authority of the SD remains unmoved by the fact that you didn’t intend to teach new ways to avoid a demand.

Don’t freak out, there is a way to avoid this trap.

First, understand what Instructional Control is and how it can help you. I promise, it isn’t as scary as it sounds.

Second, see below for some common characteristics of successful SD’s. A successful SD helps your child learn in an effective manner WHAT to do, and WHY to do it (because good things might happen). Let the absolute authority of the SD work for you, and not against you.

Characteristics of Successful SD’s
 

The SD is precise: A precise SD includes only the language necessary for the individual to know what to do. Extra details, threats, or reminders are best left off the SD, particularly if the individual has communication deficits or is very young. Good example – “Get down”. Not-so-good-example – “Michael Benjamin Clark, you get down off that railing right now before you fall and break your neck”.

The SD is stated, not asked: Unless you are cool with the individual tossing you a “No/I don’t feel like it/I don’t want to”, then do not present the SD as a question. A question gives the option of refusal. 

The SD allows for a brief time to begin to respond: Brief as in, a few seconds. I have been in this field a long time, and I have developed an internal countdown timer that kicks in when I give a SD. To help yourself learn this skill, when you give your child a demand silently count to 3. Or, you could subtly tap a finger against the inside of your palm 3 times. If you get to 3 and the individual has not at least started to respond, it is time to provide a consequence. Another completely personal reason why I like this “internal countdown” is because it helps parents not flood the child with SD’s. If you are busy counting in your head, you can’t rattle off 4 more demands, when the child hasn’t even responded to demand #1.

The SD is consistent: Especially if the child has communication deficits or is very young, avoid changing up the SD rapidly. This can possibly be confusing, and impede learning. Once your child is demonstrating they know how to respond to the SD, that is the point where you can start to change the language used, or not use language at all (such as pointing at a book on the floor to indicate the child needs to put the book away).

The SD consequence is consistent: The most critical point about understanding SD’s is that what follows the response equals learning. You are teaching your child how to respond to you based on what happens when they respond correctly, and what happens when they respond incorrectly. If you decide that the SD “Make your bed” means fluffing all the pillows, then the bed being made with 1 pillow fluffed, or the bed being made with some of the pillows fluffed, are both incorrect responses. No exceptions. You would then prompt the correct response so the child knows they made an error.

Attention is gained before the SD is given: If you observe the ABA team work with your child you will get to see possibly hundreds of SD’s delivered during a therapy session. You may also note that the team works to gain the child’s attention before stating the SD, to make sure it is heard. This could look like approaching the child, bending/squatting down to look in the child’s face, waiting for a break in crying/screaming, or making a statement such as “Are you ready?”, to verify the child is attending.

The SD is not repeated over and over again, nor is it screamed, or shouted: SD’s are bosses. SD’s are in charge. SD’s call the shots. They do not need to beg, bargain, plead, scream, or lose their cool. Remember, your child only has a short time to respond correctly. If they do not respond correctly, you just deliver a consequence (such as a prompt). It will be very tempting to state the SD over and over again, but don’t give in to that temptation. Over time, this will actually teach your child they do not need to listen to you the first time, and that ignoring you is an effective way to avoid a demand.


About The Author 

“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

Curriculum Guides For Older Learners

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Dr. Kirsten Wirth, C.Psych., BCBA-D. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

My child is older now and the early years curriculum guides we have used (e.g., the Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills-Revised (ABLLS-R) and Verbal Behavior Milestones and Placement Program (VB-MAPP)) are no longer appropriate. How should we plan for his future and current goals?

Answered by

Kirsten Wirth, C.Psych., BCBA-D

Wirth Behavioural Health Services

There may be some good curricula that can be used at an older age (e.g., Partington’s Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLS)).  Curricula like the AFLS include measuring basic living skills, vocational skills, home skills, community participation, and independent living skills.  That said, there are several reports that highlight areas to consider in programming for any individual.  Peter Gerhardt (2009) developed a paper that covers what services are available for adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and considerations that should be made. The Drexel Autism Institute put out a report discussing transitions into adulthood (Roux, Shattuck, Rast, Rava, & Anderson, 2015). This question will be answered using information from both reports as well as clinical experience working with children and adults with ASD over the past 18 years.

Both reports highlight the importance of starting early.  For example, on average, transition planning and working towards future goals should begin by 14 years of age, although in some states this may happen earlier.  In many high schools and programs this type of planning happens much later, but the reason 14 years is recommended is because it can take several years to teach job or recreational skills, as well as any skills that need to be taught well before the ultimate desired outcome.  Also, more time allows for assessing and incorporating changing and developing interests over time. It is ideal that all these skills are incorporated into the students’ school program.  Skill areas may include planning for a vocation, post-secondary education, recreation and leisure, community safety, transportation, vacationing, health and wellness, sexuality instruction, handling crisis and interacting with first responders, daily living, and communication.

Where to start? Start by thinking and talking with the individual, family, and staff involved that know the individual best. Think about each area and explore what the individual might be interested in 5-10 years down the road as a team. Once all the ideas are jotted down, start discussing what should be chosen to target or to explore further. Keeping in mind you should weed out things that are not realistic but keep things that may be a stretch.  How do you know if it is realistic or not?  Having a detailed and current assessment of the individual’s abilities and skills is helpful.  For example, if an individual has intellectual and adaptive scores at or near the average range, a traditional college education may make sense and they may not need goals set in post-secondary education.  However, making friends and enjoying leisure and recreation may be an area of weakness so goals should be set in those areas.  As another example, if an individual has very low intellectual and adaptive scores, a college education may not make sense, but a part time job and skills around that job may need to be learned. Most importantly, goals should be set incorporating the individual’s existing skills, preferences, and interests.

Vocational goals: Is the individual able or interested in part-time or full-time work?  If he is still in school, can he work part-time?  What kind of work can he do independently right now?  What kind of work is he realistically capable of gaining skills in during the next 5-10 years?  Sometimes exploring different types of work through volunteer experience can be set up either with a one-on-one support person, or just on his own.  If skills need to be taught, how much should they be broken down for the individual to perform all skills independently?  Can all skills be taught at the same time or one at a time?  For example, if he is going to do custodial work at a local small hotel, this might include vacuuming the hallways; sorting, putting laundry through the washers, and folding; sweeping up the breakfast area; and making small talk or hanging out during breaks.  Each skill may need to be taught explicitly or not, dependent on the individual. Sorting laundry may include teaching matching skills and sorting skills before applying to daily life; or, many of these tasks could be taught by practicing in the school or leisure program on a regular basis.  Making small talk or engaging in conversation during break may require setting goals in social skills and communication areas as well. Taking direction from supervisors or others in authority and learning how to ask appropriate questions might be another area of consideration.  How will the individual get to work? Is he able to learn to drive a car to get himself there? Should a bus route and taking the bus be taught?  Driving or even using transportation might have multiple steps to learn, especially if there are construction detours, or changes to timing that would have to be checked regularly.  Do the vocational goals require further education?  Do money concepts have to be taught? Counting out change? Entering an order into a computer system?

Post-secondary Education goals: Does the individual have any special skills or strengths that should be considered?  Is the individual interested in a trade?  Business?  Graduate school?  If the individual could realistically perform a job in their area of interest down the road, do goals need to be set for pre-requisite subjects at the high school level – even if it may take longer to meet them – such that entry requirements can be met?

Recreation & Leisure goals: What kinds of interests does the individual already have during downtime?  Are interests limited?  Developing new preferences might be required. This might include providing repeated exposure to new places or activities to see if the individual enjoys them, or providing additional reinforcement for participating in them.  Do any barriers exist to participating in the new experiences?  Does any desensitization (e.g., exposure to certain sounds or experiences in the environment while preventing problem behaviour) have to occur before going on outings?  Are there refusals or problem behaviours to be decreased?  If so, goals should be set in those areas as well.  Does he or she need help with setting goals to earn a specific amount of money to go on a desired vacation or attend an event?  Does the individual have a regular group of friends to attend events or hang out with?  Do friendships need to be established?  Are social and communication skills related to making friends required to be learned first or during?  Should the individual get a ride with friends?  Take the bus?  Drive and offer to pick up friends?  Establish a meeting place at the event with friends?

As you may have noticed, many of the areas described above overlap with social and communication areas, transportation, and others. Goals naturally should be set in each area to appropriately encompass all skills needed in one’s day-to-day life. Remember the other areas as well; i.e., health and wellness (e.g., exercise, healthy eating, good hygiene), sexuality instruction (e.g., how to have sex, when to have sex, protection from disease and pregnancy), daily living skills (e.g., laundry, cooking, shopping), and so on. Happy planning!

References

 

Gerhardt, P.F. (2009). The current state of services for adults with autism. Arlington, VA: Organization for Autism Research.

Roux, A.M., Shattuck, P.T., Rast, J.E., Rava, J.A., & Anderson, K.A. (2015). National Autism Indicator Report: Transition into young adulthood, Philadelphia, PA: Life Course Outcomes Research Program, A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, Drexel University.


About The Author 

Dr. Kirsten Wirth (C.Pysch., BCBA-D) is a licensed psychologist and board certified behavior analyst-doctoral with a PhD in Psychology – Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) from the University of Manitoba. She is an Advisory Committee Member, Founder, and a Past President of the Manitoba Association for Behaviour Analysis (www.maba.ca). Dr. Wirth is the Co-Coordinator of Clinical Corner for the international organization, the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (www.asatonline.org). She is also the author of “How to get your child to go to sleep and stay asleep: A practical guide for parents to sleep train young children.” Dr. Wirth has 18 years experience working with children, adolescents, and adults, with or without developmental disabilities and autism using, teaching, and training others to use ABA. She provides screening and diagnostic assessment for children with autism, early intensive behavioural intervention (EIBI/ABA) programming to children with autism and their parents, or intensive behavioural intervention (IBI) for older children or adults with autism or developmental disabilities. Dr. Wirth also conducts assessment and treatment of severe problem behaviour, child behaviour management, parent coaching, sleep assessment and coaching, toilet training, social skills training, skill building, school or daycare consultation, and more, for children with or without psychiatric diagnoses. Dr. Wirth has been an invited speaker and presenter at local and international conferences and is a co-investigator of a number of research projects including comparison of comprehensive early intervention programs for children with autism and comparison of prevalence rates and factors related to delayed diagnosis.

Preparing For The Holidays

While the holidays can be a very fun and exciting time, they often tend to disrupt regular routines. A disruption in routines can frequently lead to added stress, anxiety, and behavioral difficulties for individuals with autism and their families. So how can you maintain the fun in holidays but also manage the major changes in routine? Here are a few ideas that may be helpful:

Use and/or modify tools your child already utilizes well. If your child uses an activity schedule, calendar, or some kind of app to prepare for transitions and upcoming events; be sure to include new icons, symbols, or preparation for the events related to holidays.
Practice the event. It may be possible for you to role play an event such as a larger family dinner, loud music, or the arrival of a someone dressed up as a character (such as Santa Claus.)
Take the time to list out what may be unique or new. While you cannot prepare for everything, it’s valuable to consider what your child may not have encountered in the past. For example, will there be lit candles within reach? Will there be appealing items your child is required to leave alone? Once you’ve brainstormed a bit, you’ll be better able to respond appropriately.
Enlist some help. If there is a family member or friend who will be present and can help if you need it, ask for their help beforehand and be specific. This might be asking them to engage your child in an activity for a short period of time, or running interference for you when your distant aunt approaches with a litany of rude questions about autism.
Make sure your child has an appropriate way to request a break. Whether your child is verbal or nonverbal, it’s helpful to teach them an appropriate way to exit a situation that is uncomfortable. This is a skill you can practice at home and use in other environments as well.
Recognize your successes. The holidays can be a stressful time, but they can also be a great indicator of just how far your child has come. Relatives you haven’t seen in a year are far more likely to see the difference in your child’s growth than you are, since you’ve seen that steady growth from day to day. It can be a wonderful time to step back and acknowledge just how hard you have all worked in previous months.

These are simple steps that may be helpful in reducing stress during the holidays. Do you have special tips for how you prepare?


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.

Double Up!

Learn all about our newest game Double Up from creator Rosemarie Griffin, CCC/SLP, BCBA! 

If you are working with older students, I know that you have probably struggled with finding materials that were age appropriate. I am a school based speech language pathologist and board certified analyst. I created Double Up to help my students strengthen their vocabulary and leisure skills.  

If you are a special education teacher, speech language pathologist, board certified behavior analyst or parent – you will love Double Up. This product can be used with students who are non-verbal and by students who are conversational. A no prep social skills activity for mixed groups!!

Double Up includes 4 different games and 144 vocabulary cards. It can be played with as few as one person or as many as 4 people. Vocabulary terms focus on the areas of leisure and hygiene. The first person to fill up their board- yells “Double Up” and they are the winner.  Read below for skills that you can work on when playing Double Up.

Matching – If you have students who would benefit from matching identical pictures, you can do that easily with double up! Just pass out the game boards of the same color. Get the matching vocabulary cards and you are ready to go. Each student picks a card and matches to their board. If they don’t have the card they pick – they can pass it to the person who does have it. If students are able to ask they can ask who has the card. For example, “who has the picture of reading?”

Associations – Students can work on matching items by association. If you pass out the purple leisure noun boards, get out the red leisure action vocabulary cards. You will turn over a leisure action ( i.e. reading), if you have the picture of the book on your board – you match it! If someone else has the book – you can pass it to them or ask “who has the book?” A great way to play for students who understand word associations.

Turn Taking – Double Up allows for practice with turn taking. Picking a card and taking your card is a functional leisure skill. The format of this game, allows for many opportunities to take your turn and wait while others take their turn.

Waiting – If you play Double Up as a 4 person game- your students will have to wait for their peers to take a turn. This is a natural way to work on the skill of waiting. Waiting can be so very difficult for our students and this is a great way to embed work on this skill. 

Independent Work. Double Up also makes a functional independent work task. A student could take one board from the double up game and the matching cards. They would match the identical cards for an independent work task. The pictures are functional and age appropriate, so not only are students work on increasing their duration with an independent task, they are being exposed to words that are important to them!

Conversation Skills – The pictures in double up lend themselves to conversation. You can discuss the vocabulary terms with the students. “Have you lifted weights before?” “Have you been camping?” The conversation opportunities are endless! 


About the Author

Rosemarie Griffin, MA, CCC/SLP BCBA, is an ASHA certified Speech-Language Pathologist and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She divides her time between a public school and a private school for students with autism in Ohio. She’s presented at the national, state and local level about systematic and collaborative language instruction for students with autism. Her professional mission is to help all students expand their communication step by step. She can be reached at www.abaspeech.org, on Facebook or Instagram. 

3 Ways To Fade Prompts

Prompts are ways we help our learners demonstrate new skills. We use prompts to get our students to greet a peer, flush the toilet, name the color blue, and clap their hands. Prompts are something we add to the situation because the natural or teaching cue was not enough to cause the student to respond. The natural cue of being finished using the toilet was not a strong enough reminder to flush the toilet so we added the verbal prompt, “flush the toilet” and the student now responds. Prompts are important but fading them is just as important.  Prompt fading needs to be planned from the start and an integral and essential component to the plan. Unless you are committing to following that child around for the rest of his life and tell him to flush the toilet – prompt fading is essential.

Some rules for prompt fading:

* Plan it out from the start.
* Train your staff.
* Do it gradually.
* If incorrect responding begins, return to last prompt level.

1. Least to Most Prompt Fading

Like we discussed in Monday’s post, least to most prompting involves starting with the least intrusive prompts and moving up in the prompting hierarchy. This can be beneficial because it gives students to the opportunity to be independent and you are only providing as much prompting as needed. This is a strategy we tend to use naturally. When you meet a your friend’s toddler you put out your hand to give a high five. If she doesn’t respond you say, “give high five.” If she still doesn’t respond you move her hand to your hand to give a high five. This is a natural method of prompting. When using this method, ideally the prompts will be somewhat self fading. If you are always starting at the least intrusive prompt, your students will have the opportunity to demonstrate independence. As the student begins to learn the task, he will need less and less prompts to perform it correctly.

Some key tips for using this prompt fading procedure:

  • allow wait time; if you do not provide wait time you may be providing more prompts than needed and taking away the opportunity for the student to respond correctly
  • take data; data is key to track progress. Every time you utilize this prompting method – note the level of prompt you used. You want to see that your student is requiring less intrusive prompts as time goes on. This will help avoid prompt dependence.
  • use high powered reinforcers; use an item that is actually a reinforcer that your student wants to work for. The sooner he demonstrates the skills, the sooner he gets the reinforcer.

2. Most to Least Prompt Fading

 

Most to Least prompt fading is another effective method of using prompts. With this method you start the most intrusive prompts and gradually fade to less intrusive prompts. The prompt fading is build right in. However, sometimes people forget that and in their head rename this most to most prompting. The key to errorless learning and using the most intrusive prompts first is that you fade the prompts out. The idea behind most to least prompting is that students will contact reinforcement right away and you will avoid errors and the students developing any incorrect habits.

How to fade prompts in Most to Least Prompting:

  • set criteria for changing prompts; once your student hits a particular number of days or sessions or trials at a particular prompt level, fade to the next level; take data to track progress
  • once you hit the criteria move to the next type of prompt; refer to our prompt hierarchy or order that is in Monday’s post. Move up the list to less and less intrusive prompts.
  • fade magnitude than switch prompt type; before you switch from a gestural to a verbal prompt adjust the magnitude of the prompt. A dramatic point to an object is different that a nod of your head.

Data is critically important for avoiding prompt dependence. You want to set a criteria ahead of time and take data to make sure you are sticking with the criteria. The criteria you set will depend on the student and the task. Maybe you want 3 consecutive days with each prompt level. If you are taking data you can ensure that you are sticking to that schedule. If errors begin occurring, go back a prompt level. The data will guide your implementation of this procedure. If you are fading too quickly, your data will tell you!

Prompt fading isn’t scary. Plan ahead and make sure you train your staff. This is a group endeavor! 

3. Time Delay

 

One effective way we can fade prompts is using a time delay. A time delay inserts a set amount of time between the natural or teaching cue and our prompt. When utilizing a time delay, start with a zero second (i.e. no) time delay – so it will basically be like errorless teaching. For the first few trials, give the prompt right away so the student knows how to respond. Then after several trials, increase the time delay. For example, you may start with 2 seconds. If the student does not respond within 2 seconds – provide the prompt. If the student responds before the 2 seconds, provide loads of reinforcement. Once the student is successful and responding under the 2 seconds for several trials, increase the time delay. Now wait until 4 seconds to provide the prompt. Continue on. If the student does not respond with the 4 second time delay, move back to the 2 second time delay.

The key to time delay is planning and data. Set the criterion ahead of time. Plan how many sessions you will do at 0 seconds before moving to the first time delay. Determine what the mastery criteria is – how many times do you want the student to respond within the time delay before increasing the time delay length? Take data on this. It can easily and quickly get confusing if you don’t have a data sheet to track what you are doing. Write the plan in simple terms at the top of your data sheet. I like to track prompted correct (PC), prompted incorrect (PI), unprompted correct (UC), and unprompted incorrect (UI) using those abbreviations on my data sheet. If the student responds before the prompt it is counted as unprompted and if it’s after the prompt it is prompted!

There is no magic number of trials or days you should stay within the 0 second or 2 second time delay. It depends on the student’s level of functioning and the difficulty of the task. This is where data majorly comes in to play. If you’ve moved along too quickly, you will know and you can scale back.

Time delay works really well with verbal prompts. Another key component to time delay working successfully is making sure the reinforcement you give for the unprompted responses is better than the reinforcement for prompted responses. So if Johnny responds before the time delay and says the color blue on his own – give him 3 m&ms and praise but if you are using a 2 second time delay and he doesn’t respond and you provide the verbal prompt “bl…” and then he says blue only provide praise. You want the independent responses to be getting more reinforcement so your student is motivated to engage in those responses more!


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.

Normalization

So much to say on this topic, far more than anyone would actually want to read.

Does ABA therapy require/demand/force individuals into a narrow and specific box titled “NORMAL”? No.

(Well, it shouldn’t anyway)

But the myth persists.

I mean this in the best way, but many of the children I work with just are not going to fit into that “normal” box, no matter how much someone tries to push or squeeze them into it… it ain’t happening.

And that’s a cause for celebration!

The very thing I love about working with such a diverse group of kids, is that they are all different, yet all interesting. I work with some super fascinating small people, who constantly show me how dumb I am. And I thank them for it, because how can you grow if you already think you know everything? You can’t.

As a provider, of course I know the research on the effectiveness of ABA therapy. I also know the many success stories I have seen with my own eyes, of children I directly worked with. But success story does not equal “…and then the child was totally normal!”.

A couple of reasons why my job is not to drive families in my car to a fantasy location called “normal”:

1) Each client/family I work with usually has their own idea of what “normal” means. If you have been in this field more than 10 minutes, you know this to be true. This client over here may live in a home where no one really cares what time they go to bed, as long as they stay in their room and are quiet. But that client over there, may live in a home where all the parents want most in the world is for that child to get their 7.5 hours of sleep every night.

2) Even when a family can explain to me what “normal” means for them, it quickly changes! Again, if you have been in this field more than 10 minutes you know this is true. Sometimes parents tell me they want desperately for their child to talk, but what they really mean is they want their child to communicate. Or, a parent may tell me they want desperately for their child to go to “normal” school with their big sister, but next thing you know that parent has decided to homeschool. Expectations change, as perspective changes.

 

So if ABA therapy is not about hitting a child over the head with your magical “normal” baseball bat, then how exactly is it decided what the goals of treatment will be? I’m so glad you asked.

If you are working with a quality ABA provider, the goal selection process will look something like this:

“I need to evaluate/assess your child to collect baseline data” – This just means data is collected at the onset of services to create a starting point. Over time, that starting point data will be reviewed again and again to make sure the child is progressing. If therapy has been happening week after week after week, but the child has not progressed past that starting point, then something is seriously wrong. This is why it’s important to collect that initial data, so over time you can compare the child’s current learning to their previous learning.”

“What are your goals for therapy? Tell me the reasons why you initiated services.” – The people who asked the ABA team to show up clearly had reasons for doing so, and we need to know what those reasons are. We cannot fully help if we don’t know what issues are happening. Treatment planning should always be a team effort, with the family/client working together with the BCBA to create goals.”

“What are the highest priority areas of concern in the home? At school? In the community?” – What this question is really getting at is “where do you want to start?”. It isn’t unusual that families want to work on…oh, 85 behaviors or so when you first meet them. Unless I can get a good idea of the priority level of those 85 things, the treatment plan will be a chaotic mess. Prioritizing treatment helps focus in on the areas of deficit that are impacting the client the most.

“Describe your household: rules, routine, disciplinary procedures commonly used, etc.” – This question gets at Culture. Households form a sort of culture, or a way things are done. Stepping into a household/family dynamic and imposing completely opposing culture onto it, is not a great idea. It will likely lead to aggressive resistance. What is more helpful, is to teach the family strategies and techniques that line up with the way their household functions.

“Can you finish this sentence: In 5 years, I want my child to be able to…..” – This question is really getting at long-term goals. Professionals need to know long-term goals, because every long-term goal is really made up of hundreds of baby steps. Gradually introducing those baby steps leaves less work to do down the road and increases the likelihood of successful skill acquisition.

“Your child scored low on (insert skill domain here). Do you care about that??” – One of my fave questions to ask. I have learned to ask this, because I used to do quite a bit of assuming. Things like “Of course, you guys want him to write his name, right?” or “Of course, you guys want her to stop eating with her hands, right?”. Maybe not. If I see an area of concern, I will bring it up. If the parent isn’t as concerned as I am or wants to stick a pin in that issue until a later time, then it’s really important that I know that.

My normal is not your normal, and vice versa. What’s considered “normal” in your household might not fly in my household, and what’s “normal” in your marriage could be unbearable for another couple. That’s why normal is such a useless word to throw around, because it has too many meanings to actually mean anything significant.

One of my pet peeves is when a parent says to me during an intake, “I just want him/her to be normal!”. Ummm, and that means what?? 🙂 Seriously, I need details over here. I do not have an intervention for “normal” behavior, nor do I know how to program for that.

Does ABA therapy seek to change individuals? Yes! Behavior change is the entire point of this therapy, either increasing appropriate behaviors or decreasing inappropriate behaviors. But if you think that the only change ABA therapy values is when a child can be fully “normal”, you are:
100%,
absolutely,
wrong.


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

Qualifications of Practitioners/Consultants who Practice ABA

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Sabrina Freeman, PhD, ASAT’s Consumer Corner Coordinator. 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!

It’s crucial to be a savvy consumer when it comes to one of the most important decisions you will make for your loved one with autism – choosing an ABA treatment provider for your child. Those of us who have already walked in your shoes know that all treatment providers are not the same. To the uninitiated, these professionals all look marvelous. From the slick websites, to the large numbers of associations of which these professionals are members, it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate between mediocre and outstanding treatment providers. Furthermore, publication of research in high quality journals is not synonymous with clinical expertise.

Fortunately, in this issue of Consumer Corner, we present a summary of consumer guidelines created by the Autism Special Interest Group (SIG) of the Association of Behavior Analysis International to help you make an informed choice when searching for ABA professionals to design, run and maintain your child’s program. A complete copy of the SIG guidelines are available here: https://3lvvdfmmeol12qpvw2c75ch6-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Final-Autism-Sig-Guidelines-Parent-Version-May-2018.pdf It is important to remember that your child’s future depends on highly quality consulting. Good luck!

 

  1. Certification:

Treatment professionals must all have advanced degrees, e.g., a Master’s Degree or a Doctorate in a relevant field of study, and be certified either by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB), or a board that has equal or higher level requirements than the BACB. To look up your consultant, visit: www.bacb.com and click on “Find A Certificant.” If the potential consultant is not on this list, ask where he/she became credentialed, and trained so that you can verify licensure and experience to determine whether it is equal to/or surpasses the standards of the BACB. If this individual responds to your inquiry in a defensive manner, then you may consider looking elsewhere as you are well within your right to seek clarification about certification status.

Find & Contact Certificants

  1. Extensive Hands-On Supervised Training:

Consultants are required to have extensive hands-on training treating children with autism in which they have worked at least one full year (1500 clock independent supervised hours or 1000 hours if taking a university practicum and 750 hours if taking an intensive practicum) under the supervision of a credentialed BCBA Certificant. In addition, they need to prove competency in many areas that cover the design and implementation of both individualized ABA interventions, and comprehensive ABA treatment programs. The partial list below was created by the Autism Special Interest Group (SIG) below. Your consultant should be competent in all the following areas:

  1. a) Design and implement individualized ABA Interventions
  • community living skills
  • functional communication skills (vocal and non-vocal)
  • “learning to learn” skills (e.g., looking, listening, following instructions, imitating)
  • motor skills
  • personal safety skills
  • play and leisure skills
  • pre-academic and academic skills
  • reduction of behaviors that jeopardize health and safety and impede successful functioning (e.g., stereotypic, obsessive, ritualistic, aggressive, self-injurious, disruptive, and other behaviors often described as “challenging”).
  • school readiness skills
  • self-care skills
  • self- management skills
  • social interaction skills
  • vocational
  1. b) Design and implement both comprehensive ABA intervention programs (using multiple ABA procedures to address multiple intervention targets) and focused interventions (using one or more ABA procedures to address a small number of intervention targets).
  2. c) Delivering ABA interventions directly to at least 8 individuals with autism who present with a range of repertoires, levels of functioning, and ages.
  3. d) Implementing the full range of scientifically validated behavior analytic procedures, including but not limited to:
  • reinforcement (including differential reinforcement)
  • extinction
  • discrete-trial procedures
  • modeling (including video modeling)
  • incidental teaching and other “naturalistic” methods
  • activity-embedded intervention
  • task analysis
  • chaining
  • activity schedules
  • scripts and script fading
  • prompting and prompt-fading
  • errorless training
  • error correction
  • motivating operations
  • stimulus control
  • preference assessments
  • choice
  • augmentative and alternative communication training procedures.
  1. Continuing Education:

Not only do behavioral consultants need to be trained as above, in order to maintain their certification, practitioners must also pursue continuing education in a variety of areas that may include, but are not limited to, Applied Behavior Analysis.

Red Flag

These practitioners should not be working collaboratively with professionals who implement an eclectic mix of interventions that are untested, discredited or experimental in nature. If the consultant you use endorses an eclectic approach, understand that this practice is inconsistent with the BACB Guidelines for Responsible Conduct for Behavior Analysis. This red flag is a particularly helpful way to be forewarned about a consultant who is not a good choice to design and maintain your child’s program!

 

Common Mistakes In Implementing Reinforcement

Over the years, I’ve seen several behavior intervention plans written and implemented. Typically, these plans include reinforcement for the desirable behavior, but I see the same mistakes crop up again and again. Here are a few common mistakes in implementing reinforcement to look out for:

Fail to identify individual reinforcers. Hands down, the most common error I see is identifying specific activities or items as reinforcing. For instance, many people love gummy bears, but they make me want to puke. Presenting me with a gummy bear would not increase my future likelihood of engaging in the appropriate behavior! You must account for individual differences and conduct a preference assessment of your learner, then make a plan based on his or her preferences.

Fade reinforcement too quickly. Let’s say you’re working with a child named Harold who draws on the walls with crayon. You implement a reinforcement plan in which he earns praise and attention from his parent each time he draws on paper. The first few days it’s implemented, Harold’s rate of drawing on the wall greatly decreases. Everyone claims that his behavior is “fixed” and suddenly the plan for reinforcement is removed… and Harold begins drawing on the wall once more. I see this sort of pattern frequently (and have even caught myself doing it from time to time). After all, it can be easy to forget to reinforce positive behavior. To address this issue, make a clear plan for fading reinforcement, and use tools such as the MotivAider to help remind you to provide reinforcement for appropriate behavior.

Inconsistent with reinforcement plan. Harriet is writing consistently in a notebook, to the detriment of her interactions with peers. Her teachers implement a DRO, deciding to provide reinforcement for behavior other than the writing. However, the teachers didn’t notify all the adults working with her of the new plan, so Harriet’s behavior persists in certain environments, such as at recess, allowing her to miss multiple opportunities for more appropriate social interaction. To address this issue, make a clear outline of the environments in which the behavior is occurring and what adults are working in those environments. Ensure that all of the adults on that list are fully aware of the plan and kept abreast of any changes.

Don’t reinforce quickly enough. This one can be quite challenging, depending on the behavior and the environment. Let’s saying you’re working with a boy named Huck who curses often. You and your team devise a plan to reinforce appropriate language. You decide to offer him tokens that add up to free time at the end of the school day. However, sometimes as you are handing him a token for appropriate language, he curses again right before the token lands in his hand. Though it was unintentional, the cursing was actually reinforced here. Remember that reinforcement should be delivered as close to the desired behavior as possible. To address this issue, consider your environment and materials and make a plan to increase the speed of delivery.

Fail to make a plan to transfer to natural reinforcers. Ultimately, you don’t want any of these behaviors to change based solely on contrived reinforcement. Making a plan for reinforcement of appropriate behavior is essential, but your ultimate goal is to have the behavior be maintained by naturally occurring reinforcement. To address this issue, the first thing you need to do is identify what that naturally occurring reinforcement might be. For Harold, it might be having his artwork put up in a special place or sharing it with a show and tell. For Harriet it might be the interactions she has with peers on the playground. Once you have identified those reinforcers, you can create a plan for ensuring that the learner contacts those reinforcers over time. This might include pairing the naturally occurring reinforcers with the contrived reinforcers, then fading out the latter.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that reinforcement is not as simple as it seems. Taking the time to plan on the front end will help with long-term outcomes.


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.