Simplifying the Science: Using SAFMEDS in Applied Behavior Analysis

When I first heard about SAFMEDS, I wondered how they were different from standard use of flashcards. What I learned, in fact, is that the process is quite different, and it’s evidence-based! SAFMEDS is actually an acronym that means “Say All Fast Minute Each Day Shuffled.” (I know, I know…it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.) Created by Ogden Lindsley, SAFMEDS are focused specifically on fluency, or, in other words, speed and accuracy.

While there are some things that don’t require fluency, there are many things that do: such as simple multiplication or letter recognition. This means that some tasks I teach my students will require the use of fluency training, which is often completed through the use of SAFMEDS. Lindsley outlined results of his experiments using SAFMEDS with students and demonstrated that this process of instruction resulted in faster acquisition of fluency than other, similar flashcard procedures (Lindsley, 1996) with his work having been replicated many times over.Using SAFMEDS in Applied Behavior Analysis

So, how do you implement SAFMEDS?

First, get your materials together. Create your flashcards. (I typically use index cards where I’ve written the problem on one side and the correct response on the back.) Be sure to get a timer.

From there, the procedure is pretty straight forward:

  • You will have ALL the flashcards available and the student will respond to as many as he/she can in one minute.
  • The student can run the activity on their own, and will likely go much faster if they are the one turning the cards (Lindsley, 1996). The student looks at the card, provides the response, then puts the card in the correct or incorrect pile.
  • The cards should be shuffled between each fluency drill so that the student won’t learn the answers in order.

I’ve used actual flashcards, but also created SAFMEDS sets using different apps and websites. If you’re interested in learning more about implementing this simple strategy for building fluency, you should take a look here for more information.

REFERENCES

Lindsley, O. R. (1996). The four free-operant freedoms. The Behavior Analyst, 19(2), 199.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, 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. Sam is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College. She is also a lecturer in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

Tip of the Week: 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:Common Mistakes in Implementing Reinforcement

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, MSED, 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. Sam is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College. She is also a lecturer in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

Regulating Sleep in Children with Autism

With the new school year in session, it’s especially important to regulate sleep in students. In this month’s ASAT feature, Lauren Schnell, MA, BCBA, offers insight on a variety of approaches parents can take to address sleep disturbances in their kids with autism. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!


I am a home program coordinator who works with a six-year old child diagnosed with autism. The parents are concerned because their child struggles at bedtime and will often wake up in the middle of the night to come into their room. The parents want their child to stay asleep and have tried everything to get him to stay in bed all night. What can I suggest they do to treat their child’s sleep behavior?

Answered by Lauren Schnell, MA, BCBA

Sleep disturbances in children with autism are a common concern for many parents. It has been estimated that approximately 25% of typical children between the ages of one and four struggle with nighttime wakings (Lozoff, Wolf, & Davis, 1985). For children with special needs, the number increases dramatically with upwards of 80% experiencing some type of sleep problems (Lamberg, 1994). Of those who frequently wake at night, the majority end up sleeping in their parent’s bed and the sleep problems often persist over time.

Regulating Sleep in Children with Autism

The good news is there are a variety of behavior analytic approaches found to be effective in addressing sleep disturbances in children with autism. An underlying premise of these approaches is that poor sleep patterns are learned, and, as such, can be unlearned.

Prior to implementing a behavioral sleep program, it is important to first rule out any medical reasons for the sleep disturbance, such as physical discomfort related to an illness. Discussions with a pediatrician should help to determine if the sleep issues may be associated with an underlying medical issue and if further testing or evaluation is warranted.

If the sleep issues are thought to be behavioral, the first step is to complete a sleep log to determine the extent of the problem and potential environmental factors that may be adversely affecting the child’s sleep. A sleep log outlines the time the individual is put into bed, the actual time he/she falls asleep, frequency of night wakings, and the duration of those awakenings. Additional information may be collected on any other behaviors which are observed during bedtime, such as tantrums during the bedtime routine or disruptive behavior during the night. Baseline data collection should continue until a consistent pattern of sleep (or lack thereof) or challenging behavior is apparent. This information can later be used to assess the effectiveness of the sleep intervention.

Some questions which may be helpful for parents in completing the sleep log are:

  • What time does the child go to bed?
  • What does the child do leading up to bedtime?
  • What else is going on in the home while the child is in bed which could be influencing his/her sleep?
  • What activities does the child engage in prior to falling asleep?
  • What time does the child awaken during the night as well as in the morning?
  • Does the child take naps during the day?

Based upon the results of the baseline data collected in the sleep log, a number of interventions may be considered. Below are several practical strategies which may be helpful to improve the sleep behavior of the child with autism.

Bedtime Routines
A bedtime routine can be helpful for the child, as it creates predictability in the sequence of activities leading up to bedtime. A written or visual schedule may be helpful in ensuring the routine is consistently followed. The schedule should outline activities preceding bedtime; for example, brushing teeth, changing into pajamas, saying goodnight to loved ones, and reading a bedtime story. The routine should begin at least 30-60 minutes prior to bed time. It is also recommended that parents eliminate all foods and drinks containing caffeine at least six hours prior to bed, and avoid rigorous activities during the later evening hours.

Initially, the child may need a high rate of positive reinforcement for following the routine. Eventually, the parent may consider providing the child with positive reinforcement the following morning if he/she successfully follows the nighttime activity schedule and remains in bed throughout the night. Such reinforcement might include earning access to a favorite breakfast cereal, a toy, or getting a sticker to put on a special chart upon waking (Mindell & Durand, 1993). Continue reading

Tip of the Week: Using Economy of Language in Your Teaching

Sometimes our learners don’t comply with instructions simply because they don’t fully understand what we are asking of them. At times, I find myself making the error of using too many words when I give directions, especially if I’m in a rush during a transition. For instance, I might say “Grab your shoes, put them on, and meet me by the door.” A few seconds later my learner meets me at the door, but with no shoes.

Using economy of language in your teaching. I may feel frustrated or irritated, but ultimately I realize my instructions are provided in a poor manner. I am at fault! It would have been more effective to point towards the shoes and say “Shoes on.” In his book Teach Like A Champion, Doug Lemov refers to this as Economy of Language, a phrase that essentially means the fewer words you use, the clearer your message. (It should be noted here that Teach Like A Champion is written for ALL teachers, not just special education teachers. This is a strategy that works across the board!) This is especially true when working with learners who struggle with listening comprehension, attention, or multi-step directions.

Here are a few suggestions to help you with economy of language:

Plan ahead. I actually write out instructions that I will be providing often and plan precisely how I will be giving them. I might plan a few variations, but, especially when working with young learners with autism, I want to provide lots of opportunities for success, then build to more complex instructions.
Consider hand signals. I often pair a hand signal with an instruction. For instance, one of my current students often sticks his fingers in his nose during instruction. I pair “Hands down” with a hand motion in which I move my hand from about shoulder-height to my lap (down). This is helpful because the learner also comprehends the signal, and I can begin providing the signal without the vocal statement. This allows me to provide instructions without interrupting the lesson.
One step at a time. Be aware of your learner’s listening comprehension and attending skills. If you notice that your learner is often only completing the first or the last thing you asked, this is a good indication that you provided too many instructions at the same time.
Avoid lengthy explanations. Sometimes I’ll hear an adult say something like “You need to hurry up and put your shoes on because your father is going to be here in a moment and we need to meet him outside and get in the car quickly so you’re not late for swim practice.” This is an easy trap to fall into, especially if vocalizing the explanation is helping you remember everything you need to do during a transition, but it may result in inaction from your learner.
Take a deep breath. If your learner is not responding correctly to instructions you’ve provided, step back, take a deep breath, and think about how to simplify the instruction.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, 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. Sam is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College. She is also a lecturer in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

Pick of the Week: Self Management Planners – 20% OFF!

Find a better way to manage your time and check more things off your to-do list this school year!  Created with ABA principles by Dan Sundberg, PhD, the Self Management Planner is perfect for those who have busy and frequently changing schedules and want something that will do more than schedule time in the day. This week, you can save 20%* on the Self Management Planners and get a head start on organizing your schedule for the school year! (Use promo code MANAGE at check-out!)

Self Management Planners

Not only is this planner perfect for effective time management and organizing your activities, but it also allows to set and track your goals (it even includes graph paper so you can watch your progress!).

The Self Management Planner includes:

  • Full 18.5-hour days and 7-day weeks
  • Tutorial on using the planner, appointment book, and measuring your success
  • Guide to setting long term goals and figuring out ways to accomplish those goals
  • System of selecting and tracking daily activities. (People have used this section to track a huge variety of important things like spending, hours billed, driving mileage, activity goals, and more.)
  • Graphs for visualizing and tracking progress on goal
  • Lined note paper
  • Blank date periods
  • Weekly and daily to-do lists
  • Space to make note of all day events

Available in two sizes: Full (11.5″ x 8.5″) and Compact (8.5″ x 5.5″).

*Promotion is valid for one-time use through September 6, 2016. Offer cannot be applied to previous purchases, combined with any other offers, transferred, refunded, or redeemed and/or exchanged for cash or credit. Different Roads to Learning reserves the right to change or cancel this promotion at any time. To redeem offer at differentroads.com, enter promo code MANAGE at checkout.

Tip of the Week: Measure Group Behavior in the Classroom

Measure Group Behavior in the ClassroomMany classroom teachers are required to take data on the behavior of their students. However, this can feel like a daunting task given the many things teachers are trying to do simultaneously throughout the day! PLACHECK is a simple way to measure group behavior in the classroom for engagement or attention.

PLACHECK is short for Planned Activity Check. Let’s say that Ms. Esterman is using a partner activity for a math lesson for the first time in her fourth grade classroom. She wants to see if the kids remain engaged with the content during the partner activity. Here is how she can implement PLACHECK to collect data on engagement.

  1. Measure Group Behavior in the ClassroomSet a MotivAider for a predetermined interval (learn more about the MotivAider). The partner activity Ms. Esterman has organized will take a total of ten minutes. She decides to set the MotivAider for 2 minute intervals.
  2. At the start of the lesson, set the MotivAider to run and clip it to your waistband. For Ms. Esterman, the MotivAider will vibrate every two minutes to signal her to observe her students.
  3. When the MotivAider vibrates, collect tally data. Ms. Esterman feels the MotivAider vibrate, then quickly counts the number of students who are engaged in the partner activity.
  4. Continue to do this for each interval.
  5. Graph your data.

Ms. Esterman’s graph looks like this for her 24 students:

PLACHECK Graph 1

The next day, Ms. Esterman does a similar activity with her students, but uses an independent activity instead of a partner activity. She uses the same 5 steps to use PLACHECK to measure student engagement in the independent activity. Now she can easily compare engagement between the two types of activities. You can see both days graphed below:

PLACHECK Graph 2

When she compares the two days, she finds these results, and it allows her to make better decisions about what types of activities might work best for the individuals in her classroom. Here, it is clear that between these two activities, her students were more likely to be on task during partner work. However, Ms. Esterman would attain better results by taking more data.

PLACHECK is simple to implement. Ms. Esterman is able to collect this data in less than two minutes each day and can learn a lot from just that brief time.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, 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. Sam is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College. She is also a lecturer in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

Pick of the Week: The NEW ABA Program Companion — Take 20% Off!

New ABA Program Companion Cover.inddJ. Tyler Fovel, MA, BCBA’s essential manual for creating professional and effective ABA programs blends clear explanations of scientifically-based concepts and methodology, clinical examples and advice, and suggested implementation strategies. This revised edition presents information on:

  • qualities of an effective ABA program
  • transdisciplinary teamwork
  • curriculum selection and development
  • program writing and revision
  • strategies for attention and engagement
  • prompts
  • error- correction
  • reinforcement
  • progress evaluation
  • data-based decision-making

TAKE 20% OFF The NEW ABA Program Companion this week with our promo code NEWABA at check-out, and get a head start on designing an efficient ABA program for your students this year.

The NEW ABA Program Companion also comes with training packages for implementers, forms, and a 6-month subscription to the online program development and management software, ABA Program Companion 3.0.

Tip of the Week: Ideas for Interactive Play For Learning

Creating opportunities for interactions is key when working with any child, but it is especially important when working with children with autism. ABA often gets a bad rap for being staid or leaving a kid stuck at a table doing discrete trials for hours on end. In reality, it should be neither! While I do discrete trials in my practice, my biggest priority is always focused on increasing learning opportunities by taking advantage of the child’s natural motivations. This typically means leaving the table, so I alternate between discrete trials and lots of teaching through games and activities. Here are a few of my favorites:

Toss & Talk
For this activity, I usually use a large ball, a soft ring, or something else the child can toss. I name a category, and we take turns tossing the ball (or other item) and naming an item from that category. The game can be easily modified for whatever you’re working on: counting, skip counting, or even vocal imitation. I like the game because it’s simple, it provide a back-and-forth that is similar to a conversation, and it can easily be modified to include peers, siblings, or parents. This is particularly great if your learner likes throwing balls, but I’ve also modified it to push a train back and forth or take turns hopping towards one another.

Ideas for Interactive Play For LearningPlay Dough Snake
This game is one I saw a preschool teacher use years ago and have had great success with. In this game, I simply create a snake out of play dough. I make a large opening for the snake’s mouth, then roll up little balls of dough that will be “food.” I tell the child that we are going to pretend the play dough is food. I have a silly snake voice, and I tell the child “I’m so hungry. Do you have something I can eat?” The child picks up a piece of the rolled-up play dough, tells me what kind of food it is, and then feeds it to the snake. I pretend to love it, and the little ball of play dough becomes incorporated into the snake’s play dough body (which is great, because the more “food” the snake eats the bigger it gets.) I can expand the game to have the snake dislike certain foods or tell the child he is too full. On several occasions, the learner has asked if they can be the snake, which is fantastic! This is another great game for peer play, sibling play, and modeling.

Pete’s A Pizza/You’re A Pizza
One of my favorite books for young learners is Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig. In this book, it’s a rainy day and Pete’s parents entertain him by pretending they are making him into a pizza: they roll up the “dough,” toss him in the air, add toppings, etc.
This is another game I saw a preschool teacher using during play time, and one I’ve used with many, many students. Sometimes I read the book beforehand, but if my learner’s level of comprehension or attention span is not appropriate for the book, I can just introduce it as a standalone game. I say, “It’s time to make a pizza!” Then, we get into the fun part of rolling the learner around, tossing him on a couch or mat, etc. This can generate a lot of language, work on sequencing, and provide a lot of opportunity for requesting activities.

Ideas for Interactive Play For LearningAnything with a Parachute
My parachute is one of my best purchases of all time. I use it often and it allows me to play a wide range of games. Besides just having the learner lay on the floor and have the parachute float down onto his/her body, it is a highly motivating toy for a range of activities. Many of my learners love just pulling that large item out of it’s small bag. I’ve already written about three games I frequently play with the parachute. You can see that here.


Songs

Repeating rhymes and songs with motions that your learner loves can provide anticipation of an activity that may increase eye contact and manding. One of my favorites is shown in a video here. While this video is shown with toddlers, I’ve used it with kids up to 6 or 7 years old. Similar activities might include Going on a Bear Hunt; Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes; and Animal Action.

It’s important to note that none of these activities is beloved by every learner I encounter. The idea is to have a range of possible activities to learn which ones are motivating to your learner, then use those to create opportunities for language and interaction.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, 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. Sam is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College. She is also a lecturer in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

Productive Meetings in Home ABA Programs

Creating effective meetings with your child’s BCBA and other service providers can be difficult. In this month’s ASAT feature, Preeti Chojar, Board Member of the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT), shares some valuable tips about how parents can make the most out of these meetings. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!


I am a parent who has a home-based ABA program.  We have monthly meetings with all of the providers that work with my child.  I am looking for some ideas on how to make the most of these meetings.  Any suggestions?

Answered by Preeti Chojar, Mother and ASAT Board Member

It is terrific that your team meets monthly! Collaboration and consistency amongst members of the professional team is the hallmark of a successful home program. I have found that a great way to build teamwork is to have regular meetings to keep the whole team on the same page. Here are some suggestions to help you use this time effectively and efficiently. In our particular case, we meet monthly, but keep in mind that some teams may need to meet more frequently (depending on the composition of the team, level of oversight required, and needs of the child).

Meeting composition
Ideally, a time should be scheduled when the entire team can be present. A supervisor like a behavior consultant (e.g., BCBA) or a family trainer should be present as well. It could also include any related service providers, such as the speech pathologist, occupational therapist, or physical therapist. Assembling the entire team can be difficult but try your best, as the benefits will make it worthwhile.

Productive Meetings in Home ABA ProgramsDevelop the agenda
Always create an agenda well before a team meeting. Please note that this agenda should not side-step any other communication that should be occurring (e.g., the consultant may want to know right away if a new skill-acquisition program is not going well).

  • Start by writing down any new behaviors, both positive and negative. Also note if there is evidence of lost skills or discrepancies in skill levels across settings, situations or people.
  • Any data taken by instructors should be summarized and analyzed before the meeting.
  • Add anything that the supervisor or the collective wisdom of the group could help resolve.
  • One of the agenda items should always be to review last month’s meeting notes paying close attention to any open or unfinished items.
  • If the child is also receiving services in a school or center-based environment, it is beneficial to seek input from those providers as well. Any observations made by people in the community that highlight some skill or skill deficit which had gone unnoticed can be brought to the table too.
  • Finally, make sure the agenda is well balanced and addresses everyone’s concerns. Prioritize agenda items and if necessary suggest some time limits.

Circulate the agenda

  • Make sure to circulate the agenda to everyone attending the meeting, ideally a few days before the meeting.
  • Ask all team members to notify you ahead of time of any other agenda items they might have that were not added yet.

Continue reading

Tip of the Week: Considerations for Parents on Grounding Kids

Many parents choose to “ground” their kids when they make poor decisions. Maybe they lose access to video games for a week, or can’t watch TV for a month. Grounding in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Here are a few considerations:

  • Considerations for Parents on Grounding KidsIf you keep grounding your kid for the same behavior, then grounding is not changing the behavior. Sometimes grounding your child is a default response, but if it’s not working, you might want to consider some other options. You can take a look back at our series on
    differential reinforcement
    or our post on noncontingent reinforcement.
  • When possible, the consequence should be connected to the behavior. If your child throws a controller, then not having access to video games makes great sense. However if video games are taken away for any infraction, it may not be the most logical punishment and over time, it may even backfire. If the child is losing video games for everything, then he/she might stop trying to earn video games at all.

Continue reading