Could Teaching Environments Affect Solving Problem Behaviors?

A few years ago, I went in to observe an ABA therapist I was supervising. The first thing I noticed when I walked in to observe was that she did her entire session at a long wooden table, sitting side-by-side with her student. She was working with a ten-year-old girl with Aspergers. One of her goals was to increase eye contact during conversation, but her student wasn’t making much progress in this area. She had consulted the research and was considering a new behavior intervention plan, and wanted my input before doing so. I wondered could teaching environments affect solving problem behaviors?

After watching for about ten minutes, I asked if we could change the seating arrangement. We moved her student to the end of the table, then had the therapist sit next to her, but on the perpendicular side. This way, eye contact was much easier as they were able to face each other. The student’s eye contact improved instantly with a small environmental change. (Of course, once we made the environmental change, we worked together to address other changes that could be made to encourage eye contact.)

Environmental changes can be a quick and simple solution to some problem behaviors. Here are some questions to consider in order to alter the environment effectively:

Is it possible that a change in furnishings could change the behavior? For example, moving a child’s locker closer to the classroom door may decrease tardiness, putting a child’s desk in the furthest corner from the door may decrease opportunities for elopement, or giving your child a shorter chair that allows them to put their feet on the ground may decrease the amount of times they kick their sibling from across the table. You may also want to consider partitions that allow for personal space, clearly-marked spaces for organizing materials, proximity to students and distractions (such as windows or the hallway).

Can you add something to the environment to change the behavior? For example, your student may be able to focus better on independent work if you provide noise-canceling headphones, line up correctly if a square for him/her to stand is taped to the floor, or your child may be more efficient with completing chores if they’re allowed to listen to their favorite music while doing so. I’ve also seen some cases in which the teacher wears a microphone that wirelessly links to a student’s headphones, increasing that student’s ability to attend to the teacher’s instruction.

Will decreasing access to materials impact the behavior? For example, removing visuals such as posters and student work may increase your student’s ability to attend or locking materials in a closet when not in use may decrease your student’s ability to destroy or damage materials.

Will increasing access to materials impact the behavior? For example, making a box of pre-sharpened pencils may decrease the behavior of getting up frequently to sharpen pencils. (I recently visited a classroom in which the teacher put pre-sharpened pencils in a straw dispenser on her desk, and each week one student was assigned the job of sharpening pencils at the end of the day).

Whenever you do make changes to the environment, you may want to consider if the changes require fading. For example, if I make a square on the floor out of tape to teach my student where to stand in the line, I will want to fade that out of over time to increase their independence.

A final consideration is that whatever impact you expect the environmental change to have should be clearly defined and measured. Take data to ensure that the intervention is working so you can make adjustments as necessary.


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.

ABA Tools of the Trade: A book review from ASAT!

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Karrie Lindeman, EdD, BCBA-D, LBA and David Celiberti, PhD, 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!

Save 20% on ABA Tools of The Trade and our Tools of the Trade kit now through June 17th!

Data collection is the core of the success of our science. Without data, are we are not providing behavior analytic service to our clients; however, data collection can be a scary new journey for many. What do I collect? How do I collect it? What do I put it on? How do I manage the other children in the class? What do I do with the data once I have it? How do the data guide my decision-making? All of these questions pose roadblocks to the individuals attempting the collection.

To date, many training manuals and books have attempted to provide insight and guidance for struggling data-collection newbies. Some of these books have fallen short of delivering a clear and concise message to its readers. ABA Tools of the Trade provides a unique take at explaining the what, why, and most importantly, the “how-to” of data collection.

The authors start off describing the purpose of the book, addressing concerns that teachers and technicians face in the field every day: Why am I doing this? And how can I create easy to navigate data sheets with simple graphs for analyzing after I have collected the data? ABA Tools of the Trade breaks down their material into five sections which simplify the anatomy of a data sheet, review different types of data collection systems available, discuss how to utilize them with simple behavior change procedures, and offer activities to ensure supervisees are competent (huge bonus!). Throughout the sections, the material is organized in a way to help you identify exactly what you need to do, with helpful vignettes providing real-world examples.

The breakdown of the five sections allows the reader to easily find the information they are looking for, along with supporting documents. The first section delves into the Anatomy of Data Collection, describes not only why we collect data, but how to do so in the most simplistic way. This section is great for someone new to data collection or looking to expand their practice. A bonus includes describing different tools that may be helpful in your data collection journey with informative descriptions and visuals. Examples include tally counters, interval timers, and time timers, to name a few. A useful hints page highlights how the specific tools can be matched to the different measures of behavior that need to be tracked.

The second section is the Data Collection Systems sectionwhich describes more complex systems and strategies that work in different settings. It starts off with a comprehensive list of 10 rules of data collection. These rules are extremely important as they lay the groundwork for ethical data collection and reviews potential issues that may arise as you begin to collect data. These include examples of consent issues, confidentiality mishaps, and an important reminder to adhere to state and local laws. Finally, a handy task analysis of data collection steps provides a simple way for readers to grasp the needed components for specific targeted behaviors and wraps up the section.

The third and fourth sections include Behaviors and Simple Behavior Change Systems, which describes the Functional Behavior Assessment and Behavior Intervention Plan process in user-friendly terms. This is a great introduction for those starting out and looking to brush up on appropriate procedures. This section reviews what qualifies as efficient data collection in an FBA and how to analyze results. An added bonus is the discussion on antecedent strategies, which provides the reader with tactics and corresponding examples. Following the breakdown, vignettes of very specific behavioral episodes are provided, which allow the reader to apply the knowledge derived from the reading in everyday situations. Each vignette is followed by a general solution and helpful hints on dealing with the presented issue. For those interested in learning more about the topic, references and recommended readings are provided after all examples. Great source!

The fifth and final section, Supervision Practices, is a bonus for those supervising candidates for board certification in behavior analysis. It is comprehensive, well organized, and synched with the 5th Edition of Task List providing not only lessons but scenarios for practice with corresponding rubrics. Please note, as the Task List is updated, the alphanumeric codes may change. Three phases are addressed:

  • The Pre-Data Collection Phase addresses information gathering from parents and professionals surrounding prior attempts to address behavior (what was implemented and for how long) including defining behavior and determine how best to measure it.
  • The Data Collection Phase involves implementing the data collection system and making timely modifications, as well as proper training of the data collectors and determining an adequate schedule. Interobserver agreement is also addressed.
  • The Post-Data Collection Phase involves reviewing the collected data, preparing for graphic representation, and using data-based decision making.

Given that many newly credentialed BCBAs are assuming a supervisory role for the first time, this section is very helpful. Learning objectives and activities for each lesson are clearly articulated and rubrics are provided to support application and assess the skill level of the supervisee.

This short, well-organized, and easily-accessible resource belongs on the shelves of those first working towards BCBA certification, BCBAs who are starting out, and current BCBAs providing Registered Behavior Technician and BCBA supervision. The content spans all data collection needs, from the very basics on how to ensure those we supervise understand and demonstrate necessary skills from the Task List. It would also be a practical, yet easy supplemental read for students progressing through their coursework in college programs. To maintain quality service, it is imperative to ensure the next generation of BCBAs have the skills necessary to provide and supervise quality service provision. The inclusion of sections related to modifying one’s behavior as well as supervisory considerations only strengthen the utility of this already informative guide. This book is a great resource, and recommended without reservation!


About The Authors

Karrie Lindeman completed her undergraduate degree at C.W. Post University with a major in psychology. She went on to Queens College to complete her Masters in Psychology and advanced certificate in Behavior Analysis. From here, she worked in a school for children with autism for 10 years before moving on to consult in the public school and early intervention setting. Karrie completed her doctorate in learning and teaching at Hofstra University in 2015. She continues to provide direct service, parent training, and consultation in a variety of settings. Karrie is currently the Program Director of the Behavior Analysis program at Touro College in New York City.

David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D, is the Executive Director of ASAT and Past-President, a role he served from 2006 to 2012. He is the Co-Editor of ASAT’s monthly publication, Science in Autism Treatment. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from Rutgers University in 1993 and his certification in behavior analysis in 2000. Dr. Celiberti has served on a number of advisory boards and special interest groups in the field of autism, applied behavior analysis (ABA), and early childhood education. 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 ABA at both undergraduate and graduate levels, supervised individuals pursuing BCBA certifications, and conducted research in the areas of ABA, family intervention, and autism.

Pick of the Week: Timers!

Promotion is valid through March 4th, 2019 at 11:59pm EST. 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.

ABA Journal Club #2: Ethics and Social Media

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

Head to our Facebook page to join the discussion and let us know your thoughts!

It is important in our field to maintain an open conversation about ethics. The Professional and Ethical Compliance Code outlines how behavior analysts are expected to conduct themselves, but sometimes situations are not so black and white. And as the world changes, so do the expectations for ethical conduct. In recent years, issues related to social media have been especially relevant. This month, I’ve selected the following article which addresses the special concerns that come up with the use of social media.

O’Leary, P. N., Miller, M. M., Olive, M. L., & Kelly, A. N. (2017). Blurred lines: Ethical implications of social media for behavior analysts. Behavior Analysis in Practice10(1), 45-51 .


  1. The article reviews the codes of ethics for other professions. Why is this valuable for us to do as a profession? Did you learn anything surprising or interesting form this portion of the article?
  1. Since this article was written, our field has a new Professional and Ethical Compliance Code. How does this code differ from the previously used Guidelines for Responsible Conduct? What aspects of the code directly apply to ethical situations related to social media?
  1. “A search on an internet search engine for information related to a procedure or scientific concept may yield results as to what that procedure or concept is. The same search on a social media outlet may yield results as to whether or not that procedure or concept should be used (p. 47.) Discuss this difference.
  1. Behavior analysts and others interested in the topic may turn to social media to get answers to their questions due to the low response effort involved and the speed of reinforcement. How can we decrease response effort and increase reinforcement for referring to the scientific literature to answer our questions?
  1. The authors provide suggestions for how behavior analysts should behave on social media. Are there any suggestions you might add? Are there ways you can increase the likelihood of other behavior analysts following these suggestions?
  1. Consider your own behavior on social media. Based on recommendations from the article, what is one change you can make to increase your own ethical behavior in this context?

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 Salad Shoppe: Changing the Landscape of Vocational Training

Unemployment rates in the autism community are alarming, but the number of individuals entering the workforce only continues to grow. This presents an overwhelming challenge for special educators tasked with preparing learners for what is often an uncertain future. Vocational training is essential as learners with autism approach the transition to adulthood.  With this in mind, Nassau Suffolk Services for Autism (NSSA) introduced The Salad Shoppe in the fall of 2017.

The curriculum was developed by Kathryn Reres and Rebecca Chi, devoted special educators determined to ensure dignified and purposeful futures for the eight young adult students in their classroom. The focus was to create a program that would provide functional tasks for each learner based on their individual skills, interests and IEP goals. The result was an innovative vocational training curriculum that highlights the strengths of each participant, introduces new skills into their everyday lives and serves as a profitable social enterprise. 

The Salad Shoppe model requires multiple steps to be taken over the course of two days, including: Tracking and counting money, taking inventory, creating shopping lists, purchasing, food preparation, converting a customer’s order form to food assembly, delivery and clean up. This comprehensive list ensures that every learner has the opportunity to perform a task that is meaningful and functional to them. (The staff at NSSA are reaping the benefits too! Fresh, healthy, personally-delivered lunches each week have been a huge hit.)

In partnership with Different Roads to Learning, the creative teachers who designed The Salad Shoppe for NSSA are sharing their expertise with special educators everywhere. The published curriculum will allow teachers to implement The Salad Shoppe in a way that will best function for the learners they serve. Now more than ever, there is a crucial need to provide young adults with autism with the tools they will need to take on the competitive workforce. The Salad Shoppe is a cutting-edge curriculum that has opened new doors for educators, learners and parents and will continue to change the landscape of vocational training.

Ready to bring The Salad Shoppe to your school? You can save 15% on this incredible program now through February 18th!

Learn the Lingo

automatic punishment  Punishment that occurs independent of the social mediation of others (i.e., a response product serves as a punisher independent of the social environment).

Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.

National Autism Conference 2018!

Last week, Different Roads had the pleasure of being part of the National Autism Conference at Penn State. There were 1400 attendees from all over the country, from parents to educators and practicing behaviorists.

“The Autism Conference provides comprehensive, evidence-based information to assist educators, other professionals, and families in developing effective educational programming for all students with autism spectrum disorders”.

In other words, we were surrounded and embraced by the community that shares our commitment and mission.

We met so many wonderful people, from those who shared our exhibition room to those who ran the event. Thank you to Mike Miklos for his guidance and kindness. We were also delighted to see Vince Carbone and Katherine Croce among many other knowledgeable experts.

It was remarkable to be able to talk to people on the front lines of autism education, to hear their views, their challenges and their needs.

It touched us to see firsthand the dedication of the behaviorists and teachers working to help their students with language and behavior – you could see and hear their commitment to the autism community. We also witnessed parents raising their children with ASD with an upbeat sense of humor and great hope in bringing their children into the mainstream.

We were delighted to have been a part of this wonderful and educational event, and look forward to returning in 2019!

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.

ABA Is Fun!

ABA is Functional. Unique. Natural.

Here’s a great process to create a FUN ABA goal:

1. ABA goals are functional. This means goals are chosen because they are of importance to the child and the child’s ability to be a part of the community. That is, within the family, school, at the grocery store, etc.

Sam (not an actual client!) is doing really well with his preschool peers and the teachers are excited to move him up to Kindergarten. Our goal is to work on Kindergarten readiness skills: playing with toys in a functional manner, reading grade level words/letter sounds, and identifying numbers.

2. Each child is unique. The first thing we have to do is find the appropriate motivation. Children don’t fit into cookie cutter therapy programs. Every child is UNIQUE and will prefer different activities, experiences, foods, or toys. Identify a few of these highly preferred things your child enjoys.

Sam is pretty good at playing with a variety of toys, but ABSOLUTELY LOVES vehicles. In fact, this is the first thing he runs to during free play time and will sit for 15 minutes and play with airplanes and firetrucks. Sam will also consistently and quickly finish worksheets when told that he can play with vehicles after work.

3. Natural. A lot of people think that ABA only occurs at the table, but it actually occurs everywhere. ABA therapists may have to begin skill building at a table, but they will quickly work on generalizing skills to the natural environment. We want the child to be able to use all of that wonderful knowledge in all environments.

Time to piece it together! For Sam, we made a parking lot and filled in the parking spots with “targets.” Programs covered during his therapy time included:

– Receptive and Expressive identification of words and numbers (park the airplane in spot 11, what is parked in the spot that says “that”)
– Multiple step instructions (grap the red train, fill it up at the gas station, and park it in spot 20)
– Colors
– Block imitation from a model (Vehicles need gas to go! build a gas station pump that looks like mine!)
– Following instructions (Parking lots need stores! Go get the pile of blocks and build your favorite store)
– Receptive and Expressive Categories (where are the numbers/words/vehicles, what vehicle do you want?)
– Math, Counting (how many empty spots do we have left? How many more vehicles need spots?)
– Positional words (put the airplane on top of the store)
– Yes/no/not (is this a firetruck? find the airplane that is NOT yellow)
– Answering questions (the kids on this bus are hungry…where should they go?)

Remember: It’s important for children to play and have fun while they learn!


About The Author

Elizabeth Ginder, MSSW, BCBA, LBA is the Clinical Director of ABA Interventions, LLC. Elizabeth specializes in working with children ages 2 through early adulthood. She has experience working with children diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as children with severe, challenging behaviors. Elizabeth also has a strong background in parent, teacher and staff training. Her focus is on verbal behavior, skill acquisition and teaching children how to have fun! You can find more information on ABA Interventions at their Facebook page or at www.aba-interventions.com.

Back to Basics: Core Concepts in ABA

Over the past two decades, dozens of task forces, panels, and independent research studies have found that Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the only effective intervention for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  Although ABA is helpful for many issues other than autism, and in fact is not a treatment of autism in and of itself, the practice of the science is often linked to ASD.  I’d like to share some of the core principles of ABA that are associated with the many ways in which ABA is helpful for supporting individuals on the autism spectrum.

First, ABA works from the crucially important framework of determinism.  This means that behavior analysts see behavior as being determined by the environment.  In other words, the reasons for behavior are external, not particular to the person.  As we like to say, “The student is always right.”  This perspective is tremendously helpful because it means that there’s always something that can be done to help.  If an individual is having difficulty learning, we can adjust the environment to improve his or her ability to learn.  If someone is engaging in behavior that is dangerous or upsetting, we can adjust the environment to reduce the likelihood of that behavior.  We never try to change a PERSON; rather we attempt to change the events that occur before and after behavior, making that behavior more or less likely.

Next, ABA is highly individualized.  One of the reasons that it is so effective as a practice in teaching and supporting individuals with ASD is that each person receives a tailor-made intervention that addresses his or her needs, strengths, and preferences.  ASD does not look the same in every person who has it, therefore intervention should not look the same.  Furthermore, continuous data collection and analysis allow for continuous updating and refining of interventions, so that each individual should be receiving the most effective strategies at all times.

Finally, ABA focuses on lifestyle changes and involves parents and significant others in all interventions.  ABA is not something that is done by behavior analysts to people with autism.  Rather, it’s the practical application of the science of behavior by the people who interact with – and care for – those in need of intervention the most.  In many cases, behavioral programming is carried out by teachers or paraprofessionals, but ABA is most effective when it’s also carried out by parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.  The design of effective strategies and ongoing analysis of outcomes should be overseen by a well-qualified behavior analyst, but the strategies themselves should involve everyone in the individual’s life.  This helps to ensure generalization and maintenance of behavior change, and to provide the individual with ASD maximum exposure to supportive strategies throughout his or her day.

For these reasons and more, ABA is the intervention of choice for individuals on the autism spectrum.  It is humane, effective, and fair.  Given the right intervention, those with ASD can achieve personal goals and reach increased levels of independence in their lives.


About The Author

Dana Reinecke is a doctoral level Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA-D) and a New York State Licensed Behavior Analyst (LBA).   Dana is an Assistant Professor and Department Chair of the Department of Special Education and Literacy at Long Island University Post.  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).