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.

ABA Journal Club: A Response From Elizabeth A. Drago, M.A., BCBA, LBA

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.

  • The researchers trained caregivers on a university campus using the BST model prior to home visits. In your current work, would this be a possibility for you? If not, how could you provide this type of training to caregivers? What obstacles can you predict, and how might you address them?

The majority of my clinical practice is primarily situated in home-based settings.  Delivering behavior analytic services in home-based settings presents with a multitude of circumstances contributing to variable rates of success in teaching new skills for both the client and caregivers.  Two variables contributing to such challenges in service delivery is caregiver accessibility and limited service hours allotted, particularly if the services are funded through insurance-based sources.  Formal Behavior Skills Training (BST) often requires time intensive performance and competency- based components, creating a challenge to implement in the home setting at times. With careful planning and caregiver commitment to participation, BST training in the home setting is quite “do-able”.

To address time constraints, a ‘train the trainer’ model or pyramidal training (Pence, St. Peter, & Tetreault, 2012), may be a beneficial strategy to assist in training multiple caregivers as well as contribute to increased proficiency in treatment fidelity.  A pyramidal training model involves a senior trainer (e.g., a behavior analyst) training a small group of staff or caregivers who in turn train other staff or caregivers.  This type of training model may be particularly beneficial to clinicians working in settings where time constraints may be a factor (such as residential services).  

  • Discuss the multiple baseline design used in the study. How does it demonstrate experimental control? What can you determine from a visual analysis of the data?

The researchers in this study utilized a concurrent multiple-baseline-across-modules design to analyze the effects of the BST module training delivered to parents to teach their children mands. Concurrent multiple-baseline-across modules design allows for simultaneous measurement to occur for all clients. Research suggests concurrent measurement controls better for threats to internal validity and result in somewhat stronger inferences than do nonconcurrent designs (Watson and Workman, 1981). Multiple baseline designs are appropriate when target behaviors are not reversible. Use of a concurrent multiple-baseline design to evaluate treatment effectiveness minimizes the ethical concerns related to a withdrawal design. Training skills sequentially using a multiple-baseline-across-modules design is beneficial since it allows trainers to teach skills gradually and gave trainees repeated rehearsal opportunities on previously trained skills. The trainer could also monitor ongoing caregiver performance and make decisions to advance caregivers through the training based on the consistency and accuracy of their performance on trained skills.  Researchers of the study required caregivers to reach specific mastery criterion rates to advance to additional modules in the BST to assess the maintenance of the caregiver’s accuracy of procedural integrity and the child’s mands.

Upon visual analysis of the data, results of the study support effects of a BST model for training caregivers to implement mand training procedures.  In addition, after training, caregivers did not exhibit difficulties generalizing the skills to implement mand training procedures to the child.  Additional training was provided to caregivers during sessions with the child when mastery criterion was not achieved.  The researchers found by staggering the training across modules, caregivers learned to capture and contrive motivating operations contributing to the emergence of spontaneous mands.

  • Part of this study included a measure of whether a competently trained parent could teach their spouse how to implement mand training. Why is this important? Have you implemented similar strategies in your own work?

Training caregivers to effectively generalize behavior analytic treatment strategies and interventions to the child outside of training sessions is one of the goals of family support behavior analytic services.   Strategies to fade out the necessity of behavior analytic services is developed in the client’s treatment plan at the initiation of services.   Delivering BST to a caregiver who demonstrates proficiency of the designated steps is invaluable in the treatment process.  Through BST,  trained caregivers who have demonstrated mastery of a skill, have the ability to train additional caregivers (e.g., grandparents and siblings) in the client’s environment, facilitating generalization of treatment effects. 

In addition, research has supported the finding that providing caregivers with training and education to increase their family member’s functional skills (such as communication) may reduce caregiver stress by increasing the caregiver’s confidence levels (Bebko et al. 1987).  Researchers have also found that parents who reported high levels of confidence in managing their child’s major difficulties and perceived others in the family as similarly successful also reported lower stress rates (Sharpley and Bitsika 1997).

In my practice, I utilize BST to teach caregivers skills related to communication and socialization training and areas of daily living such as toileting, dressing, toothbrushing and community safety.  I recently utilized BST to teach a modified PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) to a client’s caregivers. After reaching fluency criteria for each step of the target skill, the trained caregiver was capable of effectively training the modified PECS procedure to the second caregiver.  Success rates for each steps of the BST procedure were measured by observation, data collection and data analysis of procedural integrity demonstrated by the second parent during sessions with the client.  Success rates were also measured by data analysis  of the client’s rate of progress in reaching various communication targets via use of the modified PECS taught by caregivers. 

  • This study did include maintenance data. Why is this data valuable? Do you collect maintenance data on the caregiver training you provide?

According to Alberto & Troutman, 2013, ‘maintenance’ is defined as “performing a response over time, even after systematic applied behavior procedures have been withdrawn”.  Maintenance is demonstrated over time when the skill continues to occur after all direct teaching of the particular skill has been discontinued. 

 Maintenance data could also be utilized to assist in shaping additional skills.  For example, prior to teaching a client receptive discrimination skills related to picture identification in a field of 3 stimuli, it is important to evaluate the presence or absence of certain prerequisite skills such as attending, gesturing (i.e., pointing or eye gaze), following direction and ability to identify objects depicted in the array.  Without information gathered from maintenance skill probes (i.e., attending, pointing, tact repertoire, etc.), teaching the skill of receptive discrimination may not be possible if the client has not exhibited mastery of specific prerequisite skills first.

During skill acquisition training, I typically teach a targeted behavior until the recipient exhibits fluency in exhibiting that behavior.  The computer- generated data system I utilize in my practice includes pre-set monitoring schedules of maintenance data based upon a timed schedule.  Maintenance probes are automatically scheduled in a staggered fashion.  For example, if the client exhibits proficiency in engaging in a specific skill during baseline, that skill is automatically scheduled for a maintenance probe on a monthly basis.  If a client reaches fluency of a specific skill after commencement of treatment, the target is scheduled for maintenance in a staggered time frame (i.e., weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, bi-monthly and annually). After the client reaches mastery criterion for annual maintenance, the target is considered ‘closed’.  If at any time the target fails maintenance, the target is added back into treatment.  

If a clinician is teaching skills to fluency, the necessity of relying on maintenance data to determine if the skill remains in that client’s behavior repertoire becomes less relevant. 

  • Consider a particular skill you are teaching one or more clients. What would BST look like to teach caregivers how to implement the necessary procedures for teaching that skill?

A particular skill BST could be utilized to teach is use of utensils during mealtime.

Instruction – For this step, if a client exhibits adequate receptive skills related to vocal/verbal instruction, one may say to the client, “When you eat certain foods, such as spaghetti or vegetables, you use a fork to pick the food up. You wouldn’t use a fork to eat foods such as cereal or pudding.”

If the client does not exhibit adequate receptive language skills, one may describe the skill to the caregiver.  For example: “We teach the skill of eating with utensils to assist with independent functioning.  We will practice this skill first, with a fork and upon reach specific mastery criteria, we will proceed in teaching use of additional utensils, such as a spoon.  It’s best to practice this skill when motivation to eat is high in order to increase rate of reinforcement and eventually, acquisition of mastery criteria (i.e., if the client is hungry, his motivation to follow the rule to use a fork to eat may be higher compared to times when he is not hungry). Reinforcement for use of the fork is naturally built in, as the food he eats with the fork will serve as reinforcement for the targeted behavior.”

Along with vocal/verbal instruction of the BST steps, I may also provide the caregiver with written steps to the procedure to assist with fluency.

Modeling – For this step, during mealtime, I model the steps described above to the caregiver.  I provide a description of each step as the step is being performed to the caregiver.

Rehearsal –For this step, encourage the caregiver to implement the steps to practice the skill.  During these practice sessions, data recording is critical to determine fluency of the practice of the targeted skill.

Feedback – Prior to this step, I discuss with the caregiver the form of feedback they prefer to receive (in-situ feedback or feedback after each trial session has ended).   Throughout my career I have learned the importance of tailoring my delivery of feedback to individual preference (some caregivers prefer feedback while they are performing the step, while others prefer to receive feedback after they have completed the step).  Once I have determined the timing of my feedback, I deliver the feedback in the context agreed upon.

  • The article states, “General instructions were provided prior to baseline, but parents were only able to implement the procedures effectively when full instructions, modeling, rehearsal and feedback were used to train to mastery.” How can you change your current practice to ensure that you are providing the necessary steps to help caregivers master skills they have selected for parent training?

To streamline the often time-intensive process BST requires, I typically stagger the trainings across multiple sessions.  Delivery of insurance-based family training services is generally provided in a time intensive and structured fashion. To meet these stringent guidelines and to ensure I deliver the most effective and efficient services, I provide the caregiver with written and verbal steps to BST across several consecutive sessions.  I review each step with the caregiver and assign weekly assignments to practice specific steps.  During each family training visit, I review and model the steps and request the caregiver to perform the step they worked on the week prior.  After the caregivers reach specific fluency rates in responding accurately,  additional steps are introduced.  

One method of training I may consider including in my caregiver trainings when delivering BST, is use of video modeling.  Video modeling is a teaching procedure that involves an individual viewing a videotaped sample of a model performing a specific, scripted activity or task. Immediately following having viewed the video-based model, the individual is directed to perform the activity or script he or she observed in the video (e.g., MacDonald, Clark, Garrigan, & Vangala, 2005). Use of video modeling may further address time constraints to training that is often a barrier in delivery of home-based services.  Video modeling may also assist in in higher rates of procedural integrity when working with caregivers who learn more effectively through use of visual guides as opposed to textual guides only.

BST is an incredibly invaluable method of teaching new skills.  With careful planning and commitment to learning, caregivers have a unique opportunity to actively participate in their family member’s treatment to help them engage in socially meaningful ways.

References

Alberto, P., & Troutman, A. C. (2013). Applied behavior analysis for teachers. Boston: Pearson.

Bebko JM, Konstantareas MM, Springer J. Parent and professional evaluations of family stress associated with characteristics of autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 1987; 17:565–576.

MacDonald, R., Clark, M., Garrigan, E., &Vangala, M. (2005) Using video modeling to teach pretend play to children with autism. Behavioral Interventions, 20, 225-238. 

Parsons M. B., Rollyson J. H., Reid D. H. Evidence-based staff training: A guide for practitioners. Behavior Analysis in Practice. 2012; 5:2–11. 

Parsons, M. B., Rollyson, J. H., & Reid, D. H. (2013). Teaching Practitioners to Conduct Behavioral Skills Training: A Pyramidal Approach for Training Multiple Human Service Staff. Behavior analysis in practice6(2), 4–16. doi:10.1007/BF03391798.

Pence S. T., St. Peter C. C., Tetreault A. S. Increasing accurate preference assessment implementation through pyramidal training. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 2012;45:345–359.

Sharpley, C. F., & Bitsika, V. (1997). Influence of gender, parental health, and perceived expertise of assistance upon stress, anxiety, and depression among parents of children with autism. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 22, 19–29.

Watson, Paul & A. Workman, Edward. (1981). The non-concurrent multiple baseline across-individuals design: An extension of the traditional multiple baseline design. Journal of behavior therapy and experimental psychiatry. 12. 257-9.


Elizabeth A. Drago, M.A., BCBA, LBA, is a Board Certified and Licensed Behavior Analyst and a consultant at Proud Moments Therapy located on Long Island, New York and Comprehensive Behavior Supports, located in Brooklyn, NY.  She has over 15 years’ experience working with individuals with developmental and related disabilities and has advanced training in areas of autism, behavior disorders, sleep disorders, intellectual disabilities and positive behavior supports.  As a consultant in home and educational settings, she clinically oversees client cases, provides parent training, implements comprehensive skill assessments and programming goals for children diagnosed with ASD, conducts staff trainings for effective performance improvement practices and behavior analytic practices and procedures. She holds professional memberships in organizations such as New York State Association for Applied Behavior Analysis, Association for Behavior Analysis International, Association of Professional Behavior Analysis.

Elizabeth is a Board member of the New York State Association for Behavior Analysis (NYSABA), serving the role of Representative at Large. She is also an active member of NYSABA’s Legislative Committee, focusing on efforts to remove the licensure scope of practice restriction in Behavior Analysis in New York State. Elizabeth has contributed significantly to disseminating information related to the scope restriction in Behavior Analysis in NYS. Some of Elizabeth’s achievements in these efforts include developing initiatives such as the video series entitled, ‘This is ABA’.  The purpose of the video series is to highlight the effectiveness and applicability of the practice of Behavior Analysis to individuals of varying diagnoses, not only for those diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. This video series is currently featured on the NYSABA website.   Elizabeth also works collaboratively with NYSABA’s Executive Director, Mari Wantanbe-Rose in the development and oversight of NYSABA’s Inaugural ABA Ambassador Award. The NYSABA ABA Ambassador Award recognizes future behavior analysts, or students, who help to disseminate the usefulness and versatility of behavior analysis in various settings.

Elizabeth has presented at NYSABA’s annual professional conference on the topics of Systematic Desensitization (2017) and Self-Care for the Behavior Analyst (2018). She has been invited as a speaker at a roundtable meeting at Proud Moments ABA, presenting on the topic of the use of technical jargon when interacting with caregivers. Elizabeth has also been featured in a newsletter (August 2018 edition) generated by Comprehensive Behavior Supports in recognition of the many significant contributions to the agency and families she serves across Long Island as a Licensed and Board Certified Behavior Analyst.  Elizabeth has been a guest speaker on a Behavior Analytic podcase, ‘Behaviorbabe’, hosted by Dr. Amanda Kelly, discussing the NYS licensure law scope restriction on the practice of Behavior Analysis in NYS. Elizabeth received a Bachelor’s Degree in Clinical Psychology from St. John’s University, graduating Summa Cum Laude. She continued her education, earning her Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, where she received an honors certificate in education and teaching and was a member of Kappa Delta Phi- Honor Society in Education.   Elizabeth attended post-graduate studies at Penn State University, where she completed coursework in Applied Behavior Analysis.  She earned her BCBA certification and licensure in Behavior Analysis in 2014.

Journal Club #4: RBTs and Interventions

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, Ph.D., 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.

In my daily work, I supervise Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) who are providing the direct care to my clients with autism. The RBT designation is only a few years old, and there are concerns about the training and maintenance of skills for these employees. However, another concern is the low number of people available to provide frontline services for high number of individuals who require it.

The work that RBTs do is important and necessary. It’s important for our field, as well as individual organizations and BCBAs to identify potential problems with the current model of providing treatment, and work to continuously improve upon the model. One way to start the conversation within your own organization is to read the following article and identify ways in which you can address the concerns it brings to light.

Leaf, J. B., Leaf, R., McEachin, J., Taubman, M., Smith, T., Harris, S. L., … & Volkmar, F. R. (2017). Concerns about the Registered Behavior Technician™ in relation to effective autism intervention. Behavior Analysis in Practice10(2), 154-163.

  • The authors discuss the evolution of the BACB and concerns with certifying behavior analysts prior to the advent of RBTs. What did you think of the concerns identified here? Are these still concerns we have about BCBAs? How are they similar or different than concerns about RBTs?
  • How does the current training of RBTs compare to the training of behavior technicians in early behavior analytic studies?
  • Look at the RBT task list. The authors argue that the current amount of training does not meet standards set forth by research on staff training. How can BCBAs and organizations hiring RBTs support their mastery of the skills on this list?
  • Have you identified concerns with the current model (BCBAs supervising RBTs who provide direct care) that were not mentioned in the article? If so, how have you worked to address those concerns?
  • Discuss the unintended consequences described in the article. Have you seen these consequences in your current setting?
  • Many of the recommendations by the authors include changes the BACB should enact as well as research that should be conducted. How are you able to take a role in these types of recommendations?

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

The founder of ABA Journal Club, 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 Journal Club #3: Functional Analysis

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!

When I was first starting out in behavior analysis, I was amazed at the simplicity and accuracy of functional analysis. Behaviors that had seemed complex and impossible to change suddenly made sense. I felt ready to create interventions to address those behaviors, and started to see more success in my behavior change procedures. Functional analysis remains one of my favorite topics to teach, and one of the questions I get most often from my graduate students is about ethical concerns in relation to completing a functional analysis for potentially dangerous behaviors. 

This has been a concern in the field, and there is a strong evidence base that identifying, assessing, and treating precursor behaviors is effective in reducing the target problem behavior. For this month, I have selected a paper on this topic.

Herscovitch, B., Roscoe, E. M., Libby, M. E., Bourret, J. C., & Ahearn, W. H. (2009). A procedure for identifying precursors to problem behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis42(3), 697-702.


What is the purpose of the current study? How is it relevant to your current work?

The researchers used both indirect and descriptive methods for identifying precursor responses. What were these methods?

Describe each of the probability measures the researchers used. How were these related to each other? Could these be used in your current setting?

What did the authors find was most probable to occur prior to head-hitting behavior? Why is this information important?

When the researchers conducted the functional analysis on the precursor behavior, was the head-hitting behavior eliminated? Why is this important to recognize? What implications does it have for practitioners?

Identifying the precursor behavior can decrease risk resulting from problem behaviors such as self-injurious behavior or aggression. Can you identify a current problem behavior for one of your clients and create a plan for determining precursor behaviors?

Please note that this particular study has only one participant. Sometimes, behavior analysis as a field is criticized for the use of single-subject studies. You can read this previous post  for more on the topic of single-subject studies.


WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

The founder of ABA Journal Club, 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.

Leisure Skills for Adults with Autism

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Megan McCarron, MS, BCBA. 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 BCBA working in an ABA Teaching Home. I am adept with teaching play skills to younger children but would like some guidance on assessing interests and helping young adults develop hobbies that they can pursue in an independent and meaningful manner.

This is a very important question. There is an abundance of research on how to teach leisure activities using instructional methods such as modeling, video modeling, and activity schedules, moreover, it is vital that careful thought and planning be put into selecting and individualizing leisure activities.

Typically, one’s interests are developed over time via exposure to and interaction with new and varied people, places, and activities. Exposure usually occurs over the course of life without much forethought, resulting in interests that shift and change. Unfortunately, this is often not the case for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

There are two key deficits within the diagnostic criteria for ASD that are likely to impact individuals’ exposure to and interaction within varied leisure activities. First, persistent limitations in social communication and social interaction can hinder an individual’s ability to request access to items and activities, and/or to express one’s level of interest. Second, the presence of restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities may prevent an individual from exploring novel items or activities.

Individuals’ difficulty making or expressing choice limit exposure to new and varied items and activities. Limited interests or those that are markedly different from those of same-aged peers make it that much more difficult to determine ways to expand and develop interests. As a result, careful thought and planning are required to help individuals with autism engage in meaningful leisure activities.

Finding Leisure Activities

Given that there is an unending number of items or leisure activities that could be assessed, it is important to narrow down the field to things that are likely to be of interest before conducting your assessments. A few of these approaches are as follows:

Expand upon current interests. Ask caregivers, teachers, siblings, or others who spend time with the individual to complete an interview, checklist or other type of survey. Create your own questions or use published materials such as the Reinforcer Assessment for Individual with Severe Disabilities (RAISD). Do not immediately discount unusual or idiosyncratic interests. Look to see if there are groups in the community or online that share that interest. If necessary, teach when and where it is okay to engage in preferences that may be annoying to others or are socially stigmatizing. Examples:

Select novel activities that contain components of already preferred activities. Identify common features of known preferences, and then identify novel items or activities that contain the same or similar features. Examples:

Make modifications to existing activities to incorporate the preferred feature of other preferred activities. Examples:

Pair a known interest with a compatible novel activity. Examples:

Identify shared interests. In addition to identifying activities by exploring and expanding upon current interests of the individual, it can be worthwhile to identify interests of the people the individual spends a lot of time with and activities available in the individual’s school, home, and local community. These activities will offer up the opportunity for social interaction with others.

Assessing Activities

Once potential activities are selected, assessments can be conducted to determine how preferred the activities are. While preference assessments are commonly used and talked about in terms of finding reinforcers, they are equally useful for assessing preference levels for potential leisure activities. Initially, free operant assessments are very helpful in terms of assessing potential leisure activities. These can be conducted in the natural environment or a contrived and enriched setting.

Free operant preference assessments can be conducted through direct observation by providing free access to activities without demands, time limits or requirements to use items in a predetermined manner (unless it is a safety issue). Assessments can be conducted in either a natural or contrived setting, as described below (Toner, 2014; Chazin & Ledford, 2016).

Collect data on:

  • Which items/activities the individual interacts with
  • Duration of each interaction
  • Can be helpful to note the individual’s observable signs of positive affect during interactions, such as smiles or laughter
  • If the individual interacts with an item in an unexpected or unusual manner, make note of what he or she did.

Once the free operant assessment data have been collected and ranked in order of which activities were engaged with the most (e.g., by calculating a percentage of time of the observation in which the student engaged in each activity), subsequent paired choice preference assessments or MSWO assessments could be conducted to better assess the individual’s relative preference for activities. With this information, you can make an informed choice about what activities are likely to provide “enjoyment” and thus fit the definition of leisure.

Selecting Teaching Targets for the IEP

It is important to help an individual build a repertoire of activities that can be used to fill the various functions of leisure. Therefore, the activities chosen as a focus of teaching should cover a variety of leisure situations.

  • Social Activities (any activity done with another person).
  • Individual Activity (any activity that can be done alone).
  • Health and Fitness.
  • Longer duration activities.
  • Short duration activities that can be done while waiting (looking at books, magazines, music on phone, etc.)

Some activities may be adaptable enough to be used across several leisure functions. For example, listening to music can be a social or individual activity; it can easily be paired with a variety of health and fitness activities and can be used for short or long durations.

In addition to selecting specific activities/skills for leisure, it is advisable to include an objective in a student’s IEP that targets the individual’s exposure to leisure activities. The goal of this objective would be to have the student continue to try out new activities over three to four opportunities to further expose them to new activities. During the sampling sessions, staff should collect data on duration of engagement, observable signs of affect, and any skill deficits that inhibit engagement.

Considerations for Increasing Functional Independence in Leisure
While identifying preferred activities is a major part of building a leisure repertoire, there are a whole host of skills that can increase an individual’s ability to access and engage in leisure activities as independently as possible.

Ensure the individual has an effective means of communication. An essential skill, regardless of the individual’s vocal verbal ability, is teaching an appropriate way to request access to activities, especially those that are not readily available in the current environment such as requesting to go to the mall or to a specific store (Schneiter & Devine, 2001). Equally important is the ability for an individual to appropriately decline participation and/or end an activity when the activity is not preferred.

Teach prerequisite skills. If a student shows interest in an activity but is not able to fully engage in the activity, it may be necessary to teach the individual specific prerequisite skills. Examples:

If a Sampling Leisure Activities objective has been included in the IEP, the sampling period can be used to help identify what types of prerequisite skills may need to be taught.

  • The individual may need to be taught skills related to any materials or equipment required for an activity. For example, gathering equipment / materials prior to starting the activity; caring for the equipment / materials putting equipment away when finished, and problem solving (e.g., what to do if materials are missing, broken, or need to be replenished).
  • Time management skills, such as identifying when it is time to engage in a leisure activity, selecting an activity that fits the amount of time for leisure, identifying when activities are essential components of increasing independence. Using schedules and calendars can be helpful to structure and prompt leisure activities but may require specific teaching. For example, using a calendar app on a phone can be very useful, but it may be necessary to start off with teaching the student to respond to an alert to engage in an activity and build up to having them enter information into the calendar.

Final Thoughts

Every individual has different interests, abilities, and obstacles to work through in establishing leisure skills. However, building on and expanding from high preference, high availability activities and using evidence-based assessment and teaching strategies to establish independence in leisure activities provides a strong foundation from which to start.


References

Blum-Dimaya, A., Reeve, S. A., Reeve, K. F., & Hoch, H. (2010). Teaching children with autism to play a video game using activity schedules and game-embedded simultaneous video modeling. Education & Treatment of Children, 33(3), 351-370.

Carlile, K. A., Reeve, S. A., Reeve, K. F., & DeBar, R. M. (2013). Using activity schedules on the iPod touch to teach leisure skills to children with autism. Education & Treatment of Children, 36(2), 33-57.

Carr, J. E., Nicolson, A. C., & Higbee, T. S. (2000). Evaluation of a brief multiple-stimulus preference assessment in a naturalistic context. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 33(3), 353-357.

Chan, J. M., Lambdin, L., Van Laarhoven, T., & Johnson J. W. (2013). Teaching leisure skills to an adult with developmental disabilities using a video prompting intervention package. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 48(3), 412-420.

Chazin, K. T., & Ledford, J. R. (2016). Free operant observation. In Evidence-based instructional practices for young children with autism and other disabilities. Retrieved from http://vkc.mc.vanderbilt.edu/ebip/free-operant

Fisher, W. W., Piazza, C. C., Bowman, L. G., & Amari, A. (1996). Integrating caregiver report with a systematic choice assessment. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 101(1), 15-25.

Google Search. https://www.google.com/search?q=define+leisure&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-1 (accessed February 5, 2017).

Graff, R. B., & Karsten, A. M. (2012). Assessing preferences of individuals with developmental disabilities: A survey of current practices. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 5(2), 37-48.

MacDuff, G. S., Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E. (1993). Teaching children with autism to use photographic activity schedules: Maintenance and generalization of complex response chains. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26(1), 89-97.

Schneiter, R., & Devine, M. A. (2001). Reduction of self-injurious behaviors of an individual with autism: Use of a leisure communication book. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 35(3), 207-219.

Toner, N. (2014). How do you figure out what motivates your students? Science in Autism Treatment, 11(1), 12-14.

Please use the following format to cite this article:

McCarron, M. (2018). Leisure skills for adults with autism. Science in Autism Treatment, 15(2), 19-26.


About The Author

Megan McCarron M.S., BCBA, LBA (CT) holds a Master of Science Degree in Child Development, is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, and Licensed Behavior Analyst in the state of Connecticut. She has been in the field of autism treatment since 1992. Megan has experience providing services for children with autism in school, home and community settings. She has worked at Milestones Behavioral Services (formerly, The Connecticut Center for Child Development, Inc.) since 1999. During her time at Milestones, she has served in various capacities. She started out as an instructor and is now a Clinical Director. In addition to her responsibilities in and around Milestones, Megan presents lectures and workshops on autism and Behavior Analysis at local and national conferences.

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!

ABA Journal Club #1

            For January, I have selected not one, but two texts. The first is a foundational article that every behavior analyst has probably read more than once. However it’s an important one to revisit, and one that I gain more insight from with each read. The second is a follow-up to the original article.

Article One: Baer, D. M., Wolf, M. M., & Risley, T. R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis1(1), 91-97.

Article Two: Baer, D. M., Wolf, M. M., & Risley, T. R. (1987). Some still‐current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis20(4), 313-327.

Discussion Questions for Baer, Wolf, Risley (1968):

The tone of the 1968 article is hopeful. The authors express a belief that behavior analytic procedures will become more prevalent as people understand the technology. Do you think they were accurate in this belief? What has been your experience with people accepting the principles of ABA?

Among the seven dimensions discussed in this article, what did you find most interesting?

The authors state that the term applied is defined by the interest society shows in the problem being studied. Is this how you have thought of the term applied in the past? How does your current work fit into this description? And how do we know society is interested?

In their discussion of analytic, the authors explain two designs commonly used to demonstrate reliable control of behavior change. Do you use these designs in your every day practice? Why or why not?

Do you think all seven of these dimensions hold equal importance? Why or why not?

How do the seven dimensions make ABA different from other fields?

Discussion Questions for Baer, Wolf, Risley (1987):

Compare and contrast the descriptions of each of the seven dimensions across the two articles.

The authors identify social validity as a good measure of effectiveness. However, they also identify issues with the assessment of social validity. How do you think that has changed since they wrote this article? How do you assess social validity in your own work?

What do you think of the discussion of high-quality failures?

In what ways do you follow the seven dimensions in your current work?

Can you identify a way to improve your own work based on the seven dimensions?

If you were to identify an eighth dimension that is not currently represented in these articles, what might you add?


SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for twelve years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. She is also an assistant professor in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

How Do We Measure Effectiveness?

This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Dr. Daniel W. Mruzek, PhD, BCBA-D, Associate Professor, University of Rochester Medical Center. 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!

Marketers of purported interventions for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), whether they are pills, devices, or exercises, claim that their products are effective. As proof, they point to any number of measures some valid, some questionable, and some potentially misleading. Given that many of these “treatments” may be costly, ineffective and even dangerous, it is good to consider what constitutes legitimate measures of therapeutic benefit. How will we know if the intervention actually works?


A first step when presented with a potential treatment option is to investigate its scientific record. One can certainly ask the marketer (or therapist, interventionist, clinician, etc.) for examples of peer-reviewed studies examining the effectiveness of their recommended intervention. Indeed, this can be a great first step. An honest marketer will be glad to give you what they have in this regard or freely disclose that none exist. A good second step is to consult with a trusted professional (e.g., physician, psychologist, or behavior analyst who knows your family member), in order to get an objective appraisal of the intervention. If, after this first level of investigation is completed, a decision is made to pursue a particular intervention for a family member there are additional questions that one can ask the marketer prior to implementation that may prove very helpful in determining effectiveness after the intervention has been employed. These include the following:


Question 1: “What behaviors should change as a result of the intervention?”
Virtually any ASD intervention that is truly effective will result in observable change in behavior. For example, a speech intervention may very well result in increased spoken language (e.g., novel words, greater rate of utterances). An academic intervention should result in specific new academic skills (e.g., greater independent proficiency with particular math operations). An exercise purported to decrease the occurrence of challenging behavior will, if effective, result in a lower rate of specific challenging behaviors (e.g., tantrums, self-injury). As “consumers” of ASD interventions, you and your family member have every right to expect that the marketer will identify specific, objective, and measurable changes in behaviors that indicate treatment efficacy. Scientists refer to such definitions as “operational definitions” – these are definitions that are written using observable and measurable terms. If the marketer insists on using ill-defined, “fuzzy” descriptions of treatment benefit (e.g., “increased sense of well-being”, “greater focus and intentionality”, an increased “inner balance” or “regulation”), then “Buyer Beware!” These kinds of outcome goals will leave you guessing about treatment effect. Insist that operational definitions of target behaviors be agreed upon prior to start of intervention.

Question 2: “How will these behavior changes be measured?”
Behavior change is often gradual and variable. Behavior change often occurs in “fits and starts” (i.e., the change is variable). Also, our perception of behavior change can be impacted by any number of events (e.g., the co-occurrence of other therapies, our expectations for change). Therefore, it is the marketer’s responsibility to offer up a plan for collecting data regarding any change in the identified “target” behaviors. Usually, it is best to record numerical data (e.g., number of new words spoken by the individual, duration [in minutes] of tantrums, etc.) The use of numerical data to measure the change of operationally defined target behaviors is one of the best ways for a treatment team to elevate their discussion above opinion, conjecture and misrepresentation. If a pill, therapy or gadget is helpful, there is almost assuredly a change in behavior. And, that change is almost always quantifiable. Setting up a system to collect these numerical data prior to the initiation of the new intervention is a key to objective evaluation of intervention. Don’t do intervention without it.


Question 3: “When will we look at these intervention data and how will they be presented?”
Of course, it is not enough to collect data; these data need to be regularly reviewed by the team! One of the best ways to organize data is “graphically”, such as plotting points on a graph, so that they can be inspected visually. This gives the team a chance to monitor overall rates or levels of target behaviors, as well as identify possible trends (i.e., the “direction” of the data over time, such as decreasing or increasing rates) and look for change that may occur after the start of the new intervention. Note that the review of treatment data is generally a team process, meaning that relevant members of the team, including the clinicians (or educators), parents, the individual with ASD (as appropriate) often should look at these data together. Science is a communal process, and this is one of the things that makes it a powerful agent of change.


An interventionist with background in behavior analysis can set up strategies for evaluating a possible treatment effect. For example, in order to gage the effectiveness of a new intervention, a team may elect to use a “reversal design”, in which the target behaviors are monitored with and without the intervention in place. If, for example, a team wishes to assess the helpfulness of a weighted blanket in promoting a child’s healthful sleep through the night, data regarding duration of sleep and number of times out of bed might be looked at during a week with the blanket available at bedtime and week without the blanket available. Another strategy is to use the intervention on “odd” days and not use it on “even” days. Data from both “odd” and “even” days can be graphed for visual inspection, and, if the intervention is helpful, a “gap” will appear between the data sets representing the two conditions. These strategies are not complex, but they give the team an opportunity to objectively appraise whether or not a specific intervention is helpful that is much better than informal observation. Few things are as clarifying in a team discussion as plotted data placed on the table of a team meeting.


If the marketer does not answer these questions directly and satisfactorily, consider turning to a trusted professional (e.g., psychologist, physician or behavior analyst) for help. Families have a right to know whether their hard-earned money, as well as their time and energy, are being spent wisely. Asking these questions “up front” when confronted with a new intervention idea will help. Marketers have a responsibility to present their evidence – both the “state-of-the-science” as reflected in peer-reviewed research, as well as their plans to measure the potential effectiveness of their intervention for the individual whom they are serving.


Speaking of measuring treatment effectiveness, fellow ASAT board member Eric Larsson offers his considerations regarding the use of standardized measures (e.g., IQ) as outcome measures in treatment research (next article; page 20). Though this might be a little out of context for some of our readers, for those of us who rely on direct interpretations of peer-reviewed studies in our work (e.g., researchers, clinicians), Dr. Larsson describes the limitations of sole reliance on change in standardized measures is assessing the scientific validation of an intervention.


Please use the following format to cite this article:
Mruzek, D.W. (2014). ASD intervention: How do we measure effectiveness? Science in Autism Treatment, 11(3), 20-21


About The Author
Daniel W. Mruzek, Ph.D., BCBA-D is an Associate Professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), Division of Neurodevelopmental and Behavioral Pediatrics in western New York. He received his doctoral training in Psychology at the Ohio State University and is a former Program Director at the Groden Center in Providence, Rhode Island. Currently, he is an associate professor and serves as a clinician and consultant, training school teams and supporting families of children with autism and other developmental disabilities.


Mruzek coordinates his division’s psychology postdoctoral fellowship program in developmental disabilities and is an adjunct faculty member in the University of Rochester Warner School of Education. He is actively involved as a researcher on several externally funded autism intervention research studies and has authored and co-authored more than 20 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on autism and other developmental disabilities. Dr. Mruzek is on the editorial board for the journals Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, Behavior Analysis in Practice, Journal of Mental Health Research in Developmental Disabilities, and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Dr. Mruzek is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Association for Science in Autism Treatment.