Tip of the Week: Common Mistakes in Implementing Reinforcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, BCBA

Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for twelve years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College. She is also a lecturer in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

What Is Procedural Fidelity In ABA?

It is not uncommon for parents or practitioners to implement a new intervention that appears to be working well, then after a few weeks or months report that the intervention has stopped working. Often, the change in behavior in feels like a mystery and leaves people scrambling for a new intervention. But before searching for a new intervention, you should consider the possibility of problems with procedural fidelity, which “refers to the accuracy with which the intervention or treatment is implemented” (Mayer, Sulzer-Azaroff, & Wallace, 2014).

What Is Procedural Fidelity In ABAProblems with procedural fidelity in ABA are common, and you will experience more success with your interventions if you take steps to address fidelity at the outset. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Post the steps in a visible spot. Clearly list the steps of the procedure and put them in a spot where you will see them often. This might be on the actual data collection sheet or on the wall. One parent I worked with had a Post-it® note with the steps for our intervention attached to her computer screen. Another parent kept the steps inside the ID part of his wallet, where they were protected and visible each time he opened his wallet.
  • Plan meetings to go over the steps. As part of your intervention, set brief monthly or quarterly meetings to go over the steps of the intervention and be sure everyone is maintaining procedural fidelity.
  • Assess for procedural fidelity. Schedule observations to ensure that each step of the intervention is implemented as described. If you do not have someone who can supervise you, take video of yourself implementing the intervention, watch it and compare your actions to the steps outlined in the intervention plan.
  • Outline steps for systematic fading of the intervention. When implementing an intervention, the goal is to have the learner eventually exhibiting the desirable behavior without prompts or planned reinforcement. Sometimes when a parent or practitioner sees the learner’s behavior improving, they begin to remove the prompts or planned reinforcement before the learner is quite ready for it. By writing a plan for fading the intervention into the plan, you make it clear to everyone involved what the requirements are for each step towards mastery.

REFERENCES

Mayer, G.R., Sulzer-Azaroff, B., & Wallace, M. (2014). Behavior analysis for lasting change (3rd ed.). Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY: Sloan Publishing.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, BCBA

Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3–12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.

Tip of the Week: How to Avoid Prompt Dependence in Teaching Students with Autism

“She won’t say hi unless I say ‘Say Hello.’” “He will only wash his hands if I put his hand on the knob to turn on the water.” “He won’t use his fork until I put it in his hand.”

I hear statements like this all the time from both parents and providers working with learners what autism. What they are describing is “prompt dependence,” which is when a learner requires a prompt from a teacher or parent in order to complete a task. So how do you avoid prompt dependence with your own learners?

Let’s start with the prompt itself. There are many different ways to prompt which can be divided into levels by how intrusive the prompt is. Below is a sample of a prompt hierarchy, with the least intrusive prompt at the top and the most intrusive prompt at the bottom. Your goal is to quickly move through the prompt levels to move your learner to independence.

Now let’s look at two different examples to show these prompt levels. In the first example, the goal is for the learner to greet a person who walks into the room. In the second example, the goal is for the learner to pull up his/her pants after using the bathroom as a part of a toileting routine.

Research shows that least-to-most prompting increases potential for errors and slows down rate of acquisition for new skills. Therefore, most-to-least prompting is preferred for teaching new skills. This means that you would start at a full physical prompt and then move your way up the prompt hierarchy until your learner achieves independence with the task.

In the past, when working with discrete trials, it has been common practice to have a learner master a skill at a certain prompt level, then move to a less intrusive prompt and have the learner master the skill at that prompt level, steadily moving towards independence. This can actually encourage prompt dependence because the learner remains on the same prompt level for too long.

Instead, you should try to quickly move up the prompt hierarchy in a way that makes sense for the skill you are trying to teach. Below are some tips to help you help your learners achieve independence.

  • Follow the rule of three: Whether you are teaching with discrete trials or in the natural environment, once your learner has successfully responded to a demand three times consecutively, move to a less intrusive prompt.
  • If you are taking data, make a notation of what prompt level you are using at each step. (And remember, that only independent responses should be counted towards the learner’s percentage of correct responses.)
  • At the end of a session or group of trials, note what prompt level you were at by the end of the session. Then start at that level during the next session.
  • If your learner does not respond correctly when you move to a less intrusive prompt, then move back to the most recent prompt level. Once they respond again correctly at that prompt level three times consecutively, move again to a less restrictive prompt.
  • Remember that verbal prompts are very difficult to fade. Though they are less intrusive, you should avoid using them when possible.
  • You can pair prompts and then fade out the more intrusive prompts. For example, with the sample of pulling up pants described above, you can pair a visual prompt with a gestural prompt by showing the symbol for pulling up pants while pointing at the pants. Over time, you stop using the symbol and just use the gestural prompt. The gestural prompt can be faded by moving your point further and further away from the pants.
  • Write down what the prompt levels will look like for the specific task you are teaching. This way you will be fully prepared to quickly move your learner towards independence.
  • Differentiate your reinforcement! If you move to a less intrusive prompt and the learner responds correctly, then you should immediately provide a stronger reinforcer than you did for previous responses. If a learner spontaneously responds without a prompt, you should do what I call “throwing them a party” by combining reinforcers (such as tickles and high fives) or providing a highly desirable reinforcer.

Prompting can be very difficult to do well, but following these tips should help set your learner on the path to independence.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, BCBA

Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.

“Increasing Articulation in Children with Autism” by Tracie Lindblad

Following our last feature on guided playdates, we’ve partnered with the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) again this week to bring you an article by Tracie Lindblad, Reg. CASLPO (SLP), MS, MEd, BCBA, on increasing speech intelligibility in children with autism. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

How do you increase speech intelligibility (articulation skills) or the variability in the sounds produced by children with autism spectrum disorders?
Answered by Tracie L. Lindblad, Reg. CASLPO (SLP), MS, MEd, BCBA

Approximately 30–50% of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) remain minimally verbal throughout their lives, with little or no functional speech (National Institutes of Health & National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 2010; Johnson, 2004; Mirenda, 2003). These individuals may rely on more effortful modes of communication such as reaching for desired items, taking another’s hand to gain access, or obtaining the item independent of communication. Attempts to communicate may also take the form of challenging behaviours such as aggression, self-injury, and tantrums.

Parents face a difficult task in choosing a treatment for minimally verbal children with ASD because a wide range of techniques are routinely used by speech-language pathologists and behaviour analysts with varying degrees of success and evidence.

The following table highlights some of the most-commonly implemented interventions to target speech skills and the current evidence base for each.

Increasing Articulation Table 1Increasing Articulation Table 2

Within the fields of behaviour analysis and speech pathology, evidence-based practice (EBP) should shape and guide our treatment decisions. EBP is the integration of:

  • external scientific evidence,
  • clinical expertise/expert opinion, and
  • client/patient/caregiver perspectives.

Principles of EBP can help any professional to provide high-quality services which reflect the interests, values, needs, and choices of the individuals, and promote the best outcomes possible with the current evidence to date. Continue reading

Simplifying the Science: Teaching Siblings About Behavior

When I first came across this study, Behavioral Training for Siblings of Autistic Children, I was immediately hesitant. There’s something about the idea of sibling-as-therapist that makes me cringe a little bit. When I work with the families of children with autism, the hope is that the siblings of the child with autism still have a childhood without being pushed into the role of caregiver. And I also want the child with autism to have independence and feel like an individual who is heard, which may be more challenging if their siblings are issuing demands just as a parent or teacher would. But as I read the study, I realized that the work they completed had incredible social significance.

Siblings Playing Together BlogIn the study, there were three pairs of siblings. The ages of the children with autism ranged from 5 years old to 8 years old. The ages of the siblings ranged from 8 years old to 13 years old. The researchers trained each sibling of a child with autism how to teach basic skills, such as discriminating between different coins, identifying common objects, and spelling short words. As part of this training, the researchers showed videos of one-on-one sessions in which these skills were taught, utilizing techniques such as reinforcement, shaping, and chaining. What the researchers did next was the part that really stood out to me: they discussed with the siblings how to use these techniques in other environments. Finally, the researchers observed the sibling working with their brother/sister with autism and provided coaching on the techniques.

It should be noted here that the goal of the study was not to have the siblings become the teacher of basic skills. Instead, it was to provide a foundation of skills in behavioral techniques for the sibling to use in other settings with the hope of overall improvement in the behaviors of the child with autism. The researchers demonstrated that, after training, the siblings were able to effectively use prompts, reinforcement, and discrete trials to effectively teach new skills. But, perhaps the most meaningful aspects of the study were the changes reported by both siblings and parents. The researchers provide a table showing comments about the sibling with autism before and after the training. One of the most striking comments after the training was, “He gets along better if I know how to ask him” (p. 136). Parents reported that they were pleased with the results and found the training beneficial.

This study provides excellent evidence that structured training for siblings has real potential for making life a little easier for the whole family. The idea isn’t that they become the therapist, but instead that knowledge truly is power.

References

Schriebman, L., O’Neill, R.E. & Koegel, R.L. (1983). Behavioral training for siblings of autistic children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 16(2), 129-138.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, BCBA

Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.

Pick of the Week: Snap Shots Critical Thinking Photo Cards

Promote higher-level thinking with these cards that combine critical thinking and visual literacy to teach students to look at the “big picture” as they investigate complex ideas and reach reason-based conclusions. Save 15% on your order of the Snap Shots Critical Thinking Photo Cards this week only by entering in our promotional code SNAPSH6 at checkout!

Sample

We have two beautiful sets of photo flashcards available for students in PreK and Grades 1 and up. The photos on these cards are all brain-teasing, eye-sharpening scenes that press students to look a little deeper as they develop complex ideas such as cause and effect, predicting, and making inferences. Each photo flashcard depicts a scene on the front and contains four accompanying questions on the back of each card. Over 150 prompts in each set encourage personal responses from students and help boost speaking, listening, and writing skills.

The PreK set contains photo cards that depict scenes of young children in various playtime, home, and classroom activities, such as cooking, reading, gardening, blowing out birthday candles, playing piano, and much more.

The photo cards in the Grade 1 set depict scenes of nature, as well as children and adults in various situations and settings, such as hitting a baseball, packing and moving, cooking, grocery shopping, and much more.

Remember – this week only, you can take 15%* off your purchase of one or more of the PreK and Grade 1 levels of the Snap Shots Critical Thinking Photo Cards by using code SNAPSH6 when you check out online.

*Valid through March 25, 2014 at 11:59pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in the code at checkout!

Tip of the Week: Using a MotivAider to Help Parents Give Positive Reinforcement

Several years ago I worked with an eight-year-old girl named Stella in her home. Gina, her mother, was at her wit’s end. She had Stella, a four-year-old daughter, and an 18-month-old son to care for plus household duties, balancing work and home life, and maintaining her marriage. She constantly felt stressed, which was compounded by the fact that Stella was not yet speaking or communicating any needs beyond what she wanted to eat, was still not toilet trained, and made a mess everywhere she went. Gina felt that she spent her days following Stella around the house, picking up after her, and yelling at her to stop. She frequently would find Stella dumping out a bin of toys or sweeping all the books off of a shelf, then try to distract her with a Youtube video or a snack.

At this point, Gina was feeling hopeless.

DRT_382_MotivAiderSo you can imagine that she was highly skeptical when I suggested that using the MotivAider, a simple device that vibrates at timed intervals, might make her life easier. And while she was prepared for me to try to change Stella’s behaviors, she was not expecting me to suggest she change some of her own behaviors. However, she decided to give it a try.

She set the MotivAider to vibrate every two minutes, then clipped it to her waistband. Her instructions? Every time she felt it vibrate, she should go find Stella. If Stella was engaging in appropriate behaviors (sitting calmly, looking at a book without damaging it, playing with a toy she enjoyed, or watching a video) Gina would give her some positive reinforcement. This included but was not limited to giving her hugs, presenting a snack, watching the video with her, or bringing up her favorite Youtube videos if she was doing something else. If Stella was engaging in an inappropriate behavior, Gina would ignore it (as long as Stella was not in any danger.)

To Gina’s surprise, Stella quickly stopped dumping out bins of toys and making a mess all over the house. All Gina needed was an easy reminder to catch Stella doing something good.

The MotivAider is one of my all-time favorite tools. You can program it to vibrate on a fixed or variable schedule at different duration and intensity levels. I use it for many things, but I’ve had great success in using it with parents. It’s easy for them to use independently, they can use it even when I am not present, and it fits into their busy lifestyles.

Many parents (and teachers) get stuck in the same cycle as Gina did, consistently reinforcing undesirable behaviors by providing attention whenever those behaviors are present. With the help of the MotivAider, Gina was able to change that contingency. (It should be noted that this intervention would not work as described above for a behavior that is not maintained by attention.)

While I was brought in to help change Stella’s behavior, we also changed Gina’s behavior. When we started, Gina provided reinforcement to Stella at every two minute interval in which she found her behaving appropriately. Over time we increased that interval, so that Stella wasn’t receiving such a high rate of reinforcement.

Gina reported that the house felt more calm now, and she had more energy during the day. It also gave her a confidence boost. Having success in this one area made her feel more hopeful and invested in creating success in other areas. Other families I’ve used it with have experienced similar results. One simple tool can lead to massive change for a family.

**Names and identifying characteristics have been changed to protect the identities of my clients.

Tip of the Week: Avoid Prompt Dependence When Teaching New Skills

“She won’t say hi unless I say ‘Say Hello.’” “He will only wash his hands if I put his hand on the knob to turn on the water.” “He won’t use his fork until I put it in his hand.”

I hear statements like this all the time from both parents and providers working with learners what autism. What they are describing is “prompt dependence,” which is when a learner requires a prompt from a teacher or parent in order to complete a task. So how do you avoid prompt dependence with your own learners?

Let’s start with the prompt itself. There are many different ways to prompt which can be divided into levels by how intrusive the prompt is. Below is a sample of a prompt hierarchy, with the least intrusive prompt at the top and the most intrusive prompt at the bottom. Your goal is to quickly move through the prompt levels to move your learner to independence.

Prompting Hierarchy

Now let’s look at two different examples to show these prompt levels. In the first example, the goal is for the learner to greet a person who walks into the room. In the second example, the goal is for the learner to pull up his/her pants after using the bathroom as a part of a toileting routine.

Prompt Chart

Research shows that least-to-most prompting increases potential for errors and slows down rate of acquisition for new skills. Therefore, most-to-least prompting is preferred for teaching new skills. This means that you would start at a full physical prompt, then move your way up the prompt heirarchy until your learner achieves independence with the task.

In the past, when working with discrete trials, it has been common practice to have a learner master a skill at a certain prompt level, then move to a less intrusive prompt and have the learner master the skill at that prompt level, steadily moving towards independence. This can actually encourage prompt dependence because the learner remains on the same prompt level for too long.

Instead, you should try to quickly move up the prompt hierarchy in a way that makes sense for the skill you are trying to teach. Below are some tips to help you help your learners achieve independence.

  • Follow the rule of three: Whether you are teaching with discrete trials or in the natural environment, once your learner has successfully responded to a demand three times consecutively, move to a less intrusive prompt.
  • If you are taking data, make a notation of what prompt level you are using at each step. (And remember, that only independent responses should be counted towards the learner’s percentage of correct responses.)
  • At the end of a session or group of trials, note what prompt level you were at by the end of the session. Then start at that level during the next session.
  • If your learner does not respond correctly when you move to a less intrusive prompt, then move back to the most recent prompt level. Once they respond again correctly at that prompt level three times consecutively, move again to a less restrictive prompt.
  • Remember that verbal prompts are very difficult to fade. Though they are less instrusive, you should avoid using them when possible.
  • You can pair prompts and then fade out the more intrusive prompts. For example, with the sample of pulling up pants described above, you can pair a visual prompt with a gestural prompt by showing the symbol for pulling up pants while pointing at the pants. Over time, you stop using the symbol and just use the gestural prompt. The gestural prompt can be faded by moving your point further and further away from the pants.
  • Write down what the prompt levels will look like for the specific task you are teaching. This way you will be fully prepared to quickly move your learner towards independence.
  • Differentiate your reinforcement! If you move to a less intrusive prompt and the learner responds correctly, then you should immediately provide a stronger reinforcer than you did for previous responses. If a learner spontaneously responds without a prompt, you should do what I call “throwing them a party” by combining reinforcers (such as tickles and high fives) or providing a highly desirable reinforcer.

Prompting can be very difficult to do well, but following these tips should help set your learner on the path to independence.

Pick of the Week: Visual Schedules

schoolSummer is winding down and for most it’s time to get back to a routine. For many of our students and children that means getting a handle on a busy new schedule of self-care, school, therapy sessions, extra-curricular activities, play dates and special occasions. A visual schedule or an activity schedule can help pull all of the parts of a hectic day together for a child and increase independence, build organizational skills as well as improve comprehension skills. A visual schedule provides clear expectations, utilizes a child’s visual learning strengths, can reduce anxiety or difficulty with transitions, and can increase flexibility.

This week, we’re offering a 15% discount on some of our favorite products to help you get a visual schedule up and running. Just enter the Promo Code BLOGVS13 to redeem your savings and get organized.

DRP_928_Clear_Schedule_Token_StripClear Schedule with Token Strip: This is an option that is easy and portable for those who want to customize and create their own schedule pictures. There is a token economy that runs alongside which is great for learners who require a thick schedule of reinforcement and need to earn a token for each step of the schedule and can be used for any age.

DRP_062_On_Track_Responsibility_Chart

 

On Track! Responsibility & Behavior System: This product is a great tool for children 8 and up. It is a wonderful resource for keeping the whole family on track across multiple daily routines and behavioral objectives. The detailed instructional guide walks you through the implementation and execution of the system is an added bonus.
DRP_916_EasyDaysies_Magnetic_Schedule

 

 

EasyDaysies Magnetic Schedule for Kids: The simplicity of this is fantastic. The Magnetic Fold & Go schedule board travels with you easily and can adhere directly to any metal surface. The imagery is very clear and easy to understand and the To Do and Done Columns are intuitive and easy for even the youngest child to use. The starter kit includes 18 magnets that cover all the basics in your learner’s daily routine but as proficiency increases there are supplemental packs are available to include more specific magnets covering Chores & Special Times, Family & Extracurricular Activities, and Get Dressed & Bathroom routines.

*This offer expires on September 24, 2013 at 11:59 pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces in the promo code at check out!

Pick of the Week: Timers & Counters

Timers help manage all sorts of transitions, schedules and behaviors. The sky is the limit when it comes to how creative you can be with a simple timer. With Back to School creeping up on the horizon, it may be time again to start thinking about schedules and time management. This week only, you can save 15% on our entire category of timers, hand tally counters, and clocks to help ease you back into the biggest transition: back to school time.

To redeem your savings on any product in our Timers, Counters & Clocks category, simply enter the Promo Code BLOGTCT12 at checkout.

*Offer expires on August 7, 2012 at 11:59 pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces after the Promo Code when you enter it at checkout.