Pairing – When Learning is Fun!

This guest blog post comes courtesy of the wonderful Giulia Longato, BCBA. She is writing about pairing, and I have seen her first hand pair like a pro! Over to Giulia…

Pairing tastes like my nonna’s cakes, sounds like my favourite professor’s lecture, looks like my parents picking me up from the airport and smells like my friend’s hug. Whenever I have such experiences, I know things will get better.

This is Giulia – our guest blogger!

Pairing is essentially rapport-building and it is the first component to good teaching. When pairing, you want to be the provider of everything your child likes. A marble run, playing chase, tickles, sharing a snack, painting, water play… the list is endless! Find what your learner likes (reinforcers), get into your child’s fun and make it more fun when you are there.

Pairing is based on stimulus stimulus pairing, the process by which teachers, the environment, teaching materials, games (neutral stimuli) are established as positive – i.e. approachable and pleasant – by associating them (pairing) with established reinforcers (your learner’s favourite items and activities).

When pairing, you should give the reinforcers freely, without demands, only with the expectation that the learner stays with you (you can’t build rapport if you’re not together!). You should cleanse the environment – this means the fun stuff should be under your control and the child should access it via your mediation. You should feel like a gigantic toy!

Successful pairing teaches the child that you are fun, and that when you show up good things happen. It leads to the child running to you – not away from – as soon as he or she sees you!

Learning occurs more easily and effectively when the teaching environment has been conditioned as an enjoyable place to be.

A great visual explaining pairing from Behavioral Interventions and Solutions

Here are a few tips to become a pairing master:

1 – Have fun! Be silly and think outside the box. Use the toys and the objects all around you like you’ve never done before. A plastic cup can be spun like a spinning top, rolled down the sofa cushion, used as if it was a skittle, for water play, etc.

2 – Be a giver, not a taker – Be a giver of good things for free. When it is time to get the item back, make something else interesting and offer it while taking the other one back.

3 – Play starts with you and stays with you! You are in control of the reinforcers and the integral part of the game.

4 – Go with the (MO) flow – Follow the child’s lead (motivation), see the world through your learner’s lenses, imitate your pupil’s actions.

5 – Observe and plan – See what your learner does (e.g. what is he/she reaching for, what is he/she looking or smiling at?), plan for some activities where you can incorporate established reinforcers with new ideas.

6 – The more, the merrier – Have a variety of toys available, and remember that you can use everyday items and physical play too!

7 – Be a role model – model words, phrases, signs, and play that you want your child to do more of.

8 – Pairing never ends! Pairing is crucial when you first start working with your student, but remember to pair with him/her throughout every session. Pairing leads to instructional control (when the child follows your instructions willingly) and it should always be the foundation of an ABA programme.

Pairing is the core of any ABA intervention because it is the gateway to finding what your learner likes while establishing rapport. It also creates the basis to work on requesting (manding) and teaching other skills, like play and self-help skills, labelling objects, following instructions and much more. 

Fill your pairing bag up with toys and laughter and get ready for new fun adventures!

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