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!

Shaping – 3 Key Points

Forgive me for starting with a definition (I know it can be boring). Understanding shaping improved my practise so much. Shaping is the process of systematically and differentially reinforcing successive approximations to a terminal behaviour (Cooper, Heron, Heward, 2007). Simply put, it’s breaking a skill down in to small achievable steps and reinforcing those steps along the way until you reach the end product. I’ll elaborate on some of the key points of shaping.

Differential Reinforcement

It’s kind of like performance related pay (not completely) – but if your child/learner responds better (i.e. closer to what you’re working towards), the more reinforcement they get. Take learning the word

‘bubbles’ for example, when Felix (my son) first said ‘buh’ for bubbles, I blew loads of bubbles and praised him. When he eventually got this to ‘buh buh’ after several trials (a trial is counted as one time he requests bubbles), this was reinforced a lot, and ‘buh’ no longer cut it. The bar had been raised. After several more trials this shaped to ‘bubbles’, this is what received lots of reinforcement and ‘buh buh’ no longer cut it. 

Another common example parents may be familiar with is if a child asks for a drink, and parents hold back until the child says ‘can I have a drink please’  – only when please is used will the parent reinforce the request with providing a drink.

One last example is me getting take away pizza on a Saturday. I set the bar as being able to get this if I exercise three times that week for 30 minutes, and only get it if I do, exercising twice will not get me a takeaway (big reinforcer). Once I’ve achieved this, I will set the bar to 4 times a week for 30 minutes in order to get the takeaway – 3 times no longer cuts it.

Successive Approximations

This is all about systematically shifting the criteria for when reinforcement is delivered for a behaviour (raising the bar little and often). It’s all about breaking down a skill from start (unestablished skill) to finish (established skill consistently done well). How many steps are needed for a behaviour depends on the skills the child already has (pre-requisite skills). Here’s a couple of examples;

  1. My little man learning to walk. We (parents, adults) can play a big part in shaping behaviour, even learning to walk. The first step Felix took on his own we went crazy (cheering, cuddles, clapping, smiles etc). After doing this a few times over the next couple of weeks our reinforcement became less enthusiastic (the magnitude of reinforcement was less) and more intermittent. But if he then did two steps, we went crazy again – reinforcement was still ‘up for grabs’ but the criteria had changed. This continued all the way till he started walking confidently on his own.
  2. Shaping a word. Like the example I outlined above, bubbles are a favourite item for me to use at home and also in sessions. Children who are in the early stages of learning to talk may begin my making approximations of words. My son would say ‘buh’ for bubbles, and the first time we heard this we gave him loads of bubbles! This continued the first few times and as it became more consistent, we systematically faded reinforcement. From this point we raised the bar/shifted the criteria to ‘buh buh’ – this is what would now get him LOADS of bubbles. Once this became consistent, we shifted the criteria to ‘bubbles’ (the terminal behaviour – the end goal).
  3. A teacher shaping writing with a pencil. First a teacher may try to build motivation for mark making with any instrument (paint brush, chalk, crayons etc), once the learner enjoys mark making they may prompt an appropriate pencil grip whilst mark making, from here letter formation, then words, then sentences and so on,

In these scenarios it would have been much harder, even unreasonable, to expect the end goal immediately; shaping was a crucial part of learning the new skill. 

Prompts

Shaping can be a timely process. To increase the efficiency a few strategies can be used alongside shaping;

  • Vocal prompt – this can be a prompt such as a teacher saying ‘pick up your pencil’
  • Physical prompts – for example to shap writing you may prompt the learner hand over hand at first, gradually fading this whilst systematically shaping each step of the task towards sentence writing (at first maybe you give social praise for letting you physically prompt without resisting).
  • Imitative prompts – the same example could be used as above, but you ask the child to imitate what you are doing (‘try this’ – whilst holding the pencil with the appropriate grip).

Any prompts used should be systematically faded – this is important. 

I hope this has been a practical post. Pick a behaviour and get shaping.

Prepping Like a Pro

It’s been a crazy time the last few weeks, and many people have/are finding it tough for various reasons. Amongst other things, for me the idea of keeping my toddler occupied indoors for such a prolonged period was daunting, especially without any childcare for the foreseeable future. So, I tapped into strategies that I used as an ABA therapist. How did I organise the sessions for children who had fleeting motivation?

In the ABA school, timetables were done for us, but when I left to work independently I needed a structure to work from – and the learners often respond better to a structure in the sessions also! I’d start by identifying motivating activities. I may base this on what I already know of the child, or by trial and error (trying new things to see if they liked it). I‘d make a list of the preferred items/activities and make a timetable.  Each slot on the timetable would be a 15-30 minute slot (this could change dependent on your child or the activity you are doing). Here’s an example of what my day might look like during lockdown with my 2 year old;

8-8.30Breakfast3.30-4Hide and seek
8.30 – 9 Morning kids tv4-4.30Crazy soap + books
9-9.30Trains4.30-5Cars
9.30-10Drawing/colouring5-5.30Dinner
10-10.30Walk5.30-6Post dinner tv
10.30-11Morning snack 6-6.30Bath
11-11.30Ball games6.30-7Cuddle and story
11.30-12Playdoh7Bedtime
12-12.30Lunch 
12.30-1Lunch kids tv 
1-1.30Physical play
1.30-2Video call nanny
2-2.30Puzzles
2.30-3Stickers + snack
3-3.30Garden

Having a timetable serves as a great prompt for me – it’s awesome to know what’s coming next. If I was winging my day it’s likely that during the time I didn’t have a plan in place that my toddler would be getting up to something that I didn’t want him to! It also makes the day loads more manageable having it broken down like this – it seems less overwhelming. It keeps me moving on to new activities and not overdoing it; we call it satiation when we do something so long that the child loses motivation. Some of the activities above I would be a part of with my little man, but some I would let him crack on so I can sneak in a cup of tea. This is also a consideration for parents who are working full time and looking after their children – fill the timetable with things your child is more independent with. Be realistic with what you can do, if you expect to achieve too much with your job or child you may not end up doing either very well!

Train time with my boy!

Now, it’s fair to say that some activities flop, and if they do, I’ll swap it for something later on in the timetable and revisit it later (just because they don’t like it now doesn’t mean they won’t like it later). The same goes for if he specifically asks for something during the day, I’ll generally follow his motivation (unless I’ve set up an activity, in which case I’d say we can do whatever he asked for next). I use clear language to say what we’re doing now and next and let him know when an activity is coming to an end. It may work better for you to offer your child a choice of activities for each slot in the timetable – it can be there as a guide, not a fixed structure. I usually prompt my son to help me tidy up as well (and reinforce tidying up when he does!). Having a timetable like this also helps practise transitions (moving from one activity to another). Someone said to me ‘doing a timetable sounds like work’ – but I challenge you to try if for a day and see what you think, it won’t take long to do. There are many advantages to planning your day and this can be useful all year round – lockdown or not!

So, try prepping your day like a pro and let me know how it goes!

Babies Keep You Busy!

Hey, it’s been a while

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So, after a 2 year break, I want to start adding to the blog again and share some ABA love. Turns out the arrival of my own little guy has been pretty time consuming! I started writing the blog for people who are new to ABA (parents or other non ABA professionals) and hope that it explains some principles of ABA in a user friendly way with some day to day context – this is something I’m still passionate about.

 

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Becoming a parent has added to my analysis for sure, helping me get a bit more of an insight to being a parent (also the extra caffeine I now drink makes me super alert). I find myself constantly looking at how he learns and it’s awesome to see it happening.

 

Ultimately, it’s what I already knew – reinforcement is the biggest part of learning. From an early age we teach our children that doing what we do is a good thing (we establish and reinforce the child’s imitation repertoire)We look down at young babies smiling, speaking/singing to them, stroking their heads, giving them cuddles and attention and when they smile for the first time what do we do?baby_smiling.jpg

We do whatever we did that got them to smile in the first place – I have made some ridiculous noises, sung many songs, and danced around like an idiot all in the hope of getting a laugh or smile! The smile/laugh reinforces our behaviour so were likely to do it again! (remember, something is only reinforcing if it increases the future likelihood of a behaviour).We also give them even more cuddles and attention which reinforces the babies’ behaviour (smiling).

 

This is when the ball gets rolling. From this moment we’re looking for babies to do the next behaviour we want to see more of; clapping their hands, waving, crawling, walking, using a spoon, eating new foods, and we’re always modelling these skills. We are ready and waiting to reinforce the behaviour with praise, clapping, attention, smiles, cuddles etc. We get so used to this being the way that it’s easy to think the children are acquiring new skills because of time – not realising that we are playing huge parts in our child’s learning by the modelling, prompting and reinforcement we provide!

 

My little man used to love the ‘5 little ducks’ song and it would always get a smile, but

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Me when a reinforcer is satiated

after around 1000 times of me singing it (I might be exaggerating) he stopped smiling – why? Because the reinforcing effect of the song wore off – he got ‘bored’ of it, much like we would do if we listened to the same song so much (we call this satiation). It doesn’t mean ‘reinforcement doesn’t work’; it just means we need to find a new one (which was overly dramatic peek a boo – exhausting).

 

My little mate is 19 months old and he is copying more and more every day, and attempting to say more and more words each day, it’s really picking up momentum and I’m amazed that he only needs a few trials to learn most skills. How we learn is awesome, but it is governed by the rules of behaviour. For most kiddos I work with the social reinforcers I listed above aren’t effective as part of their special educational needs are social deficits, so it’s up to us to find something that does work as a reinforcer. The principles of learning remain the same, but we may need different reinforcers, more systematic prompting, more learning trials, more work on generalisation and more intensity etc, but this doesn’t mean it can’t be fun!

 

Anyway, probably time for me to get back to him, he’ll be waking up from his nap soon and I need to get his lunch ready! If you want to read more about the principles mentioned in this blog you can check out Cooper, Heron, Heward (2013) Applied Behaviour Analysis’ or for an intense read A Behavior Analytic View of Child Development’ by Henry Schlinger.

 

I’m looking to build my case load again, so if anyone is looking for a BCBA – please free to contact me on my blog page or on jamesadcock@hotmail.co.uk

 

Thanks for reading! Remember to spread the ABA love.

James

Teaching Group Responding: Squad School

Teaching group responding skills is super important. It’s a set of skills that most children don’t need to be taught intensively. But when they do, it can be tough! It’s really important for a person to be able to respond to group demands in order to be an independent learner in the classroom.

 

If you really think about it, it’s pretty difficult to think about the skills needed to respond as part of a group. I think most people would assume that if you can answer questions and respond on a 1-1 basis, then you can answer as part of a group. Pre ABA I definitely would have seen that as pretty much the same thing. This is definitely not my experience when working with children with learning difficulties and/or autism. 

 

If you don’t break down skills the way that ABA does, it can be difficult to know what’s ‘missing’. The VB MAPP and ABLLS-R break down skills in this area well. I generally use these assessments to guide which skills need to be taught, especially as the VB MAPP is developmentally sequenced (lists the skills needed in the correct order). 

 

It can be tough to teach these skills in schools. Children often go from 1-1 learning in to a class of 15 or more children, and that jump can be too high. It can sometimes be the case that the learners sit appropriately as part of a group, but sitting with the absence of problem behaviour, and learning as part of a group, are not the same thing, and it’s not enough. Another common observation is that teachers may ask the learner several questions during group time (which is great, we want to encourage active student responding), but they are presented using the learners name, with direct eye contact (so again, essentially a 1-1 response, when sitting as part of a group). It must be presented non specifically such as ‘everybody go and get your pencil case’, or ‘can you all show me clapping’, not ‘Joey, go and get your pencil case’.

 

If group skills need to be taught, it usually needs to start in a small group (maybe even 3 participants to start). Reinforcers should be delivered from the person running the group. It’s important that 1-1’s don’t simply repeat what the teacher says, because even if the learner is sitting in a group and responding, it’s still a 1-1 demand, not a group one. Instead, stand behind the learner, and if they need prompting use physical prompts where possible and fade (no talking). Remember, that when starting out and establishing group responses, it’s good to start with skills that are already fluent on a 1-1 basis, teaching new skills and group responding at same time can increase the effort on the learners part. Provide lots of opportunities to respond in the group, the more responses, the more opportunity for reinforcement; we only learn if we behave. 

 

It’s not always easy for teachers to cater for this within the school day. It may be due to time restraints, lack of staff, or the fact that it’s not necessarily fair to other children to participate in a group that is too easy for them, just to benefit the learner you’re working with; all fair points. It has worked in the past by collaborating closely with teachers, and taking any given chance to squeeze some group time in. You can start out teaching group responses during fun games (like Simon Says, or Befuzzled), so it could be done in golden time, or a break time/free play. The most important thing is working with the teacher to see what can be realistically done. Providing some data can also be useful, showing a simple tally of how many opportunities there were to respond over a given time, and if they were 1-1 or group, prompted or independent. Further down the line, there is some good research for hand raising.

Anyway, I could go on forever about this. All of the above has motivated a colleague and I  (Holly Cowlam, previous guest blogger, check out her website here) to start a group teaching group skills. The group is called Squad School, and will be run out of The Children’s Place clinic in London. If you’re interested in signing up, or finding out more, check out the flyer below. There’s a free drop in day to meet Holly and I at 9am on Wednesday 23rd August, at The Children’s Place Marylebone clinic. Or just comment on the blog/email the address on the flyer if you want to ask any questions! Thanks!

Squad School 2017

12 Awesome Resource Websites

As I’m sure you’ve guessed, this post is about good resource websites. Here are some beauties, in no particular order…

 

http://www.specialresources.co.uk – this is a company set up by parents who know how ABA works and they know the value of top quality picture cards! Reasonably priced and most importantly UK based pictures! Boom.

 

http://www.teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-resources.html – this is good for free handwriting sheets, whether it’s early pencil control, simple shapes, or letter formation.

 

https://www.pinterest.co.uk – if you don’t know about Pinterest, you should. It has LOADS of cool ideas for teaching/playing whatever you like! Get involved right now. Excellent for an ABA programme, parents, and teachers. When you’ve researched all the educational stuff, you can look up all manner of other things such as holiday ideas, tasty food, and house ideas – lovely stuff. https://www.pinterest.co.uk/adcock2714/aba/ – here’s an ABA board I made earlier

 

https://treezy.co.uk – Treezy has everything you could possibly need for an ABA programme. Lovely website to navigate, and great for parents and professionals – this should be your first port of call.

 

http://www.themeasuredmom.com/print-2/ – free printables galore!

 

https://urbrainy.com – all kinds of educational worksheets!

 

http://www.sparklebox.co.uk – worksheets, tick charts, and much more.

 

http://www.tts-group.co.uk – an online smorgasbord of good resources.

 

http://www.hope-education.co.uk/products/early-years – an online catalogue of goodies, you’ll lose a lot of time searching through everything.

 

https://www.learningresources.co.uk – another easy to navigate website with endless amounts of cool stuff.

 

http://www.twinkl.co.uk – even more worksheets!

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/registry/wishlist/2QFGX7VMBHSNH/ref=nav_wishlist_lists_2 – what can I say, Amazon is a classic. Here’s a link to a wish list I’ve made with resources I either have, or want to have. Feel free to follow to keep up to date with new additions to the list.

 

So, there you have it. I’m forever coming across new, cool resources and websites, so I’ll add them up, and post another blog down the line. In the meantime, if you want to share the love, and let us know any gems you have, please comment on the blog for all to see!

 

Ta very much

5 ABA principles that Speech and Language Therapists Use

This guest post is from Trisha Pranjivan at The Children’s Place. You can check out The Children’s Place hereTCP have clinic’s in Clapham and Marylebone that offer speech and language therapy and occupational therapy. I have a good working relationship with the guys at the clinic, and it’s wonderful to work together. Over to Trisha….

Since meeting James, and attending the trainings that he provides at our clinic, I’ve learned so much more about ABA than I knew before and my perspective on ABA therapy has changed dramatically and positively. In the last year, thanks to the wonderful trainings that James has provided our clinic, I’ve come to the realisation that everyone uses ABA principles in one form or another. Speech and Language Therapists are no exception! We use certain principles of ABA in our sessions in order to help children reach their speech and language targets. Below is a description of ABA principles as it relates to speech and language therapy. 

ABA principles in Speech and Language Therapy

                                                                             Pairing

PairingThis is a principle that I never had a label for before learning more about ABA. Pairing is the process of building and maintaining rapport with a child so that they want to play with you. This is so important because the more paired you are with a child, the more willing the child is to do what you ask of them. In Speech and Language Therapy sessions, we often have to do a lot of repetitive practice of speech sounds or language concepts. It can be very difficult to engage a child in these sorts of adult-led, tasks if not properly paired. If the child isn’t interested in playing with the therapist, they will definitely not be interested in practicing their speech sounds. However, if properly paired, the child will be excited to see the therapist and play with them, and will therefore will be more willing to fulfil the demands that are placed on them.   

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is most definitely the most commonly used ABA principle used in Speech and Language Therapy. Whenever a child engages in a behaviour that we want them to engage in, we provide the behaviour with some form of positive reinforcement. Pos Sr+The behaviours that we might be working on include, correctly producing a certain speech sound, using a certain word structure (e.g. a preposition) or engaging in a targeted social skill such as making eye contact when requesting. Depending on the child and/or the demand, the type of reinforcement that we use will differ. We may provide verbal praise (e.g. “Wow! Well done making your ‘s’ sound!”), provide them with high-fives or tickles, or give them an item that they want. By doing this, they will be more likely to engage in the same behaviour again in the future. If every time a child makes eye contact they are given a toy that they really like, they will be more likely to use eye contact again in the future. The same can be same for all speech and language targets that we work on.

Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement is the removal of something that the child doesn’t like. This is the type of reinforcement that we use when teaching children to use language to protest. For example, if the child’s target is to use the phrase “I don’t want it” instead of pushing the toy away or crying, then this is our go-to ABA principle. I might present a child with play-doh knowing that the child hates playing with play-doh. When the child uses the phrase “I don’t want it,” I will remove the play-doh so that he doesn’t have to play with it. If he cries instead, I will keep the play-doh on the table and prompt him to use the phrase before removing the toy.  

 

Negative Punishment and Extinction:

tantrum

Negative punishment sounds like a scary term but it’s not as mean as it seems! What negative punishment means is to remove something that the child likes as a consequence of an unwanted behaviour. In speech therapy, there are a few different reasons why we might use this. The most common way of using negative punishment in our sessions is ignoring unwanted behaviours and removing preferred toys. By removing the attention/a preferred item consistently, we can reduce the unwanted behaviour. Unwanted behaviours might include, refusal to do an activity, throwing, biting, hitting,crying, or throwing a tantrum. While we want to be sensitive to a child’s frustrations, we also don’t want to reward the child by paying attention and reacting to these behaviours. Instead we will remove attention and any other preferred items– we will try not to make eye contact, change our facial expression, or respond verbally. The child will soon learn that crying or hitting is not getting them what they want and in the future the challenging behaviours will be minimised. 

Collaboration with ABA Consultants and Teams

collaboratingAlthough we often use basic ABA principles in our sessions, there are still many occasions in which we are unsure of how to deal with certain behaviours and/or a child’s challenging behaviours are impacting upon the child’s success in speech and language therapy. In these instances, it is important to refer the child to a behavioural consultant so that the child can receive tailored support to their needs. Whenever a child has an ABA consultant or ABA team, we will work closely with them to ensure that we are all on the same page. Consistency and collaboration is key to ensuring success in both speech and language therapy and in ABA therapy. While there is overlap between the two fields, we are each experts in our own fields and by working together we can provide the best therapy possible!

Why Teach Across the Verbal Operants?

First of all, should probably say what a verbal operant actually is. B.F. Skinner was a top bloke. His contribution to the field is sensational. In 1957, he wrote a particularly influential book; Verbal Behaviour. In this book, he outlined the verbal operants.

VerbalBehavior

A verbal operant is essentially a unit of language; a broken-down category, a unit of analysis. These verbal operants are often words that people don’t tend to use on a daily basis. Skinner used different words to define them, because his analysis of language was different to most. He looked at the function, and not the structure (which most people looked at, and still do).

 

So, words such as ‘mand’, ‘tact’, and ‘intraverbal’ were born. Here is a table that hopefully simplifies what each one is;

Verbal Operant

Simply Put

Example

Mand A request Saying ‘crayon’ when you want some crayons
Tact Labelling something Saying ‘crayon’ solely because you’ve seen a crayon
Intraverbal Answering questions/conversation skills Saying ‘crayon’ when someone asks ‘what do you colour with?’
Echoic Vocal imitation Saying ‘crayon’ because someone else says ‘crayon’
Textual Reading Saying ‘crayon’ because you saw the written word crayon
Transcription Writing what someone has said Writing crayon because someone said crayon

Arguably the most common views on the development of language are from the field of cognitive psychology (Sundberg in Cooper, Heron, Heward, 2007). So why do we need these words? It’s because Skinner defined them based on their unique function. More common terms that are used (by non ABA folk), are not defined this way. For example, a term such as ‘expressive language’ is often used by other professionals in different fields, but it tends to incorporate areas such as mand, tact, and intraverbal, without defining them separately as different skills. The problem with this is that we then assume some skills are known. Here’s an example to hopefully clear this up, click on this link to access a little table – Antecedent Behaviour Consequence

 

The behaviour in the table is all the same; saying/signing ‘crayon’, but no process is the same because of what came before and/or after the behaviour. They are all different. More typical analysis of learning can assume generalisation across verbal operants, but as many of you reading know, just because you can tact a ball, doesn’t mean you can read the word, mand for a ball, or answer intraverbal questions about a ball; all these things may need to be taught individually. Only then do we ‘know’ ball. 

Other common areas discussed during assessments such as the VB MAPP or ABLLS-R is receptive language (or listener responding), which is where you basically follow an instruction as a listener.

For example, someone says ‘find the crayon’ and you touch the crayon. This is not technically a verbal operant, but it is a category that we teach across. 

 

If you’re a bit of a geek like me, and you want to test yourself, here is a link to an exercise from Cooper, Heron, and Heward’s awesome text-book on ABA – VB Exercise

Guest Blog – What You Need to Know About Teaching Independent Living Skills

Guest blog, boom! This is written by Holly Cowlam, an awesome BCBA in the making who has (almost) finished studying her MSc in ABA at the Tizard Centre. She has recently done a lot of work around self help skills, so it seemed fitting to tag her in! 

Many skills that we come across in our daily lives involve complex sequences of behaviours that are completed fluently and in a specific order to achieve an outcome. Think about your morning routine; every morning you get in the shower, get dressed, make breakfast, eat breakfast and so on. Often we complete these tasks without thinking, unaware even of the steps we are completing to achieve the outcome. Take a minute to break down just one of the components of your shower routine and you will be surprised at just how many skills you need to be able to complete before achieving the outcome. You might first collect each item of clothing from your drawers that you need for the day, then find your towel and head to the bathroom. Before you have even entered the shower you have emitted many different complex behaviours such as opening the correct drawer and selecting your underwear, opening the drawer to get your socks, opening your wardrobe and selecting a shirt and so on… Many children struggle to learn these skills during natural routines, and need extra help and practice to learn to complete the tasks on their own.

 

Behavioural chains

Behaviour analysts describe complex sequences of behaviours as behavioural chains. When you want to have a shower, the completion of each step that leads to the consequence becomes reinforcing due to its instrumental role in reaching the ultimate goal, and the completion of a given step acts as the antecedent or trigger for the you to complete the next behaviour in the sequence until you reach your ultimate goal.

 

                                                                                      Task analysis

task analysisIn order to teach behavioural chains we design task analyses to facilitate teaching, which involves writing a comprehensive list of the steps to achieve the desired outcome. The steps are written with enough detail that someone who doesn’t know how to complete the skill would be able to follow it. We can then systematically teach the steps and take data on performance.

 

Chaining         

One of the most important things to remember when teaching behavioural chains is that we teach individuals the steps in the sequence they occur, without breaks in between each. We want our learners to be fluent in the tasks and be able to complete the skills without any help.

You can teach behavioural chains in a few different ways:

  • Forward chaining: you prompt the first step in the chain and reinforce immediately before completing the rest of the steps yourself (sometimes the learner might be fully guided through the rest of the steps, however this is not a necessity, they may just watch as you complete the rest of the steps for them). Once the individual is reliably completing the target step you will start teaching the next step in the chain and reinforce after the new target step. You continue this process until all the steps have been learnt and are completed in sequence.
  • Backward chaining: you complete the sequence for the learner (or fully guide them through the steps) until you get to the last step which you prompt and then deliver reinforcement for. Once the last step is mastered you can begin to teach the prior step in the chain. You repeat this until all steps are mastered.
  • Total task chaining: you prompt all steps in the chain, by delivering support as and when it is needed for each step. This method may not be appropriate for more difficult or longer tasks. It may also not be appropriate if the learner often displays problem behaviour following demands.
See example of the beginning of a stimulus response data sheet for washing/drying hands (data sheet devised by Carbone Clinic)Wash hands

Prompting

Different prompts can be used to show the learner how to complete each step. Generally prompts are derived from 3 categories:

  • Model: showing the learner what to do and then having them copy
  • Physical: physically guiding the learner to complete steps
  • Gestural and vocal: pointing, tapping, delivering vocal instructions

Generally I would recommend providing a model or physical prompt without any vocal or gestural prompts, as they can be difficult to fade.

Fading prompts

During teaching you should fade your prompts so that the learner can complete the task independently. You can fade the amount of prompt you give e.g. after fully guiding the individual to complete a step you can try only nudging their arm in the direction of the task instead of fully prompting. You could also introduce a time delay to your prompt; so after the learner completes a step a few times with a prompt, on the next attempt you can wait for 5 seconds before delivering your prompt so that they have the chance to complete the step alone. More reinforcement should be delivered for less prompted responses in order to support more independent completion of the task.

Reinforcement

As with any skill or teaching procedure, reinforcement is key. Reinforcement may come in the form of a token, a pat on the back, social praise or in the form of a favoured edible or toy. Be sure that your learner is reinforced for his or her efforts differentially based on less prompted performance of the task. All that means is more tokens, social praise or access to preferred items when the learner completes steps with less prompts.

We only stop teaching and fading our prompts when the learner can complete the skill without anyone else there; this is true independence and will make sure our learners are able to play a valued role in their communities and live independently in the future.

      I love teaching self-help skills; I hope you do too!

Another big thanks for my first guest blogger, Holly Cowlam!

Ind Living Skills References

 

5 Things ABA Professionals Can do to Get a Foot in the Door

For most ABA programmes, the ABA team will be working with other professionals (speech and language, occupational therapists, educational psychologists, schools, nurseries etc) and it’s important to have good relationships with these different fields. These professionals already have an established say in programmes around a child with special educational needs.

In the UK, my experience is that ABA seems to be the least heard voice. In multi disciplinary meetings (EHCP meetings, TAC meetings, IEP meetings etc), the opinion of ABA professionals seems to be the least recognised. I must say, this isn’t always the case, some schools/professionals are more than welcoming. The point is, I believe there are things we can do to help our cause, and make our voice heard more, and our input valued a little more.

Here are 5 things that I have found to be really helpful since going out in to the world as an independent consultant:

1.Pairing

This is literally my favourite thing to do. I love pairing with learners, and finding out exactly what they like; I love the analysis involved. When we train, we learn to pair with our learners, as part of the effective teaching procedures, so we should use this when working with other professionals. What’s the first thing we do? Pair! Get to know other professionals, talk about how you got in to the field, how they got in to the field. Build rapport, and find common ground (even if you’re from different schools of thought). People are much more open to your input if they like you.

2.Network

We must make time to network. I have found that taking time to talk to anyone who will listen about ABA is a seriously valuable tool. Be likeable, pair, and share contact details. Professionals are expected to work together, especially regarding children with additional needs, so why not be the person that other professionals want to work with? Go to different networking occasions, visit different services/provisions, and take a business card. Never underestimate how much of a valuable tool this can be; it’s not what you know…. 

3.Fade in demands

We are keen to get results quickly. However, when we work with learners, and we have paired effectively, we don’t go straight in to teaching new skills, we fade in demands with easy, already mastered skills to build momentum. Then we get on to the hard stuff. Again, why should this be any different with professionals? If the first time you’ve met someone they ask you to do a bunch of things, and change everything you’re doing, you’re not going to be a massive fan. I have seen this happen before, and it’s one way to get people to dread you coming in. It can be frustrating, but as someone once said to me, ‘we can forget what it was like not to know’. Take things slow, fade in your demands, and build on a solid foundation.

 

4.Translate

If you’ve studied ABA, the terminology would have been drilled in to you, and it is useful to know. However, other people don’t talk as we do. We need to master the terminology, and only then can we use everyday language and examples to plainly explain what we mean. Words such as ‘pairing, mand, tact etc’ mean nothing to people outside of the field, or they are known under different terms. I even find terms such as ‘reinforcer’ are used by others, but not in the same way as we know it. We need to translate to others, and market our field in a way that is seductive to others (as Dr Pat Friman explains it).

 

5.Work together

As I mentioned earlier, professionals are often expected to work together. Different professions often have different schools of thought. This doesn’t always have to be a problem. I have found that often speech and language therapists and ABA programmes will share many common goals, we’ll just call them different things. What can happen is that professionals get caught up in which fields’ explanation is right, but is that more about pride than the learner? As long as teaching is good, and the goal is appropriate, then all is well (you can explain an ABA viewpoint the more you get to know the other professionals). If you have input from others, try and think of an ABA perspective of things, for example, if occupational therapists recommend exercises for sensory regulating, and this isn’t something you subscribe to, why not see if you can use these exercises as reinforcers for the learner? Try and work together, expanding each others knowledge, you’ll have to work with each other either way, you may as well get on.

Get used to working with others, and if you’ve followed the above steps, you’ll find yourself in a position to have challenging, but respectful conversations with other professionals, and ask each tough questions, to challenge or understand each others schools of thought. That’ll either expand your knowledge, or make yourself more confident in what you know; win win! Let’s remember the whole reason for this, the benefit of the learner. This is by no means a complete guide to getting ABA on the map more, I’m always finding better ways to achieve this. We should start with the the stuff we already know, use the principles of behaviour that we use with learners everyday, but with adults as well! Getting on with other professionals can open many doors, and you never know how important those doors may be!