Pairing is a great chance to get to know what your learner likes, and how they like it. It’s a time to be creative, and try things you may not usually do.
When I started at Treetops, pairing was the first thing they said I should do. I had no idea what pairing entailed, but they said ‘just have fun’. In the simplest explanation it is ‘having fun’ but it an analytical way (wow, analytical fun sounds boring).
Pairing is a great chance to be a big kid!
You should give reinforcers freely, with only the expectation that the learner stays with you. Place very few demands, keep reinforcers under your control (not freely accessible), and help the learner realise that the most fun can be had when you are around. We want our learners to be running too us, not away!
There’s no time frame for pairing, it’s taken me 30 minutes before, and with some learners I don’t think I’ve ever fully paired with, each learner is different, and there are many variables to consider. We should adapt to our learners, some children love really enthusiastic therapists, and others prefer calmer approaches.
The process of pairing is based on stimulus stimulus pairing, the process of taking a neutral stimulus (the therapist) and associating them (pairing) with established reinforcers (learners’ favourite items).
Here are 9 tips to help you pair with the learner more effectively;
- Be fun – if you’re not having fun, chances are your learner isn’t.
- Relax – you’ll have more fun if you do!
- Variety – use everything and anything at your disposal (including household items you can make fun).
- Prepare – to an extent anyway, plan some fun activities, but don’t be disappointed if your learner isn’t interested (which can be devastating if you’ve spent time setting something up).
- How does your learner like it? – you may set painting up with paint brushes etc, but maybe your learner wants to foot paint?
- Go with the flow – mostly anyway, it’s important to follow your learners’ motivation, but you also don’t want them to dictate everything!
- Be a giver not a taker – freely deliver lots of awesome things to your learner (for items such as a bouncy ball, you’re probably thinking ‘how can I get that back?’ Just offer something else the learner wants whilst taking back the bouncy ball, that way you’re still ‘giving’ even though you’ve taken back the ball).
- Model – whether you work with a vocal learner or a signer, model the sign and/or vocal when delivering the items (remember, it’s not a requirement for the learner to emit a response (mand) during the pairing process, but if they do, deliver lots of the reinforcer).
- Analyse – make notes of things your learner likes and dislikes, how they like it, how you can build on it, whether you’ll target them as mands etc. get to know your learner!
Another useful point to remember is that pairing isn’t permanent. If you’ve been on a school holiday, your learners not been well, or there’s been a big incident of problem behaviour, then it may be necessary to go back to pairing temporarily. It’s always good to start the session with some pairing.
Pairing is so important, and shouldn’t be seen as something to rush through and get to the learning. This is the time you’ll get the learner to want to learn! Have fun. Smash it.