14 Reinforcers for Older Learners

This list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully gives some ideas for more age appropriate reinforcers for older learners. 

We should always try and keep things age appropriate, but not at the cost of losing reinforcers altogether!

  • Fruit Ninja
  • Temple Run
  • Flick Kick Football
  • Top Trumps
  • Lego
  • Puzzles
  • Books
  • Music
  • DVD
  • Mini Basketball Hoop
  • Scalectric
  • Nerf Vortex Howler
  • Flying Glider Planes
  • Remote Control Car

 

I’d love some more ideas, so please feel free to comment and add some!

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Manding – A Very Important Target!

This is a juicy one.

Once you’re paired with your learner, you should begin manding. A mand is a request for a desired item/activity/action/information. The word ‘mand’ is derived from ‘demand or command’. This skill area is very important as it allows learners to access their environment and communicate their needs. The more functional requests a learner has, the less likely other, undesirable behaviours will serve the mand function (e.g. crying, whining, hitting etc. in order to get something).

The first thing you should do is to contrive (build) motivation. You should never prompt a mand when there is no motivation (don’t require your learner to say/sign for something unless you’re sure they want it). Some learners will make this obvious; reaching for an item, pointing to something, but others will make you work for it; maybe a subtle look at the item, or simply tolerate it being around.

Sometimes it may take time to build motivation, and you may need to try a variety of items/activities before the learner has motivation to mand. This is fine, be sure to not rush, motivation is really important when teaching a mand repertoire. If the learner isn’t motivated, try and up your game!

Make sure you ‘cleanse the environment’, in other words, don’t have the learners’ favourite things freely available elsewhere, otherwise why do they need to come to you? Keep reinforcers under your control.

Little and often. The smaller/less duration you deliver a reinforcer, the more likely you are to keep motivation high, and get more teaching trials. Say you’re teaching a mand for ‘biscuit’. Break that bad boy in to tiny pieces. One biscuit can go a long way. If each time your learner says biscuit you give them a whole one, you’ll go through loads, and they’ll probably get full pretty quick! 15 trials from one biscuit is better than 1 trial for one biscuit. You must also consider the learner losing motivation if you are too tight-fisted with reinforcement.

Another good habit to take on is to pair (associate) the item with the vocal/sign you require the learner to do. For example, when playing with a ball, repeatedly saying ‘ball’ when you do it; this will increase the likelihood of requesting spontaneously.

Be sure to use differential reinforcement throughou manding. The more spontaneously and independently the learner is manding, deliver more of the reinforcer, and less for weaker responses. Think of it like performance related pay!

The immediacy of the reinforcer is important, the quicker the reinforcer is delivered, the more likely it was because of the behaviour that preceded it (e.g. the vocal/sign), which we want to encourage. Also, the longer you take to deliver the item, the more likely a less desirable behaviour may occur. Deliver the item sharpish.

It’s important to errorlessly teach – don’t let the learner error when manding (leaving it too long before prompting, or manding incorrectly). Prompt as much as needed to respond correctly. It’s important to remember, use the most effective, but least intrusive prompt. Prompt him enough to respond correctly, but don’t over prompt, it’s a very fine line. Over time, prompts can be faded.

Intersperse mands. Don’t teach one at a time. For early learners, work on 5-10 initially. As a general rule, don’t do more than 3-5 of the same mand in a row, mix it up.

This final point gets a mixed review. Don’t choose generalised mands (vague mands, ‘more’, ‘again’, ‘please’). This probably goes against what most people out of the field will advise you to do. But think of it like this….you’re playing with the learner, surrounded by toys – cars, trains, planes, balls – having a good old play. You’re doing loads of cool stuff, having a lovely time, and the learner says ‘more’ or ‘again’. You do what you think the learner wants (1 of the many things you have been doing), but you don’t do what the learner wanted, so they engage in problem behaviour. Bad times. This can all been avoided if we teach specific mands from the off, such as ‘car’, ‘train’, ‘plane’, ‘ball’, notmore’.

I’ve been trained to mostly take trial by trial mand data, recording individual mands as they occur, recording prompt levels, and vocal approximations (if needed) which is definitely needed for those learners who have a developing mand repertoire, especially if you’re trying to shape vocals. Data for this is pretty intense, but it’s necessary. Data is our friend, and ensures we are making the correct decisions for that learner.  

So, get some potential reinforcers together, decide on the mands you want to teach, have fun, and get stuck in!

16 of my Favourite Reinforcers

Over the years, I’ve built a pool of reinforcers that I like to give a go, and most of these are amongst my kit. 28ADDBBE-A6AA-4FF0-A10E-1C66C71B44C5IMG_1428

  1. Crazy Soap
  2. Bionic Putty
  3. Bubble Snake Blower
  4. Fibre Optic Fountain
  5. Bubble Lamp
  6. Balloons
  7. Water Balloon
  8. Moody Squeeze Fa
  9. Water Snake4504DB6A-55A6-43FA-A0F2-46F1B7238669
  10. Hot Water Bottle
  11. Slinky
  12. Expandable
  13. Flashing Bounce Spike
  14. Playdoh
  15. Spinning Top
  16. Bubbles

You can check out more ideas on my amazon list here.

Remember, these are just some ideas, there’s no guarantee they will serve as a reinforcer. Try them in different ways, think about what your learner will like, encourage them to try new things, and have fun!

3 and a ½ Top Assessments – My Favourite Assessments


Assessment days are manic. You never really know how it’s going to go. I arrive, boxes of resources, ready to work my socks off. It can certainly be a struggle fitting a whole assessment in in one day, but it depends on different factors; how much problem behaviour (if any) the learner engages in, and the skill level of your learner.

 

Your consultant should do some form of baseline when they start the programme. I’ve always been trained to design a learners individualised curriculum based on the assessments, using assessment goals to design the programme. This seems like common sense to me, it’s a great way to track goals/progress. I like to update the assessments around every 6 months. I also update them if there will be a change in provision, or sooner than 6 months if there’s been a big jump/regression in the learners’ skills.

 

VB MAPP

VB MAPPI love the VB MAPP. This is my most commonly used assessment. It’s a great assessment to get a good baseline of the learners’ skills and barriers to learning. VB MAPP stands for ‘Verbal Behaviour Milestones Assessment and Placement Program’ (VB-MAPP, Sundberg, 2008), which was largely influenced by B.F. Skinner’s (1957) ‘Analysis of Verbal Behaviour’ (find out more about verbal behaviour here). The VB-MAPP can make it easier to compare the current abilities of a learner to those of a ‘typically’ developing child as it highlights a students’ strengths and weaknesses of a variety of critical skills. The assessment breaks down skills in to small achievable goals, and is split across 3 levels, covering 16 different skill areas. These skill areas comprise of areas such as;

  • Mand – (request)
  • Tact – (label)
  • Motor Imitation
  • Listener responding (following instructions)
  • Intraverbal (fill in statements, answering questions)
  • Social skills
  • Play skills
  • Visual skills
  • Group responding
  • Classroom skills
  • Echoic (vocal imitation)
  • Spontaneous vocal output
  • Listener responding by feature, function, and class
  • Reading 
  • Writing
  • Math

The VB MAPP is awesome

 

ABLLS-R

The ABLLS-R (Assessment of basic language and learning skills- Revised) is another excellent assessment. It is used to assess current levels that the learners are working at, and helps structure the programmes we run with the learners.ABLLS-R

It provides a comprehensive review of skills from 25 skill areas that most typically developing children acquire up to the age of 4 years of age. The goals in the ABLLS-R are usually ‘chunkier’ (larger criteria for mastery), and aren’t as developmentally sequenced as the VB MAPP goals. The ABLLS-R covers some skill areas that the VB MAPP doesn’t, such as self care skills.  When designing individualized curriculum, I like to use goals from the ABLLS-R and VB MAPP together.

 

AFLS

AFLSThe AFLS (Assessment of Functional Living Skills) comes in 6 different books;

  • Basic Living Skills
  • School Skills
  • Home Skills
  • Community Participation
  • Independent Living Skills
  • Vocational Skills

 

The authors define functional skills as ‘commonly age appropriate skills that are used everyday for typical activities and routines and are essential for independence’. Basically, what skills does someone that age need to live as independently as possible.

 

The AFLS was developed over several years analysing which skills are required for daily functioning in various settings and independent life within the community. The assessment was designed to further refine and teach additional skills of independence, social interactions, work participation, and other independent living skills.

 

There is a certain point in a learner’s life when conceptual learning, like sorting shapes and colours, needs to be replaced with specific practical skills required to improve learner’s independence (Partington and Mueller, 2012).

 

This assessment is good to use for learners who are secondary school age, particularly from 16 years old.

 

Essentials for Living

My homework is to look in to this assessment more. A few colleagues talk highly of this, and from what I do know, it’s a good assessment for teenage + learners who have more severe developmental difficulties.efl

 

I’d be interested to hear if anybody recommends any other cool assessments! You can buy these assessments here at Treezy, which is a lovely website for resources!

 

 

References

  • Partington, J and Mueller, M (2012). The Assessment of Functional Living Skills. Pleasant Hill, CA: Behaviour Analysts, Inc; Stimulus Publications
  • Skinner, B. F. (1957). Verbal Behaviour.  New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts
  • Sundberg, M. L. (2008). The Verbal Behaviour Milestones Assessment and Placement Program: The VB-MAPP. Concord, CA: AVB Press.

6 Top Drawer Blogs

  1. Sam Blanco BCBA – http://samblanco.com/blog/

This is a great blog for teaching ideas through play and games. The blogger links goals to the VB MAPP and ABLLS-R, and covers a range of skill areas. Also prices and information about the resources she uses are provided. Cracking resource this blog.

  

  1. Tameika Meadows, BCBA – http://www.iloveaba.com

A very well established blog, with loads of content, a big part of the reason I started writing a blog. A nice user friendly read. Top drawer.

 

  1. Leanne Page, BCBA – http://www.parentingwithaba.org/about.html

Good website with lots of links to helpful resources. Plenty of blog posts to get stuck in to, with guest writers and links to other cool blogs. Lovely stuff.

  

  1. Deborah Leach, BCBA + Jennifer Rodecki, BCBA – http://bringingaba.com/readings/

A good website that includes information about ABA within the classroom. It has some sample lesson plans to teach certain skills. Worth a look!

  

  1. Amanda Kelly, BCBA – http://www.behaviorbabe.com

Awesome website, great branding. Lots of helpful links and resources about ABA. Very prominent on twitter as well! You should definitely get stuck in.

 

6. Kirsty Angel, BCBA – Busy Analytical Bee – https://busyanalyticalbee.com

I’ve been a big fan of this newsletter since day one. Covers lots of interesting topics, has some solid study tips, teaching ideas, resources, and training opportunities, as well as interviews with influential people. On top of all of this, she’s flying the UK flag for ABA. You’ve got to sign up. 

 

I’ll expand this list, as and when I come across more decent blogs/websites. If you have any, please add them in the comments box!

I Love Pairing – 9 Tips to Pair Effectively

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).

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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.

Is ABA all about Punishment?

NO.

This is a tough piece to write, as it’s a bit of a delicate subject to approach, but I thought I may as well get stuck in. 

There is a common misconception about ABA, that it heavily relies on punishment. This is not true.

Two consequences are reinforcement or punishment. Now, punishment is a word that has many negative connotations, but it shouldn’t. Punishment is a consequence that decreases the future likelihood of a behaviour. Punishment as the field of ABA defines it is not as sinister as the general perception of punishment may be. Most views on punishment are probably misguided, uninformed, and/or outdated. Punishment has helped us thrive as a species,and played a big part in all our lives. 

 


The misconception is probably because oDoctor_review_brain_imagesf early research in to punishment in the field of
ABA, when punishment was a lot more common. Times when children would still get the cane at school, or you’d get a ‘clip round the ear’ if you did something wrong. But science evolves, ABA has moved a long way since then, just like people’s beliefs have. Science is always advancing, finding more effective ways to get better results; so is ABA. Whilst I was studying, my supervisor (Gina
Tirri, BCBA) spoke of how doctors aren’t treating all illnesses the way they were treated over 60 years ago, and that they use the most up to date treatments available to them, as do behaviour analysts.

 

Punishment occurs daily for everyone. A punisher is ANYTHING that occurs after a behaviour that reduces the future likelihood of the behaviour;

  • If you eat food that’s too hot and it burns your mouth, and you don’t do the same thing straight after, then the behaviour of eating piping hot food has been punished.
  • If you hit the snooze button too many times and miss your train, and in the future you don’t hit the snooze button, the behaviour of hitting the snooze button has been punished.
  • If a learner is rude to a teacher, they may get a detention, if the learner is less likely to be rude to the teacher again, then the detention was a punisher.

 

Parents would likely reprimand a child if they misbehave, and so would teachers for that matter, to the end that they want them to ‘behave’ more acceptably, learn more effectively, and be kept safe, so they are well equipped for life in the world. So why isn’t it acceptable to shape children with autism’s behaviour? We should have high expectations for our learners.

 

51pm2vhyXSL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The first time I used a punishment procedure was with a young learner during a toilet training protocol (I’ll do another post down the line on the toilet training procedure by Azrin and Foxx). Basically, the child receives positive reinforcement for ‘good toileting practices’, and positive practice (a type of overcorrection – a punishment procedure where you get the learner to do the desired behaviour several times) when there is an accident. I remember feeling sceptical initially. Naturally, I asked questions, and read in to the research. Using reinforcement and punishment was such an effective way to toilet train, and being toilet trained is such a valuable life skill. If faced with the option of a couple of negative experiences or being toilet trained, what would you choose? Sitting around in wet/soiled pants is not dignified, so I know what I’d rather.

 

 

There are 2 types of punishment, positive (the addition of something – verbal reprimand) or negative (the removal of something – response cost). I have been trained to use reinforcement over punishment if possible, but sometimes, punishment may be necessary to decrease challenging/inappropriate behaviour. These could be strategies such as;

  • response cost (removal of something good, e.g. confiscating a learner’s iPad for a short period, or losing playtime)
  • time out [which is commonly misused] (is the withdrawal of the opportunity to earn reinforcement e.g. sitting outside of the ball pit, away from the fun)
  • verbal reprimands
  • over correction (doing the correct behaviour several times)

There are of course more punishment procedures.

 

It’s important to remember that something is only a punisher if the target behaviour decreases, so you shouldn’t be using the same consequence over and over with no change, as it’s actually ineffective. If a child becomes upset when you deliver a consequence, but it doesn’t decrease the target behaviour, then it’s not working as a punisher.

images

 

If using punishment, we should always be reinforcing a desired alternative behaviour. For example, if there was a punishment procedure used for a learner hitting other children during playtime, then we should also be reinforcing playing appropriately with peers. This way we can say things such as ‘play with ……’ rather than ‘stop ….’; give the learner something to do rather than something to don’t.

 

One last thing to consider is the delivery of punishment. I’ve seen teachers send children to the headmaster, and the head will give a verbal reprimand, which it turns out the learner loves, thought it was hilarious, so it’s likely the problem behaviour was actually reinforced! Remember, it’s not about how you mean the consequence to be taken, it’s about the effect on the future likelihood of the behaviour, how it’s received by the learner.

 

I hope this has clarified a subject that is sometimes tiptoed around, and hopefully you will convince others to not jump to conclusions, because in reality, behaviour analysts will only use punishment procedures after careful thought and planning, and always for the benefit of reducing an undesirable behaviour.

Reinforcement didn’t work…

To say ‘reinforcement didn’t work’ doesn’t make sense, if it didn’t increase the future likelihood of a behaviour it wasn’t reinforcement in the first place.

Reinforcement: anything that increases the future frequency of a behaviour.

For consultants and therapists, reinforcement is one of the biggest tools in our box. It will make sessions much more effective, and for parents can make life much easier.

Reinforcement is a consequence, something delivered after a behaviour. We reinforce behaviour, not people. For example, to say
‘I reinforced James for writing a cracking blog post’ would be wrong, we should say ‘I reinforced James’ blog writing behaviour’, and if you wanted to you could add the cracking bit after.

Dispicable me chart copy

Minions tick chart

We should heavily integrate reinforcement with our teaching, it really is so important for the acquisition of new skills. BUT, it has to be used correctly. Firstly, identifying potent
reinforcers. Secondly, reinforce appropriate behaviours. As much as we want to reinforce
socially significant behaviours, I commonly see problem behaviours accessing reinforcement.
Here’s a couple of examples of appropriate and inappropriate reinforcement;

  • I tell a joke, you laugh, I am more likely to tell that joke again – your laughing was reinforcement for my joke telling behaviour.
  • A therapist places a demand on a learner, the learner flops to the floor, the demand is removed, the learner is more likely to flop when a demand is presented – removal of a demand reinforced flopping behaviour.
  • A therapist asks the learner to wave, the learner waves, a preferred toy is presented, the learner is more likely to wave when asked in the future – the toy reinforced the learners waving behaviour.

 

Reinforcement can be positive or negative; this doesn’t mean bad or good. Positive reinforcement is the addition of something to increase the future likelihood of behaviour – think reward (e.g. getting tickled). Negative reinforcement is the removal of something to increase future likelihood of a behaviour – think relief (e.g. taking paracetemol to remove a headache increases the future likelihood of taking paracetemol when you have a headache).

 

I will always strive to teach learners through positive reinforcement, rather than negative reinforcement. If you’re learner is answering demands and then running away from you, then negative reinforcement is likely in play. When you’re learner is coming back for more, you know you’re smashing it!

Positive-Reinforcement-300x300.png 

I’ve found that a common problem with reinforcement is people thinking that what they’re delivering should be reinforcing, but it isn’t actually serving that function. Mind sets such as ‘all kids like sweets’, or ‘who doesn’t like playdoh?’, lead to ineffective attempts at reinforcement.

 

Something else which often happens is that people say ‘well they sat there for ages playing with it, it must be reinforcing’, again not always true. It may be that the learner is happy to have the item, but not to the extent which they are willing to emit an effortful response for it. Accepting something for ‘free’ doesn’t mean it will be a reinforcer. An example; I offer you £10 for free, you’d probably take it, but if I said clean my football boots after every game for a year, the £10 may loose it’s relative value altogether. 

 

Being too conventional can sometimes hold people back. Here are 6 good pointers to help identify reinforcers:

outside box

Think outside the box!

  1. Think outside the box
  2. Relax and have fun
  3. Be a kid
  4. Think about how your learner likes things, not how you like them
  5. Follow the learners motivation
  6. Be determined, don’t get disheartened!

 

I think the key is not letting yourself get complacent, it can be tough sometimes, getting in to routines, using the same items, especially if you’ve worked with the learner for a long time, but challenge yourself to constantly find new reinforcers, and fade it out where appropriate.

A few key things to consider when delivering reinforcement;

  1. Immediacy – deliver it as soon after the target behaviour as you can
  2. Magnitude – how much will you deliver (5 seconds on the iPad vs 30 seconds on the iPad, 1 sweet vs 3 sweets, a tickle vs a tickle, bouncy ball, and bubbles).
  3. Follow the learners’ motivation
  4. Reinforce behaviours, not learners
  5. Reinforce appropriate behaviours

 

Our goal is to equip learners with the skills they need to be an independent learner. In order to do this, it’s likely we’ll have to fade reinforcement over time, so that learning continues through naturally occurring reinforcement (e.g. gold stars, getting 10/10, social praise, merits, house points). This has to be done systematically and monitored carefully.

 

Sometimes we work with learners who make it easy for us, who already have a range of established reinforcers, and even love social praise. But others make us work for it, not liking much, and certainly not making it obvious what they do like. It’s up to us to step up and find out what they like, constantly analysing, trying everything and anything in all possible ways, and trying to build motivation.

 

All of these things may be obvious, and you may say its ‘common sense’, but this can be misused quite often. It is sense, but it’s not always common sense. Effective therapists and consultants will constantly be analysing reinforcement. It really is so important.

 

(Check out Cooper, Heron, Heward, 2014 for more about reinforcement)

What is VB?

So, another abbreviation – VB, what is that? Is it still ABA? How is it different?

VB (also known as VBA, AVB, ABA/VB) stands for verbal behaviour, and it refers to B.F. Skinners analysis of verbal behaviour. It’s all I’ve ever done, so I’m a big fan. Like my previous post, this is a big topic to cover, but hopefully this will give you a brief idea of what it entails.

You don’t do ABA or VB, it’s an additional analysis, so you would use all of the concepts and principles that ABA encompasses, and in addition to that you would use the analysis of verbal behaviour.

bf-skinner-sm

 

B.F Skinner is a top man in the field of ABA, he bought operant conditioning to the table and dedicated a lot of work to defining the process. B.F Skinner took over 20 years to write his book ‘Verbal Behaviour’. If you want to have a little read about his work, click here.

 

 

Consultants that use the analysis of verbal behaviour prioritise the function of language, rather than the structure. So what does that mean? Well, the function of language would be why someone is doing/saying something, and the structure would refer to how it is presented (sentence structure).

Verbal behaviour is probably the most socially significant of all behaviour (remember the
ultimate aim of ABA‘to increase socially significant behaviours’). Typically, a programme which uses the analysis of verbal behaviour will prioritise manding (requesting), as teaching learners to be able to request their favourite things, and access their environment is very important.

Verbal behaviour isn’t just speaking. I would refer to Drinkspeaking as vocal behaviour. Verbal behaviour can be what people say, gesture, sign, or write. For example, saying ‘drink’, writing ‘drink’, signing ‘drink’, or pointing to a drink, are all forms of verbal behaviour. All verbal behaviour must be socially mediated (someone else must be there). For this reason, getting up and getting a drink when you’re by yourself would not be regarded as verbal behaviour.

 

An ABA programme that uses the analysis of verbal behaviour will break down language in to operants. These are the units of language that Skinner defined in his book, Verbal Behaviour (1957). We (followers of the analysis of verbal behaviour) don’t assume that just because a learner can say ‘dog’when they see a dog, it means they can answer a question such as ‘tell me an animal that barks’.VerbalBehavior

The verbal operants are independent of each other, and each have an independent process of learning. We’ll try to make sure that when a target is being taught, such as ‘dog’, that we target it across each verbal operant, so that the learner can label a dog, find a dog, match a picture of a dog, answer questions about dogs etc, to ensure they are fluent across all areas, and understand what they are saying (for the professionals reading this, I’m aware that Skinner didn’t define visual and receptive as verbal operants).

 

The primary verbal operants are:

  • Mand
  • Tact
  • Intraverbal
  • Duplic (imitation, echoic)
  • Textual (reading, dictation)

I’ll post a more in depth explanation of the verbal operants somewhere down the line.

Logistics of a programme that uses the analysis of VB – they will often involve the following effective teaching procedures,

  • Identifying competing reinforcers
  • Pairing
  • Fading in demands
  • Errorless teaching
  • Task variation
  • Fast pace of instruction
  • Intersperse easy and hard instructions

Programmes are often split between natural environment teaching – NET (through play etc) and DTI (discrete trial instruction, or ‘table work’, ITT (intensive table teaching)). NET will focus on generalising skills to everyday situations; there’s no point in teaching
a learner that a picture of a car is a car, if they can’t tell you a toy car is a car during play.

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DTI is intense teaching, which focuses on teaching a few new targets several times, whilst maintaining previously mastered skills. I’ll upload a video at some point. Programmes are at most 50:50 (NET:DTI), but with earlier learners, the majority of time should be spent on NET. Typically, I would recommend changing activity every 15 minutes; this helps keep it fresh, and also gives you plenty of opportunity to work on transitioning. 

There’s so much to say, but nobody wants to read pages and pages of a blog, so if anyone wants any more info, please get in touch. I’ll likely expand on some of what I’ve said in later posts.

For me, ABA and VB is the way forward.  

What is ABA?

As a parent, by the time you hear of ABA, you’re probably fed up of abbreviations. ABA stands for applied behaviour analysis.

I’ll try and translate some of the things you may read, some of the textbook definitions, and help paint a picture of how it may look. Dr Patrick Friman (author of the book Good Night Sweet Dreams I Love You: Now Get into Bed and Go to Sleep – How Tired Parents Can Solve Their Children’s Bedtime Problem) talks about how, as a field, we aren’t that great at marketing what we do, and I think he’s right.

ABA blocksIn a nutshell, ABA is a science dedicated to helping teach learners the skills they need to live a more independent life. These skills will cover domains such as functional communication (vocal, sign, PECS, (which I’m not a huge fan of for the most part, but that’s another post), or augmented communication devices), social skills, conversation skills,
play skills, group skills, self help skills, imitation, labelling, and many more. An ABA programme is typically made up of skills from several of the areas listed above, and tailored to the skill deficits of the learner. It will teach skills that ‘typically developing’ children often pick up without intensive teaching.  

These skills should be taught in fun and creative ways to help the learners access as much of their environment as possible. Sessions should involve identifying and following the learner’s motivation and reinforcing desirable behaviours. Some people talk about ’40 hours a week’, which was discussed in the Lovass 1987 paper, but I have overseen programmes that are 10 hours per week, and seen good progress; it depends on the learner.

Learners should learn because they want to, not because they have to

A main goal of ABA is to teach socially significant behaviours. It is a science devoted to the understanding and improvement of human behaviour. This means that targets of the programme should identify behaviours of importance to the learner and their family to increase (within reason). A programme should also, where appropriate, decrease undesirable behaviours by analysing why the problem behaviour is happening (the function).

Data

ABA programmes are data led and aim to demonstrate reliable relationships between their interventions and the behavioural improvements; which has led to a ‘mature body of scientific knowledge, established standards for evidence-based practice, distinct methods of service, recognised experience and educational requirements for practice, and identified sources of requisite education in universities.’ (bacb.com). This means that the ABA tutor that’s working 1-1 with the learner will be taking a range of data, such as ABC data (data on problem behaviour), and probe data (data on targets being taught), and at the end of the session they’ll spend some time plotting the data.

What about the logistics? Each ABA programme should have a BCaBA (board certified assistant behaviour analyst), or BCBA (board certified behaviour analyst) consultant overseeing it. Some are more involved than others, some have supervisors (who are usually studying towards board certification). The consultants will generally be responsible for designing the individualised programme, analysing data, training tutors and parents, updating goals, and maintaining good levels of communication between the team. You can search for consultants in your area here. The ABA tutors would act as the 1-1, and implement the programme that’s been designed. Some consultants will provide tutors, or take responsibility of recruitment, and some won’t. There are different places you can look to recruit tutors, such as the ABA UK Yahoo Group, VB Community, ABA Tutorfinder, and different ABA groups on Facebook. Dshutterstock_226205743.jpgepending on the competency of the tutors, and needs of the learner will dictate how often, and how long for, the consultant will visit. ABA sessions may occur at home, in the nursery (if the provision is OK with it), or at school (again if the provision allow it). Personally, I think if you can be around other children, then you should be. I’m not a big fan of teaching in heavily neutral, quiet, non-stimulating environments, as that isn’t real life. Once you’ve recruited some tutors (you should probably look to get at least 2 to aid generalisation of skills), and a consultant, an assessment will be carried out. This will guide the design of the programme. After this the consultant will normally hold an initial training day (may be 2 or 3 days depending on the experience of the tutors). From this point, the consultant will make monthly visits*.

How long will I need an ABA programme? It really depends on the learner and the team around him. The goal of ABA will be to equip the individual with the skills needed to be an independent learner as soon as is appropriate. This can be frustrating to hear as it’s not time specific, but it’s very difficult to predict the future that far ahead.

From asking parents I work with how they found out about ABA, most report it was self searched, not easy to come across, and usually one of the last ports of call. Why aren’t other professionals (paediatricians etc) forth coming with this? How many schools know about this super effective way of teaching? Maybe they do, but I just don’t know about it? As I mentioned in my first blog post, ABA feels like the best kept secret.

ABA is huge in the USA, with 44 states having insurance cover ABA. Why so far behind here then? Is it simply the cost under the guise of ‘not enough research’? That would certainly seem odd seeing as ABA is a field founded on research

I’m going to follow up with a post about the analysis of verbal behaviour, and ‘what is VB?’ as this is likely to be a term you hear, and an analysis I make use of.

There is of course, so much to mention in this section, and I hope I’ve covered enough to give you a little more info about ABA. If anybody would like more information on this, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. All I want to do is spread the ABA love.

*This is what I observe to be the average structure, but it may vary.

(Info used from Cooper, Heron, Heward, 2014)