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!

Go on, Get Stuck in – 12 Messy Play ideas

Messy play is a right good laugh.

It can serve many functions, whether it be a good pairing activity, a reinforcer, a good manding session, desensitising learners to textures, encouraging them to eat, and even incorporating goals through NET. It can all be done, and I for one, thoroughly enjoy getting a bit messy. 

Pinterest is awesome for checking out some good ideas. I’ve got a cheeky little ABA board you can check out here for some ideas, amongst other things. 

More often than not, you’ll have things that are lurking in the back of your cupboard that can be used. My favourite activity is so simple, and consists of 2 ingredients; 1 cup cornflour and half cup soap (or shower gel, shampoo etc). Mix them together, and boom, you’ve some lovely putty/dough style substance, which smells lovely!

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Here are other some ideas;

  • Oats
  • Water and cornflour
  • Rice
  • Pasta (cooked or uncooked, and you can use gluten free) 
  • Crazy Soap
  • Paint
  • Sand
  • Water play
  • Jelly
  • Ice
  • Foil
  • Water beads

 

Combining a bunch of these can go to next level sorts of fun.

Before I finish up, here’s a couple of ideas on how you can teach some different goals within messy play. 

  • Mands – teach hands for all resources you use, and actions for them (e.g. water, soap, pour)
  • Tact – labelling different items and actions within the activity (e.g. water, soap, pouring)
  • Imitation – imitate actions within messy play (e.g. imitate sprinkling rice, pouring water, sliding ice)
  • Visual – match different items within messy play (e.g. match red cup to red cup)
  • Listener Responding – ask the learners to carry out actions/find objects within messy play (e.g. can you splash? Pour the water, find the cup)
  • Independent play – increase duration of independent play activities 
  • Intraverbal – whilst playing, saying and filling in different actions (e.g. you splash the ….water)

You can do all of this, whilst having a really good time. So go on, get stuck in.

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.