How to Sort Yourself Out – Self Management

Hopefully by now (if you’ve read any previous posts), you should have a little baseline knowledge about some of the principles of ABA. In this post, I’ll discuss a slightly different application of the principles – using them on yourself for your own behaviour.

 

I recently saw Aubrey Daniels in London, king of OBM (organisational behaviour management, which uses the principles of ABA in business and staff/performance management), and he spoke quite a bit about self management.

 

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Here’s a picture of (from left to right) Amy Lewis BCaBA, Mikaela Green BCBA, Lesley Love BCaBA, Aubrey Daniels, and me

 

Cooper, Heron, and Heward (2007) (the ABA bible) define self management as ‘the personal application of behaviour change tactics that produces a desired change in behaviour‘. Put it this way, have you ever left yourself a note to defrost something for dinner, or left a note to call someone back, or set a reminder on your phone to get something from the shop? That’s self management. I constantly set myself reminders, flag emails, write myself notes, it keeps me organised and prompts me to do the things I need to do.

 

Self management can help you be more effective and efficient in daily life, accomplish targets, achieve personal goals, and replace bad habits with good ones (Cooper, Heron, Heward, 2007).

 

A good way to implement self management, is planning contingent reinforcement. Contingent means that you only get the reinforcement if you emit the target behaviour. An example would be, ‘write 500 words of an essay, and then I can go and get some chocolate’ (I used stuff like this loads when I was studying (I still do as well)). Another example is, respond to all of my flagged emails, and I can watch a recorded tv programme. I can only do these things if I achieve my target. 

 

Aubrey Daniels recommended this book on self management.

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I was recently talking to a friend of mine, who has started studying again, and we were discussing ways in which he could complete his work more efficiently. It’s true, if you work hard, you have to play hard, this basically means that your reinforcement (play) has to be relative to your response effort (work) (e.g. money is probably a reinforcer for most people, but £1 for a days work isn’t likely to increase any behaviour!). So we discussed possible reinforcers for reaching a pre determined target (watching football, going to the cinema, going for a drink, get a nice meal), and talked about how we must be disciplined in self reinforcement; it could be so easy to not reach the target and do what you want anyway. 

 

So , why not give it a go. If you’re forgetful, set yourself some reminders/leave yourself some notes. If you have a lot of work on, think of something you want to do (a reinforcer), set yourself a reasonable target, and make reinforcement contingent (no cheating!).

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Make the Most of Behaviour Analysis

Behaviour analysis is so much more than the amazing work we do with individuals with autism. It’s reach is far and wide. We are all, everyone of us, governed by the principles of behaviour, and this is utilised in many fields.

There is so much to learn, and I still am, and constantly will, learn new things. During my time studying for board certification, I was interpreting everything I was learning in to the work I did in an ABA school (Treetops, Essex). But there came a time that it started to all become overwhelming because I was realising that it was more than what I did at school. I started to realise that I could use all of the principles of behaviour to explain daily routines and interactions. 

Some areas that behaviour analysis is used in are:

  • Autism
  • Gambling
  • Addiction
  • Sports
  • Business
  • Robotics
  • Animals
  • Crime and forensics

…and many more. I strive to use the principles in everything I do, especially when it comes to parent and staff training, and working with others outside of the field. I’m always looking to improve. I also try as much as possible to use self management strategies to shape my own behaviour, and keep myself motivated and organised! Anything that involves behaviour, that’s our game.

So there you go, just in case you didn’t know, the field of behaviour analysis is massive!

 

7 Teaching Procedures to Smash ITT

Table work, ITT (intensive table teaching), DTT (discrete trial training), are all ways of talking about working at the table.

 

The following teaching procedures are taken from the excellent Carbone et al (2010) paper. These teaching procedures will make table sessions, and pretty much all teaching, more effective. Most importantly, they get your learner to learn because they want to, not because they have to!

1. Pairing and Manding

When beginning a table session, pairing and manding is your first priority. You should present an array of reinforcing items for ‘free’ (no requesting necessary). Then it’s your job to follow your learner’s motivation, see what they are most motivated for among the items that are presented. To be sure that the item will function as a reinforcer, you should require them to mand for it, if they are willing to ask for it, then is most likely a reinforcer. This process helps you identify effective reinforcement for your table session, which is essential to promote good responses, and also decreasing the likelihood that your child will engage in escape motivated problem behaviour.

 

2. Stimulus Fading

Another method to prevent escape motivated problem behaviour (crying, whining, flopping etc when demands are placed) is to fade in the amount of demands. This will be relative to your child’s VR. A Variable Ratio schedule of reinforcement has been found to be the best schedule to maintain steady rates of responding (sorry got carried away there, but it is a juicy science). A VR is basically how many demands you can place before your learner loses interest. You should start at the lower end of your learners’ VR, for example if your learner has a VR of 2, you should start with 1 demand then reinforce, and increase the amount of demands each time until you reach the higher end of the VR which would be no more than 4. If the learner’s VR is 10, stick between 5 and 20 (half below, double above). It’s not just about the amount of responses; you should also fade in the effort and difficulty of responses (don’t probe acquisition skills (skills you’re teaching) too soon).

 

3. Differential reinforcement

If your learner responds well (not making errors, or getting a ‘yes’ on the probe (the first time you ask them)) then you should reinforce more. You can do this in various ways, either longer duration of an activity (e.g. giving your learner longer on the iPad), more than one reinforcer (e.g. iPad, slinky, and bubbles), or a higher quantity of a reinforcer (e.g. 3 crisps instead of 1). Equivalently, if your learner responds poorly (e.g. errors frequently on mastered targets, or gets a ‘no’ on a probe) then you should deliver less reinforcement. This process is referred to as differential reinforcement. Think of it as ‘performance related pay’.

 

4. Errorless Teaching

Throughout a table session you should minimise errors (your learner responding incorrectly) as much as possible. Frequent errors increase the likelihood of escape-motivated behaviour.

If your child errors this is the error correction procedure you should follow: –

 

Re-state the SD (the demand)

Prompt response

 

Re-state the SD

Fade on your prompt

 

Distracter (between 1 and 3 previously mastered skills)

 

Re-state the SD

Fade again on prompt if needed/let child respond independently

 

Effective prompting will also help minimise errors. You should follow the prompt schedule of most to least (go in with a higher prompt and fade as needed). Your prompts should be the most effective and least intrusive you can do. Remember to prompt as much as necessary to ensure a correct response while not over prompting when not needed. Each trial you run will be different. Don’t fade if you think an error is likely.

 

5. Pace of Instruction

Another teaching procedure to consider when at the table is the pace of instruction. A fast pace of instruction is important as it prevents the likelihood of escape motivated problem behavior. Using short ITI’s (inter trial intervals – the time between the learners last response and your next demand) gives less opportunity for problem behavior to occur, and also provides socially mediated reinforcement for your learner quicker. It is also worth paying attention to your learner’s latency (how long it takes your learner to respond to your demand) to responding, the longest time between a demand and a response should be 2 seconds, and anything longer should be error corrected. Basically, don’t hang about, get it done well and in a timely fashion.

 

6. Intersperse Instructions

When teaching a target at the table, you should be using a master pile; these are skills that have previously been mastered. The mastered targets are regarded as ‘easy’ tasks, and acquisition targets are regarded as ‘difficult’ tasks. Difficult tasks have been found to be associated with a worsening set of conditions due to higher errors, more effort, and less reinforcement (basically new targets are harder). It’s important to intersperse difficult tasks within the easy tasks – 80% easy, 20% difficult to help prevent this. This (hopefully) ensures loads of success.

 

7. Mix and Vary Tasks

This is short and simple. Research has shown if you repeat the same task over and over again, it’s boring! This can lead to an increase in escape-motivated behaviour. So mix demands across different verbal operants; listener responding, imitation, tact, intraverbal, visual etc.

 

I hope this all makes sense. I’m hoping to get a video of this to post it in action.

Smash ITT.

Reflexive MO article – Carbone + Tirri

Challenging Behaviour – Part 2

When working on reducing problem behaviour you need to be sure to deny any reinforcement related to the antecedent when problem behaviour occurs.

 

Here are some common reasons challenging behaviour may occur, with typical consequences we should deliver in brackets;

  • Lack of effective communication (requests) (the ‘count and mand’ procedure could be used for this)
  • Avoidance/escape of demands (follow through with reasonable demands)
  • Sensory reinforcement is valuable (block and re-direct)
  • Wanting attention (ignore)
  • Having to wait (continue to wait until the learner has waited appropriately)
  • Being told no (continue to deny access to what the learner wanted)
  • Being interrupted from a preferred activity/having to transition (continue to interrupt /transition)

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It’s also important to reinforce appropriate alternative behaviours where we can. This,
coupled with ensuring the appropriate consequence is delivered if problem behaviour does occur, will most likely reduce problem behaviours faster.

 

Here are some of the best ways to do this;

  • Lack of effective communication (requests) – teach mands, the more spontaneous mands a learner has in their repertoire, the less likely they are to engage in other, less desirable, challenging behaviours.
  • Avoidance/escape demands – implement an appropriate schedule of reinforcement that competes with the motivation to avoid/escape. Chances are, if there is a lot of problem behaviour when demands are placed, your reinforcement needs to be better.
  • Sensory reinforcement is valuable – teach an appropriate behaviour to achieve sensory reinforcement (e.g. if your learner swipes things off of a table to see them fall, teach them to build blocks and knock them down instead).
  • Wanting attention – teach to request attention appropriately (tap on arm, saying someone’s name).
  • Having to wait – initially provide reinforcement during periods the learner is expected to wait (as long as there is no problem behaviour), and fade reinforcement gradually over time (as long as the learner is waiting successfully).
  • Being told no – provide alternatives as long as there is no problem behaviour (you can’t have chocolate, but you can have some raisins).
  • Being interrupted from a preferred activity/having to transition – use promise reinforcers (provide something the learner wants, initiate the interruption and immediately deliver reinforcer in the absence of problem behaviour).

 

This is a very brief snippet of what could be done, and there are comprehensive protocols for working on a range of problem behaviours, that should be overseen by a BCBA/BCaBA, with thorough data being taken.

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.

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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)