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!

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!