Hi and welcome to “What Works Wednesdays” where we share a success story from one of our clinical cases. All names have been changed to preserve the privacy of the child and family. Our intent is to show readers how successful ABA can be.
Today’s success story is about Grace and Sophia, two school-aged girls (7 years an 10 years) who were giving their parents and after-school tutor headaches. The girls engaged in a screaming, tantrums, fighting, back-talk, and non-compliance. Their behaviors were so bad that the tutor had threatened to quit if something didn’t change fast.
A quick observation of the scene on two or three different days allowed us to see some antecedents and consequences that may have been contributing to the homework headaches. First, the girls came off the bus without any plan. Sometimes they played outside, sometimes they watched television, sometimes they had snack, and other times they started homework right away. Second, when the girls misbehaved, each of them received a great deal of attention from the tutor as she lectured them about how and why they needed to behave. When he behaviors escalated to a high enough point, one or both parents swept in to save the poor tutor. The parents intervened by threatening loss of consequences, yelling about how badly the children behaved, or simply instructing the children to “cut it out and get to work”.
Once we assessed the situation, we developed a plan. All good behavior plans consist of antecedent modifications (antecedents are the events that happen before the behavior), the identification of target or replacement behaviors, and modifications of consequences (the events that happen after the behavior).
Right away, we asked the parents to develop a consistent homework routine. Because of their ages and different needs, one child ate her snack first and then played for 30 minutes before starting homework. The older child ate her snack while organizing her homework. Both girls had the responsibility of putting backpacks, shoes, and lunch boxes away prior to commencing any other activity.
We asked the parents, if they were home and not on a conference call, to come in immediately after the bus and give lots of positive attention. We instructed the parents to remain out of the room during all outbursts, tantrums, an inappropriate behavior. We also asked the parents to come in and give the children praise for any good behavior they observed (sitting, working, staying on task, etc).
Target and Replacement Behaviors
Instead of focusing on how rotten or awful the children were, we asked the tutor to focus on how wonderful the girls were. We identified several behaviors that she wanted to see more of:
- sitting during homework
- attending during instruction
- working when asked
- working without yelling
- asking for assistance without crying or yelling
- putting personal items away without being asked
Changes to Consequences
We implemented a token system for the girls. Each girl had a sticker chart. When the sticker chart was full, the girls could trade it in for $.50 they could deposit in to their bank account. Stickers could be given out freely by either parent or the tutor. We asked that whoever awarded the sticker to take extra care and identify exactly which target behavior resulted in the sticker award.
- “excellent Sophia. You started work without yelling.”
- “wonderful Grace, you put your lunch box away.”
We implemented a brief time-out procedure for Grace, who loved television. We made 10-minute TV Time coupons. Each day at the beginning of homework, the parents identified how many minutes of TV time were available (30 minutes or 60 minutes). Each time that Grace involved in yelling, screaming, tantrumming, back-talking, or non-compliance, the tutor removed one of the coupons.
Within 2 days, the frequency of inappropriate behaviors decreased to zero! The behaviors have maintained for 6 weeks with no signs of reversing. Congratulations to Grace and Sophia for your homework progress. Congratulations to your parents and tutor for helping you do it.
Readers, please share. What strategies do you use during homework sessions? What works for your children? Behavior analysts, what strategies have you used? How well did they work?