Archive for January, 2012

In the course of our clinical work, we experience of number of odd rituals or strange feeding behaviors in our clients. One of the behaviors we address through the course of intervention is tantrumming, crying, or refusing to eat food after it has touched another food.

Remember, we serve children with and without disabilities so today’s post is not just about autism. To prove it, we have two cartoons. You see, cartoons demonstrate that these types of behaviors are common place–or how else would the theme end up in a cartoon?

Please share? Is this your child? Do you have plates with compartments to prevent meal time tantrums? Do you cook extra food in the event that you have to replace “dirty” or “contaminated” food?

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We recently received a request to discuss how to teach academic skills. Thanks Ann! It was a great idea! Yesterday, we described one child’s progress toward academic goals. So today, we thought we would review a peer-reviewed research study on teaching academics.

Kristen Mayfield and Timothy Vollmer authored the article titled, “Teaching Math Skills to At-Risk Students Using Home-Based Peer Tutoring”. The Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis published the study and you may find a copy of the article here. The Journal published several studies on academics in that same issue so if you like this article, you may also enjoy the others.

The authors stated two purposes for their study. The first purpose was “to evaluate whether academic gains could result from a peer-tutoring intervention that did not include many of the common structured components of effective classroom-based peer tutoring.” The second purpose was to “implement peer tutoring with previously maltreated children.”

Four children participated in the study. Two of the children lived with relatives while two other children lived in group homes for children placed out of home. The children ranged in age from 9 years to 16 years. The children were enrolled in general education, special education, and special/alternative schools. An interesting twist in this study is that the children served as tutors to each other.

Throughout the study, the children received a penny for each correct answer on a worksheet. Towards the end of the study, one of the children needed more reinforcement and she received $1.00 per worksheet with 100% correct responding. The children used their money to buy preferred items from the experimenter.

In baseline, the experimenter asked the children to complete worksheets. The children received no formal instruction but they did receive pennies for correct responding. During intervention, called tutoring by the authors, the experimenter tutored a child on a skill using prompting and reinforcement. When the tutoring session ended, the child completed the worksheet. When the child completed the worksheet with 100% accuracy, the child then became a peer tutor and taught another child in the same way.

The authors used an experimental design called multiple baseline. This design proves that the child responds to the intervention but it also proves that no other intervention is responsible for the change.

All 4 children showed an increase in skills as a result of intervention. Additionally, the children maintained their math skills even after intervention stopped.

Techniques in Applied Behavior Analysis are effective for teaching a variety of skills and they are effective with everyone, regardless of age or ability.

Please share, do any of your children receive tutoring using ABA techniques? Are any of your children working on academic skills as part of their ABA program?

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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 Nathan. We have already written about Nathan’s success with feeding intervention. But today, we will focus on Nathan’s success with academic intervention. We cannot take full credit for Nathan’s growth as he attends The Speech Academy during the day. We know he is working on reading and math there.

None the less, we teach specific academic skills in the afternoons and evenings and we use ABA to do it. In the area of math, his parents want him to learn basic addition. An observational assessment revealed that Nathan was not able to count out a specific number of items. Nathan, can however, count items and correctly identify orally how many items exist. So, we set out to teach Nathan to count items. We started with “make 1”. We place a 1 at the top of the instructional area and we give Nathan stimuli with an instruction to “make 1”. When Nathan places one item under the 1, we ask him to count. He counts the 1 item and we reinforce. When Nathan was able to do this 90% of opportunities with no prompts, we moved on to “make 2”. When Nathan was able to do make 2 correctly with no prompts, we began presenting “make 1” and “make 2” in random rotation.

For reading, we started Nathan on Dolce grade 1 sight words. We started with receptive identification. We took the words and placed them in a field of 2. We asked Nathan to point to ____. When he was able to successfully identify words in a field of 2, we moved the word to a field of 3. Nathan has learned to identify almost all the words on the list. Our next step is to have him read the words he knows receptively. We taught this using most to least prompting to ensure success. We systematically faded prompts until he could identify the word independently. We also used reinforcement when he correctly responded. We faded reinforcement so that Nathan received a token for correct responding. When he earned 5 tokens, he could take a brief break.

In addition to sight words, we are teaching Nathan phonics. We have started with the “at” family. We first taught him to read the word “at”. Then we started teaching him how to make different words by adding a letter. We gave Nathan a field of 3 letters (including the letter b) and asked him to make “bat”. Initially, we prompted to ensure 100% correct responding and then we faded prompts until he could do the skill independently. We used reinforcement as we described with sight words.

Nathan has made such great progress since we started ABA with him in July. He is speaking loudly and in longer sentences. He is counting and correctly identifying numbers 1-15. He is learning to read. He is completely toilet trained with almost no accidents. He is learning to dress himself.

We know this is all hard work for Nathan, his parents, and his therapy team. They all deserve a loud cheer for their hard work. Keep up the great work everyone!

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People without formal training in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) may have misconceptions about what it is and how it may be used. Thus, today we will list some of those misconceptions and explain why they are inaccurate. We must first, however, credit Mary McEvoy (Missy’s doctoral advisor) for first discussing these misconceptions.

The Goal of ABA is to remove problem behavior.

Sadly, many people often think that the goal of ABA is to simply remove problem behavior. Certainly, one goal of ABA is to address challenging behavior but there are other goals. Specifically, behavior analysts strive to increase desirable behaviors. These behaviors may include language skills, social skills, and academic skills.

Behavior analysts also strive to maintain behaviors. Our goal after teaching a new skill is to get that skill to maintain over time without reliance on teachers or other adults.

Finally, behavior analysts are also interested in getting behaviors to occur in new settings, with new people, and with different materials. We call this generalization. New skills are not helpful if the new skills are not used in all possible settings and contexts.

In summary, behavior analysts have goals of increasing new appropriate behaviors, decreasing challenging behaviors, maintaining appropriate behaviors, and generalizing behaviors.

In ABA, we have to give children things they like.

Some people believe that behavior analysts only give children things they like. This is partially true. When we first begin teaching a new skill or behavior, we often use reinforcers (things children like). Early in an ABA program, we may rely more heavily on frequent reinforcement (e.g., after every teaching episode). However, a good ABA program will work to fade out reinforcement so that reinforcers are not used all the time. For example, a child may be given a token for work and after 10 tokens are earned, the child may have a short break to play or relax. Eventually, the child will learn to work without any tokens and this is commonly seen in school when a child completes a worksheet before taking a break to play on a computer.

Behavior analysts also remove things that children do not like. If a child is offered a cookie and the child says, “no thank you”, the cookie would be removed. Many children do not enjoy work. Thus, work is often removed for a brief period following appropriate behavior.

We would be remiss if we did not mention that behavior analysts also give children things they do not like and we remove things they like. Both of these strategies are often used to address challenging behavior.

In summary, behavior analysts are givers and takers. We give children things they like, we take away things they do not like, we give children things they do not like, and we remove or take away things they like.

ABA is really just bribery.

First, we would like to define bribery for our readers. Bribery is the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of something of value for the purpose of influencing the action of an official in the discharge of his or her public or legal duties (the free dictionary dot com).

Clearly, we are not bribing children. We would also like to point out that each and every one of you who holds a job receives payment for your work. You are not bribed to do your job, you are paid. As much as you may enjoy your job, you would not show up to work day after day if you did not receive a paycheck. Behavior analysts call that reinforcement. Your work is reinforced by the money you receive in return for it.

We use the same principles for children. We teach them to work for a specific consequence. Ultimately, we want them to do their school work because they enjoy receiving good grades but even a grading system is contrived.

ABA is only used for people with disabilities.

Applied behavior analysis is a technology that has been used successfully on children with and without disabilities. The technology has also been applied to adults with and without disabilities. Good behavior analysts use techniques on their own children, spouses, and family members. ABA providers should also use ABA techniques with their employees and clients.

Most people think of ABA as an intervention for autism. However,  ABA has been used in a variety of areas. For example, an entire group of behavior analysts exist who use ABA techniques in the work force. You may read more about Organizational Behavior Management here or here.

ABA and “The Lovaas Method” are the same.

Many people wrongly assume that when a person uses ABA they are essentially doing the Lovaas Method. We want to clarify that ABA is a technology that incorporates a variety of strategies including prompting, shaping, chaining, reinforcement, data collection, and data analysis. Typically, when people refer to the Lovaas Method, they are referring to the use of Discrete Trial Training in an intensive manner (e.g., 40 hours per week). We do not want to imply that the Lovass Method does not use other principles of ABA. Any good ABA program will utilize all technologies available.

ABA can be learned simply by reading about it.

Finally, some people believe that they can learn about ABA by reading a good book on it. While reading about ABA will certainly help you understand it better, you will most likely not be proficient in its use. We recommend a complete training program (e.g., such as one listed on the BACB website or a formally accredited program) combined with extensive practice in the implementation of ABA procedures. The experiential program must be supervised by a behavior analyst with training and experience in the same area of practice as well as with training and experience supervising new behavior analysts.

We hope this helps dispel some of the myths about ABA. Are there others? Please share them with us!

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