Archive for May, 2012

For the past 3 years, I (Missy) have been trying to get the Bonus Kids addicted to reading like I was as a child. It is quite a difficult challenge when you have to compete against other reinforcers such as television, iPads, and DS-es.

Reinforcement Works!

I thought I had tried everything. But then, I remembered that I am a behavior analyst. Hello! As behavior analysts, we change behaviors.

In this scenario, I did not need to teach the girls to read, their teachers had already done that. I wanted them to want to read. I needed to make reading reinforcing. How do you do that? You read a darn good story and get them hooked on it. We started with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. (You can read my review here). It was a hit. Our night-time reading ritual took off!

Then, we started “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret“. The girls begged me to read each night (instead of begging for television!). I have to admit, I found the book challenging at times. For example, I tried to ad lib over the part about Playboy but Beanie was reading over my shoulder and caught me. “That’s not what it says!” Then she wanted to know, “What is Playboy?” How is that for a bed time conversation?

We definitely had a cool moment when we came across the daily exercise and chant, “We must, we must…..” When Baby Cakes told her Nana about it, Nana finished the chant before Baby Cakes could! Baby Cakes was shocked that Nana knew The Chant! (You see, that is what is so amazing about Judy Blume. She writes timeless stories. Events in her book resonated across 3 generations of women. We were 3/4 of the way through the book when Beanie asked, “When was this book written? Margaret hasn’t talked about her iTouch or iPad.”)

As I read the final pages of the book, I got choked up when I came to the phrase, “I GOT IT!”. I looked up and Beanie was wiping away a few glistening tears. Thank you Judy Blume for helping me love books and for helping my Bonus Girls begin to love them too.

Most Reinforcing Books for Children?

So, now I need help from our readers. Please share some of the titles of the most reinforcing books for children. I need to grow our “To Read” list so that I can keep those reinforcers coming.

We are linking up again this week over at yeah write. We prefer to hang out. Hop on over there and check out the other blogs. If you are up for a challenge, you should also check out the challenge grid. Don’t forget to vote on the challenge grid on Thursday.
read to be read at yeahwrite.me

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Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (2011) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973), a disability is a physical or mental disability that affects a major life activity. What is a “Major Life Activity”?

  • eating?
  • toileting?
  • walking?
  • playing with your family?

Until a disability affects you or one of your immediate family members, you have no idea how great of an impact it is. Try to imagine having to help someone eat 3 meals a day, plus snacks, day after day, after day. Words cannot describe how a “normal” family is affected. Eating out in restaurants? Sorry, we can’t do that. Going on a bike ride? Sorry, we can’t do that either.

Well, we couldn’t do that until just recently. You see, my (Missy) brother has a disability–well, let’s be honest–multiple disabilities (autism, cognitive disability, seizure disorder, mild cerebral palsy). Those disabilities affect many of his life activities as well as some of our family’s activities. Something as simple as riding a bike was too difficult for him. We tried those “special” bikes but since he cannot steer or use the braking system, bike riding just wasn’t possible for him.Plus, how could you get that bike on the bike rack? Sure, this tricycle/bicycle probably works for some people–it just didn’t work for us.

Enter, the Caboose Trailer Bike. This bike attaches to the back of an adult bike. Surely you have seen toddlers riding at the rear of bikes. This bike is similar except that it has two wheels at the back for added stability. The rider does not need to steer or brake. However, the rider has handle bars and fully functioning pedals to enable him or her to participate.

We ordered right from Pedal Cars and Retro dot com. The bike shipped in just a few days. It comes in a box and requires some assembly. However, once assembled, the only work that is required is attaching it prior to the ride. Well, ok…..it does require a bit of work to pedal depending on how much the rider weighs.

The trailer bike does not fit on our bike rack. It does, however, fit in the back of the SUV. So, all 5 of us, and our bikes, and the trailer fit snugly in one package.

Clearly, with my brother tagging along on family outings, we can never have a “normal  life” but that won’t keep us from trying.

We are hanging out again this week over at Yeah Write. Hop on over there to visit other blogs where there are no winners just writers. Or you can head over to the challenge site and help pick out the winners on Thursday.
read to be read at yeahwrite.me

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Hi and welcome to Ask Missy Mondays where I respond to email questions from readers who have questions about their child’s behavior. Today’s question comes from a participant in our workshop on Saturday. After reviewing Special Education Law and the associated ethical issues for practicing behavior analysts, the following question came up:

“How do we attend IEP meetings and participate without taking sides? We cannot be on the school’s side and we cannot be on the parents’ side.”

We have no choice but to turn to our “Ethics Bible” to help us answer this question. We use the Bailey and Burch (2011) “Ethics for Behavior Analysts“. We feel strongly that every behavior analyst should have this book and they should keep it out where they can easily access it (paperback is much cheaper). The book reviews the Guidelines for Responsible Conduct that were developed by the Behavior Analysis Certification Board (and to which all behavior analysts agree to follow). The book also provides illustrative case examples to help behavior analysts avoid finding themselves in sticky situations.

Responsibility to Client

In this book, you will see that Guideline 2.0 states, “The behavior analyst has a responsibility to operate in the best interest of the client.” Thus, when you attend IEP, IFSP, and other relevant meetings, your first concern belongs to the client you serve. While you may be paid by one party, any contract you sign at the outset of services, should clearly state that you have a responsibility to the client, even if it means that your professional recommendations do not align with  the party who pays your salary.

Responsibility to Other Parties

If you go on to read, you will see that Guideline 2.03 states, “The behavior analyst’s responsibility is to all parties affected by behavioral services.” Now you will see that you also have a responsibility to the parents as they are directly affected by your behavioral services. However, if you serve your client in the school setting, now you have a responsibility to the school as well. If you find yourself caught in the middle of the parents and the school, your number one priority is your client so act on his/her behalf.

Client Rights Under the Law

Finally, Guideline 2.06 states, “the behavior analyst supports individual rights under the law.” As a behavior analyst who works in schools, you have the responsibility to become educated on the laws that affect your client. You have a duty to ensure that you follow those laws and that you support your clients rights under those laws. If you do not know special education law and want to learn more, consider enrolling in one of our workshops on this topic. We will be conducting a day-long workshop at the ABA International Conference in Seattle and we will offer our webinar again in the fall.

In summary, if you find yourself stuck in the middle between parents and the school, remember, your first responsibility is to the client and then you have equal responsibility to the parents and the school team.

How many of our fellow behavior analysts have been in this position? I have to also ask, how many fellow teachers have been put in this position? Teachers, too, have responsibilities to their students. They often find it difficult to advocate for the child when they know how expensive services can be. Readers, how have you handled these predicaments?

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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 story is about a young man named Brody. Brody’s mom contacted us because Brody needed to take a medication that needed to be swallowed. (Some medications can be crushed or sprinkled but when medication has an extended release, it must be swallowed to allow time for it to progress through the digestive system before dissolving.) The problem was that Brody did not know how to swallow pills.  On top of that, Brody engaged in serious challenging behavior when his mother asked him to do something he did not want to do. Brody also had autism which complicated the entire process.

My colleagues over at CARD developed a wonderful pill swallowing technique based on research. The technique utilized some of the basic procedures in ABA. So we used those techniques with Brody and his mom.

Well, there was one more complication. Brody lived in a different state. Travel to us was not financially feasible nor was it practical for something that can be accomplished so easily. So, we utilized technology to make it happen. Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) works great in situations like this. Skype and Facetime are perfect examples of this. However, due to HIPAA and privacy issues, a more secure connection is needed. Thus, we utilize WebEx for our work. All Brody’s mom needed was a camera, speaker, microphone, and internet connection.

We arranged times with Brody and his mom to train with us. We taught mom the procedures while Brody was out of the room. Then Brody came back in and his mom applied the techniques. Mom reinforced Brody and we reinforced Mom! And yes, it was that easy! In fact, we accomplished this in a total of 8 therapy hours spread over the course of several days. Here is how we did it:

Stimulus Fading

First, we purchased a variety of stimuli that we could use to teach swallowing. You can start with something as small as a mustard seed. We use items like tapioca pearls, quinoa pellets, and similar. We purchased items in varying size take care to include items up to the size of a navy bean or flageolet. We also purchased blank pills in various sizes starting at size 4 going up to a size 0.

Note: some folks might suggest that you use small candies or cake decorating items. We advise against this because those items taste good and could possibly encourage chewing. Remember, we want children to swallow the stimuli WITHOUT chewing.

Then we arranged the stimuli in order from smallest to largest. FYI, a flageolet is about the same size as a size 5 capsule. A size 0 capsule is quite large (but they do come larger! 00 and 000). When Brody demonstrated that he could swallow a tiny object, we gradually increased the size of the stimuli. After only a few sessions, Brody was able to swallow a size 1 capsule which happened to be the size of the medication he needed.


The next step is to model pill swallowing for your child. Initially, we recommend that you model it every time you take your medication. Then, when you are ready to teach your child, tell him/her to “watch me” then over-exaggerate the action and promptly say, “your turn”


The final step is to reinforce the child for attempting and for successfully swallowing. Reinforcement can be as simple as verbal praise but it can also include brief access to a favorite movie, song, or iPad game.

Ok, it’s obvious that you don’t believe us. Check out this link for additional information including videos. This professor utilizes a head turn that you can teach if you want. We have not had to use this technique in our practice thus far.

Readers, it would help our case if you would share your success with this too! Seriously, this is one easy skill to teach. ABA Rocks!

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After reading our post yesterday on ABA in General Education settings, a few people emailed asking us about the Good Behavior Game. So we thought we would share.

Use of the Good Behavior Game in classrooms dates back to the late 1960s and early 1970s. Since then, it has been used with great success in a variety of settings, across different ages, and with different types of students. Most recently, it was identified as an evidence-based strategy for educators. Thus, it is one that can and should be used by teachers to help manage classroom behaviors.

In the Good Behavior Game, students work together to obtain reinforcers. This is different from some reinforcement systems where each child receives reinforcers for his or her own behavior.  In the Good Behavior Game, the teacher divides the class in to teams. After reminding the teams about the rules, the teacher then proceeds to count the number of challenging behaviors in the class. The goal is to have the lowest number of behaviors at the end of the day. Each day, the team with the lowest points wins a reward. At the end of the week, the team with the most daily wins is eligible for a special award.

At the start of any good behavioral program, reinforcement rates are high and reinforcers are often tangible. Over time, these are faded to lower rates of reinforcement and intangible reinforcers such as social attention (e.g., displaying winning team members’ names on the bulletin board or in the parent newsletter). Teachers can supplement the Good Behavior Game with other types of learning such as direct instruction regarding positive behaviors, negative behaviors, and social problem solving.

For additional information, readers may turn to:

  1. Elswick, S. & Casey, L. B. (2011). The good behavior game is no longer just an effective intervention for students: An examination of the reciprocal effects on teacher behaviors. Beyond Behavior, 21, page 36-46.
  2. Sweizy, N. B., Matson, J. L., & Box, P. (1992). The good behavior game: A token reinforcement system for preschoolers. Child and Family Behavior Therapy, 14, 21-32.
  3. Lannie, A. L., & cCurdy, B. L. (2007). Preventing disruptive behavior in the urban classroom: Effects of the good behavior game on student and teacher behavior. Education and Treatment of Children, 30, 85-98.

We hope this has helped our readers. If you would like a copy of the Good Behavior Game manual, you will find it here.

Teachers, have any of you utilized this approach in your classroom? Behavior analysts, have you taught teachers to use it? Parents, do your kids mention playing this game at school? How do their teachers manage classroom behaviors?

We are hanging out over at Yeah Write. When we hang out we are not in competition. Hop on over there as well as the challenge grid to get some read on!

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Hi and welcome to Ask Missy Mondays where I respond to email questions from readers who have questions about their child’s behavior. Today’s question comes from Margaret who asks,

“Someone recently suggested that our child’s teacher use ABA in her classroom. Our child does not have a disability, let alone autism. Why on earth would someone be suggesting that our teacher use a special education strategy on our child?”

Margaret, I first want to thank you for your question. It is great that you found our blog and this is a perfect place to raise your question about ABA. It is funny that you would ask this because we recently included the topic in one our myths about ABA. You can read the entire post regarding misconceptions of ABA here.

ABA has been used to teach a variety of skills, with a variety of research participants, including adults, children, people with autism, individuals with behavior disorders, and individuals with cognitive disabilities. ABA is used to train animals, including dogs, pigeons, and rats.

So, back to your question regarding your child’s teacher using ABA….How can (or how has) ABA been used in general education?


ABA has been used to help children become fluent in a skill they have recently acquired. For example, in kindergarten, children can be reinforced for quickly identifying letters of the alphabet. This skill can continue in to first grade when students may be reinforced for making the letter sound quickly when they see the letter or letter blends. In second grade, students can improve their fluency with math facts by receiving reinforcement for answering them more quickly. (Note: this is exactly the process that occurs in the activity called Mad Minute).

Classroom Behavior Management

ABA has also been used successfully to improve classroom behaviors. Anyone who has spent any time in a public school classroom knows the difficulties of managing the students’ behaviors. Thank you ABA for helping teachers do this! The Good Behavior Game, The Marble Jar, Ticket Reward Systems, and The Color Card System (Green, Yellow, and Red) all have roots in ABA.

On-Task Behavior

ABA has also been used to teach individuals to remain on task in general education settings. From simple self-monitoring plans to more complex teacher-implemented reinforcement systems, ABA works to keep students on task.

In summary, ABA can be used effectively to change behavior whether the focus is on students with disabilities or individuals with no learning problems whatsoever. The key is to identify the behavior to be changed, implement techniques to have the desired effect on the behavior, and then monitor changes with systematic data collection to make certain the behavior heads in the appropriate direction.

And now, I’m off to call Rebecca to see if we can change our company tag line, “ABA, it’s not just for children with disabilities!”

If you have a behavior question for Missy, email askmissy at applied behavioral strategies dot com.

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The ARI Conference was held this weekend in Newark, NJ. If you have never made it to an ARI Conference, you should put it on your list of things to do if you are a parent or caregiver of someone with autism.

The Conference Overview

The conference offers practitioner seminars on Thursday and Friday. A nutrition session is available on Saturday. Then, there is a General Session available on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. This year, an adult track was offered on Sunday. If that is not enough, the conference also offers free workshops on Thursday and Friday evening plus Demo Room sessions are available throughout the day on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Plus (yes, there is more) there are many wonderful exhibitors including TACA, Autism Speaks, and Nourish Life, the makers of the Speak supplement (just to name a few).

Learning in Action

As a practicing behavior analyst with many years of education and experience “under my belt”, I (Missy) continue to learn something new at each conference. This year:

  • I picked up a complimentary copy of Dr. Herbert’s new book, The Autism Revolution.
  • I also learned about the importance of seeds. Who knew that ground flax seed was such an excellent source of prebiotic in addition to fiber and Omega 3s?
  • I learned that acid reflux may not always be caused by overproduction of acid. In fact, it could be caused by under production of acid!
  • I also learned that nutritional deficiencies (e.g., zinc) can alter the way food tastes and smells. This may lead to picky eating which may exacerbate nutritional deficiencies.
  • I ran in to several families who have successfully graduated from one of our feeding clinics. I love hearing about client progress and maintenance!
  • Finally, I learned that rice may have arsenic in it!

Picky Eating Free Workshop

I co-presented on Thursday evening with Vicki Kobliner of Holcare Nutrition. We covered the topic of dealing with picky eaters, a problem we see in as many as 50% of the children with autism. Vicki talked about the importance of evaluating any underlying medical issues before starting feeding therapy. This includes things like reflux or constipation. Vicki also talked about the importance of assessing for nutritional deficiencies and food allergies prior to starting therapy. I presented on the behavioral procedures for getting children to eat. This included changing antecedents to make sure the child is hungry, teaching new behaviors such as sitting at the table to eat, and changing consequences such as reinforcing children for trying new foods.

Who is in charge?Challenging Behavior Free Workshop

I presented on how to address challenging behavior on Friday evening. In this workshop I helped participants understand that behavior is supposed to be addressed through the IEP process. I helped them learn what to look for in an FBA. I taught them how the FBA is used to develop an IEP. The participants learned how to develop a BIP together with school staff and behavior analysts. This included learning to modify the antecedents to prevent the behavior from happening, teaching a replacement behavior such as communication, and changing the consequences so that we stop reinforcing challenging behavior.

Pill Swallowing in the Demo Room

I taught several parents how to teach their children to swallow pills. I taught them to use a stimulus fading approach so that their child learns to swallow small things without chewing. Over time, the objects get bigger until they are swallowing placebo capsules. I enjoyed my time in the demo room where other practitioners taught parents how to shop safely for gluten free and dairy free products, how to inject B12 shots, and how to prepare for your doctor’s appointment.

Education Plans

On Sunday, I taught parents how to make the most of their educational programs. Children under the age of 3 have different rights and policies than children over the age of 3. It is important for parents to know their rights so that they may advocate effectively for their children. Parents learned about a few resources to help them in this process. Some of the resources included COPAA, PACER, NICHCY, and Wright’s Law.

If any of my readers attended and want to chime in, please comment about what you learned or what your favorite part was. Mark your calendars for the fall conference to be held in Orange County October 11-14, 2012.

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