Teaching Independent Employment Skills Using Modified Social Stories and Video Self Modeling

Jennifer Rodecki recently conducted an action research study using video self-modeling with three middle school students with moderate-severe autism to teach them to perform new skills independently.  She used a tiered intervention approach in which she first used a modified social story (literacy-based behavioral intervention) with each student.  While all students made gains during the modified social story intervention, only one student mastered the skill during that phase of the intervention.  The other two students then participated in a video self-modeling intervention and quickly mastered the skills being targeted.  They needed the video model to move them to full independence.  A benefit of using video-self modeling is that it allows students to learn new skills without needing extensive amounts of adult prompting.  The video itself serves as the prompts, and it is much easier to fade the use of the video then to fade adult prompts the student may get dependent upon.  One of her students was working on watering plants at the school to increase his employability in community settings.  Before she began her intervention of using a modified social story and video self-modeling, this student needed extensive prompting in order to water the plants from start to finish.  Her student made gains with the modified social story, but did not reach independence.  Once the video self-modeling component of the intervention was added, he reached independence rather quickly.

Click on the picture of the student watering the plant to view the video self-model.

Written by Deb Leach, Ed.D., BCBA


Posted in Independent Functioning Tagged with: , , , , ,

User-Friendly Data Collection for Natural Environment ABA Interventions

When implementing ABA interventions in natural contexts, data collection can be challenging if you do not have a variety of user-friendly data collection tools at your fingertips.  In traditional 1:1 ABA therapy, percentage data is the most widely used data collection procedure.  This entails taking data after every learning trial to indicate if the child responded correctly, incorrectly, or needed prompting.  After all individual trials are recorded a percentage is obtained by dividing the number of correct responses by the total number of trials.  While this is the most objective data collection method, it may not be the most appropriate for every goal when implementing ABA in natural contexts for two reasons:

1.  It may not be feasible for caregivers or teachers to take trial-by-trial data during everyday routines.  This could be because taking trial-by-trial data can negatively impact the engagement between the child and the adult if the act of recording data causes the interaction to be stopped repeatedly.  Also, realistically, caregivers and teachers may not even be able or willing to take trial-by-trial data while also working to increase the child’s participation in the ongoing routine.

2.  Many social communication goals cannot be measured using percentage data because of the nature of the goals themselves.  For example, if a child has a goal such as “The child will engage in reciprocal interactions with peers for at least five minutes during recess independently,” percentage data would not be appropriate.

In Chapter 6 of my book, Bringing ABA into Your Inclusive Classroom, I share several different data collection tools that are user friendly for natural environment ABA interventions including:

Level of Independence Data:  Caregivers and teachers give an overall rating of the level of prompting the child needed to demonstrate the skill stated in the goal throughout the day using the following rankings:  maximum prompting, moderate prompting, minimum prompting, and independent.  Each ranking is specifically defined for each goal to ensure accuracy of data collection.

Individualized Rating Scales:  This is similar to level of independence data, but instead of using the prompting levels, specific ratings related to the goal are provided.  If you consider the reciprocal interactions goal stated earlier, individualized ratings may include:  1) The child did not engage in reciprocal interactions, 2) The child engaged in reciprocal interactions for 1-2 minutes, 3) The child engaged in reciprocal interaction for 3-4 minutes, 4) The child engaged in reciprocal interactions for at least 5 minutes.

Yes/No Data:  Caregivers and teachers simply indicate ‘yes’ if the child displayed the skill indicated in the goal independently or ‘no’ if the child did not do so or needed prompting to do so.

Frequency Data:  Caregivers and teachers indicate how many times a certain desirable behavior indicated in a goal was displayed throughout the day.  For example, if a goal states, “The child will raise her hand to answer questions during group instruction at least three times each day,” the teacher would simply record a tally mark each time the child raises her hand to answer a question.  At the end of the day the teacher would indicate the total number of hand raises.

Actual data collection sheets are included in the book to allow caregivers and teachers to take data and create graphs at the same time (as opposed to having to graph data at a later time).  If a child has five-ten goals, data can be collected and graphed each day in less than a minute if these sheets are used.  The book also includes percentage data sheets for instances in which it is feasible for this type of data collection to be used.  If you are interested in having copies of the data sheets, the book can be purchased at http://products.brookespublishing.com/Search.aspx?k=bringing%20aba.

Written by Deb Leach, Ed.D., BCBA

Posted in General Tagged with: , , , ,

5 Tips for Successful Play Dates

Play dates are a “normal” part of childhood for most children. However, it can difficult to plan play dates if your child has ASD or other disabilities. Parents of children with disabilities may shy away from the idea of hosting a play date because their child has meltdowns, or they don’t want other children to bully their child. However, play dates can be an excellent way to teach your child socially appropriate behaviors in a natural environment. Below are five tips for setting up a successful play date.

1. Plan Ahead: Having a variety of interest-based activities planned can help make play dates more successful for your child. It is best to plan activities that are interesting to both the child with ASD and the peer(s) whenever possible.  A visual schedule of activities can help reduce the anxiety of your child with ASD.  It is best to prepare the schedule of activities using pictures and/or words, review the schedule with the child before the play date, and use the schedule during the play date.  This allows the child to know exactly what to expect and what comes first, next, and last.

2. Teach the Expectations: Once you have developed a plan of interest-based activities, teach your child the behavioral and social expectations for the play date.   This can be done with a literacy based behavioral intervention such as a Social Story©.   These stories should be written from the child’s perspective and explain what will or may happen during the play date and the behaviors the child is expected to display.

3. Use Peer-Mediated Interventions. Once you’ve planned the activities for the play date and prepared your child, it is time to ensure your child is supported throughout the play date to increase the likelihood of success.  Even with adequate preparation, without the necessary support, your child may end up “doing his/her own thing” instead of actively engaging with the peer(s).  Instead of jumping right in and telling your child what to do, try to utilize the peer(s) to bring your child into the activity.  This is called peer-mediated interventions.  Simply put, when you use peer-mediated interventions you encourage the typically developing peer(s) to use strategies to encourage the child with ASD to interact.  You can teach peers strategies such as following the child’s lead, prompting/fading procedures, positive reinforcement, and modeling/request imitation.  Consider this example: John came over to play with Scott, a young boy with autism. The parents set up Moon Sand for them to play with.  John begins building a fortress, while Scott is burying his hands in the sand. Instead of forcing Scott to build a castle, you could say, “Wow! John that’s a great castle you’re building! When you’re finished, do you want to let Scott bury your hands in the sand?” In this example, you are teaching the peer to follow the child’s lead.  You may need to facilitate to get the interaction going, but you can fade out once the children are engaged in the interaction.

4. Avoid Disaster. In the beginning, you may find that starting with shorter play dates (15-30 minutes) is better for your child. You can then work up to longer play dates. While it is important that you are not overbearing during your child’s play date, you want to make sure you are keeping a close enough eye on your child to prevent a possible meltdown. If you notice your child’s warning signs for a meltdown, it is best to intervene to prevent an outburst. He/she may just need a short five minute break from the situation to regroup. Sometimes a favorite snack will help, and the friend will likely be ecstatic to eat a snack as well. Changing from an intensive hands-on activity to a more calming activity such as swinging, listening to music, or coloring may also help you avoid disaster. Of course this does depend on each individual child’s interests and sensory needs.  It is also best to start with just one peer at a time for play dates and include more children once your child has success.

5.  Manage Meltdowns. No matter how hard we work to be proactive, sometimes meltdowns still occur. Make sure you have a back-up plan in case this happens. Pop in a movie for the friend or ask the peer’s parents to pack a favorite toy just in case. Explain to the peer that your child sometimes gets overwhelmed and needs a few minutes to relax. Take your child into a setting where he/she feels the most comfortable (bedroom, play room, etc.). Try not to put any added pressure on your child. Give your child as much time as needed to feel comfortable returning to the play date. Once your child is composed, have the child choose an activity that he/she enjoys and invite the friend to participate.

Written by Jennifer Rodecki, M.Ed. & Deb Leach, Ed.D., BCBA

Image retrieved from http://education.more4kids.info/67/socialization-ideas-for-the-homeschooled-child/

Posted in Parenting, Social Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Dealing With Severe Non-Compliance with Students with ASD

I am often asked to help teachers figure out what to do when a student with ASD is displaying extreme non-compliance behaviors.  The situations are typically described like this: Whenever the student is asked to engage in any schoolwork, the student refuses.  Students may refuse by saying, "No!" "This is stupid!" "I'm not going to do it!" etc.  Or the student may engage in stereotypic behaviors to refuse work, run away, destroy materials, engage in aggressive acts, or simply sit and do nothing.  I am not going to claim to have the answer to this problem for every student because the functions for these behaviors may be different for individual students.  However, I have observed a common theme.  Some students with ASD have severe aversions to directives and to the feeling of being instructed.  There can be many reasons for this.  It could be because when they are talked to in a directive, stern matter their anxiety levels go up and cause refusal behaviors.  Or, if they feel that they may not be able to do the work, they may avoid it. Or, if the work is not related to their interests, they may avoid it.  Or, the level of social reciprocity required to receive and respond to instruction from teachers may cause anxiety and avoidance behaviors.  Teachers can easily get into power struggles with students when extreme non-compliance behaviors are present.  If this happens, the situation typically gets worse.  Here is a plan you can try when dealing with students with ASD who are having difficulties complying with teacher instructions:

1.  Assess the strengths and interests of the students: There is a strengths/interests assessment in my book Bringing ABA into Your Inclusive Classroom in Chapter 3 that you can use or create your own).

2.  Plan only strengths and interest-based activities at first: This may be hard for teachers to swallow because they often feel like they have so much content and skills to teach that they cannot simply plan activities based on student strengths and interests.  However, if the child is unwilling to do any work, something drastic needs to be done to begin teaching the student how to engage and comply with teacher instructions.

3.  Be more responsive than directive when giving directions: If the student does not comply with simple directives such as, "Hang up your coat," "Take out your calculator," etc., it could be that it is the way the direction is given that is causing the noncompliance.  To begin teaching the child how to respond to such directives, it is often helpful to change the way they are given.  Refrain from using a very stern voice, do not say things such as, "You need to..." It may not be effective to use If-Then interventions because it can become a power struggle.  Instead, you can phrase directions in a way that does not cause anxiety and/or you can give choices.  Here are some examples, "When you are ready, put your coat on the hook or on the back of your chair." "You may want to use your calculator for this activity." "Which book would you like to read during read-aloud?" (student chooses) "Great, bring that book to the carpet."

4.  Gradually add activities that are not necessarily interest-based: Once the child is able to comply with directions to engage in interest-based tasks, add one short activity each day that is not interest-based (just make sure it is strengths-based).  Use shaping by adding more short non-interest based activities each day, gradually increase the length of these activities, and gradually add activities that are not purely strengths-based until the child is able to engage in such activities without  non-compliant behaviors.  However, approximately one-third to one-half of the activities should still be strengths/interest-based for the student.

5.  Gradually teach the child to accept directives: One the child is able to respond to directives that are given in a responsive matter (as described in step 3), begin giving one or two directives a day that are desirable.  For example, if the child loves the computer, give a directive such as, "Go to the computer."  If the chid loves sitting in the bean bag chair, give a directive such as, "Go read your book in the bean bag chair." Once the child can respond to desirable directives gradually add in directives that are less and less desirable.

6.  Follow the child's lead during preferred activities and gradually increase the child's ability to receive instruction:  If the student refuses to receive instruction, teachers can address this by first following the child's lead during preferred activities.  When doing so, teachers can simply get the child comfortable with their presence, then begin to make comments about what the child is doing, then begin to ask the child questions about what he/she is doing, then begin to "sneak in" instruction during the activity little by little.  With this approach, teachers can reduce increases in anxiety and teach the child how to receive instruction and experience positive teacher-student interactions and success.  Once the child is able to receive instruction during preferred activities in which he/she is already engaged, teachers can initiate instruction with a preferred activity in which the child is not currently engaged eventually adding in activities that are not necessarily preferred.

I know that this plan sounds like we are walking on eggshells around the child, but that is not the case. It is really a matter of being child-centered, meeting the child where he/she is, treating the child with respect, and using shaping to gradually increase the child's tolerance for teacher directives and for receiving instruction.  In the end, the teachers should be able to be both responsive and directive, engage the student in preferred and non-preferred activities, and deliver instruction without noncompliant behaviors from the student.

Written by Deb Leach, Ed.D., BCBA

Photo courtesy of LunahZon Photography

Posted in Behavior Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Dear Kids with Autism, Prompt Dependency is Not Your Fault

I can't even count how many times I've heard teachers say, "This child is so prompt-dependent!"  They say it as if to imply it is the child's fault, and it is a nuisance to have to deal with a child who is purposefully waiting for prompts (cues, assistance, help) in order to respond to directions, to begin tasks, or to make initiations.  Well, here's the news flash: Kids with autism can only become prompt-dependent if that is what we teach them.  When kids receive excessive amounts of prompting, it is inevitable that they will begin to rely on prompts.  Generally, kids with autism want to please adults.  In situations in which heavy amounts of prompting is used, the kids quickly learn that it is best to wait for the prompt to make sure they know exactly what the adult wants so they can "get it right." ABA interventions are very effective and can change the lives of many kids with autism; however, we have to be very careful with how we use certain behavioral techniques to prevent prompt dependency.

In classical discrete trial training programs, kids are presented with an antecedent (request, direction, question, etc.), and if they don't respond, prompting/fading procedures are used to elicit the desired behavioral response followed by a consequence (positive reinforcement).  While this is almost a fool-proof way of teaching new skills, we do have to be cautious about how we use prompting/fading procedures to prevent prompt-dependency.  Many behaviorists use what is called, most-to-least prompts (beginning with the most intrusive prompts and gradually fading out the prompts used until the child responds independently).  While this is necessary to use when teaching skills that are brand new to the child, we shouldn't use this approach in every interaction with the child or prompt dependency can be the result.  Here ten ways to decrease the likelihood that kids with autism will become prompt dependent (please share some additional ideas):

1.  When prompts are needed use least-to-most prompts whenever possible: This entails using the least intrusive prompt you think the child needs in order to respond.  If the child does not respond, you increase the level of prompting until the child can respond independently.  With each new learning opportunity you attempt to decrease the level of prompting used until the child can respond independently.

2. Make sure you don't leave out the FADING piece: I think it's safe to say that all caregivers and teachers prompt kids with autism.  However, it is not anywhere near safe to say that all caregivers and teachers systematically fade out their prompts until the child responds independently.  There is a "science" to fading prompts, and fading should be systematically planned.

3.  Use modeling/request imitation before prompting: When a child doesn't respond to a request, direction, questions, etc., caregivers and teachers often jump right into prompting using either verbal prompts, gestural prompts, or physical prompts.  Instead, before making a request, use modeling/request imitation by first showing the child exactly what you expect then providing an opportunity for the child to imitate your model with immediate feedback provided.  Many times, children can respond to this modeling/request imitation strategy without the need for additional prompts.

4.  Use time-delay: There are a few different ways to use the time-delay strategy with some being more technical than others.  I like to keep it simple: after you make a request, give a direction, ask a question, make a comment etc. provide a brief period of wait time paired with an expectant look/body language to encourage the child to respond (recently in a teacher training, a teacher rephrased this strategy as "waiting happily" 🙂

5.  Avoid using hand-over-hand assistance: Hand-over-hand assistance is just what it sounds like: you literally put your hands over the child's hands and perform the desired response.  When you do this, in most cases, the child is like a marionette puppet and just lets you do what you need to do without really taking part in performing the behavior.  Instead of using hand-over-hand, I recommend using "gentle physical assistance" when physical prompts are necessary.  This means you gently touch or guide the child to get the child started and gradually reduce your physical assistance as the child is able to perform independently.

6. Use visual supports: We know that most children with autism are visual learners.  To prevent the overuse of verbal, gestural, and physical prompts, use more visual prompts by using picture cues or written words to serve as reminders for the children.  This creates much less dependency on adults.

7.  Use self-monitoring: This entails having children record the occurrence of the desired behavior.  If the children are responsible for recording when they display a certain behavior, they may be more likely to perform the behavior without the need for prompts.

8.  Use Literacy-Based Behavioral Interventions:  Many times kids with autism "need" prompts because they do not know what the desired expectations are.  Therefore, if you use literacy-based behavioral interventions such as social stories, modified social stories, comic strip conversations, etc. the child can learn exactly what is expected without the need for as much prompting.

9. Accept all attempts and use shaping: If a child has been taught that there is always only one specific correct response, it is likely that the child will wait for a prompt to make sure he/she gets the answer right.  Instead, positively reinforce children for all attempts they make to encourage independent responses.  Then you can use shaping to get the child's response closer and closer to what you have set in your mind as the end goal.

10.  Vary the antecedents: If you make requests, give directions, or ask questions using the exact same language and the exact same tone of voice every time, the child may begin to see a pattern that they find enjoyable to "play out." For example, the teacher says, "What do you want?" The child doesn't respond, so the teacher prompts by saying, "I want ______." The child responds.  If this is the same exact pattern every time, the child may think the expectation is to wait for the "I want ____" prompt before responding.  Instead, vary how you present requests, directions, and questions and be sure to fade any prompts you use.

Written by Deb Leach, Ed.D., BCBA

Photo retrieved from http://atifkamal.com/kids-rhymes-poems.html

Posted in Academics, Behavior, General Tagged with: , , , , ,

“Let’s Go Potty!” A Three-Phase Teaching Procedure for the Initial Stages of Toilet Training

Caregivers and teachers of children with ASD and other disabilities are always looking for helpful hints on toilet training. Truthfully, there are multiple skills that must be taught to fully toilet train a child. This reading will provide a description of how to introduce a child to the beginning steps of toilet training.

Phase 1:  When first beginning toilet training, you will simply be working on getting the child comfortable with sitting on the toilet several times throughout the day.  During this phase of the training, the child will continue to wear diapers or pull-ups.  It is important to do your best to avoid making the toilet training aversive for the child.  Do not force the child to sit for a certain length of time during Phase 1. You should provide large amounts of positive reinforcement while the child is in the bathroom, on the toilet, and after the child sits on the toilet during this initial phase.  This can be through the use of social reinforcement, activity reinforcement, or tangible reinforcement. The purpose of providing positive reinforcement is to pair toilet training with things the child finds enjoyable to increase the child’s willingness to participate in toilet training.  When telling the child it is time to use the bathroom, use a consistent phrase each time, such as “Let’s go potty.” Take the child into the bathroom. If the child will not sit on the toilet, start by giving the child the reinforcer while he or she is standing in the bathroom. After 2 – 3 times of receiving the reinforcer while standing in the bathroom, withhold the reinforcement until the child sits on the toilet. While the main goal during Phase 1 is not to get the child to actually eliminate while sitting, if the child happens to do so, be sure to provide meaningful positive reinforcement.

Phase 2:  Once the child is sitting on the toilet for seconds at a time, you should begin increasing the length of time you expect the child to sit on the toilet before providing the reinforcer. You should start with thirty seconds of sitting before getting the reinforcement. After the child is able to sit for thirty seconds for 2 – 3 times, increase the time requirement to one minute.  Once the child has sat on the toilet for one minute, give the reinforcer. Continue this for 2 – 3 successful trials and then increase the time requirement to two minutes. Continue this procedure until you reach five minutes. Some children may not be able to sit for five consecutive minutes. In this case, 2-3 minutes should be their time limit. If the child eliminates in the toilet give verbal praise and a highly preferred reinforcer.

Phase 3:  Once the child is comfortable with sitting on the toilet a few times each day, it is time to begin potty training without diapers.  Bring the child to the potty on a fixed schedule.  The fixed schedule can be every 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes, etc.  It depends on your child’s frequency of elimination.  During this phase, be sure to record the times that the child is having accidents. This recording should last 3-5 days. While recording accidents, it is also important to note when the child has had any food or drink. It is likely that you will notice a correlation between the child’s consumption of food and drinks and the accidents. After 3-5 days, you should start to notice a pattern developing of when your child is having accidents.  Once you notice a pattern, begin taking the child into the bathroom about 5-10 minutes before you are expecting the accident.  Do not provide any negative consequences if/when your child has an accident.  Accidents are part of the learning process.  React unemotionally, bring the child to the bathroom, say something such as, “You pee on the potty,” and clean up the mess without making an issue out of it.  During this phase, give verbal praise and a highly preferred reinforcer when the child eliminates in the toilet.  The reinforcers can be gradually faded out once using the toilet becomes more of a regular pattern for the child.

These steps provide the child with an introduction to toilet training.  Keep in mind that these procedures should be implemented consistently, and that it may take a couple of weeks to several months for accidents to cease depending on the child.  It’s important to continue with the steps outlined even when accidents are occurring.  These procedures are not only designed for young children.  Jennifer (first author) used these procedures with middle school students with moderate-severe autism who were not potty trained.  She was able to get all students potty trained at school within several months.  While there are additional procedures for getting to the point where the child is completely independent with using the toilet, being able to use the toilet on a schedule without accidents is the first step to independently using the bathroom.


Written by Jennifer Rodecki, M.Ed. & Deb Leach, Ed.D., BCBA

Posted in Independent Functioning Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Wait! Don’t Prompt Just Yet…Try Modeling/Request Imitation First!

Prompting/fading procedures are used extremely often when implementing ABA interventions with individuals with ASD.  When used correctly, and the fading procedures are systematic, this strategy is quite effective.  However, it should not be the first plan of action in many instances.  Here’s why:

Think about how you learn most of the things you know.  It can be through reading and through experiences.  Many people say, “I need to see it first.”  Well, we know that children with ASD are visual learners.  Don’t you think it makes sense that they would need to see it first as well?  Thus, instead of making a request and then prompt if the child does not respond, first model the expectation.  Immediately following the model, provide an opportunity for the child to imitate the model.  This strategy is called modeling/request imitation (Buffington, Krantz, McClannahan, & Poulson, 1998). If you can show the child exactly what you want him/her to do, you will be surprised how often the child can imitate the response without any prompts.  Of course, if the child does not imitate the model, prompting/fading procedures can be used at that time.

Another reason why it is important to use modeling/request imitation is to increase the child’s independence.  If the child can see what is expected, and imitate the model without any prompts, independence is achieved much quicker than using prompts and having to systematically fade them out.  Using modeling/request imitation is a great way to prevent prompt dependency.

One more reason to use modeling/request imitation before prompting/fading procedures is to build the child’s self-esteem.  If the child can see what you want and imitate without any prompts, the child is likely to have a sense of accomplishment and feel good about his/her performance.  Once prompts have to be initiated, you are saying, “Let me help you.” Depending on how those prompts are delivered, the child can quickly begin to feel like a failure.  I am not saying that using prompting/fading procedures is bad because I use them all of the time.  I am saying it is best to first try modeling/request imitation. Initiate prompting/fading procedures only if the child cannot respond to the model.  Below are some examples for using modeling/request imitation:

1.  Early Childhood:  A caregiver wants to teach a child how to use a fork.  The caregiver first models sticking the fork into a piece of food, then takes the fork out, gives it to the child and says, “Now, you try!”  The child takes the fork and attempts to stick it into the food.  Although the fork didn’t go all the way in, the caregiver positively reinforces the child with specific praise and quickly puts the fork in the food and gives it to the child to eat.  With each successive trial, the caregiver models and offers an opportunity for the child to imitate.  After just a few trials, the child is able to independently stick a fork into the food.

2.  Elementary:  A teacher wants to teach a child how to add with regrouping.  The teacher sits next to the child and writes two of the same problem on a piece of paper.  One problem is on the child’s side; the other is on the teacher’s side.  The teacher first models adding the numbers in the ones column, and provides an opportunity for the student to imitate that step with the same problem.  Next, the teacher models how to add the tens column with the number that was carried over, and provides an opportunity for the student to imitate that step as well using the same problem.  Several problems are done this way until the student is able to complete the problem without any modeling.

3.  Middle/High School:  A teacher wants to teach a student how to measure materials for a science experiment using measuring cups and measuring spoons.  The teacher decides to use peer-mediated intervention by having a peer use modeling/request imitation to show the child how to measure with the cups and the spoons.  For each item that needs to be measured, the peer first shows the child how to fill up the measuring cup/spoon, then dumps it out and gives the student an opportunity to imitate the model.  The peer continues to use modeling/request imitation until the student can measure independently without the model.

4.  Community-Based Instruction:  An employer wants to teach an individual how to file away folders in alphabetical order.  The employer models how to do so, removes the folder, and provides an opportunity of the individual to imitate.  This is repeated with several different folders until the individuals can file alphabetically without a model.

Written by Deb Leach, Ed.D., BCBA

Posted in Academics, General, Independent Functioning Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Green Eggs and Ham Again???? Sure! Repeated Readings are Beneficial for Children with ASD

Does your child with ASD always want you to read the same books over and over again?  If so, go ahead and keep reading them.  You may think that this is a perseveration that you have to stop, but the truth is that young children benefit from repeated readings of children’s literature.  Below are the benefits of repeated readings:

1.  Hearing a book over and over again builds language skills for children with ASD.  As the children get more and more familiar with the book, the language becomes easier and easier to understand.  The first time a book is read to a child with autism, the language may be very difficult to understand.  But each time the book is read the child has to work less and less at understanding the language.  When parents read aloud to their children, it positively impacts the child’s language development.  For children with ASD it is very important for them to hear the way sentences are formed.  With this repeated exposure to books, many kids begin to recite the books on their own using complete sentences.  This will enhance their ability to use language to generate sentences in the future.

2.  Hearing a book over and over again builds reading comprehension skills for children with ASD.  Because children with ASD have communication impairments, reading comprehension can be extremely difficult.  By exposing the children to repeated readings, the children have many opportunities to gradually increase their comprehension of the text.  During repeated readings, you can begin by asking your child simple questions such as, “What’s this?” or “Where is the cat?”  With each additional reading of the book you can make your questions more complex moving to literal questions that assess the child’s comprehension (ex. “What did they eat for dinner?”), and then to inferential questions (ex. “Why was the boy crying?”).

3.  If a child wants to read the same book over and over again, this is showing pleasure in engaging in literacy activities.  Why would we want to stop this????  Reading should be enjoyable for children.  Go ahead and re-read the books your child loves as often as you’d like!

4.  Reading the same books over and over again provides multiple opportunities to build your child’s social interaction and communication skills.  You can use your child’s motivation to address specific objectives during the shared book reading activities. You can work on having your child use words or complete sentences to request books.  You can teach your child to make a choice of which book to read.  You can teach your child to make initiations during the book sharing.  You can teach your child to invite a sibling to join the book sharing activity.  This list goes on and on.  Anytime a child has a natural motivation for something, it should be nurtured and utilized for improving social, communication, and academic skills.

The question you may be asking is, “Does this mean I shouldn’t try to expose my child to new books?”  The answer is: Of course not!  The only way a book can become a favorite is by initial and repeated exposure.  If your child is resistant to new books, give your child a choice from two or three new books trying to match the choices to your child’s interests.  You should also read the new book between two favorites: Read a favorite book, a new book, and then another favorite book.  It may take several exposures for a new book to become a favorite.  You can line the books up so the child can see that the favorite books will still be read.  While not every book will become a favorite, I use the same rule I use for new foods: Read the book seven times to the child.  If it’s not a favorite by then, move on to another book.


Written by Deb Leach, Ed.D., BCBA

Posted in Academics Tagged with: , , , , ,

Positively ABA: The Relationship Between Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports and Applied Behavior Analysis

Over the last two decades, research on positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) has exploded. Schools across the nation are implementing school-wide PBIS programs, and the results indicate a drastic decrease in problem behaviors in students with and without disabilities (Cheney, et al., 2010; Sherrod, Getch, & Ziomek-Daigle, 2009; Warren, et al., 2006). A school-wide PBIS program is a three-tiered intervention that takes a proactive, systematic approach to decreasing problem behaviors. PBIS focuses on determining the cause of the behavior, teaching new behaviors, and positively reinforcing desired behaviors. This makes PBIS similar to ABA, which also focuses to assess, change, respond to, and monitor behaviors (Weiss, DelPizzo-Cheng, LaRue, & Sloman, 2009).

According to Weiss et al. (2009), PBIS takes the principles of ABA and applies them to a three-tiered program in which all students participate. Typically, ABA is implemented to change the behavior of one individual. In a PBIS program, all students participate in some interventions (tier-one), small groups of students participate in more direct interventions (tier-two), and individual students participate in personalized behavior modification programs (tier-three).

In addition to having a school-wide PBIS program, teachers can implement a PBIS approach into their classrooms to manipulate antecedents and consequences to increase desired behaviors (Rodecki & Witzel, 2011).  To do this, teachers must rely heavily on the principles of behaviorism. Components of ABA such as stimulus control, positive reinforcement, self-monitoring, and direct instruction are tools that teachers can incorporate within their classroom to modify student behaviors.

Baer, Wolf, and Risley (1968) defined the characteristics of ABA as applied, behavioral, analytic, technological, systematic, effective, and having generality. This means that implemented evidence-based interventions have a direct, positive impact on the lives of the participants, which can be generalized across contexts. PBIS uses a compilation of research-based behavioral strategies to directly affect behaviors in all students, and ultimately enhances educational opportunities (Rodecki & Witzel, 2011).

 In order for students with ASD and other disabilities to experience success in inclusive classrooms, ABA and PBIS approaches must be implemented by the classroom teacher. According to Leach (2010), students with ASD benefit from receiving explicit instruction on rules and procedures, reinforcement when engaging in expected behaviors, and positive redirection when not meeting those expectations. These systematic procedures for behavioral interventions branch from the foundations of ABA, and therefore, PBIS cannot sustain without the principles of ABA. For effective inclusion, there must be a collaborative approach among practitioners.


Picture: © Buzya_kalapkina | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Baer, D. M., Wolf, M. M., & Risley, T. (1968). Current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 91 – 97.

Cheney, D., Lynass, L., Flower, A., Waugh, M., Iwaszuk, W., Mielenz, C., & Hawken, L. (2010). The check, connect, and expect program: A targeted, tier 2 intervention in the schoolwide positive behavior support model. Preventing School Failure, 54(3), 152-158.

Leach, D. (2010). Brining ABA into your inclusive classroom: A guide to improving outcomes for students with autism spectrum disorders. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brooks Publishing Co.

Rodecki, J. N., & Witzel, B. S. (2011). Positively decreasing disruption and discipline referrals. Focus on Middle School, 42(2), 1-4. Retrieved May 29, 2012 from http://www.acei.org/images/stories/MiddleWinter11.pdf

Written by Jennifer Rodecki, M.Ed.

Posted in Behavior Tagged with: , , , , ,

Bring ABA into Inclusive Classrooms Instead of Sending Students with ASD to ABA Schools and Programs

One of my main priorities in my career is to help educators and caregivers learn how to design meaningful ABA interventions that can be implemented within everyday home, school, and community routines.  More and more special schools (segregated settings) for children with ASD are opening up across the country to provide 1:1 ABA instruction.  The problem I have with this is that these children are missing out on thousands of learning opportunities that occur in inclusive classrooms and inclusive schools.

The reason why these schools keep popping up is that there is strong research support for ABA interventions for kids with ASD, and the truth of the matter is public schools typically do not provide intensive ABA interventions for kids with ASD within the context of general education classrooms (or even special education classrooms).  So, private or publicly funded schools are setting up camp to deliver 1:1 ABA interventions.  Here's one very important word of caution, though: While there is research support for the use of ABA interventions with kids with ASD, there is also research that documents that many kids do not maintain and generalize skills being learned when they are taught outside of the environments in which they will use them. Children may not maintain or generalize skills taught in isolation because the contexts in the natural environment are so significantly different from the therapeutic setting.  They also may not maintain or generalize skills taught in isolation if the skills being learned are not meaningful and useful across contexts.

All ABA intervention program goals should be able to answer the "So what?" question: If the child masters the goal, so what? How will it positively impact the child's life and/or the lives of those the child interacts with?  If this question cannot be answered, the goal should not be included in the child's program.

Now that I shared my thoughts on segregated schools and 1:1 ABA therapy in isolation, I would like to share an alternative approach to providing ABA interventions for children with ASD.  Early intervention professionals are familiar with Activity Based Interventions or Activity Based Instruction (ABI) and Routines-Based Intervention (RBI) (see the work of Diane Bricker and Robin McWilliam for more info).  These approaches provide a framework for embedding individualized interventions for young children with disabilities within the context of everyday routines and activities in the home, school, and community.  We should use frameworks such as these to embed ABA interventions within natural contexts for young children with ASD and school-age children as well.

We know that children learn best when they are actively engaged in everyday routines and activities.  However, it may be difficult to engage children with ASD in everyday routines across home, school, and community contexts without the use of ABA interventions and other active engagement strategies.  Merging ABA interventions with ABI and RBI is a wonderful way to provide intensive ABA interventions within the natural environment.  This allows children to learn within everyday contexts without having to be segregated from their typically developing peers and removed from classrooms that provide rich learning opportunities.  Below, I summarized the steps discussed in detail in my book (Bringing ABA into Your Inclusive Classroom) that a BCBA or other professional with expertise in ABA and special education can follow for designing ABA interventions for implementation in the natural environment:

Step 1: Conduct assessments (strengths/interests; present levels of performance for all domains that will be addressed in the ABA intervention program; parent and teacher priorities; list of everyday classroom, home, and/or community routines).

Step 2:  Set ABA intervention goals that are meaningful, observable, measurable, positively stated, developmentally appropriate, and have a criteria for mastery.

Step 3: Design ABA interventions that can be implemented across a variety of home, school, and/or community contexts and align data collection procedures.  Consider the strengths and interests of the student when designing interventions.

Step 4:  Create a matrix that lists the ABA goals horizontally and the everyday routines vertically and put x's in the boxes to indicate which goals will be implemented during which routines.  For example, during small group reading the teacher may be able to address communication goals, social goals, behavioral goals, and/or academic goals.

Step 5:  Provide training, modeling, and coaching to the primary interventionist (teacher or caregiver) to assist with implementing the ABA interventions within the context of everyday routines and provide support with data collection procedures.

Step 6:  Monitor the student's progress at least bi-weekly to make instructional decisions.


Written by Deb Leach, Ed.D., BCBA

Posted in General Tagged with: , , , , , ,

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