“I would think in an ideal world, you don’t want to have people who can’t talk, but on the other hand, you definitely don’t want to get rid of all of the autism genetics because if you did that, there’d be no scientists. After all, who do you think made the first stone spear back in the caves? It wasn’t the really social people.” Temple Grandin

 “If I could snap my fingers and become non-autistic I would not do so. Autism is part of who I am.” Temple Grandin


I intended for my post on Punishment ( The Good, The Bad,& The Ugly) to stand alone, but it continues to be a highly popular post. So of course, I can’t leave you with ½ of the whole picture.

 If punishment is the bad guy of ABA, who is often misunderstood ...


 Then reinforcement is the hero of ABA, who is loved by all.


In order to fully understand punishment, it’s important to understand reinforcement. When it comes to ABA, if you know how to apply punishment and reinforcement then you can manage an infinite number of behaviors.
So first, a definition:

Reinforcement occurs when a stimulus change immediately follows a response and increases the future frequency of that type of behavior in similar conditions (Cooper & Heron, 2007, Applied Behavior Analysis).

What that basically means is that reinforcement is something that occurs after a behavior that increases the future likelihood that the behavior will happen again. Just like with punishment, reinforcement can be positive or negative:

Positive Reinforcement-
Add something to increase a behavior
           +
Negative Reinforcement-
Take away something to increase a behavior
               -
Positive Punishment-
Add something to decrease a behavior
              +
Negative Punishment-
Take away something to decrease a behavior
               -


Reinforcement is the bread & butter of ABA programs. Behavior analysts and practitioners strive to use behavior management techniques founded in reinforcement. When it comes to behavior, positive and negative do not mean good and bad. Think of math terms, where positive means to add and negative means to take away. Here are some real life examples:

  • You are walking to work when you are caught in a sudden rainfall, and your clothes and skin get drenched. You go into a nearby store and buy an umbrella. In the future, you start carrying an umbrella with you to work everyday. In this example the rain falling on your skin and clothing was removed (negative), which increased the behavior of carrying an umbrella (reinforcement).

  • Your 3rd grader hates doing her spelling homework and everyday it is a struggle to get her to complete her homework, and sometimes she doesn’t finish it at all. You come up with a strategy where for every 3 spelling problems that your daughter completes she gets to stay up past her bedtime an extra 10 minutes. In the future, your daughter begins doing her spelling homework to completion. In this example, you added the incentive of staying up past bedtime (positive), which increased the behavior of your daughter finishing her homework (reinforcement).

When it comes to reinforcement, understand that it always affects future behavior. For this reason, if you added or removed something and the behavior did not increase over time, then you are not using reinforcement. This is an error many teachers, therapists, and parents make. They say to me, “I have been giving this child X reinforcer for a month now, and the behavior still hasn’t been strengthened. What’s going on?” By definition, if the behavior does not go up then reinforcement is not happening. Once you understand this, it will make it so much easier for you to know when to change or modify a behavior plan.  Take a good look at your “reinforcers” and make sure they are actually effective. Effective reinforcement leads to effective change in behavior.  Want to see just how effective and enduring reinforcement can be on behavior? Take a look at the following list:

Why do you put a coat on when its cold outside?
Why do you answer your phone when it rings?
Why do you tell your wife “I love you”?
Why do you come inside to get out of the rain?
Why do you work to get good grades in school?

The answer to all of these questions is: Reinforcement.  Through a combination of learning and contact with reinforcement you learned to do things to contact things you like, and to not do things to avoid things you don’t like.

There are some ways to make reinforcement more effective and to shorten the learning curve. If you follow these tips, you can be sure to successfully strengthen desired behaviors in your child/client in a reasonably short amount of time.

  1. Let the child determine what reinforcers you use: Not all children will work for candy, or praise, or to watch a DVD, or for hugs, etc. Don’t use a standard group of reinforcers assuming that “all children” like those things. Let the child’s interests and motivations determine what reinforcers you use.
  2. Reinforcement needs to be delivered immediately after the behavior: It is not as effective to give your son a sticker before bedtime because he ate all of his cereal at breakfast. The more you are able to deliver quick and immediate reinforcement, the sooner you will see the desired behavior increase.
  3. The magnitude (size) of the reinforcer needs to fit the behavior: If one of my clients waves to me after I prompt them to wave, I am going to deliver praise. However if they spontaneously wave at me, Im going to deliver praise, a tickle, and some type of tangible reinforcer (e.g. jump on trampoline).
  4. Reinforce the behavior, not the child: I dont reinforce Tommy when I give him a high -five. I am reinforcing his eye contact, or his quiet mouth, or his motor imitation skills. I am reinforcing behaviors I want to see increase. Make sense?
  5. Gradually fade out your reinforcement from steady to intermittent: Over time, you want to slowly decrease the amount of reinforcers you are giving. When you are toilet training a 3 year old, of course you want to deliver huge praise and reinforcement. Once that child is a 5 year old who is fully toilet trained, you don’t want to have to applaud and give a cookie everytime he goes to the bathroom.
  6. Always pair tangible reinforcers with praise: For many children with Autism, praise alone is not reinforcing. Especially if the child is new to ABA, you are going to want to start with tangible reinforcers (usually edibles). Don’t just silently deliver a reinforcer. Pair praise with tangible items so that over time you can fade out the items and the child is just working for praise.
  7. Last but not least, is the most important reinforcement tip: Only reinforce what you want to see increase. This might sound obvious, but it’s a very common mistake. Here is a common example:

Child and parent are in a store. Child begins to cry/tantrum because they want to leave. Parent gets embarrassed/panics. Child and parent leave store

That child has just been reinforced for their behavior, and she has learned that the way to get out of an unwanted setting is to tantrum. This is the origin of many inappropriate behaviors....someone in that child’s life has reinforced the wrong behaviors. Be very careful with reinforcement because if you use it incorrectly, on the wrong behaviors, or at the wrong times, the behavior will still go up.


"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." Benjamin Franklin



"Once children learn how to learn, nothing is going to narrow their mind." Marvin Collins


If you don't know who Temple Grandin is, you should. She's so amazing.

Temple is arguably the most well known adult living with Autism. She is a professor of animal sciences, inventor, author, presenter, and speaker. If you have never heard of The Squeeze Machine, or "Thinking in Pictures", then you should click on both links for more information. Temple's contributions to the field of Autism research and treatment is irreplaceable, and she has also tirelessly fought for more humane treatment of livestock on cattle ranches, including more humane slaughter practices. Recently HBO did a movie about Temple's life starring Claire Danes, that I HIGHLY recommend for anyone who has never had the pleasure of reading any of Temple's books. The movie shows what life was like for Temple as a child, but it also shows what day to day life is like for an adult Temple with her social, communication, and sensory processing issues.




It's hard to try and summarize the impact Temple has had on professionals, families, and children living/dealing with Autism whom she has never even met. When I started working in this field (which really wasn't that long ago) the idea of an adult with Autism who could be a professor, teach classes, think up and design inventions, and speak all over the world at conferences, was just unheard of. The most optimistic families I knew back then just hoped their child could one day live in a nice residential facility and learn self help skills, such as making a sandwich.
I didn't know of any adults with Autism, and the few adolescents I worked with were all pretty severe. One of the first ABA books I ever read as a new therapist was "Thinking in Pictures", and it completely changed how I viewed Autism. For the first time, I was able to read about what a meltdown feels like for a person with Autism.... Or how painful sensory issues can be..... Or how socially isolated people with Autism can feel, even in a room full of people.
I think any parent who wonders what the future holds for their child can look at Temple and know that there is no set answer. At one time in history a diagnosis of Autism meant a child was immediately institutionalized and deemed "hopeless". Now we know that with treatment and resources there's no limit to what these children can learn.

I also have to credit Temple for teaching me about sensory processing issues. Again, when I first started in this field no one around me knew what sensory issues were. I worked under consultants who taught me that when the child covered their ears, to make them put their hands down. Or that if the child hated wearing shirts and cried and ran away when someone tried to dress them, that they were just being "difficult". The more I learned about Temple and read her books the more I realized that sensory issues are real, and they can be quite uncomfortable or painful. My experiences in this field have often reinforced the sensory issues Temple speaks or writes about. When Temple writes about her experiences growing up, she describes over and over again how debilitating loud noises, strangers, unwanted touch, crowds, or flashing lights were to her:
 "As a child, I craved to feel the comfort of being held, but I would pull away when people hugged me. When hugged, an overwhelming tidal wave of sensation flowed through me. At times, I preferred such intense stimulation to the point of pain, rather than accept ordinary hugs...... Whenever anyone touched me, I stiffened, flinched, and pulled away." Temple Grandin, 1992 

Reading Temple's books helped make me a better, more empathetic therapist. I could understand why the kiddos I worked with hated hugs, holding hands, or strong smells (such as my perfume).


Its so important for parents and professionals who work/live with children with Autism to know about people like Temple. Today, there are so many adults with Autism to look up to as heroes. There's Tony Atwood, William (Bill) Stillman, Jean-Paul Bovee, Liane Holliday Willey, Daniel Tammet, Dan Akroyd, Michelle Dawson, Jerry Newport, Matt Savage, John Elder Robison, and (depending who you believe) Albert Einstein and Bill Gates. Its important to know that there are poets, musicians, authors, businessmen, inventors, scientists, etc., who have Autism. Just like anyone else they likely have good days and bad days, and struggle with fitting in from time to time. But the potential for greatness is there. Temple helps people by providing some insight into what it is like to go through life feeling like someone dropped you off on the wrong planet.  Its often easier to deal with a behavior when you have an idea why the child is doing it. A little empathy goes a long way.

Temple Grandin Website
Also known as the controversial "12 Infants" quote, the following is one of my favorites.
I love the confidence of this quote (even though he was being intentionally over-confident), which is the power of the environment to shape behavior.


“ Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years." 
John Watson, 1930.

Source: The Verbal Behavior Approach

I dont know what it is about me and grocery stores. I feel like I see so many more meltdowns/ tantrums when I'm inside grocery stores than the average person. Maybe Im just paying more attention because Im a behaviorist...or maybe these people follow me around. Im not really sure.

 This morning I was standing in the checkout line behind a toddler having a serious meltdown, and a few checkout lines down from me a maybe 5 year old kiddo was kicking up a massive tantrum. Thats not too unusual, as most professionals or parents know behaviors can be "contagious", in that one crying child can set off children all around them to begin crying. What was somewhat unusual, and what tends to catch my attention is the way parents react to these situations. I see lots of begging, pleading, whispered threats, stern looks, grabbing candy bars/toys/keychains to distract the child, picking the child up, digging inside of bags for juice or milk, etc. To summarize, I generally see a reaction of panic.

My goal when working with a client is to give so much support, parent education, and training, that the parents don't have to feel panic in a public situation ever again. Its never a good feeling when inside of a quiet store with tons of people in close proximity your child begins to tantrum. Inevitably, all eyes around you either look at you accusingly, or you see people trying very hard and quite noticeably not to look at you.

So the question is, "As a Therapist/Parent/Aunt/Uncle/Grandparent how am I supposed to react?"

Understand that ABA is about principles of behavior. There are a handful of basic principles (see my ABA Beliefs  post) that give you an infinite number of choices you can make. The possible ways to react to a behavior are only limited by the information you have and what you know.
So here is 1 more choice to add to your arsenal: The Count & Mand Procedure.

You would use a Count & Mand procedure for a child who wants something and is using an inappropriate method (tantrum, screaming, aggression) to ask for it. You are basically teaching the child how to ask you for things appropriately. Similar to the Count & Mand, is the Walk & Peel technique. This technique is used when the child is asking for something they cannot have. Both procedures are explained in detail below:


 
CHILD WANTS SOMETHING AND THEY CAN HAVE IT BUT NOT FOR DISRUPTIVE BEHAVIOR.
I. COUNT AND MAND PROCEDURE
  • Tell the child to stop behavior or say "quiet" and begin counting. Counting can be out loud, or by showing fingers and doing a countdown. I usually count to 10. 
  • If problem behavior continues during count, re start the count. Do not restart the count more than 3 times (child only has 3 opportunities to calm down).
  • If child runs off/walks away, stop the count. 
  • When you have finished your countdown with no problem behaviors, prompt child to request desired item or activity with acceptable form of communication (this can be sign language, PECS, pointing, touching, or verbal).
  • Deliver item for proper communication and be sure to reinforce appropriate manding.

CHILD WANTS SOMETHING AND THEY CAN'T HAVE IT (AT HOME)
II. WALK AND PEEL PROCEDURE
  • Say no and if child accepts the no provide reinforcement or praise
  • If problem behavior occurs, walk in opposite direction
  • DO NOT REDIRECT THE CHILD
  • Return only to protect the child or property with no talking, and minimal eye contact. Walk away again
  • If child grabs you or pulls at you, “peel” them off and go about your business
  • When child stops problem behavior for 1 minute return and redirect them to something else.



CHILD WANTS SOMETHING AND THEY CAN'T HAVE IT (IN COMMUNITY)
III. WALK AND PEEL PROCEDURE
  • Say no and if the child accepts the no provide reinforcement
  • If problem behavior occurs, place a compliance demand on the child specific to the setting. If in school direct to next activity (“Clean up toys”). Once the child has completed the compliance demand you may reinforce him/her.
  • If problem behavior continues, be prepared to ignore it (always remembering to ignore the behavior, not the child). Try to avoid reinforcing the inappropriate behavior, such as leaving the grocery store because the child won’t stop crying.



**Quick Tip:

  • Reinforcement and Bribery are not the same thing. If you are unsure if you are using reinforcement or bribes, ask yourself if the target behavior is likely to go up or down in the future. You are only using reinforcement if the target behavior goes up.
  • A good way to help children accept "no" is to teach "no but" first. For example "No you cannot have ice cream, but you can have some juice". Basically you are providing the child with an alternate choice. Eventually you want to use a mix of "no but" and "no", until the child can successfully accept a "no".
  • If a count and mand procedure does not work wait at least 10 minutes before trying again. Do not feel rushed to calm the child down or to make the problem behavior stop. The child will realize that there are a finite amount of opportunities you will give them to mand properly before you walk away, and the door to reinforcement is closed.
From time to time I will post a quote or saying that I really like that is related to behavior, learning, or ABA. My "quotes of the day" are intended to be a source of inspiration, humor, or positive thinking.

I stumbled across this quote a few days ago while reading a book about behavior analysts. I laughed in agreement, and wanted to share it. Hang in there, fellow therapists!

"In regards to programming successful behavior change interventions...10% is knowing what to do; 90% is getting people to do it".

Source: Foxx, R.M. (1996) The Behavior Analyst



Photo source: www.amazon.com, www.difflearn.com

SO excited about today’s post! My first few clients I ever worked with as an ABA Therapist were being taught with Verbal Behavior methodology. The VB approach was one of the first things I learned as a new therapist. This post is intended to be a brief introduction to VB, as VB is a massive topic.
 If you were looking for something more in depth, take a look at the 2 book photos at the top of the post. I highly recommend Verbal Behavior for professionals, and I highly recommend The Verbal Behavior Approach for parents/laypersons.


VB is a way to implement the broad science of ABA, just like NET, DTT, Task Analyses, etc

A Verbal Behavior program will be all about LANGUAGE. VB looks at understanding language by its function, rather than its structure. Children with Autism don't tend to learn other forms of language without explicit training. For example, if a child learns to receptively identify an apple, that doesn't mean they can answer the question "What's a red fruit?".
 VB looks at how the individual understands the language they use, and how well they meaningfully communicate with that language. It isn't enough for a child to be able to say 10 words. VB asks "Does the child understand the words they are saying", or "Why do you use the words you use"? If the child walks up to someone and says "cup", what is their intent for using that word? Do they just like to say cup? Are they requesting a cup? Did they just see a cup? VB helps teach the understanding that words have meaning.

Based in the research and writings of B.F. Skinner, Verbal Behavior is sort of like a branch that began to shoot off of the ABA tree back in the day (roughly, around the 80's/90's) due to the distinct focus on language development and communication.  VB looks at what the individual currently does to communicate wants and needs, and then how to expand upon that, how to shape better articulation, how to capture fleeting motivations, and how to turn simple one word requests into a back and forth conversation


 Here are a few more typical components of a Verbal Behavior program:

  •          Unique Vocabulary- The benefit of creating your own analysis of language is you can make up words to explain it. Skinner developed an interesting vocabulary for VB that can be confusing, but here are some helpful hints:
1.      Mand- Think of “de-mand”. A mand is basically how a child requests things that they want.
2.      Tact- Think of making “con-tact” with the physical environment. A tact is labeling.
3.      Echoic- Think of “echo”. An echoic is when a child says something after hearing someone else say it.
4.      Intraverbal- “Intra” means within, so think of knowledge coming from within. An intraverbal is when a child is able to answer questions about, or discuss something that is not present.
5. Mands, tacts, echoics, and intraverbals are the main verbal operants, but there's also: Listener Responding, Imitation, Copy a Text, Transcription, and Textual.
  •       Quick Pace, Mixed Trials- Here is a great link to an example of what a typical VB session should look like- VB Session. In the clip you will see Mary Barbera, who quite literally "wrote the book on VB". :-)  In the video clip, she is showing the speed of a VB session, and how the therapist should organize and manipulate materials. A VB session moves very quickly, and the therapist must maintain a brisk pace, organize and manipulate their cards and materials, provide reinforcement, teach effectively, and maintain behavioral control of the child. A mixed trials format means that the therapist moves rapidly from one targeted skill to the next (e.g. “Touch your nose/Stand up/Say blue/Sit down/How old are you/Do this puzzle”). Data collection will vary but can often utilize "Cold Probes", which can be first trial or once a week data recording. 
  •    80/20 Ratio- (may not be specific to just VB) A 80/20 ratio is a mix of easy and difficult tasks. What that means is for every 2 new/ not yet learned targets that you ask the child, you need to ask 8 easy or known targets. This ensures the child will stay motivated to work, it helps with generalization and maintenance of mastered items, and it keeps the child from being frustrated. This is also helpful when moving so quickly between targets, because the therapist is mainly presenting known demands, and systematically interspersing new targets.
  •          Errorless Teaching- The prompting hierarchy with VB is most to least, or Errorless Teaching, meaning you start off with a full prompt and then fade back to minimal prompting. If the child is taught something new, or if they miss a known target, you give them 0 opportunity to get the answer wrong. You provide a full prompt with the demand, and then gradually decrease your prompt as the child shows improvement. Here is an example of a therapist teaching a new tact to a learner:
Therapist: "What is it? (0 second delay) Car"
Learner: "Car"
Therapist: "Thats right! (now mastered tasks are interspersed) Touch your nose.....Say Blue"
Learner: (Touches nose and says blue)
Therapist: "What is it?" (full prompt is removed)
Learner: "Car"
Therapist: "Nice working!"
  •        Mastery Across Operants-  VB targets build upon each other. Manding should be step 1 in any VB program, either reinforcing and expanding upon current mands, or teaching a child to mand. From there, the initial targets are highly reinforcing items the child can mand for, and each target is taught across verbal operants.  For example, imagine you have taught a child to mand for “apple”. Next you may teach the child to receptively identify a photo of an apple, then to match identical and non identical apple photos, then to expressively label the photo of the apple, then to name a red and sweet fruit, etc. The child should know the word "apple" across all of the verbal operants, or all the different ways the word "apple" can be used. There is so much more to communication than just being able to ask for things.
  •        NET/Manding Trials- Many forms of structured ABA have naturalistic teaching components. Within VB this would be Natural Environment Teaching, as well as Manding trials or Incidental Teaching. All caregivers should receive training on the VB targets and methodology so they can reinforce and encourage learning. 

1.      A Manding Trial is a specified period of time (e.g. 25 minutes) where the child is given multiple opportunities to mand for something/many things. The only way they can access desired items is by emitting a mand. Data is collected on each manding trial, and the objective is to increase the frequency of existing mands, and to get the child to mand for more and more items. Allow the child to see the item, withhold the item, wait for correct eye contact/sign/vocalizations, and then give the child the item. This process is repeated many times throughout the day.
2.      NET, or Natural Environment Teaching, are sessions away from the structure of the work table that capture the motivation of the child. NET is an opportunity to move away from instructor controlled teaching and work on skills naturally. If the child is learning to label “dog”, during an NET session the therapist (or parent) might take the child to a dog park and engage in play with various dogs of different sizes, colors, breeds, etc., to teach the child that "dog" doesn't just mean one thing.



VB is an incredibly effective teaching method for language acquisition. Beginning a VB program can be time consuming, challenging, and will require close consultation, training, and guidance from a qualified BCBA. Please be aware that not all BCBAs have experience with VB methodology.


LINKS-
 
http://www.autismweb.com/aba.htm
http://www.christinaburkaba.com/AVB.htm
www.carboneclinic.com
www.polyxo.com
http://www.abainternational.net/verbalbehaviorinfo.html
http://www.behavior.org/vb/index.cfm?page=http%3A//www.behavior.org/vb/verbal_behavior_catania.cfm
http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/treatment/verbal-behavior-therapy
http://verbalbehavior.pbworks.com/w/page/8131340/Datasheets%20and%20templates

 





I have a previous post about why I love ABA and my reasons for starting this blog, but in addition to ABA I also love Autism. It isn’t often that Autism is discussed as something positive, and if you do a web search of the word “Autism” most of the results will be about diagnosis or treatment. Of course, it is important to know what Autism is and how to manage the symptoms of it. But its also important to look at what’s great about Autism. The population of Autism is my favorite to work with.

Depending on where you are in your journey with Autism, you may hate Autism right now. If you are a therapist you may be doing this as just a job, and have no passion for the field. You may be having a hard time dealing with some very difficult clients right now. If you are a parent, you may see Autism as a series of treatments and therapists coming in and out of your home. You may want to completely remove the word Autism from your vocabulary.
I am simply a professional who works with this population of children; by no means do I pretend to have an inkling of understanding as to how difficult it is to raise a child with Autism. What I do have are my own personal reasons as to why I find my career so rewarding and enjoyable, and what I view as some of the BEST things about the children I work with:

  1. The completely creative ways they have of stimming to "get those wiggles out"! If I take a stim toy away, they stim on their hands. If I say “Quiet Hands”, they start to sing. If I say “Quiet Mouth” they stim off the materials on the table.
  2. My kiddos don’t always give away affection or love freely. So when I'm working with a new client, that first time they give me a huge hug or smile at me when I walk through the door, it’s like winning the lottery.
  3. I am a left brain person, so I can relate to a need to have organization, structure, and rules to feel comfortable and to be able to focus.
  4. It cracks me up when my kiddos figure out that the words “All Done” or “Bye Bye” make something go away. After that it’s just a matter of time before I show up at the house for a session, and they immediately say  “All done, Ms. Tameika..... All done”.
  5. The literal and concrete way of understanding things. I was once working with a 6 yr old teaching him to label “wrist”.  I pointed to my wrist and asked him “What is it”, he replied “Brown”. :-)
  6. I love when I get to work with older Aspergers kids because they are some of the most unintentionally funny people I know. Due to a (near) brutal honesty, they have no problem telling you they don’t like your shirt, you have gained weight, or your hair looks funny.
  7. The way anything, including my own body parts, can become a stim. I once worked with a 4 yr old girl who would stim off my arms.
  8. Depending on who you believe, Bill Gates has a mild form of Autism. So if he does, you can thank his Autistic traits (attention to detail, focus, persistence, logical gifts) for every computer you have ever touched! :-)
  9. The excitement and sense of wonder they show when given a new sensory object or toy. I spend far too much money in stores buying sensory toys I know one of my clients would love, and their reaction when I give it to them is worth every penny.
  10. My kiddos can always figure out how to open something, how something works, or how to get into the “childproof” packaging. If I can’t figure out a toy, I just hand it to one of my kiddos. Within seconds, the toy is on and talking (and usually I didn’t even know the toy could talk).
  11. Their laughter. For some of my kiddos, it isn’t often that they laugh at anything. So when I make them giggle or laugh I feel like I earned it.
  12. The first time I hear them communicate. If a child is nonverbal and has no echolalia, the most I hear is humming, wordless singing, or grunts/noises.Getting a nonverbal child to use language to communicate is my own reinforcement to keep doing what I do.
  13. My kiddos have a better memory than I do. If I promise we will do something, they don’t let me forget it. If we are headed to the park and I forget their favorite ball, they let me know. If I move ONE thing in the therapy room from where it usually goes, they let me know.
  14. I love seeing my kids display pride. When I go crazy and start shouting and clapping because they finally learned a really hard skill, they smile and beam with pride in themselves.
  15. I love watching my kiddos try to problem solve how to get their way: Pout? No, not working. Throw some toys? No, she didn’t blink. Scream at her? Nothing. Walk over to her and make the sign for “drink”? Yes, that finally worked!




 Behaviorism is the science of behavior.
As ABA professionals, behaviorism is our foundation, our focus, and our philosophy. Behaviorism explains behavior by focusing on the environment and what is observable and measurable, not by looking at emotion, thoughts, or internal processes. Behaviorists are careful to work within our limits, and to seek referrals or outside help when there may be internal issues causing behavior (such as medical conditions like seizures, tumors, acid reflux, etc). If you are not applying strategies and interventions based in behaviorism, then what you are doing is not ABA.

Ever since I learned about behaviorism in college, I was immediately hooked. My love for behaviorism led me right into my love for ABA. There are certain ABA beliefs that I have and that I rely upon to do my job and to help families. They are like a context that I view every situation through. Being a behaviorist, I tend to look at any situation that needs change (conflict with a family member, house training a puppy, giving advice to a friend) from a behavioral perspective....its just natural to me at this point. I focus on what is occurring in the environment to better understand the situation.

If you are a lover of ABA, or a "do-er" of ABA, then you need to have a system of ABA beliefs that you base your decision making on. Especially with so many incorrect applications of ABA out there, you need to know what is true and hold on tight to it. My job is all about making difficult decisions, and sometimes I might not know how to approach a situation, what to do next, when to seek outside help, or when an intervention isn't working. When that happens I lean on my ABA belief system so I can be confident that I am making sound decisions.


  1. ALL behaviors occur for a reason- Yes, all behaviors. Teachers, therapists, or families will often tell me things like "It just happened/She did it for no reason/It was completely random". It is then my job to determine the cause of the behavior, since ALL behavior serves a purpose... especially ongoing, persistent behaviors. Everything we humans do, we do for a reason.
  2. Behaviors result from a combination of learning, reinforcement, and/or punishment- Some behaviors are innate/biologically based such as reflexes babies are born with. But typically behavior is the result of learning (interacting with the environment), reinforcement (something desirable happened after the behavior), or punishment (something undesirable happened after the behavior). Its important to understand how behaviors come to be, so you know how hard it is to remove behaviors. If a child has been throwing toys in daycare for several months, it is going to take some hard work to extinguish that behavior.
  3. ABA professionals intervene on behaviors only- Can I make your child like his sister? No. What I can do is teach your child appropriate play skills, social interaction skills, and model appropriate peer behavior so that over time he can demonstrate more positive social behaviors towards his sister. ABA brings about change in behavior, not in attitudes or opinions.
  4. We remain behaviorists in our language and observations- If I am observing a child in the home and he aggresses at his brother I am going to describe that as "Child was sitting and stacking blocks with his brother. The brother began to create a block tower when child reached over with an open hand and hit his brother on the shoulder. The brother began to cry, and the child went back to stacking blocks". What I am NOT going to say is "The two kids were playing together and having a great time when out of nowhere he pops his brother really hard, to make him cry". I am going to report on what I saw and observed and not make guesses at motives or thoughts.
  5. The 3 term contingency (A-B-C) describes a relationship- A led to B, which led to C. Therefore, if A or C is manipulated, B is affected. You could also say that A+B=C.
  6. We work with children, not diagnoses- I do not work with Autistic children. I work with children who have Autism. That may sound like a small distinction, but its huge. Before any diagnosis, these are children with unique personalities, wants, needs, and interests. When creating interventions ABA professionals should seek to understand the individual child, and avoid "cookie cutter" techniques that do not leave room for individual differences.
  7. We bring about socially valid change- Social validity means something is considered important by people close to the child. Usually this will be the parents. When working with a family, it should always be a 2 way communication where you recommend behaviors to work on, and the family agrees or disagrees with those recommendations. As professionals we focus on necessary life skills, communication deficits, and maladaptive behaviors, before we begin teaching other skills. For example if working with an 8 year old it is much more socially valid that he can independently use the bathroom, than that he can count to 5.
  8. We intervene in the natural setting of  behaviors, where they usually occur- I will work with a child wherever I am needed. That is usually the home, and may be the school. It also could be church, the grocery store, Grandma's house, Six Flags, Burger King, etc. This is one of the unique things that sets ABA apart as a therapeutic method. If a family tells me that every week at church their daughter has a meltdown, I am not going to say "Well here are some things to try, let me know how that works out". I am going to say "Okay, well I'm coming with you next week to see what is going on". We go where we need to go, to see the behavior in action.
  9. We do not intervene on a behavior without first finding the cause- Any intervention intended to reduce a behavior is simply guesswork without first determining the function....and remember, all behavior serves a function. ABA professionals do not "get rid of" behaviors. We teach these children ways to serve the same function with a more socially appropriate behavior. Which leads directly into...
  10. Any learned behavior can be "unlearned"- By determining the function of a behavior, ABA professionals seek to alter, or disconnect that functional relationship to cease inappropriate behaviors. It may take time, effort, and patience, but it can be done. We as professionals have to be confident that ANY behavior no matter how persistent and challenging can be improved, so that these families can have confidence as well.
  11. The environment is key to explaining behavior- Behaviorists believe it is the environment that maintains behaviors. If a child screams in school every day when the bell rings, I am going to examine the relationship between bell ringing and screaming. I am not going to examine if the child hates bells and likes screaming (hate/like are emotions, not behaviors),  or if the child was deep in thought and disrupted by the bell ringing. I am going to focus on what is going on in the environment to explain the behavior.
  12. We believe in early intervention- Most people think of early intervention as working with very young children to get them the skills they need to function within the classroom or the community. That is one aspect of early intervention, but it also means to intervene on a behavior as soon as possible. Behaviorists believe that it is always better to intervene on a behavior before it has been fully learned and is persistent. So if a child begins a new behavior of taking off their shoes at school, it is strongly advised to begin nipping that in the bud immediately. If not, learning will occur making it much harder to extinguish the behavior and the behavior may escalate over time (child moved from taking shoes off, to taking pants off, to removing her shirt).
  13. We believe behavior is key to improving quality of life- I think the reason at the core of why any client seeks ABA therapy is quality of life. Clients may have many different presenting problems, or ask for help about a variety of different skills, but really what they want is to improve the life of the person with Autism whom they love. Behaviorists believe that through teaching appropriate behaviors and extinguishing maladaptive behaviors, we are helping people live better lives. Most skills that you can think of that a functioning adult in society should posses are really a series of behaviors that can all be taught.

A solid understanding of behaviorism is critical for this field. For more information about behaviorism theory I would recommend researching the works of Ivan Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, and John Watson.
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