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What’s “NR” you ask? A common way to collect data after a trial in which the learner not only did not give a correct response, but didn’t respond at all, is to score “no response” (NR).
While motor actions can be prompted if the learner does not do anything, vocal responses cannot. I say to my staff all the time, “we can’t reach into his/her throat and pull out words”. So if you say to your client “What color is the sun? YELLOW” and they just stare at you, then that was a “no response” trial.
Many, many moons ago I worked at an early intervention clinic. We had one client in particular there, let’s call him Sam. Sam was the bane of my existence for a while, because he made me feel like an incompetent idiot.
See, Sam was a very bright little boy with the most beautiful smile who could sing songs, answer questions, do simple academic tasks, and engage in various play skills. But then, Sam would hit a wall in his responding. He would remove all eye contact, stop smiling, and just stare blankly at…nothing. I haven’t met anyone since who could be looking directly at you, yet not looking at you at the same time. When Sam got like that he would not emit any of his target responses independently. This meant all motor actions were prompted, and good luck trying to do anything that required vocalizing. I just did not know what to do when this would happen, and it made me nervous to work with Sam because I knew it would happen at some point.
Sam is who I think about when I am working with staff who are having a hard time “connecting” with a client in the session. I can absolutely relate to how it feels to bring your A-game, put on your animated face, and get a lot of nothing in return. It’s frustrating, and makes you doubt your skills.
When correct responding disappears from the session, some clients may turn super silly and distractible, or some may have a spike in aggression. Just between you and me, I would much rather deal with one of those scenarios. It’s the completely checked- out individual that I find to be the most difficult…..it is kind of like your clients body remained in the chair, but the rest of them got up, walked out of the building, and is headed somewhere FAR more exciting.
So if you are working with a Sam or two, here are a few things that definitely do not work, are ineffective, and should be avoided:
· *Waiting the client out – I have seen a few therapists try this one, and usually the client is perfectly content to keep staring into space as you wait them out.
· * Continue teaching/Keep up the status quo – Think of it like this, if your client has completely stopped any correct responding and you just keep plugging away: Is learning happening?
· * Speak louder – Sound silly? I see it a lot, and back in the day I was guilty of this one too.
· * “Saaaam…..Sam!....Helloooooo, Sam?” – If your client is not responding to demands to touch, give, open, or talk, odds are they also will not respond to their name being called.
Now that we got all the stuff that does not work out of the way, I really only have one suggestion for what you SHOULD try when those non- responsive blues kick in. It may be just one suggestion, but it can look about 900 different ways depending on the learner.
Change something about YOU.
What my staff usually say to me (and how I used to look at this back in the day) is: “I tried this, and that, and this, and Sam just won’t attend/listen/respond! I don’t know what else to do to get him to (insert whatever response the therapist is expecting)”.
What I am suggesting, is flip that statement on its head and instead ask yourself: “What can I do differently that will motivate Sam to respond? Am I interesting? Am I reinforcing? Would I want to attend to me? Is this program interesting? Are these materials engaging? When did I last reinforce any of his behavior? Is my frustration/annoyance showing on my face? Does my voice sound irritated? Am I moving through targets too quickly? Too slowly? How can I be more fun?”.
See the difference? Instead of unintentionally blaming Sam for his lack of responding, first blame yourself. Then, look at your options and start trying them out to see what is effective. I am a big fan of “Let’s try this and see what happens”. Even if you try something and it fails, you just learned 1 thing that does NOT work. Which is still progress.
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