Demand & A Promise

 Yes, it’s just like that…except not quite.

The goal of rapport building and pairing during ABA therapy is to develop a trusting, positive relationship with the child so they find you reinforcing. Not the toy you have or the bubble machine you just turned on, but you. This goal isn’t always easy to accomplish and there will be times when even after you accomplish this goal you have to start over again. Like after the child has been on vacation and hasn’t seen you in a month, or if the child is feeling ill or on medication.

A great technique for having a cooperative learner during a therapy session is called “Demand and a Promise”. This technique can be used in the home or out in public, and it’s very easy to learn. I’ll also include another bonus tip at the end of this post.

Quick Note: This technique is more helpful for a child who may be having a bad day, going through a regression of behavior, or your pairing relationship may have weakened recently. If you are working with a client who is very defiant and resistant on a regular basis, I wouldn’t recommend using this technique. Instead I’d recommend you use 3 Step Prompting.

The idea behind this technique is very simple: When you present a demand to the child you are “promising” them a reward in advance, for their cooperation.
The demand and a promise technique makes your demand more exciting and interesting because of the promise attached to it. I typically use this technique to help transition a crying, overstimulated, frustrated, or tired child to the work area.

(You don't need to use an index card, that's just for illustrative purposes)

Here’s what the technique looks like:

1. Approach the child as he or she is engaged in a preferred activity, such as on break. Present a simple demand to do something else, like “Come sit down”. Make sure that you are within 1-2 feet of the child when you place the demand as you will be providing prompts/guidance if necessary.
2. As you deliver the demand show the child an open palm holding a highly preferred reinforcer.
3. If the child begins to cooperate with the demand and does not engage in problem behaviors give them the reinforcer. If the child does not begin to comply or begins engaging in problem behaviors, close your hand around the reinforcer and use prompting to finish out the demand.

Notice the wording “begins to cooperate”. With this technique you provide reinforcement before the full demand is actually completed. If you told the child to come sit down, then once they stand up and start walking to the therapy table you give them the reinforcer. If the child says “no”, walks away from you, or ignores the demand, you guide or physically prompt them to go sit down and they lose the reinforcer.

A very common question I get from therapists about this technique is “What do I do if the child takes the reinforcer, and then runs off and goes back to play?” Yes, this may happen:

  1. Once the child transitions, do not immediately apply demands. Praise the child for sitting down (“Nice sitting down, Tia!”). Turn on music or a DVD and give the child a few seconds of break while you gather your materials and get your data sheets together. Over time, this teaches the child that they get something good for cooperating, and transitioning doesn’t mean immediate work. Doing this consistently will save you from dealing with a lot of escape behaviors.
  2.  Before implementing demand and a promise get in super close proximity so if the child bolts  after taking the reinforcer you are able to immediately block escape and prompt.

**Bonus Tip: Another strategy I use is I remove the task from my demand. 
Instead of saying a task statement like “Go clean up the toys”, I say something like “Come with me” or “Follow me”. Once the child follows you to where the toys are instead of saying “Pick those up”, say “Sit down”. Or you can just sit down yourself and say “Do this”, so the child will imitate you and sit down.  Depending on how strong the child’s imitation skills are you can start picking up toys and see if they copy you, or you can present the demand like a question. Such as “Where does this go?” as you hold up a toy. If needed, prompt the child to put the toy away. Continue until all the toys have been put away. This technique is a way to sneak in your demands without making them sound like work. 

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