One of the fundamental principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the focus on applied behaviors, behaviors that are essential for that particular learner’s functioning in their everyday life. That focus on learner specific behaviors means that there is a natural variability between individual’s sessions. That being said, there are some similarities that can be expected for a preschool aged learner when starting services.
When starting services with any aged client the primary focus is on “pairing”. Pairing is the process of pairing staff with reinforcement. During this process the staff works on finding activities, toys, or games that the learner enjoys. For younger learners, or learners with not many reinforcers, edibles (i.e. goldfish, strawberries, cut up fruit snacks, etc.) will be used. When edibles are used they are typically paired with other reinforcers. Often times staff members will have a “magic bag”. This bag involves a series of novel toys and games that are only available to the learner when the staff comes for session. Due to the infrequent access to these items it often makes them more valuable. Through this process the learner often sees the staff member as “the bringer of good things”. When they come the learner gets to engage in their favorite activities, gets to play with new toys, and is receiving frequent attention. This makes the staff member very valuable to the learner. Once pairing has occurred the learner is more likely to engage in challenging tasks (i.e. programs that are being targeted). Pairing is very important when beginning sessions, however pairing is consistently happening throughout all sessions in order to keep up that positive association with the staff member.
Children at the preschool age are still developing a communication repertoire. ABA breaks communication down into several categories. The five categories most targeted at this age would be mand (requesting), listener responding (following a direction), tact (labeling), intraverbals (filling-in the-blank, answering questions), and echoics (repeating sounds). Behavioral Perspective specifically chooses to focus on the mand first. A learner can mand for many things. They can mand for a toy, food, a drink, to use the restroom, an activity, for someone to stop engaging in a behavior they don’t like, or even for information. Being able to request something from another person is not only a necessary skill but is often the basis of social interaction. Mand training occurs first in order to help the learner receive reinforcement quicker, help with the pairing process, and start building a social repertoire. Manding is a vital part of any ABA session. In addition to manding, a combination of echoics, tacting, listener responding, and intraverbals might also be worked on depending on the learner’s skill level.
Pairing, manding, and Natural Environment Training (NET), are the three main components of a preschool aged learner’s session. NET is the process of learning to use a skill in the environment you would expect the skill to occur. For preschool aged children, most of their time outside of school is spent in play. Most children starting services have difficulty engaging in play, only play with a couple toys, have a regimented way they engage with items, have difficulty sharing, or are unable to play independently at all. During the NET the learner will work on developing play skills as well as continuing to work on language (i.e. manding) and generalizing the skills they learned during discrete trial training. Depending on the learner they will have different play goals. All ABA goals are determined based on a developmentally appropriate assessment and careful observations.
Discrete trial training (DTT), often referred to as “table time”, is a structured style of teaching. This involves the learner sitting at a table (or similar space) with the staff member working on a specific set of goals. ABA uses evidence based strategies such as prompting hierarchies, task interspersal, ratios of reinforcement, as well as other strategies to teach the learner a specific skill in isolation. Once taught, the skill is then generalized to other settings (i.e. during the NET) and/or people. While most preschoolers will work up to having “table time”, it is not introduced right away. Just like staff members pair themselves with reinforcement, the table environment also needs to be enriched with reinforcement. Learners that require ABA commonly have an aversion to structured teaching environments due to their previous learning history. It is the staff’s job to overcome that aversion by making the table a “fun” environment. This may start out by simply engaging in preferred activities at the table, then adding in simple demand (i.e. “pass the playdoh” or manding), and then slowly working in more difficult demands. Once more difficult demands are being placed and learners are compliant then table sessions can be added regularly. Typically, a preschool aged learner would spend about 80% of their time in the NET and 20% of their time at table.
Depending on the learner’s needs, behavior reduction or activities of daily living (ADL’s) might also be incorporated into session. This will vary from learner to learner and would look different based on the behaviors of the learner, skill set, and the family’s needs. Behavior reduction programs might often include functional communication training or other antecedent strategies. Typical ADL’s that might be seen in a preschool aged learner’s program might be utilizing silverware to eat, washing hands, toileting, or dressing. While behavior reduction and ADL’s are not a part of every session, they are very common.
Specific programs are tailored to each learner’s individual learning history and skill set. Despite these differences, pairing, mand training, NET learning, DTT, behavior reduction, and ADL’s are typical aspects of an ABA session for a preschool aged learner. For more information on any of the programs mentioned look out for our other postings or contact Behavioral Perspective for more information.
The mysterious term “ABA” stands for Applied Behavior Analysis. While that doesn’t seem to bring us any closer to what ABA truly is, our principles are in the name. Applied refers to the issues that occur in our everyday life, also known as “socially significant”. For example, ABA is more concerned with an individual being able to manage a checking account than the principles of calculus. There is an emphasis placed on teaching skills that will be used in a daily fashion and decreasing barriers to daily functioning.
The connotation of behavior often leads many individuals to think of problem behaviors, such as physical aggression, tantruming, or eloping. Behavior actually refers to any “activity of living organisms.” This encompasses a large variety of activities from dialing a telephone, completing a homework assignment, or even taking a shower. While the term “behavior” does encompass many activities, it does not necessarily apply to mental processes or emotions. Thinking “what a beautiful day” is not a behavior, but saying to your friend “It’s a beautiful day” is a behavior. Being “sad” is not a behavior, but crying is a behavior. A good rule of thumb is if it can be observed by another person, then it’s a behavior.
Analysis refers to the process in which we systematically study the occurrences surrounding the behavior. The goal is deciding which of these variables affect the behavior and whether or not we can demonstrate this relationship, also known as “functional relation”. For example, a teacher in a school thinks that the student isn’t performing well at school because they are “defiant” and “willful.” After studying the student’s behavior through data collection, it turns out that the days that the student receives the most failing grades are the days that his family can’t afford to give him breakfast. After collecting some more data, the BCBA is confident that the student’s behavior is being controlled by hunger.
All together this means that as a profession, ABA is concerned about changing (increasing or decreasing) socially significant behaviors through a process of careful study and adapting the occurrences that surround the behavior to make the individual more successful.
Why do I love working at Behavioral Perspective Inc.? I think the best way to respond to this would be with a top 10 reasons list:
#1: The variety of learners I work with make my job both interesting and challenging. Learners work on a vast array of skills including behavior reduction, academics, self-care tasks (which you will hear referred to as ADLs or activities of daily living), desentization to haircuts and dental checkups, or language skills acquisition.
#2: My amazing coworkers from my supervisors to the behavior technicians and office staff. They are all supportive, helpful, and hardworking. My fellow behavior analysts are also a great source of encouragement and professional advice. Everyone who works here is passionate about improving the lives of the learners that they work with! In fact, many of our behavior technicians have decided to pursue their Masters in ABA and become BCBA’s!
#3: Being able to work with learners across environments including home, clinic, community settings such as parks, stores, and school settings. It is amazing to be able to support learners and their families in all of their environments.
#4: In my role as a Behavior Analyst, the many roles I take on make each day different. My roles include developing and implementing learner programming, supporting, training, and supervising staff, providing consultation in schools, training and supporting parents, analyzing data, and writing reports.
#5: The opportunities for advancement. Behavior technicians who show leadership can often advance to become Lead Behavior Technicians. There are also Case Manager opportunities for those who are pursuing their Masters in ABA and plan to sit for the BACB exam. Case Managers are trained and supported by the BCBA’s.
#6: Supportive Program Coordinators. Candice and Maggi are diligent in trying to give clients that are close in proximity so that travel is cut down as much as possible. They are also understanding in terms of work-personal life balance.
#7: There are many benefits for full-time employees including 401K with a 33% matching program, vacation time, continuing education reimbursement, holiday pay (including your birthday!), and insurance.
#8: Thorough training for new staff and ongoing. New staff is put through a training process which includes completing RBT training, role play, observations of sessions with learners and their staff, and hands on training with the specific learner that staff will work with. There is also ongoing training provided for current staff.
#9: The flexibility that is given to Case Managers and Behavior Analysts to develop programs with the support and approval of the Program Coordinators.
#10: The amazing growth of the company from clinic and home-based services to include the recent addition of Apple Academy and the up and coming ABLE academy. This gives current employees a variety of environments and positions to choose from in the future in terms of the type of setting they want to work in.
Hi, my name is Christy Winder and I am a BCaBA and one of Behavioral Perspective’s Staff Trainers. My experience working with Behavioral Perspective has included the opportunity to deliver direct services with learners, provide supervision and training to staff, offer assistance and training to parents, brainstorm during administrative meetings, and share my experience in this field with my co-workers.
Let’s talk about the Behavioral Perspective staff. The Administrative Staff, Behavior Therapists, Case Managers, and BCBAs make my job fun and worthwhile. When I provide trainings I like to encourage people to be silly and fun. Trainings can get technical and sometimes it’s a bit intense to have to learn all the components of a program. So, the best things to do are crack jokes and build a rapport with each co-worker to make the day more enjoyable for everyone. Every person that I have come into contact with at Behavioral Perspective is easy to talk to, loves kids, likes playing with toys (I really love toys), and is genuinely a nice person. I love that my job includes working with people who are dedicated to helping people learn. They are people who want to have fun, and who aren’t afraid of looking ridiculous if it means getting a smile from someone. Everyone is really good about providing support and basically being a cheerleader for each other. It is so nice to see the positive notes or emails that the staff provides for one another.
Is it weird to enjoy the toys more then the kids? Sometimes I think that I might be more excited about the toys my own children receive for birthdays and holidays then they are. Not to mention that I also might have a little influence as to what is written on my son’s Christmas list (especially taking advantage of the fact that he can not read or write yet). I love that in my job I get to play with toys. I love playing with toys and having the opportunity to teach our learners at Behavioral Perspective how to play with toys.
All the kids that we provide services for are amazing individuals and each and every one of them give me a great love for this type of work. There is nothing better then being apart of a team that gets to help a person learn a new skill. Each kiddo that BP teaches has varying skills. No matter what type of skill we help them learn it always feels amazing and satisfying when they finally achieve the goal.
While sitting in a crowded café, holding a cup of coffee in your hand, catching up with an old friend, have you ever stopped to wonder how you learned to engage in a conversation? Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t… but you are now. Either way, if you have some familiarity with ABA, you might have heard the word “intraverbal” before. I bet you HAVE asked yourself, “What in the world is an intraverbal and why is it important?” Intraverbals play a key role in individuals moving from communicating with short demand-type response (referred to as “mands”) to being able to engage in conversations.
In the field of ABA, an intraverbal is a verbal operant that was defined by B.F. Skinner in 1957 as being evoked by a verbal discriminative stimulus, lacks formal similarity, and is maintained by generalized reinforcement. Generally speaking, an intraverbal is a verbal response that you emit because of something that has been stated by another person, which is different from what the first speaker stated, and is reinforced by what the other individual says or does in return. We engage in intraverbal behavior when we answer questions, describe, explain, or complete a statement made by others.
Intraverbals are often taught by first teaching individuals to complete fill-in-the-blank statements (i.e. “Twinkle twinkle little ___”, “Woof says a ___”, “Fork and ___”). After an individual shows that they have a good handle on fill-in-the-blank targets, they might begin to work on answering WH questions such as “What do you sleep in?” “Where do you wash your hands?” “When do you eat dinner?” From there they may move on to engaging in multiple exchanges of questions and answers with another individual. An example of this would be if someone asked, “What is your favorite color?” the individual would respond with the name of a color, and then ask the other person what their favorite color is (“My favorite color is blue. What is your favorite color?”). The number of exchanges progressively builds, with the end result being that the individual is able to continue a conversation!
Intraverbals, the building block of conversational exchanges, ‘WH’ question answering and so many other things. Next time you are in a café, think about what happens when you say ‘Hi, how are you?’ or ‘May I have a cup of coffee with two creams?’. The relationship between your speech and the speech of the other is dictated by the learner’s history (experience with other conversations) and also attending to what was stated. Intraverbals are the beginning of the conversation!!!