Thursday, December 6, 2012

Some Basic Behavioral Principles (The Parent-Friendly Version!)

According to Cooper et al. 1987, a principle of behavior is “a description of a relationship between behavior and its controlling variables.”
Understanding the functions (reasons) why a child is behaving a specific way is important to achieving durable behavior change.  Additionally, there needs to be motivation to behave in a specific way. And lastly, we need to be far more concerned with what immediately follows (the consequence) than what precedes behavior. Seem a little overwhelming? Don’t worry -- we’re going to sparse it all out in under 800 words!
There are four basic functions of behavior. There are attention (e.g., I tap you on the shoulder and you turn and say “Yes?”), tangible (e.g., toys, iPad, play Duck-Duck-Goose), escape (e.g., to avoid a demand or delay a task), and automatic/sensory (e.g., it “feels” good and there is nothing particularly overt or observable happening – it happens inside the organism). Anyone of these (or a few at the same time) may be the reason behind why a child behaves in a certain way. Some children learn maladaptive ways to achieve outcomes (for example, I want your attention, so I cry). When we see this occurring, we need to find a replacement behavior that will serve the same function, but is more appropriate. The ultimate goal is to also teach an equivalent that works better and faster. When a child is crying to get attention it may be far easier – that is to say, requiring less effort – for a child to merely say your name when on the other side of the room. Thus, we may teach a child to ask for your attention by name as a replacement to crying. Figuring out the function (the reason(s) why) a child is behaving a certain way is one of the key principles that Behavior Analysts use to figure what replacement needs to be taught in an attempt to achieve the same outcome that the negative behavior does.
A second principle is motivation. The child has to “want” to do something. In the field, we have a few types of motivation, but let’s keep it basic and just say that if a child doesn’t want your attention at a particular moment, don’t expect them to cry if that’s their way of telling you they want attention.  We also need to look at what can be called satiation and deprivation. If you flood a child with attention (satiate) they may be less motivated to cry for attention. Additionally, if you have withheld (deprived) attention from the child for a long period of time, they may be more motivated to cry if that’s how they’ve learned to get attention.
Lastly, we need to look at the consequences – what immediately follows a particular behavior. So, for our crying example, if a child has learned in the past that if they cry, you start to attend, and they want that attention, you have potentially just increased the probability of crying occurring in the future when they want attention. So, if you were to ignore the crying and wait for an appropriate way for them to get your attention, you would potentially see a decrease in crying and an increase in whatever the alternate behavior is. Furthermore, while it is important to identify certain triggers that the behavior usually occurs after, Behavior Analysts look at the consequences – the reinforcing or punishing effect – to get at a more solid understanding of the behavior. Principles of reinforcement and punishment take time to understand or fully grasp, so they are out of the scope of this blog; however, an upcoming blog post will address this principle with more depth.

Understanding the function of a behavior, the motivation to behave a certain way, and what is following and maintaining a behavior are some of the key principles that Behavior Analysts use when developing interventions. Additionally, these principles hold true for the appropriate behavior as well and apply to all human and non-human organisms. If you want your child to say your name to get your attention, then make sure you are attending to them when they say your name. When we teach a new skill, we follow the appropriate responses with praise and something the child wants. Just remember that all behavior is learned and it serves a function.
That’s our brief, basic overview of some behavioral principles. For more information, feel free to send us an email!
Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E., Heward, W.L (Eds.). (1987). Applied Behavior Analysis. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Prentice Hall.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sleep Tips

      For all people, sleep is undoubtedly one of the most important factors that contribute to being effective and available throughout the day. For children, a good night sleeps increase their ability to engage in learning tasks, and deprivation can hinder performance and make children more irritable. We are using our blog for this week to discuss some bed time strategies to help children get a great night’s sleep!

1) Limit the amount of day-time sleep. Napping has shown benefits in small increments, but extended naps can make night time sleep more difficult

2) Children need to learn to initiate sleep on their own – a crying child is difficult to ignore, but coming in when they cry condition an attention function & decrease a child’s natural ability to fall asleep

3) If you have been entering the child’s room when they are crying, and then you stop, expect a brief increase in intensity of cries for parental attention

4) If you are concerned with their waking, keep a sleep diary of how long they typically remain asleep and the duration of the crying

5) Keep bedrooms dark and cool

6) Be consistent with bedtimes

7) Using a slow, rhythmic object that your child can watch while trying to fall asleep may make it easier for them

8) If your child needs a snack before bed, make it early and keep it light

9) Create a bed time routine that your child can follow (e.g., bath then pajamas then brush teeth then a story then a hug then lights out)

     All people need a good, quality night of sleep to perform well the next day. If your child is experiencing some difficulties, the above tips may be helpful to get them to fall asleep and help them sleep through the night. Good luck and lights out!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Some Discrepancies Between Teacher and BCBA Prep. Programs at the Masters Level

So, I am one semester away from student teaching for my M.Ed/LBS I, and am getting ready to apply for a BCBA cert. program. Granted that I haven't started my BCBA program, but I've done a fair amount of research on programs, and work in the field --> therefore have met plenty of BCBAs. Had some thoughts on discrepancies between the preparing candidates for the applied fields of special education in the public schools and behavior analysis. I think that, at the end of the day, we are all actually more similar in that we are educators than different in the approaches we may take.

Specific Discrepancies:

1) SPED people get a lot of disabilities training and study, not so much in BCBA training. Counter argument that not all BCBAs want to work with children with disabilities -- fine, but for the ones that do, they need more. Shouldn't be news to an MA, BCBA that the brain of a child with autism has more white than grey matter...

2) SPED people get a lot of training in classroom environments and classroom management. BCBAs have a fantastic understanding of how environmental changes really impact learning and responding, why do SPED people get so much classroom environment stuff that says very little about specific environmental manipulations? Why do BCBAs not get more training on how to help teachers with this

3) BCBAs completely under trained to go into IEP meetings. Don't understand procedural safe-guards, teachers usually well trained, but not to work with BCBAs on an IEP team.

4) SPED folks get a lot of learning theory and pedagogy and assessment, have yet to meet a BCBA who knows the difference between formative and summative assessment. In this same breath, really difficult for BCBAs to evaluate academic curriculum and consumer progress. If BCBAs go into classroom, they should have at least a basic understanding of evidence-based content curriculum because, more so than not, the kiddos who are having behavioral difficulties are having them because of academic demands. Too many problems on a page --> hit staff, etc.

5) SPED folks get little to no formal training on behavior management from a functional standpoint. Additionally, they get no training on how to, in a class period, be able to identify potential functions at that specific time they are seeing maladaptive BX and respond with appropriate consequences/teach a functionally equivalent replacement behavior.

6) Where both camps need improvement -- Positive Behavior Supports. I am always shocked and saddened when I hear either a teacher or BCBA talk about how difficult it is to help one individual kid when they have 30 kids in their classroom. Tier II PBS interventions are fantastic classroom management systems, even when taken out of the context of a more broad School-Wide PBS system. Group those contingencies, make everyone pay into your token system, catch peers in appropriate behaviors and make it look so much better to be doing the right thing than the wrong. Additionally, I find it disheartening when I see small, clinic based groups of 3-4 kids that I hear are "unmanageable."

That's all I got for now. I'll use these thoughts and think of a follow-up for potential directions for the future.

Friday, October 26, 2012

13 Spookishly Simple Halloween Safety Tips

Halloween is a time of year that can create a lot of excitement for children; however, it can also cause some anxiety for parents about their child’s safety. Here are 13 helpful tips for making this, and every, Halloween safe.

1) It is always best practice to accompany your child as they go door to door, even in your own neighborhood. Also, even if you are with your child, try and get a group together – there is safety in numbers

2) Never accept items/candy if they look tampered with or are unwrapped

3) Make sure you bring a flashlight. Even if you begin trick or treating during daylight, the sun can go down quickly

4) Do not take “short cuts” or use alleyways to go between houses

5) Always remind your children to WALK, not run between houses. You never know when that unsuspecting hole, exposed pipe, or branch is going to pose a safety hazard

6) We know children will like to dress up as their favorite character, but try to make costumes as bright as possible, or add some reflective element to the costume if possible. The brighter the better for visibility at night

7) Make sure that masks fit well and properly to avoid obstructing your child’s vision, which can also pose unforeseen accidents

8) Limit accessories if possible. For instance, if your child is Luke Skywalker, they do not need to bring a light-saber and the phaser pistol, and drag along R2D2… It is cumbersome and can cause can trip up your child, causing injury

9) Keep a good distance from candles in bags and Jack-O-Lanterns, and make sure costumes are fire resistant

10) Have a brief talk to your children about speaking to and accepting items from strangers. Additionally, bear in mind that anyone can wear a costume and pretend to be friendly

11) Set a time limit for trick-or-treating. Do not allow it to be a free for all where we try to hit every house in the neighborhood. It’s unrealistic and can cause fatigue

12) Have your child carry some personal identification on them in case they got lost. Include name and adult contact information – and make sure they know where this information is in case they get lost

13) If your child wanders or frequently runs off, make sure you have a safety plan in place ahead of time. Review it, know it, and teach it to your child. More information on this can be obtained from the Autism Wandering and Elopement Initiative

And for our final tip, have fun and be safe. Halloween can be exciting and fun for all members of the family. However, safety is the paramount concern. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

About Tooth Brushing

Tooth brushing is an integral daily living task that is vital to ensure dental and overall health. It is also one of the more difficult skills for children to learn and master. For some of our learners who need additional help, we wanted to provide you with some basic information and practical tips as they relate to tooth brushing.
Most developmental cusps are not set in stone in terms of age. Some skills take longer to learn and master, while others happen way before they were anticipated. There are, however, some typical ages when certain skills related to tooth brushing should occur. At 24 months or slightly older, the child should be brushing their teeth with assistance. At around 3-4 years, they should be brushing their teeth with a vertical and horizontal motion. Around this same 3-4 years old time, they should spit out the toothpaste when they’re done, rinse their toothbrush, and wipe their mouth and hands dry following tooth brushing.A little bit after this, we typically see that children are able to replacing the top on the tooth paste, and return their tooth brush and tooth paste to a designated area. And lastly, around 5 ½ years old, children can typically use proper brushing strokes. (Information adapted from the HELP for Preschoolers curriculum). Even if your child is not exactly where they ought to be in the realm in tooth brushing , you do not need to worry! Learning can occur!

Now, for some practical tips that you can use in the home!

- The first step is to desensitize the child to the sensation of having something in their mouth with an awkward feel and taste. This can be started by using a clean, wet piece of cloth wrapped around your finger to wipe the teeth (Please note, if a child bites,neverput your fingers in their mouth). You can start this as soon as you see the first tooth
- If your child is 2 and older, you can begin to introduce the tooth brush. Letting them explore the tooth brush (play with it, mouth it, imitate you using a tooth brush, etc.) is a great first step to introducing this new stimulus
 - Keep it short! A quick tooth brushing is better than nothing at all
- If it’s a matter of the toothpaste being aversive, start without toothpaste and gradually increase the amount
- For children who are presenting with more difficulties, do not hesitate to make brushing happen after every meal to create a routine
- If your child needs physical assistance, standing behind them, rather than to the front or sides, can make the assistance easier on you and less threatening for the child

With these tips in mind, and with appropriate interventions provided by trained and qualified personnel, you are moving in the right direction towards having successful and functional tooth brushing for your child!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Chicago Teachers' Strike & Service Delivery Models

     Two notes before I begin. One, is that I had not intended on posting on this highly politicized event because I am not a CPS teacher, or a public school teacher in general, but as the strike enters its second week, I need to post. Also, while I do not have any children in CPS, I am a Chicago resident. Second, I used "Teachers'" in the title, because the strike belongs to the teachers. Teachers who want to be in classrooms.

     No matter what the issues are, or how they are portrayed in the media, CPS suffers from serious funding issues. Furthermore, at the end of the day, many of the issues would be alleviated if more funding is available. Obvious, right!? But how about this. How about instead of worrying about how money is allocated, let's look at empirical systems structures that would alleviate a lot of tensions on staff resources, and therein money.

     If CPS had a formal School-Wide Positive Behavior Support (SWPBS) system in their district, they could spend less money on reactively fixing discipline issues, suspending and expelling students, wasting money on non-evidence based interventions, and be more preventative as a whole. The fact that specific schools need to implement these interventions on their own, usually requiring consultative help, is time and cost "frustrating."

     If CPS had a formal Response to Intervention/Multi-Tiered System of Support (RtI/MTSS, the terms are interchangeable), they could move away from the wait to fail models of the current special education systems, thereby freeing up monies and staff time. Instead, schools sit around waiting for students to "need" more help, rather than addressing core curriculum and special education issue more rapidly and effectively. RtI/MTSS is just good teaching, and it begins and ends in general education. Instead, each school needs to undertake these issues independently, thereby running into the same resource issues as are with SWPBS.

     While these initiatives may seem like fads to some veteran teachers and administrators, these are empirically-based service delivery models. In the beginning, they may require some diligence for teacher buy-in, but if staff is trained appropriately and to capacity and to train incoming teachers and staff, could go a long way in reducing strains within the district. This would free up money to put air conditioning in the schools that need them, keep the promises for benefits for teachers, and most importantly, increase student achievement. Achievement that, if it were happening, would require less of a focus on arbitrary standardized testing and unfair teacher evaluations.

     CPS needs to set-up ALL school environments for success.When students are successful across the board, we can spend more money on much needed enrichment programs without having to justify them at every turn. When all students are successful, we don't need to loose sleep over achievement gaps. And this is not only true of CPS, it's schools across the nation. SWPBS and RtI/MTSS are not fads, they are school management and teaching methods perfected that have an efficacious basis in data.

What Is Task Analysis?

     Task analysis is the process of breaking down a particular skill into a specific set of behaviors that lead to execution and completion of a task or skill. Task analysis is very helpful for inductively teaching skills because it helps to increase fluency while moving through the necessary steps.

     The first step to successful task analysis is to identify the target skill. The next step is to write out all of the necessary behaviors that need to occur to execute the target skill. So, for example, if the target skill is making a turkey sandwich, the behavioral steps may be: Step 1 --Take out a plate; Step 2 – Go to the refrigerator; Step 3 – Take out turkey; so on and so forth until there is a sandwich sitting on a plate ready to eat. The amount of specificity required for each behavioral step is going to depend on the current skill level of the learner. Therefore, while the behavioral steps may be objective, the task analysis is going to be subjective and suited towards the particular learner.

     The typical applications of task analysis for teaching a skill are either through forward-, backward-, or total task-chaining.

     Backward chaining is where the learner goes through all of the steps to complete a task with appropriate prompting on each step until the last step, where they are then given the opportunity to complete the step independently. Once the final step is mastered, the instructor then fades out the prompt on the last two steps, then the last three, so on and so forth until all of the behaviors required to execute the target skill are mastered. So, for example, in making a turkey sandwich, the instructor would assist or prompt with all of the steps up to the last one, which may be cutting the sandwich in half before eating it.

     Forward chaining allows the learner to complete the initial step independently followed by appropriate prompts for the remaining steps. Once the learner has mastered the initial step, then they are given the opportunity to complete the first two steps, then the first three, so on and so forth until all of the behaviors required to execute the target skill are mastered. So, for example, in making a turkey sandwich, the instructor would allow the learner to take out the plate, and then would assist or prompt with the remaining steps.

     Total task chaining is where the learner is given the opportunity to complete each behavior relating to the target skill with independence at each step, with the instructor providing prompts as necessary throughout the execution of the skill. So, for example, in making a turkey sandwich, the instructor may allow the learner to perform all of the steps independently, and when they get stuck, go in and prompt the target behavior, and then allow them to continue independently.

     In summary, task analysis is a way of breaking down components of a skill into specific behaviors required to execute a skill or complete a task.

Friday, September 7, 2012

An Overview of Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT)

     There are many different ways to teach skills and concepts to children. There are whole group, small group, and individualized strategies. While some are better for teaching certain types of content, one method that is very useful for teaching skills in an inductive way is through discrete trial training (DTT).

     DTT is typically done one-to-one with an instructor and a child in a very structured environment. The clinician contrives the learning environment very intently. Some general examples of these environmental manipulations may be to minimize distractions for acquisition targets, or have distractions present to check for mastery of skills and/or generalization.

     By generalization, it is meant that the skill or behavior is emitted under numerous conditions and across people and settings and materials. For example, if a target skill is to expressively identify a car, a clinician may start with basic pictures of cars, then use Matchbox cars. To oversimplify the concept of generalization, the goal is that the learner is able to understand that there are multiple examples of cars, but they are all still cars. Being able to identify multiple examples of cars can then lead to greater understandings about cars and the world in general, such as that cars drive on the road, but so do buses, and buses carry children to school, so on and so forth. Essentially, we want to make the child’s world larger, and a good way to ensure this is happening is by checking for generalization of skills and behaviors across examples and settings and people.

     Each trial in a DTT sequence is documented on a data sheet for correct and incorrect responses. When an incorrect response is given, we mark the level of prompting (vocal, gestural, model, physical, to name a few) necessary for the child to respond correctly. We then go into the next trial for the same target, to see if learning has occurred. As we move through the trials, the prompt is faded out; however, after 2 incorrect responses, the clinician typically goes into an errorless teaching format. 

     In errorless teaching the learner is fully prompted to respond, thereby not allowing for an opportunity to respond incorrectly.  We run the errorless procedure 3 times, and then run what is termed a transfer trial – or a trial that allows the learner respond independently – to check if learning has occurred. 

     DTT as a teaching protocol is not without some controversy. Some people claim it leads to rote responding, or creates mechanical like responding. However, in light of this criticism, one ought to ask themselves if it would be better to have the child not learning at all? Additionally, through checking for generalization, we ensure that rote responding is decreased. DTT is specialized in that it creates learning opportunities for children who may not have the prerequisite skills for larger group based instruction. With this in mind, DTT can therefore be useful for getting children to the point where they are available for more natural, group based instruction. 

     DTT is extremely useful because it has the learner practicing the skill or behavior with individualized support and opportunities for incorrect responding are lessened, thereby increasing the rate of learning.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


46% of teens with an ASD are bullied. You can read more here.

The flip-side of the coin is that there are resources available to combat bullying here.

Another reason why it is not only important to protect our children, but to teach them to also advocate for themselves!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Adult Behavior

     There are times when adults see certain behavior in children that is puzzling. If we follow the premise that behavior is learned, then it goes without saying that some behavior is taught and others behavior is learned by observation. By observation, it is meant that learners view models and act in similar or exact ways. Additionally, how you as an adult respond to a child’s behavior will play a part in how they behave in the future. Keeping adult behavior in mind can go a long way in understanding and shaping the behavior of children.

                With this in mind, whether you are a parent or professional, if you are an adult, children will learn how to behave by observing how you behave. We are not merely talking about “role-models” that children see in their favorite actors or sports figures, we are talking about modeling in general. Many times, simply saying how certain behavior should occur is not enough -- we need to play the part as well. 

                Let’s take, for instance, vocal protest. A child is not born saying “No” and refusing to comply. They may see this behavior modeled by another peer, but they may also have learned it by observing adults. Maybe, a spouse asks their significant other to take out the garbage, and the significant other says “I’ll do it later,” and it never gets done. For children observing this, they may have just learned one strategy for getting out of non-preferred activities. 

                Another consideration for your behavior is how you consequate a child’s behavior. Under the behavior analytic model, we are far more concerned with what follows (the consequence) a particular behavior, rather than what comes before (the antecedent). There is an entire science (Applied Behavior Analysis) devoted to studying this Response-Consequence connection that is far beyond the scope of this post, but it is important to delve into topically. 

                For the same example of vocal protest illustrated above, if a child protests and gets out of the activity, the probability of them complying in the future is decreased. This goes almost without saying; however, if you become frustrated, or start nagging and pestering, you may have inadvertently shaped up escape behavior AND added an additional attention component (the nagging). 

The important thing to keep in mind with attention is that there are different types of attention. Some children, for whatever reason, may prefer negative attention because they know that what follows (the consequence) is avoiding the task at hand. Some children would rather spend 40 minutes tantruming and being yelled at than one minute complying.  If you remain calm and follow-through you will increase future success. Even if the episode has escalated into a tantrum, following through on even a small detail as it relates to the initial demand may increase future success for completion of the larger goal. 

                There is also a consideration for how adults behave even with children they do not know. If a child is flopping and screaming in the grocery store, and you are staring at the child and parent/caregiver, you have just become an audience member to that situation. Judgments aside, providing an audience for an acting out child may increase the intensity of their tantrum. Think of how you behave when you are being watched. If you are at work, and are doing something correct or efficiently, there may have been an instance where you increased your intensity to be noticed when your supervisor walks by. Examples like this are pertinent to compare and contrast adult and child behavior because they are similar in that there is a motivation component, only the observable behavior is different (tantruming vs. working). 

                A lot of how a child behaves is going to depend on the model you provide and your reactions in situations. If you can make activities fun and worthwhile, remain patient, and always remember to think about how your actions will affect a child’s behavior, you are already one step in the right direction for teaching appropriate behavior and squashing the inappropriate.  

                Lastly, and this may take some reminding, but you are the adult. Remembering to act like an adult, even in difficult, uncomfortable, or frustrating scenarios will have an impact on a child’s behavior. And this remains true whether or not you even know the child.