Different Roads to Learning

  • Build and Generalize: Strategies for Systematic Language Instruction

    This week’s blog comes to us from Rosemarie Griffin, MA, CCC/SLP BCBA, creator of the Action Builder Cards! Head to our site to check out some of Rosemarie’s favorite supports for language instruction! 
     

    Helping students with autism and other communication disorders increase their expressive language skills can be overwhelming. It can be difficult to know what targets are the most important to start with. Every situation is so very individualized but following a general framework has made these decisions easier for me and has helped my students make progress in this area.

    If we were to focus on the skill of labeling, for example, I would start with labeling items, people or places that are preferred for the student. If you have a student who really loves bubbles, chips and basketball – these would make wonderful first targets. Working on labeling can be difficult for students, so we want to make sure we make the programming fun and engaging. We should also include a plan for generalization at the start of this programming. Showing the student multiple pictures of bubbles, chips and basketball will allow for us to plan for the generalization of materials. This helps to build a bridge between the therapy environment and novel exemplars they may see in the natural environment.

    When we start to work on labeling actions, the same framework can be implemented. Starting with preferred actions when available is a great idea. If the student is more motivated by the action or seeing the action, this may help to keep the student engaged in the task of labeling. We could choose targets that are related to the nouns chosen above: blowing, eating and playing. If the student enjoys these actions we could work on engaging in these actions and labeling them as they take place in real time, or we could show them pictures of these actions taking place.

    When a student is able to label a variety of nouns and actions, it is time to combine these into action object or agent action phrases. To keep language instruction systematic, we start by combining previously mastered nouns and actions. Using the example from before, we would show the student pictures of the above action and nouns combined: blowing bubbles, eating chips and playing basketball. After the student has worked on creating these phrases with his/her words, pictures or device we can work on multiple exemplars to help plan for generalization. These could include blowing candles, blowing a kiss, eating pizza, eating an apple, playing soccer, playing tennis, etc.

    Using a framework can help us plan for systematic language instruction for learners. This framework can help our learners have fun while learning, increase their expressive language, and help them generalize skills along the way.


    About the Author

    Rosemarie Griffin, MA, CCC/SLP BCBA, is an ASHA certified Speech-Language Pathologist and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She divides her time between a public school and a private school for students with autism in Ohio. She’s presented at the national, state and local level about systematic and collaborative language instruction for students with autism. Her professional mission is to help all students expand their communication step by step. She can be reached at www.abaspeech.org, on Facebook or Instagram. 

  • Teaching Safety Skills To Adolescents

    This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Shannon Wilkinson, M.ADS, BCBA. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

    I am a Special Education Teacher at the high school level. A young man with autism is transitioning to my caseload from our middle school. Although there is much talk about “safety skills” amongst my colleagues, I would like to target this skill area effectively and comprehensively. Any suggestions?

    Safety skills are important for learners with autism and should be addressed comprehensively over the course of the learner’s schooling and across the lifespan. The type of safety skills taught at any given time will vary depending on the learner’s age and functioning level. For example, younger learners can be taught to walk appropriately with an adult so they do not run into the street while older learners can be taught to cross the street independently. Regardless of age, safety skills should be included on the learner’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and reflect the goals of the individual and their families. In addition, data collection on the targeted skills is essential to ensure the learner is acquiring the skill and that the skill maintains over time.

    An effective method to teach safety skills is Behavioral Skills Training (BST). BST is a comprehensive teaching method which includes delivering instructions to the learner, modeling the correct response, rehearsing the correct response in both pretend and more naturalistic environments, and delivering feedback to the participant regarding their actions. If the learner is having difficulty acquiring the skill, an additional teaching component known as In Situ Training (IST) can be added. In IST, the trainer provides immediate and direct training in the learner’s environment and allows for additional practice of the skill. Within the literature, BST and IST have been shown to be effective for teaching a wide range of safety skills such as abduction prevention skills (Beck & Miltenberger, 2009; Gunby, Carr & LeBlanc, 2010; Johnson et al., 2006) and how to seek assistance when lost (Pan-Skadden et al., 2009).

    There are a number of safety skills that that could be targeted for an adolescent with autism. Targeting those that also increase independence should be a priority if appropriate, based on the adolescent’s level of functioning. Teaching him to use a cell phone is one such skill, as it can be used to improve his safety and overall independence (Hoch, Taylor, & Rodriguez, 2009; Taber, Alberto, Seltzer & Hughes, 2003). First, you will want to ensure the learner has the basic skills associated with cell phone use including: answering the phone, following directions on the phone, answering questions on the phone and negotiating all of the mechanisms associated with initiating a call. Once these basic skills are mastered, specific safety skills involving the phone can be taught. For example, a learner can be taught to answer his cell phone and provide a description of his location in the event he is separated from his caregiver or group. He could also be taught to follow instructions to seek assistance from a community member if lost (Hoch, Taylor, & Rodriguez, 2009; Taylor, Hughes, Richard, Hoch & Coello, 2004) or to call a trusted adult.

    A major safety concern for most parents is abduction. Although abduction may be more likely with a young child, adolescents with autism should still be taught to identify “safe people” such as police officers, fire fighters and security guards, in the community. Many learners with autism are not able to distinguish safe or familiar people from unsafe or unfamiliar people. As a result, they cannot determine whom they can speak to or make a request for help. Learners can first learn to identify safe people, such as those noted above, in pictures. Once they can reliably do so, they should be taught what to do if a stranger approaches them. Multiple scenarios should be practiced so the learner becomes familiar with potential lures such as a stranger offering candy to get in a car or telling the student that his mom told the stranger to pick him up. Behavioral skills training and In Situ Training may be beneficial in teaching these skills (Beck & Miltenberger, 2009; Gunby, Carr & Leblanc, 2010; Mechling, 2008). In this scenario, the learner would first be provided instructions on what to do in each stranger situation. The learner should then model the correct response. If he does so successfully, a mock scenario can then be set up whereby a confederate approaches the learner and the learner has the opportunity to demonstrate the skills he has learned (i.e., do not go with the stranger, run away and tell an adult). If the learner performs the correct actions, he receives praise. If the learner does not demonstrate the correct response, the instructor immediately provides him with additional training.

    Additional safety skills to target could include:

    • navigating and using community resources appropriately and independently;
    • exiting a car and crossing a parking lot or busy street safely;
    • responding appropriately in emergency situations such as a fire or earthquake;
    • addressing potential household hazards such as responding safely to cleaning chemicals, using appliances properly, or answering the doorbell when it rings;
    • identifying a need to dial 911;
    • using basic first aid procedures;
    • interacting appropriately with pets and other animals;
    • using the internet safely; and
    • managing teasing and bullying

     

    There are many others that can be addressed based on the learner, his individualized goals and his future educational, vocational and residential placements. Involving the learner’s parents in the planning process will help you to identify which safety skills are most important and relevant for the individual to learn, particularly if the parents have specific concerns or if there has been a history of unsafe behavior. Finally, as you go through this program planning process, it’s helpful to keep in mind that the essential goal in teaching these skills is to promote greater independence by ensuring the learner has the tools he needs to be safe and to protect himself in his environment.

    References

    Beck, K. V., & Miltenberger, R. (2009). Evaluation of a commercially available program and in situ training by parents to teach abduction-prevention skills to children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 42, 761-772.

    Gunby, K. V., Carr, J. E., & Leblanc, L. A. (2010). Teaching abduction-prevention skills to children with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 43, 107-112.

    Hoch, H., Taylor, B. A., & Rodriguez, A. (2009). Teaching teenagers with autism to answer cell phones and seek assistance when lost. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 2, 14-20.

    Mechling, L. C. (2008). Thirty year review of safety skill instruction for persons with intellectual disabilities. Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities, 43, 311-323.

    Pan-Skadden, J., Wilder, D. A., Sparling, J., Stevenson, E., Donaldson, J., Postma, N., et al.(2009). The use of behavioral skills training and in-situ training to teach children to solicit help when lost: A preliminary investigation. Education and Treatment of Children, 32, 359-370.

    Taber, T. A., Alberto, P. A., Seltzer, A., & Hughes, M. (2003). Obtaining assistance when lost in the community using cell phones. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 28, 105-116.

    Taylor, B. A., Hughes, C. E., Richard, E., Hoch, H., & Rodriquez-Coello, A. (2004). Teaching teenagers with autism to seek assistance when lost. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37, 79-82.

     

    About The Author 

    Shannon Wilkinson, M.ADS, BCBA is a Supervising Therapist with TRE-ADD program at Surrey Place Centre in Toronto, which is a comprehensive day treatment program that provides services for children and youth with autism and related developmental disorders and their families. Shannon has worked in the field of autism for 13 years, starting as an Instructor Therapist. She is particularly passionate about working with adolescents and has taught many vocational and life skills over the years. Shannon has a Masters in Applied Disability Studies from Brock University and is a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst.

     

  • Ethics Part Two: More on the Right to Effective Treatment

    In Part One, I discussed the right to effective treatment as detailed by the Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts. An essential part of effective treatment is providing, as the code specifies, “scientifically supported, most-effective treatment procedures” (BACB, 2014). In order to do this, behavior analysts must contact the research literature to fully understand scientifically supported treatments. They should do this through reading journal articles, but also through attending workshops, trainings, and local conferences.

     
    Reading journal articles should be a regular activity for behavior analysts. It is suggested that behavior analysts set aside two to four hours per week to read recent journals (Bailey & Burch, 2016, p. 24). This may seem like a lot of time, especially if you aren’t currently doing it. But this practice allows you to stay abreast of current research and have access to a broader range of possible interventions. You may also find it easier to follow through if you participate in a journal club (click here to see suggestions for that.).
    Most of the behavior analytic research you’ll find is comprised of single-subject studies. You may get pushback from professionals or parents who are accustomed to seeing research with very large numbers of participants and an explanation of average results. It’s important to understand how to address those concerns in an accessible and accurate way. Here are some things to consider:

     
    • Behavior analytic research does not utilize averages. Therefore, we learn a lot about the specific individuals who responded to an intervention, and can make a more accurate hypothesis about whether or not that intervention will work for a particular client. Furthermore, research based on averages doesn’t provide any information on the percentage of individuals who did not respond to the intervention and WHY they did not respond to the intervention. This is important information that we’re missing out on!

     
    • Behavior analysis is focused on creating individualized interventions. We do not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather in a set of principles of behavior. Individualizing treatment means that we are looking at the environment, the basic characteristics of the individual, the motivations of the individual, and the functions of a behavior when creating an intervention. When you familiarize yourself with behavior analytic research, you are able to identify interventions that worked with individuals who similar characteristics to that of your particular client.

     
    • Though behavior analysts utilize single subject research, we are fully aware that this does not mean an intervention that worked for a few subject will work for everyone. This is why there is an important stress on replication of research. (Chiesa, 1994). This is also why it’s important to read several journal articles on the same subject, rather than simply reading one and considering yourself up to date.

     

    The main takeaway here is that being familiar with the research is important in order to maintain an ethical practice. Supervisors should support this by providing suggestions for readings and modeling these behaviors. Organizations can support this by subscribing to journals and maintaining a small library for employees. You can support it by subscribing to journals, setting aside time to spend time reading journals, and participating in a journal club. It is incredibly important to our field, and to your practice.
    Bailey, J. S., & Burch, M. R. (2016). Ethics for behavior analysts: 3rd edition. New York: Routledge.
    Behavior Analyst Certification Board. (2014). Professional and ethical compliance code for behavior analysts.
    Chiesa, M. (1994). Radical behaviorism: The philosophy and the science. Authors Cooperative.


    WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA

    Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for twelve years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. She is also an assistant professor in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

  • How do you figure out what motivates your students?

    This month’s ASAT feature comes to us from Niall Toner, MA, BCBA of the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

    I am a special education teacher working with students with autism. At times I find it difficult to figure out what motivates my students and what they’re interested in. Can you make some suggestions about the best way to do this?

    This is an excellent question and one that highlights a challenge often experienced not only by teachers but also by family members of individuals with autism. We know that the interests and preferences of individuals with and without autism vary significantly over time. Also, we know that effective teaching of skills and behavior change are predicated upon the timely use of powerful reinforcement (i.e., positive consequences of skilled behavior that motivate and strengthen that behavior). As discussed below, identifying an individual’s preferences is a critical first step in teaching new skills because these preferences often lead to the identification of powerful reinforcers; but how we do this can be easier said than done, especially when the learner has a limited communication repertoire or very individualized interests. The best way to identify preferences is through ongoing preference assessments.

    The value of preference assessments

    Since many individuals with autism may have difficulty identifying and communicating their preferences directly, we must consider alternative methods of obtaining this information. At the onset, it is important to keep in mind that what may be rewarding or reinforcing for one individual may not be for another. For example, one child may enjoy bubble play, crackers or a particular cause-and-effect toy while a classmate may find one or more of these uninteresting or even unpleasant. Furthermore, an individual’s preferences change across time. For example, an individual may have demonstrated little use for music at age 11, but she may demonstrate a keen interest in music at age 13.

    Preference assessments provide a systematic, data-based approach to evaluating a host of potential interests (e.g., food, toys, activities) for an individual. Although preference assessments do require time and effort up front, their use can decrease the time and energy, required to change behavior in the long run. Research indicates that when caregivers use a presumed preference that, in fact, is not the learner’s actual preference, valuable time, energy and resources are lost (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2006).

    Types of Preference Assessments

    Preference assessment can be conducted in three distinct ways: (1) Interviews and Formal Surveys; (2) Direct observation; and (3) Systematic assessment.

    Interviews are a straightforward technique that can be used to gather information quickly. They involve obtaining information from the individual’s parents, siblings, friends, and teachers (and
    from the individual, if communicative) by asking both open-ended and comparison questions. Examples of open-ended questions include: “What does he like to do?” “What are his favorite foods?” and “Where does he like to go when he has free time?” Comparison questions might include: “Which does he like better, cookies or crackers?” and “What would he rather do, go for a walk or eat chips?” Resultant information is then compiled in a list and identified items and activities can be piloted out as possible reinforcers.

    Formal surveys can also be used to guide these discussions. One widely used survey is the Reinforcement Assessment for Individuals with Severe Disabilities (RAISD; Fisher, Piazza, Bowman, & Amari, 1996). This interview-based survey gathers information about potential reinforcers across a variety of domains (e.g., leisure, food, sounds, smells), and ranks them in order of preference. It should be noted that, although simple and time-efficient, using interviews alone can result in incomplete or inaccurate information. In fact, some studies have shown that, for the same individual, staff interviews did not reveal the same information as using a survey (Parsons & Reid, 1990; Winsor, Piche, & Locke, 1994).

    Direct observation involves giving the individual free access to items and/or activities that he or she may like (presumed preferences) and recording the amount of time the individual engages with them. The more time spent with an item or activity, the stronger the presumed preference. In addition, positive affect while engaged with these items and activities could be noted (e.g., smiling, laughing). During these observations, no demands or restrictions are placed on the individual, and the items are never removed. These direct observations can be conducted in an environment enriched with many of the person’s preferred items or in a naturalistic environment such as the person’s classroom or home. Data are recorded over multiple days, and the total time spent on each object or activity will reveal the presumed strongest preferences. Direct observation usually results in more accurate information than interviews but also requires more time and effort.

    Systematic assessment involves presenting objects and activities to the individual in a preplanned order to reveal a hierarchy or ranking of preferences. This method requires the most effort, but it is the most accurate. There are many different preference assessments methods, all of which fall into one of the following formats: single item, paired items, and multiple items (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2006).

    Single item preference assessment (also known as “successive choice”) is the quickest, easiest method. Objects and activities are presented one at a time and each item is presented several times in a random order. After each presentation, data are recorded on duration of engagement with each object or activity.

    Paired method or “forced-choice” (Fisher et al., 1992) involves the simultaneous presentation of two items or activities at the same time. All items are paired systematically with every other item in a random order. For each pair of items, the individual is asked to choose one. Since all objects and activities have to be paired together, this method takes significantly longer than the single-item method but will rank in order the strongest to weakest preferences. Researchers found that the paired method was more accurate than the single item method (Pace, Ivancic, Edwards, Iwata & Page, 1985; Paclawskyj & Vollmer, 1995).

    The multiple-choice method is an extension of the paired method (DeLeon & Iwata, 1996). Instead of having two items to choose from, there are three or more choices presented at the same time. There are two variations to this method: with and without replacement. In the multiple choice with replacement method, when an object is selected, all other objects are replaced in the next trial. For example, if the individual is given a choice of cookies, crackers, and chips, and he chooses cookies, the cookies will be available for the next trial, but the crackers and chips are replaced with new items. In the without replacement method, the cookies would not be replaced and the choice would only be between the crackers and chips. No new items would be available.

    A few final recommendations

    When conducting preference assessments, consider testing leisure items/activities and food assessments separately because food tends to motivate individuals more than toys and other leisure items (Bojak & Carr, 1999; DeLeon, Iwata, & Roscoe, 1997). Also, be sure to assess preferences early and often. Preference assessments should be conducted prior to starting any new intervention or behavior change program. And remember that preferences change over time and require continuous exploration. Therefore, assessments should be updated monthly or whenever an individual appears tired of or bored with the preferred items. Keep in mind too, that the identification of one type of preference may provide ideas for other potential reinforcers. For example, if an individual loves a certain type of crunchy cereal, he/she may like other cereals or crunchy snacks. Or if an individual enjoys coloring with crayons, consider exploring whether he/she may enjoy coloring with markers or using finger paints.

    Finally, when selecting a preference assessment method, a practitioner or parent should consider the individual’s communication level, the amount of time available for the assessment, and the types of preferred items that will be available. Taken together, these preference assessment methods can provide the valuable information necessary to help motivate and promote behavior change in individuals with autism.

    References

    Bojak, S. L., & Carr, J. E. (1999). On the displacement of leisure items by food during multiple stimulus preference assessments. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 32, 515-518.

    Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward W. L. (2006). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

    DeLeon, I. G., & Iwata, B. A. (1996). Evaluation of multiple-stimulus presentation format for assessing reinforcer preferences.Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 29, 519-533.

    DeLeon, I. G., Iwata, B. A., & Roscoe, E. M. (1997). Displacement of leisure reinforcers by food during preference assessments. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 30, 475-484.

    Fisher, W. W., Piazza, C. C., Bowman, L. G., & Amari, A. (1996). Integrating caregiver report with a systematic choice assessment. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 101, 15-25.

    Fisher, W. W., Piazza, C. C., Bowman, L. G., Hagopian, L. P., Owens, J. C., & Slevin, I. (1992). A comparison of two approaches for identifying reinforcers for persons with severe to profound disabilities. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25, 491-498.

    Pace, G. M., Ivancic, M. T., Edwards, G. L., Iwata, B. A., & Page, T. J. (1985). Assessment of stimulus preference and reinforcer value with profoundly retarded individuals. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 18, 249-255.

    Paclawskyj, T. R., & Vollmer, T. R. (1995). Reinforcer assessment for children with developmental disabilities and visual impairments. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 28, 219-224.

    Parsons, M. B., & Reid, D. H. (1990). Assessing food preferences among persons with profound mental retardation: Providing opportunities to make choices. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 23, 183-195.

    Windsor, J., Piche, L. M., & Locke, P. A. (1994). Preference testing: A comparison of two presentation methods. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 15, 439-455.

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