By: Megan Miller, MSED, BCBA, LBA
Perhaps this is your first experience with ABA therapy, or maybe your child has received services before. Either way, collaboration/caregiver involvement is key for maximum effectiveness when using applied behavior analysis as a treatment option. Think about it, your child may be receiving 10-20 hours a week of ABA therapy, and while that may seem like a lot and a therapist may be in your home working with your child every single day of the week, this also means that a therapist is not present for 148-158 hours of that week. When you think of it from this perspective, how can you ensure that your child still works on these crucial skills when they are not receiving direct therapy services?
The best place to start is simply observing your child’s session and becoming familiar with the programs that are being run on a daily basis. If you don’t understand something, ask questions! The therapist will be able to explain the skills that are being taught and can also model the teaching procedures for you. It is recommended that you learn a few of the programs that your child is working on and set aside a time to work on them at home using the same techniques as the therapist. The best skills to begin practicing at home are skills that your child is already doing well with so that they will be successful.
One of the most often used strategies in ABA is reinforcement. The definition of positive reinforcement is “when a behavior is followed immediately by the presentation of a stimulus that increases the future frequency of the behavior” (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). It is important to keep in mind that just because the child might like something, it doesn’t mean that it will be an effective reinforcer. A true reinforcer will increase the likelihood of a desired behavior happening. When choosing reinforcers, it is important to ensure that the reward is worth the amount of work and effort that the child is expected to exert. Remember – if the desired behavior is not increasing, then your reinforcer might not be effective.
Tips for Reinforcement
Individualize rewards: Whatever your child is interested or motivated by in a particular moment can be used as a reward to reinforce the child for completing a task that was asked of them. This could be playing a game of chase, eating a favorite snack, or playing with a specific toy.
Make yourself the ultimate reinforcer: Teach your child that you are the giver of all good things. Let them know that all of the fun things they love will be available to them when they are working with you. This will motivate them further to want to work with you, as it indicates that good things are coming their way.
Be specific with your praise: Whenever you are rewarding your child for doing something well, be sure to indicate exactly what they did to receive that reward. For example, instead of just saying “Good job” you should say, “Great job matching the letter A!”
Reinforce immediately after the desired response: Ideally, you want to deliver your reward as quickly as possible after the child responds correctly. For example, if you ask your child to match the letter A and they do so correctly, you would want to say “Great job matching letter A” as you give them a piece of a cookie. Delaying reinforcement can inadvertently reinforce another response or behavior. For example, if you ask your child to match the letter A and they do so correctly, then they engage in yelling as you’re delivering reinforcement, they may think that they were just rewarded for the yelling as opposed to the matching. If this continues to happen, it is likely that the child will engage in yelling more often because they think they get rewarded for that behavior.
Many children may be receiving ABA because they have behaviors that interfere with learning or day to day functioning. Discuss the current targeted behaviors with your BCBA® and learn the strategies that are being used to help reduce these behaviors and increase replacement behaviors. Always keep the phrase “Catch them being good” in the back of your mind. What this means is that you should always being looking for opportunities to reinforce your child for doing appropriate things. For example, if you know that your child has a tendency to get up out of their seat often, but you notice that they are sitting nicely, use this an opportunity to reward them for doing the right thing. Remember – reinforcement increases the likelihood of a behavior happening again!
A lot of children on the spectrum have difficulty communicating their wants and needs with others. Every good ABA treatment program will include some type of goals to help the child to increase or expand upon their current level of communication. Whether your child is working on exchanging pictures, using sign language, a speech output device, single words, or complex sentences, the same expectations should be set across all people and settings. This means that if during ABA sessions, the therapist is having the child request items using a 3 word sentence, then everyone else should make sure that they are only giving that child them item for requesting it with 3 words. If the family provided requested items to the child when they only used a single word, the child would learn that ta single word is acceptable (at least when requesting from that particular person). This can potentially cause behavioral issues when the child tries to request an item from the therapist by using a single word and is then denied the item because the expectation is for them to use a 3 word phrase.
Parent training is part of every child’s treatment plan and is a crucial component. Parents will be provided with time where they can meet one on one with the BCBA® assigned to their case. During this time, parents will learn about ABA procedures and receive first hand training on how to implement their child’s programs appropriately. Parents may be asked to perform skills with their child while being guided by the BCBA®. Parents might also be taught how to record data in order to monitor their child’s progress.
Generalization is a key component in any ABA treatment program. Generalization means that the learner can apply the skills that they have learned to outside the learning environment, across various people, materials, and settings. Any time a parent works on skills at home or within the community with their child, they are promoting generalization of skills. It is important to keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to have the child independently display the skills that they have been taught.
Resources for Parents:
The following resources will help you to learn how to use reinforcement to increase positive behavior at home.
For more information about Attentive Behavior Care and how we can help your child, please contact us today.