Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Does ABA Mean We Demand Responses?...Sort of...

Many years back when I was implementing an ABA program with a child with autism in his home, his mom said something pretty profound to me.  After one of my sessions, she said: "It's almost as if you demand that my child responds to you!" For a brief moment I was a little offended, but after a few seconds of thinking about what she was saying, I thought, "Yes, I suppose I do." What that mom pointed out to me is that when you are trained in ABA approaches, you are no longer at the mercy of anyone or anything when it comes to helping children learn.  With effective ABA instructional strategies, you are equipped with the tools you need to ensure children are able to meet the expectations you set. That is assuming that the goals are developmentally appropriate for the child, of course.  Take discrete trial training, for example.  What I love the most about using embedded discrete trials is that empty requests are a thing of the past.  Here's what I mean:  Caregivers and teachers make requests of children with autism all day long.  The problem is  that the children don't always respond.  When a request is made, the child doesn't respond, and the adult simply moves on: that is what I call an "empty request."  It reminds me of Charlie Brown's teacher talking to the class, and the only thing the kids hear is, "Wah, wah, wah."  In contrast, when teacher embeds a discrete trial it means a request is made, and either the child responds and is positively reinforced, or the teacher uses a prompt to ensure a successful response followed by positive reinforcement.  Of course, any prompts teachers use when embedding discrete trials should be faded out until the child responds independently.  When caregivers and teachers use this instructional sequence, the children either respond or are supported so that they can respond successfully.  So, the moral of the story is that using embedded discrete trials (and other behavioral strategies) allows us to be effective in getting children with ASD to respond.  Then we have to start demanding initiations....(see a previous blog post for that :)


  1. I found that if you are not ready to follow through EVERY TIME you make a request, don't even bother.
    My husband always asks me why Daniel does not listen to him as much as he listens to me, and the answer is simple. He never follows through. Instead of getting Daniel to do what he asked from him, he will actually do it for him, or lets him get away with not doing the task.
    So if I am not able or too lazy to follow through. I rather don't ask. And I'd rather get 4 good responses than 15 unfinished tasks.

  2. That's exactly right Natalia! Quality is just as important as quantity!