Thursday, February 2, 2012

Using ABA to Teach Literacy and Math Skills

Students with ASD and other disabilities may struggle with learning basic literacy and math skills.  Children who aren't identified with disabilities may have similar struggles.  Even with one-on-one tutoring or extensive instructional sessions, some children still cannot master essential literacy and math skills.  However, systematic ABA instruction can help these students learn these foundational skills and allow teachers to use their instructional time much more efficiently.  Below is a sample ABA lesson plan that can be used to teach the receptive identification of consonant sounds.  This plan can be adapted for a variety of other uses (see *at the end of the post):

Goal:  The student will receptively identify all consonant sounds in a field of 2 with 100% accuracy.

Teaching Procedures:
1. Assess the student to determine which sounds the student can consistently identify receptively in a field of two. Keep the mastered sounds in a separate pile from all other sounds.

2. Use a combination of direct instruction and behavioral momentum to teach the student the other sounds using the following procedures:
a. Present two easy trials (ask for sounds the student already knows in a field of two). A trial entails holding up two consonants and asking something such as, “Where’s /p/?” When the student touches the p for /p/ provide positive reinforcement (use natural and social reinforcers whenever possible)
b. After two easy trials present a new sound using direct instruction by saying something such as, “This is /w/ What sound is it?” After the student imitates /w/ ask the student two identify /w/ in a field of two and provide positive reinforcement.
c. Go back to two more easy trials and bring back the consonant sound you introduced using direct instruction. If the student touches the incorrect letter, use error correction procedures by removing the incorrect consonant and repeating step b.
d. Continue with the pattern of easy-easy-difficult with the same new sound until the new consonant is consistently identified. At that time, the difficult consonant then goes into the easy pile. Caution: keep newly identified easy consonants separate to make sure the student maintains the sound for the next session. If not, teach it again repeating the above procedures.
e. Each time the student masters a new consonant sound introduce a new difficult one. You may introduce two or three consonant sounds in one session if the student is able to learn them quickly.

3. Use curriculum-based measurement once a week assess the student's ability to identify all 21 consonant sounds by collecting percentage data.  Make sure you present all consonant sounds in a field of two.  To get a percentage, divide the number of consonant sounds identified correctly by 21.  Graph the percentage each week to allow for visual analysis of the student's progress.

*Here are some additional ways you can use the above teaching procedures:
1.  You can use a field of three or a field of many once the student masters the sounds in a field of 2.
2.  You can use the same direct instruction/behavioral momentum procedures but change the goal to:

  • receptively identifying vowel sounds
  • receptively identify letters
  • expressively identifying letters (uppercase and/or lowercase)
  • expressively identifying consonant/vowel sounds
  • receptively/expressively identify numbers
  • basic math facts that require rote memorization
  • sight word identification (expressive/receptive)
  • color/shape identification (expressive/receptive)
  • spelling words 


  1. Can you give an example of how to incorporate this lesson on consonant sounds into an inclusive setting? For instance: A student with moderate autism included in a second grade classroom.

    1. I would suggest using a lesson such as this during station teaching, centers, or by using peer mediated interventions. This is not something that would be done during group instruction. You would plan 5-10 minutes of iindividualized instruction for this.