Alyssa Block is a teacher at New York PS 177 and has a great video on www.youtube.com, entitled “Introduction to Applied Behavior Anaylsis,” that talks about her use of Applied Behavior Anaylsis for the students in her classroom. Her video gives a broad overview of important components for an A.B.A. classroom:
1.) Take data: Block talks about the importance of taking data. Charting what’s happening, (i.e. what the student is doing well with, what the student needs help with, what the antecedents are to behaviors, etc.,) will help you recognize what is going to help that student progress. For example, if you find that every time a student is asked to sit through 30 minutes of music class they become extremely agitated and non-compliant, then 30 minutes is not the right place to start. Begin by reinforcing the student for remaining in music class for 30 seconds, then increase their time in music as the data supports that they can handle 30 seconds.
2.) What’s reinforcing?: Block reminds us that a “reinforcement assessment,” (or “preference assessment” as we refer to it where I teach,) is important because it allows us to find out what motivates the students to learn. Block tries to stay away from edible reinforcement and says that many of her students like to work for the computer, (as do mine,) but she also has students who work for high fives, playing the piano, and puzzle pieces. I’ve shared with new teaching assistants that preference assessment can be conceptualized as a paycheck. We all need and want our paychecks, but have to work first to earn them. Once you’ve found out what is reinforcing to a student, you can remind them that “First we work, then we get (computer, high fives, piano, etc.)”
3.) Visual schedule: In the YouTube video there are many examples of visual schedules, which allow students to see where they are and where they’re going. For example, when I do morning circle time with my students, I have my students move their name from one side of the paper, (which says “home,”) to the other side of the paper, (which says “school”.) After they’ve completed this, I ask, “Where are you?” If they do not respond with “school,” then I prompt them to say this, allowing them to recognize their changes throughout the day. Children with autism have a very hard time breaking from routine and giving them visual and verbal reminders help them to transition from one activity to another more smoothly.
Brock also talks about the weekly trip to the supermarket that she takes with her students. She stated that she does this because many of her student’s parents have a hard time bringing their children to the supermarket because they swipe food off of the shelves and run up and down the isles. I commend Brock for doing this! Grocery shopping is a common concern for the parents of my students as well but it is often not addressed until the student is getting ready to leave school and begin a job. The sooner you can make students more comfortable with everyday tasks like going to the supermarket, the more likely it is that they will complete them independently as they get older.
There are many components to A.B.A. which help children with autism. These are just a few but they are a wonderful place to start. If nothing else, remember, everyone is motivated to work for different things. Find out what your students are motivated to work for, reinforce them with it, and take data on how well they do once you begin this process. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!