Friday, June 4. 2010

Training ABA Therapists and School Aides

Posted under: Research

Here's a trick question to get things started. True or False: In order to earn a degree in special education, one simply needs to take all of the courses required for a special education degree? The answer is false. In order to earn a degree in special education, one needs to PASS all the courses required for a special education degree. I think of this distinction often when people ask me, "How long does it take to learn ABA?" or "How long will it take to train my child's school aide?"

Learning ABA, or more specifically, implementing ABA therapy correctly is only indirectly related to time. Implementing ABA therapy correctly is directly related to performance. In an earlier blog, I mentioned that at the Lovaas Institute, we train instructors in such a way that emphasis is placed on the evaluation of performance-based objectives, relevant to the implementation of behavioral treatment for children with autism. Our internal certification process requires a demonstration of the skills you have learned. Certification indicates to parents and other professionals that you not only know what to do, but can actually do it.

Continue reading "Training ABA Therapists and School Aides"

Let's move away from the topic of branding for a moment to again focus on the importance of 1) using appropriate terminology, 2) describing procedures fairly and accurately, and 3) assessing research in light of a specific child's characteristics and the skill to teach. I spent a previous blog discussing requesting vs. labeling (mands vs. tacts) in this light. Let's now debate the question, "Which is better: conducting massed trials or task interspersal during discrete trial teaching?"

Continue reading "Massed Trials vs. Task Interspersal - Evidence-based Decisions"

Monday, February 22. 2010

Early Play Activities

Posted under: Research

When teaching a child with autism to engage in interactive play, it's important to consider whether or not the child is likely to seek out similar interactions on his own. On one hand, a child may not interact with others because he hasn't yet learned specific ways to interact (e.g., by imitating others, by responding to other's questions or comments, etc.). On the other hand, a child may not continue to seek out similar interactions on his own if he does not find the interactions naturally reinforcing.

Below are five of my favorite early play activities that teach a child to participate in a short play scenario with an adult.

Continue reading "Early Play Activities"

To continue the discussion, I thought I'd share my specific opinions related to each of the guidelines in the last post. I must emphasize that these are my opinions that I purposefully offer up for debate. I'm very interested in starting a dialogue with those whose opinions differ from mine.

1) One general term should be agreed upon as a general umbrella term under which all brands fall. When discussing their brand, individuals should always start by disclosing that their brand falls under this general term.

Continue reading "Weakening the Evidence for ABA Therapy, Part 2 - A Dialogue"

Wednesday, February 3. 2010

Weakening the Evidence for ABA Therapy - Is it Our Fault?

Posted under: Research

A recent research study by Dawson and colleagues has created both excitement and frustration for some proponents of ABA therapy. The study, conducted in a randomized controlled trial design, was published in the November 2009 issue of Pediatrics and demonstrated that behavioral intervention with toddlers resulted "in significant improvements in IQ, language, adaptive behavior, and autism diagnosis." ("Randomized, Controlled Trial of an Intervention for Toddlers With Autism: The Early Start Denver Model" Pediatrics, November 2009). However, proponents of ABA have pointed out that the New York Times coverage failed to mention that the study uses applied behavior analytic principles ( and that the CNN coverage perpetuated a common misconception about ABA by comparing the pleasing, playful therapy of the study with "ABA, which is delivered at a desk" (

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Friday, January 22. 2010

Eye Contact - What to Teach and How to Teach, Part 2

Posted under: Research

Here are a few examples of how eye contact may be focused on early in behavioral treatment. While I present the information in terms of programs that may be used in therapy, all of the examples reach a level (some quickly and some with practice) at which parents can also practice them at appropriate times throughout the day.

Continue reading "Eye Contact - What to Teach and How to Teach, Part 2"

Friday, January 15. 2010

Eye Contact - What to Teach and How to Teach

Posted under: Research

ABA therapy for children with autism is a science of both what to teach and how to teach. The more prominent discussions concerning ABA often revolve around how to teach. The use of discrete trials, incidental teaching, and generalization training are all examples of strategies of how to teach that have been assessed in the research. Yet just as important as how to teach is deciding what to teach. ABA therapy for children with autism has been engaged with this question through the years as well. One example of this engagement I find interesting is when and how to teach a child eye contact.

Continue reading "Eye Contact - What to Teach and How to Teach"

Wednesday, December 23. 2009

Mands vs. Tacts - Example from ABA Therapy

Posted under: Research

One issue I have always had in the field of education is the tendency of some advocates to take a theory or preliminary research and immediately apply it to educational endeavors as a whole. Those familiar with debates concerning whole language vs. phonics, open classrooms, and even whether or not elementary school children should receive grades are well aware that enthusiasm for the theory can supersede the evidence to support it.

Continue reading "Mands vs. Tacts - Example from ABA Therapy"

Friday, December 11. 2009

Mands vs. Tacts - Evidence-based Decisions

Posted under: Research

I've spent a lot of previous blogs talking about the importance of 1) using appropriate terminology, 2) describing procedures fairly and accurately, and 3) assessing research in light of a specific child's characteristics and the skill to teach. Let me put that into practice by debating, "Which is better: initially emphasizing requesting or labeling (i.e., mands or tacts) in ABA therapy for children with autism?"

Continue reading "Mands vs. Tacts - Evidence-based Decisions"

Wednesday, December 2. 2009

Creating the Best, Evidence-based ABA Therapy

Posted under: Research

I'm sometimes asked how I make sure I'm using the "best techniques" in ABA to teach children. Since autism is a spectrum disorder, what's the best way to individualize a behavioral treatment program for a child with autism? Here's my response:

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Wednesday, November 18. 2009

Verbal Behavior: 3 Key Strategies to Teaching Speech

Posted under: Research

Teaching children to talk (i.e., speech) is one of the primary aims of behavioral treatment in the first year. While focusing on functional communication through requesting (i.e., manding) is an important part of the process, there are other key strategies that often play a role in helping children who are primarily nonverbal become vocal speakers. Here they are:

Continue reading "Verbal Behavior: 3 Key Strategies to Teaching Speech"

Thursday, November 12. 2009

Bribery vs. Incentives

Posted under: Research

Some people reject ABA therapy on the grounds that it’s nothing more than a system that bribes children to do what they should be doing anyway. We want a child to come sit down, so we call him over and then give him a cookie. We want a child to play with peers in school, so we give him tokens for each peer he asks to play and when he earns 10 tokens, he gets to go to McDonald’s for french fries.

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Thursday, September 3. 2009

ABA Therapy - Designing Appropriate Programs

Posted under: Research

I just got an iPhone, and I'm an app addict. I've got a button to quickly check the weather in case of rain. I've got a button to get directions in case I'm lost. I've even got a lightsaber button with appropriate sounds and music...just in case. It's like the commercial says. Got a problem? "There's an app for that."

Competent programming in ABA therapy is like iPhone apps. Sure, there are basic programs like learning to request for objects or answer basic social questions. But a good behavior consultant can identify particular deficits for an individual child and design programs accordingly. Problems with joint attention? There's a program for that. Your child won't raise his hand in class? There's a program for that. Your child doesn't seem to care if he wins or loses a game?...Your child cares too much? Yep, there are programs for that too.

ABA therapy isn't a cookie-cutter approach with a list of specific skills that must be taught and mastered by all children. ABA therapy is an approach based on the scientific principles of applied behavior analysis, with different research studies demonstrating different results with different procedures used on different children, and all this information can be used by an experienced behavior consultant to design individualized programming for a child with autism.

Need to teach a skill? Let's design a program for that. That's a core philosophy I learned at the Lovaas Institute.

Sunday, August 23. 2009

Interventions For Children With Autism

Posted under: Research

There have been many fad-like interventions for children with autism that have had little or no tangible results or in some cases caused harm (Smith, 2006; Association for Science in Autism Treatment, It's understandable that insurance companies, school districts, and other government agencies that are governed by requirements to provide only evidence-based treatments are hesitant to provide benefits for specific interventions. However, the evidence supporting intensive behavioral treatment has grown to a level that is all but overwhelming. Numerous reviews of the quantity and quality of research on interventions for children with autism demonstrate the Lovaas Model of Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention to be "well established" based upon objective criteria for evaluating educational and social science research (Eikeseth, 2009; Rogers & Vismara, 2008, Odom et al., 2009).

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Friday, July 31. 2009

ABA Therapy: Guidelines For Motivation

Posted under: Research

I last mentioned 5 of my favorite reinforcers. Let me also add 5 of my favorite formats for receptively identifying pictures.

  1. Place cards around the floor. Tell the child to "jump on the (apple)."
  2. Hand child a fly swatter. Tell him to "slap the (apple)."
  3. Laminate the cards or use objects. Fill a bucket with water. Tell the child to "dunk the (apple)."
  4. Give child a flashlight and go in the bathroom. Tell him to "shine on (apple)."
  5. Tape cards on the wall and give child a retractable metal pointer. Tell him to "point to (apple)."

Formats like these are sometimes considered more intrinsically motivating, at least for some children. However, we should be careful when we use the term motivation. Motivation is often used to refer to an internal state, but as behaviorists, we try to talk about what we can objectively see and measure. An objective analysis of the above motivational formats leads to a few helpful guidelines.

Continue reading "ABA Therapy: Guidelines For Motivation"

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