Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

Fall 2009

Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

Common Behavioral Treatment Mistakes

Behavioral treatment involves complex decisions regarding both what to teach and how to teach. When a child demonstrates difficulty learning a skill, a good treatment team often considers other ways to teach the same skill or other skills to teach first. The team should also consider whether their treatment is being properly implemented. Below is a list of common mistakes in behavioral treatment programs.

A) Therapy Session Mistakes

  • Not structuring the child's free play time.
  • Spending an inordinate amount of time collecting data.
  • Having too many skills or objectives in acquisition at one time.
  • Forgetting to intermittently reinforce frequently-occurring appropriate behaviors such as sitting well or transitioning appropriately to structured learning time.

B) Incidental Teaching Mistakes

  • Focusing on the same skill for so long that the child reaches satiation (i.e., is no longer motivated to respond).
  • Not requiring eye contact when it is appropriate (e.g., conversation or while making a request).
  • Teaching multiple behaviors too soon that lead to the same outcome (i.e., teaching "I want..." "Can I..." and "I need..." one after the other) so that the child stops using previous responses and only uses the most recently learned response.

C) Discrete Trial Teaching Mistakes

  • Overusing the child's name, which may result in the child "tuning out" his name or his name becoming a substitute for "get ready."
  • Not actively gaining the child's attention through redirection and effective reinforcement techniques. Or spending too much time at the beginning of a discrete trial gaining the child's attention, thus making the child reliant upon this.
  • Relying on readiness cues (e.g., "ready pal") before presenting an SD.
  • Allowing the child to self-correct by engaging in multiple responses until the instructor finally reinforces (i.e., touching all the cards and being reinforced for finally touching the correct card)
  • Waiting longer than 3-5 seconds following a non-response to provide a consequence.
  • Conducting too many discrete trials in one sitting and thus losing the child's attention or reducing his/her motivation to respond quickly and accurately.

D) Prompting Mistakes

  • Not prompting frequently enough for newly introduced responses.
  • Not using graduated prompts.
  • Prompting after the consequence rather than immediately after the SD.
  • Prompting after a delay when the child has failed to respond, rather than ending the trial and prompting on the following trial.
  • The number of failures is disproportionate to the number of successes.
  • Prompting inadvertently.

E) Reinforcement Mistakes

  • Providing continuous high levels of reinforcement for prompted trials (i.e., not using differential reinforcement).
  • Not being creative with the delivery of reinforcement.
  • Not making learning reinforcing in general.

F) Generalization Mistakes

  • Not programming for generalization.
  • Not introducing generalization changes systematically (i.e., immediately moving from a very contrived environment to an environment with many distractions).
  • Not introducing generalization soon enough (i.e., teaching everything at a table when a child shows enough attention to learn play skills just as easily on the floor).

Do you have an experience with a creative format to typical programming? Share them with us here

The names of all children in this newsletter have been changed in respect for family confidentiality.


Motor Cycle Racer! Put the child on your lap, facing away from you, for a motorcycle ride. Use your fists as handlebars and rev up. Go around curves by leaning the child left or right with all important motorcycle sounds. Then crash!

Media Player! Work with the computer on, and Microsoft Media Player turned on. Set it to a song or punch line that the child likes to hear, and click start to play it while the child watches the light show.

Happy New Year! Blow and shake New Years Eve noise makers.

Tower Disaster! Set up a tower ten feet away and let the child run at it.

I've Got a Secret! Tell the child, "I have a secret," and when they listen up close, blow quiet raspberries to the ear.




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