Verbal Behavior Approach: How to Teach Children with Autism and       Related Disorders [Mary Lynch Barbera]

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pairing with Reinforcement: The First Step to Teaching Students with Autism

For all adults and children,  including students with autism, when you see problem behavior (crying, whining, hitting, biting, flopping to the ground, etc.), the demands are almost always too high and/or the reinforcement is too low.

If the child is displaying problem behaviors when the parent interacts with him, when the therapist arrives or when it is time to go to school, the parent, therapist, or teacher has most likely become aversive. He or she did not pair themselves well with reinforcement and has most likely made abrupt demands. To correct the situation, the adults need to learn about pairing themselves, the materials, and the environment with reinforcement.

If your child loves to play legos a certain way, for instance, the adult should sit next to him and let him play "his way" for a session or two. He or she should be taking notes about what the child likes during the first few sessions and the child’s reaction if the adult sits near him, talks, or plays alongside. During subsequent sessions the adult should interject comments, demands or questions very carefully.

The adult's demands should be so subtle that the child is unaware when pairing has stopped and demands have begun.

If the child is not running towards the people, classroom, therapy room, and/or the materials, pairing most likely needs to be addressed. Pairing is not a once and done activity. It needs to happen every day as new  activities, people and materials are introduced.

Chapter 4 of my book (The Verbal Behavior Approach) should help you learn more about pairing.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Reducing Problem Behaviors

I often get questions like this:  My child  displays problem behavior (screams/argues/ bites/kicks/flops to the ground ) when a demand is placed ( it is time to take a bath/do homework/go to bed).   The answer to the question is similiar no matter what the problem behavior or demand. 

Whenever problem behaviors occur, I believe the demands are usually too high and/or the reinforcement is too low.

The first thing I would recommend is to take data (how many times the behavior occurs per hour or per day and take some ABC data too, if possible). Next I would look at activities when the problem behavior almost always occurs (when it is time to take a bath) and when it never occurs (while your child is playing on the computer).

You then should look at ways to “re-pair” the bathing routine (get foam for the tub or bath paint/toys for instance) and try to sandwich harder activities with fun activities (first bath then computer). A heavy focus on pairing and manding as well as an 8 to 1 ratio for positive to negative comments is usually helpful too.

Continuing to take data while you intervene is necessary to make sure the behaviors are decreasing. If problem behaviors are severe you may need a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or someone with lots of experience with problem behaviors to help you. My book (The Verbal Behavior Approach) --specifically chapters 2, 4, and 5 explain these ideas more fully.  Check for more information.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Big Three Skills for Individuals with Autism

I’ve been consulting with children and a few adults with autism for seven years now and I had a revelation about two years ago soon after I published my book. I now believe that there are three main skills every child and adult with autism needs to be successful. These skills, I believe, are the most important skills regardless of the person’s age or level of functioning.

The Big Three are:
1) Problem behaviors at or near 0
2) The ability to request wants and needs
3) Independent toileting

Whether your child is 5, 15, or 50 years of age, I think without these three skills, he or she will have little opportunity for inclusion at school or in the community. In addition, without these three skills, parents often cannot access babysitters, respite providers, schools, or work opportunities for their children. They also have a difficult time taking their children to pools, restaurants, on planes and even to visit friends or relatives.

If you or other people are working on different skills (double digit math or reading for instance) but your child has not mastered “The Big Three,” think about suggesting some additions and/or changes to your child’s program.

For more information, check free resources on my web site: and read my book (The Verbal Behavior Approach) specifically chapter 2 (reducing problem behaviors); chapter 4-6 (pairing and manding) and chapter 11 (toilet training). You can also access radio shows on these three topics on my web site.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Getting Up-To-Speed Electronically In the Autism World

Today I’m writing my very first blog and I have to laugh because I didn’t even know what a blog was just three years ago when I started my doctoral courses!

I have come a long way electronically in the past decade since my first-born son, Lucas, was diagnosed with autism one day before his third birthday. In 1999, before Lucas was diagnosed, the internet was my first source of information. I first read about hyperlexia than stumbled upon PDD and finally realized that Lucas’ symptoms were actually all hallmark signs of autism.

I didn’t know how to search the internet and didn’t even have an email account back then but without getting up-to-speed electronically, I would have not learned what I know now about autism.

Check my web site for more information about me and my book (The Verbal Behavior Approach: How to Teach Children with Autism and Related Disabilities), and stay tuned for future blogs where I will give lots of advice on parenting and teaching children with autism.