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

Friday, September 3, 2010

Programming for Happiness in Clients with Autism

I attended a Keynote presentation last fall at the Autism New Jersey conference where Dennis Reid, PhD, BCBA spoke about the importance of programming for (and measuring) happiness in clients with autism.

During one of the activities, the participants spent 3 minutes writing down every choice we made that morning prior to arriving at the conference. We had the choice of whether to hit the snooze alarm, what to wear, what we wanted to eat and drink, whether we wanted to bring a jacket along, where to park, where to sit, etc.

Basically he made the point that we have many choices throughout our days and that choices lead to happiness. He also pointed out that our children and clients with autism have few choices.

As Dr. Reid suggested, I have now begun to measure and count behaviors such as smiles and laughs and I give more choices than ever before.  I, of course, continue to focus heavily on pairing and manding as well as reducing problem behaviors in my effort to program for happiness.  Since seeing this presentation, I feel strongly that we need to provide our clients with many choices throughout the day and should consider happiness as an important (and attainable) goal.

For more information about pairing, manding and measuring behaviors, go to and read my book:  The Verbal Behavior Approach:  How to Teach Children with Autism and Related Disorders.


  1. Can you please give a concrete example of HOW you 'program for happiness'? Do you include more reinforcement, change targets from neutral items to more motivating ones, or what? Thank you for this info. Amanda Gross

  2. I now give a lot more choices whenever possible. Instead of saying "let's go down in the basement and play a game," I ask my son "Do you want to play a game upstairs or down in the basement?" I also offer a choice of games and activities with all my clients and am more aware of counting smiles and laughs (not just looking at the absence of problem behaviors)when programming for happiness.