Remember: Just because you can’t speak doesn’t mean you can’t communicate

Contributed by Cassy Davis, MAT

One way to teach early learners or non-vocal children to communication is the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS).  PECS is a research based approach that teaches early functional communication through the use of exchanging pictures for something a child wants. PECS should be taught using a 6 step system.

Phase 1: Teaching the child how to communicate

The goal of phase 1 is to teach the child to initiate communication using a two-person prompting system. When beginning to use PECS only one picture should be present on the communication board. One adult will prompt the child through the three step sequence which is pick up, reach, release. The other adult will have their hand out to receive the PEC. Once the PEC is handed to the adult the child then receives the item they are requesting.

Phase 2: Increasing Spontaneity and Range

During this phase the adult teaching the child how to use PECS should begin to move further from the child. The PECS communication book should also be placed further from the child. This teaches the child to travel to their communication book and then to travel to the communicative partner, the adult teaching the child, in order to give the adult the PEC. During this phase there is still only 1 picture present on the communication board.

Phase 3: Teaching Discrimination

The goal of this phase is to teach the child to discriminate and make a choice between items they want and items they don’t want.  Two pictures should now be present. One picture should be a preferred item and the other picture should be a distractor picture that the child would not want. After the child masters the simple discrimination between preferred and non-preferred items the child can then be taught conditional discrimination. Conditional discrimination means that the two PECS/items being presented are both equally reinforcing/preferred items. The child will be taught to make a choice between the items.

Phase 4: Building Sentences

During this phase the child will learn to form sentences using multiple PECs. Once the sentence is formed on a sentence strip the child then hands the whole sentence strip to the adult. In the beginning the sentences should start small by having the child place the “I want” PEC and the item desired PEC on the sentence strip. Once this has been mastered, the child can be taught to increase sentence length through attribute combinations to request very specific reinforcers.

Phase 5: Answering the question what do you want?

During phase 5, the child is taught to answer the question “What do you want?” This step leads to teaching commenting using PECS. 

Phase 6: Commenting

During the final phase of teaching PECS, the child is taught to answer comment questions. Comment questions include “What do you see? “What is it?” and “What do you feel?” Commenting questions leads to the child being able to spontaneously comment on things occurring around them.

PECS is a preferred communication system by many ABA providers because it facilitates the acquisition of speech, leads to an increase in social approach during play, and is easily understood in the community. One common misconception associated with PECS is that if the learners are using any picture they are using PECS. In order for pictures to be considered PECS they must be used to communicate!

Below are examples of choice boards that are used in the clinic. The choice board functions as PECS because the child can communicate to their therapist and mand for what they want to play with.


PECS is not the only assistive technology to teach non-verbal children to communicate. Other communication methods include ASL (American Sign Language), text to speech devices, or apps that can be downloaded onto iPads or smartphones that can be used as communication devices.

Teaching “Non-verbal” Children Communication Skills

Contributed by Cassy Davis, MAT

Many children who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder have deficits related to language and functional communication. Children with autism often have difficulty using expressive language to tell others their wants and needs. When they are unable to express what they want or need it can lead to the child becoming frustrated or engaging in tantrum behavior. Some non-verbal children may cry, scream, yell or hit in an attempt to express their wants and needs to their parent or caretaker.

In the 1957 book, Verbal Behavior, written by BF Skinner, he explains the human behavior of linguistics. In his book, Skinner looks at language in respect to function of the response versus the traditional view on language which focuses on the structure of language. Skinner defines verbal behavior as “behavior that is reinforced through the mediation of another person’s behavior” (p. 528). Verbal behavior is any vocal or non-vocal form of communication that helps people get what they want. Forms of non-vocal behavior include, signing, pointing, writing, gesturing and touching. Forms of vocal verbal behavior include speaking. Just because a child is non-vocal does not mean that they are non-verbal.


To determine a child’s deficits related to communication an assessment, such as the VB-MAPP, must be conducted. When the child’s language deficits have been identified a behavior analyst should begin obtaining information about a child’s mand repertoire. Skinner defines a mand as a verbal operant in which the speaker makes a command or demand for something. In basic terms, a mand is a command, demand or request for something. According to Cooper, “Mands are very important for the early development of language. Mands are the first verbal operant acquired by a human child” (p. 530). Mands are a strong form of verbal communication because of the specific reinforcement that the speaker receives. As a child’s mand repertoire increases mands become more “complex and play a critical role in social interaction, conversation, academic behavior, employment and virtually every aspect of human behavior” (p. 530). When working with children with language deficits, the goal should be to broaden their expressive language ability.

Contingency Contract

Contributed by Cassy Davis, MAT

Recently I wrote an article, “How to Use a Token Economy at Home.” A token economy is a behavior management strategy used to increase target behavior and decrease unwanted behaviors. Typically, at the clinic we use token boards with our younger children. One behavior management strategy used to increase target behavior and decrease unwanted behaviors of older children and even adults is called a contingency contract. Contingency contracts or behavioral contracts are documents that specify a contingent relationship between the completion of a specified behavior or task and access to a reward. In order to use a contingency contract, the individual signing the contract must have a sufficient verbal repertoire so that they can verbally discuss and negotiate the terms of the contract.

There are three major components of contingency contracts; the description of the task, the description of the reward and the task record.

1. The task is broken down into four components that must be written down.

  1. Who – The contract needs to state who will perform the task and who will receive the reward.
  2. What – The task or the behavior that the person must complete.
  3. When – The contract must identify when the individual should complete the task (example – everyday, only on Fridays or by a specific time such as 3pm on Tuesdays)
  4. How well – This part of the task description is very important! This part of the   contract identifies the specifics of the task and can be used as a checklist to help the person completing the task identify what all must be done in order to receive the reinforcer.

2. The description of the reward is also broken down into four components.

  1. Who – This component identifies who will judge the task completion and who             controls the delivery of the reward.
  2. What – The what is the reward!
  3. When – This part identifies when the reward can be received.
  4. How much – This component states the amount of reward that can be received.

3. The task record is the place on the contract to record task completion. The task record creates a visual for recording task completion and can be reviewed as often as necessary. By being able to visually review the task record it will help the person remained focused and stay motivated to work towards the reward.

Below is a simple sample contingency contract that shows the three main components.

To begin developing a contingency contract the child and parent must have a meeting. During the meeting, the child should be given an opportunity to give their input on the various components of the contract. The child should feel that the contract is fair and that it is something that they are collaboratively developing with their parent/teacher/therapist. The child should not feel like the contract is a document created by the adult and being imposed on them. During the meeting, the parent/child discuss the document and come to an agreement on each component and subcomponent of the contract. The contract must be fair, clear and positive.

In order to determine if the contract is effective or not, baseline data must first be taken on the target behavior. Baseline data is data that is taken on the target behavior before any interventions have been put in place. After baseline data has been taken and contract has been agreed upon, written down/typed up, and signed by all parties involved then it is time to implement the contract! Once the contract has been implemented and data has been collected on the target behavior you must compare the baseline data to intervention data and evaluate the effectiveness. If the contract does not appear effective, the contract must be modified, rewritten and data will then be tracked again.

To determine why the contract was not effective you should consider the following things: was the contract written in clear language that is understood by both parties? Did the contract require too much effort and too delayed of a reward? Was the reward appropriate for the specific individual? Was the individual unable to engage in the target behavior? In order for a contract to be effective, there are some guiding contract rules that should be followed. The reward should be given immediately after contract is complete. Finally, it is important to reward accomplishments of the individual and not punish failures. The goal of a contingency contract is to use positive reinforcement to increase the target behavior.


Cooper. J.O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd. ed) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson EducationInc. 

How to Increase Language using Functional Communication Training

Contributed by Martine Flake, BCaBA

What is Functional Communication Training?

Functional Communication Training is essentially what it sounds like, it teaches individuals how to communicate functionally (using language) to access desired items or activities. Generally speaking, children with autism will use inappropriate behaviors (verbal or physical aggression, crying, etc.) in lieu of appropriate language because they do not know how to use functional language. If functional language is not taught, these inappropriate behaviors can continue to increase in frequency and intensity. However, once functional communication is taught, the inappropriate behaviors will fade, and appropriate language will take their place. It is very important to remember, functional communication needs to be taught effectively and consistently.

How to Use Functional Communication Training

Functional Communication Training is very easy to use. One of the best features about this teaching method is there is no question about what to give the individual to reinforce (or encourage) appropriate behaviors. Also, this teaching procedure is very customizable (this is further explained in the section ‘Important Things to Remember’). Nevertheless, a downside to this training is having to ignore the inappropriate behaviors, no matter how long they last.

When the individual shows an interest (grabbing, pointing, moving closer, etc.) in an item or activity, deny access (remove the item, block the individual from access, etc.), and tell the individual to say one word to request the item. For example, if the individual shows an interest in a book, hold the book in sight and tell the individual to say, “say book”. When the individual says “book” (or the best to the individual’s ability, if speech is a concern, simply saying the B sound could be acceptable), immediately give the book to the individual and say positive statements (i.e. Great job! Awesome! You’re so fantastic! That’s right! etc.). Inappropriate behaviors will more than likely occur, in this case, ignore all inappropriate behaviors. This includes looking away from the individual, not showing an interest in the behaviors, refraining from bargaining, etc.

It is VERY important to continue with the teaching once it is started. This is because inconsistent teaching will end up teaching the individual that sometimes they will need to ask but sometimes they wont. Or sometimes they will need to ask but sometimes if they present enough behaviors they will get access without having to ask. This can result in the inappropriate behaviors increasing dramatically.


Shaggy reaches for a hamburger. Shaggy’s father, Fred, grabs the hamburger before Shaggy can reach it. Fred holds the hamburger where Shaggy can see it, but not reach it. Fred says, “say ‘hamburger’” to Shaggy. Shaggy begins throwing a tantrum (falling to the floor, crying, screaming, hitting the floor, throwing other toys, etc.). Fred looks away from Shaggy and does not respond to any of Shaggy’s behaviors. When Shaggy is quiet for about 3 seconds, Fred tells Shaggy again, “say ‘hamburger’”. This process is repeated until Shaggy says “hamburger”, then Fred IMMEDIATELY gives Shaggy the hamburger, and says “Great job! You’re right!”

In this scenario, Michelle Tanner is wanting a cookie. Uncle Jesse takes the cookie before Michelle can reach it, and holds it in the air for Michelle to see, but not touch. Uncle Jesse says, “say ‘cookie’” and Michelle begins screaming and hitting. Uncle Jesse ignores Michelle and begins playing on his phone. When Michelle is quiet, Uncle Jesse says, “say ‘cookie’”, however, Michelle has speech difficulty and only says “cooey”. Because this is the best Michelle can do, due to her speech difficulty, this is acceptable and Uncle Jesse IMMEDIATELY gives the cookie to Michelle, says, “Awesome! I’m so proud of you!”, and gives her a high five.

Mike Wazowski wants to play with Celia, so his father, Sully, says, “say ‘play’”. Mike begins crying and screaming. Sully ignores all of Mike’s behaviors, until Mike is quiet, then repeats, “say ‘play’”, but Mike continues to scream and cry. Eventually, Mike is quiet, but does not say ‘play’ and ends up falling asleep. When he wakes up, he says ‘play’, and is IMMEDIATELY taken to Celia to play.

Examples of What Not to do

Nemo wants to play in the anemone. Marlin says, “say ‘play’”. Nemo responds “go”, and Marlin says, “OK go play”.

  • This is incorrect because now Nemo has learned that when his father asks him to say something, he just has to say “go” and he can still get what he wants. This is not functional for Nemo.

Woody wants to go swimming with Mr. Potato Head. Buzz tells Woody “say ‘swim’”. Woody begins crying and screaming and telling Buzz he is unfair and belongs in space. Buzz ignores Woody for a few minutes, but when Woody gets louder and begins hitting Buzz, Buzz tells Woody to stop hitting and he can go swimming. Woody stops hitting and is able to go swimming.

  • This is incorrect because Woody has learned that instead of saying what he needs to say, he can just start hitting Buzz. Then all Woody has to do is stop hitting and Woody can still get what he wants. Therefore, Woody is more likely to begin hitting, instead of crying, in the future when he is denied access to what he wants.

How to Fade Functional Communication Training

When an individual says “ball” the first time they are asked, a few times in a row (generally about 3 or 4 times per day, for about 3 days), then you can begin to fade your directions. For example, the next time the individual wants the ball, simply say “ba” instead of “ball”. This will require the individual to fill in part of the word on their own, and increase their independence with saying the word “ball”. Once the individual says “ball” after you say “ba” a few times (same requirements listed above), begin to fade the sound further to just saying the “B” sound”. Once that has been established, begin waiting a few seconds before saying anything. If you need to backtrack a little, that is fine, just wait a few seconds (about 10 to 15) before saying more of the word.

When the individual is saying the required word on their own, and not using any inappropriate behaviors, then changes to the required word can start to be made. If you would like to increase the words the individual uses, you can start requiring additional words. For example, instead of saying “car”, the requirement could be to say “purple car” or “round car”.

Important Things to Remember

Start the teaching procedure with preferred items

When customizing your teaching, decide what items you will require to be asked for, and when you will require it. Once those items are established, begin to introduce a larger variety of items that will require being asked for

If the individual stops presenting inappropriate behaviors but does not say what is required, then continue to deny access. Do not offer access just because the behaviors stop

If an individual says the required word or statement during inappropriate behaviors, you can still offer access, but only if it is said clearly and without aggression. For example, the individual can say “ball” while crying and earn access to the ball, but not while hitting or kicking.

Just because you start using this type of teaching, does not mean you HAVE to use it EVERY time the individual tries to access something. The more you can do it, the better, but do not be hard on yourself if you miss a few opportunities here and there

When increasing the number of words, try not to use “I want” or “give me”. Sometimes these statements can be a fall back and used without a full understanding of what they mean. When the language develops and words are being used more independently and frequently, these statements could be introduced.

A good rule of thumb for increasing words:

  • Once 50 different one-word statements can be done independently, then move to requiring 2 words
  • When 50 different two-word statements can be done independently, move to using a sentence
    • Ex: give me green ball, I want red apple, etc.

Closing Notes

An extensive amount of research has been done on functional communication training. There have been very high success rates with this teaching procedure on decreasing inappropriate behaviors, and increasing appropriate language. For additional information, the following resources can be helpful for gaining a further understanding of this procedure, and can be found at :

  • Joe Reichle Ph. D. and David P. Wacker Ph. D., Functional Communication Training for Problem Behavior
  • V. Mark Durand Ph. D., Severe Behavior Problems: A Functional Communication Training Approach (Treatment Manuals for Practitioners
  • John O. Cooper, Timothy E. Heron, and William L. Heward, Applied Behavior Analysis

Once Upon a Social Story

Many children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder often have deficits related to critical social communication skills. Critical social communication skills include joint attention, social reciprocity, social cognition, language and related cognitive skills, as well as behavior and emotional regulation.

According to American Speech-Language-Hearing Association:

Deficits related to joint attention include:

  • -Impaired monitoring of social states
  • - Restricted range of communicative functions to seek engagement and comfort from others
  • -Limitations in considering another's intention and perspective

Deficits related to social reciprocity include:

  • -Difficulty initiating and responding to peer interactions
  • -Difficulty engaging in appropriate turn taking

Deficits related to social cognition include:

  • -Difficulty managing emotions
  • -Difficulty appreciating the perspective of others
  • -Difficulty using intrapersonal skills

Deficits related to language and related cognitive skills include:

  • -Difficulty understanding body language, facial expressions, and gestures
  • -Limitations in conversations including, not understanding social norms of conversations, problems taking turns talking, fixating on one topic and not showing interests in others view points and topics of conversations
  • -Difficulty understanding figurative language and expressions

Deficits related to behavior and emotional regulation include:

  • -Difficulty dealing with change of routines
  • -Difficulty managing emotions often engaging in tantrums, aggression, or eloping from situations in order to avoid or escape the situation
  • -Anxiety or social with drawl
  • -Repetitive patterns of behavior such as scripting or echolalia

It is important to note that not all people diagnosed with ASD will exhibit all of these deficits. Each individual person’s deficits will vary. Neurotypical children typically acquire these social skills by observing others but children with ASD often struggle at developing these social skills. As stated by Okada, Ohtake, and Yanagihara, “Children that don’t develop these social skills often engage in behaviors that are not socially acceptable within a given place, situation, culture, or age range, which places them in a socially marginal position. Given the importance placed on engaging in appropriate social skills, challenges in this area have the potential to lower a person’s quality of life. Therefore, it is imperative to ameliorate these difficulties by trying to describe the complicated social world in a way that takes into consideration the unique way individuals with ASD learn and come to understand.”

In 1990, Carol Gray, a special education teacher in Jenison, Michigan, began writing her students social stories to share information that she thought they were missing in their everyday life. Carol noticed that after she began sharing her social stories with her students their daily lives and responses to everyday situations remarkably improved.

Social stories are short stories that describe a social situation, skill or experience using terms and social cues that are related to appropriate social behavior. Stories are written with the goal of teaching a child how to behavior appropriately in a specific situation and enhance their understanding of various social situations. Social stories are written pertaining to a specific social situation and can discussed separately from when the situation typically occurs. By reading and discussing these social situations, outside of when they are occurring, the child will be able to pause and think about the situation. The child can then discuss or ask any questions they may have regarding the social situation. Then in the future when a child is in that specific social situation the parent, care giver, teacher, or therapist, can stop the situation, remind the child of the social story and how to behavior appropriately in the given situation.

Social stories should be written in a way that helps the child understand the social concept. The story should be short, can include pictures, and can be written specifically for the child. The story can even include the child’s name. In order to accurately implement the story, the story should be read on a daily basis and should be integrated with the child’s behavior support plan. Another way to use social stories is to create a multimedia social story.  A study was published in the Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology to evaluate the effectiveness of multimedia social stories. The participants in the study were three children with had been clinically diagnosed with autism. At the end of the study, it was determined that “the multimedia social story interventions were effective in increasing the duration of appropriate social engagement of all children participated in this study.”

So where can I find social stories to read to my child? The internet is a great resource with lots of social stories and information pertaining to social stories. offers a variety of prewritten social stories which can be downloaded and printed. The website also gives tips for writing your own social story! creates their social stories using Powerpoint. The stories are then available for download and are customizable for your child! Once in Powerpoint you can add your child’s name to the story or even modify the story to better fit your child’s needs.

I previously worked with a child who would get very angry and become aggressive. I wanted to work on developing strategies for what he can do when he becomes very angry as well as alternative behaviors he can engage in to let out his frustration. I searched the internet and found a social story called, “The Angry Monster in Me” I then typed the social story in Microsoft Word and then added pictures. Next, I printed the book in color, laminated each page and bound it like a book using ribbon. My client really enjoyed listening to his special social story that I created for him. He was excited to tell his mom about the story we had read and what he was working on. In future sessions, he would even refer to not letting the angry monster in side of him come out.

You can download the social story here.

How to Use a Token Economy at Home

Written by Cassy Davis, RBT

A token economy is a behavior change system in which children earn “tokens” for engaging in a specific list of target behaviors. The tokens can then be traded in for preferred reinforcers, such as your child’s favorite activity, item, or edible. According to John O. Cooper, “Effectiveness depends to a large extent on the effectiveness of the backup reinforcers (the item that the child trades their tokens in for).” This means that in order for the token economy to be effective with your child, you need to make sure the reinforcer that your child can earn is motivating enough to get your child to engage in the target behavior. Many studies have been done on token economies and have found that “A functional relation was established between the onset of the token economy and the reduction of the behaviors.” This means that the target behaviors of children have increased when using a token economy.

To create a token economy, you must first determine the specific target behaviors you want your child to engage in. The expectations for the target behavior should be predetermined, concrete and should not change while your child is working for tokens.  The predetermined target behaviors depend on the individual child but some examples could be cleaning their room, keeping their hands to themselves or following directions. Target behaviors should be both observable and measurable.

Once the target behavior is determined, you will need to create a token board. There is no need to run to the store and spend money. Token boards can be made with supplies you have at home! There are all different ways to make token boards, depending on the child's age and interests. Here are a few examples:

In the box where it says “Princess is Working for…” You could either write the name of the reinforcer or place a picture of the reinforcer. Once your child earns 10 tokens for engaging in the target behavior, they trade in their tokens for their reinforcer! Posting the token board on the refrigerator or somewhere that it can always been seen is a good visual reminder of what they are working for. Your child will be more motivated to earn tokes when they can see the progress they are making. When your child engages in the target behavior, you immediately deliver a token and verbal praise.

Another type of token economy that can be used is a marble jar. Marble jars work the same way as a token board, but the child earns the reinforcer once they earn a predetermined amount of marbles. Remember, if you have a large jar, you don’t have to fill the entire jar. Below is an example of a jar you could use:

Token boards can be used to earn a daily reinforcer and/or a weekly reinforcer. The daily reinforcer should be something smaller than the weekly reinforcer. The daily reinforcer will help your child see that when they engage in the target behavior, they will be rewarded and their positive behavior with be reinforced. When starting out using a token board or using a token board with small children, it is important to start with a limited number of target behaviors and tokens. If your child needs to get 25 tokens to earn the iPad and it takes them 7 days to do this, your child may realize that the reward is not worth the effort.

Should a child be able to lose tokens if they are engaging in inappropriate or negative behaviors?  Cooper, Heron and Heward (2007) make it clear that a response cost should be saved for those major undesirable behaviors that call attention to themselves and need to be suppressed quickly. Remember, token economies are about positive reinforcement and reinforcing and recognizing your child for positive behaviors.

Some things to remember when using a token economy:

  • Always pair the token/reinforcer with verbal praise.
  • Make sure to follow through with giving the child the token and reinforcement. If the child is not consistently receiving tokens they will lose interest in the token economy.
  • Start small! Try to pick achievable target behaviors, a limited number of target behaviors, and target behaviors that your child has the prerequisite skills for.
  • Do not keep the reinforcer the same every day/weekly! Children can easily become bored with certain items and will become less motivated to earn tokens. If you can’t think of ideas, ask your child what they want to earn/work for.

If done correctly, token economies are an easy effective intervention strategy to increase positive behaviors while decreasing negative behaviors. 



Cooper, J. O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L. (2014). Applied behavior analysis. Edinburgh gate: Pearson educational international.

Token Boards are from :

Marble Jar from -

Q & A: Rewards for Children


Q: Why should I have to reward my child for every little thing? They should listen simply because I am the adult and they are the child.

A: Think of it this way, some children with Autism (and Developmental Disabilities) don’t acquire the same basic repertoire of skill sets that typical children acquire. Critical skill development begins at very early ages (0-48 months), and since Autism is currently on average diagnosed at age 4, children with Autism are often are already several years behind in their development (compared to typical, same age peers). 

Autism prevents children from attending to others (to imitate social behavior), communicating with others and typical language development, reading and understanding social cues (like disapproval and embarrassment), and oftentimes, sensory seeking behaviors monopolize the child’s attention and behavior. For this reason, we have to break skills down and present them to children with Autism systematically, and “reward” them in a way that is meaningful. This way, what is important to us, becomes important to our children too!

Is ABA Natural?

Learning is a complex process that emerges and is refined over time as traumatic and/or life changing events serve to spur it on. It is an interaction of complex variables: values and beliefs influenced by the learner’s personality, cultural rules, family’s values and beliefs, and the perspective through which all is viewed. Learning is also influenced by the context in which it occurs. The learner in turn affects that same context. So, it becomes a cycle and the learners’ society will benefit or reap the consequences of the collective learning of its members. Cultural norms and values vary and each may interact with and affect an individual’s learning. A learner’s socioeconomic status may also interact with and/or affect his/her learning. Learning can occur intentionally or unintentionally. This is the big picture of learning over a lifetime and from this view it is complex, but there is a much smaller picture and that is where ABA fits in so nicely. ABA seeks to make learning more intentional in the building block stage; in the stage where the foundation of a learner’s journey begins. When we break learning down and start looking at it through the lens of Behavior Analysis, we can begin to understand more fully the complex process of learning.

 Many resources, including this one from Autism Speaks, provide valuable information about ABA Therapy.

Many resources, including this one from Autism Speaks, provide valuable information about ABA Therapy.

ABA in Unintentional Learning (“natural learning”): When a child touches a hot stove did he/she intend to learn the difference between hot and cold or what would happen when something hot was touched? No. The stove was touched. The child was burned. Learning occurred. Much of learning naturally occurs in this way: as a result of what happens after the individual performed an action. Sometimes that is positive and sometimes it is negative. As in the case with the hot stove, what happened after the action (touching the stove) was negative (the feeling of the hot stove). Behavior analysis says this “negative” consequence serves to reduce the behavior that preceded it (touching the stove). Behavior analysis calls this positive punishment. The addition of a negatively perceived consequence serves to decrease the behavior that came before it. So, in the future, the learner is less likely to touch the stove. The next action (removing one’s hand from the hot stove) is called negative reinforcement. The individual was “reinforced” when performing the action (moving one’s hand) because the aversive condition (hot stove) was removed. Reinforcement (whether negative or positive) serves to increase the behavior that preceded it, while punishment services to decrease the behavior that preceded it.

ABA in Intentional Learning (facilitating “natural learning”): We can take this knowledge and set up environments were these conditions will occur to facilitate learning. Other variables must be taken into account, though. For example, not all learners find the same things reinforcing and/or aversive. A child with sensitivity to noise will find a rock concert very aversive, while a teenager may find the same environment with the lights and noise very reinforcing. Different events and conditions can affect the likelihood a certain reinforcer or punisher will effectively function in the way it is intended to. For example, a child who typically finds physical activity very reinforcing may be less likely to be reinforced by it after a night with little to no sleep. Someone who is full may not gain as much reinforcement from a piece of chocolate cake. There are these and other facets to developing a behavior plan that will result in learning through manipulation of the environment, not through manipulation of the individual.

ABA Services

Turning Point Education Services promotes ABA services in homes, schools, and in the community. When ABA is taught and applied in the child’s natural environment, behavior change is more often naturally occurring as opposed to contrived. Behavior analysts and behavior techs strive to provide services in which children learn in as natural way as possible. ABA incorporates the child’s environment to teach and facilitate appropriate behaviors when triggers or barriers naturally occur. This will allow the child and parents to learn coping skills and different strategies to effectively maintain appropriate behavior.

At first, ABA may look and feel unnatural. This is because caregivers are implementing behavioral strategies that may be new and unfamiliar to them. Learning and applying ABA principles and strategies takes time and practice before it feels natural. Many times, caregivers are learning a different way to effectively communicate with their child (i.e., visuals, PECS, proactive language) and it can feel uncomfortable in the beginning. However, once the procedures are established and integrated in daily life, the old way of reacting, disciplining, or communicating seems unnatural.

When learning a new skill, such as riding a bike, it feels far from natural. At first, you use training wheels or a guide to help steady you. Then, you try to ride on your own and are very wobbly, even crashing a few times. It takes much concentration and effort just to turn the pedals in a steady fashion. Once you practice riding a bike, you are able to move quickly, without even thinking about it. The same principles of learning to ride a bike apply to ABA. ABA takes much time, dedication, and practice to be successful. It may even feel uncomfortable or unnatural at times, but that is only temporary. ABA changes lives and can open up opportunities to you and your child that you never thought were possible.