Our Approach

ABA – Applied Behavior Analysis – The design, implementation, and evaluation of systematic environmental modifications for the purpose of producing socially significant improvements and understanding of human behavior. It includes the identification of functional relationships between behavior and environments. It uses direct observation and measurement of behavior and environment. Contextual factors, establishing operations, antecedent stimuli, positive reinforcers, and other consequences are used, based on identified functional relationships with the environment, in order to produce practical behavior change. (Florida Department of Children and Families).

B.F. Skinner outlined basic principles of behavior, which include reinforcement, prompting, fading, shaping, schedules of reinforcement, among others. These principles comprise the pure science of behavior analysis. This means that the principles used to describe how behavior is lawful, observable and measurable, and has an impact on the environment have been adapted into teaching methods based on those principles

Traditional views of language take a structural approach that emphasizes the topography (or form) of words and sentences. Those who hold such a view attempt to teach language based exclusively on form, often with little success. In 1957, B. F. Skinner published Verbal Behavior in which he defined language in functional terms and outlined an explanation of language based on an analysis of the controlling variables for different types of verbal responses. This focus on the reasons why words are said allows us to not only teach the learner to use words to communicate, but allows us to teach actual concepts or “meanings” of words that can lead to conversational language in our children. Skinner’s explanation is now being used by many behavior analysts who teach language to individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities (Sundberg & Partington, 1998).

In Verbal Behavior, Skinner outlined his analysis of VB, which describes a group of verbal operants, or functional units of language. Skinner explained that language could be analyzed into a set of functional units, with each type of operant serving a different function. He coined terms that didn’t exist (to separate these operants from anything described by traditional linguistics) for these operants. AVB is ABA with a focus on Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior; it is the application of the science of behavior analysis to teaching verbal behavior

An example of Skinner’s views can be provided with a single word like “ball”. From a structural approach, the word “ball” is just a word and can have no real meaning. The meaning is given to the word based upon when, why, and how we say it. If you look at the word from a functional view, “ball” has several meanings. When a person says “ball” it can mean that they want to play with a ball. This is what Skinner referred to as a mand and is one possible function or “meaning” of the word “ball.”

Another function would be if a child sees a ball, he/she does not want it, but labels it (says “ball”) for someone else. This is a type of verbal response Skinner referred to as a tact. A third function would be illustrated if someone asked “what do you like to play with?” and the person answered, “ball.” Skinner referred to this type of response as an intraverbal. One could also echo someone else when they say the word “ball.” This type of response was termed echoic behavior by Skinner. According to Skinner, a person does not truly “have the concept” of a word unless they are able to use the word appropriately across all of its many functions.

The implication of Skinner’s functional analysis of language is that one cannot assume that teaching an individual to say a word under one set of conditions will result in that person “using” the word under the many other relevant conditions. For example, just because a person can ask to play with a ball when he/she wants bounce a ball, does not mean that a person can automatically answer questions about a ball when it is not present.

Intensive Teaching Trials (ITT)

Intensive teaching is the use of a positive reinforcer for responses that are completely unrelated to that reinforcer. For example, if a child likes to paint, the paint could be given to the child contingent upon the child performing a few tasks such as answering questions, labeling pictures, pointing to a picture. None of these responses have anything to do with paiting. The location of the teaching does not define intensive teaching. It can be implemented anywhere, but is often taught at a table to promote the best instructional control.

When teaching intensively we like to use positive reinforcement and not negative reinforcement. This means that we want our children working to earn something from us and not working so that we will leave them alone. In order to do this we use a variety of proven and effective procedures such as:

1) Errorless teaching: Use prompts as antecedents as much as possible. The less frequently the child is wrong the more likely he/she will stay motivated by the reinforcer you are offering and the value of escape will remain low.

2) Variable Ratio: We recommend a variable ratio (VR) schedule of reinforcement when working intensively. The child should never know when the reinforcer is coming. If your VR is 10, this means the average number of demands presented is 10. For example, sometimes you would reinforce after 03 responses, sometimes after 07, or anywhere in between. Intermittent reinforcement creates strong behavior. You want the child’s behavior of responding to your teaching demands to be very strong.

3) Mix and Vary Instructional Demands: When teaching, we do not present the same demand over and over. We recommend mixing demands from all the skill areas. These can be motor imitation, receptive id, receptive commands, tacts, echoics, RFFCs and intraverbals.

4) Intersperse Easy and Hard Demands: Easy demands are demands, which the child can respond to easily, without prompts. These are also sometimes called high-probability responses. We start with a low percentage of “hard” demands and slowly increase, as we are able.

5) Fluency: We recommend keeping your inter-trial intervals (ITI) to less than one second. This is the time between the child’s response and your next demand. We also recommend to keep the latency on the child’s responses to less than two seconds. If he/she does not answer within two seconds, we will use whatever prompt level is necessary to get the response, and then immediately fade the prompt.

6) Most-to-Least Prompts: Instead of using least to most prompts, which may allow for more mistakes, we use a time delay prompt and fade procedure. For new or difficult responses we immediately use a full prompt. On the very next trial, we ask the same question again and wait two seconds for the child to respond independently. If they do not, we will try to use less of a prompt to evoke the response.

Natural Environment Teaching (NET)

Teaching in the natural environment means that the child’s responses are related to something that is valuable to the child in that moment. For example, if the child is paiting and you ask them to label the paint brush and to tell you what they use to paint with, this would be what we would call NET. On the other hand, if the child was playing with the paints and we asked them to answer questions about foods, to tell us their name, this would not be NET as those responses are not in any way related to the fun activity of the paints.

The purpose in describing NET this way is this; ultimately we want the children we work with to be able to have conversations with other people and when people converse it is usually on a topic that both people find reinforcing. Therefore we want to start early in teaching our children to use the verbal skills they have learned to talk about things that they like. This also gives us the opportunity to generalize new skills across settings and stimuli that were not used during the original teaching.

How we help children with behavior or learning challenges >