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Building a Comprehensive ABA Program: Integrating More Naturalistic Strategies. Mary Jane Weiss, Ph.D., BCBA September, 2008. Our goals for today. To introduce you to a variety of useful teaching strategies within the field of ABA, including the naturalistic strategies

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building a comprehensive aba program integrating more naturalistic strategies

Building a Comprehensive ABA Program: Integrating More Naturalistic Strategies

Mary Jane Weiss, Ph.D., BCBA

September, 2008

our goals for today
Our goals for today
  • To introduce you to a variety of useful teaching strategies within the field of ABA, including the naturalistic strategies
  • To focus on the use of the Verbal Behavior language classification system and to describe the benefits of this system for building the spontaneous use and generalization of skills
what are the core characteristics of aba
What are the core characteristics of ABA?
  • Interventions based on empirically validated research
  • Highly individualized instruction
  • Ongoing assessment and data collection
  • Data-driven decision making
what are the core characteristics of aba4
What are the core characteristics of ABA?
  • Assessment of outcome is based on skill acquisition, maintenance over time, and generalization to real-life settings
  • Significant role for significant others
  • A humanistic approach focused on quality of life and meaningful change
what makes aba so effective
What makes ABA so effective?
  • Specificity of goals
    • Linked to a thorough assessment
  • Data based decision making
    • Dynamic programming
  • Intensity
    • Ratio
    • Hours
    • Number of learning opportunities
what teaching methods are under the aba umbrella
What teaching methods are under the ABA umbrella?
  • Shaping
  • Task Analysis/Chaining
  • Discrete Trial Instruction
  • Incidental Teaching
  • Pivotal Response Training
  • Natural Environment Training
  • Rate-building for fluency
what is discrete trial instruction
What is Discrete Trial Instruction?
  • Discrete Trial Instruction is a special form of teaching used to maximize learning for students who struggle with more traditional teaching methods, and who require repetition to learn.
  • Discrete Trial Instruction relies heavily on the antecedents and consequences of behavior.
  • Discrete Trial Instruction differs from other instructional methods because it relies heavily on intensity and structure.
dti an historical perspective
DTI- An Historical Perspective
  • Based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis and operant learning/conditioning (Skinner, Bear, Bijou, Lovaas, Long...)

1. Understanding behavior by analyzing environmental factors.

2. Systematically manipulating antecedents/ consequences to modify adaptive/maladaptive behavior.

  • Specifically “coined” Discrete Trial Instruction by Koegel, Russo, and Rincover, Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1977
  • Designed to be a formal, exact unit of teaching which is:

a single teaching moment

a systematic shaping process to build complex behaviors

a “step by step upward progression”

the dti model
The DTI Model
  • The term “Discrete” stresses the need to recognize each individual teaching moment as separate and distinct. Each trial has a definite beginning and end.
  • Discrete Trial Instruction breaks down tasks into specific, focused instructional demands.
  • The format of Discrete Trial Instruction is very conducive to systematic data collection and tracking of student performance.
  • Highly effective
  • Has been in use for 30 years
  • Very successful in teaching a wide variety of skills
what is a discrete trial
What is a Discrete Trial?
  • A sequenced form of instruction
    • SD (instruction)
    • Response
    • Consequence
how has dti changed
How has DTI changed?
  • Not just blocks of trials
  • Interspersals
  • Shorter inter-trial intervals
  • Using errorless learning
what is errorless learning
What is errorless learning?
  • Errors are prevented
    • Use a most to least prompt hierarchy
  • Errors are interrupted
what is task interspersal
What is task interspersal?
  • Presentations of previously learned maintenance tasks are co-mingled with the presentation of acquisition tasks
what do we know about the effectiveness of interspersal
What do we know about the effectiveness of interspersal?
  • Higher percentages of correct responding on acquisition tasks when maintenance tasks are interspersed (vs. when only a single acquisition task is presented) (Dunlap & Koegel, 1980)
  • Interspersal must include maintenance tasks. Merely interspersing several acquisition tasks does not facilitate learning (Dunlap, 1984)
  • Benefits of interspersal have been demonstrated across populations (Koegel & Koegel, 1996)
why else should we consider interspersal
Why else should we consider interspersal?
  • More naturalistic, as one can not predict questions to be posed in everyday interactions
  • It prevents “automatic” responding, based on repetitive trials of a single item or a particular program
  • It reduces frustration for the learner
  • Facilitates response, as behavioral momentum is built
why do we need dti
Why do we need DTI?
  • Many skills require repetition
  • Many students will easily learn new skills in this format
  • It is conducive to teaching skills that are not intrinsically motivating
what are the potential drawbacks or limitations of dti
What are the potential drawbacks or limitations of DTI?
  • Difficult to generalize skills (requires special consideration in planning)
  • May lead to overemphasis of the SD-R format of programming
  • Learners may not find instruction inherently rewarding
  • Joey’s parents are teaching him dressing. They do multiple repetitions of buttoning every day after school, usually about 10 times.
    • What are the advantages to this approach?
    • What else might they do to teach buttoning or other dressing skills?
  • Miranda’s teachers want her to ask others what is wrong when they express distress. So, while seated at 1:1 instruction, they pretend to cry and prompt her to ask what is wrong. They usually do this as a program, with about 5 to 10 trials at a time.
    • What are the advantages to teaching this skill this way?
    • What are the disadvantages to teaching this skill this way?
what are other aba methods used to teach skills
What are other ABA methods used to teach skills?
  • There are a variety of ABA methods which are naturalistic in approach
  • Naturalistic ABA strategies have been emphasized for many years, and have evolved and become more sophisticated over time
  • Incidental Teaching, the Natural Language Paradigm, and Pivotal Response Training all are naturalistic ABA strategies
  • Natural Environment Training is a naturalistic strategy that uses the VB classification system
naturalistic aba strategies
Naturalistic ABA Strategies
  • Incidental Teaching has been an ABA method in use for over 25 years
  • “Incidental teaching is used to get elaborated language by waiting for a person to initiate a conversation about a topic and then responding in ways that ask for more language from that person (Hart & Risley, 1982).
incidental teaching
Incidental Teaching……….
  • A natural environment is arranged to attract the student to desired materials
  • The student initiates the teaching by indicating an interest (gesturally or verbally)
  • The teacher prompts an elaboration
  • The correct response to the prompt provides access
incidental teaching24
Incidental Teaching……..
  • Part of best practice ABA
  • Includes many “communicative temptations”
    • eating a desired food in front of student
    • engaging in a desired activity
    • putting an object out of reach
    • set up situations requiring “help”
what does incidental teaching do
What does incidental teaching do?
  • Makes use of the natural environment
  • Capitalizes on periods of high motivation to facilitate learning
  • Makes use of naturally occurring reinforcers
  • Reinforces an important class of behaviors (initiations)
naturalistic aba teaching strategies
Naturalistic ABA Teaching Strategies
  • Natural Language Paradigm and Pivotal Response Training are ABA methodologies which have emphasized naturalistic teaching for over 20 years
  • Associated with a number of researchers
    • Koegel, O’Dell, & Koegel, 1987
    • Laski, Charlop, & Schreibman, 1988
    • Koegel, Koegel, & Surrat, 1992
natural language paradigm and pivotal response training
Natural Language Paradigm and Pivotal Response Training
  • Natural Language Paradigm and Pivotal Response Training have emphasized
    • the use of intrinsically motivating materials
    • teaching in natural contexts
    • focusing on the individual’s interests to guide language instruction
natural language paradigm
Natural Language Paradigm
  • Involves
    • items chosen by the child
    • variations in instructional targets every few trials
    • loose shaping contingencies
    • natural reinforcers
    • Playful, informal interactions
natural environment training
Natural Environment Training
  • Conducted in typical environment
  • Designed for younger students
  • Uses Skinner’s analysis of Verbal Behavior to develop an instructional model and curricular progression
  • Was developed by Sundberg & Partington
  • Described in their book, Teaching Language to Children with Autism or Other Developmental Disabilities

How do you use naturalistic strategies to teach

-shoe tying

-answering social questions

-playing card games

What are the advantages and disadvantages to teaching these skills naturalistically?

why should we learn about verbal behavior classifications
Why should we learn about Verbal Behavior classifications?
  • It teaches us about the functions of language
  • All of the functions need to be addressed long-term
  • When all functions are addressed, language programming is more comprehensive
  • Research has indicated that skills do not transfer across functions (i.e. a child may be able to label but not request)
what is verbal behavior
What is “Verbal Behavior?”
  • Verbal Behavior = Behavior
  • Verbal Behavior that is learned via the same mechanisms as other behavior
    • Reinforcement
    • Punishment
    • A-B-C
how is it different
How is it different?
  • In Verbal Behavior, reinforcement is mediated by another person
  • It is social
  • It involves more than one person, not just the person and the environment
skinner s focus
Skinner’s focus
  • Skinner focused on the development of expressive behaviors
  • Expressive behaviors involve the individual as SPEAKER
why is it important in autism
Why is it important in Autism?
  • Theory
    • Tool for analysis
      • What’s working
      • What’s not working
  • Implications for teaching
    • Related to core deficits
    • Emphasis on environment
    • Focus on function
what do we mean by function
What do we mean by function?
  • What determines or controls the response or behavior?
    • What is the antecedent?
    • What is the consequence?
  • What is the form of the response?
briefest descriptions of skinner s expressive behaviors
Briefest descriptions of Skinner’s expressive behaviors
  • Mand: request
  • Tact: label
  • Intraverbal: to and fro conversational exchange
  • Echoic: verbal imitation
what is the most important element
What is the most important element?
  • What controls the speaker’s response
    • Echoic – matches what the person hears
    • Mand – specifies what the person wants
    • Tact – communicates what the person sees, hears, tastes, smells
    • Intraverbal – responds to what person hears & does not match
teaching language by function
Teaching language by function
  • Teaching within a verbal behavior model addresses EACH verbal operant specifically
  • Research has shown that for children with autism, skills do not necessarily transfer across function
  • Prompts are introduced and faded systematically to try to achieve “pure” operants
why is this important in autism
Why is this important in Autism?
  • Deficits in all functions of language are common
  • Manding is important to increase spontaneity and balance other teacher-directed ABA teaching methods
  • Intraverbals build reciprocity and the foundation of social interactions
  • Echoics can address issues of articulation, intelligibility, and pacing
  • Tacting can increase commenting skills
how is this new different
How is this new & different?
  • Skinner’s organization of language is based on function rather than form
  • Teaching addresses function specifically
  • Highlights need to teach each function separately
other categories of language important in natural environment training
Other categories of language important in Natural Environment Training
  • Receptive: following instructions or complying with the mands of others
  • Imitation: copying someone’s motor movements
  • RFFC: identifying items when given some description (its features, function, or class)
expressive and receptive skills






Motor imitation

Receptive identification


Receptive by




Expressive and Receptive Skills
let s get specific about manding
Let’s get specific about Manding
  • A type of verbal behavior where the response is controlled by a motivational variable
  • A Mand names its reinforcer
  • A Mand benefits the speaker by satisfying EO/MO’s by obtaining specific reinforcement
  • A Mand allows the speaker to affect his or her environment
the importance of manding
The importance of Manding
  • Manding skills allow the individual to spontaneously request items that are needed and items that are desired
  • Manding has traditionally received little attention in DTI programs
the importance of manding50
The importance of Manding
  • Mand training enables the instructor to know what functions as reinforcement
  • Mand training enables the instructor to establish oneself as an agent of reinforcement
  • Mands can be vocal or nonvocal
  • All Mands are verbal behavior
how is manding taught
How is Manding taught?
  • Manding is often taught initially through the use of Manding sessions
    • Free from demands
    • Exposure to highly preferred items
    • Enticement with highly preferred items
    • Focus on pairing request with access to items
    • Focus on building instructor as an agent of reinforcement
other elements of manding to address
Other elements of Manding to address
  • Complexity of communication
  • Eye contact with instructor
  • Use of variety of carrier phrases (later)
benefits of mand training
Benefits of Mand training
  • Teaches requesting skills
  • Increases learner initiation
  • Builds spontaneity
  • Balances the programmatic focus on responding to SD’s
  • Pairs instructor and instructional setting with reinforcement
benefits of mand training55
Benefits of Mand training
  • Instructor always knows what will function as a reinforcer
  • Decreases challenging behaviors
    • Appropriate requesting skills reduce the need to request through disruptive behaviors
    • Appropriate requesting skills reduce learner frustration (They provide a means of influencing the environment!)
manding can always be part of the curriculum
Manding can always be part of the curriculum
  • Manding should be incorporated into work sessions
  • More complex forms of manding should be included in goals and objectives
  • An analysis of effective manding should be ongoing
data on manding sessions
Data on Manding sessions
  • Usually track independent Mands and prompted Mands
    • Over time, independent mands should increase
  • Can develop a goal for the number of Mands in a session
    • As number is achieved, other elements of the Manding response can be targeted
  • MOST IMPORTANT DATA: Full day mands
why focus on full day manding
Why focus on full day manding?
    • Functional manding
    • Spontaneous mands
    • Can still be broken into independent vs. prompted, if useful
capturing and contriving eo s mo s
Capturing and contriving EO’s/MO’s
  • Capturing an EO involves capitalizing on the EO as it occurs naturally in the environment
  • Contriving an EO involves manipulating some object or event that alters the value of another object or event as reinforcement
contriving eo s mo s
Contriving EO’s/MO’s
  • Blocked Response
    • an action can not be initiated, due to a missing tool
      • eating, drinking implements
      • arts and crafts tasks
  • Interrupted Chain
    • a chained action can not be completed, due to a missing item
      • puzzles
      • matching tasks
manding for information using eo s mo s
Manding for Information using EO’s/MO’s
  • In these applications, an EO is used to make the information reinforcing. The student can ask…….
    • The nature of a surprise reward (what?)
    • The location of a reinforcing item (where?)
    • The time a preferred activity will be happening (when?)
    • The person who has the item (who?)
manding for help
Manding for help
  • A highly useful skill, especially for instructional contexts where teacher attention is lower
  • Should be expanded to use of peers
    • How can this be done?
  • Can be used with a vocal or nonvocal response
manding for attention
Manding for attention
  • Can be used with a vocal or nonvocal response
  • Has major implications for the reduction of challenging behaviors
manding for a break
Manding for a break
  • Tremendous implications for the reduction of challenging behaviors
  • Can be taught as a vocal or nonvocal response
  • Overuse is not as significant a problem as instructors fear
most important messages
Most important messages
  • ABA includes multiple formal and naturalistic teaching strategies
  • VB is a language classification system and an ANALYTICAL TOOL
  • Addressing all verbal operants ensures comprehensive programming
    • Pacing is important but not the only variable to consider
    • We must attempt more thematic instruction to aid generalization
defective and effective manding
Defective and Effective Manding
  • What is a functional mand?
    • Reduces negative behavior
    • Associated with reduced dependence on prompts
    • Generalizes across people, settings, materials
    • Can be used to teach new skills
defective and effective manding67
Defective and Effective Manding
  • Sundberg has discussed the concept of defective manding as a language acquisition barrier (Cosac conference, 2004)
  • What is a defective mand?
    • Not associated with reduced need for prompts
    • Associated with negative behavior
    • Not always linked to an MO
    • Behavior may indicate different desired item
why is manding sometimes defective
Why is manding sometimes defective?
  • No MO in effect for targeted item
    • Failure to assess
    • Failure to vary
  • Response effort may be too great
  • May be the wrong prompt
    • May be bound to/dependent on certain prompts
why else can mand training not succeed
Why else can mand training not succeed?

There may be insufficient practice or inadequate generalization of expectation

There may be free access to reinforcers

Negative behavior may function as mands

A single topography may function as a mand

  • No need for specific request
why else mand training may not succeed
Why else mand training may not succeed?
  • A small group of mands may have a strong history of reinforcement
  • Verbal stimulus acquires control and blocks MO control
    • Evokes rote intraverbal response
      • One request
      • Very few requests
      • Repeated requests even when satiated
reasons for defective manding continued
Reasons for defective manding (continued)
  • Scrolling has been reinforced
  • Behaviors compete with other MO’s
    • Self-stimulatory behaviors
interventions for defective manding
Interventions for defective manding
  • Verbal SD has acquired control and blocks MO control
    • Choice procedures
    • Drop verbal SD
    • Add a non-verbal prompt (e.g., treat box)
    • Add a written prompt
    • Add a neutral verbal stimulus (e.g., pick one)
    • Intersperse trials of “What do you want?”
an specific ideas for reducing dependence on verbal sd
An specific ideas for reducing dependence on verbal SD
  • Make it a visual task
  • Teach sight words for all reinforcers
    • Practice exchange of card for reward
other ideas for defective manding
Other ideas for defective manding
  • More preference assessments
  • More variability in what is offered as rewards
  • Check response effort
  • Expect manding in all settings one acquired
  • Match prompt to learner
  • Do not reinforce scrolling
other ideas for defective manding75
Other ideas for defective manding
  • Do correspondence checks
  • Limit access to reinforcers
  • Ensure that negative behaviors are not treated as mands
assess for motivational operations
Assess for Motivational Operations
  • Some ways to assess for MO’s
    • Does the mand occur without verbal or nonverbal control?
    • Is the item selected in free access?
    • Is there a short latency to accessing manded item?
    • Does the student search for item if made unavailable?
defective manding
Defective manding
  • Can occur at any stage of mand training
  • Is often not evaluated
  • Completely changes the learner’s experience
  • Impacts negatively on learning
why focus on naturalistic instruction
Why focus on naturalistic instruction?
  • Spontaneity
  • Generalizability
  • Transfer to the natural environment
how can we collect data on naturalistic instruction
How can we collect data on naturalistic instruction?
  • Duration
  • Prompting
  • Latency
  • % of opportunities