4 Tips to Prevent Behaviors Before They Start

An antecedent is anything that happens before a behavior (something that triggers the behavior). This can give a clear idea into what may have initiated a behavior, but it can also give information on what to do to prevent a behavior from happening in the future. Here are a few ways to prevent behaviors before they start: 

  1. Provide ample time/warnings before a transition: Use visual or auditory aids to give warnings before a transition or new task to ease the person into a change and give them time to process what is happening before it occurs. 
  2. Break down a task into smaller pieces: breaking down a task into smaller parts can cause less stress and anxiety and help the person to feel like the task is more attainable, possibly creating better results. 
  3. Start small: Only do the necessary parts of a task to start and then add on other parts to a task later to make the task easier for the person to follow. 
  4. Spend less time in a place: If your child struggles with being in certain places, only go there for a small amount of time and reward successful behavior and then slowly move towards staying for longer durations

Once you’ve implemented a few of these strategies, you can track whether you’re seeing improvement in the behavior or not by tracking how long or how often the behavior is happening. This will help to improve your ability to go places in public, enjoy time with others and prevent long or frequent behaviors. It may seem daunting at first, but soon you and your family will have more freedom and independence. 

Creating Opportunities for Waiting Skills

It’s 6pm and you’re trying to cook dinner. You may have a toddler at your ankles begging for a cracker, another young child screaming for you in the other room and have tried to occupy the children with Cocomelon in hopes that you will be able to cook dinner in peace. Waiting skills are vital for a parent to be able to get activities done in a timely manner but it can also be crucial for children to learn that not all things are immediately accessible.

Here are some ways to create opportunities for waiting:

  1. Take your child into the community to wait in line before accessing a play structure or fast food- this naturally creates a waiting time for your child.
  2. Any time your child asks for something, take your time retrieving it so that they learn to wait and gain more practice
  3. If you are on the phone talking to family members and your child wants access to the phone, tell them to wait and give them a visual or timer to help with the waiting process if needed
  4. When stopping the car and getting out, walk slower so that your child has to wait a bit longer before getting out of the car
  5. During a grocery shopping outing, take your time grabbing things off the shelf and utilize waiting language to increase the skill of your child waiting before holding onto the item they desire
  6. Have other family members practice this as well so your child generalizes waiting to multiple people

Implementing a few of these waiting strategies during your daily schedule will help your child to learn the skill of waiting so that in the future when you need a moment, your child will be able to understand and comply with the concept of waiting.

Potty Training: Schedule vs Mand Trained

You’ve created a schedule and your child is successful with going to the bathroom as long as you continue to take them. One question I get asked frequently is when to know if a child is ready to request going to the bathroom after they’ve been accident free while on a schedule. The answer is yes, but the way in which to get your child to request the bathroom may be trickier.

Here are some ways to create opportunities for requesting the bathroom:

  1. Find the best method for your child to learn how to request the bathroom by using a vocal button, a picture exchange board or vocally. Even for vocal children, starting with a button or picture can give them a prompt that they need to tell others when they have to go to the bathroom.
    2. Any time your child indicates they have to go, prompt the language
    3. Take data on how often you are prompting
    4. Slowly fade out your visual and vocal prompts
    5. Start waiting a certain amount of time before prompting to request the bathroom, this is using a delayed prompt
    6. Have other family members practice this as well so your child generalizes requesting to multiple people

Implementing a few of these waiting strategies during your daily potty schedule will increase your child’s independence in the bathroom and will increase their ability to be toilet trained in all locations.

Incidental Teaching

Have you ever built learning opportunities into your child’s daily routine? If so, you are using a teaching method called incidental teaching and it occurs around your child all of the time. Incidental teaching is one of the five ABA instructional/educational methods for teaching new skills. Incidental teaching is an effective and popular teaching method for many parents and teachers because it occurs in the child’s natural environment which can promote generalization of skills.          By definition, incidental teaching is embedding learning opportunities in ongoing, everyday activities with a focus on the child’s interests and initiations. Incidental teaching follows six guiding principles which include:

  1. Teaching in the natural environment in settings that will maintain the newly acquired verbal skills.
  2. The time incidental teaching is used is throughout the child’s day, naturally, and by everyone involved.
  3. Incidental teaching trains loosely which means it is a non-intensive teaching style where you take advantage of reinforcers selected by the child. You also use a variety of materials.
  4. There are indiscriminable contingencies which makes it different from discrete trial teaching. The child cannot distinguish whether the next response will give them reinforcement. This also helps with maintenance and generalization of skills.
  5. Generalization!! Incidental teaching promotes generalization of skills better than all other instructional teaching methods because you train loosely from the start.
  6. Increases language use/verbal skills because incidental teaching uses MOs (motivating operations: what your child is motivated for at the time) to build verbal skills to request items.

To use incidental teaching, you should select one of your child’s goals to teach/generalize to the natural environment. This could be a goal selected from your child’s treatment plan. Next, identify times throughout your child’s day that you will target the skill using incidental teaching. Be sure to follow your child’s lead and interests at that time. You will use their interest to establish an MO (motivating operation) to increase the chance they will use the skill. For example, during playtime with your child you are completing a puzzle with her. The puzzle is almost complete and you withhold the last piece until your child requests “puzzle piece please.” Incidental teaching a great way to teach language/verbal skills! Here are some more examples:

  • You are pushing your child on a swing outside and you stop and hold him at the top of a push until they request “push.”
  • You place your child’s favorite car on top of a high shelf that he can see but can’t reach. You wait until your child says “I want the car please” to give him the car.
  • Your child is thirsty, and you leave an empty cup on the table so she can request “water.”

Every child is different. Incidental teaching can be done with individuals who are verbal or nonverbal. If your child has limited language skills, he or she can use pictures or gestures to communicate. Some children may be able to use full sentences and some only one or two words. Incidental teaching is an effective and fun way to teach your child new skills!

Helping Individuals with Autism to be Successful During Transition Times

Throughout our day, we all have times that we must stop one activity and start another. It is a natural part of our day to have to change our routine and we are often required to be able to do so successfully. Individuals with autism may have a greater difficultly with changes in routine. They may have a difficult time transitioning from one activity to another (Sevin, J., Rieske, R., Matson, J., 2015). Often individuals with autism, have a greater need for predictability in routine and may have a challenging time understanding what activity will come next (Flannery & Horner, 2004). Some individuals with autism may exhibit challenging behavior when a preferred activity or pattern of behavior is stopped to begin something new that may be less desirable. Thankfully, there are many evidenced-based strategies that you can use to help individuals with autism successfully transition during times of changing activities. These strategies focus on helping the individual prepare for the change as well as offer support during the transition and can be use across all environments (e.g. home, school, and community). These strategies can be implemented in a variety of ways including verbally, auditory, and visually (Hume, K., 2008).

  • Priming—This is a preventative strategy that is used to prepare an individual for a particular upcoming situation or task. (Koegel et al., 2003). You should let them know what is going to happen beforehand. For example, “We are going to take a bath in two minutes. Remember after bath time you get to have a snack.”
  • Priming can be done verbally or with visuals.
  • Visual Schedule—Use a daily visual schedule to show what order specific activities will occur. If there is a change in schedule you can switch out the pictures and use the priming strategy to prepare them for the change and what to expect.
  • Timer—A timer can be extremely helpful during transition times. You can use an audio or visual timer so the individual can see how much time they have left before the transition is going to occur.
  • Use of Other Visuals—it may be helpful to pictures and/or objects to help the individual before and during the transition. For example, showing a walking sign to help the individual to walk during the transition instead of running.
  • First/Then Language (Premack Principle)—You can use this strategy to state the order of activities, often a less desirable one first, then something preferred. For example, first math, then recess. This can be done verbally or in combination with a visual.
  • Positive Reinforcement—If the individual transitions successfully from one activity to another without engaging in challenging behavior it can be helpful to use behavior specific praise and tangible reinforcement if needed. Praise throughout the whole transition. For example, “You are doing a great job walking in the hall,” or “I really like how you are picking up your toys so we can start your bath.”

Transitioning from one activity to another is a skill we simply can’t avoid. Transitions are required throughout our lifetime at home, school, community, and places of employment. The goal of these strategies is to prepare the individual for the transition by making it more predictable. Positive reinforcement should be used for successful transitions to make transition times a more positive experience for the individual (Hume, K., 2008).



Flannerly, K. & Horner, R. (1994). The relationship between predictability and problem behavior for students with severe disabilities. Journal of Behavioral Education, 4, 157-176.

Hume, K. (2008). Transition Time: Helping individuals on the autism spectrum move successfully from one activity to another. The Reporter 13(2), 6-10.

Koegel, L.K., Koegel, R. L., Frea, W., Green-Hopkins, I. (2003). Priming as a method of coordinating educational services for students with autism. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 34(3), 228-235.

Sevin, J., Rieske, R., Matson, J. (2015). A review of behavioral strategies and support considerations for assisting persons with difficulties transitioning from activity to activity. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 2, 329-342.

Premack Principle

The Premack Principle, a big fancy name for something that is quite simple. So, what is it? The Premack Principle is a behavior change procedure that creates the opportunity for an individual to engage in a high-probability behavior once the occurrence of a low-probability behavior is complete. The reason this procedure is successful is because the high-probability behavior will serve as a reinforcer for the low-probability behavior.

A high-probability behavior is something the individual is more likely to do because it is preferred or reinforcing to them. A low-probability behavior is something the individual is less likely to do because it is undesirable or a non-preferred activity to them. For example, a high probability behavior may be watching TV and a low probability behavior may be brushing teeth. Keep in mind that these behaviors will be unique to each individual.

You have probably even used this behavior procedure before, or someone has with your child. It is a commonly used behavior strategy that you may not know you are using but now you have a name for it. How is it used? Anytime you use a first/then statement you are implementing the Premack Principle, simple as that! Remember you want the high-probability behavior (something they are more likely to do because it’s reinforcing) to serve as a reinforcer to the low-probability behavior (something they are less likely to do) so you will state the low-probability behavior first. For example, first put on your coat, then play outside. Another way you could use this procedure would be to say “When/then.” For example, “When you finish cleaning your room, then you can play on the computer.”

You can think of the Premack Principle as a way to structure your child’s schedule with a good balance of preferred and non-preferred activities to help your child be successful throughout the day. Sometimes too many non-preferred activities in a row before getting to engage in a preferred activity can increase challenging behavior. You may say to yourself, this sounds a lot like bribery. The Premack Principle should be used systematically and consistently, and always for the benefit of the child not for the adult, which in turn makes your requests not bribes. It is a way to motivate your child to complete tasks they may not want to do. It is important that you allow your child to engage in the high-probability behavior right after the low-probability behavior as you state so it can serve as a reinforcer to him or her. If you are looking for a simple and effective way to increase compliance with your child and balance his or her schedule, give the Premack Principle a go! Here are other examples:

  • First do three math problems, then play with toys.
  • When you are done putting your dishes in the sink, you can watch a show.
  • Once you finish reading this page, you can play a game.
  • First pick up cars, then listen to music.

8 Ways To Measure Skills

As parents, you may see your child engaging in a behavior frequently that you would like to see increase or decrease in the future. For instance, If your child is engaging in snacking all day and you want to reduce snacking to 1 time per day. To be able to reduce the amount of time the child is snacking, the first step is to take data on the skill to know where you are starting from (baseline). Once you know the starting place of how often the behavior is occurring, you can put a plan into place to be able to increase/decrease the behavior in the future.

Collecting data on various behaviors or skills is also known as measurement in Applied Behavior Analysis. There are 6 different types of measurement that are broken down into two categories: Continuous and Discontinuous measurement.

Continuous measurement is any type of data that you collect every time it happens. This means you are constantly or continuously taking the data.
The types of continuous measurement are:
1. Frequency- Counting every time the behavior or skill occurs (i.e. Counting every time a child eats a snack)
2. Duration- The length of time the behavior or skill occurs (i.e. The amount of time the child spends eating a snack)
3. Rate- count over a specific amount of time (i.e. The number of times the child spends eating a snack in one hour)
4. Latency- the time from a demand being placed to when the client engages in the skill (i.e. the amount of time it takes from telling the child to clean up a snack to when they start cleaning up)
5. Interresponse Time- The time between responses for a skill or behavior (i.e. The time between each snack)

Discontinuous measurement is any type of data that you collect over a specific sample of time.
The types of discontinuous measurement are:
1. Partial Interval- Break the day into equal parts and place a checkmark on any part of the day that the child snacks (if the day is broken into 30 minutes place a checkmark on any 30 minute interval that he snacks and any part)
2. Whole interval- Break the day into equal parts and place a checkmark if the child snacks during the whole part of the interval (If the day is broken into 30 minutes and the child snacks for a 30 minute interval)
3. Momentary Time Sampling- Breaking the day into equal parts and placing a check mark each time you look up at the designated time and they are engaging in the skill (I.e. If the interval is 30 minutes, set a timer and look up each 30 minutes to see if the child is snacking)

While each way to measure a behavior or skill comes with its own set of pros and cons, choosing a way that fits your window of opportunity to be able to measure the skill will help you to understand how often the skill is happening and provide information to help you navigate where to move the skill in the future.

Five Ways To Prepare For Travel

Vacation typically includes some kind of travel. Traveling with children with Autism can include some extra preparation. Here are some things to remember when readying a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) for a trip.

1. Plan for any unexpected noises: Practicing wearing headphones for a trip either in a plane or on a long car ride will help the child to be able to sit for longer periods of time.

2. Practice sitting for long periods of time while playing: this will help your child to prepare for a long flight or prolonged time in a car.

3. Create a story: showing pictures of where you are going and the trip along the way will help the child to prepare for the trip. If flying in an airplane, writing a story with pictures of the flying process will help them to know what to expect. When driving, knowing where you are stopping or what a rest stop looks like could help them transition during that time.

4. Master the art of waiting: Working on stopping for prolonged periods of time during short car rides will help your child to be able to wait for longer stops.

5. Create a visual schedule: Following a visual schedule to show the different steps to a vacation can help your child to be able to understand steps to a larger event.

Preparing by following the steps above will help your child to be able to enjoy the upcoming trip and help put the entire family at ease for travel. Thinking about the process of the trip and explaining what will happen will help the child to be able to anticipate what is to come.

4 Tips To Prepare For School

While some parents and children may feel completely prepared for an upcoming school year, many struggle with the amount of things to prepare for and the fact that the environment is so different from the home environment. Here are some tips to prepare your child for school for the first time: 

  1. Talk to their team of therapists: While social skills may be important, making sure the entire team that works with your child is on board with them having the necessary basic skills such as following 1-2 step directions, a type of communication, and attending skills before placing them in a school setting. 
  2. Use a visual schedule: Create a mock school schedule with visuals in your home and practice transitioning from activities such as calendar or reading to centers will help your child to be able to prepare for upcoming events in the classroom. 
  3. Ask questions: By asking the teacher ahead of time what a typical day looks like to asking the transportation system for a practice ride, there are many people who are willing to accommodate to a child who needs extra supports 
  4. Utilize social activities in the community: Places such as the library and nature school can mimic some parts of a child’s day at school with built in peers and peer models such as circle time, song and dance, arts and craft activities and following directions in a group setting

By providing some of the structure above, you and your child will be ready to take the leap into an educational setting with ease and comfort. Enjoy!

How Tik Tok Can Improve Your child’s Language

Have you seen the videos or photos of people making silly faces on different apps such as Tik Tok? Making those faces could actually be the foundation of your child learning language. How? Oral/Facial imitation has been researched for years and is thought to be the foundation of imitation in childhood development. According to Sarah Lydon, a Speech-Language Pathologist at Playworks Therapy inc, Oral imitation is the primary skill before vocals and other language emerges.

Imitating movements such as:

  • blowing raspberries
  • opening their mouth
  • sticking tongue out
  • moving their tongue from side to side

This will give your child an idea of how their mouth moves to make sounds. While some may be able to imitate this right away, repetition is key!

Once they have mastered these skills you can begin to work on imitating facial expressions with vocal sounds such as smiling while saying “ee” or “cheese”. Along with animal sounds or vehicle sounds such as a siren. These sounds are perfect to do with songs and movement as well to engage the child and gain their attention so that they can imitate the facial expressions.

Getting creative and paying attention to your child’s interests can help improve your child’s eye gaze, scanning and imitation skills as a whole. While you and your child may have limited time to work on skill development, creatively implementing them into your daily routine can be enjoyable for the whole family and fit them naturally into your schedule.



Works Cited:
Make a silly face! Oral Motor Imitation: What is it and why should you target it? PlayWorks Therapy Inc. (2022, February 16). Retrieved July 5, 2022, from https://playworkschicago.com/make-a-silly-face-oral-motor-imitation-what-is-it-and-why-should-you-target-it/