A Behavior Increase Is A Good Thing

Let’s set the scene. A person working with your child decided to implement your child using a break card to get a break during activities that are challenging for them. At first, the break card seemed to work and your child wasn’t falling to the floor or crying as often. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the crying came back into the picture in an extreme way. Now your child is falling to the floor, crying AND biting themselves. When is it time to throw away the break card and start over?

First, take a deep breath. Now let’s talk about why this is a good thing. Yes, you read correctly. This is a great problem to have! In Applied Behavior Analysis, we have a term for something that happens often called an extinction burst.

What is an extinction burst? First let’s talk about what extinction is. Extinction is when we no longer provide reinforcement or punishment to a behavior by simply ignoring the behavior or manipulating the environment so that the behavior isn’t reinforced anymore. This can bring about a change in the behavior. All of a sudden, your child isn’t engaging in the behavior anymore. However, your child may begin to notice this and try with one last full effort to engage in the behavior to gain the reinforcer they’ve been using for so long.

Those old tricks and habits can be hard to change right? This is the case for clients in an ABA therapeutic setting as well. While the client may want a change, it may be harder for them so they use one last ditch effort to see if the easy way can gain them access again to what they want. This is what an extinction burst is. The good news is remaining consistent with the intervention in place to keep the behavior on extinction will help the behavior to eliminate completely in the near future.

So when you see a behavior increase, “keep calm and carry on” as the saying goes. Soon your life and your child’s may look different, but in a positive way with less behaviors!

Planning For A Community Outing

The pools are open, the sun is shining and it’s time to get outside in the community! While some caregivers may be excited about this opportunity, others may be nervous about how their child with autism may interact in a community setting, especially with Covid-19 providing less social opportunities in the past. Here are several ways to practice community skills in the summer time that will help a child with Autism interact in a social based setting:

  1. Use interests to gain community skills: What interests does your child have? Using interests even if they are different from other children to motivate a community activity. For instance if your child loves water, swimming lessons and interactions with a lifeguard could help your child learn water safety. If your child loves light up toys, a trip to the fire station to meet firefighters and see the lights on the vehicles may be exciting and engaging for them and create a social opportunity with a community helper.
  2. Call or research community plans in your area: Once you know your child’s interests, call or research what is available throughout the summer for free. Typically there are events happening each week. A great place to start is the local library for free social events.
  3. Prime ahead of time: Always provide insight to your child ahead of time so that they know what is going to happen at the event, how many people may be there, etc. A social story or pictures of where it will take place can be helpful.
  4. Bring reinforcement: Bring along your child’s favorite items so that they can have something to motivate them during a new activity. Also bring any sensory items they may need such as noise canceling headphones.

Community outings can be overwhelming and stressful, but planning ahead can make them successful and help a person with Autism achieve skills in the area of engaging with their community. This is a lifelong skill that will benefit them.

Finding Out Your Child’s Preference

What does your child play with often? For some, they can quickly come up with a list of preferred items their child enjoys. While others may struggle to find items that are appropriate for their child. Some children can fixate on one or two items while may have a variety of items they enjoy. Finding a method to see what your child is interested in each day may help for you to be able to engage in play skills or other activities.

In Applied Behavior Analysis, a way to identify items your child may be interested in as a reinforcer is called a preference assessment. There are several different ways to conduct a preference assessment that may help you gain new or different reinforcers for skills and activities your child is engaging in.

There are 9 different types of preference assessments that are broken down into three categories: Asking the child, observing and trial based methods (as seen in the diagram below).

Asking the person is any type of preference assessment that you ask the child to rank, make a choice, or answer an open ended question.

  1. Choice- Make a choice between items
  2. Rank ordering- Ranking items by most preferred to least preferred
  3. Open ended questions: Asking the child what they like, how much they like it, etc

Observing the person is any type of preference assessment where you observe the child playing in the natural environment.

  1. Contrived free operant- placing items strategically in the environment to see what the child gravitates towards
  2. Naturalistic free operant- watching the child play in their natural environment with toys

Trial based preference assessments are types of preference assessments where items are placed strategically on a table and the child is required to choose an item or engage with a reinforcer

  1. Single Stimulus- One reinforcer is given at a time and the amount of time the child engages with the toy/item is recorded to see what their preference is
  2. Multiple Stimuli with/without replacement- A child has several items placed in front of them and are told to choose one (this is a type of ranking preference assessment but the child is just told to choose instead of verbally ranking). If you are replacing the item with a different item it is called with replacement and if you continue to have the child pick an item without replacing the toy/item it is called without replacement.
  3. Paired stimuli- Where two reinforcers are given at the same time and the child is requested to make a choice.

For visual examples of how to set up each preference assessment to determine which one would work best for your child, see Vanderbilt University’s Evidence Based Instructional Practice videos on Youtube.com where they show each type of preference assessment.



Works Cited:

  1. Dillon, L. H. (2018, July 13). Preference Assessments. Applied Behavior Analysis – ABA made simple! Retrieved May 23, 2022, from https://www.appliedbehavioranalysis.com/symmetry/
  2. YouTube. (n.d.). Vanderbilt EBIP. YouTube. Retrieved May 23, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYNvAL_UF-7AqQaeiZivq2g

The Quickest Ways To Teach Community Visuals

Learning community signs and symbols are important to engage with a culture and community. For instance, learning the public restroom sign helps someone to know where a bathroom is in the community. Learning crosswalk signs is also important for a person to know when it’s acceptable to walk across the street and when to stop. Here are three steps to quickly teach your child these universal symbols to navigate the community:


  1. Have them find the symbols: Print out the symbols and teach your child to find them in a group of items while explaining what they mean. This will help them learn how to discriminate between the different types of symbols they may see in the community.
  2. Have them label the symbols: By being able to label the symbols, this will help them to be able to express what they are looking for in the community and how to find places such as a specific street, crosswalk or public restroom.
  3. Take them into the community to practice: By taking them into the community to use the crosswalk, find the bathroom, and identify community helpers that can help them with each school, they will be able to be more independent in the environment.


Using these three steps will help your child to be comfortable finding community helpers and using national or international symbols that are universal. This will open up several opportunities for them to understand and interact in their community and can put you as the parent at ease when they are traveling in the community.

5 Ways To Retain Your Childs Skills

With summer approaching and the school year ending, some parents may be wondering how to help their child retain what they learned throughout the school year. According to Quinn and Polikoff of Brookings education, even for students who are neurotypical, schools have mixed reviews but confirm that children typically lose some skills over a summer vacation, however the numbers vary based on the location. (Polikoff, David M. Quinn and Morgan 2017) Here are several approaches in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis that can aid in maintaining skills your child has gained through the course of the academic year:

  1. Have a list of mastered skills you want to retain: Contact the teacher or therapy providers and ask them what skills your child has mastered. Create a list of the skills so you know what you can practice throughout the summer.
  2. Record when you practice the skills: Date when you practice the mastered skills and report if they did the skill independently or not so you know what you need to work on more often (the skills they needed help with) so they can continue to maintain those skills.
  3. Reinforcement is key: It is ok to use a variety of reinforcement that your child responds to and fading out consistent reinforcement for a skill. However, for your child to maintain some skills they still need to be praised and provided tangible rewards.
  4. Fading reinforcement: Once your child masters a skill, it’s appropriate to begin giving them reinforcement less often. For instance: going from reinforcing on every instance, to every other instance of the skill.
  5. Catch your child using the skills naturally: Socially praise and provide high rewards when you catch your child using skills in the natural environment that you have been working on during the summer to maintain their skills.

While it may seem daunting, especially as your child gains more skills, having a way to maintain skills and check up on your child’s progress is vital to their learning process and success. Using the points above will help you gain insight into your child’s education and grow your relationship in a way where they know you have an invested interest in their development.




Works Cited:

Polikoff, David M. Quinn and Morgan. “Summer Learning Loss: What Is It, and What Can We Do about It?” Brookings, 14 Sept. 2017, www.brookings.edu/research/summer-learning-lo. Accessed 6 May 2022.

3 Ways To Create A Break Space

Sometimes children, in general, need a place to calm down that feels safe and supportive. While some things differ for each child, behaviorally speaking it’s important to make sure the space includes and does not include certain things. Below are 3 ways to create a break or calm space: 

  1. Choose an area that is naturally calming for the child: Providing an area such as a tent, bed, couch, or area that the child naturally gravitates to but is not reinforcing in itself is beneficial for creating a positive space.
  2. Do not include reinforcers: Including toys in the space can be confusing for the child and interfere with their ability to calm down. Limiting items in the space can help your child gain coping skills to be able to utilize lifelong and will reduce the place being reinforcing so that the child engages in behaviors to enter the space
  3. Include designated time in space: Allow the child to pick the space whenever they feel it is needed but give the child 2-5 minutes at the calm space at a time so that they are not escaping the task presented or the environment that is aversive completely. 

While a calm space is important, providing a break in an appropriate way that minimizes behaviors and the amount of breaks while encouraging the child to regulate and maintain in the environment longer is vital for the child as they age. Implementing the steps above will help you and your child gain confidence, communication and decrease the dysregulation depending on the function of the behavior.

5 Preventative Strategies During Waiting Time

Waiting for food at a restaurant, a doctor’s visit or even an unplanned event that is happening later than expected can be extremely stressful for a parent and child with Autism alike. Planning ahead can provide ease in unexpected and expected waiting time. Here are some strategies to help the waiting time run smoothly:

  1. Practice waiting in a natural environment: Practicing waiting at home or in a comfortable place can help a child to understand the idea of waiting. Have the child wait at the table before food is prepared, waiting before reading a bedtime story or waiting before walking out the door can help them gain more of the skill before being thrust into the community. 
  2. Provide a reinforcer: Provide a toy or book to pass the time for the child.
  3. Utilize visual supports: Timers, social stories or token boards can give a child a clear start and ending time for the waiting period.
  4. Make visuals easy to access: Put visuals in an easy to grab area for car rides and community outings. 
  5. Model what waiting looks like: Have children and adults alike model waiting and point out other children waiting for items so that your child gains more examples of what waiting looks like. 

Once you prepare and put these preventative strategies in place, waiting time will be more enjoyable and well practiced.

Choosing A Extra-Curricular For Your Child

Swimming, Baseball, and Boy Scouts are just a few activities for children, including those with special needs to participate in during the year. For children on the Autism Spectrum, it can be very easy to know what they prefer and what they do not prefer. However, it can be difficult to get them to try new and different things. Picture this scenario: you’re at a baseball practice for the first time your kid refuses to participate and is on the ground crying and kicking. Should you flee and never return to baseball because of their episode or should you try to push for participation? 

Step 1: Preference Assessment

Before choosing a sport or activity for your child with Autism, pay attention to what they are naturally drawn to. This is called a preference assessment. A preference assessment is where you observe the child and what they choose to interact with to gauge what their reinforcers are. There are several ways to conduct a preference assessment to see what your child enjoys, but a natural/free operant preference assessment is the easiest to conduct because you can just observe your child in the natural environment to see what they gravitate towards and time (take duration data) on how long they play with each item. The item they go to and the amount of time they spend with the activity could give you an idea of where to start with an activity. 

Step 2: Ask questions

Once you have an idea of what they’re interested in, enroll them in that activity and request as much information as you can on the location, the coach/adults information and what basic skills they’ll need to have. This will help you to be able to build visuals and practice the routine beforehand. 

Step 3: Practice, Practice, Practice

Buy the equipment you need ahead of time and practice wearing the uniform for weeks beforehand. Try to take trips to the location of where the activity will take place. Read a social story to help your child prepare for the activity. Create a playdate with children who are also enrolled in the activity to help your child engage with them before so they can gain social skills and comfortability with their peers. All of these suggestions will help your child to be more successful and prepared for the activity at hand. 

Step 4: Address behaviors as they occur

When your child engages in a behavior during the activity, remember the functions of behavior and address each one as they occur. It may take several weeks for your child to feel comfortable with the crowd and the task at hand but doing something that interests them and having an opportunity to engage with peers and new adults is vital for their development. 

Fostering a growth mindset in neurotypical kids can be important for them to grow in independence and initiate new experiences but for those with Autism it can be even more crucial. By following the steps above, your child, you, and the rest of your family will feel more confident in the new activity while gaining new skills that are important in life. Stay confident, collected and rally your support team for any endeavor and you’ll be sure to feel accomplished with having your child try something new. 


3 Ways to Disrupt Repetitive Behaviors

Have you ever wondered why your child wants to listen to the same movie on repeat? While this could just have to do with their preference and enjoyment of the movie and embedding it into a daily routine, children with Autism can display repetitive actions in several forms such as:

  1. Verbal repetition
    1. Echolalia- repeating words or sounds directly after hearing someone use them
    2. Scripting- reciting words, lines or phrases from a variety of media sources or people
  2. Physical repetition
    1. Hand flapping, pacing, repetitive motions
  3. Repetitive play/schedule
    1. Playing with the same toy in the same way, repeating the order of the schedule/play

Parents can often wonder, why is my child so repetitive? Especially if it begins to impede on everyday activities. They may wonder how they can help their child to be able to enjoy other activities and stop the behavior that is disrupting their daily routine. The difficult part about repetition with children with Autism is that there is no answer as to why they enjoy repetition. However, there has been a lot of research done on different techniques that can help to change repetitive behaviors or eliminate them from disrupting. 

Here are some ideas that can help with the disruption: 

  1. Modeling other behaviors
    1. Modeling ways to indicate excitement, play, exercise and social engagement can help your child to understand different ways to engage in activities
  2. Differential reinforcement
    1. Providing reinforcement (social praise, edible, toys, or other highly preferred items) when the child is doing the activity you want them to will increase the likelihood that they will do that in the future
  3. Providing visuals  
    1. Providing visuals to indicate a schedule to help with the transition from repetitive behavior to other activities can provide your child with consistency and aid in decreasing maladaptive behaviors

Using these tools above can help you and your child to have a better understanding of what is appropriate, functional and aid in developing life skills to enhance social, play and physical abilities. 


Below are some research studies done with specific methods used to decrease repetitive behavior: 

Brown, J. L., Krantz, P. J., McClannahan, L. E., & Poulson, C. L. (2008). Using script fading to promote natural environment stimulus control of verbal interactions among youths with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 2(3), 480-497. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2007.08.006 

Charlop-Christy, M. H., & Kelso, S. E. (2003). Teaching children with autism conversational speech using a cue card/written script program. Education and Treatment of Children, 26(2), 108-127.

 Dotto-Fojut, K. M., Reeve, K. F., Townsend, D. B., & Progar, P. R. (2011). Teaching adolescents with autism to describe a problem and request assistance during simulated vocational tasks. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5(2), 826-833. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2010.09.012 

Ganz, J. B., Kaylor, M., Bourgeois, B., & Hadden, K. (2008). The impact of social scripts and visual cues on verbal communication in three children with autism spectrum disorders. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 23(2), 79-94. doi: 10.1177/1088357607311447 

Goldsmith, T. R., LeBlanc, L. A., & Sautter, R. A. (2007). Teaching intraverbal behavior to children with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 1(1), 1-13. 

Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E. (1993). Teaching children with autism to initiate to peers: Effects of a script-fading procedure. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26(1), 121-132.

5 Types of Learning in ABA

Applied Behavior Analysis is modernly known based on it’s proven research effectiveness for children with Autism and other types of neurological disabilities. Though B.F. Skinner is commonly referred to as the founding father of Applied Behavior Analysis, there are a few pioneers in the field who have provided different ideas and teaching methods that you may find beneficial in teaching your child. 

  1. Discrete Trial Training by Ivar Lovaas 
    1. This method of teaching is fast paced, engages the child in a one on one setting and involves giving an instruction, providing help if necessary and then providing reinforcement as immediately as possible. This is a very common method of teaching that is used in ABA services for learning listener responding skills, imitation, play and intraverbal skills. 
      1. Children ideal for this teaching method are those who learn with repetition, immediate help and follow through. 
      2. For more information on DTT
  2. Direct Instruction by Siegfried Engelmann
    1. This method includes a small group of students and provides the teacher with a manual as well as a response from a group of students. Children are grouped based on their knowledge of the material. The goal is for the students to slowly memorize the material and fix mistakes by hearing their peers successfully recite the material. It is face to face and provides immediate error correction. 
      1. Children ideal for this teaching method learn by memorization and thrive in small groups 
      2. Click this link for more information about Direct Instruction
  3. Incidental Teaching by Mcgee, Daly and Jacobs
    1. This method uses the natural environment and intentionally has the instructor set it up to encourage children to learn and initiate. Reinforcers are placed in sight but out of reach to encourage requests and the environment is used with different people and different locations to encourage generalization of the skills learned. Children are given several opportunities to learn throughout the day and based on the child’s motivation. 
      1. Children ideal for this teaching method are those who struggle to communicate and enjoy learning naturally
      2. Click here for more information on Incidental Teaching
  4. Personalized System of Instruction (PSI) by Fred Keller
    1. This method breaks down a skill into several meaningful parts, is self paced, personalized and requires a proctor or person to help each individual. This teaching method requires a 90% mastery of each unit to be able to move on to the next unit or skill level. 
      1. Children ideal for this teaching method enjoy learning at their own pace and can do a bulk of work on their own and have improved attending skills. 
      2. For more information on PSI 
  5. Precision Teaching by Ogden Lindsley
    1. This system of teaching emphasizes that “the student is always right”, provides an assessment at the beginning of the system and then uses data to record how the child is progressing. Data is collected using a specific type of chart called a standard celeration chart that indicates the child’s progress. 
      1. Children ideal for this system of teaching are children who enjoy individual learning and benefit from repetitive teaching.
      2. For more information on PT

While these teaching methods vary in their way of teaching, they have all been backed by research and implementation to stand the test of time and be valuable to learners. It is our hope that these methods will be able to teach your children new information and systems to benefit their development and skills across all environments.