Tag Archives: behavior change replace

Why Changing a Child’s Team is a GOOD thing


Throughout the course of a child’s treatment with any ABA provider, one thing should be a constant: therapist changes happen. Frequently.

And understandably, this tends to be a difficult adjustment for both our kiddos and their families! In order to continuing developing the best team possible, there are occasionally team changes as a result of professional growth and career advancement, however, it’s important to recognize that team changes do not solely occur because staffing dictates; as an ABA provider, our ultimate goal is to ensure that your child receives the absolute best quality treatment, and one element of providing a well-rounded ABA program is therapist change.


There are a multitude of benefits to changing therapists, however, we’re going to focus on two: generalization of skills and functional relationship building.

Requiring a learner to be able to respond to new therapists is an important, often under-utilized form of teaching generalization. While learning a new skill with a specific therapist is an amazing accomplishment for a child, it is equally important to ensure that skills taught aren’t just generalized across different environments, but across different people as well.  For instance, a child may return a greeting daily to the therapists that have been teaching them this skill for 6 months, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that, if a novel persons says ‘Hi,’ the response they’ve learned with their typical therapist will generalize.

In addition to generalization, building relationships with and responding to novel people regularly will help set up your child for success in the future. In school, work, or other standard day-to-day activities, we are expected to be able to form and cultivate relationships with new people. Whether it’s a new teacher, a new boss, a new neighbor, a new babysitter or family member, being able to and confident in responding to new faces is always beneficial to a child.

In the end, we understand that therapist changes can be a difficult adjustment for everyone involved, but the benefits of regular team changes will only help children to meet their goals.


Topics in ABA: Experience Trumps Credentials


Over the past 10 years the number of BCBA’s has grown from approximately 2,500 in 2005, to close to 20,000 in 2015.  This growth is partially due to the increase in availability of certification programs in the field of behavior analysis. Although there is a growing need for behavior analysts, many students have been entering degree programs with little or no experience working in the field of ABA and a limited knowledge of what a behavior analyst actually does.

As professionals who have supervised and taught in certification programs our experience has been that the most successful students are those that have a background in ABA and have had the opportunity to demonstrate those principles in the natural environment (for our sake, with kids with autism). We have unfortunately witnessed unsuccessful students and a common denominator is typically jumping into a certification program without truly understanding the roles and responsibilities of a BCBA.

As a behavior analyst you have the ability to change behavior! We can make a huge difference in the life of a child with autism and their family; this is something that should not be taken lightly. This is why we are dedicated to not hire or promote individuals because of their credentials, but instead due to their experience and proven ability to be effective at what they do.

Chrissy Barosky M.Ed BCBA, & Danielle Pelz, MS BCBA

How to get your child to follow directions in 5 easy steps

Mother and daughter playing with ball in the park

Many parents of children with and without disabilities often struggle with getting get their child to listen to them or follow directions. Here are 5 simple steps we’ve compiled  to follow to help teach your child to listen and follow directions.

  1. Get close to your child before you start talking or giving a direction. It is suggested that you are less than 5 feet from your child before giving any directions. If your child can’t hear you or understand you, they can’t follow your directions!
  2. Gain eye contact with your child. This will get their attention and provide a good opening to give a direction. You may need to prompt eye contact by calling their name. For example, “Johnny, look at me” or use physical guidance to move their face toward yours. ALWAYS praise them for looking at you.
  3. Once you are close and have eye contact give a clear and concise direction.  When giving a direction make it a command or statement, do not make it a question. Instead of saying, “Can you get your backpack”, say, “Get your backpack”. At first it might be necessary to use only simple one-step directions in order to avoid confusion.
  4. Praise and reward your child for every direction that is followed and for all attempts to follow directions. If your child attempts to follow the directions but can’t quite get it done, praise them for trying and help them complete it. Praise and rewards should follow immediately. Avoid negative statements like “That’s not what I asked you to do” and “You aren’t listening to me” and ignore mistakes, remember at least they are trying.
  5. ALWAYS follow through. Make sure your child completes what you ask them to do even if physical guidance (i.e., hand over hand) is needed. In order to avoid empty threats or promises, only issue the directions if you are 100% committed to making sure that your child follows through. Don’t allow your child to avoid or escape directions placed upon them, as you want your child to learn that when you give them a direction the expectation is that it will be followed or you will help.

Remember learning should be fun. The more excited you are about it, the more excited your child will be to do it. You can also make a game of learning to follow directions. Hide a quarter (or something the child likes) somewhere in a room. Tell the child that he may have the item if he will listen to your directions and follow them exactly. Remember give the directions only once and if they find the item they get to keep it.


– guest blogger, Chrissy Barosky, MA BCBA

Manager of Clinical Development, Bierman ABA Autism Centers 

Understanding Aggressive Behavior and Children with Autism

Children with autism can often engage in forms of aggression such as hitting, biting, pinching, kicking, throwing objects, head banging, pushing, pulling, or spitting. Children may engage in these behaviors to hurt themselves or hurt others.

It is often misunderstood that it is a childs “autism” that is causing problem behavior, but this is not the case. Children with autism often have difficulty communicating with others and become frustrated. Aggressive behaviors then become a way for the child to communicate. The child may want something such as a drink, snack or help with a difficult activity if frustrated.

1. A child may aggress to communicate he or she wants something (toy, activity, attention)

For example, a child cries because he wants a toy . The parent then gives the child the toy, which stops the child’s crying. Giving the child the toy is also reinforcing to the parent because the child is not longer heard crying.

2. A child may aggress to escape or avoid something unpleasant to them (asked to do something they don’t want to do)

An example of this might be if a parent asks a child to pick up his toys and go to bed. The child may act out because this is something he or she might not want to do. If the demand is revoked and the child is allowed to continue playing and stay awake, the child thinks “I don’t want to do this, and if I throw a tantrum, it makes you stop”. In addition, removing the demand to avoid the tantrum is reinforcing to the parents.

3. A child may aggress to produce self-stimulation

In some cases, aggression may also serve as a form of self-stimulation in which the action just “feels good” to the child.

For example, a child may bang his chin with his fist frequently when alone. In this case, the child may have too few appropriate leisure skill activities, such as appropriately play with toys and other activities. Instead, the child engages in self-stimulation as a form of entertainment and serves as an enjoyable sensation the child can produce alone.

4. In other cases, the aggression may be due to a medical condition in which a medical Dr. should be consulted and the child treated. Medical issues should also be ruled out first.

Once aggressive behaviors are occurring frequently, they can be difficult to decrease right away. This is where we can help! Here are some tips to help reduce aggression or other forms of problem behavior.

1. Identify the cause or function of the behavior. (Be sure to rule out any medical reasons first) Is the child engaging in problem behavior to:

• Access a toy, activity, or attention?
• Escape or avoid something he or she doesn’t want to do?
• Produce self-stimulation because the aggressive behavior “feels good”?
• Possible medical issue?

2. Stop reinforcing the behavior. If a child cries or hits because he wants a toy when at the store, then don’t give the child the toy. If he cries or hits because he doesn’t want to stop playing and go to bed, don’t allow him to keep playing and avoid going to bed. If he is engaging in the behavior to produce self-stimulation, teach a “time and a place” for the behavior or find another item or activity the child can do instead which looks more appropriate but produces the same desired “feel”.

3. Teach your child more appropriate ways to communicate. For example, begin to teach your child to ask for a toy or activity using ASL sign, words, or even by pointing through the use of a picture system.

Parents can consult an experienced BCBA to help identify reduce aggression and teach more appropriate replacement behaviors. A BCBA can help by performing a functional assessment to identify the function(s) of behavior and design an individualized behavior plan to help.

Focus on what is most important first!

I have been working as a consultant in the field of ABA for 9 years and have worked with dozens of different children. When talking about goals, I often find myself saying one important phrase to the families I work with. “Let’s focus on what is most important first”.

When I meet with clients for the first time, I assess a child’s abilities in many different areas such as language skills, social skill, appropriate play skills, cooperation skills etc. I get a chance to interact with the children myself, talk to the families, and prepare a report, which outlines the basic direction in which a child’s therapy program should be designed. I often have many children that need improvement in a lot of different areas depending on the severity of the autism.

It is vital for a child’s success that families understand you can’t work on every single problem all at once. We need to pick what is most important and beneficial to the child to begin learning and focus on teaching these things first. Developing skill sets are like building blocks. Once you teach a new skill, you can use it to help you develop another and so on. As a Behavior Analysist, I am able to break down a goal into small steps and my job is to train therapists and families where to start and how to see results so that we can continue working towards the overall goal.

For example, a child with absolutely no communication skills, who never follows directions, and engages in many different forms of disruptive behavior is not going to be able to sit at a table right away so we cannot begin teaching him to begin academic work at a table. This is where I ask families, “What do you think would benefit your child the most right now?” My main goal would be to first help this child how to communicate effectively with his family and help him ask for a drink when he is thirsty, a cookie or cracker when he is hungry, or a favorite toy. Could you imagine what it would be like if you were not able to ask for the things you want the most? Next, it would be important to start working on developing cooperation skills because you can’t teach a child anything if they are not willing and ready to follow directions. If you try to teach a child to learn any type of new skills under these conditions, you will be turning it into a struggle and teaching the child that learning is not fun.

Once a child is cooperative and enjoys learning, we can continue expanding on learned skills and begin teaching other possible skills such as labeling objects, playing appropriately with toys, increasing eye contact, and basic social skills. At this point, academics may be a little way down the road, but if you follow developmentally appropriate goals, and continue to work towards the next step, you can eventually get to the point where children are ready to sit at a desk and learn academics in a school environment.

It takes patience, dedication, and time, but I have worked with children that have experienced this type of success through ABA therapy.

Myths Regarding Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement is often misunderstood as a term that is associated with punishment. Because the word “negative” is used, people often think this term means something “bad”. However, this is far from true. Don’t let the “negative” part fool you. Reinforcement is actually a good thing.

In “technical terms” a reinforcer is the process in which a stimulus is added following a behavior and it increases the likelihood that behavior will occur again in the future. In “simple terms”, it means you do something and because something pleasant becomes of it, you are more likely to do it again. Reinforcers are also defined by their effect they have on behavior. Therefore, it has to increase the likelihood you are going to behave that way again in future. A person engages in negative reinforcement if they do something that helps remove or avoid something unpleasant. An example would be teaching a child to say “stop” instead of hitting a peer in an attempt to block the peer from taking a toy away. If the child begins to say “stop” in a similar situation this would show the behavior of saying “stop” increased.

Another reason negative reinforcement has become a term associated as meaning something “bad” is because we often don’t realize that we are using negative reinforcement when we shouldn’t. Using negative reinforcement to stop problem behavior can cause problem behavior to increase. Giving a child a piece of candy to make him stop crying would be considered negative reinforcement if you find yourself doing this a lot more in order to make the crying stop. Even though it makes the child stop crying in that moment, it also teaches the child crying results in something favorable. Therefore they will be more likely keep crying often and I am sure that is not the desired result 😉 In a situation like this, it is best problem behavior is never rewarded.

By understanding how the principle of negative reinforcement works, you can learn to use so it helps you instead of having it work against you.

Replacement Behavior

As a general rule, if you want to reduce a problem behavior, you have to teach an appropriate replacement behavior that produces the same outcome. Too often, strategies to decrease problem behavior focus primarily on punishing the behavior in order to make it go away. However, simply punishing a behavior is not enough, and quite honestly, not fair.

A good consultant will focus on teaching an appropriate replacement behavior that produces the same outcome. Remember the example of the little boy I mentioned that went to the bathroom in his pants while hiding during a game of hide and go seek? He really didn’t know he could stop the game to take a bathroom break. It would have been unfair to punish him for having an accident in his pants by reprimanding him or giving him a time-out if he didn’t know there was an alternative. Instead, a replacement behavior was taught first, which in this case, was enough to solve the problem.

A few days ago, I was working with new family and their 5 year-old non-verbal son in their home. I was training his mother on how to teach her son to request using sign language, when his father walked into the room. The little boy was excited to see his father come home and went right over to him and started hitting his legs and laughing. His dad asked me how to get his son to stop doing this.

For this little guy, a great replacement behavior would be to teach a more appropriate “high five” instead of hitting his dad in excitement. This was a great start. I also began teaching his dad how to teach other positive interactions with his son, such as picking him up and spinning him around. The little boy quickly began to enjoy this activity. Because he liked it so much, we also began teaching him to sign “spin” in order to continue building on teaching important replacement behaviors that would help him learn to communicate effectively with others.