EXAMPLE OF APPLIED BEHAVIOR
NARRATING IN PLAY WITH OTHERS
This is a selection of notes from over two years
of behavioral intervention sessions with a young child who ultimately
recovered completely from Autism.
It includes many curricula ("drill sheets"), therapists'
notes, and parents' notes, covering (in part) his development from
no pretend play skills all the way to fully independent, spontaneous,
The notes are by the parents, Megan and Jim Sumlin (pseudonyms),
who feel strongly that this information should be freely available
to all who might benefit from it. They ask only that these drills
belong in the public domain, and are not to be claimed or copywritten
by any person who is or will in the future be seeking monetary gain
for wide distribution of same. Feel free to re-distribute this document,
but please include this entire preface.
These notes are just one part of a comprehensive program guided
by a behavior analyst; there were other parts of the total program,
not included here, that were necessary to the child's development
and eventual recovery. They are specific to one individual child.
Use them as a resource to help you plan your child or student's
curriculum. What works for one child will not work for all. While
much of the material here addresses problems common to many or most
children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, you will want to select
carefully based on individual needs, learning style, and personality.
A few notes on terminology:
Discriminative Stimulus (SD)
This is the instruction given to the child.
This is the response expected or desired from
This is one specific technique for presenting
the "Discriminative Stimulus," then prompting (providing
the "R") if the child responds incorrectly.
This is a brief removal of all reinforcement,
where the child must sit and do nothing. This is meant to reduce
certain unwanted behaviors but it has no moral or emotional overtones;
it is not a punishment for "being bad."
This is a reward for a correct response, which
may be anything the child loves: a bit of chocolate, a piggy-back
ride, an enthusiastic "You're so great!" Proper reinforcement
is the key to learning.
Differential Reinforcement of Other Behavior (DRO)
Much more common in these notes is Differential
Reinforcement of Other Behavior. In addition to reinforcement for
getting the right answer, the child was frequently praised for unprompted
appropriate behaviors (in place of undesirable, stereotypical behaviors).
For example, when playing with dolls, the therapist may say, "I'm
glad you're not banging the characters together," or as the
notes say in many places, "DRO'd flexibility"--unprompted
spontaneity. Remembering to "catch 'em being good" takes
a lot of practice, but it is essential to the development of a truly
natural repertoire of age-appropriate skills.
NARRATING WHILE playing with others
He is missing a necessary pre-requisite for Parallel
Play -- the ability to narrate.
First, play witha toy that you know he finds interesting.
Have him observe and comment.
Next, prompt him to comment on your play with
the following SDs:
"Come sit here and watch me play"
"Your job is to tell everything I'm doing"
"Your job is to talk about what I'm doing"
"What am I doing?" (Prompt to get him to comment on your
"What else am I doing?"
Variations of the "What am I doing?" SDs should be delivered
over and over.
DRO him big time if he comments without being prompted.
He is not allowed to touch the toy. If he tries,
"Don't touch, just talk about what I'm doing"
"Uh, uh -- just watch"
"Are you supposed to touch?"
"No touching, just watch and talk about what I'm doing."
When you are not asking him "What am I doing?", you should
be narrating your actions:
"Now I'm going to..."
After a long time, give him a turn at playing with the toy. This
should be used as a reinforcer for him doing a good job watching
While he's playing with it, you should continue
to narrate on what he is doing. This serves as modeling for what
you're requiring of him when you're playing. If he narrates on his
own while he's playing with the toy, give him a huge DRO. This is
what we are ultimately shooting for.
Do not do any switching attention in this drill.
This is about setting up pre-requisites for parallel play. Tthe
switching attention during play is to combat zoniness in unstructured
play and the two should not be confused)!
Therapists' Notes & Parents' Notes (P.N.):
P.N. - Read new cover page. This drill is COMPLETELY different.
Did this the new way (or close to it). Brother was in the room.
I used mail station as a toy. He needed lots of prompts for the
narration and a lot of reminders not to touch items. Brother was
pretty good but [name] kept bothering him so the situation kept
escalating into big fights between the two. Tried to redirect in
any constructive way possible -- mostly "be nice to brother"
type of stuff.
I used Little Tykes Kitchen & washer/dryer. Fed dog, made lunch,
washed dishes, clothes, went to bed, etc. and narrated the entire
time. He was able to answer and pay attn most of the time (DRO)
but when he didn't I used n/e ["no" equivalents] and this
worked well. Going good.
I used castle. Told him the rules up-front about not touching and
telling me what I'm doing. Excellent observation. Didn't touch at
all. Lots of DRO. He needed a lot of scripting to tell me what I
was doing. Towards the end he started to comment more spontaneously
so I tried to narrate any play as minimally as possible so that
he could take over. When it was his turn I narrated a lot to model.
He did some weird behaviors but whatever I narrated I tried to push
the scene towards some other constructive play. DRO'd good behaviors
and narrations when he did them.
He had Colorforms out. I used Ms. Cookie's Kitchen for this drill.
He was very good; nice observations and narration, needed prompts
occasionally for narration reminder. Lots of DRO at the end. Didn't
touch Colorforms. DRO. When it was his turn, I narrated but he also
did plenty of it. He used Miss Weather Colorforms. Only prob was
he wanted to combine all weathers together. Didn't let him do this
and he was ok with it. Lots of DRO for flexibility at the end. Put
away Colorforms when I told him to. Nice job. DRO for putting away
like other kids would. Good listening.
Barbie Swimming Pool. He tried to touch it. N/Es stopped this. He
was able to narrate what I did w/o prompts, except 1x. DRO. I also
narrated as I went along. Very nice job. Good eye contact and attn.
Played with furniture and dog doll and boy doll. He needed prompt
at beg to narrate but didn't try to touch. After that, narration
and attn were great. Trouble putting stuff away so brother helped.
He did it perfectly after I DRO'd brother. DRO for nice and quiet
P.N. - This shouldn't be restricted to doll houses/Barbie. Please
use wheel toys (cars & trains) too. These wheel toys could go
to the doll house, etc. Please be sure you vary. Thanks!
Floor mat with trains. He didn't touch while Jim and I played with
trains. Needed more prompting and questioning than he did the other
day. A couple of N/Es for not answ the 1st time. Bookended putting
things away like the kids at school. This worked. Lots of DRO.
Used schoolhouse b/c he was playing w/this SO inappropriately earlier.
He tried to tell me what to do. Redirected w/"ask me"
and n/e. He was ignoring my ?s so I got him back with constant n/e
and calling his name. Used n/e until he looked and said what. Got
a bit better so I let him go.
Used trains/mat. Beautiful job. He was narrating really well. Didn't
touch a thing. Nice eye contact and comments. I hardly had to prompt
with "what am I doing?" Most of the time I just looked
at him and he would respond to my play. Lots of DRO.
Castle with Matchbox car. He was really into the play and laughed
at appropriate points. Needed some additional prompting to discuss
what I was doing, but he often picked up on it when I was narrating
my own play. Lots of DRO.
Barbie in Beauty Parlor. He was able to narrate my play. DRO. Included
some stuff with social story about bossing people (kids) around.
Trains - Needed some prompting to comment and narrate my play. DRO
for not touching while I play. Incorporated new Social Stories about
following instructions, rules, being with other kids, etc. His own
play was very good. My comments helped him to organize his play.
He expanded on narration nicely. DRO'd.
Narration on my play needed some prompts. It's sort of hard to narrate
b/c really most of the narration is on conversation between two
characters. There's only so much moving around you can do so he
has to listen to characters talk and then needs prompts to describe
actions. He's fine when he's narrating his own play (I guess this
is the goal). If he does weird stuff that's when I'm jumping in
to redirect his play (i.e. away from fighting). Redirected his animal
stuff by asking him to prepare crayons, paper, etc...for next drill.
This was pretty good. He got everything ready.
Well I guess he's desensitized to the animals b/c when it was his
turn to narrate he did it for a short while and then said I'm tired
of this...let's put this away and play with something else (!) Nice
job. Lots of DRO for this. His narrating on my play was pretty good.
I encouraged this. He asked to play with doctor bag instead -- nice
Good job -- he calmed down and watched me play nicely. Commented
occasionally but needed constant reminders to do so. I played with
castle. Did something different. King had soldiers line up to do
exercises instead of fighting all the time. He made nice observations.
With his turn he had the figures fighting even though I tried hard
to narrate a more peaceful scene -- however, the fighting did seem
less intense than usual. He kept changing my narrations to fit his
purpose and goal (i.e. an all-out bloody war). Oh well.... DRO'd
for stopping and putting toys away when he was done. (His play theme
was killing and then having the King magically bring the figures
back to life w/his magic sword). I asked if this can really happen
and he said "no...it's only pretend." (!)
Used animals. He literally rolled on the floor and started playing
with other toys. I let it play out and tried to de-brief, but he
was very zoney and barely paid attn. Seemed really out of it.
[Playdate] and [name] watched me play. I prompted them to narrate.
[Playdate] narrated and [name] observed him very nicely. He then
started doing the same. Nice job when it was their turn. He had
a difficult time getting his King to be more flexible (e.g., he
was stuck in stairs) I prompted [playdate] to have him make his
King help the soldiers b/c they were under attack. This had a nice
effect. [Playdate] was persistent until he reeled [name] back in
from being "stuck" on things. DRO'd both for playing together
nicely and [name] for being flexible.
Much better in terms of play. He was quieter and accepted a lot
of my leads, even though he was doing his favorite thing....fighting!
P.N. - Please join him (AGAIN) to re-direct bad play.
He watched me play with castle. Needed some leading statements and
questions to begin narrative on my play but his attn was great &
he was very involved.
Nice job. He listened well while I narrated and then I let him take
over. He needed prompts along the way but he did well. His play
was good too. Behaved much better. Wasn't as wild and he accepted
my recommendations (redirections on play).
Despite all the n/c behaviors today, he managed to do very well
in this drill. He was calm, focused, didn't touch when he narrated
my play. Accepted my narrations, etc. I kept at this for a pretty
long time b/c he was on a roll. I think the content of narration
helped him sustain interest. Praised him for amazing job, especially
that he was calm throughout and didn't fight.
P.N. - Please try to get him to play with one character at a time.
Had Aladdin on in the next room so he was having hard time focusing
on my play. Needed a lot of ?s at beg to narrate my play but became
engrossed in it as time went on. DRO'd his careful paying attn.
He narrated some of his own play w/my modeling. DRO. He had hard
time only playing with one character at a time. In narrating his
play, I tried to direct it to single character play w/ only moderate
He needed only a little prompting to narrate my play and did excellent
job narrating his own with "my buddy" doll. Lots of praise.
He narrated my play well. I provided him w/lots of hints as to where
the story was headed. Used doll house and pretended a family was
moving in. His play (own narration) was not as good as when he narrated
mine. I tried to direct it. He focused a lot of the time on the
window of the doll house. Had trouble moving onto another scene.
He threw a few of the pieces while cleaning up so I made him do
it over. Did it w/o any complaint or rigidities. Lots of DRO for
P.N. - We just got rid of "Conversation Dolls/Puppets"
drill so be sure to set up rooms (and narrate) as piece of this
Took doll house. Set it up and asked him to watch & tell me
what I'm doing. He had no objections with the arrangement. He was
pretty silent -- needed constant prompting to say something. At
his turn a lot of negative emotion stuff came up i.e., doll knocked
over a lamp and broke it. He wouldn't admit that girl should feel
sad and that parents might be upset. "Don't tell" came
up too. I told him the girl should be honest and tell parents that
she broke the lamp. This took a lot of energy. Tried to get him
to look. De-briefing turned into a very long argument and n/c for
at least five minutes. I remained neutral & just kept reminding
him that I had to talk to him about something (eye contact - responding
to name). He kept rearing away from topic. Wanted doll house. Set
up all sorts of conditions and argued that he would stand still
or sit to listen. He finally came around after I told him we are
wasting too much time and he might not be able to go out.
Did this drill outside. I set up an admittedly lame "house"
with tray, salt and pepper shakers at pizza joint, drew faces on
my fingers and narrated my play. He was fascinated but had a hard
time narrating my play without help.
After we built Mouse Trap game, I used the mice to play and narrate.
He had some trouble narrating. Kept trying to touch the pieces.
Had to remind him that he needed to just watch me.
Used School House. He did pretty well. A few reminders were needed
to comment on my play. His own play was good. Accepted my narration
and did his own really well. A few faces occurred but he wasn't
aware of them. Tried to get him to talk so he wouldn't grimace.
He was so non-compliant at first. Then he answered beautifully,
although not unprompted. DRO for remembering to just watch.
I played w/animals, using piece he uses as "cave" as a
"mountain". He was flexible about this. DRO. He still
needs questions to narrate. Then we used house. He had a hard time
not participating, but with redirection he was much better.
P.N. - Try to start fading back on verbal prompts. Use facial prompts
and make it easy story-wise for him to narrate.
Great job even though he needed lots of questions to make him talk.
He resisted touching characters. Paid really nice attn and eye contact
was good. I pretended lots of people were going to the movies (flannel
board) and they all broke "movie rules". During show someone
was talking...one person brought their dog to the movie, etc. He
enjoyed this a lot. Got to listen to Cinderella tape when he was
Wasn't able to narrate w/o prompts, but he was always able to tell
me what was going on without a problem. Included Social Stories.
I faded back on prompts SO much. Just made faces and pointed and
he responded well with correct narrations. LOTS of DRO.
He did great. I didn't prompt at all but just cont'd with what I
was doing until he answered (correctly -- 1st time). I was able
to do this b/c I had his full attn and eye contact Lots of DRO.
Tried to fade back and it seemed to work. He did well but he also
wanted to be part of the action. Had to remind him that he's only
watching and narrating...and then it would be his turn. He did nicely
with his turn. Nothing wild. Lots of praise and self-pride statements.
He did good job. I reminded him to watch only. I used the frog and
he was rewarded by having frog use his hand as a lily pad. He narrated
on his own. Although one time in particular it took awhile, he still
paid attn so I gave him time to answer.
He was zoney at first and my playing w/doll house wasn't enough
to get him involved, so I made him the "reporter" (see
Let's Play). He had trouble with this concept and was trying to
instruct rather than report, but once he got the idea, he did a
great job and didn't need any prompting. Nice work.
Nice job. I used school bus w/characters. Pretended to go on a class
trip to a baseball game. He narrated really well. During his turn
he did excellent job narrating his own play. eye contact was very
good. Did it intermittently.
Great job narrating. Prompt was to wait and look at him expectantly
when he did hesitate but he mostly gave quick answers.
Click here for the full
range of Asperger's and Autism fact sheets at www.autism-help.org
See the Behavior
& Life skills page for tips on developing programs you can
implement at home.
The notes are by the parents, Megan and Jim Sumlin
(pseudonyms), who feel strongly that this information should be
freely available to all who might benefit from it. They ask only
that these notes belong in the public domain, and are not to be
claimed or copyrighted by any person who is or will in the future
be seeking monetary gain for wide distribution of same. If this
information has proved useful, click here
to download their information package. You will need the Winzip
program to decompress the files.