Information on Applied Behavior Analysis, Autism and Aspergers syndreome - common Autism Spectrum Disorders


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, creative play.

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 the child.


No-No-Prompt (NNP)

This is one specific technique for presenting the "Discriminative Stimulus," then prompting (providing the "R") if the child responds incorrectly.


Time Out

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 play)
"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, redirect him:
"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 and commenting)


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. Notes please.
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. DRO.
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 putting away.
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 job.
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 "'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 success.
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 this.
P.N. - We just got rid of "Conversation Dolls/Puppets" drill so be sure to set up rooms (and narrate) as piece of this drill.
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 person brought their dog to the movie, etc. He enjoyed this a lot. Got to listen to Cinderella tape when he was finished.
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.


This button closes this fact sheet on Applied Behavior Analysis as an Autism intervention

Click here for the full range of Asperger's and Autism fact sheets at
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.

These notes on Applied Behavior Analysis 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.