EXAMPLE OF APPLIED BEHAVIOR
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.
USING APPLIED BEHAVIOR ANALYSIS IN PRETEND PLAY
SD: "Pretend you're [drill list items]......Do
this." [model this yourself for child]
Discrete Trial Style: No-No-Prompt or No/Equivalent-No/Equivalent-Prompt
if child is ready for that (i.e., by the time of this drill our
son was ready for simple "no equivalents" such as "say
it better", "almost", or "pretty good"
when he was closest) used in the place of "no"s in a NNP
sequence. We were using differential reinforcement (especially once
items were mastered ... although we were ALWAYS using diff reinf
for better responses) to shape down stims and non-compliance and
to shape up eye contact. It wasn't until later that we used NNP
to directly attack stims, noncompliance and poor eye contact, although
we may have already been using NNP for these things sometimes.
Physically prompt child re: list items. Eventually fade "do
this" (only use "do this" if child needs it).
Later vary SDs to: "Act like....." "Make like...."
"Make like" was an SD we hardly used as it rubbed us the
wrong way grammatically, but it does say this on our drill over
sheet. After all the list items below were mastered, we continued
working on this drill for many months (randomly doing them and working
harder on some than others at times).
• brushing your teeth
• banging a drum
• a frog
• a bird
• a monkey
• an airplane
• an elephant [model head on shoulder with arm out]
• kicking a ball
• a baby
• riding a bicycle
• cutting with scissors
• stirring food
• riding a horse
• a teapot
• a cow [model two single fingers over head as horns]
• a penguin [model waddling w/hands near bottom/side of hips]
we probably did some of the following (again) because he WASN'T
eating food or drinking out of a cup yet, wasn't washing himself,
• drinking [using actual cup]
• eating [using real spoon]
• washing [use real soap]
• drying with a towel [use real towel]
• washing your hair
• washing your hands
• drinking from a straw
• drinking coffee [probably had him say "ahhhhh"]
Some examples of therapists' notes (other than the usual, which
were therapists' initials and date and either "intro'd #4,
still not at 90", "#6 at 90%, needs 2nd person to master",
"mastered #5, intro'd #6..now at 90%, needs 2nd to master",
etc., many longer (i.e., two or three line) descriptions of what
went on in session came when we randomized these in the last few
months of the drill's life:
"spoon...nice job, just needs a little more practice; wash
hair - first prompted him by having him squeeze socks to get the
hand movements & eventually did his head correctly, but w/the
prompt of "squeeze" which now needs to be faded. Also,
don't let him jump up and down while shampooing (stim)"
"Getting there with riding a bike. As he begins say "no
arms" and he won't move them"
"Did well (eating) using one hand, but still turning the spoon
"When pretending to be a penguin he always says "say,
'Come back penguin boy' "
"Randomized. Drying hands needs to be reviewed!"
"Reviewed drying hands. He's perseverating on penguin. Leaves
the room and insists on returning as a penguin."
"Washing hair: I poured shampoo in his palm, he rubbed palms
together, palmed his hair (to spread shampoo) and then squeezed
his hair (to lather) ...palmed again (to rinse). Watch out for:
- he can't cover head and face with towel (like a ghost). Should
look more like a nun (but DON'T use words "ghost" or "nun").
- has to look at body part as he dries. - for his back, it should
be like a shimmy move. - he might start perseverating on "armpit"
and "belly button".
"Great job eating raisins with a spoon. Did it quickly and
easily. Shampooed well."
"For Cleaning with Soap and Drying, point to (for ex.) the
top of his arm to the bottom of it to encourage using broad strokes.
Make sure he uses the flat part of the soap and stands during the
drill (no chair in bathroom)."
"Talking nonsense while using the soap. Getting broader strokes."
"Did entire shower routine in bathroom (in tub and at sink
for Wash Hands). He pumps the soap well but needs to be reminded
to wash the back of his hands."
"Shower looking good, but still perseverating on talking about
different body parts."
"Worked on getting him to dry himself without talking about
what body part he's drying."
"Beware of talk about turning water on/off, temperature of
water, bouncing up and down, body part talk, closing shower door
when he'd finished."
"Used a Lego for soap and he did a nice job. Persev a bit on
washing his legs (but no talking!). Still bouncing. Asked if we
were dancing or shampooing and he stopped."
"Outside - pretended to be a baby, various animals, a teapot.
"Car was a little sloppy (being silly). Other pretends were
good, especially animals."
These were examples of the notes taken over time
during the drills.
Ask him to do same movements for rinsing AND
washing hair. Moving fingers harder in circles all over head. Rounded
part of soap on body in broader strokes - "how about your legs?"
"did you forget your neck?", etc.
- Work hard on #22-25 only!
- Pretend you're taking an entire shower
- Pay attention to details on there. See [therapist name] entry
on 8/22 for an example.
- For washing hands use empty soap pump (see us) and teach him to
push pump w/hands underneath; scrub hands and dry w/towel.
- Do this drill in the bathroom for now on
- Be sure to use a different towel than the hand towel so he can
learn that there are hand AND face towels hanging in many bathrooms.
- Don't use "legs quiet"...dangerous if he ever says this
in school (therapist must have said s/he used this phrase as a prompt)
- Have him go through item list once or twice and then back to shower
within a few days
when we were 3/4 way through with the above drill, we began......
SD: "My animal is [action]" prompt child
R: "My animal is [different action]"
Each has a toy animal picked by you (this instruction to the therapist
is probably because he would perseverate otherwise and insist on
some animal he may be "stuck" on)
Using furniture (chair, etc.) as props and demonstrate by acting
out the actions with the animal...therapist says, "My animal
Examples: climbing up the mountain, falling off a cliff, swimming
in a lake, jumping on a mountain, rolling down a -----, running,
dancing, etc. in the grass, eating on the beach, sleeping in the
desert, singing in the rain forest, etc.
Prompt child to say "My animal is......" and it must be
something different but a similar nature-wise. Child will get ideas
for later from the therapist. Remember that there was lots of prompting
in this drill because I really don't think he had any idea what
the places meant (except perhaps from some category cards or colorforms
in another drill), although he did know the actions and was getting
some idea about what cooperative play was.
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.