Nurturing the emergence of spontaneous behaviours whilst keeping a focus on assessments and programming
Monday 19th February 2018
By Roni Dunning, B.A., M.Sc., BCBA of Blossom ABA
It is truly amazing when you start seeing the positive effects of efficient ABA interventions on a individual's life.
What does efficient programming and real progress look like?
If you look at a tree, for example, we will plant the seed in a welcoming environment, water the root and the result are on the branches. If you feed the soil good food, if it is appropriate for that tree, if the soil is good, the tree will truly blossom. Once it grows strong, its roots can reach the deepest levels of soil, and it will need less feeding. It will survive on its own and cope with the changes of the environment, which can happen in so many different ways.
With our learners it is no different. Assessing and programming efficiently is an art (Miller, 2018). It requires thinking about priorities (Vets & Green, 2010), how learning objectives will best benefit a learner (Ward & Grimes, 2013) and how they will be generalised in a way that will be maintained across people, settings and over time (Baer, Wolf &Risley, 1968; Stokes & Baer, 1977). Programming efficiently requires sound and functional programmes, that will enable learn to learn skills and that correlate developmental skill areas enough to enable our learners to learn other skills for free (Dixon et al., 2017).
Once a successful programme starts to show and progress starts to emerge, we may see skills emerging that have not been taught. When this happens, it is very easy to then go unwittingly off track, divert from the initial plan and then focus on these behaviours instead of continuing feeding the root. One point to consider is that if things are working and new skills are emerging, that's great. We don't always need to do something about it. We can continue implementing current programmes and nurturing these new behaviours so that they continue to expand. There are specific programmes that focus on modeling language and reinforcing spontaneous behaviours that we can consider training the team around the child to implement when this this is the case (Mcgee et al. 1985) but the truth is: we shouldn't be aiming to teach a learner every single skill. We want them to 'learn to learn' so we reduce teaching over time.
What will happen if we focus on the branches? If we focus on the new behaviours and divert from the original plan? Bearing in mind that these behaviors are emerging because we've been building the appropriate foundations, the things that would be done to "squeeze' the behavior might undo the good that we've done. Too much focus on new behaviours might decrease the levels of those emerging behaviors and then inadvertently reduce the learner's motivation to exhibit them. We must think about the effects of spending too much time teaching in highly controlled environments as responses may come under tight control of specific stimuli generating rote responses(McGee et al., 1992),. We cannot just hope that skills being taught in a rote manner will generalise (Guevremontet al, 1986; Stokes & Baer, 1977) and we must bear in mind that it can be a risk if we turn every emerging behaviour into a programme.
Focus on social skills, on expanding reinforcer preference and on using reinforcers as a base of your teaching is always a must (Ward & Grimes, 2011; Klintwall, Eiseketh 2012; Fisher, et al, 1992). Nurture and promote the increase of these new behaviours and most of all, remember that a person's character is shaping alongside their learning. By focusing on building good learner repertoires and on using language concept based programmes to build a solid foundation we are giving space for spontaneity to emerge (Ward & Grimes, 2011; Ward& Grimes, 2013). Ensure that the environment around your learner is facilitating this. You are your learner's environment in the sense that you are programming to ensure they have the space they need to breathe, that you are enabling your learner to make sense of all the concepts you are teaching and in consequence that you are also minimising the risk of rote teaching.
When we look at programming this way, assessment tools become a guide, rather than the order in which things must happen and at every assessment, we will rejoice with the number of skills mastered that we haven't needed to teach.
Focus on the root... let the branches breathe.
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