Archive of ‘What is ABA?’ category

W6- Breaking down and Shaping Tasks

First, what is shaping you might ask? Shaping is an invaluable technique used in applied behavior analysis (ABA) to reinforce small steps that eventually lead to the desired skills such as verbal skills, imitation, and independent play. It is especially helpful for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Shaping breaks down tasks into smaller pieces that are easier for the child to manage and master the skills.

Shaping allows parents to celebrate small steps and through these positive approaches to change behavior. Even though the process of learning a skill will be typically slower with shaping technique. However, for many children, it has been quite successful.

There are a few steps when practicing shaping:

  • Identify a task you want the child to learn.
  • Select something the child enjoys playing with, eating, or providing attention.
  • Breaking the task down into small steps.
  • Once the child performs the small step, make sure to provide the reinforcer and special praise (behavior-specific praise)
  • After a couple times of successes, increase requirements gradually. In other words, adding the next small step.

Let us apply those steps with an example of sitting at the dinner table for 10 minutes.

  • You would like the child to sit at the dinner table for 10 minutes. (identify a task)
  • The child really likes goldfish crackers, so you decide to use it as a reinforcer. (select a reinforcer)
  • You know sitting at the table for 10 minutes is way too difficult for your child. You decide you would start with 30 seconds. (breaking down the task)
  • After you see your child sitting at the dinner table for 30 seconds you immediately provide a goldfish cracker and say “Mei, you did a great job sitting at the table” with a gentle pat on the shoulder. (provide selected reinforcer and behavior-specific praise)
  • Now the child can sit at the dinner table for 30 seconds a couple times. You decide to make it one minute next time. (increase the small requirement)

Parents might ask “what if the child does not do the very first step?” A board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) will tell you to make the first step even easier and smaller. Also, you can always help the child when the first step is too difficult.

For more ABA related topics and parenting skills in the coming weeks, check out our blog and Facebook page. For more resources on ABA, click here.

W5- Catching the Child in the “ACT”

In Week 3, we discussed the topic of behavior-specific praise. This week we are going to incorporate the strategy with the new technique: praising the alternative behavior.  Sometimes, parents want to simply change or get rid of behaviors that the child engages in. For example, arguing with siblings constantly, throwing a temper tantrum when told no, or not following instructions. When thinking of trying to stop a behavior, naturally we are more inclined to punish it. However, a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) will tell you to praise or reinforce alternative behavior instead.

Praising the alternative behavior is not as easy as it might sound. Simply recall the last time you praise your child when she was sitting quietly watching TV or playing nicely with siblings. You might ignore this until you are hearing them arguing then you might be inclined to yell at your child or even tell them to stop doing that. A phenomenon called negativity bias in which we have this natural instinct that forces us to notice more what is wrong in our environment because it has survival values. It makes noticing appropriate behaviors even more challenging.

To apply the technique of praising alternative behavior:

  • caregivers will need to find the behavior that they do not want first.
  • Next, find the positive behavior that can replace the behavior or identify what the opposite of the problem behavior is.
  • Now, it is time to catch the child in the “act” or being good.
  • As the child displays the positive behavior the caregivers want, behavior-specific praise will be provided.

For example, if you are trying to get rid of the behavior of the child arguing with the siblings (selecting the behavior you want to change). You would find times that the child is playing with siblings nicely ( the opposite of the problem behavior) and you could say “ Josh, it is so wonderful to see that you are playing with your sister so nicely” and give the child a gentle hug (delivering behavior-specific praise).

You might think why not just go ahead and punish the behavior? In applied behavior analysis (ABA), Punishment is always the last resort. Also, in this case, if you use punishment procedures, you only stop the problem behavior by using reprimands and not teaching the child what to do instead. Applying the technique of praising the alternative behavior will help the child to know what to do instead and by reinforcing the positive behavior, you will see more of it in the future.

For more information on the power of reinforcement check out this blog post and like our Facebook page for new content in the coming weeks.

W3- How to Praise Your Child Effectively

Last week, we reviewed the difference between positive reinforcement and bribery. This week we are going to discuss how to effectively praise your child. How do we define praise? Praise is when you express approval for an action your child does. This can include saying “great!” “good job” “excellent!”  Anytime you say these words and other positive words, you might notice your child feels better and valued. We all liked to be praised by others; it makes us feel good!

You might be asking yourself, what is new? I know how to praise my child. Behavior certified behavior analysts (BCBAs) often recommend parents, teachers, and staff to use frequent behavior-specific praise. Behavior-specific praise involves four essential steps:

  • First, you will need to define or select the specific behavior the child is doing appropriately.
  • Second, you need to praise with excitement.
  • Third, you state the exact behavior that the child did.
  • Last, you can provide a non-verbal action (high-fives, hug, a gentle pat on the shoulder) your child.

Behavior-specific praise is effective in changing your child’s actions, which may include, completing everyday tasks (self-care skills, chores, homework). Behavior-specific praise is especially beneficial for kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Behavior-specific praise is a powerful strategy to help your child to make the connections of what they did and your encouraging and affirming comments.

For example, say your child set the dinner table as soon as the parent asked.

To follow our steps:

  • You select a behavior: setting the table.
  • Second, you might say enthusiastically “Dave, great job!” maybe with hand gestures. (praise with excitement)
  • Third, you would finish the praise statement with “you set the dinner table just like I asked.” (stating the behavior).
  • finally, you can pat your child on the shoulder gently. (providing a non-verbal action)

When using behavior-specific praise, remember your praise should follow the selected behavior immediately and quickly. For example, if you stated “Sally, great job helping me with wiping down the table last week.” Also, if the task is very difficult for the child, try to start with acknowledging and praising small steps that lead to the behavior that you would like to see. Such as praising the child for picking up the socks on the bedroom floor as cleaning the entire room might be too difficult for now.

Behavior-specific praise is one of the tools that we use in applied behavior analysis (ABA) when our goals are to increase appropriate behaviors. We will get to know other useful tools based on the principles of ABA in the coming weeks.

Next week, we will meet with our awesome student clinicians working in the Husky ABA clinic. See you on Friday! As always, like us on Facebook for the newest clinic updates and weekly blog posts.

W2- Am I Bribing My Child by Using Positive Reinforcement?

Have you ever witnessed a situation where a parent and child are at the candy aisle, the child starts crying and yells “I want candy, I want candy, you never buy me candy.” The parent yells “no, you are eating too much junk food lately.” The child cries louder and drops to the ground. Shoppers at the supermarket start to pass their judgmental looks. The parent gives up and yells “okay. stop crying, I will buy you the candy.” The child stops crying and receives candy.

Maybe your child’s board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) has suggested you do something similar to this: before going into the supermarket, then you can tell the child “ if you will not cry or yell the whole time when we are in there, I will buy you candy after we are done shopping” The child behaves. The parent praises the child for what a wonderful job they have done and buys the child candy.

As a parent or someone new to applied behavior analysis (ABA) you might think, I am constantly bribing my kid! There has to be a better way. As a parent or caregiver of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you might think positive reinforcement and bribery are the same because they both offer rewards to a child. It is important to know the difference between reinforcement and bribery because bribery tends to lead to more disruptive behaviors and reinforcement will help parents to see more desired behaviors.

Let us look at the definitions for reinforcement and bribery:

Reinforcement: The action of strengthening or encouraging a pattern of behavior typically by reward or encouragement.

Bribery: The offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions.

Timing is what distinguishes reinforcement from bribery. For example, together a BCBA and parent plan out a reinforcement plan before disruptive behavior happens. Parents may state the rule to the child, “Remember if you [blank], you can earn [blank]. However, bribery is reactive and often you might resort to this when challenging behaviors occur at the moment and sometimes a situation feels out of control.

As you can see, bribery usually happens during behavior in order to get a behavior to stop at that moment. It seems to work in the situation. It is a short-term effect, and unavoidably, it will not decrease challenging behaviors. The above example illustrates, reinforcement should be planned, and reinforcer should be delivered following the desired behavior. Therefore, desire behaviors will occur more often in the future.

I hope after reading this, you have a better understanding of the difference between reinforcement and bribery. Timing is the key. Reinforcement is proactive and planned out by the caregivers while bribery tends to be reactive.

Next week, we will discuss the type of praise that will change behavior since they are not all created equal! Be sure to keep an eye out for the newest blog post next Friday! Please like us and share our posts on Facebook. You can also explore our blog for more ABA related information.

W1-What Is Happening in the Next Ten Weeks?


Yes! Our weekly posts are back, and we plan to have a new post every Friday for the next ten weeks! This semester we will be focusing on how professionals (board-certified behavior analysts; BCBAs) in applied behavior analysis (ABA) use reinforcers and implement reinforcement-based interventions. We will review the type of praise that will change behavior, how to respond to “Nos” and the concerns of giving too much praise, and other tips, suggestions, and recommendations! If you are a parent with a child or at risk for Autism or behavioral challenges, these strategies will certainly come in handy when interacting with your child.

In our weekly posts, we also want to keep you updated on what is happening at the Husky ABA Clinic. This semester we are providing telehealth services to local families impacted by autism. If your family or someone you know could benefit from behavioral services, please contact Odessa Luna, Ph.D., BCBA-D (P: (320)308-4167|E: We will also introduce our incredible, new junior and senior graduate clinicians working in the Husky ABA Clinic.

Next week, we will begin our reinforcement series by discussing reinforcers and bribery. You may think providing reinforcers means you are bribing your child. Spoiler alert! This may not be what is happening! In our next post, we will define and discuss the differences between reinforcers and bribery. You do not want to miss what is coming up!

If you would like to know the topics for the coming weeks, please like us on Facebook. You can also explore our blog.


Embedded Teaching- Reinforcing

Over the last dew days you have learned about creating opportunities to teach, waiting for the correct response, and giving prompts if you child isn’t picking up on the sublet hints. In our final blog series of embedded teaching, we aim to teach you on how to use positive consequences or natural actions to encourage appropriate behavior. Often, we call this positive reinforcement. We don’t always have to use extrinsic or outside rewards like candy, screen time, or tokens. Instead, we can more natural reinforcers to encourage your children to appropriately communicate.

For example, maybe, you are trying to teach your child to use “please” when they ask for items they want. First, you create and wait, by pointing to a toy that is out of your child’s reach. You count in your head for at least 3 seconds, and then you remind or prompt your child what they need to do. This can be accomplished by saying “Remember to say please when you ask your mom or dad for toys.” Once your child states, “Can I have the toy, please?” Immediately acknowledge this communication and reinforce this by giving the child the toy quickly. Always try to associate this this natural, positive consequence with your affirmation, encouragement, and acknowledgement. Natural reinforcers may include verbal praise, such as, “Wow! I’m so proud you are using manners!” Always try to very specific when giving acknowledgement to your child. This allows your child to learn what they did correctly and be motivated to repeat the behavior again.

Some children may struggle communicating vocally, and that’s okay. We can still use embedded teaching for them to learn appropriate ways to meet their needs. If your child is nonverbal (that is, does not talk to communicate his/her needs), we may want to teach them to point to items they may need. If a toy is out of reach, you would still create and wait  and prompt(remind) the child to point to what they need. Once your child points or you help them point to what they want, you can reinforce their nonverbal communication with giving them the toy. Remember to always tell your child what they did correctly “Nice pointing to what you needed!” to encourage them to continue to point to items.

Embedded teaching (or sometimes called naturalistic or incidental teaching) is an excellent technique that our faculty and graduate clinicians use all the time at the Husky ABA clinic. We capitalize on learning opportunities in real-world contexts to teach your child to communicate appropriately. Embedded teaching is a fantastic way to teach new behaviors in your everyday life!

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Embedded Teaching- Prompts

In our last post, we outlined about the “create and wait” technique of embedded teaching.   This is when you create a situation that would require a specific response from your child and wait for them to engage in the correct behavior. What happens if your child does not respond (stares at you blankly) or responds incorrectly? It may be necessary to remind, model, or prompt your child what they need to do! For example, you may give hints to your child about what you are expecting them to do.

For example, when you are the grocery store, you allow your child to pick a snack they like for the week. Perhaps, the goldfish are on the top shelf and they cannot reach it. Rather then grabbing the item, create and wait.Count to three in your head to see if they will ask for your help. If they don’t ask, try to prompt or give hints to what your child needs to do to get the gold fish. First, you point at the goldfish. Second, you may say, “What do we say when we need help from mom or dad?” Finally, you may prompt or remind your child to say, “Say ‘I need help, please.”

By prompting or reminding,this gives your child to understand and figure out what you want them to do. Often, you may notice your child needs lots of prompts.Over time, you will start to notice the number of hints, reminders, or prompts will decrease.  You will notice your child is communicating more and relying less on your prompts. Remember with embedded teaching, the goal is to encourage more communication. At the Husky ABA clinic, graduate and faculty clinicians want to promote language by embedding earning opportunities at any given moment.

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Embedded Teaching- Create and Wait

Teaching your child new skills can be difficult. One way to teach your child new skills, without them even realizing it, is through embedded teaching (sometimes called naturalistic teaching or incidental teaching). The first step in embedded teaching iscreate and wait.” This is when you create opportunities for your child to practice a skill (like asking for something they need) and wait for your child to do what is needed.  

Embedded teaching can be done anywhere! Often embedded teaching is a fantastic way for your child to learn to request for their wants and needs. For example, your child may be at the table during breakfast with a dry bowl of cereal. This would be a terrific opportunity to for your child to request for some milk! Instead of just pouring the milk, wait for your child to ask for it! When you notice your child may need something (like milk or spoon), create and wait by counting in your head to three. This allows your child time to notice what they need. Those three seconds allows them some time to identify what is missing.  

Clinicians at the Husky ABA clinic use embedded teaching every time we work with your child, and we hope to teach you, as a parent, to create these small, meaningful opportunities for your child to practice communicating, requesting, and using manners in your home, at the park, or at the store!  

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Applied Behavior Analysis and Autism

Although behavior analysts can help anyone with behavioral challenges, we often work with children and adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) Interventions based in ABA can be very beneficial to people with autism. Not only is it backed by decades of research, it has become widespread in popular culture.  

Children and adults with ASD are very intelligent. Often, they may have a hard time communicating their feelings to others and why they may behave in way that is confusing. Since BCBAs based their interventions on what actions a client does, a child or adult who cannot communicate is not something BCBAs worry about. Instead, we outline actions we want to see the client do more, and we measure how well our interventions work on increasing the appropriate behavior. 

Interventions in ABA are effective for those with ASD because we know each person is a unique individual. No two children are the same. Clinicians in ABA prioritize getting to know the child and make their treatments fit their needs. We recognize that those with ASD may engage in actions that are confusing to teachers, parents, community members, and siblings. This can lead to frustration, and we, clinicians from the Husky ABA clinic, want to help!  

At the Husky ABA clinic, we are experts in producing meaningful behavior change. This may create an individualized plan to teaching a child to independently toilet. Or teaching a child to recognize their frustration and ask for help! In addition, we work with families, teachers, and other important people in the child’s life to create positive environments.  

For more information check out Autism Speaks

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What is a Preference Assessment? 

Photo by: Vanessa Bucceri

When a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) first meets their client, they prioritize in building a positive relationship with the child. They want to know what their client likes and is motivated for.  BCBAs are all about reinforcing good behaviorBCBAs often receive information from caregivers and people who have worked with children in the past on what they like. We know that preferences change frequentlyso a BCBA will take time to systematically assess the child’s preferences after receiving recommendations from a parent.  

The most common way a BCBA finds out what a child likes is through a preference assessment. Most preference assessments contain 5-10 items that may include toys, snacks, or activities. The first set of choices that are used are often picked based on information from caregivers and what is available to the BCBA at the time. Some common things that children work for are crackers, breaks (just having time to lay down or sit), electronic devices, toys, and time in the gym or on the playground.  

The preference assessment included at the top of this post is called a Multiple Stimulus Without Replacement (MSWO). In this assessment the child is presented with multiple items (7 were used in the example) and they are asked to pick on item at a time, after they pick an item they get to spend time playing with it or eating it, and then that choice is no long available to them. This process repeats until the child has picked each of the items once, and the order in which they chose is recorded. Then the order in which the items are lined up is changed and the process starts over. At the end of the assessment items that a child chose first most often are identified at the high preference items. 

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