31 Jul 2018

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ABA Programs for Children (Part 3) – Observable Behaviours

Observable behaviours? In the first post in this series, the team talked about the need for thorough assessment to understand a child’s needs. This was followed by a discussion on how an ABA programmer will work out which behaviours to focus on. We termed those “socially significant” behaviours – in other words behaviours that will make a real difference in the life of the child and their family. The next step is then to define the behaviours in a way that everyone can be clear about what is going to be taught.

Observable Behaviours

Once target behaviours have been identified, a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst or Assistant Behaviour Analyst (BCBA or BCaBA) will carefully define the behaviours in observable and measurable terms. The definition for the behaviour must be objective, clear, and discriminate between what is and what is not an example of the target behaviour.

The first level of the target behaviour is observable, that is, everyone must be able to see the same thing.

For example, “Hitting is defined as open palm, closed fist, elbow, upper arm, striking, slapping, punching, swinging at a person.”

Hitting does not include using head (e.g. “head butting”), using body (“pushing”), or using feet (“kicking”).

Definitions Matter

With a clear definition, it becomes easier to collect data on the behaviours we can see (hence, observable).  An ABA programmer will avoid descriptive terms such as   “The child is feeling anxious.” “The learner is confused.” “The person is scared.” These  terms “anxious”, “confused” and “scared” are not clearly defined. What looks “anxious” to one observer, may appear angry or agitated to another.

Rather an ABA programmer will focus on the specific behaviours and use observable terms to describe them. For example, “the child is biting his nails”  (when he might be anxious); “the student has paused and is not writing down the answer” (when the child might be confused by the question); or “the child is shaking and hiding behind his mother” (when he might be scared).

Why do we want behaviour to be observable? So we can measure it! Measurement is the core of all ABA interventions. How do we know if things are getting better (or worse) if we don’t have a system of evaluation?

Part 4 in this series next week will explain the role of measurement.

As always please feel free to come and talk to the team should you have any questions or need support. Jenny and the team can be contacted on 9274 7062.

Jenny Lin

ABACAS Program Manager


30 Jul 2018

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5 Reasons Why Exercise is Good for Children’s Mental Health

We are well used to hearing about the health benefits of exercise and children. It keeps children fit, at a healthy weight, builds up strength and more. Did you know that exercise is also good for children’s mental health too?

How does exercise help?

1. Exercise can help children self-regulate

Some of us need physical activity to help off-load feelings of stress and anger. Moving at a level that makes a child “huff and puff” is one way of resetting both the body and brain to calm. Whether running, power walking, cycling or swimming, exercise provides an opportunity for children to burn off those unwanted feelings.

2. Exercise helps children learn social skills and make friends

Team sports are awesome for this. Playing cooperatively with others gives us the opportunity to learn social skills both on and off the court/field.  Most sports teach skills such as sharing, turn-taking, negotiation and problem-solving. While training or playing there is the opportunity to make friends. Having positive relationships with others is a protective mental health factor.

3. Exercise can help us learn

It’s no coincidence that teachers in classrooms will down tools and take kids off for a run or a quick game to get them moving. That movement increases the child’s level of alertness and overall energy levels. All of which is the precursor to better concentration and focus in the classroom. Plus some children just need those breaks to be able to sustain their concentration. Being able to learn and retain information helps children develop their sense of competence. Why is that important? See Point 4.

4. Exercise can build self-esteem

Every child has their own strengths and weaknesses. For those children who have to work harder at their academic subjects, sports is often the area where they will shine. Having a sense of self-competence and experiencing success are the building blocks of positive self-esteem.

5. Exercise can lift children’s mood

Physical activity also releases endorphins in the brain… which means children feel happier. It’s not a coincidence that people will often talk about how exercise helps with depression and anxiety. Exercise, timed well, can also help with improving sleep in children too!

What next?

So now you know some other reasons why exercise is good for kids (aside from the physical health benefits). Winter doesn’t have to be a barrier to exercise it just means that sometimes we have to be a bit creative in how we fit it in and take advantage of the sunny days.

And did you know…all of the above also applies to adults too!

Naomi Ward

Clinical Director

24 Jul 2018

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ABA Programs for Children (Part 2): Socially Significant Behaviours

In our last post we talked about the steps before an ABA program can be developed for children. Your program manager needs to undertake various assessment steps in order to build up a good picture of your child. From there, the next step is to identify target behaviours. In other words, the behaviours to start changing.

What makes a behaviour socially significant?

Behaviours or skills in therapy must be socially significant for the child and their family (or classroom). There is no point teaching something that doesn’t improve the child’s overall quality of life. Instead we’re looking for behaviours that increase the child’s well-being, capacity to engage with others, have their needs met (in a positive way) and support their overall learning. Socially significant behaviours also have to be appropriate for the child’s development.

These behaviours usually become clearer in the discussions between the program manager and the parent. It should become possible to identify the top 2-3 socially significant behaviours to work on. These then become the focus in the therapy intervention.

How to know if a behaviour is socially significant?

Some questions that the program manager will consider along the way, include:

Is the behaviour harming the learner and/or people around the learner? An example of this would be the child who repeatedly runs away off from their parent and there is a risk of harm.

Is the behaviour occurring in a high frequency? For example the child who is regularly temper tantrumming.

Is the behaviour relevant to future skill development or inhibiting learning? For example, a child who is unable to pay attention in class.

Will the intervention reduce negative attention from others (to increase a person’s access to his/her environment)? For example, a child who constantly hums in class and annoys both teacher and peers.

Once we identify the socially significant behaviours, we can begin to planning for the intervention. This will be the subject of the next week’s post.

As always you are very welcome to contact the team to discuss your child’s behaviour and how we may be able to help on 9274 7062

Jenny Lin

ABACAS Program Manager.

17 Jul 2018

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How we set up ABA programs for children

Ever wondered how Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) programs are developed for children? Over the next three weeks, we will talk about the steps to develop an ABA program for a learner. Week 1, we will talk about the role of assessment. Week 2, we will focus on socially significant behaviours. And in week 3, we will talk about defining the behaviours so that they can be measured and monitored.

Part 1: ABA and Assessments

In ABA, assessment allows the team to identify target behaviours (the things we want to see more of) and to develop the necessary interventions. While each child and family is unique, there are four different methods for how this is down.  Methods for obtaining assessment information include: interviews, behavioural checklists, direct observation, and tests. When we’re assessing we’re looking at skills and barriers in the environment to learning.

Here are some examples different strategies that may be used:

Interviewing – interviewing the key adults in the child’s life,  including:  parents, family members, carers, teachers, community members and sometimes the child. This help us narrow down what the priorities and 1-3 target behaviours for intervention.

Checklist– There are a range of checklists the team can use to collect baseline information on the child.  For example the VB-Mapp (which looks at verbal behaviours) and adaptive behaviour (which looks at daily living skills) measures. This give us more quantitative and qualitative information about specific behaviours.

Direct Observation – observing the child in his/her natural environment including home, school, day care, community settings (i.e. church, parties, etc). So much can be learned about what is happening by just watching.  The observation by a Program Manager (BCBA or a BCaBA) is invaluable in understanding challenging behaviour and working out next steps.

Test – Testing or probing the behaviour or skills by a Program Manager (BCBA or BCaBA), or using Functional Assessment techniques can help narrow down what is happening with complex or challenging behaviours.

Assessment is a really critical step for understanding a child and setting the foundations in place for a good therapy program. Our program managers like to bring what they have learned to parents to start a conversation about behaviours and strategies. The goal is always to increase “socially significant” behaviours in a child…something that will talk a bit more about next time!

As always you are very welcome to contact the team for support on 9274 7062.

Jenny Lin

Program Manager, ABACAS

06 Jul 2018

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Friendship Club Enrolments for Term 3 – Now Open

Friendship Club, Term 3

Jasmin Fyfe from the ABACAS team will be running the Friendship Club for children aged 5-6 years old in Term 3. The program will be on one afternoon after school per week and focus on the social skills children need to make and keep friends.

Social skills programs are small and run by two facilitators to make sure that children have lots of opportunity to practise skills, have fun and make new friends. Jasmin will need to meet with parents of new clients to the Centre to make sure that the program will meet their children’s needs.

For more information about the program please contact Jasmin on 9274 7062.

03 Jul 2018

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When to give instructions and to use prompts

So what’s the difference between an instruction and a prompt?

An instruction is the initial demand given to a child. For example “please wipe your nose”.

Any instruction, cue, hint, signal after the first demand is a prompt. A prompt is added before and after the demand instruction to increase the rate of responding, lower frustration, and to help children learn more efficiently. As children achieve higher success (that is, they follow through with the instruction), children have more frequent access to reinforcers (e.g. praise and tangibles) which in turn increases the motivation to learn.

How do I make my instruction more effective? 

Do you often find yourself asking your child the same thing over and over? For example, when you ask your child to clean up, do they keep on playing and ignore you, or do they argue with you saying ” no I’m not done yet’?

Well, when you are repeating the instructions, you are giving prompts. However, because there is no follow through with the prompts (and hence no success nor reinforcer after the prompt), the prompts were not effective.

Make sure when you give an instruction, you follow through to teach your child to complete the task. Helping or  prompting the child to complete the task with success is fine. Don’t forget to  praise when the work is done.

How do I prompt?

Give one instruction and pause. If the child does not respond within three seconds, give another instruction (aka ‘ the prompt’) and get your child to follow through with the instruction, which may be “start cleaning”, “moving towards the bathroom to brush teeth”, “picking up clothes to get dressed”.

Do I reinforce the child right after I prompt him/her?

No. Because we have not established compliance yet. Compliance simply means that the child did what they were asked to do.

I will explain. Here is an example I see a lot.

A parent asks the child to come to get her nose wiped. The parent chases down the child, puts their arms around them (to stop her running off), wipes her nose, while saying “good girl”.  All the while the child is struggling to get away.

What you’re praising here is the chasing down, and the forcing the child to get her nose wiped – in other words, ‘non-compliance’.

The alternative is to:

  • Give the instruction: “Let’s wipe your nose.”
  • Chase down the child, hold her in your arms and get her to stand still first (Physical Prompt)
  • Repeat the instruction “Let’s wipe your nose” (Verbal Prompt)
  • The child then reduces her struggle and lets you wipe her nose. (Showing some compliance).
  • Follow up with a specific praise “Good job wiping your nose!”

Obviously we want to shape the behaviour over time (with prompting and praising) so that when the child is asked to wipe their nose, they just do it!

I’m overwhelmed! Where do I start?

Don’t worry. Let’s put 15 minutes aside each day for ‘training’ for yourself and your child. During that 15 minutes, when you give an instruction, make sure to follow up. For the rest of the time, make sure don’t give instruction where you cannot follow up.

You’re also very welcome to contact the team for advice on 9274 7062.

Jenny Lin

Program Manager, ABACAS

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