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On this episode of the All About Kids podcast Zach and his guest, Sandi Lebenns-Mosher are continuing their conversation about Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and the many tools it offers families. Part 2 of this series is all about fostering effective communication and strategies that yield desirable long-term change. Using the framework of four functions of behavior, Sandi offers practical advice for responding to unwanted situations when – or before – they blow up. The episode also explores what it means to use “First” and “Then” statements and why it’s so important to “catch” your children being good. You’ll learn how to provide proactive positive reinforcement – a powerful incentive to positive change – rather than bribing with rewards that have just the opposite effect. Most of all, Sandi emphasizes two key elements that propel kids – really all humans – in the right direction: Follow the 5-to-1 rule, always offering praise 5x more often than criticism. And stay consistent! When your new approach seems to be making things worse, that’s usually an indicator that you’re on the right track!

Click here if you’d like to listen to Part 1 of this important examination of Applied Behavior Analysis and how this data-driven methodology transforms relationships and changes lives. 

Episode Notes

  1. Zach provides a brief recap of Part 1of this series, a recording of which is available here.
  2. Sandi gets the conversation started with a look at the ABA detective framework.
    1. 2:45 Intervention always has to start with understanding the individual motivations for behavior. The tip of the iceberg is the behavior we see, but understanding requires a look at everything underneath.
    2. 3:40 About the four functions of behavior and why they occur:
      1. To escape a demand or situation.
      2. To attract attention.
      3. To get something tangible.
      4. To manage some sort of sensory need.
    3. 4:30 Beyond the four functions of behavior, it’s very important to rule out underlying illness or some other physical issue as the source of problems. 
  3. A deeper dive into the understanding of specific functions of behavior.
    1. 5:37 Escape: It can be a fight-or-flight reaction or resistance to a certain situation or demand (i.e. cleaning up toys). It can also be a way of avoiding skills that are challenging or out of reach.  
    2. 6:18 Attention: In some ways the opposite of Escape. The goal is to divert attention away from someone or something else back to the child acting out, which works if Mom responds by complying. Acting out is not something to reward; verbal praise and attention are for appropriate behaviors. 
    3. 12:10 What’s the difference between tangible and sensory? Tangible is anything that can be held and touched. 
  4. Managing (and understanding) unwanted aggression. 
    1. 15:12 It’s important to get under the behavior to understand its root cause in order to recognize and redirect the situation.
    2. 16:40 Sandi equips parents and teachers with strategies for teaching alternative social skills right in the moment, when there is a direct correlation.
    3. 17:30 ABA’s approach is the opposite of punishment-based, focused instead on intervening to teach replacement skills that will flourish over time.
    4. 19:05 Teaching kids about the concept of “right time” and “right place” so that they can understand limits around their desires and impulses.
    5. 19:20 Punishment is never the way to go. It fosters alienation over learning.
    6. 20:17 Sandi uses timers as a strategy that gives kids a way to recognize what it means to take turns and manage directives.
  5. Why it’s important to give tasks within a timeframe that’s not immediate.
    1. 23:50 Kids on the spectrum love routine and predictability, so providing parameters is a proactive way to reduce negative reactions to requests.
    2. 24:19 If you understand the ways in which a given kid responds to being told to do something, you can intervene before negative behavior even occurs.
  6. Defining “First” and “Then” statements – and what makes them so important. 
    1. 25:04 Using statements that connect behaviors with outcomes derives results.
    2. 25:51 Pictures can be effective tools for visual learners, reducing fights with kids who can better grasp a picture. 
    3. 27:39 If a kid isn’t using a lot of language, then we shouldn’t use a lot of language. Keep it simple so their brains can process and not be overwhelmed.
    4. Visual aids are a valuable tool, especially in the hands of trained therapists.
  7. Is it okay to bribe your child to incent good behavior?
    1. 30:38 There’s a difference between bribery and reinforcement. 
      1. Reinforcement occurs when the reward is offered before unwanted behavior takes place. 
      2. Bribery occurs when something is offered to stop a tantrum or other unwanted behavior – which only rewards that same behavior.
    2. 32:00 It’s a fine line but important to recognize the timing and strategy behind reinforcement versus bribery because the latter is counter-productive.
    3. 34:32 Consistency is everything. Without it, there is confusion and the lines are blurred. 
    4. 36:30 Sandi recommends against the concept of a “cheat day” where anything goes but also understands that family life can be challenging. “Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do to get through,” she says. But in general consistency is king when it comes to behavior.
  8. Sandi’s pet peeve: Parents giving iPads and other devices to very young kids, foreclosing on their developmental opportunity to imagine, explore and interact.
  9. Why it’s so important to “catch” children being good.
    1. 40:53 Kids with behavioral issues hear a lot of words like “don’t” and “stop, but Sandi advises the 5-to-1 rule, i.e. say five positive things to every negative.
    2. 40:38 It might be tempting to leave well enough alone when a child is peacefully playing, but it’s important nonetheless to identify and applaud behaviors that are desirable.
    3. 41:56 By offering positive reinforcement and calling out specific moments in which children are deserving of praise, parents are motivating them to replicate that behavior going forward.
  10. About the progression of behavioral change.
    1. 46:16 Tapping into and disrupting a behavioral function can initially result in a doubling down on that behavior. If things are escalating, you’re actually most likely on the right track!
    2. 47:23 Stay consistent! It takes some time for kids to fully understand that things have changed, internalize and adapt accordingly.
  11. Redirection can be a powerful tool for behavior modification.
    1. 48:40 Sandi shares an example of how to successfully transfer an undesirable behavior (jumping on the furniture) to a desirable behavior (jumping on a trampoline).
    2. 49:19 Rather than removing or taking something away from a child, substitute an alternative that they can embrace. It’s all about redirection! 

About All About Kids:

AAK provides diagnostic evaluations as well as direct and consultative behavioral intervention services to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. After comprehensive assessment, each child has a portfolio or program book designed specifically to meet his or her individualized needs. The quality of our ABA services are closely monitored through program and field supervision as well as ongoing consultation by BCBA’s/BCaBA’s, and Experienced Team Leaders. 

Click here for a link to comprehensive educational and support resources. Previous podcast episodes and more information about All About Kids is available here.


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