Quality ABA is fun! A child should be actively engaged and happy during ABA sessions. Every few minutes a child may be part of a game of “chase me”, or watching a balloon being blown up and released to fly around the room, or a quick high five, or popping bubbles, or playing with toy trains, or watching a 60 second (appropriate) video or game on an electronic tablet, or building a block tower and knocking it down, or making silly noises and faces, or sharing an enthusiastic rendition of the Hokey Pokey with their behavioral technician, or virtually any enjoyable activity.
This is because the most important part of any ABA technique is reinforcement. A reinforcer is defined as a consequence that increases the likelihood that a child will repeat a given behavior. If the child is not motivated at any given moment, then WE need to instantly change what we are doing to make sure the child IS motivated. It is our job to make sure that we find something that WILL function as a reinforcer, and that will by definition motivate the child.
Reinforcement can be anything. But each child is likely to respond differently to each activity, and what is actually reinforcing changes very quickly, sometimes within only a few minutes. Our staff must respond just as quickly to find a reinforcer that is effective for your child at any given moment.
Many typically developing children are motivated by the positive attention and praise they receive for complying to adults, and by the learning activities themselves. Many children with autistic spectrum disorder are not motivated by these things until a very long time has been spent pairing the praise and positive attention with things the child is more interested in, usually a toy or play activity. It is important to remember that the child is not necessarily motivated no matter how enthusiastically or skillfully a task is presented. A child that is consistently reinforced for attending to learning experiences will start to find the experiences themselves reinforcing. This is a phenomenon called conditioning, and it has been well documented in the research for over one hundred years. The famous Pavlov’s dog experiments are perhaps the best known examples of this.
The basic principles of behavior change (and learning is a type of behavior change) such as reinforcement and conditioning are taught to all team members, including parents. All of us are subject to the same behavioral principles. Understanding those principles can help everyone in a child’s life learn to implement strategies to consistently increase independence and skills, prevent challenging behaviors from occurring in the first place, and avoid reinforcing them when they do occur.