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Creating a Meaningful Skill Acquisition Program in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Creating a Meaningful Skill Acquisition Program in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is crucial to client success. They are the foundation for building independence, problem solving, and creativity. Skill acquisition programs are also essential for teaching the skills learner’s need to reduce maladaptive behavior.

Dr. Stuart Ablom reframes challenging behavior using the phrase originally coined by Ross Greene, “Kids do well if they can.” This video describes why meaningful skill acquisition goals are so critical to the success of any learner with challenging behavior.

Skill acquisition programs play a pivotal role in ABA. These programs focus on teaching essential skills that enhance the learner’s overall development, reduce challenging behavior and promote their independence in various areas of life. Through systematic and evidence-based approaches, skill acquisition programs help learners acquire new skills, overcome challenges, and reach their full potential.

Skill acquisition programs could target nearly every area of development depending on the learner’s needs, the parent or guardian’s preferences, and the funder’s requirements. These areas include:

  1. Building Functional Communication: One of the primary objectives of skill acquisition programs is to foster functional communication. Communication skills are important for helping the learner get what they need and want without engaging in challenging behavior. These skills help the learner engage socially with others and become independent as they grow.
  2. Promoting Adaptive Life Skills: Life skills help the learner develop independence and reduce the burden of care for parents and caregivers. They include skills such as self-care, hygiene, eating, dressing, and household chores.
  3. Enhancing Social Skills: Social skills are important for developing friendships and experiencing success in school and later in a job. To build social skills, target specific social goals, such as turn-taking, sharing, perspective-taking, initiating and maintaining conversations, and understanding social cues.
  4. Developing Academic Skills: Academic skills may not be covered by medical insurance unless it triggers maladaptive behaviors, but these skills are important when services are paid for by schools. They include skills such as reading, writing, math, and problem-solving. ABA uses systematic instruction, task analysis, and reinforcement strategies to break down complex academic concepts into manageable steps, promoting the learner’s learning and academic success.
  5. Addressing Challenging Behaviors: Skill acquisition programs in ABA also play a critical role in addressing challenging behaviors. By systematically teaching functionally-equivalent replacement behaviors, ABA programs help replace challenging behaviors with more functional and socially acceptable ones. This approach involves identifying the underlying causes of the behavior, developing behavior intervention plans, and implementing proactive strategies for behavior reduction and replacement.

The Role of the BCBA in Creating Meaningful Skill Acquisition Programs

BCBAs work together with parents, caregivers and other professionals involved in the education and care of the learner. Taking a team approach allows you to develop a plan that includes the most meaningful goals for the learner. As a BCBA you:

  1. Conduct Assessments: Begin the process by conducting comprehensive assessments to gain a deep understanding of the learner’s current skills, strengths, challenges, and areas of need. This assessment phase involves collecting data through direct observations, interviews with parents and caregivers, reviewing previous assessments or reports, and utilizing standardized assessment tools.
  2. Set Individualized Goals: Based on the assessment results and collaboration with the individual’s family, you set individualized goals that are meaningful, functional, and achievable. These goals are specific to the learner’s needs, developmental level, and priorities. Focus on Pivotal Behaviors and Behavioral Cusps to achieve the greatest results for your learners.
  3. Break Down Skills: Break down complex skills into smaller, manageable steps. Using task analysis and behavior analytic principles, analyze the target skills and identify the specific components that need to be taught. This process allows you to systematically design instructional sequences that build upon each other, facilitating the learner’s progress from simple to more complex skills.
  4. Select Evidence-Based Teaching Strategies: Select the most appropriate techniques and approaches to facilitate skill acquisition based on current research in the field. These strategies may include discrete trial teaching, natural environment teaching, pivotal response training, shaping, chaining, and more.
  5. Design Data Collection Systems: To effectively monitor progress and make data-driven decisions, you design data collection systems that capture relevant information on the learner’s performance. This may involve selecting appropriate data collection methods such as frequency, duration, or correct/incorrect responses.
  6. Implement and Monitor Programs: This involves training and guiding the therapy team, including behavior technicians, parents, and other professionals involved, to ensure consistent and effective implementation. Ongoing data collection and analysis allows you to monitor progress and make necessary adjustments to programs to ensure the learner achieves his overall goals.
  7. Collaborate with Parents and Caregivers: Actively engage parents and caregivers the development and implementation of your plan for skill acquisition. Provide training, support, and guidance to empower parents and caregivers to reinforce skills outside of therapy sessions, creating opportunities for generalization and maintenance of acquired skills in the natural environment.
  8. Plan for Discharge: From the onset of treatment, develop a plan to build independence and reduce the need for expert intervention.

Conducting Comprehensive Skills Assessments

This is a quick overview of how to complete. a skills assessment. For a more detailed description, read our posts: How To Conduct And Document An Initial Assessment For ABA Services and Assess with Confidence: How to Select the Ideal Assessment for ABA Programs. A comprehensive skills assessment includes collecting data from a variety of different sources to ensure you have a thorough understanding of the learner’s strengths and challenges in a variety of contexts. Before choosing skill acquisition goals for a learner conduct:

  • Standardized assessments
  • Indirect assessments
  • Direct observations
3 Assessment Types that Support Meaningful Skill Acquisition Goals
3 Assessment Types that Support Meaningful Skill Acquisition Goals

Standardized Assessments

Standardized assessments are structured tools that have established norms and standardized administration procedures. These assessments provide quantitative data by comparing an individual’s performance to a normative sample. They offer a standardized way to measure specific skills or behaviors and provide valuable insights into an individual’s strengths and areas of need.

When designing a program, standardized assessments help identify the individual’s current skill level and establish a baseline. They provide objective information about the individual’s performance in various domains, such as communication, social skills, adaptive behavior, and cognitive abilities. These assessments enable the BCBA to identify specific areas that require intervention, set measurable goals, and track progress over time.

Various skills assessments are commonly used in ABA to evaluate the skills and abilities of learners who enter into programming. Here are five of the most common skills assessments:

  1. Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (Vineland-3): The Vineland-3 is a comprehensive assessment tool that measures adaptive behavior in individuals from birth through adulthood. This tool assesses various domains, including communication, daily living skills, socialization, and motor skills.
  2. Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills (ABLLS-R): The ABLLS-R is an assessment tool, curriculum guide, and skills-tracking system used to identify strengths and deficits in language and critical learner skills in the areas of language, communication, and daily living.
  3. Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP): The VB-MAPP is an assessment tool that focuses on assessing and analyzing language and communication skills. It measures a range of verbal behavior skills, including vocal imitation, manding (requesting), tacting (labeling), intraverbals (conversational skills), and listener responding.
  4. Promoting the Emergence of Advanced Knowledge (PEAK): The PEAK assessment is a comprehensive and systematic tool designed to assess language and cognitive skills. The PEAK Assessment is unique in that it assesses a wide variety of language and cognitive skills, going beyond traditional assessments that primarily focus on receptive and expressive language. It encompasses several domains, including basic language skills, advanced language skills, reading, math, play, social skills, and cognition.
  5. Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLS): The AFLS is an assessment that focuses on evaluating the skills necessary for independent living including skills in the areas of self-care, home and community, school and vocational skills, and leisure and recreation.
  6. Early Start Denver Model (ESDM): The ESDM is a play-based assessment process for autistic children between the ages of 12 and 48 months. The ESDM assessment covers a range of developmental areas, including: Communication, Social skills, Play, Cognitive skills, Adaptive behavior. 

These assessments allow BCBAs to evaluate the skills, strengths, and areas of need of learners. They provide valuable information that helps the BCBA identify meaningful skill acquisition goals and monitor the learner’s progress. Assessments should be used in conjunction with other sources of information, such as direct observations and input from caregivers and educators, to ensure a comprehensive understanding of an individual’s abilities and needs.

Indirect Assessments

Parents and caregivers play an important role in the skills assessment process. They provide valuable insights and expertise regarding the learner’s behaviors, strengths, challenges, preferences, and developmental history. Parent and caregiver involvement is an ongoing process that involves:

  1. Collaborative Approach: Parents, caregivers, and other professionals are active members of the assessment team. It is essential to establish a collaborative and respectful relationship with the entire team, recognizing each of them as valuable partners in understanding the learner’s needs and providing effective intervention.
  2. Parent and Caregiver Interviews: Conducting structured or semi-structured interviews with parents and caregivers allows you to gather information about the learner’s history, daily routines, family dynamics, and cultural considerations that you can’t assess directly. During these interviews, gather information about the learner’s developmental milestones, previous interventions or therapies, and any significant life events that may impact their current functioning. It is crucial to create a supportive and non-judgmental environment that encourages open communication and active listening during these interviews.
  3. Caregiver-Completed Questionnaires: In addition to interviews, caregiver-completed questionnaires or surveys can be valuable tools for gathering information. These questionnaires collect information such as the learner’s communication skills, social interactions, adaptive behaviors, and sensory sensitivities.
  4. Review of Existing Reports and Assessments: Review existing reports, assessments, and evaluations conducted by other professionals or agencies to either support or refute the other information you have collected. Professionals in different roles often have very different perspectives of a learner’s strengths and needs. Review previous psychological assessments, speech and language evaluations, or occupational therapy assessments.
  5. Ongoing Communication and Collaboration: Gathering information is not a one-time event but an ongoing process throughout the assessment and intervention phases. Regular communication and collaboration with parents, caregivers, and professionals involved in the learner’s care allow for the exchange of valuable information, updates on progress or challenges, and adjustments to the assessment and intervention plans as needed. This ongoing collaboration ensures that the assessment remains relevant, responsive, and aligned with the learner’s changing needs and goals.

By gathering information from parents, caregivers, and other professionals, BCBAs gain a more comprehensive understanding of the learner’s abilities and challenges. In addition to indirect assessments as described above, direct skills assessments are critical to creating a meaningful skill acquisition program. Indirect assessments provide important background information and direct assessments allow you to “test”

  1. Direct Observations: Direct observations involve systematically observing the individual’s behavior in natural environments, such as home, school, or therapy settings. It allows the BCBA to gather real-time data on the individual’s behavior, social interactions, communication skills, and adaptive functioning.

By directly observing the individual, the BCBA gains valuable qualitative information about the individual’s skills, challenges, and environmental factors that may influence their behavior. Direct observations provide insights into the context-specific behaviors, antecedents, consequences, and potential functions of behavior. This information helps shape the intervention strategies and program design to address specific needs.

Direct Observation

Direct observations also enable the BCBA to assess the individual’s response to specific interventions and teaching strategies. By observing the individual’s progress during intervention sessions, the BCBA can make data-based decisions about modifying or adjusting the program as needed. During a direct observation, collect data on:

  1. Social Interactions: Observe the individual’s social interactions, including their responses to peers, adults, or social situations. Note the individual’s initiation of social interactions, turn-taking skills, joint attention, nonverbal communication, and other relevant social behaviors. Assessing social interactions provides insights into the individual’s social skills and their ability to navigate social situations.
  2. Task Performance: Observe the individual’s performance on specific tasks or activities. Assess their accuracy, independence, speed, problem-solving skills, and level of support required. Document the specific task demands, prompts, or instructions provided, as well as the individual’s level of engagement, frustration, or motivation during task performance.
  3. Strengths and Preferences: Identify the individual’s strengths, preferences, and interests that emerge during the observation. Understanding these factors helps in designing interventions that capitalize on the individual’s strengths and motivations, making the learning process more engaging and meaningful.

Combine the data you collect during your direct observation with the data from standardized assessments and indirect assessments to develop a comprehensive view of the learner’s strengths, needs, and interests as well as the areas that are of highest priority to the team.

Choosing Meaningful Goals

To identify truly meaningful goals for your learner, you must go beyond what is listed in the “curriculum guide” for any of the standardized curricula you choose to use. Once you have conducted an assessment, follow these steps for choosing meaningful skill acquisition goals:

  1. Use the standardized assessment to identify the learner’s strengths and areas of need
  2. Identify pivotal behaviors and behavioral cusps that, once mastered, would lead to socially significant change for the learner
  3. Prioritize prerequisite skills needed to achieve these pivotal behaviors and behavioral cusps

Pivotal Behaviors

Pivotal behaviors are key skills that, when targeted and improved, lead to positive changes across various domains of functioning. These behaviors serve as a foundation for acquiring other related skills and contribute to overall progress and independence.

To identify pivotal behaviors, consider skills that have a wide-ranging impact on the individual’s development and independence. These behaviors often include foundational skills such as imitation, joint attention, self-management, and social engagement. Enhancing these pivotal behaviors can lead to significant improvements in communication, social interaction, problem-solving, and adaptive skills.

Pivotal Response Training (PRT) was developed by Drs. Robert and Lynn Koegel at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in the 1970s as an intervention that focuses on building pivotal behaviors. Koegel, Koegel, Harrower and Carter (1999) published Pivotal Response Intervention I: Overview of Approach where they describe three pivotal areas (motivation to initiate, response to multiple cues, and self-management). More recently (2013), one of the authors, Dr. Lynn Koegel expanded on this when she specified 4 pivotal areas:

  • Motivation
  • Initiation
  • Multiple cues
  • Self-management

To learn more about Pivotal Response Training, read our post: What Is Pivotal Response Training (PRT)?

Behavioral Cusps

Behavioral cusps refer to skills or behaviors that, once acquired, create new learning opportunities and significantly impact the individual’s life. These are skills that act as a “cusp” or a gateway to accessing and acquiring a broader range of skills and experiences.

To identify behavioral cusps, consider skills that have a broad and transformative influence on the individual’s life. These skills may involve social interactions, communication, adaptive behavior, or cognition. For example, acquiring basic reading skills can serve as a behavioral cusp as it opens up a world of literacy, educational opportunities, and access to information.

Here are a few more examples of behavioral cusps:

  • Independent Communication: Developing independent communication skills can serve as a behavioral cusp for children with autism. This includes not only improving verbal language skills but also utilizing alternative and augmentative communication methods such as sign language, picture exchange systems, or assistive communication devices. Acquiring independent communication opens up opportunities for expressing needs, initiating social interactions, and participating in various environments, enhancing overall communication and social functioning.
  • Play Skills: Developing functional play skills can serve as a behavioral cusp for children with autism. This includes engaging in age-appropriate and imaginative play, demonstrating pretend play, engaging in cooperative play with peers, and following social rules of play. Acquiring play skills opens up opportunities for social interactions, peer relationships, and participation in various play activities, fostering overall social and cognitive development.
  • Adaptive Daily Living Skills: Acquiring adaptive daily living skills acts as a behavioral cusp for autistic children. These skills encompass activities of daily living such as dressing, grooming, personal hygiene, meal preparation, and household chores. Developing these skills enables children to become more independent and self-sufficient in managing their personal needs and functioning in different environments. It promotes autonomy, self-care, and overall functional independence.

Using Pivotal Behaviors and Behavioral Cusps to Choose Goals

Now that you understand pivotal behaviors and behavioral cusps, pull together what you learned about your learner from the assessment and dig in to crafting meaningful goals. Avoid the temptation to simply copy the next goal in the “curriculum guide” associated with the assessment tool you used.

  1. Begin by identifying pivotal behaviors your learner needs that will have an impact on his ability to develop new skills. These might include problem-solving skills, initiating tasks or interactions, motivation or imitation.
  2. Then, identify behavioral cusps that will create new learning opportunities for your learner such as self-advocacy skills, executive functioning skills, or emotional regulation.
  3. Next break down all these skills and identify prerequisite skills such as attending, following 1-step directions, or accepting an item from an adult.
  4. Using the results from the standardized assessment along with the identified prerequisite skills, choose skill acquisition goals that will bring your learner closer to the pivotal behaviors and behavioral cusps you identified in the earlier steps.

Take a deeper dive into pivotal behaviors and behavioral cusps in our post: Importance of Targeting Pivotal Behaviors and Behavior Cusps in ABA: Key Strategies for Effective Intervention Plans.

Example of Choosing Meaningful Skills

Let’s take a look at an example. You are doing an intake for a 4-year-old diagnosed with autism. She attends a developmental preschool program but will be going to public kindergarten in the fall. Morgan’s parents want her to attend a general education classroom but have received some disagreement from the school, mostly concerning her behavior and independence. These are the concerns that prompted her parents to seek ABA services.

Her parents presented the following concerns:

  • Morgan engages in aggression and SIB when asked to do something she doesn’t want to do
  • Morgan is not toilet trained and will be placed in a self-contained classroom if she is not toilet trained when she begins school
  • Morgan does not play with other children
  • Morgan does not follow simple directions

During the intake, you asked the parents to complete the QABF while you completed the VB-MAPP. The results are in the charts below.

Sample QABF graph for an example of how to choose meaningful skill acquisition goals

According to Morgan’s parents, she engages in SIB primarily to escape demands and get access to her favorite things, although it also occurs frequently to escape demands. Morgan engages in aggression primarily to escape attention and access her favorite things, although she also engages in the behavior to escape demands.

Sample VB-MAPP grid for an example of how to choose meaningful skill acquisition goals.

The above chart for the VB-MAPP shows that Morgan has relative strengths in the following areas:

  • Manding
  • VPMTS/Matching
  • Play
  • Social behavior
  • Imitation

Her areas of relative weakness are in the following areas:

  • Listener responding
  • Complex verbal behavior such as LRFFC and intraverbals
  • Academics
  • Group skills

To identify meaningful skill acquisition goals, combine the information from all sources and identify pivotal behaviors and behavioral cusps that would be most meaningful to Morgan. Look at the table below as an example.

Parent ConcernsQABFVB-MAPPPivotal BehaviorsBehavioral Cusps
~Aggression and SIB
~General-ed classroom
~Play with other children
~Follow simple directions
~Escape attention, access her favorite things, and escape demandsStrengths:
~Social behavior

~Listener responding
~Complex verbal behavior such as LRFFC and intraverbals
~Group skills
~Independence skills
~Group Skills
~Following 1-step directions
~Toilet training
~Turn taking
~Answering questions
~Social play skills

This is not an exhaustive list of potential pivotal behaviors or behavioral cusps possible for Morgan, but it’s a good place to start. Now, consider prerequisite skills that are necessary to help Morgan achieve these skills. Here is a list of possible short-term goals to add to Morgan’s treatment plan:

  • Morgan will mand for missing items needed to engage in preferred activities with 80% independence for 20 different items for 3 consecutive sessions by November 1.
  • Morgan will mand for others to emit 5 different actions needed to enjoy a desired activity with 80% independence for 3 consecutive sessions by November 1.
  • Morgan will initiate bids for joint attention by pointing or verbally drawing an adult’s attention to an interesting object in the environment with 80% independence for 3 consecutive sessions by November 1.
  • Morgan will void on the toilet with fewer than 3 accidents per week for 4 consecutive weeks by November 1.
  • Morgan will mand for peers to join her in preferred activities that don’t require her to share (i.e. swinging, watching a video, etc.) with 80% independence for 3 consecutive sessions by November 1.
  • Morgan will perform 10 specific motor actions when asked when the motor actions are part of a game (i.e. Simon Says or Follow the Leader) with 80% independence for 3 consecutive sessions by November 1.
  • Morgan will mand to terminate or avoid a non-preferred task with 80% independence for 3 consecutive sessions by November 1.
  • Morgan will clean up toys and transition to a mid-preference activity without engaging in target behavior with only one prompt with 80% independence for 3 consecutive sessions by November 1.
  • Morgan will match similar colors and shapes for 10 different colors or shapes given models with 80% independence for 3 consecutive sessions by November 1.
  • Morgan will take turns during game play with an adult without engaging in target behaviors with 80% independence for 3 consecutive sessions by November 1.
  • Morgan will independently engage in play on structures and playground equipment for a total of 5 minutes out of 30 with 80% independence for 3 consecutive sessions by November 1.
  • Morgan will assemble toys that have multiple parts for 5 different sets of materials with 80% independence for 3 consecutive sessions by November 1.
  • Morgan will imitate 20 motor movements of any type with 80% independence for 3 consecutive sessions by November 1.
  • Morgan will imitate 10 actions that require selecting a specific object from an array with 80% independence for 3 consecutive sessions by November 1.
  • Morgan will engage in sustained social play with peers for 15 minutes with 80% independence for 3 consecutive sessions by November 1.
  • Morgan will sit at a group snack or lunch table without negative behavior for 10 minutes with 80% independence for 3 consecutive sessions by November 1.

Depending on the type of service provided (i.e. focused or comprehensive), the number of service hours requesting, and the priorities of the family, you may include more or fewer goals in your treatment plan. When choosing goals for a comprehensive ABA program, include goals from across a variety of different domains to ensure the learner has the opportunity to engage in a variety of activities during sessions.

Consider the learner’s day, specifically during the time when sessions will occur. What skills would help the learner be successful and independent during that time of day? Look for pivotal behaviors or behavioral cusps that would help the learner through the routines that occur at the time of day sessions will occur. These are the best goals to prioritize.

Ready for more great resources and help with tasks like writing behavior and treatment plans, prioritizing tasks to get things done, or providing supervision? The Dojo membership at Master ABA Academy has all the tools and support you need to experience success as a BCBA.

Select Effective Teaching Strategies

Selecting effective teaching strategies plays a pivotal role in creating an effective skill acquisition program. After learning about so many in school, it can be overwhelming to choose which ones are best for your individual learner.

There is no one right teaching strategy for all situations or all learners. When choosing strategies for your learner, consider the learner’s specific needs, interests, preferences, and developmental stage. Find out what strategies have been effective (and ineffective) in the past.

Choose teaching strategies that are evidence-based. Evidence-based strategies have been shown to produce positive outcomes in research studies. Although these are valuable strategies, each strategy is not appropriate for all learners or situations. You must approach your plan with flexibility and be ready to adapt the teaching strategies as needed. The table below shows some of the most common evidence-based teaching strategies used in ABA.

Teaching StrategyDescriptionBest Uses
Discrete Trial Training (DTT)DTT involves breaking down complex skills into smaller, manageable steps and using systematic prompts and reinforcement to teach each step. It emphasizes repetition and structured learning opportunities to promote skill acquisition.DTT is effective for teaching foundational skills, such as language, social, and academic skills, and for individuals who benefit from structured and repetitive instruction.
Naturalistic Teaching StrategiesNaturalistic teaching strategies create opportunities for learning within the natural environment, using child-initiated activities and interests. It incorporates incidental teaching, following the child’s lead, and providing immediate reinforcement to promote learning.Naturalistic teaching strategies are effective for promoting social communication skills, play skills, and generalization of learned skills to natural settings.
Task AnalysisTask analysis involves breaking down complex skills into sequential steps and teaching each step individually. It helps individuals learn and perform complex skills by mastering smaller, more manageable components.Task analysis is useful for teaching complex skills, such as self-help skills, academic tasks, and vocational skills, by providing clear and systematic instruction.
Errorless TeachingErrorless teaching involves structuring learning opportunities to minimize errors by providing prompts or cues before the individual responds. It focuses on preventing errors and promoting successful learning experiences.Errorless teaching is beneficial for teaching new skills and reducing frustration and negative learning experiences, particularly for individuals who have difficulty with independent problem-solving.
Incidental TeachingIncidental teaching is a naturalistic teaching approach where learning opportunities are embedded within the natural environment and capitalize on the individual’s interests and motivation. It involves following the individual’s lead and providing prompts and reinforcement within naturally occurring situations.Incidental teaching is effective for promoting language and social communication skills, as well as generalization of skills to natural settings.
Video ModelingVideo modeling involves presenting videos of desired behaviors or skills to individuals to learn by observing and imitating the modeled behaviors. It provides a visual demonstration and can be effective for individuals with strong visual learning preferences.Video modeling is beneficial for teaching a wide range of skills, including social, communication, and daily living skills.
Prompting and Prompt FadingPrompting involves providing cues or assistance to guide individuals to the correct response. Prompt fading gradually reduces the intensity or frequency of prompts over time to promote independent responding.Prompting and prompt fading techniques are effective for teaching new skills, promoting independent responding, and reducing prompt dependency.

Designing Effective Data Collection Systems

Effective data collection is a fundamental component of a successful skill acquisition program. It allows us to track progress, make data-driven decisions, and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions.

Data collection systems can take various forms, such as paper-based systems, digital platforms, or data collection apps. The system should be user-friendly, organized, and tailored to the specific needs of the learner and the setting. It should allow for easy recording, summarizing, and analyzing of data to facilitate ongoing assessment and decision-making.

The appropriate data collection methods allows you to gather accurate and relevant information about the learner’s progress. Different data collection methods can be used, depending on the skill being targeted and the specific goals of the intervention.

Frequency data collection involves recording the number of times a behavior occurs within a specified period. It is useful for tracking behaviors that have a discrete start and end point, such as requesting, turn-taking, or vocalizations.

Duration data collection involves measuring the length of time a behavior occurs. This method is effective for behaviors that have a duration component, such as eye contact, on-task behavior, or self-help skills.

Correct/incorrect data collection involves recording whether a behavior is performed correctly or incorrectly. This method is commonly used to assess skill acquisition and accuracy of responses. It is particularly valuable for tracking progress on specific targets, such as academic tasks, social skills, or self-care routines.

Choosing the appropriate data collection method depends on the nature of the skill being targeted, the feasibility of data collection in the specific setting, and the practicality for staff or caregivers to implement consistently.

Accurate data collection relies on the consistent and reliable implementation of data collection techniques by staff and caregivers. Training is crucial to ensure that everyone involved understands the purpose of data collection, knows how to record data accurately, and follows established protocols.

Training sessions should include an overview of the data collection system, clear instructions on how to collect data, and practice opportunities to reinforce understanding and build proficiency. Ongoing supervision and feedback allow you to address any questions or concerns and to maintain fidelity in data collection procedures.

Providing visual supports, such as data collection templates or step-by-step guides, can assist staff and caregivers in accurately recording data. Regular meetings or check-ins should be scheduled to review data, address any challenges, and provide additional support or training as needed.

Learn more about the different types of data collection methods available, including how to choose between continuous and discontinuous data collection methods in our post: Data Collection Methods: Continuous Vs Discontinuous Measurement In ABA.

Implementing and Monitoring Programs

The final step in creating an effective skill acquisition program is implementing and monitoring programs. This involves collaborative efforts, training, data analysis, and ongoing assessments to ensure effective intervention delivery and progress towards skill acquisition goals.

Collaboration among therapy team members includes the BCBA, behavior technicians, caregivers, and other professionals involved in the learner’s care. This includes staff training, parent training and coordination of care with other professionals (i.e. speech therapists, OT, mental health counselors, psychiatrists, etc.). Regular communication and coordination ensure consistency in program implementation across various settings and promote a unified approach.

Collaboration involves sharing information, discussing progress, and addressing any challenges or concerns that arise during program implementation. This should occur regularly, at least once per week, more frequently for learners with intense needs or who master programs quickly. For more information on effective parent training, read our posts: 10 Tips for Providing Better ABA Parent Training and How To Easily Engage Parents In ABA Parent Training-Learn These 3 Secrets.

Monitoring and reviewing data allows for data-driven decision-making and helps identify trends, patterns, and areas that require adjustments or modifications. Data should be reviewed consistently, again at least once per week, using visual displays, graphs, or summary sheets to facilitate easy interpretation. By examining progress data, the BCBA can determine if the program is producing the desired outcomes, whether the intervention strategies are effective, and if any modifications are needed to ensure continued progress.

During the review process, the BCBA can assess the effectiveness of the teaching strategies, identify any potential barriers to progress, and make informed decisions about adjustments to the intervention plan. This may involve refining the teaching techniques, changing the prompting procedures, or adapting the materials to better suit the learner’s learning style and needs.

Ongoing assessments help you determine when a skill has been acquired and when it is appropriate to progress to the next objective. Assessments provide valuable information about the learner’s current skill level, areas of strength, and areas that require further intervention. They inform decision-making regarding the selection and sequencing of future skill acquisition objectives. Typically, assessments should occur every 3-6 months of service.

By implementing and monitoring programs effectively, BCBAs can ensure consistent intervention delivery, track progress, and make data-informed decisions. Collaborative efforts, data analysis, and ongoing assessments provide a comprehensive framework for optimizing the outcomes of ABA therapy for individuals with autism.

Ready for more help and support? Check out the Dojo at the Master ABA Academy! Our members get access to courses, downloadable resources and weekly Office Hours where they can get answers to their questions.

References and Related Reading

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2020). Applied behavior analysis (3rd ed.). Pearson.

Iyengar, S. S., & Lepper, M. R. (1999). Rethinking the value of choice: a cultural perspective on intrinsic motivation. Journal of personality and social psychology76(3), 349.

Koegel, R. L. (1988). How to teach pivotal behaviors to children with autism: A training manual.

Koegel, L. K. & Koegel, R. L. (2019). Pivotal Response Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorders, Second Edition. Baltimore, MD: Paul H Brookes Publishing Co.

Koegel, L. K., Koegel, R. L., Harrower, J. K., & Carter, C. M. (1999). Pivotal response intervention I: Overview of approachJournal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps24(3), 174-185.

Koegel, R. L., Koegel, L. K., & McNerney, E. K. (2001). Pivotal areas in intervention for autism. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 30(1), 19-32.

Koegel, R. L., & Mentis, M. (1985). Motivation in childhood autism: Can they or won’t they?Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry26(2), 185-191.

Koegel, R. L., O’Dell, M., & Dunlap, G. (1988). Producing speech use in nonverbal autistic children by reinforcing attemptsJournal of autism and developmental disorders18(4), 525-538.

Lovaas, O. I. (1987). Behavioral treatment and normal educational and intellectual functioning in young autistic children. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55(1), 3-9.

McGee, G. G., Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E. (1985). The facilitative effects of incidental teaching on preposition use by autistic children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 18(1), 17-31.

Nikopoulos, C. K., & Keenan, M. (2004). Effects of video modeling on social initiations by children with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37(1), 93-96.

Odom, S. L., Boyd, B. A., Hall, L. J., & Hume, K. (2010). Evaluation of comprehensive treatment models for individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40(4), 425-436.

Schreibman, L., Dawson, G., Stahmer, A. C., Landa, R., Rogers, S. J., McGee, G. G., … & Halladay, A. (2015). Naturalistic developmental behavioral interventions: Empirically validated treatments for autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(8), 2411-2428.

Schreibman, L., & Koegel, R. L. (2005). Naturalistic intervention for autism spectrum disorders. Guilford Press.

Stahmer, A. C. (1995). Teaching symbolic play skills to children with autism using pivotal response training. Journal of autism and developmental disorders25(2), 123-141.

Sundberg, M. L. (2008). Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP) [Measurement instrument]. AVB Press.

Wetherby, A. M., Woods, J. J., & Schatschneider, C. (2011). Parent-implemented social intervention for toddlers with autism: An RCT. Pediatrics, 128(5), 1339-1348.

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