ABA Teaching Methods For Children With Autism
Children with autism are a diverse and complex group. Each individual child has very unique and specific needs and skills. Given the variety of strengths and deficits, it would be foolish of special educators to think that any one teaching method would be appropriate for every child or every skill to be taught.
However, diligent basic and applied behavior analytic researchers have provided the field of special education with a wealth of ABA-based teaching strategies and methods. It is the job of the special educator to be competent in a variety of research-based teaching strategies so that she or he can use these tools to best serve the many facets of need that each individual student with autism presents.
ABA Based Teaching Methods: The following teaching methods can all be employed from a behavior analytic foundation that focuses on useful data collection and analysis, implementation of ABA principles (e.g., positive reinforcement, extinction, etc.), and focusing on incremental skills until a child demonstrates mastery (e.g., reliably demonstrates the skill following the prescribed SD, generalizes skill to other/novel people, places, materials, and maintains the skill over time).
Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT)
What is DTT? Discrete Trial teaching, in its original form is a specific teaching format used by Ivar Lovaas to teach young child with autism. Lovaas carried out a research project and later published the treatment protocol in the book, Teaching Developmentally Disabled Children: The Me Book (Lovaas, Akerman, Alexander, Firestone, Perkins, Young, Carr, & Newsom, 1981 & 2003). DTT is a scripted teaching method with several key components that breaks skills into small components. DTT relies heavily on data collection and analysis in making programming decisions.
While many opponents argue that DTT produces rigid behavior and is only implemented in very contrived and unnatural settings, this is not true. DTT has been the focus of countless research projects revealing it to be an essential and effective method for increasing skills in children with autism. DTT is primarily implemented in very structured settings, but a good ABA-based program will take into account the inherent drawbacks of highly structured DTT and adapt or supplement as necessary to produce lasting and useful results.
Applied Verbal Behavior Approach (AVB)
What is AVB? AVB is a variation on DTT and is based on the principles of behavior analysis. In fact, AVB uses almost all of the same techniques and strategies, including some drill-type instruction, as in DTT. The primary difference is that AVB is based on a behavioral analysis of language and the classification system provided by B. F. Skinner in 1957. Applied behavior analysts, such as Dr. Carbone, Dr. Partington, and Dr. Sundberg, have worked to create a behavior analytic teaching method based on Skinner’s analysis of language.
The primary focus in an AVB program is to identify the functional language deficits in a child with autism and teach appropriate skills that address the motivation and natural controls related to the different types of verbal behavior.
AVB uses the classification system developed by Skinner (1957) and teaches verbal skills from a functional framework. The main three types of verbal behaviors are identified as: mands, tacts, and intraverbals.
Strict AVB practitioners advocate only using vocal or sign language. However, the AVB approach can be successfully implemented for individual with no vocal abilities and those using PECS and other augmentative communication.
Other Important Components/Considerations Related to AVB: Similar to the logistics related to DTT, with the exception of delivering reinforcers.
In an AVB teaching situation the reinforcer delivered is functionally related to the type of response the child produced. Edibles and toys are often used for early learners, or very difficult responses, but are faded to the natural reinforcers that should functionally maintain the specific type of response.