Effective ABA Strategies for Students with Autism

student with autismApplied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the most widely studied use for using interventions to teach children with autism. ABA interventions serve as a valuable early intervention tool for students in pre-kindergarten through to the transition to adulthood. The idea is to use targeted teaching strategies that boost skills and cater to each student’s unique needs. These strategies are typically individualized for students as different students will have different needs. Students with autism may benefit from repetition of material, tasks being broken down into smaller steps, and having additional visuals alongside text or verbal directions.

What is Applied Behavior Analysis?

Applied Behavior Analysis is the scientific approach to understanding human behavior. Using ABA interventions, the goal is to teach new skills, increase communication, and increase social skills for positive interactions. While ABA is the overarching term, it encompasses various practices.

How can we use Applied Behavior Analysis in the Classroom?

Using ABA methodologies in the classroom can be easy! Think of ABA as the tool used among many different strategies. One of the best additions for the classroom is positive reinforcement. For teaching new information, teachers can use scripts or choral responses to teach groups of students the same information. We can use task analysis to break down skills into smaller steps and teach each step systematically.

Use of Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the addition of something following a behavior that is going to make it more likely to happen in the future. This doesn’t necessarily mean providing physical rewards every time; simple gestures like specific praise, a high five, or a fist bump can motivate students.  Teachers can incorporate token boards into the classroom as a form of positive reinforcement to increase their student’s time working. Students can earn a token, sticker, or tally mark, for completing a task or a portion of a task. Once the student has a set amount of tokens, they can trade that in for an item or activity of their choice. Finding activities that are naturally occurring in the classroom can make this easy to navigate during a busy schedule. A few examples could be earning the line leader position for lunch, being the teacher’s helper, playing a special game at recess, or choosing a favorite book for reading time. The trick to positive reinforcement is to find what is reinforcing for the student – and this can be different for everyone! A quick survey, conversation, or observing the student as they choose activities throughout the day is a great place to start.

Teaching Tools using ABA Methods

  • Scripts: Using scripts and choral responding can be helpful, especially when teaching in a group setting, and can keep the lessons moving quickly. When we’re asking students to respond as a whole we can also guide the answer leaving no room for error. An example for this may be teaching vocabulary words. The teacher may say: “This word is X. What is this word?” Then all students respond. You can modify this to include visuals that students can point to or hold up depending on their modality of communication.
  • Discrete Trial Training: Teachers can use discrete trial training (DTT) to directly instruct a student on a specific skill by breaking the tasks into steps. This can be used across all areas of instruction including academic, social skills, communication, and more. This is typically done in a mass trial format and can be one-on-one or in a group. The teacher will give specific and direct instruction, using prompting hierarchies to teach the skill, and provide reinforcement and error correction. Let’s use the example of teaching the skill of identifying coins. The teacher would work directly with the student by showing them a coin and stating a phrase such as: “This is a quarter.” Then, the teacher would instruct the student to identify the coin as well by either stating the name or touching the coin. The teacher would systematically fade out prompting until the student is able to independently identify the coin when asked.  Some teachers find using DTT to target IEP goals is an effective method to show progress across the year.
  • Task Analysis: Under the umbrella of DTT we can also use a method called Task Analysis. This strategy involves breaking down big skills into smaller steps and teaching them in a chain. This is a great strategy used for cultivating successful classroom routines. Let’s say we want to teach a student to arrive at school, unpack their bag, and start their morning work. Breaking down and specifically teaching each skill will go a long way to having this be successful and independent! We would create a step-by-step list starting small and working toward the end goal. This might look like:
  1. Walk to locker
  2. Take off jacket
  3. Hang up jacket
  4. Open backpack
  5. Take out lunch box
  6. Take out folder
  7. Hang up backpack
  8. Shut locker
  9. Walk to desk
  10. Put away lunch box
  11. Open folder
  12. Take out paper
  13. Start morning work

By teaching each step as a chain, the student is having multiple opportunities for guidance at each step while working toward completing them independently. If we were to just tell a student: “Unpack your bag,” they may not know all the different components of that task. We could also use this same technique to break down academic tasks. For example, solving an addition problem with or without manipulatives. This might look like:

  1. Point to first number
  2. Count out X cubes
  3. Point to second number
  4. Count out X cubes
  5. Count all cubes together
  6. Write number after the equal sign

Once a student can complete each step of the Task Analysis, we would consider that skill mastered and move on to a new skill. By teaching all these steps individually, you may also see the student start to generalize the skill/step and be able to do them in a different setting or task.

TeachTown and Evidence-Based Teaching Strategies

At TeachTown, our suite of special education solutions is based on research and the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis, with DTT woven throughout, including our technology-based teacher-led and student-led sessions.

If you’re interested in learning more about our K-12 standards-based, adapted core curriculum, enCORE, and our supporting interventions, schedule a consultation with a member of our team.

Contributor Bio

Emily IppolitoEmily Ippolito, M.Ed., BCBA, is a Product Enablement Specialist and Board Certified Behavior Analyst at TeachTown. Prior to TeachTown, Emily worked in both public and residential schools as a Special Education Teacher certified in severe special education. Emily also worked as a BCBA consultant to public schools as well as in home and clinic services for clients from preschool through adulthood. Emily has a Master’s Degree in Severe Special Education from Simmons University and a post-graduate certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis from Fitchburg State University.

Back to Posts