One of my favourite things about my job is when we get clients when they are young (2-3 years old). This means that I love creating an ABA program for beginners who might just be learning to talk and socialize.
First, let’s clarify what I mean by “beginner”: it’s not only age-based but it could be because they are just starting out with ABA. They might have some early skills (eg: imitation, 1-word phrases) but are really not communicating functionally. They might be able to follow simple instructions in routine but aren’t following more complex instructions. They might be able to play with some toys, but it’s not interactive and their repertoire might be limited.
Here is how we prioritize a beginner ABA program:
This is first and foremost. How are they getting their needs met? This can be through words, pictures (eg: PECS), or signs. Once I determine which route will be more functional, I jump right in to teaching it A LOT. Contriving communication temptations is a great way to promote requesting. For example, if I know they love cookies, I can put a cookie in a clear, plastic container that they can’t open so that they have to ask for me to open it. Or, I can offer them a cup but no juice and they have to ask for “juice”.
How much to they understand? This can be determined a few ways: Can they follow 1-step instructions (eg: “come here”, “sit down”, etc)? Can they “give” an item from a larger array of other items? Can they “give” a card from an array of other cards? One of the best and most natural ways to develop this skill is to teach it within routines. For example, if the child likes to go outside, include some 1-step instructions into this preferred routine – “Go get your shoes” or “open the door”. (See “How To Get Your Child To Listen To You“)
This is the bulk of a beginner program. We want to teach them that people are fun and reinforcing. If not, the rest of the work we do could be futile without this premise. Some early ABA programs would focus on teaching “eye contact” as a skill in isolation. In our experience, it’s more natural to teach eye contact within the context of other reinforcing activities and it will improve incidentally.
We also like to teach imitation within play, which will hopefully lead to imitating peers. A great place to start is by singing songs with actions (eg: “Happy and You Know It”) and get them moving along with you! Songs are a great place to teach early intraverbal skills. You can start singing a preferred song (eg: “Itsy Bitsy Spider”) and then pause before the next word, waiting for the child to fill in the blank.
Joint Attention is a really important component of early social skills. This is described as the ability to include others in their interactions. It might be referencing the adult with their eyes when they see something cool, it might be the ability to trace another’s eye contact, it might be following a point and looking back at the adult. Whatever it is, getting the child to allow and ENJOY you in his space is integral to their learning. I like to bring some of their favourite toys and activities when I come and then have them “need” me to play with them. For example, they might like when I blow up a balloon and make it fly around the room, but they’re not able to do it themselves. I would teach them to come to me, hand me the balloon and make a request (eg: “balloon”, “blow”) to continue the interaction.
With a beginner learner, we would spend a lot of time away from the table, doing lots of sensory-social routines(eg: ring around the rosy, 5 little monkeys, etc). What we’re looking for in these routines are: shared social smile, eye contact (even fleeting), some initiation to continue (eye contact or gesture). For example, every time I see one of my clients, he now asks for me to play “Little Red Wagon” – he’ll even work for it over preferred edibles!
For more information on what part of our beginner program looks like, download our “Beginner Data Sheet” below.
Examples of how to create communication temptations to teach requesting and commenting
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