Functional Communication Training (FCT)

Functional communication training = a teaching strategy used to teach the child an appropriate communicative response to have their needs met in a specific context.

Ok, in plain English; it’s teaching your child what they should be saying instead of moaning, groaning, kicking, shouting etc to get what they want. There are 2 golden rules when teaching FCT; the response you teach must serve the same purpose as the problem behaviour and be more appropriate and ‘functional’.

If you’ve identified that the function of your child’s problem behaviour is to get what they want, then the most effective solution is to stop giving them access to what they want when they ‘misbehave’ and instead, teach them an appropriate communication response.

Remember, your child’s behaviour serves a function/purpose e.g.:

  • To get out of something,
  • To get attention,
  • To try and get/keep a preferred item,
  • Because it’s automatically...
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Behavioural Skills Training (BST)

Want to learn a super easy way of teaching your child that’s step-by-step???

I love a straight forward step-by-step teaching strategy and one of my favourites is called Behaviour Skills Training (BST).

BST can be defined as a procedure consisting of instruction, modelling, behavioural rehearsal, and feedback that is used to teach new behaviours or skills (Miltenberger, 2004). This is a strategy that can be used to teach many different skills (such as social skills, play skills and how to make smooth transitions) and has been proven to be effective for training people in a wide variety of populations, including children and adults with and without disabilities.

But the most exciting part about this strategy (just like all of the strategies we use!) is that it really works and it’s actually kinda fun!

BST teaches a child exactly what to do; the specific responses that are required under specific circumstances. For example, when someone says hello to you, say hi back. It...

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How to manage attention seeking behaviours

Is it really necessary for mums to resemble Mary Poppins all the time??

I feel like everywhere you turn on social media there is post about positive parenting (or something similar) but doesn’t this put pressure on mums to be perfectly happy, creative, enthusiastic, bubbly and patient with their child ALL of the time??

The thing is, sometimes you’re going to need to turn that tap off…and it’s for the benefit of your child.

Imagine your attention to your child is like running water from a tap. When your child chooses to engage in behaviours that you would like to see more of (e.g. playing independently, sharing with a sibling, tidying toys etc) you can turn the tap on and keep the attention flowing.

However, when your child chooses to engage in inappropriate behaviours – the ones that you would like to see less of – you want to turn the tap off.

If you read my previous blogs you’ll know that as behaviour analysts we are trained to identify...

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Catch ’em being good!

I’ve been chatting recently to a few parents who seem to be constantly firefighting with their children in terms of breaking up battles between siblings.

You might have heard of this catch phrase ‘Catch them being good’ but if you haven’t it simply means; use positive reinforcement to reinforce specific behaviours you notice your child doing that you want them to do again (e.g. sitting nicely during meal times, using manners, playing appropriately etc).

I know that sometimes there literally doesn’t seem to be a moment when you can catch your child being good to positively reinforce their behaviours and I’ll address this in a bit.

However, if you’re like most parents you’ll intervene when problem behaviours arise, having had enough of the incessant bickering. But, when your kids are playing quietly or appropriately it seems to go unnoticed, you don’t want to disturb this miraculous moment so you quietly retreat! Sound familiar??


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Emotional Regulation

As behaviour analysts we are trained in how to assess and intervene behaviours that we can see and therefore measure. Thoughts and feelings are called ‘private events’ in the ABA world but we can’t see thoughts and feelings like we can hitting or kicking, so how do we go about helping children to manage their big feelings using ABA techniques??

Now more than ever we need to help our little people recognise their feelings and equip them with tools and coping strategies to manage them. It’s not an easy one…think about how many adults you know who still struggle with this!

As Behaviour Analysts, we are bound by a pretty strict code of ethics to stick to implementing strategies that are evidence-based; we only use techniques that have research to prove they actually work (which is why I love ABA!).

Our first job, whenever we are trying to work on tricky behaviours, is to describe behaviour in ways that are observable and measurable. We then usually...

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Sensory Social Routines

Is your child way more interested in toys or items, than interacting with people???

A hall mark of autism is a lack of interest in social interaction. Children with autism don’t seem to experience as much natural reinforcement in social interactions as other children do. In fact, there’s research that shows that one of the basic biological differences underlying autism is this decreased internal value from social interactions (Dawson, G,. et al, 2001).

Children with autism often seem more interested in their favourite toys than initiating any sort of social interactions. The spot light of their attention is often on items e.g. lining up cars, playing on an ipad or watching TV.

So how can we turn the spot light onto us?? How can we teach children with autism to become more interested in people and why is it important we focus on this??

The good news is that this is actually something we can work on; we can teach children with autism to value social interactions by...

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Expanding interests

Does your child have limited interests? Many of my clients do; they like specific toys and activities but not really a wide variety of things.

Limited interests can make it tricky to maintain motivation to teach a child a wide variety of language and play skills but it also limits their social opportunities if they only enjoy playing with specific toys.

Imagine a child who fixates on playing with cars at nursery; a peer may approach them and join in this play for a little while but soon move onto something else, whereas many of my clients would spend their entire time playing with the cars.

You can see how this would impact on their social and play skills over time.

We also want to work on this because ultimately we want to expand the child’s interests and therefore repertoire of potential reinforcers (which we can use for future teaching) and NET activities.

Additionally, the more time your child spends engaged in appropriate activities;

  1. The less time there is for problem or...
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Teaching Communication Skills

“Manding is the most important operant since it is always preceded by motivation and ends with the child receiving what she requested”

(Mary Barbera, The Verbal Behaviour Approach)


Where do we start when we need to teach a child to communicate?? It can often seem like a daunting task when you start considering all of the skills involved and there are certainly a lot of different skills required!

A good starting place is to teach your child to make requests. It teaches the learner that requesting (called manding in the ABA world) will allow him access to things that he wants or avoid things that he doesn’t want. This quickly teaches your child the value of communication i.e. ‘I ask – I get’.

Teaching your child to request also typically reduces challenging behaviours as you’ve given your child a new way to get what they want – bonus!

I always recommend that the child should initially be taught to request for...

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Natural Environment Teaching

What’s the first thing you think about when you hear this name; Natural Environment Teaching?? Teaching kids out in the garden about all things nature?? Sounds about right doesn’t it?

NET actually means teaching and learning that is focused around your child’s motivation. It can be done anywhere and is entirely child led as the teacher follows the child’s motivation.

Many parents will be doing this without even thinking about it, for example, talking about body parts in the bath, or pointing out flowers whilst on a walk but for children with autism who often don’t have a variety of interests NET can be tricky and needs to be carefully and intentionally planned.

The activity (e.g jumping on the trampoline, baking, playing with trains etc) itself IS the reinforcer, there is no additional reinforcement needed, if it is, then it is not a NET situation.

The goal of NET is to make learning fun, through play, so the child doesn’t really know...

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Behavioral classification of language

Does your child struggle to communicate effectively? Are they able to label lots of items but unable to request for those same items??

Where do we start when we want to teach a child to understand language and use it effectively to not only have their needs met but converse with their peers?

For the purposes of this blog and to avoid writing an entire book I’ll summarise how we, as behaviour analysts, view language – through a behaviour analytic lens.

The first thing you need to know is the term ‘Verbal Behaviour’ comes from a legendary behaviour analyst called BF Skinner.  Skinner argued that as behaviour analysts we should view language like we would any other behaviour; by identifying the function (or purpose) of a word.

Skinner (1957) defined Verbal Behaviour as: Behaviour that is reinforced through the mediation of another person’s behaviour.

Ok, what the heck does that mean?! Hold tight….

According to Skinner the meaning of a word is...

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