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Easy ways to provide ABA reinforcement at home

Did you know that you can boost your child’s sense of self-efficacy—that is, a belief in his or her own capability—by providing Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) reinforcement at home?

According to Albert Bandura’s “Self-Efficacy” entry in the 1994 Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, Vol. 4:

“A resilient sense of efficacy requires experience in overcoming obstacles through perseverant effort.”

In other words, when you present carefully-planned ABA “obstacles” for your child to overcome, you prepare him or her for life.

On one level, ABA gives you the tools you need to teach concrete, practical tasks, such as how to button shirts or wash hands.

But on another level, ABA allows you to facilitate an overall sense of self-efficacy and independence.

So without further ado, here are a few tips to help you provide ABA reinforcement at home!

TIP: Recognize that consistency is key. 

We understand that it can be hard to muster the motivation for in-home therapy support. However, consistency is a vital element to ABA success. In fact, it’s one of the very first things we teach when introducing the principles of behavior analysis.

Once you have a set of responses established through ABA, you must be consistent in applying them at home. This way, your child understands that when he does X, Y is always the result.

Regular reinforcement like this can reduce the appeal of problem behaviors over time. After all, children are smart; they don’t spend too much time and energy on losing strategies.

Say your child whines often, and you’d like to see this behavior reduced. You and the rest of your child’s team commit to not reinforcing whining with positive or negative attention. (Remember that negative attention is still attention, and thus a potent reinforcer!)

Instead, when your child whines, he’s prompted to choose an appropriate replacement behavior such as asking politely. When he makes this choice, he receives positive reinforcement of some kind.

When your child starts seeing a lack of response to whining across the board, he loses his motivation for engaging in that behavior.

TIP: Set aside a special area of your home for ABA.

Setting makes more of an impact on learning than you might think. If you’ve ever tried to practice ABA exercises with your child with the TV on in the background, then you know this firsthand!

That said, have you considered that some stimuli you consider innocuous—such as the whirring of the microwave or the clicking of the fan—might negatively impact your child’s home-based learning?

As an adult, you might be able to tune out little interruptions, but your child with autism will likely have a harder time filtering out noise and other sensory disruptions.

That’s why it’s important to pick a quiet, out-of-the way location with minimal distractions for ABA.

Having a set space will lend a sense of focus to lessons, and it will also help you both to relax when you’re not engaged in ABA processes.

TIP: Have all materials ready before beginning sessions.

If possible, leave therapy-specific materials such as charts and learning tools in your ABA room/space so they’re readily available for lessons.

Stopping and starting lessons to chase down materials is distracting and inefficient, and it compromises the learning process.

We believe so strongly in this recommendation, that every video in the FirstPath Autism library includes a reminder to gather necessary learning tools, data sheets, and reinforcers beforehand!

For more detailed instructions on creating a supportive in-home space for ABA reinforcement, check out Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Tameika Meadows’ blog post Checklist: Preparing the In-Home Environment for Therapy.

TIP: Make therapy a part of your daily routine.

Make every effort to include ABA therapy as a part of your daily routine. By doing so, you’ll help eliminate wondering, “When will we fit in a session today?” Better still, you’ll drive greater progress by keeping things stable and consistent.

Why? Well, your child will be empowered to make gains because if you commit to daily work, you’ll practice more over the long term.

Remember that fantastic line from Anthony Trollope that we quoted in our blog post, Why ABA reinforcement at home makes a huge difference:

“A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labors of a spasmodic Hercules.”  

Doing a short ABA session every single day will yield greater results than doing a longer ABA session only every now and then.

In addition, setting a time means that you’ll effectively cue your child’s brain to expect to learn at the same time each day.

Professional artists often advise aspirants to establish regular artistic disciplines. Routine allows magic to happen. If a painter always goes to work at 9am, there’s less chance of resistance and a greater possibility of inspiration.

As New York Times bestselling author Anne Lamott writes in Bird By Bird:

“You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively.”  

The same goes for your child’s ABA reinforcement. If you adhere to a routine, you’ll lessen opposition, train the unconscious to kick in, and open the door for progress.

That said, plans do change and sometimes you’ll need to reschedule your in-home sessions. But don’t let the odd crisis keep you from establishing a consistent rhythm.

TIP: Know that there will be difficult times. 

Yes, you can improve your child’s in-home ABA experience by taking the practical steps we’ve outlined above. Yet perhaps the most important step you can take is to adjust your own expectations.

Paradoxically enough, your child’s therapy journey gets easier when you expect it to be hard sometimes.

As autism parent Shirley Nutt shared in her guest post on our blog, How ABA reinforcement at home helped one family:

“I remember … crying privately because [at first] it was painful to administer the medicine of ABA …. I realized that ABA is to autism as chemo is to cancer …. and that helped give me strength to get through the tough spots.”  

So if your child is exhibiting difficult behaviors associated with extinction bursts, hang in there. Ask for help from your clinician and support team, and trust that your perseverance will pay off in the end.

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