Skill Acquisition

A. ​Adaptive Skills

“Well-developed adaptive behavior skills are essential to independent functioning. Adaptive behavior describes the typical performance of daily activities and represents the ability to translate cognitive potential into real-world skills (Sparrow & Cicchetti, 1984). Adaptive behaviors encompass everyday skills that are independently initiated, such as effectively communicating with others, participating in community activities, and developing meaningful relationships (Klin et al., 2007). The most frequently used measure of adaptive behavior is the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (VABS), Sparrow et al., 1984; VABS-II, Sparrow et al., 2005), which emphasizes three domains: communication, socialization, and daily living skills” (Pugliese et al., 2015).

B. Basic Instructional Strategies (e.g., shaping, chaining, behavioral momentum, task analyses, etc.)

“In applying ABA techniques, it is important not only to provide reinforcement or punishment after a behavior has occurred, but also set up antecedent conditions that increase the likelihood of success and reduce the probability of problem behaviors occurring. Specific antecedent procedures that are frequently used for ASD include choice, behavioral momentum, cueing and prompting, modifying task demands, errorless learning, priming, non-contingent reinforcement, and time delay. These types of interventions can be used with all ages and ability levels” (Lindgren & Doobay, 2011).

C. Behavioral Skills Training - Skill Acquisition

“Behavioral Skills Training has had substantial success in teaching a wide variety of skills.  Components of BST include instructions, modeling/role playing, and corrective feedback. The specific components of this approach have been well documented as effective training strategies. Modeling, or having trainers demonstrate the desired procedures is an important and effective aspect of behavioral skills training (e.g.,  Selinske, Greer & Lodhi, 1991). Research also supports the use of role playing in the training process (e.g., Ducharme & Feldman, 1992; Iwata, Wallace, Kahng, Lindberg, Roscoe, Conners, Hanley, Thompson, & Wordsell, 2000; Schepis, Reid, Ownbey, & Parsons, 2001). Perhaps the most crucial element of BST is feedback (Noell et al., 2000). Feedback generally entails providing individuals with highly specific verbal or written information regarding their performance of a particular skill, provided in order to improve performance” (Weiss, 2005).

D. Discrimination Training

“The basic procedure for stimulus discrimination training entails a multiple schedule with antecedent stimulus conditions representing each component schedule. Responses in the presence of one stimulus condition (SD) are reinforced, and responses in the presence of the other stimulus (S∆) are not reinforced. When this procedure is applied appropriately and consistently, responding in the presence of the SD will come to exceed responding in the presence of the S∆. Often, over time, the participant will learn not to respond in the presence of the S∆” (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2019).

E. Early Intervention Programming

“Furthermore, it has long been held that ‘earlier is better’ when implementing early intervention programs (Shonkoff and Phillips 2000; Shonkoff 2003). Nevertheless, this has not been clearly demonstrated for ABA applied to young children with ASD. Currently, ASD cannot be easily identified before 18 months of age, for the most part. Therefore, if a child is diagnosed with ASD by 18 months, that child can only receive ABA in early intervention for approximately 18 months until the child transitions to a special education preschool program, in NYS (New York State). It is generally assumed that children, who begin ABA as early as possible, will show improvement in language and reduction in symptoms, as compared to those who begin later. It has also been assumed that the child who receives more ABA will benefit more than the child who receives fewer hours” (Vietze & Lax, 2018).

F. Executive Functioning Skills

“Executive functioning is a term that describes problem-solving behaviors that are thought to be in large part under frontal lobe control (Duncan, 1986). Although there is no consensus about the components of executive functioning, it is thought to include such processes as forming abstract concepts, having a flexible sequenced plan of action, focusing and sustaining attention and mental effort, rapidly retrieving relevant information, being able to self-monitor and self-correct as a task is performed, and being able to inhibit impulsive responses. Executive functioning also can be described as the ability to disengage from the current situation and guide behavior by referring to mental models (Hughes, Russell, & Robbins, 1994)” (Liss et al., 2001).

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G. Functional Communication Training

According to Cooper, Heron, and Heward (2019), “Functional communication training (FCT) establishes an appropriate communicative behavior to compete with problem behaviors evoked by a motivating operation (MO).” FCT is often considered a two-step process where practitioners first conduct an FBA to understand what is reinforcing and maintaining the problem behavior and then using the identified reinforcers of the problem behavior to teach alternative or more functional behaviors. FCT is usually used in conjunction with other behavior-change strategies as well (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2019).

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H. Functional Academic Skills

“Academic skills, to be functional and adaptive, must be relevant to an individual’s lifestyle needs – including their specific responsibilities and expectations from those with whom they interact. Thus, functional academic adaptive skills may display a degree of uniqueness. What is functional for one individual may not be functional for others. In addition, the focus of instruction should consider what is needed now and in the foreseeable future. Thus, functional academics adaptive skills include those that are prerequisite to acquiring functional skills (e.g., functional pre-academics skills) together with enduring functional skills based on an individual’s lifestyle needs, environmental expectations, age, current level of skill acquisition, and future needs” (Miller & Fenty, 2008).

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I. Intensive Teaching Trials

“The potential benefit of rapid or intensive teaching with people who have severe disabilities was recognized relatively early in the behavioral field (see Parsons, Reid, Towery, England, & Darden, 2008, for discussion). In particular, Azrin and colleagues developed intensive teaching procedures that were successful in teaching individuals with severe disabilities to dress (Azrin, Schaeffer, & Wesolowski, 1976), eat (Azrin & Armstrong, 1973), and toilet independently (Azrin & Foxx, 1971) in short periods of time (e.g., 2 to 5 consecutive days).” (Lattimore, Parsons, & Reid, 2009).

J. Natural Environment Training (NET)/Incidental Teaching

Incidental teaching emphasizes getting an elaborated response from the individual, after they have initiated interest in an item or a topic (Hart & Risley, 1982). Incidental teaching has been shown to be a powerful instructional methodology for building initiation skills and a wide variety of language and conversation skills (e.g.,Farmer-Dougan, 1994; McGee, Krantz, & McClannahan, 1985; 1986). Furthermore, incidental teaching procedures have been shown to have substantial generalization advantages, compared to discrete trial teaching. Natural Environment Training (NET; Sundberg & Partington, 1998), similar to NLP (Natural Language Paradigm) and PRT (Pivotal Response Training), focuses on the use of intrinsically motivating materials and on following the child’s lead in language instruction” (Weiss, 2005).

K. Social Skills Assessment and Programming

“Social skills assessments have traditionally focused on identifying individual social deficiencies within a child and evaluating treatment outcomes (Sheridan & Walker, 1999). Researchers and practitioners have used a variety of methods by which to assess children’s social skills. One of the most common assessment techniques includes using the evaluations of others (e.g., ratings and reports of peers, teachers, and parents). Rating scales are one way that information can be gathered from others in a child’s environment (Elliott & Bussee, 1991; Merrell & Gimpel, 1998; Sheridan & Walker, 1999). These scales require teachers and/or parents to rate children on a number of specified criteria. In addition to providing information about a child’s individual social behaviors, many of these scales are standardized and allow for a comparison of the child’s behavior to that of a same-aged norm group” (Warnes, Sheridan, Geske, & Warnes, 2005).

L. Using Curricular Assessments to Program for Skill Acquisition

According to Cooper, Heron, and Heward (2019), “A curriculum-based assessment (CBA), by contrast, is especially useful because the data that are obtained bear uniquely on the daily or weekly tasks the learner performs in response to planned lessons (i.e., the curriculum).” Like other assessment tools, curricular assessments are important and helpful when identifying behaviors for behavior-change programs and skill acquisition programs (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2019).

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M. Verbal Behavior

“In defining verbal behavior, Skinner (1957) placed the focus on an analysis of the immediate and historical contingencies that affect speakers and listeners. Accordingly, he defined verbal behavior “as behavior reinforced through the mediation of other persons, but these other persons must be responding in ways which have been conditioned precisely in order to reinforce the behavior of the speaker’” (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2019).

N. Vocational Skills

“Few individuals with ASD have been trained in the vocational skills needed to obtain gainful employment. As Hendricks (2010) discussed, the complexities that accompany ASD, such as interactional and behavioral difficulties as well as the supplementary cognitive functioning deficits, add to the struggles of employment for this population. Subsequently, the most costly implications arise from the lack of research evaluating transition planning and employment outcomes (Hendricks 2010). The stigma of behavioral issues (e.g., outbursts, aggression, and antisocial behavior) associated with ASD make it increasingly difficult to find businesses that will employ individuals with ASD. Further, the novelty of situations, tasks, and routines makes it difficult for individuals with ASD to adjust to workplace environments (Muller et al., 2003). As such, vocational interventions need to be tailored to address these unique characteristics” (Seaman & Cannella-Malone, 2016).

O. Writing Goals

“An absence of academic goals can result in more restrictive placements with less access to the general education curriculum and diminished contact with typical peers and experiences (Boutot & Bryant, 2005; D. Fisher & Frey, 2001; Taylor, 2004). This limited access to the core general education curriculum may serve to further limit skill development and may be based on assumptions that students with autism cannot learn academic skills in a useful manner” (Kurth & Mastergeorge, 2010). 

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For those of you interested in Skill Acquisition we encourage you to connect with other BDA employees to share with and learn from each other on how to apply the principles of Skill Acquisition in your current role or for special BDA related projects. 

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