Thursday, May 30, 2013

Teaching Skills: Task A-What?

"In or Out" Program Update: The kids are remembering to take off their shoes AND to shut the doors on the way in or out of the house! Score one for the momma! We still need some work coming in or out when they are talking to someone in or out of the house (not standing in an open doorway). My husband and I will shape this up by making sure that if they are talking to us, we will gesture to the door and not address their question until they are either in or out. :) If they are talking to someone else (and this might be the "hold-out" behavior that takes the longest to "fix") it will likely require the husband or I to give them a little nudge (physical prompt) in or out of the house to finish the conversation.

Task Analyses
Frequently we want our children to gain independence in tasks that have multiple steps such as washing hands, getting dressed, or tying shoes. I frequently target each of these tasks with children that I work with. The goal when I teach any skill is to teach it efficiently and in such a way that the child WANTS to continue learning from me. One way of teaching skills with multiple steps is to write, then follow a "task analysis". A task analysis of a skill basically breaks the skill down into small, discrete, manageable steps; for example, opening a door. I bet you thought opening a door just involved one step, "Open door", right?  Well, for some kids, in order to master the "whole task" of opening the door, you might need to break it down into smaller steps. A task analysis of opening a door with a knob might be: 1. Put hand on door knob. 2. Grasp knob. 3. Turn knob. 4. Pull door open.  Voila!
Now that we have a task analysis of opening a door, we can decide how we want to teach it. We can "forward chain" the task or "backward chain". Typically, I recommend backward chaining. This means that I might physically prompt a child through the whole task, from the first step to the last (hand on knob, grasp, turn, pull).  When the child is following all of my prompts reliably, I start to fade the prompts at the end of the task. In the case of opening a door, I would physically help the child put his/her hand on the door, then grasp it, then turn it, then pull. When he/she is completing all of these steps (with help) reliably, I would ease up on my prompts of pulling the door. Instead of physically prompting the "pull", maybe I would just tap her fingers once we had turned the knob. When the door opens, I would praise her for opening the door.  The next time we practiced opening the door, maybe I would fade the prompts even more. Maybe I would prompt through the first 3 steps, then wait for her to "pull" the door open. Wow! She just completed the last step of the task analysis independently! Reinforce like crazy!  Maybe after a few more successes, I'd target the next step in the task analysis, turning the knob (see where the "backward" in backward chaining comes from?). I would fully physically prompt putting her hand on the door knob and grasping it, but prompt only half of her turning the knob, allowing her to complete the step.   See where I'm going with this?
Eventually, she would complete the whole task herself but along the way, she'd get lots of descriptive praise and reinforcement for completing the baby steps leading up to the "whole task".

Some things to remember when chaining:
1. Ideally, the child will know how to complete each of the steps in the task analysis independent of the chain. In the case of opening a door, I'd want to make sure the child could "grasp" objects, could turn her wrist back and forth and "pull" before targeting the skills in a chain "opening the door".
2. Reinforce baby steps, initially. Reinforce independence. Ultimately, reinforce task completion. Once you get to the last teaching step, you want to be able to only reinforce the completed chain, not necessarily every step in-between... you don't want to teach a child not to move on to the next step of opening a door until you praise each tiny step that comes before the door being open... so reinforce like crazy but fade your reinforcement, too.
3. Don't be afraid to follow the child's lead a bit. If you've been working on a 10 step chain and you are only on step 3 but suddenly the child is indicating that he/she can complete 7 of the 10 steps independently, go with it! Just make sure you are there to prompt steps that still need to be taught until the whole chain is mastered.

I wrote about tasks analyses today because I want to post some basic self-help/independence programs such as brushing teeth, getting dressed, tying shoes, etc. This should help give you a general idea of the concept.  Are there other programs you'd like to see?  And, maybe it's too late but I just couldn't think of a clever way of saying "teaching skills" up in the heading. Any ideas? :)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Summer! and Shut the Front Door!

I know it has been a while since I posted last. I'm practically starting a new blog now! No, I know, I was fairly unreliable before so even I am wondering if I'll be able to keep this up. It's worth a shot though!
This summer I am staying home with my children. We now have 3, as we adopted another child a little over a year ago. She's the oldest, 10 years old. We also have a 9 year old girl and 7 year old boy. :)  People told us that going from 2 children to 3 would be huge but I'm not sure we realized how much. It's been interesting folks!
I think I'll have a lot to write about this summer as I'm tackling some target behaviors with each of the 3 and planning on working on academics with them each day. Shoot, I'll probably even work in some new chores!
I'm still (and always will be) a behavior analyst, specializing in *my own* children and children with Autism. I've worked in the field for nearly 17 years and it would be impossible for me to leave the field completely. I'll throw in some resources and program ideas for those little guys (and for MY little guys) throughout the summer. These programs will have steps of instruction but, as always, feel free to tailor them to your needs (or consult with a behavior analyst!).

The goal of today's program is to teach children to "come in or out". You see, when you have 3 kids coming in and out of the house all summer and the air conditioning is running, it can be pretty annoying to have the door open all of the time. Yes, I'm speaking from experience. My kids either come in or out without closing the door completely or they stand in the open doorway to talk to someone inside or outside.  Sigh. Here's my plan to take care of this...

I've already made it clear that I would like for them to close the doors when they come in or go out... that is, if you count me just "telling" them to do it as making it clear. This doesn't usually work, unless I tell them EVERY time they come in or out. So, I'm going to implement some positive reinforcement in the form of descriptive verbal praise ("Thanks for closing the door!") and occasionally a tattoo, sticker, popsicle, or whatever treat I've made that day (homemade cookies, granola bars, energy bites, etc.).  My kids have a pretty long history of responding in the presence of reinforcement so I think this will work pretty well, as long as I fade the schedule of reinforcement pretty gradually and make efforts to maintain the skill.

Fading reinforcement: As they get pretty reliable at closing the door, I'll fade how often I am reinforcing them. First I'll fade out the little treats, then I'll fade out the verbal praise. I've just started using this same procedure with having them take off their shoes when they come in the house and I have every confidence it will work, too. ;)

Of course, there will be times that they come in or out without closing the door. I find that physical or gesture prompts are WAAAAY easier to fade than verbal prompts, meaning that I can STOP reminding them to do what I want them to do WAAAAAY sooner when I've taught them using physical prompts (moving them) or gesture prompts (pointing things out, facial expressions) rather than when I'm telling them everything I want them to do. So, when they come in or out without closing the door, I will direct them back to the door by pointing towards the door and turning them in the right direction (if necessary) to make sure that they go back and "fix" the problem. If I don't catch it right away and they are already in the basement or upstairs, I'll call them down (or up) and point to the door. I'm sure they would much rather close it when they come in or out than have to come back to the door from whatever they are doing. If they are outside, they will be called back to shut the door. Gradually I'll fade the level of prompt when correcting them (maybe from a physical prompt, to a gesture to "the look" to nothing).

Normally, I like to prompt BEFORE the mistake happens, meaning I will "remind" them with a prompt of some kind before they "practice" doing the wrong thing. However, in this case it's a little tricky as verbal reminders to close the door haven't taught them to do it (unless I remind them every time) and their backs are usually turned so I can't use other prompts (like gestures).

What do you think? Are there things you'd like to know how to teach? I have thoughts for future posts but I'm open for suggestions!