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Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP) Natural Environment Teaching/PRT Discrete Trial Instruction (DTI) Functional Communication Training (FCT)


Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

our approach 1 Applied behavior Analysis is commonly referred to as ABA. ABA is the application of behavior analysis, a subfield of psychology, to socially important issues. Behavior analysis is the study of an individual’s learning as a result of interacting with their environment. Instructional programs utilizing an ABA approach are widely recognized as the most effective intervention for teaching children with autism and related developmental disabilities (e.g., New York State Department of Health, 1999 and Maine Administrators of Service for Children with Disabilities, 1999). In addition, many controlled research studies document the efficacy of this approach (Lovaas 1987; Green 1996, Schriebman, 1988; Smith, 1993; Howard, 2005). Moreover, ABA is the only empirically validated treatment for learners with autism and related disorders.


Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP)

The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP) is a language and social skills assessment program developed by Dr. Mark Sundberg in 2008. This program was developed based on 30 years of research and development within the science of behavior analysis and it stems from Dr. Skinner’s landmark analysis of language. There are five components to the VB-MAPP, and one or all five of these components, can be used by a behavior analyst with extensive training on the verbal behavior approach to identify a baseline level of a child’s skills and to compare it to those of children demonstrating typical development.


Natural Environment Teaching/PRT

Natural Environment Teaching (NET) is a group of teaching methods that share a common feature. The common feature of all naturalistic teaching strategies is they are child led and the BI follows the child’s lead while implementing a procedure to target a particular skill. Some common NET teaching procedures that are utilized at ABRITE are pivotal response training (PRT), constant and graduated time delay procedures, and incidental teaching. NET uses child-initiated choices of activities in an attempt to motivate the child with naturally occurring activities. Although to an untrained observer, NET may appear to be loosely structured play, in reality, it is a systematic protocol of instruction that is provided in the context of natural environments. Therefore, the format appears closer to that of playing. These strategies are employed in the context of play or naturally occurring events (e.g., snack time) rather than other more contrived contexts. These strategies are considered child led in that the child selects the target response (e.g., cookie vs. open), yet the BI creates the environment that makes skill acquisition more likely.


Discrete Trial Instruction (DTI)

Discrete trial teaching is an instructor led teaching strategy that we also employ. This procedure takes into account the following: the motivational variables, the antecedent, the behavior or the response, and the consequence, all occurring within a particular setting, as depicted below.

setting 01

During discrete trial teaching (DTT), all of these variables are taken into account and arranged to ensure learning by the child. Essentially, discrete trials are based on systematic, repeated instruction, and reliable and consistent consequences for correct and incorrect responding. In addition, the setting is controlled and systematically altered and motivational variables are captured or if need be, contrived. The following depicts discrete trial teaching.

setting 4

Discrete trial instruction is a systematic teaching procedure that is utilized to teach skill that might be difficult for the learner. With DTT, learning of a skill occurs in small steps. A complete skill (i.e., composite skill) may be broken down into several smaller tasks. Each small task (i.e., component skill) is taught one at a time until the child demonstrates mastery of the complete skill (i.e., component skill). In addition, simple skills are taught to mastery before more complex skills are introduced. These teaching techniques help to ensure the learner’s success and maximize opportunities for reinforcement.

Discrete trial teaching can be used to teach basic skills such as attending, as well as very complex verbal and social behaviors such as conversation. Intervention begins with teaching learning readiness skills such as sitting in a chair and attending, and decreasing behaviors that interfere with learning, such as noncompliance, tantrums and aggression. An analysis of generalization (i.e., responding across settings, people, and varied instructions) occurs during all phases of instruction.


Functional Communication Training (FCT)our approach 2

Functional communication training (FCT) refers to systematic targeting of appropriate communication so as to decrease inappropriate behaviors that are serving as the learner’s means of communication. For example, the learner cries every time a toy is taken away. Once the learner cries, the toy is returned. Functional communication training (FCT) in this circumstance would be teaching the learner to say “my turn” or “I want toy” instead of allowing crying to serve as a request for the parent returning the toy.

Although vocal behavior is the preferred mode of communication, augmentative communication systems may be necessary for some learners who are struggling to communicate vocally. In this situation, a language assessment will be conducted and an alternative form of communication will be taught. Some alternative communication systems that would be considered are a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), sign language or assistive technology (e.g. iPad).

We utilize a combination of these teaching procedures to target the learner’s intervention goals. The intervention sessions occur in the natural environment and sessions begin in one location and then move to various locations based on the learner’s success. In addition, there are different types of intervention sessions based on the learner’s goals. Some types of sessions that are possible are sessions in the home environment, sessions in the community, sessions with a peer, sessions with a sibling and/or sessions with a caregiver.