Hello to all of our Central Coast ABA families, clients, and followers! We hope everyone is doing well and kicking off the summer right ☀️ Speaking of summer, spending a lot more time with the kiddos is soon to be, if not already, in full force! We thought that breaking down a helpful article that includes gaining instructional control could help in teaching your kiddos to follow your lead more easily. In this blog post, we will be breaking down the article titled The Seven Steps to Earning Instructional Control with your Child by Robert Schramm, MA, BCBA.
Schramm opens the article speaking on his experiences with parents asking how they can get their child to do something (i.e. using the bathroom or sitting still during mealtimes). He emphasizes getting to the root of the problem instead of patching up the symptoms. He states that earning instructional control is the “most important aspect of any autism intervention or learning relationship” (Schramm 1). This all starts with your child’s desire for wanting to follow your lead. In the rest of this blog post, we will be detailing what Schramm describes as the seven steps to earning instructional control. Once these steps have been consistently applied, the difference will be shown in not needing to actively control your child, as they will want to follow your instruction.
Step 1: “Show your child that you are the one in control of the items he wants to hold or play with and that you will decide when he can have them”
Any activity or toy your child prefers to do or play with while they’re alone can be used as a potential reinforcement for positive behavior choices. Taking control of these items is crucial while starting the journey of earning instructional control. That is not to say your child should not be able to receive these objects or do these activities but earning them by following your instruction and behaving appropriately.
For starters, decide what items your child can have in their environment and what they can do for you to introduce or remove them. To do this, start by removing your child’s preferred items from places in the house as well as their room. Place these objects where they can see them but are inaccessible. For younger children, place these items in a clear container. For older children, you may need to use locked cabinets or rooms.
By doing this, you can use these items as reinforcers. Whenever you see them put down one of the reinforcing items, you must put it away immediately. If they begin to walk away and play or interact with another object, take note and when they are done using it, remove it from the environment. This can be done with activities as well. One the example Schramm gives are using mini trampolines. Instead of having them out, hang them against the wall when not in use.
Step 2: “Show your child that you are fun. Make each interaction you have with him an enjoyable experience so that he will want to follow your directions to earn more time sharing experiences with you.”
This step is where pairing is imperative. Schramm states “Make his playtime more fun because you are a part of it” (Schramm 2). To pair yourself with reinforcement, follow the child’s lead when they show interest in activities or toys and play along with them. Make sure to elevate the experience of the activity as they will look to you to have more fun than what they’d have by doing it alone. Also note, if the child leaves or demonstrates inappropriate behavior during the activity, it is totally okay to cease until the child stops the behavior. It’s also important to note to immediately resume the activity when they stop the inappropriate behavior. You always want to ensure that you are elevating the experience rather than making it less fun. This way they will always turn to you when looking to do that activity.
Step 3: “Show your child that you can be trusted. Always says what you mean and mean what you say. If you say your child should do something, don’t allow him access to reinforcement until it has been acceptable completed. This includes prompting him to completion if necessary.”
Schramm says that, “Words are normally not consequences. They are threats of consequences. If you do not stick to your word you child will have no basis from which to make good decisions” (Schramm 3). Do not reward the child for not following your instruction. When you give instruction, you should expect them to complete that request. Do not allow the child to experience any reinforcement until the child follows your instruction either independently or with little prompts. By doing this, you will be able to reinforce the choice that is in the child’s best interest which will allow them to choose it sooner and more often.
When giving instruction, be sure to choose your words carefully. Giving them the option to choose to say no, cannot be met with disregard, as the option was given by you. Instead, give direct action statements such as “Sit down”, “Do this,” and “Come to me”. Do not give an instruction that cannot be easily prompted if needed, and refrain from giving an instruction that you do not plan on following through with. Do not give the reinforcer item until instruction has been fulfilled successfully.
Step 4: “Show your child that following your directions is to his benefit and the best way for him to obtain what he wants. Give your child easy directions as often as possible and then reinforce his decisions to participate by following them with good experiences.”
Once you have established control over your child’s reinforcers, you can begin using them to support his appropriate behavior choices. To do this, Schramm states that the child must follow a direction or demonstrate the appropriate behavior before you allow them to have something they want. Your direction can be asking that they “throw that in the garbage” or “first sit down, then I’ll get it for you.” It can also be to ask for a simpler imitation first as a way of teaching give and take. The more you do this, the quicker they will learn following rules and direction is the best way to get what they want. Be sure not to pose a question where the child can say “no” as a valid response just as well as avoiding “If, Then” statements that opens the door for negotiation as this is bribing and not reinforcement. Getting through this phase of instructional control includes providing lots of opportuites for reinforcement to make an appropriate choice based on direction. Since you are in control of the desired objects, providing the opportunities should be easy.
Step 5: “In the early stages of earning instructional control with your child, reinforce after each positive response moving to an ever increasing variable ratio of reinforcement.”
Consistency is important! Your child will understand that certain behavior choices will end with them receiving something they value. Understanding that following your instruction is necessary in receiving the things that they want will lead to good decision making. Ultimately, they child will come to you for instruction because that’s how they know they’ll be able to get the thing they desire. This can only happen if you stay consistent and reinforce every correct response. There is always some form of reinforcement available even in the smallest forms. Tickling, a high fie, a smile and so on. As you child begins to be willing to follow your direction consistently, you can begin to slow down on the amount of reinforcement given.
Step 6: “Demonstrate that you know your child’s priorities as well as your own.”
Tracking and recording each of your child’s most desired reinforcing items/activities as well as what they prefer in different scenarios. Share these recordings with all the adults in your child’s life who regularly interreact with them. You should have a wide variety of reinforcers, so make sure you’re trying new ones everyday. Save the most valued items and activities for times that are more difficult such as language acquisition and potty training. Make sure you are also aware of your priorities. What is the most important thing you want to teach your child? Ideally you’d have multiple goals in mind, but it is best to try and meet each goal one at a time. It’s important to know your priorities so that at any given time you can make reinforcement choices based on them.
Step 7: "Show your child that ignoring your instructions or choosing inappropriate behavior will not result in the acquisition of reinforcement."
This step can sometimes be the hardest to perform correctly. Having a board certified behavioral analyst available to you for guidance is highly recommended. Make sure to not allow reinforcers to be given to the child when they’re displaying inappropriate behavior. You must consistently recognize what behavior is inappropriate and make the behavior unsuccessful for obtaining reinforcement. This is called extinction. When your child leaves the teaching setting, using nonverbal cues can help them understand that their choice has no controlling effect on you. Make sure the child has no access to these reinforcers until they finish the activity or complete the instruction. For your instruction to be as productive as possible, the child must decide that it’s in their best interest to learn from you. Even if at first you feel as though you are spending more time waiting for the child to come back than actually teaching that’s okay. Stay consistent. What they are learning in this time is to desire participation in your teaching. Schramm states “In our work, we have found that children who choose to rejoin the teaching process due to a comprehensive application of the seven steps of instructional control are far less likely to leave again” (Schramm, 5).
As time goes on, when they do leave, it will be for shorter periods of times. In some cases, the child will start to be the one to initiate teaching settings. Eventually, you will encounter extinction as it allows you to decrease problem behavior without punishment procedures. Extinction will also be followed by extinction bursts, which could include the unwanted behavior happening for a longer period of time until it’s finally extinguished. However, when using extinction, you must also be consistent. The extinctions burts will begin to decrease in duration and veracity as the child begins to understand there’s no benefit for the inappropriate behaviors.
All in all, it is best to continue the steps of instructional control so that instead of just gaining it, you’ll be able to maintain in. The more consistency and addition of more family members and caregivers to gain instructional control, the easier it will be for the next to gain it as well.
Please consult with a BCBA/BCaBA for support.
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