For many individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, interacting with others can be challenging, especially when those other individuals are placing demands. To help develop skills and build independence in individuals that we serve, we must at times ask them to do things that may be challenging. This can range from encouraging an individual to use a word or picture to ask for what they want, to engaging in a more advanced social skill such as having a conversation about a topic chosen by a friend. For some individuals, simply having another person sit close to them is a challenge. While Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) emphasizes using positive reinforcement and breaking skills down into manageable chunks, demand can still lead to challenging behaviors at times. To encourage positive interaction and trust, and to decrease the likelihood of challenging behaviors, we start all programming with rapport building, or what we call “pairing.” This entails pairing ourselves as clinicians/parents/caregivers with reinforcing items and activities while refraining from placing demands to establish ourselves as someone fun and reinforcing to be around.
Pairing starts with observing an individual to determine the types of things they enjoy. Reinforcing items and activities are different for every individual and can include toys, games, snacks, sensory activities, books, and more. Once we have an idea of the kind of things an individual enjoys, we can start pairing ourselves with these activities. We can do this by engaging with an individual surrounding a preferred activity, providing preferred items in small portions so that the individual frequently accesses them through us (e.g., puzzle pieces, snack items, markers, etc.), or for some individuals, simply engaging in a preferred activity near that person without placing demand.
Examples of Pairing
- Johnny loves to eat goldfish crackers and has them for his snack every day. To pair with reinforcement, his clinician/parent gives him just a small amount in his bowl for snack, then sits next to him and periodically gives him a few more goldfish crackers without placing any other demands. This way, Johnny pairs receiving his favorite thing with sitting next to the caregiver.
- Susie’s favorite activity is lining up race cars and then crashing through them with her feet. She also loves to be held and enjoys silly play. Her caregiver may pair with her by being the one to get out the bucket of cars and handing them to Susie one at a time so that Susie pairs receiving those items with that individual. The caregiver may then pick Susie up and say “1-2-3- Go!” while swooping Susie down to crash her feet through the car line. In this way, being with the caregiver is more fun than playing on her own.
The goal of pairing is that the individual starts to seek you out when you are present and enjoys spending time with you. This trust and positive relationship is of the utmost importance in establishing an effective ABA program. When I was first working with children many years ago, I had a supervisor say that you know you have successfully paired when a child runs up to you when you walk in the door! We might not get this level of excitement at all times, but our goal should always be for the individual to enjoy spending time with us. Pairing is something we do at the beginning of programming, but it is also important on an ongoing basis. Any time a decrease in success is noted in programming, it should always be evaluated whether the positive relationship needs to be re-established.
Pairing at Different Ages and Stages
Building a relationship with an individual will look different depending on their communication skills, interest area, and age. The key ingredient is following the individual’s lead in selecting reinforcing activities. For an individual with restricted interest and a large vocal vocabulary, this might look like having conversations surrounding their favorite topics and bringing resource books to read about the given topic. In the end, you will know you have been successful when the individual meets you with a smile, engages you in conversation, and takes your hand to lead you to their play and/or gives you items to indicate that you should join them in play.
- Ask yourself “How am I making this environment more fun?” and “What is better with me here than if I was not here?”
- If the individual is not approaching, perhaps they are able to access all reinforcing items whether or not you are there. Try putting some things away for a bit (a couple of favorite toys or a preferred snack) so the individual gets this item only when it comes from you.
- Any time you notice that an individual is not interested in interacting with you or avoids you when you see them, it’s time to pair again.
- Have fun! If you are not enjoying your interaction and providing genuine enthusiasm, it will be noticed!
ASNC’s Clinical Department staff is composed of PhD and master’s-level licensed psychologists, Board Certified Behavior Analysts, and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs). We provide individualized consultation and comprehensive, intensive intervention using evidence-based practices to support children and adults across the spectrum in home, school, employment, residential and other community-based contexts. Our LifeLong Interventions program is offered in the Triangle, Wilmington, Asheville, and greater Charlotte areas. We also deliver workshops to professionals and families on a wide range of topics, including but not limited to strategies to prevent and respond to challenging behaviors, best practices in early intervention, supporting students with ASD in school settings, and enhancing social understanding in individuals with autism.
To find out more, contact us at 919-390-7242 or firstname.lastname@example.orgTags: ASNC, autism, autism asperger parenting tips, autism behavior, autism communication, autism social skills, autism society north carolina, autism society of NC, Autism Society of North Carolina, Autism spectrum, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders, autism treatment