Robin Bennett
October 30, 2015

(scroll down to find links to professional ABA therapy information)

4th Wall Theatre Company is constantly looking to improve; whether it be through our commitment to serving new communities, providing useful information on our website and blog, or improving the tools that our instructors have on hand when going into the classroom to serve students with a variety of special needs. Last fall, the founders of 4th Wall held a special training session for their instructors on the positive-reinforcement based methodology of Applied Behavior Analysis.

Applied Behavior Analysis: 101

img_0158-0ABA is a therapy methodology for children with autism, but has also been shown to be successful across a variety of disabilities. Stacie Rulison, a member of the Michigan Autism Council provided training on the therapy that focuses on why we behave the we behave and how what happens immediately following a behavior, be it good or bad (positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement), often motivates whether or not we repeat that action in the future. This has been proven through evidence-based practices to be especially true when it comes to children with autism and other behavioral challenges.

The training strongly emphasized the importance of identifying and recording what would motivate each individual student to consistently behave according to set expectations;

“Every kid is different so what motivates each one is different—the trick is knowing what that is!”

Also, it was important that we understood that “motivate” does NOT mean “bribe”! A bribe means, “I’ll GIVE/DO this IF you do this (expected behavior).” Instead, we were told to focus on “FIRST, THEN” language. For example, in preparation for transition difficulty, a 4th Wall instructor might say. “FIRST we dance, THEN we take a break!” Be patient, we were told by the facilitator,

“Give them time to “process” and think about what you asked—it may taken them 15-30 (or more seconds); if there is too much information, they will stop listening and paying attention.”

4th Wall True Stories

img_0156In a recent six-week workshop culminating in a final performance for family and friends, a student with autism and non-verbal communication skills would show her excitement at inappropriate times by breaking from the performance line with her fellow acting friends and coming directly in front of them to dance in front of the instructor! After the first two classes, the lead and co-instructors had tried using verbal directives (a.) with no luck and knew that this could cause an uncomfortable hiccup on performance day. So, the lead instructor used her ABA know-how and investigated (b.) what might motivate (c.)her to stay in her dance spot. She consulted notes that had been taken in a previous class and noticed that the student responded positively to her favorite color, purple. The next class the instructor provided her with the purple “pancake” or floor marker asked her special spot to motivate her to stay put during the dance! Voilà! Some positive reinforcement (d.)(“Great job staying in your spot, I’ll come and sit next to me!”) on her motivated choice led to lasting results!
Our teacher had followed this (simplified) ABA method:

a. Set expectations

b. Collect and record data for future use

c. Use information to motivate student to engage in set expectation

d. Positively reinforce positive behavior choice to reinforce behavior change

* It is important to note that the above is only one example of ABA methods being used to communicate and correct and expected behavior. Remember that every child is different and will respond differently to different motivation!
We are in no way an expert on this awesome therapy, If you would like to learn more about ABA therapy please consult the following links:

UC Davis MIND Institute Autism Distance Education Parent Training (ADEPT): Free Training Modules for Parents

Autism Internet Modules (AIM), Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI): FREE on-line modules for parents and professionals. Create a free account to access.