Over the Memorial Day weekend, Dr. Chris Whalen and Dr. Shannon Cernich attended the Applied Behavior Analysis International conference in Chicago. There were many exciting presentations and new developments in the field of ABA related to autism.
Of particular interest was a poster presentation entitled “An Analysis of Instructor Errors in Discrete-Trial Teaching of Children with Autism” by Daniel Mruzek, Tristram Smith, and colleagues at the University of Rochester. They found that the largest proportion of instructor errors when delivering discrete trial training (DTT) occurred when delivering reinforcement.
These errors were of two types: The instructor reinforced an incorrect child response or the instructor failed to reinforce a correct child response. For example, instructor says “Show me the big one.” Child points at small item but instructor thinks the child pointed at big item and says, Great job!” Or the child points at the big item but the instructor is looking at her data sheet and thinks the child did not respond and says, “Try again.” As reinforcement (often colloquially known as reward) is what increases the rate of a response, DTT can result in the wrong responses being increased, even with a trained instructor.
This is not to suggest that DTT is a flawed methodology. All training methods as well as life often result in the wrong responses being reinforced. Imagine the following scenario: You meet someone new named Shelly; you mishear her name and call her Sally. She responds when you call her Sally and does not correct you. Your behavior of calling her by the wrong name is reinforced.
So the point is not to end your child’s DTT program in place of some other methodology, but to make sure it is being properly supervised. Trained, good ABA therapists will regularly make the errors describe above (they’re only human), but a good supervisor will detect and correct these errors while supervising your child’s session.
More highlights from the ABA conference will follow in future blogs, but in conclusion, Dr. Chris and Dr. Shannon gave presentations at the conference on the use of TeachTown: Basics, a computer-assisted program that delivers concepts during the computer sessions in a DTT format. Although computerized instruction is meant to supplement human instruction, not replace it, we are proud to state that TeachTown: Basics delivers errorless reinforcement. There are some things that computers can do better than people. If only your computer would help you the next time your child tantrums!