Isn’t He Too Young For (So Much) Table Time?

Mary Barbera Autism ABA Help
By Mary Barbera, PhD, RN, BCBA-D

I teach children mostly at the table, even very young children. Many Early Intervention providers such as Occupational and Speech Pathologists and even other Behavior Analysts recommend teaching young children on the floor and using more Natural Environment Teaching.

While many people advocate for teaching in the natural environment, ie, on the floor, in my clinical work I have seen significant gains with children with autism using ABA techniques at the intensive teaching table.

During instructional time with me and/or the behavior technician, and here’s why:

Having the child sit at a table with you begins to build instructional control. The child soon realizes that you (the teacher/parent/therapist) are the giver of all the good things. When your child or client is sitting, attending, and eventually requesting, he will receive preferred items and activities.

With most families, I usually only provide ABA oversight for 2-3 hours a week or every other week.  With limited time, I’ve got to get in there and assess and plan carefully. Then I need to train one or both  parents and other professionals to carry out the program. I need to modify the environment so it is most conducive to learning. If I have a 2-year-old client, for example, who is flitting around the house, then every room has to be sanitized (free of reinforcers and distractions) and there isn’t time for that. My clients are usually severely delayed and the more time I spend following the child’s lead, the more behind they get!

But, when the table and table materials come out, the child knows it’s time to learn, so much more can be accomplished! Sure it may take time to pair the table and the materials and to gain instructional control but once that is done, we tend to see much more progress. Also, it’s a lot easier to train parents or others with less experience to teach at the table. I find that instructional control comes so much easier at the table than in the natural environment, especially for young children with significant impairments.

Do you want to know more about implementing an ABA program at the table? Watch my 3-part video series, including Video 1 (Two Tips to Teach at the Table).