Tit for Tat Programming – Properly Programming for Autism Children

I am probably the most pro-verbal behavior programming person you will ever come across, but I have seen a lot of behavior analysts and teachers focusing on the wrong targets in the wrong order. Today, I’m going to get on my soapbox and talk about what I call “tit for tat programming”.

tit for tat programming

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I have lots of examples of what I call tit for tat programming, but I’m just going to tell you about a little boy, we’ll call, Anthony who was six or seven at the time, and his VB-MAPP showed that he was a level 2 and 3 learner. He had vocal language and he could read fluently, but he couldn’t comprehend much. Another behavior analyst was selecting the targets for the new teacher who had just come onboard a few weeks prior.

When I looked at Anthony’s probe sheet I noticed that tacting features of a watermelon were on there, so Anthony was being taught to label not only a watermelon, but also the rind and the seeds of a watermelon. He wasn’t making progress on these targets and I had never seen him eat a watermelon, and also the biggest thing that concerned me was the rind of a watermelon. Since he was level 2/3 VB-MAPP he was basically functioning at a three-year-old level of language. How many three-year-olds can identify the rind of a watermelon? Even if we take his chronologic age, which we shouldn’t, but even if we say how many six or seven-year-olds could identify the rind of a watermelon? This really bothered me and also Anthony was being taught to label a corn dog because a corn dog picture was in the language builder cards which they were using, but Anthony never ate a corn dog. In fact, his family was very religious and their beliefs did not permit any meat, so teaching Anthony to label a corn dog was very inappropriate.

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Meanwhile, Anthony was flopping to the floor and developed a new self-injurious behavior of chin pressing and he also was screaming during lunch. In other words, staff for Anthony were focusing on the wrong targets and some programs that Anthony wasn’t ready for were being worked on. Anthony’s chronological and developmental age as well as his cultural preferences were also not being considered, so this is what I consider tit for tat programming, and I want to cover some ways to prevent this type of programming with your learners.

The first step to start or revamp a program is always assessment and I talk about this in a recent blog. We want to then make a plan based on the assessment and kids like Anthony, who have had a VB-MAPP done and are at level 2/3, they’re considered intermediate learners and these learners are very tricky to program for, even if you’re skilled in completing the VB-MAPP assessment. Programs and targets need to be picked very carefully and include an awareness of the child’s background and family preferences. Problem behaviors that interfere with learning need to be addressed as a priority too.

In summary, you can’t just keep plodding up the mountain and programming without consideration of what is the most functional and appropriate targets that you should be teaching. I hope that you now will look at programming a little bit differently and catch that tit for tat programming, and improve your teaching starting today. To get started turning things around for a child, especially an intermediate learner, I’d love for you to sign up for my free online workshop on the three big mistakes professionals make with intermediate learners. You can sign up today at marybarbera.com/bundle-ws. Leave me a comment, or subscribe to my channel, and I’ll see you, right here, next week.

Want to learn more about programming and the three biggest mistakes autism professionals make
with intermediate learners? Sign up for my free online workshop!

SIGN-UP FOR MY FREE ONLINE WORKSHOP!