Bringing ABA to Home, School, and Play for Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Disabilities

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9781598572407: Bringing ABA to Home, School, and Play for Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Disabilities

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is one of the most effective interventions for children with autism spectrum disorders and other disabilities. Now you can bring ABA best practices into any early childhood setting with this book—your complete guide to using ABA within everyday routines to support children’s learning, participation, and development.

Ideal for use with children birth to five, this practical, reader-friendly guidebook is the first to combine ABA with natural environment intervention, the widely used, research-supported approach to meeting the needs of children with disabilities. You’ll learn the fundamental principles and research behind ABA and natural environment intervention, and you’ll get one clear and practical framework for

  • conducting effective assessment of behavior, skills, routines, and caregiver priorities
  • setting meaningful goals that increase the child’s active participation in routines
  • addressing the goals with tailored ABA teaching procedures
  • creating powerful intervention plans that support children in specific developmental domains and routines
  • selecting an appropriate data collection method
  • monitoring progress toward goals and making adjustments as needed
  • ensuring consistent implementation of ABA interventions
  • coaching other professionals and caregivers in the ABA approach

To get you started with ABA, the book gives you 25 sample teaching plans that strengthen communication, social interaction, positive behavior, independent play and daily living skills, cognitive skills, and participation in everyday routines. Vivid, realistic case studies of diverse children walk you through the ABA process from start to finish. And with the blank forms and data sheets, you’ll easily assess children’s skills and participation and monitor their progress toward goals.

With this comprehensive guide to a proven intervention approach, you’ll help young children with ASD and other disabilities make lasting improvements and participate fully at home, at school, and in their community.

A featured book in our Better Behavior Kit!

See how this product helps strengthen Head Start program quality and school readiness.

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About the Author:

Debra Leach, Ed.D., BCBA, is Assistant Professor of Special Education at Winthrop University and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She previously served as a public school teacher, as an early intervention provider, and as Associate Director for the Florida Atlantic University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. Her main research interests include autism spectrum disorders, inclusion, applied behavior analysis, positive behavior supports, and early intervention. She enjoys training preservice teachers and working with school districts, families, and community groups to support the successful inclusion of children, adolescents, and adults with autism spectrum disorders in home, school, and community contexts.

Travis Thompson, Ph.D., L.P., Graduate Faculty Member, Special Education Program, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and Consulting Psychologist, Minnesota Early Autism Project, 7242 Forestview Lane North, Maple Grove, Minnesota 55369

Dr. Thompson is affiliated with the Autism Certificate Program in the Special Education Program of the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Minnesota, and he is Adjunct Professor in the Department of Applied Behavioral Science at the University of Kansas, Lawrence. He is a collaborator on a multisite project on challenging behavior in developmental disabilities including the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Maryland; the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and the University of Kansas, Parsons. He is a licensed psychologist.

Dr. Thompson completed his doctoral training in psychology at the University of Minnesota and completed postdoctoral work at the University of Maryland. He spent a year at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and a year as a visiting scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Rockville, Maryland. Dr. Thompson was Director of the John F. Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development at Vanderbilt University and Director of the Institute for Child Development at the University of Kansas Medical Center—a clinical, training, and research institute. Dr. Thompson has served on several National Institutes of Health research review committees, including chairing reviews of the applicants for Collaborative Programs of Excellence in Autism awards in 2000, 2003, and 2007. He has been a member of American Psychological Association (APA) task forces concerned with the practice of psychology and psychopharmacology. He is a past president of the Behavioral Pharmacology Society, the Division of Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse, and the Division of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities of the APA.

Dr. Thompson has received numerous awards, including the Distinguished Research Award, The Arc of the United States; the Academy on Mental Retardation Lifetime Research Award; the APA's Don Hake Award; the Edgar A. Doll Award, for contributions to facilitate the transfer of research into practice; and the Ernest R. Hilgard Award and the Impact of Science on Application Award of the Society for Advancement of Behavior Analysis. He has served as cochair of the Association for Behavior Analysis International's Annual Autism Conference (2010 and 2011). He has published more than 230 journal articles and chapters and 30 books dealing with autism, developmental disabilities, psychopharmacology, and related topics. His most recent books, Making Sense of Autism (2007) and Dr. Thompson's Straight Talk on Autism (2008), are also published by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. Dr. Thompson has spoken in 46 states and 15 countries about his research and clinical services and on topics related to autism and other developmental disabilities and psychopharmacology.

Dr. McWilliam is the Siskin Endowed Chair of Research in Early Childhood Education, Development, and Intervention at Siskin Children’s Institute. He is also a professor of education at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and an adjoint professor of special education at Vanderbilt University. He has formerly been a professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, a senior scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, and a professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. McWilliam’s research centers on infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with and without disabilities, with a specific focus on child engagement, service delivery models, and collaboration with families. He has provided consultation, training, and technical assistance across the United States and in some countries overseas on providing early intervention in natural environments and on the Engagement Classroom Model. His Routines-Based Interview (RBI) is a widely used method of assessing families’ needs and developing individualized family service plan (IFSP) outcomes and individualized education program (IEP) goals.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Excerpted from Chapter 1 of Bringing ABA to Home, School, and Play for Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Disabilities, by Debra Leach, Ed.D., BCBA
Copyright© 2012 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Overview of Natural Environment Intervention

This chapter provides an overview of the use of natural environment intervention (NEI) for young children with disabilities. Coverage of the topic includes NEI’s legal foundations and a review of literature on the principles of effective practice when implementing NEI. An overview of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is offered, together with a discussion of research specifically related to NEI for young children with ASD.


NEI is a federally mandated early intervention approach for young children with disabilities that systematically maximizes teaching and learning opportunities throughout the day by embedding interventions within naturally occurring routines. Caregivers spend many hours with their child throughout the day, and this time can and should be used for interventions that will enhance the child’s development. In using NEI, caregivers are not required to set aside extra time in their day to provide “therapy.†Instead, they receive training and support from professionals to provide evidence-based interventions within the context of their daily routines. Thus, NEI doesn’t require extra time, but it does require a more systematic use of time spent with the child to optimize learning opportunities throughout the day.
         According to federal special education law (Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act [IDEA]), natural environments are defined as home and community settings in which children without disabilities participate (IDEIA, 2004). The law requires that early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities be implemented in natural environments to the maximum extent appropriate. This stipulation reflects research indicating that everyday family and community routines and activities provide young children with an optimal variety of learning opportunities (Dunst, Hamby, Trivette, Raab, & Bruder, 2000). Natural environments include a variety of home-, school-, and community-based routines. Examples of home-based routines may include dressing, bathing, eating, cleaning the house, playing outdoors or inside, and reading books. Community-based routines may include going to the grocery store, beach, library, and park. School-based routines may include circle time, lunch, centers, recess, library, small-group instruction, and whole-group instruction. These everyday home, school, and community routines provide young children with many different learning opportunities. When children are actively engaged in everyday routines, they have multiple opportunities to apply their existing skills and acquire new ones.
         The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the world’s largest organization working on behalf of young children, uses the developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) framework as the foundation of all its work. The core principles of DAP in early childhood education are that knowledge must inform decision making, goals must be challenging and achievable, and teaching must be intentional to be effective (NAEYC, 2012). These guiding principles also provide the framework for NEI through all phases of intervention, including assessment, goal setting, designing and implementing instruction, and evaluating the effects of instruction. When applying DAP to NEI for young children with disabilities, caregivers are heavily involved in the assessment process to identify the child’s strengths, interests, everyday routines, and present abilities and needs so that early intervention teams are equipped with knowledge about the child and family. The team works collaboratively with caregivers to set goals based on what the child can currently do and what the child can be challenged to achieve next. Finally, with NEI, instruction is carefully designed using research-supported strategies to intentionally utilize everyday routines to maximize learning by embedding effective instruction within natural contexts. NEI and DAP differ in that NEI focuses on providing specific strategies and suggestions for how to intervene with young children during their everyday routines, whereas DAP provides more general guidelines for interacting with young children (Pretti-Frontczak & Bricker, 2004).


Professionals must think of NEI as involving not only where but how services are provided (Shelden & Rush, 2001). NEI is often misinterpreted as solely focusing on inclusion with typically developing peers rather than on the benefits of inclusive environments for interventions with young children with disabilities (Chai, Zhang, & Bisberg, 2006). Thus, it is essential for caregivers and early intervention providers to understand that NEI is not just about including young children with disabilities in naturally occurring everyday routines and activities but also about planning and implementing purposeful interventions within those contexts. Researchers have conceptualized the delivery of NEI in a variety of ways to guide early intervention providers in their service delivery. Dunst and colleagues (2001) describe NEI as contextually based, child-initiated, and adult-directed learning opportunities provided by caregivers and mediated by professionals. In other words, professionals should recognize the natural learning opportunities that occur in a child’s daily life and use those opportunities to implement interventions. NEI strongly emphasizes tapping into children’s interests to increase their active participation in everyday activities (Dunst, Trivette, & Masiello, 2011).
         Robin McWilliam (2010) uses an NEI model that revolves around the use of routines-based interviews (RBIs). RBIs are semi-structured interviews that early intervention providers conduct with caregivers to determine the main concerns of the family, the family’s everyday routines, the extent of the child’s participation in everyday routines, the family’s satisfaction during each of the routines, and the family’s desired outcomes related to child-level needs, child-related family needs, and family-level needs. In a study comparing individualized family service plan (IFSP) outcomes using the RBI versus the business-as-usual IFSP development process, the outcomes written as a result of the RBI were more functional than outcomes written as a result of the standard process (McWilliam, Casey, & Sims, 2009).
         Diane Bricker (2001) suggests that naturalistic teaching approaches, such as activity-based interventions (ABI), can be used across a range of settings to address a child’s goals and objectives by implementing interventions during daily routines and activities. The ABI approach capitalizes on the child’s motivation and the use of daily activities to embed multiple, varied, and authentic learning opportunities. ABI focuses on the attainment of functional skills that can be used across environments and situations (Pretti-Frontczak & Bricker, 2004).
         While there are a variety of approaches to NEI, these approaches share several features. Using a family-centered approach that is individualized, strength based, capacity building, and reflective of the family’s culture and values is the foundation of all NEI approaches (Atkins-Burnett & Allen-Meares, 2000; Woods, Wilcox, Friedman, & Murch, 2011). Providing ongoing coaching to caregivers to deliver the level of support they need to effectively implement interventions in the natural environment is an essential component of NEI, regardless of the approach used (Rush, Shelden, & Hanft, 2003). Using evidence-based methods and strategies to promote the child’s development during naturally occurring family and community routines and activities is also a common emphasis of the NEI approaches.


Before discussing how to apply NEI for young children with ASD and related disorders, an overview of ASD will be provided for the benefit of readers who may not be familiar with ASD. It is crucial for early intervention providers to understand the characteristics of young children with ASD so they can address the children’s core impairments within the context of NEI.

Overview of Autism Spectrum Disorders

The term ASD often is used quite loosely. You may hear some people say that a child doesn’t have autism but is definitely on the spectrum. If a child has some characteristics associated with autism, it does not necessarily mean the child is on the spectrum. A child who is on the autism spectrum either has autism, Asperger syndrome, or pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). These three disorders are the only autism spectrum disorders. They belong to the larger category of pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), which also includes Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD), according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR; APA, 2000). For the purposes of this book, characteristics of children with ASD will be discussed without pinpointing the differences among these disorders.
         Before discussing the impairments that children with ASD are likely to display, it is important to stress that children with ASD all possess unique strengths and talents. Because ASDs are neurological disorders, the brains of people with ASD are not necessarily “wired†the same way as in typically developing individuals. Thus, children with ASD may be able to do many things that most of their peers cannot do. Some children with ASD learn literacy skills such as letter and sound recognition and early sight word recognition well before their same-age typically developing peers. Some young children with ASD have extraordinary visual-spatial strengths that allow them to complete puzzles, use shape sorters, and engage in other constructive play activities that are designed for children who are much older. Children with ASD may also have special talents related to music and art. While not every young child with ASD will have a special talent, all children have strengths and interests that should be tapped into when planning interventions. Caregivers and early intervention providers should focus on and value these strengths rather than solely targeting children’s impairments. With that said, the impairments of young children with ASD must be assessed and addressed to enable them to actively participate in home, school, and community routines and make developmental gains.

         Impairments in Social Interaction     Children with ASD all have impairments in social interaction. However, not all children will have the same types of difficulties. Some children may have impairments in the use of nonverbal behaviors such as eye contact, facial expressions, body posture, and social gestures. Children with ASD may not spontaneously seek opportunities to interact with other people. This does not necessarily mean that these children “prefer to be alone,†which is a descriptive characteristic that may be seen on a variety of informational materials related to ASD. When children with ASD receive the supports they need to learn how to respond to the initiations of others, to initiate interactions with others, and to maintain interactions with others, they may prefer social interactions to being alone. These skills related to interacting with others are referred to as joint attention and social reciprocity skills, which are core impairments in children with ASD (Jones & Carr, 2004; MacDonald et al., 2006; Mundy, 1995).
         Joint attention entails two or more individuals sharing attention with one another related to a specific object, activity, or idea. Joint attention can consist of coordinating attention between people and objects, attending to a social partner, shifting gaze between people and objects, sharing emotional states with another person, and being able to draw another person’s attention to objects or events for the purpose of sharing experiences (Baldwin, 1995; Mundy, Sigman, & Kasari, 1990). This type of interaction can be as simple as a child pointing to a bird in the tree with the caregiver responding, “Oh, wow! It’s a blue jay!†Joint attention skills are also needed to engage in more complex social interactions. A basic way to understand joint attention is to think of it as the feeling that you are “in it together†that you might get when interacting with someone. Even when you try hard to interact and connect with a child on the autism spectrum, you may not feel the same sense of connectedness that you experience with typically developing children.
         Once a child with ASD is connected with someone by establishing joint attention, the child then needs to use social reciprocity skills to engage in “the dance of human interaction,†which involves long chains of back-and-forth interactions related to the object, activity, or idea in which they are sharing attention. Social reciprocity entails being aware of the emotional and interpersonal cues of others, appropriately interpreting those cues, responding appropriately to what is interpreted, and being motivated to engage in social interactions with others (Constantino et al., 2003). Below is an example of social reciprocity being shared between a mother and her 2-year-old daughter, Rebecca. Mother: It’s time for breakfast, Rebecca.
(Rebecca walks over to the kitchen table and stands by her booster seat.)
Mother: Do you want to get in your chair?
Rebecca: Help me up.
(Mother picks up Rebecca and puts her in her chair.)
Rebecca: I want pancakes.
Mother: Okay. Do you want bananas with your pancakes?
Rebecca: Yes.
(Mother gives Rebecca pancakes and bananas.)          In this example Rebecca and her mother shared many back-and-forth exchanges. Notice that some exchanges were not verbal but were actions conducted in response to the initiation or response of the other person. That is still a reciprocal exchange. Exchanges can be verbal or can entail the use of facial expressions, gestures, or actions. Also, social reciprocity entails making initiations and responding to the initiations of others. In the example provided, Rebecca was able to respond to her mother’s initiations (i.e., “It’s time for breakfast†), and she also initiated an interaction (“I want pancakes†). Although social reciprocity skills develop naturally in typically developing children, children with ASD often require intensive interventions to learn how...

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