The Importance of Pairing in ABA Therapy
Those trained to provide ABA Therapy will understand well the concept of “pairing.” Play and pairing is the foundation of instructional control in any behavioral therapy session. Simply put, pairing is a way for ABA therapists and technicians to help build a rapport with a child by finding out what interests them and then linking whoever is working with the child to that interest/activity/object so that we can facilitate positive reinforcements in each session. It’s a means of letting the child guide us to what motivates them. When we know what that is, we use it as a positive reinforcer for expected behaviors.
So for example, a child who is new to ABA therapy will begin with a few “pairing” sessions with their ABA therapist/RBT (registered behavior technician). This is a time when we simply play together, we’ll let the child lead, allowing free access to toys, games, songs, and other stimuli. It may look like we’re just “playing,” but remember two things:
- Play is how kids learn.
- By discovering what they love to play with, we can help motivate them to learn important skills and promote helpful behaviors.
Let’s say the child falls in love with a toy train set. We then restrict play with that train set to only our sessions. The child earns play with the trains as a positive reinforcer for expected behaviors.
Speech therapy uses a similar technique in motivating kids to talk. Such toys are so-called “communication temptations,” something we’ve written about extensively in prior speech therapy blog posts.
Pairing is also important because it lets the child and therapist establish a positive, trusting relationship where they come to understand that even when learning can be challenging at times, it’s also fun and ultimately benefits them (by giving them what they want). Parent input during pairing is very important too! We will spend time interviewing caregivers about what their child is really into, and we can then build on those ideas.
From there, we’ll work on trying to teach mands/requests. (Think of a mand as short for “demand.” It’s how a person requests something. For example, we may hold a piece of that toy trainset or car until he/she asks for it or a turn with it.
We can also use these items to compel speech and social interaction with a technique called anticipation. Let’s say we’re playing with a marble track. The therapist sends the marble sliding down the twisty track just after saying “Go!” This becomes what the child expects at each turn. But then suddenly, we don’t say, “Go!” We hold the marble at the top of the track, make eye contact, and wait. The child will look at us in anticipation. If eye contact is what we’re after (as is often the case, particularly for non-verbal kids on the autism spectrum), then we’ll let the marble go after they do so. We might also make a silly face or sing a fun song they like after.
Another way that pairing leads to progress in our Fort Myers ABA therapy sessions is when we allow shared control. We’ll follow their lead into a fun interaction and then embed instructions into the fun interaction. This makes it more likely they’ll comply/use expected behaviors.
At each turn, the therapist/RBT is observing both the antecedents (what happens before) and consequences (what happens after) of unexpected behaviors. This helps us determine the function of the behavior (what is the child trying to achieve with their behavior?). When we know the function, we can use the preferred items/activities we discovered during pairing to help us reinforce expected behaviors in a positive way. Ignoring instructions or engaging in unexpected behaviors will simply not result in a positive reinforcement (we refer to this as behavior extinction).
Our Fort Myers ABA Therapy Team Won’t Give Up on Finding Effective Pairings
Some parents who hear about the pairing technique lament that they have no idea really what their child likes. It’s understandable, especially if they aren’t verbal and/or very young. But here’s the reality: Every child is reinforced by SOMETHING. If this were not the case, they wouldn’t exhibit any behaviors at all. Remember that behavior, at its most basic level, is a form of communication. A reinforcer is anything that increases the behavior.
Their interests might be super limited (a certain song, dropping things, etc.). That’s Ok! Once we recognize what those one or two things are, we can pair it with other toys, games, and activities.
Keep in mind too: As the child gets older, they’re interests are going to change (just like adults, sometimes). We’ll want to take a step back, re-evaluate, and possibly re-pair to ensure our behavior strategies are effective.
Pairing allows us to build trust and ensures the child is both having fun and learning!
FOCUS offers ABA therapy for kids in Fort Myers, Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
Establishing Instructional Control, C H E L S E A E V E N S T A D , M . S . , B C B A , A S H L E Y F L Y N N -P R I V E T T , M . S . , B C B A , J E N N Y G U D D I N G
More Blog Entries:
My Son Has Autism… When – and How – Should I Tell Him? July 25, 2021, Fort Myers ABA Therapy Blog