Background to my interest in teaching children with autism

Teaching Children with Autism

A Brief Introduction to Intensive Behavioural Intervention, continued

There are many different approaches to treating children with autism. Nevertheless, to the extent that language and/or social interaction aren’t learned automatically, they have to be taught (if you want them to be learned).

There are several lines of research into learning, but the three kinds of learning that have been most fully researched are:

  • Classical conditioning (which was studied extensively by Pavlov and his colleagues and students)
  • Operant conditioning (which was studied extensively by Skinner and his colleagues and students)
  • “Social Learning Theory” (which was studied extensively by Walters and Bandura and their colleagues and students)

Applied Behaviour Analysis (which I will refer to as ABA), one of the few treatment approaches that research – as contrasted with anecdotal reports – has demonstrated to be helpful with this population – makes use of each of these kinds of learning, and I will discuss the role of each of them, beginning with classical conditioning, which typically occurs within the context of caring for and playing with your child.

Classical conditioning is all about learning through association: Things which occur together tend to become associated with each other. For example, if you pair yourself with activities that the child finds enjoyable, the child will come to associate you with those enjoyable activities and, as a result, your very presence will come to be enjoyable (and, hence, will have the potential of being a reinforce for behaviours that you wish to strengthen). If you pair your approval with activities that the child finds enjoyable, the child will come to associate your approval with those enjoyable activities and, as a result, your approval will come to be enjoyable (and, hence, will have the potential of being a reinforce for behaviours that you wish to strengthen).

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