Background to my interest in teaching children with autism

Teaching Children with Autism

As much as I enjoy exposing you to the work of my former friend and colleague, the late Douglas Quirk, genius that he was, I need to take a break from that to tell you more about Teaching Children with Autism. I have just returned from the annual conference of ONTABA, the Ontario ABA Association, where I attended a few particularly interesting sessions. There were three invited speakers: Dr. Raymond Miltenberger, Dr. William Ahearn, and Dr. Aubrey Daniels.

Dr. Miltenberger, a past president of the Association for Behavior Analysis International ( ABAI), is the director of the Applied Behavior Analysis Program at University of South Florida. He has published over 185 journal articles and chapters and has written a behaviour modification textbook, now in its sixth edition. Currently, he and his students have been studying the application of “clicker training” – TAGteach (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance) – mainly in various sports but also in teaching children with autism, which prompts me to revisit TAGteach andf remind you of how useful it can be to have an immediately available reinforcer (in this case, a conditioned audtory reinforcer) when you are trying to teach any behaviour. The clicker is used to alert the subject, human or animal, to the trainer’s approval of a particular behaviour (or behavioural component of a more complex action) and, if the auditory signal has been paired with the trainer’s approval, as a (secondary) reinforcer for the behaviour being targetted.

Clicker training is simple in the extreme and should be considered as part of any teaching/ coaching program; and the fact that it has been used – effectively, I might add – with non-human animals should not deter instructors from using it with humans, even those who are not elite athletes. Remember, the click can be used (1) as a cue, (2) as a secondary reinforcer, or even (3) as a “token” that the student can later exchange for rewards.

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