What’s your favourite colour?

Or food? Or animal? Or TV show? Getting to know someone, and finding out what their interests are, really can help strengthen your teaching relationship.

Concepts, and even some concrete skills, can be taught in ways that incorporate individual’s strengths and interests, to increase the chances that you are motivating them to begin, and complete the task.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And the theory of it is. The application, is a little harder. It takes a lot of time, creativity, and technological skill (sometimes), to make these things happen. Having done this for many, many years (almost 10!), I have lots of different ideas about teaching new skills and concepts, and ways to present. But I still always am learning about new ideas I can implement, and of course, there is always Pinterest!

Recently, I have been able to implement some specific interest-related tasks into sessions.

The first has been in one of my literacy programs. Particularly with teaching reading, finding interesting andย relevant material, that is at the appropriate reading level, is not always easy. With one of my students in particular, his interests narrow in on the naughty neighbour Sid, from Toy Story, and Problem Child. He loves the naughty kids and is always enquiring about what would get them in trouble, yet he wouldn’t dare ever consider doing any of the things those naughty kids do (thank goodness!)

We have been looking for reading material that will hopefully be of interest to him. We read through Diary of a Wimpy Kid, some Nature Goodies (with worms and insects), but a really winner, that we have been reading through recently is “The World’s Worst Children” by David Walliams. Comprised of short stories involving disgusting children, including smelly children, and drooling children.

children worst.jpg

While I sit there, trying not to gag while he is reading, the kid loves it! He reads so fluently, and will stop often to ask me questions, and clarify points! He is interested in what he is reading, and is understanding what he is reading – all we have worked towards with reading, is happening!

Another client I have been individualising more of his program for, is someone who loves the Wiggles. wiggles youtubeHe has inherited this love for the Wiggles, from his older brother, whom I learned all about the Wiggles from, many years ago! Now this kid is more of an “original” Wiggles fan, which suits me fine, because that’s who I learned about from his brother, but it does make things difficult, because all the VHS tapes of old Wiggles shows, are very slowly disappearing, or breaking. Luckily, thousands of those videos are preserved and accessible, via a quick YouTube search ๐Ÿ˜€

We have recently added a few more matching craft activities, particularly because he is very good at matching and puzzles. We have been slowly introducing a few different, and new, activities over the past few weeks, and he has been really enjoying the different tasks and demands. We have been able to incorporate a lot of fine motor skill work, and sight word and vocabulary building, within these activities.

interest instaExamples of some of the activities created: Emotions cards with cartoon
pictures of different feelings, and a cartoon ‘Wiggles’ music group puzzle.

Where possible, you should aim to include the individual’s interests in your programming. They are more likely to be interested in what you have on offer, and you can make those teaching times a little bit more exciting for them!


What’s your favourite colour?

Book Review: The Verbal Behavior Approach – Mary Lynch Barbera

ย I finally got around to reading this book in 2015 ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve had it for about 4 years, but just never picked it up!

While trying to gain inspiration for a journal club I am completing on verbal behaviour (and having no luck with!) I thought, why not read this – it might give me a few more answers!

I have always had an interest in verbal behaviour. I didn’t quite know what it was about, or how it was different from ABA, all I knew was it had something to with creating a ‘voice’ for people (not necessarily a speaking voice – more to do with communication) and it seemed to be presented in a much more ‘fun’ light than the traditional ABA programs I worked on in Australia.

Well, the way the traditional ABA programs were supposed to go, because I always feel I tried to make sessions as fun as possible… most of the time anyway.

What I got from reading this book was, I feel like I was inadvertently (there’s that word again) implementing techniques from a verbal behaviour program when I was working as a young, junior ABA therapist, and then when I progressed and moved into different roles, using the principles and science of ABA.

So basically, I was very impressed with this book, because it resonated well with me, it aligned very much with my beliefs about the work that I do. But mostly, I was impressed with the straight forward-ness of the book. I almost felt like passing it onto a few families I am working with and asking them to read it, but that would probably be quite overwhelming, despite the everyday language used, and practical examples.

The book is written by Dr. Mary Lynch Barbera, a BCBA, who is also the mother of a son with Autism. She became a BCBA after her son was diagnosed and was heavily involved in his program, moving him from a typical, Lovaas style ABA program, to a verbal behaviour program.I like her determinism, and her thoughts about how the differences in each program had their benefits.

The book worked through how you could go about setting up a verbal behaviour program (and got me motivated to create a mind map – using a very cool online mind map program – Popplet) and provided a very straight forward way to teach the different components of a verbal behaviour program.

I found a really clear explanation of the differences between an ABA and a verbal behaviour program. There was also a very clear, and initial description of conducting a functional assessment of behaviour, right at the beginning of the book – very important, you want to know what behaviour you want to replace, so you can know where to start ๐Ÿ™‚

I also liked the focus on reinforcement and motivation, and how as a therapist, you basically wanted the child to be running to the table to do ‘therapy’. This is something that really struck a chord with me.

I have had some kids who didn’t care either way, but I have also had some kids who would do anything to avoid coming to the table ๐Ÿ˜ฆ I know it wasn’t me, because when I was playing around and being silly, we would have the time of our lives ๐Ÿ™‚ but as soon as a demand was put in place, I was seen as something very aversive.

My personal experience with intensive ABA programs in Australia finished around 5 years ago, but I really don’t think things have changed that much. When I was working on those intensive programs, this was definitely not an aim of the program. I wasn’t given much of an opportunity to pair myself with reinforcement, I was basically having to go in and teach.

As a teacher, I completely believe you need to show respect for your students, and gain their trust, and then you can begin to teach – a very similar process to the rapport building and pairing with reinforcement discussed in this book, and as a cornerstone of a verbal behaviour program.

I believe I do this fairly well. Particularly as some of my more recent work involved me going into families homes and doing this within a 2 hour session, in a couple of weeks… very tricky, particularly when you are trying to explain your program, collect baseline data, and gain the parents (and siblings) trust and respect as well. It’s not easy, but it is definitely worth it.

I also took some things immediately away from the book – from teaching different and known item mands to a very beginning 4 year old learner, to how to use echoics and intraverbals, and transfer procedures (which was also one of those things I was already doing without even realising) with a 12 year old with some language, just not a lot of motivation to communicate ๐Ÿ˜‰

I also then went a step further and found this extremely detailed, yet interesting, relevant, and clear explanation of verbal behaviour article, which was much more technically oriented, but consolidated the book. The Verbal Behavior Approach to ABA by Robert Schramm and Regina G. Claypool-Frey.

I recommend the book to anyone who is working within an ABA program already, and definitely anyone interested in applying verbal behavior techniques within a program. I really wish I had read it earlier – it is an easy, and quick read, and it has given me a lot of ideas. I feel a lot more confident with my programming going forward, with this information.


Barbera, M. &Rasmussen, T. (2007). The Verbal Behavior Approach: How to Teach Children with Autism and Related Disorders.

Popplet – a website for creating mind-maps

The Verbal Behavior Approach to ABA by Robert Schramm and Regina G. Claypool-Frey.

Book Review: The Verbal Behavior Approach – Mary Lynch Barbera