Book Review: The Verbal Behavior Approach – Mary Lynch Barbera

 I finally got around to reading this book in 2015 🙂 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 🙂

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 😦 I know it wasn’t me, because when I was playing around and being silly, we would have the time of our lives 🙂 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 😉

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.


References

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.

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Book Review: The Verbal Behavior Approach – Mary Lynch Barbera

Happy 2015!

It’s a beautiful New Year’s Day here in Sydney, and I spent the day with friends and family, and experiencing my friend’s young son’s first trip to the beach! It has been fascinating watching him grow up and see all the things he likes to do. It has also been fascinating being able to see situations in which the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis apply to different situations with him 🙂

This kid is absolutely adorable and such a great kid. He listens, is interactive and social, and easily redirected. He also has a few known reinforcers, mainly chips, which are usually plentiful when we are at our gatherings.

I am such a great/terrible Aunty (depending on who you ask – the kid or his parents) because everytime he comes to me and says “Pwease” I give him a chip! The bowl happened to be next to me today, and he came over to me and sat on my lap and said “Pwease” and I gave him a chip (one for each hand!)

As my brain does not turn itself off, every day I notice different examples of reinforcement, or shaping, or pairing, I immediately try to figure out what is causing him to keep coming to me.

In this scenario, he saw the bowl of chips and me, and knew that the reinforcement (chips) was available.

He also knew the behaviour of coming to me and saying “Pwease” has, in the past, resulted in him getting some chips.

And what do you know, he did it today and it worked!

Antecedent – chips & Loz available

Behaviour – going to Loz and saying “Pwease”

Consequence – he receives chips (and it is most likely reinforcement because he has done this in the past, and continues to do it!)

Another example I observed today was when we visited the beach. It was his first time in all his one and a half years of life of going to the beach. He loves swimming and the pool, but the beach is a little different – unpredictable, noisy, funny textures!

He went into the waves (waves = tiny little waves, maybe half a metre), clinging to Mum or Dad for dear life. Every time a wave came, they would dip him into it, and bring him back up for a cuddle. And every time he went into the water, and came back up, Mum, Dad, and the rest of us cheered!

At first, he still looked a little scared and unsure. After about the 5th time he was dipped, he came up with a little smile, and then it got bigger, and bigger. Success! He loves the beach (just like his Aunty Loz!)

This continued on for about 20 minutes. He was still quite apprehensive about actually standing in the water, but he did want to continue, even asking for more.

I’m still trying to figure out exactly what part of ABA this is in relation to. At first, I thought pairing – we were pairing our praise with going in the waves – trying to make the waves as reinforcing as our attention. However it is not quite on the mark. If anyone has any suggestions or further thoughts on this, I’d love to hear it 🙂

Basically, I am really starting to think I live and breathe ABA… which is not necessarily a bad thing, I just need to figure out how to use it to make a changes to a whole lot of aspects of my life.

On that note, I recently read Skinner’s “Walden Two” and am definitely thinking I will write up a book review soon. It was an interesting read.

Happy New Year!


References

Cooper, J., Heron, E., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied Behaviour Analysis Second Edition

Behaviorbabe Website

I Love ABA Website

Happy 2015!