A Major Autism A-Ha Idea: Dr. Carbone’s 3 Buttons - Autism Mom, ABA Help for Professionals and Parents

I recently asked my Autism ABA Help monthly members for some pivotal ideas or Ah-ha moments that they found especially helpful in my course. One member said Dr. Vincent Carone’s three buttons had a huge influence on her both during and after the course. So let’s talk about these three buttons in this week’s video blog:

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I learned about the three buttons concept from Dr. Vincent Carbone in 2004 and it is a really important concept to consider when teaching your client or child with autism. Dr. Carbone suggested that whether we are looking at an intensive teaching session, a child in an inclusion setting, or a child completing self help skills such as dressing, there are three main buttons that the child could be pushing.

The middle button is the button we want the child to push because this button means that the child is working for socially mediated positive reinforcement. This means that the demands are at the right level and the reinforcement is also at the right level.  When a child is making very good responses and he appears happy and attentive he is pushing the middle button.

There are two other buttons on either side of that middle button that a child pushes when things aren’t at the right level.

The button to the right is the escape button. This can look like the child leaving the table, slumping in their chair, or saying things like “are we almost finished, can I have a break, or this is stupid.” The technical term for pushing this button on the right is that they are having problems behaviors because of a history of socially mediated negative reinforcement.

The other button that they can push on the left side of the center button is the automatic reinforcement button. If the demands or the reinforcement is not at the right level the child can start to engage in self stimulatory behavior or stimming for short. This can look like staring off into space, flapping their arms, or scripting from movies.

If the child is pushing either of the side buttons, the automatic reinforcement or the escape button, we need to realize that the demands are too high and/or the reinforcement is too low.

This just doesn’t happen at the table either. As kids get older and we try to teach them self-care skills such as dressing, for example, we have to break down the tasks to make it super easy. We also have to think about reinforcement so that even during a difficult task like dressing, your child or client will be pushing the middle button.

I urge you to start thinking about these three buttons no matter if you child or a client who is a toddler or teen with autism. And I thank Dr. Carbone for teaching me about his three button theory.

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