Lessons from My Autism Book: The Verbal Behavior Approach

So many people have told me that they have loved reading my book. A speech and language therapy student I recently met, told me she did a book report on my autism book, The Verbal Behavior Approach, and she cited that she got two main lessons from the book. Today, I want to talk about those 2 lessons and tell you where you can go if you really liked my book and what you’re going to like even more.

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When I met this speech and language therapy student, who read my autism book, she told me she did a book report and a presentation on it. She told me that she really loved the book and she got 2 main points out of the book that she was able to apply right away to help her kids. I was really interested. I said, “Tell me which are the 2 points you pulled out from my book, because I’d really be interested to know.”

She said the first point was that if we see problem behaviors, the demands are too high, and/or reinforcement is too low. I stress this in my book and in all my online courses and work. This isn’t just for kids with autism. If I was a worker at Walmart and I was complaining that the boxes are too heavy, I don’t get any days off that I want, the pay isn’t very good, complaining would be a problem behavior.

What that’s telling me is, my job at Walmart is either too hard and/or the reinforcement isn’t high enough. The reinforcement’s too low and the demands are too high. So I’m complaining about the boxes being too heavy (the work’s too hard). I’m also complaining about the reinforcement (the pay’s not good, the time off isn’t what I want), so my reinforcement is not great.

The same is true for kids with autism. Kids with autism throw themselves on the ground because they don’t want to put their coat on, they don’t want to take a bath, they don’t want to do math homework, and/or they want the cookie, they want the iPad, they want things. So demands are too high, and/or reinforcement’s too low.

So what we do there, using my approach, which is the science of ABA with the verbal behavior approach, is we flip it around initially, and we become the spoiling grandmother making everything very easy and very reinforcing. The demands go way down and reinforcement goes way up. Then once we get the child in a really good state, we start shifting it ever so slightly so that the reinforcement gets faded down and the demands start fading up. Pretty much we’re pairing these work activities with reinforcement to make it more work and less reinforcement, but initially, we might have to flip it.

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The second big point she pulled out from the book, which she wrote about in her book report, is that we all need eight positives to every negative. Glenn Latham talked about this in his books, Positive Parenting and Behind the Schoolhouse Door: Eight Skills Every Teacher Needs. Glenn Latham had a PhD in special education. Unfortunately, he died several years ago, but he was big on the fact that we all need a lot more positives than negatives. Kids with special needs, he showed, were getting a lot of negatives to very few positives.

When you have a kid who’s having major problem behaviors, just a really out-of-control child, what he noticed and what I have noticed as I’ve looked at this is that they get a lot of negative comments. “Stop that!” “If I have to tell you one more time” “Knock it off!” “You’re going to lose your recess” “You need to sit crisscross applesauce.” “Don’t lay down on the floor.” Whatever you’re saying to the child, those are all in the negative pile.

Remember, in my autism book, I talk about eight positives to every negative. So we want to flip that around. We want to make tasks super easy so that we are able to give a lot of positive, specific reinforcement and praise, and we want to get rid of all the hard stuff and get rid of the negativity.

I really loved the fact that she was able to pull those two big thoughts from the book. She was able to put that in her book report, and she was able to use that in the clinic work that she was doing with kids with and without autism.

If you’ve never read my autism book or if you haven’t read it in a while, you may want to read it again. But if you love my book, you will truly love my free online workshops, which you can sign up for at marybarbera.com/workshop. If you’ve picked out different things from my autism book or my courses that were ah-ha moments for you, I’d love to hear them in the comments. If you haven’t listened to my new podcast yet, you also may want to check that out at marybarbera.com/podcast. I will see you here next week.

Start making a difference for your child or client with autism or signs of autism through free training!

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