Using Transfer Procedures to Teach Children with Autism

Are you using transfer procedures to teach children with autism? If you’re not, you definitely want to tune in for this week’s video blog where I am going to be talking about a paper that was published by myself and Dr. Rick Kubina, my BCBA mentor, in 2005 called “Using Transfer Procedures to Teach Tacts to a Child with Autism.”

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So a few weeks ago on a podcast episode on fluency and precision teaching, I interviewed Dr. Rick Kubina who was my BCBA mentor. We briefly talked about our study that we published together. Today I’m talking about this study because it really could help you with your children or clients with autism. Years ago I think I was a new BCBA or studying to become a BCBA when I first learned about transfer procedures.

Up until that point what was happening was I had my son Lucas and he was 4 or 5. I was using first a Lovaas approach, then a verbal behavior approach but I still didn’t know what transfer procedures were and this is maybe 2001. So he would say “open cabinet” and I would prompt him. I would prompt him to say “open cabinet”. He would echo “open cabinet”. I would pull out a pretzel. I’d say “pretzel” then he’d say “pretzel” and I’d give it to him. All that was doing was I was leaving things at the prompt level and he was echoing me, but he didn’t have any spontaneous language or not enough. And so what I started doing then, once I found out about transfer procedures, is I would pull out the pretzel. I’d say “pretzel” then he would echo “pretzel”. And then I would say what do you want? And he would say, “pretzel”.

Now that’s an example of an echoic prompt to a mand. It’s still prompted, but we were able to then push out the prompts and the transfers, maybe pull in a couple of distracters, and get more spontaneous language. It’s not just used for manding either, it’s used for all different kinds of operants. And when Lucas went to, and this is in my book in chapter 7, a private ABA school and he didn’t know anybody’s name, his therapist would sometimes come to the house but worked with him primarily at school. So when the therapist would come, I believe in my book, I say it was Amber, and she would say “bye Lucas” and he’d say “bye Haley”, who was his teacher. So what I determined, because at that point I was a Behavioral Analyst, was that he didn’t know the tacts of the people and that the only time he practiced greetings was during circle time.

So I asked the school, could you send home 10 pictures of kids and staff and I will teach him. I will drill him and I will teach him these names and then he’ll go back and he’ll generalize it to greetings because that was another skill we had taught him. He came home and I drilled him and the way I drilled him was using transfer procedures. He went back later on, and he generalized to greetings. And then when Amber would come she’d say, “Hi Lucas.” He’d say “Hi Amber.” When she said “Bye Lucas,” he’d say “Bye Amber.” And he did that across the 10 people I taught him. So I called up Rick Kubina, my mentor, and I said, you know what, this worked out so well.

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Greetings are in so many IEP goals, and he learned this. Maybe we need to publish something like this? And so Rick said, “well we can’t publish anything like that. You don’t have, like what did you even do? What drilling did you do?” And basically what it turned out to be was a receptive to tact transfer and the echoic to tact transfer. A combination of touch Johnny, he touched Johnny. He would echo when he’d touch. Then I pull it up and I’d say who is it? And he’d say, Johnny. I drilled him for like five minutes using a combination of these transfer procedures. So Rick said, “well, we can’t publish that, but we can set up a study with unknown tacts. We can set up a multiple design study.” I had just graduated from my ABA certification from Penn State and I learned about multiple baseline alternating treatment designs, but until you actually do a study like that and have somebody like Dr. Kubina help me set it up, I really learned a lot.

What we learned with Lucas is that he learned very well with the procedure. It was one of the first articles that used humans and transfer procedures. Up until that point most of the transfer procedure articles and studies were using animals, mostly pigeons. So with the transfer procedure multiple baseline, we have Lucas learning with set 1, set 2, and set 3. We went on to do other studies with transfer procedures that I did through the verbal behavior project. They were not published. But I did present on another study using transfer procedures and I know several dissertations have come out of this original article too in 2005 when it was published. You can also download a copy of the Using Transfer Procedures to Teach Tacts to a Child with Autism study if you’d like. One of the things that I really want to tell you is that if you are not using transfer procedures, you are probably leaving things at a prompted level and then saying the child or client is prompt dependent.

My approach uses transfer procedures everywhere, throughout the day, in intensive teaching, and the natural environment across operants to basically fade prompts, use prompts that will work, and fade prompts systematically using transfer procedures. So it’s a big part of what I do. It’s a big part of my online courses with errorless teaching, error correction, using the operants that the child has their strongest points in, and pulling up the other operants too. So Lucas was always better with receptive abilities than tacting abilities. So we use the “touch banana, what is it, banana.” Now that obviously wasn’t a hard target for him, but we can use transfer procedures across the board. So if you want to learn more, definitely download the article and if you really want to learn more about my approach and how you might be able to use transfer procedures with your clients or children, I would encourage you to sign up for my free online autism workshop and I would really encourage you at the end of the workshop to sign up for my online course and community because that is really the way to dive in deep and learn more about how you can make things better for your child or your clients.

I teach both parents and professionals. That’s always been my approach. My book can be read by the lay person, and it’s also used for graduate level coursework. So I am big on teaching professionals and parents how to bring things down to a level that everybody can understand to make common sense decisions, to look at the forest, and to consider family values. I believe we have one of the strongest online autism communities out there for my online course and community and it’s just so supportive, so positive, helping each child reach their fullest potential. So I hope I’ve incentivized you to start using transfer procedures. You can start as early as today by reading the article and learning more. For a free online workshop, checkout and I’ll see you right here next week.

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