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Pairing with your child with Autism or other learning disability

November 5, 2012 2 comments

The author is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, works for Behavior Momentum India (P) limited as a consultant, is the President of Association for Behavior Analysis –India and blogs on topics relating to autism and Applied Behavior Analysis.  The views in this blog are his own and do not represent those of the organisations he works for. He can be contacted on smbehavioranalysis@gmail.com

A note prepared for parents of children with Autism

Pairing with your child with Autism or other  learning disability

What is pairing and why is it important:

Pairing is a process by which a parent or a caregiver associates himeself or herself  with items  and activities that a child prefers and in the process acquires  “positive reinforcement ” properties .

A good level of pairing needs to be achieved before the parent or caregiver can start teaching or expecting compliance from the child. Pairing is not as simple as it seems.   We’ll first talk about what it is not.

What is not pairing :

An excerpt from a earlier blog of mine:

Contrary to what we think,  parent’s often interrupt a child’s preferred activity, do not give what the child wants immediately, unwittingly give tasks which are actually difficult for the child  ,  mistakenly attribute lack of fluency to laziness and try to hurry or hustle, use a raised voice or interact only when the child creates some problem… the cumulative effect of all this is predictable …..

Thus a mother , while playing with a child saying in a sweet an playful voice   “A” , “ B”, “C”…and looking expectantly at the child to say “D” , “E” etc., is actually placing a demand and not pairing herself with a reinforcement. Throwing the ball to the child and asking the child to roll it or throw it back may also look like playing to the parent but could actually be a difficult task for the child.

How can I pair:

Pairing can be done  by associating yourself with as many pleasant and happy situations in the every day life of your child. It involves giving “non- contingent” reinforcement- meaning giving the items , things and enjoyable activities without placing any demand on the child or expecting anything in particular.

This also means you make arrangements so that the child does not get these directly but through you.

Some examples of  pairing

  • Pairing your face – while giving a preferred activity ( say singing to child or handing over the ipad)  wait for child to make eye contact. Whenever the child looks at you break into a nice smile
  • Pairing your voice – In a friendly tone and with appropriate excitement say things like “ that’s very good”, “ That’s Super” , “ You are wonderful” , “ you are doing the puzzle so nicely”, “ Whooooosh”, “ Booooom”, …… you can also sing songs ( be sensitive to whether the child is comfortable with the pitch and tone. With some children these are better said in a soft or gentle voice with variations)
  • Offer reinforcers – liked items like chocolate, juice , favourite toy etc. for free ( not when the child is expecting it or when you want the child to do something)

While pairing:

  • Do not Place demands. Example- “Go and sit on the swing” , “ Come to Mummy”, “wind up the toy” …. Even if you believe the child can do it.
  • Do not abruptly take away an item that the child is enjoying or stop an activity the child is enjoying
  • Avoid giving instructions but make appropriate statements or comments – You can say “ that’s  great coloring”  or  “ nice playing on the toy piano” .  Do not say “ color this spot blue” or “ press these keys in this way”
  • Do not use statements or questions where the child is expected to answer – Example : “ Ahmed, Tell me what is your mummy’s name” or “ What is the color of the pencil”
  • If you need the child to stop doing something ( because it is unsafe or inapprorpriate), ideally avoid using spoken instructions or warnings. Instead walkover and without making any eye contact, in the least intrusive possible way stop the child . This will minimise you being paired with inappropriate items or activities. Thereafter, quickly find something that would interest the child and redirect ( again without using instructions).

The principle behind pairing is that as you ( the person or parent) are present in most of the happy situations, activities and enjoyable moments of the child and are seen as the person through whom the child gains access to these , you acquire the properties of these reinforcers  yourself.

Thereafter, your presence, gestures and  voice can be used to reinforce the child when instructions are given. However that is a later step. The first step is to see if you can be pair yourself with the child in a very positive and fun way.

If you have any questions do write to me on smbehavioranalysis@gmail.com

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