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5 Key Components of an ABA Session

If you are going to work as a Behavior Technician and you will be having your first ABA session, you may be wondering how it will be conducted. While each case will be different, the format of an ABA session will remain the same. Here are the 5 components on how an ABA session is scheduled:

  1. Session Preparation

After greeting the learner and family or before the video Telehealth call, the ABA therapist will begin by setting up notes, setting up the data collection method, and gathering materials required for session. Within the ABA Works’ company, this preparation will be completed within 15 minutes. During my in-person ABA sessions, I would also use this preparation time to check in with the family to see:

  • How the learner was doing before the start of session
  • Follow up with the parent/guardian for data they have collected outside of session, and
  • Check when the parent/guardian will be available for parent training

These questions would also be inquired through telehealth after the family is called in.

  • Start with a Preferred Activity

After completing preparation, the ABA therapist will start with a preferred activity with the learner. When this is the first time you are meeting with the learner, or one of the first times, it is important to focus on pairing. That means that the learner will have access to preferred activities through you (and not free access). The outcome of pairing is that when the learner sees you, they think “you are that fun person who shows up and plays with me.” That often means, they will come to you for the ABA session, and they are motivated.  Pairing is very important to establish and maintain instructional control.

With one of my young learners, for example, I observed he was playing cars by himself and I knew it was something that he loves. To pair myself, I became very playful and enthusiastic when I joined in the activity of playing cars. We played for about 5 minutes and all the while I acted silly and gave simple instructions related to the activity such as, “Ready, set, __”, “Let’s go over here”, and “I’ll race you.” Upon following those instructions, I enthusiastically praised my learner and added high-fives and tickles, which my learner loved. While playing cars was an activity my learner happily does by himself, I demonstrated that I can add extra fun when I join in. For many of my learners, when they see me being silly and enthusiastic with their favorite activities, it showed that their favorites activities can be even more fun when I join in compare to when they are doing their favorite activities alone. By adding that extra fun, it became easy to provide those instructions.

If you are doing sessions via telehealth, it is encouraged to first pair yourself by starting with a fun preferred activity before diving into the learner’s programs.

  • Conduct a Preference Assessment

Before I start a set of trials in my learner’s programs, I would conduct a preference assessment to check what item or activity is motivating for my learner to work towards. Throughout session, a simple preference assessment I frequently use is providing two choices. It is important to note that if you are providing choices, be sure that the two choices are age appropriate, highly motivating, their favorite, and engaging to the learner. With my young learner, for example, after we played cars for about 5 minutes, I enthusiastically said, “That was really fun! Do you want to play more cars or Legos?” Once my learner chose to play more cars, I told my learner, “Nice choice! First one picture, then more cars”.

While I frequently use providing choices, there are instances during session where my learner will choose something else and that is okay. In that instance, I would go to where my learner’s interests lead and use that interest as a motivator. With another one of my young learners, when I instructed them to put away their bike, my learner said, “No” and went to get their markers. I followed my learner, placed my hand on top of the markers and was still being silly when I said, “Ooh we can do this! First let’s put away bike, then markers.”

  • Running Programs

Each learner’s programs are uniquely designed and will be different depending on the learner’s age, needs, and whether the session is conducted in-person or through telehealth.  In every ABA session, the learner’s programs are conducted, and the parent/guardian will have the opportunity to participate in running programs through parent training. Throughout the session, I keep the data sheet by my side to continue data collection and would also be proactive in keeping any potential reinforcers out of my learner’s reach in case when my learner requests access to those reinforcers they will need to go to me first in order to gain access.

During the beginning of session, I would praise anything that my learner is doing, no matter how small. With my young learner, for example, I praised the instructions followed during that 5 minutes of playtime with cars and continued to praise any instructions followed throughout the session. When I conducted the programs, I utilized behavior momentum and began with easy trials that my learner knows to build up my learner’s confidence and motivation. As the session progressed, I would increase the number of trails and deliver the reinforcer in a variable ratio schedule. For example, I would do the following:

  • First 3 trails, then provide reinforcer.
  • Six trials, then provide reinforcer.
  • Eight trials, then provide reinforcer.
  • I would then switch it to 5 trails, then provide reinforcer.

Throughout the variable ratio schedule of reinforcement, I continue to be silly and enthusiastic when I present the instruction, play with the reinforcer, and play with my learner.

  • End of session

In the final 15 minutes of the ABA session, the ABA therapist will clean up all materials used, fill in their Daily Session Notes, and enter all data collected.

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