In the field of ABA, professionals focus on not only addressing challenging behaviors, but also teaching skills to their learners. In the ABA Works’ company, we are dedicated to helping learners of all ages, which also include adults. In this blog post, I will be explaining how an ABA session is different for an adult learner. In a previous ABA Works’ blog post, I mentioned the 5 components of an ABA session. While the session structure is similar, the focus and the reinforcement provided in the ABA session will be different for an adult learner.
When working with an adult learner, the focus of the ABA session is to teach life skills. These life skills can range from teaching:
- How to advocate for yourself,
- How to get and maintain employment,
- Self-help skills,
- Social skills, and
- Other skills that address any deficits and are appropriate for an adult.
Every adult is different and for an ABA session, the adult learner’s programs and behavior intervention plan (BIP) will be unique and catered to the adult learner and their family’s needs.
If you are about to start your first session with an adult learner, it will be most important to first build rapport. See what the adult learner’s interests are, their strengths, their dislikes, and what they would like to learn. As I mentioned in the previous blog post, it is important to focus on pairing. With the adult learners I have worked with they each had their own preferences of activities. When starting to pair I would join in on their activities and compliment how well they are engaging in the activity when appropriate. I do want to mention that there are times when they will tell me, “No I want to do it by myself.”
That is okay!
When they provide this statement or any variation of this appropriate request, it is another way on how they can advocate for themselves. When one of my adult learners told me this, I praise this by saying, “That’s ok. Thanks for letting me know. I appreciate that. We’ll meet again in about 8 minutes.”
Some strategies that will be beneficial for an adult learner to transition during and outside of session will be using priming and visual supports. An example on how to use priming with your learner, is when I mentioned to my adult learner that we’ll meet again in about 8 minutes.
With another one of my adult learners, I added visual supports by using a timer as well as a visual schedule (whiteboard). A minute or 2 before my timer was up, I went to my adult learner and informed him how much time is left. During the remaining time, I complimented on how well he was engaging in his activity and that I was going to join him if he wanted me to. When the timer was up, I transitioned him back to the whiteboard where we have written out his session schedule that included his tasks and his activities during his breaks.
In the case that an extreme behavior does occur, it is important to remain calm and promote relaxation techniques, no matter how small. With one of my adult learners, when he was tearful and raised his voice to demand that an item be placed back, I acknowledged this by calmly saying, “I hear you. First let’s breathe, then we’ll do that.” When he followed that instruction by breathing in and out, I praised this by saying, “Nice job breathing. Should I place this by the table or the couch?” At that moment, I only provided short and simple instructions and gave choices. I also praised any way my learner calmly regulated their emotions.
Remember there is always a reason as to why a behavior occurs based on the 4 functions of behavior:
- Attention, and
- Access to tangibles
Once the function is identified based on multiple repeated observations, the ABA clinical team and family can work on promoting proactive strategies for the adult learner.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, ABA professionals focus on not only addressing challenging behaviors, but also teaching skills to their learners. For adult learners, we want to promote learning new skills, self-advocacy, and increase their independence. In my next blog, I will be writing more about teaching skills to adults.
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