by Maria Carolina Starr M.Ed. / BCBA
As a new or seasoned behavior therapist working with a child, play and pairing is the foundation of instructional control. Think of it as a 3-part pyramid where play is the base, pairing is the body and instructional control is at the pinnacle. Success in implementing interventions is more likely when you have all three established. This could mean the client is more likely to engage with you, learn that you are a reinforcer (i.e., pairing), tolerate prompts and instructions and increase spontaneity because they are having fun.
Tips to build rapport through play:
- Take the time to get to know your client. Identify reinforcers by interviewing caregivers, offer appetizing materials and observe the client’s reaction. Find opportunities to make activities more fun because they do it WITH YOU.
- Once you’ve found an activity, maintain it if the client shows interest but look for non-vocal cues that may indicate disinterest; alternatively, they may just tell you. Introduce/model variations in your play without instructing the client to change his/her behavior.
- Catch good behavior and reinforce, reinforce, reinforce. When you’re new, give praises, hi-5s, tokens, every time you see a behavior you like (e.g., good listening, nice sitting). When compliance increases, talk to your supervisor about increasing the requirements to earn reinforcers.
- Teach mands/requests if your client is ready. For instance, hold on to a toy car so he will ask you for it on his/her turn. Be careful not to push for requests if your client is not ready such as when he/she doesn’t approach you or orient towards you.
- Increase motivation to engage in appropriate behavior through “anticipation.” For example, you and your client are playing car race. You make the car run every time after saying “go” and this is what your client expects you to do at every turn; but when you don’t, the client may look at you in anticipation. This is when you complete the movement in order to reinforce attending to you (e.g., eye contact). Maybe make a silly face, too.
- Share control. Follow the client’s lead and embed instructions into fun interaction so he/she is more likely to comply (i.e., give play demands). Offer choices and find other ways to say “no.” This is a trigger word for some children. You do not want to be associated as someone who restricts access or becomes aversive when you are just starting out.
- Observe antecedents and consequences of a problem behavior so that you can match the reinforcers to use depending on the function. Collaborate with your clinical team.
Play and Pairing (Part 2) coming soon.