Pivotal Response Training and Autism

Any teacher and any professional has to rely on other professionals when searching for best practices and evidence based strategies. I have a strong opinion on published research that is not based on observable behaviors. Unfortunately, many authors rely on questionnaires when conducting their research yelding unreliable results. We should adapt strict review standards based on scientific methods. As a teacher, I review many articles in search for best methodology for my students. Here is an example how I screen articles I read:

In this article, the authors analyzed responsiveness of students with autism to peer mediated pivotal response training. Two subjects were 10 years old diagnosed with autism and cognitively on a level of 3 years old typically developing children. Peers trainers were taught to implement complex pivotal response training strategies to these two subjects. Some elements of this complex package included modeling appropriate social behaviors, encouraging conversations, or teaching responsivity to multiple cues. General composition of pivotal response training was inspired by Koegl et al. (1989).

Analysis of the article based on seven dimensions of Applied Behavior Analysis (Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1968):

Applied: Yes. Children with autism have deficit in simple and in complex social behaviors as documented in applied literature.

Behavioral: Yes. The autorhers choose observable and measurable behavior for this study. They observed the behavior instead of giving questionnaires to third parties. Their dependent variables were complex and were displayed in several areas: time of engagement in maintaining interactions and initiations of play, joint attention, frequency of spoken words and sentences during the intervals of the study, etc.

Analytic: Yes. Functional control was established by detailed description of methods used: a reliable functional relation of peer training with accessible manual and original resources – upon request, demonstrated believability of the study.

Technological: Yes – contingent on review of original resources. The authors refer in their methods to the training manual. The manual is not a part of the published study but is available upon request. Contingent on review of this document, replicability could be determined.

Conceptually Systematic: Yes. This dimension of applied behavior analysis was clearly demonstrated in basic description of Peer training. Some of the features of specific procedures related to basic principles were principles of natural reinforcement, effective establishing operations (varied choices of activities), and modeling.

Effective: Yes. The graphs in figure 1 and 2 demonstrate improvement to a practical degree. The study demonstrates significant effectiveness even with children with very limited verbal and cognitive abilities. Generality: Partially, yes. The strategies were implemented with minimal adult supervision and very effective even after the study was concluded. During the post study, or follow-up maintenance phase, subjects exhibited somehow lower levels of engagement intervals comparing to the study sessions but were still on much higher level than during the baseline. These complex interactions generalized to some degree to untrained peers (Bob – Larry).

Conclusion: this article is a source of inspiring strategy to use in my classroom. It’s effectiveness is demonstrated by reliable and scientific methodology.

Source: Pierce, K. & Schriebman, L. (1995). Increasing Complex Social Behaviors in Children with
Autism: Effects of Peer-Implemented Pivotal Response Training. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis,28(3),285-295.


Positive Behavior Support

I just found a blogger on my professional twitter page that brings a lot of interesting things about classroom and individual management in school:


Although there are many resources on PBS, including Cooper’s textbook, this post offers a quick recap of basic guidelines when creating PBS rules. For example, keep your rules clear, attainable, follow through at all times, reinforce on expected basis.

Positive behavior support is one of the greatest tools in behavior management and it is proven to work – not only in special education but in any academic or professional setting. And with the animals, of course.

I wish some of our colleagues would understand the fundamental difference between PBS and negative reinforcement or positive punishment. If a teacher is removing stars for bad behavior instead of giving stars for good behavior, that is a wrong way to go. If a teacher is giving negative points for bad behavior instead of giving positive points for good behavior, that is even worse. That is what we call, positive punishment and this technique has nothing to do with PBS. And just to be clear, there are studies that compared these techniques. PBS is always more effective. Conclusion: Reward good behavior.

Human Exceptionality – an academic term

I have been researching the term and I discovered that it is used mostly in academic circles. I would like to react to a dissertation comparative study on this topic. The author  focuses on the use of service-learning in special education with emphasis on human exceptionality issues. A major goal of this investigation was to develop a set of guidelines that could be used by instructors to incorporate a service-learning component into a human exceptionality. The study confirms what we know already from previous authors that practitioners should strive to find a balance between the needs of the community agency to direct the service and student opportunities for responsibility and leadership. When appropriate, students should be involved in the negotiations and planning of service projects because it reinforces the idea that the service process is a partnership. (Clinton, 2001)

THis is a special interest of mine, because I use Community Based Instruction to incorporate everything we learn in class into applicable and relevant experiences.


Mayhew, John Clinton Jr., “Pedagogical effects of service-learning in a human exceptionality course: A comparison of two approaches”
(2001). Dissertation and Thesis. Paper 35.

Behavior Specific Praise – overrated?

Although previous research on the differential effect of behavior specific praise (BSP) and general praise (GP) demonstrates inconclusive data, there is a widely held belief that BSP is more effective in academic and applied settings. For us, special education teachers, this is a particularly important topic. The majority of research with results supporting effectiveness of BSP have studied behaviors of teachers and caregivers, not the direct effect on receivers of the praise (Hawkins & Heflin, 2016). However, many authors who studied effect of BSP on learners indicate BSP is not an effective intervention for all learners. I just got approved by the IRB at Rider University to conduct an alternating design study across participants to investigate and compare effectiveness of BSP and GP on teenagers with developmental disabilities while learning new academic skill. So, here is a question that buggs us all: BSP – overrated or effective? We shall compare and  see…

wrightslaw website

I have been using this site for speci ed resources. Excellent site. Includes advocacy issues and everything related to section 504 and IDEA issues. More parents need to be informed of the possibilities and protections granted to them.

The site includes “tests” to get familiar with laws and possible mediations.

Most recently, I used this resource to help to better advise a parent who was concerned about related services. As a speci ed teacher, my hands are full. I need to prepare for next day in school, look for newest research and implications for my practice… keep up with new regulations. I cannot imagine parents of my kids to do same but multiplied times a 100.


Appropriate Assessments to prepare best IEP goals.

Some special ed teachers have an issue in creating measurable achievable, realistic, and specific goals and objectives. It is always a challenge to create goals that would be functionally appropriate. How can we do that? There are many assessments available to determine present levels, splinter skills, and barriers. I have an experience working with students whose disabilities truly re-define how much of the standard curriculum is appropriate. We have to pose some hard questions like is it functional for an 17-old student to count cents and quarters if he cannot count up to 10? How will he understand the relationship between a dollar and four coins that suppose to make up 100 cents? Is it more functional to concentrate on whole dollars and on making sure that the student remembers to pick up his bag with the purchase?

Some of the good assessments we use and are truly a great base for realistic IEP goals are Brigance, VB MAPP, etc.  THere should not be a goal written without a solid base in an assessment.