Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Prompting Therapists to Deliver More Accurate & Varied Discrete Trials

A student from my lab, Richard J. May, has just published a paper in Research on Autism Spectrum Disorders on a novel method of training therapists to deliver discrete trial teaching (DTT). DTT is probably the most common instructional strategy used in early intervention work with children with autism. It involves breaking complex skills down into component parts and arranging for clearly specifiable antecedents to precede the behaviour (such as request or instruction) and consequences to follow the desired behaviour (such as praise). Progress is often slow on DTT programs, for a host of reasons, and applied behaviour analysts have recently made great headway in developing new and exciting ways of boosting outcomes and of designing easy-to-use programs and instructional materials for use with therapists working on home intervention programs with children with autism.

Richard's clinical experience lead him to design a simple prompting system to facilitate delivery of DTT across entire teaching sessions. Teaching therapists to implement DTT effectively and efficiently has obvious implications for educational intervention with children with autism. Thus, "VB-TiPS" was born: the Verbal Behaviour Teaching integrity Prompting System (although it isn't actually called this in the paper).

Richard evaluated VB-TiPS with and without existing behavioural skills training (BST) procedures and found that all three therapists studied delivered a higher rate of accurate teaching trials and a greater variety of trials when VB-TiPS was present. The prompting system helped therapists to provide greater numbers of different verbal operant trials: tacts, intraverbals, and listener relations were all presented more often compared to traditional BST procedures.

These encouraging preliminary findings highlight the need for continued research on developing facilitative DTT procedures that are applicable to a host of different participant populations (not just children with autism) and are sensitive to the varied qualifications and background of therapists working on early intervention programs.

As the paper concludes: "Behavior analytic consultants are often faced with the challenge of training a large number of therapists in a relatively short amount of time, particularly when starting a program for a new client or when therapist turnover is high. The continued identification of training strategies that are both efficient and effective is imperative not only for therapists, but for the children they endeavor to teach." (May, Austin, & Dymond, 2011, p. 315).

You can get a (PDF) copy of the paper here.

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