Autism learner

Escape Contingency

Autism learner
Escape Contingency is one of the three negative reinforcement contingencies. An escape contingency can be defined as when performing a specific behavior stops an ongoing event.

Some examples are:

  • for a child dropping onto the floor followed by the child crying stops the event of the child having to enter the classroom.
  • for a student “ending” a math fluency exercise on the computer after finishing three exercises.
  • to spit out food to get rid of a bad taste.
  • to turn down the volume on the radio to lessen the loud music.
  • to put up an umbrella when it is raining to stay dry.

Other Negative Reinforcement Contingencies

Children who are on the spectrum tend to participate more in escape behaviors because they tend to get overwhelmed during transitions and interactions in non-preferred activity situations which brings on the feeling of astounding demands in their eyes.

Forward chaining

Basic task analysis

Forward chaining is a term to describe a technique that is used to teach a child with autism some basic task analysis like getting dressed, eating a meal, brushing teeth, or combing their hair.

A teaching technique in which the learner is prompted/taught the first step in a series of steps with the therapist/parent performing the steps after the step targeted for learning. In forward chaining, the individual learns the logical sequence of a task from beginning to end. Forward chaining is recommended if the child can successfully complete more steps at the start of the behavior chain. Forward chaining has the advantage of using behavior momentum, as the 1st step is often the simplest, easiest step. Once the learner is able to perform the first step, the learner is then taught the first and second steps. This process continues until the learner is able to perform all the required steps to complete the task. This is the opposite of backward chaining.

It would be best to create a task analysis to make sure you have covered all the necessary steps. It is basically the step-by-step directions to completing the skill. By breaking it down into smaller steps and systematically introducing each step, the student is able to feel successful and gets a lot of practice opportunities before being asked to complete the whole task.

Steps for some basic task analysis using forward chaining

Putting a Coat On:

  • Pick up the coat by the collar (the inside of the coat should be facing you).
  • Place your right arm in the right sleeve hole.
  • Push your arm through until you can see your hand at the other end.
  • Reach behind with your left hand.
  • Place your arm in the left sleeve hole.
  • Move your arm through until you see your hand at the other end.
  • Pull the coat together in the front.
  • Zip the coat.

Washing Hands:

  • Turn on the right faucet handle to turn on the water.
  • Wet hands.
  • Dispense soap by pressing the button on the dispenser.
  • Rub hands in a circle to a count of 5.
  • Rub between the fingers to a count of 5.
  • Turn off water.
  • Take a paper towel.
  • Dry hands with the paper towel to a count of 5.
  • Throw the paper towel away in the trash can.

The farther along your child get in a chain, the more likely they are to accidentally rearrange the steps. This will take patience. Your child may be able to complete the steps in the correct order one day but will mix them up the next. If this is happening consistently, it’s a sign that you need to take a step back and decrease the number of steps the child is doing independently until they are more consistently achieving mastery again.

See the counterpart to forward chaining: Backward Chaining

Backward Chaining

Getting Dressed

Backward chaining is a term to describe a technique that is used to teach a child with autism some basic task analysis like getting dressed, eating a meal, brushing teeth, or combing their hair.

The ABA therapist or parent goes through each step of a process with the child with autism together until the last step, which the therapist prompts the child to complete. The child with autism will enjoy the success that comes from completing a task. Once the child can do the last step you complete all the steps except for the last two. Then, the two move backward through the steps until the whole process has been learned in full. For example, it takes five steps for a child to perform a skill. The therapist will provide the child with maximum support from Step 1 through Step 4 with prompts fading in Step 5 until an acceptable level of performance is observed. After learning Step 5, Step 4 is targeted to be taught, and so on and so forth. Remember to make sure the steps are precise and exact. If steps are implied, left out, or vague, the child with autism may struggle to interpret the full task.

Steps for some basic task analysis using backward chaining

Putting on Pants:

  • Sit on the floor, bed, or chair.
  • Hold pants by the waistband, look for the label at the back.
  • Lower pants and lift one leg into the leg hole.
  • Put the other leg into the second hole.
  • Pull pants up to knees.
  • Stand up and pull pants up to your waist.

Putting on Socks:

  • Sitting on the floor with your back against the wall or on a chair.
  • Hook both thumbs into the opening of a sock and hold onto the edge.
  • Push toes into the sock.
  • Lift the foot and pull the sock over the heel.
  • Pull sock up the leg.

Putting on Shoes:

  • Sitting on the floor with your back against the wall or on a chair.
  • Slip shoe over the foot. Place the index finger inside the heel of the shoe and pull the shoe the rest of the way over your foot.
  • Place foot on the floor and stand up to push the foot down into the shoe.

Research shows that backward chaining is very effective for many children with autism, particularly useful when learning self-care skills like getting dressed. But it is important for the therapist, teacher, or parent to be involved and attentive at every step. Many ABA therapists prefer backward chaining since it allows a child with autism to see the entire process from start to finish. The child with autism gets this overview of the process before they attempt to learn the task.

See the counterpart to backward chaining: Forward Chaining

Ratio Strain

Ratio strain is a term used to describe a situation in which the required amount of work, or response, no longer produces the desired behaviors that were previously produced by lower requirements.

Let’s look at a ratio strain example. You give your daughter $5 for cleaning her room. She does a great job of organizing her belongings and is highly motivated by the $5 reward. Using positive reinforcement is a success. A month later, you pay her the same amount for cleaning her room and your bedroom as well. She agrees to this change and does the work. In the third month, you require her to clean her room, your room, plus the kitchen. She decides she doesn’t care anymore and would rather not have the $5 you would like to give her.

You and your child may experience ratio strain when:

  • a behavior requirement increases too quickly
  • the reward does not increase enough to make additional behavioral requests or work seem worth the effort
  • there is an increase in emotional behavior, as increased behavioral expectations outweigh positive reinforcement

To avoid ratio strain, it is important to plan for gradual changes in behavior. If you note a decrease in the effectiveness of a reward, it may be time to adjust behavioral expectations or increase positive reinforcements to keep your child motivated. When setting behavioral goals, an awareness of ratio strain is the simplest way to prevent it from becoming a problem.

What is Autism?

Heartbreak and Help. No parent is fully prepared for the diagnosis of Autism. Some react with denial, others with fear. Most are confused. “What is Autism?” “Is there a cure?” “ What will our lives be like?” “Why my child?”

Let’s start at the beginning. What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Behavior (ASD) is a disorder that usually appears by age 2 to 3. It cannot be defined in one tidy box but rather in a range of non-norm behaviors that involve social skills, repetitive actions, speech and nonverbal communication, and often difficulty coping with sights, sounds and other sensations. The intensity can be from mild to severe.

It’s overwhelming to realize that life with a child impacted with Austin will be very different than had been expected. Around the clock, a special-needs individual presents many challenges, the biggest of which is making sure your child lives up to his or her potential. What to do? Let’s start with…

A basic toolkit for parents:

  • Learn to be the best advocate you can be for your child. Be informed. Take advantage of services in your community.
  • Feel. Yes, it’s okay to express your feelings – be it anger, grief, or guilt. The key is focusing the pain towards the disorder and not those you love.
  • Do NOT allow autism to take over your life. Create quality time with your loved ones and…
  • Appreciate the small victories your child achieves. Love your special needs child for who he or she is rather than what others think they should be.
  • Get involved with the Autism community. Don’t underestimate the power of “community”, the comfort and support of others who face similar obstacles.

LeafWing Center: For over a decade, LeafWing Center has provided services for individuals with disabilities. We combine the expertise of Behavior Analysts, Marriage and Family Counselors, and Family Therapists, and Behavior Therapists, to help those in need, and their families, to live a fuller life.

The LeafWing Center blog will provide regular features on Autism – ranging from research developments, to treatment methods, to family survival strategies. Our purpose? To let you know you are not alone. Hope is within reach.

Variable Ratio

Used in teaching and proper use of reinforcers, the variable ratio is a way of describing a group of different response-based schedules of reinforcement. For example, the learner’s correct 2nd, then 3rd, then 6th, then 1st responses will be reinforced.  These different response rates (2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 1st) will be labeled as VR-3—the average of the sum of the four rates of responses. Behaviors on a VR schedule tend to show consistent and steady response rates in which the learner does not “pause” after a reinforcer is presented as the next response may produce it. Like VI, the higher the [ratio] requirement, the more the learner will do the behavior.


Used in teaching and proper use of reinforcers, variable interval is a way of describing a group of different time-based schedules of reinforcement. For example, the child’s first correct response will be reinforced after 5 minutes, then after 3 minutes, then after 4 minutes. These different intervals (5 minutes, 3 minutes, and 4 minutes) will be labeled as VI-3—the average of the sum of the three intervals. Behaviors on a VI schedule tend to produce uniform or stable response rates in which larger averages produces somewhat less behaviors.

Verbal vs Non-Verbal

These are very loose terms used by individuals to describe a person that can vocally communicate (“verbal”) and a person that cannot (“non-verbal”).  


VB-MAPP Assessment

Stands for Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program. An assessment and curriculum tool created by Dr. Sundberg. This tool focuses on verbal assessment to get a complete snapshot of verbal abilities, strengths, and deficits. Domains include manding, intraverbals, echoics, etc.

Triennial IEP

Also called triennial assessment or triennial review.   Students who receive special education services must be re-evaluated comprehensively to determine their eligibility for continued special education services three years after the initial eligibility.