By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
President, bSci21Media, LLC
Most behavior analysts have experienced building up their clients’ social skills repertoires, and they know how logistically challenging it can be to arrange naturalistic conditions within which to practice such skills, outside of role-playing scenarios with the front-line staff. Unlike many other types of programs, meaningful social skills gains often require coordination with parents to arrange play dates with friends or outings into the community.
Brett DiNovi & Associates have an innovative workaround to the logistical hurdles that typify social skills programs – “social skills limos.” Yes, you heard me correctly, multiple stretch limousines used specifically for teaching social skills to a variety of clients. The limo was briefly mentioned in a September article as one of the ways DiNovi operates “outside the box” to deliver effective ABA services to those who need them most (see DiNovi & Associates Impacting the World with ABA).
To the right is a look inside a limo which, quite honestly, looks way cooler than any limo I have ever been in. This limo is specifically designed to cater to the sensory needs of the clients they serve, with flashing lights on the roof, dedicated iPads in the vehicle, and other reinforcing games.
From a billing perspective, DiNovi’s clients come from diverse sources. But one way or another, they are able to find a way to incorporate weekly hours in the social skills limo.
A typical setup looks closer to something on the left, which is a picture of Brett DiNovi’s own kids in the limo. On a typical day, the limo might make several stops to pick up a group of clients, along with several front-line staff. The limo serves as a fun alternative to a school bus, and without the stigma. The limo is designed to be a highly stimulating and reinforcing place for the learners, and a relatively well-controlled environment for the staff. During a typical session, the limo itself is usually on the way to a community outing of some sort, to further practice social skills in a less controlled community setting.
A terminal goal for the social skills limo initiative is for the parents or caregivers to gain stimulus control when in their own vehicles and in the community. However, in the initial stages of behavioral training the clinician may need to purposefully separate the parent from the learner in order to gain stimulus control. The limos provide this controlled environment so that the parents can be gradually and systematically introduced to achieve this outcome.
An OBM Project…in a Limousine
But there’s more. DiNovi & Associates are using the limo for science. Specifically, Andrea Bader, BCBA, is leading a staff training study in the limo targeting the performance of the front-line staff working with their clients. The basic procedure is as follows:
A: Baseline – During the baseline condition, staff and their learners are observed without interference while data is taken on a customized set of vocal responses for each learner. Data is also taken on the rate of learning opportunities contrived by each staff member.
B: Intervention 1 – The first intervention phase consists of an intervention package of coaching and verbal feedback. All coaching and feedback is provided by the BCBA via bluetooth headset and cameras mounted in the limo.
C: Intervention 2 – The second intervention phase adds the components of graphical feedback + explicit goal setting.
Preliminary reports from DiNovi indicate positive increases in social behaviors as well as increased opportunities to respond provided by the staff. However, a full analysis remains to be conducted, and the group plans to write up the report for a peer-reviewed journal soon.
Ancillary Effects of the Limo
But the limo is more than just a tool to teach social skills and further the science of behavior analysis. The processes built around the limo have ancillary effects on the organization as a whole. For example, those staff involved in the limo program report feeling part of a cohesive team that is set apart from other branches of the company. If the word “cohesion” bothers you, we are really just talking about socially-mediated sources of reinforcement given reciprocally by members of the staff involved in the program. For those of you with work experience at an ABA provider, you know that such cohesion can come in handy on days that are particularly trying – you have an extra support network of coworkers willing to step in and help you through the stressful times.
The limo also brings several logistical advantages for everyone involved. For example, it can be used as a training tool. The remote sessions can be observed by new BCBAs coming into the company as an efficient way to shadow others and model best supervision practices, while bypassing the scheduling and travel obstacles of a typical home provider. Moreover, the front-line staff benefit during supervision as the presence of a supervising BCBA can oftentimes negatively influence the behavior of the clients. Lastly, the company as a whole benefits from a more efficient supervision and program implementation process.
For further information on DiNovi & Associates, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns bSci21.org and BAQuarterly.com. Todd has served as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues. He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas. Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at email@example.com.