Training Social Skills in Limos with Games

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D & Zachary H. Morford, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21 Media, LLC

Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA

Brett DiNovi & Associates

Having difficulty interacting with others is one of the defining characteristics of individuals with autism. Like any other behavior, therapists must specifically and systematically teach individuals with autism how to interact with other individuals.

In a recent video by Brett DiNovi & Associates (BDA), Jon King, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) describes a unique method by which BDA teaches its clients social skills. Called the “limo program,” BDA arranges for limos to drive BCBAs, therapists, and clients. While riding in the limo is most certainly entertaining, the limo is a way of controlling the environment in which clients learn how to socialize so they can specifically tailor the social skills training to the needs of their clients.

In the video, Jon is playing the card game Uno with two learners with autism—one who can talk (i.e., “vocal” learner), and one who is not (i.e., “non-vocal” learner).  For the non-vocal learner, the immediate goal is to teach basic communication. Jon and the therapist use a gestural prompt in the video to teach the learner to pass recently drawn cards to Jon, and an echoic prompt to remind the learner to say “thank you.” Over time, the goal is to fade staff prompts so that the learners can begin to interact more spontaneously. Thus, the immediate goal for the vocal learner is to increase spontaneous communication and increase their interactions with the non-vocal learner.

The use of Uno to teach social skills could be considered a form of “gamification”—the application of games or game design to issues outside of the game itself, often issues of social importance (Deterding, Dixon, Khaled, & Nache, 2011; Morford, Witts, Killingsworth, & Alavosius, 2014). Games can be incredibly useful tools in applied settings for a variety of reasons. In this video, the game Uno is a way of teaching social skills using a natural setting (Uno) and reinforcers (social interactions through the game). This method has a long history in behavior analysis, particularly when trying to arrange for the generalization of skills (see Stokes & Baer, 1977). Additionally, games can function as “behavior traps” (Alber & Heward 1996; Baer & Wolf, 1970), where the entry response (e.g., starting the game) exposes one to the natural contingencies which maintain the behavior.

Jon describes the significant progress that they had made with each client in the video. Cyrell (the vocal learner), was non-verbal and wouldn’t leave his bed when BDA first started working with him. In the video, he was rapping with Jon! Samira (the non-vocal learner), has a history of having accidents. Through Functional Communication Training (FCT), Samira learned to request to go to the bathroom, meaning she could participate in community activities and go on rides in the limo.

The ultimate goal for all of BDA’s clients is to increase spontaneous peer-to-peer interactions between all of their learners, and for the skills they learn to transfer to others. In service of the latter goal, BDA encourages parents to ride along with the clients in order to transfer the stimulus control of the skills they learn with Jon and his colleagues to the natural environment.

Be sure to check out the full video, and to subscribe to Brett DiNovi’s YouTube channel and let him know what you would like to see in future videos. Also be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world,  bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog and its subsidiaries, bSciEntrepreneurial, bSciWebDesign, bSciWriting, and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  Dr. Ward has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward is passionate about disseminating behavior analysis to the world and growing the field through entrepreneurship. Todd can be reached at [email protected]

Zach Morford, PhD, BCBA-D, has been in the field of behavior analysis for 10 years. In that time, he has worked in varied areas of behavior analysis, including autism, animal training, OBM, education, and instructional design. Dr. Morford has also taught undergraduate and graduate behavior analysis courses at three different universities, presented internationally, trained behavior analysts in Italy and Saudi Arabia, and published peer-reviewed papers in multiple behavior analytic outlets regarding applied, experimental, and theoretical issues. His primary interest in the field is the large-scale application of behavioral principles to issues of social importance. Currently, Dr. Morford serves as the Executive Director of the Texas Association for Behavior Analysis (TxABA), and is the co-owner and founder of Zuce Technologies, LLC, a small-business consulting and instructional design company. You can contact him at [email protected].

Brett DinoviBrett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA has the unique and distinguished experience of studying the principles of applied behavior analysis under the rigorous scrutiny of both Dr. Julie S. Vargas (formerly Skinner) and Dr. E.A. Vargas at West Virginia University’s internationally recognized program. For the past 26 years, Brett has used behavior analytic principles to create large scale change across school districts, Fortune 500 companies using principles of Organizational Behavior Management (OBM), and across individual learners. Brett has been a OBM consultant in Morgantown WV, an instructor at West Virginia University, a guest lecturer at numerous universities, a speaker on multiple Comcast Newsmakers TV programs, an expert witness in due process hearings, has publications in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, and has been in in executive leadership positions across schools and residential programs nationwide. In addition to an award from South Jersey Biz Magazine for “Best Places to Work,” an award for “Best of Families” in Suburban Magazine, and the distinguished “Top Ranked U.S. Executives” award, Brett’s proudest accomplishment is being a role model and father for his daughter and two stepchildren (one of which has autism). Brett can be reached at [email protected]

*Paid content by Brett DiNovi & Associates.


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