Today is the last day of the National Autism Conference being held at Penn State. The mission of this conference is to present current research and educate families and professionals on effective approaches to programing for those with autism. This is a great conference to attend to meet experts in the field, hear new ideas, and to receive continuing education credits. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it this year, but the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education, and PaTTAN provides the opportunity to participate via live webcasting and/or viewing archived sessions. We have been tuning in and taking notes, which we would like to share with you.
Today, I would like to share some key points from the talk by Dr. Vince Carbone. Dr. Carbone is an accomplished teacher, researcher, practitioner, and Doctoral level Board Certified Behavior Analyst. For more information on Dr. Carbone or the Carbone Clinic, visit their website here. His talk focused on the role that a students motivation plays in effective teaching. Behavior analysts use the term “Motivating Operations,” (MO), to describe why a person wants, or doesn’t want something in a particular moment. MO impacts whether an item or event is valuable enough to a person that they may change their behavior. For example, when a teacher tells a child that they are working for a snack, that student will be more motivated to obtain that snack when they are hungry. If that student has just eaten lunch, they may be less motivated to work. Hunger is a MO that we experience naturally, along with being tired, to hot or too cold, etc. However,most MOs are things we have learned over time, or what we call conditioned motivating operations (CMOs).
There are three kinds of CMOs, but the focus of Dr. Carbone’s talk was on Reflexive CMO (CMO-R). CMO-Rs are any items or events that a person learns over time will lead to a worsening of their conditions. It’s like a warning to a person that life is about to be less fun, or even painful. In the context of teaching, you may recognize your child, or a child you work with getting upset whenever instructional demands, materials, or the instructors themselves are presented. That’s because over time they have learned that when those items or events occur they have to do things that are difficult, uncomfortable or even painful for them. The fact that a child finds instruction to be so aversive is likely to interfere with successful teaching. That’s typically when a child will engage in behaviors to try and escape or postpone instruction, like running away or tantruming.
Often times when a person engages in behavior to escape, therapists and teachers may assume that the best solution is to ignore the behavior and maintain demands so that the child learns over time that the behavior does not work. However, Dr. Carbone suggests that in these situations simply ignoring the behavior may not be the most efficient way to change the escape behavior. When CMO-R is the issue, the child truly needs to be motivated to stay and receive instruction. So Dr. Carbone recommends that the child’s environment be changed to decrease the value of escape. For example, a student who has learned that sitting at a table is completely aversive because it is correlated with long and difficult instruction may engage in tantrum behaviors whenever he is brought to the table. To address this, the teacher will need to find something that immediately decreases the value of escape so the child no longer wants to engage in these escape behaviors. Essentially, provide that student with a “promise” that things will get better. For example, if the child likes cartoons, then a TV could be set up in the instruction area. He will quickly recognize that this is a new situation; that some good things may happen at the table. Once the child is willing to approach and even sit at the table, then the item or activity that was used to change the value of escape behavior can be used as a reinforcer for appropriate behavior. In the TV example, the video can be turned off to require a response and then delivered when the child responds correctly.
As a practitioner, this was a very helpful talk for applying some behavioral terminology. If you are interested in listening to the lecture, or any of the other speakers from the Autism conference from this year or previous years, they are archived on WPSU website.