It was around 2006, I was a student at college and about 18 years old. I was studying ‘Childcare and Education’ at college which involved me doing several placements. One of the placements I did was in a local mainstream primary school. This memory did not shape my career in any way, and I never learned about ABA until my final year of my undergraduate which was 2010.
There were two boys in the class, that acted like they were brothers. They would usually be hanging out together, but they would be having fun and laughing one minute but then falling out and bickering the next! These two weren’t necessarily the most disruptive children in the class, but I had never seen them sitting on the carpet appropriately and listening to the teacher. They often got their teachers attention for all the wrong reasons! The classroom had the typical contingencies and interventions common in a mainstream school, happy vs sad face, stickers, reward charts and social approval or disapproval and reprimands from the teacher. One day I had a small pot of Vaseline that I brought with me because I had dry lips. At one point during the day, as the children transitioned to the carpet, I pulled out the pot to put a bit of Vaseline on my lips. The Vaseline got the boys attention! They asked to have some to put on their lips too. I said they could, at the end of the carpet session if they sat nicely. They sat with the straightest backs, arms folded, fingers on lips and did not take their eyes of the teacher for the entire 20 minutes! I was blown away!
This moment really made an impression on me because I realised that stickers, and praise from the teacher didn’t motivate these boys. However, the Vaseline was a seemingly powerful reinforcer because the change in their behaviour was so prominent. It also showed me how reinforcers (not knowing that word at the time!) are so individual to each person. Stickers work for one child, time on an iPad works for another, and a small bit of lip balm works for another. Now that I understand the principles of ABA I understand how important it is to find valuable reinforcers to teach children and how easy it can be to teach if you can get the reinforcement right!
Do you have a first ‘Behavioural Analytical’ Moment? Did you already know about ABA and the principles, or like me find the experience puzzling and intriguing (but now very obvious!)? If you want to learn more about the principles, why not visit the Intro Series?
I hope you found this story interesting or helpful! Please feel free to share your own stories below in the comments sections.