Gaining instructional control

“Earning Instructional control is the most important aspect of any autism intervention or learning relationship. Without it you are powerless to consistently help guide your child. Void of your guidance your child’s skill acquisition is reliant on his interests. Unless you are able to help your child to overcome his own desires and participate in your learning activities you will not be able to help him in meaningful ways. Instructional control can be thought of as nothing more than a positive working relationship. Depending on your choice of interventions you might have heard instructional control described in terms such as, compliance training, developing a master/apprentice relationship, or earning your child’s respect. Regardless of what type of intervention you use with your child, you are not going to be able to teach your child everything you want him to learn if you do not earn his willingness to follow your lead.”
Robert Schramm

Makes sense right??

If you haven’t heard of this phrase ‘instructional control’ before then I would highly recommend you pop the kettle on, make a cuppa and keep reading.

Behaviour analyst Robert Schramm developed the 7 steps to earning instructional control and when I first saw him present about this in 2008 it was a game changer for how I worked with my clients. It just makes sense.

I’ll provide a brief overview of the steps but I would highly recommend you take a closer look at the PDF which gives much more detail about each of the steps.

Step 1: Show your child that you are the one in control of the items he wants to hold or play with and that you will decide when he can have them.

  • Allows you to be a giver and not a taker during teaching.
  • Make a list of all items/activities your child enjoys.
  • Ensure these are not freely available.
  • During teaching time keep other toys up on shelves or in clear boxes so that the room is distraction-free.
  • Child should not be deprived of prized objects, but should be expected to earn time with them.

Step 2: Show your child that you are fun (pairing). Make every interaction you have with him an enjoyable experience so that he will want to follow your directions to earn more time sharing these experiences with you.

  • It’s critical that the child continue to enjoy being with people and see learning as a “good thing”!
  • Consistently pair yourself with your child’s favourite things – deliver freebies and place no demands.
  • Actively manipulate the environment and interact with the child so that you enhance the enjoyment of the activity.
  • E.g. if your child wants music, you should be the one to provide music. Additionally, you could hold him, bounce and dance with him whilst he is listening. BUT if your child tries to escape turn the music off.
  • Interactions should be child-led and NOT involve asking questions or placing demands on the child.
  • Establish yourself as a reinforcer for your child’s behaviour choices.
  • Pairing is an ongoing process; keep trying to condition new items/activities as reinforcers

Step 3: Show your child you can be trusted. Always say what you mean and mean what you say. If you instruct your child to do something, do not allow him access to reinforcement unless he has complied with your request. This step allows for prompting him to completion if necessary.

  • Your instructions need to become signposts that show your child specific choices lead to good stuff and others will not.
  • Carefully selecting your Sd’s in all situations and following through with the appropriate consequences is key to earning trust and instructional control.
  • E.g. If you have a ball that your child wants to play with and you direct him to sit down, you should not give him that ball until he is seated.
  • Always ensure your demands are statements and not a question or choice

Step 4: Show your child that following your directions is to their benefit and the best way to get what they want.

  • Give easy directions and reinforce their decisions to participate.
  • Fading in of instructions with continuous schedule of positive reinforcement.
  • Keep your language simple and expect a response.
  • If compliance is a struggle begin with very simple instructions
  • Be sure the first instructions you give are those that you are sure the child is capable of performing and reinforce heavily for compliance.
  • First response requirements might be non-verbal imitation, “come here” (with another adult present to prompt) “sit down”, “touch”, match something, put a puzzle piece in etc.
  • Use ‘First – Then’ statements

Step 5: In the early stages, reinforce after each positive response.

  • Main goal is to increase the rate of responses.
  • Provide many opportunities for reinforcement.
  • If every positive response initially leads to a good result for the child, the rate of positive responses will increase.
  • Reinforcement can easily be faded out over time.

Step 6: Demonstrate that you know your child’s priorities as well as your own.

  • Keep an eye on what your child’s favourite reinforcers are, rotate them and develop new ones.
  • Ensure you are aware of what you need to reinforce – know your targets and your goals e.g. reinforce ‘cuh’ then ‘cookie’

Step 7: Show your child that ignoring instructions or choosing inappropriate behaviour will NOT result in reinforcement (i.e. the fun shuts down!)…bad choices carry no benefit…

  • EXTINCTION: stop reinforcing a previously reinforced behavior
  • If you are in fully in control of the reinforcement, you can choose when to reward the child.
  • If you reward appropriate behaviour, the child is more likely to behave appropriately the next time.

Got it?? It’s a lot to take in right? Take a break and then have a look at the PDF (click on the link below) later on – I promise it’s worth learning this stuff 🙂

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