27 Feb

One of the presentations I attended last week was on the topic of Social Significance. Dr. Mary Jane Weiss, BCBA-D, discussed how we as behavior analysts need to make sure our goals are producing socially significant results. We should not teach skills for the sake of teaching them, but rather we need to be sure what we are teaching will be functional.

An interesting aspect of teaching skills of social significance is FLUENCY.

Fluency can be defined as a, “combination of accuracy plus speed […] that enables competent individuals to function efficiently and effectively in their natural environment.” (Binder, 1996)

Fluency is the true mastery of a skill. It is something retained, and that can be done in the face of distraction.

Think about it this way… when you’re riding a bike, you don’t have to focus on what step comes next to perform the skill. After practicing for a while, bike riding became a natural. You no longer needed to plan when to press down on the left pedal, when to press on the right pedal, how hard to turn the handle-bars. No, none of that requirs intense concentration. You can ride your bike while listening to music, talking with a friend, and watching for cars. It’s just fluid and natural.

So how does this relate to autism?

Imagine you have taught your son or daughter how to greet peers. They go to school, peer #1 says, “Hi Johnny!” 1 second….2 seconds….3 seconds….4 seconds….5 seconds… then your child responds, “Hi, Tommy!” A delay in greetings like that can be very detrimental to forming relationships, especially for young children! The child greeted back, so yes, it looks like they have mastered that skill. But the extended delay between the peer’s greeting and your child’s response was so long that by the time they did reply, the peer was already off saying hi to another child.

I have actually seen the above scenario play out many times. And, I have also seen what longer-term effects it has. The delayed child becomes labeled as “slow” or, “he doesn’t answer when I talk to him”. Peers lose interest if there is not immediate feedback. It can damage or even preclude friendships. And this is just one example of how fluency would be very important.

Imagine the skill of counting money to pay at a cash register, or getting your credit card out and swiping it…. or preparing a snack or meal…. how about showering or getting dressed…. washing your hands…. ordering off a menu…. coming over to someone when called…. All of these things are done relatively quickly and naturally for most of us. But the fluency of these skills has to be taught to many people with autism.

Mary Jane Weiss listed the following as Consequences of Dysfluency:

– missed social opportunities

– inability to keep up with the group

– difficulty being competitive in a job environment

So, I encourage everyone (parent or practitioner) to consider the importance of making kids FLUENT in their skills (as opposed to just “mastering” skills) so that they might have more, and better, social interactions and opportunities to thrive in future.

How do we do this? Same way you learned to ride a bike… practice. Give the child lots of opportunities to practice the skill. And as always, reinforcement is key to teaching any new behavior.


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