Pigeons and Dog Training Inspired Classical Conditioning for Behavior Modification of Autistics

Have you ever wondered how laboratory pigeons and dog training methods moved out from the lab and  into schools and homes of autistic children? Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the most frequently recommended intervention for newly diagnosed autistic children. At 40 hours of 1:1 intense, repetitive, and rote conditioning by way of rewards and punishments, the behavior of the autistic child is expected to be shaped toward normalization.

Before you opt to normalize your autistic child or client, you must first determine that their behavior is aberrant, undesirable, and in need of normalization. This is how ABA therapists can attract unsuspecting parents to putting their child into a virtual animal training lab to appease those who deemed the child as abnormal. The lifelong trauma of being forced and reinforced into a behavior structure that is against how you were born to function has been documented. Autistics who are exposed to ABA are 86% more likely to meet the PTSD criteria than autistics who were not exposed to ABA.

Professor Lewis P. Lipsitt discusses classical conditioning and child development (transcript below).

Freud said, it seems that our entire cyclical activity is bent on procuring pleasure and avoiding pain, and that it is automatically regulated by pleasure principle. He said that 1920.

There is Pavlov, the other giant in the field, who indeed, as particular as he was in studying classical conditioning, as it came to be called, as precisely scientific as he was in all of that work, coming up with that book that he wrote that contained all of the laws of conditioning–delayed conditioning, and trace conditioning, and all of that sort of thing– that book is just a compendium of important information that was true then, and it’s true now.

And he got into it sort of serendipitously.That’s a good term for those of you who are young folks to remember because serendipitous inferences, from what you may see, can influence an awful lot of what you do with your lives. I’m talking about your professional lives here mostly, but it has to do with your personal lives as well.

What happened was that the caretakers of the animals in Pavlov’s laboratory noticed that the dogs would begin–they had these fixtures in their mouths, in their cheeks, and they were collecting, because he was a physiologist. He wasn’t a psychologists. He was a physiologist doing work on the salivary glands and trying to find out how the salivary glands work. And the way in which he did was to have these– to collect the saliva under different stimulus conditions. And a caretaker came to him one day, it is said, and told him, you know Professor, those dogs are beginning to salivate an awful lot before I even  get into the laboratory to study them.And they salivate more and more and more the closer and closer I get to the cage where they are being kept.Well that was conditioning.I

n later terminology, one might have aid that those dogs were showing– are you ready for this– fractional anticipatory goal responses, classical conditioning, classically-conditioned, anticipatory, appetitive, learned responses.They were beginning to engage in the classically-conditioned response before the stimulus arrived.We all do that.We begin, long before we get to the door that we’re going to open, we begin to posture ourselves to reach the door in just the right way with our arm.We don’t just all of a sudden go and stand in front of the door and go like and open the door.There’s lots of pre-behavior behavior going on that leads up to it.That’s an important part of the stuff of learning.

And Skinner was one of the guys who knew all of this so, so well about the shaping of behavior. Skinner was noted, and it’s true for his work on schedules of reinforcement, and these very precise curves, cumulative curves, showing the way in which animals of different sorts behave under different schedules of reinforcement. But he was an expert shaper of behavior before he started studying the consequences of different schedules of reinforcement. He knew just when to administer the food.

And he trained other people to do it too.But every student that he ever had said, well, I could never get as good at it as he was in shaping the behavior of a pigeon. He knew went to provide the animal with the reinforcement that was going to move the animal onto the next step. It’s very important in education of children.

Lipsitt, L. P. (Academic). (2008). Lewis P. Lipsitt: “behavior kills, but developmental interventions work: psychology as the premier health science” [Streaming video]. Retrieved from SAGE Video.

Addressing Note-Reading Problems with ABA Conditioned Prompt-Dependent Piano Students


Addressing Note-Reading Problems with ABA Conditioned Prompt-Dependent Piano Students

I just finished teaching a 6-year-old who has been resisting note-reading. Before finishing the first level, I moved back to the beginning of 2nds and 3rds for review rather than pushing past the songs at the end of the level.

It’s very important to recognize the real reason why this student is not looking in the book. In this case, I recognized that ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) conditioning has made him become completely prompt-dependent and has no idea that he can actually read and execute the task independently with his own (brilliant) mind. Instead, he sits and waits for mom, or me, to say “is it going up or down?” or “how much? Seconds or thirds?” and he just guesses without actually looking at the notes. When prompted to look at the book, he gazes but doesn’t actually look for the purpose of reading, but rather just to follow directions. He does the same thing with his after-school math tutors.

Today, we had a breakthrough. I told the mother than I have experience in undoing this damage and that my technique requires that we overwrite the prompt dependency with vocal reflections of whenever he does execute any tasks independently, regardless of how small. The more feedback he receives, the more he will begin to recognize, “Oh, that’s how it feels when I’m doing it correctly. Let me do more of that.” For example, the first feedback he got was “aha! You knew that the treble clef was the right hand. Look how you put that right hand straight on to C position without anyone’s help.” He was pleasantly surprised at the recognition of his own accomplishments. Next, I repeated the same acknowledgement for the left hand: “Look! You knew that the bass clef was coming up in this measure, and you prepared your left hand in the C position. Awesome reading!”.

For the actual note-reading of the melody, he required constant prompting, but I refused to give anything away, nothing more than, “You tell me. You know how to read. You just played an E. You know if it’s going up or down, and you know if it’s seconds or thirds.” He responded with guessing, to which I then said “Use your fingers” and he promptly played the correct note. Immediately, I said, “Excellent reading”. In summary, the only two prompts should be “Excellent reading” for each and every note played, or “Fix it / clean it up”. Nothing more. Please share your feedback on this approach.