Understanding Early, Intermediate and Advanced Learners

2/18/2019 By Dayna Parker, BCBA

When I first tell people that I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), they think that I work in forensics and I’m the star of a criminal TV Show. As cool as that would be, I think I do something even better! Using Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), I take the science of learning and behavior and use it to teach new skills and replace unwanted behaviors using evidence-based strategies.

Many people think of “behavior” as a negative term, but it is really just any action that is observable and measurable. ABA therapy addresses negative behaviors, but that’s only one part of what it does. ABA therapy also promotes learning new skills and increases socially significant behaviors. Here are some examples of what an ABA session may look like for different types of learners.

Early Learners

Early learners are children that typically display these characteristics:

  • Little or no vocalization. They often don't babble or speak.
  • Limited social abilities. They don't often play with other kids.
  • An inability to play with toys appropriately. For example, they repeatedly drop a toy car on the floor instead of rolling it along the ground.
  • Limited visual performance skills. Visual performance skills include the ability to complete puzzles, match similar items and recognize patterns.

During an ABA session with early learners, communication is one of the biggest skills we target. Teaching "manding," or requesting, is usually a good place to start. We do this by discovering what motivates the child and setting up situations where they will have to ask or request using words, signs or other alternative communication devices. Another skill we work on at this stage is imitation. Learning to imitate will help a child acquire new skills as we use imitation to teach new skills as they progress. For early learners, we may also work on following one-step instructions, matching pictures and objects, and labeling objects. Many of our early learners are not yet independent with using the toilet or washing their hands, and ABA can help them learn those things.

Intermediate Learners

We consider intermediate learners to be children that:

  • Display some vocal skills but aren't on par with their typically developing peers.
  • Limited social skills compared to typically developing peers. For example, these children can probably greet other people appropriately but may be unable to have a reciprocal conversation or stay on topic.
  • Struggle to interact with peers appropriately without presenting challenging behaviors. Think of skills like turn-taking, waiting in line or following a leader.
  • Struggle to request items they want.

There is a push for early intervention, but don’t let that stop you from looking into ABA for intermediate learners. With intermediate learners, we may work on advancing communication by teaching them to answer questions. We can also teach intermediate learners to expand their language and work on responding in complete sentences. We may also work on visual perceptual skills like puzzles, patterns, and matching similar objects or pictures. Social skills are another behavior we can target. We can teach them to initiate play, take turns, accept another person’s play choice, and more!

Advanced Learners

Advanced learners are children that:

  • have typical vocalizations and are able to communicate their wants and needs effectively.
  • have an above average vocabulary.
  • often struggle with social skills. They may feel confused about how to make friends their age or how to talk to new adults they meet.
  • have issues staying focused on and completing tasks.

ABA therapy is worth looking into no matter the age of your child. Its individualized approach makes it effective for all types of learners at all different stages. If you’re interested in how ABA therapy can help your child, fill out the form below and we will contact you for more information!