For behavior interventionists, building connections with your clients who are on the autism spectrum may be difficult. Challenges associated with the process may include personality differences, the child’s verbal skills or the lack thereof as well as the varying beliefs held by professionals in the field regarding ethical considerations of forming “friendships” with clients.
Many behaviorists in the field believe that an intervention void of any social or emotional ties with the client equals professionalism. Other fields in mental health and psychology emphasize empathy and connection as the basis of a healthy and ultimately successful therapeutic relationship. The more researchers probe the outcomes of various successful interventions and the basis on which they can be deemed successful, the more about the practice we learn. One such discovery was that a foundational connection with the client works as an advantage toward a successful intervention.
A procedure known as pairing has been long emphasized as necessary within the field. This is a process by which the practitioner and the client interact prior to the beginning of an intervention in order to build a mutual connection or bond which will make the client more trustful, comfortable and more accepting of the novel presence of the practitioner for the period of the intervention.
So how is pairing done?
Pairing is done usually by facilitating play sessions with the child under very relaxed conditions. By this we mean we make no demands of the child or ask the child to demonstrate skills or knowledge. It is simply entering the child’s world and connecting with them through objects/reinforcers they are drawn toward. For example, if your client happens to be playing with a blue car, instead of asking “what color is that car?” and probing for opportunities to teach, you could simply say “wow! I see you like cars! They are so fast!” or if your child is enthralled with a particular doll, you could comment “she is so pretty!”.
Continuing to make subtle remarks and connecting with what matters to your client in an unrestricted environment filled with multiple reinforcers is the way to go.
We would like to include some tips for other education professionals outside special education who may be reading: You can use pairing in your own settings with your students to build rapport and connection which would strengthen ties with your students. This should be considered as successful student outcomes increase according to the quality of teacher-student relationships. One smart way to do this for older students is to engage them with matters dear to them. Pairing could be done through discussion concerning current events and social reforms currently taking place. Discussing figures within the black community who advocated for education such as James Edward Shepard and Frannie C Williams, for example, can open an important ongoing dialogue as well as foster strong teacher-student ties.
There are many other ways you can incorporate tie-building between students or clients for the sake of your professions mission. Doing so will ensure better outcomes as a safe environment has been fostered. This leads to openness, honesty, transparency and mot importantly, trust, which is highly significant for any successful enterprise or service-driven relationship!
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