ABA Methods in Use: Teaching Puzzle Skills

41 blog avatar ABA Methods in Use: Teaching Puzzle Skills
Expert Name: Tabitha Kirby, MA, BCBA
Expert Title: MA, BCBA
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Short Bio: Tabitha Kirby received her bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in special education with specialization in Applied Behavior Analysis from The Ohio State University. As an expert in the field of behavior analysis,

Tabitha has worked in various clinical, school, and community settings. As a consultant for families of individuals with Autism, Tabitha led and implemented a variety of home-based programs. She has extensive knowledge and experience in creating special education curriculum and training programs to provide superior educational outcomes for children with special needs around the globe.

ABA Methods in Use: Teaching Puzzle Skills
To a typically developing child, a puzzle may seem like a fun challenge.  To a child with special needs, it may seem like a daunting task.  In order to help your child learn how to do a puzzle, the task must be separated out into as small of steps as possible.  Here are some tips and strategies for teaching puzzle skills to a child using the methods of Applied Behavior Analysis.
1. Start with a simple island inset puzzle with chunky pieces that have knobs or pegs. The simplest puzzle will have a picture that matches the piece they are to put in the hole. The first level of puzzle is an island inset. 
2. Remove all pieces from the puzzle. Present pieces one at a time with the instruction to “Put in,” or “Do puzzle.” This will allow you to assess what pieces require further teaching. Take notes on what pieces your child can do independently and what pieces he or she needed help with either getting in the right spot or turning the right way. Pieces that your child can put in successfully will not need to be taught.
3. One you have determined what pieces will need taught, select the order you will teach these pieces.
4. Begin teaching a piece of the puzzle by placing all the pieces in the puzzle, except for the target piece.  Present the puzzle to your child with the instruction, “Put in,” or “Do puzzle.”  Use whatever prompts are necessary for your child to be successful at first.  Prompts may include, but are not limited to: laying the piece right next to the hole facing the right direction, laying the piece right next to the hole and needing turned, tapping the piece that the child needs to pick up, physically prompting your child to turn the piece the right direction.  5. Gradually, over a few tries or a few days of a single prompt level, begin fading the prompt so that your child can begin to be more independent with the target piece.  Once all prompting is faded—this could be a week or even a month after beginning—and your child is successful at putting the piece in independently no matter where the piece is presented or what direction it is turned, we would say that the piece is “mastered” when presented alone.
6. Once the piece is mastered when presented alone, it’s important to test it for mastery with other pieces. If the child was able to put in other pieces of the puzzle at the start, present these pieces along with the target piece and the puzzle, and give instruction again.  The target piece would be considered mastered once your child can do it independently with all of the other mastered pieces when presented in this manner.
7. If there were no mastered pieces in the original assessment, after the first piece is taught, begin teaching the second piece in the same manner as the first (step 3-4).  
8. Once your child is independently successful with the second piece, present the puzzle with both the first and second target pieces out.
9. Once your child can put both pieces in without prompting, move on to teaching the third piece.  You will continue to follow these steps to teach one piece at a time until all pieces have been taught and mastered.
Your child may not view a puzzle as fun at first, but once he or she can complete a puzzle independently they will have learned a skill that can help them in many ways. First, they have a foundational skill to learn other puzzles.  Knowing how to do puzzles will provide them with an activity to do during free play, whether alone or with peers.  Secondly, you now have something that your child can do to completion while you do something you need to do.  The more puzzles your child is taught, the longer the period of time you have to do other things.  Thirdly, your child being able to accomplish something that seemed so daunting at first will give them some confidence to learn other difficult tasks.
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Being an RBT for me was extremely fun because where were you going to find a place where you can be completely silly without having to worry what people thought about you? This was the only job that made me feel like I could make a dramatic difference while being myself.

I also liked to be surrounded by people that had the same goals of wanting to help kids and the teamwork made the job much easier and more enjoyable.

Change and progress was the ultimate goal for our kiddos. The early intervention program was seriously only a miracle because I saw changes in the kiddos that from day one, you wouldn’t even recognize who they were.

Changes from being able to utter 3-4 words where they can only make a syllable from when they started, the behavior decreases in which kiddo that used to engage in 30-40 0 self-harm to only half, learning how to wait during games, table work where they use to swipe and drop to the floor if they had to.

My favorite was when the parents would tell us what amazing progress they were making at home. I used to tear up and felt for these parents so much because it was already difficult for them and now, they can trust and rely on ABA and the therapists knowing their goal was ours.

By Emma Rogers, BA, RBT

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