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Behavior Traps

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Expert Name: Amanda Fishley, MA, BCBA, COBA
Expert Title: MA, BCBA, COBA
Company Name:  Special Learning, Inc.
Company URL: www.special-learning.com
Short Bio: Amanda Fishley, MA, BCBA, COBA is a Board Certified Behavior 

Analyst and Certified Ohio Behavior Analyst. She has experience working with children, adolescents and adults in variety of settings including school, home and mental health facilities. In each of these environments, she worked closely with parents, teachers, and paraprofessionals to develop and oversee implementation of behavior intervention plans. She has extensive experience mentoring and providing supervision to RBTs, BCBA candidates and behavior analysts. As an Associate Director of Clinical Solutions for Special Learning, she is responsible for creating and presenting educational materials and promoting Special Learning’s mission to positively impact the special needs community. She received her Master’s degree in Special Education/ABA from The Ohio State University. She has been working with in the field of ABA for over ten years.

Behavior Traps

The term behavioral trap was first described by Baer and Wolf (1970) when describing how natural contingencies of reinforcement can operate to promote and maintain generalized behavior changes. Alber and Heward (1996) published an article titled: “Gotcha!” Twenty-five behavior traps guaranteed to extend your students’ academic and social skills. The article describes a fifth grade student struggling with reading and math. The teacher noticed he appeared to enjoy baseball and was alphabetizing baseball cards.  She utilized this interest in various academic subjects (i.e., he was calculated averages, wrote letters to his favorite players, and in geography, located hometowns of baseball players).

Alber and Heward (1996) outlined these five steps to design and use “behavior “traps” and I encourage you to check out their article (reference cited below) for additional information to set your own trap.

1)    Identify your prey—what academic/social areas does the student need the most help? Be sure to target behaviors that are relevant, functional, and behaviors that lend themselves to frequent practice opportunities
2)    Find powerful bait—what does the student like? Watch them when they’re alone or simply by asking the student and/or their parents and provide a variety for them to sample.
3)    Set the trap—place coveted materials in the student’s path. You can do this by forming classroom clubs, find classroom jobs for the student based off his/her interests, and/or enlist the help of his/her peers.
4)    Maintain your trap—Start small. Use variety and give your trap a break periodically
5)    Appraise your catch—assess the changes in the targeted skills frequently and directly. Make modifications or set another trap if ineffective.

Alber-Morgan, S. (2009). Notes for a lecture on planning and implementing instruction for generalized outcomes. The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH.

Alber, S. R., & Heward, W. L. (1996). “Gotcha!” Twenty-five behavior traps guaranteed to extend your students’ academic and social skills. Intervention in school and clinic, 31 (5), 285-289. 
Baer, D. M., & Wolf, M. M. (1970). The entry into natural communicates of reinforcement. In R. Ulrich, T. Stachnick, & J. Mabry (Eds.), Control of human behavior (pp. 319-324). Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman.


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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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