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The Power of Choice

23 blog avatar 1 The Power of Choice
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.

The Power of Choice

Take a minute and write down each time you have made a choice today. For me, it started with whether to choose “snooze” or to get up, what to wear, how to style my hair, etc. As you can see, you make A LOT of choices in just one day. Now try to imagine if some of those choices were made for you, like they are for many individuals with disabilities.  

Allowing individuals to make choices, particularly individuals with severe developmental disabilities, can be a parsimonious, yet effective way to manage behavior. Choice interventions are increasingly the focus of experimental studies and effectively used to reduce challenging behavior and increase appropriate behavior.  

According to the criterion described by Horner et al., (2005), choice interventions are considered to be an evidence-based practice for individuals with severe to profound disabilities (Tullis et al., 2011). For example, Cole and Levinson (2002) compared the effects of embedded choice questions within instructional routines to verbal directives with two students with developmental disabilities whose behaviors were typically noncompliant and aggressive. Data demonstrated that during the choice question condition, there was an overall decrease in challenging behavior.

Additionally, Carlson et al., (2008) used a choice-making intervention to eliminate public disrobing and urinating in clothing for two children with developmental disabilities in a school setting. The participants were given the choice to change into new, high preferred clothing during a scheduled period during the day. The choice-making intervention was effective at decreasing and eliminating public disrobing and urinating in clothing with both of the participants. The authors concluded the choice-making intervention functioned as an abolishing operation (i.e., decreased the participants’ motivation to disrobe and urinate).

Understanding the potential power of choice-making is beneficial for teachers and parents alike. Of course, there are some decisions that will need to be made by the caregiver, but providing more opportunities throughout one’s day can have a positive impact.

Carlson, J. I., Luiselli, J. K., Slyman, A., & Markowski, A. (2008). Choice-making as an intervention for public disrobing in children with developmental disabilities. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 10, 86-90.
Cole, C. L., & Levinson, T. R. (2002). Effects of within-activity choices on the challenging behavior of children with severe disabilities. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 4, 29-37.
Horner, R. H., Carr. E. G., Halle, J., McGee, G., Odom, S., & Worley, M. (2005). The use of single-subject research to identify evidence-based practice in special education. Exceptional Children, 71, 165-179.
Tullis, C.A., Cannella-Malone, H.I., Basbigill, A. R., Yeager, A., Fleming, C.V., Payne, D., & Wu, P.  (2011). Review of the choice and preference assessment literature for individuals with severe to profound disabilities.  Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 46 (4), 576-595.

Additional articles related to check out:
Cannella-Malone, H. I., DeBar, R. M., & Sigafoos, J. (2009). An examination of preference for augmentative and alternative communication devices with two boys with significant intellectual disabilities. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 25, 262-273.
LeBlanc, L. A., Cherup, S.  M., Feliciano, L., & Sidener, T. M. (2006). Using choice-making opportunities to increase activity engagement in individuals with dementia. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias, 21, 318-325.
Tiger, J. H., Hanley, G. P., & Hernandez, E. (2006). An evaluation of the value of choice with preschool children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 39, 1-16.


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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

Mother Child
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