Pairing in ABA Therapy

Pairing in ABA Therapy

cartoon image of a child playing with an ABA therapist

Welcome to our ABA therapy technique series where we explore the different techniques used by ABA therapists. In this article we will learn about Pairing.

Pairing is a way to engage children with autism in therapy sessions and increase their motivation to learn. In this article, we explain how pairing is done and why it is so important in ABA therapy.

What is Pairing?

Pairing is an applied behavior analysis (ABA) technique where a therapist connects with a child’s favorite items in order to build rapport. The goal is to allow the child to develop a trusting relationship with the therapists, and increase the chances of successful treatment. 

When pairing is effective, the child systematically approaches the therapist, makes eye contact, and follows instructions, without engaging in negative behaviors. 

How does it work?

When your child starts ABA therapy, the first few days are typically spent pairing. The therapist engages in your child’s preferred activity or provides their favorite item like a toy or a snack, without placing any demands. By pairing with primary reinforcers, the therapist becomes a conditioned or secondary reinforcer. 

Once rapport is established, the therapist will stop providing reinforcers systematically, and start encouraging your child to interact in order to access them. The therapist will also occasionally introduce new reinforcers to keep your child engaged.

Because each child with autism is different, building rapport will not look the same for everyone. Pairing techniques used and the duration of the process depend on the child’s age, preferences, level of function, communication, and social skills

How often is pairing used?

ABA therapists use pairing on an ongoing basis. Avoiding the therapist, losing interest in learning, and engaging in maladaptive behaviors, are clear indicators that it’s time to start a new pairing.

Why Is Pairing So Important for Aba Therapy?

Pairing is the most effective way to ensure that your child will benefit from ABA therapy. It allows developing a meaningful relationship with the therapist before learning itself begins. This technique will also help your child to create a positive association with the therapy and the clinic setting, increasing motivation to learn.

If your child is not interested in the therapist or associates the treatment with negative experiences, therapy sessions will be ineffective. 

Moreover, the pairing process will allow your child to dissociate the therapist from the activity. In other words, if the pairing is effective, your child will be able to successfully complete therapy sessions even at times when the activities are not perceived as being particularly enjoyable. 

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