Shaping is a procedure that allows the behavior technician to create new forms of behavior, rather than merely reinforcing existing behaviors. Shaping consists of systematically reinforcing successive approximations of a target response, while placing previous approximations on extinction.
Put simply, shaping is the use of reinforcement to make the form of a response gradually come closer and closer to the final targeted form.
Shaping involves reinforcing approximations of a response as it gradually becomes closer to the desired skill. Previous approximations are no longer reinforced as new approximations are gained.
Why is this? Because we know they can do better!
For instance, when teaching a patient with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) some of their first words, it is very unlikely that you will be able to prompt them to say the entire word correctly by modeling it. Instead, they will often be able to imitate some portion of the word.
When teaching a patient to ask for a cracker (assuming it’s one of their favorite foods), you might use shaping to gradually teach the patient to pronounce the entire word correctly, even though they can only say “Kuh” at first.
To do this, the behavior technician first ensures that the patient wants the cracker by doing a brief preference assessment and then holds up the cracker and says, “Cracker.” If the patient responds by saying “Kuh” or anything closer to the actual word “Cracker,” then the behavior technician immediately gives them a cracker.
On subsequent trials, the behavior technician would look for something closer to the actual word than “Kuh,” such as “Ahkuh.” When the patient says something like this, then the behavior technician immediately gives them a cracker and then requires this new response, or something closer, on subsequent trials in order to deliver the cracker.
This general process is continued until the patient can pronounce the entire word correctly.
Hey, let's go find something better to play. Do you want to play with LEGOs? Say open.
Bin. Yeah. Do you want to open it?
Horse. Yeah, it's a horse. Do you want to open?
Do you want to play with your trains?
Yes. Good. OK, should we open?
OK. Say open please.
Shaping has several benefits for us and for patients. It can do all of the following:
EXAMPLEIf a patient is not saying the sound “b” in response to the SD, “Say b,” and there is nothing we can do to prompt the patient to produce sound, we can use shaping. We cannot physically demonstrate to the patient how to produce the “b” sound as this is something that occurs vocally.
Note, a "non-example" would be if the patient does not clap his hands in response to the SD “clap your hands.” This is a non-example because in this case, we can prompt the patient to clap their hands by demonstrating or by physically prompting the patient.
Your BCBA will let you know what procedures to use with your patient. If your BCBA has decided to use shaping to teach a new skill, these are the steps for conducting a shaping procedure.
What is this? What is this? What is this? Tickle?
Tickle. Tickle. Want a tickle again? Tickle? Does he have his strips?
I want tickles.
I want tickles.
Oh, muy bien!
Victor can’t say the sound “b.” The behavior technicians have no way to prompt Victor to make him say this sound, so they need to shape the “b” sound.
Victor’s initial behavior (this is what the patient engages in prior to the intervention) is that when the behavior technician presents the SD, “Say ‘b’,” Victor says “Ah” sometimes (sometimes he doesn’t respond).
Therefore, the target behavior (this is the goal for the intervention) in this scenario is that when the behavior technician presents the SD, “Say ‘b’,” Victor says “b.”
Day 1: Victor sometimes says “Ah” in response to the SD. The behavior technician reinforces this approximation. As the first step, we must reinforce the initial behavior (saying “Ah” sometimes), until Victor reliably says “Ah” when we present the SD, “Say b.”
Day 3: Victor says “p” in response to the SD. The behavior technician now reinforces this approximation and does not reinforce “Ah” as an approximation anymore. The behavior technician reinforces “p” because it is a closer approximation to “b” than “Ah” was. We no longer reinforce “Ah” because if we do, Victor will continue to say “Ah” and now we only want him to say “p.”
Day 7: Victor says “b” in response to the SD. The behavior technician now reinforces the target behavior and does not reinforce “Ah” or “p” as approximations.
Now, Victor is starting to demonstrate the target behavior! This is our goal for Victor. As such, we do not reinforce “p” anymore because if we do, Victor will continue to say “p” in response to “Say ‘b’” and we only want to reinforce the best approximation, which is now “b.”