ABA Jargon: Distractor


So, today's term, today's jargon term is 'distractor'. Now, we're not talking about ADD and being distracted by things. I love in the movie "Up", the dog who-, he's talking, and he's very conversational, and "Yes, this . . .", and then all of a sudden goes, "Squirrel!". He is distracted, right? That's not the kind. We're not talking about squirrels, here, for distractors. But this is something that is very important as a teaching tool. So what exactly are we talking about? Let's look at our actual definition first.

A distractor is an additional stimulus. I know, doesn't your head start to hurt whenever you heard the word 'stimulus'? An additional stimulus that is presented alongside the target during discriminative training . . . discrimination training, excuse me. Distractors may be previously mastered stimuli, or unknown stimuli. Oh, there's that word that I hate and loathe and despise, and then you go, "What does this have to do with me? Why don't they put this on different English?"

All right, we're going to do that for you. Your working definition for 'distractor', is an additional item, instead of stimuli, presented alongside the target to test whether the child can still select the correct answer, when they have more than one thing to choose from. Okay, I can tell you that I had some help from a BCBA because I would have change that substantially. So 'distractor', when you're teaching something, especially when we're using really good ABA and we're doing DTT, which is Discriminative . . . right? DTT? I don't have at this morning, it's not-, Discriminative Trial Training. Yes, that's what it is. I think. But it's a type of teaching.

Discrete Trial Training, Teaching. Where is my head? Can you tell I've been on vacation? DTT, I know what it looks like but I can't pronounce it. Okay, so we start often teaching something with errorless learning. We want to make sure that the individual that we're teaching is going to get it right, no matter what, in the beginning. So if what I'm trying to teach-, our target is whatever it is that we're trying to teach, and if right now what I'm trying to teach is 'pen'. Then I would probably find a better pen that this, because this is a very funky interesting pen that I would use later on, but this is a pen nonetheless, and so I can start teaching the child 'pen', and I probably would start with a receptive goal, to get them to understand that when I say 'pen', what I'm talking about is this.

Later on, I would try to do an expressive goal where they're saying 'pen', right? And I would do them interchangeably, but I might start by saying . . . Well, a lot of times we start with . . . I'm reaching for props. We start with matching. So if I had two pens that were exactly alike, and I would start with two pens are exactly alike. I would put the one pen down and I would give this pen to the individual, and I would say, "Put with same", right? So that they would look and go, "These are the same," and I go, "Yes, it's a pen." Right? Then I would start by saying . . . after that, I would say, "Touch pen," and I might even take the child's hand and have them touch the pen.

Does the child know that this is a pen yet? No, they don't. That's the thing about DTT, is that when you watch it as parent, as a teacher, you go, "Well, you're not really teaching them anything." Not in that first phase, right? We're just getting them used to, and giving them a reward for it. So you say, "Touch the pen." "Oh, you touched the pen, it's a pen." Right? And I might do that ten times, right? "Touch the pen," and they touch the pen, "Yay!" And after ten times, they got a huge reward, they got the praise in between, right?

So then, I'm not prompting anymore, and I'm saying, "Touch the pen", they touch the pen, but there's nothing else there but a pen for them to touch, right? That's why it's errorless learning.

So eventually, I have to put other items into what they call 'the field', or 'the array', to have them be able to notice what's the difference. So I have a cup here, so I would put the pen and the cup here and I would say "Touch pen," so the cup is the distractor, and I can tell you that in the beginning, the child goes and they're going to touch the cup. Because maybe the cup is more reinforcing for them, they want to see what's in the cup, whatever, and we don't make a big deal about it, but we would prompt them and say "Touch pen," and have them put their hand on the pen.

Then I would rearrange the order, and eventually we get to an array of three, then I would say, "Touch pen," and they touch the pen and we reward them, heavily, for having touched the pen. It takes a while before they actually know what a pen is, and of course there's many more steps to this, but the distractor is the thing that is just there to help them see, 'that's not a pen', and we're not addressing that right now. We're just putting it there, saying, "Touch pen," and they touch the pen, and they'll begin to learn what a pen is. It takes patience, but it works.