A new family moved in next door, so you go introduce yourself. Your two-year-old son Jamal tries to run away when the new neighbor answers the door. You think this is strange as he is generally friendly, though a bit shy, when meeting new people. After you introduce yourself and begin a conversation with five-year-old about construction vehicles, you realize that Jamal has suddenly relaxed. What happened?
One of the parents has left the room. She must have recently come home from work and is wearing a white lab coat. Jamal had his two-year-old well visit last week and tried to run away from the doctor’s office to avoid getting his shots. Jamal has paired a white lab coat with a painful stimulus – shots! The previously neutral white lab coat was present at the same time as the shot. To Jamal, the white lab coat is now a signal that he might receive a shot (pain), so he attempts to avoid it by running away!
What are the places that Jamal doesn’t try to run away from? Grandma’s house, the park, the ice cream store… places that have been paired with something enjoyable in the past, like the swing set and ice cream cones!
When we begin ABA therapy with a new client, the therapist works to pair herself with good things. She gives the child access to enjoyable items and activities with very few demands. The therapist will become paired with fun things and the ABA center will become a place that the child wants to be! The meme below is a perfect illustration of what a pairing session might look like.