What is Pairing?

October 14, 2020


Every child’s ABA program begins with “pairing”.  The purpose of pairing is for the therapist to build rapport with the child before the ABA therapist begins placing demand on them.  This process is essential to providing effective ABA services.


The first 1-2 weeks of therapy is considered the pairing phase.  During this time, the therapist will not be running the child’s programs.  Instead, they will work on developing a good relationship with the child which is important in order for them to develop instructional control.  Much of the pairing progress is unstructured and client-led.  Some pairing strategies include providing the child with access to reinforcement by giving them desired items, making comments related to activities that they are engaging in, and generally interacting with them in a way that is fun.  Not every child may engage in back and forth social interactions and that is


okay.  If they are playing independently with a car, the therapist may make sound effects such as “Vroom vroom!”.  If they are playing with a toy plane, the therapist may say “Wow! The airplane is high in the sky!”  The therapist will engage in activities of the child’s choice.  While doing this, it is important for the therapist to praise appropriate behaviors (i.e. “Thank you for giving me a turn!”).  At this stage, we want the client to learn that when they are around the therapist, they get things that they like (aka pairing the therapist with reinforcement).


When pairing, staff should place as few demands as possible on the child.  Even saying “Look at me”, “Come here”, or “What color is this?” are considered demands.  Instead, the therapist should follow the child’s motivation and do what they want to do.  Once the therapist has successfully paired with the child, they can begin slowly fading in demands.


If the therapist begins working with a child and placing demands before rapport is developed, the child will not be likely to have the motivation to work with them or to comply with the demands that they are placing.


Some signs that the therapist has sufficiently paired with a child include the child approaching the therapist, accepting preferred items from the therapist, a decrease in challenging behaviors, etc.  Pairing activities should not only be done at the initiation of services, but should occur on an ongoing basis in order to maintain good rapport.




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