Hanley’s Approach to Tolerance and Delay

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Hanley's Approach to Tolerance and Delay

Are you even a BCBA in 2022 if you haven’t heard of Dr. Gregory Hanley?  His work is blowing up and his message is one we all resonate with – we can all be more compassionate in our treatment of problem behavior.   Hanley’s “My Way” approach to tolerance and delay is becoming commonly used in the ABA world. His approach combines functional communication training with reinforcement of precursor behaviors to shape a contextually appropriate behavior. In case you haven’t yet been able to attend one of his trainings (but they’re virtual so go do that now), we thought we would provide a summary of his work which can be implemented with your students tomorrow.  There are a lot of acronyms, so hold on tight!

Before You Begin

Dr. Hanley recommends beginning with a PFA, a practical functional assessment and the IISCA, interview-informed, synthesized reinforcement contingency before you start the official steps of his approach to tolerance and delay. Once those are completed you can officially enter into the 12 steps with your client.

Steps One through Three

Steps one through three of Hanley’s approach to tolerance and delay all include an FCR or a functional communication response. The type of response will depend on the verbal skill level of your client. These steps could involve words or phrases, pushing buttons on a communication device or using signs or gestures. In the first step you are working towards one word responses or a simple one button push. When this occurs you will reward immediately and often to encourage the client. This step is completed quickly in a mass trial format for 5-20 minute intervals.

Things become more complex in step two where you are eliciting two or three word phrases or additional signs from the client. The client might ask for something that they want, “may I have…” as opposed to just saying the word of the item they want. The last step involving the FCR expands even further. We now want the client to use polite words or signs, make eye contact or at the very least face the person speaking to them. 

steps of SBT

Steps Four and Five

Up to this point in the steps you have been rewarding immediately and often for compliance. However, that begins to change in step four, the delayed response step. At this point you want to make the client wait, at least for a few seconds, before you give them their preferred activity. The times between compliance and reward will grow longer as the client progresses. In step five you will begin to tell them no to their preferred activity. However, you will also teach them an appropriate response to not getting their way. This might be saying “okay” or it might be a thumbs up. The key here is that they do not overreact to not getting their way.

During this phase of Hanley’s approach to tolerance and delay you will begin only rewarding immediately about 20% of the time. For the other 80% you will push the client a little further. If they respond to being told no in an appropriate, taught manner then you can reward for about 20% of the time. The other 60% of the time you will make them do a non-preferred activity at some level before they are rewarded. 

Intermittent FCR

Steps Six through Eleven

Steps six through eleven involve teaching the client the CAB, the contextually appropriate behavior. These steps build on one another, getting progressively more challenging for the client. In step six you will only expect the client to obviously disengage from their preferred activity. It does not require them to leave the area of their preferred activity, they may even simply acknowledge that someone is speaking to them. In step seven the client will move away from the preferred activity to acknowledge or possibly complete a small part of the desired activity. To begin with you can reward them for simply joining the activity at the table.

In steps eight, nine and ten you are looking for more response. The goal is to get them to do some small part of the desired activity. For example, the client will put three pieces of a puzzle in place, this is a great start to completing it in step eight and maybe 10 pieces of the puzzle by step ten. The activity should not be overly challenging for the client during these steps. However, in step eleven you will start to add some challenges for them. By this point you want one to ten responses from the client even when asked to do something that is difficult for them.


Step Twelve

Step Twelve ties everything together in Hanley’s approach to tolerance and delay. At this point the client is responding to CABs and is ready for more generalization. You can now begin to apply these methods in other areas of the therapy session or classroom. 


When beginning Hanley’s approach, it is easy to get overwhelmed. However, the way that each step builds on the one before it makes the actual process relatively simple. The end result is worth the work that you will put in, so the best place to start is the beginning.