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The Key to Success: Pairing

What makes you look towards special others and what keeps you away from some? Take a moment to look at some of your happiest pictures and consider those you have been tagged in. Why do you think those pictures were special? Think about how many have the following characteristics:

  • Fun activity
  • Family/friends gathering together
  • Exploring new things
  • Laughing/smiling with a significant other
  • Playing with your pets
  • Celebrating a holiday
  • Diving into your hobbies and creating things (permanent products)

Look at some of my happy pictures:

My moonchildren at the dog park!
My little brother (my guiding light) and I at the park on a family outing.
Blurry on purpose: my extended family in Georgia waiting to be seated at a restaurant.
My awesome nieces and nephews with me (Tia Hellen in the front) and my love (Tio Shawn in the back).
My love, being goofy with tacos.

What do these pictures have in common?

  • Family
  • Fun(ny) experiences
  • Enjoying preferred items and activities (tacos, the park)

Here is one very key aspect:

There is always a deeper level of interaction (more hands on) with someone in these pictures, for example:

  • my dogs had just finished playing together,
  • my nieces and nephews were interacting with one another and with their caregivers,
  • my significant other is interacting with me by making me laugh on the other side of the camera
  • we’re all experiencing something new that may be out of our ordinary routines

In a way, this is all:


You know you have successfully paired with your clients or with others when:

  1. Your client looks for you/ asks you to join in on activities
  2. You have established a history of reinforcement with your client that is evident by increasing behaviors in which your client does activities with you
  3. Your client initiates conversation or tries to communicate with you frequently
  4. Your client follows your instructions when you are carrying out activities with them

What Pairing IS NOT:

  • You sit next to your client as they play a game
  • You follow around your client and they do not attempt to engage with you
  • You provide items/activities that your client frequently refuses
  • Any passive activity in which you are not really interacting with your client

You’ll know you need to work on pairing again when your client

  • Does not seek your assistance
  • Your voice has become aversive
  • Your presence makes your client try to go away
  • Your client will not share with you
  • Your client has expressed little interest in you

Remember, this does not mean that you are bad at what you do or that your client will be unable to work with you in the future. It simply means that you need to establish rapport with your client by creating a space where they can play with you and learn with you regarding things that also motivate them.

So before you attempt to provide instructions and carry out interventions, make sure that you have effectively paired. Limit demands, try to follow around the client’s motivation (even if you don’t like the same activities), engage with your client in a more hands-on approach, and don’t give up!

If you ever want to get better at the pairing process, just remember to go and pair with your loved ones! Get out there and create some new, amazing experiences!


Many things have inspired me along the way, from the way that atoms interact to universal forces working in tandem to bring joy into my life. I arrived from Cuba at the young age of 6 years old, became a big sister to an exceptional little boy at the age of 13, went off to college as a first-generation college student, earned a Bachelor's degree in Biological Chemistry from Grinnell College. After graduating, I became a high school science teacher with Teach for America and taught for 5 years. While teaching, I earned a Master's of Science in Education and Social Change from the University of Miami and then studied at Florida Institute of Technology and became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). Currently I am loving my life as a BCBA where every day I learn new skills applicable in my practice and in my life.

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