Calm Counts: Teaching Self-Calming in the Face of Stressors

CEUs: 3 (2 Learning and 1 Ethics) BACB®
Presenter(s): Steve Ward, BCBA and Emily Kearney, BCBA


Many learners struggle to self-calm. Steve Ward and Emily Kearney will frame the topic and do a deep dive on “calm counts”.

Anxiety is a part of everyone’s life. We fear business deadlines, public speaking, social situations…sometimes to the point where we meet criteria for diagnosis with an Anxiety Disorder. 60-70% of people diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder are also diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder. They may not fear deadlines, but may fear nail clippers, haircuts, swimming pools, intersections, ice machines, leaves on the ground, dogs, and more. Additionally, many of our students develop rigid and intense dislikes of things like throat-clearing, clapping, singing, toilets flushing, kitchen appliances, etc.

Exposure to potential stressors causes some learners to tense, such as by shallow breathing, and leads others to physically resist, cry, run away, and more. Left untreated, inability to cope with these stressors can become debilitating. Students can become unable to go to the mall without intensive supports. Parents can become afraid to take their children to birthday parties and other potentially enriching environments. Parents avoid necessary routine and emergent medical appointments or daily living skill routines. And students learn to escape of these stressors through increasingly unsafe behavior. Quality of life can be significantly limited.

The vast majority of people respond to signs of student stress by offering some sort of comfort. Professionals may recommend having a student squeeze a stress ball, count to 10, take some deep breaths, take a sip of water, chew on a tube, swing, or engage in some other activity intended to calm the student. These procedures are largely ineffective.

In this workshop, Steve Ward and Emily Kearney will explain why traditional methods fail in teaching students to cope with stressors and will provide a detailed description of an alternative approach that has produced dramatic improvements with hundreds of students: calm counts.


  1. Describe the benefits the Calm Counts procedure has over the more traditional exposure or time-based toleration model.
  2. Explain why the Calm Counts procedure uses shaping rather than prompting.
  3. Identify at least 3 situations in which Calm Counts would not be advisable.
  4. Identify a context in which Calm Counts would be an appropriate intervention for a current client.
  5. Create a dimensions grid for a learner that will inform the shaping steps of a Calm Counts program.



About Steve Ward

Steve Ward, MA, BCBA has been working in the field of Behavior Analysis since 1995, and is currently co-owner of Whole Child Consulting, LLC. Steve has been consulting to teams around the world, addressing everything from early communication and physical aggression to vocational opportunities and inclusion in college courses.

Steve authored What You Need to Know about Motivation and Teaching Games: An In-depth Analysis, The Inventory of Good Learner Repertoires, and Teaching Good Learner Repertoires and co-authored Teaching Advanced Learner Repertoires, and Another 21 Games: This time, it’s personal…. These publications reflect Steve’s passion not only for what students learn, but also for the manner in which they learn it. Steve specializes in teaching learner repertoires, including social repertoires, incorporating knowledge from a variety of perspectives and remaining at all times behavioral in his own perspective.


About Emily Kearney

Emily (she/her) has worked in the field of ABA field 1999 using evidence-based practices with children and their families in homes, schools and the community. She received her master’s degree in special education from Sonoma State University in 2008, focusing on using ABA to increase prelinguistic communication among young children with atypical language development. Her current professional passions involve instructional design using a component/composite analysis to help learners get the most out of learning time with generative learning; designing teaching contexts based on client assent with a foundation of rapport; and teaching practitioners to make in-the-moment clinical adjustments and use shaping and the teaching context as the reinforcer. She is currently delving into Non-Linear Contingency Analysis. Emily enjoys working with the “newly minted BCBA” to support others in analyze behavior from a comprehensive lens and program accordingly.

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Additional information

CEU Amount


CEU Type

Learning, Ethics

Product Type

Single On-Demand, Live Online Event


Paid, Not included with membership

Course Presenter

Emily Kearney, Steve Ward, BCBA


Emotional Regulation Skills, Inspirational, Students