Tag Archives: behavior analysis

The cool thing- Part 2

6 Oct

When I last left off I was noting how cool my job is for the diversity it exposes me to. Another awesome part of being a behavior analyst is that my job is often FUN!

 

Now, of course I have those days where I’m exhausted from the screaming and crying and blocking a kid from beating me up….Or those days where I feel defeated and inadequate. But, on most days I get to do things that people would DREAM of calling “work” and I get to have fun.

 

I regularly play board games at work.  I regularly go to parks and Chuck E. Cheese for work. I go to bounce-house places and race my clients down the slides. I’ve gotten to have dance parties and play video games at work. I’ve gone to the mall or Target or shoe stores for work. And being a school shadow for 4 1/2 years meant tons of class parties, movie days, and recess!

 

There have been a number of times where, in the middle of my sessions, I stopped and thought “This is my job? I am getting paid to do this right now?” That saying “Do something you love you’ll never have to work a day in your life”… That’s how I feel about being a behavior analyst. Besides the obvious investment I get to make in kids and their families, it’s neat that the day-to-day is actually enjoyable and exciting a lot of the time. Just another benefit of my job! I count myself very blessed to be able to do something fulfilling and also just plain fun.

 

dowhatyoulove

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Graduation

28 Sep

Last week one of my little learners “graduated” from our program. His developmental delays are no longer significant enough to qualify him for our services. It’s always bittersweet when termination happens for this reason, because we’re excited for the child’s progress and growth, but we’re sad we won’t be working with them anymore.

His mom sent me home with a bag of materials we had used with her son, that she figured we could get more use out of. Flashcards, Mr. Potato Head, books…she kindly donated these to me so I could use them with other kids. And inside I also found what I could consider to be the most clever and adorable card I’ve ever received from a parent. (Stickers and stamps compliments of the little guy.)  😉

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I’ll treasure it forever 🙂

7 years

18 Sep

This past September 11th marked my 7th year working in behavior analysis. 7 years ago I got a job as a behavior therapist, as a part-time gig. I started with just 9 hours a week, school shadowing a little guy in a Jewish Temple. Then my client list grew, and so did my passion for the job.

And here I am now….certified, and in a Supervisory role overseeing teams of interventionists and dozens of clients. My company recently published my bio on their website, and it seems fitting to share it, as I celebrate my 7th anniversary in ABA.

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I didn’t set out to make this my life-long career. It started as something I could do that would help me learn more about the kind of therapy my brother was receiving. Then it blossomed into much more. It became my purpose to learn all I could in order to help my brother, and kids like him.

So, here’s to another 7 years, and hoping I learn even more to help those around me.

Myth #2

5 Aug

Another theme I keep reading about from those who hate ABA is that it produces overly compliant people who are subject to all kinds of victimization because they have not been taught to say “no”. It “strips” people of their voice by insisting on compliance.

First, I’d like to say that where I work it is almost 100% guaranteed that my learners will have a refusal language goal. (The main exception to this is when the child already has a refusal language repertoire). In other words, one of the first things we work on with most of our learners is saying “no” or “stop” or “all done”. And when first targeting this goal, these requests are put on a Fixed Ratio 1 schedule of reinforcement (ie: they are reinforced every time).

Now, once this skill emerges we shift the reinforcement to something more variable. The child no longer gets to be “all done” every time they ask for it. Maybe instead they have to do 1 more task, then all done. And after that maybe they have to complete 2 more tasks, then all done, etc etc. The idea being that yes, it is important for a person to know they have a right to refuse things, especially the older they get. But, it is also important for them to know that sometimes you don’t get your way…and that’s okay.

I’ve read a lot of posts with people arguing that kids in ABA should ALWAYS have the right to refuse something.

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Now, before you start getting riled up that I’m opposing this idea…hear me out…

Do I think all people (autistic or not) deserve the right to refuse things that harm them? Absolutely.  And do I believe that some people have genuinely been injured (emotionally, physically, sexually) as a result of over-compliance? Absolutely.

But, do I think that kids in ABA should be able to say “no” to something just because they don’t like it, and it should be reinforced every time? No. I’m sorry, but no.

Typical kids don’t get to refuse things they don’t like, why would autistic kids have it any different?

Typical kids go to school, sit in their chairs, do their math worksheet, line up when the bell rings, etc. Typical kids have to make their bed,  wash their hands before dinner, eat their vegetables, share with their siblings, put away their toys, etc. They follow rules and when they choose not to, they face the repercussions.

That’s how the world works for adults, too…We all have to do things we don’t want to do! And, when we make the choice to NOT do those things, we face the ramifications.

If we taught autistic kids that saying “no” or “all done” ALWAYS got them what they wanted…would that really be beneficial to them? I challenge you to really ponder this.

I would say NO. A loud, resounding, NO! This is actually extremely detrimental to them.

If we instill the belief that THEY make all the rules, that they call all the shots, these kids will be in for a rude awakening when they enter a society where teachers, bosses, law enforcement, and government officials actually make the rules. Sure, the autistic person can always choose not to follow the rules…they can choose to refuse the rules…but they will face consequences.

Just think about how far-reaching this is.

Their diets, their self-hygiene, their education, their lifestyle, their housing, their ability to earn a living, their ability to form relationships.

What if they refuse to eat? What if they refuse to wait for the cross walk sign to change before walking into the street? What if they refuse to leave a place at closing time? What if they refuse to pay for something before walking out of the store with it? What if they refuse to keep their hands to themselves? What if they refuse to wear clothes? I could go on and on with examples!!

There are REAL LIFE consequences for refusing to comply… incarceration, financial penalties, health issues, and even death!

Teaching people to say “No” is an important skill and is vital for ensuring one’s self-defense and dignity. BUT, teaching people to comply with things they don’t necessarily like is equally vital. The balance is teaching when it’s okay to refuse and when the consequences of refusing outweigh the benefit. When I hear parents  say that being forced to do something the kid doesn’t want to do (ie: finish a task) is “abusive” and “strips” the child’s dignity or ability to be heard….I have to disagree. Teaching a child to do things he or she doesn’t want to do (ie: completing a task) is imperative for success in all aspects of life. While we want to make sure we are not creating blind compliance that may lead to being abused or taken advantage of, we also want to make sure our kids are prepared for a world that doesn’t revolve around them and their every desire. Teaching a person to accept this reality is one of the most loving things I can think of, because it sets realistic expectations and helps them navigate through this world we live in; a world with rules and regulations.

Myth #1

4 Aug

Like I mentioned in my last post, I want to try to dispel some misconceptions people have about ABA.

One thing I keep reading, by parents who hate ABA and also those with autism who hate ABA, is this idea that ABA is for “autistic people”, and it treats them like machines, or like animals.

No, no, no. This could not be further from the truth. ABA is all around us! The principles of behavior are what make ALL of us operate.

If you have ever scratched an itch- you just employed negative reinforcement.

If you have ever been paid to do a job- you just received positive reinforcement.

If you have ever stretched your muscles- that was automatic reinforcement.

If you have ever gotten a speeding ticket- that’s positive punishment.

If you have ever been grounded or put on time out- that’s negative punishment.

Do you see what I mean?? The principles of behavior are constantly around us. All of our behavior is shaped by our environment. Everybody’s is!

When you’re driving in the rain, you turn the windshield wipers on.

When it’s hot and sunny, you put sunscreen on.

When it’s too loud, you cover your ears.

When you don’t feel well, you take medicine.

When you want to go on the internet, you turn your computer on.

Our behavior is a direct result of our environment. And, our environment includes our bodies as well.

The difference between what I’m talking about here and what people with autism experience is just a matter of intensity and structure. Okay, so not all of us have 2 hour sessions, 5 days a week, specifically carved out for ABA. But, the principles are the same. We are operating under the same concepts, constantly.

ABA is not something robotic or mechanical; at least it shouldn’t be. ABA sessions should be utilizing the person’s natural environment to have them come into contact with new contingencies. (ie: If I ask for “more”, I will get more cookie. If I scream and cry for more, I will not get more cookie). It can also be contriving their environment in order to come into contact with new contingencies. (ie: If the cookie jar is too high up I can ask for “help” and get help. If I bang on the cabinets over and over, I will not get help).

For those that hate the principles of behavior analysis….I challenge you to live a day without them. (Spoiler alert: It can’t be done.)

Perhaps it’s the just methods of a particular practitioner that you hate, in which case, I suggest you find a provider who better meets your needs. There are good clinicians out there. As Priority ABA says on their website, “When done correctly, ABA will maximize a child’s ability to express their own personality and preferences by teaching them the skills they need to communicate, play, and otherwise enjoy life.”

Reality check….

2 Aug

This past week I was browsing around online….stumbled onto a blog (which will remain nameless)…and got a slap-in-the-face style reality check.

This blog, which is fairly popular, has an anti-ABA tone throughout it’s posts. The writer, a mother of an autistic boy, posts about how detrimental she thinks ABA can be. She believes ABA shames it’s learners, it is by nature a “dangerous” treatment and is harmful to those who receive it; she believes it damages a child’s ability to form relationships, it takes away their voice, it’s overall a very limited practice which ruins a parent’s view of their child, and it over-pathologizes children.

Wow.

What struck me most was that in all of her rants about how terrible ABA is, she didn’t at all express the benefits of ABA or the years of research showing it to be the most effective treatment for individuals with autism. No, she didn’t shed light on any of that. Instead, she put out messages of skepticism and fear, encouraging others to stay away from so-called experts and to question everyone and everything.

Call me naive, but I had no idea parents out there so hated what I do for a  living. I had no idea parents out there call my work dangerous, damaging, and harmful. It really took me down a notch to hear that not everyone thinks what I do is as great as I know it is. Sure, I have worked with plenty of parents who don’t think ABA works; who don’t think ABA is valid or something they’d like to commit to. But I have NEVER met a parent who flat out loathed ABA the way this parent does. People out there think my work is emotionally injuring their child? People out there believe my work is taking away their child’s voice? It’s ruining their perception of their child? What????!!!!!????

It’s really sad to me that any parent would choose to focus on the work of a few bad practitioners and thereby discredit the entire field altogether. Would any parent hold doctors to the same standard? If a doctor misdiagnosed, or couldn’t cure a disease, or gave the wrong prescription to his patients…would that mean that ALL doctors are bad? The entire medical profession is tainted? I don’t think so. So I wonder why this is the case with behavior analysis.

It’s also really sad to me because I know the kind of work I do. I know the way I think about and feel about my learners, and I know the ways I have helped them and their families. I know that I use ethical practices that ensure my client’s dignity. I know that I genuinely care, and that I see my clients as people, not as diagnoses.  It’s just a shame that some parents out there are so let-down by some people practicing ABA that they decide the whole science is destructive.

How can I change these parents’ minds? Why do I even feel like I need to? It’s funny, because I’m normally more of a “live and let live” type of girl. Opposing views don’t threaten me; I’m secure in my beliefs and don’t care if people disagree with me. I have no interest in debating people online, and can’t stand when bloggers pick fights that they’re “right” and someone else is “wrong”.  But right now, I find myself feeling very protective of my field. And, I guess I know why. Because I believe in ABA. I believe in it’s power to change lives. So, I feel responsible to untangle the myths and misconceptions about ABA. It’s interesting that this has stirred up in me a desire to defend my position, when I would normally let it roll right off my back. And, while I still respect that everyone has their own values and beliefs, and I would never pick fights or sling mud to be heard, I feel the need to spread the word about the incredible value of ABA. So… that’s my plan.  Stay tuned! I’m on a mission! 🙂

StayTuned

Premack Principle

9 Feb

I’m working with a mom who’s young son was recently diagnosed with autism. In helping her think of ways to help him eat protein, I mentioned the Premack Principle (based on David Premack’s research). I did my best to explain it to her, but I wanted to provide her with some type of handout on this strategy; a little cheat sheet perhaps. I searched online and found nothing of the sort. Some definitions and Wiki pages, sure. But no quick-guide to give to parents. So, I created one. Feel free to share with anyone you know who might find this helpful.  The awesome thing about this is that it can be used with people of all ages and abilities! (Click to enlarge)

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