Slight change of plans…

This probably isn’t the best time to make decisions (when you are exhausted, and a little bit tipsy on the delicious Marlborough Sav Blanc available freely in the Qantas lounge), but it is something I have been considering for a while.

For the past three years, I have been working towards becoming a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA) through the Behaviour Analysis Certification Board. I obtained my Masters in Special Education in 2010, and have always been interested in obtaining the BCBA certification, as I believe it will equip me with valuable skills for the work I do.

I have been “completing” this certification for the past 3 years, however I’m not in any rush. I guess because it isn’t actually required for me to do my job here. I am fortunate that the skills and qualifications I have already acquired have allowed me to do this. As I said, I believe it will just be an additional level of qualification, and at the very least, encourage me to keep up to date with what is current in the world of ABA.

However I am at a point where I want to continue to have a good work like balance, yet also continue to develop professionally. I guess the reason I originally started working towards my BCBA was partially because I already have my Masters, and I was potentially going to be working overseas, however that is definitely not happening anytime soon (puppy!).

I also think the fact that I can work towards the BCBA certification later down the track as well, makes this is a bit of an easier decision.

So I have kind of decided to obtain my BCaBA certification for now (most likely by June 2016). I’m pretty happy with this decision, and it has felt like a weight has lifted off my shoulders, just thinking about it.

It will mean less study that I need to complete, less supervision hours, and less of an exam that I need to take. Not that I don’t enjoy doing those things, but I also enjoy, not doing those things :D

I also feel that in my current role/s I am able to keep up to date with current practices and research, and am learning a lot, and improving my skills every week, so not necessarily obtaining a BCBA qualification at this point in time, isn’t necessarily going to be detrimental.

It also ties in with the fact that within Australia, there are still less than 50 people who have either a BCBA, or BCaBA, so it would still be a rare qualification to obtain, but one which I believe will be extremely valuable in the future.

I also need to keep reminding myself that obtaining the BCaBA is still an effort! And a lot of work, just not as much work as the BCBA certification.

I also feel as though I will be able to do everything I want to do with GSES in the future, with the BCaABA at this point in time too, so that is helpful.

So these are my random Friday musings :)

Slight change of plans…

It’s already July…

Half the year is gone! I can’t believe how quickly it has gone. So much has happened, and things have recently gotten busier, so I thought it would be a good time to reflect on my goals from the beginning of the year, and see how I’m going.

Despite my insistence of having clear and specific goals for programs I’m working on, I usually hesitate to set goals for myself, because I don’t like the feeling of not accomplishing them :D I know, I know, practice what you preach. So I came up with some reasonably achievable goals, and thought I should check in with myself, and see what I have accomplished, what I still need to do, and find ways to make the remaining goals happen.

1. Continue with at least one more subject towards my BCBA coursework.

Not yet, but I plan to start up again in the last quarter of the year, in October, so I’ll see how I go :)

2. Get back into supervision for my BCBA certification.

Done! I started this up a couple of weeks ago :) It is going really well so far, and I am enjoying it. I probably need to set goals for my supervision too, and I have a few ideas for things in 2016.

3. Attend at least 2 conferences.

So far, I have attended 0 conferences this year :( There are actually quite a few I can go to, and are interested in, but other things got in the way. I feel I should make this 1 conference in 2015 now, and there are a few coming up I’m interested in, but I really don’t think I will be able to attend 2 this year.

4. Read at least 2 research articles a month on ABA technology.

While I don’t think I have read 2 articles a month, I am sure I have read at least 5 articles this year (maybe more.) However, I don’t have anything specific that is jumping out. I am thinking I should change this goal to read and review 1 article every two months.

5.  Learn about a different application of ABA (i.e. not related to Autism).

This is not a very clear goal. It is quite vague, and I realised none of my goals are very specific. This is actually a very poor example of the types of goals I should be writing! I think I need to change this to read an article or book about a different application of ABA, and write a review and summary.

6. Collaborate with other behaviour analysts and disseminate information about ABA.

Again, this is a very ambiguous goal. Collaborate could be interpreted in multiple different ways. I think I will change this goal to make comments in ABA chats and groups on social media at least twice in 2015.

That was actually quite helpful, and I think I have made things clearer in my mind.

So my new (revised) goals for the last half of 2015 are:

1. Continue with at least one more subject towards my BCBA coursework.

2. Attend at least 1 conference in 2015.

3. Read and review 1 article every two months.

4. Read an article or book about a different application of ABA, and write a review and summary.

5. Make comments in ABA chats and groups on social media at least twice in 2015.

I guess the next step is to figure out how those will be achieved i.e. pick a book to review, find some articles to review, figure out which conference I can go to, and find some groups to comment on :)

It’s already July…

Throwing the ABA out with the bathwater

Great Start Educational Services:

Really interesting piece.

Originally posted on Nic Hooper, PhD:

In the past few years I have worked at three Universities and in each of them I managed to squeeze in an introductory lecture to Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). In the first university I taught it on a module called ‘Clinical Psychology’, in the second university I taught it on a module called ‘Persuasion and Influence’ and in the third university I taught it on a module called ‘Atypical Development’.

aba-1

Each time I teach ABA the same two things happen. Firstly, undergraduate psychology students in the final year of their degree do not really know anything about ABA. A long time ago, following the development of cognitive psychology, it seems that psychology departments throughout the world (not just those that I have worked at, which are great places by the way!) dismissed the utility of behavioural thinking in managing problematic behaviour. But in doing so…

View original 736 more words

Throwing the ABA out with the bathwater

How do we get from A to B?

Just a short blog post, but this is something I have been having many discussions with lots of different people – both colleagues, and families – over the past few weeks.

I recently delivered a workshop on reading assessment, so that sparked my thoughts on the matter, but in general, this is something that I believe is absolutely essential in any program.

Assessment. In general, not specific assessments, or Naplan testing, or those “bigger picture” thoughts about assessment, but just the idea of assessing where you are at, before beginning a program.

It seems like common sense, you need to do some sort of assessment before knowing where to begin, or what you are going to do, but more often than not, I come across professionals, in different areas, who have no done no assessment (either at the beginning of a service, or throughout), or sometimes cannot even clearly share goals that they are working towards.

I often wonder why some professionals who are involved with families I am working with do not have any form of initial assessment, goals, or review assessment.

As I said, it seems fairly straight forward to think a) you need to know the current level of skills of the individual and b) you need to know where you are planning to get to and create goals. It helps guide what you are doing, it gives you direction. (Perhaps B is forgotten because there are no goals… again, happens more often that I would hope.)

Why is this the case?

Are these professionals not informed about assessment and how to use it effectively in their study? Is it not part of their ongoing professional development?

I have come across some professionals who have extensive experience in assessment, but don’t seem to do much with it. I also have come across some professionals who don’t seem to think it is essential to assess, and rather just get straight in and start implementing…

Both those points confuse me. I don’t see the point in just doing an assessment for the sake of it. It needs to have more purpose (planning, overview of skills, comparison etc), otherwise, why spend time doing it? And then just not doing it at all… how are you meant to know if what you are doing is working? Helping? Effective?

For me, when working with different people in different capacities, I ensure I always have a timeline for the program or service. Starting with an initial assessment, goal setting/skills teaching, and a review component with a report, after a certain period of time.

Up until that period of time, there is ongoing data collection and monitoring (daily/weekly), because the time between the initial assessment and report, and the review, could be up to ten weeks, and you don’t want to be doing something that isn’t working, for ten weeks.

I like to share this concept, with not only the family I am working with, but other professionals too. I have had one person say that it was helpful for her to see how I collected data, created goals and planned using my assessment. I’m not sure if she took on board some of the things I shared, for other clients of hers, but she was interested when we were working together.

I also find sharing this idea of assessment, planning, ongoing monitoring and reviewing, with families, is beneficial. Particularly in early intervention. A lot of parents sign up for services because other parents suggested it, or they were advised (as part of a generic list) during the assessment to try particular services. I try to stress the importance to parents to ask specific questions, ask for reviews, ask for reports. Hopefully they take the information with them and are slightly more critical when accessing services.

I’m not sure if this is restricted to services and professionals in Australia, and not necessarily the case in other parts of the world, but it would be interesting to hear people’s thoughts.

How do we get from A to B?

Book Review: What Shamu Taught Me About Love, Life and Marriage – Amy Sutherland

This book was something I figured I would get around to reading eventually. It was on my list, it was about behaviour, but within a different application than the one I am used to, and I think I have just been on a roll with reading books this year, so, I read it :)

The author is a journalist who was writing about animal training methods at aquatic parks and the like. She became quite invested in what she was learning and attempted to apply it to her life and relationships, with quite good success!

The book discusses various techniques she learned while observing the training, and while they have different names, it was clear to see how it linked in to what I know and do.

It was also interesting to see how she started to think about the world and her interactions with others. Thinking about everyone around her’s behaviour, as well as her own, and what could she do to try and prevent the undesirable/challenging/frustrating behaviour from occurring.

It made me think about how I do try to think about that in my daily interactions, however for slightly different reasons. It did make me think about how I could try and think about the ways in which I could implement more antecedent strategies with some people in my life, and think I may have come to a reasonable understanding about that (for myself).

In regards to the animal part of the book, she has two lovely dogs, who you can tell her, and her husband, love dearly. She discusses the training aspect and how she implemented some strategies with her puppies, even though they were older. Spoiler alert (highlight the text)if you love dogs, just be warned there is a little bit of a sad bit towards the end (sorry!)

It also reminded me of when I visited Universal Studios a few years ago and saw the Animal Training show. I felt that it all made a lot of sense then, and it was very interesting reading this book and getting to know more about the process and different strategies they use when training lions, elephants, dolphins, birds… etc

I also was a little bit concerned that there was going to be no mention of behaviourism or Skinner, but about halfway through the book, there was a nice link to Skinner and his contributions to what the animal trainers were teaching.

Again, one of those books that I think as a behaviour analyst, you probably want to read, but I think I know a few people I could recommend it to, as an interesting read. It is quite an easy and short read, and provides a good understanding of the general principles, and use, of ABA.


References

Sutherland, A. (2009). What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage.

Universal’s Animal Actors

Book Review: What Shamu Taught Me About Love, Life and Marriage – Amy Sutherland

The Scientist.

That’s me. Really, truly, I am a scientist. 

Well, OK, I may not be fully there, and do everything as scientifically as a real scientist, but Applied Behaviour Analysis is a science. I almost don’t think about it in this way, because I think of myself as a teacher, first and foremost. Plus, I have actual scientist friends, and I don’t know or understand as much about the scientific process as them, but I do get what they are talking about… sometimes :) 

I also figured this was a timely blog post to upload because I recently listened to a very interesting blog post which I initially was all defensive about, however after re-reading this post, I feel I can rationally think about what I listened to, and help me understand what I do, even more so.

Anyway, in ‘the bible’ / the white book / seriously, one of my most referred to books ever – Applied Behaviour Analysis Second Edition, the Attitudes of Science is the first thing, in the first chapter – even before the characteristics of ABA! 

 Attitudes of Science – particularly according to Behaviour Analysts :)

  1. Determinism
  2. Empiricism
  3. Experimentation
  4. Replication
  5. Parsimony
  6. Philosophic Doubt

Similar to my blog about the 7 Dimensions of ABA, I figured this could be a little review/study session for me :) 

1. Determinism 

 “The assumption that the universe is a lawful and orderly place in which phenomena occur in relation to other events and not in a willy-nilly, accidental fashion.” Cooper, J., Heron, E., & Heward, W. (2007). 

I like this because it fits well with my personality, and how I like things ordered and structured. It also helps make understanding the A,B,C’s of behaviour, and the ideas behind reinforcement, easier :) (Although, I don’t really know how scientific ‘willy-nilly’ is, but the white book hasn’t steered me wrong yet :P

2. Empiricism 

“The objective observation of the phenomena of interest; objective observations are ‘independent of the individual prejudices, tastes and private opinions of the scientist… Results of empirical methods are objective in that they are open to anyone’s observation and do not depend on the subjective belief of the individual scientist. (Zuriff, 1985.)'” Cooper, J., Heron, E., & Heward, W. (2007). 

I don’t know if I am being naive, or I am really only sticking to good sources, but I feel that most of the research I read and come across is very objective, and people’s personal beliefs are set aside. I wonder if I am not seeing it completely though, in particular, a lot of the anti-ABA people, or anti-Phonics people, but I understand the basics of reading and interpreting research, and I can see the overwhelming evidence for both ABA and phonics. I think sometimes some people (myself included) can just get very worked up when people ignore the evidence. I get it can be extremely frustrating! 

3. Experimentation 

“The process of a carefully controlled comparison of some measure of the phenomenon of interest (the dependent variable) under two or more different conditions in which only one factor at a time (the independent variable) differs from one condition to another.” Cooper, J., Heron, E., & Heward, W. (2007). 

When I first started doing much further study into ABA, I realised this was definitely a weakness of mine. I am not in a lab, and therefore have no strict ability to conduct experiments – ABAB, ABA, BAB… and all the other experimental designs ;)

While I still feel this is a weakness, and there is a whole other blog post in here about the translation of science to practice, I realised I was inadvertently ‘conducting’ experiments in actual sessions with kids, just not in the strictly scientific method. I would take baseline data on a behaviour, implement a plan (including antecedent changes, replacement behaviour, reinforcement and response strategies) and monitor through data collection, to see if there was a change in behaviour. It wasn’t as tightly controlled as it could be, but I feel I use a variation of this process all the time, to ensure that I am on track with programs and behaviour change. 

 4. Replication

“Repeating whole experiments to determine the generality of findings of previous experiments to other subjects.” Cooper, J., Heron, E., & Heward, W. (2007). 

I like this part of the attitudes of science. I like to think that if there are multiple people out there, in all different parts of the world, able to replicate the same thing, and end up with the same results, the better chance it is of being successful. 

5. Parsimony 

“The practice of ruling out simple, logical explanations, experimentally or conceptually, before considering more complex or abstract explanations.” Cooper, J., Heron, E., & Heward, W. (2007). 

I love this attitude. I think I need to be a bit more methodical about this process. It needs a bit more practice, and I think will tie in nicely with my “think before you speak” part. 

6. Philosophic Doubt 

“An attitude that the truthfulness and validity of all scientific knowledge should be continually questioned.” Cooper, J., Heron, E., & Heward, W. (2007). 

This is probably my favourite attitude of science. I think it is extremely important as it is making us continually question that what we are doing is working. I think it is extremely important to continually question, read more, speak to different people, experience different things, and avoid resting on your laurels. I hope I always have this inquisitive mind, and I know I am actively trying to ensure I keep this up, by surrounding myself with good people who will encourage this, and motivate me, and being open to new experiences and learning new things. 

I really should try and remember these explicitly (I’m sure they will come up on the BACB exam… eventually… when I get around to it!) but I feel, overall, I tend to consider these throughout my work and life, inadvertently. I think a do a lot of things inadvertently! 

I also stumbled across this awesome resource on twitter – How to read and understand a scientific paper: a guide for non-scientists by Jennifer Raff. I think this would be helpful for teachers who are just starting out, or teachers who may have forgotten all the research reading they did at uni… or anyone interested in thinking more critically.


References

Cooper, J., Heron, E., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis 2nd Edition. 

How to read and understand a scientific paper: a guide for non-scientists by Jennifer Raff.

The Scientist.

Book Review: The Verbal Behavior Approach – Mary Lynch Barbera

 I finally got around to reading this book in 2015 :) I’ve had it for about 4 years, but just never picked it up!

While trying to gain inspiration for a journal club I am completing on verbal behaviour (and having no luck with!) I thought, why not read this – it might give me a few more answers!

I have always had an interest in verbal behaviour. I didn’t quite know what it was about, or how it was different from ABA, all I knew was it had something to with creating a ‘voice’ for people (not necessarily a speaking voice – more to do with communication) and it seemed to be presented in a much more ‘fun’ light than the traditional ABA programs I worked on in Australia.

Well, the way the traditional ABA programs were supposed to go, because I always feel I tried to make sessions as fun as possible… most of the time anyway.

What I got from reading this book was, I feel like I was inadvertently (there’s that word again) implementing techniques from a verbal behaviour program when I was working as a young, junior ABA therapist, and then when I progressed and moved into different roles, using the principles and science of ABA.

So basically, I was very impressed with this book, because it resonated well with me, it aligned very much with my beliefs about the work that I do. But mostly, I was impressed with the straight forward-ness of the book. I almost felt like passing it onto a few families I am working with and asking them to read it, but that would probably be quite overwhelming, despite the everyday language used, and practical examples.

The book is written by Dr. Mary Lynch Barbera, a BCBA, who is also the mother of a son with Autism. She became a BCBA after her son was diagnosed and was heavily involved in his program, moving him from a typical, Lovaas style ABA program, to a verbal behaviour program.I like her determinism, and her thoughts about how the differences in each program had their benefits.

The book worked through how you could go about setting up a verbal behaviour program (and got me motivated to create a mind map – using a very cool online mind map program – Popplet) and provided a very straight forward way to teach the different components of a verbal behaviour program.

I found a really clear explanation of the differences between an ABA and a verbal behaviour program. There was also a very clear, and initial description of conducting a functional assessment of behaviour, right at the beginning of the book – very important, you want to know what behaviour you want to replace, so you can know where to start :)

I also liked the focus on reinforcement and motivation, and how as a therapist, you basically wanted the child to be running to the table to do ‘therapy’. This is something that really struck a chord with me.

I have had some kids who didn’t care either way, but I have also had some kids who would do anything to avoid coming to the table :( I know it wasn’t me, because when I was playing around and being silly, we would have the time of our lives :) but as soon as a demand was put in place, I was seen as something very aversive.

My personal experience with intensive ABA programs in Australia finished around 5 years ago, but I really don’t think things have changed that much. When I was working on those intensive programs, this was definitely not an aim of the program. I wasn’t given much of an opportunity to pair myself with reinforcement, I was basically having to go in and teach.

As a teacher, I completely believe you need to show respect for your students, and gain their trust, and then you can begin to teach – a very similar process to the rapport building and pairing with reinforcement discussed in this book, and as a cornerstone of a verbal behaviour program.

I believe I do this fairly well. Particularly as some of my more recent work involved me going into families homes and doing this within a 2 hour session, in a couple of weeks… very tricky, particularly when you are trying to explain your program, collect baseline data, and gain the parents (and siblings) trust and respect as well. It’s not easy, but it is definitely worth it.

I also took some things immediately away from the book – from teaching different and known item mands to a very beginning 4 year old learner, to how to use echoics and intraverbals, and transfer procedures (which was also one of those things I was already doing without even realising) with a 12 year old with some language, just not a lot of motivation to communicate ;)

I also then went a step further and found this extremely detailed, yet interesting, relevant, and clear explanation of verbal behaviour article, which was much more technically oriented, but consolidated the book. The Verbal Behavior Approach to ABA by Robert Schramm and Regina G. Claypool-Frey.

I recommend the book to anyone who is working within an ABA program already, and definitely anyone interested in applying verbal behavior techniques within a program. I really wish I had read it earlier – it is an easy, and quick read, and it has given me a lot of ideas. I feel a lot more confident with my programming going forward, with this information.


References

Barbera, M. &Rasmussen, T. (2007). The Verbal Behavior Approach: How to Teach Children with Autism and Related Disorders.

Popplet – a website for creating mind-maps

The Verbal Behavior Approach to ABA by Robert Schramm and Regina G. Claypool-Frey.

Book Review: The Verbal Behavior Approach – Mary Lynch Barbera