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

How did I get here?

Occasionally, I stop and think on how I got to what I am doing, and why. I sort of know the origins of my interest in behaviour and ABA, but it really hasn’t been something I can recall from a young age.

I remember doing Ed Psych at uni, (EDUC105!) and learning about all the different developmental theories out there. Skinner’s theory resonated well with me. I am not exactly sure why. I think I liked the positive reinforcement aspect, and I definitely didn’t understand it in its purest, behavioural form just then, but I knew I liked it.

A friend of mine started doing Intensive ABA therapy, and she said she could really see me doing it. I then went on exchange to North Carolina and did an early intervention subject and a literacy in elementary education subject. I actually used my exchange period to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

Anyway, as I said, the two subjects helped me realise what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to do primary teaching, I wanted to do early childhood, but it was too late to change. I remember having a conversation with my Mum on the phone one afternoon saying I didn’t know which path I wanted to take! Literacy or Autism? (/ABA). And this was before I had any experience in either! I have always said, I should have picked one over the other, and while I don’t regret continuing down both paths, it definitely has made things a little more difficult, and perhaps slower than if I had focused on one or the other. But I honestly couldn’t pick one over the other now!

When I got home from my exchange period, I found a family who needed an ABA therapist / school shadow and it was a perfect position for me. I got to be in the classroom with his two teachers, who were amazing at what they did! And I got to practice ABA. This family is one of my families I am still in touch with today :) I am so grateful to have been given that opportunity.

I then also started working on the literacy side of things at the same time, tutoring using specific programs.

Its all funny how it works out. An aside memory I have, which has nothing to do with my choices of study or work, but it was interesting as it was said to me, was when I was working at BBQ Galore (one of my many, many, casual jobs!) A man who was buying a BBQ asked what I was doing (other than working there!) I told him I was studying primary teaching. He sort of laughed it off and said I should do special education. Not necessarily at Macquarie, but anywhere, as there is always a need for more special ed teachers. Obviously, it was a passing comment, and from a teacher, who knew what it was like, but I think its funny that I ended up in this field.

I’m so glad that I did end up in this area. I think innately, I have skills that are beneficial, but I know I have had to develop skills that are crucial for my work. And I’m not even talking technical skills. These are personal skills that allow me to do this work. Empathy, understanding, concern, persistence, perseverance. There is a fine line between being completely empathetic and understanding of a family’s concerns, and being too empathetic which can lead into being condescending. I feel as if I do a good job of “being on the family’s side” without losing professional (ABA) integrity, and being too empathetic. It is difficult to juggle.

I still know I have a lot more to learn. I know I continually will be learning. I am trying to read as much as possible, connect with different people around the world, and definitely continue to study. I am very motivated to work towards my BCBA for 2016. I think it will make things so much more concrete for me, and even now, re-reading things on verbal behaviour, or learning about different applications of ABA, or revisiting operant conditioning, or transfer procedures, or CMO-T’s … :P it is all making more sense.

I’m so glad I have figured out what I want to do, and am able to do it. There have been some ups and downs (some pretty down downs), but I am very content where I am now, and where I am headed. I know I am lucky to work in a job I love, and in particular at a place of work that I really enjoy. Not everyone can do that.

It is a very rewarding job, and I know my friends can take it lightly when I tell them I went to the beach for the afternoon with one of my kids, but I know they know how hard I work and that when things are bad, they can be pretty bad. And in that situation, as a family member, its hard to put aside emotion and deal with it. Its hard enough for me to do so, but I know how to work through it. And that comes with experience and practice, and is what I am there to do!

Anyway, I had this originally titled as “Blast from the past” because I was going through old uni folders. I am very embarrased by some of my earlier essays. And astounded at my dedication to study! I used to write up notes for each week’s lectures! And even scan in parts of my textbook! Ahh the early days of uni! Behaviourism – in its earliest form, via me.

I also now have a much clearer purpose of what I want to achieve. Some of it is within Australia, some of it is outside of Australia. I definitely want people to understand what I do, and how what I do can be applied – ABA is not just for kids who have Autism! It’s not even just for educational purposes! I know that there is a big push from a lot of behaviourists who want to do this, and make it more understood. There have been a few social media campaigns recently that have helped with this, in particular, The Skybound Therapy video on a very successful ABA program. But that is all for another blog post another day :)

I always like hearing how people ended up in this field. It never seems to be a straight forward, “Oh I wanted to be a behaviour analyst when I was a little kid…”

How did I get here?

Book Review: Walden Two – B.F. Skinner

The week between Christmas and New Years, I had a “staycation”. Which basically means, because I have done so much travelling this year, I wanted to stay home over the Christmas period, and do nothing. Well, lie on the beach, read, and watch cricket and movies. Which I did! (And I didn’t even get that burnt!)

I had about 6 books to read, and I read 5 over the week, which is pretty good. A whole mix of things – non-fiction (Murder in Mississippi by John Safran), fiction (The Escape by David Baldacci), one of my faves (High Society by Ben Elton), a random (Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk), and one that was recommended to me by someone who is as big a fan of ABA as me :) (Walden Two by B.F. Skinner.)

I feel like it is one of those books you just have to read if you want to call yourself a behaviourist. I actually didn’t mind it, it was quite dry, and basically a conversation about the application of the principles of ABA to a real world setting, but a conversation between a few people, over the span of a few days, including discussions, arguments and realisations.

Throughout the book, I felt like different characters at different times. I feel like Skinner was trying to do that, trying to cover all possible angles and points that people might have, and addressing them with a solution.I felt I most related to the character narrating the story, but I don’t think I would have ended up in the same position as him.

Basically Walden Two is a community where people live and work, and it is completely structured and created around applying the principles of ABA to any situation, to make things easier and “better” for everyone involved. A place where like-minded people can live and everything is sorted and easy.

There are six visitors to the Walden Two community, and it is their experience of the place that we observe through the narration. They visit for about a week, and make up their own minds about whether or not it is the life for them.

There were some interesting points, and some things that seemed a bit far fetched. I felt as though sometimes the ‘creator’ of Walden Two, who was accompanying the visitors on most of their trip, seemed to have an answer for everything. I find that hard to believe, particularly as one of the attitudes of science is philosophic doubt […to continually question the truthfulness of what is regarded as fact. Cooper, J., Heron, E., & Heward, W. (2007).] And yes, while he seemed to have been experimenting with a range of things over a few years, and yes, he seemed to share this viewpoint, it just seems a hard concept to grasp.

I may be ignorant to say this, particularly as I am an avid believer of being able to apply the principles of applied behaviour analysis to any situation where there is observable behaviour, and it is of social significance or importance to the individual/s concerned, and be able to come up with a solution. Also, particularly as this is what I do, and what I believe. But I just found it hard to see this working so harmoniously and perfectly.

I know, I know, it is a work of fiction (and an old work at that – they were discussing the idea of negative reinforcement being punishment, and, based on a 1975 paper I read recently, they were confused about that initially until they conducted more experiments and realised negative reinforcement strengthened behaviour), but it started to get annoying! Every query, seemed to have an answer. I may just be a hugely cynical person (I don’t think I am!) but it all just seemed “too good to be true” – which I guess is the case with any utopian society.

It made me think about a few things. The first being, how much I apply the principles of ABA to my everyday life. I am always looking at every situation and figuring out what the function of a behaviour is at any given time. What is reinforcing me to do this again and again? I think I could be a bit more analytical about this in 2015. And really begin to live and breathe ABA :D (As a side note, there is a very good hashtag on twitter for this now – #everdayABA :D )

I also thought about the whole dissemination of ABA and how much this has not necessarily been done too well. I don’t think the book could be used as a way to promote the ideas of applying ABA to society’s issues necessarily, but in the way that I know ABA has many applications and uses, and could be beneficial in many areas of society – government, health, judicial systems… it did get me thinking about ways to share information without coming across as too judgy or ‘full on’ (which I do have a tendency to do!)

I guess I shouldn’t jump the gun and worry about how to make the whole world want to get on board the ABA train, particularly when the people I am working with (teachers, support staff – even some parents) find it hard to implement, but hey, dream big.

On the whole, I think if you work within a behavioural framework, it would be worth a read, at least to see the applications of ABA in everyday life. I also think people who are interested in socialism and ‘living off the earth’ (i.e. my Dad) would find it interesting, but it is quite a droll read (seriously, it is basically a transcript of their conversations over the week!) Any other suggested readings for behaviour analysts?


B.F. Skinner, (1948). Walden Two.

Cooper, J., Heron, E., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied Behaviour Analysis Second Edition

Michael, J. (2004)Positive and Negative Reinforcement, A Distinction That Is No Longer Necessary; Or a Better Way to Talk About Bad Things. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 24:1-2, 207-222.

Book Review: Walden Two – B.F. Skinner

Goals for 2015

As I am waiting for my flight back to Sydney (in the middle of a massive storm :s) I thought I should make another blog post. This one is on some goals for 2015. I usually avoid creating goals for myself, because if I have nothing ‘set in stone’ then if nothing happens, I can’t be disappointed! (I know, that is terrible of me, I need practice what I preach more!)

However, it definitely is something I need to keep in mind to help keep Great Start ES going and moving along, and I think the goals I have are achievable. I’m sure everyone creates goals, and keeps things moving, but I did see a few others post goals, including Tiffany at The Behavior Station, and Tricia-Lee from Behaviourist At Play post goals for 2015, so it did prompt me to get moving :)

  1. Continue with at least one more subject towards my BCBA coursework.
  2. Get back into supervision for my BCBA certification.
  3. Attend at least 2 conferences.
  4. Read at least 2 research articles a month on ABA technology.
  5. Learn about a different application of ABA (i.e. not related to Autism).
  6. Collaborate with other behaviour analysts and disseminate information about ABA

I think 6 is enough. They are sort of ongoing for the year anyway. I do really want to get back into study. I am much more motivated when I start studying, and I really need to get cracking on my supervision. I did do the online supervision training module, which was informative. And I really want to see different applications of ABA. Just like finding everyday examples helps me to understand it better, I think seeing it in another field would be not only beneficial, but interesting. I’m quite interested in the application of ABA to prisons and the justice system.

There are already two conferences I can go to this year, possibly three. I don’t know if I am quite ready to present (or have the time to prepare) just yet, but that may become goal 7.

I think 2015 is definitely going to be a good year. It is definitely off to a great start… :D (I’ve been waiting all year to do that!)

Goals for 2015

Happy 2015!

It’s a beautiful New Year’s Day here in Sydney, and I spent the day with friends and family, and experiencing my friend’s young son’s first trip to the beach! It has been fascinating watching him grow up and see all the things he likes to do. It has also been fascinating being able to see situations in which the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis apply to different situations with him :)

This kid is absolutely adorable and such a great kid. He listens, is interactive and social, and easily redirected. He also has a few known reinforcers, mainly chips, which are usually plentiful when we are at our gatherings.

I am such a great/terrible Aunty (depending on who you ask – the kid or his parents) because everytime he comes to me and says “Pwease” I give him a chip! The bowl happened to be next to me today, and he came over to me and sat on my lap and said “Pwease” and I gave him a chip (one for each hand!)

As my brain does not turn itself off, every day I notice different examples of reinforcement, or shaping, or pairing, I immediately try to figure out what is causing him to keep coming to me.

In this scenario, he saw the bowl of chips and me, and knew that the reinforcement (chips) was available.

He also knew the behaviour of coming to me and saying “Pwease” has, in the past, resulted in him getting some chips.

And what do you know, he did it today and it worked!

Antecedent – chips & Loz available

Behaviour – going to Loz and saying “Pwease”

Consequence – he receives chips (and it is most likely reinforcement because he has done this in the past, and continues to do it!)

Another example I observed today was when we visited the beach. It was his first time in all his one and a half years of life of going to the beach. He loves swimming and the pool, but the beach is a little different – unpredictable, noisy, funny textures!

He went into the waves (waves = tiny little waves, maybe half a metre), clinging to Mum or Dad for dear life. Every time a wave came, they would dip him into it, and bring him back up for a cuddle. And every time he went into the water, and came back up, Mum, Dad, and the rest of us cheered!

At first, he still looked a little scared and unsure. After about the 5th time he was dipped, he came up with a little smile, and then it got bigger, and bigger. Success! He loves the beach (just like his Aunty Loz!)

This continued on for about 20 minutes. He was still quite apprehensive about actually standing in the water, but he did want to continue, even asking for more.

I’m still trying to figure out exactly what part of ABA this is in relation to. At first, I thought pairing – we were pairing our praise with going in the waves – trying to make the waves as reinforcing as our attention. However it is not quite on the mark. If anyone has any suggestions or further thoughts on this, I’d love to hear it :)

Basically, I am really starting to think I live and breathe ABA… which is not necessarily a bad thing, I just need to figure out how to use it to make a changes to a whole lot of aspects of my life.

On that note, I recently read Skinner’s “Walden Two” and am definitely thinking I will write up a book review soon. It was an interesting read.

Happy New Year!


References

Cooper, J., Heron, E., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied Behaviour Analysis Second Edition

Behaviorbabe Website

I Love ABA Website

Happy 2015!

We’re going on a ‘treasure’ hunt!

One of my favourite children’s books is We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, which is fun to read and chant along too. It can be quite interactive too, and kids love the repetition and rhythm. However, this blog post isn’t exactly about the book (although it has given me a good idea for a blog post about some of my favourite children’s books!)

What I actually want to talk about in this blog post is another program that has many potential teaching components within a program. I call it “Treasure Hunt”. Basically, it is like a scavenger hunt, there is a list of items to collect and the child has to find these items. It can be expanded or modified to suit all learner’s levels.

I would mainly use this program when I needed a bit of time to either talk to parents, or write up notes. Turning anything into a game is always a good motivator, especially if a sibling is involved and there is a little ‘friendly competition’.

Some of the types of things I would ask to be found in a treasure hunt include:

  • a small, blue, circular object (i.e. it could be a ball)
  • a book with the word ‘the’ in it
  • a book with an animal in it
  • something you write with
  • something that is green and found in the garden
  • something you can eat
  • a transport/vehicle/any other category
  • 5 toy cars
  • completing activities e.g. 5 star jumps
  • purple piece of clothing
  • go to the lounge room and get a pillow off the couch, and come back,
  • and many other ideas!

As you can see, there are many, many options of things you can ask. Instructions, attributes, sizes, colours, visual pictures, written words, categories, numbers, counting etc.

As I said, I like to use this activity when I am needing to multi-task, in particular, when discussing things with parents. It not only keeps the kids busy, but tests their ability to generalise skills learned to a slightly different time in the session. It is also great because it can be modified as needed for all different learners.

Another benefit is that siblings can be involved in the game, and I have found it is always good to find ways to incorporate everyone in the family into sessions. This activity ensures the sibling doesn’t feel like they’re missing out on anything, and you can build on sibling relationships and social skills. It is also great when the kids start sending each other on ‘treasure hunts’.

Plus, you can have a lot of fun with the different types of items to find on the ‘treasure hunt!’

We’re going on a ‘treasure’ hunt!

Keeping up-to-date!

There is a lot of information to take in, particularly in regards to Autism and theories about development and potential new treatment methods. I have found a few sources from the internet that have been particularly informative, and can at least point me in the right direction.

Keep in mind, my main area of interest are people providing information about Applied Behaviour Analysis and Verbal Behaviour, but these sources can link me to other areas as well.

So below, are a selection of resources I go to, when wanting to find out the latest information, or just clarify terminology.

Tricia-Lee Keller (BehaviourAtPlay)

Tricia is really great at providing everyday examples of ABA terms. Recently, she was studying for the BCBA exam via Twitter, providing handy study tips in 140 characters or less! Congrats on passing!

Dr. Amanda Kelly (Behavior Babe)

Hailing from the land of sunshine and aloha! Dr.Amanda Kelly again provides clear-cut explanations of ABA terms for everyone. I often refer to her website when explaining terms and concepts to families. Also great to see her passion for supporting families in trying to get insurance for families receiving ABA services. It was great to catch up with her last month.

Emily Wormald

Emily always asks some good questions on twitter in regards to ABA, and provides links to interesting articles, resources and some cute animals when the weekend comes around.

ABA International

This is my go to source for a) up coming conferences and b) a wealth of information about all the different applications of ABA

The Conversation – Education

Very thought-provoking discussions related to education in Australia. Lots of points of view, and the comments are usually good to get a few different sides and opinions.

Autism Advisory and Support Service

This place always has useful information for families in Sydney who are looking for services and support.

Association for Science in Autism Treatment

This is a great go-to website for the latest information about science and evidence based treatments

Raising Children Network

I think this website is a fantastic resource. Not just for Autism information, but any information about raising a child. The specific Autism section actually provides details about the differnent types of treatments, evidence behind treatments, cost and time involved. I always point newly diagnosed families in the direction of this website.

Mark Sundberg

When I want to get information about Verbal Behaviour, I always visit Mark Sundberg’s website to see some of his uploaded presentations.

The Project

I feel that this show is like BTN (Behind the News) for young adults. I remember having to watch BTN in primary school and hating it, having to write articles about it afterwards, but I find this show really great to watch, just to get general information about what is happening in the world. Occasionally there are segments that are particularly relevant to my interests, but on the whole, it usually has some good pieces.

Autism Spectrum Australia – Positive Behaviour Support

This website contains more *free* resources to help with creating an individual behaviour support plan for people on the Autism Spectrum. There are how-to guides fr filling in, and checklists for parents about Positive Behaviour Support services.

MultiLit

I mainly use this website when I need to figure out what workshops I am presenting! But it provides some information about literacy interventions, as well as information about where to find further research and references.

Musec Briefings

These are short, 1-page summaries on a current topic of interest in the special education world. The researchers look at the research available, and summarise it, and the provide a ‘verdict’ on whether or not it is recommended to be implemented.

These are just a few of my preferred sources of information. I find Twitter and Facebook are great places to connect with people and have discussions about a whole range of different topics.

Keeping up-to-date!