The thing that sadness me is that frequently non-vocal/less vocal individuals are assumed to not have interests or passions, but all too often it is due to lack of exposure. Even individuals who might have struggles in other areas but are able to express themselves are frequently assumed to be limited in their interests.
Thankfully, my parents took a similar tack with me and my siblings. I have previously mentioned that my parents didn’t see me as disabled but rather as one of their 7 children who just needed a little different help. I honestly believe that that attitude is why I am a fully functional, independent adult with multiple degrees and an amazing set of life experiences. Well, their mantra was that me and my 6 siblings should be well rounded people. They constantly had us try new things. And in my case, the catalyst for change was none other than East Coast swing dancing.
After getting past the awkwardness of being a teenager, and the hesitation of dancing, I discovered a passion that lead me to embracing dancing. My teacher was passionate and patient. Her breaking down of specific steps and moves into observable behaviors and have us practice them over and over is a perfect example of discrete trial training (DTT) in real life, and after we had mastered each step or movement we moved on to the next.
I never went on to compete, and I only participated in a few performances, but that was not the point. The point was that I was exposed to something that I enjoyed. And for me, that exposure was pivotal because it gave awkward, teenage me, who struggled with connecting with people, something that I could share with passion. At dances instead of awkwardly flailing about and feeling isolated, I was teaching girl (and later a couple guys who approached me) how to swing dance. It resulted in me having conversations and being friends with a lot of peers. I caught my first girlfriend’s attention with dancing and was able to find many other connections because of my parents’ drive to have me and my siblings be well rounded.
Returning from the past now, I can say with joy that the center I work at embraces this same attitude. We are constantly exposing our clients to new activities and experiences. If they express their interest, great! We keep exploring. If not, we try other things. We never force new activities on them, and always listen to their preferences (or observe their behaviors like the parents in the linked article) to ensure that the activities are not aversive.
That is the heart of ABA and trauma-informed care; Using environmental factors and reinforcement to catalyze meaningful change within ourselves and others. Behavior analysis is an approach to understanding behavior that is systematic and measurable. It is a science of observation. Is there still more to observe and discover? I hope so! Have practitioners of the past made mistakes or made bad assumptions resulting in harm. That is why I advocate so adamantly for trauma-informed care, because it helps to address those mistakes and bad assumptions. We should not be defined by our mistakes. We should learn from them. I am sure that if we take this approach our efforts will create meaningful and powerful change for ourselves and our clients. It will lead to them having autonomy and dignity like never before. Ultimately, we should always be accountable to our clients first otherwise we lose sight of our mission. To help and support them.
This glorious meme’s credit is owed to Jason Stauffer. He made the observation about a shared meme that pointing out a new behavior (Bx) without behavior is less of an issue than taking data on non-socially significant behaviors.
Some examples of this is taking data on stimming behaviors for our autistic clients or not making eye contact. If there is self injury behaviors (SIB) or harming of others, then it is socially significant, but if it is none of those than we should not be worrying about the Bx. Age appropriate would be another example. Expecting a 3 to 5 year old to ask for something in a highly articulate sentence, especially when dealing with big emotions, is unreasonable. Being age appropriate in our teaching and programming is extremely important because developing is a process, AND it is important to let children be children.
This post touches on the ethics and ethical code of Applied Behavior Analysis, program design principles, and trauma-informed care. They are interrelated, and it is important to discuss them regularly. Without these guidelines we see power abused. We see trauma created. And most insignificant, but still important to consider, we see time and resources wasted on behaviors that are not socially significant.
P.S. To the point about eye contact not being socially significant. It isn’t in almost all cases. There are times it is, but it’s up to the individual to judge. A social significance behavior with similar topography is orienting ones body away from the person one is speaking to. The replacement behavior is orienting ones body towards the person one is speaking to (and maybe looking in that person’s direction). Eye contact is a social norm in some communities, but it is not a default behavior norm, but using one’s body to indicate listening IS a default behavior norm.
I made a meme. Shocker if you know me, I know (sarcasm), but in its making it made me think. Here’s the meme first.
Now that you have seen the meme, to the last point.
I recently found out that my efforts as a special education teacher to create a positive reinforcement environment/system in the school I recently left has been systematically been dismantled.
The token economy system, the self monitoring system, the rewards for effort and the other positive behavior supports I and my wonderful peers had in place for my students and the other kids who I took under my wing because I was more worried about their success than silly classification systems have been torn apart by short-sighted administrators.
I have been told that key people have been told to be “less nice” and that “there needs to be consequences” (code for punishment) for “behaviors”. In short, all of the practices that took me 5 years to put into place that showed DATA DRIVEN RESULTS for not only reducing socially significant behaviors, but also for improving outcomes for my kids on all levels from academic to social have been taken apart because “reasons”.
I understand that there NEEDS to be scrutiny of ABA. We hold a lot of power and that power can (and has been) abused. It’s why I am so on board with trauma-informed care and the #dobetter movements. Like with any profession where we hold such power over another person’s life, we need to be careful with how we use this power. Yet the 💩 I hear that schools and school districts do is insane!
To be clear, I’m not talking about those amazing, dedicated teachers who would do anything to help their kids succeed either. I was one of them. And the only reason I stopped being that teacher was because I was literally killing myself trying to help kids and running into the iron curtain of administrative push-back at nearly every turn. But in behavior analysis I have in less than 2 years made more of a meaningful impact than in 7+ years as a teacher. Behavior analysts LISTEN TO ME when I share my prospective as an autistic. In education, I could HEAR the eye rolls! Schools grab kids, punish them, use aversives, shame and traumatize them because “that’s how it is” and then punish the kids some more when they stand up to bullies or have a sensory meltdown for being placed in extremely aversive conditions without consideration to WHY! Children who are clearly ASD are refused IEPs because “they have passing grades” while 504s are ignored when convenient. Nearly the entire system disregards the longest and most effective study on academics and behavior conducted in history, Project Follow Through, which had behavior analytic backing, because of the next fad program pushed by politicians and administrators, only cherry picking what they want to use.
I am all for ABA being held to a high standard, but I am tired of seeing and hearing of literal abuse by schools and school districts which is ignored while being criticized for being abusive for using DTT when the individual saying these things doesn’t even understand what DTT is. I’m tired of being told that I am “masking” my autism (I am not!) because I have learned actual skills that have improved my life when my students are literally being punished for asking for help by the people who supposedly are there to help them.
I will continue to advocate for trauma-informed care and #dobetter, but I really, really, really wish that the well meaning folks who are so adamant and vocal about their concerns about ABA would 1) learn about what we are doing right WHILE continuing to oppose bad practices (yes, I think that there are practices we should rarely if ever use within ABA, and in fact our ethics code generally outlines this), and 2) be more vocal about schools fixing the very serious and abusive systems that are in place for their students AND their teachers. Actually training for teachers. Actual systems of supports for teachers and students. Actually FOLLOWING THE LAWS OF THE LAND (ADA, IDEA 1999 & 2004, etc).
I am a teacher. I am autistic. I am a behavior analyst. I want actual change. I want trauma-informed care to be the default. Change starts here. Speak up for change.
Puns and sayings are among the Bearded Behaviorist’s favorite things. Since Brian has a beard, the name makes a certain amount of sense, but when you add in an old saying, “to beard the lion in its den” the pun and story come together better. The term means to face an issue or problem head-on. It’s origin comes form the Old Testament about King David when he was a shepherd, before he gained his fame. The story goes that when a lion took one of his lambs, he followed the lion into it’s den, grabbed it by the mane or “beard” smote it, thus rescuing his lamb. So, while the name Bearded Behaviorist does refer to the creator’s beard (a mighty fine one it is too), it also refers to the practice of address the challenges we face directly and with evidence-based approaches.
Brian Middleton started Bearded Behaviorist as an effort to make understanding behavior fun and interesting. Dedicated to open-source education, Brian is a founding member of the Open-Source Educational Resources special interest group of ABAI. His social media pages and website are dedicated to dissemination of behavior science as well as pushing for inclusion of trauma-informed care standards in Applied Behavior Analysis and other human services. He is the host of the Oh Behave! Podcast, and open-source licensed podcast. Brian is a proud autistic adult, loving husband, avid lover of sci-fi/fantasy, a “nerd” with something better to do, enjoys the great outdoors, cooking, musicals, puns, spending time with friends and dogs, and making up silly songs. He is also the Chief Creative Officer for Legend Masters LLC, a print and design company. He holds a Masters of Education and a Post-Master Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis. He also does not enjoy writing in the third-person and really wants to stop now…