“Attitude is like a wristwatch – every watch may show different time than others but everyone thinks that their watch is showing the right time.”
My Experience of ABA
“a little bit of history repeating”
Please note that all the following is my own perception based on my experience with people I have met.
I have been working in health and social care since 1994, even prior to that I heard those common phrases:
- don’t give in
- that is rewarding bad behaviour
- they have to learn
One large problem in our industry is the misunderstanding of these theories and putting them into practice in the real world. I have therefore spent many years teaching small groups about working with stress & distress and how the simplistic understanding that most people seem to have is frankly incorrect.
So after many many years of challenging that mindset and nearly 20,000 people later I met a couple of BCBA’s who knew where I was coming from. We were on the same page that the ABA history has led to a general public misunderstanding of the work. I have taught a large number of people Positive Behavioural Support over the years and since 2015 my company D.ESCAL8™ (pronounced de-escalate) has been Accredited by the British Institute of Learning Disabilities – BILD PI Training Accreditation Scheme. Through these training courses we challenge the participants perception of the ideas around rewards and reinforcement.
“A little learning is a dangerous thing”
Alexander Pope (1709)
Many years ago within the field of behaviour analysis the ability existed to become a fully qualified person in a 2 week course in the US. This was poultry in comparison to the years I have studied to gain the status I had then. It was one of the things that put me off as I did consider taking the qualification – however I met many people who had that qualification who were rigid in their thinking and approaches. They seemed to disseminate information that actually reinforced the one dimensional phrases listed above. Indeed they seemed to return from the US believing it was all about not giving in and food stuffs. That punishment and withholding an item till someone behaves in a manner that another person thinks is appropriate will achieve the change desired. Of course this goes against everything I have been trying to promote for over 20 years, it destroys relationships it does NOT build them. Not to mention putting the person’s human rights in question and depending on age taking into account their mental capacity.
The actual ABA knowledge and understanding is of paramount importance. I had been talking about it for years without the qualification, because the research is good – it is the implementation of that knowledge in the real world which, in my perception, caused some problems. This was a one dimensional view – I was also an expert in my field of, at the time, Challenging Behaviour and it was clear to me even without a 2 week course in the US that the work was much more in depth than all these experts seemed to think.
“Those tangible things we dangle in front of you, once you become verbally sophisticated, don’t seem to necessarily always govern your behaviour in the ways predictably people hope they would. This is not just opinion it is something we have known for 40 years in Behaviour Analytic Research. Once people start talking, the whole reinforcement schedules thing do not necessarily work.”
And so I have felt like a crusader against the ABA onslaught. I love having them on courses because their training has always tripped them up and I have never had anyone not come onside by the end of the course – even recently 1 day workshops in educational settings.
After all these years, meeting ABA trained individuals who are on the same page as D8 made me look further at the training they now have compared to the the training they used to have. On closer inspection the Behaviour Analysis world has had a large overhaul. To do the top level now it takes 18 months study, a lot of supervision of hands on experience and before all that a Masters degree in some discipline like Psychology.
With this in mind I found some like minded fully qualified BCBA’s, indeed I have trained a few of them recently and not met any of the conflict I would have in the past. This is due in my opinion to the industry maturation. I am sure it can always get better – however it is now at a point where I feel they are aligned with where I want to be which was truly an interesting position. Indeed the ABA practitioner today is not the same person as they were a decade ago and neither am I.
Back to the Future
I have worked with many individuals who were considered too challenging. Working hands on with those individuals, running workshops on reactive planning, proactive approaches and completely bespoke workshops around individuals with multidisciplinary input.
However it is now really exciting to be working as part of Skybound Positive Behaviour Support I am now in a team of people who are great under pressure (we NEED to be) and completely aligned with my raison d’être which is assisting people to Develop Positive Relationships with Individuals in Distress. As a note I cannot stand the industry use of that old phrase – please see Challenging Behaviour an Outdated Term.
I could rant further however the bottom line is: I feel truly privileged to be part of the Skybound Team.