I Love ABA!

Welcome to my Blog!

This blog is about my experiences, thoughts, and opinions on ABA. My career as an ABA provider is definitely a passion and a joy, and I love what I do.

This is a personal blog: The views and opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of the people, institutions, or organizations that I may be affiliated with.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Are You a Great Supervisor?

*In this post I will mainly reference BCBAs, although non BCBAs can, and do, fill supervisory roles.

As many of you in the field (should) know, the BACB recently added an 8 hour CEU requirement that teaches supervisors how to be supervisors.
You would think a field full of behavioral experts and data geeks would just be brimming with the most amazing, efficient, and effective supervisors/managers ever. No, not really.

I have worked with multiple colleagues over the years (some who were BCBAs) who openly admit that BCBA’s make some of the worst bosses. What is that about? Also, how can we improve this perception?

I have mentioned before on my blog that with my certification and new title came multiple experiences where I would meet new staff, new clients, or interact with school systems who would assume before even meeting me that it would be an unpleasant experience. If you aren’t sure what I mean, see my Bedside Manner post.

Over the years I have worked with/for varying types of supervisors. Maybe you know some of them:

There is the super busy, stressed out, and preoccupied supervisor who you barely ever see. They make you feel like your questions are stupid, and rarely respond to your emails. They clearly know a lot about the science of ABA, they are just always too busy to actually share it with you.

There is the super fun and “Let’s be buddies” type of supervisor who likes to spend supervision sessions chatting and talking about what they did last weekend, and never has any feedback for you. You’re always “doing great”, and never really grow or mature as a professional working with this person. They want to be liked, not respected.

There is the very formal and somewhat rigid supervisor who prefers to stay all in their own head. They silently watch your session, taking copious notes (that they don’t share with you), and when you ask them a question they refer you to a research article or textbook, instead of answering the question. They also tend to speak almost entirely in jargon.

The good thing about having such varying experiences is it makes the great ones really stand out. Like my first supervisor who planted the seed in my mind that maybe I should consider Behavior Therapy as a career, not just a part- time job. I remember her fondly.

Once I became a supervisor myself, I wanted to be the opposite of the terrible ones I have worked with, and be comparable to the great ones. Part of being a great supervisor is of course, ABA knowledge and practical experience in the field, but it also means having the ability to put yourself in others shoes….over and over again.
I can’t treat all my supervisees the same, and they wouldn’t want me to. Actually if I did, inevitably someone would be upset. What is a comfortable degree of support for one supervisee, feels like being micromanaged to another supervisee.

For all of you out there in the position of leading/supervising a team of ABA staff, here are some helpful tips on how to best accomplish this and keep everyone relatively happy. Yes, I say “relatively” happy because in case you haven’t heard: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. So don’t aim to be a perfect supervisor, strive for continual improvement.

Tips for Being an Amazing Supervisor

  • Rearrange your alphabet, “U” comes before “I” – It is the needs of the supervisee that should come first, not your own needs. That could mean spending nonbillable time training your direct staff, explaining concepts as many times as the supervisee needs before they actually understand, being open to the supervisee interjecting their own ideas and opinions into how you write programs or create data sheets (it’s not about you), or rearranging your entire schedule/altering your day to give the most time to the supervisees who are struggling the most. Being a supervisor means you are viewed as “The One Who Solveth All Problems”. And yes, problems will pop up that require your superpowers on your lunch break (just kidding! BCBAs don’t get lunch breaks), on holidays, and on weekends.
  • Forget about constructive criticism - Constructive criticism is defined as the process of offering valid and well-reasoned opinions about the work of others, usually involving both positive and negative comments, in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one. The key word in that definition was “opinion”. Stay far, far away from the trap of offering your opinion to supervisees. That will cause people to react with defensiveness, and quite understandably, because they will feel attacked. Don’t you get defensive when someone attacks you? Instead, give corrective feedback. Keep it objective, and free of bias or personal opinion. Your supervisee doesn’t need to know that you thought their last report was horrible, and looked like they wrote it in 20 minutes. Instead, give them the specific criteria they need to improve on. I suggest a rubric, so they end up with a conclusive score.
  • Use your behavioral principles- I mean, really….what kind of BCBA supervisor would you be if you didn’t use your superpowers for good? When was the last time you reinforced your supervisee, based on their M.O. at that moment (remember, it changes)? When was the last time you used errorless instruction to prevent the supervisee from making a mistake? How regularly do you use Behavioral Momentum with your staff? Here’s a biggie: do you take the time to pair and build rapport with new staff? Or do you just walk in and start giving demands? Hmmmmm, something to think about.
  • Avoid the “Warm Body: Warm Body” formula- The warm body formula is how I refer to lazy business owners and supervisors who match staff to clients based on company need only. No consideration is given to the strengths, areas of deficit, and career interest of the staff. Have you ever seen a staff who lives to work in early intervention get placed on a severe behavior case with an adolescent?  It’s not a pretty sight. Staff need to feel competent at their job, and when they are constantly feeling uncertain, inept, and stressed, that’s when people tend to quit. Listen to your staff, and regularly talk with them to determine their client preference, their long term career goals, and what they feel their strengths are. Staff interest should be a deciding factor when creating caseloads. Also, when it is clear a staff person and a particular client are not a good fit, don’t make the supervisee feel like if they just try harder it will all work out. Sometimes a bad fit is just a bad fit.
  • Keep your actions & behavior consistent- Do you promptly respond to your supervisee’s emails? Do you take the time to answer their questions, even when you have a 12 page report to finish? If you tell them you will bring them a Verbal Behavior resource next session, do you actually do it? If your behavior is not consistent, don’t expect their behavior to be. Being a supervisor also means being a mentor. Your supervisees don’t just listen to what you say, they watch your actions. If I always showed up to supervision sessions late, or spent supervision sessions checking emails on my phone and sipping a latte, I am sending a message with my behavior that being a supervisor means you do whatever you want and get paid for it. That’s a horrible message to send. Let your supervisees see how passionate you are about ABA, and how serious you take your work, by the way you behave when you are on the job.
  • View your aggravating/annoying/irritating supervisees as learning experiences- So here is the best tip ever for current or soon to be supervisors: the things you don’t like about yourself, you will positively DETEST in a supervisee. Do you have a bit of a temper? Wait until a supervisee yells at you. Do you have difficulty meeting deadlines? Wait until you get a supervisee who never submits their work on time….ever. Are you a bit socially awkward and find it hard to interact with the client’s family? Wait until you get an anti-social supervisee who the client’s family finds to be “creepy”. As a supervisor you will work with all kinds of personalities and dispositions, and you will have some supervisees who just really irritate you. The question is, what are you going to do about it?? Complain and gripe, and try to push the person off on a different BCBA? Or, you could put on your ABA hat and shape up an increase in the persons more desirable behaviors, while replacing their less desirable behaviors. For example, if you have the Eager Beaver type of supervisee who steps on your toes and loves to just insert their opinion at parent meetings, put them in charge of something. Assign them to a task, so you now have the opportunity to work on their tact, and also to give them something to have control over.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Selecting an ABA Employer

Suggested Reading: 1st Day On the Job

I have already done a post for parents, giving tips on how to choose from the dizzying array of options and select a quality ABA company/agency.

Lately I have been receiving lots of emails from ABA therapists wanting to know if there are any signs or clues that they are working for a poor quality employer. As I have said before on my blog, I feel like if a few people are asking a question then there are probably lots more people wondering the same thing as well.

While I am happy to share some of my not-so-great experiences in this field to hopefully help someone else, it does make me sad that so many people who genuinely want to learn about ABA and be excellent at their jobs can't tell if they are working for a quality agency or not. That's pretty concerning. So hopefully this post will help shed some light on this issue, and maybe even cause some of you out there to submit your 2 weeks notice.

First, lets start off by seeing what the BACB has to say about all this. For those who may not know, the Behavior Analysis Certification Board (BACB) is the regulating agency for the field of ABA, and the BACB website (www.bacb.com) is where anyone can find information about ethical standards, certification requirements, an international Behavior Analyst directory, etc. You should be regularly perusing the BACB website if you work in this field. 
Here are some guidelines provided by the BACB regarding direct staff ABA positions:

  • The Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) credential (which is now active) is a certification available for direct ABA staff. I think I speak for many BCBAs in this field when I say I am SO glad to see this credential be established, to provide more accountability, as well as training/experience requirements for direct level staff. RBT eligibility can be found here.
  •  Most ABA programs use a tiered service delivery model where a BCBA or BCBA-D designs, oversees, and supervises a treatment program that is implemented by direct staff.
  • Caseload assignments should match the skill and expertise level of the direct staff.
  • Pre - hire or during the orientation process, initial training should be provided.
  • Post hire, quality of implementation should be monitored on an ongoing basis through regular supervision.
  • Sample training and job requirements for direct staff include: diploma or 2 year degree, criminal background check, TB test, CPR/1st Aid certification, basic ABA methodology training, written and oral role plays or learning scenarios, observation implementing protocols, opportunity to collect data, and pass integrity checks/evaluations.
So now that some general guidelines for an ABA Therapist have been established, what should you look for in a potential employer? Does your current position match up to these guidelines? What are some red flags of a poor quality or unethical agency/company? How do you know if you are indeed working for an unethical employer? 

What to Look For & What to Avoid
  1. The job advertisement or job posting should clearly describe the position requirements, include a job description, and tell you a little about the company. For example, "New agency in the XYZ area seeking energetic and professional behavioral technicians to work with clients ages 3-11. Applicants must have a 2 year degree in the fields of Psychology or Education, a 4 year degree is preferred. Experience is not required, training will be provided. You will be providing Applied Behavior Analysis therapy to clients of varying ages in the home and school settings. Please see our website for more information about our company". I have seen some very poorly written job ads that may have just a sentence or two about what the company wants from applicants, but no information about the company. Or, job postings that clearly are just trying to match a warm body to a warm body. What I mean by that is there is no information about what YOU need to bring to the table, simply "If you live in XYZ area and can work Mondays and Fridays from 5:30-7, please apply". Clearly that company needs to staff a case, and they need to do so pretty quickly.
  2. The interview/screening process is thorough yet efficient, and at some point you speak or meet with clinical staff. You should be given the opportunity to ask questions in the interview or initial screening, and the interview process should be explained to you upfront. The interviewer should come across as professional, friendly, and interested in hearing about how your skills and experience can benefit the company. Be wary of a very brief or very long interview process. Either the company is just hiring anyone (matching warm body to warm body), or the company is disorganized and inefficient and that is why you have been interviewed multiple times for the same position. I had an experience with one company where 6 different people called me to interview me for the same position, and each time they asked me the same questions. Disorganized much??? While it isn't unusual that HR or some office staff may conduct the initial interviews, in order for you to ask proper questions at some point you need to speak with clinical staff. The office manager cant really discuss ABA methodology with you, or answer your question about which assessment tools the company uses, and why. If anyone interviewing you comes across as rude, unpleasant, cold, or arrogant.....really bad sign. Remember, you will eventually be working with these people. Do you really want to work side by side with a rude person every day?
  3. As soon as possible in the hiring process, the following is explained to you in detail: company philosophy/culture, your potential caseload, pay rate, and the new hire training process. Company culture will vary widely from one agency to the next. I work with a very small company where everyone has to be autonomous and have excellent self-management skills, because we are so small. This is something we communicate to new staff so they can be aware of it, because not everyone enjoys a high level of autonomy.  Your potential caseload is which clients you most likely will work with. The company likely hired you to staff very specific cases, so someone should be going over the cases with you (even if briefly) to discuss how your qualifications match to the caseload. The training process should include both initial and ongoing training, including how often will you receive supervision. Lastly, dont forget to talk about pay rate. I learned from an early age to NOT avoid this question. It is not uncommon to go through an entire interview and the interviewer never mentions pay. If they don't mention it--->ASK. Why waste your time and the company's time by going further and further into an application process for a company that pays $10 an hour less than what you need to earn? Also be prepared to negotiate pay, by highlighting your strengths and qualifications and what you can bring to the position. Pay rates aren't always final. If there is a vague training process (or no training process) or if you will not have a direct supervisor, that is a really bad sign.
  4. Once you are hired and start working how are your questions or concerns addressed? How often do you get to contact the company owner or your supervisor? Is anyone checking on you to see how you are doing? Do you have the materials, supplies, and equipment you need to do your job? Does what you were told during the interview process match up to what you are now experiencing? Huge red flag and really bad sign--->You start catching the employer in little "non truths". You were told there was mileage reimbursement but turns out....there isn't. You were told you would have all morning hours but turns out....you don't. You were told you would receive a $500 sign- on bonus but...you didn't, and no one seems to remember telling you that. Speak up for yourself, be assertive not aggressive, and point out these discrepancies as soon as possible. If the issues cannot be resolved, I recommend parting ways. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Quote of The Day

Teach - To impart knowledge of or skill in; to show or explain how to do something; to give instruction in.

You may not be a educator, but that doesn't mean you don't have the opportunity everyday to teach important life skills to an individual on the Spectrum.
 This is for all my readers who painstakingly, patiently, and enthusiastically teach skills to children, adolescents, or adults, and impact their life in a big way...because that is what amazing teachers do. They impact lives.

Monday, November 10, 2014

'Tis IEP Season!

It’s that lovely time of year for me again, where I have multiple IEP meetings to attend across multiple clients, or reports to write to submit at IEP meetings, or data to compile to share with the IEP team.

As I did in my Top 10 post , I will often share information on my blog that I find myself saying over and over again to various clients/consumers. I like to be helpful :-)
Or, I come up with posts due to being frustrated or irritated with a situation (now you’re probably going to go back and re-read all my posts to see if you can identify the ones I wrote while highly frustrated. Have fun with that!) .

To all the educators, administrators, and school professionals who approach the IEP meeting as a truly collaborative process can I just say THANK YOU. You make my job so much easier, and other ABA professionals like me.  We as ABA professionals understand that schools everywhere are dealing with more and more special need students, and smaller and smaller budgets to help them. We understand that you teachers have entire classrooms to teach, and don’t have the luxury to work 1:1 like we do. We understand that just like us, teachers work a full shift, and then go home and work another full shift of administrative work.  We appreciate all that schools do to help our clients and to support their families.

However, this post is more directed at the educators, administrators, and school professionals who make the job of the ABA professional much harder. You refuse to read our reports that we take hours to put together. You dismiss our data, or barely glance at it. You insult the families we work with in IEP meetings, or tell a concerned parent to “calm down” or call them “unreasonable”. You add stress and anxiety to a family that is already stretched thin from living with Autism 24-7.

I hope that a quick and simple list of ways to effectively collaborate with the BCBA or the ABA team can help shed some light on how you can have a better relationship with us, and maybe also help explain where we are coming from. 

Despite what some of you may think, we don’t show up at IEP meetings hoping it will go badly. 
We show up to support the family, to represent the science of ABA, to advocate, and most importantly: to speak for our client. I know of families who will bring a photo of their child into IEP meetings specifically to keep the focus on the individual receiving services, and not on egos, degrees, titles, or arguing over accommodations.

10 Ways the IEP Team Can Effectively Collaborate with the Home ABA Team

  1. Let’s Talk about Data- Yayyyyy data! Everyone loves it so. Whats that? You don’t love data?? Hmmmm…..thats odd. You don’t love knowing how effective your teaching is, being able to demonstrate the quality of an intervention, or coming to the IEP meeting prepared with graphs and data to back up everything you are saying? It’s one thing to tell a parent “The BCBA doesn’t need to come into the classroom because since Jordan started school his behavior has come a long way!” (pssst, by the way…..vague statements like this are not helpful for an ABA professional), but it’s another thing to say “Well, as you can see on this graph the target behavior has clearly decreased in both frequency and duration over the past 3 weeks. Since the behavior is in a downward trend, why would the BCBA need to come in?”
  2. Classroom Observations- In order for the ABA professional to do their job, they often need to see the problem behavior in action. This is why we ask to come into your classroom to observe our client, at the particular times when the behavior usually occurs. We also need to observe what is going on in the environment: what happened before the behavior, after the behavior, who was present, was it loud, quiet, etc. All of this helps us determine why the behavior is happening and once we know that we can come up with a plan of action. Which we can then share with you. Please allow us to come into your classroom to do this.
  3. Classroom Facilitation- For some individuals, they may require more support or intervention than the classroom can provide (even a special education classroom). This means that the ABA team would attend school with the client in order to collect data, manage behaviors, or break down skills so that child can benefit from instruction. The facilitator is not there to harass or offend you, they are there to help the client. Just the data collection alone that is often necessary to properly serve a client, may be far too time consuming for the typical teacher. This is why allowing the ABA team into the classroom can be a great idea.
  4. Conducting a FBA- When problem behaviors that disrupt or interfere with learning are regularly occurring or are increasing in some manner (getting more intense, occurring more often), the next step needs to be a Functional Behavior Assessment. This is a process of closely analyzing and observing the behavior to determine the function. What is the motivation or pay off for the individual who engages in the behavior? What is reinforcing or maintaining the behavior? Without completing this step, any strategy, procedure, or intervention that you come up with is basically a guess. I can tell you, the family won’t appreciate you “guessing at” how to manage their child’s behavior. A FBA should be conducted or supervised by someone qualified to do so (which is why the ABA professional may ask who completed the FBA).
  5. Creating the BIP- Once the FBA has been completed, the next step is a plan of action. Often called the Behavior Intervention Plan this document details exactly how to both prevent and react to the problem behavior. Please understand that the ABA team will be very interested to read and review the BIP because we probably have a Behavior Plan for the client in the home setting. For the client’s best interest, these documents need to be comparable to each other. We have to make sure we are not intentionally or unintentionally reinforcing a problem behavior in one environment that is being punished in another environment. Again, a BIP needs to be created or supervised by someone qualified to do so.
  6. The 3 R’s, but what about friends??- It’s an IEP….we’re in a school….I get that. Obviously academic goals are important, and ABA professionals want their clients to perform at or above grade level if they can. We also want our clients to learn how to interact socially,  display social eye contact, share, take directions from multiple adults, wait, transition with a group, play Tag at recess, etc. The ABA team and the parents may want to add multiple socio-behavioral goals to the IEP. We push for this because in the home setting we don’t have a pool of 200 other 1st graders to use. School has a unique advantage over us, in that you can teach my client to appropriately respond to a greeting multiple times a day, using a different person each time. I can’t do that in a home 1:1 setting.
  7. Sharing is Caring- At any time, you can request the home ABA team share documents, reports, or data with you. We actually like it when you ask us to share because it shows you want to collaborate. However, please reciprocate. Let us know how our client is doing in your classroom, are they making friends, what problem behaviors are you seeing, etc. For example, I know teachers collect data on the IEP goals or when physical management needs to be used (like a restraint) but the families I work with almost never see this data. Why? It would be extremely helpful for us to know this information.
  8. Act as if my client is your only student- Let me give you a tip: parents of children with special needs can be very egocentric. That isn’t an insult, it often is a way of survival for them because in order to help their child they have to narrow in and focus on that child day and night, and fight for services and support. Due to this, you talking about your student from last year who is “just like Joey”, or your son who is “just like Joey”, or the student down the hall who is “just like Joey” will not go over well with Joey’s parents. They do not want to hear about what worked for a different 4 year old with Autism. They only want to talk about their 4 year old with Autism. So do yourself a favor, and use the IEP meeting to only talk about their child (another free tip: please don’t say “You know, I do have other students!” Parents find that really offensive).
  9. Don’t Diss ABA- So the family sitting across from you at the meeting took the time to be sure the BCBA or ABA Therapists came to the meeting. That’s a good indicator that you are talking to someone who is Pro-ABA. It’s just not a good idea to make negative, distorted, or unfactual statements about ABA. It could also be quite embarrassing to say you are “trained” in ABA because you took a class or attended a workshop recently. Please do not compare putting up a sticker chart, or giving praise to a student, to the science of ABA. Avoid making statements about how the teacher doesn’t have time to “do ABA”, or it isn’t necessary at school, as the BCBA present may take that as a personal challenge. :-)
  10. Be Nice- So #10 is the most important item on the list, and seems like it would be unnecessary to have to say. Yet I often walk into meetings full of school professionals who are frowning, look angry, or all have their arms crossed. Why? Let’s not approach the meeting like a battle. Please don’t walk into the IEP meeting with a look on your face that says “I wish I was anywhere but here”. Because you know….we can see your face. So smile! Shake our hand, introduce yourself, and Be Nice.