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 or may not be affiliated with.
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 or may not be affiliated with.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
Its time for another ABA interview!
(If you work in the field of ABA and would like to share your story and experiences feel free to contact me directly. I'd love to hear from you)
This interview comes from.........me! :-)
My wonderful colleague, Mr. Anson Yeung, owner of the Behavior Jedi blog, recently interviewed me for his website. So instead of sitting in my interview chair, I let someone else ask the tough questions! There are also some fun questions, and far more information about my story and background than is covered in my brief Bio.
So if you're curious about the "Oz" behind this blog, or if you are a professional who wants to know what is it really like to work in this field, then feel free to have a listen!
More BCBA Interviews
Friday, November 22, 2013
Lately I have been starting lots of new cases, which means I am doing the intake process over and over again. I’ve been noticing similarities and patterns in what each client needs that cuts across age, level of functioning, and even abilities. It seems there are certain key strategies or interventions that many homes need, but do not have in place. I will call these strategies: “The Essentials”.
There are certain things that should just be common practice and implemented in the home of every child with Autism. Now of course I am generalizing a bit in this post, so if something doesn’t apply to you or your child’s needs feel free to skip it, but in my experience these things do apply the majority of the time. The main deficits of Autism mean that there will be similarities of needs and/or problem behaviors across individuals (e.g. wandering away from home, little to no communication, not toilet trained, etc.). However, there are always individual differences to be considered.
If you can already have these things in place before you start ABA services (whether you use a company, or do your own in home program) you will be SO far ahead of the pack. …and your Consultant will greatly appreciate having less to do :-)
The main reason for implementing these strategies is to make your own life, and the life of your child easier, decrease stress, teach skills, and reduce problem behaviors. Just putting these systems in place in your home, even if you do not currently receive ABA services, could make a dramatic difference in your childs ability to successfully manage their day, transitions, know expectations of behavior, and communicate their wants and needs.
I guarantee you if you look around any quality ABA classroom you will see some, or all, of these systems in place. So pop quiz time: if the school needs these systems in place to successfully teach and care for children with Autism, then don’t you think you need them in place at home too? (The answer is Yes!)
I recommend implementing these strategies as soon as possible, the younger the better. However, if you have an older child or care for an adult with Autism, these strategies would still be very helpful.
So, drum roll please……
My Top 10 List of “The Essentials”!
- Structure /Routine in the home: Consistency and knowing what to expect helps kiddos with Autism manage their day. Create a routine for your home, and stick to it. Bedtime should be the same every day. Dinner time should be the same every day. Outside play time should be the same every day. Big, sweeping, dramatic changes from day to day or moment to moment are a good way to cause your child with Autism to dissolve into behaviors or meltdown mode. Create a routine based on activities that happen daily, so your child can begin to learn it and feel more in control of their environment.
- Visual schedule/Daily schedule: See how impossible this strategy would be without a routine in the home?? A visual schedule is essential if you want to teach independence. How can your child learn to independently transition from morning routine, to breakfast, to the school bus? Simple: create a visual schedule. Do you find yourself having to give a demand 2, 3, or 85 times a day? Create a visual schedule. Does your child finish an activity or task, and then just wander around, filling their time with problem behaviors or self-stimulatory behavior? Create a visual schedule, and use it to redirect them to what they are supposed to be doing. Visual schedules help these kiddos know what they are supposed to be doing, what is coming up next, and what is after that. Heres a tip: please do not use written schedules with kiddos who cant read. That isn’t helpful at all. Use visuals instead.
- System of communication: I have a post about teaching communication skills, and this is something you want to begin working on as soon as possible. Maybe your child communicates with sign language, or an Ipad, or PECS, etc. What is important is that everyone in the home agrees to reinforce and only accept the system of communication. If the child is verbal, then reinforce and require words. If the child can sign, then reinforce and require signs. What I usually see in homes is the child has multiple ineffective or weak modes of communication, and that is a simple problem to fix. Start reinforcing one communication mode, and make sure everyone in the home is on the same page.
- Restricted access to reinforcers: No “free reign” or “grazing”. Free reign would look like a child who just “loves” Dora DVDs, and is allowed to sit and watch Dora for hours and hours each day. Grazing would look like a child who just “loves” pretzels, and when he wants some he climbs up onto the kitchen counter, opens the cabinet, and grabs a handful. If your child has free, no limit access to the things he/she enjoys the most, then what is left for you to use as a reinforcer? Reinforcement is critical for learning, and when I usually hear “She just doesn’t have any reinforcers!”, what that often means is the child has no reason to work for anything because they have free access to it all day.
- Elopement pro-active strategies: Elopement is a huge safety concern for many kiddos with Autism, especially those who are nonverbal. From a young age, you can teach your child that eloping is not ok. Along with the house routine (see how important that is?), there should be rules for the household. An elopement rule could be something like “Ask Mommy before going outside”. Create visuals and place them near all the doors, that say things like “Stop & Ask”. When the child gets to the door, they will be reminded that they cannot go outside alone. Teach them to come find you, and using their system of communication (PECS, sign, Ipad, etc) to request “outside”. I suggest covering up the visual at night, to indicate going outside is not an option. Or you could put up a different visual, such as “Wait”. Then explain to the child that they must wait until the sun wakes up to go outside.
- Choice board: Making choices is a skill I always like to teach my kiddos. It’s such an important human right that is often forgotten about when it comes to kids with disabilities. Many problem behaviors can be reduced or completely extinguished if the child is simply given more opportunities to choose where they want to sit…..what movie they want to watch…..do they want juice or milk? To help kiddos make choices, I usually create a visual choice board of their preferred activities, foods, or items. Then at multiple opportunities throughout the day I show them the choice board and have them pick what they want to do, eat, or play with. Depending on the child, the choice board may have to vary frequently if they get bored with reinforcers quickly. I also like using a choice board because it teaches scanning, and choosing from multiple items. Especially for a nonverbal child, instead of running around trying to figure out what they want as they tantrum and scream, just present a choice board to them and say “Pick one”.
- Toileting pre-requisites: This is a big strategy, that so many homes need but I almost never see. Even if your child is too young to begin toilet training or isn’t ready yet, you can begin working on the prerequisite skills now. Only change your childs diaper or pull up in the bathroom, have them assist with dressing/undressing, throwing away the soiled diaper/pull up, and washing their hands. You are teaching the whole toileting routine, just without requiring the child to sit on the toilet. The child is becoming familiar with the bathroom, and learning multiple skills they will need later (e.g. unzipping pants). Use a visual to help with complex tasks, such as handwashing. When your child has accidents, they need to participate in the clean up, get a new diaper/pull up, and still go to the bathroom to wash hands/throw the diaper/pull up away.
- Multi-modal sensory items: This relates directly to reducing repetitive, self-stimulatory behaviors, or decreasing hyperactivity. For kiddos who spend their free time stimming, parents often ask me how to reduce that. Well, stimming serves a need for your child. So my suggestion is to redirect it, not to stop it. Place things in your home that your child can manipulate or interact with to gain sensory stimulation, so they do not have to walk around the house humming, handflapping, or pacing all day. Suggestions include yoga balls, trampolines, sensory boxes, fairy lights, sound machines, finger paints, etc.
- Independent activities/Work station: One of my favorite programs to teach is Task Completion. I love this program because it teaches leisure skills (my kiddos almost never have appropriate leisure skills when I meet them), and independence. Do you have to entertain your child all day long? If you need to take a phone call, do the laundry, or send emails on your computer, can your child keep themselves busy? If not, then I suggest teaching independent activities. Set up a small area, place a few activities in it, and set a timer. Direct the child to engage in the activities until the timer goes off, and provide huge praise and reinforcement for compliance. Over time, the work stations can be added to the daily schedule (see how important that is?) and the child will be able to independently have snack, clean up, do 2 work stations, start homework, etc.
- Cool down area: This is another one that I wish I saw more, because it is often very much needed. Kiddos with Autism often become overwhelmed or overstimulated throughout their day, and dissolve into tantrumming, whining, meltdown mode, or self-injury. What I often see parents do is take responsibility for the childs emotions. This could look like picking the screaming child up and rocking or cuddling them until they calm down. For one, that could be reinforcing problem behavior. For two, we want to teach the child from an early age that they need to control their own emotions. Select a quiet area of your home and place calming items in the area (pillows, koosh balls, etc.). When your child becomes upset or overwhelmed, explain to them that they need to calm down, e.g. “You are crying and throwing toys. You need to go calm down”. Direct the child to the cool down area and help them to do calming strategies, such as taking deep, slow breaths, or counting to 5. Use visuals to help show them the steps they can complete to calm down. Praise and reinforce any improvement in the childs demeanor. Over time, you will be able to tell the child to go calm down, and they will be able to independently go to their cool down spot, practice their exercises, and come out when they feel better. The calming strategies (the visual) can be taken anywhere, and used in any setting. It isn’t the location that matters; its teaching the child the steps to self-regulation of their emotions.
Monday, November 11, 2013
"Violence is the language of the unheard"
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
I love this quote.
I recently participated in a physical management training for work, and we were talking about some of the reasons why nonverbal clients use aggression/hurting others as a way to communicate.
Aggressive or violent ASD individuals need a consistent way to communicate with others instead of resorting to hurting others. Beyond communication, I recommend putting yourself in that individuals shoes to consider factors that can make violence seem like a desirable option:
How often does that individual get to feel powerful?
How often is that individual offered choices vs. given demands?
Does the individuals communication, whether vocal, by Ipad, etc., contain more than just mands ("I want juice")?
How is personality, interests, and likes/dislikes incorporated into the individuals treatment? In other words, are we teaching what they want to learn, or only what we think they should know?
Is treatment provided in a way where the individual feels respected?
Does the individual feel heard?
...Something to think about.
Saturday, November 2, 2013
Resource: Allen, R., Hastings, R.., McDermot, K., & Still, D. (2002). Factors Related to Positive Perceptions in Mothers of Children with Intellectual Disabilities. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 15(3), 269-275
Positive reframing is a psychological tool that can be implemented within ABA strategies or treatment to make a decision to focus on positive aspects for intervention: what the child should be able to DO, not what the child should stop doing. The family is viewed as a necessary and integral piece of the treatment puzzle, and “barriers to treatment” are viewed as teaching opportunities. I am not a teacher, but as a BCBA much of my job involves teaching: teaching behaviors, teaching families, teaching kids.
The way you view your clients and their families will impact the services you provide to them. The way you speak to a resistant parent, or a smothering parent, will be shaped by how you view that parent. Words have power (Proverbs 18:21). Negativity breeds negativity, and a “Me vs. The Family” perspective will only lead to conflict, miscommunications, and hurt feelings.
This isn’t some unusual or new concept, we all learn at an early age that the way someone says something to us is often more important than what they actually say. However, does that impact the way you speak to your clients or their families? Imagine your supervisor says to you “Reports must be submitted to me every week by Friday, NO exceptions!!” vs. “You can submit reports on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday…..your choice”. Wow, what a difference some positive reframing can make! :-)
If we as adults want to be communicated with in a positive way, then imagine how your 6 year old nonverbal client feels when you take the time to offer choices to her (“Do you want juice or milk? Pick one”) vs. just giving orders (“Drink your juice”).
It is SO important to positively reframe your thoughts, expectations, and opinions about your clients so you can help them in a caring and professional manner. The kiddos you work with as an ABA professional may exhibit challenging, frustrating, and exhausting problem behaviors. If you decide to view those behaviors in a negative way (“This kid is just being a brat”) then that will affect how you interact with that child. If you view problem behaviors in a positive way (“This child needs to learn new coping strategies”) it changes your interactions with the child…..it really does.
Positive reframing helps ABA staff realize that the child really needs your help so they can have a better future. I suggest you do this today: think about what kind of life your client will have in 10 years if these problem behaviors are still happening. For some kiddos that may be a very sobering thing to think about.
It may be necessary to help the family or school staff use positive reframing techniques. Some people really don’t hear how negative their words are. I cringe when I walk into classrooms and see huge visuals with things like “NO hitting/We do not spit!/Stop running” or a color coded behavior system that lists out “red” or “bad” behaviors. That is all suuuuuper negative. Did that teacher intentionally mean to sound that negative? Probably not. As the ABA professional that is a great opportunity for you to help the teacher understand positive reframing. You want the child to stop hitting? Teach them “nice hands”. You want the child to stop running in the hallways? Tell them to have “walking feet”. The teacher tells you about a challenging student with many attention seeking behaviors? Point out how the child is clearly socially motivated (that isn’t always the case with these kiddos) and with redirection and reinforcement they can be taught to seek out attention appropriately.
This may sound like a super simple concept, but I interact with professionals and families quite often who don’t realize how negative they sound, or that they are interacting with the child based on low expectations of behavior. Remember, reinforcement always increases what it directly follows. So what do you want to increase in the client/family: the positive or the negative?
Examples of Positive Reframing
Your clients mother is very demanding and critical of you and your treatment plan
The clients mother is engaged and wants to be involved with what is going on with treatment. This is an opportunity to really include the parent in your treatment design, gather their input, and work on conflict resolution
Your clients father states to you he doesn’t believe in this “ABA nonsense” and you find him to be very argumentative
The clients father is openly communicating to you his thoughts and concerns about the therapy process, and engaging you in a dialogue. This is an opportunity to work on communicating respectfully, and also to educate the father about exactly what ABA is
Your clients teacher is using a behavior support system in the classroom that is poorly written and not reinforcing to your client
The teacher wants to implement ABA strategies in the classroom to help the students…great! This is an opportunity to provide ABA training to the teacher, which will benefit your client
Your client has many problem behaviors that really frustrate you, such as aggression and noncompliance
Your clients behaviors are serving a need and a function for that child, and if faster, easier, or more functional options were available the child could easily learn to extinguish these problem behaviors. This is an opportunity to teach new skills
Your clients younger sibling constantly intrudes upon your ABA sessions, and gets into your toys and reinforcers
Your clients sibling is interested and fascinated with you, and the therapy process. They would likely LOVE to be asked to participate. This is an opportunity to work on social interaction, group responding, or even toy play with your client and their sibling
Sunday, October 20, 2013
Its time for another ABA interview!
If you work in the field of ABA and would like to share your story and experiences feel free to contact me directly. I'd love to hear from you.
This interview comes from an amazing young lady who has Aspergers. She contacted me to share her opinions about my Stimming post (please read that post for her very astute explanation of her reasons for stimming) and I asked if she would like to share her story on my blog. Then she actually said yes! :-)
I am very excited to share her interview, as I happen to think she is a bit brilliant.
1. If you would like to, state your name. Tracy.
2. Please state your age. Thirteen.
3. What Autism Spectrum Disorder do you have? How old were you when you were diagnosed? I'm an Aspie. I don't know how old I was.
4. At what age did you become aware that you might have a diagnosis? How were you told that you have a diagnosis? I don't remember. I think I was seven or eight.
5. What types of treatments or interventions have you experienced for your diagnosis? Which ones were the most beneficial? A whole mishmash. I don't think a particular therapy was most helpful in general, more particular teachers.
6. What do you think about ABA therapy as a treatment method? I think it could help with some things, but being so compliance-based I think it shouldn't be used so very intensely (a 40 hour week is quite a lot!) so often or on older kids and adults (I don't believe in mental age.), because it could make it harder for them to be independent; it could make it harder for them to make decisions for themselves and be themselves, and foster unhelpful perfectionism.
7. Do you think ABA could be dangerous or harmful for an individual with an ASD? Yes. Anything could, really. Some aversives and restraints can be very physically dangerous.
8. Have you ever experienced any ABA therapy? If so, what was that experience like? I haven't.
9. If you have experienced therapy before (ABA, ST, OT) do you have a favorite therapist? What was it about that person that made them your favorite? I've had a bunch of lovely therapists. My favorites were the ones who didn't condescend, who trusted that I knew myself relatively well.
10. Do you see your ASD as a deficit or an asset? It's not that simple. Life as an Autie is more intense, detailed, alive. Being as I am definitely has some setbacks---- I think most of us, Auties and NTs alike, would at least theoretically like a little pill to “cure” ourselves and the people we spend time with of our “door-slamming, soda-drinking, glasses-losing”- ness.
11. At school, what kind of challenges do you deal with because of your ASD? I'm always worrying that people will hate me. But I know a lot of people who feel that way, and not all of them are Autistic, but I don't know.
12. Do you engage in any self-stimulatory behaviors (stims)? How do you feel when you stim? I rock, flap, tap, spin, hair twirl... everything except breathe fire. Asking me how I feel when I stim is like me asking you, “How do you feel when you make facial expressions?” The answer is long and incomplete.
13. If you were not allowed to engage in stims how would that make you feel? Do you think that stimming is beneficial to you? If someone blocked me every time I stimmed, I'd feel:
A. like I was a failure for doing something wrong every five seconds.
B. like I was being told the rhythm in which to breathe.
I do think it's beneficial to me. It helps me calm down, it helps me pay attention, it helps me think, it is a reaction to joy.
14. What situations or settings tend to increase your stims? Intense emotion.
15. Are you still able to focus on people and things around you when you are engaging in stims? Yes, most of the time; as well or better than if I wasn't stimming. Even while spinning in a circle I can have a conversation, though then of course I can't take in the same visual info.
16. How do you communicate best (writing, vocally, drawing, etc)? How have you dealt with difficulty communicating your thoughts or emotions? Which way I best communicate varies. Generally writing. I've dealt with difficulty communicating by trying to censor myself less, and adding humor to conversations to make them more comfortable.
17. What kind of social difficulties do you experience on a regular basis? How do you manage them? Worrying that people will hate me. Mistaking one person for another. Being socially awkward in general. I manage it by doing stuff anyway. I mess up, but the good parts outweigh the bad.
18. In your own words, how do NT’s differ from individuals with an ASD? Auties are more thoughtful, more passionate, and experience emotions and sensations more intensely.
19. What are some of your hobbies? I'm a writer. I draw and read and do logic puzzles and ride horses and walk and listen to music and bike.
20. Have you seen any movies about individuals with an ASD? Can you name a favorite? I haven't seen any Autie movies. I read The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night-Time. I loved how fleshed-out Christopher was.
21. What do you like most about yourself? Being a writer.
22. What goals do you have for your future? Marriage? Children? College, etc? Those could all happen. As of now, I'm in middle school.
23. What would you like people who teach individuals with ASD’s to know? It's easy to not allow an Autie a personality, to attribute everything to fixations and splinter skills. But really, we're people, imperfect people, with good days and bad days. Fixations may just be loves.
24. What would you like people raising a child with an ASD to know? I'd like to tell them congratulations. I’d like to tell them to read work by Auties. I'd like to tell them there's no normal child locked inside a shell…. there's an Autie child, and the child does in fact love and have emotions, and most likely loves them.
25. As far as disability advocacy, what issues do you feel are most important in regards to ASDs (education, public sensitivity, etc)? Such a complicated question. I think we need to give Auties more freedom.
26. What are some of the biggest misconceptions and myths that people have about individuals with ASD? Hee hee. Love this……We're robots who can't feel. We're just dumb. Auties are violent criminals. Auties are eternal children. One thing is true, though: Auties have absolutely no sense of humor. Neither can we be sarcastic. (sarcasm)
27. What do you think about Sensory techniques as a therapeutic method? Do you think they are helpful or harmful? Love 'em. Bouncy balls and swings help to manage emotions, and to concentrate. Assisted stimming!
28. What qualities and characteristics do you think any individual should have who wants to work with individuals with an ASD? I think someone who works with Auties should have a sense of humor, the bigger the better, and should be open-minded, willing to learn and to work through their mistakes.
29. Is there anything you want to add? Autie blogs for anyone interested:
juststimming.wordpress.com (Truly beautiful poems. Read Quiet Hands, if nothing else.)
Saturday, October 12, 2013
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
I LOVE staff training. Its one of my favorite parts of my job. I value staff training so much because as a BCBA I could come up with the most innovative and technically sound treatment plan out there, but if the direct staff under me do not properly execute, then whose fault is that? I believe its my fault. Part of my job is to properly train and supervise direct staff, and also to evaluate staff as being a good fit for the demands of the job. When I train direct staff, I am giving them the tools they need to be excellent at their job. And who wants to feel that they are excellent at their job?? (the answer is everyone)
Training is such a critical issue in this field, because of the tiered service delivery model. The professionals who are credentialed to run or supervise an ABA program (e.g. BCBA), typically do not staff ABA programs. There are many reasons for this, but I'll name 3: (1) The demand for ABA staff FAR exceeds the supply (2) BCBAs are expensive (3) The tiered model frees up a BCBA to have a larger caseload
When working with or collaborating with other professionals (like OTs or teachers) they often ask me who can provide ABA therapy. Well technically, at this time anyone CAN provide ABA therapy, but should anyone do it? Definitely not. The BACB is currently moving towards a certification process for direct level staff, but in my experiences ABA therapists are typically college students with little to no ABA experience. These individuals will require extensive training and support once they are hired.
ABA therapy isn’t complicated, but its not easy. A quality supervisor and excellently designed treatment plan can be implemented by almost anyone. When I first started in this field, I knew nothing about ABA but I was taught to implement skill acquisition programs and behavior plans, collect data, and generalize skills across environments. The problem is that far too often, therapists are hired without a supervisor. Or the supervisor is insanely overworked and stretched too thin, and their quality of supervision suffers. Or unscrupulous ABA therapists offer themselves out to work for families independently, and falsely present themselves as being more knowledgeable than they actually are.
Training is, in my opinion, one of the most pressing issues in the field of ABA. Families are hiring ABA therapists directly to avoid the high cost of agencies, but they dont understand the importance of hiring a supervisor for that therapist.
Parents please don't feel like I’m picking on you. I see this issue happening in schools as well. School systems with miniscule financial budgets, but plenty of children on the spectrum, often place individuals in the role of Behavior Specialist or Autism Expert, who really should not be in those roles. Anyone implementing ABA therapy can teach a variety of critical life skills, such as language, toilet training, and strategies for problem behaviors. If someone has marginal or poor quality training, they could cause a lot of damage. They could inadvertently teach or strengthen inappropriate behaviors, that a qualified professional will then have to come in and "un-teach".
The BACB Guidelines for ABA Treatment provides the following recommendations for hiring and training Behavior Technicians (ABA therapists):
Minimum hiring standards: High school degree minimum, AA degree preferred, pass TB test and criminal background check.
Minimum training standards: Pass initial competencies composed of both oral and written scenarios as well as direct observation, demonstrate ability to correctly respond to treatment protocols, receive case assignments that match their skill level and experience, and receive both initial and ongoing training and supervision from a Behavior Analyst.
Training content: Should include CPR, HIPAA and ethical behavior, mandated reporting, ASD knowledge, data collection, basic ABA procedures, and developmental milestones.
The BACB Guidelines refer to a minimum standard. Having been in this field for many years, I can say that some agencies provide excellent initial training, and some...…don’t. I strongly believe that often the high turnover rate in this field is due to staff burnout, which is what happens when poorly trained and low paid therapists are sent into situations they are not prepared for. The therapist spends a session getting headbutted repeatedly, and abruptly quits.
High turn over impacts everyone negatively, most importantly the child receiving treatment. The importance of putting time, money, and resources into giving new staff quality training can't be overstated.
I have conducted and created staff and parent trainings, and from my experiences as well as my review of research, here is what does and does not work when it comes to staff training:
- Didactic training (lecture) just isn’t enough. Training should also incorporate feedback, rehearsal, direct coaching/modeling, and hands on experience
- Pre and post tests are often helpful to evaluate effectiveness of training, as well as provide information about individual deficits that can be targeted during on the job training
- Any adult learning should incorporate active discussion and encourage questions/participant comments, rather than a model where learners passively sit and listen
- Numerous studies have shown that the mere training of skills to direct staff is insufficient in maintaining a steady performance of those skills. In other words, just because I teach the concept of reinforcement to a therapist does not mean they will successfully implement reinforcement when working in a clients home
- I know many companies who use a training model of “shadowing”, which would include following an employee around as they go into the field to work with clients. That method alone is not sufficient to properly train staff, and will likely not lead to maintenance of skills learned over time
- Organizational Behavior Management strategies, such as self management procedures, are empirically supported to improve and maintain staff performance. For example, a therapist could track her accuracy with delivering quick reinforcement, and then review this data with the supervisor
- Supervisors need to directly observe direct staff, provide specific praise and feedback, performance modeling, and set clear expectations for improvement
*Staff Training Resources
Arnal L., Fazzio D., Martin G. L., Yu C. T., Keilback L., Starke M. Instructing university students to conduct discrete-trials teaching with confederates simulating children with autism. Developmental Disabilities Bulletin. 2007;35:131–147.
Catania C. N., Almeidia D., Liu-Constant B., Digennaro Reed F. D. Video modeling to train staff to implement discrete-trial instruction. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 2009;42:387–392.
Downs A., Downs R. C., Rau K. Effects of training and feedback on discrete trial teaching skills and student performance. Research in Developmental Disabilities. 2008;29:235–246
ATS Resource: Creating Training Programs that Work
Saturday, September 21, 2013
I often publish posts on my blog that come directly from questions/comments I get via email (like my FAQ series). I feel that if 1 or 2 people have the same question, then its likely many other people are wondering the same thing and just didn’t ask.
Lately I have been getting a ton of emails from ABA therapists working towards their BCBA certification, and wanting to know what to expect from the “Big Exam”. The exam is that last step on that long road towards becoming a BCBA, and walking closer and closer to it can understandably cause a lot of anxiety. I was certified in 2012, and I’m happy to share my experiences of preparing for the BCBA exam in the hopes that it can help someone else who is just starting the process.
The specific steps necessary for obtaining certification are provided in detail on the BACB website, but what many people want to know is “So….whats the test like???” The exam is the confidential property of the BACB, so the information found online about the exam will be vague, or speak in generalities.
So, why pursue certification? You are a fan of data, the science of behavior, and you actually find pleasure in creating graphs. Or, your passion for this field and love of the work make ABA something you want as a career. In your perfect world, ABA is what you would live and breathe.
If you are pursuing certification simply because you want to make a lot of money (there is great salary range, but a “high” salary isn’t necessarily guaranteed), you want to get away from “the table” (some companies require BCBAs provide direct therapy), you love working with kids with Autism (some BCBAs dont even work with individuals with Autism), or you think BCBAs just have desk jobs (I will explain this more below), then…..maybe this isn’t such a career path for you.
In addition to the requirements of the BACB, I also think that certain personality traits are necessary to be excellent at this job. To name a few, time management skills, excellent oral and written communication skills, creativity, leadership skills, ability to multitask, ability to work autonomously, problem solving skills, and attention to detail. To sum it up, I think many of the traits Type- A personalities tend to have would serve you well in this job. Being a BCBA isn’t necessarily the cushy desk job some people think it is. It’s super difficult to describe a day in the life of a BCBA because depending on where you work, the population you serve, the ages you serve, etc., there will be much variability. So a very hypothetical typical day for a BCBA could include providing direct therapy to clients, supervising direct staff and providing feedback, attending meetings, parent training, conducting workshops or trainings, conducting assessments or FBAs/FAs, school facilitation or observation, community outing skill training, and/or administrative tasks (at home or at the office) such as program development, creating materials, reading research articles, or looking for patterns and trends in collected data.
So now that you know what to expect from the job, here’s some tips for preparing for the exam. These tips may be helpful for you, and they may not. This is just what I found to be successful and helpful.
The BCBA Exam
- Get into a great study group (either online or in person), that has a few BCBAs in it. It will be really helpful to have people present who have actually passed the exam.
- Create study flashcards and visuals, and use these to build fluency. I have already stated on my blog that I’m a visual learner, so when I study I need to do more than just read material. I made tons of flashcards of terms and concepts and reviewed them regularly, and for some of the cards I would tape them to the walls in my house so I was constantly looking at them.
- Dedicate time each day to reviewing material. Set a schedule for yourself and stick to it. Carve out time, and set a space in your home for studying. For me, I studied best first thing in the morning with no TV, cell phone turned off, and music playing softly. Do what works best for you.
- Get the “White Book”. The Cooper ABA book is essential in this line of work, and it’s an amazing study resource. Don’t just read it though; study the definitions and terms, answer the end of chapter questions, and discuss the chapters in your study group. This is a book you will reference throughout your career, so it’s a good idea to go ahead and purchase it now. Another study resource that worked for me is the BDS modules. They are wonderful! They’re very similar to what the actual exam is like, and present questions in content area modules (such as a Behavioral Assessment section). The modules are also timed, so this is great practice for answering questions under a time crunch.
- Reference the BCBA exam Task List, to assess your strengths and deficits, such as Ethical Conduct Guidelines. You want to use your study time wisely…it isn’t time effective to spend an hour reviewing material you are strong in. Instead use that time to focus on your deficits. Put on your Behavior Analyst thinking cap: If you were teaching a skill to a child and they just weren’t getting it, would you spend the majority of the session asking them things they already know, or modifying your teaching for the areas they’re struggling in?
- Try to gain experience in the content areas you struggle in. I know for me, I learn better by doing than by reading about something. If you are stuck on a particular concept or term, such as the difference between a mand and a tact, then discuss these deficits with your supervisor. Seek out opportunities to actually apply these behavior analytic concepts, and make the terms “real”. There are many terms that I now understand better because I have done them, or implemented them with a child. Just reading about them wasn’t enough for me to fully grasp it. Speaking of your supervisor, USE THEM! I have provided supervision for people pursuing certification and a common problem I notice is not asking enough questions/not asking for enough help. Especially if you are paying for supervision (it isn’t offered through your employer) then you really need to take advantage of the professional sitting in front of you at your supervision meetings. Make sure you are getting the amount of assistance that you need, as we all learn differently.
- Lastly, but by no means least of all, what helped me prepare for the BCBA exam the most was prayer. Lots and lots of prayer. I had so much anxiety about the exam, about being prepared and really doing well, and intense pressure may be necessary to make diamonds, but it’s horrible when trying to learn and process information. Optimal learning just can’t occur when the body is full of stress. Overanalyzing and stressing over the exam on a daily basis will only make it that much more difficult when you are sitting down to take the exam.
If you are unable to find a local study group, an online study group I can recommend is called Students of Applied Behavior Analysis, and it is on Facebook. The group is a good mix of people at various stages of preparing for the BCBA exam, as well as actual professionals in the field who can share their experiences and tips. The group also has a resource library containing free study materials. For an example of the study materials, see below.
If you are one of the lucky ones preparing to sit very soon, Good Luck!