Friday, December 19, 2014

Quote of The Day


So today's QOTD is pulled from an open letter written by a parent, to her son's Autism therapists. I think its a beautiful letter, and you should go here and read it now.

There are so many wonderful quotes I couldn't choose just one. So here are a few:


"This is your job, but this is very, very personal to me."

" I’ll tell you that as a parent, it is tough to get your head around the fact that you have a child you can’t help."

 "I wonder if you know that placing this responsibility in someone else’s hands is terrifying. You are tasked with seeing my child’s potential, and reaching through thorns and brambles, through cuts and scratches, and bringing all that potential to the surface. You are tasked with nothing less than changing my son’s life. This might be the most important thing you ever do."

To the parents/caregivers who are in the scary position of allowing a professional to impact the life of your child: You are rock stars. We do what we do to help you, to support you, and to encourage you. We are not here to embarrass, irritate, or condescend to you. If you are working with someone who makes you feel that way, that isn't ABA. That isn't helping, and that is not ok.

To the educators and professionals who are in the scary position of being the professional who chooses to daily help impact a child's life: You are amazing. You work hard and tirelessly, you motivate and cheer families on regardless of your own emotions, issues, or job stresses. You root for your clients/students and you believe in them. By doing your job with excellence you are changing mindsets about how people perceive ABA.

I think it is so important for professionals in this field to remember that more than our expertise or clinical recommendations, what parents need from us is understanding. Demonstrating patience and remaining non-judgmental is huge for a parent who is struggling to learn in a session what it took you years of college and multiple clients to learn. Remember that every consumer you interact with, you have an opportunity to help their life in some way or to make their life harder.





To all my wonderful blog readers, I wont be posting again until well after the holidays. After the New Year I will be traveling the entire month of January, so I wish all of you a happy & blessed Christmas! To keep you company while I am gone, I am leaving you with my favorite Christmas movie: A Christmas Story :-)




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 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 I would be an arrogant so-and-so just because I'm a BCBA. If you aren’t sure what I mean, see my Bedside Manner post.

Over the years I have worked for varying types of supervisors. Maybe you have met 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 feels like 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, since thats impossible. 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 the same concept 55 times if thats what the supervisee needs to understand it,  being open to the supervisee interjecting their own ideas and opinions into how you write programs or create data sheets, or rearranging your entire schedule 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. I have been there, and you dont want to go there. Giving your opinions will cause people to react with defensiveness, and quite understandably, because they will feel attacked.  Instead, give corrective feedback. Keep it objective, and free of bias or personal opinion. Your supervisee doesn’t need to know that you thought her last report was horrible, and looked like she slapped it together  in 20 minutes. Instead, give specific criteria that needs to be improved. I suggest a rubric, it keeps everything objective and free of bias.
  • 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 and left early, or spent supervision sessions being standoffish and nonhelpful, 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. If you are constantly complaining about having to work with unprofessional staff, make sure your own behavior is professional.
  • 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 or gives you attitude. Do you have difficulty meeting deadlines? Wait until you get a supervisee who never submits his work on time….ever. As a supervisor you will work with all kinds of personalities and dispositions, and you will have some supervisees who just real-l-l-ly 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 talk over you 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
What's so Great About Being an ABA Therapist


I have already done a post for parents, giving tips on how to choose from the massive options/choices and select a quality ABA provider.

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.

While I am happy to share some of my not-so-great experiences in this field to hopefully help someone else, it does suck that so many people who genuinely want to learn about ABA and enjoy their job are NOT having that kind of experience. Hopefully this post will help shed some light on this issue, and maybe even cause some of you out there to move on to other opportunities.

First, there are some general complaints that ABA staff usually have about their employers that aren't exactly unique or rare. The complaints I definitely hear the most are: lack of hours/no stability to schedule, lack of support or feedback from management, ineffective communication/lack of communication between different departments, too much driving, erratic schedule (lots of gaps in your work day), if the client cancels/gets sick you don't get paid, parents don't follow the treatment plan, low starting pay/no raises unless you obtain certification, physical harm/injuries/getting hurt on the job, intimidated into signing a commitment contract/no-compete & non-solicit agreement, and no benefits. 
Do you have some of these complaints about your current employer? Well, trust me you are not alone.

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 excited to see this new credential, to provide more accountability 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 1 or more 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 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.
Does your current position match up to these guidelines? Is your current employer even aware of these guidelines?

So above I listed the biggest complaints direct staff usually have about their job, and like it or not, some of those issues will be present no matter where you work. Unfortunately, they come with the job. However, now I will talk about Red Flag issues that are not common, to be expected, or "the norm". If these types of things are happening, it may be time to move on. 

Indicators of a Poor Quality Employer
  1. 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 following the "warm body" formula. This is how I refer to staff: client matching that just says "You're available from 2-4, so is this client, there you go....that's your new client".  No consideration is made for the type of clients you have expertise and experience with, your personality, the client's personality, your level of comfort or your clinical interest, and what the parents of the client want in a direct staff person. Clearly that company needs to staff a case, and that is all that matters.
  2. You have a supervisor....kinda. What I mean by this is the supervisor rarely shows up to your sessions, never responds to your phone calls or emails, does not support you, does not train you, shifts their responsibilities onto you, etc.
  3.  Be wary of a very fast or molasses slow interview process. Either the company is just hiring anyone (see "warm body" formula above), or the company is disorganized and inefficient and that is why you have to go through 9 separate interviews. 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 (very stale, generic questions). Disorganized much???  If anyone interviewing you comes across as rude, unpleasant, cold, or arrogant.....really bad sign. Remember, you will eventually be working with these people and if this is their first impression? Not good. 
  4.  If there is a vague training process, or NO training process, or if you don't have a direct supervisor at all ---->bad sign. There are companies where you get hired, get a caseload, and just start working. That is not proper on-boarding to a new position and a new company. What is more typical is maybe your first few days are spent with HR/admin issues, like paperwork and learning how to complete time-sheets. Then you move into clinical training which can be in an office or in the field, and should include content based training as well as shadowing. You should have the opportunity to ask questions and to meet with or at least speak to your supervisor before you start on any cases.
  5. So my top red flag is if you are just flat out being lied to. Lets call it "catching the employer stating non- truths". You were guaranteed mileage reimbursement but turns out: there isn't any. You were reassured 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. Some companies will make huge, grandiose promises during the interview that they have no intention of ever keeping. Unfortunately, when this happens most people are scared of losing their new job so they just stay quiet about it. Don't be that person! Speak up for yourself, be assertive not aggressive, and point out these discrepancies as soon as possible. Ask how this issue will be resolved, and make it clear that you will not work for an employer you cannot trust.

*Resource: Glassdoor.com has reviews of companies, including information about typical salary and what the interview is like. Its a good idea to do some research online at a site like this before you consider working somewhere, just to see what current and past employees think of the company.  
* Free handout to help you evaluate the quality of your employer.