Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Supervisor Tips: Ready, Set, Work!


Photo Source: utahvalley360.com, blog.janicehardy.com

Many of my blog posts come from questions people email to me, and this one was a question about what to do post-certification. Specifically, you have obtained your BCBA, but maybe aren't quite at the interview phase, and you aren't sure what to do next. 

This is a tricky question to answer because this info varies greatly depending on where you live, the opportunities in your area, if you are able to relocate, the population you wish to serve, your hands-on work experience, etc. Also, since I am not a career counselor please don't expect this information to apply 100% to your situation. So instead of a step by step guide (which I'm really not qualified to give) here are some suggestions based on my experiences post-certification. Hope this helps all you freshly certified ABA Superheroes out there!

  1. My first suggestion is that you do some Q & A with yourself, to answer the following questions: What is my dream position in the field of ABA? On a day to day basis, what do I want my role to look like? Where do I want to work (location)? Do I want to work independently or as an employee for a company? Is licensure required in my state for me to practice as a Behavior Analyst? What is my area of expertise/what are my clinical strengths? What kind of work/life balance do I want? What are my salary expectations? Do I want to work for a large, established company with a reputation in this field? Or would I prefer a small start -up where I get to help create the vision and company mission? I don't recommend applying for any positions until you can answer these questions.
  2. Next, its a simple matter of matching your needs as a professional to the right employer or opportunity. "Employer" would refer to if you want to work for someone else, either as an employee or independent contractor (IC). "Opportunity" would refer to if you plan to strike out on your own and consult privately or actually open a business and hire staff. Begin searching for opportunities in your local area, or widen your search if you are fine with relocation. Fire up your resume, cover letter, and some quality work samples, and begin sending them out. There is no specific place I can recommend to look for ABA work, you will likely have to look in multiple places........I suggest word of mouth, credentialing with local insurance providers, contacting local school systems, joining AIBA (they have a job portal), attending conferences/local events (get your face out there), etc. As I have said on my blog before, if you are finding it highly difficult to locate opportunities in your area then that can indicate a lack of funding, or a lack of quality providers.
  3. My next tip is about preparing yourself, both mentally and physically, for your new role. Whether you plan to consult privately or to join "XYZ" agency, you want to be ready for the demands of the job. Your supervision experience or practicum should have given you the opportunity to learn the hands-on skills, and I suggest continuing to lean on your supervisor as a mentor, even after you pass the exam. This is someone who is already in the field and working, and can be a source of information and even client referrals. So for the mental preparation: don't be panicked if you get that lovely BCBA certificate in the mail and are suddenly terrified to do anything with it. Thats a normal reaction. I actually would be a bit concerned if you were newly certified and felt NO anxiety at all about serving clients. Your confidence will grow from seeing how much you help your clients, and getting great feedback from the consumers of your services. Give it time, this awesome confidence will not just pop up overnight. So for physical preparation: I don't mean go do 50 push ups and drink a glass of egg yolks. I mean are you set up with what you need to get to work? Looking around my office, let me give you a few examples of what I mean: business cards, printer/scanner, laminator, flashcards, ABLLS & VB-MAPP protocols, 3 hole punch, random assortment of toys, huge carryall/tote bag, laptop case, etc. For more help with getting ready to step into the role of a supervisor, I suggest my Trainers Handbook resource.
  4. My last tip is to remember to take your Personality and Passion (P & P) with you as you enter the field. Your passion is what will get you through the tough moments when you have a ridiculously short deadline to complete a 15 page report, the IEP meeting you changed your whole schedule for gets moved at the last minute, or your direct staff/supervisees leave much to be desired. Your personality is what will set you apart. Lots of BCBA's are professional, punctual, polite, and have great experience and references. So why should a company hire YOU? Well, show them what sets you apart by letting who you are shine through. If you're goofy, be goofy. If you're super type- A and rigid, don't try to hide it. There is room in this field for a wide variety of personalities, and often as a hiring supervisor I need to see the real you to get an idea of what clients to match you with. Every supervisor isn't a good match for every client or family, so its actually a good thing to be upfront and honest about your strengths, as well as your shortcomings. Its impressive when a professional can evaluate their own performance and objectively assess their own skillset.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

It's Official!


 Photo Source: www.kingarthurflour.com, blog.palmnet.me.uk


So, this is weird. 
My blog just officially reached its 1,000,000th view.




Photo source: www.u.osu.edu


Wowzers.

I think it’s pretty darn cool that a blog I started a few years back, just as a fun little hobby (mainly for my own geeky ABA interest), is now becoming a woman. Or something like that.

Whether you are a new reader or have been hanging around here since the beginning, thank you. Thank you for reading, thank you for sharing the posts, thank you for commenting, thank you for suggesting posts, thank you for supporting my books, thank you for giving honest feedback (it would be great if the feedback was always KIND, but moving on…..), & thank you for contributing to the magic “1,000,000” number. Did I already say wowzers??

When I first started this blog it was only read by people I knew. Mainly clients, some family members, and a few friends. I had no idea what to talk about on my blog, so I just started putting up posts about things I cared about. To my surprise, other people liked it...not just people who know me, and are therefore obligated to tell me nice things :-) 
The very 1st post that got a huge surge in readers and a flurry of emails to my inbox, was my Clint Eastwood themed Punishment post. In that post, I pretty much did what I do everyday in my career: I combined clinical knowledge with my personality, and presented technical information in a very simple, basic way.  I like to say, "I'm not formal, but I'm professional". Uptight and stuffy just isn't what I do. But if you want to hear about how my mind connects Giada De Laurentiis to an FBA process, then by all means stick around.

It took me a while to find my writing voice, so thanks for hanging in during that process. Some of my very first posts are a bit cringe - worthy for me to read now, kind of like looking back at old pictures of yourself in middle school.

Through my blog I get to connect and chat with some amazing people: parents, grandparents, individuals with Autism, teachers, counselors, therapists, & other ABA professionals.
 I get to share ideas and discuss behavior with people in Australia, Italy, Canada, India, Russia, and the UK, just to name a few places. Why in the world someone halfway across the globe would check out my little blog, I have no idea…..but it’s pretty awesome!


The best part of having a blog is getting to blab on and on about my passion, and giving other people information I wish I had when I was a newbie in this field. If I can help someone else avoid the missteps I made, I think that’s great. So I hope something you have read, or downloaded, or viewed on this blog has helped you with your child/client/student in some small way.

Thanks for reading!
Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Supervisor Tips: Toxic Staff, Toxic Workplace



Photo source: mthai.com, thesocialclimb.wordpress.com

You may have heard before that "Bad company corrupts good character" (1 Corinthians 15:33).

From experience, I can definitely attest to this. How I usually refer to this is "crap rolls downhill". Just like 1 bad apple in a basket can taint the other fruit, 1 toxic employee can lead to stressed out supervisors, lazy staff, dissatisfied clients, and overall decreased productivity.

When referring to toxic staff I am specifically talking about staff who:
  • Habitually complain & have a negative outlook
  • Are always shifting blame/Their failures are always your fault
  • Are disrespectful or defiant towards authority
  • Ask for feedback, and then resent or argue with the feedback
  • Are habitually late or inconsistent
  • Consistently under-perform and fail to meet your expectations.....60% effort is good enough for them
  • Interject themselves into others business/must know about what everyone else is doing
  • Do not take their responsibilities seriously
  • Argumentative/must have the last word
  • Have 1001 excuses or reasons why they can't improve their work performance
  • Resists change or being made accountable (this type of person hates evaluating their own performance)
13 Personality Traits of a Disengaged Professional - Oh wowwww, I see lots of former staff in this infographic. Yup! I definitely agree:
 Photo source: pinterest.com

Toxic staff end up zapping away at the energy, enthusiasm, and productivity of management, because they have to be given instructions repeatedly before they comply. They respond to change or new ideas with skepticism and criticism, so time must be taken to get them on board. They complete assignments late, or submit them on time but incomplete, so the supervisor has to take time to meet with them to go over their assignment in detail. A busy supervisor just doesn't have the time or mental energy to devote to a toxic employee. Trust me when I say: its draining.

Thats just how this impacts management. Toxic employees also impact their colleagues. Even when placed in a group of energetic and dynamic staff, a toxic employee will cause others to begin to speak negatively, gossip at work, become less and less productive,  and grow distrustful of management. The negative attitude of toxic staff can be quite contagious.

So what can be done about this? Firstly, what policies and procedures have you and your employer put in place to ensure the workplace remains non-toxic? How is insubordination from staff handled? If staff are rude or harsh towards clients, how is that handled? Does the hiring and interview process take into account personality, attitude, and fit into the company culture? Do you make it clear to staff that energy and positivity are a part of their job? Do you communicate the need for staff to be patient and compassionate with the clients, especially when they feel the least like doing so? Do you regularly give detailed feedback (including constructive criticism) to staff, to help train them on how to respond to feedback? Are YOU providing a good model of emotional regulation? If an employee angers or frustrates you, do you handle this in a professional manner?


To my fellow BCBA's dealing with toxic staff, here are a few suggestions that may be helpful. If nothing proves to be effective, then just as I have talked about with poor quality ABA providers, or persistently uninvolved families, termination may be the best option.
  1. The very first thing you need to do is confront the individual about their behavior. It really is true that sometimes super disrespectful and apathetic staff are not aware their behavior is a problem.  Using calm and respectful language, openly discuss with the employee exactly what the problems are, and be prepared to give specific examples. This should be a calm conversation, not an argument.
  2. Explain to the employee why their behavior is unacceptable. Help them to connect the dots between what they are doing, and how it negatively impacts other staff, clients, and the supervisor/management. For example: "You regularly fail to meet my deadlines, and often submit work 2-5 days late. When this happens, I have to rearrange my supervision schedule and priorities to add more time to review your work so I can give you feedback. This then makes me late getting my own work done, and is also stressful".
  3. Create an action plan. Together with the employee, devise a plan for correcting their behavior. This may include some skill acquisition, for example the employee may not know how to properly respond to feedback they don't like/agree with. Determine how progress will be measured, who will conduct the evaluation of mastery (I suggest both of you), and what will happen if satisfactory progress is not made. 
  4. Lastly, consider disciplinary actions. Perhaps a written reprimand, a demotion, or a reduction in salary until specific performance criteria has been achieved.  Particularly since a toxic employee is likely to shift blame, I recommend some type of self-management or evaluation. Have the employee critique their own performance such as viewing video of their sessions with a client, or collecting data on how often they arrive late to a clients home. Its pretty hard to point fingers at everyone else when looking at raw, objective data.
Monday, September 7, 2015

Creating Cooperative Learners


Photo Source: healthysmart.org, gifsgallery.com


* Unsure what the heck "learning how to learn" means? Check out this audio post.


When a learner starts ABA therapy, especially if they are very young, they may be lacking the ability to benefit from varied instruction. Or to put it another way, the learner doesn't know how to learn yet.
This means they may only be able to learn in highly structured ways, with lots of repetition, potent tangible reinforcers (praise may not be reinforcing yet), and problem behaviors that interfere with learning may abound.

ABA professionals would approach this type of client by first teaching specific skills that lead to effective cooperation and compliance with adults. This can sometimes be called “Compliance Training”.
You may be wondering, “So what if the individual is largely defiant, dismissive, or uncooperative with adult demands/requests. Why is that important?”. A cooperative learner is not just important, it’s critical to effective teaching.
 
If you are a parent, think about how many times a day you state a demand to your child (“Time to get up/Make your bed/Come eat breakfast/Can I have a hug?”). How abruptly would the day screech to a halt if your child replied to instructions with problem behavior, such as a loud “NO!”?
If you are a teacher or ABA professional, think about how many times during learning opportunities you deliver instructions or requests (“Come sit down/My turn/You need to share/Walk in the hallway/Open your reading book”). How can you effectively teach a student or client who ignores your instructions?


Clients/learners who are largely non -compliant in a school setting often face a host of problems and difficulties, such as disciplinary actions, suspension, or being moved to more restrictive classrooms. Children in a home setting who are largely non -compliant often have intense difficulty with change, transitions, and the parents often report high levels of family stress and frustration.

If cooperation and compliance is an issue for any of your clients, then the following strategies should help you greatly. These strategies can transform an oppositional and defiant client into a cooperative learner.

·         Behavioral Momentum  is your friend - Think “you pick……you pick…..I pick”. Layer your demands underneath a few highly preferred requests, so the individual is on a roll of complying and contacting reinforcement before you present your actual demand. I know this sounds too simple to work, but trust me, it definitely works!
·         Choices, choices, choices - When working with some of my most defiant clients, the entire session is strategically and intentionally designed to be all about what that child wants to do. Where will we sit? What book will we read first? Do you want your snack now or after I leave? Should we work on sight words or counting first? Offer lots of opportunities to make choices, and encourage the client to have input into their therapy sessions. I once had a client who made her own activity schedule for each therapy session. We would discuss what we needed to work on, she would pick the order of tasks, and what she earned for completing tasks. One of her biggest reinforcers was mimicking the therapist by turning the tables and making the therapist pretend to be her student. She loved it! That child quickly transformed into a highly cooperative learner who loved therapy time.
·         Consider task modification - If there are particular transitions or tasks that precede oppositional behavior, can you put the task on hold? Just until compliance is established? For example if the client hates to go outside, is it necessary they go out for recess every day? Especially if they spend the entire time trying to get back inside? Sometimes as professionals we can get stuck in a place of “do it because I said so”, aka power struggle territory. Ask yourself if the purposefulness of the task is being exaggerated, because you want to save face. So what if the client doesn’t go to recess, maybe that time could be used to work on more preferred tasks in the classroom with an aide. Then, a systematic plan can be put in place to gradually increase the child’s ability to go outside with the class.
·         Lower task difficulty – Similar to modifying the task, have you considering bringing response effort wayyy down? If every day it is a mighty struggle to get your client to do their homework, what if you approached them and gave them ONE homework problem to complete? Imagine their shock and delight when they realize after they complete that one problem they will be finished with homework. Look for ways to minimize the difficulty of the task, such as reducing the workload, offering your assistance, or structuring the session so that you present 4-5 mastered tasks for every new or unknown task.
·         Regularly update reinforcement – For some of my least compliant clients a super quick way to move them from defiant to compliant is to arrive at the session with new stuff! Yes, it can really be that easy. I regularly go to dollar stores, Target, Party City, etc. and update my “goodie bag”. Just the fact that the items are new is often enough to pique the interest of my client, and from there it’s easy to make accessing the item contingent upon specific behaviors (“As soon as we finish the puzzle we can open up the toys, so should we do the puzzle at the table or on the floor?”). Also, don’t forget to keep a stash of 24K items.
·         Is it a Can’t Do or a Won’t Do – I had a professor in grad school who really hammered into my brain the difference between a true skill deficit (can’t do) and a lack of motivation (won’t do). Unfortunately, in my role as a Consultant I find that most people assume everything is about compliance. The child won’t complete their homework because they are trying to annoy you. Or the student keeps getting out of his seat just to be a brat. Have you considered if the learner has the ability to perform the requested behavior? When parents/teachers describe a specific behavior problem to me, one of my first questions is usually “Are you sure the learner knows how to do it?”. It’s a good question to consider before you jump into creating an intervention. We as professionals often want to assume that our client “knows what he/she is supposed to do”. Hmmmm, you sure about that?? Take the time to assess if you are dealing with an actual skill deficit, because if you are then you need to teach the skill to correct the behavior.