Spreading the Word!

Trainings are something I do regularly as part of my job as a BCBA…..for this month alone I have 3 on my calendar.

 Occasionally I’m given the awesome opportunity to do a training or presentation to a target audience of laypersons: people who know little to nothing about ABA or Autism. I love opportunities like this. It’s exciting to speak to people who know NOTHING about ABA and to get to be the one to introduce them to it.  

I do think there is a distinct way to convey information to an audience of “ABA Geeks” vs. an audience of laypersons. Part of having a passion for this field includes spreading the word about what ABA can do to help people. ALL kinds of people. If I present ABA in a way that seems too intimidating, overly limited, mundane or boring, etc., then I’m doing a disservice to the field.
 It’s an interesting challenge to present a massive topic like ABA to a variety of audiences, in a way they can grasp. The ability to modify your own teaching/training style is highly valuable, and not everyone can do that.

I remember going to a local Autism conference several years ago, and attending a workshop on problem behaviors held by a very esteemed and experienced BCBA. The room was packed, and people were even standing in the door to attend the workshop. The BCBA took the first 40-45 minutes of a 60 minute presentation to provide a super detailed explanation of types of assessment conditions, experimental designs, topographies of problem behaviors, analyzing and displaying data….to a packed room of teachers and parents. There was no time for anyone to ask questions, and there was nothing concrete given to the audience that they could immediately begin implementing with their kids/students. I learned a lot from that experience.  Knowledge is great, but wisdom is the ability to filter knowledge appropriately depending on who you are speaking to.

So in order to help my fellow colleagues out there who may find yourself in the position of conducting a training or presenting a topic to non-ABA professionals, I hope these tips I have learned along the way are helpful to you. 

Or, to let Einstein say it better:

Training Tips:

  • Limit or just skip the jargon – That’s great that you can toss out ABA vocabulary like Establishing Effects, Functional Analysis, Stimulus Control, and Multielement Designs. However, if you communicate at a level that goes over the head of your audience that is very off-putting. A great ABA professional is bilingual: you know how to speak with your colleagues, and how to translate that speech for a general audience.
  • Visual cues aren’t just for our clients – Include lots of video clips, photos, and actual content (like a token board) in the training to help people grasp what you are describing. Many ABA strategies can seem so technical and clunky, but if you are able to show a video clip of the technique being successfully implemented that can help people get that Lightbulb Moment of understanding.
  • Get that “Buy In”- ABA at its core is just great parenting or great teaching. That’s what your layperson audience needs to hear. ABA is something most of my clients were doing in some capacity before I ever met them; they just didn’t know it. Most parents naturally prompt, reinforce, and use transition cues. I have had people attend my trainings with the expectation of learning some new, space age method to behavior management. Once I start talking, I often get reactions like “Oh, I already do that!”. Yes, I know! That’s the point: help your audience buy in to what you are saying by connecting it to what they are already doing right.
  • Stay open minded: Allow comments or questions – Did I say allow?? I really meant “demand”. I constantly check to see if the audience has questions during a training or presentation. If someone is looking at me quizzically, I may tell him to ask me the question that his face indicates he has! I get some of the most interesting and unique questions from laypersons, and it also widens my perspective about behavior, learning, and being a caregiver to disabled children. Don’t be afraid to open the floor for questions, critiques, or differing points of view. It will keep you from having a closed off mind. If you only ever talk to people who love ABA then how can you gain an understanding of why people hate ABA, and what made them come to that decision?
  • Talk about your successes AND your failures I share a lot of anecdotes or stories during my trainings (I’m big on giving examples) and while it’s helpful to tell the audience about the successes, what about the times when my strategy did NOT work? People don’t just want to hear about how ABA always works. They also want to hear about what to do when your strategies are NOT working, when the problem behaviors are not decreasing, and when you have zero buy in from the client’s family. Don’t be afraid to discuss your failures or mistakes as a professional. It may help someone else avoid your pitfalls.


  1. Oh my goodness! I finally had a light bulb go off and found the profession that I have been looking for (and really knew all along). I left corporate America 2 years ago (in banking/finance sector) because I absolutely despised what I did. Since leaving, I was given the opportunity to be a substitute teacher, and what a great change that has been for me. I have always been great at teaching, but had only ever volunteered with adults obtaining their GED. The only other teaching experience I had was out in the world when I had to train/show someone how to do something (mostly at work). I was always thanked afterward for the way I taught, and that people really understood me.
    Anyway, I had the opportunity to substitute (really more of a teacher's aide to a student teacher and an aide) in a special education classrooom setting. I met the GREATEST children that day and had my BEST day ever substituting. I used to come home crying and miserable from my banking job, and on this day I came home on cloud 9. My fiance said that this was the happiest he had seen me in a long time. I had the biggest smile on my face after working with these kids.
    With no experience with developmentally delayed students, I was afraid to take the sub job that day. I took the job to get over my fear and to see if I would like it. Guess what? I LOVED it! The children were all so smart and so sweet. (This was a small middle school classroom). I went with them to their different classrooms and assisted them in taking class notes, or understanding concepts, or helping one boy to complete a magazine cover in Photoshop (that all the children were doing, integrated classroom) to going to the library with one young lady and being there for her while she took a test. I have to tell you that the boy with the magazine cover assignment finished his cover (on bullfrogs...way too sweet) and knew more about Photoshop than I did! I hardly did anything, except give him guidance and a bit of direction (we would ask the Technology teacher for help if we were really stuck) and show him compassion and understanding, while being intuitive enough to see his capabilities and needs. The actual Special Education teacher was amazed that he had finished his magazine cover so quickly. He did it all! Not me!
    I came to know and love these children after only 1 day with them, and missed them when I left (so much so that the next time I was working at that particular school, not only did one sweet girl remember me and wave and give me a hug, but I had to stop into that classroom and say hello to all of the kids!) What a great time that was! They remembered me and liked me! Lol! (Btw, I still miss them and am thinking now about stopping in to see them again).
    So... remember that oh so hated corporate job I had? Well, we were once made to take a 'Strengthfinders' test. Guess what my biggest strength was? Empathy! (It wasn't long after that I left).
    My point is, I've been afraid to make a decision as to my next career (I tend to doubt myself), but after reading your blog and thinking about my awesome experience with those super kids, I know! I mean definitely know. I'm going back to school so I can have the privilege to be able work with these kids everyday!
    Now, I don't know why I ever doubted myself; It was there all along. (I'm good at this, and I am calling the local university tomorrow).
    Thank you for your blog. You really helped me to open my eyes and no longer be lost. :)

    1. Wow, such a sweet comment!
      I think its pretty amazing that like many of us, you came into this field having no idea it would be your passion. I LOVE what I do and I feel very blessed about that because so many people have jobs/careers that they really hate.

      So glad you found the blog :-)

  2. I'm so glad that I found your blog as well. I don't know how I stumbled upon it, but I'm glad that I did!
    Thank you for responding and for the excellent information/blog. Please keep updating (when you have time).

  3. And yes, I got tired of being miserable after 6 years. Life is too short to not like what you do (since we all work most hours of the day) and be happy. I think doing something that matters and makes a difference in someone else's life is the key to happiness (instead of feeling like your soul is dying a bit more everyday, and that you are only working to make someone else rich - while putting up with so much negativity).
    I used to have this poll that I would ask everyone I knew to clarify what I felt and determine which is better: money or happiness (in a career). Of course I got varying responses, but I think I finally came to my own conclusion. Happiness! I cannot work in an environment that means nothing to me, and try to plaster a fake smile on my face each morning when I go to work. I have to care about what I do, and it has to mean something to me. (Not havomg some shallow quota that determines your worth as an employee and person.) I no longer care about money, per se, nor accumulating more material possessions. This means nothing in the long run. Of course we all have to afford to live, but I would take a pay cut any day to smile, have happiness in my life and like what I do everyday while helping others. That is the stuff that truly matters, and that you will also look back on years later and smile, knowing you made a difference. :)


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