How to talk ABA in a fun way.

Photo by Kyle Loftus on Unsplash

Scott Herbst, PhD & Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21Media, LLC

Brett DiNovi

Brett DiNovi & Associates

If you’re a Behavior Analyst, at some point you’ve probably been at a conference, perhaps enjoying a cocktail after a stimulating day of viewing the latest, cutting-edge research, and found yourself in some version of the “why doesn’t the world see how great we are?!” conversation.  Spend enough years in the field of Behavior Analysis, and this conversation becomes like rain in the Midwest; you don’t know exactly when it’s going to happen, but it is going to happen.

Here’s the interesting thing, if you look back on your imaginary day of conference talks, it’s just as predictable that you heard a lot of different phrases thrown around.  How many times did you hear that someone “accessed the reinforcer?”  Was there lots of talk about tangibles and edibles?  I recently attended a talk where a person talked about throwing stimuli against the wall.

Though there are no published studies on the topic, it may be a safe bet that people don’t see how great Behavior Analysis is because people don’t know what the heck Behavior Analysts are talking about.  Seriously!  Next time you’re at an ABA presentation, try watching the audience instead of the speaker.  It’s almost guaranteed that, when confronted with the phrase, “the behavior appears to be under the control of automatic reinforcement,” no one will blink.  Likely, people will be nodding in agreement.  Almost no one will have a look on their face that communicates, “what are you talking about?!  Weirdo!!”

But to the average, everyday person, the things we say are weird.  Accessed the reinforcer?!  Do you mean, “Got something?”  Tangibles and edibles?!  You mean “toys” and “food.”  And “the behavior was maintained by automatic reinforcement,” is really just a fancy way of saying, “I don’t know.  We can’t find any reason why they do that except it seems that they like doing it.”

The fact that Behavior Analysts speak that way wouldn’t be a problem if they only spoke that way to each other.  But Behavior Analysts have the tendency to speak that way all the time.  It confuses people and, generally, people don’t like to be confused.  Said in a way that might make sense to a Behavior Analyst, for most people, the feeling of confusion is a negative reinforcer, the removal of which will strengthen any behavior that precedes its removal.

As Behavior Analysts, we need to develop ways of communicating the power of our science that don’t have people’s eyes glaze over.  Seriously, we can’t teach them if they’re asleep.  That’s why videos like this one are important.  Released by Brett DiNovi & Associates, it gives a quick overview of Applied Behavior Analysis.  It gives a very abbreviated history of the field and a quick snapshot of some of the areas where ABA really makes an impact.  But most importantly, it gives a few snappy, fun demonstrations of some of ABA’s key principles.

Are you a BCBA who has forgotten what a concurrent schedule is?  This video will remind you that it comes down to choices.  Can’t quite remember how the Premack principle works?  As you’ll see in demonstration, it’s as simple as using one activity to reinforce participation in another.  More importantly though, it gives a relatable overview of the basics of operant conditioning: positive and negative reinforcement and punishment.

Now, it isn’t perfect.  In delivering snappy and fun, the demonstrations of principles are a little bit loose.  To the seasoned, rigorous Behavior Analyst, it won’t be immediately clear that the demonstration of positive punishment is actually, in fact, positive punishment.  If you swoon for the rigor of Behavior Analytic language, you’ll probably want to argue with the way the video presents some of our concepts.  But, this video isn’t for you.  This video is best suited for someone who isn’t a Behavior Analyst and is best introduced to that person by a Behavior Analyst.  Videos like this can serve as a quick introduction and a conversation starter.  The smart Behavior Analyst will say something like, “I want to show you this clip.  It isn’t perfect, and when it’s over I want to discuss some of the key concepts, where it really nails them, where it doesn’t, and – most importantly – where you can use them in your life.”

The science of Behavior Analysis is so powerful.  As the video states, its applicability goes well beyond the areas that psychology typically intervenes in.  If ABA is going to realize it’s potential, its practitioners are going to have to take the advice they often give to others: meet the learner where the learner is.  We need more content that makes our science fun and accessible.

To hear more, be sure to check out the full video, and to subscribe to Brett DiNovi’s YouTube channel and let him know what you would like to see in future videos.  Also be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

bSci21Media, LLC, owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world,  bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog and its subsidiaries, bSciEntrepreneurialbSciWebDesignbSciWriting, and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series.

Brett DinoviBrett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA has the unique and distinguished experience of studying the principles of applied behavior analysis under the rigorous scrutiny of both Dr. Julie S. Vargas (formerly Skinner) and Dr. E.A. Vargas at West Virginia University’s internationally recognized program. For the past 26 years, Brett has used behavior analytic principles to create large scale change across school districts, Fortune 500 companies using principles of Organizational Behavior Management (OBM), and across individual learners. Brett has been a OBM consultant in Morgantown WV, an instructor at West Virginia University, a guest lecturer at numerous universities, a speaker on multiple Comcast Newsmakers TV programs, an expert witness in due process hearings, has publications in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, and has been in in executive leadership positions across schools and residential programs nationwide. In addition to an award from South Jersey Biz Magazine for “Best Places to Work,” an award for “Best of Families” in Suburban Magazine, and the distinguished “Top Ranked U.S. Executives” award, Brett’s proudest accomplishment is being a role model and father for his daughter and two stepchildren (one of which has autism). Brett can be reached at [email protected]

*Paid content by Brett DiNovi & Associates.




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