ABA Across Environments

ABA Across Environments

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Small Group Sessions Starting Soon!

What is ACT and how does it help? ACT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, is a form of Relational Frame Theory (RFT) within the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) that helps us learn how to make connections between our thoughts, feelings, our environment, ourselves and who we are in a way that drives our behaviors in the direction of where we want to be.

It isn’t meditation, and it isn’t teaching us how to use coping skills or to take deep breaths when we are mad. It isn’t teaching functional communication. It isn’t teaching a skill and then hoping that it will generalize when we need it. With all of that said, ACT does provide a function-based intervention with the understanding that covert behaviors are still behaviors that require intervention. It introduces or reinforces alternative behaviors that may include practicing mindfulness or meditation, taking deep breath, or using functional communication.
There are hundreds of resources that explain what ACT is more eloquently than I am able Resources, but I wanted to explain why I like ACT as a BCBA and as a mom.

I like ACT because it is open-ended. There is no right or wrong. It immediately defuses situations and prevents them from escalating. There are no traditional demands placed. It is still data-driven, but it focuses on values and committed actions rather than prompting or coercing with Extinction to use a coping tool. As a BCBA, I have seen so many clients’ behaviors escalate to the point of aggression, shouting and yelling, or even self-injury when given a well-intentioned prompt to “First, take a deep breath and then play with Legos.” I love the PREMACK principle. It is one of my favorites. But if anyone were to tell me to “Take a deep breath, and then you can go to Target,” I would probably scream! I love ACT because it follows Relational Frame Theory and helps rapidly teach skills and connections that help promote generalization across all environments.

My clients love ACT because they don’t have to worry about “being mindful” or taking deep breaths. They love it because they don’t feel like they are wrong or being forced to complete tasks or being denied access to something they want or need. It puts the client’s wants and needs at the forefront of their sessions and their treatment. It respects their time and dignity. And it helps protect the therapeutic relationship between the RBT, BCBA, client, and caregivers.

Small Group Sessions for tweens and teens will be beginning this spring! We will be utilizing ACT to help teach Social and Emotional Learning skills in a group setting to help encourage generalization across peers. If you have a kiddo who needs a little more support handling big emotions or struggling to make moves toward the person they want to be, contact us today or email [email protected] for more information as well as for information about our Adaptive Living and Early Intervention services.

Meg Solomon
In-Home Services

“How did today’s session go?” “It was good. We worked on washing hands, and he did great!” This, or something similar is a typical exchange from a caregiver picking up a child from a center after having been there for 4 hours for ABA. “It was good,” that’s it? You worked on handwashing, that was it? What happened? What can I do at home to help my son wipe his bottom after pooping? Did he learn anything new? Did he hit anyone? Did he throw anything? What do I do with him once I get home? Did I mention that he still isn’t eating anything other than crackers and strawberries? What did he eat for his snack today?

These, and many more, are why I truly believe that center-based services struggle to make the connection with generalizing behaviors to the home and other meaningful environments. Not only that, but it is important that parents know what is happening in their child’s ABA sessions. I have observed some truly horrendous behaviors by the technicians, BCBAs, and other staff in response to challenging behaviors while working in centers. I have seen staff provoke and escalate problem behaviors to the point of having to restrain or isolate the client. I have seen punishment, coercion, forced-prompting, and other aversive techniques used in response to challenging behaviors. I have observed a client scream and cry in isolation for hours while a technician sat on Instagram on his phone. And at the end of that client’s session, how was it? “It was good.”

No. This is not good ABA. This is why parents should be aware at all times of what is happening with their child and their programs. Our kids deserve better. As caregivers, we deserve better. We deserve to know what is happening with our children when we are not present. We should be able to trust that our child is experiencing an engaging and enriching experience rather than one that is void of human interaction or filled with aversive demands and stimuli. Our goal as clinicians and caregivers should not be to teach our children to tolerate aversive stimuli or things that they don’t like. Our job is to find what they like, help them find ways to get what they need in a meaningful way, and accept and advocate for themselves when presented with an aversive situation.

When parents are a part of their child’s programming from the beginning, the child has better outcomes. I am not a clinician who will tell you that your child HAS to receive 40 hours of ABA. That is not practical or realistic. And anyone can become proficient in any skill with 40 hours of intensive training. That does not mean that our children should be working harder than most of the modern-day workforce. It means that we should be able to find a balance between directly teaching skills with discrete trials, teaching problem-solving and social skills in a naturalistic setting, allowing for emotions and feelings to occur while teaching ways to defuse the situation, helping parents find workable solutions in their home, working in conjunction with other therapies such as OT and PT to create better outcomes, and allowing for free time to practice these skills away from professional judges (or anyone else who is gathering information or data on a child).

When sessions occur in the home, the parent is intune and a participant in the sessions. Caregivers are able to report to the BCBA, “I saw this happen, and I have some concerns,” or “This has become a huge issue at lunch time, can we change the session time so that you can help me?” This also means that the parent can trust that punishment, isolation, ignoring, coercion, and other out-dated and aversive techniques are not being used. Instead, the parent can trust that the client is a part of the planning process and finds value in changing his or her own behaviors based on what they value, and not what a standardized program assessment dictated what they needed. (Standardized programming is another bone of contention with me and a topic for another time!)

If your child is already receiving ABA, it is important to ask yourself: Do I know what is happening in my child’s ABA sessions? Is my child being forced to do something or in isolation? Was I a part of the treatment planning process? How is my child being motivated to participate in activities? What tools has the BCBA given me to help me?

We care about positive behavioral change, and we know that families who are a part of changing their own behaviors as well experience greater positive outcomes for their loved ones with behavioral differences.

Meg Solomon

Mission Statement: Helping individuals achieve functional independence across every environment so t

At ABA Across Environments, we offer individualized behavioral intervention services to children and young adults. We were founded for families who seek to be involved in their loved one’s behavior journey, and we tailor the science of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to each client with the goals of independence and self sufficiency in mind. By using uniquely designed intervention plans, consultin

08/26/2022

Why? Because parenting is hard, and sometimes you just want the behavior to stop.

So, stop blaming the parents (and total strangers, school administrators, teachers, aunts and uncles, etc.) and realize that extinction is not usually possible for most. Someone is going to respond and provide attention. Someone is going to give the iPad to stop the screaming. Someone is going to remove the demand and then intermittently reinforce the behavior.

So, maybe it isn’t ALL about reinforcement. Maybe there are skills missing that need to be taught. Maybe these human being children have more going on than a pigeon pecking for food.

I’m not saying reinforcement doesn’t strengthen behavior. What I am saying is that some behavioral strategies are not realistic. And we as behavior analysts have a way of blaming others for “reinforcing the problem behavior,” when I reality we didn’t teach the replacement skills necessary.

So, stop. People are going to reinforce the problem behavior. Have you instead started to reinforce a new skill? Have you instead given alternatives to extinction? Because I’ll be honest, you’re never going to get someone else to stop reinforcing the behavior when you are not around.

08/25/2022

In fact, it sends me into a dark spiral of anger anytime I attempt to use planned ignoring when my children are freaking out.

I don’t ignore my kids. My kids belong in this family, and I want to show them that they do - even when I want to tear my hair out because they are screaming.

What do I do instead? I get close. I talk. I say “I can hear that you need me.” “Is something wrong, or do you need help?”

I give them empathy. “I would also be mad if someone said I couldn’t have some candy. Is that why you are upset?”

I offer alternatives. “We can’t have candy right now. But we can have a lollipop right after you take a bath.” Or “we can’t do that right now because we just brushed teeth, but do you want to add colored bath bombs to your bath tonight or play with my lipstick?”

I don’t ignore them. So fellow BCBAs, please stop recommending that parents ignore their children or their children’s behaviors. It is not helping. And it isn’t teaching a skill, which is why the behavior keeps happening in the first place!

08/24/2022

Functional communication is awesome! It’s a Go-To strategy. But what happens when manding isn’t the problem?

What happens when Hanley’s My way overgeneralizes? Or when the tolerance response is not quite enough? What happens when you have tipped from HRE to SHHF (that’s- S**t Has Hit the Fan)?

(Full disclosure, I LOVE Dr. Hanley and his work. So, this is in now way telling anyone not to incorporate these practices- we definitely do.)

But what do you do? You have to expand upon the Alternative behaviors you are going to reinforce. Have you taught acceptance or how to practice defusion? Have you helped the learner identify their own values and set a plan for action? Have you helped teach how to engage in the present moment and pause to reflect upon others’ perspectives?

These are all alternative behaviors. These all take really really good ABA and takes it that much further and beyond compliance training. Try it. Practice it with yourself first. Study. Learn. Immerse. Practice.

08/23/2022

Don’t be that behavior analyst who says things like “I really like the challenge!” “It’s ok. I don’t mind getting hit.” “He just needs to work through this challenge. I’m going to stand firm.” “I like being the one to mix it up a bit!”

Challenging behaviors happen, yes. But our goal isn’t to evoke them, but to teach the replacement skills necessary so that they don’t need to happen at all.

What are you doing during the calm moments? If you are just going back to DTT without addressing the deficits associated with the challenging behaviors, then you aren’t actually reducing the behavior.

Are you teaching ways to get attention, access, or breaks for demands? Are you teaching how to accept when attention isn’t available or how to move to another activity when access has been denied? Are you exposing the learner to new opportunities to practice the skills they are learning?

Or are you blindsided (or worse- excited) every time the challenging behavior happens? If so, you may need to check your replacement skills that you are teaching and how you are managing antecedents.

08/22/2022

Hi, it’s me. I’m not always a great supervisor. I’m not even always a GOOD supervisor. I make mistakes. I forget things. I fall short with meeting my goals. I don’t get to spend as much time as I want with each client or supervisee. I’m a human being.

We all set expectations that can’t always be met. We neglect some areas of supervision without having any I’ll intentions. We unknowingly avoid. And our unconscious biases present at the most vulnerable moments.

But that doesn’t mean that we should pretend that we are infallible. It doesn’t mean that we act as though we are amazing. Instead, seek feedback. Be honest and vulnerable enough to admit when you have made a mistake. Use honest and candid communication so that people know that it is ok to be a person with faults.

Allow for people to criticize and critique what you have done. Welcome conversations. Signal when you are unavailable and be fully present when you are with a supervisee (not on your phone or email). And then see if that changes not only how you supervise but also how you feel at the end of the day.

It might be uncomfortable at first, but that’s where change happens.

08/18/2022

Work is valuable to me. But I also know that it isn’t to everyone. My family is also valuable to me. And I don’t like when work encroaches on that space. I also know that my quality of work suffers when I am not well rested. So, that is also where I place a pretty firm boundary.

It isn’t a bad thing that people want to work with a structure that isn’t as rigid as it was in generations past. It’s ok that there is a shift in how the workforce is right now. People deserve to be and act within their values and not working an insane amount for the chance to climb up the corporate ladder.

Leader will often tout “if you want to get ahead, you should…” but that isn’t a realistic approach to work anymore. I’m my experience, when I have taken that kind of advice of “get up before the sun,” “get to the office before anyone else,” “stay after to make sure your work is perfect,” led to me feeling exploited.

I felt exploited when I was told “we should really get you on salary,” (so that they didn’t have to pay overtime); and when I noticed that I wasn’t actually being compensated more for the work that I did as compared to my peers. So, other than a really strong work ethic, why?

A strong work ethic does not equate with “willing to be exploited.”

Instead, I choose to combine a few lessons that I have learned in my 20 years of working: If you love what you do, it won’t feel like work. And your mental health should be a priority. Schedule time to prevent the burnout and use your PTO.

On the flip side, communicate with your boss. Don’t be afraid to talk to them about your needs. A good boss listens. But a good employee is honest and clearly communicates what they need and not what they think someone wants to be told. (That leads to lying and avoidance).

08/17/2022

To my BCBA friends: Remember this before you meet with caregivers: you are not there all the time, and you don’t know what it is like when you are not there.

That Behavior Intervention Plan is nothing without being implemented. But I have yet to work with a caregiver who said to me, “what I really need is multiple schedule to follow that tells me when I can and cannot reinforce a behavior.”

They have also never told me, “I have all the time in the world and can always follow through with extinction.”

So, before you tell a caregiver what they should do, remember that a plan made without them is an ideal and not realistic. Listen to the caregiver. Ask them, “What do you need to make your life easier?” Start there. If they can’t tell you because there is too much, don’t throw a complex behavior plan for them to follow and then follow up with a “why didn’t you follow the plan?” in the next meeting. Listen first. Plan second.

08/15/2022

Do people usually turn the tv off while you’re your favorite show? No? Then, why do we expect our kids to be ok with it?

Does your boss come in and take your phone away because she isn’t training by saying, “All done. Hand me phone.”

Does anyone make you not use your favorite coffee cup because “you should expand your interests”?

Weird.

People need time. Children need time. Children deserve to be given expectations, “You can finish watching until this part is over. And then it is time to get dressed.”

Children deserve to get to finish the activity they are in the middle of doing or at least be able to come to a natural stopping point.

Adults don’t get to say that a child’s behavior is tangibly maintained when they are just denying access for no reason, taking items without permission, or interrupting activities because “they have to learn” that life isn’t this way.

And yet, we don’t teach our children the same. We don’t teach them boundaries of time and money. Instead, we teach them “because I said so,” and wonder why our kids struggle to change their ways.

So, ask yourself if you have established a skill to teach such as time, how to recognize the signs in our bodies when we are hungry or tired, or how to prioritize what has to be finished first to allow for more time to do preferred things later.

Remember that “because I said so” is just not a good enough reason for most.

08/12/2022

Just like generational trauma, we have to be the cycle breakers. We don’t have to watch our supervisees struggle just because that’s what happened to us.

We don’t have to burnout our supervisees just because we were burned out.

We don’t have dismiss that we also cried after leaving a client and hated it sometimes.

We don’t discount their experience as a supervisee with “just wait till you’re a BCBA...” statement.

We can be the supervisor who is approachable and receptive to feedback. We can be the supervisor who allows for accommodations within the session to better support the supervisee. We can be the one who listens and supports in a way that we never had from our supervisor or BCBA.

(Full disclosure, I actually had some pretty incredible BCBAs and supervisors in my experience. But that isn’t the case for most! And I have also been a crappy supervisor even with an amazing past supervision experience.)

08/11/2022

Toys, tickles, praise, stickers, candy, high-fives, etc., they all lose their power. There is satiation. There is loss of interest. There is boredom. And consequently, when you attempt to use that as MO, the learner doesn’t care.

Go to intrinsic motivation. What does the learner actually enjoy? Do they like being silly or playing outside? Is dress-up fun and engaging? Is spending time with mom or dad their number one? Or do they love being around other people and making friends? Do they thrive when they are given more space and alone time?

Our values don’t fade. They shift and develop as our stories unfolds. But they are a constant. When we assess what the learner values and when we take a process-based approach to what engages or disengages our learners, we have a better idea of their motivation.

I often hear “They don’t like anything,” or “Nothing works,” and they are right. Unless your child actually values material possessions (side note, most kids don’t…), stop giving them junk from the Treasure Box that ends up on the floorboards on the car between the center and the house.

So, before you blame the learner, blame the reinforcer. Go to what the learner values more. Help them accept the demand by alerting to them how it gets them closer to what they value. Use intrinsic motivation because values don’t fade or lose their magnitude.

08/10/2022

“I placed a demand. I have to follow through.” Why?

If you are unable to provide a reason or rationale to the child or learner, drop the demand.

When we teach children to follow anything that an adult directs without question, we are teaching blind compliance. Compliance so that when that child goes to an unsafe space and is directed to do something that is risky, they comply.

How about instead of teaching blind compliance, we teach how to discern a safe space from an unsafe space? How to advocate and say no when there is not a reason given or when safety isn’t established?

How about we stop teaching children that they are supposed to do anything and everything an adult tells us to do? Blind compliance is scary because it neglects to teach how to discriminate predators from directors.

Fast forward to a place with an unsafe adult. There has been no training about which adult is safe. There have been so many adults in that learner’s past who have forced compliance with escape extinction that the learner complies with any demand at least 90% of the time without any protest. So, when the unfamiliar adult directs the learner to engage in risky behaviors, “get undressed,” “go take that,” “sit here,” they comply without question.

How is this safe? This is opening up a potentially very dangerous and vulnerable situation for a person. And it is not ok.

So, the next time you place a demand, ask yourself if you have a reason. Share that reason with the learner. Provide a rationale. And if you don’t have a good one, drop it. You need to adjust your antecedents before you follow through blindly.

08/09/2022

Even the big ones. Emotions are signals. Sometimes it isn’t about ending the emotional experience (AKA the challenging behavior/tantrum) but learning from what it’s telling us.

Is it signaling a need to develop a skill? Probably. Is it signaling an area of value that is being denied? Maybe. Is it pointing to a core yearning that is struggling? More than likely.

Functional communication training can give the words to better express wants and needs. But that isn’t going to stop the emotions. Words shouldn’t stop emotions. Words should further the expression of what is actually happening so that other skills can be taught: acceptance of what can and cannot be controlled, defusion when things are difficult to accept, how to engage in the present moment mindfully, exploring the perspectives of themselves and others, while learning what actions they can take to bring them more inline with what they value.

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